Posts in dyeing
Experimenting With Walnut Dye

It's a little odd to be calling this "experimenting" when I still consider most of my dyes experiments. Granted, I'm getting a better understanding of dyeing in general, what I can expect from various plants and methods, but I'm still learning (and oddly enough, enjoying the unpredictability of it all.) After my last dye with walnuts, I saved the exhaust bath for "experimenting." Since I was running out of bare yarn and was never really happy with the result of the fennel dye (on a merino/silk blend,) I threw it into the pot of rich walnut juice. I also grabbed some white-ish yarn from my stash (seen on the left in the above photos.) Normally you should always pre-wet your yarn before dyeing it to ensure a more even uptake but since I was experimenting with one lone skein, I skipped that step. Which also means I skipped any mordant (which was fine considering black walnuts have enough tannin in them that a mordant isn't necessary.) And instead of just dunking it in, I poured the dye over sections of the dry skein for a variegated affect. Until the yarn is rinsed, the walnut color is such a rich brown and I wondered for a brief moment if I'd end up with a stark contrast between the colors. But I just as quickly remembered a lot of the color bleeds out (especially if you don't mordant or pre-wet the yarn!) In the end, after the rinsing water ran clear, I was left with the a beautifully subtle cream and pale caramel yarn you see above.

I personally love a subtle, soft, muted color palette. I'd never spend money on a skein of yarn in that pokeberry color for myself (maybe if I were knitting for a friend who likes bolder colors.) But oddly enough when it comes to my dyeing, I've aimed for that punch of color. I guess visually it was more rewarding and impressive to see such a rich color after my hard work. But now that I know I can get rich colors, I'm content to create softer ones.

While I was outside, making a mess, I also dunked some old doilies and a shirt in the walnut dye bath, as well as played around with painting on fabric. The results of the latter weren't what I was expecting and I definitely need to learn more about that medium before I share any results here. But, such is experimenting!

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Dyeing with Pokeberry

A couple weeks ago, I discovered a pile of black walnuts my cousins' kids had gathered while they were here. I figured that was a good enough sign to dye! Since I prefer to save energy (both my own and electric/water), I also did a marigold and pokeberry dye that day too. The two former dyes are nothing new here so I wont go into too much about them. Though I will say I am trying to get the color I got the first time I did a marigold bath. When I first posted the photo a handful of people asked how I got that color. I assumed that was the color you'd get from marigolds. Since then results have been more yellow-y hues with a tint of green or brown. The first time was just fresh picked petals. The second was frozen petals and heads. Assuming the heads were adding the green, I only used frozen petals for the third bath. Still I had the same yellow. Just a couple days ago I did another bath with fresh picked petals with the same result. The only other culprit I can think of is that my first skein was a superwash, which can pick up and brighten colors easier. Hopefully I can try again before the frost hits the flowers.

But enough on that, this post is about Pokeberries! I've been waiting all summer for the clusters of green berries to ripen to that rich purple. Before I go any further I have to get this out first: Pokeberry/Pokeweed is generally considered poisonous. I've read the plant and root are more poisonous than the berries and that the berries become less dangerous as they ripen. Some people are very lax about them and don't consider them that dangerous, while others are more cautious. Needless to say, please be smart about any foraging or dyeing you may do on your own! As a precautionary measure, all of the tools and equipment I use for dyeing are designated specifically for my dyeing and my dyeing alone. I also work outside for plenty of ventilation and less worry of staining things around me. 

One great thing about pokeberries is that you don't need many for a decent color. I only had a small handful by the time I removed the berries from the stems. Like most dyes, pokeberry results can vary with different fibers, mordants, modifiers, methods, etc. And, unfortunately, like most berry dyes, they aren't usually the most light-fast over time. The general consensus with pokeberry is to aim for a low pH bath, most commonly attained with vinegar. I had luck with my usual alum and cream of tartar mordant and then a vinegar modifier. (Though I see now that it being a superwash might have something to with it too!) I only heated the berries to an almost-boil since I'd read that boiling them can destroy the redness. Then strained out the solids, added a splash of white vinegar and let the yarn steep in that bath overnight. Then I removed the excess liquid and hung it up to dry. The following day I rinsed until the water was fairly clear and then let dry for a final time. 

The two skeins I have will sit in my stash for quite a while until I find the perfect project for them. It's definitely not my color but I'm impressed with the intense result from my labors and from the (rather small) cluster of berries I gathered from around here. What would YOU knit with this color?


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Dyeing with Black Walnuts

I've found that black walnuts are an excellent go-to dye. I can always count on them. They are easily foraged for, don't require any mordant and will always give me some shade of brown, from dark chocolate to caramel. The skeins shown above were dyed the same day I did the marigold and red cabbage.

The dark skeins are a merino/silk blend while the lighter skeins are an alpaca/wool blend. The lighter ones were unmordanted, a bit of an afterthought I threw in the pot later. As you can see the one didn't take up the color as evenly as the other. I love these variegated results I've been getting and am looking forward to seeing how it knits up this winter.

PS: Thank you all for following me over to this new space and taking the time to comment! I'm having some trouble getting Bloglovin' to recognize my RSS so I apologize to those of you who follow that way. (Any tips on how to fix it?) As I said earlier, I can only carve out short periods of time for "blog work." Have a great weekend!

Dyeing with Marigold and Red Cabbage
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Since my marigolds are still blooming like crazy around here and I was rather impressed with the results from last time, I decided to do another round with squishy soft Malabrigo. This one turned out a little less orange-y and instead is more of a classic yellow. Last time I only used the petals but this time I used the whole flower head, green bits and all. Next time I’m going to try with just the petals again.

This year I planted twelve red cabbage and only six or seven of them resulted in decent sized heads. The others were scrawny things that were refusing to get any bigger so I reserved them for dye experiments. Red cabbage is a notorious fugitive dye. The dye pot is rich and lovely but the color doesn’t always hold well to fiber. I was lucky. I used my standby alum and cream of tartar to prep the fiber. With certain dye materials, the pH of the bath can have a big effect on the color. With red cabbage, adding an acidic modifier, like vinegar, will result in more pink shades while an alkaline one will shift more towards blues. So I grabbed some baking soda and sprinkled it right in the pot and basically said “Whoa!” when I saw it transform from pink to blue. In the pot, it was the most perfect mermaid blue-green and even though it bled some of the richness out, it’s still a perfectly pale aquatic/mint blue-green. Definitely a nice break from the yellows and browns I’ve got from plant dyes. I only did this one skein since I wasn’t sure any color would stick but now I’m tempted to grow a garden full of red cabbage next year just so I can get more of these beautiful shades.

Next week I’ll share the results of the walnut dyes I did the same day.

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Dyeing with Goldenrod and Marigold

I hadn’t intended to dye again so soon but while searching the property for more pokeberries, I spotted the goldenrod in bloom. I had wanted to try it last year but wasn’t quite ready for it in time. Since I would be going through the hassle of digging out and setting up all my dye supplies and it was the most lovely autumn-like day, I figured I might as well do a second dye as well. The marigolds here are all doing do beautifully and have plenty to spare for me to dye with. In the end, I got a gallon jar full of petals. Both flowers produced these different but equally lovely shades of yellow. I didn’t fully saturate the marigold yarn before dunking it into the dye pot so it resulted in some white patches that turned out to add beautifully to the variegation. A happy accident. The goldenrod is an alpaca/wool blend and the marigold is 100% merino wool. Both had alum and cream of tartar as a mordant. I’m already planning another marigold dye soon and an early walnut, since they have begun plunking to the ground already. The last photo shows all the yarns I’ve dyed this year, in chronological order. From left to right: dandelion, avocado, mulberry, bronze fennel, purple basil, purple basil, goldenrod and marigold. Which one is your favorite?

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Dyeing with Basil and Fennel

Every since I started naturally dyeing yarn, I’ve wanted to get gray—my favorite color. So this year, I grew both Bronze Fennel and Opal Basil from seed, after reading both can produce the color I seek if the fiber is silk. Both have grown well, the fennel is in a pot away from other plants (as it doesn’t often play well with others) and the basil is out among my tomato plants (which are plentiful but still green—a problem a lot of local people seem to be having.) For both materials, I crushed them up and shoved them in the leg of an old pair of pantyhose (to create a teabag of sorts) and let them simmer with the fiber. In the fennel pot, I used a skein of merino/silk blend. The result was not a gray but rather a soft, subtle yellow, plenty pretty in its own right. (In the top photo, it is the one of the left.)

When I did the opal basil, I used a few skeins of wool/Angora and a couple of 100% noil silk. As they were simmering, the color was similar to the fennel, a greenish-yellow. When I added a splash of vinegar it changed to a purple. The silk turned out the nicest and held to the fiber the best (it’s the one farthest to the right in the top photo.) Granted it didn’t stay that bright purple but the final bluish gray is perfect in my opinion. Unfortunately, the wool/Angora lost a lot of its color (center skein in the top photo.) I’m on the fence about it. When I first saw it dry, I thought it looked a bit like dirty water. But it has since been growing on me: If you look closely you can see a very subtle color variegation and honestly it looks great in these photos, under this light. If I still don’t like it later int he season, I have the option to dunk it in a pot of black walnuts or maybe even berries.

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