Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kitchen Dyeing

A few months ago my good friend Deb showed me a box full of yarn that she had dyed using nothing but stuff from her garden and kitchen cupboards--yarrow, tansy, purple basil, marigold, walnut, alum. She had made copious detailed notes in her lovely handwriting, and beautiful little color cards and tiny swatches, and it was all mind-bendingly pretty. Soft, variable, complex golds, greens, and lavenders that all seemed related to one another. I came straight home and denuded all the marigolds in the garden of their little orange heads, or at least I was out in the garden doing that when it began literally to snow down my neck, at which time I gave up and came inside clutching a gallon-size ziploc bag full of mariogld blossoms. I put it straight into the freezer just like that, a bag of flower heads, parked on the shelf next to the giant bag of accumulated avocado pits and skins (also for dyeing) until I was ready to get out the apron and dyepot, which, when we ran out of freezer space and the boy (home from college) had to make an effort to eat a lot of pizza rolls so we could shut the door, happened the other day.

There is so much (often contradictory) information out there about how to do this, and that's kind of what's slowed me down a little--I didn't want to make a huge disaster of it, maybe melt some nice fiber, cause an accumulation of toxic fumes in the kitchen or a small explosion, whatever. I am no chemist, and my understanding of the process is absolutely nil. These kitchen and garden dyes, though, terrify me somewhat less, so even though a pot of boiling marigold flowers mixed with alum and washing soda stinks, it doesn't seem like a dangerous or incendiary stink, if you know what I mean. It just kinda smells like something you definitely wouldn't eat, so opening a window (even though it is freeeeeezing outside) seems sufficient protection against catastrophe.

I started with the avocado pits. I had 21 of them stashed in the freezer, so I put them (still frozen) into the dye pot and covered with a little water. They bubbled for a couple minutes, which softened them enough for me to safely quarter them with a kitchen knife. Back they went into the pot, with more water--six cups total--about a tablespoon of washing soda (now it is definitely not food) a tablespoon of alum (get this in the spices section of the grocery store) and a teaspoon of cream of tartar. Adding those last two to the pot gives you a cool momentary mini explosion bubbly, foamy, cauldron effect. The boy, hovering as usual over any pot simmering on the stove, said, "It's like Potions class in here." My very rudimentary understanding of what those three additives do is this: the alum, working for some reason in tandem with cream of tartar, is the "mordant" which I think just means your results should be colorfast. (If there's more to it than that, somebody please teach me.) The mordant can be added to the dye pot itself, or you can add it to a pre-soak bath (mordanting the yarn ahead of time) but I am too lazy for that and didn't have a non-food bowl around here anywhere, so whatever. The washing soda adjusts the ph of the dye bath, which in the case of the avocado pits, was supposed to help it be pinker. I don't even know if any of this is true, but that's what I did, and you can see the results:

Lovely, lovely, soft, ballet pink.
I used pretty much the same recipe (whatever dye materials I was using--a gallon of dry flowerheads, and later the skins of 21 avocadoes--plus a couple tablespoons of washing soda, plus 1 T alum, plus 1 t cream of tartar) and simmered first the ingredients for 30 minutes to make a dye liquor, then carefully added the yarn (sometimes pre-wet, sometimes not) to the pot for another gentle 30 minute simmer. No stirring the pot, because boiling water and wool are very nervous companions already, and if you stir, there will be felting. Resist the temptation.
There are the results. I know, right???? In that picture, they are (from left): avocado skins, avocado pits (four skeins of those), marigold flowers, and the darkest pink on the right is the first skein to go in the avocado pit dye bath. Even though I simmered all five of the avocado pit skeins in together, the first one to go in soaked up the most dye. This whole process is so mysterious and so endlessly fascinating to me. Next year's garden will be far less tomato-oriented, and far more dyestuff-oriented. I can't wait.

 

 

31 comments:

  1. Wow - you make it sound so easy, and look so soft and beautiful.
    Like you, I thought this dyeing malarkey was all mystery and alchemy and not for us ornery folk.
    I am very tempted...
    (thank you!)
    Jane

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  2. Hello Kirsten,I love all of you colours,although I think your very brave for trying this out,but it's been a wonderfull success for you...I don't think I would dare try,so good for you!!!.x.Una.x.

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  3. Your colors are beautiful! I've only attempted natural dyeing with others who were more experienced. I think I may start saving my avocado skins and pits!

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  4. Wow, I am so impressed, the skeins look beautiful.

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  5. Beautiful natural dyed skeins!! I like them all but especially the ones you dyed with the Avocado skin and pits I'm interested in. I dye me wool also with plants, mushrooms or wood but never tryed Avocados. Now we start to collect them.
    Thank's for this interesting informations, Birgit

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  6. All natural definitely sounds safe. I just LOVE that marigold!! Beautiful subtle shades through all these dyes. I'm impressed! When will you check for colour-fastness, before or after you knit this into something? And Easter is coming ... I wonder if this stuff works as egg dyes! Wendy x

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  7. Oooohhh, that's pretty. I always thought home - plant dyeing yielded multiple shades of brown and mustard: great if you love love those colours but I just want to leave the '70's alone. Must start eating more avocados...

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  8. Lovely! I never thought of saving avocado pits and skins for dying.
    One year when I wanted to dye something in the dead of winter I found a bunch of fir cones on the snow and got a bit similar pink. And another time I dyed with grass clippings (from mowing a weedy lawn) and got beautiful pale yellow-green. A month later mowing the same grass gave a different tone since the weed content had changed. I also tried tree bark (found under trees after storm). It was quite fun. I also used alum for mordant and everything I tried turned out to be colorfast. It has been a few years since I tried anything like that, I think I might have a new go with food scraps :)

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  9. I am so excited about your post. I have long been wanting to dye yarn with kitchen/garden things but haven't had the time / gumption to do it. I think I will try with avocado pits - what a beautiful pink color!

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  10. Now that is the kind of yellow I can live with that whole palette works really well together. It sounds like so much fun but don't get me started! Jo x

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  11. Wow, these are amazing! I really wanna try dying with herbs, and you gave me some useful tips, so congratulations on your results and thank you! : )

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  12. Oh my gaaad! I am SO making vast quanties of gaucamole in the next few days. And I'm not even joking. And though I don't really care for marigolds they will definitely feature in the garden big time this summer. Those colours are just GOR-geous. In my enthusiasm I've just googled other plantstuffs and red cabbage, onion skins, orange peel and coffee all sound possible at this time of year....and spices! You've got me going, now - thank you ; ) ! Jen

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  13. Love this! I've experimented a bit, but have been wanting to do more dyeing. (I tried a beige alpaca overdyed with onion skins and mordanted with alum - it turned a beautiful brownish golden yellow!)

    I'm a little hesitant to use alum with a baby around. I think I might do the ol' let-nails-get-rusty-in-a-jar-of-water. Might be safer? I think it makes some lovely green colors when used with certain plant materials.

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  14. OK, now I'm going to try this too!

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  15. I used to dye wool material for rug making but used chemicals which I would prefer not to but the rugs were like paintings so you needed specific colors. But I was always interested in the natural methods and now you've got me going! I'm wondering if I could "over dye" some brash acrylic yarns that are just too brightly colored for me.....I'm more of a heather girl and I love all the colors you came up with! Each is just gorgeous! I'm going to give it a try and I'll let you know!

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  16. oooooooo...that pink makes my heart skip a beat (and my toes long for pointe shoes)

    How much fun is this?

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  17. I live in an avocado grove. Now I know what to do with the left-over pits!

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  18. What fun! I've often considered trying to dye yarn - but I've been somewhat hesitant to try it too. Lovely results.
    Sheree

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  19. Love, love, love those colors! But imagine the complexity of trying to dye enough to do a whole lot! I'm looking forward to seeing the project(s) that incorporates those little skeins!

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  20. Thanks for a lovely, wooly, interesting post, got my imagination going can't wait to read more:)

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  21. Very pretty. I can't wait to see what you make with these.

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  22. See that's why I never made soap, being a bit afraid of lye and burning, the ER etc..... But this is doable, and the results are so pretty. Looks like you used some Paton's Classic. I assume the wool has to be something natural in color or undyed to start with?
    I'll never look at produce the same way again. I'm betting avocado sales just went up 150% :)

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  23. How fast is the colour when it's been knitted up and is washed in the future?

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  24. How fun, a cool science experiment and you get beautiful yarn in the end.
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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  25. Beautiful! We tried dyeing some shirts with blackberries, and the colour came out a gorgeous bright pinky/purple, but then faded to a dull brown. Next time I'll have to try the alum/cream of tartar/washing soda.

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  26. Wow! These colors are so lovely, soft and delicate - I love them. Thanks for explaining the whole kitchen-dyeing thing in easy words. It really doesn't seem to be that difficult after all!
    I really can't wait to try out for myself (memo to me: keep that avocado pits!!!)
    ...just need to find alum and cream of tartar

    Christine

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  27. Absolutely fascinating. And the results are so beautiful - giving you wool that is unique to you.

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  28. Gorgeous colours!

    To answer your questions ... as a long time natural dyer I'd advise using the washing soda as an afterbath rather than adding it to the dye pot. You'll get better dye penetration in a slightly acid bath (cream of tartar is slightly acidic), and then soaking the yarn in a washing soda - alkaline - bath afterwards will modify the colour. You can also try other modifiers instead, e.g. lemon juice will brighten, and ferrous sulphate will grey your colours.

    You're right, the alum mordant assists the chemical bond between dye molecule and the fibre. Processing dyestuff and mordant together though will mean that you'll not get the deepest possible colours as some of the dye will bond with the mordant in the dyebath and never actually reach the yarn.

    You could say that the mordant is the 'glue' that sticks the dye to the fibre, and it can make a difference to light and wash fastness, but that does not necessarily follow. Just as the substantive dyes - those that will bond without the aid of additional mordant - are not all light and wash fast. You might want to test lightfastness - just cut a short length and leave in a sunny windowsill for a week or two - before you put a lot of time into knitting up your beautiful yarns.

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