I haven't worked with natural dyes since my weaving class at California College of the Arts, where for one day we dipped skeins into steaming pots of cabbage leaves, onion skins, turmeric, and into one glorious vat of indigo. It's been at least ten years since then, and I finally had the opportunity to return to it.
Last year Pat attempted to grow some flowers for dyeing, but they didn't thrive. This year, we managed a healthy crop of zinnias and some indigo. For zinnias, we needed a 2:1 ratio of fresh flowers to yarn. So, we picked a pound of blooms for an 8 oz. skein of cotton yarn. (It was really hard for me to decapitate the flowers!)
Before we could extract the dye from the blooms, we had to prepare the cotton fiber--first in a bath of alum and second in a bath of tannin (from hickory bark). Alum is a mordant that helps the dye to adhere to the fiber. The tannin also helps, but I was surprised at how much the tannin dyed the fiber a --well--a tan color.
Half a day later, we heated up the blooms for an hour, and then finally after extracting the blossoms, we submerged the yarn in the resulting dye bath. Zinnias dye a yellowish color which sort of made the tan more golden. Of course there are so many variables in dyeing. Had we used less tannin or more blossoms the outcome could have been different. There's always a next time to play with the amounts like dye scientists.
We have three more skeins to dye. We want to try walnuts for sure. (Walnuts don't eve require added tannin because there is enough tannin in the husk itself) I'm not sure we have enough indigo for a bath, but maybe we can supplement it with purchased dyes.
Once we have it all dyed, I am going to teach Pat to weave with our new fiber! One thing I really love is that these yarns become a record of your year's garden or at least a way to enjoy zinnias in the winter.
And for the self-promotion portion of this blog post, Woolgathering Fall 2017 should be landing in mailboxes today. This month's issue explores themes of collecting, talismans, and death. If you are interested in subscribing or know someone who might be interested, please check out the Woolgathering Page. It's never to late to incorporate Woolgathering into your life as a way to celebrate the seasons! Fall is a perfect time to start!
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Anna Lentz blogs about life at Spring Bird, her art making and other nature/art happenings.