SOS To All Dyers

q8~The Amaranth plant (Amaranthus cruentus) is an absolutely beautiful, purplish-leaved, large plant. It’s seeds were the main grain staple for the Aztecs in Mexico. I thought I was buying a Compositae family plant , since it was a six-pack, which has purple leaves and orange flowers, turned out I was wrong. The amaranth is an old friend with purplish leaves and stems, when it flowers it produces a long cluster of small, purplish, flowers. Quite attractive. I mean, look at the gorgeous color in the leaves! Anyway…… While sorting through my fibers, I found a small bit of the first fiber I ever tried to spin – Dorset. Decided it was the perfect size to see what type of dye Amaranth makes.

Amaranth plants in garden

Amaranth plants in garden

After cutting plants up and boiling for a bit to remove color from both leaves and stems I had a rather beautiful shade of dark, rose-colored pink. (Note: quite a bit has now evaporated)

Beautiful color of dye

Beautiful color of dye

Used a vinegar mordant. Color was yuck. Tried an alum mordant. This is the result:

Salmon colored sample

Salmon colored sample

When dyed, the Dorset fiber became a not-the-prettiest-washed-out-salmon color. Why? What is with the reddish dyes I make? Where am I going wrong? After the horribly yucky color the Raspberries made, I’m ready to just stick with the tried and true yellows and greens. SOS to any dyer. How can I make a natural dye that actually turns the fiber a nice pink color. I’m sure asking for red is too much. How about using beets? Input is so totally appreciated.

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27 thoughts on “SOS To All Dyers

  1. Well, there are several things going on here. I haven’t dyed with Amaranth, so I’d have to look up sources for that later, but: 1. dorset fiber in my experience doesn’t take plant dye well except the really strong ones. 2. Vinegar is not a mordant, it will not help the dye to get onto the fiber like alum does. It is used to modify the colour sometimes (pH) but a mordant actually improves the fiber ability to take up dye. 3. Red from flowers (or blue for that matter) very rarely is a molecule that will attach itself to anything.

    Berries and beets. I tried strawberries and it gave salmon, so I’m not surprised about the raspberries. You can get gorgeous purple with beetroot (adding vinegar, haha, otherwise it’s orange), but, leave your yarn in the sun for just a few days and the colour is GONE. Berries and veggies simply aren’t colourfast. Wash them and they all go beige…. (I have a post on berry dyeing, but I can’t remember how detailed it is).

    Really, the most reliable food dye you can try is onion skins.

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    • Q – Thank you so much for all of your input. I used onion skins as a teenager when Curls and I were messing around. Haven’t used them in years! Have you used red onion skins? What color I wonder?

      I really have to get my “natural dye” brain in gear and test some plant matter properly.

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  2. If you prefer strong colours, I really suggest you premordant everything, that is, wool and silk since cotton is a different procedure, with 10-15% alum.

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    • Q- I actually pre-mordanted one with vinegar and one with alum. The picture is of the alum sample since the vinegar one really didn’t “take”. I also added vinegar and alum to the dye bath. Could that have caused the problem?

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      • Vinegar doesn’t really belong in plant dyeing, in most cases it doesn’t do anything – as I said it’s not a mordant. But some colours actually require a slightly alkaline bath, in that case the vinegar would counter that effect. And in a few cases it can alter the colour in a desired way. But you cannot premordant with it and expect the dye to stick.

        Perhaps you are confusing things with synthetic dyes, where vinegar or citric acid are in fact the agents that make the dye stick? But that’s a completely different chemistry, you can’t compare the two methods.

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      • Q- you know what? I’ve been using jacquard acid dyes and you have to use vinegar to form an acid state. The vinegar stuck in my head. I’ll try without. Thanks!

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      • Exactly – with the synthetics, vinegar is necessary.

        That said, all dyers have trouble with reds and pinks, the only reliable sources really are cochineal and madder.

        You could try what I did with the basil described today – leave it in the pot for 2-3 days and see if it sticks better. Just one hour wasn’t enough.

        I’ll look up the amaranth.

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      • Q – Said thing is that I’m a chemist. My brain just went right out of the door and resorted to the commercial dye brain I’ve been using 😎 So, I let the pot simmer for an hour to remove all of the plant color – only green was left in the cut up plant. To the dye mix I added both vinegar (which was probably my downfall) and more alum. The fiber was pre-soaked in an alum solution as a mordant. I actually left the fiber in the dye mix in the sun for a day, then brought it in and microwaved it, then let it sit another day. LOL! If that fiber wasn’t dead it is now. So glad you made my brain kick in, I’m not using commercial acid dyes. Will retry with my correct brain working.

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      • Don’t add more alum to the dye bath – some say it actually attaches itself to the dye rather than the yarn. So you simmer your wool about an hour in a mordant solution, leave to cool. You can then dry it for later if you like, and no more alum needed. If you cold mordant, that is, just soak the wool no simmer, I think it has to be in there for weeks!

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      • Q- I love all of your input. I actually have two books on natural dying. Just too lazy to get them out and read. Total spur of the moment dye. I need to follow your example and look into it better.

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      • There’s one way you can test if it’s your wool or your plant. Pop the alum mordanted failed wool in a bath of some plant that you are sure gives lots of colour. If it still doesn’t take as well as yarn, it could be the dorset.

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  3. First off I love the salmon!!!! but OK you want red. What about madder root- too orange? I read on Pioneerthinking.com Blog that turmeric and lye gives a deep red. But I have no idea what the process is. I tried cherries from a cherry tree (the kind that are inedible) and got a light pink on linen.- and also burned it if you remember. Good gosh does it have to be natural??? I remember something about ivy giving off a red dye. Anybody heard of that?

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    • Q- I’m trying to play with some natural dyes, just for kicks! Lol! I used turmeric to get a bright vivid yellow! I’ll check out using NaOH with it. I remember your unique type of Cherries Jubilee! 😎

      Of course, as Pia reminded me I’m not working with commercial acid dyes. Need to get my brain working right! I was mixing apples and oranges. Sigh…….

      Haven’t tried madder root. Hummmm. Have you tried beets?

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    • Q- figured the class has all of the materials BEFORE I she’ll out even more for supplies. LOL. If I take the class it will be in the fall or winter when it’s a heck of a lot cooler. I’m a heat whiner.

      Your soap looks so lovely. I love lavender

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  4. Have you checked the Ravelry groups? My search gave me the impressions that people got: yellow, nothing, pink on superwash only, used long cold soaks and some even suggest the Hopi used contact dyeing, that is, rub it in, pound it onto a surface. Actually you could try that between sheets of watercolour paper, gently mash it with a rubber mallet and see if it stains.

    There’s no point sweating over a plant that does not perform. Also I think it needs to be the exact species and not just lookalikes.

    I tried copying my search here, but it includes the name of the tab I made for dye groups, so I don’t think it would work.

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  5. My current favourite reference is J.N.Liles 1990 book on natural dyeing (http://www.worldcat.org/title/art-and-craft-of-natural-dyeing-traditional-recipes-for-modern-use/oclc/21119195&referer=brief_results) — not sure how interlibrary loan works in your neck of the woods by you might be able to borrow it from a nearby library (either directly or have it transferred). I bought mine from the Book Depository. Anyhow, he has an amazing recipe using safflower that works on cotton and linen (not wool or silk). Lots of chemicals (e.g. sulphuric acid) and processes involved but explained well. Make sure you have all the appropriate protective gear and exceptionally good ventilation before you tackle this one! The book is organized by colour and specifies recipes for cellulose and protein fibers. He has some really good tips on the implications (danger-to-health-wise) of certain chemical combinations. To get red on wool, Pia is leading you in the right direction — only two dyestuffs are recommended. Good luck!

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    • Q- I actually do have two books on natural dying. I was just too lazy to get them out and actually do some reading. LOL! I’m going to have to though. Geeze. Thanks for your input. I’ll look for the book at the library.

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  6. I’m with the person who said pre-mordant. also try some proper dyes instead of just random garden stuff – theres a reason historical dyers stuck to a fairly narrow cannon of madder, weld, and indigo – you get better and more lasting results. cochineals and madders are best for bright and orangey reds, but they do depend upon your water quality and the fibre. this piecehttp://opusanglicanum.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/noahs-ark-finished/
    and this
    http://opusanglicanum.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/finished-at-last/
    were both done with veg dye (and I’m not exactly an expert) – madder, weld, indigo, cutch, walnut, and cochineal – you can buy most dyers plants on the net, I use george wiel

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