Herbal Dyemaking Part 3

In this post I want to address the remaining steps needed in the making dyes from herbs. I will then follow this post with several on various recipes and what herb yields what color. In this last post on methods I will cover the work of scouring, as many fabrics and wools require this before dyeing. I will also address the practice of wetting the fabric before bathing and the creation and use of the actual dye bath. I am doing all of this in advance of presenting basic recipes, which I will come to in the next post. I am doing this in this order so that you will completely understand everything that must be considered and done before deciding on a project. Wools and fleece, for instance, require different treatments than cotton or polyester knit. You may decide that a certain fabric is too difficult or uncertain to risk the time and trouble in a dyeing project.

So this post is the final introduction to the art of herbal dye making and is intended to help you decide in advance just how far you would like to venture into this craft. It can be messy and time consuming as well as hard work at times. But the results are wonderful and rewarding. You can choose the colors, use herbs to create them and alter them at any time during the process and even after the dyeing is done. In this manner, you get what you want and avoid the chemicals and fragrances in processed dyes that give so many people grief. And, as an added bonus, if the dye washes out after frequent wear, it can be redyed time and again with the exact same color you began with. No more trying to find a powdered dye mix that “comes close” or forces you to change the color altogether. So if this is appealing and you are crafty and like this kind of creative work, then dig in and start planning because your first project is around the corner.

Scouring For Special Fabrics

Oily fleece, yarn or cloth should be scoured before dyeing. Prepare a bath with up to 12 gallons (depending upon the amount of Wool you are using) of soft water at a temperature of about 140 degrees fahrenheit. Add 6 fluid ounces of Ammonia and 3 ounces of soft soap. Put the wool or cloth into this bath and allow to soak for an hour or longer.

Squeeze the Wool or Cloth up to the side of the sink or pot and drain the water away. Prepare a second sink or pot full of soap and water at a temperature of 120 degrees fahrenheit. You are unlikely at this point to need any more Ammonia in the water unless the Wool or Fleece is very oily. If it is very oily, add in about 6 ounces of Ammonia to the water. Soak for an hour.

Drain and rinse several times over in warm water. Wool or cloth can be spun dry in a washing machine but you should put fleece or silk in a large cheesecloth bag first. Dry away from direct heat, preferably in a no-heat cycle in a cool dryer or flat on a table in a cool breezeway.

If you are scouring Silk, soak it overnight in 5 gallons of hot water at a temperature of 195 degrees fahrenheit. Add a teaspoon of liquid detergent to remove oil from the fabric. Squeeze the silk gently before removing from the water. After squeezing all the water out without crumpling the material too badly, replace it and repeat the process once.

Rinse the Silk in warm water with 1/4 cup of Vinegar. Dry in a cool breezeway.

Wetting Wool Before Dyeing

Wool takes a dye bath much better when it is thoroughly wetted first. Do this immediately before mordanting and repeat before dyeing if the mordanted Wool has been allowed to dry. Wool does not absorb water easily so you should add washing soda to the water to speed this process up considerably.

When you are preparing the Wool for mordanting, weigh it first. Prepare a bath of warm water at about 120 degrees fahrenheit. Add 1/3oz of washing soda for each pound of Wool. Soak the Wool for an hour and then drain.

Alternatively, you can obtain a “wetting agent” at a dye supply house. Use a drop of the wetting agent for each 6 oz of Wool soaking in 120 degree water for 5 minutes.

You do not have to use this method for any other fabric than Wool.

Making a Basic Dye Bath

To make a basic dye bath, first of all you must chop or crush plant material. Choose the plants, herbs, flowers or leaves according to the color of dye you wish to achieve. The list of plants or herbs that create certain colors are listed in the bulk of this eBook.

After crushing or chopping the plant materials, place it loosely in a muslin bag and soak in 5 gallons of tepid soft water overnight. Move the water to a pot or pan and simmer over 180-200 degrees for 1-3 hours or until the desired color is achieved. Once the color is right, remove from heat.

Remove the herbs and allow the water to cool to “hand heat”. Gently add the Wool. Slowly bring to a simmer over a full hour and then allow to simmer for an additional hour afterward. Remove from heat and allow to cool back to “hand heat”.

Remove the Wool or Silk and rinse in warm water, then tepid water and finally in cold water. Leave the silk to cool overnight and then rinse again. Hang to dry.

Making a Woad or Indigo Dye Bath

Woad or Indigo require a different process. They will yield a rich blue dye if done correctly. For one pound of Wool, pick four (4) pounds of fresh leaves and boil in 20 quarts of water for seven (7) minutes. Squeeze the leaves through a strainer and discard the leaves. Cool the mixture for a while and add a few drops of liquid Ammonia.

Aerate the mix by whisking for 10-15 minutes. The froth should turn a pale blue. Warm it back up until it’s hot to the touch. Sprinkle 2 tsp of Sodium Dithionate over the surface of the dye. You can obtain this chemical at most craft stores. Adding it to the bath will remove the oxygen from the surface and turn the dye yellow. DO NOT STIR. Leave to stand for 30 minutes to cool until it reaches room temperature.

Add the Sodium Dithionate to a sink full of water. Wet the Wool in the water thoroughly. Once it is thoroughly wetted, slide the Wool gently into the dye bath. Be careful not to stir up oxygen or force air into the mix.

Soak the Wool in the Indigo bath for 20 minutes. Remove gently and do not allow it to drip back into the bath as you do so. Catch the drips or force them over the edge. Drips into the water will release oxygen and mess up the bath. Shake out the Wool and hang it over a bath or outdoors for 10-15 minutes. It should slowly begin to turn blue. Add more Sodium Dithionate to the sink water and repeat the soaking and shaking out process 3 to 6 times, or as many times as necessary. When it is finally the right shade of blue, wash the Wool in soapy water at room temperature and rinse thoroughly in cool water. Hang out to dry.

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    […] posted everything you need to get started making herbal dyes (The Basics , Part Two: Mordants and Dyemaking Part 3), I want to move into giving you recipes for actually making the dyes. These recipes are divided by […]


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