Sunday, May 03, 2015

Natural Dyeing Project #1: Red Cabbage

I've been wanting to try natural dyeing, with things I have to hand, for a while and a couple of weeks ago I discovered a rather manky red cabbage lurking in the back of the fridge. We love cabbage so it usually gets eaten quite quickly, but we'd been away and it had been pushed behind some other items on the back shelf. I did a quick survey of my facebook friends to help me decide whether to try making sauerkraut or dyeing with it and the results were pretty overwhelmingly "make dye". (I still want to try my hand at sauerkraut and the crock I just found at the fleamarket is going to come in very handy later in the summer.)

I've collected a number of old canning pots from local thrift stores to use for crafting, so I chopped up my cabbage, covered it with water and simmered it for an hour.
In the meantime, I soaked two skeins of Filatura Lanarota Natural sock yarn (90% superwash merino wool/10% nylon) in tepid water for about 20 minutes and then simmered it for an hour in 3 tsp each of alum and cream of tartar as a mordant. This is supposed to help the dye bind with the wool.
When the cabbage was done I strained the very purple water and the now much paler cabbage went into the compost.
 I ended up with four quarts of dye, which I divided in half.

I had read someone else's blog about dyeing with red cabbage and she changed the pH of the dye by adding baking soda and vinegar to get two totally different colours and I really wanted to try that. She didn't give measurements so I randomly added 2 tsp of baking soda to one half of my dye, and 3 Tbsp of vinegar to the other. The first instantly turned a lovely teal green and the other a fuchsia pink.

I added one skein of the mordanted yarn to each and simmered for 20 minutes.

They looked gorgeous soaking in the dye
Unfortunately, when I rinsed them a lot of the colour came out, particularly of the pink one.
The green one is still quite colourful but the other one has gone to a pale grey with a slight tinge of purple. Still pretty, but not quite what I was aiming for.

Mulling it over, I think there were a couple of things I did that may have affected the uptake of dye (although I'm not sure why the green stuck and the pink didn't - maybe the vinegar affected it?).

  1. Although I soaked the yarn before I mordanted it, I didn't actually wash it. I noticed when I rinsed it after dyeing that it felt kind of "soapy" so it may have had something on it that interfered with the dye absorption.
  2. I took both skeins out when they looked the colour I wanted and then chucked the dye before I rinsed them. There was quite a bit of colour left in the dye baths so I should have kept it anyway and tried dyeing something else, but I certainly should have kept them until I was sure the colour was going to stick. If I had, I could have put the pink back in to simmer longer or even sit in the dye pot overnight. Well, live and learn.
Now that I've given natural dyeing a try I have a list of other things I want to experiment with. I have a skein I dyed this weekend with loquat leaves I scavenged from my parents' yard drying now (more on that later), and I'd like to try black beans (blue) and avocado pits (pale pink) next.


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