Exhausted Madder and Exhausted with my Warp

I have exhausted the madder bath I’ve been working on.

madder exhaust on bleached cottonThese are the 10/2 bleached cotton skeins which were double-mordanted with aluminum acetate and heated in the calcium carbonate fixing solution. Actually, I could probably run one more bath for an extremely pale pink, but I’m ready to move on with other projects.

Now that I have a pretty decent stash of naturally dyed cotton, linen, and cottolin, I have been using only naturally dyed pattern weft yarns for my current batch of book cloth (the warp and tabby yarns are commercial). Thus far, I have really enjoyed using yarns that I dyed myself. However, on Monday I was having a mightily difficult time choosing color combinations. I couldn’t figure out what my problem was, but I was dissatisfied with everything I tried.  Colors that I had been perfectly happy with before–my screaming yellow weld, for example–looked ugly and annoying.

After a while I realized that I was just tired of weaving the same pattern over and over again (Young Lovers Knot). I put on enough warp for about 20 pieces, with the idea that I was being efficient. But instead I was bored. I am never, ever bored. There is so much to do all the time, and so many interesting things in the world, how could I ever be bored? It took me a while to recognize the feeling, and I felt better when I figured it out.

So, I decided to mix things up a little. I bought some new spring-like colors of 20/2 cotton (the sadly discontinued line from UKI) and decided to use commercially dyed 10/2 for the pattern weft for a while. I also switched from weaving the Young Lovers Knot pattern “Star Fashion” (which gives it those nice diagonal lines) to weaving it “Rose Fashion” (which makes all the motifs more rounded). It was a nice change of pace, and the new colors got me motivated again. In fact, with the new tabby colors, my naturally dyed yarns have taken on all sorts of new possibilities. Here is a 20/2 linen madder-dyed skein from the recent dyebath woven with a rich purple commercially dyed 20/2 cotton tabby weft. It’s sort of easter-eggy but considering that crocuses, daffodils, and all the other bulbs are blooming now, it feels OK to me.

madder-dyed pattern weft with purple tabby

Where are the books now?

My blank books and bookmarks are now available for sale at two fine establishments, Shelburne Arts Co-op in Shelburne Falls, MA, and Sawmill River Arts by the Montague Bookmill in Montague.

In other news, I have been making plans for flax growing experiments this spring. Usually I don’t plant flax until mid-April or even early May, but spring has come very early this year. I have grand aspirations this year, and will be growing several varieties: a non-specified fiber flax variety from Richters, Evelin from Richters, Marilyn from the Hermitage, and a tiny quantity of Regina from Sand Mountain Herbs.  Stay tuned for more updates about flax.


Madder Exhaust with Bleached Cotton

I decided to let the twice-mordanted bleached 10/2 cotton skeins air out until the vinegar smell was extremely faint, but not the full 4 to 7 days that Liles recommends. They dried from Thursday morning until Saturday morning, then I used a fixing solution. I used half an ounce of calcium carbonate, which suspends in the water more than dissolves, really. I didn’t use dung. I stirred it up with very hot water, added the dry skeins, put the pot on the stove, and heated up to about 150 degrees, stirring periodically, for 30 minutes.

Here are the extremely white skeins in the milky white fixing solution:

fixing solution with bleached cottonIt almost looks like I’ve dyed the skeins white. After 30 minutes, I pulled out the skeins and rinsed them twice, then I had to go to work so I left them to soak in plain water. In the evening I rinsed them twice again.

As it turned out, the fine, moldy-looking film which had been growing on the surface of the madder dyebath got displaced by increasingly large bubbles from fermentation (I assume–not sure about the microbiology here). The dyebath was a bit slimy but none the worse for wear, and it didn’t even smell too bad.

I know I said that I wasn’t going to try anything new this time around except for the scouring and mordanting steps, but I did try two other things. Liles suggests soaking the goods in the dyebath for at least half an hour before applying any heat, and then heating for at least 2 hours. He writes that alizarin, the main red-producing dyestuff in madder roots, is not very soluble in cold water, and just a little more so in hot water. Starting out cold, raising the temperature slowly, and heating for a prolonged period of time (Liles recommends up to 3 hours for cotton) allows the fiber to take up the alizarin as it slowly dissolves. I did soak the bleached cotton skeins before heating. I soaked the first two for 30 minutes, and the third for about 6 hours. Each has soaked overnight in the dyebath before drying and then rinsing. I will post a photo when they are all done.


I Do Detect the Smell of Acetic Acid

I have mordanted my bleached 10/2 cotton skeins a second time with aluminum acetate, which involved heating at 100 for an hour (it actually got up to 150 at one point, oops), cooling overnight in the mordant bath, and hanging outside to dry this morning. This afternoon they are not yet dry, but they do have a strong vinegar-like smell which I think must be the acetic acid Liles mentioned. So I gather I ought to wait until that smell dissipates, which could be several days, before I dye the yarn. Meanwhile, my madder bath is starting to get moldy. I have a pretty high tolerance for decomposition and stinky things, but in a few more days it will be yucky. What to do?

Madder Dyed Yarns

After a leisurely process of heating, soaking, and delayed rinse, the first four skeins of madder-dyed yarns are done. Here they are outside today, a bright and sunny day.

madder dyed yarnsI’ve done four dyebaths so far. The photo above shows successive dyebaths moving from right to left. The yarn on the cone is from the first dyebath. The yarns in the first three dyebaths were 20/2 linen and the fourth was 22/2 cottolin. The linen yarns were mordanted with alum acetate, and the cottolin was mordanted with alum acetate plus tannin. The weight of goods in each dyebath was about 2 ounces.

For the last couple exhaust baths I am preparing 10/2 cotton (bleached) because that’s what I have on hand at the moment. After some disappointing results with my last two umbilicate dyebaths, and out of a general desire to achieve greater depth and brightness of colors on cellulose fibers, I am going to try some new procedures. I’m especially frustrated with cotton at the moment, and for help I am turning to Jim Liles’ book The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use. In his instructions for scouring cotton, Liles writes, “… simmer or boil for an absolute minimum of 2 hours. Three or 4 hours is better in some cases, and in the old days cotton was sometimes scoured at the boil for 8 hours. Cotton is full of wax, pectic substances, and oil, all of which must be removed.” This is much longer than I’ve ever scoured before.

So, I boiled the skeins for two hours with anionic scour (from Earthues) and soda ash. Then I rinsed them three times, and mordanted with alum acetate at 5% weight of the goods at 100 degrees for one hour, let the yarns steep in the mordant for a couple days, dried them, and am now re-mordanting in the same mordant bath. This procedure is a combination of my usual cellulose treatments (based on recommendations from Earthues) and recommendations from Jim Liles.

Double-mordanting with a period of drying in between is a new experiment for me. Liles gives instructions for making your own aluminum acetate, and writes that you should wait until the acetic acid smell has dissipated before proceeding with dyeing. Since I am using alum acetate that I did not have to make myself, I didn’t detect any acetic acid smell after mordanting the first time, so I went ahead with the second mordant bath after just drying the skeins for a day.

Next will come the “fixing solution” Liles recommends. To remove unbonded mordant, he recommends soaking with a solution of calcium carbonate or sodium phosphate for 30 minutes, then rinsing with water. I’m not sure from the book whether I can just use calcium carbonate, or whether it has to be soaked with cattle or sheep dung. It seems to me that if I have the calcium carbonate, I don’t need the dung (since that seems to be a source of sodium and calcium phosphate), but maybe it helps.

Since I am already pretty far along with this madder project, I’m not planning to make any changes to my usual dyeing, drying, or rinsing steps with the last exhaust baths this time around.

However, for my next madder project I will try one of Liles’ recipes for madder red. Reading through his recipes has been very eye-opening and I am fascinated by, and kind of surprised by, many of the things he writes about. For example, instead of just rinsing the madder-dyed goods, he describes a process where the dyed material is simmered or boiled with soap. This is supposed to make the color brighter and more clear. I watch the temperature very carefully while the roots are extracting and the yarn is in the dyebath to make sure it *doesn’t* boil or even simmer. It never occurred to me that high heat later in the process could be beneficial. Also, he writes that the dyebath ought to be acidic when dyeing cotton or linen with madder. Oops. Did you see my pH comments in the last post? Clearly I had the wrong idea about what that calcium carbonate was for. In fact, he writes that making the dyebath alkaline will produce a bluish-purple. Well, I didn’t get anything like purple this time with my alkaline dyebath, but maybe I can…. So many things to try.

Here’s the madder-dyed linen yarn getting woven into cloth with black 20/2 cotton tabby weft.

cloth with madder-dyed yarn coming around the breast beamThis shot is from underneath the breastbeam to show the cloth winding onto the cloth beam. I really like these colors together. The blue-green is woad overdyed with weld.

book cloth going onto cloth beam


Madder and Flavoparmelia Dyebaths

After three extractions and a lot of soaking in between, my madder and lichen baths are ready to go. I’m sticking with Flavoparmelia caperata for the ID on the bark-growing foliose lichen, though I’m sure I could be wrong.

For each dyebath, I combined all three extractions. Next for some tinkering.

Here are the color and pH of the madder bath before I did anything to it. Brown.

initial madder bath colorinitial madder pHI would call that pH6 which is acidic, not where I want it to be to develop good reds. So, first I added more calcium carbonate (there was already one teaspoon in the roots as I extracted them). This did not produce much of a pH shift (see below). I’d still call that 6, though I don’t know what’s up with that bottom square. It’s not supposed to be so orange. Happily, the color darkened and shifted a little from brown to red.

madder bath color with chalkmadder bath pH with chalkI wanted to get the pH up a little, so I added 1/2 teaspoon dissolved soda ash at first, which got it up to pH 8 (photo on the left below). The dyepot contains about 2 gallons of liquid. I did not weigh my modifiers or figure out the percent on the weight of the dyestuff this time around (I extracted 8 ounces of roots). After another half teaspoon of dissolved soda ash, the pH was 9, which I was happy with (photo on right).

madder bath pH with half teaspoon soda ashmadder bath pH with 1 teaspoon soda ash





Since I’m dyeing linen, I’m not worried about making it too alkaline. I introduced a 2 ounce skein of 20/2 linen half bleach, which I had mordanted with alum acetate back in December, and re-mordanted yesterday for good measure. After 30 minutes heating, the color was promising:

linen yarn in madder bath at 30 minutesHere is what it looked like once I got up to my target, and maximum, temperature of 160 degrees (over 160 you’ll get brown rather than red tones):

linen yarn in madder bath at 160 degreesI am very satisfied with this so far. My quest to create rich color on linen yarns seems to be advancing, though I shouldn’t speak too soon. The color is always lighter once it is dried and rinsed. I held the temp between 150 and 160 for an hour (and actually had to shut off the heat for a while to keep it from getting too hot). Next, the skein will sit and soak all day and overnight in the dyebath, and then it’ll drip dry before I rinse it. I find that delaying the rinse helps with fastness. So, that’s the status of the madder bath. As the week progresses, I expect to re-use the bath repeatedly and get a lot of pink, salmon, apricot, and so on until it’s exhausted.

The Flavoparmelia experiment is less exciting, but at least now I know not to bother with it again, so that’s useful information anyway. Here’s the initial color of the dyebath with all three extractions combined (I started with 5.4 ounces of lichens including a lot of bark).

initial color of Flavorparmelia bathThe pH was a bit weird. I didn’t take a photo (by now you’re probably tired of photos of pH strips). It looked like 6 at first, but as the liquid wicked up it shifted to 5. The initial color of the skein was light and not promising.

linen yarn in Flavoparmelia bath at 30 minutes pH 5Just for the heck of it I decided to see if the color was pH sensitive (since I already had the soda ash out anyway…). I put some of the hot dyebath liquid in a jar and added 1/4 teaspoon of soda ash. It darkened, so I decided to add this solution to the dyebath (I took out the skein first). Since this dyebath contains less liquid than the madder pot, about one gallon rather than two, even such a little soda ash had a noticeable effect on the pH, which went up to 8.

Flavorparmelia plus quarter teaspoon soda ashlinen yarn in Flavoparmelia dyebathlinen yarn in Flavoparmelia bath after 8 hours




OK, I guess there isn’t a big difference between these two photos. On the left is the yarn halfway through heating it, and on the right is how it looks after sitting and soaking for eight hours. I do not plan to exhaust this bath.

New Umbilicate Vats

Last Friday (February 24th) I set up three new umbilicate lichen vats with the fallen lichens I collected on February 1st and 6th. I had stored them in two different bags. The material in one bag was damp, and the other dry and crispy. You’re supposed to dry them first, but I proceeded with the damp ones and hope it works out.

Several of the pieces were enormous. If they grow half a millimeter a year, this six inch piece must have taken over 300 years to reach this size!

six inch lichen pieceThis piece, too, must be ancient.

four inch lichen pieceAs you can imagine, handling these things inspires awe.

I crumbled up the dry ones, tore the damp ones into small pieces, and combined them. I had 12 cups all together, though “cups” is sort of relative because you can compact them, and then they spring back up again. The total weight was 12 ounces. I divided the lichen pieces between three jars, with 4 ounces in each.

lichen on scaleWith the exception of using the damp lichen, I followed the directions in Casselman’s Lichen Dyes. I also found and re-read her article “Color Magic from Lichen Dyebaths” in Shuttle, Spindle, and Dyepot from Spring 1986 (vol. 17 #2), which I forgot to mention in my posts before.

She says to choose a jar that can accommodate twice the volume of the lichens. You need a lot of headroom in the jars to allow the lichens to expand when they get wet, and to make sure there is enough oxygen in the vat. I put the crumbled up lichen in the jars, and added equal amounts of ammonia and water (2 cups of each). The ammonia solution was pH 10.

lichen vat pHHere are the jars.

new lichen jarsYou can see that the bubbles on the surface are clear (well, a very light color).

After a week of stirring up the soaking lichens each day to incorporate oxygen, the color is developing nicely. Here’s the spoon I’ve been using, plus some of the liquid which has dribbled off.

lichen vat stirring spoonHere are the jars after a vigorous shake this morning. Note the darker, more reddish-colored bubbles. I have to admit that I have not been stirring as many times a day as Casselman recommends, but things seem to be moving along OK.

lichen vats after 7daysIt takes at least 16 weeks for an ammonia vat to develop and “ferment” properly. I will continue to incorporate oxygen regularly, which Casselman says is necessary to allow the orcinol to convert to orcein. So, don’t hold your breath as I probably won’t post about these vats again until June.