Exhausting the Orange Cosmos

These last two posts are very belated, so a reader may have totally forgotten that the weld and cosmos baths I’m talking about were left over from my workshop at the annual spring conference of Mass.Ag. in the Classroom back on March 8th.

Compared to the questions raised by the weld exhaust process, the exhaustion of the orange cosmos bath was relatively straightforward. I only dyed woolen yarns, mordanted with aluminum sulfate. Below you can see the first exhaust skein in the dyebath:

skein in cosmos exhaust dyebath

Here are the colors of yarns once they were rinsed and dried!

Below is the first exhaust, on a two-ply yarn from Bartlett Yarns in Maine.

first cosmos exhaust

Below are all three exhausts side by side. The first is on the left, the second in the middle, and the third on the right. The second exhaust was also a yarn from Bartlett’s. The third was the last of my stash of a smooth, shiny Swedish rug yarn.

all three exhausts


All of these are pretty rough wool yarns so they will make their way into a rya one of these days.

Exhausting the Weld Bath Part Two

After those intense, vivid colors on 40/2 linen yarns from the first and second weld exhaust baths, I assumed there was still quite a bit of color left in the bath. I thought it would be fun to try a couple experiments. My first experiment was to put a mordanted cotton-linen blend skein in the weld bath overnight, but not to heat it at all.

Why would I even try this? Well, the answer is kind of a long story. Even though my usual method is to apply heat when extracting color and dyeing fiber, I am very aware of the fact that this requires energy. Way back in 2006 I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel to Kyrgyzstan along with feltmaker Karen Page, to work with a group of women in a village who wanted to develop a crafts business. My part of the project was to teach them what I knew about natural dyeing, and Karen’s job was to teach them new felting techniques.

For the dyeing part of the workshop we used firewood to heat the water for the dyebaths. Specifically, our wood was small branches and twigs. Kyrgyzstan is an arid, high altitude, Central Asian country where most of the water comes from run-off from the snow-capped Tien Shan mountains. For various reasons, including climate but also deforestation due to logging and sheep-grazing during the Soviet period, there are not a lot of trees. In our village setting, many people used dried dung as a fuel (common around the world, actually), and wood was a precious commodity. There was limited running water in the village, which flowed down from a stream that ran uphill above the village, but this water was carefully allotted to each neighborhood on a schedule. Our workshop participants had unsuccessfully petitioned their village government to give us a greater water allotment for the duration of our workshop, but since their request was turned down, we had to carry water from a well in a participant’s back yard. It was a couple yards over, not that far away, but still required some effort to carry to the community center where we were working. Water was also a precious commodity. Why would you waste water and fuel on something speculative (it might result in something that might make money sometime) and inessential?

So, this experience made me acutely aware of the fact that my methods are very “first world” and that I ought to do more to conserve limited resources. I resolved to learn more about dyeing without fuel inputs, e.g., solar dyeing, but I have sadly not made much progress in that regard. Partly I blame the fact that I live in New England where water is plentiful and sun and heat are comparatively scarce. For many months of the year I cannot work outside at all, so solar dyeing is a seasonal activity. Partly I blame the fact that I squeeze dyeing in around the other things in my life (e.g., work) and cold-soaking is slow. The quickest way to do it is usually the most practical for me. Partly I just haven’t prioritized it. I have tried occasional experiments in cold-soaking, though, and have been pretty pleased with the results. So I decided to try a cold-soak in this case.

OK, back to the main story. The skein sat in the weld exhaust overnight. In the morning it was pretty light, but I figured that was because I hadn’t applied any heat. Since the color pretty much matched my expectations, I took it out, didn’t really question it, and went on to experiment number two.

Experiment number two was to overdye some woad-dyed 10/2 cotton skeins. Woad will bond to fiber without a mordant, though I sometimes mordant fiber for a woad bath anyway because I think it results in deeper color. This is a hypothesis that I have not rigorously tested, however, and certainly bears further investigation. In this case the woad-dyed skeins were not mordanted. So, I mordanted them with aluminum sulfate at about 5% WOG (weight of the goods, i.e., the yarn) and soda ash at about 3%.

Here are some of the woad-dyed yarns in the mordant bath.

mordanting woad skeinsHere are two of the woad skeins in the weld exhaust bath:

overdye woadYou can see that the bath still has some yellow left in it, but it is not sticking to the yarn.

Here are the yarns after they were washed and dried. On the left is the cold-soaked weld skein. On the right is one of the skeins that I tried to dye green, but as you can see it is not green. The exposure is a little dark, the relative colors are pretty accurate.

yellow and notgreen

Here is one of the not-green skeins on the left next to a mordanted woad-dyed skein on the right. This photo is a little over-exposed, but again the relative colors are pretty accurate.

notgreen and blue

I have never managed to get a good green on cellulose yarn using weld and woad, and this time was no exception. I have managed, in the past, to get a nice greenish blue on cotton cloth with weld and woad (weld first, overdyed with woad) but I can’t explain why the fabric sample was more successful. In the past I have always tried overdye blue on top of yellow. I suspect that the not-green skein above is a much lighter blue than the mordanted yarn because the alkalinity of the woad exhaust bath dissolved some of the woad back into solution and it washed off when I rinsed the skein. I also suspect that the exhaust bath basically done and didn’t have much color left.

Experiments to try this summer:

1. Weld-yellow first, on mordanted yarn, then woad on top is more likely to yield green on cellulose yarn. I don’t think the pH of the weld bath would matter in this process because the subsequent woad vat would also have high pH.

2. A natural fermentation vat might give better greens because the color-remover which I use as a reducing agent may be pulling off the weld-yellow from the cellulose fiber.

3. Try woad first, then mordanting, then weld, but use a full-strength dyebath next time.

4. If trying woad first, then mordanting, then weld, do not shift the weld bath to a high pH. This one bothers me a bit because I don’t know how the yellow will develop without a high pH, but clearly having a high pH doesn’t help the blue.

5. Hypothesis: Weld and woad on cellulose are a lost cause and I should try a different source of yellow on cellulose if i want to get a good green. The reason I’m reluctant to accept this hypothesis is that I have read that weld and woad were used in combination, historically, to make consistent and successful greens. But maybe this was only on wool. I have never had a problem getting nice greens on wool with any source of yellow plus woad. The difficulty is just with cellulose fibers.

Exhausting the Weld Bath–Part One

After my dyeing workshop at Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom I had two strong dyebaths left over. One was weld and the other orange cosmos.

The original weld bath was made with 6oz. dried plant material from second year plants in bloom. I had originally divided the bath in half because I wanted to add calcium carbonate to the bath in which I dyed the cellulose cloth swatches, but not to the bath in which I dyed the protein swatch books. I’m not sure that the calcium carbonate would do anything bad to the wool or silk, but I consulted my notes from a workshop with Joan Morris and according to my notes we hadn’t added it to the protein dyebath. I decided not to experiment this time around.

Since I planned to exhaust the weld with skeins of 40/2 linen premordanted with aluminum acetate, I combined the two separate pots of weld.  So, the combined baths contained a small quantity of calcium carbonate and I added some soda ash solution to brighten the color. The first two skeins weighed 4 oz. combined. They came out a fantastic, rich yellow.

Here’s the dyepot in process:

first weld exhaust

Then work got in the way and the dyebath had to sit for several days. It was in an unheated room and I figured it would be OK, but when I finally got back to it… pee-ew! But I am not one to be daunted by strong smells, and also am not one to waste potential color.

So, I did a second exhaust with two more skeins of 40/2 linen (also premordanted with alum acetate) and got a lighter but still very bright yellow. My normal procedure is to allow fiber to dry completely after dyeing, before I wash or rinse it. However, these were so stinky I washed them right away. Fortunately the bad odor washed out and the skeins smell fine.

Here are the 40/2 linen skeins. The darker ones on the left are from the first exhaust, and the lighter ones on the right are from the second exhaust.

weld exhaust


Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom

On March 8th I presented two workshops at the annual conference of Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom. You can check out their website here. One workshop was on growing and processing flax, and on ways to incorporate flax into the school curriculum. The other was on growing a dye plant garden at school and using dye plants with kids.

Based on an idea from Joan Morris, shibori artist extraordinaire, I decided to make two swatch books for the dyeing workshop. Each book had five small cloth samples sewn together. The dimensions were 3 inches by 1.5 inches. One swatch book was made up of cellulose (i.e., plant-based) cloth samples, including three kinds of cotton cloth, a linen-rayon blend, and a 100% linen piece. The other was made of protein (animal-derived) cloth, including silk satin, raw silk, and three weights of wool. I mordanted the cellulose swatch books with aluminum acetate at 5% WOG (weight of the goods, or fiber). I mordanted the protein swatch books with aluminum sulfate, at 1 tablespoon per 4 ounces. The protein booklets weighed about 6oz. altogether, and interestingly the cellulose booklets weighed almost the same.

For the workshop, I wanted to give participants samples from two different dyeplants. I decided on weld (Reseda luteola, a biennial) and orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus varietals, all annuals). Both are excellent for attracting pollinators. So, half of the protein books (~3 oz.) and half of the cellulose books (~3oz) would be dyed with each plant material. The total WOG for each plant material was thus ~6 oz.

In preparation for the workshop, I made a strong dyebath of weld from the dried tops of second year plants in bloom. Weld is an excellent source of yellow, and is beautifully enhanced with a high pH and with calcium carbonate in the dyebath. I used 6 ounces of dried plant material for 6 ounces of fiber (i.e., half of the protein booklets and half of the cellulose booklets), and I dyed both protein and cellulose swatch books for all the workshop participants ahead of time. Because cellulose fibers and protein fibers require slightly different treatment, I divided the weld dyebath into two pots. I added calcium carbonate at 3% WOG to the cellulose dyebath, which dramatically heightened the color. I did not add anything to the protein dyebath, so it was rather drab in contrast. Then, in the workshop we used an afterbath to adjust the color of the protein swatch books. We submerged them in a soda ash solution of approximately pH 10 and the color brightened significantly.

Here are the photos of the weld samples after a delayed rinse (drying before washing), washing, and drying again:

all weld

Above you can see the protein (top row) and the cellulose (bottom row) swatch books. From left to right on the top row: natural wool from Wool and Dye Works in Florence, MA; bleached wool from Wool and Dye Works; wool gauze from Delectable Mountain in Brattleboro, VT; raw silk (old stash, I think from my sister Simone), and silk satin (Dharma Trading–I cut up a scarf). From left to right on the bottom row: 100% linen; linen-rayon blend (both from Dharma); heavy-weight cotton; mid-weight cotton; and cotton damask (all from the Textile Company in Greenfield, who do not have a website).

Below you can see a closer view of the cellulose swatch books, with the linen and linen-rayon blends on top and cottons on the bottom row. Personally I think weld has a special affinity for linen to the point that it creates an almost neon vibrancy, though the linen-rayon blend was also spectacular.

weld cellulose

Below is a closer view of the protein swatch books. Silks are on the top and wools are on the bottom. The silks were dull and kind of gray compared to the wools. I would not recommend weld on silk for maximum effect, though there may be some tricks to silk that I’m not savvy about.weld protein

The weld on natural (unbleached) wool was very rich (on the left below) weld wool natural

On the bleached wool it was glowing (sample on the left below):

weld wool bleached and gauze

The slightly frayed sample on the right is the wool gauze (from Italy!). It is very fine and sheer, so there is not a lot of density to suck up and reflect the color. Nevertheless, it is intense and lovely.

I also made a dyebath with frozen orange cosmos ahead of time. I used 12 ounces of frozen flowers for 6 ounces of fiber. The workshop was pretty short (an hour and ten minutes) which is too short for the time-frame of a decent dyebath, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I wanted participants to see at least some of the steps of the dyeing process and I wanted the color to be impressive. Normally, you can use a much lower ratio of plant material to fiber for orange cosmos. At the beginning of the workshop I showed folks how to strain out the plant material from the steeped dyebath, and we put the remaining swatch books into the dyebath, along with a glug of soda ash solution. Orange cosmos are also pH sensitive, and a high pH shifts the color to a rich red-orange. Unfortunately the participants’ samples didn’t get to heat and steep as long as I would have liked, but they were still pretty nice!

Luckily, I got to take home the dyebaths and I re-heated the extra swatch books in the orange cosmos bath, then allowed them to soak overnight. Below are the cellulose books:

cosmos celluloseTop row left to right: Cotton damask, thick cotton, mid-weight cotton (two, because at the time I thought they looked like different colors), and thin cotton. Bottom row left to right: 100% linen, linen-rayon blend.

Below are the protein swatch books:

cosmos proteinThe top row are the silks (satin on the left, raw on the right). Bottom row left to right: natural wool, bleached wool, wool gauze.

I feel very pleased with these little booklets. I hope the workshop participants enjoyed the experience and came away with useful information.

Next up, exhausting the dyebaths….

Newfangled Magnification Technology

Back in December I began working on a new batch of Huck lace heart bookmarks in 40/2 linen, dyed with madder. People buy these at all times of year, but my current motivation is to have them available before Valentine’s Day.

I have a wide range of pink shades to chose from at the moment, so I plan to make a lot and have a good stash of inventory for several months. Last weekend I finished ten in a very pale pink, and this weekend I worked on ten more in a slightly darker, more blue shade of pink. Next weekend I hope to make some rich terra-cotta colored ones.

In the past, the most tedious part of the process of weaving these bookmarks has been the hemstitching. Each bookmark took just over an hour to weave (not including dyeing the yarn and dressing the loom), at least 20 minutes of which was the hemstitching. Until recently, I employed a magnifying glass to assist me with this job, since 40/2 linen is a fairly fine yarn and I will be 45 on my next birthday. Hence, my eyes need some help. Actually, I wrote about using a magnifying glass in an earlier post a couple years ago. Apparently I felt way more philosophical and content about it back then. Continue reading

Madder the Inexhaustible Subject Matter

You may recall that for a few weeks back in November, I was focussed on two madder-related questions: “How did I get orange from the first exhaust bath?” and “Why did my second and third extractions of the madder roots produce such pure, clear pinks with no browning or dulling of the color at all?”

In my quest to corroborate the opinions I developed based on my own experiences, I found myself pulling all the dye books off my shelves and re-reading the sections on madder and madder-relatives. It was fun and informative, but a little dizzying. Madder roots can produce an enormous variety of colors depending on the soil in which the roots were grown, extraction procedure, mordant, pH, fiber, water chemistry, and other factors. I tried to stick to certain parameters in my research (obtaining red and pink as opposed to orange, dyeing cellulose fibers, using an alum mordant) but it’s hard not to get distracted by beauty. Continue reading

Plough Monday

It is early January, and Rock Day and Plough Day are upon us once again. Last year I spent a long time reading up on these holidays, as well as other possibly related celebrations including Twelfth Night and Perchtenlaufen. You can read my earlier posts starting with my first one about Rock Day. Last year I kept meaning to write a post about Plough Day specifically, but I was overwhelmed with information and I never finished writing it. When I got part way through The Night Battles by Carlo Ginzburg, I decided maybe I was out of my league and I’d better back off. However, even if I am not an expert I still find all this stuff fascinating. So, here at last is my Plough Day post. Continue reading

Madder the Inexhaustible Root–Part Two: Pink

If you read my last post, you may be wondering why I wasn’t totally content with my orange linen, as bright and cheery as it was. Basically it’s because I wanted pink. Light pink, to be exact. Light pink 40/2 linen, to be exact, and lots of it. Why? Well…!

A fortunate side-effect of my successful show with Amanda Quinby at the Shelburne Arts Co-op in Shelburne Falls in October was that I sold all of my usual inventory of naturally dyed linen bookmarks and hand-bound books with hand-woven cloth covers. Hence, I need to weave more! My main objective with this madder exhaust project was to create light pink 40/2 linen yarn for weaving heart-motif bookmarks in Huck Lace. I must confess that all the other lovely colors I obtained were just happy by-products in my quest for pink. Continue reading

Madder the Inexhaustible Root–Part One: Orange

Earlier in November, another teacher at school wanted to dye some cloth to create kid-sized monarch butterfly wings as part of her classroom study of butterflies. Her initial dyebaths, composed largely of marigolds combined with some orange cosmos and wild bedstraw roots, had not yielded the color she wanted. I suggested over-dyeing the cloth with madder roots, even though they weren’t from our garden at school. She decided to use some chopped roots that I had bought from Aurora Silk a few years ago, and was pleased with her results.

I asked her to save me the exhausted dyebath and the roots, which she very kindly did. I spent every spare moment of the next two weeks happily creating various shades of pink and orange on linen and cotton-linen blend yarns. I was well-satisfied with my efforts! Here they are:

drying rack madder yarns Continue reading

Rinsing and Drying Madder Roots

Today was a very productive day. I had the day off. It was mostly sunny and warm. And, despite weeks of frosts, the ground was still workable. We’re supposed to get lows in the teens and highs only in the 30s later this week, so I was very motivated to take care of some outdoor tasks before the really cold weather rolls in.

I already wrote about digging up approximately one third of my madder bed a couple weeks ago. I already rinsed some of the madder roots I dug up, and they are already dried. I didn’t document that earlier batch. This morning I rinsed the rest of what I had dug up the other day.

Here is a brown paper grocery bag full of dried but still dirt-covered roots. I hadn’t planned to dry them first, it’s just that I didn’t manage to rinse them off before they dried. Fortunately I didn’t have any issues with mold.

dirt-covered madder roots

Continue reading