More Madder on Cotton

If you read my post about the tannin-iron-madder experiment, you may have noticed that I divided the original dyebath in half. I didn’t explain why at the time. My rationale was this: I  worried that the iron would affect the subsequent colors I got from the exhausted dyebath.

For the rest of the experiment, I prepared small pieces of cotton cloth with three different treatments, which I’ll describe below.

You can read my original post here for a description of how I made the madder dyebath and prepared the fiber.

Usually when I’m extracting madder roots, I use calcium carbonate and soda ash to make the water mineral-rich and alkaline. The soda ash is inspired by a comment by Rita Buchanan in A Weaver’s Garden that “the pigment alizarin dissolves better in alkaline solutions.” In Jim Liles’  recipe for “Amish Madder Purple” he directs you to use calcium or chalk in the dyebath (though he specifies calcium acetate). He doesn’t mention pH, so for that sample I didn’t mess with the pH (which was 7).

However, in the other half of the madder bath, I added a half teaspoon of calcium carbonate *plus* a teaspoon of soda ash, which brought the pH up to 9. The bath got noticeably pinker.

Here’s the first sample from this dyebath. You can see that it has a bright pink quality. It’s cheery but also earthy, and I like it a lot:

When I’m working with madder, I try to keep the temperature below 160 degrees F. I have read some recipes that call for strategically manipulating the temperature higher than that, and even boiling for a limited period of time, but I haven’t tried them. So, in this case I kept the temperature below 160, maintained it for an hour, and let the fiber cool in the bath overnight.

Then I combined the two dyebaths and added the next sample. The sample below was tannin, alum acetate, and madder exhaust. I didn’t add any soda ash to bump up the pH, nor did I test it. To my eye, it’s more orange-brown than the first sample.

Lastly, I put in a piece of cloth that was not treated with tannin. This was a thick 100% cotton plain-weave piece. It was scoured, mordanted with alum acetate (along with the other aluminum acetate pieces I’ve described in this series of posts), and then dyed.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this series of posts, I have often found tannin to be a frustrating factor in my dye process. For many years I have used aluminum acetate by itself without tannin when I’m dyeing cellulose fibers. This is the kind of clear, bright pink that I’m used to from a madder exhaust:

Here are the last three madder samples stacked up together:

Here is the full set of samples I made that week (December 18th-21st, 2017):

After all these experiments, I am:

  1. Excited about the possibilities of tannin to extend the range of colors I can get on cellulose fibers.
  2. Excited about trying alternate recipes for mordanting cellulose that I came across while researching these topics, including Maiwa’s process for a combined aluminum acetate-aluminum sulfate process as described here. Scroll down to the section titled “How to Mordant Cotton or other Cellulose Fibers”.
  3. Less inclined to think of cotton as my dyeing nemesis, with the caveat that…
  4. For cellulose fibers, I still love linen more!

Tannin and Black Walnut on Cotton

I have often joked that using black walnut hulls on white wool is perhaps not the best use of my time. Black walnut hulls make various lovely shades of brown, but there are plenty of brown sheep.

Dyeing cotton brown, on the other hand, makes sense. There are naturally brown cottons, but they are not commonplace. Sally Fox has spent many years breeding naturally colored cottons in a range of beautiful colors, which you can see for sale here. However, most of the cotton that’s available at the moment is white.

Using the same heavy cotton twill samples that I used for the tannin-iron-madder and tannin-copper-weld experiment, I ran some samples with black walnut hulls. I should note that black walnut itself is a source of tannin, so the tannin step at the beginning was probably redundant. However, for this series of experiments, I treated the whole piece of cloth with tannin originally before I cut it up for samples.

I usually use walnut hulls when they are fresh in the fall. But since it was winter, I used dried hulls. I made the dyebath with 1.5 oz. dried hulls, which I extracted three times over three days and then combined the dyebaths. I am a fan of really giving the plant material time to soak to get the most out of it. This is especially true when the material is dried and woody.

As you can probably read on the label, the sample above was made with the sequence tannin, copper, weld, black walnut. You can read all the steps in the tannin-copper-weld process in my last post. I cut that piece of cloth in half and then in half again for these walnut experiments. This one was dyed in the original full-strength walnut dyebath, along with the sample below. With all of these walnut samples, I brought the bath up to 180 degrees, kept it there for an hour, and cooled the fiber in the bath overnight.

Above you see tannin, iron, black walnut. It was dyed in the same full-strength bath as the sample above it. For the iron process, see my earlier post about “Amish Purple”. I really like this warm chocolate brown. I was expecting a darker gray-brown because of the tannin-iron combination, but I think that would require a more concentrated black walnut bath.

The sample above was tannin, copper, weld, black walnut exhaust. “Exhausting” means using the same dyebath again to get a lighter color. After I pulled the first two pieces out, I put in this sample and the one described below. The stray pink thread is from the madder exhaust (which I will write about later).

The sample above is tannin, alum acetate, black walnut exhaust. Alum acetate is the mordant that I usually use with cellulose fibers. Many dyers recommend it for cellulose, rather than aluminum sulfate (which is what I use on wool). After the tannin treatment, I mordanted some of the cloth with alum acetate at a rate of 5% of the weight of the fiber. Use caution with alum acetate, as the powder is very fine and light, and goes airborne easily!  Once it was dissolved in the dyepot, I added the fiber and maintained the temperature at 100 degrees. That’s basically the temperature that hot water comes out of my tap, so it doesn’t really need to be heated at all. Maintain that temperature for an hour, stirring regularly. As with other dyeing steps, I usually let things cool overnight.

Here they are all next to each other:

From left to right, they are: tannin-copper-weld-black walnut; tannin-copper-weld-black walnut exhaust; tannin-alum acetate-black walnut exhaust; and tannin-iron, black walnut. A nice range of browns!

Tannin, Copper, and Weld on Cotton

As I mentioned in my last post, tannin is an important component when dyeing cotton. The same week that I ran my tannin-iron-madder experiment, I also made this lovely color with a tannin-copper-weld sequence:

 

Here’s how I did it. For the scouring and tannin details, you can read my last post. For the copper mordant, I used the ratio of half an ounce of copper sulfate per pound of fiber. For the quantity of the cloth I was mordanting, that was about a tenth of an ounce of copper. I dissolved the copper crystals in a stainless steel pot, then I intended to follow Jim Liles’ instructions and heat the mordant bath to 150 degrees.

It got a bit too hot, up to 200 degrees, while I was busy with other dyepots, so I added some cold water and took the pot off the heat. Then I waited for it to get back down to 150 degrees before adding the wetted-out cloth. Once I added the cloth, I kept the temperature as close to 150 degrees as I could for an hour, then let the cloth sit and cool in the mordant bath overnight.

For the weld bath, I used a 1:1 ratio of plant material to fiber, and extracted the dried weld tops three times over two days. For the first extraction, I added water to the chopped up stalks, leaves, and flowers, brought the temperature up to about 150-160 degrees F, and maintained that temperature for an hour. Then I shut off the heat and let the plant material cool and steep overnight. The next day I strained off the dye liquid and repeated the process first thing in the morning, but I only let the plant material steep until the evening. I strained off the second bath, and extracted the plant materials a third time that night.

The next day I combined all three extractions, and added half a teaspoon of calcium carbonate to the dyebath. The pH was only between 7-8. When I first added the cloth, I was not very pleased with the color. It takes time for color to develop with natural dyes, but you can often get a sense of what might be happening with the first color “strike”, or how the fiber first takes in the color. I felt it was drab and uninspiring.

Here’s what it looked like at first:

Fortunately, I know that weld is pH sensitive, like many dye plants, so I pulled out the cloth and stirred in half a teaspoon of dissolved soda ash. This brought the pH up to 9. When I re-introduced the cloth, it was much brighter. Yay.

At this point I stopped writing down notes or taking photos. I was running several different dye experiments that week, in an overly-ambitious whirlwind of winter vacation before heading off to celebrate Christmas festivities with my family. Oh, and buying a car.

Typically I would heat a weld dyebath to not higher than 180 degrees, maintain that for an hour, then let the fiber cool in the dyebath overnight. Then I pull out the fiber to dry completely before washing and rinsing. Let’s assume that’s what I did!

Tannin, Iron and Madder on Cotton

Way back in December, around the time of the winter solstice, I ran some dyeing experiments with heavy cotton twill cloth. I have had some frustrations with cotton over the years, some of which I’ve documented here on this blog. On cotton yarns and cloth, I often get colors that are much lighter than I want, or a different shade than I was expecting.

Nevertheless, there are some colors and techniques that have always intrigued me. So in December I tried a recipe for “Amish Madder Purple” from Jim Liles’ book The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing.

Cotton, like other plant-derived fibers, is primarily composed of cellulose. Cellulose is harder to dye with natural dyes than protein fibers. Protein fibers come from animals, for example: wool from sheep, mohair from Angora goats, alpaca from alpacas, llama from llamas, and angora from rabbits. Plant fibers can come from a wide range of sources, such as cotton, linen (from flax), hemp, and ramie (from a type of nettle).

Most plant-based dyes require a mordant, whether you’re dyeing plant fibers or animal fibers. A mordant is a metallic salt which bonds to the fiber and creates sites for the dye molecules to attach to. It’s like a bridge between the dye and the fiber. Protein fibers are able to bond with plant-based dyes much more easily than cellulose, due to their chemical composition.

When you are dyeing cellulose fibers, you need to add some extra steps to the process. One step that improves the depth and fastness of color on cotton is to use tannin in conjunction with your mordant.

The only downside of using tannin is that it can darken the color and make it more brown. There are lots of sources of tannin, some of which produce a light yellow or beige, others a pale pink, and still others dark yellows and browns. This page from Maiwa has some useful information about tannins. But I had found in the past that even with the lightest tannin I had tried (gallotannin from oak galls), I didn’t like the way colors shifted to a muddier tone.

However, for this recipe, the color was supposed to be dark and rich. So, tannin was my friend this time around.

Tannin combined with iron does something amazing! Check it out:

In the tub on the left are the samples of cloth that have been scoured in a liquid cationic scour from Earthues (via Nancy Zeller at Long Ridge Farm) along with soda ash. I used scour at a rate of 5.5% of the weight of the goods (the weight of the dry cloth), and soda ash at 2% of the weight of the goods. Following Earthues’ general directions, I dissolved both the scour and the soda ash in a pot of hot water, added the fiber, brought it up to 180 degrees F., then maintained it at that temperature for 30 minutes. I pulled out the cloth while it was still pretty hot and rinsed it well. I should say, too, that the cloth had already been washed in a washing machine with my usual laundry detergent. Well-scoured cotton is key.

Then the cloth was soaked in a tannin solution overnight (roughly 12 hours). For twelve ounces of fiber I used a little less than 4 oz. of gallotannin from Earthues. After that I let the cloth dry, then cut it into smaller pieces for my experiments. Each little sample was about 1.5 oz.

On the right hand side of the photo above, you can see the dramatic shift in color when the tannin-treated fiber was submerged in a solution of ferrous sulfate (iron) for 30 minutes. For the small samples I was doing, I used a quarter of a teaspoon of iron dissolved in a stainless steel pot with 2 gallons of hot water. Iron can make blotches, so I “worked” the fiber, meaning I picked it up and moved it around under the water. Wear gloves! This is an important safety rule when working with mordants. The color shifted noticeably after only ten minutes! I have to say, it was really exciting!

The last step in this “Amish Purple” recipe is the madder dyebath. A while ago I bought powdered madder root on sale from Dharma Trading. It is a little tricky to work with because it is very fine and hard to strain, but the price was right. I used about a 1:1 ratio of plant material to fiber, extracted the madder twice over two days, then combined the two dyebaths. I kept the temperature on the madder bath around 130 degrees F while it was heating.

Once the madder bath was strained, I divided the dyebath in half. In one half, I put one of the little samples into the dyebath overnight just to soak. In the morning I pulled it out, stirred in a quarter of a teaspoon of dissolved calcium carbonate, returned the cloth to the pot, and heated it. The pH was 7. While dyeing the cloth, I let the bath get up to 160 degrees and maintained that temperature for an hour.

Here are some photos of the madder bath on the stove:

On the far right above you can see the sample while it was still wet. Here’s what it looks like all washed and dried:

Here you can see the madder purple next to some pieces of tannin-iron cloth without any additional dye:

I really like the rich eggplant-purple in the madder sample. I expected the tannin-iron samples to be more of a charcoal gray, but they have a purplish tint as you can see here. Clearly, tannin on cotton is way more exciting than I previously gave it credit for!

Japanese Indigo August 2017

Way back in August I ran a Japanese indigo vat. Here’s what the bed of Japanese indigo plants looked like on August 20th:

I have only dyed with fresh Japanese indigo leaves a few times, so I am still trying to develop skill with the process. An important part of developing skill is repetition. Another important piece is learning and testing new things, and then trying to understand why they do or don’t work. Luckily, this vat afforded me all of those opportunities!

I picked 22 oz. of plant material, which yielded exactly 1 pound (16 oz.) of leaves trimmed off of the stems. Here are the tips of the plant stalks that I harvested:

On the left are the stems, and on the right is the bag with just the leaves in it. It’s a really beautiful plant! It has sweet little hairs, wrapped-around layers, exciting color contrasts, and an interesting juxtaposition of rigid and luscious textures. Continue reading “Japanese Indigo August 2017”

Hopvine

My new book cloth is a variation of a miniature overshot motif called Hopvine. To create my threading I worked from two other drafts. One was “Modified Hopvine” from a sampler from the Hill Institute. The other was “Modified Hop Vine” from Marguerite Davison’s classic A Handweaver’s Pattern Book. The threading from Hill had too many ends in each pattern repeat to suit the scale of my book covers (5.5 inches by 8 inches) so I wanted to make the motif smaller. The Davison draft had fewer ends in a repeat but looked weirdly jittery in the drawdown in my weaving software.

So, I tinkered until I found a satisfying balance in the pattern, and am still tinkering with the treadling. The design consists of two different diamonds, one a longer and more pointed and the other a little more squat and rounded. I am not sure if these are supposed to evoke different elements of a hop vine, for example the leaves and the inflorescences. Or maybe the name of the pattern has a different origin. There are some nice images of hops plants here.

For those of you who recall my emboldening tabby travails of a year ago, you might be surprised to hear that I ran into the same problem of keeping a consistent tabby this time, also. Sigh. Continue reading “Hopvine”

Recent Books

Back in September, I finished a custom order of 8 books, which was very satisfying. I used only naturally-dyed pattern weft, in linen, cottolin, and cotton (the warp and tabby wefts were commercial). I had a variety of weld-dyed yellow, madder-dyed pink and terra-cotta, and woad-dyed blue yarns to work with. They were all woven in an overshot pattern called Young Lovers Knot, which I have been using for my book cloth for about a year now.

You may recall my frustration earlier in the spring when I was weaving the cloth, and I was bored of weaving the same pattern over and over again. I complained about it at the time, and then got re-inspired when I bought some new tabby weft colors. I also switched from weaving the design star fashion, which creates boxes and distinct diagonal lines as you weave, to weaving rose fashion, which makes the motifs rounded and gives a sense of concentric circles rippling outward. Continue reading “Recent Books”

Another Woad Vat

Yesterday I picked 8 and a half pounds of woad leaves. This is a lot, probably the largest quantity I’ve harvested at one time. Many of the leaves are droopy and yellow at this point in the summer. It has been hot and dry, but there is a lot of color in them, so no worries.

woad in AugustI had written earlier in the summer about woad’s enemies. To fend off the cabbage whites, I planted two hyssop plants, which are supposed to help. I could only find anise hyssop, which may or may not be the right type. It definitely attracts the adult butterflies, as a food source I suspect. But I’m not sure it keeps them from laying eggs on the woad, and it’s the caterpillars that eat the woad leaves, not the butterflies.

anise hyssopI think at this point in the summer that slugs are the main predator on the woad, but I did find quite a few cabbage white eggs. The hyssop is very pretty, though, and it smells great, and the woad is doing OK, so even if the cabbage whites are still laying eggs on it, I guess it’s all fine. Continue reading “Another Woad Vat”

Dishtowels for Pioneer Valley Weavers’ Guild

I am a member of two local weaving guilds, Pioneer Valley Weavers’ Guild and Weavers of Western Massachusetts. The Pioneer Valley Weavers did a community service project this year where members wove dishtowels to donate to the Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraising auctions this summer and fall.

I decided to use Ms and Os for my weave structure, to get some nice bumpy texture. Here are my dishtowels in process. Here is the warp threaded, sleyed, tied on, and ready to go:

Ms and Os dishtowel warpIt is a mixture of different sizes of cotton yarns, as I was trying to use old yarns from my stash. So, the black is 6/2, the light green and gold are 10/2, and the cream is 8/2. I think they are all mercerized, but they are still soft enough to be absorbent. The width is 22.3 inches in the reed, and it’s 536 ends sett at 24 epi, sleyed 2 per dent in a 12 dent reed. I wound a 4 yard warp, which I thought would be enough for three full sized towels. As it turned out, I only had enough for two towels and one smaller napkin or bread-basket sized cloth.

One towel has a pale yellow 22/2 cottolin weft:

pale yellow cottolin weftI like this one because the values and proportions in the stripes work the way I imagined, and I like the lacy feeling.

I wove the other towel with a bright turquoise blue 6/2 cotton weft:

turquoise blue weftThe intensity/saturation of the turquoise interferes with the stripes. As Matthew put it, everything feels like it’s underwater. In future, to use this color weft again, I would redesign the stripes in a smaller scale and with different colors. I think that a more intense bright yellow would work better than the gold, for example. On the other hand, several people to whom I showed the finished towels said they preferred the turquoise one.

For the smaller napkin-sized piece, I alternated the turquoise and pale yellow, and I like the plaid effect a lot (the pale green stripe at the bottom is plain weave, which I sewed into the hem).

turquoise and pale yellow stripesstriped napkinAbove, the napkin-sized cloth looks round because it’s draped over a round foot stool, but I think you can see the plaid effect pretty well.

 

 

Microscope Images of Flax Fibers

On Thursday, May 17th, our flax and linen study group met at the lab of one of our members to look at flax fibers under a microscope (and cotton and wool, for comparison). It was so incredibly fun!

Here are the tools and equipment we used to make slides.

making slides (permanent mount)We used tweezers to position our samples and to pull them apart a little to separate the fibers so the light could pass through. We put our samples on a slide (in the square boxes on the right), and added a drop of the mounting adhesive on top (from the little bottle in the blue box). Then we dropped on a small glass cover and used tweezers to press out the air bubbles and get the adhesive to spread evenly between the slide and the cover (small glass covers are in the orange box).  Sharpies are for labeling slides. The pink yarn in back is madder-dyed 40/2 linen. Scissors and razor blades are for cutting. Because the samples were dry, we could make permanent mounts.

Folks brought in a range of flax in various stages of processing: dried but un-retted, retted but unbroken, and retted and broken but not scutched (or hetcheled), and fully processed strick, both old and recent. We looked at flax in several different stages including some of my naturally dyed yarn.

Here is the microscope.

microscopeHere’s the big monitor, which was awesome because we could all see the slides without having to take turns looking through the microscope.

monitorThe program let us do things like adjust the color and take photographs.

We took a lot of very beautiful photos. Here are a few highlights. This image shows the tips of two flax cells overlapping. You can see it in the upper-most edge of the large central bundle, just to the right of the less-in-focus strand that’s crossing diagonally in the left hand corner. Those two greyish-colored pointy tips are the ends of two fiber cells.

retted and broken flax cell ends overlapThe granular purplish area just to the right of the overlapping cell ends shows that part of the structure of the fiber there is hollow. The black circles are air bubbles. Beautiful but irrelevant.

This image shows cotton fibers for comparison. Cotton fibers are flat and ribbon-like in structure, and they twist, whereas flax fibers are rounded or tubular.

cotton 2There is some twist in the structure of flax fibers, also. The image below shows this twisting (in a greenish color in the thin strand in the center). One important thing I learned on Thursday is that the flax fibers we use for spinning and weaving are not the fibers from the circulatory system of the plant (xylem and phloem), which I had previously believed. In fact, they are the structures that give the plant strength and rigidity. They are associated with the vascular cells but are different.

retted and broken flax twistThe two images below show strick fibers (fully processed and ready to spin) from the Zinzendorf brothers in Pennsylvania. The flax was grown and processed on their farm. In the top photo, the center-most green, translucent strand shows the horizontal bars that are typical of flax fibers. In the upper left hand corner you can also see some brown decayed plant matter that is still sticking to the fibers. Click on the images to see a larger view.

brother johannes strickbrother johannes strick 2On slide below we used a stain that shows lignin (the woody material that makes the fibers strong and rigid) in blue and pectin (the starchy glue that holds cells together) in pink. This is a piece of water-retted flax fiber. In the process of water retting, bacteria consume the pectins and allow the fibers inside the plant stalk to separate from the woody core and the outside “skin” of the stalk. If you let the retting continue until all the pectins are eaten, then the individual cells separate also, and you don’t get long fibers to spin. You just get a hairy mess. So, since these fibers are still holding together, there is still pectin present. We think the blue made the pink hard to see. You can see the tubular structure of the flax fibers and the horizontal bars very clearly.

stained retted flaxThe photos below show pale pink madder-dyed 40/2 linen. I used alum acetate for the mordant. I was amazed at how the color sticks to the fibers in clumps. I wonder if yarns with a darker color would show the color adhering more evenly.

madder dyed linen yarn1This photo shows some strands of undyed fiber next to the dyed fibers. I wonder if these were on the inside of the yarn and came free when I teased apart the snippet of yarn to put on the slide.

undyed strandWho knows what is going on here, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look good. That little nugget of color is about to get away.

madder clumpHopefully we will have a chance in future to look at cross sections of the plant stalks at different points in their growth, to see how the fiber bundles develop. Science is fun!