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

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


Weld on Cellulose Yarns

I have not been hibernating, but I am woefully behind on sharing my dye news. So, my first post of 2012 is actually a belated one that I began writing weeks ago.

Back in December, I decided to dye several skeins of cellulose yarns (linen, cotton, and cottolin) for future projects featuring naturally dyed yarns. So many colors to choose from…. I have tons of dried weld in the closet, which made yellow an obvious choice. To prepare for dyeing with weld, I went back through my old dye notebooks, and found a note that one summer some of the weld plants bolted and flowered in their first year, but only got to be about 2 feet tall. So, weld can flower the first year, but technically it’s a biennial.  In my experience, the plants get giant (5-6 feet) in their second year, hence all the dried weld in the closet. Hence yellow yarn.

There are a range of opinions about how to achieve the best results with natural dyes on cellulose (i.e., plant) fibers. Everyone agrees that a thorough scouring is necessary to begin. I washed the skeins in hot water with regular laundry detergent first, then used soda ash at 2% weight of goods and an anionic scour from Earthues (ordered from the lovely and inspiring Nancy Zeller at Long Ridge Farm) at 6% WOG.

Some folks recommend an alum-tannin-alum sequence using aluminum sulfate and a tannin source. Others recommend just aluminum acetate with no tannin. I decided to follow instructions from Earthues (maybe not their most current recommendations) and treated the yarns with tannin first (Earthues’ gallotannin, from oak galls) at 5% WOG, then the next day mordanted with alum acetate at 5% WOG. My yarns were 22/2 unbleached cottlin and 20/2 linen half-bleach.

I used 9.36 oz. of dried weld (stems, leaves, and flowers) to make the dyebath, planning to dye about 12 oz. yarn.

Here I must digress for a moment. Back in December I checked out Anne Bliss’ sweet little book North American Dye Plants from the library. In her preface she acknowledges the support of her family in tolerating the “odoriferous stews” her research required. In our house we call the same phenomenon “stinky pots,” though “odoriferous stews” sounds much more grand. Weld is a stinky plant. The flowers are stinky in a good way. The rest of the plant is stinky in a stinky way. I don’t mind it so much because I have a high tolerance for the smells associated with natural dyes. But I try to spare my love the worst of the stenches by dyeing outside when the weather permits. Our neighbor’s cat loves all my smelly treasures, and we have many funny photos of him enjoying my fiber and dye experiments. Here’s one of Hansel luxuriating in the weld harvest of 2009.

OK, so stinky pots happen outside when weather permits. But since it was a rainy, albeit mild, December, the weld dyepot had to be indoors while it was heating (I brought up the temp to 180, held for an hour, then cooled overnight before straining). Fortunately it was not very smelly when I first heated it. Afterwards, it got outrageous! I did not extract the plant material multiple times, though some people recommend this. Once was enough.

With weld, many people recommend chalk to heighten the color, and/or dipping the fiber in an alkaline afterbath. I decided to add both calcium carbonate (at 3%WOG) and soda ash (at 2%WOG) to the strained dyebath before adding the skeins. The pH was between 9-10. I always do a delayed rinse, meaning I let the dyed yarns dry completely before rinsing them. I got intense, though kind of weird, color.weld-dyed skeins I would describe the linen skeins (on the left of the photo) as mustard. The cottolin (on the right) are a lighter greenish-yellow. I put a color wheel in the photo for comparison.

Weld has a reputation for yielding the most pure or “clear” yellow but you wouldn’t know it from this batch of yarn. I concluded that the tannin affected the color, and the fact that the fibers weren’t bleached also made a difference.

Seeing how intense the color was, I got overly ambitious and decided to use the exhaust bath to make green by overdyeing some cotton and cottolin skeins previously dyed blue with woad. This was my first attempt to make green with cellulose yarns (though I have made many successful greens on wool and alpaca by dyeing the fiber yellow first, then overdyeing with woad). Well, my results were really pathetic and disappointing. Here’s a photo comparing them to a woad dyed skein that I wisely did not mess with.woad overdyed with weld Sorry for the blur, but the colors are pretty accurate. The woad dyed skein is on the far right. They all started out that color. I treated them with the same tannin-alum sequence as the yellow skeins, thinking the tannin might create a nice teal. Sadly, no.

I attribute my lack of success to two factors. First, the weld bath must have been exhausted, and the very little color that was left attached unevenly to the fiber. Second, I must have had a chemistry problem, even though I was pretty sure I wouldn’t. The pH of the exhaust bath when I put the woad-dyed skeins was 8, which I didn’t think it was high enough to strip the blue off the yarn. But clearly it did.