Making Brown with Black Walnuts Part Two

To re-cap, I had managed to transform linen yarns, grown and hand spun at Aker Fiber Farm in New Hampshire, from lovely shades of silvery- and golden-tan into more drab versions of same colors. This was deeply dissatisfying. But, if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again.

I thought about the factors that might have led to such disappointing color, and decided to change a few things the second time around. I was in a hurry at this point, because I was planning to deliver the yarns in just a couple days. So, I moved through some steps quicker than I normally do.

First, I made a fresh dyebath using only the very greenest of the walnut hulls that had been soaking outside. This involved finding the bucket that contained the hulls I had collected earliest in the fall, which was tucked under a table and very well protected from squirrels. It was a little bit of an excavation project. Again, I used 3 gallons of hulls to make the dyebath, but I only used the brightest green ones:

Second, I used fresh tap water to make the dyebath, not the liquid that the hulls had been soaking in. I heated the bath to about 180°F, maintained that temperature for two hours, then allowed it to cool and steep for a couple hours. I strained out the hulls while the liquid was still very warm, instead of giving it time to cool completely. I did not add any vinegar this time. The pH was 6.

Third, I re-mordanted the fibers with aluminum acetate at 5% WOG at 100° and let the yarns soak in the mordant solution for two hours. I rinsed the yarns before putting them into the dyebath. After about ten minutes in the dyebath, I decided that this situation really called for iron sulfate.

I’ve used tannin with iron on cellulose before. I have even written some blog posts about it. So I knew it would darken the color significantly. I had been hoping that with black walnut I could get a dark color without iron. But at this point in my story it was Thursday and I was planning to deliver the yarns on Saturday, so I figured I’d better go with something that I was certain would do the trick.

I dissolved 1 Tbsp. of iron sulfate in a tub containing 2 gallons of hot water. I pulled the skeins out of the dyebath and “worked” them briefly (meaning swishing them around in the solution to try to prevent blotches), wearing gloves all the while. The color shift to a dark brown was basically instantaneous. I returned the skeins to the dyebath without rinsing.

Then I continued to heat the skeins for an hour, and they cooled overnight in the dyebath.

Once again, I let the the skeins drip and dry a little before rinsing. And, here they are all washed and dried:

You can see the yarns wound into balls by Locally Dressed here.

The color of the linen shirt actually grew on me as it dried, so I left it alone. Obtaining an unbleached-linen look on linen is a lot more satisfying when that wasn’t the original color!

I do believe that the greener and more resinous the hulls are, the richer the color you will get. However, I’m positive that it was the iron sulfate that ultimately created the dark color I was able to achieve on the linen yarns. I am currently taking the Maiwa class Natural Dyes: Alchemy Chemistry Craft, so in a few weeks I will be much better informed about the chemistry of the tannin-iron reaction!

I am a lot more cautious about using iron on wool. A fresh dyebath, with no tannin or mordant at all, yielded this medium brown on Western Massachusetts Fibershed white wool singles spun at Green Mountain Spinnery:

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). Continue reading “More Madder on Cotton”

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. Continue reading “Tannin and Black Walnut on Cotton”

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). Continue reading “Tannin, Iron and Madder on Cotton”