2007-11-04: Blue Mountains Natural Dyeing Day!

I foray further into the world of dyeing and have a fun day experimenting in the kitchen for a podcast

As mentioned in a previous post, I planned a dyeing day yesterday with David's ample help. This day was a long time in coming, as I'd been trying to arrange something since June or so, so I was very excited about it.

Mr Wiggins and I caught the train from Central, and of course it was pouring rain. Although we'd invited other people, none managed to make it this time around, so we were the only ones there besides the estimable Mr Reidy. Since the rain had ruined our initial plans of dyeing outdoors, we had to improvise a bit in the kitchen instead. Fortunately the results were quite good and didn't leave too big a mess by the end of the day!

We followed instructions from this book:

A Eucalypt Dyer's Handbook

The process was as follows:

  1. Soaking the fibre - we divided up the fibre we wanted to dye and set it to soak in lukewarm water while we prepared the dye.
  2. Dye Liquor Dye liquor - collected about 100g worth of eucalyptus leaves and boiled them in water for an hour. Strained out leaves and reserved liquid, which was divided up into 5 batches.
  3. Mono-mordanting - after the dye liquor had cooled, we chose a mordant to test out. Poured one portion of the dye liquor into a pot, then in a glass of hot water dissolved mordants (we used cream of tartar on all batches, and one other mordant for each batch). The dissolved mordants went into the pot along with a couple of glasses full of water so that the fibre would be fully submerged.
  4. Third Batch Dyeing - boiled pre-wetted fibre with dye and mordant for one hour.
  5. The First Batch Rinsing - strained dyed fibre from the dye liquor (we could have saved this for exhaust dyeing, but we had enough to do that day already!) and put it in a sink full of hot water. We usually only needed to rinse about twice to get the dye fully out.
  6. Drying - well, this should be pretty obvious, but we laid out rinsed fibre to air dry in the bathroom while the next batch started, since it stayed pretty rainy all day.

Since each batch needed to boil for such a long time, in the end we had to combine the last two batches, which resulted in a pretty strong lemony yellow. What to do while your wool is boiling away? Well, if you have a nice induction stove with an automatic timer, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to go have afternoon tea at the Blue Mountains Chocolate Co (if you are within a reasonable driving distance):

Afternoon Tea Happy Wiggins

Here were our final results, with info on the mordants we used for each batch:

Eucalypt Dyed Fibre (and one not!)

(from left to right)

  • Olive green:
    1 part dye liquor, 1/4 teaspoon potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar - not exactly a mordant but improves & brightens colour), 2g copper sulphate (copper)
  • Moss green:
    1 part dye liquor, 1/4 potassium bitartrate, 2g potassium dichromate (chrome)
  • Cream:
    1 part dye liquor, 1/4 teaspoon potassium bitartrate, 12g aluminium sulphate (alum)
  • Lemon yellow:
    2 parts dye liquor, 1/4 teaspoon potassium bitartrate, 2g stannous chloride (tin)
  • Blue:
    Don't let this fool you— it's microwave dyed Landscapes acid dye in Night Blue using citric acid to set the dye

I'm ready to start spinning up my newly dyed top!

Finished Top

Looks like you guys had a fun time. May have to try out some eucalyptus leaves too!

gemma gemma.b@gmail.com 09 Nov 2007

How interesting! I've been experimenting with natural dyes over the last week: tea, coffee, red cabbage, blackberry, red onion skins, cherries, etc. and have found some strong colours but most wash out. I've been reading about alum and other mordants but not sure where I buy this. I'm starting a fashion line with natural fabrics (hemp, cotton, silk and blends) using natural dyes but I need to make them colour fast. Can you advise where to purchase these mordants?

Thanks and good luck.

kimberley kimberleyrushbrook@hotmail.com 28 Jan 2008

Hi Kimberley,

Firstly, you can find a lot of resources online. I'm not sure if you're in Australia (like me) you might want to try Batik Oetoro. In the US I've heard of this place recommended on online forums: Dharma Trading Co (but I don't know anything about them personally. Or perhaps look in the yellow pages for chemical supply companies, although some mordants are toxic so might be restricted. There are plenty of books on natural dyeing with supplier lists (and good advice-- some dyes, called substantive, don't require mordants to be colourfast). You might also want to sign up to join Ravelry-- there's a small but active natural dyeing group there that are very helpful.

Email me if you want more info!

ARJ roceal@jngm.net 28 Jan 2008