Inspired by yesterday’s discovery of a box of possibly-a-dyestuff Fringed Puccoon roots, the human female has joined forces with a friend who has a lot of experience with natural dyes. Today the two of them are going to see whether or not the plant really does contain a usable dye. Their hunch is that they will get a purple color, if they get anything at all, though apparently there’s an Asian species which makes red.
So here is the Mystery Box again, now helpfully labeled.
We are working in the friend’s kitchen, a decision of which I approve. Not only is that where all the dyeing accoutrements reside, but it also means that when this business is all done I can simply walk away from the mess. (Not that I would help clean up if we were doing this a home, but this way I won’t have to work around the mess the human female would no doubt leave any time I need to make myself a sandwich.)
Careful, my love! That doesn’t look like anything you should fall into! What is this, anyway?
Ah. The yarn we’re going to dye is soaking in a mordant bath.
Apparently, mordant is a chemical that will help the dye bind to the fiber. The friend has chosen alum, which is relatively safe. Some of the other mordants, such as salts of chromium, tin, aluminum, etc., are quite toxic to humans. Hmm. There may be more to this natural dyeing than than I thought. Might need to do a little research…
Time to prepare the dyestuff. They’re telling me that the usual ratio is one pound of dyestuff to one pound of fiber. I think we may have the right amount.
The bag certainly is stained with purple!
And here are the roots!
They are black and skinny and look like mummified carrots. And this is supposed to make purple?
The roots need to be chopped into itty bitty pieces. Yeah, I’m going to let the mortals do that with their garden clippers.
I’m not about to A) waste magic on this endeavor, B) blunt my good dagger by chopping woody plant bits, or C) give myself a repetitive stress injury turning a whole bag of roots into potentially-useful confetti.
The recipe the humans found for the plant’s Asian relative calls for the snipped roots to be kneaded in water at room temperature until they can be induced to release their dye. This is safer and certainly less smelly than dye plants that need to be boiled or fermented and stink while they surrender.
Squish! Squish! Squish! Sigyn is employing the same technique as is traditionally used for wine grapes–she’s doing a little dance on the bag of wet roots.
Look! Some color is coming out of the roots!
It’s a sort of brownish purple. It’s not a pretty color, but it is A color.
(a lot of kneading later) Let’s have a closer look, shall we?
Hmm. A rather undistinguished purple gray. This is even after adding a bit of acid. The reasoning was that since old herbarium sheets are frequently not acid-free paper and they get the best stains, perhaps the addition of acid would make the dye purpler. Nope. The acid makes no difference at all.
Now we are trying some very low pH washing soda. Sometimes that will skew a dye one way or the other.
That is an even-more-unappealing greenish-brown. The mortals are beginning to suspect that the result of all of this chopping and kneading is going to be a wasted afternoon. I had been planning to sabotage their little experiment, but I may not have to lift a finger!
Still there *is* dye coming from the roots. The humans have started another bag for extraction. Observe the difference–new bag on the right.
We can definitely see some purple happening.
If nothing else, we are making lavender plastic bags!
Rats! The human female, thinking that it would be a shame if the bag leaked after all of this work, has double-bagged the bags of shredded roots. It will be a lot harder to pass off a Loki-induced leak as a spontaneous accident now.
(a bit later) We left things soaking while we all went for lunch. We returned to find this. There is definitely some purple happening!
The dye has been decanted into the dyeing bucket.
What would you call that color, Sigyn? Raisin? There’s a good bit of brown in that purple.
Do be careful!
If you fall in, it’s going to take magic or a very long spoon to get you out again!
It is now or never. The mordanted yarn has been introduced to the dyebath. The friend has added a small skein of silk which was previously mordanted with soy. I did not know that was a thing.
That does NOT look like purple! We are all underwhelmed.
The humans have resorted to the internet for further instructions. Hmmm. That is interesting. Apparently, if the dye extraction is taking too long, one can extract the dye more speedily using alcohol. A quick check of the kitchen cabinets has revealed the presence of some pale tequila and a bottle of vodka, both of which shall be sacrificed upon the altar of improvisation. The water has been dumped out of a batch of soaking roots and alcohol poured in.
Great Frigga’s Hairpins! The effect was startling and immediate. Red dye has started coming out of the already-extracted roots! Even a quick sample is noticeably pinker than what we had before!
Considering that this:
… is all we were able to get out of the first dyebath—and since a lot of that color will rinse out–the humans have decided to make a second dyebath with new roots and alcohol and re-dye the fibers.
So far, this has been a LOT of work for one skein of rather-unpleasantly-mauve yarn.
The vodka is definitely pulling out a redder color!
Sigyn is quite excited!
The yarn in the new dyebath…
Part of the fun of natural dyeing is you never really know what you will get. This is never going to be purple, but it might be a color that is likeable.
We are getting what Sigyn says is a “lovely shade of pale rose” on some cotton fabric.
(The next day)
Well, I didn’t do any active meddling meddling, but it seems that just my naturally mischievous aura is enough to derail the creative process. After a good, long overnight soak in dyebath #2 and a good rinse, the friend reports that the final color of yarn is…
…drum roll, please!…
Light purply gray. Not purple, not rose, not ashes of roses. Disappointment all around! However, dampened but yet undaunted, the human female and her friend are already planning a future work day in which they will do an alcohol extraction of the remaining unprocessed roots and see what happens to the color if there isn’t a brownish cast to the dyed yard from soaking in a water extraction. Hope springs eternal and all that.
Having firmly decided that I don’t desire to be involved in chopping, kneading, simmering, soaking, etc., I will probably skip that day altogether. That does not mean, however, that I can’t simply go into the garage and curse the box of roots…
To be continued?