dimanche 4 mars 2012

Black Beans

I've been wanting to try dyeing with black beans for some time now, but haven't been able to find them.  The other day I found a bag at a local shop.  The brand name is Tersol, but I couldn't find anything on the package indicating where they were grown.

Dyeing with back beans is very simple.  You soak the beans for at least 12 hours, you strain off the soaking liquid and put the beans aside for cooking.  Then you use the murky soaking liquid to dye your fiber.  Note: Never use dyeing equipment for cooking food.  I used a kitchen bowl to soak the beans and then a dye pot to dye the fiber. 

Black beans

Cover beans with about two inches of water

Some people like to dye the fiber with the beans, but then they can't eat the beans and I find that to wasteful.  If you want a strong blue just soak more beans.  You can always freeze the pre-soaked beans for later.

This skein has just been pulled from the bath

Heat will destroy the blue color, so all you have to do is put your pre-wetted fiber into the bowl and wait.  Black bean dye is very sensitive to pH, so you can play around with the color by adding a little baking soda or vinegar.  My tap water is alkaline and so I got a beautiful bright blue.  It also seems like black bean dye works best on superwash wools.

Left to right 1st bath and 2nd bath
I did throw a little bit of weld dyed Shetland wool into the bath, just to see if it would go green.  It did.  It's a nice shade of celery. 

Weld dyed Shetland wool over dyed with back beans

I used 1k of beans to dye 200g of alum mordanted BFL and nylon superwash sock yarn.  I probably could have dyed a lot more fiber, but I'm almost out of alum mordanted wool and didn't want to use up too much of my stash.  I dumped the spent bath into my flower garden.

This is the most accurate picture of the blue color

Black bean dye is not very light fast, and is very sensitive to heat.  I recommend minimal washing in cold water only. Be sure to dry your dyed fiber in a shady place.

mardi 31 janvier 2012

Woad Prints

My tests with the Trametes Versicolor and the Auricularia Mesenterica were a bit of a bust. 

Trametes Versicolor

Auricularia Mesenterica
 The test on the left is the trametes versicolor.  It's a smidge green....I think.  Maybe I've been looking at it for too long.  I'll have to test again with a lot more mushrooms.  It think it needs at least 2:1 mushrooms to fiber. 

Left: Trametes versicolor Right: Auricularia Mesenterica
Well, you can't win them all.  On a positive note, I was cleaning out my guest bedroom and found my rubber mallet.  I've been meaning to make some dishcloths for a friend using the "hapa zome" technique described in India Flint's book "Eco Colour".  

It's a simple enough process.  You need a hammer or mallet, a couple of pieces of thick paper or mat board, and some sort of relatively smooth woven cloth that's either been mordanted or has been through the washing machine a number of times.
You fold the fabric over the leaf or flower, then you sandwich the cloth between two pieces of mat board.  Next, you hammer the heck out of it.  I tend to start out hammering through the mat board them I hammer softly, directly onto the fabric.  You've got to be careful not to squish the leaf or flower into the fabric.  I have a dish towel that was used in a demonstration and I still can't get the little bits of vegetable matter out of the fabric. 

For these prints I used woad leaves.  I wasn't sure what color they were going to give me.  Sometimes they give me blue, but this time they gave me a clean bright grass green. 

There were a few hints of blue in the stems.  These leaves came from old plants that have been in the shade most of the winter, so I doubt that there's much intigotin in them.  Still, they made beautiful prints. 
I love using old dish towels for printing.  You don't need to mordant them.  They've been mordanted by the detergent from many many washings.  Also, people aren't precious with dish cloths so when the colors fade they won't be as disappointed.  Of course, the towels can always be refreshed with a new layer of prints when the original impressions fade.

I'm going to the market tomorrow and will buy some pansies to finish off the cloth.  I love printing with pansies.  They make very delicate and detailed prints.  The pansy prints don't survive many washings, but I've had good luck with woad leaves.   I'll run an iron over the towel when I'm done printing just to set the dyes a bit.  Then I'll put the towels away for a couple of months just to let the prints cure.  This type of printing isn't supposed to make durable prints, but I think that's debatable.   I've got one dishcloth that has some buddleja leaf and flower prints and it's been through the washer and the dryer multiple times with no real change to the quality or strength of the colors. 

jeudi 26 janvier 2012

Bleach Testing

I'll start and end with the fungi.  Yesterday I had a little time to myself and I used it to do a bit of testing.  My veggie garden has four very large raised beds that are constructed out of untreated oak railroad ties.  Several kinds of bracket fungi have made themselves quite comfortable on the old oak ties.  There is one color of trametes versicolor that I've been looking for and I finally found some.  It's the blueish tinted variety.  Trametes versicolor can vary a lot. According to the book "The Rainbow Beneath my Feet", by Arleen Rainis Bessette and Alan Bessette, the blue variety makes a blue or green dye.

Trametes versicolor
 I also found a bit of "Tripe fungus" or Auricularia mesenterica.  I thought I'd go ahead and test this as well.
Auricularia mesenterica

The underside of Trametes versicolor is always white

The two test baths
Both of the samples were mordanted with alum. Unfortunately, there was almost no color produced by the fungi.  I'm wondering if my trametes versicolor isn't the right blue.  I've let the two tests sit in the bath overnight and will reheat them today.
 Now, on to the lichens.  I live in a place that is fortunate enough to have a wealth of lichens.  Some lichens produce an acid called orchil.  These lichens, if fermented in an ammonia solution, can produce pinks, reds, purples and blues.  When I first started testing lichens I dried and crushed them, put them in glass jars and tried to ferment them in order to see if they contained any orchil, but there is an easier way.

Melanelixia subargentifera -scraped area at center of photo
 It's called the bleach test.  All you need is a very small container of bleach, a couple of q-tips and a small knife.  You test the lichen in question by gently scraping off the upper colored surface, revealing the white layer below, then you dab on a bit of bleach and wait to see if it turns red.  The reaction should be instant. 

Melanelixia subargentifera - red reaction from bleach at center of photo

Punctelia subrudecta - red reaction at center of photo
I have tried this on many lichens and only found a few that reacted positively.  One note here, for whatever reason, I haven't been able to get xanthoria parietina to react even though it does contain orchil acid.  I'm not sure why this is, but maybe it has to do with the fact that the color from paramelia saxatilis is photo sensitive and turns blue when exposed to sunlight or maybe it's just a matter of the concentration of orchil acid.
The two lichens that tested positive yesterday were Melanelixia subargentifera and Punctelia subrudecta.  I recommend collecting lichens that have been growing in full sunlight as this seems to cause them to produce stronger dyes.  Collecting lichens is always easier just after a good rain and I find it's easier to collect them from smooth barked trees such as plum trees, figs, blackthorns etc.  Always remember not to take more than ten percent of the lichen present and be 100% sure that you know what you're collecting.  Lichens are very slow growing.   Some of them are very rare.

Left to Right: Punctelia subrudecta and Melanelixia subargentifera 
 Fortunately, it doesn't take a lot of lichen for the ammonia fermentation method.  You crush up anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 cup of the dried lichen and place it in the bottom of a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  The amount of lichen depends on the amount of fiber you want to dye.  Make sure that the jar can hold twice the volume of lichen that you are using.  Then you fill the jar to 1/3 full with household ammonia and top off the remaning 2/3 with water.  You can use a 1:1 solution of water to ammonia, but I prefer to use less ammonia.  You could also use old urine.  In that case, don't add any water.
After sealing the jar tightly you shake the mixture as many times as you can remember per day for at least one month.  It can take up to 16 weeks for the dye liquor to fully mature. 
How you choose to use the liquor for dying is up to you.  I always dilute the liquor so that the fiber is not damaged by the high Ph.  Sometimes I do a long cold dyeing process and sometimes I heat the dye bath.  I always heat it very slowly and don't go above 82C. 
Lichen dyes produced in this way are sensitive to light, so be sure and store your dyed fiber in a dark place.
On my lichen hunt I also stumbled upon some larger bracket fungi called Pellinus tuberculosus.

Old Pellinus Tuberculosus - not good for dyeing

Younger specimens of Pellinus tuberculosus
 These can be found on the dead wood of most fruit trees in my area.  They seem to prefer the wild plum wood.  They should make a nice golden color.

samedi 5 novembre 2011


I've just returned from a family vacation to Corsica.  It was our first trip to the granite isle, and I was dumbstruck by the wild beauty of the island.

A wild olive tree
I'm only sorry that I didn't bring some skeins of wool along for dyeing.  There were dye plants everywhere.  It's a dyers paradise.  I saw mushrooms, lichens, eucalyptus trees, olive leaves, wild fennel, pomegranate trees, Holm oaks, and so many others.

Roccapina Beach

The maquis is a mess of aromatic trees and shrubs.  I'm sure many of them are full of dye color.

The maquis
The only thing I spirited home with me was a small sack of windfall lichens. 

Lobaria Scrobiculata?
 I'm sure this wasn't our last trip to Corsica.  I'm already dreaming of camping on the beach and mordanting yarns with sea water.

mercredi 5 octobre 2011

The Fruits of Fall

I'm always on the lookout for new plants and I often find myself stopping on the side of the road to investigate trees.  I've noticed a few "wild" fruit trees in the area and managed to bring a branch home from one of them.  The fruits are about the size of a crab apple and have a soft red blush on one side.

Service berries
 I've identified the tree as a service berry tree (Cormier, in French).  It is, in fact, not a wild tree.  Someone must have planted it a long time ago.  It's an old fashioned fruit tree.  Most people don't know about it.  It's actually a protected species in certain European countries.  The fruit can be used for jam making, but only after they've been bletted.  I'll go back and pick some before the first frosts.

Service berry leaf.
Most fruit trees give good dye color.  I've noticed that leaves that retain a lot of color after they've been dried are often a good source of dye. 
I decided to do a couple of test pots with some other odds and ends that I'd picked up on a walk with the kids.  The other pots were, Cornelian cherries, laurel leaves, lichen, and the leaves from the service berry tree.

Clockwise starting at top left:Cornelian cherries, laurel leaves, Service berry leaves, lichen "peltigera canina"
The berries stained the wool a nice shade of pink.  I doubt that the color will be light fast, but I do remember reading somewhere that some part of the cornelian cherry was used to dye the traditional Fez, red.  Maybe this was done with the bark or the roots.  The lichen "peltigera canina" didn't produce any color at all, which is odd, because this particular lichen is supposed to produce a yellow tan, possibly a soft pink with ammonia.  Maybe I didn't cook it long enough.  I did send it for a spin in the microwave, but that didn't seem to do anything.

Left to Right:Service berries, Service berry leaf test, laurel leaf test, Cornelian cherry test
The laurel leaves produced a soft yellow, but the service berry leaves dyed the wool a very bright shade of yellow.  The leaves are an interesting shape and should work well for leaf impressions.  I'd like to do a test with my copper pot.  Maybe they'll make a good green.  All of my samples were mordanted with alum and processed in glass jars with tap water.
I'll leave you with a photo that I took of a pear.  The colors reminded me of my test samples.  I'd love to dye a skein of sock wool with these soft Fall colors.

A Fall pear

vendredi 9 septembre 2011

Unexpectedly Green

I've been doing some dyeing this week, and I've had a lot of surprises...some of them better than others.  One of the nice things about natural dyeing is that most natural colors are attractive regardless of whether or not they were the intended result. 
This week I cut down a few of my Hopi black dye sunflowers and prepared a dye bath from the seed heads.  I was expecting a lovely violet color.  I got a deep spruce green. 

Hopi black dye sunflowers in my garden
The lighter skein on the right is the skein from my previous post.  That skein was dyed in a bath made from regular sunflower heads, and a few leaves and petals, in a copper pot. 

I can't tell you why I ended up with green wool.  My hands were stained purple from the seeds as I tore up the seed heads.  The dye bath was a dark purple.  The skein looked purple for the first minute or so and and then it started to shift to green.  The bath was processed in a stainless steel pot, and I'm sure that there was no contamination from iron. 
I think Ph is playing a large part in my unexpected color shift.  The water that I use for dyeing is softened and has a higher Ph as a result.  I've ordered some Ph papers.  I think being able to test the Ph of my dye baths will greatly increase my ability to control my results.  It should also help me in the development of my own dye recipes. 
Here are the five skeins that I dyed for Ambre Danicour.  They're all Maco Merinos wool.  I think I may have to order myself a sweaters worth of this yarn.  It's amazingly soft and takes dye beautifully.  All of the skeins in this post were pre-mordanted with alum.

Left to Right: Onion skins, madder root, Hopi black dye sunflowers, coreopsis tinctoria, madder root

lundi 5 septembre 2011

A Copper Pot

A while back I bought an old hand hammered copper pot.  It was very dirty and, because of that, I managed to get it a good price.  It's been sitting in my fireplace holding dried herbs and waiting for a  scrub.

An old pot on a very modern stove top
Last week I put some serious sweat equity into my copper pot.  There was a horrible smelling layer of burnt crust, which I sanded away.  After the sanding started to take up a bit too much of the copper I asked a friend how best to continue.  She told me to clean the pot using a solution of vinegar and salt. 
1/2 cup salt or more
1/3 cup vinegar
and a little water if you want to use less vinegar

Do your cleaning in a well ventilated area and wear gloves. My hands turned blue and the house smelled like a penny jar. 
The chemical reaction does a lot of the cleaning.  I left my pot to sit over night.  You can prop the pot at different angles in order to avoid using too much vinegar.  I would recommend using large salt as it helps with the scrubbing.  I couldn't get all of the black spots out, but I figured that if I couldn't scrub it off, it probably wasn't going to leave marks on my wool.

A sunflower from my garden
When I'd finished scrubbing I was so eager to use my new (old) pot that I ran out to the garden to find some dye stuffs.  I cut down a few small sunflower heads and chopped them up.  They were old and had lost most of their petals, but the bath did contain a few petals and a couple of leaves.

The sunflower bath
The dye material weighed about 150g. After an hour at a low boil I strained off the dye bath added cold water and poured the whole mixture back into the rinsed out copper pot.  The bath was a striking deep reddish brown.  I added an alum mordanted 100g skein of BFL superwash sock wool to the bath.  I heated this to a low simmer and let it cook for about an hour.  I cut the heat and let the skein sit in the pot overnight. 

The skein before it sat in a bath overnight
Never underestimate the benefits of patience.  I was rewarded with a lovely medium spruce green skein. 

This skein is darker in real life.
It's hard to photograph greens, and these pictures don't do the color justice.   I'm very pleased with the color.  Using a copper pot will open up a whole new world of natural greens.