Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hodgepodge Farm Residency Part 2 - Natural Dyes

Cal and me peeking...
It's about time for me to go back to upstate NY for the Sheep and Wool Festival! So, I thought I should post part two of three about my August residency at Hodgepodge Farm!

The first week I was there, we spent our time dyeing both protein and cellulose fibre with natural dyes. To make it easy I used only use alum and cream of tartar to mordant the fibres. Mordanting allows the fibre to accept the dye and make it colourfast, it can also alter the final colour significantly. A lot of mordants are very toxic, alum is the least toxic, so that factored into my decision as well...
Mordanting yarn.
Since I had recently done some natural dyeing from plant matter I gathered from my own backyard which, in my area, gives mostly browns, golds and greens, I was excited to try something different. We wanted some blues, reds, pinks and oranges! So, we experimented with Indigo, Madder Root, Hibiscus Flowers and Jewel Weed (attn. Cal - jewel weed is a natural cure for poison ivy!). 
Posed demo.
I was really excited about the jewel weed, Paula at White Barn Farm told us all about this plant. It is a pretty green bush with tiny, pretty orange flowers. The exciting thing about it is that the WHOLE plant yields a very pretty light yellow. Buttery!
Jewel weed.
The hibiscus smelled wonderful and the chickens loved to steal the flowers right out of the pot! It yielded a pretty, mellow red/brown and a cool thing happened when I left some skeins in the dye vat overnight - they turned a pretty steel grey!
Hibiscus flowers.
We had a few indigo vats, the first was an instant vat that Cal had read about, since an indigo vat can take several days to prepare, this seemed like a great option. The other was a vat that Cal had in her workshop that had been sitting around for a few years. The cool thing about these natural vats is that there really isn't as long as you follow proper storage instructions. We had a great time with the indigo! We didn't achieve any deep inky blues but I think that was because we tried to to jam too much fabric and yarn into the vat - more fibre than dye yields more subtle colours.
Vat one of indigo.
Vat two of indigo.
Indigo dyed stuff.
The madder root vat was a fun one too. We did two vats. Ideally, you want to really soak any roots or bark to extract the colour and there are very strict rules for temperature and timing to yield certain colours. With the first vat, I was concerned I let heat up too much, the fibre was more of a dark orange than red. So, I brewed up the second vat, didn't let it get too hot and let it sit for several days with the fibre in it... we still only got a dark orange colour. No red this time - but the orange is beautiful!
Dippy in madder...
The set-up.
Next time - we get crazy with synthetic dyes!

Hanging to dry.
Pile of yarn.


  1. Did the hibiscus colour stay really well? When I lived in Mexico, we used to make juice all the time from the hibiscus petals and I tried to dye some hemp with it. But I didn't use a mordant and the colour did not really take... I love the way the jewel weed turned out!

    1. Thanks Kris! The hibiscus didn't stay very well. It was beautiful in the pot and was a nice colour in the end, just not as vibrant. For hemp you would need a mordant for sure and really let it soak in the dye bath for ages. Also, I used dried tea and a lot of it for the dye bath it needs to be super concentrated. Hmm... now you have me thinking.....