Red and Other Colors

Wednesday was dyeing day.  I only had two pots on the stove – one for cochineal and one for fustic.  I was aiming for fuchsia and bright yellow.  I didn’t get either one.  That’s what natural dyeing is all about – surprises and experiments.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I bought all my dye stuff from De Kat windmill the week before.  I’ve also been doing my homework.  Besides looking at online blogs and web sites and reading loads of info on Ravelry, I also have in house these books I used as reference:  Colors from Nature by Jenny Dean, Wild Color also by Jenny Dean, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing by J. N. Liles, Indigo Madder and Marigold by Trudy van Stralen, and finally Verfreceptenboekje by Atelier Bientje.  Every book and web site has their own recipe.  Just pick what sounds good to you and give it a try.  It’s a lot like cooking.

First I did the mordant work – cooking the yarn in chemicals to get it to accept the dye.  For the fustic I used alum, citric acid and a little cream of tartar.  For the cochineal I used tin and a lot of cream of tartar.  I read that the CoT is a modifier that keeps the tin from turning the yarn brittle and hard.  That worked out well as my yarn is very soft and in excellent condition after dyeing.

While the yarn was cooking in the mordant water (for an hour) I made my cochineal dye bath – or at least started it.  Here is a jar full of ground up bugs:

When the yarn was finished with the mordant I took the skeins out and set them aside to cool off.  I could then use those same two pots to prepare the dye.  I followed my recipes – For the cochineal I used 10% weight of goods, 10% cream of tartar and 2.5% tin.  For the fustic 100% weight of goods only.  I skimmed off the scum from the top of both pots before adding the yarn.  I clearly didn’t filter enough of the wood fiber from the fustic pot as there was a lot left in the yarn when I was finished dyeing.  More on that later.

I rinsed my cooled yarn skeins in plain water, and then lowered them into the dye.  I had 4 skeins for the cochineal (1 100% merino and 3 MCN 80% merino, 10% cashmere 10% nylon) and 2 skeins (100% merino) for the fustic.

As you can see, the cochineal pot is a lovely fuchsia.  I was thrilled with this so far.  The fustic, on the other hand, was not at all what I expected.  Ugh.

This was supposed to be bright yellow!  It looked like mud to me.  Or worse.  Oh well, maybe it would change with cooking.  So I watched the pots closely over the next hour and made sure they stayed just at the simmer level, no boiling, lots of steam.  I had the overhead sucking fan working overtime and the windows open.  The fumes weren’t bad at all.

After an hour I carried the pots outside and had a think about what I saw.

The cochineal dye looked fairly exhausted.  The water around the dye was pretty clear.  The fustic, too, unless you stirred it and then all the sediment would come up.  I decided to take out the cochineal yarn and call it good.  Look how red it came out!  What happened to that lovely fuchsia color of the dye?  I don’t know.  A pH change I’m guessing.

I then had a brain wave.  Why not see what effect the exhaust from the cochineal dye would produce on non-mordanted wool?  Why not see what it would do to that brown fustic yarn? What do I have to loose?  So I quickly soaked my two leftover skeins of 100% merino skeins in plain water for an hour and pulled out ONE of my fustic skeins and rinsed it well.  Then I threw all three of them into the cochineal pot.  The fustic skein took up the red right away, I guess because it was mordanted and the other two were not.  I didn’t let it sit in there too long.  I left the two un-mordanted skeins and the one remaining fustic skein sit in their respective pots until the next day.

Here’s a photo of the first results hanging to dry.  The four on the right are the cochineal skeins and the one on the left is the fustic skein with the cochineal exhaust dunk.

The next morning I rinsed all the skeins outside under a faucet and was please to see no dye runoff at all.  This gave me the courage to wash them in my washing machine, wool cycle, to get any remaining residue out.  This worked out great and all the fustic wood pieces easily washed out.  All the bug carcasses too.  Here are my results after everything was washed and dried.

First, the MCN yarn with cochineal.  Super duper RED.  If you look REALLY closely, you can see slightly where the nylon part of the yarn didn’t dye as deeply.  This only adds depth to the color I think.

Second, the 100% merino skein.  Perfect sold RED.

Now, when you see the results of the cochineal exhaust dye you are going to laugh.  Please don’t laugh too hard.

Yes, they are a tangled mess.  There’s a reason for this.  Remember, I decided at the last minute to throw them into the dye pot.  Because it was last minute, I completely forgot how these were delivered from the shop – with ties so tight that dye couldn’t reach the yarn.  For all the other skeins I spent 20 minutes the night before re-tieing everything more loosely so that the dye could reach everywhere.  An hour after I threw these pink ones into the pot I went to check them.  When I pulled them up I could see clearly that they were completely white under the tie places.  I grabbed my scissors and cut the ties and dropped them back in.  It was too late to tie new ones.  Oh well.  At least they are evenly dyed after sitting in the pot all night.  I’ll just have to spend a few evenings winding them into balls while watching tv.

Now the fustic.  Here’s the one with only fustic, which sat in the pot over night.

It’s a nice light golden brown.  It’s not a color I wear, but it’s a nice color all the same.  Warm.

And here’s the one dyed in fustic, then dunked in the cochineal exhaust.

Isn’t it interesting?  The combination of red and brown makes a kind of weird salmon color.  I like it.  DB saw it and didn’t like it at all.  It’s not to everyone’s taste.  As my mom would say, “it’s different”.  Here are the two together so you can see the combination.

And here is the entire lot.  800 grams, in 8 skeins, all fingering weight.  Just waiting to become something even more beautiful.

 

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2 thoughts on “Red and Other Colors

  1. Louise says:

    What a great experiment.. I love the golden brown but if you dont it may contrast well with the salmon in a shawl. Red is my go to colour..brighter the better. Look forward to seeing what this all knits up into.

  2. Betty Salpekar says:

    VERY interesting! And educational too, with all those good step-by-step photos. These posts about dying could be the basis for your own “verfreceptenboekje” some day . . .

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