Wood into Color

Well, it’s been a while since I posted here.  This is what happens when you start a new job, then go away for a week, and come back to that new job.  I feel like everything is turned on its head and I don’t have the time to catch up with myself.  But let’s start again, shall we?  And let’s start with some color!

A few weeks ago I dyed some yarn using logwood and oak.  I got the dye stuff from De Kat windmill, the same place where I’ve bought dye stuff before.  I did a mordant of alum (15% of weight) a few days before and let the yarn dry with the alum in it, then rinsed it well before dyeing.  That’s all the prep I did ahead of time.

On the day of dyeing I used 50% WOG (weight of goods) dye powder.  Both the logwood and oak were very fine powders so I just threw them into the pot and filled the pot with water and cooked them both just below the boiling point for an hour.  Looking back, I should have then strained off the dye water and left the sludge behind, but I didn’t because I was afraid I’d lose some of the dyeing power behind.  I wanted good rich deep colors and was afraid if I just poured off the dye water I wouldn’t get that.  Boy was I wrong!

I had 6 skeins of 100% merino, fingering weight, to play with.

With the logwood I was going for deep dark purple.  With the oak I was hoping (yet again) for yellow.  Even though the books all say that yellow is an easy color to achieve with a variety of dye plants, I have a completely different experience.  I find yellow difficult to get.  I first put 2 skeins of 100% merino into the oak dye pot.  It became pretty obvious that this wasn’t going to be yellow.  It was tan.  Even a little brownish.  Bummer.  After leaving in the pot at well below boiling (about 75 degrees C) for an hour, I took it off the heat and let it sit outside in the pot.  No change.  More on this one later.

For the logwood, the dye pot was a lovely reddish color.  I put my 3 skeins into the pot and the color changed and struck immediately to a dark purple!  Wow! The alum really changed the chemistry in the pot and was immediately visible.  I left them in there to cook, at about 85-90 degrees C, for an hour and then let them cool outside.  After they cooled down a bit I hung them up to dry.  I didn’t rinse them yet.

Here’s the pot before putting yarn in:

And here’s the pot with yarn in it:

Then I put in another skein, into the dye pot, to see if there was strength left in the dye.  Wow! A lovely lavender color came out and STILL I think that pot would have produced some great lighter colors.  Unfortunately I was out of yarn and out of time.  I kept the pot around for a few days hoping to have time to play with it again, but I didn’t.  In the warm weather we were having, it started to look a little icky so I ended up dumping it out.  What a shame!

But before I dumped it, I decided to stir it up and throw in one of those tan skeins.  What the heck, right?  I let it sit right down in the bottom of the pot, where the sludge of logwood was, and let it cook for an hour.  Then I left it to sit over night in the pot.  It came out nearly black!  Fabulous!  The logwood just kept giving and giving.

What did I learn from this dye session?  First, logwood is strong.  I could have dyed 5 different shades of purple from that one 200g bag of dust.  Second, yellow is trickier than you think.  I’m happy with the tan/blonde skein that I got, but it aint yellow.  I’m going to try again with Weld and hopefully I WILL end up with a yellow skein.  Third, if you want to get a consistent color, you HAVE to strain the sludge out of the dye pot.  If your skeins are stacked in the pot, the skein on the bottom will get more color.  Either stir them often (which might felt them) or take the time to make a clearer pot, free of heavy color in any one place.  Here are the results…

The photo is a little bit lighter than in real life.  The far left skein is the one that was first tan, then overdyed and is now nearly black.  The middle 3 skeins were the first 3 into the logwood pot.  They are dark purple, and two of them have streaks of black in them too.  Lovely.  The far right skein is the one that was dyed in the pot after the first 3, with leftover dye.  I’m just thrilled with all of them!

And here is the tan/blonde skein.  It’s nice.  I like it.  But it’s not yellow!

Since this dye session I’ve bought some more indigo (the easy kind that only needs a little reducing to work) and weld and the chemicals needed to dye both.  So, yellow, blue, and some overdyeing to make green.  Wish me luck!

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