Dying to Dye

Periodically I get onto these dyeing jags where I'll try something new, and try out as many combinations of colors, etc. that I can manage in the time I set out for myself. These photos are of just such a project, completed a few months ago.

This project was about dyeing silk and cotton yarn samples with natural dyes -- cochineal, fustic, madder, cutch, and logwood gray -- with several different mordants -- alum, copper, tin, chrome -- and with several assists -- vinegar, ammonia, cream of tartar, and iron.

The results on the left here are the silk samples, cotton on the right. For the silk samples I used thrums -- leftover warp yarn -- from a woven shibori piece that hadn't been pre-dyed.

The cotton samples were lengths of white cotton weaving yarn.

Brilliant, aren't they? I hadn't had much experience with natural dyes so this was a wonderful exploration and I learned lots.

My dye project for this coming weekend is to dye samples of several different spinning tops, all white or off-white, that are combos of protein and cellulose fibers. The fibers I'll be using are a 50/50 merino/tencel, a 60/40 merino/bamboo, a 45/55 cotton/silk, and a 60/40 silk/bamboo. Protein fibers (animal fibers) need acid dyes or natural dyes, and cellulose fibers (plant fibers) need fiber reactive dyes or natural dyes. When using natural dyes, protein and cellulose fibers need different mordants. Silk, though, can go either way in most instances.

So it's going to be a fun challenge to see what kinds of colors I get with mixed fibers and different dye types. I'll report back next week with photos of the results. Some dyers, including myself, shy away from dyeing mixed fibers because of the uncertainty of the outcome -- like whether one fiber will hold the dye while the other will not. So my aim is to see what the possibilities are.

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." Henry David Thoreau


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