Thursday, December 04, 2008

I swear I'm not really a dyer, Part 4: The second annual dye madness day (BYOP), and "black enough"

The final installment of this year's dye adventures, at long last. It occurs to me that we have officially been in our house for a year: we closed on Black Friday 2007 (an accident of Realty and Lawyers over which we had little control), and then we spent the next week and a bit moving, a van-load at a time. We had to be out of our old apartment on Dec. 4, 2007. That makes this post appropriate - I guarantee I would never have undertaken most of this year's the dye adventures if we hadn't acquired a basement, a working kitchen, and a backyard!

Audrey the Indigo Vat had a magnificent final outing of the season over the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend (mid-October), when she was very carefully packed up and transported across town to my friend Helena's house a few days ahead of our annual* Dye Madness day at her house. Helena cared for her and kept her warm, feeding her some de-thawed, mushed up, organic bananas - after the traumatic ride, Audrey was a little gassy and needed to settle down, eat, ferment and reduce for a couple days.

Why not have the dye day at my house? You see, Helena has a magnificent dye garden, and Audrey was more portable than the garden. I requested that folks BYOP**, if they could, so that we would be sure to have enough to pre-soak things. One can only generate so much urine on one's own. In the end, with the help of the others (and also my reluctant but patient husband, who eventually learns to accept the Crazy), we had plenty.

Last year we did cochineal, weld, and madder berries. This year, though, the main plan was to dig up some of Helena's now 3-year-old madder and work with it fresh. The weather was perfect, and nearly room temperature outside - on the second weekend of October! We actually worked up a sweat, attacking the raised beds with gloves, shovel, spade and much glee. We hosed down some huge balls of bright-carrot-orange roots that looked for all the world like strange sea creatures, chopped it up and into the pot it went. We only dug up a little corner of her madder - and there was still plenty for each of us to take some home, and she still has 3/4 of her madder plants growing:

Freshly killed madder roots, drying in my basement

We weren't sure how the madder would go - the one experienced madder dyer in the group had never used it fresh from the ground and chopped roughly. She suspected it wouldn't give us anything too far into the reds or too dark. She was right - we got a nice salmon - but towards the end of the dyebath we did start seeing the reds come out a little. It will be interesting to see what we get later with the roots that we're drying, as those will be ground up more finely.

We also found a bush of Dyer's Broom growing in her garden, so we pruned it back a little and made a small pot of that with alum. We poked it dubiously throughout the afternoon, as the water didn't seem to be getting much colour into it. But after a good 90 minutes of cooking, it finally started to suck colour out of the leaves. We ended up with a nice light greeny-yellow.

Audrey was in fine form for the day, thanks to Helena's kind care and feeding after her rough ride. She performed well, and gave us everything from a medium blue fleece (a 5-hour soak) to some lovely light blues on roving that was only left in an hour or so, to a nice overdye of some patterned tan fabric.

As we were packing up our wet samples, we suddenly realized that we had, without really planning it that way, done the a primary colour set that day:

L - R: Indigo blue, fresh-killed dyer's broom yellow, and fresh-killed madder salmon

And then there was the added bonus: as we were standing around surveying the wonder that is Helena's dye garden, one of the ladies noticed that right next to us, very near the house and suspiciously close to where we had been chopping up weld plants the previous year, were three tall stalks of weld. It appears the seeds took root between cracks in the concrete. Nature is nothing if not persistent. Helena was happy for us to pull it and make it go away, so the lady and I split it.

Surprise weld, the best kind!

All the participants in the festivities agreed that our second annual (BYOP) dye day was a great success, and we all look forward to next year. And if Sharon Ann is reading this, your half of that weld has been packed up and will be in the mail to you soon, I hope (as soon as my mother comes up for a visit, which should be in the next couple weeks, before Christmas).

In other dyeing adventures, I continued my quest for black by once again trying to overdye this unfortunate colour, which I achieved by way of the weld on the left overdyed with Indigo to make the teal in the middle,, then overdyed in a cochineal exhaust bath. I had originally just tried this in a walnut bath with no additive, but there was no noticeable colour change, since the walnut bath would only add a nice brown to it.

This time, I bit the bullet and added a touch of iron powder to the dyebath. The smell was not as horrifically rotten-egg-like as I anticipated, but it certainly wasn't great. This time, though, I was very careful not to inhale deeply while standing over the pot, and often held a wet towel over my face when I was near it.

Liles (1990: 184-5) recommends an oxalic acid mordanting prior to the walnut-iron dyebath for a good black, but I didn't have a ready source of oxalic acid unless I wanted to buy over a pound of it, so I just went with the iron. I spun up a couple yards of it for my friend to finish the embroidery project that we needed it for:


So there we have it. Bridget's 2008 adventures in dying.

And just in case you forgot: I'm not really a dyer. We swears, precious. We swears.

* Two years in a row makes it annual, right?

** P = Pee

1 comment:

braeden said...

Perhaps there is an obvious answer to this question, but why not start with a dark fleece to begin with?