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Your methods of safe dyeing

 
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Ok, this might seem a dumb question, but I know of people who have gotten really, really sick after many years of using both commercial and natural dying for a living so my question is what safety measures do you take. I have a deep interest in dying ever since an old typed out page of dye notes fell out of a book I bought years ago, but I have been very slow in following that interest. I also met a individual up at the Fort Niagara Reenactment years ago who was from Canada. I probably wore out my welcome at his both. It was amazing dyed stuff. He was so kind and answered many of my question while my children spun his spinning tops of the board he provided for them. But even he strongly cautioned me about the natural dyes. He did programs with school children all the time and uses all food safe dyes for them.

So those of you who do dying, how safe do you feel it is? What precautions or safety measures do you use? I know first hand that one needs caution when doing things. I was ripping up lots of fabric for rugs inside and was amazed at how in changed the air quality in my home. lol There was a reason they ripped and pre-prepared the materials for winter weaving during the warm outdoor months. My father was a tinsmith and I have been around history all my life. Many health issues came from things they did daily without the knowledge of how it affected them.
 
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Location: Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep clay/loam with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I feel like natural dyeing can be as safe as cooking although I have a separate set of pots and pans and utensils for my dye projects.

Mordants can be the most toxic part of the natural dye process and because of that I only use a food grade alum, and that only when necessary.  I try to run enough cloth, yarns or fiber through the bath so that the alum is mostly exhausted.  I never use tin or chrome.

I also avoid certain dye plants that might have toxic fumes, such as tansy.

I am just beginning to explore fermenting some things for dye, including lichens for orchil and black walnuts in order to avoid prolonged simmering time, although for orchil, fermenting is the only way to achieve that beautiful purple.

I know  a lot of natural dyers...here locally there is a 'folk center' that has craft interpreters who use natural dyes.  I've never heard of any one becoming sick from the process.

There are several relatively easy to grow or obtain, safe, lightfast and washable natural dyes...onion skins, cosmos flowers, weld, woad (although the dye process can be quite complex), bodark (if you know or are a woodworker), black walnuts, various clay/mud colors.....

If you stick with dyeing only wool or silk that makes the job even easier as many dyes don't need mordant at all on animal fibers.

Bast fibers and cotton are sometimes more difficult for certain dyes.  I'm learning about using homemade soy milk as a 'binder', providing a protein for the dye to adhere to.

Books by Jenny Dean "Wild Color" and  Rita Buchanan "A Dyers Garden" and "A Weaver's Garden" are wonderful and very helpful but not necessary as there is so much good information on line now.

I think in many ways it's like cooking...know your ingredients and only use the safe ones.  The only way I can imagine someone becoming ill from natural dyes is through using toxic plants and certain mordants....and possibly allergies?




 
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Making solar "tea" gets the cooking out of the house to avoid the smell and cuts down on energy use. Using gallon glass jars you can heat the dyestuff and if you want to put the yarn or fabric in with it you can. I often let stuff sit for many days. After reading some of India Flint's work with eco dyeing, I've taken to not rinsing anything when it comes out of the dye pot. Let it sit and "age" and it will change the way the color works with the fiber. Talk about Slow Fabric. I think she mentioned that this was part of the Turkey Red process of antiquity.
 
Liza Stallsmith
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Larisa, Yes, I totally agree outdoors is good. I use two quart glass jars. Where do you find gallon ones? I am going to have to look up India Flint's stuff. Do you have a tittle or link?

Judith, I do use sperate pots and pans too. Second hand store finds are great. I need to study a lot more about plants and stuff to know which ones are toxic. Fermenting isn't something I've tried yet. Hmm, going to have to check that out.

To All:

Has anyone done any mushroom dying? The colors you can get are amazing, but I don't know much about it.

New Question: Years ago instead of adding mordants like we do today, the paper I found talked about using different pots for different colors. Examples would be cast iron, copper, enamel, metal, stainless, porcelain, tin and so on. Have any of you used this approach and do you think it would be safer because it is a finished product or isn't it going to matter one way or the other because of the dyes reactions to the material?
 
Judith Browning
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Has anyone done any mushroom dying? The colors you can get are amazing, but I don't know much about it.



I have not done any dyeing with mushrooms, only lichens.   It opens up a whole world of color...  I follow a facebook group called 'mushroom and lichen dyers united'...it is quite active and there is lots of links and first hand information.   'Fermentation in Natural Dyeing' is great also.  Both groups are open to questions and sharing information and results.

 
Larisa Walk
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India Flint has a book calle "Eco Colour". She also has a website. As for gallon glass jars, food used to be sold in them, particularly for restaurants (salad dressings, pickles, olives, etc.). I think most of them now come in plastic but you can get glass jars or "crocks" in stores like Target, etc. Half gallon canning jars are widely available and would work for small projects. I have a large cast iron pot that I use for dyeing when I want an iron mordant. It gets plenty hot in the sun on its own. I also do a lot of "cold" dyes that sit for longer to make up for the lack of temperature. And one year I kept a barrel of walnuts hulls soaking to use whenever I wanted.
 
Liza Stallsmith
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Larisa, I am super excited I was able to get "Eco Colour" through our inter library loan system. I am just waiting for it to arrive. Also Our Library was having a book sale and I scored big. I was able to purchase Hands On Dyeing by Betsy Blumenthal and Kathryn Kreider and Yarns to  Dye for by Kathleen Taylor in like new condition for 50 cents each. I picked up The Yarn Lovers Guide to Hand Dyeing by Linda La Belle for a dollar.

Did the walnut hulls mold? Did you have to do any special to them. I like the idea of having a barrel of them around.

Judith, Thanks for sharing those groups I will check them out.
 
Larisa Walk
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Location: South of Winona, Minnesota
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There may have been some mold on top of the walnut hull slurry, but I kept water on it. Currently I have a metal garbage can full of hulls, put in fresh but they eventually desicate. It needs water added to start the process but is easy to store. Most of the solar "tea" batches get some scum if they sit long enough. It seems to work out OK though. This summer I plan on re-dyeing a crocheted, hand-spun blanket for our bed. The onion dye has faded over the years and I would like it to be a deeper shade. I have 2 feed sacks full of onion skins saved up. The plan is to wet them down, put the blanket on a plastic tarp, cover with the onion skins and roll it up, wrap it up in the tarp and put it in the sun in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks or so.  We'll see what happens.
 
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easy ways to reduce the toxins of natural dyes:
1. choose dyestuff that doesn't need a mordant (cochineal, black walnut husks, etc)
2. play with the ph of your dye bath. raise with vinegar (not a mordant), lower with hardwood ash.
3. make your own soy mordant (not the same as soy milk from the store)
4. ferment your dye bath (like the walnut husk mentioned by another contributor)

http://www.allnaturaldyeing.com/
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