I began my natural dyeing adventure with one of our most prolific weeds: sheeps sorrel. It grows in poor quality, acidic soil and reproduces easily by root runner and seed. It's a deliciously sour plant, good for the occasional salad, but eating too much of it can cause gout and other health concerns because of the high amounts of oxalic acid. This same acid makes it an excellent dye plant because the acid acts as a mordant (it makes the colour affix to the fibre).
Rumex acetosella (Sheeps Sorrel, Common sheep sorrel) Part used: any
Time harvested: any
Colour range: yellow, green, gold, brown, olive, others
Mordant: non needed
For my first experience dyeing with sorrel, I harvested the seed stems and simmered them for one hour. While that was happening, I heated some (scoured and soaked) white wool yarn in another pot with a small splash of homemade iron mordant/modifier. The wool turned slightly pink in the iron bath. I then lifted the yarn out of the iron bath and carefully lowered it directly into the dye bath with the sorrel plants still in it. I cooked it there, at just below a simmer, for about an hour. Turning the yarn carefully from time to time. After it was done, I washed the wool and blocked it (because these are singles) to dry.
I cooked up a new dye bath with (about 400g) of sorrel stems (for 200g of yarn). When I measured the day before, one small handful equalled about 100g. So I put in 4 handfuls plus a bunch because I got over-excited while harvesting my weed.
I simmered the stems for 1 hour, then added the pre-soaked yarn. I don't think I soaked the yarn enough as the colour was a bit uneven, but I still like the effect.
Two skeins of yarn, both mordanted with alum. I added the yarn directly to the vat with the plant matter still in it and kept just below a simmer for an hour.
One skein I left in the vat overnight. The other, I took out and dipped in my iron afterbath which I had heated to just-starting-to-steam. Right away, the colour started to darken. It was amazing. I think this is much better than using the iron as a mordant because I can control the colour by removing the yarn early or leaving it in the iron bath. I left this one in for 10 minutes.
When I rinsed the yarn, the iron ones only took two changes of water before it rinsed clear whereas the alum-only skein took about 5.
Now I have three skeins of sorrel dyed yarn.
The dark green one is from the first day. It looks like a totally different colour from the earlier photo. I think that's because natural dyes have so much depth of colour, it looks different in different lighting. The yarn on top was the alum mordant with iron afterbath, and the yellow was alum only. On the very bottom is an undyed version of this yarn. Each skein is handspun singles, made for weaving, 400yds per approx 100g.
On a side note, I got a couple of small chemical burns (or possibly allergy blisters) handling this yarn during the dye process. A good warning that I'm dealing with proper chemistry here and some of these substances can be an irritant or worse. Also, a good reminder to rinse the yarn really well.
What would happen if someone didn't use alum? I'm thinking about trying to naturally dye Easter Eggs tomorrow, and I don't have any alum, but we do have sorrel and rhubarb, and I'm wondering if they'd do anything without the alum...
Nicole, both rhubarb and sheep's sorrel contain oxalic acid, and in some of my references that's listed as a mordant. So, they should be "substantive" dyes that will bind to wool without an additional mordant. The colors may be a bit different, though, without alum since mordants can interact with each other and with dyes to change the colors. As a general rule, tin (stannous chloride) and chrome (potassium dichromate) tend to brighten colors (they're also incredibly toxic, so not mordants I would use), alum is pretty neutral (and generally considered safe), tannins tend to brown colors, copper tends to green them, and iron tends to "sadden" or darken colors (hence the shift from yellow to green in r ranson's experiment).
Here's a quick reference I found for dyeing with rhubarb: https://www.allfiberarts.com/2011/how_dye_rhubarb_roots.htm It lists the leaves as a mordant due to the oxalic acid, and says that the roots produce yellows (though it does not list the mordant used), and that the shade can be changed to a more coral/orange range by making a more alkaline dyebath. The recommendation for that is to add washing soda, but remember that animal fibers are damaged by high pH, so be careful with how much you add.
I haven't done much egg dyeing, but I'd think that the dye in the leaves would work. I'd be interested in hearing about your results.
I have used onion skins both red and yellow. You can get as yellow to orange form the yellow and a yellow to brownish pink from the red. As avocado skins and pits, can give anywhere from a peachy pink to a brown. The pits will give more of a pink color, but both make great colors. Berries , carrots and red cabbage and beets will also color eggs. Have fun trying other foods. Some of these will work with wool as well. But not all are color fast. Turmeric can also give some very bright yellows/oranges.
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