22 June 2006


the wool steeping in madder root and cochineal "tea"

the finished yarn

MATERIALS: 8 oz. of wool yarn (I used Henry's Attic Pony 2 ply), 1/4 oz. cochineal, 4 oz. madder root, 2oz. alum mordant (dyestuff available from earthguild.com or aurorasilk.com)
TOOLS: one or two inexpensive stainless steel or enamel coated aluminum pots big enough to hold the yarn and water to cover by several inches that you will devote to dyeing, a plastic or stainless steel spoon for stirring and lifting yarn out of the baths that you will devote to dyeing, rubber gloves, a candy thermometer is optional if you want to check that the yarn stays below 200 degrees F, but if you keep the solutions at a bare simmer for mordanting and dyeing, the yarn will not full and the dye will take
HOW: First, if the yarn is unscoured, you must wet it thoroughly in tepid water by letting it soak for a good ten minutes and swish it with some gentle shampoo to remove excess oils and any sizing. Rinse the yarn thoroughly and make sure it is tyed loosely but with good knots in several places. Mordanting the wool and extracting the dye can take place side by side on your stove if you have two pots to devote to dyeing. If you have only one pot to work with, mordant the wool first and then extract the dye; the mordanted wool can be stored in a plastic bag until the dye is ready, but no more than a week or it may start to get moldy. Dissolve the mordant in hot water in the pot. When the mordant is dissolved fill the pot 2/3 full and then add the wetted wool. Swirl the wool gently and turn on the heat to medium. You want the solution to reach a bare simmer in about 45 minutes--swirl it in the solution occasionally. Then you want to keep the yarn at the bare simmer for another 45 minutes, swirling occasionally; off the heat, cover the pot and leave the solution and yarn to cool to room temperature overnight. Drain the wool and rinse it, squeezing out excess water gently. To extract the dye, crush the cochineal in a mortar or use a plastic bag and something flat and heavy to get the bugs down to a powder. Add the cochineal and the madder roots to a pot and cover with water by a few inches. Bring the madder cochineal solution to a boil and keep the heat on it for 45 minutes to an hour. Off the heat and let the dyestuff steep overnight, covered. When the extract is ready and the wool has been mordanted, you're ready to dye. Add as much water to the pot of dye extract as you'll need to cover the wool. You can adjust the water level if it's too low once the yarn is in the pot, but don't pour off any solution.* Lower the wool into the dye bath and bring the solution and wool to a bare simmer in 45 minutes, swirling occasionally and leave to simmer for another 45 minutes, swirling occasionally. Off the heat, cover the pot and leave the wool to steep overnight. In the morning use the gloves to lift the wool out by hand and rinse thoroughly and repeatedly until the run-off water is nearly clear. You can spin dry the wool in your washing machine before hanging it to dry. The "exhausted" dye bath is still potent enough to get another 8 oz of wool a light shade of salmon pink. Plan ahead by mordanting a second 8 oz skein of the same or a different wool along with the hank you want to turn coral. (I wish I had a photo of the mohair blend I dyed in the exhaust bath--salmon mousse.)
*The proportion of yarn to dyestuff is important, but the amount of water is not. Dye particles are distributed throughout the solution and will attach themselves to however much wool is in the pot as long as they have enough water to move around the wool.
NOTES: The dye will come off of countertops and ceramic sinks quite easily with a little soap and water or a light bleach solution, but cover countertops before you begin dyeing if you'd like to avoid temporary staining. Wear an apron while you work to prevent clothes from getting stained. If you prefer directions in a list format, the tutorial at aurorasilk.com differs a little in particulars from mine, but will get the job done. Natural dyeing is definitely not an exact science. Having said that, I recommend Gwen Fereday's book Natural Dyeing. From only five dyestuffs she has developed proportions and blends and gives overdyeing directions to create hundreds of colors with shades of each for wool, silk, and cotton.

Now why didn't I come across your blog BEFORE I did my madder dyeing? I got a sort of brick red/teracotta which is nice but I would rather have had this coral colour....I suppose I'll just have to try it all again.
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