27 April 2009

something blue

Nefertiti's cornflowers from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute

This recipe is my adaptation of J.N. Liles' Lye-Hydrosulfite Vat from The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. If you're at all interested in natural dyeing, this is the book to get. I'm giving my basic recipe, but all the safety precautions and suggestions for troubleshooting I'll leave to Prof. Liles.

Thiox and Spectralite are names for thiourea dioxide. I don't know about their relative potencies, so I'm specifying my recipe for use with Thiox.

Lye-Thiox Indigo Vat

Stock Solution
Just about fill a quart Mason jar with hot tap water. I don't ever bother with a thermometer--the water is about as hot as my hand can tolerate. Add 1 3/4 teaspoons lye and stir until it dissolves. Add 3 teaspoons of natural indigo powder and mix for a few minutes. Add 1 teaspoon thiourea dioxide (Thiox) and stir for another minute. Screw the lid on and let the mixture stand in a larger bowl of hot water until the solution turns dark greenish yellow with a gold-blue slick on the surface.

Fill a five gallon storage bucket with hot tap water. I use a clear Rubbermaid container so that I can tell what color the solution is at any time. Wearing gloves and avoiding splashes, add 1/8 teaspoon lye dissolved in a little water. Add 1/2 teaspoon washing soda (soda ash) dissolved in a little water. (I use another Mason jar for all this dissolving and adding.) Add 1/2 teaspoon thiourea dioxide (Thiox) dissolved in a little water. Wait 15 to 30 minutes. Add the indigo stock and stir very gently. Allow up to an hour for the vat to "reduce." It should be a light greenish yellow. There might be some blue up around the edges and an opalescent film on the surface.

Now you're ready to dip anything: wool, cotton, linen, and silk yarns, and fabric and paper, and buttons made of natural materials, and leather. (I haven't dyed leather, yet.)

Prof. Liles gives suggestions for how long to keep different fibers submerged and how long to air them. He gives directions for adjusting the chemistry as you go. Thiox is a lot more potent than the hydrosulfite in Liles' recipe, so only add it a little at a time. Too much Thiox will mean you're stripping pigment every time you re-dip the fiber. Again, the whys and more hows (like rinsing and cleaning fibers, disposing of chemicals and using synthetics-free vats like "old sig" and yeast vats) are all in The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing.

I saw those leather slingbacks he dyed in the book and I thought, hmmmm: dorky white sandals on clearance become gorgeous indigo sandals with jeans! What doyou mean by buttons made from natural materials? wood buttons? I say, hmmmm. And my word is "solann" because I use solar power to dye my sandals!
Yes, Mrs. L, wood and mother of pearl turn out beautifully, but take more time than less dense materials.
She's back at the Blue! I have blue for you only I am so lame I never send it...or take pictures of the lovely blueness you sent me...so we have to rendezvous in person...no I'll get it to you before then..scouts honor.
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