Friday, September 16, 2011

Dyeing with cleavers root and pokeberries

Yesterday was dyeing day. It was a lot of trouble for just over 3 ounces of wool, but it was good to learn the process for these particular dyestuffs (cleavers root and pokeberries), and to see the resultant colors. (My previous post is about gathering the roots and the berries, if you're interested.)

Dyeing with cleavers roots:

My process isn't well documented photographically because I did the cleavers alone in the morning before my daughter was able to come and help, but here's what I did:

I let roots soak overnight. In the morning I blended the roots up with un-softened well water from our outside tap. I read that hard water helps with the color. I put the blended roots in the dye pot along with more well water and heated it gently for an hour. 

When dyeing with cleavers, it's very important to regulate the temperature. I read that over about 140 or 150 degrees F, the color will start to move from reds, toward the brown shades. To keep it in the red range, the process shouldn't go over 180 degrees F. One source said that the best reds are obtained at about 140 degrees. It was hard to find the sweet spot with my electric stovetop, so while making my dye bath, the temp at one point reached about 178 degrees F. I did eventually find how to keep it lower.

While the roots were steeping, I mordanted my wool. I had 4 ounces of cleavers roots, so with a ratio of 2:1 of roots to wool, I measured out 2 ounces of wool (which happened to be superwash Bluefaced Leicester). I added 1/2 teaspoon alum powder and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar to another pot of well water and gently steeped the wool in it for about 40 minutes. 

When the roots had heated for an hour, I strained them out and then added the mordanted wool to the dye bath. I let the wool steep between 150 and 160 degrees for an hour. After that hour, I let the wool cool in the pot, then rinsed it until the water ran clear, with one of the changes of water a bit soapy.

The wool came out a very pretty salmon color (the picture doesn't do it justice); here it is after rinsing: 

Cleavers is very much like madder apparently, and depending on the quality of the roots, the concentration of the dye bath, the temperature, water hardness, etc, your resultant color can range anywhere from orange-ish, to salmon, to a nice red, to brick red, to various browns. I got a very pretty salmon with which I am very happy.

On to the next.

Dyeing with pokeberries:

My daughter showed up to help with this batch, so it's got lots of pictures.

First, a word about dyeing with pokeberries. It isn't usually done because the color doesn't last; it fades very quickly. This is a new method of dyeing with pokeberries that I came across in this book. The woman who discovered the process has yarns dyed with pokeberries that are ten years old and still vibrant and beautiful. Beautiful is the operative word. The color obtained from pokeberries is absolutely amazing.

My daughter and I gathered about two pounds of pokeberries. The ratio of pokeberries to wool is very high, 25:1. This meant that I could only dye a little over one ounce of wool. Disappointing, I know, but I'm hoping to plant pokebushes next year so that I can have my very own berries to harvest, hopefully in larger quantities.

A word of caution: pokeberries are poisonous, don't eat them.

So, first we stripped the berries from the stalks:

And then proceeded to mash them all up:

It's best to wear gloves for this part:

Only, make sure you don't have a hole somewhere:

This method of dyeing with pokeberries uses vinegar as a mordant, and vinegar is added to the pot while making the dye bath.

Cover your berries with water, making sure you have enough to let your wool swim freely. For each gallon of water used, add 1/2 cup vinegar. I added a total of one gallon of water to my berries, so I put 1/2 cup vinegar in the pot with it.

This is another material which is temperature-sensitive. Keep the temperature between 160 degrees and 180 degrees F. If there is any bubbling or boiling, the color will be ruined. After the cleavers, I had a handle on keeping the temp where I wanted it.

Here are the berries stewing in the pot. I skimmed that foam off; it didn't disappear and I didn't want it there when I put the wool in:

The berries steeped for an hour. While they were doing their thing, I mordanted the wool by adding about 1/4 cup of vinegar for my just-over 1 ounce of wool to a pot of water. I steeped the wool in the vinegar water for about 40 minutes.

When the berries had finished steeping, I strained them out and then added the mordanted wool to the dye bath. The wool stewed in the dye bath for 2 hours. I kept the temp between 160 and 170 degrees the whole time:

When the two hours was up, I put the lid on the pot, took it off the heat, and let it sit overnight. In the morning I rinsed the wool. Have you ever seen such a wonderful color? And from a natural dye!:

I love it! Totally worth all the effort.

Here are the two colors from the two different dyestuffs hanging to dry, pokeberry on the left, cleavers on the right (click any picture to see it bigger):

I can hardly wait to spin these up. For these colors I will definitely go through he whole process again (only next time, I'll try to leave out the part about getting poison ivy).


Jonathan Loftin said...

What a gorgeous color you got with your pokeberries! I'm curious, was it stable as you had hoped?

ICQB said...

Hi Jonathan1

The color over the years loses some of its vibrancy, but is still gorgeous - well worth the work.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

ICQB said...

Hi Anonymous!

Thank you, and you're welcome!