Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting purple with Hopi Black Sunflower seeds

EDIT: Please read to the end to see results and colors, I've included the not-so-successful results of this dye session, and added results of other experimental methods. 

If you're having trouble getting purple from your Hopi Black Sunflower seeds, you're not alone. I've had a hard time getting purple from the Hopi Black Sunflower seeds I grew this summer. You can see my previous post here. So far I've gotten a very pretty dark teal and various grays. I was becoming frustrated, so I began to do some research.

First I tried searching for books in my library that might have information on Hopi methods of dyeing. I came up with nothing there, so I turned to the Internet. I searched for Hopi methods of dyeing and came up with a couple of sources. One is a book called "Hopi Dyes," and the other is a book which combines that book with another and is called "Navajo and Hopi dyes," compiled by Bill Rieske.

My library sources didn't have it, so I looked for it on Amazon. I found a copy for just over $3, and with shipping it came to just over $7. Of course I ordered it:

I was wondering what types of mordants the Hopis used and this book tells of a couple, one of which is a naturally occurring, low-grade form of alum which leaches out of the desert floor and can be found in chunks. And the recipe for the sunflower seed dye called for this - hooray! I substituted my own alum and used considerably less than what it calls for in the recipe, since I suspect it's higher grade.
In my previous attempts, I had been mordanting my fiber before putting it into the dye pot. I was mordanting it with alum and cream of tartar. The recipe in the book has you put the mordant directly into the dyepot. I nixed the cream of tartar and used only alum.
The dye acted exactly the way the book said it would. Here's a brief summary of what I did, but I recommend you get the book, it's a treasury of information:
I brought my seeds slowly to a boil and boiled them gently for about 20 minutes. The book says no more than 30 minutes, or until the seeds split. You will get a deep maroon liquid:

The color of the drippings at this point, after soaking into a napkin, were a teal-ish gray:

After straining out the seeds, I added the alum - 1 1/2 tablespoons (I was originally going to dye about 6 ounces of fiber, but ended up dyeing only about 4 ounces).
The dye liquid turned a deep, royal purple after adding the alum:
You can see the difference in the color left by the drippings on the napkin after the alum was added, it is a pronounced purple next to the gray pre-mordant drippings:

The recipe calls for you to slowly bring the pot to a gentle boil again and gently boil for about 30 minutes, then take the pot off of the fire and leave the fiber soaking in the pot for 24 hours.

In my failed dyes, the fiber turned to either the teal or the gray pretty quickly. The yarn with this dyepot has remained purple and is now soaking until tomorrow:

The notes at the end of the recipe say that for wool, the color is not wash-fast, and on cotton, the color is not light-fast and will fade to blue with time.
I happened to dye about 2 ounces of bleached white yak, and about 2 ounces of white baby alpaca. I'll add some pictures tomorrow after rinsing.

Okay, it's been several days and I'm just now getting around to posting pictures of the results. I did NOT get purple with this method. I let the yarns soak overnight, and the next day, they were gray. The two skeins from this batch of dye are the two right-most skeins in the picture below. The light gray is what used to be white baby alpaca, and the dark gray is what used to be bleached-white yak.
I repeated this same method the next day with one more skein of bleached-white yak, but this time let it stay in the dye pot for only about 15 minutes. I took it out and it began to turn gray almost right away. Within about 15 or 20 minutes it was gray as well. This skein is the left-most of the three skeins pictured together in the picture below. It is a medium gray compared to the other two.  

So, pictured above are the range of colors I've gotten with the Hopi Black Sunflower seeds, shown on the various fibers I've dyed with it. From left to right:

Washed Bluefaced Leicester/Dorset cross fleece with a small, combed sample of the dyed fiber, which turned gray. The fiber was mordanted in alum and cream of tartar before going into the prepared dye pot.

Superwash merino/Tencel roving, mordanted in alum and cream of tartar before dyeing. It came out a beautiful dark teal-gray.

Washed BFL/Dorset cross fleece with a small combed sample of the dyed fiber. I mordanted this sample with vinegar, and added vinegar to the dye pot, too. It came out a sort of grape purple.

Skein of bleached-white yak, dyed with the method outlined above, but removed from the pot after about 20 minutes. The nice lavender purple color turned gray right away.

Skein of bleached-white yak, dyed as outlined above. In the morning, the color was this dark gray.

Skein of natural-white baby alpaca, dyed as outlined above. In the morning, the color was this light gray.

Washed Border Leicester fleece with a small combed sample of the dyed fiber. I let this fiber soak in a warm pot of left-over alum and cream of tartar mordant water that had been used to mordant yarn for a different dye project. I added a bit of vinegar to this water before putting the fiber in. I then followed the method to prepare the seed dye outlined above, but I also added some vinegar to the dye pot after adding the alum. I then dyed the fiber for about 20 minutes. I took it out and rinsed it with the left-over mordant water before a final water rinse. It came out a slightly gray-looking lavender purple.

Below is a picture of that dark teal-gray color on that SW merino/Tencel roving. It's sort of hard to capture in a picture, but it's really pretty. I can't wait to spin this up - I'm hoping the spun yarn turns out as wonderful:

And here is a curious thing, also hard to capture with my iPhone photography skills - the medium-gray skein of yak was tied with yak except in one place where one of the ties was missing. I replaced that tie with a scrap of (sheep's) wool I had lying around. That tie actually came out lavender (maybe lavender-gray). You can sort of see it in the picture below:
I still have more seeds to experiment with. If I get any really wonderful results, I'll post about them, too. If anyone out there has any suggestions, or has successfully gotten purple with their Hopi Black Sunflower seeds, please let me know!


Anonymous said...

Very cool purple. May have to find some of these sunflower seeds. Helen

ICQB said...

Hi Helen!

I added the final results of the dye session to this post after you left your comment. I wish the fiber had remained that purple color. I have more experimentation ahead of me!

Bitsy said...

Have you considered that your well water may have iron or other minerals in it that affect your dye results? You could test your water your self too, I think there are grade school science experiments that test for different metals and minerals.

ICQB said...

Hi Bitsy!

Yes, I'm pretty sure my well water is wreaking havoc with my dyeing. Our softener has been wonky lately and I'm getting all sorts of strange results.

Having said that, I did try dyeing with the seeds using purchased water from the grocery store. I still didn't get purple - it also changed to gray in the pot. I will try again, though. And mordanting with vinegar does work, although it gives a grape-purple instead of the more lavendery-purple. I have a new crop of the Hopi sunflowers in the garden now and will continue to experiment!

Bitsy said...

When you used purchased water, did you use distilled? Spring and drinking water both still have plenty of minerals in them, which is fine for drinking, not so nice when you want to control the results. also I highly recommend reading this page on mordants.
It even has some nice information on chemical safety.

ICQB said...

Hi Bitsy!

The best purple I've gotten so far is with distilled water. It is still more of a lavender-gray than a purple, but it's a pretty color - sort of changes depending on the light. Thanks for the link! I've visited that site before and have it bookmarked, great minds think alike :-)

Anonymous said...

Might be the dye needs to be diluted to alcohol or ammonia. Have you tried? Or as many dyes in berries and flowers are pH sensitive try acid and solutions, they make red dyes more clear. Be sure that you are not washing it with alkalic before the yearn has first been dryed. Also some dyes are sensitive to hydrogen before dryed first time, they become more grey. I do not know does this have any help, but make research. Your blog in very interestin and inspirating. At a moment I have no blog or www site.

ICQB said...

Hi Leena!

Thanks for the tips. I have tried vinegar, and it brings out a grape-type of purple. I have tried an ammonia dip and for the life of me I can't remember the outcome right now - which probably means it didn't have an affect. Thanks for the tips - I will keep them in mind in my future attempts to wrangle a good purple out of these seeds!

emilyblaser said...

Have you tried mordanting with iron?
I have that book too and it says the Hopi used it for black but they used black wool. They used it to get a true black instead of a warm black. Or got lavender for baskets and white wool.

ICQB said...

Hi emilyblaser!

Yes, I did - iron gave me gray. In the end, mostly what I've gotten are grays, and occasionally a nice teal-gray which is exceptionally nice on shiny fiber.

J in NS said...

You haven't mentioned pH directly. You did use vinegar for the acid but no mention or ammonia or washing soda for alkaline. This may be your key. See this one page article: https://crowdfunding.cornell.edu/project/869/updates/1

I don't have any Hopi seeds but am trying some oil sunflower seeds from birdfood mix. I will do a pH check when I dye. I am soaking in pH neutral tap water but will use distilled for making dye bath. If I get purple I will re-post with photo -Jane

ICQB said...

Hi Jane!

Thanks for the tip! Good luck with your dyeing!