Thursday, August 26, 2010

A pot of many colours

Twenty-five, to be precise.

I had a fabulous time in my natural dyeing workshop, 25 Natural Colours, at the Gibsons Landing Fibre Arts Festival on Saturday. The instructor, Birgit Rasmussen, was great; the 11 other participants were friendly; I learned some new things; and, as a bonus, the nature of class meant there were plenty of breaks throughout the day, meaning plenty of extra time to shop in the merchant mall!

My previous forays into natural dyeing have all been done using food-based (coffee, turmeric, black beans, avocado pits/peels) dyestuffs; alum and cream of tartar as mordants; and vinegar and ammonia as modifiers. I was excited to see how different mordants and modifiers worked.

We started with 25 mini skeins of bare wool, tied together in groups of five. The first set were left unmordanted; the second and third were mordanted in class using alum and copper, respectively; and the fourth and fifth had been pre-mordanted by Birgit, using iron and rhubarb leaf.

The dye: ground madder root, at a concentration of 95%. Into which went all 25 skeins in one batch.

Red! It worked!

After bringing the dye back up to 145F and letting the yarn cook for an hour, we removed the yarns and re-organized them into five new groups of five, each group containing an unmordanted skein, as well as one skein mordanted with alum, copper, iron and rhubarb leaf.

One set was left alone (save a quick wash and rinse), while each of the others was treated with one of four modifiers: vinegar, ammonia, copper and iron.

Birgit checking to see if the magic has happened

Then we (well, a few of the more helpful among us) separated the skeins again and laid them all in a neat row.

Yep, 25 different colours

Before we snipped them all up and put them on a sample card to take home with us for reference.

shade card3
Purdy, eh?

I was so pleased with the results, I asked Birgit if I could pop a skein of pre-mordanted alpaca into the dye bath, which still had plenty of colour in it. I haven't taken a picture of it, but I'll do so soon.

This workshop was definitely the best time I've ever had in a high school chem lab. :-)


  1. Very cool. I can't wait to see the other skein. I have heard that natural dyes are the best to use when you want to do stranded colourwork, as they will all compliment each other.

  2. Wow, that's an amazing palette from just one dye with lots of little variations. I never knew!

  3. This is fascinating, such a variation.

  4. Thank you. This looks like so much fun. I am really impressed with the range of colors. As if I need another complicated hobby.....