Sunday 6 December 2015

Walnut and heat

This fall I have been dyeing fiber with various dyestuff, all natural, like reed, onion, walnut, birch, madder, indigo and cochineal. This blog post will cover what I did with one single dye pot of walnut extract, and show the results of that.

During my dye-period this fall there was a lot of experimenting, but also a lot of reading. My experience with natural dyeing in earlier years was mainly the 'standard' way of dyeing, and with standard, I mean cooking an extract from a natural dye source (plants), filtering the extract so no plant material is left, pre-mordanting the fibers, and simmering the fibers in the extract at 85-95 deg C for about an hour, rinsing the fibers and let them dry. This fall, on the contrary, I did a lot of reading on the web, and noticed that there are a hundred ways or more to dye wool, which all lead to a result, all nice and some with stronger colors than others.

On the walnut dyeing, I noticed a few differences from the 'standard' dying as I have done before:
(1) No mordant is required. This is actually no new approach, it has been known long time that walnut contains a matter that acts as mordant (tannin), and also in my second hand books from the seventies this information is shared as common knowledge. It was just that I didn't know that yet.
(2) The dye bath can be extracted from the husks without heating the dye pot. Let the sun and time do their work, lower temperatures need more time, but in the end, many report on the web, the walnut dye bath is as good as any 'cooked' dye bath.
(3) The dye bath to dye the fibers does not need heating. The same mechanism of sun and time will result in the same results as when your simmer the fibers a shorter time in the dye pot.
(4) Let the fibers dry after you lift them out of the dye bath before you rinse. This would result in more dye sticking to the fibers than if you rinse immediately after taking them out of the dye bath.
(5) The walnut dye bath can be used many more times than other dye baths (in general, dye baths can be used 2, sometimes 3 times before the color is too weak to be interesting), every time resulting in lighter browns, eventually more towards a greyish brown, but still interesting.
(6) The walnut dye bath can be stored and re-used later on, even if mold has built on the surface. In fact, the mold itself can be left in the dye bath as it also contains dyestuff.

A friend of me kindly gave me two bottles of extracted walnut dye bath, extracted from walnut trees in France which grow around her holiday cottage. The extract was really strong, looking pitch black where it sat in the bottles, almost 3 liters in total. I was very happy to receive this gift! This was the basis for my experimenting. Obviously, I could not apply (2) - no heating to extract the dye as my friend already had done this for me. All the other points, except the last one (storing the bath) I have applied, and in this post I will show you the results. In total, I dyed 5 skeins of varying weights, the heaviest first and last. Four of the skeins are from the same sheep, from the less soft part of the fleece, and I plan to weave with it. The fifth and last skein is from another sheep, spun a bit thicker but the most remarkable difference is that it has more crimp and the yarn therefore is more 'round' than the other four. This is the result

OK, this is what I did, (1) to (5) lay from left to right:
(1) Put the skein in a big glass pot with the cold dye and let it stand in the window (afternoon October sun) for a whole week. Took out the skein and rinsed it (forgot to let it dry first). The color is nice, but I had expected a deep, dark brown. Apparently, just weak October sun is not enough.
 (2) Put in next skein in the same pot, and whenever I used my oven to prepare a meal, the pot went into the oven when the food was taken out, and was warmed up in the after warmth to a nice, warm temperature, but not hot. This happened 3 times during the week the skein was in the pot. Then, I took it out, squeezed it and hung it up to dry. After it had dried, I rinsed it. Darker, but still not the deep, dark brown I expected.
(3) Put the dye bath (still very dark brown, almost black) in a pan, put in a skein and simmered for one hour.
(4) Added next skein and simmered for another hour (with the skein from (3) still in it as well). Let it cool until the next morning. Squeezed and hung to dry. Rinsed afterwards.
(5) Put in the last skein, simmered one hour, squeezed, dried, rinsed.

Conclusion: HEAT wins over TIME. The higher and longer the heat, the darker the color, until the dye bath gets exhausted and the last skein gets a more greyish tone than the others. The Octobersun could not compete with the 90 degrees from the stove, but already some mild warmth from the over is better than the windowsill.

Whether drying before rinsing improves the color, I don't know as I did not test both ways, but the colors are nice and dark, so whenever I have the time and opportunity I will apply that method (if I remember).

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