First of all, I am finally starting to feel like a human again. I haven't been sick in a very long time, but something evil lurks at the LYS we take our design class from because Knitzalot, Cora and I all ended up sick by the middle-end of last week. I have been home sick for 4 days straight and I am starting to loose my mind. I feel like I should go to work tomorrow, but I'm still hacking up a lung every 10 minutes or so and I'm on my 3rd box of tissue (ouch!).
Anyhoo! This is a post about my first attempt at natural dyeing. I love the idea behind natural dyes and when executed properly (*ehem*) you get some amazing results. I myself had some not-so-amazing results. But I thought you might find the process interesting nonetheless.
My first mistake was to pick a stubborn plant (purple basil) to use for my first try. I decided against the warning of this "particularly frustrating" plant because I really wanted something other than yellow, which is the most common color you can get from natural dyes. I decided to go for it and know that I was taking a risk. I used A Dyer's Garden by Rita Buchanan for my source book (gifted to my by my SIL). This book is nice because it given a nice overview of the process, as well as numerous examples of what you are supposed to get using particular fibers, mordants and dye plants.
Originally the plan was for me to use the fingering weight Paint Your Own Knit Picks yarn in my stash to dye up the yarn for Seraphim. However, once again my memory failed me when I discovered I had lace weight, not fingering weight dyeable yarn in my stash (Ravelry - I can't hardly wait until you go live!). So this yarn was going to have to be for a different project, no biggie! I also originally wanted to grow the plants I was going to use for my experiment. Unfortunately, it turns out that purple basil needs to be fresh when used as a dye. You also need about 18 plant tops to dye 100 grams of wool. The chance that I could have 18 plants alive at one time is highly improbable, so I went with the next best thing - just buy it fresh! Knitzalot helped me track some down at a local organic farm just outside of Rancho Santa Fe. Without going to a "and then, and then, and then" story about the day I bought said purple basil...lets just say that didn't go as planned either and I ended up with about half of what I was supposed to buy. Oh well, lets see what happens!
So first step, you need to pick out your mordant. This is the heavy metal that you need to pre-treat your yarn with so that it will absorb the natural dyes properly. I liked the results you were supposed to get with tin mordant, a deep vibrant purple, so I went ahead and mixed up the mordant and cooked the yarn.
One soaked, dried, washed and ready to be dyed, I got the purple basil.
You make a dye bath by cooking the plant materials for a set amount of time. For purple basil it was also suggested that you let the plant matter soak for a day or two to help extract all the color. Below, you can already see the once purple leaves are looking pretty green!
Now it is suggested that once you finish preparing your dye bath you strain the plant matter out of the dye. But being cheap and not having a strainer I could give up to dyeing (you should only dye with pots and utensils that will NEVER touch food), I decided to not worry about the random bits of plant material left in the bath. This is ok, but not ideal.
Again, the book suggested that after cooking, you let the yarn soak in the dye bath for a day or so to help soak up the dye. I also added a bit of vinegar to help obtain a deeper color.
Things looked really promising until it was washing time. Although, I let my yarn dry before I washing, I still lost A LOT of dye in the wash water.
As you can see, this light purple is not even close to the dark lustrous purple I was supposed to end up with. Not only that, most of the yarn is green! I tried really hard to get an accurate photo of the yarn, but with the light at my place it came out either too washed out or too dark.
Let's just say that my "colorway" has been named Rainbow Sherbet on a Hot Summer's Day, because this gray-green blah of a color has a date with some purple Kool-Aid.