A Belt for Gudrun

by Halima al-Rakkasa

Adventures in Dyeing

Gudrun gave me two natural dye kits to work with, Maiwa dyes with their required chemicals: indigo, cochineal, madder, and a few other non-European dyes. My focus is on indigo, madder, cochineal, and combinations thereof, all on silk and silk blended with wool.

I have several kinds of silk "thread":
120/8 Tussah (120g),
8/2 Bombyx (heavy; 100g),
approx 120/8 Bombyx (80g),
60/4 silk and wool (200g).

I have pots and spoons and gloves and notes... And it's Saturday morning (Apr 11/09) and I've plotted my course of action. (Definitely a Blues Brothers feel to this!)

0) Measure and weigh everything!

Mark 12 litres on the big pot (for batches of 200 gms fibre). Determined that 200gm would be sufficient for a tablet-woven belt plus findings, so 100gm would be darkest indigo, 100gms would be either burgundy or red. So that's 300gm dedicated. Approx 200gms divided for experimental purposes.

a) madder - 50gm silk&wool (A)
b) madder and cochineal - 80gm fine bombyx (B)
c) cochineal - 50gm silk&wool (C)
d) cochineal (no mordant!) - 25gm heavy (D)
e) madder and indigo - 100gm Tussah (E)
f) cochineal and indigo - 25gm heavy Bombyx (F1), and 20mg Tussah (F2)
g) indigo - 100gm silk&wool (G1), and 50gm heavy Bombyx (G2)

That's 9 hanks. What have I done?!

Purchased yarn is not necessarily divided logically when the ties are added to the skeins; I could not undo the "first" grouping of threads to take off a section, but had to undo -all- of them.

First fibre to scour is measured and labelled.

How long does it take to measure off yarn/thread? The first bit (1 skein into 3) was a couple of hours... Decided that it was easier to count the threads of the original skein, and count off the turn of the reel, starting with the smaller amounts first...

So... Counting threads to divide a skein is tedious as the threads get finer. My niddy noddy appears to weigh 144gms, so this next skein I'll just add thread until it's 166gms. hm... Half an hour for 50gms 60/4?

As I opened up each skein for dividing, I made 10 wraps of the untreated yarn/thread around a card and labelled it.

Edit: Consider adding more ties to the skeins; the yarns slip all over the place in the scouring pot.

1) Scouring - Heat 12 litres of water with 7.5 g Orvus paste per 200 g silk/wool; cook at 140 degrees F for two hours.

Repeat twice more, once for each batch.

Oops. Don't bother bringing the water to a boil! It takes forever to cool down to 140 degrees. It turns out that fibre for indigo dye should be cooked 2 hours, not 1. Four skeins get indigo, so everything will be cooked 2 hours.

I used an old vinter's plastic spoon for stirring. I should've sanded the edges, as they are catching on the fibre.

I got a impatient with the last batch, and hauled it out of the pot into a bowl of hot water; I rinsed a couple of times in slightly cooler water each time.

2) Mordanting - Mordanting fixes some of the colors, changes others.
Start with 110 degree F water, enough to cover fibre, and add 15% alum. So 325 gms of fibre need mordant, requiring 48.75 gms of alum.

Some say madder ought to have cream of tartar, too, but I don't want the cochineal to go astray, so I'm skipping it; cream of tartar might be add-able to the cochineal dyebath or used as an aftermordant.

(Why is it that we add water to cover, but don't add the fibre until after the water is cooking? When do we know it's enough to cover when there's nothing to cover?)

Heat water slowly over half an hour to 185 degrees; simmer silk for one hour. Allow to cool 20 minutes. Pack in a damp white cloth overnight (24-48 hours!).
Hanks: all but D and G.

It's after midnight. I've been at this since 10 a.m. Can I quit now?... Bedtime at 3 a.m. Scoured fibre now is wrapped in damp cloth, as per instructions; can't dye until Monday, as per instructions!

It seems that mordant can be soaked overnight (or two), without cooking. It appears that mordanted fibre should then be dried and aged a week before re-wetting and dyeing for better colorfastness. It appears that the previous dyeing must be rinsed and dried before overdyeing.

Sunday Apr 12/09 I've been writing notes here as I go, with an occasional spate of extracting information specific to what I'm doing, calculating, scheduling, thinking through the process before committing to it.

3) Dye
a) Madder first. Finely ground, so no extraction is needed.

35% madder = 80.5 gm for 230 gm fibre
Add to bath; add wet mordanted fibre with water enough to move freely.
Simmer at 140? degrees F for 1 hour (below 180 F; full pot at #4 on back L element); allow fibre to cool in bath.
Rinse; wash w Orvus, rinse.

Hanks: A, B, E

I can't wait. Here goes the damp hanks into the madder dyepot. I've put the powdered madder directly into the water and started off with hot tap water, a good half-pot's worth. Is this enough water? I'll be shaking out bark bits for a while. Bring it up the 140 F and hold for an hour.

Oh, what fun with the telemarketers! "Go away. I'm dyeing!"

Nice color of water; trying to keep the temperature below 150 F to get more blue-ish than orange-ish.
Covered the pot, and leaving it alone until tomorrow morning.

I read that the bark can be saved, dried and used again, though will be lighter. It is very nice as a wet color.

Rinsing - It seems that some of the original ties that I thought were loose enough weren't loose enough, and dye didn't get through to everything. And that "shaking out the bark" is an understatement; it's like sand and persistant.

It's not as dark as I'd like, and it's more of a dark brick red, red ochre. Cook longer next time? Allow to heat to 160 F? Leave it to soak several days?

Washed in Orvus. Rinsed until the water was barely pink (6 times?). Hung up to dry.

I haven't found anything definite on overdyeing, so I'm thinking that stuff should dry before being rewetted and overdyed. Maybe get some of my grey yarn together to dye with indigo, since I ought to exhaust the vat and I'll be in a position to do that. Maybe with the cochineal, too.

b) Cochineal next.

8% cochineal = 16 gm for 200 gm fibre
Grind. Cover w water and 1 t vinegar; boil 15 minutes. Decant, and repeat with lees twice more with water only. Combine decantings.
Add extract to dyepot with fibre and water enough for the fibre to move freely.
Heat to 185 F (silk) for 45 minutes (is 150 F better for silk?), and allow to cool overnight in bath; (allow to dry for a couple of days before washing?)
Rinse; wash w Orvus, rinse.

Hanks: B, C, D, F

I need a pot and jar for cochineal; can I get away with using my kitchen equipment? Cochineal is bugs... OK; internet to the rescue: put bugs into a ziploc bag and crush carefully so that plastic doesn't get holes and the zipper doesn't pop; I crushed the bugs between two wood spoons to control the crush. Put the powder into 2x4" pantyhose bag and tied shut.

I have an stainless teapot in my stash to make the extract; I cleaned it with soap, baking soda, salt, and lastly vinegar. There shouldn't be much pewter left in it!

I chucked the bug bag into the teapot with a bit of water and a wee bit of vinegar, as suggested. It seems that soaking isn't troublesome to this stuff and may even be good (might've helped the madder, if I'd known).

Oops. Meant to soak that first cooking overnight; cooked a second batch (no vinegar this time) and tossed the first into the pot for overnight.

Other instructions say to -barely- boil it. Better safe than sorry: bring to boil and let sit 24 hours. Did this three times. This extract appears to be keep-able for a week-ish in a sealed container.

Apr 16/09, Thursday night
Wetted all the batch yarn by soaking in the "water to allow fiber to move freely", and pulled it out for heating the dyepot with the extract. The wool blend is resisting the water; I plan to search it out to give extra squishes.

(I read about using vinegar as an after-mordant; it appears to push wool color to scarlet. Maybe another time.)

Kept at about 140-150 F and stirred gently every 10-15 mins; from 9:20 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. Brought up to 160 F before turning off the heat. Left the pot to cool until Friday night.

Apr 17/09, Friday
I hung everything to drip and dry (some instructions suggest it helps intensify the color); the colors are towards the magenta end of red and very nice; not true red; let's see what it's like later.

I washed some old Dorset white and unknown grey and threw it into the reheated dyepot (though I read I could pour it into a clean milkjug for reuse later in the week). Brought it up to 180 F and left it overnight... Then rinsed and washed the wool.

Apr 24/09, Friday again
This project is considerably long than I anticipated. I want to do the indigo now, but I read that it stinks something fierce. Weather is cold and wet, and I don't want to do this indoors.

Saturday May 2, 2009

c) Indigo last; other processes might strip indigo, so it is the last for overdyeing.
An hour to prepare indigo stock, and an hour for the vat. Maybe 3 hours of dipping. 24 hours before washing.

Prepare "stock": wear a dust mask.

In a wide-mouth quart jar nearly filled with hot water (110-140 F), dissolve 1 - 1 1/2 t lye
Add 2-4 t indigo powder and stir c 2 minutes
Add 1 t thiourea dioxide and stir c 1 minute
Should get coppery. Cover (jar lid) and keep warm one hour; will change to yellow-ish. Test for color; it may take overnight. Will hold for a time (seal and keep cool); if it reoxidizes, heat to c 120 degrees and add more thiourea dioxide and stir well.

11:30 a.m. Don't lift jar by lid. Obviously, I should've had morning caffeine. The instructions say to use half the stock for wool (which, by extension means protein fibre, as they say the full amount for cotton and linen, which is cellulose), and I still have half a jar left.

So it's keeping warm in a big bowl of hot tap water.

Hm. It's been two hours and something should've happened. Maybe there's too much air in the jar now, since I lost half of the stock. OR falling like that introduced too much oxygen. Let's try adding 1/2 teaspoon thiourea dioxide. Hm. The wood spoon doesn't rinse clean; did I forget to do this step during the excitement when I dropped the jar? Well, then I added exactly the correct amount (2:30 p.m.). Let's wait a bit to see what happens (could add a bit more if the color doesn't change).

Yep. That's it: all murky yellow-green with a blue-ish scum on top. Stinky, but tolerable so far; maybe it's 'cause I sealed it...

Prepare vat
5 gal hot water (110-140 F) into plastic pail
Add 1/8 t lye and dissolve
Add 1/2 t Orvus? (synthrapol or Ivory liquid recommended... hm...)
Add 1 t thiourea dioxide and dissolve; cover c. 15 minutes

That's done. A 6.5 Imp gal bucket is 8 US gal; est fill to 6" from the top with tap hot water. Used Orvus, as I don't have the Ivory liquid recommended, or Synthrapol. Amazing how these thiourea dioxide and lye granules just jump out of the spoon... Vinyl gloves should be at least elbow length... I'm glad I put on the sweatsuit instead of jeans and T.

Lower jar of stock solution into vat and pour out half for wool; stir gently and allow 30-60 minutes for vat to go yellow-green.
It appears that keeping the bath warm (under 100 F) is better.

Since I spilt half the jar, I'm using -all- of what's left; it better be enough.
6 p.m. It's in. I'm concerned because the stock turned blue from me dipping the paper in to sample it. I'll check it in an hour; if it's blue, I'll add more thiourea dioxide, like above. The long -long- spoon will be especially handy for fetching the fibre out again.

Dye vat
Wear rubber gloves.
Add fibre wet for even dyeing; silk can be added dry for effects.
Add fibre carefully, no splashing.
Dip and squeeze 10-30 mins; lift gently to grass or sink and air out; repeat to 6? times allowing 30 minutes oxidizing between dips.
Last dip, let sit 24 hours before rinsing.
Wash well with Orvus. Last rinse for protein fibre with vinegar.

Hanks: G (first!), E, F
Do the blue first, and the overdye that should be a wee bit to shift the color later.

First dipping
A pretty blue immediately, without the miraculous color change; I don't think I had enough thiourea dioxide, so I added some more dissolved in water. After 15 minutes, when there should be change, there wasn't, so I added some more thiourea dioxide crystals straight and gently stirred; am waiting another 15 minutes (it's now 8:30 p.m.).

Hank E is actually going towards the burgundy (I hope it holds), with blue bits where the madder didn't take because the ties were tight (no moisture through?). The cochineal (F) has two different effects, one very purple-y (or maybe it's the bathroom light?). The straight indigo is too light so far; I plan several more dips (if I can stay awake that long!).

Second dipping
Oh-oh. Heavier gloves are in order. Added more thieor and now it's got that coppery top, but never did get yellow-y.

Third dipping
Just the two indigo ones, plus a reckless dip of some handspun grey wool. The bamboo hairsticks might be taking some color, but we'll see after tomorrow's wash.

May 3/09
Washing and washing. After two Orvus washes and a half dozen rinses in hand-hot water (and vinegar then water), the impromptu wool and hank E are done. All the rest are repeating the cycle from the top; sure seems to be a lot of blue water...






w&s = wool and silk, 60/4
t = tussah silk 120/8
b 8/2 = bombyx silk 8/2
b 120/8 = bombyn silk 12/8

left to right:
- grey handspun wool
- grey handspun wool; cochineal exhaust bath
- white handspun; cochineal exhaust bath
A - w&s; alum mordant; madder
B - b 120/8; alum mordant; madder, then cochineal
C - w&s; alum mordant; cochineal
D - b 8/2; no mordant; cochineal
E - t; alum mordant; madder, then indigo
F1 - b 8/2; alum mordant; cochineal, then indigo
F2 - t; alum mordant; cochineal, then indigo
G1 - w&s; no mordant; indigo
G2 - b 8/2; no mordant; indigo
- grey handspun wool; no mordant; indigo


My opinions on the results:

A is nice but shows white-ish spots where madder dye evidently didn't hit the fibre. It's too orange for my taste, more of a brick red than red; can try leaving it in the dyepot overnight. Put the madder into a mesh bag or something to keep the bark from infesting everything.

B is a light burgundy, dark-ish red, like new wine; I'll gladly do this one again.

C is a purple-burgundy, deeper than B; I'll gladly do this one again.

D is a gorgeous like pink-ish purple; luscious!

E is brown-ish, purpley, oh, something interesting... Tussah was the base, so I expect the brown tone influenced it.

F1 is red purple to blue purple; the color is erratic, though still pleasing to me. Possibly the mordanting was uneven, or the scouring.

F2 is a beautiful dusty purple, not blue nor red; it's over tussah, which started out beige toned.

G1 is a good medium blue. It would've benefitted from being re-skeined into a larger skein to make the airing easier and more thorough, but it still quite nice. I want to do this one again, too.

G2 is a lovely range of light to medium blue, completely erratic. It was disappointing, as the initial promise was a royal blue, but most of it washed out. I doubt that I treated the indigo bath properly, probably starting from the time I dropped the stock jar. It's also possible that, in the midst of an overly complex process (caused by me wanting to do so much in so little time) that I missed -scouring- that hank! Silk is notorious for retaining sericin, and that would've prevented any decent take-up of dye.

The best surprises were the last minute dips of handspun. I had no real plan for them, and just dug them out of the box where I seem to've bred some wool moths. So, not caring much, I washed the skeins in hot water and Orvus paste and threw them into the dyepots. The grey didn't pick up much in the cochineal, but the white that went in with it turned a gorgeous (gorgeous!) shade of light pink. More grey was tossed into the indigo bath and picked up the color well, making a deep greyed blue just short of navy; definitely a color to try again!

As described above, measuring the thread/yarn by weight takes considerably less time than by length. Ties on the skeins should be multiple (at least eight) and very loose to allow complete scouring and complete infusion of the dye. All skeins should've been scoured, as I suspect at least two missed out. And the indigo stock should not be so badly mistreated; that was due to clumsiness on my part.

It's a lot to do at one time: a pound (400 gms) of delicate yarn, two kinds of fibre (silk and wool), 7 dye combinations, 4 skeins to split. And a small kitchen. Over a weekend? Doing this took from April 11th until sometime in May... No, don't go there... Never again, even on a dare... Now to weave...