|Clan Iain Abrach-MacIain's Dye Pot Day was held on February 21, 2004 at Catie Reynolds’ home in Concord, CA. Although we planned to work outside, the weather did not cooperate! So we worked in the family room and kitchen. |
Basic natural dyeing consists of preparing the fiber, in this case: wool, to receive the dyestuff. After the fiber is soaked in a mordant bath, it is immersed into the dye bath. Most natural dyes require a mordant to fix the dye. “Mordant” comes from the Latin word “mordere” which means “to bite”. The mordant opens the cuticle of the wool fiber and makes it easier for the dye to penetrate the fiber.
One of the most common mordants is a metallic salt called Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate). Alum has been readily available through out Europe for many centuries. Alum in the dye process gives a very brilliant color and is probably the least damaging to the fiber of all the mordants used.
For Dye Pot Day, I prepared a mordant bath of 2 oz. Alum +1 oz. Cream of Tartar to 1 gallon of water. This mixture is brought to a boil and removed from the fire. The wool is then soaked over night in the mordant.
The dyestuff, the actual dyeing liquid, I made by steeping on a low fire: 4 oz. dried saffron flowers and 1/2 cup salt in 1 gallon of water. What this does is extract the color from the plant matter, very like when one steeps a cup of tea. Salt helps leech the color out. The dyestuff is strained and ready to be made into a dye bath or bottled and stored for later use. We immediately made up the dye bath by adding the dyestuff to a larger pot along with 1 cup of lemon juice (acid) and 1 more gallon of water. Once this is heated to steaming, the mordanted wool was placed in the bath and allowed to soak for three hours over a low heat.
While the dye was setting, we learned how to spin wool. We used spinning sticks which are the fore runners of the drop spindles. Soon the family room was covered with little puffs of sheep blowing in the air currents and the air hung with the aroma of a fine barnyard!
By now it was well into the afternoon and the temperature was dropping, so Thomas built a fire in the fireplace. Just in time, too, because it was time to wring the wool out and hang it to dry.
The saffron flowers produced a lovely buttercup yellow color. We dyed two kinds of wool as well as a piece of knitted cotton and a cotton canvas bag. The dye took differently on each item so we ended up with various shades of yellow.
To prepare for this day’s presentations of spinning and dyeing, I used the following books from my personal library:
1) The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book by Rachel Brown, Alfred A. Knopf Publishing. 1978.
2) In Sheep’s Clothing, a Handspinner’s Guide to Wool by Nola and Jane Fournier, Interweave Press Publishing, 1995.
3) The Complete Natural Dyeing Guide by Marie Sugar, Richard J. Noel Publishing, 2002.
4) Hands on Dyeing by Betsy Blumenthal and Kathryn Kreider, Interweave Press Publishing, 1988
5) Hands on Spinning by Lee Raven, Interweave Press Publishing, 1987.