Dye Samples Revisited

In the midst of using up my scraps, I was hunting in the closet for that last little piece of a fabric I needed, and came across all my naturally dyed samples from last May.

At that time I was reading India Flint’s book Eco-Colour, and I had learned for the first time about using protein on plant fibers to help set the dye, and about letting the cloth rest after dyeing, to further allow the dye to take hold.  There was a lot of plant material all over the farm that I thought would be good for dyeing, but before committing to buy a lot of prepared- for-dyeing fabric, I wanted to be sure it would work.  These were just samples to see if I wanted to do real, proper samples with variables and documentation.

First I tried rudbeckia, and then I tried grapevines and gaillardia.  After seeing the initial results – “Yay!  Color!  On cotton!”  – I did not tag the samples in an orderly fashion, I just piled them up and stuck them in the closet to rest.

So those were the samples I found, and in the spirit of “If you can’t use it, at least organize it,”  I decided that now would be a great time to label them, wash them, and compare the results.

Here are my rudbeckia samples from last May

rudbeckia samples

1 – just 1 dip in soda ash, 2 – 2 dips in soda ash and 2 in soy milk, 3 – 1 dip in soda ash & egg yolk, 4- egg wash only, 5 – soda ash & egg wash, 6 – 2 dips in soda ash & brass, 7 – 2 dips in soda ash and copper wire, 8 – 1 dip in soda ash & vinegar

and here they are now.

Rudbeckia samples 7 months later, with original fabrics for contrast.

Rudbeckia samples 7 months later, with original fabrics for contrast.

I lost sample 6, which was dyed with a brass hinge to see if that would work as a mordant.  It didn’t and I think I tossed the sample.  And obviously I should have taken a picture of a color wheel to make sure I could match the shades later, or noted down whether I took the picture in sunlight or flash.  But anyway, the interesting thing to me was that they did hold most of their color.

With this batch, I had read to use 1 teaspoon of sodium carbonate (soda ash) to 1 gallon of water – with what I have read since, I think I would get better results by using 1 cup of sodium carbonate to 1 gallon of water, which is what I did with the second batch.   Initially, I thought the step of dipping the cloth in a soy milk solution wasn’t really doing anything, but now it seems remarkable how much more intense the color is on that sample, than on the ones without it.  The egg wash did a good job too, but when you iron it, there’s that little hint of egg smell.

Here are the grapevine and gaillardia samples then

dye samples of grapevine and gaillardia

1- original fabric, 2 – original fabric, 3 – soda ash & grapevine, 4 – soda ash & grapevine, 5 – soda ash & soy milk & gaillardia, 6 & 7 – rudbeckia samples from first batch

and now

grapevine and gaillardia samples

Same samples, seven months later

On this set, the colors match up really well!  The gaillardia (or blanket flower) sample has faded, but the others look good.  Wherever they are blotchy, I don’t mind – if I wanted perfectly evenly dyed fabrics, I would buy commercial ones!

After tagging the samples better, I washed them by hand in hot water, twice.  The gaillardia sample faded even more.  That doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t try it again – I will just have to research a little more and see if a different mordant combination would work better.

washed samples

Everybody held their color just fine, except for Miss Gaillardia – Batch 2, number 5.  Not that it was impressive to begin with.

So here’s what I have learned – you can get some color on cotton fabric, the soy milk solution is effective, grapevines and rudbeckia are definitely worth using, and I need to invest in some prepared-for-dyeing fabric!  Also, it’s nicer to have samples contained in a notebook instead of falling off the shelf.  I have also picked up Rebecca Burgess’s book Harvesting Color and Jenny Dean’s book Wild Color, and I am really looking forward to trying more dye experiments with their help.

First, it’s back to using up those tiny odds and ends of fabric!