Friday, 15 August 2008

Madder Part ll

Madder is a natural dye which can provide a rainbow of colours in itself. It ranges from brown, purpley-pinks, brick reds, deep reds, burgandy, salmon, coral to bright orange. Acidify the water or mordant with cream of tarter ( tartaric acid) and it is easier to get oranges. Heat it too much and you get browns. Alkaline water brings out the blues. Adding calcium carbonate ( yes Karen, there is a reason) apparently helps with reds as it helps bind the alarzin into madder lac pigment.

So into my vat went the ground dry madder root. Didn't the coffee grinder to a good job? Then I tossed in the chopped fresh and well cleaned roots on top. I added 2 Tums - a convenient and easily dissolved source of calcium carbonate and covered it all with distilled water. We have really hard water here, but it has been quite chlorinated with all the rain, so I didn't want to take chances. Within a couple of hours, it started foaming and fermenting. I stuck the pot on the back of the stove and heated it gently to 100F several times over the next few days to help the soaking. When my son stuck his nose in the pot to ask what was stewing and said eeew, I figured it was time to try dyeing with it.

This experiment was to dye 3 lbs of merino yarn - about 10,000 yards. The warp and weft were divided ahead of time based on estimated yardage after winding off cones and into skeins. Knowing that I didn't have a pot large enough for the whole amount, I figured I would aim for one colour, with warp and weft in two different shades which would hopefully be close but not totally the same. Using two different shades of the same colour is a way to make handwoven fabric have more depth without being obvious.

I had also decided to do a low temp dyeing experiment and keep the temps below 160F, aiming for 150F or so. I also kept a running tab on the PH, making sure it was exactly in the neutral area - about 7. Yesterday I spent the day watching my dye vat, adjust the heat and gently stirring once in a while. After heating for about an hour and a half, I strained it - ugh, messy job and put in my weft wool, which by the way had been damp or mordanting in alum for nearly 4 days. This is what happened after a couple of hours of staying between 120F and 150 F. It looks like a huge pan of ground beef, but it is madder dyed wool.

Then I put in the warp wool and simmered. Because I couldn't watch it in the evening, I let it cool in the pot and after a quick check before bed, I let it sit over night. I chose to do the weft first as there is less waste so if the colour turned out darker than the warp, it would be a better use of dye. This morning the warp was a fine colour, just a tad lighter than the weft. It is waiting to be hung out to dry - raining again.
I am thrilled to pieces with the colour. The weft is fairly evenly dyed and a great madder colour. The warp is almost as evenly dyed, though there are a few uneven bits just 'cause it sat all night cooling.

Dyeing samples is fun. You can try new things, repeat others and using small amounts you aren't out much if something goes awry. Believe me, it can go awry and give you unexpected results. Dyeing for a specific purpose, aiming for a particular colour and dyeing a huge amount was a real challenge and I did worry that sometime later this year I might be weaving a length of fabric in clown hair orange or coral. euwwwww. In the end, I felt very MacGyverish when I was looking at the hanging yarn, thinking that I loved it when a plan comes together.


Karen said...

Did you use the plastic containers to dye in? How did you keep the temperatures up and relatively consistent?

Is this project going on your warp weighted loom?

Karen :)

Nina said...

I used a 16 litre stainless steel pot on the electric stove. Temperature control was by keeping the burner at a low setting and adjusting it every 15-20 minutes or so and checking it more often. This was an all day project that kept me fairly focused.

Someone left the basement window open during one of the heavy rains. My loom is behind all the stuff that had to be moved in order to mop up the water. I've started weaving though. It looks like woven fabric which is a good thing.