Friday, November 13, 2009
Ironwood ~ Natural Dyeing ~ The Results
So here I have the results from yesterday's dyeing. The pictures show the ground ironwood and then the glass of dye stock and finally the resulting colored roving. I was actually a bit surprised to see this honey color emerge. When just looking at the wood shavings, I felt like I was seeing more red and that perhaps the color produced would lean towards chestnut. When I strained the dye stock, the color as you can see in the glass, had the appearance of a bold coffee in my mind. Yet, from the moment I introduced my dye to the dye pot, it became clear that what I had was more of a nice honey color. Those reds my eyes detected were just enough to bring in some subtle oranges. I happened to have a honey jar on my counter when I was dyeing and I couldn't help but notice how alike the colors were.
For my fellow fiber geeks, I'll go into a little more detail about my method. In this case, I used two cups of the ironwood and 12 cups of water to create my dye solution. Now that's a lot of water to use and I did so knowing that my dye stock would be less concentrated, but I kind of had to go that way. I have a couple pots that I use for dyeing and I think it's important to have dedicated equipment. My pots are no less than 5 gallons and so I needed a certain amount of water just to cover the base and have a couple inches to simmer. I realize I could have used more ironwood, but I kind of hated to use too much on my first batch. I wanted plenty in reserve for future dyeing. I knew I could make up for the less concentrated dye stock by simply using more of it when it came time to dye.
I put my ironwood and water mixture on the stove at 10:30am and brought it to a boil. Then I turned down the heat and let it simmer for the rest of the morning and until about 4:00 in the afternoon. I checked on it from time to time and gave it an occasional stir. After 5.5 hours, I really felt like I had extracted what color I could hope to gain from the wood.
I chose Blue Faced Leicester for my first batch of wool. I presoaked the wool in just plain water. Originally I had considered adding a little soda ash to the soak, but when I thought about it, I really couldn't see any real need or reason for the soda ash. If I was dyeing cotton, sure, but this was a nice porous protein fiber. I told myself I could try another batch later using soda ash if the wool failed to absorb the color well. Another reason I chose the BFL is because it has a little more staple length than say Merino. It would have less of a tendency to felt and this was a consideration as I thought it may need to spend more time in the dye pot.
Some dyers are seriously scientific. I feel the need to pause at this moment to say that I am not one of those dyers. I am only scientific to the extent that I keep a record of what I do and the specific amounts I use. I have a system and I take notes, so I guess that's a little sciencey, but I also go by my gut a lot. So when it came time to decide how my dye stock to add to my dye pot, I went by sight. I have done enough dyeing over the years that I just kind of know what I want my dye water to look like. I can tell if I need a little more or less to get my desired color. In this case, I wanted to go for as much color as I thought I could get form my ironwood stock. I ended up using 2.5 cups. I know that sounds like a lot, but remember, my dye stock was a little less concentrated.
From there I used my regular dye method only I did keep the wool going for about twice as long as I usually do. You get to a point where you just kind of know that the wool has absorbed all it's going to. Maybe if you let it go overnight you'd get a little more color, but not much and you'd run the risk of having your roving turn out uneven or blotchy.
It's been a good experience working with the ironwood. I like the pretty honey color that it produced. I feel like I played with this wool a little too much while it dyed, so I may just keep this batch and spin it up myself. I'll dye another batch to sell at Wind Rose. I'm also planning to dye a couple different kinds of fiber to see how they each take the color. I think some ironwood Firestar could be pretty fun!