Thursday, May 19, 2011

Experimenting with dye

I recently bought a few white silk scarfs for my nieces and Anna to dye with cool aid, and whereas cool aid is bright, quick, and easy, it's a little too bright, quick, and easy to be much fun. At least for me. So I started thinking about natural dyes, and what readily available materiel I could use to make my own dyes. I did some research on the Internet, and soon found out that there is a lot more to creating "fast" natural dyes than finding a plant that could possibly be staining.   For instance, with the exception of indigo, natural dyes have to be treated with a mordant in order to make them permanent.  Most mordants are pretty yucky stuff, and I really wouldn't want my kids chewing on it.   Another thing to consider is that things do not always make the color you think it would.  Beets do not make a beautiful bright pink like you think they should.  You also have to know if something is "light fast" or not.  Apparently poke berries are not, so there's another bright pink out the window.  You can also get drastically different colors, depending on what mordant you use.  My idea of using something that I could obtain my self to use as a dye, was starting to seem impossible.  That is until I remembered I could get a dye, complete with mordant, strait from the tap.   Ferrous sulfate or iron, is a mordant that is used to darken or "sadden" colors.  My well water is full of iron, and of course with iron comes rust.  It stains everything, much to my continual irritation.  But, if it stains everything that I don't want it to, maybe it could stain something I did want. 
So I filled a pot with water, and set it over my stove to get hot. When the water is cold it looks clear, but as soon as it gets hot, it almost magically turns orange.  At this point I put the scarf in. 
After about thirty minutes the scarf was peach, and the water was nearly clear again. I wanted it darker, so I put fresh water in the pot and repeated the process.
After about an hour, the scarf was a dark peach, and it didn't seem like it was going to get any darker.  I liked the color, but I felt that after it dried it would be very close to my skin color, and I wanted something more vibrant. 
I was hesitant about adding anything natural, since I know first hand how iron can suddenly turn something black, so I played it safe and added a packet of red cool aid.  It was a bright fun color, but I was having way too much fun to stop there.  I decided to dull the color a little, since it was a little too, I don't know, "cool-aidish".  I added some black coffee, and that had the desired effect.
This is the scarf dried and finished.  It is more pink than the picture shows, and when you hold it up to the light, it has a gold undertone, probably due to the rusty first coat.     It was a fun experiment, and has got me wanting to try out all sorts of dye stuffs.  For instance, there is a young walnut tree that overhangs our property, and I have heard that walnut bark can make a green dye.  I think learning about natural dye would make a great school project for an older child.  There is so much chemistry involved in dye making.   One thing I though was interesting was how the little polyester tag stayed bright white throughout the whole dyeing process. 



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