I’ve been using a lot of madder. I have madder roots from my own garden and extracts on the shelf, but right now I’m focused on the fabulous ground Rubia cordifolia from India that I purchased from Maiwa. It’s ground very, very fine. Charllotte tells me that it’s ground on a mill stone.
Because the particles are so small, the dye is extracted more easily than from chopped madder root. The color is redder than I would expect from a rubia cordifolia. I love it!
Once the fibers are mordanted correctly I’ve usually been content to make a full strength dye bath. There is always leftover dye in the bath, which most often gets turned into a dye lake. I didn’t have a full understanding of how much dye was actually in the dye pot or what remained after the initial dyeing. In order to control my colors and mix them effectively I needed a clearer picture of dye strength and hue.
I embarked on a systematic observation of the dye. The fiber was linen. It was treated with tannin and mordanted with aluminum acetate. I weighed out the total amount of dye that was needed for my various samples. Typically I do 2-3 extractions in order to make my dye bath but this time I decided to continue extracting until there appeared to be no more color coming from the ground root. This took SIX 20 minute extractions! I realized that I had previously been wasting some of the dye.
The fabric was dyed with the extracted liquid. The amount of dye ranged from 6.25% w.o.f. to 100% w.o.f. I also did exhaust baths of the dye.
Madder is an interesting dye because it contains so many different colorants. The alizarin is what gives us the red, but it also contains other colorants: yellow, orange an brown. The initial dye at each depth of shade was dominated by the red. Exhaust baths contained less red, while the orange dominated. The colors obtained from the initial dyeing at 50% w.o.f. and 100% w.o.f.were very similar but the stronger bath continued to give me red before the color turned more orange.
The test was repeated on wool with similar results.
Dye extracts are what drew me back into natural dyeing but I’m finding that working with plant material is far more compelling. Each plant and dyestuff is unique and since these are natural products they are subject to the changes in growing seasons and processing. Testing my dyes in order to understand the nuances is time well spent. It will make me a better dyer.
The new edition of Woven Shibori, (Interweave Press) – with a focus on natural dyes – is at the printers right now and will be available by late June! It’s exciting to see the cover and the layout complete. I first wrote Woven Shibori in 2005 and it sold out several years ago. The book has introduced weavers to the concepts and specifics of weaving fabric with woven resist patterning. When the book was originally written I was using many different types of synthetic dyes and layering them in order to accomplish rich color surfaces.
I have now been using natural dyes exclusively for 8 years. My challenge was to develop methods of resisting, mordanting, mordant discharging, and cross dyeing to create unique fabrics that have all the elements I love: texture, color, woven structure, and always some surprises. The natural dye palette and processes not only rival, but I think surpass, the effects I was achieving with synthetic dyes.
Red samples: mordant printing, dyed with madder, lac, and quebracho
Sequencing dye and resists: wool, dyed with indigo and black walnut hulls.
Cross dyeing effects, woven of wool and cotton, dyed with indigo and lichen
Cross dyeing: fabrics woven of wool, cotton, silk, dyed with indigo and madder
Mordant printing, mordant discharge, dyed with indigo and pomegranate
Indigo variations with woven shibori
mordant printing, dyed with cochineal
Mordant printing, dyed with osage and weld
Last week I taught a class on cotton printing with natural dyes at Cloth Fiber Workshop in Asheville. I was reminded once again why I teach and why I have written this book. It is gratifying to work with people who are curious, skilled (or not), and eager to learn more. The students in my classes keep pushing me to increase my own knowledge, to better understand what I do know, and to clarify my reasons for working with natural dye.
I would not be the dyer I am today without my own teachers and mentors. Michel Garcia of France and Joy Boutrup of Denmark have been guiding influences. They are both curious and knowledgable and have inspired me to continue down this path. Michel and Joy are also generous teachers. None of us can do this by ourselves.
Michel Garcia, coming from the dye garden in Lauris, France
Joy Boutrup,mixing indigo print paste at Penland School of Crafts
Although Woven Shibori includes lots of technical information about weaving fabrics for shibori, the dye information should be of interest to anyone who combines resist techniques with natural dye on their cloth.
Studies in green textures: mordanting printing, indigo, and woven resists