November 19, 2015

I Dye, You Dye, We All Dye!

Three weeks ago, on October 31st actually, eight of us - Deanna, Ron, Patti, Dawn, Sarah, Marisa, Allison & I - gathered at Kieffer for a day of dyeing.  It was as much fun as it was a learning experience, so I just had to share!

Dye pots at Kieffer.

Part I: Preparation

Deanna invited me to join in the staff dye day this year and had the brilliant suggestion of dyeing some cotton yarn for my first tape loom project - of course, I was dyeing to join the fun!  While I've had the opportunity to assist during dye days throughout the season, I've never worked on the yarn preparation beforehand.  I found it fascinating to try my hand at the preparation process - from winding and tying, to scouring and mordanting.  Since this was all new to me, I owe a huge thank you to Deanna, who, in addition to coordinating the staff dye day, walked me through every step of dyeing!  She is really an amazing role model and asset to the village team, leading and interpreters every, singe day to learn all that they can about the past and to keep the historic domestic skills and arts alive.  

Step one: Procure yarn (I chose a basic, size 10, cotton crochet yarn) and scouring materials (washing soda & blue dawn dish detergent).  Obtain mordants, dyes (for a red & gold color) and, most importantly, directions - all from Deanna.

Scouring supplies.
For cotton: use ratio of 1 teaspoon of detergent to 2 teaspoons of washing soda.
For wool, linen, silk and other fiber contents, you're on your own...

Mordants: Tannin on the left, alum on the right.

Dye #1: Madder.

Dye #2: Fustic.

Step two:  Measure out lengths of cotton, twist and tie skeins three times.  I used the backs of two kitchen chairs spaced a yard apart to make my skeins.  About 84 yards, given shrinkage, is half an ounce, which made for easy dye recipe figuring.  The 12 "figure-eight" ties were to prevent a terribly snarled mess to untangle at the end, remember that cotton shrinks on itself!

Skeins tied and ready to go!

Step three:  Scour cotton.  For one ounce total, I used 1 teaspoon of blue detergent, 2 teaspoons of washing soda & 1 gallon of water.  Simmered for two hours, and then rinsed well.  It was so surprising to see clear water turn yellowish-brownish from "white," bleached cotton!

Scouring in process.

Step four:  Put dyes to soak and extract while waiting for skeins to finish simmering.  For the madder, I added boiling water and set the roots to soak until the weekend.  For the fustic, I began extracting the dye (boiling several times and straining), until I ran out of space in the container and left the rest of the chips to soak.

Madder root put to soak - which smelled very much like a pleasant, strong tea!

Extracting fustic dye.

Step five:  With the scouring over, mordanting begins!  Alum & washing soda were the first bath.  The cotton skein destined for madder steeped for 12 hours, while the skein destined for old fustic steeped for 24 hours.

Mordanting in process.

Step six:  Mordant again!  This time in tannin, which reminded me of pumpkins...Only the skein destined for madder steeped for 12 hours.

More mordanting in process.

Step seven:  And again!  After rinsing the skein from the tannin, it returned to the alum bath and soaked for another 12 hours.

Even more mordanting in process.

Step eight (optional):  Bake cookies & reflect.  Prepping yarn for dyeing was both a learning experience and an eye opener to the amount of work that goes into one day of fun.  My appreciation for Deanna and the other interpreters who work with the dyeing at the village just increased again!

Part II:  Dye Day

Laughing. Learning.  Teaching.  Catching up. Telling stories. Skein winding.  Fire building.  Spinning.  Eating.  Mordanting.  Dyeing.  What a wonderful way to spend a day with friends who are like family, at the village that has become a place to call home!  

Still setting up.

Some of the crew:  several of us had our cameras out, and there were plenty of pictures from the day on Facebook!  (I hope Deanna doesn't mind me borrowing her picture...)

Photograph credit: Deanna B.
(Image via: Facebook)

There were a range of fibers from wool yarns of various weights and contents, to cotton yarns and cloths, and even silk fibers waiting to be spun! 

Skein winding!

Lots of colors too, including reds (madder, cinnamon), yellows (goldenrod, fustic), and blues (Saxon blue, Prussian blue)!

Madder in front, goldenrod in back.
There were plenty of madder jokes to go around!

Ron adding skeins to the beginnings of Prussian blue.

More madder and Saxon blue.
These two are fantastic knitters, by the way!

It was just amazing to see the range of colors that could be produced from the same dye baths!  

Saxon blue, goldenrod & Prussian blue.

Just look at the difference in the Saxon blues!
The fiber blend (wool, acrylic, silk) affects how the dye is absorbed.

As for the tale of my little, two skeins...they first were agitated in a chalk solution for half an hour:

Clear water became white with chalk and vigorous rolling on the ground.

Then, the skein destined for fustic was simmered in the dye bath.  First, however, we had to finish extracting all of the dye from the fustic chips and strain them through cheese cloth.  Gathering and tying them prevents having to not only untangle, but later separate the leftover wood chips from the yarn.  The result was a bright yellow:

Straining the dye.  Photograph credit: Deanna B.
(Image via: Facebook).
And, yes, I did wear my Cinderella skirt, it was Halloween after all!

Bright yellow fustic.

To turn the skein gold, a small measure of blue vitriol was added to the dye bath.  The resulting "Old Fustic" color was a perfect match to the autumn leaves of our late fall!

"Old Fustic" dyed cotton hung out to dry.

As for the skein destined for a deep red, it was simmered in the madder dye bath for two hours or so.  It could have been left immersed longer for a darker color, but I quite liked the color it ended up.  

Madder dyeing in progress. 

The finished product (after drying for several days):

Three lovely skeins ready for weaving!

Note: the Prussian blue was a last-minute experiment of dropping a skein of unmordanted cotton into the wool formula for the dye.  First it began as a creamy, fustic-like yellow, then it became a minty green, and, finally, a sky blue color - success!

Who's ready to weave?  My first tape loom project, medieval garters like these (below), here I come!

(Image via: Trollkona)

All in all, what a privilege to be included in such a fun event - thank you!


  1. What a fun project to be a part of!! To actually do a "whole dyeing" process and not just a RIT dyeing project! The skeins came out very beautifully and I can't wait to see what you make from them!!

    1. Thank you, Gina! Dyeing is so much fun - and the colors we end up with never cease to amaze me!

    2. I think that's what makes it so exciting!!