Alkanet Root Dyeing

Alkanet dye is derived from the root of the Alkanna tinctoria plant, a lovely but unassuming plant with periwinkle flowers typical of other members of the Borage family.  Other names include anchusa, from the Greek anchousa, to paint, and its Latin name tinctoria similarly suggests its long history as a dye plant in Europe.  In India, where it is more commonly used in cooking, it is called Ratan Jot.  The colour produced ranges from wine reds to greyish blues, and has been used to dye plants, colour curries, stain woods, and ease the symptoms of leprosy.

The main colour compound is alkannin, which can range from red to violet depending on acidity.  It does not appear to be one of the most important historic dyes, although it has clearly been in some use.  This may be due to issues with lightfastness.  While orchil dyes also produce a purple that is notoriously prone to light fading, the colour it produces is more dramatic and vibrant, which may have been another point against the use of alkanet in the past.  Due to the questionable light fastness, I will not be offering fibres dyed with this yarn in my Etsy shop, and would encourage others to do the same.

Extraction

Alkanet dye is not particularly soluble in water, and for best results an alcohol extraction is required.  I did this by filling a jar up with 100g of the chopped, dried roots that I purchased from George Weil and covering with really cheap vodka.  I left this for two months in a dark place, out of laziness rather than determination.

Dye should then be strained and enough water added so that the wool can move about in the dye pot.  I have to note that due to mental frailty caused by jetlag, I did not strain the fibres and for some cockamamie reason chucked it all in the pot together.  Do not do this unless you want to be picking out pieces of root from your wool for the rest of your days on this planet.

Dyeing

I dyed 155 grams of my handspun organic merino wool, which put me at about 65% WOF using all of the dye extracted from 100g of root.  I mordanted the wool in the bath with alum, using one heaping tablespoon of alum and cream of tartar.  As I’ve previously mentioned, volume is not my preferred method, but for the time being I lack a scale.

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I diluted the dye liquor 1:3 with water, which with all the root pieces, was really not enough space to achieve an even dye.  I was worried about too much dilution, as I wanted a strong purple.  This, along with the debris, resulted in an uneven colour, which is admittedly not unpleasant.

I warmed the dye and kept just below a simmer for 45 minutes.  The deep purple colour did not start to develop until about a half hour in, up until which point it was a light, dull, blueish grey.  Mixing seemed to help.  As an aside, I wonder if there is some indigotin present in the root, as I noticed a change from purple to yellow as I decanted leftover liquor, which is typical of the oxidation reaction that occurs during indigo vat dyeing.

The yarn was pulled out, left to cool, and rinsed as per the usual procedure.

As mentioned, the skein was unevenly dyed, with some areas being more blueish and others more red.  In spots where a piece of root became imbedded into the wool, there was often a red stain.  It should knit up quite nicely, although there is still a smell about it that I can’t quite get behind.

Exhaust Dyeing

With the remaining, now strained liquor, I decided to see what would happen from an exhaust dye.  Using a portion of some self-striping yarn I was making, and had previously dyed a portion of with madder, placed part of a skein of organic merino wool into the leftover dye.  I followed the above procedure.

It is clear that alkanet gives most of its colour the first time around, and I only achieved a slightly purple light grey that I will likely dye over.

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Self striping organic merino wool dyed with madder (red) and alkanet (grey). Alum mordant.

Summary:

  • Poor lightfastness
  • Best extracted with alcohol
  • Lovely range of violets to dusty periwinkle with alum, more blackish greys with iron
  • Do not boil
  • Keep below simmer for 30-60 minutes
  • Good colour requires 60-150% WOF
  • Poor exhaust results

 

Note: WOF refers to weight of fibre, which is the amount (g) of dye/mordant/additive per weight (g) of fibre used.  Madder at 100% WOF would mean 100g of root for 100g of fibre, while 50% WOF means 50g madder root for 100g of fibre.

Things That Madder: Dyeing with Rubia tinctorum Roots

 

Madder (Rubia tinctorum), as a natural dye, has been around since at least 3,000 BCE. It, along with the usually cooler, more magenta insect dye cochineal, is responsible for most of the reds in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East before the invention of synthetics, and it held its ground into the 20th century. It’s the main component of the famous Turkey Red, coveted for its bright colour and supposed superior light fastness on the notoriously tricky to dye cotton fabrics.   The recipe was important enough to be kept a secret, although it slowly trickled through from Asia to Europe, where it became an important industry here in Glasgow by the 19th century. Although several compounds produce the orangey-pinks to scarlets, alizarin is the most prominent, of which a synthetic version was developed in 1826.

My recent bout of tonsillitis provided a great chance to play around with madder I had lying around. I started with 300g of spun wool fibre, consisting of wool, although one skein had a combination of 68 grams of wool and 15 grams of soysilk. The breeds were blue-faced Leicester (BFL), and organic merino, both of which are considered luxury breeds for their softness, lustre, and warmth.   The BFL, sourced from the UK, had a much creamier colour, while the organic merino was very pure white.

Mordants

I used an alum mordant, and opted for an imperial/volume ratio of 4 tablespoons alum, 4 tablespoons cream of tartar, and 4 gallons of water per pound wool. I generally prefer weight as it is more accurate, but a scale was not available. C’est la vie. With 300g of fibre, that worked out to 3 tablespoons each and about 3 gallons of water, but let’s be honest, I didn’t measure the latter.

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I added my pre-soaked, pre-scoured yarn to a bath of hot water with the above measured ingredients, already dissolved. This was brought up to a simmer slowly then simmered for about 30 additional minutes. Apparently the “natural” soysilk had been dyed a cream colour, and it turned the skein it was spun into a pleasant pale pink.

Madder Dyeing

Dye Preparation

Following from Gwen Fereday’s instructions from Natural Dyes (2003, British Museum Press), I took my 100g powdered madder from George Weil and slowly added water to make a paste. I used hot water, although in retrospect I wonder if I should have used cold. This looked like brownie batter, and it was very difficult not to eat. I transferred the paste to a metal pot with the help of a silicone spatula, and added about a litre of cold water.

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This was placed on low heat and brought to a low simmer. Fereday warns not to boil, as this will give a more yellow, dull red. She didn’t say how long to do this for, but at 20 minutes bubbles were just starting to percolate and the whole mixture was very red, so I turned off the heat but left it on the burner to continue to do its magic for another 10 minutes before removing to cool.

Dyeing

Again following Fereday’s recipe, I diluted the dyebath to enough liquid to cover my fibres, brought slowly to a simmer for one hour, and then kept at or just below a simmer for an additional hour, making sure never to boil. The main dyepot had 150 grams of fibre in it, and I scooped out about a cup or two for dip dyeing skeins in an ombre and self-striping technique.

preparing dye liquor: madder root powder in the dyepot

self-striping dye with madder

Afterwards, I lifted the wool out with tongs, let cool, and rinsed thoroughly, making sure not to wring or felt the fibres.  Because the root was powdered, rinsing took quite a while.  Skeins were squeezed in a towel and hung to dry.

after dyeing with madder, ready to rinse

The results were a bright, rich orange-red, and even the soysilk was dyed, which was a surprise since this is a cellulosic fibre.

wool and soysilk dyed with madder and alum mordant

Before dyeing, I wrapped one of the skeins cotton twine at regular intervals in order to create a resist dye technique. It worked quite well, and I am now considering if and what I want to overdye with. I will also be contemplating what other dyes to use on my ombre and self-striping skeins. I have alkanet, weld, and a reduced indigo/pomegranate, so I’m looking at purple, yellow, or blue-green. My vote is for alkanet, but that requires some preparation, most likely alcohol extraction.

I froze my remaining exhaust dye liquor, which wasn’t huge in volume at this point, for later experimentation should I chose do go for it.

Two of these skeins are available here and here at my shop, Quercus Fibers.

 

 

Dyeing with Annatto- Orange You Glad I Hate Cheesy Puns?

IMG_0085Background

Annatto is most commonly used today to dye foods rather than textiles. In fact, it is responsible for the classic orange colour in American cheddar cheeses, and that bright hue can also be applied to textile fibres.

Bixa orellana, known as annatto in English (roucou in French, and orlean in German and Dutch), is native to Central America. It has historically been used as a dye in the Americas, with evidence of its use spanning back to ancient Peruvian graves.  It entered the European market at the close of the 16th century. It never became an economically important dye, however, although it did have home use. While easy to use, annatto is not particularly lightfast, and like orcein dyes, has a history of being outlawed by dyer’s guilds.

The main chromatophoric (coloured) chemical component of annatto is bixin, which is isolated from the small fruits of the tropical shrub. Depending on the concentration, mordant, textile makeup, and length of dye, the colour can range from orange to red. One such colour, typically used on silk, was known as aurora or morning red, and evokes the brilliance that can be obtained.

IMG_0031Dye Experiment

Always wanting to try my own hand at things, I took it upon myself to dye some blue-faced Leicester (BFL) wool yarn that I had previously spun on my handy top whorl drop spindle. I used whole annatto seeds and an alum mordant. While annatto can be used as a direct dye, that is one without the chemical binder known as a mordant, it is possible that the use of alum can provide a more even distribution and better colourfastness. It also appears that annatto, like many dyes, was fermented before use in the past, but I believe my seeds were simply dried.

Recipe and Procedure

2 skeins BFL handspun yarn, totalling 160 g, mordanted with 15% weight of fibre (WOF) alum and 8% WOF cream of tartar (done by these methods).
100 g whole annatto seeds
Tap water (unknown pH, from a soft water source)

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First, I brought 100g of whole annatto seeds in water up to a gentle simmer. After just over an hour of hovering between 90-100°C, I let it cool slightly and strained the seeds out. I returned the dye liquor to the bath, added enough water to fully cover my yarn, and added two skeins of still-wet alum mordanted fibre.

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After a low simmer for about an hour, I was dissatisfied with the depth of colour, despite having read that a 1:2 dyestuff to fibre weight was adequate. I decided to grind up the annatto berries, place them in a pantyhose foot, and return them to the dye bath with the yarn. While this may have contributed to unevenness of colour, I found it to create a much deeper shade. I tried to gently turn the fibres throughout the process, but still ended up with darker areas. Which looks nice, so no worries there.

I let the dye liquor and yarn barely simmer for about three hours, then killed the heat and let the yarn sit for another 4 hours, turning occasionally.

Afterwards, I did the usual rinsing, adding a small amount of soap to the rinse to encourage out any excess dye.

Exhaust bath

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Not wanting to waste anything, and curious about the result, I did a cold exhaust dip dye on another 80g skein of handspun BFL. This was a simple procedure, which just involved taking the remaining liquor, pouring it into a pickle jar, and placing one end of a dampened alum mordanted skein (15% WOF alum 8% WOF cream of tartar) in it. I left it for about 10 hours before removing and rinsing.

Results

The colour is pretty lovely, and in the future if I dye with annatto I will grind the seeds up right off the bat to ensure that more of the bixin is released into the dye liquor. My main concerns, however, are about light fastness, which unfortunately I only discovered after my dyeing was already underway.

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First dye bath with annatto and alum mordant

The exhaust bath created a pleasant, if very mild creamy orange. I will play around with this skein more and see what colourway I can come up with.

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Exhaust dye cold bath (alum mordant)

Sources and Further Reading

Maiwa Guide to Natural Dyes http://maiwahandprints.blogspot.co.uk/p/guide-to-natural-dyes.html

Grackle & Sun: Dye Day #1 Results: Annatto Seeds https://grackleandsun.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/dye-day-1-results-annatto-seeds/

Hofenk de Graaf, J. A. Natural Dyestuffs: Origin, Chemical Constitution, Identification. International Council of Museums Committee for Conservation (ICOM CC) September 15-19 1969, Amsterdam: Central Research Laboratory for Objects of Art and Science

Knitting a Grocery Bag, Free Style

Net Knit Grocery BagYou can never have enough reusable shopping bags! I love making these- it’s so easy to do, and it’s a great way to us up whatever cotton you have lying around. Now that it costs 5p per shopping bag up here in the land of tea and biscuits, there’s an extra little incentive to make some of these up and stash them around.

This isn’t a pattern, per se, but a (hopefully easy) guide to get you to whip up some nice, useful net bags. In terms of material, you want something strong with low elasticity – that means cellulose, so go for cotton, ramie, linen, viscose, etc. I would suggest that if you go below a sport/4-ply weight to simply double up your yarn.

Sorry I can’t estimate yardage for you! I used some scraps and a ball of Rowan Siena 4 Ply cotton (50g 140m/153yds) for this. The body of my bag, excluding handles, measures about 13 x 12 inches (30 x 33cm) un-stretched.

Note your bag will expand 25-50% when full!

Materials

Cotton or other strong, low-elasticity yarn, any gauge (DK-chunky is best, double up finer yarns), 1-4 balls

Circular knitting needles, 30-60cm/ 9-16”, up to three sizes bigger than what your yarn would recommend.

Notes on Construction

This bag is simple to make. First just knit a rectangle, pick up all the edge stitches, then knit upwards in a net pattern.

Base

Cast on enough stitches to get about 8”/ 20cm in stockinette. I started with 34 in the above bag.

Knit in stockinette for about 5”/12.5cm.

At the end of your last right side row, continue around the perimeter of the rectangle, picking up and knitting stitches. Pick up and knit 2 of every 3 on the sides, while picking up the same number of stitches cast on along the bottom.

Body

Join circle, place marker and begin knitting in round.

The entire body is knit in net as follows:

Row 1: K2tog, YO*

Row 1: Knit

When the desired length is met (keeping in mind it can get pretty stretchy!), knit about 1”/2.5cm of k1 p1 rib.

Handle and Finishing

Bind off all but last 5-9 sts, depding on gauge and desired length of handle. Continue knitting these stitches in k1p1 rib until handle measures about 15”/38cm or desired length. Join to opposite side with kitchener or preferred stitch.

Weave in ends.

You may have noticed that this is leftover yarn from my cotton jumper!  This is the perfect kind of project for that.

Purl Bee Elisa’s Nest Tote – I have also made this tote. I found it a little awkward to use, but the i-cord edging/handle is a great idea.  I personally found the two handles to be a bit poorly placed, but maybe that’s just me!