Thursday, March 6, 2014

Plant Dying in the Kitchen

In preparation for Eoster my Grove will be dying and decorating eggs, and I decided it was time to experiment with some plant dyes. Our ancestors, of course, were able to coax a rainbow of rich and lasting colors from plants and minerals. My past attempts however, have yielded blah brown, slightly greener blah brown, and dark blah brown.

 I decided to start therefore with some of the more tried and true vegetable based colors. Onion skins (yellow and purple), red cabbage, red beets, and fennel. For the beet dye I used the stems and skins of the beets, steamed the root over the mix, and have been eating the beets while stirring the dye stuff. For the Onion skins I saved up a few months worth (we eat a LOT of onions, so that was a large quantity.) It was suggested that one use only the top of the fennel to get a nice yellow, I got nothing from it. Upon further research, the fennel bulbs one gets at the grocery store are NOT the right variety to make dye. Oh well, at least I get to eat it!

This project took over the entire kitchen for the day, I simmered the plant stuffs in water with salt and vinegar. then strained them and poured off half into jars to keep for egg dying day. I added pre-washed wool roving and left them to simmer for several hours.
When I was adding the wool I also put Alum as a mordent. Alum is usually considered to be a relatively "neutral" mordent that doesn't change the colors as extremely as other harsher chemicals. However, when added to the red onion skins, black magic happened! I kept reading that red onions made a "jade green", and I kept thinking that people are freakin' crazy. I've dyed cotton with red onions before and never gotten anything but a light pink! Buuuuuut, then I added alum and shit got cray - instant change to deep green. Science... or something?

After simmering for a while, and sitting to cool for several more hours, the wool was rinsed out and hung to dry. The colors seemed to lighten up a good bit in the drying process, but the colors are still fairly vibrant. It's true the old observation, that plant dyes have more depth. After spinning the wool has a nice luster, with almost shimmering layers of subtle color!

This summer I plan to gather more wild plants for dying, and keep experimenting with different species and mordents. Have you ever tried plant dying? What is your favorite kitchen color?

No comments: