Monday, October 20, 2014

Plant Dyes - Elderberry

I dedicated myself in the summer to building my repertoire  of plant dyes in the next year. Since one must gather as the year turns, it was time for Elderberries. It's the last of the season for berries, most had begun to wither and dry on the trees. Since I did some very large batches of syrup earlier in the year all the berries I gathered wen into the dye pot.

For the dye materials, I got into my Spinzilla stash. Irish wool, sock-weight Lincoln, and a loop of Lincoln roving. It was all pre-mordanted by soaking in alum and hot water for several hours while the dye bath simmered. Mordanting outside of the dye bath works better, as the mordant can bind up dye particles thus making them unavailable for binding to the fiber.
I left the fiber to soak in the residual heat from the simmering overnight. Plant dyes seem to need loooong soaking! Elderberry is usual considered a fugitive dye, that means that it is not terribly colorfast. (Despite how one's kitchen looks after cooking with it!) I have read some research which suggest that one can add vinegar to create a very acid bath and make a better, more long-lasting color. I thought that after one night the color was a little pale, so I placed it over low heat for another day, and let it set overnight.  I also added more white vinegar.
 The next morning the color was more purple, and had set in a little bit more. It still had a few elderberries floating around and adding in color!
 I washed the fiber, and it became disappointingly pale pink, not a bad color really, just a bit less intense than the dye water made it seem! After hanging outside to dry the color had matured to a more gray-purple. Nice and heathered. I'm planning to let the fiber sit for a while in a light room before knitting in case it fades completely!
For a first shot at this color it's not bad. Next up I'll be moving away from the food-based dyes (Which tend to be less colorfast) and into wild plants and trees. Bindweed seems like a perfect choice as there is no lack of it right outside my back door! How do you push your craft skills?

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