Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dyeing update

I had some disappointing results from my dyeing experiments. The cold I mentioned in the last blog turned into really being sick so I neglected the dyeing. The lichen was left in a plastic container on the stove, too close to a cooking pot. I heated something in the pot, the heat melted part of the plastic and I think the lichen was heated up. I didn't even notice it for over a week. When I did notice it again, the red color was gone. I didn't even try to put it in a dye pot.

The moss was also a bust. It sat in water for a long time, a week or so, then I simmered it and got only dirty water. I added some ammonia, just in case it worked like the lichen, and still only got dirty water.

I have been doing a lot of reading about natural dyeing and I think there is a lot more to it than just being able to run out, grab some lichen, and simmer it up. My experience with natural dyeing so far has been so easy, but expanding into lichen, moss, etc. requires more knowledge. I now have the book that is listed as the definitive book on lichen dyeing, so I won't try again until I have thoroughly digested it.

I've been reading a book by Pat Hornafius, Victorian Cottage Rugs, published in 1995. The book was written during the Cushing Dye transition from union dyes to aniline dyes. The discussion of this transition clarifies the reason for being careful about following dye instructions from older books. I think the natural dyeing instructions from way back when are helpful, but the commercial dye instructions from maybe the 1970s, 1980s, or maybe even the early 1990s would not be talking about the same dyes we have available today. There is not only a difference in what fabric the dyes will dye - the acid dyes will only dye animal protein, the old union dyes also dyed plant material - there is a difference in the dye process. Pat Hornafius recommends using a lot more vinegar in the dyepot than I usually use and she recommends putting it in the dyepot only after the wool has been in the pot for a while and then adding a couple cups of vinegar, a quarter cup at a time, every fifteen minutes or so. I think back to some of my dyepots that never exhausted and wonder if this technique would have solved that problem.

This book includes 16 Victorian patterns with instructions for not only how to hook them, but also how to dye the wool for them. Dye formulas are included with very thorough instructions for each one. The patterns have the sort of "frue-frue" look that I always think of as fine-cut designs, with lots of flowers, but the instructions are for hooking with 6 and 8 cuts. I find this interesting because they are wide cut but not primitive designs. Some of them are old Edward Sands Frost adaptations. This is one book that is not going to be stored away on a shelf, I think I'm going to read it again, from cover to cover.