Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Locally Collected Natural Dyes

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Earlier this winter I asked blog reading friends if they had any access to dye-plants, and I really scored on pomegranates! John and Diane gave me a huge box of pomegranates from their own trees. Robb and I feasted on the fruits, and we shared them with my co-workers. We all improved our pomegranate-peeling skills. And I stashed all the skins in my freezer.




Then a couple of weeks back I was over at Allie's house, and she said that I could help myself to the dried out pomegranate husks under her tree. I loaded up a couple of grocery bags full.

This past weekend, I chopped up these various skins, with the goal of turning them into dye. The frozen skins were nice and clean, while the dried skins were full of mold and not a few spiders.

I decided to test the two types of skins, to see if there were any differences. I used a pound of skins in each dyepot. The dried skins were unsurprisingly much denser. When I boiled the two pots, the dried skins exuded a deep, clear brownish liquid, while the frozen skins produced a sludgy tan soup.

I boiled the skins, turned off the heat, and let the brews steep overnight. The next day, I strained out the skins, which I added to my compost pile. Then I added a two-ounce skein of pre-wetted wool to each pot, raised the temperature to a simmer, and let them sit.




The frozen skins produced a light yellow color, while the dried skins turned the wool a much richer color. I was able to use the dried skin's water several more times to get another deep yellow and a lovely pale yellow.

The colors in the photo (above) aren't particularly accurate. The lightest wool is, in truth, more yellow, and all the skeins are considerably less brown.



This sort of color gradation is one of the hallmarks of traditional Fair Isle Knitting. I've always loved the subtle blending of tone in these garments. I've been home for the past few days, sick with a hacking cough, and I've had a lot of time to stare at my newly dyed wool and at my various books on traditional knitting motifs. Yesterday, I was feeling alert enough to actually try some knitting, and I worked up this sample swatch. The black yarn is commercially dyed, but the rest of the colors were dyed with local plants. The terra-cotta pattern is knitted with wool dyed in eucalyptus leaves, while the various shades of yellow came from the pomegranate skins.

I have the idea to knit myself a Fair Isle sweater, but at the moment I don't have a very strong vision of the finished garment. I'll probably let this "marinate" for a while, and see what ideas bubble up to the surface.

I'll say one thing about being home, sick: I've had very little ability to focus on anything, and have been watching a lot of mystery programs from the UK. Most of these are set during the first half of the 20th Century, and there certainly are a lot of beautiful examples of Fair Isle knitting on view!

10 comments:

Pica said...

Beautiful knitting, beautiful dyeing. What are you using for mordants with the pomegranate?

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Apparently no mordant is needed for either of these dyes. We'll see...

Anne Bonny said...

Beautiful! Hope you feel better! Hopefully you don't have another sinus infection?? Those always seem to throw you for a loop!

Mel said...

Lovely! I remember my mom dyeing with goldenrod (similar colors to what you have), queen anne's lace heads (ditto), and getting some lovely browns from the hulls of black walnuts or butternut hulls. Tomato vines made a khaki green sort of shade... So soft & pretty!

Anonymous said...

If you would like a terra cotta color I would be glad to send you some red dirt from GA! Also, Vidalia onion skin makes a light beige dye and kudzu makes a dark green. I did various tea dyes for a science project and those stains/dyes would not come out in the wash for love or Tide.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I wonder how lightfast the kudzu is?

Anonymous said...

Very beautiful colors. This fall I dyed 8 silk scarves with dyes I made from mushrooms gathered on our forest trails. I used "Phaeolius Schwinitzii" for yellow and "Cortinarius Sanguineus" for a red dye. It amazed me that even though the dye turned out a deep vibrant color the silk fabric just absorbed enough for those soft natural tones. The scarves dyed in the red turned out a lovely dusty rose. H-A-F

DariceMoore said...

My husband was rather amused with me -- we were watching a Dorothy Sayers' mystery (The Five Red Herrings) and I was squealing about all the Fair Isle the entire time. And the bit where the one character was spinning her own yarn during the scene. :)

Hans said...

Awesome! My chemistry students are working on a dye project this week. We've had good luck with turmeric (an awesome yellow that turns red in base), yellow onion skins, red onion skins, passionfruit and red zinger tea, beets, oregon grape (inner bark), and blackberries. They are experimenting with iron, copper, tin, and aluminum (alum) mordants. So much fun!

mamakin said...

I love the swatch you made with your yarns - I thought it was the start of a pair of fingerless gloves!

I'm always commenting on the knitwear in movies etc & I get - why don't you watch the movie?? I am - that's how I saw that vest! lol. I sure hope you're feeling better soon. It seems the crud is viral, almost everyone I know around here has had it. Movies,tea & chocolate - my prescriptions for a speedy recovery :D

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