Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Natural Dyeing Series, Part 1 - Alkanet Root

I dye all of my soaps naturally and I'm always interested in learning more about what to use.  I thought it would be interesting to make a series of posts highlighting some dye I use or things I learn through my research.  There are so many resources out there to find out information, but the best way for me has been simple experiments.  I turn to Google at lot to see if someone else has any info to share about a different herb.  I have also checked out at my local library these books:  Dye Plants and Dyeing, by John & Margaret Cannon and The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, by Sasha Duerr.  The latter has amazing pictures and is an excellent source for all kinds of things found in nature.  Both give detailed descriptions about the dyeing process that is used for animal fibers or fabric.  I sometimes think what some of the stuff found in nature would look like in soap...most may end up being brown when it hits the lye, but it is fun to think about and maybe experiment with.

I chose Alkanet Root as my first herb to feature in the series since it is so versatile and I use it frequently.   It is in the Borage family has been a source for red dye for centuries and is considered non-toxic.  I use it in powder form since I mainly use it for soap so it can be a bit messy.  I've used it as a natural tint in Lip Balm and to naturally dye wool.

I'll start with the soap first.  I've done both methods -- adding directly to the lightly traced soap and making an oil infusion with the powder prior to making a batch.  I have to admit both give similar results so I tend to just add it directly into the soap pot.  It makes a nice grey/purple color.  The soap in the above photo is my 'Queen of the Galaxy' which contains both Alkanet Root and Moroccan Red Clay -- a nice contrast in an all purpose naturally dyed soap.  My use rate is about 2 tbls to about 15 oz of raw lightly traced soap. 

In Lip Balm, I infused my Olive Oil with some Alkanet Root Powder for a few days stirring it each morning. The infusion is super simple and makes a nice naturally dyed lip balm.  It leaves a faint touch of color which is just perfect for me since I don't usually wear much makeup.  My use rate is about 2 tsp to 2 oz of oil.  My lip balm contains:  Olive Oil infused with Alkanet Root powder, Coconut Oil, Beeswax, Vitamin E Oil & Natural Peppermint Oil.

It was a total experiment when it came time to dye the wool.  I found some interesting articles on the internet to read, but most people dye with the actual root and not the powder, but since I have powder it made it a tiny bit tricky.  I found this incredible post which was invaluable.  Alkanet Root isn't soluble in water so in order to dye wool you must make a dye solution in either vodka or rubbing alcohol.  My dye solution was about 5 tbls to about 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and I let it soak for 3 days.  I had to stir it a few times each day since the powder settled to the bottom and seemed to get a bit clumpy.  Alkanet Root should be used at a rate of 75-100% WOF (weight of fiber).  I think I should have used a bit more alkanet since I ultimately dyed 11oz of wool.  I didn't weigh my 5 tbls prior to starting.  You must pre-mordant your fiber prior to dyeing so the color will adhere to your wool.  Mordant for Alkanet should be:  Alum 12-20% WOF + CoT (Cream of Tartar) 5-6%.  I used 1.3oz of Alum (which wasn't enough, but I didn't want to run to the store) and .5oz of CoT for my 11oz of wool.  To actually dye the wool I had to strain my rubbing alcohol solution since you don't want the powder in your dye bath.  That was uhh...a MESS!  I used coffee filters and paper towels, but it still found it's way onto every surface in my kitchen.  Make sure you are working in an area you can get messy or clean quickly.  I put a large pot of water on the stove and brought it to a simmer, added my dye solution, mixed it well then added my mordant wool.  I let it simmer, never boiling!  for about an hour and then turned the heat off and let it cool until I could remove the yarn and give it a bath.  I think it turned out well.  The yarn is reclaimed from a 100% wool Limited sweater.



I wound my yarn into a ball to knit with and my hands turned a bit purple.  I ended up soaking all the skeins in a warm vinegar bath for about an hour and all is well!  Ready to knit sans purple hands. 

Up next in our Natural Dyeing Series is Marigold & Calendula Flowers.