Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sumac Bark Dye on Wool & Linen

As a first serious attempt at natural & mordant dying, I don't think it came out too badly. At least not all of my pretty wool bits have been turned into nasty little brillo pads... though some have. -This is coming from a person who has thrown canvas into a barrel of walnut gunk & called that dying - yuck.-

One thing to remember when dying wool: Heat + Agitation = Bad.

Here's how this color was achieved:

1. Peel the green bark off of sumac trees, (Pholem & Cambium). We just cut them down, they grow like weeds here.
2. Separate the brown bark from the green.
3. Dry the green.

I used 2 trees worth, or 1 mid-size cardboard box, about 12"x16"x12" for one pound of wool.
The bark wasn't pounded down, so this is an inexact measurement.

Weigh out one pound of dry wool (or other fiber).
Put in mesh bags, about 75% full so the wool has room to expand - Don't stuff the bag.

4 oz (8 tbsp) Alum
1 oz (2 tbsp) Cream of Tartar
Dissolve in a large pot of water.
Add wet wool
Heat for 1 hour between 160 & 180F.
-Never over 180.
Let sit overnight to a week depending on directions.
-This was 48 hours.

Apparently the fiber will only absorb so much mordant, so it's not a big deal. It does add weight to the fiber, so it's important to weigh it before, not after. Also important not to use too much mordant.

Soak the bark in water, just covering the top. Soak overnight to a week depending on the dyestuffs. I soaked this for a week in plain water.
(Some people have said to add rubbing alcohol to help release the color, I didn't try that.)
Boil it. Pour/strain colored water off into another container, add more water & boil it again... about an hour. Once color stops coming off, you can throw the spent bark away... or dry it again if it's still giving color & you have all the dye you need.

I let it sit for 48 hours and as it sat the sap formed into resin at the top, which I was able to skim it off. I honestly have no idea how this is handled commercially, if at all. But it was very sticky & I really didn't want it on my fiber.
You can see the resin at the edges of the stainless steel bucket, it's reflecting the light strangely.

The bottom of the bucket had some really gross sediment. NOT what you want in your fiber... pour slowly & skim the rest of the good dye up in a bowl or ladle.

In a large stainless steel pot (that's what I used here - the metal of the pot will change the color), add in the dye & the mordant fiber.
Heat to 160-180F for 1 hr. or longer until you get the desired color or until the fiber won't take any more or until the dye bath is spent.
Check it every 20 minutes - Do Not Agitate!

Fill a large bowl with hot water, transfer the mesh bag of dyed fiber into the bowl of water & let sit.
Pull the bag out, dump the water, repeat until water runs clear.
The first batch took 4 rinses, the second batch took 3 rinses. I let it sit for about 10 minutes each rinse.

Spin out the excess water in salad spinner or washing machine spin cycle (I have no issues with this at this point, it's as clean as anything else that goes in the washer).
Spread out to dry according to fiber type.

I put scraps of linen in the mordant & dye bath at the same time as the wool. Different fibers will dye different colors even with the same dye process.

After mordants, like rusty nails, copper scrubbies, vinegar, etc. are added into the last dye bath to change the color. I have not tried these.

Ummm... it's so pretty... like a Ginger Cat or a Pomeranian.

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