Group A data – Dye week!

Group A: Ben, Helen, Em, Amelie

Getting to Alejandra’s farm felt like stepping into another world – one of animals and peace.  It let us leave behind the stresses of campus life and academics for an afternoon.  We were still learning of course, but having tons of fun while we were at it!

While we waited for water to boil, Alejandra gave us a tour of the farm and answered our many questions.  We learned about the three types of sheep on the farm: Icelandic, Shetland, and Soay.  Many of the sheep in the flock are mixed between the breeds, as the ram on the farm is a Shetland.  Mixing varieties of sheep can create wool that has different qualities.  For example, in an effort to get more textile friendly wool, Icelandic ewes were bred with the Shetland ram, resulting in incredibly cute lambs whose wool will soon be good for fabrics.

Once the water had boiled we began preparing the dyes.  We dyed using three different dyes: Indigo, Marigold, and Logwood.  The process of preparing a dye can take incredibly different amounts of time depending on the dye.  For our marigold and logwood dyes the dried crushed plant was simply steeped in water.  We did this by making something resembling a large tea bag out of cheesecloth.  For indigo however, the plant had to be fermented for nearly a week to produce the dye.  Once the fermented indigo dye was prepared, it was simply added to a vat alongside the other necessary elements – lime and fructose in this case.

After we had steeped our marigolds and logwood in their respective iron pots (which were heated over fire pits using tripods), and prepared our indigo vat, we began dyeing the wool.  For each of the four dying processes we performed, we did so with one 50g skein of white yarn, and one 50g skein of grey yarn.  Because one of the dying techniques was to dye first using marigolds, and then using indigo, the original marigold pot had double the yarn in it, and thus had double the dye added.  We dyed in the marigold and logwood pots for an hour each, while the indigo dye was simply a 5 second submersion.

The wool dyed with marigold and logwood had previously been treated with alum as a mordant.  Dying with indigo does not require a mordant, so the wool dyed in indigo was not mordanted.  The use of other mordants would likely have resulted in different colors.

Dying in indigo! As the freshly dyed cloth comes into contact the dye oxidizes going from greenish to blue!
Indigo brings out the beauty of the human hand!

In the table below are the dyes and wool we used as well as the results.

Dye and amountWater amountWhite wool dyedGrey wool dyedMordant usedWhat was the product like?
100g Marigolds1 iron pot100g, 50g dipped in indigo later100g, 50g dipped in indigo laterAlum used on wool before dyingA nice earthy yellow – darker for the grey wool
50g Logwood1 iron pot50g50gAlum used on wool before dyingA stunningly vibrant purple
Indigo from vatMultiple gallons to fill vat50g50gNo mordantBlue like blue jeans.  A calming blue/grey for the grey wool
Marigolds, then indigo1 iron pot, then the indigo vat50g50gAlum on wool before either dyeDidn’t get a good look at this one

Our dying process took place on this timeline:

2:45 – Began soaking yarn in marigold and logwood dye at

3:08 – Dipped pre-wetted yarn in indigo vat. We continued dying with indigo throughout the afternoon after that

3:36 – Removed yarn from marigold dye at

3:41 – Dunked yarn previously dyed in marigold in indigo vat

3:44 – Removed yarn from logwood dye

This lab gave us a much greater understanding of the dying practices we’ve been reading about. For example, even though we didn’t dye with it we were able to use cochineal as makeup and lipstick, and observe the brilliant crimson color that was so important! Understanding the feelings, sights, and smells of the dying process changed my conception of what it was like to be a dyer. It was also a great escape from our normal stressors! I am still feeling refreshed from it a few days later!

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