For our lab this week, we ventured out to Alejandra’s farm in Kenyon, Minnesota. Our goals for the lab were to meet and interact with the sheep who we have spent so much time learning about and to put into practice the same dyeing processes we learned about last week. Another important goal of the lab, which is harder to quantify, was to get a small break from the hustle and bustle of being on campus and midterm stress. I unfortunately don’t have data for whether folks felt particularly relaxed or de-stressed, but I can speak for myself and say that being with the sheep and dyeing wool was certainly a welcome departure from campus life.
The first thing we did when we arrived at the farm was gawk at the sheep who had come over to the fence of their pen to greet us. While I took the time to count the sheep and we listened to Alejandra discuss her methods for their caretaking, Noah began lighting two fires and boiling water for the dyeing processes we had planned later in the lab. The plan was to try three different dyes: indigo, marigold, and logwood. The marigold and logwood dyes required boiling water to release the pigments from within the plant material, but the indigo vat did not involve heat.
From my count, Alejandra’s farm has about 50 sheep, 6 cows (4 of whom are calves), 1 dog (named Commander), and 2 horses. There is also a llama named Priscilla who watches over the sheep as a sort of protector; you can see from the picture that she is carefully overseeing the sheep as they flock to Alejandra upon her arrival at the fence with food.
When it came to dyeing, Meredith (an employee at the farm) explained to us the different quantities of dyestuffs used to achieve the color concentration we were after.
|Dye||Product(s) Dyed||Mordant||Time in Dye||Resulting Color|
|100g Marigold||100g white wool; 100g gray wool||1tbsp Alum / 100g fiber; dyed in Iron pot||52 minutes||White wool had gold-ish yellow results, almost like Maiz. Gray wool was more gold and slightly duller.|
|50g Logwood||50g white wool; 50g gray wool||1tbsp Alum / 100g fiber; dyed in Iron pot||1 hour||White wool yielded a blue that was hinting at purple. Gray wool’s result was somewhere between blue and purple.|
|Indigo (vat)||50g white wool; 50g gray wool||None||5 seconds||White wool yielded a light cerulean. Gray wool resulted with touches of gray, on the blue side of turquoise.|
|100g Marigold → Indigo||50g marigold-dyed white wool; 50g marigold-dyed gray wool||See above for Marigold, none for Indigo||52 minutes in Marigold; 5 seconds in Indigo||White wool resulted in a mucus-y ochre color|
The dyeing process for Marigold and Logwood was quite simple: first, we heated a large cast iron pot of boiling water. While the water was boiling, Meredith weighed out 100g of Marigold flowers (uncrushed, though she said they can be crushed) to dye 200g of wool, and 50g of Logwood (in the form of small woodchips) for 100g of wool. The dyestuffs went into bags made of material much like cheesecloth to make submerging them in the boiling water and cleanup easier, though this bagging process is not required. After the dyestuffs had sufficiently steeped in the boiling water, we added our wool and left it to soak in the boiling vat of dye. The wool we used for Marigold and Logwood has been treated with Alum as a mordant, which is a preliminary process of soaking the wool in water with 1 tbsp of powdered alum per 100g of wool to be dyed.
The Indigo vat, on the other hand, uses a different process. Alejandra prepared the vat of dye before we arrived, but explained how indigo flowers have to be ground using a mortar and pestle, and then the actual dyeing element of the flowers extracted and dried. The resulting product is condensed indigo, which Alejandra added to water along with lime and fructose. The lime serves to ensure the pH of the indigo vat is correct, and the fructose helps moderate the amount of oxygen present in the dyeing liquid. Indigo dye works using an oxidation process rather than heat; the wool enters the indigo vat (which appears green under the surface) and emerges green, and almost immediately begins to turn blue as the dye interacts with oxygen. After about 15 minutes outside the vat, the near-final color was achieved. We had to be careful to not introduce excess oxygen into the indigo vat – as soon as we removed our product, we brought it away from the bucket so as to not drip water and air back into the bucket. Also, indigo does not require a mordant due to its oxidation process.
All in all, we had an absolute blast meeting the sheep, farm animals, and Commander the dog. We learned a lot about natural dyeing processes, and some of us who were feeling particularly zealous opted to dye our own clothing or, in Ben’s case, his hand and nose. We were lucky to learn so much from Alejandra and Meredith, and for the rare opportunity to use natural dyes!