Saturday, July 20, 2013

Natural Dyeing Silk Scarves on Mackinac Island

From the time I was 10 or 11, my family has spent part or all of every summer on Mackinac Island.  I hadn't been back to the island in almost 5 years, which made the trip Keith and I made this summer especially special.  Many things had changed, including a HUGE yarn selecting in the drug store (my mom kept it a secret for years so I would be surprised) and a new art museum that offers different crafting classes every week.  My mom signed me up to take a natural dyeing class, and I was so excited as this has been something I've wanted to try for a long time.  

The silk scarf before I did anything to it.  
Each participant received a silk scarf that had been pre-treated with two mordants (Ferrous Acetate and Aluminum Acetate)... already in a pattern.  I was a little disappointed to not have control over these patterns, since I wanted to try something a little less typical.  However, I was so excited to see natural plant dyeing that I really didn't care that much.

I wanted to try something a little different with my scarf.  When we mixed up the Titanium Oxalate solution (15 g potassium titanyl oxalate/ 300 mL water) I decided I wanted my dip to create some diagonal stripes.  I folded the scarf lengthwise in to quarters, and then accordion folded along the bias.  I then dipped one end into the mordant solution, which resulted in the slight chevron pattern you can see above and below hanging to dry.  

To help the scarves dry, we used hair dryers.  Immediately before putting the scarves in the dye bath, we dipped them in a chalk solution (50 g calcium carbonate in 5 quarts of warm water) to help set the mordant.   I was worried about getting my scarf back, but thankfully I had the foresight to put my initials on the tag before putting it in the dyebath.  

In each pot there was some volume of water with either 67.1 g Weld (yellow) or 37.2 g Coreopsis (orange - the one I used).  The flowers had been collected and dried by the instructor.  The instructor was concerned that there wasn't enough for everyone to use a particular color, but given the timing limitations and the fact that we did not come close to exhausting the dyebath I think everyone could have used the coreopsis if they had really wanted to.  

Adding a silk scarf to the dyebath
The coreopsis pot with my scarf in it.  

A propane camp stove allowed us to do this outside.
Ultimately my scarf was only in the dye for 30-45 min.  I could have left it in the pot overnight, but there would be no good way for me to pick up the scarf the next day (July 4) and I wanted to see how it ended up.  I decided to put the scarf in a plastic bag and leave it saturated with SOME dye overnight so it could get the benefit more time to set the color.

Washing instructions:  Rinse with luke warm water.  When no more color washes out, increase heat to warm and add a little soap.  Wash into rinse water runs clear and then hang to dry.   I washed and washed and washed the scarf, but it seemed like the water never ran clear.  I finally let it soak in the bucket for 30 minutes, and after that it seemed like most of the excess color had been removed. 

I was excited to see that there was some effect from my titanium mordant application.  The overall result is fairly subtle, but the scarf definitely picked up some color in the short amount of time it had in the coreposis dyebath!  Guys, I've dyed something with natural dyes!  

Once the scarf had dried, the colors were a bit more subtle.  Unfortuantely the ferrous mordant dominates the pattern, and it is a little hard to see the diagonal stripes on the dark brown sections.   I think it is really intersting to see an example of how different mordants result in different colors from one dyebath, even if they weren't applied in a way that I would have chosen.  

Am I glad that I took this class?  Absolutely!  It wasn't perfect, but the cost was low and I got to try something I'd never experienced.  I also learned some things about how to lead a better dyeing tutorial.  Some critiques about the class:
  • The class was from 7-9 but the instructor had to leave early to catch a ferry back to the mainland.  She almost left without giving wash instructions on how to remove the dye from the scarves.  
  • Timing issues:  The plants should cook in the dyebath for 30 min (1 hr would be ideal) before adding the scarves, but we did not set up the dye bath first thing.  The modants needed to be completely dry on the scarf before adding them to the dye.  Many of these steps were hard to fit into a 2h class, so I would have started the dyes cooking immediately when setting up so they would be ready to go.  Ideally the scarves would sit in the dye overnight, but we had maybe 
  • The instructor provided a great handout for the mordants, but the handout ended with Step 3 - Dye Scarf.  There were no instructions for what we would be actually doing in the class, or how to wash the scarves after we got home.  
  • If we were only going to apply one mordant to the scarves, I would have loved to do the Ferrous Acetate since it had the greatest effect on the overall color.  Maybe there is something important with the order of application?  This was never really explained so I'm not sure what the reasoning was.  
  • From my limited silk dyeing experience, I knew that you do not want to let the fibers heat much higher than 180 degrees.  When I asked the instructor about this, she said that yes that is the case and that with too much heat the proteins responsible for the sheen start to break down.  She mentioned to me that these outdoor stoves were much harder to control the temperature (which I understood), but never shared with the whole class that ideally we would keep the pots just below a boil.  

My Dry Scarf

Even with my long list of critiques of the course, I loved the opportunity to experience a new technique and can see myself exploring natural dyeing more in the future.  Maybe someday Keith and I will set up a dye garden so I can harvest flowers leaves and roots to do my own natural dyeing.    For now, I will stick with food safe dyes that I can use in my kitchen without any concern.