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Botanical Dyes & Mathing

As has been noted, I am re-raveling the Dude Sweater for Justin using all one fiber and a new pattern which knits in the round, and is therefore straight knitting, not ribbed. This should be a lot more fun to knit, but it does stretch my skill set a little (as all good projects should).

First skill set: botanical dying.

Justin likes to forage for Black Walnuts to make ink, and I’ve had all these fantasies about using the same concept as a dye-lot for yarns and linens. I had made Pearl a quilt using dyed cotton, but because I didn’t use a mordant, it bled all over the place. I was able to clean it up, but the colors weren’t as vibrant as prior to washing, and I didn’t want that to happen with Justin’s sweater, obviously.

So the pattern calls for two colors: a lighter brown and a darker brown. For the lighter brown, we went in raw, no mordant; for the darker, we had to do a mordant bath, then dye.

But before I could do any of that, I had to do the math.

Color A (lighter) requires 163 yards; Color B (darker) requires 189 yards. Each skein is 100g and 190 yards. It is a 2-ply unscoured virgin wool. When I compared it to Shelter, the yarn the pattern calls for, it is slightly thinner, but still a worsted weight yarn.

The gauge called for 20:31 stitches:rows to make 4″ swatch on a size 6 needle. On 6’s, 20 stitches came out to 3.5″ unblocked, so I went up to a 7 and 20 stitches came out to exactly 4″ wide, but only 28 to reach 4″ long. By my math, that means I’ll need 90% of the yardage, so for my project, I need 90% of 1202 (about 1081 yds, 570g or 6 skeins) and I have scant more than exactly that.

For Color A, the recipe calls for 163 yards, so I dyed a slim skein; for Color B, 189 yards, so I dyed a full skein. I only need 90% of each, but I figure if I run out of the main color, I can use a little of the dyed colors somewhere that make sense. I have some other yarns that could substitute in a last-minute stitch, or worst-case: I could buy one more skein from an independent seller.

Anyhuuuuue: Color A is finished:

For Color A, I measured out a scant skein by weight and verified by sectioning off 20yd groups. For this yarn, we used a dye which has been siting outside fermenting for the last year. We did not use a mordant with it, and it came out a lovely sandy brown.

For Color B, we used a full, loosened, but not unraveled, skein. For that skein, we used an alum and cream of tartar mordant first, then used a concentrated ink that Justin made last year as the dyebath. We heated everything to 180F and held it there for one hour, then let it cool naturally overnight and steep for 20 hours.

The color of this dyed wool is absolutely beautiful, but it’s not quite what I was looking for. It’s a rich, warm, caramel brown, maybe like a fox or some autumnal fantasy, and for some other project it might be perfect. We did some sleuthing, and read that iron will help darken, so we put it back in the pot with some acorns, rusty screws, and a railroad spike, heated it to 180F, steeped for one hour, and let sit overnight. Justin had made a beautiful grey ink with the acorn tops before, so we added them for good measure. We’re hoping this concoction will both ashen and darken the wool.

Okay, final update: the iron seemed to work, and the color is much darker and cooler. I would have liked it even darker, but I’m okay with this. I just want to get knitting!

2 replies on “Botanical Dyes & Mathing”

So for mordant have you tried the urine of prepubescent boys? An old traditional way to fix colors.

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