Garden Diary - September 2017

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Dyeing Wool with Native Plants
Sunday, 3 September 2017

Today is Riverfest in Frenchtown, New Jersey. Assorted happenings and presentations, street food, etc. At the Spinnery, our local yarn shop, Betty is offering a presentation about dyeing yarn with native plants that grow along the Delaware River. Interesting, definitely. Let's go have a look.

Here are some skeins of dyed yarn,
drip drying over the stair railing.

Betty made a nice poster to attract people's attention.

Animal fiber, wool for example, is easier to dye than plant fibers such as cotton. Even so, the fiber needs a mordant, a substance that combines with a dye or stain and thereby fixes it in a material. Betty has pre-prepared the wool with alum, or blue copperas (copper), or iron copperas. Each has a different effect on dyeing - the iron, for example, is said to "sadden" or darken the color, turning yellows towards green.

Here are yarn samples mordanted with each of the three substances.

And here are samples of the three riverside wildflowers she will be using: from the left they are jewelweed, Impatiens capensis; the fruit of pokeberry, Phytolacca americana (which requires a vinegar bath to lower the dye bath pH so that it is more acidic); and goldenrod, Solidago sp., just about any of the species.

Preparing the jewelweed dye bath. Betty picked the material
this morning, then simmering it in a pot dedicated to dyeing.

Once the color is extracted the plant material is strained out.

Pre-mordanted yarn is added to the dye bath and gently simmered.

It's magic! Betty lifts a skein of dyed yarn out of the pot.

Let's peek into vat with the pokeberry dye bath,
with its rich wine purple hue. Pokeberry stains,
but alas, the yarn didn't have the same intensity.

From the left - yarn mordanted with alum,
with blue copperas, with iron copperas
Clearly, there's magic in the dye pot.

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