Friday, 18 March 2016

Dyes from a Fresh Madder Root Afterbath

Having amalgamated several sources of information in my attempt to get the best reds out of my first proper harvest of madder root, I had dyed a modest 100g fibre and was left with a slightly whiffy, week old pot containing 500g of no longer so fresh, macerated roots.  Probably rather less, considering how many tiny bits were now embedded in the dyed fibres.The dyebath still looked deep red, under a thin crust of slime.  

Now to discover what colour could be got out. The pot was simmered at 60 degrees Centigrade for an hour, the first heat it had had applied, bar its sojourn on the underfloor heating.  All those rooty bits were then strained out by pouring the bath through an old tee shirt lining a big colander.  Sitting on the side I had a Changeling shawl, knitted using up small amounts of luxury hand spun - camel, qiviut and alpaca, plus some palest grey/fawn Corriedale X Gotland lamb and a lovely white Romney.  While all Boo Knits patterns come out shapely, I was disappointed with my finished object, particularly after all that fine spinning of fancy fibres.  The camel colour just looked out of place among the others, so I mordanted the whole thing with alum and put it
in this dye bath with a few locks of Lincoln Long Wool and a clump of Exmoorino fleece, total weight 130g.  Another simmer for an hour at 60 degrees and a few anxious days of waiting for the slow uptake of madder colour from the dye bath.  Blocking always transforms lace knitting.  Even taking that into account, when looking at the two photos, I think the gamble paid off.  While I consider wearing pink is strictly for high summer with a suntan, you can only really see it on the narrow sections that were originally white, while the camel yarn dyed a pleasing dusty rose.  The Exmoorino fleece took up plenty of pink and looks a bit yucky, the Lincoln locks stayed paler and a tad more sophisticated.

Meanwhile, the roots scraped off the tee shirt went into a pot of fresh water for a daring second simmer, perilously close to the boil at 80 degrees Centigrade, with several elderly limes chopped up and bobbing in the brew.  Jenny Dean suggests
adding citric acid to an exhausted madder dye bath to extract a final range of tangerine and orange colours and the limes were intended to acidify mine.  Sieved out again, the roots at last found exhausted repose upon the compost heap.  Alum mordanted Merino tops, Exmoorino  and Lincoln locks and a short length of combed silk were simmered at 80 degrees and left to soak for a week, picking up rather different colours, depending on the fibre. I dyed another silk
scarf in this bath.  It looked quite orange when it came out, but ironing seemed to smooth and compress the fibres in such a way as to make them look more pink.  Here it is, next to the one from the very first dyebath.  
Meanwhile, another experiment was underway with a third silk scarf in the remnant of the second, pink bath.  Still too early in the season for much in the way of fresh flowers, so I used dried ones saved from last summer 
with some tired lookng winter leaves off the alpine strawberry plants, rolled up as a contact dye bundle which was simmered with iron water soaked string to tie it up.  That Turkey Red is, I believe, created by mordanting fibres with iron before madder dyeing.  In this case, the silk picked up pink while simmering, which shifted toward

brown during a further 24 hour soak.  The March leaf prints only came out as faint traces of iron outlines with no colour of their own and dried flowers don't give a proper petal print, still, it was great to have sunshine to cure the first ecobundle of 2016.  I was all by myself delivering triplet lambs this morning, the third got stuck, but all is well and the sun shines on them, me, the world.


  1. I love that last scarf is quite beautiful. Well done on the triplets too.


    1. Thanks. They are all doing well and should go out to the field tomorrow, though three might be too much for the ewe and one have to join the pets.

  2. Really pretty shawls Fran.

  3. That has been really successful..congratulations!'ll be setting off to grow madder?

    1. The roots are from the garden, still got a few more three year old plants and a big barrel I planted last year. In a couple of years, I should have loads, presently, got to make the most of every bit.