Friday, 3 February 2017

Dyeing Wool with Silver Birch Bark

To dye with Silver Birch tree bark, I went looking for freshly fallen timber. I think Ladka is right, last week's bark dye probably did not colour wool as strongly as expected because the crab apple had died before I peeled its branches. Searching copse after copse of silver birches, it took me ages to find any wood that had definitely come down recently.


At last, a branch with a raw torn break from the tree, unsullied young bark, perfect to harvest for dye. Which I did, feeling in full sympathy with Robert Frost. 'One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.' Not that I wished to vandalise a living tree and as the poem points out, birch trunks are incredibly flexible, so I doubt I would be strong enough to snap one. Just that I, too, would like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over. Anyway, although my tree climbing days are pretty much over, whatever else is going on, the dog still needs walking and there's always another plant dye to discover.


Once every scrap was peeled with a sharp knife, leaving only the heartwood, about 200g bark was carried home to soak in a bucket of cold water for a week. The fluid turned a pale brownish gold and its pH dropped to 5, even though the weather was freezing. When it had been simmered for an hour, left overnight and then sieved, the dye bath colour had deepened considerably.


Intending to dye yarn suitable for bags, during that week, I had been online shopping for some cheap, bulky, durable wool. Cheviot from World of Wool looked like a bargain. Once it arrived, I found the 'yarn' was a single with minimal twist, I'm sure I've seen pencil roving with more cohesive structure. Hey ho, it knits up ok. I divided a 200g skein into four parts, then soaked and simmered three of them for a hour in the birch bark dye pot. Seeing they were only pastel pink, I dropped a little piece of merino yarn in the cooling dyebath and left it overnight. The Cheviot darkened a bit, but the merino turned out much deeper pink, despite no simmering.
So, it doesn't seem that my Cheviot yarn was an ideal choice for dyeing, either. You can just see how much deeper dyed the bit of merino yarn, it's lying on top of the far left skein. Adding a teaspoon of alum to the dyebath, I simmered the fourth skein, hoping this might improve the uptake of colour. The wool came out just as pale, only more of a salmon pink.

No matter, the lighter colour might be a good foil for showing up the effect of modifiers. Pouring half the dye bath into another pot, I added a slug of iron solution to one half and copper to the other. One skein went back into each pot for half an hour's heating, before being rinsed and dried.




So, here are my silver birch bark dye results. From the left, the first skein was unmordanted and unmodified, the second had an iron afterbath, the third, copper and the last one was dyed with alum in the original dye afterbath. Pretty colours, but pale again, this time I think I'll blame the wool. I am tired of considerations and life is too much like a pathless wood. Wait for this, I bought a whole kilo of that Cheviot. Sigh

10 comments:

  1. They are very pretty colours for all that! And sometimes some pale yarn can be handy for fair isle or stripes.

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  2. Subtle colours but very pretty ones :) any idea what you'll do with them?

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    1. 100g of chunky yarn, not soft enough for a hat ... maybe a little purse? They might have to lurk in the basket for a while.

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  3. Pale they are, but pretty too.
    Mine was less pink and more brown. As my son described it: Oh yes, you can see pink in it with much imagination.:)

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    1. A young man, architect by profession, a very sincere critic of my dyeing outcomes :) Since I don't have a sheep companion he has to do it...

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  4. How about a Stopover, worn over a skivvy so it is not against your skin? Lots of people have knit it with Plutolopi a roving yarn. Stopover has waist shaping . Here is a link http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/stopover

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  5. If you still have bark left, I suggest you try experimenting by soaking some in a water/ammonia bath, and some in an alcohol bath. I have a thin live birch that is going to have to come down because it bends over the driveway and hits the car. I'll be trying some dyeing with those. BTW, did you use a mordant of any kind? Like alum?

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  6. No mordant was used, I was relying on the tannin in the bark to do the mordanting itself, except for the salmon pink skein. I have heard about alcohol extraction, not tried it yet as I haven't worked out how to get alcohol except spirits from the supermarket, which would be a bit expensive. Best of luck with your birch :)

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