Friday, 15 June 2018

Dyeing Wool with Almond Tree Bark

"So, how was Spinning Camp?" My companion, Elinor Gotland, had been watching me lug the tent back into the garage and load the washing machine. A cup of tea in the shade provided a welcome break.
"Brilliant. I've been getting sunburnt, felting soaps and impersonating dinosaurs."
"Ooo, you don't usually get good enough weather for that."
"Did a bit of spinning too."
"Yes, I saw you unpacking two new fleeces. I thought the car boot was going to burst."
"Hmm, well, things would have been worse if I'd stayed long enough to go to the Fleece Fair."
This morning found me intending to water the dye garden, set up a suint vat and write this week's blog. Before I went away, I dyed some skeins of wool yarn in a vat of almond tree bark. Now they need a rinse and proper consideration, so though they aren't as thrilling as fleece shopping or a pterodactyl attack, I thought I would write a post recording the process before I forget.

Three almond trees were doing nicely in the front garden until a few years ago when they contracted a disease that makes the new leaves blister and curl. This spring, the poor things had more dead branches than healthy ones. When we cut one tree down, I thought I would peel off its bark to try making dye, only there wasn't much that hadn't already shrivelled and dried onto the heartwood.
About 300g was left in a pot of water to ferment for a week then simmered for an hour. The dye bath looked cloudy orange and indicator paper showed it had become mildly acidic at pH 5. I put in three skeins of bulky yarn weighing 150g in total, simmered them for an hour and left them overnight. I took one out and was neither surprised nor upset to find it had gone beige.
Past experience of bark dyes has shown that increasing the pH of the fermented bath to neutral can greatly improve the dye colour. Samples of my almond bark dye bath shifted from orange at pH 5 to red at pH 7, while adding enough soda ash to bring the pH up to 9 made the fluid deep red/brown. I simmered the two remaining skeins at neutral pH, took one out and then added more soda ash before simmering the last skein.

Here is how they looked today, draped over one of the surviving almond trees. On the left, beige from the acidic dye bath, in the middle, a warmer orange beige from the pH neutral bath and on the right, brown from the alkaline bath. Unremarkable I think, pleasant is the kindest comment one might make about almond bark dye. 
Frankly, I would rather have almond blossom in spring and nuts in autumn, failing that, hoping to avoid recurrent disease, I think I shall replace the trees with hazel, hawthorn and maybe eucalyptus. Might get some dye out of that, even if the weather goes back to damp grey normal.


  1. just need something to keep it at ph7....

    1. Maybe I should see what happens if bark is simmered without a fermentation phase.

  2. I am always in favour of nuts in the Autumn (nods head wisely) : )

  3. Maybe these beiges and browns would make the perfect base for a dirty rainbow? Elinor could probably add her experience on dirty-ing up a nice bit of wool...

    1. I dare not suggest Elinor has grubby wool or she'll spend even longer in the bath ...