Dyeing with Turmeric and Iron aka “Sad Turmeric”

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My last dyeing session left me with a pot of turmeric dye (about 6 cups of water plus 3 heaping tablespoons of turmeric and one tablespoon of alum) that was just begging for me to do something with it! I had recently seen an online post that said that if you add iron to turmeric dye it will “sadden” or darken the colors. It also said that you can get olive green colors by doing this…which peaked my interest.

I had two options to sadden my dye. The first was iron powder that I had purchased from Dharma Trading. The second was a homemade brew that was created by submerging one pad of extra fine steel wool (0000) in vinegar and letting it sit until the steel wool dissolved. This typically takes about two days. However, since mine was leftover from another project it had been sitting for several months, so it was good to go!

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My understanding was that it would only take a small amount of iron to alter the color. So I put my.pot on the stove, turned the heat to med/high and added 1/2 teaspoon of the iron powder.

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Hmmmmm, well it was really pretty but it didn’t look “sad” at all? I then added another 1/2 teaspoon and I waited. Nothing. Okay, time to give my concoction a go. I added approximately 1/2 cup of my brew and I waited. This time I was getting somewhere. After another 1/2 cup addition of my homemade iron solution, this is what I got.

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It was definitely looking more “sad” although it didn’t exactly look olive green. Since I had already added a good amount of iron to the mix, I chose to proceed.

Now it was time to address my fabric. I decided to use two silk scarves and some simple shibori techniques to create patterns on the fabric. I folded both scarves into a triangle shape as follows:

For some odd reason, this particular triangle fold has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around?! Hopefully it will be easier for you! I started by folding my scarf in half and then (as you can see above) I folded it past the edge of the fabric. Next I folded it back onto itself to create a triangle. Last, I folded the whole triangle back and forth (accordion style) until I reached the end. I followed the same procedure for the second scarf and then I gave each of them their own personality. For one, I used three extra large popsicle sticks that I bound with rubber bands to create a resist. For the other, I simply tied a row of rubber bands down the length of the triangle.

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Into the dye they went! I simmered them on low for one hour and then I turned off the heat and let them soak for approximately 3 hours.

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Next, I rinsed them in cold water until the water ran clear. There was very little excess dye coming off of the fabric which told me that the fabric and the dye bonded well. Unfortunately, the olive green that I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. But the color was definitely altered and is more of a mustard yellow than the bright sunshine yellow that I got from the turmeric dye alone.

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This brings me to the subject of colorfastness and washfastness. After doing a TON of research online (seriously, I could write a dissertation), I learned that while turmeric dyed fabric is very washfast it is not known to be lightfast. Although using mordants such as alum and iron will most certainly help with both wash and lightfastness, I have been unable to determine the extent to which this is true. This is my third foray into turmeric dyeing and I can tell you that my colors are holding fast so far. The fist piece of fabric that I dyed is now about 5 months old and I can see no discernible fading. I would be very interested to know if anyone has had any longer term experience with turmeric dyed fabrics, especially when an alum mordant was used. Please comment below if that’s you!!!

After air drying and a good ironing, here are my finished pieces.

I really like the one on the left and I’m not so sure about the one on the right. The pattern is kind of interesting, however, the color is blotchy and uneven. I am a fan of the mustardy yellow though and it was interesting to see what the iron did to my dye bath. All in all it was another informative adventure down dyers lane. I hope that you enjoyed the ride as much as I did! Please feel free to comment or ask questions. To see the scarf on the left in my etsy shop, go here. 🙂

 

 

 

Dyeing with Avocado Pits and MORE!

 

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I have been hording avocado pits and skins in my freezer for a while now. Apparently, these babies dye stuff pink – who’d have thunk???  Folks who know me might be surprised to hear that I’m excited about dyeing something pink (but I am, really!). I did in fact have a very strong aversion to pink at one time. So much so that when I was pregnant with my baby girl I actually exchanged a bunch of pink gifts (sorry if you were one of those pink gift givers!). But then I had my baby girl and as you might expect, she loved pink. Mind you, she’s not a girly, girl and she actually dislikes Barbies pretty strongly (I swear that I had nothing to do with that), but she is a fan of pink. Though her love has lessened as she’s grown to a whopping 8, almost 9 years old, she definitely turned me to the pink side. 🙂

But I digress! I decided to dye three silk scarves that I had purchased from Dharma Trading, two 8mm Habotai and one silk charmeuse (Dharma calls this one a belt, but I think that it makes a cute skinny scrarf). First, I needed to sort out my dye recipe. After reading a bunch of stuff online, I decided to wing it, sort of. From what I discerned, the dye from the avocado pits is a soft pink while the dye from the skins is more brownish pink in tone. Since I was looking for a sweet, ballet slipper pink, I decided to go with the pits.

I pulled my collection of frozen pits and skins out and I realized that I hadn’t done a great job of thoroughly cleaning them before I popped them in the freezer. Soooooo, I dunked them in some hot water and much to my delight all of the leftover avocado flesh came off with ease.

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From what I had read, you need at least a 1:1 ratio (by weight) of pits to fabric to achieve a strong color. In order to insure that I met this minimum requirement, I weighed my pits and my fabric.

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As you can clearly see, my pits (on the left) outweigh my fabric (on the right) by nearly 4:1, so I’m good to go!  I filled my dedicated dye pot with enough water to allow my fabric to move freely and I added one tablespoon of alum and one teaspoon of cream of tartar. Alum or potassium aluminum sulfate is a fixative or mordant that is often used by natural dyers. It may be helpful to think of it like a molecular glue. Since fibers and dyes often have a weak affinity for one another a mordant, in this case alum, is the “glue” that bonds them together. It is also one of the safest mordants, which is why many dyers will forgo other metal based mordants in favor of alum. However, caution should always be taken when using a powdered metal, so gloves are recommended. Additionally, any tools used (such as measuring spoons) should never be the same ones that you use for food. So please run to the dollar store and buy a set that you will only use for dyeing! The Cream of Tarter acts as a ph buffer and it softens the water for improved results (I got mine at my local Target).

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Next, I threw my pits into the drink and I turned my heat to high.

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Now I moved onto my fiber. I decided to use some very basic shibori folding and binding techniques in order to add some interest and pattern to these pieces. But first, I gave my scarves a quick wash with synthrapol (any mild detergent will do). While they were still wet, I folded them in half like this:

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Next, I accordion folded two of them (like the paper fans that you made when you were a kid). One was then simply rolled up like a little snail and secured with a rubber band and the other one was accordion folded again in the other direction and secured with a series of rubber bands:

 

The last scarf was flag folded and then secured with rubber bands at each corner:

 

Next, I took a look at my dye bath and I noticed that my pits were not giving off ANY color. So I impatiently threw in the avocado skins knowing full well that I may not get the color that I had intended to get. I then tossed all three scarves into the pot. As you can see, the dye bath took on a pinkish hue very quickly after I threw in the avocado peels!

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What came next was a surprise and a bit of a mystery. After allowing my pot to simmer for one hour, I turned off the heat and I took a peek at my scarves. In spite of the fact that the water was a gorgeous deep pink, my scarves looked grey. This was definitely not the ballet slipper pink that I was going for?! I decided to let them soak overnight hoping that a miracle would occur and my scarves would somehow be pink by the next morning.

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Well, as you might have guessed, I was completely delusional. This is what I ended up with the next morning:

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Hmmmmm, what the heck went wrong??? After doing a bunch of hunting around online, the best that I can figure is that some iron or steel got into the mix and “saddened” my color. I had previously used an iron mordant in the same pot and although I cleaned my pot very thoroughly perhaps there was enough iron left in the pot to affect the color? Or, maybe it was the steal in the pot itself. Whatever happened, I needed to figure out what to do next. Although I like grey, my guess was that once these babies dried the color would be a very pale, muted grey that wouldn’t add much in the way of pattern or design.

I decided to use this as an opportunity to add more color and interest, so I took off some rubber bands and I added a few rubber bands (to keep some of the grey).

 

I then threw two scarves into a dye bath that contained three heaping tablespoons of turmeric and one tablespoon of alum. The last scarf went into a brew of beets that had been sitting in my refrigerator for a little while. Okay, so maybe it had been sitting in my refrigerator several months….(I had used it to dye Easter eggs, so only about four months. Don’t judge). I was waiting for the smell to assault me when I opened the jar, but it just smelled like beets and vinegar and there was nothing funky growing. So, I added one tablespoon of alum for good measure and I put the jar outside in the hot Southern California sun for some solar dyeing (which I had never tried before).

I brought my turmeric mixture to a simmer and I let it go for one hour. I then turned off the heat and I let my scarves sit for a few hours to allow the color to deepen. I let my beet jar sit in the sun for about five hours before I pulled out my scarf. Finally, I rinsed all of my scarves thoroughly and I hung them to dry.

 

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The next day, I gave these guys a much needed ironing and I took their picture. Although it’s NOTHING like what I had intended, I’m very happy with the wider yellow scarf. Yes, that yellow is as brilliant as it looks! The pink scarf is definitely the ballet slipper color that I wanted. It’s soft and subtle and sweet while the skinny scarf has some lovely shadowy grey marks from the avocado that contrast nicely against the bright yellow. I toyed with the idea of adding more color to this one but I would hate to loose those soft greys so I decided to leave it alone.

Alas, it was another long and winding trip down dyers lane…I seem to have a lot of those! In the end, I learned a few new things and I’m happy with the outcome, so it’s definitely a win!

The scarf on the right was sold but the one on the left is available for purchase here. 🙂 The one in the middle is in limbo because I ended up not really liking those pointy ends when I tied it. 😦

Thanks for hanging out with me. I always welcome your comments or questions!

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