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.
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.
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).
Next, I threw my pits into the drink and I turned my heat to high.
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:
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!
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.
Well, as you might have guessed, I was completely delusional. This is what I ended up with the next morning:
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….(ahem, 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.
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!
Thanks for hanging out with me. Please feel free to comment or ask questions!