Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Dyeing cotton Naturally with podcast

This is part two of the dyeing cotton blog and podcast. On both, I will be giving the details of how I dyed cotton roving and lint using the natural dye made from peach leaves.

The podcast for this blog is Episode 13 and can be found here.

First I want to talk about dyeing the cotton lint and then I will give a detailed description of how I got the dye liquid, and the process to dye the roving.

The cotton lint had been soaked in soda ash water by my daughter as a large batch, and when we were at her house doing the dye day, I decided to try and dye some of the lint by putting it into a crock pot filled with the peach leaf dye liquid and held at high for three hours. I was pleased to see as it was 'stewing' that the lint seemed to be taking the color. Here's a picture of how the lint looked after I took it out of the crock pot and popped it into a ziplock bag to take home:

However, the next morning, I took the lint out of the bag and began rinsing it, and discovered immediately that the color was not sticking to the fiber. Here's how it looked after rinsing:

This of course really worried me about the success of dyeing the cotton roving with the same liquid, until I realized that the lint had not been soaked in alum, a key mordanting point of the natural dye process. So with hope restored, I continued on to dye the roving.
Here's a copy of the directions I included with my swap fiber, and then after that I have a few pictures for you of the process. I did not take as many photos as I should have, once I get going in the process I forget to stop and take a picture. But I think the detailed written description will be plenty for anyone wanting to try their own dyepot.
Dyeing cotton with natural dyes experiment


Dyestuff: Peach leaves, green and fresh

Method: Fill two large stainless steel pots with fresh peach leaves. My pots were 16 and 20 quart size, filled about ¾ full of leaves. Cover leaves with warm water, cover and set in warm spot (just my kitchen floor) for two days. On day three place pots on stove, bring liquid to boil and boil for two hours, watching liquid levels. Allow to cool and sit overnight. When ready to dye, dip leaves out of liquid and heat pot of dye to just boiling.

Cotton: wetting out steps

Cotton needs to be thoroughly wet in order to dye. It also should be soaked in soda ash water. So I filled my 12 quart stainless steel pot with a couple cups of warm water and soda ash using the ratio roughly figured from referenced books, 1/8 ounce for 1 pound of cotton. The book did state that if soda ash is not available, soap suds could be used, however I did not use any soap.
The cotton soaked in this solution for two days, on the third day, I did set the pot on the stove and raised the temperature to just below boiling, and allowed to cool overnight.
This step may not be necessary.

Mordant on fiber: alum
Ratio: 4 ounces of alum to one pound of cotton.
I took the fiber out of the soda ash water and allowed to drain well. I cleaned the same stainless steel pot well, and then dissolved the 4 ounces of alum in several cups of warm water in that pot, making sure all was dissolved. I then filled the pot with enough warm water that allowed the cotton roving to be immersed and well covered. This sat overnight and the fiber was dyed the next day.

Dyeing the cotton

After removing the peach leaves, I took my 8 quart stainless steel pot and filled it half full with the dye liquid. This I set on the stove and started to heat. I also set the 12 quart pot with the alum/cotton in it on the stove and set it to a gentle heat. Both heats were just a bit over a comfortable hot to the hand. When both were to that heat, I took enough of the wet cotton roving from the alum water, squeezed gently to remove most of the liquid, and placed that in the dye pot, gently and trying to get the roving as open as possible. I had plenty of dye liquid, so I did the whole dyeing process in these small batches, instead of dyeing the whole pound at once. I experimented some, the first batch was held at the below boiling heat for 30 minutes. The second batch was brought to a boil, and held at boiling for 30 minutes. Both batches dyed with the same intensity, so boiling is not necessary for the dyeing process. Although the dye seemed to strike almost immediately, and did not really increase in intensity with the 30 minutes, I did do all batches the same.

After the first batch had heated for 30 minutes I poured everything out through a strainer (I use an old wire basket from a deep fat fryer, works really well). I let the dye go into a pot to save, because it still seemed to have color. The fiber went into the strainer and straight into the kitchen sink, where I ran the hottest water from my tap on the fiber to rinse. There was very little dye in the rinse, just the obvious dye water still trapped in the ball of fiber. The fiber soon appeared to be clear of that dye, and rinsing clear. I squeezed the fiber ball hard to remove as much water as possible. I then slowly untangled the ball and draped the fiber into long open loops of fiber and laid it on a mesh sweater dryer in front of a fan to dry. I did try spinning the fiber out in the washing machine in a mesh bag, but did not find it got the fiber any drier, unlike wool.

I used new dye liquid for each batch, and repeated the process. Only one thing I noticed that affected the dye liquid and that was the dye color was deeper in the 20 quart pot than the 16 quart pot, I probably had more leaves in the larger pot. So I combined the liquid from the two pots, to more evenly distribute the color.

I also had one batch that seemed to be dyeing lighter, and I realized I had not squeezed out as much of the alum water before placing the fiber in the dye pot, thus diluting the color. To correct this, I poured part of the dye liquid off and placed new dye liquid in it, and then continued with the heating process.

The color appeared as a lemon yellow when wet and as a lighter, lemon aid color when dry. The color was certainly fast as far as washing out, although there will be no information on true color fastness of the yarn, or light fastness of the color until much later.

Dye Disposal

The dye liquid can be safely emptied outside, or down a kitchen drain into municiple sewer or septic tank. The alum mordant water should be copiously diluted with running water and then allowed down the kitchen drain.

References used:
Early American Weaving and Dyeing: J and R Bronson, Dover Publishing
Your Yarn Dyeing: Elsie Davenport, Select Books Publishing
Natural Dyes for Spinners & Weavers: Hetty Wickens, Batsford Craft Publishing
End of directions, begin photo :)
One of the photos I missed taking was of the peach leaves 'stewing' in the pot. Silly to forget, since the pots were hanging around my kitchen for three days. On Monday, getting ready for the grand dyeing experiment, hubby offered to take the pots out to the driveway and scoop out the leaves for me. I gladly accepted the help, and it was until later it dawned on me that I had not taken a photo of the leaves in the pot. When I commented on that, hubby even offered to _put them back in the pot for me_! He's wonderful like that, but I said no, my readers would have to settle for a photo of the leaves on the ground after being removed from the pot:

I did remember though to take a photo of the actual dye liquid. Look how yellow it is! Yes it reminds me of many years of working in a medical lab and all those body fluids, but trust me it smelled much better. In fact, it had very little smell at all.

Here's a photo of the roving soaking in the alum solution, which turns out to be a very important step for the dyeing to work.

Finally, a photo of the roving just as it's being dipped out of the dye pot. I was still on pins and needles as to whether it was going to work at this point, because remember the lint had looked yellow also.

But proof is below, the alum is the key, and the yellow color stayed on the roving after rinsing:

Now is when I did a happy song and dance, and proceeded the rest of the day with dyeing the one pound of cotton roving. This was rinsed and squeezed and rolled in towels to assist drying, and looked pretty compacted while it was drying:

However, once it was completely dry, it was possible to 'beat' it by either banging the roving on the table, or hitting it hard with a wooden mallet (my preferred method) and then rolling the fiber some with my fingers. The cotton softened up and smoothed out and feels ready to spin:

The very last thing I did, was to take all the cotton lint that didn't take the dye, and soak it overnight in a fresh solution of alum water. Then I took all of the remaining dye liquid and heated it, and put the lint in the pot. I held it just below boiling for 30 minutes and then let the pot completely cool. At this point I felt I had gotten plenty of dyeing from those peach leaves, and I drained the lint out of the pot, letting the dye go down the drain. It looked plenty yellow still, and who knows, I may have been able to dye lots more. But the experiment was over, and I had proved that those old reprinted books on dyeing were correct when they said 'dyeing cotton at home is easy'.


Anonymous said...

Cindy - love your podcast! Thanks for all your hard work. Finally, one for us spinners! Are you on Ravelry? Would like to add you as a friend.

gardenspinner on Ravelry

Cindy said...

You can find me on Ravelry as Yarnspinnerstales. See you there!