This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.
When last you saw this skein of yarn, dear readers, it was a sad excuse for pink after the failure of my betel nut dyeing experiment. At that point, I decided to take advantage of it having been mordanted in alum and dye it in something requiring an alum mordant. I still have a back catalogue of natural dyes left at my Guild. I picked out a small [sealed] pack of “sanderswood”. The package showed its age–there was the address of a business in New Zealand/Aotearoa that must have closed long ago. And we are talking a label created before the personal computer became an everyday item in the overdeveloped world.
Jenny Dean gives alternate names as sanderswood, red sandalwood and Pyterocarpus Santalinus. The dye comes from the heartwood of the tree, so in ordinary circumstances I would not use it. But this tree was cut down long ago and it is not in my power to bring it back. I looked at the fine wood chips and gave them a good soaking before preparing the dye bath and throwing the fibres in.
Well. Jenny Dean did not lead me to expect this! Perhaps I should have weighed and measured? Perhaps the betel nut under dye (pale as it was) or the alkalinity of the betel nut bath had something to do with it (yes, I washed and neutralised but even so)?
On my test card, this colour came closest to alum applied hot (which is how I mordanted the sock yarn). So evidently the betel nut dye was not entirely the source of the outcome. In passing, I mention that this is one of the more interesting outcomes for the rhubarb leaf mordant I have seen. But the mystery, as it turns out, was still unfolding. A week passed (you know, day job). The dye bath had the slight beginnings of mould, so I heated it again, lid on, to kill the mould, removed it, and mordanted more handspun yarn. This time a softer, greasier fleece that I’d spun quick and thick.
In it went. I expected the result to be uninteresting because brown. Sorry to you lovers of brown, but this is surely what brown sheep are there for? I know. I can’t help myself. Well, glad I bothered, because:
Not only that, but eventually when that pot had steamed for over an hour with the yarn in it, I added another skein and it just kept giving.
What can explain this? Jenny Dean’s sample card shows oranges and yellow and brown for sanderswood. I can say my pots are not clean enough to rule out modification by iron, but that does not normally create purple! So perhaps this was really logwood? But that doesn’t explain the deep brown. And it is way too late to ask anyone at the Celbar gallery, Papanui Road, which sold this dyestuff, presumably by mail order. I have found one reference to it online, in a publication dated 1978 that someone has lovingly scanned and uploaded for posterity. Roll on, the plant dyeing mysteries! Once dried, this yarn was undeniably logwood purple–and what’s more, the tendency to give and give and give is something I have found also characterises logwood. So on this occasion, I’m going to say this was NOT sanderswood, it was logwood. And, I see I had the same kind of result in 2013–so there may have been an entire batch mixed up somewhere in the past that came to our Guild!
5 responses to “Tuffsocksnaturally dyeing: sanderswood *cough* edition”
How fascinating. I’m sure I have some lurkers in my dye cupboard. May need to take another look. I hadn’t heard of Sanderswood before.
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The lurkers can be good fun! And in my case, having inherited dyestuffs from my fellow Guildies has led to research projects about all kinds of dyes I would never have purchased or known about.
I’m remembering staying in a village in Papua in 1970 where people had beautiful miniature gourds of lime which they applied in lines on their teeth (using the little animal(?) tooth stopper of the gourd) before chewing betel nut. The result was certainly a brilliant red and an apparently long lasting dye for teeth and gums! (I tried the betel but but not the lime)
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Oh, so they used it with lime? I’ve heard that betel nut is chewed with an alkali, but what a fabulous description, Mag! Thanks for sharing it.
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