Category Archives: Dyefastness

Summer Indigo 3: Happy endings and learnings

One of the fun things about doing a vat dye is watching the transformation through its many stages.  With indigo, even more so–because of the magical qualities of the dye–yellow while in solution in the vat but turning blue as soon as the fibre enters the air and oxygen reaches it, paired with the process involving multiple dips to build up depth of shade. Given my friend’s generosity with the camera, here are a few efforts to follow specific items through the process.

Cotton t-shirt with rubber band and loom band resist: before…





Lacy shirt rolled around a bottle and tied:




Pair of pants wrapped around a piece of garden hose and tied:




Screws tied into calico:


Really tightly tied!


There was a spectacular effect when they were untied–but it was temporary–the binding was so tight that air hadn’t reached the inside pleats despite rinsing and time on the line!



Marbles and rubber bands in a yellow t shirt:




So, given that all indigo vats are going to be learning experiences for me, possibly for the rest of my life… what did I notice and what did I learn?  Preparation of the fructose vat a day earlier worked well and this experience gave me confidence to try this process again and keep experimenting.


This time, I tried to hold onto what I learned from the last one: to trust my judgment about when to stop.  I am a beginner at this process.  But, limited as it is, my judgment is what I currently have, and judgment is there to be developed.  In my experience as a teacher, judgment is one of the most difficult, yet most important, things to acquire–but at least in dyeing the repercussions of poor judgment are more limited than in an operating theatre or a court!  This time, no evidence of crocking.


Some things were pale blue even after several dips. All of the calico items that went into the fructose vat, for instance.  I like the colour, but had not expected this.  I noticed that most of the items that only went into the fructose vat remained pale shades.  Some went from there to the colour run remover process when the fructose vat needed a rest–they were deeper.

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This might have been because the natural indigo in the fructose vat gave a different outcome to the synthetic indigo in the colour run remover vats.  It might have been due to the difference in processes or some failure of my understanding of the fructose process resulting in the oxygen not being sufficiently removed from the vat–though the colour of the vat was good.  It now occurs to me that I could have tested this by adding hydrosulphite to the exhaust of the fructose vat when I really couldn’t get much colour from it two days later. Next time?

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It might have meant the calico had a treatment that resisted dyeing–but other fabrics also came out pale.  We did dye a LOT of materials–and perhaps the fructose vat ran low on indigo.  It was in a bigger container so may have received more fabric (and more oxygen). But I had an exhaust vat extravaganza two days later and the colour run remover vats still gave colour–one in particular dyed quite a quantity of wool (after adjustment of the Ph to a level more suitable for protein fibres).

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Mmm… the indigo vat curiosity and the love continue… here, the fructose vat gets a cuddle as it warmly rests.


Filed under Dyefastness, Natural dyeing

Let’s try that again!


My indigo dyed sock yarn emerged from its vinegar and water soak a little improved.  Instead of being able to see blue on my fingers after just twisting the skeins and then being sble to see the track yarn takes around my fingers when I knit in blue detail after only a row or two… it took winding the skein into a ball to produce this effect…


I decided to try casting on.  After casting on 64 stitches…


(That would be the long tail cast on for knitters who need to know!)  Well, it’s an option to knit and get blue fingers: people who seem to know on Ravelry say the resulting garment will not lose dye onto the wearer.  Why not, I wonder–as a sock will clearly be in friction with the feet it is on and crocking is all about dye loss through friction rather than washing.  Still, a little slower rate of dye loss would be my preference!  I’ve checked with the redoubtable J N Liles The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing (1990), and he would appear to be the source of my belief that if indigo crocks it will keep doing so.  He offers a method for addressing the problem that seems entirely logical but does involve some effort.  There is another simple solution suggested on Ravelry–a soymilk soak.  Since finding it mentioned on Ravelry, I’ve found John Marshall offering soymilk as a solution to crocking here.


On the premise of doing the simple things first, I’ll try that before proceeding to take Mr Liles’ advice, which would have to wait for a day with some relaxed hours.  As it happens, there were two part-used boxes of soymilk in the tearoom fridge at work… they have been there a long while and no one is claiming knowledge (one of them is mine but I’m not sure which one!)  They smell fine but I think they’re past the point of safe human consumption. What an opportunity!  Now we wait.


I made a little hat to match the big one.  Same basic hat, smaller, and top-down so I could use all the yarn.  I am sure it will fit a little person or perhaps a doll or a bear…


And… I had a score at the op shop (thrift store) on my way home from work.  I could not resist all that thread for A$2 and there were so many examples of lovely embroidery I had to bring one home…


Filed under Dyefastness, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Travel Knitting

I have been travelling for work… and then my oldest friend invited me to his birthday… so I have been extending my carbon footprint by going to Perth for work, then to my friend’s birthday on my way home (for those who don’t know, Sydney is not on the way home to Adelaide, when you start out in Perth).

Anyway… in the hurry to leave home I managed to remember to pack travel knitting.  I started out with a sock in progress.  Eucalyptus dyed patonyle, destined for the feet of my Blue Mountains friends.  The weather where they live calls for handknit socks.


These colours are the result of overdyes, where I didn’t like the initial colour and decided to try again.  By the time I left for Perth, I had one sock knit and another underway and caused quite a bit of fascination among the project team by knitting in breaks and grafting a toe over lunch.


I had overdyed the rest of my patonyle more recently.  It started out dyed with black beans (not as colourfast as I’d like) and plum pine (not at all colourfast).


These yarns went into my first attempt at the Michel Garcia organic indigo vat.  I had reservations about my vat as I went… the Ph test strips I had bought turned out not to measure the part of the Ph spectrum I needed and in the end I ran out of time and should have left the vat to the next day.  On the up side, the preparation of the vat all made sense and most of it went really well.   I think my judgment about it was basically right, I just didn’t go with my judgment as I should have done.  My friend dyed a doily:


I re-dyed the sock yarn, originally bought second hand at a garage sale.


Although I was happy with the finished colours, it turned out that I had hurried the indigo too much and I was left with crocking… the blue rubbed of on my hands a lot as I was knitting in Perth.  This made it certain the finished socks would leave the wearer with blue feet and I finally decided to abandon them after a few centimetres, frogged and left the yarn in a bin in Perth.  Sigh!  That must be the fiirst dyeing fail I have pronounced irretrievable.

I had an alternative plan.  I pulled out yarn I intended for a hat and chose one of the two patterns in my bag, Jared Flood’s Turn a Square.  I wound the ball in my motel room and cast on. Here it is as I wait for the taxi to the airport in Perth.


The time difference between Western Australia (Perth) and the rest of the country is considerable, so even though the flight was four and a half hours, I left Perth at 10 am and arrived in Sydney at 5 pm, and here is the hat in the Sydney airport:


Here it is in Sydney about to depart for Adelaide next day…


I finished it on the way and started a second hat with the rest of the skein, top down. I’d call that a productive trip on many fronts!



Filed under Dyefastness, Knitting, Natural dyeing

Plum Pine 5: Lightfastness

Having discovered that plum pine had so much potential for colour, I felt obliged to test for lightfastness and washfastness. This is my lightfastness testing apparatus on the day I set it up: it is a none too sophisticated set of threads wrapped around card, inside a heavy card envelope with a window cut out of it, which has been sitting in the front window since 23 June 2013.


At the top, 3 silk thread samples, handspun Wensleydale, handspun Polwarth, two shades dyed on BWM alpaca rich and finally, two shades dyed on Patonyle (superwash woool+nylon blend).

After over a month in the (winter) sun, fading is quite evident.  I realise now that I could have made a lightfastness test which made the results clearer, but you’re stuck with my limitations on this learning curve. If you squint, you can see the original colour at the sides.  The fibre that performed best was the handspun wensleydale with alum.  It was also the winner on the washfastness test.


I have to say that I think I have chosen well in using the bulk of the yarn I dyed for some slippers (they are Fibertrends Clogs), which might spend their lives tucked under a bed and come out only at night!  Here they are awaiting felting…


And here they are after a wash at 40C, with some commercially dyed companions.



Filed under Dye Plants, Dyefastness, Natural dyeing

Plum Pine 4: Washfastness

I decided the obvious way to test for washfastness was to wash.  So I embroidered with the plum pine fruit–no mordant–silk thread, and with the plum pine fruit-with alum and cream of tartar on a piece of cotton… and added a little eucalyptus dyed silk thread for good measure.  Not the best example of embroidery ever seen, but it will do the job.  The two upper examples were purple (like the thread on the cards) when they went into a normal wash–30C with eco-detergent.  One wash later, the no-alum sample is grey and the with-alum sample is green-grey.  Eucalyptus shows its true colours yet again.


Yesterday I tried washing my sample cards at 40C with eco-balls (we have laundry variety here, as you will shortly understand) and they were still purple when they came out of the wash.  Interesting… this made me wonder if part of what is going on here about Ph.  Detergent would be more alkaline than eco-balls.

After 4 more washes:


You might remember that I did some darning with my early silk samples.  They have not fared well either–but the mending is still doing the job!  The pink is still pink, but much faded after what I would guess as being about 8-10 washes.  The purple is blue, and paler.


I knit some test samples from my yarns.  They fared better, washed with other woollens, cold with soapnuts rather than detergent (if anything, a slightly acidic wash).  The sample on the right has two shades of plum pine with alum and CoT on BWM alpaca rich, with a band of cotton used to tie the skeins in between because this yarn took so much colour during the dyeing I was curious.  The sample on the left has two shades of plum pine on patonyle (wool and nylon superwash sock yarn and a sample of handspun Wensleydale).  One has gone from purple to grey and the other from purple to blue.  Blue?  Before:


After, with unwashed BWM Alpaca Rich in the background for comparison.


Well then.  Not what you’d call really excellent washfastness. And some new mysteries to ponder, as usual.


Filed under Dye Plants, Dyefastness, Natural dyeing