In my last post about dyeing with apple tree bark, I showed off my finished yarn (sort of a soft mustard with a touch of peach… but in actuality I did the research first, and then did some totally different dyeing before going back to what I had researched.
I wanted the chance to dye just with apple leaves, and a chance to dye just with the bark – BUT in all of my research I got antsy… too antsy to wait for the bark to soak, and too antsy to find the alum for the leaves and do the pre-dye mordant.
Also, when I had harvested the leaves and twigs, I made three piles. One just leaves, one large twigs without any leaves to shave down for the bark, and a third with little twigs with the leaves still on them. I hoped that this last pile would allow the tannins in the twig bark to act as the mordant that the leaf-dye would need.
I like the idea of not using an alum mordant, because in Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour she questions if dyers in the early Anglo-Saxon period (AD450 – AD700) would have had access to alum for a dyeing mordant.
“Alum shale was not discovered in England until the 17th century and before then alum had to be imported, mainly from the Mediterranean. Most experts seem to doubt that mineral alum would have been available widely, if at all, in England during the early Anglo-Saxon period.” – Anglo-Saxon Dye Experiments – Part 1
Since my main persona is from 900s Iceland, this isn’t dead on… but I thought it’s worth considering. If the mineral alum would have been imported, she suspects a modest dyer may have sought other alternatives.
I’ve also read that a number of the dyes that have commonly been associated with the Viking Age (my specific areas of interest) aren’t super colourfast. Since it’s regularly said that the Vikings liked bright and bold colours, I wonder if it’s possible they would have re-dyed their clothing if it became faded?
I used 0.126kg (according to my kitchen scale) aka 126 grams or 0.27lbs. of leaves on twigs, in my big enamel stock pot, and enough melted snow water to cover the leaves. I wanted to try snow-water since we had a huge dump of snow two days earlier, and I thought it might be cool to try it with unprocessed water.
I’ve subsequently read that the closest thing to medieval-period (untreated) water would be distilled water, but I’m not about to buy water for dyeing…so rainwater and snow water might be the next best thing!
I had read that bark didn’t like to be boiled, so I kept the pot on medium on the stove, and heated it to barely a simmer, and then let it simmer for 30 minutes. The dye liquor was sort of a yellow-brown. Not super inspiring.
Then I let the pot cool a bit, and put in two skeins of handspun natural white Romney wool yarn (the sliver was from the UK, bought at Shuttleworks – a now-closed supplier south of Calgary). It’s a two-ply s-twist yarn (singles spun z-twist). The wool started picking up dye quite quickly, shifting from a yellowish off-white to a light coral quite quickly.
I raised the pot back up to medium, and let it soak in almost-simmer for…. well longer than I intended. I had intended on half an hour, but then a friend came over and visited, so I think it was closer to 50 minutes. I let the yarn soak in the pot while the pot cooled, and then took it out.
While wet, the dyed wool is a coral-peach colour. Somewhere between pink and orange. Not too pale, but still I’d be happy with a bolder colour. I washed the wool skeins in regular tap water and a little soap, and rinsed it with water and a splash of vinegar, and then rinsed again. After hanging the wool to dry, it appeared that there was very little colour loss from the original dye.
There still seemed to be a lot of colour in the dyepot, so after letting the pot sit for 2 days, I turned the heat back on and popped in about .40m of 3.5oz (approx) weight white linen. The dyebath was a lovely lemon yellow, but right away – the linen wasn’t picking up any colour. I wondered if the dyebath was exhausted, but I still figured I’d give it a good 30 minute simmer to see what might happen.
Really.. not much. The resulting linen is a soft yellow with a *slight* green under-tone.
Linen is known to take up dye poorly though, so it could be either to blame… I didn’t put more wool into the dyebath to try to check.
In the photo below the dried fabric is shown alongside the wool yarn, on a white and grey counter. You can see the colour of the linen is incredibly pale compared to the yarn.
Do you have thoughts about why the linen was so much paler than the wool? Let me know in the comments below!
The scent… well I got used to the scent, but my housemate didn’t like it at all and found it overwhelming. I thought it smelled like dirty wet grass, or the smell of wet leaves left on the lawn after a snowfall…
A small fan and an open window helped a good deal… as did closing doors between the kitchen and other parts of the house.
Considering this dyestuff was totally free, and pretty easy to gather (no real prep work needed unlike the apple tree bark) and appears to be pretty colourfast from dye to first wash – I’d use it again.
However… the colour is not super inspiring, so I’d like to try it with the alum mordant or a modifier to see if I could get a bolder shade. Posters on the natural dyeing Facebook group also suggested putting baking soda into a bark bath.. so that might also be an easy option to bring out more pink colours.
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