Natural Dyeing: Day Two

Mordanted yarn waiting to be dyed.
Friday was dye day, all our base yarns were mordanted and ready to go. We did a little math to determine the measurements for our dye solutions and then it was straight to the barn to extract the dyes and start dyeing our fibers. The most important thing I learned about natural dyes was that each one works differently. Some are sensitive to temperature, some are sensitive to oxygen and some, like ours, are highly sensitive to pH levels. Slight variations can give you totally different results so good record keeping is extremely important for replication.

Measuring out the bugs for extracting the dye.
As I mentioned yesterday, Chris and I chose cochineal as our dye matter. For those who don't already know, cochineal is a type of beetle that lives on cactus in South and Central America and produces lots of carminic acid which is used for making the red dye that goes into everything from make-up to M&Ms. Cochineal is a point of debate with vegans and in the past I have avoided it, but when I signed up for this workshop I knew it was one of the materials we would be dealing with and I made the decision to participate at least this once. 
We pulverized the dried beetles in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder.
In the past when I have seen cochineal dyes they have always been in the extract form which is a bright red powder. The cochineal we used for the workshop was in dried beetle form. We measured out the beetles, ground them up in a coffee grinder and extracted the dye on the stove top three times until we had a 15% wog in a 1000mL solution. I won't go into the process, but I will address the smell which was one of the worst things I have ever dealt with. Chris and I had to take turns stirring and breathing and once we were done the smell had permeated our skin, clothing, and hair so much so that we had trouble eating lunch. It was not a pleasant experience.
Between extractions we strained the cochineal through a surgical sponge, resembling a bloody mess and in the end we had 1000mL of dye solution.
Finally, it was time to dye. Cochineal is very sensitive to pH- too much acidity will make the color go warmer and too much alkali will make the color go cooler. For this reason, we used distilled water throughout the entire process to try and control our dye stock. Unfortunately, we still had issue with the color heading into a cooler zone- our lightest version was lavender instead of pink. Chris and I decided to correct this by making a 6% wog solution of cream of tartar and run all of our dyed yarn back through it to warm the color. After we finished (last due to our misadventures in chemistry,) there was still quite a bit of dye left in our pot so both Chris and I decided to mordant some of our own yarn overnight so that we could exhaust the bath the next day.
Marigold heads in the pot. The mesh bag is a 5 gallon paint strainer which makes it easy to remove the flowers from the stock when you are finished. Brilliant.
At the very end of the day, Dagmar pulled out a bag of marigold heads and showed us how to extract the dye from them. If you are looking for an easy dye experience, go for the marigolds. There is no math or chemistry involved and they smell delightful. It was a nice way to finish out the day.
By the end of the second day we had achieved quite a few colors. On the third day we overdyed 1/3 of these with indigo and shifted the color of 1/3 with iron.

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