Friday, May 08, 2015

Blue Fingernails

My two day indigo dyeing marathon went really well. The first day I set up a vat both for practise and to do my own stuff first so I could be available to fetch and carry for my Spectrum Study Group yesterday. I dyed and over-dyed wool yarns, cotton yarn, cotton hankies, a silk/wool scarf and an antique linen damask tablecloth (complete with stains and holes). Nearly a kilo worth of stuff though not everything got a full coverage of dye.

I’m going to give you the full scoop here. Personally I love it when people share information on what works for them! The lye/thiox – properly referred to as sodium hydroxide and thiourea dioxide – vat is a pretty simple one to make. Just 3 ingredients but they have to balance just right. Interestingly I did some research and compared 7 or 8 different recipes and though most of them were pretty similar, one or two were quite different in their specified amounts. Note that in some countries you can’t get thiourea dioxide (aka spectralite) but instead have sodium hydrosulphite (aka sodium dithionite) instead. Just follow the same recipe but substitute hydros at twice the volume of thiox. Naturally in the end I threaded my own path through the conflicting information.

First I wetted out 25g (about 8 tsps.) of natural indigo:

Indigo mix

It smells wonderfully barnyard-ish! I used half and half Earthues and Maiwa’s Pitchi Reddy indigo. (The label is mine. A huge tin was shared among a whole group of dyers.) I’m not sure if either of these products are still available though Maiwa does have good quality natural indigo “from a farm in South India”, so probably the same stuff. The adorable Pitchi Reddy himself is featured in their documentary “Indigo: A World of Blue” which is a wonderful introduction to the subject. (Forgive me if I sound like I’m advertising but they are local and fair trade and I’ve been a customer for just about forever.) But I digress.

I wetted out the indigo powder in a small beaker (which I sadly broke today when putting it away). Then in a quart canning jar partially filled with hot water I carefully mixed in 2 tsps of lye. When that was dissolved I added the indigo, washing out the beaker with hot water into the jar until the beaker was clean and the jar was full. Lastly I sprinkled in 2 tsps of thiox and stirred gently. On went the lid and I popped the jar into a bucket of hot water to keep the temperature around 50C (120F) or a little warmer:

Indigo stock

Then I waited for about 15 minutes until the indigo stock turned greenish. Next I got the vat ready. I filled the tall bucket with hot water (not sure of the volume, I’ll have to measure it sometime) and added a little sprinkle of lye and a tsp of thiox to prep the vat for the introduction of the indigo stock. The fish tank heater keeps the vat at the optimum temperature of 50C (120F). We haven’t kept fish in decades so this heater has been used more in indigo vats! When the stock was ready I lowered the jar into the vat and let the stock out into the water carefully so as not to introduce air bubbles. Then I covered it all up with a couple of towels and left it for a little while to do its magic.

And it worked:


You can’t really see it but under that blue surface is a nice yellowish-green dye vat. It has iridescent coppery bits floating on top. From this vat I got this pile of goodies:


Plus the tablecloth which I didn’t put in the tray. Some things got 1 dip and some things got as many as 4 or 5. The brown yarn (walnut dyed) was only dipped partially in. The dark skein on top of it was dyed over gray. Very successful, I’d say. Plus I was able to keep the vat warm overnight so we could reuse it with fresh indigo stock the next day.

So yesterday we set up two vats: one re-using the vat above but with fresh indigo stock made exactly as before and one ferrous vat (ferrous sulphate, aka iron mordant, and calcium hydroxide, aka hydrated lime). I’d never made this type before but the instructions are here on Maiwa’s website. However do NOT start with “almost-boiling” water because if it’s too hot it will kill the indigo. Ask me how I know! We had to add more indigo before it would work properly. Better at around 60C (140F) or not much higher than that I think. Or you could try dissolving the iron and calx in hotter water and then add to the slightly cooler vat. After the initial start it can cool down to room temperature without losing strength. It can take awhile for this type of vat to get going so don’t be in a hurry for results right away. This one took about an hour or so to really get going. It might even take overnight.

We added some clean rocks to the bottom of the bucket to keep our fibres off the sediment. The ferrous vat looks odd:


The iron makes it not suitable for wool but this vat will last for a long time and won’t “die” like the lye/thiox vat. Believe it or not we got good colours from this one. They matched the other vat even though it didn’t look like it should. Apparently you can whisk air into it when you’re done and pour it on the compost pile.

Everyone worked hard dipping:


We immediately rinse in a bucket of fresh water before hanging things up to oxidise. Here’s the clothesline at one point:


Meanwhile I got time to unfurl my shibori pieces. My wool/silk twill gauze scarf came out lovely:


I’m very pleased. And here’s the 4 shibori hankies:


I learned a lot during our Shibori Study and found that there are some designs that aren’t really hard to accomplish. I just have to finish them!

In other news I promised an update on my garden. It’s not quite the tragedy that I first thought. Some things are starting to grow back. It helps that the weather has been very nice! But the peas are worse off than I thought and I’m not going to get any more rhubarb. It turned out that we are located in a small pocket that got the brunt of the hail storm and so suffered the worst! No wonder the news said there was no damage. Hah! I beg to differ. It just wasn’t very widespread. Only about a square kilometre that really got dumped on. The Eye of the Storm. Alas.

Oh well. Now I have zombie plants! Yes, I’m coping with humour. What else can you do?

1 comment:

Sharon in Surrey said...

Looks like you had a lot of fun dyeing everything from soup to nutz!!! The warm weekend & the gentle rains in the following week should work miracles on your garden. Don't give up yet.