Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tutorial: Sun Dying with Madder Root

Happy Hump Day! I hope that everyone is having a great week. I am enjoying my new found free time now that my Art Center job has come to an end. And with that freedom, I have finally found time to share with you all a little dying experiment I did earlier this summer.

A few years back I took a summer drawing class that involved making our own inks out of natural items: Berries, leaves, roots, etc. One of the inks we made was a nice, orange madder ink from the roots of the madder plant.  At the end of the class I managed to swipe a container full of the ink with the intentions of dying with it that summer.  Three summers later and I still had that container of about procrastination.

When I moved from Manhattan to back home I finally decided to use my madder dye, and went to my local Jo-anns (remember, yarn shop closed!) for something that was all wool. I settled on 2 skeins of (I think - I threw away the label and it's been over a month since I dyed this!) Lion Brand Sock-ease in white. The intention is that I will knit a lovely, lacey shawl with this yarn.

Once I wound the yarn into a hank, it was time to prepare my experiment.

For any natural dye (roots, berries, etc), you need to mordant your yarn first. When you mordant your yarn, you are making is so the dye will with bind to the fabric easier.  Mordant also allows your colors to to be light and light-fast. This whole process is probably the main reason I never got around to dying with this dye way back when. There are many different mordants, but for this project I used Alum and Cream of Tarter. 
Begin by rinsing out your yarn. Dissolve the correct amount of alum and cream of tarter in your dye vat with warm water (8% alum and 6% cream of tarter per 1lb of yarn). Once you have dissolved the mordant, place the rinsed yarn in the pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down your heat and allow the yarn to simmer for at least an hour. 

Once you have your yarn all mordanted, let it set in the pot for at least 24 hours, or longer if desired. 

After you have let the yarn cool, dump out your pot and rinse the yarn (but not too strong!). Now the fun part: Dying!
Obviously all my books talk about dying yarn on the stove, and generally that's what one should do. But it's summer and it was pretty hot that week. So I decided to turn to one of my favorite methods - Sun dying. Sun dying takes longer, but requires less work from the person, and thus it is worth the time. Haha.

Put your yarn in a glass jar with enough breathing room. Add your dye and extra water if needed to cover the yarn (you shouldn't have to add extra water if you planned correctly, I just didn't have enough dye to cover since this was 3 years old). Cover the top of your jar and set out in a nice sunny spot. Let it "cook" for a few days, or until you notice the yarn has absorbed all the color and the water is clear. 

Rinse your yarn out like you would any other dye project, and hang to dry. If all went well, you shouldn't lose any color when you rinse your yarn. Once it's dry, it should be ready for your next knitting project! 

Because my dye was three years old, and because I had to water it down a bit, I ended up with a nice tan color. In reality, you should get a nice deep brown or orange if you had more dye. I also lost a bit in rinsing, I hope that doesn't affect it when I go to knit.

Also, I didn't fully explain how to actually make the dye. It's been a long time, but for madder (or probably any natural plant material) it involves boiling down the roots in water. It's a bit confusing, but there are lots of tutorials and sites out there that will explain it better than I ever can. Here's a good link that I just found: Preparing Madder Roots. 

Like I said, I hope all of you out in blogland are having a great week. I have to work later today, Bleh.  But at least I am getting more time now to paint and knit. I will update everyone on those goings on in the next few days, I promise! Until then, Happy Wednesday!



  1. I really love how this dye turned out, it's such a simple process too once you get your dye ready. I'm surprised it kept that well for so long!

    1. Yea, there was a small bit of mold on top, but nothing major once i skimmed it off. I can't wait to find the perfect lace project for this!

  2. I think that's a lovely color! Nice and simple, no smelly stove simmering with vinegar either.

    1. I love my rainbow yarns, but I agree - vinigar is just annoying. And sometimes a nice muted brown is all you need !


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