a year of dyeing moons

embroidered moons, natural dye, arlee barr, hand embroideryAll natural dyes, cloth and threads πŸ™‚ (Exception, first two moons top left.)

I think it was 2015 when i bemoaned that i would never have a good assortment of naturally dyed deep rich colours in my threads. HA. Though i had been using natural dyes for a while, something wasn’t working. I kept trying though, sometimes having success, sometimes horrendous fails. What was wrong? So, i diligently re-read the books, taking notes in minutiae, going through each step consciously, and WOWZERS, suddenly things worked. When in doubt, “read the instruction manual”! BUT, read the whole thing, read it in order, don’t just jump to the recipes. I highly recommend any of Jenny Dean’s books, Maiwa’s instructions, J. Liles, Domonique Cardon and the like.

I learned about scouring: just because something is white/new doesn’t mean it’s clean. Most fibres have dirt, dust, wax, pectin, chemicals, oils and who knows what from the initial gathering and processing, the manufacturing whether cloth or thread, the handling, transportation, storage and packaging. (Even PFD fabrics can be suspect.) I was shocked to see the colour of the water from the freshly bought, new, tightly packaged white thread, and how much particulate was in it after a good thrashing with soda ash and soap in boiling (or almost boiling, depending on the fibre type) water! Brown! Yellow!! Pink!!?????

I learned about mordanting, proper mordanting. According to fibre type, according to what was actually a mordant (NO vinegar, salt, soy products), according to correct WOF use, according to historical use and extant samples. (I chortle now when i see the so-called “vivid” colours on soy mordanted fabrics…………the uptake is uneven on most fibres, gives predominantly pale to medium shades and i wonder about the lightfastnessness, especially since no one seems to show actual tests!)

I learned about WOF, the correct amount of dye in ratio to the weight of the fibre being dyed. Dumping a tablespoon of dye and seeing a dark colour in the pot doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to get on the fibre. And there was clear information being offered about the correct WOF for each type of dye, as they are not all the same.

I learned what an actual natural dye is. The hollyhock blooms, the hibiscus all went into the compost heap, the avocados kept as a tannin only. Lovely colours, but fugitive, no matter how mordanted. Not wasting my efforts, resources, time. (Yes, there are still natural dyes that aren’t as light or wash fast, but most can be coaxed with proper mordanting and/or post modifying.)

I learned about the effects of different mordants and pre or post modifying, about combining dyes and/or overdyeing, giving me an even more extensive array of colours and shades.

I learned about light and wash fastness. Oh boy, did i learn. The compost bin has thanked me on a few occasions.

The biggest thing i realized was TIME. With the exception of indigo, nothing comes out of my pots until it’s been in at least 8 hours, and often a day or two. It’s not instant gratification, nor a case of sitting and watching the pot boil, bemoaning “wasted” hours πŸ™‚ Like making homemade bread, most of the work is already done, and “waiting” can be either relaxing or productively spent elsewhere!

All of this has taught me patience this year, and while it’s still not a Perfect State for me, i’m getting there. I can turn away from the aggravating, the frustrating, those who “persist in their own stupidity” (as my Dear Mother says), and the willfully ignorant.


Mostly. I’m only human after all. Just trying to get better at it.




6 responses to “a year of dyeing moons

  1. Thanks Arlee for all your great posts on dyeing processes. I got a setup together for doing some dyeing outside this spring and am thankful for the β€œfailure β€œ posts which will surely save me from many wasted hours.
    Love all the moons!


    Liked by 1 person

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