local plant dye tests, Orach, part 1

I’m taking several approaches here with foraged plants, so what works for me might not work for you, depending on where your plant material is growing, and it’s growth habits/requirements. There are many variables in natural dyeing, from that fact of plant biome, to water factors such as Ph, soft vs hard, city tap vs well, seasonal factors like heat, rain and soil composition and hell, just plain “luck of the draw” and magic. (Despite my crusty, abrupt, oft irked attitude, i DO love Nature and believe there IS magic afoot there.) There *are* actual credited dye plants in my area, but i’m also experimenting with either lesser known, or new to me possibilities.

Red Orach, introduced to the neighbourhood as a garden “green” by my immediate neighbour, is prolifically self seeding and will grow ANYWHERE, as i’ve found it everywhere from our lush back meadow, to the neighbour’s sterile little golf green lawn, the rough berm across the road, and down on the riverbank. (Our soil here is river sediment/clay based.) I initially thought it was in the Rumex family, but it is in fact Atriplex hortensis, part of the Amaranthaceae classification. And yes, i AM drawn to it by the very fact too that it is red–i *know* plants like this are full of anthocyanins, a fugitive colourant that neither lasts in light (or dark, and why would you keep beet/bean/berry/red cabbage stained cloth/es in the dark if the dye is that bad????) or through washing. But, maybe i’ll get a different yellow than the other mostly yellow colouring plants i intend to try? BWAHAHAHA. As i’ve said before, most “local” plants give a range of yellow, yellow, yellow or yellow……. But i *might* get pink, peach, coral with the right post mordant/modifier treatments, on different fibres. (This worked well, back in the day, with rhubarb root.)



I thought i’d do the first test with our filtered water, as our tap water is very very hard, and loaded with iron as well, and truthfully there are few dyes that do well in hard water. I’m also simmering, not boiling, as most dyes shouldn’t go above 180 degrees F/80 degrees C.  A total of maybe 600grams?

After 20 minutes, the water did start turning pink, no surprise actually, because this plant is used also for food colouring, and the neighbours noted their kids wouldn’t eat an omelette after the addition of the leaves turned the eggs pink…… 🙂 Reminds me of when i was a kid and the family was camping. Late one night, supper, only food left eggs and strawberries. Dad threw them together, result pink puke that no one would touch. Ah, memories.

At 40 minutes:

Simmered for an hour, then cooled for another hour, i then strained all the plant material out (and the bugs…..i did rinse everything first, but there were Klingons apparently.) Because these are an edible, they will go right into the compost bin in the back40.

I  leave the whole bath letting it cool on the burner, my usual method. In it, i threw premordanted according to fibre type pieces of silk velvet, silk habotai, cotton swiss dot and a tannined, but not yet alum treated linen. (I can post mordant that one.) There is a BIG caveat here: the colour you see in a dye pot, is not always what you get on the fibre! (That’s why too many artily staged IG photos are just plain fraudulent.) I will leave all of these chunks in the pot for 2 days, occasionally raising the temp to prevent mold and alien lifeforms, as normally this is how i dye, leaving the fibres in anywhere from 8-36 hours, depending on how busy i am or if i forget!). Too, protein and cellulose fibres should actually be dyed separately as protein is greedier and grabs more of the dye, so cellulose results may be weaker. Whatever. It’s a test.

This is half an hour in the pot, again not very indicative of what the end results will be, but interesting in terms of chemistry, just a pull to see if anything is happening. These are unsqueezed, unrinsed, so keep that in mind!

On the weekend, i will do some post mods and mords, then start lightfast tests. I don’t expect miracles, but the hoofies are crossed anyways, in the spirit of admiring Nature’s magic.

I am drying another 600 grams or so. If the above test doesn’t really work as a dye, well, the dried may be added to something else as a weak tannin, or slightly acid something or other. Or tossed 🙂

EDIT: AS you will see from my next post, Orach is NOT a good textile grade dye!




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