Category Archives: Dyeing

rinsed and dried

So…..obviously a soymilk mordant does little really for potassium permanganate on these cottons. They *are* nice shades, and the two plain pieces are somewhat mottled as i had hoped they would be, but they obviously weren’t fooled by Mr Smelly SoyMilk:

But alum, and gallnut with alum does. And longer soaks work too.

The first four are unmordanted fast dip-and-squishes, the fifth is a unmordanted 10 minute soak, six and seven are respectively, the alum, and the gallnut with alum, the last two are 5 minute unmordanted soaks.

Go figure. Soymilk mordanting is not all the exciting WooWoo treatment it’s cracked up to be after all, at least not here πŸ™‚

I love these various permutations of brown! HA, get that little (VERY little) joke PERMutation, haha PERMutation….

But i want still darker shades. Will pop some of these back in, and see what happens, and do some new batches with the A/G and A pre-mordants i have a stash of. I want CHOCOLATES (don’t we all?): milk chocolate, cocoa with milk chocolate, dark chocolate, bitter chocolate, mud pudding dirt deep soil chocolate—- THOSE browns. Rich, deep, satisfying, sombre, swarthy, earthy, atramentous, important, stately, statement, strong browns.

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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in Dyeing, potassium permanganate


first “potperm” results

Though i’ve used the vat at school, this is my first home usage of this scarey dangerous wonderful stuff πŸ™‚ so we’ll just call it the first results. I call it “potperm” simply because potassium permanganate is a mouthful, and one i commonly mangle in pronunciation as well, usually in front of knowledgeable people, resulting in some embarrassment. It’s also referred to as PP in “industry” usage.

Moronic giggle here: “i’m dyeing with PP today”.

And yes, i was apprehensive. Put on my Steel Loin-and-Bosom Girding Big Girl Pants and Bra Set (the beige ones, no sense in calling any more attention than usual) and suited up. I mixed my “vat” in the back alley, wearing an apron, respirator, safety glasses and neoprene gloves, and used a PLASTIC cup to mix in a PLASTIC bucket, with a PLASTIC handle, with NO metal bits. (And carried it by the bucket itself, as i trust no handle ever, given the potentially caustic splash factor.) This stuff is reactive with metals, so i’m not messing with metal lidded glass jars, metal pots, metal spoons, metal bowls, nuttin’ metal PERIOD. The bucket lid is TIGHT as well–apparently this stuff can blow (literally, UP) if it dries out. It *does* exhaust, of course, as it’s used: there’s only so much that can remain in suspension after repeated dips of cloth, something i found out at ACAD. (WHY did i think it would last forever??? Does any other dye? NO, duh, dumdumdum. Sometimes this Mad Textile Scientist can be rather dense….) I also hosed down the area after, thinking any minute particles would be diluted enough to harm neither friend nor foe (local wildlife and plants).

Since i intend to do some fair yardage with this “dye”, obviously i increased the proportions of water and potassium permanganate. (Most home usage i’ve noted is 1/4 to 2tsp per litre of water, whether for dye, garden application, or anti-fungal/antiseptic use.) That means i used 3/4 cup for 15 litres of water. (Not an exact measurement or conversion, but there’s a large margin here for colour depth, so adjust accordingly πŸ™‚ )

I did the actual dyeing on our concrete back patio, again hosing down after. I used some soymilk, alum, and alum with gallnut premordanted cottons ( 3 premordant solutions), and some unmordanted pieces, and was completely surprised by the results! (These photos below are all as the fabrics oxidize and dry. I’ll show photos of the dried effects and colours later in another entry.)

The soymilk took the least amount of dye, but hopefully once rinsed, the lovely mottling will stay as an effect:

You can see the major differences here in the soy (far right) and the unmordanted, left and middle:

Above, the middle fabrics are top a 5 minute soak, the bottom a 10 minute soak, not sure if this will make a difference either.

Not sure if the different dye absorption, dry rates on the main fabric and the threadwork will make a difference in end colour

The results, still oxidizing and drying:

Potperm comes out of the pot in various shades of purple, then oxidizes, like indigo does, but to browns, so don’t get excited by those pinker shades πŸ™‚ See those two bottom ones? The stripey one was mordanted with gallnut, the oneΒ  on the bottom rung was mordanted with gallnut and alum—quite a difference from the others! You also can’t see the ones on the other side that had longer soaks, as the light is whack.

Just as obviously, there are a lot of dye techniques to try out, from shibori to over-dye ( i know how it reacts with/to indigo, but how does it affect other dyes?), ecoprint to discharge*****. I think i’m going to have quite a stash. I also momentarily worried about what it would do to silk, but then i remembered that several years ago at the school, i did this one on 8mm habotai silk, a very sheer, delicate weight–it’s still fine, no damage. It appears the vat i used for this was very active also, possibly quite a new mix at the time, as the colour is deeper than i got this year during res.



Tip o’ the day: do not mix up with the mid morning break of iced coffee: same colour, different effect.

(YES, THAT IS A JOKE: i never eat or drink around dyes, dry, inert, mixed up or in use.)



oh gawdz…………………..i discovered my bucket of soymilk mordant shoved behind a box in the basement by Himself…….actually, it was fine moving it after THREE MONTHS–but OH SHIT THE REEK, as i poured it in the toilet. Oddly, no mold, just festering masses of curdlets…………………no crust even! just a solid mass. Weird Science at it’s best. Or worst.

it didn’t even shiver when i lifted it and carried it upstairs, no smell, no mold, weird, but the minute it was tipped…………. OH LORDY, there are no real descriptors……..

And since this is the bucket i used for the above, it was washed with boiling water and soap, and rinsed really really really really really well, as potperm can also react with other materials, organic and chemical. I dried it in sunshine. (No eclipse here, just some weird light and bent holes through a colander….totally underwhelming.)




making my own rules, potassium permanganate

I really like the effects i get with potassium permanganate, but there’s not a lot of info available, online, or in old books, when it comes to using it with cloth. Most sites tell you how to get rid of the “stains” when you are working with it, in either metal or wood applications, but not how to keep it! I *think* we might have done something with it in the textile arts program in the early 90’s at Capilano College, but if we did, i either took few notes (usually when i wasn’t that interested!), or i threw them out in a long ago purge…….

First of all, this stuff is actually Scarey Dangerous. Yes, very, no exaggeration, in application, storage and with other chemicals. It can be explosive, toxic, mutagenic, corrosive. I cringe when i see people sticking their hands in vats with no protection, but this one in particular made me yell at someone during res who did just that. But it’s also used as an anti-fungal, an antiseptic, water purification, in garden applications, for livestock use, and in science labs for staining specimens and slides.

(Ignore the “antidote” notes on the above, and check the MSDS for the real deal.)

It’s not a “natural dye”: it’s a chemical compound. So why use it if it’s so freekybeaky? Because i like the warm browns it can give, i like the way it chases (discharges, technically) indigo, i love the effects with rust and ecoprints. Respect for what we use as dyers, whether chemical or natural, can go a long way though and i have always stressed safety first in any of my own work, and certainly when i have taught classes. So i will use it, and with pleasure! (The few sites that have had any information make me shake my head too, as they blithely swish things around with bare hands……..)

I know brown is not an exciting colour to most people, and most natural dyers are going to use walnuts, chestnut, cutch or sequoia, or combine different dyebaths with various mordants and modifiers to get brown when they do want it πŸ™‚ (And i have, and do that as well. ) You’re not going to find potassium permanganate for sale on any dye house sites though, chemical or natural. I searched through chemical suppliers, university science sites, and finally water purification shops, and bought mine at a local supplier forΒ  “HVAC, Water Treatment, Fluid Handling and Conservation Industries .”Β  (I’ve heard it also referred to as “Condy’s Crystals”, an archaic name for it, and supposedly available at pharmacies/”chemists”, though i suspect that’s more in the UK than anywhere nearby!) And i asked for and got the 6 page MSDS that should go with ALL chemical use. (See that first link in this post.)

Initially, it’s expensive. I just about had a bird when i called and asked about the size they had on the website (10lbs)–$169.00!!!! The gentleman on the phone said though that they did have smaller 5 lb packages, at slightly less than half of that amount. In use though, it’s cheap, cheap, CHEAP. At 1/4 to 1 TSP per litre of water, it’s going to last a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time, great Cost Per Wear!

(HA. When i picked it up, he said someone else had just called and wanted that smaller size too, something he hasn’t sold much of in a good while. Maybe another dyer?)


ALL “mixing” of this will be done outside in a corner of the back40, wearing gloves, respirator and safety glasses. And lest anyone think i am totally looneytunes using this potentially bombwhacko product, a lot of textile program school scenarios have a vat of it in the wet studio, and no one has reported any Incidents. ALL dyeing should be handled with respect, safety and care.

I remember there are a few other things i can do with “potperm” and cloth, so am off to refresh my memory, and make my own (SAFE) rules for use.




becoming a purple thread

Certainly a vanity, thinking one knows everything, but i’ve always subscribed to “Learn something new everyday, and you know you’re not dead” — i *don’t* know everything, but i do my research and i’m happy to not only do the correct thing, but to riff on that once the lesson is learned. If i need an affirmation of something i’ve done or a puzzlement needs solving, i’ll ask, but i don’t JUST ask and expect the whole answer “with 8×10 glossies and paragraphs and arrows on the back” to be handed to me on a silver platter.

I remember asking a Contextural member a long time ago how she achieved a certain shade in her natural dyeing/ecoprinting, and she sweetly and truthfully replied “Every dyer has her secrets” with no smugness, and in all honesty. I took that to heart, learning what i could and often failing because i didn’t follow the basics first.

I’ve got that part well sussed now, and am quietly thrilled with the tried and true, and the experimenting. All of this past week’s naturally dyed threads here have notes on each as to what it is, but you’ll have to figure out certain parts for yourself πŸ™‚

And the details in close-up:

Where these threads go next will be “the long white gown”,Β  metaphorically speaking.


keeping the ball rolling

Definitely a different weight, lovely, looks like #5 perle when relaxed, but with tension in stitch will be equivalent to a #3–perfect!!

And i’ll be rolling it into balls–no desire to fight the twangles otherwise!

I had to resort to card bobbins after all for the previously dyed batch—the skeins are too fine to keep unsnarled otherwise, even in little zippies. (The silk i will leave as is ( :O ) as it actually is easier to unravel as i work!)

I’ll be doing all these colours again, as this new one is a silk/wool blend (previous was all wool), but am going to add some other colours as well, and some fermentation dyeing as well. I have a lovely vat of bubbling hollyhock…………….. I’m premordanting today, and tonight will pop them into their sweaty little baths.

I’ve been busy fondling and admiring these and figuring out what to stitch next. I think some will be on this fabric:

Tired yet of seeing that one languish in a heap!Β  I’ve never before experienced such vacillation in choosing to do something! The residency exhibit is going to be hung Aug 27th, and i still haven’t started anything for it, going back and forth with so many, too many ideas that just aren’t inspiring, or gelling. I *do* usually have a fallow period after completing a big work, but months long is just not going to cut it.

I might look to this for inspiration:

Haystack, 2010, hand and machine embroidery, naturally dyed cotton. In private collection.



natural dye thread results

The Booty, the Loot, the Prize:

For the record, i *never* actually store my threads this way, “cute” as it looks, because they develop kinks, and wool especially is snaggy, so better safe than sorry. . I don’t like those little cardboard “bobbins” either, for the same reason. These will be unwound after their DeMille close-up, and bagged. And why yes, they do need to be unreeled and smoothed, and unsnarled, some of them.

By the way, all photos are clickable, then click on the “size” above that photo’s “page”, and you can see more detail, and larger.

Most of the threads i use are cotton, commercially dyed and big brand names, though i’ll use whatever i get my hoofies on as long as it’s quality. I’ve used lately more silk, bamboo and rayon, most dyed “commercially” in the sense that they were originally intended for weavers, as finer warp and weft threads. (A VERY VERY generous friend gave them to me several years ago, and i’m slowly working my way through them, with no replacement possible.) I think i’ll be attending weaver events now πŸ™‚ There’s little natural dyeing done for this market, at least locally, but that’s okay–if i can find finer wools* in cream, beige, ivory, off white–well, you get the picture πŸ™‚

Since i have had little luck with deeper colours on cotton and linen (both cellulose) threads, i ordered a fine wool thread (protein) (ordered from Valdani, no current local weaver events!) and got these pleasing results.

Rhubarb root (no mordant/substantive on its own) left and right, rhubarb root/soda ash modifier:

The same thread piece above left with one end modified with ammonia, the other with copper (rhubarb by itself in the middle):

I still like the glow i got on silk thread 2 years ago though! I’ve thrown some more of that in the pot too πŸ™‚

I notice a greener tinge to the above, dyed with fresh rhubarb root, and the truer yellow of the dried, #4 thread in first photo at top of post).

Just for reference, i had played with rhubarb root in Oct of 2105 and got these results on fabrics:

  • 1.cotton first dip with bottom modified with soda ash dip
  • 2. 12mm silk hab rhubarb dip only (both this silk and the lone cotton strip were from the first bath dips)
  • 3.third (silk) strip shows how fast the bath exhausts
  • 4. the first silk dip with the first soda ash modify
  • 5. silk dyed in apparently exhausted bath, modified with ammonia
  • dyed in apparently exhausted bath, modified with soda ash
  • 7 silk from exhausted bath with soda ash dip
  • 8 is an 8mm silk hab, being tested for future work) from exhausted bath and ammonia dip

Note: rhubarb root gives quite deep colour, but the amount of plant material to fabric is REALLY high, probably 200 to 1 (!), so only the first use has any real value and it exhausts FAST. I’ve tried the leaves before but didn’t have great results. That being said, it’s easier to cut leaves off the one in the back 40, rather than digging up the roots that are left, thusly decimating the whole plant. Time to play with that again as well. All the rhubarb root i have is from a plant dug up two falls ago when they were tearing down the house next door. Nobody else will let me dig theirs up, go figure πŸ™‚

Left, brazilwood/alum mordant/soda ash modifier on wool; centre, brazilwood/alum and iron mordants/soda ash on wool; right, brazilwood/alum mordant/soda ash modifier on silk (AMAZing the colour uptake difference, ay?):

Since the silk went in AFTER the wool, i’m assuming the wool took up most of the reds. Wonderful though! EDIT: more wool in brazilwood, back to reds, obviously VERY different uptakes/reactions between wool and silk.

I’ve also ordered a 20%silk/80%wool blend thread, that i hope will give me an entirely different range of colours. Given the difference between the silk and the wool in the brazilwood, what will happen when both are in the mix together?

I must say the two on the left above were surprising: i thought the gallnut mordanted thread would be a deeper shade, not a *different* colour than the alum. They were done in two separate containers decanted from the same bath, so it’s not a case of one taking from the other. Proves that proper mordanting (and modifying) can really affect things! EDIT: I did a second batch where i switched the same containers, thinking it was a fluke, but nope: alum gives the blues with hollyhock and purples with gallnut, BUT i think the hollyhock bath started to ferment, as i got these darker shades on the right! It’s also starting to smell like poo….. I think i’ll throw some threads and scraps of fabric in, and try the long ferment method as well. Waste not, want not πŸ™‚

Hollyhock/alum/soda ash left, Hollyhock/gallnut/ammonia right :

and then i switched ends and dipped the alum mordanted in the ammonia, and the gallnut mordanted in the soda ash, but same difference, no third colour, odd!

A couple of “variegateds”, rhubarb root with brazilwood/gallnut/iron/soda ash top, and rhubarb root/alum/brazilwood/soda ash, bottom:

I did all of these as 10 yard pieces, thinking that’s enough for sampling. The colours i really like will have more done (with hoofies crossed that the results are reasonably consistent.) When i buy wool thread again, i want a slightly heavier weight–these are lovely but probably equivalent to a 1 ply 20wt! *The only problem with buying wool thread, is that there is no standard for weights, like there is for cotton. I always know what i’ll get with #3/5/8/12/18/20 in cotton (and silk is always fine due to its nature), but wool is labelled as lace, fingering etc with no real idea of what that means manufacturer to manufacturer.

Not sure yet what the next stitching work will actually be, not even sure i will have anything to show for the end of residency exhibit, but oh well. As i said, it’s been a slow Slow Summer, and i’m fine with that.


Posted by on July 26, 2017 in Dyeing, Ecoprints and Natural Dyes


slow slow summer

All i’m doing is experimenting, and adding knowledge, no stitching since finishing “Tabula Memoria”.

In all honesty too, time at ACAD for the residency has slipped away and i am left with a little more than a month to go, with very very little to show for it. Most of my ideas though are being utilized at home though so no loss really!


As much as i love all my commercially dyed threads, especially all the permutations of the variegated ones, i also want more naturally dyed choices, so i’m doing it myself. I can’t/won’t be doing huge batches, but enough to keep me happy at least. I’ll still use the “boughten” threads, and hopefully if all goes well with the pre-mordanting, will have a range of natural dye colours to supplement the arsenal.

I’ve gone through all my dyes and have enough of everything to get a BIG collection of colours, after different mordants and modifiers. This is more manageable in terms of space, time and effort also, as the batches can be quite small for threads.

Hoofies crossed.