avocado bandwagon

I’m willing to try some dyes that are not in the classic dye histories, at least not in “western” use, but i never assume they are going to work, or last. Avocado peels and pits are the newest trend/fashion it seems, and i admire some of the gorgeous pinks people are getting. I’m not normally a fan of pink, but it *is* in the red family, so why not a little experiment?

I’ve tried avocados before, and the first time, i got NADA, the second time, an insipid languishing Victorian heroine pink. I did the time-tested huck-it-in-a-pot-and-simmer method, and used premordanted fabrics, but. Didn’t bode well for further experimentation!

I decided to really search online for information but take very little on faith, particularly from some sites i’ve visited. When most of them are written by blackbean/turmeric/beetjuice/raspberry aficionados, there’s a large grain of salt attached to the “results”. There is however, Rebecca Desnos, a person who has done research and much experimentation and has had marvellous results. The only problem i personally have is that she only “mordants” with soy milk. (Soy milk is NOT a mordant, it is a binder…. and yes, i know it is a valid method of treating fabrics, as the Japanese have done for millennia for indigo usage, but still not a mordant as indigo does not require one, being substantive.) I will never use soy milk again, as the results i had with it were ABYSMAL, stripping colour from logwood and even wreaking havoc on potassium permanganate (an inorganic compound), though i have friends who swear by it.

Further research on my part has found that an alkaline soaking first will result in more colour being pulled from the plant materials, though i have also read that the colour is an anthocyanin, notoriously short on lightfastness. I’m not sure how long to leave it though in the solution, as it seems some are doing a couple of days, and others, several months.

I separated the skins from the pits, and these are the results after 2 days:

Above, peels, below, pits.

I didn’t chop the pits, so obviously it will take longer to extract any colour. The peels practically exploded after an hour, however. I’ll leave them until i think they are ready (how scientific is that? πŸ™‚ ) , or until it looks like they might just be about to go funky.

And when i do use them, they will be on the correct cellulose/protein appropriately premordanted fibres, and lightfast tests will be conducted.


something other than red

Admittedly, i have had some ‘fails” with the madder pot, resulting in a plethora of bad browns, pallid oranges and wth-is-thats πŸ™‚ (Old mold, fridge scum, baby puke, baby shit, dog puke, dog….well, you get the picture.) Part of my problem is that i hesitate to throw away the dye bath, even when the colour left is a ghosty sad mud, with obviously not a lot of actual dyestuff left. Mordants and modifiers can only do so much magic too before it’s pointless with the colour left, and a person can have only so many decanted baths stored that more than likely will not be used again!

Madder is substantive though, which means most of the colour bonds hard with the fabric, (and requires no mordant really) which also means that even though i’m using the weaker resulting fabrics, any overdye has to be a rather heavy WOF.Β  I don’t need any more oranges, so rather than going with an easy dye like osage, i went with an easy dye like logwood, HA, with a post mordant/modifier dip of iron for lightfastness.

WONDERFUL purples and mottlings!

These may not be “suitable” for the project garment, even though they are part madder, but as narrow splash splices, i might get away with a teeny bit of it.



embroidery finished on pocket!

I just have to add some beading, and a bit of vintage lace (also madder dyed πŸ™‚ ), a top band and then can move on to other parts of the garment.

I think it’s wonderful that all shades on this, except for the greens, are from various mordants and modifiers with madder on cotton (background), and wool, silk and cotton threads.

I *like* getting madder!

sharing the bounty

Though i could probably make several garments from the fabrics and threads created so far, during the Summer Madder Project, i’ve decided to add some to the shop.

All of these have been properly prepped, premordanted and dyed according to well researched practices, and historically accurate methods. I haven’t cut any corners just so i can make some coin, as i intend to use bits in my own work–and why short myself?! All of course, are natural fibres, in various weights of silk and cotton, as are the threads. All have been well rinsed after, and because they are done correctly to begin with, there should be no bleeding. Your methods of care may influence the colour, but not out of the ordinary. (Even synthetics can fade…) All natural dyes should be treated with care ie, minimal sun exposure (you can wear it once in awhile at a sunny festival, but not everyday), proper wash handling, which means hand washed with a NEUTRAL soap (Dawn Original dish soap, believe it or not, is perfect, and is what i use), and storage in a closed drawer, closet or box. This all being said, if you are adding it to your stash to use in art textiles, rather than wearables, well, most of that doesn’t apply, except for the sun exposure. Nobody hangs a painting where sun will hit it, and neither will you with your art, will you? πŸ™‚

AND , because i DO things correctly, you will NEVER find stuff like this in my shop! Someone is going to waste 30 bucks and be forever angry about natural dyes and their longevity…………….(Link is now to a removed item, though there are plenty of other items in her shop that are still “dyed” with beet juice, turmeric and black beans, notoriously fugitive stains…. )


EDIT June 8/18:Β  Further to the beet juice “dyed” yarn on Etsy from the link above, i received a demand from the “dyer” to remove the link from my blog, as a bad example of natural dyeing. She boasted that her methods ARE historically accurate, and that she has a “niche market”………This is part of my response: “If this were true, my dear, you would not be using beet juice, as it is a fugitive stain, not a dye, and appears nowhere in historically accurate dye research, samples or extant work…..People, particularly clients, deserve the truth and accuracy that a skilled craftsperson brings to the field.” That niche market is going to be sorely disappointed. Edit again: that link was removed, but she still has other stained, rather than naturally dyed items……….

And i *won’t* be removing the link. Links, correctly done (because they’re presenting ALL the information ON that link), by the way, are not “stealing”–who’s “taking” anything? If i were praising someone, you can bet they wouldn’t say the same……

I *don’t* wish ill to this person, but i completely disagree with her business ethics, and integrity. She does herself no favours either, but will go broke when people start demanding their money back, or passing on the word that there is no point shopping there.Β  Sad, especially since the correct knowledge is in at least a visit to the library!

madder stash—and more “boring” madder notes :)

The pile so far for the Summer Madder Project project:

Cottons, silks, threads, and trims in wool, silk and cotton, these are the grist for the garment i am creating from this summer of study.

I’m glad i started with a small “canvas” in choosing one of the pockets to start with, as it has led to a lot of note taking and sketching for other components of the garment. I decided too that some areas can be pieced together first, and then “worked”, and others will be worked independently, with “cross-overs” to integrate the whole. I’m also thinking this could become quite an ornate piece of wearable art, and that it may extend past the summer, because of the amount of handwork. That’s okay though: i didn’t set myself a deadline, just a strategy to both keep myself busy after what i consider to be a long dry spell creatively speaking, and to learn more about natural dyes and all the science and mysteries of them.


Even though madder is a substantive dye, meaning it doesn’t have to have mordants, i’ve been experimenting with different premordants with it: celluloses need tannin and alum, or the dye just doesn’t attach properly, Β  Proteins accept dyes much easier but with other dyes that aren’t substantive, usually they require at least alum. In my experience though, mordants are crucial to getting deeper colours: one can only use so many pale peaches and pinks! I premordant everything now, as it not only influences the colour, it also helps more in lightfastness.

Though we do have hard water from our taps, when i use madder, i always add a Tums (calcium carbonate), and a 1/2 tsp of soda ash to shift it to more reds than yellows/oranges/browns. It doesn’t always work, though my track record says most of the time it does πŸ™‚ (Madder, weld, logwood and brazilwood need hard water, all other dyes do best in soft.)

Next up is some tests with rhubarb leaf mordant. The one we have in the Back40 is massive this year, so it’s perfectly willing to give up some material. I’ve used rhubarb *root* before as a dye, and had a gorgeous, rich, glowing green gold from it, but haven’t tried it as a mordant, because i have so little of it. Unless some house in the neighbourhood with a patch of it is sold and slated to be torn down, i can’t get more either!

And now i need to make some good greens for leaves and vines! I tested some of the rhubarb root dyed cotton embroidery thread i have, and love the rich greens i got with an iron mordant:

I’m going to try comfrey, also from in my garden, but will have to do some lightfast tests, as i can’t find much info online. It gets a page in Jenny Dean’s “Wild Color” book, but alas, no real mention of lightfastness, so i’d rather be safe than sorry. If it doesn’t work, well, at least it becomes a fab compost/fertilizer for the tomato plants!



As i was digging through drawers yesterday, i found one labelled “hibiscus”. OMG. I was SO thrilled when i did this waaay back,, but now look at it! I have since learned that most plant materials that are composed chemically with anthocyanins are NOT lightfast, which is why the damn beets, black beans, red cabbage and berries that so many wax ecstatic about DO NOT LAST. (In that link, scroll down to the “Anthocyanins” notes.)

looking rosey

I do love this detail.


They were a bit naked without the leaves, so dipping into the stash, i found a bit more of my naturally dyed greens.

Of course, as it so often happens when one falls in love with something, the supplies run out….Β  I have very limited quantities of these wools, because i “never use them”—-HA! Fortunately, i found a small ball undyed, so guess what i’m doing today? (Yes, i hear you groaning “oh fer…more damn madder dyeing….”) AND i have to dye more greens as well, as *that* part of the stash is also very low.

pocketing the difference

A happy start on the first pocket. To see how it’s progressing, scroll down!!!

Ahhhh, the different shades of madder! These are all cotton, and reasoning that pockets should be strong and capacious, i chose not to add silk to this, though i suppose with the method of construction, it would have been supported by the interlining. (The yellow “anchoring” machine stitch will be removed.)

The threads are silk, and wool. (The greens are from privet berries, on silk.) Because this, as i mentioned before, will have to be hand washed due to natural dye Ph sensitivity, i’m not being shy about using different fibre types together.

(Colours are truer in first photo–another reason i *usually* shoot in my sunny south facing studio between 2 and 4 PM, rather than the AM, like today πŸ™‚ )

The figures looked kind of floaty, so i added a curve below, a cupping earth if you will, and my favourite hexes/honeycombs/cells. And beads are coming, because, well, beads, and for awhile now i have wanted to add a bit of bling with naturals πŸ™‚

I thought this was still kind of flat looking, so dimensional roses will added at the edges, another motif i can carry across the whole garment.

At first i thought i would do my usual embroidered, then appliqued pieces above, (maybe too much dimension for this???) but stumbled across this from 2012:

Never finished, but certainly an inspiration for this project! I do have some chunkier wool to dye, along with some already done, so maybe i will have enough.

There’s a finely worked narrow band of antique laceΒ  and a chunk of vintage as well, and i’m hoping i can integrate those as well.

I don’t want anything saccharine sweet, but it might work. I’m going to have to add a solid band across the top also, as i forgot that gathering it a bit is going to distort the figures! The second pocket will be similar, but not identical–nothing says they have to match.