"I look upon the dyepot and all is lost."It's not really magic, certainly not a dark art of any kind, although once upon a time, if you were a woman, especially a single, older one, your pots could land you in a world of trouble. I like to think of it as akin to alchemy, but it's not that, either. There's no mystery in it and it's not difficult-find a plant (or sometimes, an insect or a snail), cook it out in a pot of water, add a bit of this powder and that liquid to mordant the fibres. Stir the pot gently, heat things up, then sit back and wait. The mordants-substances such as alum, tin, chrome, copper and iron-allow the dyes to "bite" into the fibres, so that the colours are true and fast and bright. (Or not, as you wish. Mordanting in an iron pot darkens or "saddens" the colours; copper greens them.) Wash the residual dye off the fibres, set them out to dry as you bask in the beauty of it all.
It's not magic, really, but there's a sense of magic involved when I use natural dyes. While it is possible to replicate colours from natural dyes, just as one does from synthetic dyes, I prefer to indulge in joyful play with my pots, as I dye small amounts of wool, adding a pinch of this, a dollop of that, in the hot, summer days while the sun is strong enough to do much of my work for me and I can cook out my dyes in the backyard on the barbeque, rather than steam up my kitchen. In the past few days, I've dyed Montadale wool fleece with yellow onion skin, dried marigold flowers from my brother-in-law's garden and madder root, an ancient dyestuff once used to produce Turkey Red:
|Right side: White wool dyed with onion skins; bottom: white wool dyed with dried marigold flowers and various mordants; top left: white wool in exhaust bath of marigolds in an iron pot.|
|Madder and alum on Montadale fleece prior to rinsing.|
|Dyeing this week has kept me from spinning as much as I planned, but I'm almost through my first braid of BFL (Blue-faced Leicester) from The Wacky Windmill. I have another, similar braid and plan to do some fractal spinning for a shawl with this yarn.|
No, it's not magic, really. But it is really magical.