Sunday, June 7, 2009

Plant Dyes

This morning was my first trip to the Kingfield Farmer's Market. One vendor was a lovely woman, Kim Christiansen, who experiments with natural dyes and yarn. I was mesmerized by her booth, perhaps because it was 50 degrees and I wished I'd brought my handwarmers. 

She explained that the color of a dye is a result of the dye substance, a mordant and the yarn itself. The mordant sets the dye on the fabric and different mordants can produce different colored results.

Pink yarn: Dyed with cochineal, a bug native to Latin America.  Cochineal was used by the Aztec and Maya populations, later coveted by the Europeans. Cochineal are now cultivated on cactus plants and you can mail-order them from Oaxaca, Mexico. The mordant for this yarn was Rhubarb leaves! I don't understand what it is about the chemical properties of these two substances together that works, but Kim does.

Yellow yarn: Dyed with rhubarb leaves and stems.

Brownish yarn: Dyed with ivy berries and "unknown berries."

Green yarn: This one is my favorite. Kim was leading a group of middle school students in a chemistry of dyeing class to gather experimental dyes. One kid wanted to try buckthorn berries. This invasive shrub attacks yards and public lands in Minnesota. Its berries are a deep blue and are guaranteed to stain your sidewalk. but, when used as dye on merino wool, buckthorn berries leave a beautiful green. Another wool skein dyed with buckthorn was a lighter green due to the specific reaction between that wool and the berry.

1 comment:

Jess said...

Great yarn! I am excited to see what you make with it and to figure out what to do with mine. If Kim's at the market each week, I'm going to have to start knitting faster!