Friday, May 31, 2013

Dyeing with natural materials - the summeranorak and nettles.

As I said in one of the posts regarding the winteranorak, I have turned my attention to the summeranorak now. I have been thinking about what colour to go for. Green's my favorit, but I have so much stuff in green allready. I chose to let the intended purpose for the anorak decide. I will most likely use it, when the weather is less than warm and sunny, meaning during the early hours, at night, when it's a bit colder or rains; autumn! So I figured I'd go for a brown colour, since that matches the seasonalcolours best.
I checked several sites for references, including the one I used last time; mainly pioneer thinking, but I also checked numerous other online sources. As a source for brown I knew I could use dandelionroots, bark, juniperberries and goldenrod. So I started collecting these.... and ran into difficulties! Dandelions we have plenty, collecting their roots however is easier said than done, give the very rocky soil we have here. Everytime I tried to dig one up, it broke, leaving only a small portion of the root attached to the plant. A small lesson learned here; wear gloves! It gets quit sticky, when the juices dry on your hands.... This way it would take an awefull long time and an equal amount of effort to collect enough. What about the bark then? There's plenty to go around? I knew it had to be the bark from an evergreen and since I had plenty of leftovers from the sprucetrees I cut down last autumn, I started cutting of the bark from that. When I was almost done I had a sudden impulse of genius!! Why not recheck the sources, befor using this material? Turns out I need pinebark, not spruce....... Bark is out the window too, then. By the way, use gloves. They're easier to remove than the resin....
Juniperberries, they should give a nice deep brown..... if they were available. Last option the goldenrod. Not really a plant you might find in the wild around here, but we have several patches of them in the garden. Unfortunately these patches are not all the big and I need plenty of goldenrodshoots. I also discovered we appearantly have 2 different species; one with dark purpleish stems and one with bright green ones. No idea if that makes any difference. Result; not enough material could be gathered, yet.

So I want for option 2; green.
Upon checking the sources I noticed I could, amongst other things, use nettles... Hey! We have plenty of those!! Checking the internet I came across a wide variety of brownish greens or greenish browns, depending on fabric, season, mordant and quantity.... Great. At least it will give a natural colour, instead of the bright, ivory kind of white the anorak has now.
So I started collecting nettles. Not my favorit kind of plant, since I happen to react quit a lot, when stung. Feeling the stings for hours is no fun, especially if your fingertips get that numb stinging sentation as if they are asleep. Where are my gloves?? I collected a good shoppingbag full, an estimated 2-3kg. The nettles are fresh and green, about 30-40cm in length and I used stems and leaves. Noticed a lot of snail ON the leaves. How come they do not get stung? Does their mucus protect them? I cut it all into small pieces and put them in a large kettle to soak overnight.

The bag was full with nettles and compacted. The kettle in the foreground was filled up to 75% with nettles after which I added water untill they were submerged.

The next day I started the dyeingproces. The anorak was first soaked thoroughly untill the fabric was evenly coloured. The parts that are not thoroughly soaked remain lighter. After that I put it into a large kettle too, but when I wanted to add the vinegar I discovered we had not enough left, only 1 liter of 12% concentrated vinegar. In the basement, however, I had a small jerrycan with leftover vinegar I used to take away rust from and give a patina to metal (see my demilitarising an axe-post). That was a good 2,5 liters too. Why not be a little adventerous and use that? So in it went too, after which I added 5 liters of water to submerge the anorak.

Be carefull when heating the water with anorak! Air trapped within the anorak expands when heated and when you stir or turn the anorak around, that air will escape, sending boiling hot droplets of diluted vinegar into the air!! Wear some protection, at least some gloves and long sleeves.

The kitchen resembles something like a witches' shag; large cauldrons, bubbling with concoctions of an unknown nature, nauxious fumes filling the air....
Allthough the nauxious fumes-part actually isn't quite true. The nettles are actually quite pleasantly smelling, indeed resembling spinach, which I happen to love! Even the vinegar isn't all that bad....

After boiling and simmering the anorak I noticed the vinegar dislodged a great deal of the mineral deposits you inevitably end up with when heating large volumes of water repeatedly, as it did in our Weckkettle. The result were a number of brownish orangy stains in the fabric, which I tried to rinse out as good as possible. Then the anorak went into the, by now, strained nettlesoup and that was boiled and simmered for another hour. The anorak was left to soak further for the rest of the day and night.

This morning I took out the anorak, rinsed it properly and ung it out to dry. I have to admit that I am not impressed or pleased with the endresult. The anorak has taken on a grey-greenish tinge, just enough to make it look like a dirty beige! I have to rethink my options!

As it was, just more yellow.

As it is
Why it didn't work?
I have no idea. Maybe the vinegarmordant wasn't potent enough, either because I used a large part of it befor or because it might have had a reaction to the mineral deposits in the kettle. Maybe the nettles were to young, lacking green colourpigments. Maybe the anorak isn't 100% cotton, but a polycottonblend after all.
What I did notice however, was that underneath the bottons the fabric was slightly more green. But no harm done. I can allways redye it! And I am less hesitant to try and cook  some nettles, now that I have smelled them. Even my oldest daughter thought they smelled good!


  1. So Ron's "adventures with dyeing" continue, eh? :) I applaud you for your efforts and persistence, which will eventually pay off when you find the right materials.

    Have you ever tried willow bark? When I was making cordage out of it one time, I soaked the bark (inner and outer still attached to one another) in hot water with baking soda. The white inner bark turned very dark brown. Is there any willow near you? I don't know which kind of willow I used, sorry!

    It might also be worth trying to dye a different piece of cloth, since the anorak might not be 100% cotton, as you mentioned.

  2. Hej Matt,
    I have to admit it's fun to do. And I'm not done with it just yet either.
    I have plenty of willow around here, but I'll wait untill I can get some of a fallen tree. Don't want to damage one unnecessarily. Should have know earlier though. A few weeks ago I stripped some bark of one and burned that....