Adventures in Plant Dying 1 – from our Waldorf Handwork Teachers

The Handwork teachers at Valley Waldorf City School are spending the year switching over to yarn and fibers dyed with plants by the students and teachers.

We are trying to include the students in each part of the process, and do a little bit each week.  One week we scoured the wool yarn using a gentle detergent and boiling.  The next week we did the same to our cotton fibers with soda ash.

Once we have the yarn scoured we set aside a certain amount to pre-mordant.  Mordanting is the process of adding a metal component to the fiber so that dye will adhere to it.  As we say to the children.  The mordant holds hands with the yarn and the color.  It is the glue between them.  A mordant is simply a metal such as copper, iron, alum etc.  You can purchase it in powered form, or create your own mordant by soaking a rusty nail or copper fragments in water.  You boil the yarn again with the mordant in the water.

Once you have mordanted yarn you can focus on the fun part… dying the yarn!

Our first experiment was using oak galls, which we harvested from oak trees in the fall.  These are abandoned wasp nests.  When crushed into bits and boiled in water it creates a tan colored dye.  This dye does not require mordanted yarn as there is natural alum in the nest.  We were expecting a more golden brown, but our particular batch came out slightly ash tan brown.  Perfect for the skin of a gnome!

Next we boiled some onion skins and used both mordanted and un-mordanted yarn to create a gorgeous golden yellow color!  This color is perfect for the second grade lion project.

Today we crushed some cochineal!

Cochineal are little bugs that make reds from magenta to blood depending on the amount and the mordant used.  We crushed the dried bugs using a pestle and mortar.  We will be adding some cream of tartar to the dried bugs and making a dye bath in the coming days.


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