This will be my last post on this blog and it seems fitting that it’s a “here’s what I learned” post, given that the blog was started in 2012 to chronicle my quest to learn something new every day. If you follow me on my other blog, A Diva Moment, you’ll have read the news about my recent breast cancer diagnosis. As a result of the diagnosis, I am looking to simplify my life. While I have enjoyed blogging here for two years, the first year filled with learning and this past year filled with my quest to have a more organized house, keeping up two blogs isn’t really going to be practical. I will be keeping up my other blog which is where I am keeping friends and family updated on the cancer and its treatment. If you’d like to keep following me, please hop on over there and subscribe.
So this project started at the beginning of September when I decided I wanted to make another mei tai baby carrier for The Little Boss. I’ve made soooo many mei tais in the past 6 years, I was kinda getting bored with the same ol’ same ol’. To change things up, I decided to try my hand at dyeing fabric using natural dyes. I spent about a month collecting all sorts of scraps from the kitchen: onion peels, watermelon rinds, carrot peels, beet greens, celery greens. Pretty much, anything that had color, I stuck it in the color-coded bag and dumped it in the freezer.
Once I had enough raw materials, I set out to make the “dye stuff”. You have to have a ratio of 1:2 of dye stuff to water. So I had about 4 oz of red onion skins, which means I added roughly 8 ounces of water to a pot. Sometimes I had to add more water so that the raw materials were covered by water. Once covered by water, I turned on the burner, brought it to a boil, and then let it simmer for about an hour. At one point, I had all five burners going with dye stuff.
I was quite surprised at some of the colors that I got. Regular onion skins produced a very orangish color. Watermelon rinds produced nothing but a major stink! Sweet potatoes were also a giant flop. The red onions, beets and apple peels all made varying shades of pink and red. All of the greens produced a brownish-greenish color. I stored all of the dye in mason jars in the fridge so that they wouldn’t spoil while I got the fabric ready.
Preparing the fabric ended up taking several weeks rather than several days just because I didn’t have as much time as I had anticipated. I was going to be dyeing cotton fabric, which is a plant fiber (as opposed to an animal fiber like wool). Animal fibers accept dye beautifully with no preparation necessary. Plant fibers, on the other hand, need some coaxing in order to be dyed. You have to pre-mordant the fabric, which means you are treating it with something so that it will accept the dye. I chose to use tannin, which is found in acorns. As luck would have it, I happened to be working on this project in the fall, just as the oak trees were shedding acorns like crazy. I initially used the tiny acorns in my yard, but then found another tree in town that was dropping giant acorns that hadn’t yet been picked over by the squirrels. On a very windy day, the babes and I went out gathering acorns. We picked and then shelled 7 pounds of acorns!
In order to get the tannin out of the acorns, you have to boil them and then let them simmer for awhile. I couldn’t find any info on how much water to use, so I just got the biggest pot I had (a 12 qt stock pot), filled it with 2/3 of the acorns and then filled it up with water. The water turned a nice brown color. Theoretically, the acorns still had more tannin in them which could be accessed by boiling them again in water. As such, I bagged them all and dumped them in the freezer for the next dyeing project.
Now that the tannin was ready, I was ready to add my fabric.I had the precut pieces for the baby carrier that I had washed in a pH neutral detergent, (at least I think it was pH neutral) and had soaked it in cold water overnight. I removed the fabric from the water and placed it in the cold tannin. This is important. . . you don’t want to shock the fiber by moving it from cold water to hot or vice versa. I brought the pot to a simmer, then let it simmer for about an hour, at which point I turned off the flame and allowed the fiber to cool down in the water. The fiber was removed and washed by hand in the pH neutral soap, then I dumped it into a bowl of cool water while I prepared the next mordant: alum.
Why alum? Well, the tannin helps to prepare the fabric, while the alum helps to make sure the fabric will really accept the dye, thus giving you a more vivid color. The process with the alum was similar to that with the tannin. For 4 ounces of fiber, I used:
4t (20% of the fiber weight) of alum
1 ½ t (6% of the fiber weight) of washing soda
just enough water to cover up the fiber
Again, I brought the water up to a simmer then turned off the heat and let it steep for about 8 hours. The fiber was then rinsed and washed, and mordanted again with alum, rinsed, washed and then hung out to dry.
At this point, the fiber was ready to by dyed . . . finally, the fun could begin. I really had no idea how the colors were going to turn out. Just because the dye looked red, didn’t mean that’s what the final color would look like. I had a very hard time with red dyes, actually. NONE of the dyes I had took well at all. The fabric would look nice and pink, and then when I rinsed it, the color would rinse right out.I even tried heat setting the color by throwing the fabric in the dryer immediately after removing it from the dye pot. . . . .still, no luck. Even the beets yielded nothing! Weird, right? So I had to abandon my idea of red.
The actually dyeing of the fiber was quite similar to the pre-mordanting. The ratio of dye to fiber is 1:1. Again, placing the already soaking fiber in the dye when it was cool, bringing it up to a boil, then letting it simmer for an hour and letting it cool down in the pot overnight.
I did use two more dyes that didn’t come from kitchen scraps: black beans and tumeric. For the black beans, I just saved the water from soaking the beans overnight prior to cooking them. It was kind of a purple-ish color. For the tumeric, I used 2 oz of dried tumeric for every 4 oz of fiber, then added a bunch of water. Wow! That was STRONG smelling, but the color turned out gorgeous!
The final thing that I learned to do was to dye 3 different colors on one piece. It was actually not too hard. I just strung a clothes hanger over the pot, clipped the fabric that was not to be dyed onto the hanger using clothes pins, and let the appropriate amount of fabric dip into the dye. All in all, I was really pleased with how it turned out.
Here are a few pictures of the meitai. I’m totally in love with how this turned out. Not only is it crazy comfortable, the Little Boss likes it and the colors are just what I had in mind. I was going for something fall-like, and I think it worked.
Working on this dyeing project was really fun. Now I’m thinking about other things that I could dye. I’m planning on gathering plant materials in the spring to see how those differ from the food materials. Our yard has a gazillion flowers in it. From April through August, there is always something blooming. I’m thinking that many of the flowers would produce really amazing colors. I’m also planning on trying to use the solar oven again. It sort of flopped because the sun was just lower in the sky by the time I got it built. But, this summer, the babes and I plan on doing all sorts of fun experiments, dyeing included, in the oven!
And thus concludes my final post on this blog. Thank you all for coming along with me on my educational journey. I have learned all sorts of fun, interesting and sometimes useless bits of info, and my house is now much more organized that before. All in all, a winning situation.
The final tally for the organizing:
Total time: 92 hours
Total cost: $200
Blessings to you all!