Cabbage Blues

I’ve started some testing of natural dyes with three different types of yarn. One is 4 ply (fingering) non-superwash merino, one is superwash merino in DK and the third is a mixed yarn of baby alpaca, silk and linen. Having read quite a bit about dyeing I expected that these would all take up colour in different ways. I anticipated that the non-superwash would be the best as it hasn’t had the treatment that removes or suppresses the scales on each wool fibre. These are the scales that bind together to create felting. As you tend not to want felted wool if you are hand knitting, superwash can be a real bonus. I was wrong, the superwash process actually improves the take up of colour. There is a great post on superwash on Mason Dixon Knitting.

Back to my dye tests. The mixed yarn has both protein fibres from alpacas and silk moth larvae, as well as cellulose fibres from a plant, linen. So with two different protein fibres and a cellulose one I expected problems. I love this yarn which is why I decided to try it out. I love a challenge.

I started out with a small pan with a chopped quarter of a red cabbage bubbling away on the cooker. The colour comes out very easily and I soon had a pan of dye. I didn’t use any mordant for these – I’ll introduce this later in my tests. I took about a third of the liquid for my first run with the yarn. Red cabbage produces a very clever liquid that acts as a pH indicator showing how acid or alkali it is. If you want to keep the purple, leave it or add a drop or two of acid (lemon or vinegar) and for a blue, add some alkali. I really wanted to try and get a blue colour so added a teaspoonful of disolved bicarbinate of soda. Wow – it turns blue! I wasn’t very controlled with this bit and so I probaby added too much. So the yarn was wetted and added to the pan. (with the cabbage strained out). I warmed it back up to nearly boiling and then left it over night. You can see the results below. I suspect I made the liquid too alkaline as it actually turned them all green.

I left them to dry and following the advice that to create a stronger colour, dyed again rather than use a strong dye. I used more of my original pan of dye and this time carefully added the bicarb drop by drop till the liquid had just turned from purple to blue. I again warmed the dye with the yarns and left them overnight. These created a much bluer colour. I did this again for a third time and again the blue tone increased.

From left to right, 1st, 2nd and 3rd dye lots.

On the photos above, the top is the superwash merino, the right hand side is the non-superwash merino and the bottom has the alpace, silk and linen. The predominant colour is still green but with a slight bluish tint.

What was surprising was that the alpaca, silk, linen mix seemed to take the best colour from the dye. The non-superwash was very reluctant to change colour and the superwash DK much better. For a first attempt I’m very pleased and will make a start on some safflower yellow next.

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