Friday, June 19, 2009

More about Wood Dyes

In a comment on the previous post, Connie asked "So the denatured alcohol doesn't affect the fiber? I would think it did -- but then soda ash doesn't, except for silk, and it's pretty caustic."

The purpose of the alcohol is to draw the color out of the wood chips. Alcohol does this more thoroughly and faster than plain water. Once the liquid is a nice rich color, I dump the entire contents of the jar into a dyepot, heat gently (less than 140F), and strain the whole thing into a fresh pot. Then I add enough water so the dyebath is the right size for the amount of yarn I'm putting into it, add the mordanted yarn, and let sit.

The alcohol evaporates gradually as the dye does its magic. With the wood dyes, you never want the liquid to get hotter than 140F, so I either put the pot in the sun and don't heat it at all other than the solar effect, or in cool weather I get out the Salton warming tray and turn it to the "low" setting. Even that setting can sometimes get too warm, so I have to keep an eye on it and take the pot off the Salton if it gets too warm. Excess heat can have a negative effect on the resulting color.

I've used the alcohol-extracted wood dyes on silk and tencel, and can't detect any harshness to the fiber afterward. Not heating the dyebath probably helps prevent any possible damage. And the colors are glorious. See this post for a shot of the display board I made using thread wrappings next to the names of the wood that made the color.

I especially love the fact that the wood chips are a waste product - what's left after DH finishes turning the wood on the lathe, and he usually starts out with reclaimed, salvaged wood anyway. The chips go to the green-waste recycling facility eventually, I'm just using them to good purpose on their way to the recycler.

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