I love garbage.
Let me explain: I love taking things that would otherwise end up in the garbage and using them for something. The feeling of making something useful and valuable out of what would normally be considered disposable brings me great satisfaction.
So when I was told I could bring home the rotten avocados that had to be pulled from the shelf in the produce department at the co-op where I work, I was giddy. Hooray! Garbage to play with!
I removed the pits and skins from these castoffs, as well as from the avos that I ate, over the course of a couple months. I knew from doing some research into natural dyeing that avocado pits and skins could be made into a dye that yields an earthy pink color, when managed correctly. There’s plenty of links to good blog posts about this process on my Pinterest Dyeing board.
Anyway, I ended up with around 2,600 g of avocado materials. A pretty healthy amount, which I needed considering the dyestuff to fiber ratio needs to be around 6:1 to get a deep color, according to the accounts I had read.
My materials were an assortment of things, because experimentation! I had about 428 g of materials to dye – some handspun alpaca yarn, wool roving and a Habotai silk scarf from Dharma Trading Company, an old silk shirt I wanted to upcycle, and some fugly cotton yarn just because I hated it. But before I dealt with any of these things, I had to extract the dye.
I piled up all of my avocado leavings, which had been stored in bags in the freezer until I built up enough, into a pot with about a gallon of filtered water and a cup of baking soda. The baking soda was to make the water alkaline, because (according to the blogs I read) acidity changes the dye and turns things brown rather than pink. I boiled this witchy brew for about 2 1/2 hours.
I was very excited to see that deep mauve color appearing in the bubbles as it boiled. I was less excited about the smell.
Once it had boiled for a good long time and the color of the water was opaque (almost black!) I strained all of it through cheesecloth into jars and let the dye cool. Since extracting the dye was an all-afternoon affair, I decided to store the dye in the fridge until the next phase.
Note that I could have dyed the materials in with the skins and pits all at once, but I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons: first, I was working with wool and it would felt if I had exposed it to such high temperatures, and second, I wanted a little more control over the process and the opportunity to dye the materials with different ratios of dye extract.
So I popped the jars of dye into the fridge after they had cooled off, until the next free afternoon I had available. To get the dye to take the fibers, I had to mordant my materials. I used alum and cream of tartar dissolved in distilled water, and soaked my materials in the mordant solution for a couple hours – next time, I’ll probably soak overnight.
One source said I needed 7 g cream of tartar and 8 g of Alum per 100 g of fabric/fiber, so I used a total of 31.5 g cream of tartar and 36 g of alum (both of these were obtained from Dharma Trading).
Once soaked in the mordant solution, I pulled everything out and began portioning the fibers out into quart canning jars. Each jar got an extra 1/8 cup baking soda just to be sure to keep the alkalinity of the water. Each jar also got a mixture of mordant solution and dye extract, and I purposefully squished the fabrics into the jars and poured dye over the top, to create an uneven reach for the dye. I wanted a nice earthy textured color effect. Which I got, sort of.
Next, the jars went into the canner on a rack, with some water at the bottom for steaming, and set on a low setting on the stove. Lid goes on, then waiting while the temp starts to slowly rise. The jar balanced precariously on the side is the one with the wool, raised further out of the bottom to avoid the danger of overheating and felting.
More waiting. And occasional poking with a stick.
Once my jars had been steaming for a couple hours, I turned the temperature off and left it overnight to cool.
The next morning, I removed the soggy mess from inside each jar and gently squeezed them into the sink, enjoying the fact that since I was using natural dyestuff, I didn’t have to worry too much about psychedelicizing my apartment kitchen by way of accidental splashing.
But, since I was using natural dyestuff, I also didn’t have to worry about psychedelicizing my fiber either. Since an alarming amount of dye seemed to be washing out – and the remaining color was a sad brown. With an intensely sinking feeling, I washed all of my materials in textile detergent and rinsed them, taking stock of my situation.
One alpaca skein seemed to have taken the dye well, the other was much paler, and the wool had some definite patches of well-dyed fiber. The habotai silk took some dye, with a couple dark patches, and the silk shirt not much at all. The cotton yarn, ugly to begin with, was now both ugly, brown, and tangled. In fact, I was kind of frustrated at this point and just pitched the cotton yarn straight into the trash. The rest I hung up to air dry.
One nugget of wisdom I’ve learned over the years so far is never to judge a dye batch before it’s fully dry. And though I already knew this, I spent the next few days calling the experiment a failure as it hung on my curtain rod, being shunned.
And then when it was fully dry I took it down and got a good look. I was surprised that the rosy pinks HAD come out after all, though it was still browner than I wanted in places. Overall, the earthy pink and hazel shades were really pleasing and I immediately forgave them all of their supposed misbehavior.
Not perfect, no. But since I gained a little success, and I have dye extract left over, there will definitely be a Batch 2! The rest of this post is just a bunch of pictures of the dye materials, because I do love them after all. Except for that stupid cotton yarn. 😛
So, moral of the story, it’s difficult and sometimes frustrating to try to learn new things with your art (or anything). But that’s because you have to push yourself to be better in order to grow – and if you love what you do, the risk of failure is nothing compared to the reward of learning.