Avocado Dye – Batch 1

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 muchΒ  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.

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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. πŸ˜›

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Left to right – Alpaca, wool roving, wool roving, alpaca again, then silk

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The silk shirt just barely got a tinge, except for a few patches that were very dark. Still figuring out how that happened.

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I’ll be ripping this one up for silk fringe on my pixie belts anyway.

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The wool roving turned out nicer than expected, especially since for a moment I had thought I felted it!

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Definitely halfway spun already as I type this πŸ˜€

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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.

-MF

 

Fiber Review: Tussah Silk

Drop Spinning Tussah Silk

Being a big fan of taking dramatic, bipolar shifts in whatever projects I am working on (apparently), I took a break from my scratchy, wild Icelandic wool roving pile to work on spinning something else. While I am still enjoying the tangly, tugworthy, charms of the wild pile I featured in my last spinning post, I wanted to test out some fiber I’ve had in my basket for a long time: Tussah Silk.

240 yards, 19-22 WPI, 1.9 oz.

Drop-spun Icelandic wool: 240 yards, 19-22 WPI, 1.9 oz.

So different from the Icelandic! First, a word on Tussah:

Tussah silk is the “wild” type of silk, collected from worms “not specifically bred for silk production” according to this great post at Craftsy Blog. The cultivated type of silk is called Bombyx silk. The natural length of silk filament is about a kilometer long, produced from the worm all in one go to make a cocoon which is later boiled down and unwound to make the fiber. Yep, silk is made by boiling little worms to death, at least in traditional sericulture (silk production). I was a little traumatized about this, but then went on to read that there are silks made from cocoons that the worms have been allowed to leave. Still a pretty big bummer for the worms, though.

Corgi Hill Tussah

I purchased this fiber from Corgi Hill FarmΒ on Etsy, one of my favorite homegrown dye operations. Β This 2.1 oz silk top roving came in a simple but lovely dual-tone, chocolate brown with patches of the natural silk color, a very pretty cream with a golden sheen. Β I couldn’t wait to see how it would spin.

Silk feels so delicate that I was handling this light, thin roving like it was a relic from the lost city of Atlantis… until I pulled out a piece to test the staple length. It was long.Β The staple length of my silk top wasn’t a kilometer (thank goodness) – but it was about 5-6 inches, making for a much easier drafting length than I expected.

Flash forward to me spinning. What a smooth, dreamy quality this fiber has, allowing me to release the twist into the roving and just steadily draw the fibers out, with relatively little stopping and starting – OH CRAP the continuity just broke. And that is how it happens – in the blink of an eye, the gorgeous smooth silk just POOF falls away, giving almost no signals that the fiber is losing its grip. Usually when drop spinning I rely on the sight of my drafting fiber beginning to thin combined with the feel of the twist moving into my drafted fiber to tell me when I need to adjust.

Because while I have spun silk, I have never spun 100% silk, and the difference between silk and wool is amazing. Wool fibers are rough, scaly things that like to grab each other – so much that if you have owned a significant amount of wool clothing in your life, you know that it can be very hard to stop them from grabbing each other – and connecting and NEVER LETTING GO. It’s almost cute, if you are insane and like to personify fibers. I am and I do.

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Image originally from National Geographic (I think).

Silk doesn’t have those scales like wool, and so I like to think of silk fibers as the cool kids. Yeah, they will go along with the spinningΒ or whatever, but like.. don’t expect them toΒ try.Β Perhaps, as the Craftsy article I mentioned earlier suggested, I should have started out with silk hankies instead of combed silk top.

The end result is that I have to pay closer attention to my staple length in order to get that sweet, smooth draw without the silk fibers slipping out back to have a smoke (a.k.a- completely falling apart without notice).

But I really love working with this fiber, not only because it was a fun learning experience, but because it exemplifies those things I love about working with fiber in general – the surprising characters that can be coaxed from the simplest materials, the unending combinations of texture and color and stitch, the meditative level of concentration needed to transform a raw material, and most of all the constant reminder that we are linked by unbreakable fibers to the rest of our world… that our conveniences don’t come just from the store but are ultimately sourced from the complex living web of creatures of which we will always be a part.

Also it’s fun to pet.

-MF