Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dyeing with Stinging Nettle

Here is a 3 gallon pot of fresh Nettles. Early Monday morning, I harvested them by hand from my garden, and then gently tore the leaves to expose more of the cell walls to the water.   This will simmer for hours & eventually release its color so that I can dye with it. I, personally, don't use any synthetic dyes. It is necessary to use a mordant to make the color stay. Most often I use alum, but copper, tin and iron are sometimes used too.  For this dye bath, I'll use alum, but not yet.

Clothing dyed with Nettle is energetically protective to the wearer.  It is also magically transformative.  Do you know the story of the Twelve Wild Swans?  Rose must save her brothers by making each of them a nettle shirt.

After simmering for an hour or so, the water is beginning to show a hint of color.  

You might have noticed that I harvested these nettles at the height of summer.  Early in the spring, I love to eat tender young nettles.  they're deeply nourishing, but we can't eat them now because they would be irritating to our urinary tracts.  Once the dangling flowers have made an appearance, the time for eating nettles has passed.  These flowers have even gone to seed, and so I've put all of that - leaves, stems and seed heads - into the dye bath.

 Starting to see a little more color after 2 more hours.  I'll let this sit overnight and then return it to a simmer in the morning.

In the morning, I simmered for another 2 hours, and then let it sit all day.

By evening, 30 hours since I first started the pot of Nettles on the stove, there is deep color in the water.  I carefully strained out the plant material and gifted it to the compost pile.

This is when I added the alum, about 1/2 cup.  This method of dyeing is called Vat Dyeing.  The alum is added directly to the dye bath instead of soaking the fibers in mordant first.

I'm only dyeing silk pieces, and silk takes color very readily, so this method is very effective.

Sometimes the first piece from a dye bath is... um... less pleasing to the eye than the subsequent pieces. So I put in one silk camisole which I'll keep for myself in case the bath needs to be tweaked in some way.

This is after 20 minutes in the bath.  Sort of a golden glow.

And this is after about 45 minutes, rinsed but not washed.  I like it!  No tweaking necessary for this pot of color.

I like deep color saturation, so I turned off the flame under the pot, put in a silk sarong, and left it soaking overnight.  Beautiful gold.

This morning, after I took the sarong out, I added 4 more silk camisoles.  They'll stay in all day, and I'll take them out for rinsing and washing when I get home from the shop.

This photo shows you how there is nearly no color left in the water - it has all been taken up by the silk fibers.

Magical process...