Friday, 27 January 2017

Dyeing Wool with Crab Apple Bark

The crab apple tree is susceptible to fungus and also, puppy attack. My uncle told me the bark tastes sweet, which may be why the dog ate it. I never noticed what she had been up to, until the poor crab apple barely blossomed last spring. Then I saw most of the bark low down on the trunk had been scratched and chewed away. When the tree finally died and was cut down in autumn, I peeled a pile of the wood and kept half a bucket full of bark soaking in water. I've had good dye colours from pruned branches in previous years.


That bucket has been sat in the garage for months. The Plant Dyes Calendar project for February is bark dye, so it seemed opportune for me to make an early start with Crab Apple. Hoping the mould on the surface wouldn't matter, I added more water and simmered the lot for an hour. Various sources all say bark dye comes out clearer if you don't boil it. 


Despite my care, the actual dye fluid looked cloudy. The bark must have fermented well, because the pH had dropped to 4. Though I can't remember the original weight of bark, I sieved out a fair amount and decided the dye looked strong enough to try dyeing 300g wool. One 100g skein was premordanted with 10% alum and the other two were left unmordanted, all were soaked overnight before simmering for one hour in the crab apple bark dye bath and leaving to cool overnight. The picture shows how they looked while still damp next morning, the alum mordanted skein more yellow and the unmordanted skeins beige.




Another three 100g skeins went into the afterbath for a one hour simmer. The alum mordanted one came out a paler goldy yellow, the unmordanted ones paler pinky beige, no real surprises there. My two alum mordanted skeins from the first and second batch had a good rinse and spin and were hung up to dry while I got on with the more exciting part - modifying the colour of the unmordanted ones with iron and copper. Half the remaining dye bath was poured into another pot. Adding a splosh of fluid from a rusty jam jar of iron had an instant darkening effect. 


Adding copper water to the other half of the dye bath seemed rather to reduce its depth of colour - this photo shows the original dye afterbath on the left, iron in the middle and copper on the right.


Bits of copper pipe have been sitting in this jar of water and vinegar for years. Although I top it up occasionally, the strong blue suggests there is plenty of copper in the solution. Well, anyway, time to see what would happen. Into both modified dye baths went one skein from the first dye batch and one skein from the second batch for 20 minutes heating.

After rinsing and drying, here are all six skeins. From the far right working backwards to the left - alum premordant from first and second batch, iron modified from first and second batch (slightly more green than the grey this camera shows), copper modified from first and second batch. The ginger colour shows the copper modifier was effective. I remember getting much more green from iron modification when I used this Crab Apple tree bark before, but then, I didn't ferment it half so long and probably pruned living wood in late winter, not dead wood in Autumn. 


Good to confirm that bark dyes are as I remembered - much more interesting to modify than their initial beige suggests. The results do harmonise comfortably, too. This bulky thick and thin yarn has been sitting in a bag waiting for a purpose for a long time. Though it is lovely and soft, the wool is too weighty to dye much of it with flower dyes at any one time, too liable to pill to make hardwearing clothes or cushions. I am knitting it up into a lap blanket and even working with this wool is keeping me warm these cold evenings.





9 comments:

  1. I guess that the reasons for the rather pale colours lie in the long fermentation and dead wood. My results with apple tree prunings, which I believe comparable to bark, gave much stronger yellows and surprising pinks.

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    1. I think you are right. This wool has taken dye well in past experiments. I am dyeing with fresh birch bark now and I have decided the pale colours I'm getting from that have more to do with some other wool I bought. I shall have to learn to love pastels.

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    2. I am very much interested in your results from birch bark. Mine have been disappointments.

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  2. I love your colors-very soft looks like the perfect yarn for this project too

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  3. Thanks. The small blanket is finished and it is really cosy :)

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  4. Nice yarn! The 5th photo down looks like the Olsen twins, with dreadlocks! Do you sell your yarn in the local Artists shop? I love seeing the things you sell there.

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    1. Thanks. I have sold some yarn in the shop, but it is rare. I love it when a woolista comes in, if only for the conversation. I think I am going to hang on to some things for a bit - I've been invited to do a couple of talks and need stuff to show and tell.

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  5. Wow, good on you, I'm sure it will be fascinating. If I was in the UK I would fan girl it to your show and tell. I would bring a good notebook, camera and clean hands to have a pet of the yarn!

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