Coming to the end of the school year, my son and I had already attempted all sorts of dyeing projects together. Eucalyptus bark, fig leaves, and oak galls are just a few of the natural materials that we tried. In April, we made a list of the strange things we hadn't yet experimented with but had considered:
Nasturtium flowers, indigo, moss or lichen, red onion skins, coffee grounds, dandelion root, beets, and sour grass. We chose three projects; this is what we got!
We literally hammered stems, leaves, and flowers into a pre-mordanted fabric. It was strange. I liked this process way more than my son. I thought this would be the highlight of his year (in the dyeing dept), getting to be a little dramatic by using a hammer, but he petered out pretty fast, and I happily finished the project with zest. After the transfer of color, we (I) rolled the napkins and tied them with cotton string. I follow a woman on instagram who dyes this way all the time, so I tried to mimic her work. I then simmered the bundled fabric in oak tannins, and let them sit for a day before unwrapping. Big reveal was the intense color of the sour grass petals. Very bright yellow...
It's a sad fact that even though I like coffee, I can't drink it. My system is hyper sensitive, and being awake for 72 hours in a row after an accidental cup (oops, sorry, forgot you wanted decaf!) is not fun. My husband, however, is an addict. With permission, we emptied our cabinets and freezer of all our old coffee, and made a strong brew, which the little one wanted to try. The orange cup from France came off the shelf (bordered by the two undyed napkins), and he got his first taste of probably the worst coffee ever made.
Once the napkins were dyed, rinsed, and dried. We popped one into my purse, went to our favorite coffee spot, and treated ourselves to proper coffee. The latte colored napkin took its very first field trip!
We waited all year before embarking on indigo. I knew it was a tricky dye to work with, and that there were some extra chemicals involved, so I wanted us to have a little bit of experience under our belts before this adventure. Making indigo dye from scratch is tricky business. First you need to grow the plant, then harvest and ferment it (kind of like tea), and then process the fermented leaves into a dye mixture (watch this awesome video!). Instead, I bought dehydrated dye mix from a supplier, and made the indigo dye vat from the crystals. Even at this point there was soda ash and another strange chemically thing to add in.
Handling the dye is altogether different, too. You have to be extremely gentle while working with the liquid dye, careful not to mix in much oxygen. So we read the instructions carefully--four or five times over. In the end (after a very dramatic color change when the napkins came out of the dye vat green, shifted to a shimmery purple, then eventually landed on deep blue), our napkins came out very indigo-looking--and with leftover dye in went a t-shirt, and a few other garments that needed a boost of something new. I'd say this was the most fun and rewarding dyeing experience of the year.
So that closes out our year of homeschooling science, folks! I can pretty much say that I enjoyed every minute of it--and the student, well... he's ready for some airplane launching and microscope gazing... :) In the meantime, we have a tablecloth to dye, because look at all of these amazing napkins we need to put to use!
Published: June 27, 2016 | Filed under: Home