In the world of natural dyes, the sources for blue are fairly limited. The obvious choice for blue is Indigo – but this wonderful dye requires either the use of a fermentation vat or the addition of a chemical to remove the oxygen from the dye vat and, just like with blue jeans, indigo will fade over time.
Woad flowers produce a blue dye, but where you might need 2-3 indigo plants to produce a vat of dye, you will need 24 woad plants. However, the combination of woad blue and weld yellow are supposed to result in Lincoln Green – the color worn by Robin Hood and his Merry Band, so we are planting woad this year in the yard.
Another source which has raised interest is the use of black beans. The resulting color with a black bean dye is more of a cadet blue.
The problem with black bean dyed wool is lightfastness. Folks have reported that their yarn, over time, faded to a light grey and the blue was lost. The best results with respect to lightfastness that I have found were produced following a long cold water soak, which still resulted in fading but it was along the same lines that you would get with an indigo, which to me is an acceptable level for a blue.
The first hint is use a superwash wool. Whatever the chemical action is that is used in producing it helps the dye adher to the wool. Next, I soaked 4 pounds of beans in enough water to cover them plus another 2 inches for 3 days. Negative is that the beans will start to ferment. I think next time I will end at 2 days and wait for warmer days to put the pot in the sun to see if I can prevent the beginnings of the fermentation. I just kept skimming it off this time.
We did two skeins.
Okay, the point of the knee highs is to keep the bean parts out of your wool. The positive/negative is that your dye will not completely saturate your wool – leaving it lighter in the middle. Now, I love tonal blends so this works for me, but if you need a more even, solid color, be aware.
Then I submerged the wool in the dye pot in the middle of the beans – some above and some below.
Your yarn will try to lift up and out of the pot so this is not as easy as you might think.
Plus I had to take alot of beans out so the pot would not overflow so use a big enough pot that this won’t be a problem. You need the beans in there to hold down the yarn. Then I left the yarn in there – one skein for two days and the other for three.
The resulting yarn looks like this.
The touches of brown/green are the result of being in direct contact with the beans. The proteins in the beans will result in that color change in the wool. It is preferable to not put the wool in direct contact with the beans, but I was not sure if it would reduce the lightfastness of the color so this time I followed the method of burying the wool in the beans. My next try with this method will be by skimming off my dye from the bean pot before adding my wool.
Note that after I dyed my wool I let it dry and left it quite awhile to cure. It rinsed quickly and easily after that. LOVED that!!
I’m not sure which dye we will look at next week. I have yarn sitting in a pot of dead bugs that is stinking up my kitchen as I write this, so maybe cochineal? If you have any questions on how we did the black bean yarn let me know. If you know of ways to make it better, let me know that too. Happy Wednesday all!!