Natural Dyeing – Madder


Madder has a long history of use as a red dye – a color which I have yet to attain.  The color is contained in the root, which is usually ground to release the dye.  I have considered planting madder plants but it would take 3-5 years before I could start harvesting the roots and, while I can be patient, I did not want to wait that long before I started working with madder, so I went to Aurora Silk and bought a pound of it.

Tips to know for madder.  It needs an alkaline/hard water to draw out the reds.  Also, if you apply too high a heat it will turn brown.  Finally, you need a high ratio of root to yarn weight to attain a good deep color.

Then we get to what I did.

The first go around I soaked 2 ounces of madder root in alcohol and 2 ounces of madder root in water – put the dye into dyepots, added enough water to fill the pots and then added my yarn.  I heated to around 120 degrees for an hour and did not discern a real difference in the resulting color.  Both were a light coral/peach tone.  Here is what we got from this first round. (The lighter tone is from an exhaust bath)

I also did a two tone that came out lovely by leaving half of the yarn hanging into the dye pot longer than the other half.  Here is what I got.

I love the tonal variations in the yarn – something that just seems to occur naturally when dyeing with plants.  Or maybe I just am not good enough to get solid colors but that’s okay.  I love these colors.

Now I still was not getting red so I tried using 4 ounces of root and going total cold water – and it did not work.

I put the root in a stainless steel pot for this one.

I filled the pot with hot tap water to get the process going – which I had done the last time.  Note to self – next time add an alkali additive at this point.  I am going to do that with the next batch and will let you know if it works out.

Because I was in search of a red, I left the root to soak for several days without adding heat.  I am thinking now that I left it to soak for too long because the resulting color is muddy and I am wondering if it started to get moldy in there.  I strained the dye through my metal strainer into another pot and added my wet alum mordanted yarn.

The color that I was getting was a beigey/taupey yucky color.  I decided to add a low heat and then remembered that the water needed to be alkali, so I added some washing soda to the mix to up the alkali level.  The resulting yarn, however, was a disappointment.

The color is muddy and there were some parts that contrasted with a deeper red – but not well enough to create a usuable varigation.

These pictures are after dyeing but before re-skeining, which is why the yarn looks so messy.

I took the second skein I dyed and stuck the ends in some brazilwood to cover some of the red splotches in the yarn and too see what I would get.  Here is the second skein.

This might look okay in the finished product but I won’t know until it is rinsed and re-skeined.

I am going to keep working with the madder root.  I still have a half a pound of root to work with and obviously more experimentation is needed.  In some ways I think I rushed this last round.  I only had Saturday to work on dyeing yarns so I went with what I had and had too many things going I think.  Time to slow down and think this all through before next weekend’s dye pots get going.

Here is what I also did last week.

I finally rinsed the logwood/brazilwood/cochineal yarn.  Here are the pictures pre-rinse and post rinse.

Next week I should have it skeined.  The colors after rinsing are a bit more muted.  What surprised me is that the brazilwood stayed brighter than I thought it would – less wine and more red that I anticipated.  Hmmmm.

I also did an iron mordanted brazilwood as I wanted to see if I could get away from the wine colors I got with the alum mordant and see if I could hang onto the reds a little longer.  Here is what I got before rinsing.

This picture is with the flash – it is darker in tone in actuality, but it is a grey day outside so there is no chance of getting a truer color in today’s light.  Sorry.

I also did a phenomenal cold water soak purple logwood.  All of the pictures I tried to get today just turned out blue – and it is a deep rich purple.  Here is what I got right after I took it out of the dye pot – but the photo is still bluer than the yarn.

Sorry – its the best I can get of this color.

I also played with a cold water sandlewood soak that I nuked to set the color.

I did not like the resulting solid color so I started experimenting.  I put one end in an ammonia dip (alkali), one end in a vinegar dip (acid) and the middle in some iron mordant.

Yeah, I know.  High Tech.

The resulting colored yarn turned out like this.

The ammonia end turned a darker brown.  The vinegar end made it just slightly orangier but not much and the iron almost seemed to leach out the color.  Hmmm.

After it started to dry, I again decided I was unhappy with the result, and stuck an end into the madder, but got no change, so I then put it into the iron mordanted brazil pot and ended up with this.

I’m not sure if I love it, but I like it.  Sandlewood can take a long time to rinse so the verdict is out on the final product.

The rest of this week is going to be devoted to re-skeining all of this.  It is a little out of control.  Next Saturday will be rinsing these and hopefully working on green.  IF I get a little more caught up with work.  Chip has been busy filling orders so I don’t know where we stand on a Hawk Studio blog post for tomorrow but I have lots for Food on Friday.  Have a great Wednesday.

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About Shelly R.

I am a Mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, an attorney, a crafter and the granddaughter of an amazing woman - my Polish Grandmother. My Grandmother gave me so much, through her love and her patience, her sayings and her time teaching me how to craft and to give to others, that it seemed fitting to share some of that wisdom, to tell some of her story, and to chat about life and crafts in a way that would be a testament to what she gave me.
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3 Responses to Natural Dyeing – Madder

  1. danihinde says:

    Oh. My. Goodness. The amount of work you put into dyeing these skeins is mind boggling to me. I liked the pink color you got with the cold water sandalwood soak. And I loved the purple skein from the logwood. Hopefully you will soon have success with getting a proper red!

  2. Ashling says:

    That purple is awesome…and I’m not a purple person! Also loving the peach, but can understand that when you want red, well, you want RED. What happened with the bugs? They don’t really give a good red?

    • Shelly R. says:

      The bugs give a pink – not a red. The brazilwood starts out red but then rinses to wine. I have another half a pound of madder that I am going to start working on tonight – trying a different method. Its always had to balance long soak/possible mold development with adding heat and risking brown. Wait till you see the purple in person – it is AMAZING (if it doesn’t fade in the rinsing). I wish I knew if it was going to rain tomorrow or not to plan if I can dye yarns or not. I need to be able to hang them outside until the dripping stops. Maybe an indigo vat . . . .?

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