FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dye Questions

Indigo dipping. Photo courtesy of Tolt Yarn & Wool

Each week, we are emailed with questions from our natural dye community asking simple and complex questions that we thought might be worth sharing. Here are a handful from this week answered by natural dyer in chief, Kathy Hattori, Founder of Botanical Colors.

A note from Kathy:

I hope you all had a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday with cherished friends and loved ones.  I’ve just returned from a 3 week total immersion in India, attending Indigo Sutra in Kolkata and touring textile and weaving centers in West Bengal and central India.  My head is still spinning from the beautiful textiles and people that I saw and I’ll be soon publishing a blog post on my trip of what I learned.  It is very inspiring to see natural dyes alive and thriving with so many makers, and the nascent promise of revitalizing West Bengal indigo cultivation (it’s complicated).  Enjoy your long weekend and we’ll reconnect after the long weekend.  Big hugs to all.

What is the best way to wash indigo out of wool yarn or fleece without felting it? Also so it doesn’t crock or rub off? I always dip in water after dyeing and then dip in white vinegar and water then wash gently with soap but still get a bit of crocking…

Wool yarn and fibers need gentle care in order to avoid felting. Indigo poses a special challenge as it is physically attached to the fibers through oxidation and is therefore susceptible to rubbing and compression, which is what happens when we hand knit. A thorough but gentle wash is important to remove excess indigo and I’ve had luck with adding a splash of drugstore hydrogen peroxide to my first rinse and soak to help thoroughly oxidize wool fibers, especially in yarns. I’ve published some hints and tips on how to minimize crocking in a previous blog post here.

I’m getting ready to dye some linen napkins for an upcoming holiday dinner and wondering if I should mordant the fibers before dyeing?

Fibers should be thoroughly scoured and mordanted before dyeing. Check out our “How To” section for information. The exception to this is if you are planning to dye using indigo. Indigo does not require a mordant so scour the napkins before dipping in indigo.  If you want to overdye to create compound colors such as green or purple, scour the fabric, dip in indigo, oxidize, rinse well and then mordant and dye your fabric.