FEEDBACK FRIDAY: This Week in Natural Dyes

This week: Scouring unbleached wool and bringing that indigo vat back to life

Every week, we are emailed with questions from our natural dye community asking simple and complex questions that we thought might be worth sharing. Of course, all of your burning questions are answered by natural dyer in chief, Kathy Hattori, Founder of Botanical Colors.

Hello, I need to scour 8 pounds of unbleached wool for natural dyeing with cochineal and other local plants. I don’t have time to order orvis. What can I use as an alternative – dish soap, Woolite, baking soda? Or because it has not been bleached does that mean that I can skip the scouring?

For scouring like this, you can use Dawn liquid dish detergent, or Tide (the one with no dyes or scent). No baking soda – too harsh. Woolite will not get it clean enough. Use the hottest water – like 150-160F to remove the dirt and lanolin. If you skip this step, the colors may turn out very pale because the lanolin is preventing dye takeup.

For more tips go here to see How to Scour.

My indigo stock solution isn’t changing color? What should I do?

If you have an indigo flower and metallic scum and you have done all the above steps and it’s still stubbornly dark, opaque blue, add 1 spoonful of calcium hydroxide, and 1 spoonful of fructose or henna, stir carefully and watch for reduction. Gently heating the solution to about 130F will also speed the reaction. Make sure you are using the same ingredients that we spell out in our recipe.
I often get emails from dyers who are agonizing over their vats, because every vat is different! Sometimes it’s a matter of just dipping to see the result, and then you can make further adjustments if needed; and if you still can’t tell if your stock is working, try dipping a strip of fabric into the jar, counting to 60 and then removing it.  If the fabric turns from yellow-green to blue, then your stock is ready and you can make your vat.