I’ve been hesitant to get into dying just as I was hesitant to start spinning my own yarn – I thought “Really. Why bother? Why not just buy yarn?” But … well, I caved in to the peer pressure of Loudoun Needleworkers and now I know why – it’s a way to work with my hands differently from when I knit, it’s a form of meditation, it’s a way to feel connected to the land via the farms that supply fiber. Spinning lead to buying raw fleece, with little further encouragement from my LNW friends, and buying raw fleece has lead to dying.
I’ve drooled over and bought my share of yarn and fiber dyed by independent artists – the color combinations and variations are fascinating, sometimes all the more fascinating because I don’t think I have a great sense of color, which is another reason I stayed away from dying so long. I did try dying with KoolAid a few years ago, which is essentially dying with food coloring. My results were less than stellar (but definitely great-smelling). Acid dyes – chemical dyes – have to be handling very carefully since they are toxic and by careful handling, I mean gloves & goggles & a respirator & plenty of ventilation. I’m not quite ready for that, so I’ve been reading up on dying with natural materials since mid-winter.
This spring, I took a natural dye class with two friends. The class was taught by Sylvia De Mar through The Art League of Alexandria over the course of 3 Sundays. We learned about mordants, which prepare fiber for accepting dyes and help dye bond chemically with the fiber, how to dye using natural materials, and after baths, which can affect just-dyed fiber. I really like the idea of using materials already available to me to dye and have tried dying samples with mint, lichen, and several different weeds. I wish I’d blogged about them or at least kept better notes because I managed to lose track of some of the results – that won’t happen again.
Over the past 2 months I’ve been saving avocado pits and skins in a bag in my freezer to dye with them – they should yield red-brownish red-reddish brown. I got the idea from the dye class; Sylvia mentioned it & one of the other students brought in some avocado she’d been saving. The time we had in class wasn’t enough to get good results (or any results? I don’t remember now). So, using a thread in the plants to dye for group on Ravelry and Carol Lee’s generously shared instructions & observations as guidelines, I’m trying my own experiment which will hopefully get better results.
Mr. Q. has gone along with my avocado-saving swimmingly – we both like avocados and have used this as an excuse to eat them more than usual. We’ve even rooted a few of the pits, which is interesting for us all to see as we now have a small tree in a pot on the porch. This morning, I thawed the other pits & skins we’ve saved, and scrubbed off the remaining avocado with an old toothbrush. I put the pits in my thrifted small dye pot, covered them with water, and brought them to a simmer. While that was cooking, I cut the skins into strips and popped them into an enamelware lobster pot, adding in the remaining stumps of stem (probably 4 or 5 pieces), and starting bringing that to a simmer over medium low heat. Even with this initial simmer, I can already see some color in both pots:
Carol recommends cutting everything into pieces as small as possible to extract as much dye as possible; as you can see, I started chopping the pits with a knife while they were cooling down. I do have a spare blender I could use, though I’m not sure I want to strain what will essentially be an avocado smoothie. By the way, the pits smelled pleasantly spicy as they simmered, almost like cinnamon, while the skins smelled like avocado soup.
I plan to simmer the dye materials every day for at least a week, adding more water as necessary. I doubt that I’ll be blogging about it each of those 7 days but I will take pictures so I can document the progress.
Notes on avocado prep for next time:
- Clean the skins and pits of any remaining fruit before freezing them. It was a huge PIA to clean the skins and pits of (probably) 15 avocados all at once.
- Take all the produce stickers off before freezing too. I thought I pulled them all off while I was cleaning them, but a few snuck into the dye bath anyway. I have a new hatred of these stickers since I find them all over the house, where the fruit eaters stick them instead of putting them in the garbage (or on a napkin or tissue or anything but the furniture, FFS).
- Count the avocado pits before cutting them up. (Duh.)
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