Little Golden Notebook

Where fiber art, inspiration, and words meet.

Dyeing with Black Beans

Dyeing with black beans? Really?

Yes. Really. I read it on the internet. And I have a friend who tried it (hookedferret/silverdragon). And I’ve seen pictures with a range of different results, from blah gray to brilliant blue to deep amethyst purple.

Here’s what I did: soaked 2lbs of dried Goya brand black beans in tap water in a covered stainless steel pan at room temperature for two days. I strained the beans out and saved the water, cooking the beans in the crock pot for some black bean cakes (never had them, can’t wait to try) and soup and chili (2lbs is a lot of beans). In the mean time, I popped my sample skeins (all Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool), a hat I made last year of hand spun alpaca (it’s the oh-so-fun-to-knit Caera hat), and some roving (already dyed a pale green during the natural dye class) into a dye-only-pot with the bean water.

Being the impatient person I am, I heated up this bean-smelling mixture to the steam-but-not-bubble point and then left it for a day. The results:

Black Bean Dye: Skeins & Hat

I think the most striking results are in the cotton I used to tie the test skeins; all of them started out white, as they are in the un-dyed skein on the left. Next, unmordanted wool that’s the color of dirty dishwater, but the cotton ties are a bright sky blue. Next, alum-mordanted wool – a darker gray with hints of blue and denim-blue colored ties. Finally, an iron-mordanted skein that’s deep dark gray with navy blue ties. And the hat – once white, now a purple-ish gray.

Now the roving:

Black Bean Dye: Roving

The yellow is the original dye; I wish I could remember what it’s dyed with or that I had taken better notes or labeled them. The greenish gray are the still-damp over-dyed samples.

My results aren’t that spectacular in comparison to others; a simple search for pictures on flickr shows some much deeper, more saturated results. So where did I go wrong?

I think heating the bean water was a mistake, based only on what I’ve read in the natural dye groups on Ravelry. I also think a longer soaking time (for the wool, not the beans) would result in more saturated colors. Also: pre-mordanting with alum clearly results in a deeper color.

I was hoping to have time to get into the science of why heating the beans results in grays (carotenoids, anthocyanins, and other natural pigments), but the phone has rung at least 6 times in the last hour, the doorbell 3. And I’m making dinner, chili because we’re out of eggs. Hoping to write about lichen dye tomorrow, time and interruptions permitting.


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