Day 6-7 Avocado Dye Experiment

Well, I couldn’t wait any more. With the butterfly bush dye experiment, I admit I also dyed some samples in the avocado dye baths. See?

avocado-dyed samples

Imagine the yarn is layed out in a circle. Starting with the top-most bunch of samples going counter-clockwise, we have:

    Pre-mordanted samples – alum, copper, iron 
    Pit-dyed samples – alum, copper, iron 
    Peel-dyed samples – alum, copper, iron

I realize now that there’s a better way to display these, but bear with me as I fool around.

I couldn’t wait any more to try dying with the avocado dye liquors. Plus, I needed one of the pots for the butterfly bush experiment. So Saturday, I put both of the avocado liquors into separate containers and then, because I’m not the best estimator or planner, I did some switching around to get all of the peel liquor into the biggest container. And by then – after rinsing and transferring, I just decided to try the liquors.

I cooked the pit dye bath (with sample) for a little over an hour and then let them cool in the pot overnight. I rinsed, dried them, and when I twisted them into skeins, they were dusty/sandy with starch from the pits – ugh. But otherwise, okay. They are, as Mr. Q noted, pretty peachy, except for the iron-mordanted sample, which is a pinkish gray. I wonder if a sample can be mordanted with iron but at a lesser concentration to get a lighter gray? Probably not – it probably doesn’t work that way, right? But maybe. (Anyone with experience/chemistry to back them up, please chime in.)

The peel dye bath is in a large clear plastic container sitting in full-sun on the deck. I put the samples in Saturday afternoon and left them in until this morning. Really, they only had 1 day cooking in the sun. The results are … brown. I’ll check them again in a day or two – it’s been consistently in the 90s with lows in the mid-70s, which should be plenty warm to get some more saturated results. I hope.

In addition to all that activity yesterday, I cook the rest of the butterfly bush blooms in the liquor that I used Saturday for about 2 hrs, let the liquid cool for a few hours, and then strained &  decanted it into 2 1-gallon jugs (milk & OJ jugs). The second just is 3/4 filled, so it’s not quite 2 gallons. I meant to cook it down some first, but … eh. Oh well. Hopefully it will keep.

And last, today I trimmed most of my lily of the valleys (convallaria majalis) and started a dye bath with them. They’re supposed to produce something from light green to a gold color, according to Natural Dyes and Home Dying, depending on what time of year the leaves are picked. Of course, this same book talks about using chrome as a mordant (a no-no these days), so we’ll see what color I get. Lily of the Valley leaves (and flowers and berries) are also toxic, so this may be the most dangerous thing I’ve dyed with so far. (Or maybe not; I am being careful & using goggles & gloves when handling the dye liquids.)

It’s all about the visuals …

First, an update on the avocado dye experiment:

Avocado Dye Experiment, Day 5

Day 5 after adding water this morning to bring the water level back up over the materials. Mr. Q. called the one on the left a peach color and I reluctantly concede that he’s right. While it’s only day 5 of what I envisioned being a long dye experiment, I’m starting to get impatient, but not enough to dye some of my samples. Maybe tomorrow.

And now for something completely different.

I started a micro blog on tumblr. But do I really need another account? I just started account for Hurl Madgesty (email and on facebook) to keep potty-mouthed derby me separate from potty-mouthed regular me. And how many people do I know that actually use tumblr and would see the stuff that I want to share? And also: I’m thinking about switching to WordPress so that I have more control over the design (which I’m going to start futzing with on blogger first) and so I can respond to comments in-line (if I can do it on blogger, I’ve missed it so far).

Where was I?

Oh, yes – posts on tumblr. Or rather, posts here instead of on tumblr, i.e., I’m going to start posting more often and the posts are going to be smaller and probably pictures or links to pictures or … you know, small stuff. Not epically long cathartic posts (thanks for sticking with me through that), though I’m not promising there won’t be more of those. Are you ready?

Day 3 Avocado Dye Experiment

I forgot to take pictures yesterday, but not so today:

On the left is a sample from the pit dye bath and, on the right, one from the peel dye bath. I may have forgotten to take pictures, but I have been heating both baths up to a steaming point twice a day, which is probably excessive but I’m impatient with these things and heat can only help a chemical process, right? Particularly if it’s a gently heat?

Anyway. I’m surprised at the huge color difference between the two. I expected some color difference, but this is kind of extreme. They are similar – same hue? (I don’t know the right words to talk about this, pardon me.) But different saturations/intensities. (I should really get a color theory book so I can talk about this intelligently instead of winging it.)

In case you were wondering, the pit bath still smells spicy, almost like cinnamon, and the peel bath is starting to smell similarly, with no remaining hints of avocado fruit.

In addition, I failed to mention that I’ve used Hass avocados, which were cultivated by a mail carrier and amateur horticulturalist named Rudolph Hass in La Habra Heights, CA in 1926. Call me crazy, but I’d say he wasn’t an amateur, considering that it is the most popular avocado cultivar in the world.

Edited to add link to Hass avocado link on Wikipedia. As with all wikipedia entries, take it as a starting point with a grain of salt.

Avocado Dye Experiment

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.)