Madder on Wool

The first experiment with madder, and my first experience dyeing anything, was madder on linen with alum for part of an A&S competition entry. For this project, I need to dye wool with madder. I had a few days to experiment and this is a very quick write up of what I learned. By no means is it comprehensive, and I unfortunately didn’t document every test thoroughly (sorry), but I think it gives some perspective on the dramatically different colors that madder can give.

From left: gold, pumpkin orange, russet orange, orange-red.

I will call these colors: gold, pumpkin orange, russet orange, and orange-red. In every test, I used 200% w.o.f. (weight of fiber) madder and I shifted from 20% w.o.f. alum (aluminum sulfate) to 30% over the course of the coloring.

For gold:

I try not to dye in the house, because I’m a klutz and I make a mess. For this first test, I set up my dye pot on an outside propane stove. I could not control the temp and it varied wildly and heated up way too fast. I believe the gold happened because of hitting a boil and degrading the red (alizarin) dye compound.** After this test, I moved my production inside to the kitchen. I also used about 1-2 tsp calcium carbonate to make the water harder, as presumably madder binds better in hard water.

**Before publishing this, I have run an experiment boiling the solution and I think the red is not degraded, but it becomes insoluable in water after boiling. I will post on that later, so while I agree that boiling has an effect that shifts to orange, I’m hesitant to say it’s because the red color is “destroyed” as I’ve read.

For pumpkin:

I controlled the heat keeping it below 80 C and used 1-2 tsp calcium carbonate. The water was really cloudy and I don’t believe the calcium helped at all. We already have hard water in AZ and my tap water is coming from a well, so after the mess it made in this test, I ditched the calcium. I also noticed that the color in the pot here was a dusty rose, but all of the pink tones washed out along with the calcium. I mordanted for the usual time (about 1 hour at 90 C), but I had read about including the alum mordant directly in the dye bath, so after the pre-dye mordant phase, I tossed the alum solution into the dye bath, and instantly, the red compound in the water clumped up, binding with the alum and becoming insoluble in the water! The lesson here is, if you want to remove the red from your dye bath, toss in alum; otherwise read on.

Pumpkin drying.

(Russet orange was actually a combination of taking a pumpkin skein and experimenting overdyeing with the next step, so it doesn’t get it’s own entry.)

For orange-red:

I had run out of test wool and was too close to my deadline, so I hoped I had learned enough testing and put it into practice. I scoured the wool with an olive oil castile soap (warm soapy water soak and then rinse clean) while in previous tests, I used laundry detergent. I soaked my ground madder for about 1.5 days in jars. I did not throw out the soak water as recommended for roots as I used powder. I used 30% alum, added fiber, brought to 90 C over about 30 minutes and maintained for about 60 minutes, and then allowed to cool overnight. I rinsed and wool and squeezed out excess water. My dye pot had about 10L water – 2L from the soak and 8 additional liters from the tap. I made 3 bundles for my soaked madder to keep the bits from getting stuck in my wool. I added the bundles and fiber to the pot and gradually brought it up to 65 C and maintained there (between 55 and 65 C) for about 6 hours. I rinsed it in a solution of 8L water and 8 tsp soda ash to create an alkaline post-bath. I allowed it to sit there for about 10 minutes before rinsing and allowing to dry.

Dye bath with bundles.
Dye bath done.
After rinsing with alkaline solution.

For crimson-red:

I liked the color, but there were a few places where it didn’t dye evenly, and I wanted it to be just a *little* less orange, so I did a second bath the next day to try increasing the ph. I let my bundles soak overnight. There were 2 small spots of mold in the morning floating, so I just removed them. I squeezed the water from the bundles and removed them, then added 8 tsp soda ash for my ~8L pot based on something I read that suggested 1-2 tsp soda ash per 500ml water to get to a ph of 10-11. The estimate before was ~7.5 and after was around 9.5. The dye deepened to the purple color I expected. I brought the temp to 40 C in the dye pot, rewet my wool, gradually bringing it up to 40 C in the bucket, and then transferred my wet wool to the dye pot. I brought the temp up to 50 C and then removed the heat. I allowed it to soak for about 1 hour and then rinsed in a solution of 8 tsp soda ash to 8L water followed by 2 rinses in water to check the color.

Alkaline pot done.
Alkaline rinse.
Alkaline wet in sun.
Alkaline wet in shade.
Alkaline dry.
Alkaline dry in shade.

I liked the adjustment and there didn’t seem to be any ill effects, so I put it back in. It went into the bath for 1.5 hours at room temperature and then, having conducted another experiment which suggested heat really helps to set the color, I brought the temp up to ~55 C and maintained it there for 2 hours. The color got a little bit more even throughout, but there was no significant shift in color. I think this is the deepest red possible for this pot without the addition of other color modifiers.

Final color.
Final comparison – indoor light is very different from sunlight.

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