Inspired by Sasha Duerr’s book on natural dyes, Ariel and I bought a head of red cabbage for a no-brainer batch of blue, red and purple yarn. For our first run, we deviated from the recipe a bit. I prepared the fiber, Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool, by soaking it for about twenty minutes in soda ash. We expected the yarn to soak up our murky blue dye like an Easter egg, instead the whole pot turned a sickly shade of green after dunking the pre-soaked wool.
What went wrong?!
Well, a lot of things went awry since we didn’t really follow the instructions. Rather than cutting up the cabbage into 1″ chunks, I obliterated the cabbage in Robert’s juicer thinking it would make it easier to get all of the pigment out. I dumped the waste bin and the juice into our dye pot expecting magic to happen. Instead, a waxy, cabbagy film rose to the surface. Plus, when it came time to strain out the vegetable matter, we had to use a fine sieve and even then we couldn’t get all the flotsam out. Another
problem variable arose when we added water to the dye pot. As most sixth graders know, red cabbage can be used as a pH indicator: it turns blue for basic solutions and red for acidic solutions. Since our house tap is hooked up to a water softener, the dye pot turned a deep blue immediately. With all of that in mind, it’s not surprising our first batch didn’t pan out.
For our second batch, we resolved to follow the instructions and use distilled water. Rather than soak the yarn in soda ash, we used distilled water. We added vinegar to change the dye bath after simmering the yarn for twenty minutes and let the yarn soak in the dye overnight. When we pulled it from the dye bath the next day, the yarn was a lovely rosy shade but smelled like sauerkraut. So we took it inside to rinse it out. . . and it turned purpley-pink from the tap water. Dang!
We still have a pot of dye and yarn soaking in the soda ash. I read several articles online (afterwards, of course) that said soda ash should only be used for preparing plant fibers, such as cotton or hemp, because it can cause animal fibers like wool to become brittle and frayed. At first I wanted to chuck yarn back into the far-reaches of my craft hoard, but the soft green and purpley-pink have grown on me and I’m looking forward to finding a stranded project that showcases both colors.