Avocado and turmeric surprises

This week's fabric dyeing session started with a disappointment. After having collected a bag full of avocado pits and skins, even enlisting my co-workers to collect for me, boiling them and letting them soak for days, I had a deeply reddish brown dyebath. Previous experience told me that it would dye the fabric a lovely dusty rose. However, I misremembered having read that adding alum would make it more colorfast... not so. The dyebath immediately turned grayish brown and the fabric I added to it turned only the slightest bit beige, even after soaking for 24 hours.

Fortunately, my reliable friend turmeric, which had also been soaking for 24 hours, came out just as expected - sunny and bright yellow.

The avocado disaster, left, and the always radiant turmeric, right.

The avocado disaster, left, and the always radiant turmeric, right.

I wasn't going to waste the fabric that had soaked in the ruined avocado dye, so I decided to experiment with an iron modifier. About a week ago, I added steel scouring pads to a 1:2 vinegar/water solution in order to extract the iron oxide. The liquid hadn't changed in color much, but it didn't smell like vinegar at all anymore. Instead it smelled like metal, so I guessed it might be ready. Adding a good splash of the iron solution to the avocado dye bath (with one of two pieces of fabric still in it) caused the first surprise of the day: almost immediately, it turned dark gray. An incredible transformation, from nearly no color at all to this!

The avocado + iron dyebath, and the drying fabric. The lighter piece of fabric was dyed second, so there must have been less dye left in the bath.

The avocado + iron dyebath, and the drying fabric. The lighter piece of fabric was dyed second, so there must have been less dye left in the bath.

All this made me feel like some kind of alchemist, or possibly a witch, so of course I had to continue dyeing. Next up were red sandalwood and annatto. The last time I used these I just boiled them in water and added the fabric. The results were nice, but not very dark. A reddish pink from the sandalwood, and a yellowish orange from the annatto.

This time I had done some research and first soaked the sandalwood-powder in ethanol for about 30 min. before adding it to the boiling water. There was already a piece of fabric and alum mordant in the water, which immediately took on a lovely shade of pink, but it was still not very dark. Maybe it just needs to soak for a while? But even after two hours or so the color didn't seem to get any more intense, so I added more sandalwood powder which didn't seem to make much of a difference. Also, I separated the dyebath into two buckets and, inspired by its previous success, added some iron solution to one of them. The dye turned more purplish, but didn't seem to become darker. Longer soaking seems to be in order... more on this next time.

Sandalwood/ethanol paste, and the disappointingly pale fabric after soaking for about two hours.

Sandalwood/ethanol paste, and the disappointingly pale fabric after soaking for about two hours.

Next up, annatto. Also known as achiote, it's a little orange seed from a tree that grows in the Amazon. The seeds smell amazing, sweet and very fruity, almost like orange candy. I boiled the ground seeds for a little while before adding the fabric. It turned a light orange, not unpleasant but also not as deep as I was hoping for. After googling around a bit I decieded to add washing soda to the mix which had an immediate effect: the light color turned into a nice deep orange. When I added two more pieces of fabric to the dyebath, they immediately took on the same deep hue, no long soaking required!

Annatto dyebath with fabric, after adding washing soda.

Annatto dyebath with fabric, after adding washing soda.

Finally, I had plenty of time left and felt that I needed to experiment with some other dye before I called it a day. I had read somewhere that adding modifiers to turmeric dye might change the color, so I tried iron (didn't do anything) and washing soda. Surprise!! The bright sunny turmeric yellow that we all know and love turned an intense dark shade of red. It was almost shocking to see the soda dissolve in the yellow bath and change it to the color of blood. Chemistry in action! I have no idea how this works, but I love it. The dyebath was also very generous and dyed two pieces of fabric to a dark red, and a third to a lighter orangey-red. I have saved this dye, as well as the annatto, for further experiments.

Left: turmeric + washing soda. Right, from back to front: turmeric + washing soda - first, second and third piece of fabric to be dyed; annatto +washing soda.

Left: turmeric + washing soda. Right, from back to front: turmeric + washing soda - first, second and third piece of fabric to be dyed; annatto +washing soda.

I am amazed at the intense colors I was able to achieve today, considering that all of the materials are completely natural and non-toxic and can be found almost anywhere. Next up will be some tree bark, the sandalwood that I have left to soak for a few days, experiments with the saved dyebaths and whatever else I may come up with in the meantime.