How to Dye Wool Yarn Using Madder Root Extract
Madder root has been used for thousands of years to create dyes in beautiful red hues and it’s one of my absolute favorites to use. A lot of creative freedom comes with making your own dyes from madder, and you can use ingredients like cream of tartar or calcium carbonate to yield different tones. Madder extract can be used to produce colors from peach or pale pink to deep, wine reds. Madder is one of the most reliable sources of creating red dye, though it is quite temperature sensitive so you should take care when applying heat. Your dye pot should be a stainless steel or enamel-coated pot that is only used for dyeing.
Step One: Prepare your wool yarn for dyeing.
Before dyeing your yarn, you will need to mordant it as to allow for the natural dye to bond with the wool fibers. When using wool as your fiber, it is recommended to mordant using aluminum sulfate (alum) with optional cream of tartar. Additionally, it is important to bundle your yarn into a hank before dyeing. Wool yarn can tangle as well as felt together easily if it is allowed too much movement during the dyeing process. Your yarn should be looped around in such a way that it is secure enough to stay in place, while at the same time loose enough to allow the dye to freely circulate throughout the wet yarn.
If you will be preparing your own madder from root, continue to step two. If you will be using powdered madder extract, you can skip ahead to step three.
Step Two: Prepare your dried madder root.
To begin, make sure to rinse your dried madder root thoroughly. If you want your dye to be a deep red color, use madder root at 100% weight of fiber. In other words, your amount of madder root should weigh the same as the amount of yarn you are dyeing. If you want a lighter color, use a smaller amount of madder root. To soften the roots, soak them in a large volume of cold water for 3-4 hours or overnight. The roots can be left free in the water or enclosed in a mesh bag. Make sure you’re using enough water to accommodate for the expanding madder roots as they soak. When done soaking, add the madder root and all of the liquid to your dye pot. You’ll probably need to add more water to allow room for your yarn to float freely in the pot. Since you’re going to add your yarn to the pot in the next step, choosing to enclose your madder root in a mesh bag should help to avoid having root particles attach to your wool fiber.
Step Three: Dye your wool yarn.
Before dyeing, your mordanted yarn should be dipped in water and wrung out so it is damp.
If you skipped step two and are using madder root extract to dye, you will make a paste using the powder and some warm water. Use about 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of extract per pound of fiber for a medium color. Use less powder for a lighter color and more for a darker color. When your paste is made, you can then gradually add boiling water until the paste is dissolved. You can then fill your dye pot with cool water, enough to allow your wool yarn to move easily throughout the pot. Introduce your dissolved dye mixture and be sure to stir well.
From this point, the process for dyeing your fibers are about the same whether you made your own madder root dye or chose to use powdered extract. Add your mordanted wool yarn to the cool dye pot and heat the water to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, gently stirring the contents of the pot. Keep the water at this temperature for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, gently stir the contents of the pot once again and increase the temperature of the water to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature should be held for about 30 to 45 more minutes, stirring regularly. Remember that madder root is temperature sensitive, so be attentive and avoid letting the water boil so your dye does not become brown.
When the dyeing process is complete, use tongs to remove your yarn and rinse thoroughly, using water that is around the same temperature of the fiber. It is recommended to rinse twice with water and then again with water and soap. This is to ensure that excess dye is not left behind in the yarn. When you’re done rinsing, wring out your yarn and hang to dry.
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