Saturday, April 26, 2014

Madder Part 2: root size experiment

My oh my, has it really been three months since I posted about digging up madder roots?   I had a whole series of blog posts planned where I'd test how different dyeing procedures affected the colors from the madder roots.  I haven't got to that yet, but what I did manage was a wee test of how root diameter affected the dye colors from fresh madder roots.  Here's where we left off ....

fresh madder roots, dug and washed

After digging up the roots and scrubbing off the soil, I let them dry overnight. The next morning, I went out to the shed and got out my dyeing equipment. I haven't touched it in a couple of years now, but it was wonderful to pull out the familiar gear and remember the good ol' glory days of dyeing.

dyeing thermometer, stained over the years by madder and cochineal

Next, I prepped yarn samples.  I have a cone of organic wool from Zen Sheep Farm that dyes beautifully, from which I cut a dozen lengths that were 10g in weight.  I mordanted these with alum and cream of tartar while I was getting the roots ready.

Step 1: cutting lengths of yarn to mordant

What I wanted to find out in this round of experimentation was how much of a difference the age/size of the roots makes in the dye color.  I sorted all the roots out into three categories: the largest roots were 3-4 years old, the medium roots were probably 2 years old (and a little thinner than a pencil), and the small roots were probably 1 year old.

Step 2: sorting root sizes

Then I chopped them up with a kitchen cleaver. The size differential is even clearer when the roots are sliced. The shadows in this snapshot make it hard to see, but hopefully it still gives you a sense of how much thicker and woodier the old roots are compared to the new roots. And also what rich, red colors came out of these roots!!  (FYI:  I haven't adjusted the color tone or saturation, so this is really what it looked like)

Step 3: slicing up the roots

For each category of roots, I measured out an even 350 g of the fresh madder roots. I read somewhere that the fresh weight is about 7 times the dry weight. So this would be equivalent to 50 g of dry roots, which would make for an incredibly saturated color on the 10 g yarn lengths. The whole point was to push the color to its max.

Step 4: weighing out the roots

Then it was time for dyeing!  For color tests, I use large mason jars in one pot of simmering water (see a photo from a few years ago here).  That way they all get the same temperature and timing.  In this case, I set up a jar for each root size category. I slowly brought them up to temperature (keeping it below 180 degrees so that the madder pigment doesn't turn brown). I plunked in the wet, mordanted yarn samples. I kept it at that slow simmer for an hour or two, then turned off the heat and let it soak overnight. Here's what I had the next morning:

Step 5: dyeing in mason jars

Ready to see the results? Drumroll please ...  and the result is that there was virtually no difference across the three root sizes. All of them turned this insane carrot color.

Step 6: shock and awe

If it looks like there's color variation in this photo it's just because the little yarn lumps have different angles that catch the sun a little differently.  In real life they're indistinguishable.

So there you have it: all my dye books said that madder roots must be at least 3 years old to get good color, but I didn't find a difference between the 1 year old roots and the 3-4 year old roots. I thought this was actually an interesting finding.

The only disappointment is that I'm really not into this crazy orange.  At least one of my dye books (can't remember which one now -- probably A Dyer's Garden) said that letting the roots age for at least a month will shift the colors, so I'm just letting the the roots dry and hang out for now.  Hopefully the next installment of this experiment won't take so long!