When making blue dyes you do not need to use a mordant, but you also cannot boil the dyebath.
When it comes to dyeing fiber naturally, blue hues are definite attention-grabbers. But getting the perfect blue or violet from your natural materials can be more difficult than getting, say, a yellow or a red. Use the steps below to effectively create natural blue dyes for your next fiber project.
Natural blue dyes come from sources like indigo leaves, dyer’s knotweed (Japanese indigo) leaves and first-year woad rosettes. (Only first-year woad rosettes are used because older plants contain less blue to be extracted.) None of these plants requires a mordant (a dye-fixing agent) to get good color, but they all require special dyebath preparations.
First, put 8 ounces fresh plant parts in 2 gallons warm water and raise the temperature to just below boiling. You don’t want to boil blue-dye materials because an active boil introduces oxygen into the dye vat, which can keep the dye from binding to the fibers. Let the materials steep for 1 hour before straining the dyebath. Squeeze as much dye from the plant as you can, then let it cool to about 125 degrees F. At this point, the dyebath will be a brownish color.
To release the blue, introduce oxygen into the bath by adding a spoonful of washing soda or pH Up—a common swimming-pool treatment solution—and vigorously whisking the solution until the foam turns blue. If the foam doesn’t turn blue after a few minutes, add another spoonful of washing soda and whisk again.
Once the bath turns blue, you must remove the oxygen. Reheat the dyebath to 125 degrees F and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon sodium hydrosulfite. (Rit Color Remover works well.) Stir gently to dissolve and then let it sit. The dyebath will turn greenish—you’ve just made a reduction dye vat.
Maintain the dyebath temperature between 120 to 125 degrees F. To dye, wet your fibers in hot water and squeeze out as much water as you can. Very gently lay the fibers in the dyebath, trying not to stir it—you don’t want to add oxygen. Let the fibers sit for a few minutes in the greenish dyebath before gently removing them. As the oxygen in the air hits the fibers, they’ll turn blue.
To get darker blues, repeat the dips, leaving the fibers in the pot for only a few minutes at a time without stirring. If you introduce too much oxygen, the dyebath will turn blue, and you will have to reduce the vat again. If that happens, add 1 teaspoon sodium hydrosulfite and wait until it turns green again before continuing to dye fibers.
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About the Author: Robin Edmundson has been dyeing things since she was a child and accidentally washed a red shirt with the family’s whites. She’s now a professional dyer and sells her hand-dyed yarns all over the world. She dyes, weaves, gardens and keeps bees on a farm in southern Indiana and writes about it in her blog.