Madder Experiments

A couple of summers ago, I found an article about dyeing with madder that really intrigued me. It talked about how to do madder without heating it over a fire or stove. And it showed it as a gradation dye, which always grabs my attention. So, I thought I’d give it a try myself.

First I started with soaking my samples in a solution of 25% WOG (weight of goods) of alum for 28 days. I had enough samples for 16 gradation dyes, some larger samples for just a select few of the colors and some for a secondary experiment with the madder that I’ll explain in a bit.

The article I found is here. I can share this, because it was specifically meant to be shared, which I am glad. I love sharing the results of my experiments, and will be showing you more of what I have done in the future.

The article showed samples that started with 30 minutes soaking, but I thought I’d start with 15 minutes soaking because I wanted to see if I could come up with something lighter than the 30 minutes shown in the article.

I began the experiment at 6:00 on a Sunday morning. Since I needed to be there to take samples out at regular intervals that first day, and each day there after, that was the best time for my schedule. Before I plunged the samples into the huge glass jars I had prepared for the experiment, I soaked the madder overnight. The water from this first soaking contains most of the yellow pigment leaving the reds for the actual dyeing. I had read to discard this first soaking, but I am one who hates to waste anything that could be usable, so I had decided I was going to do a secondary experiment with this first soak water and see what color I got from it. I am glad I did, too!

I added boiling water to the cold water and madder (chopped up pretty good and in pantyhose), and anxiously wait the fifteen minutes before pulling out the first sample. I quickly hauled it upstairs (I did this experiment from the garage) to my bathroom (this tub is used to getting bleached out on a regular basis because I hang my dyed yarn here to dry), labeled it as the 15 minute sample from jar #1 (the full gradation experiment) and hung it. Then I headed down to the garage to wait for the 30 minute sample to come out. Once the sun was up in full force, I moved the experiments outside in the sun to use the sun’s energy to heat the water in the glass jars up.

I was like a little kid in a candy store! At the end of each interval, I could be found anxiously waiting to pull out the next sample. 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours and I had 8 out of 16 samples completed. The rest would come out each morning at 6:00 through the next Sunday for a total of 16 samples from this jar. You never saw someone bounce out of bed so eagerly each of those mornings to see what color I had gotten! It was like a solid week of Christmas. Each morning, I would move the jars out into the sun, and each night I would bring them back in again to protect them from bugs and raccoons. The temperatures of the water in the jars reached a bit over 100 degrees each day. I lucked out that week as the high temperatures each day was over 90 degrees and the sky was cloudless.

And the color of each sample got progressively darker each day. Some days it was hard to tell, but compared with two or three samples either way and the difference became obvious. I let the samples dry completely and cure for about a week after the experiment was over before rinsing them out. I was surprised how little color was lost in the rinsing process.

One of the other two experiments was simply a jar with the larger samples in it taken out at 1 day, 2 days, 4 days and 8 days. The third jar was with the first soaking’s water in it and samples. I took these out when I felt like it and the colors in this were more orangey, but I liked them and I’m glad I didn’t waste this yellow-pigmented madder dye.

So, here is what I got with the gradation dyeing – all 16 colors.

And here is what I got with the first soaking water. See, great colors! It would have been a shame to waste them.

I wanted to make something that showcased the gradation experiment, so I am knitting a Prairie Shawl from the Folk Shawls book by Cheryle Oberle. I have started with the 8 day soak and am working my way up the 15 minute soak. After the 7 day soak, I skipped to the 3 day soak, and will go up from there rather than use the 4, 5 and 6 day soaks. The colors were so close that it looked like there were no changes, and I was afraid the shawl would end up too big to display.

When I get the shawl completed and blocked, I’ll take a picture of it and show it to you.

Madder is a wonderful dye and one of the oldest ones ever used – there have been examples of madder dyed fabric found in ancient Egypt tombs! This experiment was a resounding success and I am looking forward to trying this same type of experiment with other dyes.

One Response

  1. Madder Gradation Shawl | Basically Benita Says:

    […] mentioned my madder gradation shawl in previous posts. I’ve even shown you samples of the Shetland yarn I dyed for it, but I have yet to show it to you. Here I will rememdy […]

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