A Dyeing Experiment Gone Right: Rhubarb Dyeing and Mordants

Rhubarb Dyed Fabrics in Copper and Silvered PotsThis image  may not seem very exciting, but I proved something during this dyeing process.

A friend turned up the other day with a huge parcel of rhubarb leaves from her dad’s garden. She’d kept a promise to bring me some for dyeing purposes and had had them in her freezer for a couple of weeks.

They were already defrosting, so I had to do something with them quickly. I left the parcel outdoors overnight – two nights ago – in a plastic picnic box with the lid left off. It rained heavily during the night, so by the time I had prepared some fabrics to dye, what I poured into the dye pot yesterday was liquefying rhubarb leaves and fresh rainwater.

Two dye pots, in fact. I have two copper dye pots. One was fetched for me from the copper market next to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I had asked for an un-silvered pot but it couldn’t be had. Of course, copper is poisonous, so copper pots that are to be used for culinary purposes are coated inside with silver. Not long after acquiring this pot, I chanced upon an un-silvered copper pot in an antique shop in Rye, East Sussex.

Copper is a mordant. As far as I know, silver is not. I knew that in theory, the dye batches ought to come out differently.

And they did. I simmered my two batches in the two different dye pots for about two hours. In the picture above, the darker, greenish fabrics came from the uncoated copper dye pot.  The brighter, more yellow ones, from the silvered copper dye pot.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum.     🙂

I used muslin, organza and a couple of very old white cotton pillowcases, edged with lace. The cases are from a number that belonged to my late grandmother. The two I dyed had become so fragile that they tore in the wash and in the hands, just like paper. They took up the dye in the most interesting way, revealing their laundering, starching and no doubt – sweat – histories.

The lightest-toned fabric is the piece of muslin that went into the silvered dye pot. For some reason, it hardly took up the dye at all. I wondered if it had to do with any dressing added to the muslin, which came from a roll. Then, the muslin (from the same roll) that went into the uncoated copper dye pot was beautifully dyed.  Any explanations anyone?

I’ve experimented today in the same way on some silk pieces, to see if the principle holds with silk. And also some khadi (cotton) papers and coffee filters.  More on today’s work in my next blog.

Metaphysically, different kinds of pressure will cause different reactions.  A bit on the trite side, ….

I love these gentle colours.


P S  HEALTH  Do take care when dyeing. Use gloves and tongs. And the smell of the rhubarb leaves simmering is mouth-watering. But rhubarb leaves are poisonous due to their oxalic acid content, so keep children away.

About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
This entry was posted in Art, Eco/Natural Dyeing and Printing, spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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