What’s the Matter with My Madder? – Dye Project Update

Here are swatches of dyes I had done before the weekend Indigo and Cochineal are what’s pretty much here. I was trying for two kinds of red: scarlet and crimson. I’m using old Chinese dyes as much as possible. One interesting set of silk bundles was dyed with various shades of indigo then overdyed with cochineal. For lavender and greys. I still had weld, woad, galls, and madder yet to do.

I worked all weekend on madder. There were several different mordants to be used. I had 3 pots soaking at a time.

This was taken Saturday night after a dye of mordanting. What I had to show for a day’s work. Still left to do were two bundles of iron mordant. (Mordanting is a process often done before actual dyeing.)

At the end of Sunday (2AM) I had these swatches of madder. I am disappointed but will try again. The reddish ones were with madder extract. The undegummed silks took the red, the regular silks were titty pink. The yellows were from roots I’d received as a gift in Japan. I guessed what type of madder the roots were, and I think I guessed wrong. Also, I realized a bit too late that madder could NOT be cooked above a certain temperature. Then I read that chalk would be good. Why wasn’t that said sooner? Anyhow, got the chalk and will re-do the madder this week and hope I get reds. I’ll change the way I extract the dye from the roots, keep the temperature correct, and add chalk. Any suggestions? The Ellis book says not to heat madder over 150F (65C). A person I met in the indigo workshop said not over 120F. I kept to the 120F. I think I’ll go with the 150F and keep it at 140F so as not to exceed the 150F.

7 thoughts on “What’s the Matter with My Madder? – Dye Project Update”

  1. Fascinating. I barely understand all this but it is so interesting. I look forward to your next post no madder how it turns out. Kool

  2. I have notes on the process I’ve used (successfully) to dye with madder. I’ll try to find your email address to send it. Tap water works better than distilled, although I have not tried municipal water (often has chlorine & other treatments).

  3. Madder likes hard water, hence the chalk. (Alternately, Maiwa recommends a Tums tablet per 1 liter of water.)
    The mordant should be alum at 15-20%. No Cream of Tartar.
    Madder roots contain many colors with the browns (tannins) being released at the higher temps, hence the warning about temperature. The yellows are often released first and some dyers discard the first extraction for that reason. I’ve found that keeping the temp at 120-140 degrees is perfect, but madder also is one of the few natural dyes that can dye without a heat source, but it just takes longer.
    Madder contains a lot of color which is released gradually. It benefits from repeated heating and cooling with dyed material left in the dye pot as it cools. Dyeing repeatedly will increase the intensity of the color.
    After first soaking, the roots need to be smashed, cut up and puréed in a blender with soaking liquid to release maximum amount of dye. The roots may be dried and reused several times before composting.
    Containing the plant material in a fine mesh bag while dyeing the fabric/fiber is a good idea as it cuts down on the number of rinses required later. I usually allow two weeks before washing.
    Hope this helps.


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