Mordants and Natural Dyes

Nicole Lawrence

Student Projects, Pigments/Dyes/Binders

 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Introduction

For this experiment, I wanted to look at the effects natural dyes and mordants had on wool during and after dyeing. The idea of making dyes from natural substances that are eaten, drank, and picked from the ground on a daily basis was an interesting concept. For the natural, dyes I am using strawberries, tea, grass, dandelions, and beets. Mordants are used to prepare fabrics for dyeing with natural dyes, and I have chosen to use alum: aluminum potassium sulfate, copper sulfate, vinegar, and ammonia.

Background

“Some natural dyes have a make-up that does not permit them to unite readily with animal fibers…However, if another chemical is introduced then a bond can be created between the [dye] and fiber. These chemicals are called mordants,” (Weigle 13). Various mordants are alum, chrome, vinegar, copper sulfate, iron, tin, and ammonia. For the experiment I used four mordants, Alum: aluminum potassium sulfate, is “a white mineral deposit that is a component of many types of rocks found in various parts of the world…If to much [alum] is used as a mordant, the yarn [becomes] sticky. To help offset this possibility, alum is usually combined with cream of tartar,”(Weigle 14). Copper Sulfate is “a bright blue substance that can be purchased as crystals or as a powder…One of the main uses of copper sulfate is as an additive to change a yellow or yellow-green to a definite green. It can also be used with some dyes to sadden the color,” (Weigle 15). Vinegar “is used…for its acetic acid content…white vinegar is preferable, and can be used [either in the preparation of the dye] or added to the bath during dyeing,” (Weigle 15). Lastly, ammonia the “clear non-sudsy, non-detergent ammonia is the best type to use…it is especially useful in drawing the color out of grasses and lichens,” (Weigle 15).


Mordants when combined with different natural dyes can make a variety of colors. Natural dyes can be created from a number of different substances such as strawberries, grass, celery leaves, madder, beets, cherries, grapes, indigo, walnut hull, and insects, just to name a few. “The ability of natural dyes to color textiles has been known since ancient times. The earliest written record of the use of natural dyes was found in China dated 2600BC…Natural dyes can be sorted into three categories: [those] obtained from plants…those obtained from animals…and those obtained from minerals,” (Driessen).

Procedure

Materials:


Dyes:
Strawberries
Tea bags (2)
Grass
Dandelions
Beets

 

Mordants:
Ammonia
Vinegar
Alum, with Cream of Tartar
Copper Sulfate


Other:
Hot Plate
Glass beakers (at least 20)
Stirring rod
Measurement Scoop
Scale
Scissors
Wool (50 grams)
Weigh boats
Graduated cylinder
Funnel
Water

 

Preparing Dyebaths


g = grams
mL = milliliters


Beet Dyebath:

37.31 g beets
300 ml of water


1. Cut the beets into pieces, and add to 300 ml of water.
2. Heat on at level 5 and reduce during an hour period.
3. After the dyebath has cooled, strain the beets from the dye.

Strawberry Dyebath:
85.27 g strawberries
300 ml of water


1. Remove the strawberries leaves, and cut strawberries into slices.
2. Add strawberries to water, and heat at 5 and reduce during an hour period.
3. After the dyebath has cooled, strain the strawberries from the dye.

 

Dandelion Dyebath:
4.02 g of dandelions
200 ml of water


1. After picking the dandelions, remove blossoms.
2. Add the blossoms to water, and heat at 5 and reduce during an hour period.
3. After the dyebath has cooled, strain the dandelion blossoms from the dye.

Grass Dyebath:
7.39 g of grass
300 ml of water


1. Add the grass to water, and heat at 5 and reduce during an hour period. (Clean grass before
boiling)
2. After the dyebath has cooled, strain the grass from the dye.


Tea Bag Dyebath:
2.39 g of tea bag
250 ml of water


1. Just like making tea! Remove bag from packaging, and add to water.
2. Heat at 5 and reduce during an hour period.
3. Remove the tea bag from dyebath and allow to cool.

Preparing Mordants


Alum:
Measurement 1: 3.5 g of alum to 1.75 g of cream of tartar with 200 ml of water
Measurement 2: 7 g of alum to 3.75 g o of cream of tartar with 350 ml of water
10 g of wool: five for each alum measurements.


1. Heat 200/350 ml of water.
2. Measure out alum and cream of tartar using the scale.
3. Place both alum and cream of tartar in a beaker.
4. Add some of the water to dissolve alum and tartar, add the rest of the water and 5 g of wool.
5. Heat mixture until it begins to boil (about 30 minutes).
6. Reduce heat, and let simmer for another hour.
7. Remove wool from alum mordant bath, and dry.
8. Prepare 5 beakers, one for each natural dye, and add 1 g of alum mordanted wool to each bath.
9. Heat beaker at 4 for an hour, cool and leave overnight.


Copper Sulfate:

Measurement 1: .1 g of copper sulfate with 40 ml of dye
Measurement 2: .4 g of copper sulfate with 40 ml of dye
10 g of wool: five for each of the copper sulfate measurements.

1. Measure out the copper sulfate, enough for each natural dye, and set to the side.
2. Attain five glass beakers and fill each with 40 ml of a natural dye.
3. After beakers are prepared, dissolve copper sulfate with 1 ml of water.
4. Add sulfate to the dyebaths and stir.
5. Add 1 g of wool to the five mixtures, and heat at 4 for an hour.
6. Allow to cool and leave wool in bath over night.
7. Remove wool from bath and dry.


Vinegar:

Measurement 1: 2.5 ml with 30 ml of dye
Measurement 2: 5 ml with 30 ml of dye
10 g of wool: five for each of the vinegar measurements.


1. Measure out vinegar with graduated cylinder, enough for each natural dye, and set aside.
2. Prepare 5 beakers, one for each natural dye. Need 30 ml of each dye.
3. Add vinegar to natural dyes.
4. Add 1 g of wool to each bath.
5. Heat for an hour at setting of 4, allow to cool, and leave overnight.


Ammonia:
Measurement 1: 1 ml of ammonia to 2 _ ml of water added to 30 ml of dye
Measurement 2: 2 ml of ammonia added to 30 ml of dye


1. Measure out ammonia, and add water with 1 ml measurement. (Do this under the hood)
2. Prepare 5 beakers, one for each natural dye.
3. Add ammonia to each beaker and heat at 4 for an hour.
4. Allow to cool and leave overnight.

Cutting board with dandelion blossoms
Natural dyes as they cook on burner.
Strawberries before and after dyeing process. Strawberry dye in the background
Color variation of the dyes after combined with various mordants.

 

 

Observations and Data

Preparation of the Dyes
  Dye Color Amount Prepared Weight Water Observations
Beet Maroon 250 ml 37.31 g 300 ml On the contact the beets colored the water. Clear Dye
Strawberry Red 250 ml 85.27 g 300 ml Took 10 min. for the strawberries to lightly tint the water. Clear dye. After an hour dye darkened to red.
Dandelion Light Yellow 150 ml 4.02 g 200 ml Water tinted fairly quickly, about 10 min. Clear dye.
Grass Yellow 250 ml 7.39 g 300 ml Grass took almost 30 min. to tint water.
Tea Bag Brown 200 ml 2.39 g 300 ml Just like making tea! Clear dye.

 

Preparation of Mordants
  Measurement 1 Measurement 2 Amount of Water or Dye Mordant Observations
Alum to Cream of Tartar 3.5 g to 1.75g 7 g to 3.75 g 200 ml and 350 ml of Water Alum: small white crystals, similar look to sugar. Cream of Tartar: white powder.
Copper Sulfate .1 g .4 g 40 ml of Dye Light Blue Powder
Vinegar 2.5 ml 5 ml 30 ml of Dye Clear Liquid with a sour smell
Ammonia 1 ml with 2 ml of water 2 ml 30 ml of Dye Clear Liquid

Overall Observation: All mordant materials needed warm water added to them for them to dissolve into the solutions.

 

Mordants With Dye Observations
  Alum 3.5 g Alum 7 g Copper Sulfate .1 g Copper Sulfate .4
Beet Dye did not change color Dye did not change color Turned dye greenish brown during heating Became a very dark green
Strawberry Dye did not change color Dye did not change color Dye turned deeper maroon Turned brown
Dandelion Dye did not change color Dye did not change color Became a limas green color Turned green
Grass Dye did not change color Dye did not change color Became a bright green color Turned green
Tea Bag Dye did not change color Dye did not change color Became a richer brown Turned dark brown, and seemed to from a solid.

 

Mordants With Dye Observations
  Vinegar 2.5 ml Vinegar 5 ml Ammonia 1 ml to 2 ml of water Ammonia 2 ml
Beet No color change No color change turned brown turned very dark, almost black
Strawberry No color change No color change became brown became brown
Dandelion As dye was heated became colorless and clear As dye was heated became colorless and clear became a richer yellow became a richer yellow
Grass As dye was heated became colorless and clear As dye was heated became colorless and clear became a darker yellow became a darker and brighter yellow
Tea Bag While in the refrigerator tea became opaque. Vinegar cleared tea dye, and became a rich light brown While in the refrigerator tea became opaque. Vinegar cleared tea dye, and became a rich light brown turned dark brown turned dark brown

 

Color of Wool after Mordant and Dye Process
  Alum 3.5 g Alum 7 g Copper Sulfate .1 g Copper Sulfate .4 g Vinegar 2.5 ml Vinegar 5 ml Ammonia 1 ml Ammonia 2 ml
Beet
Strawberry
 
 
Dandelion no color light tint dull green dull green no color no color no color light yellow tint
Grass no color light tint dull green dull green light tint no color light yellow tint light yellow tint
Tea Bag light tan dark tan light greenish brown greenish brown light brown dark tan no color tan color

Overall Observation: The dyebath color was not representative of the ending wool color. With a higher concentration of mordant the wool seemed to absorb the dye better, thus dyeing darker. The variation of mordants created a variety of different effects in the wool color wise. The mordants didn't effect the texture of the wool.

 

 

Conclusions

In conclusion, mordants have been proved to be useful chemicals in the natural dyeing process. I found that even with a mordant the wool, after dyeing, was not representative of the dye color. Alum seemed to be the best mordant, in that it went through a presoaking process, and was not added directly to the dyebath, which is the case for the other mordants. The most variation came with the beet and various mordants. With each mordant the beet had a different hue, never really absorbing the deep maroon hue of the dye. The least variation came with the grass and dandelion, in which only a light tint or even no color was seen in the wool. This is possibly because the two dyes were so close in color to the original wool hue.

Links

http://www.pioneerthinking.com/naturaldyes.html

http://www.indiaeducation.info/HOBBIES/ART%20OF%20DYEING.htm

 

Other References

Driessen, Kris. Quilt History: The Earliest Dyes. 15 April 2003. <http://www.quilthistory.com/dye.htm>

Weigle, Palmy. Ancient Dyes For Modern Weavers. New-York: Watson-Guptill Publications. 1974.

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge Dr. Bordley and the University of the South Chemistry Department for the use of their facilities and materials.