My first major project for 2022 is one that I’ve wanted to do for a long while, and I’m getting a whole lot of help with. How big of a difference does water source really make in one’s dye projects? Well! I decided to experiment with that premise, and asked people to share a water sample from their house. (And barns, streams, lakes..) My reenactment group is very generous and now I have water samples from all over the province, and beyond! 60 samples! I was hoping there’d be 20 or so, I certainly have my work cut out for me.
The basic experimental premise is very simple. Keep all the other variables steady (or known at least) and have the water as the main variable. Measure as much as I can about each water sample, to have some idea on what it contains, but then keep the dyestuff, the method, the fibre, the mordanting.. all of that to be the same so that differences can be safely assumed to be because of the water.
Which dyestuff to choose was an easy one. Madder is delightfully reactive to changes in water hardness, and pH and generally is a bit of a fussy goose, so it’s perfect for this. I got a nice big container of R. tinctorium, so that all 60 samples can be taken from the same batch of powder. Natural dyes are variable in and of themselves, from one batch to the next. The growing conditions, the soil, how the plant was handled and the dyestuff extracted all can affect the dye that I’ll be using, so at the very least, this one container should be relatively homogenous, even if multiple batches of madder went into it.
Fibre was also a no brainer choice. I’ve worked up small skeins of 100% wool yarn, all of which has been mordanted at 10% wof with alum. Basic, easy, nothing fancy going on here. Wool and alum. Done and done. The skeins aren’t quite perfectly consistent, they range from about 5 and a half grams to about 7 and a half grams, but I’m willing to be ‘close enough’ on that one.
I’ve had very good luck with using a water bath to keep my temperatures very consistent, as of course madder is also sensitive to what temperature it’s dyed at. Basically a large tub of water is heated with an immersion heater (sous vide gadget, I do love you and not just for steaks), and each dye bath lives in its own glass jar within that tub of water. I used this method for one of my earlier madder experiments and it worked a treat. I will have to work in batches, as I can’t fit all 60 at once, but good technique should keep that variable to a minimum.
Then it comes to the water itself, and there’s lots of it. The plan is to grab the pH, the iron content and a general measure of hardness (Total Dissolved Solids) from each sample. This should give me a moderately good idea on what’s going on in the water itself. I will admit freely that it is not ideal that the water has now sat for a good six weeks before I’ve gotten to working with it. (Thank you holidays and general life challenges.) Stale water means that I’ve lost most of the volatile compounds that would have been in it, and any that were treated with chlorine (rather than chloramine), that’s absolutely gone. Some of the unfiltered water has sediment that has settled out while it’s sat, and while I do plan to give each a shake before I measure it, it’s not quite the same as fresh. Still, this is what I have, and the reality of collection means that there was always going to be some sitting time before I used it. So be it, we’ll manage.
So expect more on this project in the hopefully near future! I think I have all of the pieces in place now, so it’s just a question of getting to the doing part.