No, I haven’t taken up turkey frying. I’ve been trying to dye with Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) that I grew in my garden this year. I got the seeds from Fedco Seeds. They are using the older name, Polygonum tinctorium, but it’s the same plant. They don’t ship to Canada so I was enabled in this enterprise by Norma, to whom I had them shipped and she then forwarded them on to me. (Thanks, hon!)
I first tried to make an indigo vat back at the end of July. Following the method described by Rita Buchanan in “A Dyers Garden”, I picked 8 oz of leaves, and gave them a rinse.
I loaded up a stainless steel strainer and a couple of bamboo steamer baskets with the leaves and stacked them in the turkey cooker pot.
I added water and fired up the cooker. It went downhill from there. I wasn’t paying close enough attention and it came to a boil instead of staying at 160 F. *sigh* But I went ahead and added washing soda to make it alkaline (pH=10) and I aerated it with a little aquarium pump (you can see it sitting on the railing in the first picture).
I didn’t have any Spectralite (thiourea dioxide, aka thiox) but found some Tintex colour remover (sodium hydrosulfite) at a local pharmacy (?) and I used that as the reducing agent. The bath turned a slightly more yellowish green colour, but didn’t dye my test yarn (wool). I neutralized the solution with some citric acid and dumped it out.
I gave it another try in early September, this time doing the extraction in a glass jar and using the turkey cooker as a water bath.
But then, to accommodate a sufficient volume of water for dyeing, I needed to use the big aluminum pot to do the aeration and reduction. I used more sodium hydrosulfite, but again, no blue. I left the vat sitting covered in the woodshed, ordered some thiox, and got on with life for a while.
When frost was a sure thing one day last week, I harvested all the Japanese indigo and left it in my garden wagon in the garage. I was determined to have one more try since it was just going to end up in the compost bin otherwise! With absolutely spectacular weather forecast for this long Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I filled the wagon with water, hoping to partly revive the plants to make picking the leaves of easier. It worked! I picked and picked and filled three glass jars with leaves. The glass jars are loaners from my friend Ann Jones. Today I also borrowed a 5-gallon plastic pail so that I wouldn’t have to do the aeration and reduction in the aluminum pot. (Thanks, Ann!)
Before dumping out the last failed attempt I decided to have a go at reducing it with my newly acquired thiox, and testing it on my long-suffering skeins of natural wool. I poured the solution from the aluminum pot into the plastic pail and then set the pail back into the pot (on top of a flat rock), put water in the pot up to about the same level as in the pail, and heated it up to 120 F. I added a couple of tablespoons of the thiox and after 30 minutes the solution was the most beautiful yellow colour! That was promising! Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture while it was still light enough.
I soaked the lace weight singles I had (twice) tried to dye before, in water, and then put them in the vat. I went and mowed the back yard for 30 minutes. As soon as I lifted the yarn from the bath it turned a bluish green. Woot! Colour! I hung on the line, threw another skein of white 3-ply fingering weight wool into the vat and went and mowed the back yard for another 30 minutes. By then the first yarn was definitely green.
And right out of the vat the second yarn looked like this.
After another 30 minutes of mowing the backyard was done and the yarn looked like this.
I put all the yarn back in the vat while I made supper and cleaned up the mower, then hung it all up on the line again. Unfortunately, it is now dark so those pictures will have to wait until tomorrow. But all in all, I declare the operation a success. I made blue!