Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pomegranate Skin or Anarchilka

We were supposed to go trekking this weekend, but the weather did not cooperate. So here I am hoping to finish the last 6 dyes that we tested in this mordant concentration batch.

Pomegranate is another common Indian dye. It is used all over the country from Tamil Nadu to Kashmir, and offers a wide range of colors. I bought the dried peel in the market. We have wild pomegranate growing all over the mountains in this valley and I will experiment with that dye in the fall.

One of the most interesting things here is that we obtained much better colors with the cold baths than we did with the hot ones.

Again, cold baths come first. They were done around 10 degree C, for about 7 days with a 1/1 fiber to dye ratio.

Pemegranage on alum, in a cold bath: 1. Al 5%; 2. Al 5% + CoT 5%; 3. Al 10%; 4. Al 10% + CoT 10%; 5. Al 50% + CoT 15% ; 6. Al 25% + CoT 25%; 7. Al 15% + CoT 5%; 8. Al 25%; 9. Al 50%.
I am in the process of reading Walter Gardner's book on wool dyeing from 1904, in it he warns against using pure alum as a mordant due to the fact that it builds up on the surface of the fibers, without deep penetration,  and falls off in the dye bath. Others feel that high concentrations of alum leave a sticky hand (feel) on the fibers. Both of these are most likely referring to the same phenomena. As I go over the results of these experiments, (and this will take a few months, since there is lots of interesting info to digest here), I will try to address some of these concerns and see how they reflected in our tests.

In general I can say that alum is rather gentle on our wool, even at high concentrations and that the hand of the wool is always better with the cot than without it, and at lower concentrations than it is at higher ones. Yet the differences in hand are relatively small, and tend to vary, with the dye used and they dyeing method. It will be interesting to see how these higher concentrations work in larger batches of yarn, and also how they stand up to fastness tests.  As far as the sticky build-up is concerned (and Gardner's warning), from what I can see so far a large portion of it can be washed away with a few good washes after mordanting.

Furthermore, and to me this was an interesting observation, the differences in color that I have noticed from different concentrations are clearly more pronounced with pure alum than they are with the alum+cot combination. In many of the samples the cot combo results in basically the same color, no matter the concentration. This is not so with pure alum, which usually gives deeper and richer tones in higher concentrations....

It is also becoming very clear that we have to consider the dyes and colors involved. For instance pure alum, gives much better madder reds than the colors obtained with cot addition. While the yellows obtained above with the addition of cot, from pomegranate, are quite superior to the colors offered by pure alum. So far I have only considered the yellows and reds in detail and will have to look at the other colors when time permits.

Pomegranate on copper, in a cold bath: 1. Cu 1%; 2. Cu 1%  + 2% Citric Acid; 3.Cu 2%  + 4% Citric Acid; 4.  Cu 2%; 5. Cu 4%; 6. Cu 4%  + 8% Citric Acid; 7. Cu 8%; 8. Cu 8%  + 10% Citric Acid.

Again, up to 2% fibers are great, after that not so good. I probably should have used acidic acid, but had none, and the citric acid after 4% is too strong. Nevertheless the third color with citric is my favorite and here the fibers are still good. At 3% and 4%, the fibers with citric show more damage, than those with copper alone.

Pomegranate on iron, in a cold bath: 1. 1% Fe; 2. 1% Fe + 2% CoT + 1% Glauber’s Salt; 3. 2% Fe; 4. 2% Fe + 4% CoT + 2% Glauber’s Salt; 5. 4% Fe; 6. 4% Fe + 6% CoT + 4% Glauber’s Salt.
There are nice differences in shades and colors of the different concentrations...

Pomegrantare on tin, in a cold bath: forgive me but I have to omit the concentrations here.

Pomegranate on merino, in a cold bath: 1. Al 15% + CoT 5%; 2. Cu 4%  + 8% Citric Acid; 3. 4% Sn + 4% Oxalic Acid; 4.  2% Fe + 4% CoT + 2% Glauber’ Salt.
This picture and the one below, really illustrate how versatile pomegranate dye can be and why it is an Indian favorite.

Pomegranate on angora/merino blend, in a cold bath: 1. Al 15% + CoT 5%; 2. Cu 4%  + 8% Citric Acid; 3. 4% Sn + 4% Oxalic Acid; 4. 2% Fe + 4% CoT + 2% Glauber’ Salt.
This angora blend is slowly becoming my favorite...Angora and cashmere are the main fibers we work with... I was very worried about how they will react to mordants and natural dyes...But seeing all these beautiful results that we have gotten with angora, makes my heart jump with joy...I cannot overstate how beautifully they have accepted the dye and the fiber quality is superb with all four mordants...

On the same note, I am starting to believe that most of the problems that I have experienced with tin, copper and to some degree iron are due to the structure of our local wool fibers...They are not nearly as strong as the merino wool and angora....Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case the good thing is that they give a quick indication of how strongly the mordants affect wool.

And now we pass to the hot baths. This one was about an hour with an overnight soak.

Pomegranate on alum, in a hot bath: 1. Al 5%; 2. Al 5% + CoT 5%; 3. Al 10%; 4. Al 10% + CoT 10%; 5. Al 25%; 6. Al 25% + CoT 25%; 7. Al 50%; 8. Al 50% + CoT 15%; 9. Al 15% + CoT 5%.

Pomegranate on copper, in a hot bath:  1. Cu 1%  + 2% Citric Acid; 2. Cu 2%; 3. Cu 2%  + 4% Citric Acid; 4. Cu 4%; 5. Cu 4%  + 8% Citric Acid; 6. Cu 8%; 7. Cu 8%  + 10% Citric Acid.
As has happened with copper on few occasions, different concentrations and the addition of cot and citric do not make much difference on the colors obtained.

Pomegranate on iron, in a hot bath: 1. 1% Fe; 2. 1% Fe + 2% CoT + 1% Glauber’ Salt; 3. 2% Fe; 4. 2% Fe + 4% CoT + 2% Glauber’ Salt; 5. 4% Fe; 6. 4% Fe + 6% CoT + 4% Glauber’ Salt.
Again, iron, as opposed to copper, keeps on surprising me with the different colors and shades that the mordant determines....

Pomegranate on tin, in a hot bath: it is not an interesting color, so I will ignore the concentrations here.

Pomegranate on merino, in a hot bath: 1.  4% Sn + 4% Oxalic Acid; 2.Cu 4%  + 8% Citric Acid ; 3. Al 15% + CoT 5%; 4. 2% Fe + 4% CoT + 2% Glauber’ Salt.
I have been complaining about merino felting from the beginning. This Monday I visited our mill, a recommendation from Dr. Alam from Himalyan Weavers (a superb outfit) to whom i shall be eternally grateful, and according to the them this merino, which I picked up last year for these experiments from another mill, has about 30% of nylon-like additive. (I can't remember which one exactly). The guys at the mill seemed to think that the nylon was reacting to the acidic environment and causing the felting. I think the angora/merino samples below are more indicative of how good quality merino will behave with these mordants and dyes....From now on I will stop posting the merino samples and just stick to the angoras.

Pomegranate on angora/merino blend, in a hot bath: 1. Cu 4%  + 8% Citric Acid; 2. Al 15% + CoT 5%; 3. 4% Sn + 4% Oxalic Acid; 4. 2% Fe + 4% CoT + 2% Glauber’ Salt.
I might have mentioned it before, but it is well worth repeating...The fiber quality is superb all around, and the look and hand are very close to un-dyed angora. With all the talk of mordants and dyes, these angora samples indicate the importance of the quality of base fibers we work with. They trump over all the other factors.
I also took some time to inspect the differences in hand and appearance closely and can pretty safely say that alum does the least damage. It is followed by iron (which still surprises me), then copper and of course tin does the most damage.....Please keep in mind that the differences are minor.


  1. Hi, Jarek,
    I wouldn't attribute the tenderness of the local wool to the spinners. More likely that the ewes had some health issues that made the fleece weak than that a novice spinner somehow managed to weaken the fiber. For example, if a ewe is sheared sometime *after* lambing, there will be a weak spot in the fiber right where you'd expect - her body was more focused on the lamb than on her hairdo :-), and childbirth is hard on the body whether you're a woman, a yak, or a ewe. That's why fleece producers who want to sell to handspinners always shear *before* lambing, even if it means the ewe is more susceptible to the cold. Just something to consider... However, a hair fiber (mohair or angora) is always stronger than sheep's wool, because of the scale structure and the size/thickness of hair vs wool.
    Sandra from the Natural Dye list

  2. hello sandra,
    thanks for the comment...
    couple of things.
    from what i can see there is a strong relation between the spinner and the way delicate wool reacts to the mordant. it is mainly related to the twist. if the twist on the singles and the ply is correct there are no problems. but if there some problems with it, it will pop up immediately....this applies to all fibers hair/and wool....

    secondly, the kinnauri wool is weaker than merino...this is mainly due to the market prices, which are too low...shepherds do not value their wool and concentrate on the meat...they also shear the animals way too often....the wool is actually pretty good, but it is not given the time to develop...

  3. one more thing sandra.....
    there are lots of spinners here, basically everyone spins their own wool in the villages and many people work for large weaving outfit as hand spinners...
    ....the big problem we found when we first started working here is that these spinners are terribly underpaid and they make up for that by quickly producing tons of under-twisted, thick yarn...(even the gov't training programs seem to encourage this) we have to talk to each individual spinner that works with us, retrain them, and reassure them that they will be fairly compensated....some of this yarn that i used in initial experiments came from our early production work, before we realized the extent of this problem.....
    .... things have gotten much better, and the yarns i will use in the next batch of experiments are great, at least i hope....

  4. Okay, I'll grant that underspun and loosely plied yarn can be weaker than yarn with the proper amount of twist at all stages. I've worked with yarn that just drifts apart if you apply tension (as on a loom). I guess I was responding to your remark that seemed to imply that the spinner was damaging the fiber itself, which is highly unlikely. In your samples using those early skeins, does the individual fiber actually break in the middle, or does the yarn slip apart if you tug on it? If the former, it's the sheep (and could be a health or nutrition issue); if the latter, it's definitely the spinner.

  5. hello sandra,
    that was not my intention at all...the spinners are great, it's just that they are not used to the more delicate work, and it is new to many of them....
    the original fibers we had trouble with do not break, but they tend to come slightly apart after some mordants when they are not twisted properly.....we experimented with different twists on the plied yarn, and were able to observe some remarkable differences after mordanting.....
    the main, and possibly the only problem, with the local wool is that it is cut too early....these fibers can be much stronger if they would only let them develop. (at least that is what i hear from the local wool research center)....each sheep produces 2 or so kg per year hear, and the shepherd gets about 100 rupies for that (that is about 2.5 us).....this is they see the wool as a burden....
    at this point we do not use much of the local wool....mainly angora, cashmere, yak and merino....but i think if we continue with this project, we will eventually talk to some shepherds, pay them extra and insist they wait with the shearing....we have to take this approach with many of the things we do....

  6. Hello, I would like to know why alum makes fibers sticky when used excessively. I've heard from multiple sources that it makes the fiber sticky but no explanations as to why. Could you explain?