Peggy Brennan offers tips
on dyeing with natural materials
Space dyed (multicolor) reed at
..In A Handbasket --->
Want a special color? Consult the Rit
Dye color mixing chart. Click on "Custom Colors Recipes" for particulars.
How to dye seagrass from Linda
Boyle Gibson of in a Handbasket:
I dye many hundreds of pounds of the seagrass. The trick is to have the
dye bath HOT HOT HOT and very concentrated. I can't emphasize these two
enough. My dye is simmering (and sometimes boiling over) and in a canner
sized kettle I probably use 3-4 boxes of Rit dye. This is a bit difficult
for me to measure because I buy the 5 pound containers of dye and I usually
put 3-5 scoops, coffee measuring size, in a pot. The larger industrial
size pots I use require more of course.
Do not uncoil the seagrass. Cut of all but one of two of the ties
holding it together and submerge it in the hot dye. I use one pound coils
and weigh the coils down with pieces of lumber. I usually let it "cook"
for 5-15 minutes -- depending on the concentration and the color. Some
colors go faster and if the dye is really charged that helps too. After
several coils are done, I always add another scoop of dye to charge it
Some people think that adding a squirt of dish detergent to the dye
bath lowers the surface tension and allows the seagrass to absorb the dye
faster. I have tried this and honestly couldn't tell any difference and
I don't bother with it since it is something else to do.
Drying the seagrass is critical. It can mold and mildew very fast,
so it needs to be hung and "fluffed" everyday. I have clothes hangers bent,
hanging all around my work room, old drying racks, and even old coat trees
that I hang the stuff from. I turn on fans to keep the air moving --- and
this is in an air conditioned area! It will take a good week for the seagrass
to dry if in 1 pound coils --- this is why I NEVER use the 3 pound coils
--- it takes to damn long to dry.
I think most people know not to wet the seagrass when using
it and if it does get wet, it will bleed very badly.
Hope this answers your question. Basically it is a pain for
most folks if they only need a little bit -- and since I sell it for $8.00
a pound, it seems like a deal if you factor in the cost of the dye and
all the time. (6/20/00)
Twig Mather suggests: When pouring dye into jugs for storing, make an
inexpensive funnel by cutting off the top of a two-liter, plastic bottle.
Editor's note: If you use the top of a 16 - 20 oz. plastic
bottle (like Coke or water bottles) to make a funnel, it will snap into
the neck of a gallon jug and hold steady while you pour in the dye.
Kim Renich says: I store my liquid dye in milk jugs in a shed. Occasionally
they spring a leak. Now I set a disposable pie tin under each jug. Also,
I've learned to use plastic clothes pins for dyeing because they don't
absorb the stain like the wooden ones do.
Andrea Wade offers this "undyeing" hint (which incidentally she says
also works for mold) : To produce stone washed/sun bleached Southwestern
colors: over dye reed by immersing it in boiling dye, drying without rinsing,
then redyeing it again in heated dye. Dry it a second time without rinsing.
Dampen reed and loosely coil it on the top shelf of a dishwasher and run
it through a wash cycle (without the heated drying cycle if possible) using
POWDERED dishwasher detergent - either Cascade or Sunlight do a good job.
I also tried Electrosol but I was not satisfied with the results. The bleaching
effect will not happen with any of the three liquid dishwasher detergents
I used. NOTE: DO NOT do this outside the dishwasher. Powdered dishwasher
detergents, when mixed with water, make a highly caustic solution that
can cause severe chemical skin burns and/or permanent scarring of the cornea.
Andrea also offers this tip: The makers of Rit have a chart
on how to make color blends that is available by writing to: Rit Consumer
Affairs, CPC Specialty Products, 1437 West Morris Street, Indianapolis,
IN 46221 or by calling (317) 231-8044.
Cheri Brance writes: I always read that people who dye reed use a whole
box of dye and do lots of reed at once. Since I like to use lots of different
colors and only need a little at a time, I only make up about 1/2 cup of
one color and store each color in a small pint-sized bottle (Snapple is
perfect). I boil my dies in a Pyrex measuring cup that I only use for dyes,
since Rit and such are poisonous. Then I use a Hefty One Zip bag to mix
my reed and dye together--the bag isn't affected by the boiling water.
It really helps eliminate messes since you can really seal the bag--Glad-loc
styles don't work well at all. Excess can be poured right back into the
measuring cup or bottle. Then I fill the bag with cold water, seal again
and rinse right in the bag. I let the reed dry before I use it, since this
seems to set the color, and then I lightly dampen it when I use it so it
won't bleed. I also like to mix my dye color together to get new colors--mixing
only small amounts makes this much easier. (Liquid Rit seems to give much
better color and mixtures.)
Chuck from C & D Baskets suggests tye dying reed creates a unique
look. This is done by tying a small amount of plain reed together and then
dipping it in four or five different coordinated colors. This is a long
process because each color should dry before dipping into the next color.
Lucy Cote wrote to suggest when working with small children and the
possible toxic and staining effects of dyes are a concern, reed can be
dyed with Kool Aid. She says is produces a subtle color which is very nice
for Easter baskets.
Debra Van Briesen says: "I've found that putting salt in with the hot
Rit dye and then soaking briefly in salt and vinegar water then rinsing
with cold water makes my reed very colorfast. On the very 'bad' colors
such as red or navy, I may also slightly pat dry (just so it is not dripping)
with an old towel just before weaving as this helps bleeding etc. Also
be sure to pack well before weaving a color piece and as you go so you
don't have to move the weavers much after they are in place."
Debra also offers: "When walnut hull stain has dried, I spray it with
Old English Lemon Oil (you have to put it in your own spray bottle). It
really brightens everything up and dries nicely. It does wonders for the
hardwood handles and other parts that tend to look "dry and old."
A big thank you to Barb Booth of Florida for the following tips on
Dyes can be made with just about anything that can be boiled and produces
color. Start with kitchen items and go out the back door to find other
alternatives. The key to colorful permanent dyes that produce colors that
last is to use boiling hot water wit h whatever you mix it with. Then just
dip the coiled reed until you get the color you like. Rinse afterwards
with cool water. You can add vinegar or salt to the rinse water to ensure
Suggested dye items:
I highly recommend you use rubber gloves, a wooden spoon for dipping
and stirring, and wear an apron or an old shirt (the same one every time!).
Even the neatest person can have an accident which can ruin an outfit.
Use the gas grill outdoors to boil hull s and plants to avoid stinking
up the kitchen.
Strong tea - the English teas are the best but even instant iced tea
Easter egg dyes
Walnut, Pecan & Sunflower hulls
Most dyers use enamel pots. A copper or iron pot may change
the color; nevertheless, it may be just the color you are looking for.
Discarded enamel vegetable bins from old refrigerators are very useful.
You can also use a glass or Pyrex bowl in the microw ave.
Some people even use the washing machine, though that can be hard
on the reed and cause splitting or splinters to appear. If you use this
method, use a small load, delicate cycle, and hot water. Add 1 cup vinegar
to the rinse cycle to make it colorfast. R un an empty rinse cycle after
the dye is used to prevent any from coloring your clothes.
The mineral content of water may affect the color. Choose rain water,
soft water, or distilled water over deep-well or municipal water.
Use petals and yellow inner petals (stamen?) while they are stiil fresh
for the strongest dyes. Don't use the stems. This is a good way to recycle
flower arrangements. A qood indicator of a dye flower is whether it leaves
color on your table top or finge rs when you touch it.
Mash ripe berries and fruits enough to make the juices flow; wait a
few hours; then simmer briefly. To obtain rich dyes, use plenty of dyestuff.
Boil 1 1/2 gallons water for one package Rit dye. Dip until desired
color. Unused Rit dye can be stored in a plastic milk jug without refrigeration
until needed aqain. Dye will maintain its original color best if stored
away from light. Most other colorants need to be frozen to prevent them
from getting rancid. Just heat up again before using. You can use a glass
dish in the microwave to keep things easy.
In the fall gather walnut (makes brown), pecan (red/orange) or sunflower
(gray) hulls. Remove the hulls with a hammer; crush them; place them in
an old stocking or knee high; cover with water; and boil. Strain the stain;
and immerse your material until i t turns the desired shade. Store the
stocking with hulls in a plastic bag in the freezer to be used again. Stain
can be poured into a spray bottle and sprayed or painted onto the finished
(A word of caution: Even some natural materials, especially
tobacco, will produce harmful vapors when heated. Plan to work with these
materials out-of-doors or in a very well-ventilated work space.
Basket Stain Recipe:
Cover and let stand for about 2 weeks. Work outside because of the ammonia
fumes. This stain will not sour or go bad. Add more ammonia if stain is
too dark. Baskets can be dipped or stained.
2 pouches loose chewing tobacco
6 Tbsp. ground coffee
2 quarts ammonia
Editor's note: Barb is an innovative vine basketmaker. To see
her Hurricane Opal basket, visit color photos
Fading (and more about hulls):
Judith Olney writes: I have found a lot of the natural dyes to be very
fugitive. It's embarassing to have some one tell you that a basket you
sold them that was dyed with logwood and sweet fern (properly mordanted,
etc.) has absolutely no color left after 5 years! I have even had indigo
fade out of a basket. The only natural dye I know that is absolutely permanent
is black walnut.
Also, panty hose with the legs tied off make a wonderful container
for the nuts and it is easier to just leave them inside the hulls. Panty
hose also make wonderful strainers to remove the gunk that accumulates
when you use the dye.
Judith Jones suggests: There is a slower way, just as effective,
to make your own walnut dye. Pick up the walnuts in the fall, place them
in a five gallon bucket or a galvanized trash can, cover them with rain
water and let them set. I have mine outsid e so they freeze and thaw as
the weather does. When I need new "brew", I use panty hose to strain off
the nuts and sludge from the husks. Then I add my new brew to my old which
I keep inside the garage in a galvanized trash can. I always have a good
su pply of dye. With the dye in the trash can, I can dip a whole finished
basket with nice results.
(Ed. note: You might want to leave the nuts lay out in the
air for a while before doing this. In our part of the country they have
little worms that need a chance to get away so you don't find them floating
on top of your "brew.")
To make your own walnut basket stain, boil walnut hulls (feed the nuts
to the squirrels first, you don't need them) in a large kettle of water.
Putting them in cheesecloth bags first makes removal of the hulls from
the stain much easier. Cooking them outdoors on a gas grill makes the kitchen
smell much better too.
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