My Pre Mordanting Cotton Misadventure
Earlier in the year I was really terrified of pre mordanting my cotton. But now I'm in a more experimenting, reckless kind of mood. I'm not as attached to the outcome and I'm very excited by the idea of playing with the process to see what happens next.
It's hard to pinpoint what exactly has changed but I know that I feel more creative and confident now. Due in part to the weather; now is most definitely my making season! And perhaps in part to experience - because I am making so many different things at the moment and writing about them, each has less weight. When I am making one item, it becomes huge and everything must be perfect. It's the object that I am pouring all my creative energy into and it becomes so precious because it's where I have poured all my love and hope and dreams (a bit like a never-ending circle). It's like all my happiness is tied up with this one project and if it fails, I collapse.
On the other hand, when I have lots on the go I happily move from project to project and find it easier to take mistakes in my stride, pausing long enough to unravel them. I think I have hit the sweet spot of having just enough to do to be happy. Not too much that I get overwhelmed and not so little that I'm bored and make trouble!
When you're dyeing cotton, you need to pre mordant it first so the cotton fibres will take up the colours from the plant dyes. Animal fibres like wool and silk readily take up plant dyes and don't need to be pre mordanted. Apparently, the trick with cotton is to soak it in an alkaline solution (such as ash water) and then dry it in the sun. Next you soak the cotton in a protein solution (such as soy milk) and then dry it in the sun. The more times you do ash / soy mordanting process the better. You can get some more details of the process in India Flint's book, Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes For Beautiful Textiles but she is frustratingly vague about the details and leaves a lot to experimentation which can be exciting or terrifying depending on your mood!
To get the best dye results you need to let the fabric cure after mordanting. Doing so will give more intense colours and longer lasting dyes. This can mean waiting 1 -2 years before dyeing your fabric! I have to say I'm too impatient too wait that long!
I was feeling so reckless about the process that I threw some soy milk into a bucket, added water and scarves and then went back and read over my notes. To find that you're supposed to do the ash water and then the soy milk. Oops! Time to give the scarves a quick wash before starting again...
Things I was curious about: Do you need to wet the cotton before mordanting? I did. How long do I leave the cotton in the mordant? I went for 5 days. Do I rinse the cotton after pre mordanting and before drying? Reading India's book I don't think so. Do I then need to wet the cotton before the next mordant step? No idea! Do you need the cotton to cure in between each of the mordanting steps (ash water and soy milk) or do you just do it lots of times (mordant, dry, repeat) and then rest for a year or two?
Next step: Dyeing the scarves!