So far I’ve dyed the marigold, the cochineal, and the combo of marigold and cochineal. The marigold came out a lovely gold, and the cochineal produced–startlingly–a gorgeous burgundy, almost exactly the shade of a cut beet. (I mordanted with alum rather than tin, which results in a purple-y dye rather than the traditional cochineal red.) The mix came out a rather saddened orange, one of those in-between shades that isn’t much of anything. I’ve tossed it back into the marigold dyepot to see if it improves.
Meanwhile, I’m putting together a dyepot with red sandalwood–be interesting to see what shade I get with alum. I experimented with red sandalwood and silk awhile back–I wound up with shades of orange and bright red, depending on the mordant.
Thus far I like the colors from the natural dyes, but I’m not too terribly impressed by the shades–these are all things I could reproduce with synthetics, much more easily and without all the boiling. (I admit that it’s kinda fun to mess with flowers and bug bits and stuff, though!)
I’m thinking of doing some more natural dye experiments, but for that I would really want a dedicated dyepot–some of the mordants (stannous chloride and chrome in particular) are toxic enough that I don’t want them around food, and I’m not sure about a lot of the dyestuffs. Natural != good for you, unfortunately.
Time to go see what the sandalwood has stirred up–last I looked it was a rather ugly shade of reddish brown (think red mud), but there’s no knowing what it will look like once it rinses out.
The interesting part about these dyes is that they are richer and more complex than most of the premixed dye colors you can get in stores. They are not richer and more complex (IMO) than some of the dye blends I’ve done while making my dye samples. I think one of the things that makes natural dyes as pretty as they are is simply that they have multiple coloring agents, so instead of a single flat color you get lots of over and undertones. The same thing can be done with synthetic dyes providing you’re willing to do some color mixing, and have some idea what you’re doing. It just takes a lot more experience/expertise than picking out off-the-shelf colors.
I’m not sure I’d say natural dyes are better or worse than synthetics. It’s different. Natural dyes are an intuitive process with a lot of “hand” satisfaction–lots of fiddly bits you can get your fingers into. Synthetic dyes are easier to use, but don’t have the magic of seeing color come out of bits of root and bark and bug stuff.
All that said, I think I’m probably going to put the natural dye obsession on hold for the moment, in favor of going back to work on Celtic knotwork stuff.