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Dyeing with avocado pits

October 5, 2014
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Dried avocado seeds, blackened with age

For whatever reason, one or more housemates has been squirreling away avocado pits, which was lucky because according to the Internet, they are a source of pink dye.

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I processed them at the same time as the rhubarb root for my previous garden dye experiment, concocting a small fermentation vat with about a gallon of water and a cup of ammonia, plus the coarsely chopped pits that then sat on our porch in the shade for 5 days in the middle of our August heat spell. I had originally intended to do stove-top dyeing with the avocado liquor right after completing the rhubarb batch, but the outcome of that experiment was disappointing enough that I decided to try a modified solar dye bath, a la my first few experiments. In the picture below, the rhubarb dye liquor is on the right and the avocado seed liquor is the big jar on the left.

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I simply left the liquor in the jar and added my pre-mordanted, damp alpaca fiber. The fiber was simmered in a mixture of alum and cream of tartar for 20 minutes, then drained and allowed to cool to room temperature before being introduced to the jar. Since I was leaving the next day for an open-ended trip, I followed a tip from India Flint and poured melted wax on top of the water to ensure airtightness. The jars I use are old bulk jars from a local natural grocery store and they have that metal claspy thing plus a rubber gasket, so should be fairly airtight, but the wax really sealed in the liquid, as you can see below. This is what it looked like when I finally opened it three weeks later: no mold and no explosions, either! (The mixture of a high ph liquid and organic matter should equal fermentation, which can sometimes mean the production of gas.)

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I then left it in a shady spot on the porch for about 3 weeks, followed by a soak in a bath of white vinegar bath. And here are the results:IMG_6226

If you’ve been following my dye experiments, some of these balls of yarn should look familiar to you. At the top is the walnut hull-dyed yarn; center-left is the calendula yarn (with little petals still stuck to it!); center-right is the avocado pit yarn and bottom is the rhubarb yarn. All of these yarns are 100% white alpaca yarn (locally raised and processed).

Definitely pink, but also quite pale and somewhat tanner than I’d have liked. Again, at no point did I check the ph of anything in this experiment. I also didn’t really bother weighing or measuring anything to exactly and I never took temperatures of anything. One big reason is that I simply didn’t have the equipment to do so, so I let it slide. I also used tap water.

So, what happened? Well, possibilities in this case include (1) temperature–the pre-dye fermentation period and the long exposure in the dye bath should theoretically have made up for the low temperature and I’ve seen elsewhere on the web that avocado pits yield color using the solar method, but the pits I used were really old and dried out; (2) not enough dye matter–I kinda doubt this one because the dye liquor was very dark, almost opaque and I only used about an ounce of yarn, surely an equal or smaller amount than the pits; (3) tap water; (4) poor job of pre- or post mordanting; (5) old pits.

 

After the rhubarb experiment, I pledged to buy filtered water, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I’ve gotten my hands on loads of ph strips and also dug out some of the scales our house has. I’m hoping manipulating these two factors will mitigate any flaws with our water. I’ve also committed to allowing more time to both mordanting steps.

Concluding remarks: I now have four balls of dyed alpaca yarn (plus a ball of yak-silk blend, but that’s a different project). All of them have taken up color, so I wouldn’t call any of them a failure. Without a doubt the walnut-dyed ball seems the most obviously successful–it’s clearly the most non-white color in the bunch and it also came out the closest to my expectations, even exceeding them–but it’s hard to say about any of the others. As experiments go, they’re kind of one-offs: I’ll have to wait for another windfall of these kinds of materials to try again, so the lessons I’ve learned are to be extrapolated and applied to what may end up being very different dye stuffs. But then there’s this about garden dyeing–every batch will always be unique. No results will ever be 100% replicable, nor can they be perfectly controlled. I’ll try to harvest walnuts and rhubarb roots from the same plants next year, but things will be different beyond just the methods I use. Different weather will create different concentrations of dye molecules in these plants, for example. The best I can hope for is to improve my ability to control the outcome of any dye bath just a little bit better than I am now, but that may simply entail accepting that, say, avocado pits will more than likely yield a weak, bland pink.

This unpredictability isn’t just characteristic of home dyes, either. It’s true of procion dyes, as well, or of any home craft project. And this is because home production is not mass production. Attempting to replicate factory results at home is a recipe for frustration, exhaustion and inevitable defeat. Like a lot of home crafters, I tend to approach most projects, be they recipes for cider or patterns for sewing clothes, with a clear ambition to mimic “professional”, aka factory, products. But these past few weeks of playing with garden dyes has taught me that this approach is misguided. For one thing, the expectation of uniformity is an artificial one, drummed up by a culture of mass shopping. As a consumer, I conflate uniformity with quality, but uniformity is a by-product of speed and efficiency, features that have been made the central focus of our modern economy to the expense of just about everything else. But when it comes to homemade stuff, speed and efficiency only really exist on a personal scale–what is fast and efficient for me, as opposed to someone else–and the conditions affecting how I work change over time, as well. This means that every worker, no matter how skilled, always makes things slightly differently. And, ultinately, there is no small-scale craft operation that can ever hope to compete with any factory for speed and uniformity. So, whatever else, I have lots of reasons for wanting to become a “productive” craftsperson, but these two areas aren’t part of them. Giving up on the notion of uniformity can allow me to focus on the strengths that home crafting has, not least of which is the very opposite of uniformity: individualization. A hand knit sweater has the potential to fit its wearer perfectly in a way that mass-produced sweaters can only do so by accident. As far as dyeing goes, the individualized nature of every batch of dyed fiber means that I produce colors at a whim, using materials that are immediately available to me. If I don’t worry about achieving a specific outcome, then I am free to generate color from just about anything. This is time-saving, money-saving and resource-saving, but it also has a certain aesthetic appeal to it as the dye pot becomes a source of surprise and adventure.

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One Comment leave one →
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