textiles · exploration · misadventure

Back to Our Usual Programming: Mordanting Again


Several white mesh bags drying on a clothesline, holding mordanted wool and cotton.

To everybody who commented on my previous, very frustrated post, I can’t thank you enough for your kindness. You cheered me through the last two days of September, really and truly. I felt a bit easier, less high-tone. I cried a bit, my lower back made this big “thunk” in a lower register, so now even IT feels a little better, and the last two days of September were better for all of it. Thank you.

I’m packing for Lambtown today, and of course since I was all depressed for a month I’ve left everything for the last minute, so it’s going to be a busy day. Haven’t had one of those for a while. Might shock me into feeling better.

In the meantime, here’s a new dye report on a fresh round of mordanting. I thought maybe one reason my colors were so light with the earlier dyes was because my mordants weren’t very strong, so I went through the process again, aiming to mordant more heavily.

Too much alum can make wool sticky, but some books give stronger recipes than the original book that I used, so I compromised with doubling the amount.

The brass pot and the copper fragments have been sitting water for a few months. The brass water turned an almost fluorescent green, and the copper water turned dark and murky. Wool and cotton soaked in these liquids came out matching the color of the water, which they didn’t last time, so I’m hoping that means more mordant has soaked in.

I developed a good crust of iron oxide with the old pan, iron fragments, water, and vinegar, and soaked my samples thoroughly. They are actually quite beautiful without any dye at all, and the rusted objects leave abstract markings that make the fabric even more interesting. I may choose to make this skirt simply of rust-dyed cotton.

Several white mesh bags drying on a clothesline, holding mordanted wool and cotton.

For new mordants I chose gelatin and soy, and, if you’re faint of heart, skip this last one: urine. Mine. I’m not sure what it says about me that I was willing, and that I was never bothered. But then, I would have used elk poop, if I’d had it.

Urine (human, as far as my reading goes) and dung (grass-eating animal) are traditional mordants, and as I understand it, they contribute what some books call “animalization” to non-protein fibers like cotton or linen, and an additional glaze of protein to animal fibers. I’m sure there’s more to it, but I don’t understand it yet.

When left to cure for anything from a few days, to months, to years, they can polymerize, chemically alter through exposure to sunlight, heat, and dew, contributing additional chemicals to the mordanting process.

I let the new mordants sit for three days and cure for three more before I started dyeing again. Probably that’s not enough to polymerize or undergo major chemical changes, just enough for a light curing, but hell, I was ready to go.

During September I managed to dye with these new mordants, and now have dyed cotton and wool samples of three types of lichen, various parts of the yellow dock plant, and bougainvillea (again).

I find this all so satisfying. The quiet, gritty crumbling of lichens, the satiny stripping of seeds from stems, the careful paring of soft root into yellow slices. The dirt on my hands, the sun on my legs, the smell of some odd plant life rippling up from my work bowl, stuck to my hands. Pouring the water, kneading soaked dyestuffs, measuring the dye, adding the wool, the cotton; the wait, while they sink to the center of things.

Brass, copper, and rust-mordanted fibers drying and curing in the sun.

7 thoughts on “Back to Our Usual Programming: Mordanting Again

  1. Ok urine , interesting lol. Have fun on your trip

    Liked by 1 person

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