Hubble, Bubble, Silk and Trouble

Yesterday I spent an entertaining and thoroughly messy few hours mucking around with logwood chips and a piece of finely woven silk, in the first stages of my latest plan for world domination – the creation of silk scarves and wraps hand dyed with natural plant colours.   Sounds daft, I know, but I love to make things, and I love things to be beautiful, so messing around with plant dyes was an obvious next step for me, being a grubby fingered herbalist.

As to the specifics of mucking around with plant matter, quite a series of steps needed to be undertaken.   First, the silk needed to be washed thoroughly to make sure it was clean and  had no icky horrible treatments applied to it that would stop the silk from taking up the dye properly.   Then it was soaked overnight in the  mordant – a mixture of alum and cream of tartar in this particular case.   The mordant was dissolved in a little boiling water, then mixed into enough extra water to allow the silk to move in the water bath freely – about three pints did it as I only had about 20g of fabric to dye.  The resulting liquid was brought to a simmer and then taken off the heat, before being left overnight and then rinsed thoroughly.

Soaking the silk in the mordant. Not a lot to see at this stage really is there??

Next, there was the fun job of creating the dye itself.   I added the logwood chips to a few pints of water.  What was really quite exciting was the fact that the dye started to come out of the chips before I even started to heat the mixture!

Logwood chips and water, just before heating. You wouldn't think these would give off such a deep indigo colour really, would you?

After the water was added and the mixture was brought to a boil, the resulting glop started to take on a fantastically occult look, deep indigo purple, with an oily film on the top.  Really not very promising looking if I’m honest – it looked rather delightfully vile!

Mmm tasty. This doesn't look at all dodgy does it...

Matters were very much improved, however, after an hour of simmering followed by an hour of steeping, then the glop was passed through a sieve and the resulting liquid revealed its rather stunning colour – and oh my Gods was it worth the fuss!  The resulting liquid was the most incredible deep, rich plummy indigo, with reddish tones – absolutely delightful, and best of all, the logwood chips can be dried and re-used!   At this point, I was positively itching to get the silk dunked into the dye and see what the results would be!

Aha, now THAT is starting to look a bit more promising...

I think the silk must have been just itching to clamber into the dye because as soon as the tiniest corner of it touched the dye, the colour started to wick up the fabric.   Of course, the silk still being damp would have helped!  The resulting colour was a rich plummy indigo almost the same sort of colour as ripe blackberries, and was absolutely delicious!  I brought the whole thing back to a simmer, and then took it off the heat and let it sit for 45 minutes.   The resulting silk was nearly black when I first took it out of the liquid, and about a half hour of frantic rinsing washed out a seemingly never ending stream of slowly fading dye.   I put the silk on the radiator after about a half hour because the water seemed to be running clear, only to discover, ten minutes later, that purple water was now trickling down the metal work… oh dear.   Even worse – when I took the silk off and started to rinse it again, I found that the dye had actually stained the metal!  Note to self – don’t do this again.   As charming as the colour is, patches of dye on the metal work is not such an attractive thing…   Still, another half hour of rinsing, and then I put the silk back on the radiator on top of a towel.  This time it seemed to be ok – the only problem was the interminable wait until it dried!

Watching silk dry... and trying to stop my fingers from twitching too eagerly!

In actual fact, the silk didn’t take long to dry at all, being such a light weave, and revealed a gorgeous deep midnight indigo colour.  The resulting fabric is now being made into a long scarf or wrap, with silver and blue beading at each end – I’ll post a picture of the resulting garment when it’s done.   More silk has been ordered, and further experimentation and dubious brewing will ensue – though the big question now is whether to use the logwood chips again and leave the silk in the dye for only ten minutes, in the hopes of a lighter colour, or use madder root instead, which apparently will yield a rich, deep pink colour with alum.  Decisions, decisions…

Et voila! Fine woven silk dyed deep indigo with logwood chips!


  1. Lovely to see you went into action!
    I haven’t done any dyeing yet but hope to do later in this year 😉

    Such a beautiful silk project you made!
    And thanks for letting us know the wet piece can stain things before it’s dry…
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Looking forward to the finishing touches and I’m excited to see other plant dyes as well!

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