Dye You Bastard - Harry K attempts to dye tshirts with beetroot
A friend of mine is involved in a local community box scheme. You know the thing; you get a box of veg a week from local farmers, run through a co-op. Very admirable, except all the farmers seem to be producing at the moment is beetroot. There’s not a lot you can do with beetroot except as a way of eating vinegar, anything else you do with it and they taste of mud. Eating three large jars of pickled beetroot a week is a bit much even for the greatest vinegar freak and so the idea came to use all the beet to dye stuff.
I went digging and fudged up some old leaflets from my hippy days, I found one on dying that included beetroot, ya hay! (It also said you could make yellow from apple bark and blue from dandelion root, oh the choice.) As well as the stuff that had been tried above like salt and vinegar (that did not work!) it mentioned something called ‘Mordant’. This is something that helps bind the dye to the material, like a magic ingredient X. The philosopher’s stone of dying.
According to the leaflet, mordant usually comes from sciencey metal chemical things, which being a hippy leaflet, is obviously bad, so it had its own natural versions. One of these was using bark of the gum tree, but as I could not find one of these in my neighbourhood had to make do with boiling a mug of rusty nails and 2 mugs of vinegar in 5 litres of water in a big saucepan for an hour. After leaving for 24hrs this was strained, leaving just some even rustier nails in the bottom of the saucepan. Something about this did not seem right and so the leaflet was rechecked. It was the liquid, that had been strained carefully down the sink, that was the mordant, not the rusty nails that had been carefully kept. Try again.
One bucket of home made iron mordant later (apparently copper mordant can be made by soaking copper pennies in piss for two weeks but this was not so appealing - two weeks seems so long to wait!) and the resulting t shirt did actually look a lot better, although it was brown instead of purple. It went in for the wash test and was rubbish.
This was getting to be a pain. The old hippy leaflet had lied and it was time to get hold of some of those sciency metal chemical things it warned against. Time to turn to more modern things - the internet.
Wash t-shirt in warm soapy water and keep it wet.
Get some Alum (got this from a wool shop but you might try hardware shops or chemists - expect most to not have a clue what you are talking about and you won’t get too down hearted), this is the sciency metal stuff and is aluminium sulphate, you can also try iron, tin or copper sulphates.
Put half teaspoon alum per 2oz cloth (or 20% alum to material weight) into a saucepan with cup water, heat to dissolve (Don’t Boil) add 4 pints water, add wet t-shirt and simmer (Don’t Boil) for 1 hr. Let it cool, squeeze cloth and rinse thro with warm water to remove excess alum (not sure about this as worried it would remove alum, so tried process with rinse and without rinse - did not make any difference in the end).
Safety stuff: Don’t breath Mordant fumes; add powder to water not water to powder as this might make the powder splash up into the air; use rubber gloves and enamel or stainless steel pots.
Now add the t-shirt to the dye, boil for 30 mins, stirring all time. The longer it is in the darker it will get, it will also look darker while it is wet. Take it out, squeeze it and dry. The t-shirt from the purple beetroot is now a nice orangy colour, which is weird but it looks the best so far
I gave up on dyeing. I have now found out that beetroot can not be fixed with any mordant. It is not a proper dye, it’s just a stain. The only thing it dyes well is food and your piss, which can be dyed constantly red with just three jars of pickled beetroot a week.
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