Friday, August 21, 2009
Natural Dyeing? Not for me.
I received the book The Rainbow Beneath My Feet last week. I live where there are a lot of mushrooms in the summer and fall, and I love to collect them. I also love to dye wool so I thought it would be a natural marriage of interests.
Wrong. Here's why.
Dyeing wool with mushrooms requires a step called mordanting. During this process the wool is conditioned (simmered for an hour) in a chemical bath that does two things. First, it makes the wool ready to permnently bond with the dye molecules. Second, it creates the conditions that will cause a certain color to come out. After the mordant, the wool still has to be dyed. So, natural dyeing adds another cooking step. That takes water, chemicals, and heat energy. Natural dyeing COSTS MORE.
It was very interesting to find out that one kind of mushroom might give five different colors, depending on the mordant used. Who wouldn't want purple, green, or blue wool? I love colors! And the samples in the book were mouth-watering. But, of the five mordants listed for each mushroom (five colors or shades of colors) THREE OF THEM ARE HIGHLY TOXIC! Natural dyeing, with certain chemicals, is BAD for the environment.
In fact, the book said to do the cooking outside if possible, and NOT to dispose of the mordant chemicals down the drain or in the yard - they have to be disposed of at a toxic waste collection center! These three include tin salts, chrome salts, and copper salts. And of course, the BEST colors come from those three evil chemicals. Oh yeah, I'm supposed to wear a MASK while I work! Natural dyeing can be UNSAFE for humans!
It gets better. After the toxic mordant step, I then have to make the dyebath. This might include other smelly stuff, like cups of ammonia. Oh yeah, and BEFORE I get to this step, I have to get the mushrooms ready with yet another boiling and simmering step. And I need (according to the book) the same weight of dried mushrooms as wool.
You read right. One pound of wool? One pound of dried mushrooms. Since three ounces of dried mushrooms is equal to a whole pound of fresh mushrooms, we are talking about over five pounds of fresh mushrooms per pound of wool! Talk about raping the environment! The woods need mushrooms too.
Give me non-toxic, quality-controlled, dependable, safe, color-fast acid (vinegar) dye. I will continue to collect a few, edible mushrooms for my own enjoyment, but I will leave the natural 'shroom dyeing to hippies with gas masks.