Cabbage Dyes: Are they all they’re cracked up to be? (Part 2 of 3)

In this 3 part series I’ll share with you what I did, what I learned, and what results I achieved. In this post I’ll share the results of my cabbage dye experiments with dying 100% cotton DMC white embroidery thread. I’ll show you how the dyes changed over the course of a week and explain why some of these results might have occurred.

In my first post I outlined my thought process and what I ended up trying out. In this second installment I’ll share the results I experienced with the embroidery threads that I cold-dyed in jars in the kitchen window.


Cold Dye – Glass jars left to sit for 4 hours (no sun)

I made 9 different color variations (about 1/2 cup dye each) by altering the pH. After arriving at a merry spectrum I added my alum-treated threads and the pH shifted to more base levels. I had to finagle the pH at that point to return to the desired spectrum. Adding more acid to each container helped resolve the issue with a little effort. At times I had to add more of the indicator (unaltered cabbage juice) because the saturation point of the minimal amount in my jars had been reached.

Crythebird(Levacy-CabbageDye-Thread(2)In the end, I took out a sample from each and rinsed it for about 3 seconds then wrung it out and laid it to dry on a paper towel. Above you can see the results of these minimally rinsed threads after a full week in partial sunlight – the lowest PH (base) threads are to the far left and highest (acids) transition to the right. Below is what they looked like on Day 1 compared to a week later.

Crythebird(Levacy)-CabbageDye-Threads2For all but two jars I had multiple skeins so I took the extras and really rinsed them well to see how much dye would wash away. Below is an example of one of the fairly neutral PH jars (closest to the indicator). The bottom skein was minimally rinsed (2-3 seconds) and the tops were well rinsed. The top-most skein was only allowed to soak in the jar for about 2 hours while the one directly below it was soaked for the full 4 hours like the one that was minimally rinsed.

Crythebird(Levacy-CabbageDye-Thread(base2)This specific jar was an anomaly as the well-rinsed thread was the only skein that really retained much color – I have no idea why. This minimally rinsed thread also was the only one to retain a significant color gradient – I believe this was because it touched another thread (different PH) while wet without my knowing it.

Thread-Acidity1As you’ll note, most of the higher acid level dyes rinsed out almost completely. While their pastel pink beauty was exciting right out of the jar, the hue quickly washed away after only 10 seconds or so and over just a couple of days shifted more toward violet. I was very disappointed but this didn’t seem unexpected as my research seemed to present far less results for higher acidity cabbage dyes. I was pleased to see that the rinsed threads actually turned slightly more pink after a week.

Crythebird(Levacy-CabbageDye-Thread(base1)The base level dyes retained more of their original coloration but they did fade. The most profound changes can be noted in the yellowing of the minimally rinsed most basic pH dyed threads – they’re almost a neon green by the second day. Their better rinsed versions are less changed under the same conditions.

Thread-Base1I laid all of these threads on my desk in my studio (which receives partial sun throughout the day) and photographed them for the first three days to see how the color would change then again after a week. I plan to test if the color will bleed when water is applied prior to embroidering with them to ensure that any moisture will not impact the color.

Crythebird(Levacy)-CabbageDye-ThreadsOverall, I’m pleased with the outcome of the dyes on the fabrics but no so much with the threads. I thought that adding the mordant to my fibers would help preserve the color but I think cabbage is just a bit too fugitive for my liking. I know that these materials will not be used in anything intended to be washed or worn in the sun so I’m not too worried about them – in the creation of artwork that explores issues with the fluidity of memory and losing a connection with nature the impermanent nature of these colors is conducive to the message.

Although the results on fabric were not quite as colorful, I feel more confident in their stability and even was able to wash them in the machine. Next week I’ll share the outcome of these dyes on cotton fabrics.




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