Madder Root - Cold Water Soak

Materials List:
8 oz to 1 # of whole Madder Root
4-5 Gallon Bucket
Fish Tank Heater
½ pound of fibers of your choice (If using fabrics cut the fabric up into 3 inch or less sized squares so you will have samples for every day)

NOTE: If your dyeing both silk and cotton samples the silk will hoard most of the color from the cotton fabrics. For the first time using this method I recommend sticking to one type of fiber only – silk and wool fabrics are great candidates for the first dye trial.

This method is a variation of the method that Nest Rubio wrote about in Spin-Off Magazine (Spring 1993). When done properly you will get a nice range of values with this method.

Break your madder root into smallish pieces ¼” to ½” inch in length.
Cover in water and soak overnight.
Rinse Madder Root the next day.
You can save the rinse water and use it with other yellowish yielding dyes if desired.

The reason for rinsing the madder root, if it is dried madder root not fresh, is to remove any of the yellow dye that is present in the root. Leaving the yellow rinse water will give you dyes more towards the orange/yellow end of the spectrum. Rinsing the madder root after the initial soak will give you deeper truer reds.

NOTE: In this method you do not grind the roots. Grinding the roots releases all of their color immediately, and for this fermentation method you want a slow release of color so in order to have color gradations over a period of days, rather than using all of the color at once.

NOTE: Pre-mordant you fibers before inserting them into the dye vat, this is one time where an all-in-one vat does NOT work well.

NOTE: if you are dyeing cotton or other cellulosic fibers you will want to use the triple mordant method on those fibers. That method being the Alum – Tannin – Alum method.

MOLD: Preventing mold from forming on the vat surface is crucial, mold, its spores and mycelium will turn the red color brown and very quickly. I have found that by simply keeping a fish tank heater in the vat prevents the mold from forming in the first place.

Temperature: It is critical that the vat does NOT come to a boil, EVER! Boiling madder root will cause the browns to be released from the root, ruining the vat. (Yes you can use this brown to dye with, but it will not yield reds).

Keeping careful notes on the date and time you entered the fiber into the dye vat and the date and time you removed the fibers from the dye vat, will allow you to repeat the process.

Now this is what I DO:

Place your rinsed madder root into the bucket, and cover with very hot water, but not boiling. I use my hottest tap water for this procedure.

Place the fish tank heater into the bucket, and leave it set on a medium heat setting. You are shooting for around 85-90 degrees fareinheight.

Place your pre-mordant fibers into the vat with the madder root.

NOTE: That the madder root has been left in the vat with the fibers, I typically work with cotton fabrics, and any mottling and patterning that ends up on the fabric is highly desired.

If you are wanting more solid fibers/fabrics then you will need to stir the vat each day to ensure even color. Make sure that all of the fiber remains below the waters surface, for even color.

Also having a divider between the madder root and the fiber, such as a glass dinner plate, is critical. This prevents the fibers from touching the roots, thus preventing dark spots from occurring on the roots.

After I have entered my fiber into my dye vat I typically leave it for 24 to 48 hours, depending on what the dye vat looked like before I put the fibers in it.

Usually around day two or three, about 48-72 hours, and I try to remove my fibers around the same hour of the day that I placed them into the vat, I will remove one or two samples from the vat. DO NOT RINSE the fibers.

Place these samples in a bowl or other vessel where they can sit overnight, unrinsed. This is part of the batching process.

The next day I rinse those fibers and hang them up to dry somewhere, out of the sunlight.

I then check the fibers in my vat to see if the remaining fibers are any darker than the previous days. If not I may check on them again in 12 hours and again at 24 hours.

I remove the samples as they become progressively darker, creating a value scale. The value you range you achieve depends on the fibers you chose, the amount of fibers you use, and the amount of madder root to fiber you have used.

You will have a larger value range with silk or wool versus cotton fabrics, and other limiting factors such as water quality and the age/freshness of the madder root.

I typically exhaust the vat after two weeks, using cotton fabrics/fibers.

Using Nest Rubio’s method with wool, and very small wool samples as she suggests, you should exhaust the vat in 30 days.

NOTE: I did not add any chalk or cream of tartar to the vat, they are not required in the fermentation process, unless your water dictates such additions to correct the pH of the vat.

You can however, do comparison vats one without any modifiers (this is any agent that shifts the pH of the vat), to one vat with just madder root and chalk, and another vat with madder root and cream of tartar, and compare this to the vat samples with no modifier.