Tag Archives: mordant

Testing Mordants With Haskap Dye

Here’s the results from yesterday’s mordant trials.  Using all haskap berries/haskap berry derived products this range of colour was achieved by varying the mordants and application timing.  I think that the possibilities are very wide-ranging.  Beautiful, no?



Sodium Sulfate

Sodium sulfate (Na2SO4) is a naturally occurring salt and is used in a variety of applications, including as a mordant in the dyeing process.


This week we drove ten hours round trip in order to pick up a sample to try out on our next dyeing project.

DSC00032 - Version 2

Water in Lake Chaplin in south central Saskatchewan has seven times the salt concentration of the ocean.  Its consistency is that of sodium sulfate; it can be seen as a residue along the lakeshore.  It produces a unique ecology that supports a vast number of resident and migrating birds, especially shorebirds.  This area is designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve.


The mining of sodium sulfate is done under the auspices of Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals.

We are thankful for the sample we received and look forward to trying it out.

Sodium Sulphate

On Monday I was driving along the #1 across Saskatchewan and passed by Reed Lake, near Chaplain.  It is a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Sanctuary…


As I approached, there were very high winds and the horizon was obscured by the blowing of the sodium sulphate that is mined there…


…and then when I got to the area that was blowing I experienced a total white-out and all I can say is that I was grateful that no one was stopped on the highway or there would have been no chance of avoiding a collision, which I admit would have been my own fault for not having approached more cautiously…


Once home I looked up what is mined there.  It is a 99% pure form of sodium sulphate, which is a non-toxic double salt, and can be used as an evener in fabric dyeing (however, it can be an irritant if not used with discretion).  Depending on the dye being used it can actually work to deepen/embolden the colour in the fabric.

This morning I phoned the mining operation and enquired about where I might be able to obtain a sample or even a 20 kg. bag with which to experiment.  I am waiting for a reply from a local distributor and sent an enquiry to the weaving guild in order to find out if anyone has ever used this chemical?

Everyone Has To Start Somewhere: Dyeing Wool With Haskap

I have not found any recipes for dyeing wool with haskap other than the one I posted a couple of months ago.  That post used table salt as a mordant and was based on the best information on dyeing with dark berries that I could find on the internet.  I now have a couple of books (Adrosko and Duerr).  These do not contain information on dyeing with haskap.  But Duerr’s does have a recipe for dyeing with blackberries.  Knowing from personal experience how blackberries can stain I decided to use this recipe as a baseline recipe.

Here’s what I did:

(1) Drain Mordanted Wool – Yesterday when mordanting I could not tell if the odour that hung in the air there was because the paint was burning off of the new propane heater, or was due to the mordant.  After allowing the mordanted wool to cool in the mordanting bath overnight I removed the lid and could smell the strong presence of sulphuric acid (H2(SO4)).  I drained the wool.  Then I rinsed the wool several times with clean, soft water.


(2) Making Dye Liquor – Weighing my fabric, I matched that with an equal weight of haskap berries.  Berries were covered with water, brought to a boil, then simmered (180F) for 30 minutes.  This was then sieved and set to cool.



(3) Dyeing Wool – Once the haskap dyeing liqueur is cool, add premordanted fibre.  Fully cover the wool with water.  Bring the bath up to a simmer and hold it there for 30 minutes.  Remove the dye pot from the heat.  Remove the wool and set it aside to drain, wash with a pH-neutral soap, rinse thoroughly, hang to dry.

untreated wool (top) – mordanted, rinsed, and haskap dyed (bottom)
washed, mordanted, haskap dyed in full sunlight
washed, mordanted, haskap dyed, and rinsed wool on drying rack

Preparing For Mordanting/Dyeing

Mordants should never be handled with impunity; these should be used outdoors.  Alums contain aluminum.  And while aluminum is ubiquitous in our environment, exposure to it should be minimal.  It is quite controversial that potassium aluminum sulfate (potassium alum) is often found in baking powder (not baking soda).  Exposure to boiled aluminum mordants should not be carried on indoors.  Additionally, aluminum sulfate alum produces sulphuric acid when mixed with water; you don’t want to be breathing this indoors.

To the end of mordanting fibre I bought an outdoor cooker yesterday – $85.  It is just the burner, and is rated at 66,000 BTU.  The flame is regulated by physically adjusting the air flow; this is done by physically turning a piece of aluminum (!) that covers a hole in the cast burner next to the input hose.  It worked well on its initial burning; I can’t wait to try my first batch of fibre in it using both potassium alum and alum sulfate…

Seeing that the constituency of pots make an impact on the result of the dyes I decided to pull a couple of large aluminum pots out of storage, see how they do, and then to dedicate them to this in some fashion (we certainly didn’t want to use them in contact with any foodstuffs before this, or hereafter now either).


Severely Washed Haskap Llama Fibre Dye


…following up on the original dying I did with haskap, here is a comparison of washed fibre (right) against the original, unwashed fibre (left).  i purposefully washed this patch with hot water and Tide detergent to see how badly this would damage the colour.  It did remove the brilliance of the original red and turned it a brown-russet.  Again, this is just a base-line washing with a table salt mordant….fyi…(again, full sun on snow)


Alum And Mordanting












Dyeing Llama Fibre With Haskap/Honeyberry/Edible Blue Honeysuckle/Lonicera Caerulea

This post tells about my first dyeing of llama fibre using Lonicera caerulea (haskap) berries.  The llama fibre is unwashed white from one of my own llamas, and the berries are from the Tundra selection of University of Saskatchewan haskap grown in my own orchard.

I set up this test using two sets of four samples:

  • 1 – The first sample remained dry and undyed as a comparison.
  • 2 – The second sample was dyed, but was not soaked or mordanted beforehand.
  • 3 – The third sample was prepared by water soak preparation only.
  • 4 – The fourth sample was prepared using a traditional salt mordant (NaCl).

Two samples were prepared from each.  This will allow a comparison from each  treatment before and after they dry and one is subsequently washed after several days in order to determine colour-fastness of this berry’s properties.

This procedure allowed me to compare later on as a base-line comparison of the simplest sort.


Haskap is a newly cultivated berry that found its way to North America in the 1990’s and is now being intensively bred and selected for at the University of Saskatchewan.  Haskap is the name applied to a superior selection of genotypes of Lonicera caerulea.  These plants are commonly known as edible blue honeysuckles, and also have been marketed using the name of Honeyberries.  Their berries come from flowers that can withstand a -7C freeze and still produce fruit, and the plant is still viable after winter temperatures drop below -40C.  It is truly a northern plant and modern plant origins can be traced to Siberia, the Kamchakta peninsula, and the northern island of Japan.  The berry’s meat itself is coloured a deep, rich burgundy; it stains anything with which it comes into contact a bluish-purple.  The stain can be removed by citric acid.  Otherwise it is very difficult to remove.  I can find no reference to its use as a cloth dye using a simple internet search.  We currently have almost 3,000 plants in our orchard, parts of which are just now coming into full production.


  • Since aluminum and iron can affect the the dying process (serving as mordants themselves), all utensils and pots used were made out of stainless steel.
  • The salt mordant (fixative) consisted of 1/16 cup of salt to 1 cup of water (1/2 cup of salt to 8 cups of water for larger batches).
  • The dye itself consisted of 1 cup of berries to 2 cups of water.  This was brought to a boil, the berries crushed, the mix simmered for an hour with the lid on, and then strained.
  • The third and fourth batches of fibre were simmered for an hour before being dyed.  The third batch was simmered in water alone; the fourth batch was simmered in the salt mordant.
  • All were then simmered in their own respective stainless steel pots with strained dye, again with devoted utensils.
  • These were then set out to dry.


Raw llama fibre…note white guard hairs…
Unwashed white fibre to be used for dyeing…
Fibre opened up...
Fibre opened up…
Frozen Tundra berries to be used as dye...
Frozen Tundra berries to be used as dye…
Fibre sample to be used for four lots, each with a baseline control...
Fibre sample to be used for four lots, each with a baseline control…
Berries in water before boiling...
Berries in water before boiling…
Lot #3, simmered in water only...
Lot #3, simmered in water only…
Lot #4 simmered in salt mordant (these immediately took water compared to lot #3)…
Fresh out of the dye, labeled according to their lot…
Towelled off, the light is not so good inside and late in the day to show its true colour…

Tomorrow I will wash one piece of each lot and see if the dye remains fast or not.  These will serve as a baseline for future dyeing, particularly in relationship to mordants such as alum (potassium aluminum sulfate KAl(SO4)2·12H2O).