Natural Dyeing Take 3: Black Beans

Having seen some pretty amazing pictures on Ravelry, where a whole thread is devoted to the colour variations obtained with black beans, I have wanted to experiment with those for a few months now. So I was particularly eager to try them out in our dyeing experiments in France.

Unsure about how difficult they would be to find in France, we bought our black beans in Britain before travelling over. I bought a pack in Waitrose which were called black turle beans instead of just black beans, but they were the only ones I could find. Eddie later went into an international food shop and found some labelled simply black beans. We decided to try both out at the same time, but in separate containers in case they didn’t yield the same results…

And fast enough it became clear that the two different packs of beans were giving soaking water of very different colors, despite the beans themselves looking very similar. The Turtle beans’ water was definitely looking more purple while the Thailand Black beans water was a relatively orangey brown.

Two different types of beans, two dye solutions

We were originally planning to use some of the beans for cooking afterwards but forgot that in order to do so the been should not really soak for more than 24 hours… After that the fermentation process starts, and on the second day, we could see some mold on the surface of the water…. probably not safe to eat anymore… I started with the beans in buckets which they only filled to about 1/4 when dry, but even then, after 24 hours they had swollen to about two thirds and I felt I wanted more water to dye with so I moved each of the bean lots to a bigger container, and filled it up with water. Throughout the 48 hours of soaking I would give the beans a stir whenever I walked by them.

Black Turtle bean yarn soup

After about 2 days of soaking and stirring the beans I made sure that they were undisturbed for at least a couple of hours before I took the bean water, so the proteins could settle at the bottom with the beans. Apparently these can ruin the dye. I laddled the water above the beans into buckets. Since we wanted to try small sample skeins and get the same results if we liked them, we used jars for our small skeins, taking enough liquid each time to cover the skein comfortably. I left the skeins soak for 48 hours before taking them out and rinsing them.

For that first try with fresh bean water, the alum mordanted skeins in the turtle bean water gave us a slightly more purpley blue, while the black beans had a slight green hue to the blue. The heuchera mordanted skein gave us a lovely grey but no blue, although I should note here that when I prepped those I hadn’t yet realised the mistake I’d made in measuring the heuchera. This Heuchera mordanted yarn was therefore mordanted only with 1/5 of the strength of the later heuchera mordanting.

copyright Eddieduckling

1. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

2. Turtle beans fresh bath, heuchera mordanted yarn (1/5)

3. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted bath, vinegar afterdip

4. Black beans fresh bath, alum mordanted bath

When we later tried dyeing some more sample skeins in the rest of the dye solution it became clear that the strength of the solution was diminishing as days passed and it was getting less fresh.

copyright Eddieduckling

1. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

2. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn, vinegar afterdip

3. Black beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

4. Black beans 3 days old bath, alum mordanted yarn

5. Black beans 3 days old bath, alum mordanted yarn, vinegar afterdip

I also decided to try dyeing combed top samples which contained some nylon, as I was curious to see how these would take the dye. We placed them in the turtle bean water at the same time as the second round of sample skeins (about 3 days after collecting the water from the soaking beans), but they reacted very differently from the yarn. Although the alum mordanted BFL and nylon mix I tried only yielded a dull grey, the alpaca, wool and nylon mix took on beautiful shades of blues ranging between the tones of the turtle beans and those of the black beans fresh bath.

Once spun up, it turned out a slightly more teal shade of blue, a much more saturated colour than the one obtained on the skeins soaking at the same time.

1. Black beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

2. Black beans later bath, alum mordanted top

3. Black beans later bath, alum mordanted yarn

I always struggle to show the proper colours in photos but do hope that these give a good idea of the colours obtained.

Black bean dyed Alpaca/wool/nylon combed top

I am very partial to blues in general, but I think the colours we obtained from the black beans were my favourite. I always thought blue were quite complicated to obtain from natural dyes, requiring indigo or woad and their long and complex fermentation process. Black beans offer a much easier alternative and I can’t wait to try more different types. I have picked up in a French supermarket some black beans from the US and will be testing those at some point against the ones from Thailand which we used in this experiment.

And of course, the flickr group still holds more photos if you’re interested.

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