Alkanet

Alkanet, Alkanna tinctoria, is also known as dyer’s alkanet or dyer’s bugloss and is an herb in the borage family.  The roots produce a red/purple dye.  Do not be swindled by plants that are closely related in the borage/bugloss family and are also called alkanet.  You can easily find ‘alkanet’ seeds for Anchusa officinalis and other related plants, but these plant’s roots will not contain any dye or any dye worth using at all.  I have seen these seeds for sale on reputable sites, being sold as dye plants.  Don’t be fooled….they are not. The true alkanna tinctoria seed is hard to find, and I have not been able to get ahold of it. 

True alkanna tinctoria plants are low, trailing, sprawling plants, kind of fuzzy looking, with blue flowers like the anchusa officinalis, but with dark centers, not white.  I would love to be able to find true alkanna tinctoria seeds to grow for the roots, and hopefully some day I will. 

Powdered alkanet root can be mixed with oil and used as a wood stain.  Alkanet is used in Indian food under the name Ratan Jot and gives the red color to the curry dish Rogan Josh. 

The alkannin dye in the roots is not soluble in water, so you need to soak the dye stuffs in alcohol, ether, vodka or oil (oil if you are using this for cosmetics or soap) overnight, before adding to a dye pot and heating.  Alkanet root produces beautiful red/purples, lavenders and grays with moderate lightfastness. 

Use 75-100% dried alkanet to the weight of fiber that you are dyeing.  Heat the dye bath gently and do not go higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Adding iron to the dyebath at 2% weight of fiber will give a range of grays and violet grays. 

In an acidic dye bath, the color will be more crimson, but in a more alkaline dye bath, the color will be more blue/purple. 

Mordant cellulose fibers with aluminum acetate, and wool and silk with alum, or try aluminum acetate for a brightened effect on wool. 

An easy thing to remember, for me to mordant at 10-15%, when mordanting wool with alum, is to just use 1 scant Tablespoon for 100 grams (3.5oz skeins) or 1 good Tablespoon for 4oz skeins of fiber.  You can go up to 20% of the fiber weight by using 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon per 100 grams (3.5oz) of fiber. More mordant results in deeper shades with many of the colors, especially the red dyes.

Cream of tartar should be 6% of the weight of fiber, or 1 1/4 teaspoons for 100 grams (3.5oz) of fiber. You can use aluminum sulfate and cream of tartar together, the cream of tartar brightens many colors and helps keep wool fibers soft.

If you want to mordant a lot of wool, it is easy to cool mordant in a 5 gallon bucket, making sure your fiber has a lot of room to move around and that every part of it can be accessed by the mordant.  You can reuse this mordant solution, and just add 50% of the alum and cream of tartar per amount of fiber that you did the first time.  I put a lid on my bucket and it stays clean and ready to use. 

For excellent instructions on scouring and mordanting, as well as dyeing, visit Maiwa’s site – naturaldyes.ca/instructions.  Maiwa in Canada has a lot of wonderful, free information about natural dyeing online.