I picked up some fantastic raw Bombyx mori silk cocoons at the fiber festival a few weekends ago. I had some visions of putting them together with metals in my jewelry class. I knew that I wanted to dye them and that I wanted to leave them stiff (which you do by skipping a step in processing silk called degumming).
And so, one night last week I experimented with some Kool Aid and my microwave and dyed one cocoon. Aside from some messy boiling over that occurred in the second phase of zapping (note to self: WATCH the microwave whilst dying with nasty stainy type stuff), the cocoon kept its shape nicely and I accomplished the deep red I was going for when I mixed up some red Kool Aid with a dash of purple. Of course, upon stepping back from my finished creation I suddenly realized that my color choice, paired with the natural shape of the cocoon looked an awful lot like, well, let's just say a certain feminine product. Used. Needless to say, some fruitful ideas for what to make with this dyed cocoon came out in my subsequent metals class. Ahem.
Never mind, though. I had it in my head that I was cutting the thing in half anyway, so we'll see what it becomes. In the meantime, I had some beets that I kinda sorta forgot about in the fridge (which is a shame, because I do make a good Borscht, if I do say so myself) so I made some dye from them. I cut them in half, brought them to a boil, and simmered them for about an hour. Then I let them cool, chopped them up into little pieces, and simmered for another good while longer. I think the dye I have is pretty concentrated and could even be thinned. I've poked around on the web and found that beet dye is actually not the best natural dye. Mostly because it apparently dyes a golden color, not that beautiful intense pinky red you would expect. I read pages where people complained of ugly beiges and tans and such. I'm not sure why these colors get such a bad rap, frankly. I took an incredible painting class in college (a hundred million years ago) with a teacher who just taught us about color. In fact, we never picked up a brush once in the whole semester - just a palette knife. The point was to dissect the colors that went into everything we saw, and I quickly learned that browns, beiges, and tans were my most favorite to figure out. This was the only period in my life that I think I've truly seen in color. To wit, I had an argument with my then-boyfriend one day when I remarked on how much purple there was in the clouds one day. He could only see white and grey (poor man), and I should have known then that it would never work out between us.
The point is (there was a point, I promise) that I don't care if my beet dye turns out to be a browny gold color. But I do care that I figure out how to make it colorfast. So I'll try to dye a few cocoons just straight into the beet juice, and then I'll talk with the Chemistry of Art teacher at my school and see if we can't mix up a mordant and test that out (although the whole natural dye thing pretty much gets shot to hell when you use a mordant, doesn't it?) In the meantime, I need to doodle out some ideas for this lovely deep red cocoon that I've Kool Aided...Oh, and as a complete aside (and shameless self promotion), I was lucky enough to have a piece of mine featured here!