Algonquin/Gullah Process | Scouring Fabric
Day 02 of Native American Heritage Month is helping me reset my goals and get back on task with creating indigo cloth to dye for! The isolation of Covid, personal health issues, and the summertime blues have sidetracked my creative process. But where there’s a will, there’s a way! In June I go back to the place where my life changed on the Golden Horseshoe surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. Between today and June, I’ve got to demonstrate the journey of my most generous indigenous teachers about the seed to runway project.
Since I studied Textiles at East Carolina University School of Art & Design with Christine Zoller, before I scour my fabric for dyeing, I weigh it first. Indigo and black walnut dyes don’t require a mordant, only that the fabric is scoured. Not all of my fabrics will be dyed using indigo or black walnut. Some will be dyed using marigold flowers, madder root, onion leaves, and eco-printed with dried flowers.
For cellulose fibers like I’m using (cotton, linen, and hemp) the fabrics need a tannin and a mordant. A tannin is done first to help the mordant (usually alum) be absorbed into the fabric. Tannins can be clear or add color. I use Gallnut, a clear tannin. A mordant makes the dye colorfast, meaning the dye will not fade or wash out. My mordant is alum. Both the tannin and mordant are measured by WOF (weight of fabric). Consequently, the first thing that I do is to measure the weight of the dry fabric on a gram kitchen scale.
My Grandmother’s Scouring Process for Cellulose Fabrics | Taught to me by Minnie Haskins & Mattie Randolph
Scouring removes the starch from new fabric, and oils and body sweat from worn fabrics. It makes indigo and black walnut dyes attach evenly to the fibers instead of being blotchy and appearing haphazard. It also prevents the ability to achieve dark values on the fabric and renders light sky blue values in indigo and light tan values in black walnut.
Mama and Yat scoured fabric with Arm & Hammer Washing Soda which is Sodium carbonate which I purchase from the local farm supply or grocery store. Many contemporary dyers recommend Soda Ash which is also Sodium carbonate and is purchased at dye supply stores and at Amazon. When possible I like preserving my two grandmothers’ ways of doing things. If it worked for them, it works for me. I also use blue Dawn detergent instead of the commercial Synthrapol detergent.
In a large aluminum pot, heat up 2 gallons of water. Add 2 teaspoons of blue Dawn detergent and 4 tablespoons of Washing Soda. Stir to dissolve washing soda. Slowly add fabric to be scoured. Don’t overcrowd the fabric in the pot. Bring to a boil, cut temperature so the pot doesn’t boil over, and simmer for one hour. Punch down the fabric as needed, and monitor that water doesn’t bubble out of the pot. If it does, then the temperature is too high, so cut back.
Let the pot cool and with tongs remove fabric and place in a colander to drain. Rinse with cold water. Fill a washing pail with warm water, and rinse fabric until water is clear. Remove any suds or trace of either detergent or brown tea-colored starch residue. Hang on a clothesline to dry or dry in a dryer with no fabric softener.