results: avocado and copper dyes

From left to right: Ammonia and pennies, vinegar and pennies, avocado peels-n-pits. These were started at the beginning of July and let to sit outside for about thirty days.

I thought I had a picture of the copper jars after I got the pennies out, but I can’t find it. So you’ll have to trust me– the vinegar jar was that nice pale blue you see, but the ammonia jar was that kind of deep saturated electric blue that jumps off the shelf and assaults your unsuspecting eyeballs with the sheer force of its blueness. It was so blue that it deserves not only capitalization, but italics and exclamation points as well. It was !!BLUE!!.

In this picture, though, the ammonia jar looks black. Not because it’s concentrated– because there’s a mysterious black precipitate coating the inside of the jar and the pennies. I have no idea what it is, and I’ve been afraid to try and clean it off because I’m not sure if it’ll come off at all. (Not that I’ll be upset if I can’t save the pennies, but I want to save the jar!)

I strained the avocado bath though a paper towel into my big dyepot. This may have been a mistake.

Yarns in the avocado pot. The nice rosy-pink yarns in the top two-thirds are alum-mordanted and unmordanted skeins; the slightly brownish yarns in the bottom right corner are copper mordant.

Following an article in an old issue of Spin-Off, I simmered these for an hour on the stove– or tried to, at any rate. I didn’t let it get to a violent boil, but there were a few points where it was at an energetic simmer.

From top to bottom: two skeins each of alum mordant, no mordant, and copper mordant.

One of these sets was dipped in vinegar afterwards, and one was dipped in ammonia. I’m not sure which is which now– neither one changed the color enough for me to be able to see it. The set at the top looks a little darker here, but that’s an artifact of the way I set up the photo. In real life, they’re the same.

I am unhappy with the results of this test. It’s not that I don’t like brown, because I do (and they’re a very nice shade of brown) but I feel like this was a lot of time to get a color that is easy to get from other sources– for example, straight off the animal. I know I’ve seen alpacas in this color before.

Other people that I’ve read about have gotten shades of red from brick to rosy beige out of avocado parts, so it should be possible for me to get them also. I’m not sure what I did to not get red with these, but it could have been several things.

Things to try next time:

  • Using distilled water instead of tap; the dissolved minerals in ours may have changed the color.
  • Scrub pits and peels much more vigorously and make sure I get every little bit of flesh off before making the dyebath; flesh will reportedly turn it brown.
  • Let the yarn soak in the dyebath for a time, instead of simmering it; heat reportedly breaks down the dye and turns it brown.
  • Don’t strain the avocado bits out of the dye bath, or strain them through a mesh; I may have inadvertently strained out too much of the dye by pouring it through the towel.Anyway. That’s the avocado experiment; I have more (well-scrubbed) pits-and-peels in the freezer waiting until I have a larger quantity to play with.On to the copper!
    Ammonia on the left, vinegar on the right. This picture was taken on the same day that I strained the pennies out, on the 9th of August.

    The same jars on the 14th of August, after sitting outside on the patio for five days. Vinegar on the left, ammonia on the right. It’s not an artifact of the camera or lightning– the ammonia-copper jar really did turn brown.

    Unfortunately, by the time the skeins were dry the sun had gone away, so I had to take the rest of the pictures inside.

    From left to right: Two each of no mordant, alum mordant, and copper mordant from the vinegar-copper jar, and then two each of no mordant, copper mordant, and alum mordant from the ammonia jar. All skeins have had excess liquid squeezed out, and are still damp.

    The vinegar skeins all look the same to me. I wasn’t expecting much of a change in the copper mordant skeins, but I’m surprised (and disappointed) that the other four didn’t turn at least a pale blue-green. The swimming-pool-blue liquid behind them is what remained after I took them out.

    The ammonia skeins . . . surprised me. I was hoping they’d stay the same violent blue that the liquid had been, and I have no idea why it changed color when I put the yarns in. The beautiful copper liquid behind them is what remained after I took these skeins out. The skeins themselves are a strange mix of a lovely rich brown and a slightly greenish grey. There’s no difference that I can see between mordants.

    Vinegar jar. From top to bottom: two skeins each of alum mordant, no mordant, and copper mordant. The untwisted vertical skein on the left is one of my sample skeins mordanted with copper for comparison.

    After they’d had a few days to dry, these skeins all have a very faint greenish cast to them. It’s very hard to see except in the right light, though. I will probably not be continuing any experiments with copper and vinegar.

    Ammonia jar. From top to bottom: two skeins each of alum mordant, no mordant, and copper mordant.

    After I thought about it for a while, I decided that while I’m not keen on the combination, I actually do like both of these colors, particularly the brown. However, I’m not sure how I got them. I suspect that since the skeins weren’t completely submerged, one of the colors comes from contact with the air in the jar– but I’m not sure which. They’re strong enough colors, though, that I think it’s worth trying again.

    Things to try next time:

  • Distilled water instead of tap.
  • Use a different source of copper that hasn’t been handled by as many people; I stripped the grounds out of some scavenged romex, and I can use that instead of pennies.
  • Try to find actual clear non-sudsing ammonia; mine says it’s non-sudsing, but it lists “surfactant” in very small print in the ingredients.

    1. Dawne

      Sorry you got disappointing results but it’s very educational for the rest of us to read your detailed post.

      I look forward to your next attempt!

      • mia

        It’s a learning experience, at least. There isn’t a lot of agreement about natural dyeing, especially on the internet, so I’d already decided that I would have to start at the bottom and figure it out by myself– which is why I’m using small skeins of yarn to test on. :)

    2. natasha

      I hope you saved your dyebaths, because I got a similar result with the first thing (silk organza) I put in the ammonia bath; a yucky brown that looked like old pennies. That silk seemed to have sponged up the brown, however, and things I put in after, silk and wool, turned a lovely blue that changes to green over time! And then a green blue color. I’ve made a new bath with vinegar, but haven’t tried it yet. It looks from you pictures like it doesn’t dye as strongly as ammonia. I overdyed that brown with tansy yellow, and it turned a really pretty and much clearer olive green.


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