True Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria or Alkanna matthioli)
3. Dyeing with Alkanet
The alkanet dye, Alkannin, produced from dried alkanet roots, produces lavender and purple colours when simmered in water. It is not very soluble in water and the colour can fade with washing or overexposure to sunlight.
4. Dyeing Wool with Alkanet
Soak 100 grams of alkanet in water for at least a week. Simmer the roots in water for an hour in a ventilated area, as the roots can produce an unpleasant smell. Strain the dye liquor, add 100 grams of mordanted wool and simmer for another hour.
5. Dyeing Cotton with Alkanet
Follow the same procedure as for dyeing wool but add a teaspoon or two of soda ash to raise the pH. This makes the alkanet more soluble (a high pH can damage wool, but not cotton).
A more expensive alternative is to soak the roots in cheap rum or gin, rather than water, for a couple of weeks as this helps to extract the pigment. Make sure you mark the container clearly with ‘do not drink’. You can then dilute this well with water, simmer for an hour and then add mordanted wool or cotton.
Alkanet is also used in soap making as the pigment dissolves better when steeped in oils. The resulting colour depends on the pH of the soap and concentration of alkanet and varies from pale lavender to purple.
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