Tannins found in bark are good sources of brown earth tones. Hemlock yields a rich reddish-brown dye. Subsequent dipping in a copper/ammonia bath will overdye the brown yarn to yield a warm black color.
Most of the test yarns in this display were dyed from various barks by Haida weaver Patty Fiorella. Her large brown skein suffered brittleness, an issue weavers have sometimes mentioned. Several old robes in museum collections also show disintegration of brown yarns. A combination of chemical analysis for old robes and hands-on experimentation by today’s experienced weavers may well diagnose the cause of this problem.
Four robes tested from the Alaska State Museum collection show strong evidence of synthetic black dyes (II-B-1441, II-B-1744, II-B-1841 and 91-7-1). Analine dyes became commercially available around 1860, indicating that “traditional” Chilkat dyes likely included synthetics.
Several ancestral weavers, including Jennie Thlunaut and Eliza Mork, have mentioned using boiled Hershey bar wrappers or brown crepe paper to acquire brown dyes, demonstrating ongoing innovation with whatever new materials were available.
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From the exhibition The Spirit Wraps Around You (May 8–October 9, 2021 at the Alaska State Museum):
Patty Fiorella did a great deal of experimentation with bark dyes in the summer of 2020. Her mini-skeins are looped in groups with color-coded ties: yellow = tree bark, purple = berry bush bark, green = shrub bark.
Not pictured: Vintage Hershey bar wrapper. Historically, weavers like Jennie Thlunaut and Eliza Mork have mentioned boiling Hershey bar wrappers for brown dyes. Brown crepe paper has also been mentioned.
All unattributed materials listed come from the Alaska State Museum conservation lab and include the after-hours activities of conservator Ellen Carrlee.