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Chilkat Dye Research

Yellow Materials

Plant Sources of Yellow Dyes

Analysis done by the Mellon-funded Pacific Northwest Conservation Science Consortium indicates most of the yellow colorants in the Alaska State Museum robes are natural. Chemical compounds from plant metabolism such as flavonoids, anthraquinones, and curcuminoids make yellow colorants. Many plants in our temperate rainforest will give excellent yellow dyes. Addition of an alkaline substance like baking soda can make colors more vivid. Kitchen staples like turmeric spice and onion skins can give lovely yellows, but these colors fade very quickly. In general, natural dyes fade more easily than synthetic ones.

Lichens and Mushrooms

In addition to plants, lichens and mushrooms can also produce dyes. A lichen known as “wolf moss” has been in continuous use among weavers, even though it does not grow in our rainforest. It has long been a trade item with dryer regions in Canada, Washington, and Oregon. Tlingit weaver Lily Hope noted that processing wolf moss in urine instead of water will pull the color from the lichen faster and more completely than processing with water alone. Chilkat robe II-B-1520 and vest SJ-I-A-48 both feature yellows with vulpinic acid and pulvinic acid from lichen dyes.

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Case Contents

From the exhibition The Spirit Wraps Around You (May 8–October 9, 2021 at the Alaska State Museum):

  1. Wolf Moss (lichen in top dish) Marguerite Fiorella, gathered early 1990, from her daughter Patty Fiorella.
  2. Wolf Moss (lichen in middle dish) From Yarrow Vaara, gathered in 2017 from a high pass between Oregon and Washington state.
  3. Wolf Moss (lichen in bottom dish) Suzi Williams, gathered in 2019, cascades of southern Oregon. From her daughter Yarrow Vaara. The use of wolf moss has never been lost and remains a popular dye. Amazingly, while many plants in our rainforest make lovely yellow dyes, wolf moss does not grow here.
  4. Yarn “Wolf moss and urine, merino wool, Fels Naptha scour”
  5. Yarn “wolf moss and urine” from Sophie Lager, in natural dye class taught by Lily Hope.
  6. Jar of commercial turmeric spice. Weavers love the color turmeric gives, but it is notoriously light-sensitive and fades so quickly it is rarely used.
  7. Yarn dyed with turmeric, from Sophie Lager, in natural dye class taught by Lily Hope.
  8. Yarn dyed with turmeric in pH neutral water, then steeped overnight. July 2020.
  9. Jar of lupine dyebath with borax.
  10. Yarn “lupine blossoms, alkaline pH (boiled with borax)”.
  11. Jar of pineapple weed plant in dyebath.
  12. Yarn “pineapple weed with baking soda”.
  13. Jar of goat’s beard dyebath.
  14. Yarn “Goat’s beard flower, room temp, neutral pH”.
  15. Yarn “Goat’s beard flower, neutral pH”.
  16. Sample of dried goat’s beard.
  17. Jar of yarrow dyebath.
  18. Yarn “yarrow leaf, distilled water, alkaline BS (baking soda)”.
  19. Yarn “yarrow flower, distilled water, alkaline BS (baking soda)”.
  20. Sample of dried yarrow plant from Sophie Lager, in large glass graduated cylinder.
  21. Dried sample of hanging Bryoria lichen from Nancy Ratner.
  22. Jar of Bryoria lichen dyebath in water from Nancy Ratner.
  23. Sample of wool dyed with Bryoria from Nancy Ratner.
  24. pH testing papers
  25. Yarn dyed by weaver Carol Thilenius with commercial dyes (top sample). From Kay Field Parker.
  26. Yarn dyed by weaver Clarissa Rizal with commercial Lanaset dyes. From her daughter Lily Hope.
  27. Sample of dried horsetail plant in a small glass graduated cylinder.
  28. Jar of horsetail dyebath with baking soda, steeped overnight.
  29. Jar of horsetail dyebath with baking soda and dyestuff
  30. Yarn “horsetail, neutral pH, a little bit of boiling and hour of steeping
  31. Yarn “horsetail, neutral pH but a high ratio of plant material”
  32. Yarn “horsetail, alkaline baking soda”
  33. Yarn “horsetail, alkaline pH baking soda boil first then simmer”
  34. Yarn “horsetail neutral pH”
  35. Yarn “onionskin w/ iron, vinegar” from Sophie Lager
  36. Yarn “hawkweed blossom, alkaline pH (add baking soda and boil it all)”
  37. Yarn “July 2020 cow parsnip flower, alkaline pH  (baking powder)”
  38. Yarn “cow parsnip flower, urine, merino wool, Fels Naptha scour”
  39. Yarn “plantain leaf and baking soda”
  40. Yarn “marigold flower, commercial plant, neutral pH’
  41. Drawing of a Cortinarius mushroom by Aaron Elmore.
  42. Wool sample dyed with Cortinarius mushroom from Nancy Ratner.
  43. Box of baking soda

All unattributed materials listed come from the Alaska State Museum conservation lab and include the after-hours activities of conservator Ellen Carrlee.