The sight of a packet of betel nut slices in an Asian supermarket immediately brought an image to mind of someone smiling widely, teeth and gums a deep red… and the resulting red stains on the footpaths for miles around. If something can stain a footpath in New Delhi, it must be able to dye wool…
My first attempt was on a leftover skein that was used for tying other projects – an op shop purchase of someone else’s handspun from long ago. I usually find that this takes the dye more strongly than what I actually want to dye.
The betel slices were placed in a jam jar and soaked overnight, with the occasional stir. The next day they had swollen nicely and were then added to the dyepot and simmered for an hour. After straining, I added the above-mentioned skein, 10% wof alum-mordanted, and simmered for a further hour or so. The brew smelt like rooibos tea and had a similar colour. I added a spoonful of bicarb at the end to see if it did anything, but not this time. Most of the colour came out, leaving the wool dyed light pinky-brown (left).
They chew the nuts with lime… alkaline extraction! The second time I soaked some more slices in water with added bicarb. It was definitely darker, so left it overnight and repeated the experiment with some of the tricky Finn x Romney x Corriedale handspun, mordanted as above. As you can see (right), the second dyebath was more successful at obtaining a deeper colour. The tie-up skein performed to its usual standard by taking on an even deeper colour (centre of ball).