Should I dye with an aluminium or a brass pan ? 

A few weeks ago I was lucky to come across this beautiful brass pan in a charity shop. Of course, I bought it. How could I not?
So I now have two aluminium jam pans, one enamel pan, one teflon coated pan and my new brass pan. All either bought second hand or given to me. The question I want to answer is does the pan I use for dyeing make a difference to the final dye colours.  Brass I understand from Wikipedia is made from copper and zinc.  Copper acts as a mordant as does aluminium.
I thought the only way to answer to my question was an experiment. The same dyestuff, the same fibres and the same dye process. Then I can see if the pan material makes a difference.
I just happened to have quite a large quantity of hawthorn flowers. So the terms of my experiment could be set:

  • BFL wool fibres, previously mordanted with Alum
  • Unmordanted silk yarn.
  • Hawthorn blossom freshly picked.
  • Same dye process
  • One brass pan
  • One aluminium pan

After the extraction of the dye from the hawthorn blossom, the difference in the dye bath colours was quite noticeable.

The brass pan liquor is on the left.

This effect cannot be anything to do with mordanting. I had cleaned both the brass pan and the aluminium pan thoroughly so I am not sure what caused the deeper colour from the brass pan. Has anyone any suggestions?

Following the dyeing process, this difference remained.

The silk from the brass pan on the right, slightly richer in colour


The wool dyed in the brass pan is at the bottom.
There is only a very slight difference between the two colours, probably undetectable in a photo.
Of course, now I have completed this test I realise that I should have also had a control pan. Something neutral like enamel.

Oh well, that’s a test for another day. !

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9 thoughts on “Should I dye with an aluminium or a brass pan ? ”

  1. debbie.weaver
     ·  Reply

    I have never dyed with brass but copper has a tendency to turn things a greener colour, as your yarn has been mordanted in alum you would have had a double dose of alum in the aluminium pan.
    Isn’t it fun experimenting with and learning about natural dyes.

    • jane_mercer
       ·  Reply

      Great fun !!!

  2. Anna ovenden
     ·  Reply

    I have just been given a large aluminium pot for dyeing, if I don’t use it for food but keep it just for dyeing yarn and wool fibre. Will it matter? Can I use it without any acid or vinegar? I suppose What I am asking is can aluminium pots be used for dyeing at all???

    • jane_mercer
       ·  Reply

      Yes I think an aluminium pan can be used for dyeing. I have never added acid or vinegar to my natural dye processes.

      • Anna Ovenden
         ·  Reply

        Thanks Jane for your input. The vinegar would be used with acid dyes. Some says it made no difference except that it can stain the pot or change the colour of the fibres. That is no big deal. With natural materials I would use alum as a mordant. Never tried anything else, ie. Rhubarb leaves as a mordant. Have you tried using that?

        • jane_mercer
           ·  Reply

          Hi Anna I have always used Alum as a mordant , I would like to try rhubarb leaves one day and maybe soy .

          • Anna ovenden

            I gave rhubarb in the garden but have yet to give it a try, maybe I will one of these days. I might even try dyeing with rhubarb roots, apparently it gives a brownish yellow dye.

          • jane_mercer

            Let me know the results when you give it a try .

    • Anna
       ·  Reply

      Thank you, I found out since posting the question that aluminium pots are OK to use with acid dyes, so I am going to have a go! I am not lucky enough to find such a lovely pan like yours though, but will keep my eyes open for one!!

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