Murasaki-- literally, purple-- in Japanese. It was the traditional source of its namesake color in Japan. Highly prized, the deep purple from murasaki was at the top of the color hierarchy, allowed only for the select few of the highest status. In English, it's known as purple gromwell; in Latin, Lithospermum erythrorhizon.
After the first time I dyed with purple gromwell, I thought, perhaps not again. The traditional method of extracting the dye requires a lengthy and laborious process of repeatedly kneading the roots in warm water to release the dye color. But for requiring so much work, it didn't offer a whole lot of color for the amount of roots I needed. While I loved the result, I wasn't sure if it was worth the time, effort and cost.
Then just recently, I read about another way-- alcohol extraction. Simply put, the dye in the roots doesn't dissolve readily in water (hence, the kneading) but it does so in alcohol. So I decided to give that a try.
I started with a small batch first. As soon as I poured the alcohol over the roots, the liquid in the bottle started turning red-violet. After an overnight soak, I diluted it with water, and the dye bath was ready.
I did a combination of cool & warm soaks until I achieved the desired color, which took some time. The color first appeared like a grape juice stain, then more like grape jelly, then finally at then end, something I would call elderberry--
These were both pre-mordanted and mordanted. For the next batch, I chose to use just a mordant. The result was a lovely lavender--
The tricky part about working with purple gromwell, I found, was that the liquid of the dye bath is very much opaque. With most other dye baths, even the darker colors, there is a certain transparency which makes it possible to see the fibers in the pot. But with purple gromwell, the dye bath gives little hint of what it holds, so extra care needs to be taken to ensure that all of the items have been moved around equally for even dyeing.
Still, I noticed that there's a tendency towards semi-solidness, very much like with madder root. But I rather like that-- the delicate variations attest to the myriad possibilities even within a single color.