Morinda Red Hand-sewing Thread 1100 meters
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30/2 cotton thread hand-dyed brown with Morinda root bark (1100 meters / 1200 yards)
This thread has been hand-dyed at our studio in Ubud, Bali, using the sustainably harvested root bark of Morinda citrifolia trees. However, the morindin red dye from Morinda tree roots does not bind directly with the cellulose of cotton and both an oil mordant (binding agent) and a metallic mordant are needed.
The oil mordant is usually made from candlenut oil (Aleurites moluccana) that has been saponified (made into a soap) either by treatment with an alkali or certain plant enzymes. When cotton yarn is soaked in this saponified oil, one end of each molecule binds to the cotton. Allowed to go rancid and dry over several months, the saponified oil combines with oxygen to form an elastic layer around the cotton. While weavers do not know the science of the process, in practice, they use time-tested recipes, handed down from mother to daughter, using the plants available in the local landscape to achieve these ends.
When the dye vat is made from Morinda root pulp squeezed in water, dry Symplocos cochinchinensis leaf powder is added. This contains aluminium which dissolves into the dye vat. Slowly, over the course of a day, the vat turns from brown to red as the aluminium binds to the saponified oil and the morindin binds to the aluminium. The result is a cellulose-oil-aluminium-morindin chain that dyes the cotton red. If a weaver is asked how this complex chemistry was discovered by their ancestors, she typically replies, "The plants told them how to do it."