Friday, August 31, 2007

Indigo Dye Weekend at Folk School

I was lucky enough to get to spend another weekend at John C Campbell Folk School at the end of August. That is such a lovely spot ... still rural and peaceful, though I heard several locals complain that too many people had discovered it. I am guessing that retirees who went to Folk School just fell in love with the area and decided to move there to share the peace and quiet, but the locals don't like the rising tax rates. Evidently the newcomers are building nice fancy houses in the area and tax rates are being affected.

One of the people in the class was from Asheville, and expressed the same sort of feeling about recent growth in that North Carolina city. She said so many folks have moved into the area that now the original locals can't afford the prices in their hometown. There is a terrible mixture of expanding one's experiences, discovery of very special places, being welcomed and rejected at the same time -- all mixed up with some of our desire to reclaim the simple days of the past yet enjoy the comforts of today.

This is not what I began to write about though. Putting aside the inclination to pontificate, it's back to indigo. The class was thorough, though if we had had two pots of indigo it would have been more productive. We dyed silk and wool fabrics in indigo baths, then walnut, marigold, and made up sample sheets to take home. Basic colors created ran from blue to brown with some muddy yellow in there. I always like to see yarn dyed and have moved away from fabric in recent years. After all, there is only so much time in life, and my time seems to be taken up with wool.

In a former post, I wrote about instant indigo. After the Folk School weekend, I will definitely give that a new try because I realized that I probably was not looking for the right color of green/yellow just under the surface of the pot, and didn't know when to adjust the pot or even that the temperature had to be fairly constant. The word 'instant' may have given me a little too much confdence. Now, I wonder if the results I got in my first experiment will be bonded to the fiber or if they will 'crock,' as the flaking of indigo is called. Pretty cool to use that term in a sentence! I admit to not having much of a control over that first experiment, so do plan to try it again and be ready to alter and watch that pot with a more practiced eye.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Heat + Agitation = FELT, my friends

Within the past week I have received two letters from beginning dyers who have created felt without intending to do so with fingering-weight yarn and roving fibers. Both had been worried about scouring the yarn/roving, so they heated them for an hour, and, in one case, and stirred. This is the perfect recipe to felt yarn or roving ... heat plus agitation will definitely give you felt.

Truth is that the yarns and spinning fibers at this level of the market have already been washed a couple of times. They may not have been scoured, but all that is needed to remove residual lanolin and spinning oils is a couple of hot baths. I plunge my yarn into a warm bath and let it soak for about 20 minutes, then gently squeeze water from the skein and repeat until the water is no longer milky looking.

The same treatment is used for roving, but more care has to be taken when lifting heavy wet roving from a bath so that it does not tear or mat together. Just put your hands under the roving, down in the bath, and sort of gather it together while it is still in the water. You may even want to drop it into a colander and give a few gentle pushes from the top to get out the water.

If you're using raw fleece or yarns spun from raw roving, yes, they'd need to be scoured, but these yarns are commercially prepared and are a far cry from raw fleece with the dirt, straw and unmentionables found in the fibers. These yarns and spinning fibers do not need to be boiled and stirred at all, just washed or rinsed in a couple of hot baths.

The less rough handling of the fiber, the better your result. Avoid heavy stirring in the pot, or if you cannot contain yourself, be sure to add several extra choke-ties to the skein before you wet it. Same thing goes for roving and spinning fibers: use a gentle hand. If you're doing an open pot method of dyeing, then get a big spatula to lift the fiber in the pot and distribute the color, always taking care not to allow the fiber to support the weight of the rest of the material and the water, which, of course, will pull it apart. Even when dyeing roving, there's no need to smush and push and agitate the color into the fiber at all! Just apply it, gently blot the color into the fiber and let nature/osmosis/color bleeding/heat take its course.

Felted yarn is hard to get into a usable state. It's time to pull out the imaginative ideas to work with felted yarn, and I will leave that concept alone for now. Felted fiber can be saved by working with it to fluff it up, stretching gently in all directions along the length of the roving. Another method is the thigh-thwacking procedure! Yes, a technical term which aptly describes a way to introduce air between the little matted fibers while offering some exercise to the fiber enthusiast at the same time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Black Eyed Susan as Dyestuff

Several people have asked me how I got the yellow/chartreuse color in my recent natural dye experiment. I admit to being too excited to keep records, but will record here what I recall. We only had enough flower heads and about 6 inches of stem and leaves to fill a gallon size freezer bag. These were cut up with scissors, cutting through the thick part of the flowerhead, and simmered in about a gallon and a half of water.
The skein of yarn, BFL Aran-100 grams, had been mordanted the day before with alum/cream of tartar and left in the mordant bath overnight to cool. Excess water was squeezed out before entering the yarn into the dyebath.
However, we had been testing the dyebath as the flower heads and leaves simmered by dipping in little bits of roving. The color was weak, a sort of brownish green, and unattractive, so I decided to add some iron to the pot. Remember, I am a novice at natural dyeing, but I did recall from my classes and reading that iron is a 'saddener' of color and figured that it might give some depth of color to the bath. After dissolving the iron in a small amount of water and then adding that slowly to the dye bath, the yarn was entered into the dyebath.
Immediately I could see that that greeny-brown color was what I was going to get, so I left the yarn in the bath for about 20 minutes, about as long as the flowerheads had steeped in the bath. After cooling, the yarn was dipped into an ammonia bath (about 1/2 cup to 1 quart of water), and the color began to change before my eyes to the yellow/chartreuse color.
Maybe I am having beginner's luck, but all the yarn is turning out just beautifully so far. My next experiment is to try out indigo, but I am afraid of the chemicals used in the indigo vat preparation process. I did find on the Internet a mention of freeze-dried indigo crystals, and tracked down the source to Paradise Fibers. What nice folks! All the literature says that a little goes a long way, but I didn't know just what measurement 'a little bit' was, so I ordered 10 ounces... which looks like a lot to me. That will be my next effort.
At the end of August, I am going to an indigo dye weekend at John C Campbell Folk School in southwest North Carolina. I am meeting up with The Accidental Knitter, after a long correspondence. I am sure we'll be doing the entire indigo process at the Folk School, and can't wait to have someone show me what it is truly all about. Should be a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Natural Dye Experiments

Today I declared a 'play day' and, with a friend, dyed up four pounds of wool. She is a spinner and did some Blue Faced Leicester roving, and I dyed 100gr skeins of BFL Aran. Attached is a picture of the colors we got out of cochineal, logwood, and Black Eyed Susans flower heads. The flower bath was very light and we added some tin, then some iron, then rinsed in ammonia.
The yellow came from that mixed bath, beautiful accident that it is! The almost-blue is logwood with an afterbath in ammonia. The different pink shades came from successive exhaust baths of the cochineal.
We just didn't have enough flower heads, and only got one nice skein from that bath. But the yellow is very nice. This is how we learn. I admit to being so excited over the process that we absolutely forgot to take notes!
I am taking the advice of my natural dye teachers, Carol Wood & Debbie McCrea, and am raiding the onion bins of the skins every time I go to the grocery store. This, in hopes of achieving a nice yellow from an onion skin bath.