This is my blog to share my adventures, misadventures, exploration, and experimentation with fibre- and as it turns out, with life as well. There is some of both. One thing leads to another. Collecting, spinning, weaving, dying, learning, building a web of relationships. Here we are: welcome.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wild Carrot Flowers- and what else I did today

Remember this from my Learning to Spin post?

This is my first attempt on my wheel, what I called my "Random Overtwist", hanging to dry to set the twist, or so I hoped.  It seemed to work.

I found my decoction of wild carrot flowers, and to my delight, it was in excellent condition. I had decanted it after straining and reheating into a sterilized wine bottle, corked it, and stuck it in my pantry. 

So I decided to dye my Random Overtwist and see what kind of yellow I got. 

First I mordanted the small skein with alum.  That provided the first amusement of the day.  As soon as I dropped the skein in the cold mordant solution, it regained all its curl:

I use chopsticks as lifting and poking sticks, so I stuck this one right in the middle of the skein and left it there as it curled in on itself so I wouldn't lose where the opening was! 

Watching it curl up when it got wet gives me a clue to weave LOOSELY when I use in a project!

Simmered one hour, and then dropped it into the preheated dye bath.  What happened next happened too fast for me to take a picture...

The wild carrot decoction was so pale that I thought it would take some time for the wool to pick up color, and I was expecting a very pale shade of yellow.  Wrong!

I had turned around to clear some things off the counter, and when I glanced back at the pot a few minutes later, the wool had already turned a clear, strong yellow.  I pulled it and let it drip as it cooled: here it is hanging off the chopstick (thankfully NOT a tangled ball of twists!).  Then I washed and rinsed it, and hung it, weighted slightly, to dry. 

And here it is, dried and twisted into a little ball, next to the purple bean yarn.  Don't they look purty together?

I can do black bean dye this winter, every time I make black bean soup.  And late next summer I should have a lot of homespun to dye this marvelous clear yellow. 

By the way, the wild carrot flower decoction has a wonderful smell, a little fruity, a little flowery, with a touch of spice.  It made my house smell wonderful.


And now:  The other things I did today: FINALLY got my fall bulbs planted.  Yay

And I made a loaf of bread. Love, love, love my bread machine:

I've had this machine for over 10 years, and it is still going strong.  It's paid for itself many times over.  Hint: I take the paddle out before the last rising so there isn't a big hole in the bottom of the loaf. Much nicer. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Forays into natural dyeing

Like everybody else, when I was a kid, I learned to dye with onion skins. That set a switch in my brain.  From time to time over the years I've played with plant colors.  Then I started painting and got my color fix there. When I started playing with fibre, that long-ago switch turned on.  It had just been dormant: I already had two books on natural dying.  So I got two more, and started cruising the net looking for people with the same activated switch.

The next thing I knew, I was out wandering around the neighborhood collecting leaves, bark, flowers, and cooking them in specially reserved pots.  I now have an odd variant of the kosher kitchen: one set of pots and utensils for cooking food, another for cooking dye plants. 

It's interesting, because you never quite know what you are going to get. You control what you can, but there are too many variables to be of what is coming out.  So there is mystery.  Fun and mystery, and you get to dabble in ancient arts.  What could be better?

For this fall's experiments, I made up mini-skeins from a cone of commercial natural 2-ply wool I picked up at a studio sale (where I lost my head but got some great yarn and tool bargains).  Here is a quick summary of results.  At the bottom, a list of some useful books.

Alfalfa (lucerne):  I found an interesting legume in my driveway-- birds plant all kinds of things out there.  I was wandering around crushing leaves in my quest for possible dye plants, and this one turned quite dark when I pinched it. So I gathered up some shoots, and made a little batch of dye solution in my small pot.  I was pleased with the lovely soft sagey green these two little alum-mordanted samples took up.  The legume leaves looked familiar, and I confirmed that it was alfalfa.  Who knew?

Rhubarb root (left side):  I had dug an overgrown patch of rhubarb late this summer, and trimmed off the old part of the root.  It had some good pieces, so I chopped those up and boiled them for about an hour. I actually got two batches from the roots; there was so much color that I covered the drained roots again and got a dye bath nearly as intense as the first.

I used the first to dye the five mini-skeins on the left, pulling out a skein after 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 45 minutes.  The first four were alum-mordanted, the last was not.  I do not think yarn needs to be mordanted for rhubarb: it contains a good amount of oxalic acid, which is a natural mordant.  As you can see, I got a good range of colors ranging from a medium light yellow to an almost rusty orange.  This bath is still good for more color! I do not think I could get a pale yellow until it is almost exhausted.

Goldenrod flowers (top right):  The two skeins at the top right were done in a goldenrod solution. I simmered the flowers for one hour, let cool, and strained.  The wool was added and simmered for one hour and allowed to cool.  Since most yellow in plants is due to the pigment carotene, the overall tone is similar to the rhubarb root, but softer overall, and, in this case, with a little green undertone, as I had left the top leaves on the flowertops.

The two skeins at bottom right in the photo are the alfalfa dyed skeins above. I adjusted the color for the yellows so the color isn't quite right for the green here.

Black beans:  A year or so ago I noticed that a towel I'd used to clean up the stove after a black bean boilover stayed kind of blue for a long time. So I decided to try it as a dye..  This was from the first soak water for black beans I was preparing a fe days ago for soup.  I poured it off into my large dyepot, and added three larger alum-mordanted mini-skeins to it.  I simmered them for an hour, removed one immediately, and let the other two stay in the dyepot overnight. 

I was pleased with the dark, purplish color they all had.  It is hard to see the difference in the photo, but the one on the right is slightly paler and dustier in tone than the other two.  This is the one I removed immediately to wash.  The two I left to sit overnight have a deeper and richer color.  I suspect too that different strains of black beans, or differences in the soil they are grown in, might make a difference in the color one gets.

Wild carrot flowers:  I still have some dye solution I made up from wild carrot flowers.  I set it aside (got a bug and never got around to it).  If it isn't too off, I might give it a try and see if I can get a yellow that would go well with the black bean purply color.

A few books to try:

  • A Dyer's Garden, Rita Buchanen, 1995,
  • A Weaver's Garden, Rita Buchanen, 1987,Dover Publications, Mineola, NY.
  • Dye Plants and Dying-- a handbook, first printing 1964 (it went on for a number of printings).  Collection of pieces originally published as Plants & Gardens, Vol.20, #3.  Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Brooklyn, NY.  Readily available used.  
  • The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing, Eva Lambert & Tracy Kendall, 2010,
Newer is not necessarily better.  The Lambert book is pretty and has a lot of info, but is not well-laid out, and it focuses on a few plants, many of which are exotic and must be purchased. It does eliminate the use of toxic metal mordants, which is a good thing.

I prefer Buchanen's book The Dyer's Garden, which is clearly written and easy to follow, with wonderful photos of yarn she's dyed with plants.  Both her books include garden and horticulture ideas and suggestions, with discussions of a number of plants.  She does include discussion of metal mordants, but addresses the toxicity issues well.  I'd suggest skipping chrome, which is highly toxic, and must be disposed of at landfills that accept hazardous materials.  Alum, tin, and iron are safe, and copper can be used judiciously with safety precautions.

The booklet by Boston Botanic gardens is a treasure trove of information: history of dyestuffs and the dyeing industry that developed in Europe, home dyeing, anthropological studies of dye materials used in other cultures.  These vary in depth and quality, but are a great source of ideas for contemporary home dyers to try out.  Ancient mordants are discussed, some of which are fascinating in themselves.

Learning to spin on a wheel without creating a mess

This is it in a nutshell:

1.  The first batch I tried spinning. Well, no-- the very first little bit was so awful I wound it off and stuck it in a box.  This small skein is better: I was starting to get the hang of letting the darn yarn wind on by itself, just not very well yet. I call it "Random Overtwist".  It has been washed and is hanging to dry to set the twist so it doesn't totally kink up when it is released.  I hope.  I intend to dye this some wild color and call it "art yarn".  Maybe use it someday in something with inclusions to distract.

2.  Try number 2: Still overtwisted, but with some areas that look pretty good, more consistency in thickness, and the joins are cleaner.  I am still using my wheel in doubledrive, meaning that the same pulley controling the spin also controls the bobbin wind-on speed, via a loop around a kind of gear that in spinning is called a whorl. There is an adjusting knob that I haven't got the hang of yet. This bobbin is on  my lazy kate now.

3.  Okay, I changed from double-drive to Scotch tension.  This is where the belt drives only the spinning of the yarn, and a separate line, called a brake, controls the bobbin takeup speed.  It has it's own control (the black knob thing at the bottom, and I finally was able to coordinate the spinning and the pull-in to produce a pretty consistent yarn.  My fingers learned how to both draw out fibre from the wool, let the spin in, and release it to draw in to be wound on the bobbin.  Not as good yet as I am on the spindle, but getting there, and it's lots faster!  This I am spinning to ply. 

To compare, here is a photo of some of my plyed spindle yarn, and a singles still on the spindle, from the same batch of BFL.  I did this just before getting my wheel. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The new toy

My Schacht Matchless came home with me today.

In my living room/studio, with the little, very old sewing chair I found years ago: perfect!  In the center background is my sidekick, Rudy (on the red blanket), in his usual survey-my-kingdom position.  This is the part of the living room that actually looks like a living room.

JellyBean, one of my studio assistants, is checking out the wheel, now  tucked up against the end of my loom.  That's Mona, my other studio assistant, in the background tucked into her daybed.  All that wonderful light is coming from a huge bay window at the end of the living room. 

A wider view of the studio end of the living room, so you can see the loom (and it's cardboard cover), the easel, and all the rest of the clutter.  JB is the reason my loom is always protected with a cardboard cover when not in use. She thinks that chair is hers.  Trouble.