Do or Dye

‘Round about this time every winter my wandering creative eye starts to fixate on my spinning stash, as the cold and unpleasant weather of the Midwest drives me toward indoor activities that will relieve my mounting cabin fever. Besides spinning wool into crazy art yarns, I also hand dye wool rovings myself using professional acid dyes or experimenting with natural & botanical eco dyeing.

This year, my dye cabinet really needed to be worked through – I had POUNDS of wools stuffed in there waiting to be painted, and jars of dye I hadn’t even cracked open yet. On top of that whole situation, another imminent move (I’m a roving artist, myself – har har) meant that I really needed to downsize.

So in I dove, resolved to color all of the wool that I had laying around and produce a stash of things I could spin for years to come. 10-12 hours of labor and days of setting and drying time later, I had an extremely pretty and earthy toned woolen rainbow to cuddle.

My acid dye batch included some dyeable prespun merino yarn and a fistful of silky-soft baby Suri alpaca locks – lush!

But after that massive batch of acid dyeing, I decided I wasn’t done yet. I saved back about a half pound of wool because I had last summer’s reject elderberries sitting in my freezer, preserved with the intent to commit eco-dye.

In the past I’ve created my own botanical & food based natural dyes out of tea, coffee, turmeric, pokeberry, black walnut, and avocado – as well as trying out some commercial botanical dyes – and had mixed results. Usually it’s quite hard to get the homemade natural dyes strong enough to get good color and to mordant the fiber properly to get the color to stick. Still I get tempted because I’m a mad fiber scientist at heart!

The lightly toned roving in the picture above comes from commercially derived botanical dye liquids and represent the strongest colors I’ve ever gotten out of a natural dye.

In the late summer when we harvested 15-20 pounds of wild elderberries to make syrup and jelly, I discovered that while rinsing our little treasures the overripe and underripe berries tended to float to the top of the rinse water, making them easy to scoop out leaving the plump, juicy berries sunken at the bottom. I saved back all these rejects knowing at some point I’d try to dye with them, the perfect solution to not wasting pounds of harvest.

The dye process was quick, and I used this excellent post from Woollenflower to guide me. After a mordanting soak during which I boiled down my frozen berries, I drained the wool and put the dye berries through a cheesecloth sieve to separate off the liquid. The wool roving went into quart canning jars, each portioned with citric acid and elderberry juice, and I popped them into the canner to steam for about an hour. After the heat was applied, I let them cool overnight.

While most of the dye rinsed out, I’m still very happy with the gorgeous muted purples and pinks that appeared! Elderberry is particularly sensitive to pH levels, and I aimed to created a mottled effect with some alkaline color and some acidic color on the rovings – it’s hard to tell because none of my picture taking equipment captures these subtle tones in natural light, but I’m pleased with the result ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t expect a ton of colorfastness from this batch, so I’ll probably reserve this wool for creating a wall hanging, as I did with some of my Avocado dyed wool – an indoor decoration is the perfect solution to delicately dyed natural fibers which tend to fade in sunlight or with multiple washings.

A dreamcatcher I made using peachy-pink natural avocado-dyed alpaca fiber, handspun by me. I also crocheted the happy li’l cado in the middle ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t stop looking at this gorgeous woolen rainbow, which I’ve had strung along my photo backdrop curtain string for weeks at this point just because it’s too dang pretty all displayed together like that ๐Ÿ˜‰ But today I’ll pack it all away, now that my last stash of undyed wool is colored. I successfully cleaned out my to-dye-for wool stash, but now where do I put all the dyed wool??? Ha!

Almost all of my dyes, mordants, and dyeable wools come from Dharma Trading Co., a USA based tie-dye and fiber art supply company, and I highly recommend them for their products, free resources, and customer service!

-MF

Avocado Dye – Batch 1

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I love garbage.

Let me explain: I love taking things that would otherwise end up in the garbage and using them for something. The feeling of making something useful and valuable out of what would normally be considered disposable brings me great satisfaction.

So when I was told I could bring home the rotten avocados that had to be pulled from the shelf in the produce department at the co-op where I work, I was giddy. Hooray! Garbage to play with!

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I removed the pits and skins from these castoffs, as well as from the avos that I ate, over the course of a couple months. I knew from doing some research into natural dyeing that avocado pits and skins could be made into a dye that yields an earthy pink color, when managed correctly. There’s plenty of links to good blog posts about this process on my Pinterest Dyeing board.

Anyway, I ended up with around 2,600 g of avocado materials. A pretty healthy amount, which I needed considering the dyestuff to fiber ratio needs to be around 6:1 to get a deep color, according to the accounts I had read.

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My materials were an assortment of things, because experimentation! I had about 428 g of materials to dye – some handspun alpaca yarn, wool roving and a Habotai silk scarf from Dharma Trading Company, an old silk shirt I wanted to upcycle, and some fugly cotton yarn just because I hated it. But before I dealt with any of these things, I had to extract the dye.

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I piled up all of my avocado leavings, which had been stored in bags in the freezer until I built up enough, into a pot with about a gallon of filtered water and a cup of baking soda. The baking soda was to make the water alkaline, because (according to the blogs I read) acidity changes the dye and turns things brown rather than pink. I boiled this witchy brew for about 2 1/2 hours.

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I was very excited to see that deep mauve color appearing in the bubbles as it boiled. I was less excited about the smell.

Once it had boiled for a good long time and the color of the water was opaque (almost black!) I strained all of it through cheesecloth into jars and let the dye cool. Since extracting the dye was an all-afternoon affair, I decided to store the dye in the fridge until the next phase.

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Note that I could have dyed the materials in with the skins and pits all at once, but I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons: first, I was working with wool and it would felt if I had exposed it to such high temperatures, and second, I wanted a little more control over the process and the opportunity to dye the materials with different ratios of dye extract.

So I popped the jars of dye into the fridge after they had cooled off, until the next free afternoon I had available. To get the dye to take the fibers, I had to mordant my materials. I used alum and cream of tartar dissolved in distilled water, and soaked my materials in the mordant solution for a couple hours – next time, I’ll probably soak overnight.

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One source said I needed 7 g cream of tartar and 8 g of Alum per 100 g of fabric/fiber, so I used a total of 31.5 g cream of tartar and 36 g of alum (both of these were obtained from Dharma Trading).

Once soaked in the mordant solution, I pulled everything out and began portioning the fibers out into quart canning jars. Each jar got an extra 1/8 cup baking soda just to be sure to keep the alkalinity of the water. Each jar also got a mixture of mordant solution and dye extract, and I purposefully squished the fabrics into the jars and poured dye over the top, to create an uneven reach for the dye. I wanted a nice earthy textured color effect. Which I got, sort of.

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Next, the jars went into the canner on a rack, with some water at the bottom for steaming, and set on a low setting on the stove. Lid goes on, then waiting while the temp starts to slowly rise. The jar balanced precariously on the side is the one with the wool, raised further out of the bottom to avoid the danger of overheating and felting.

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More waiting. And occasional poking with a stick.

Once my jars had been steaming for a couple hours, I turned the temperature off and left it overnight to cool.

The next morning, I removed the soggy mess from inside each jar and gently squeezed them into the sink, enjoying the fact that since I was using natural dyestuff, I didn’t have to worry too much about psychedelicizing my apartment kitchen by way of accidental splashing.

But, since I was using natural dyestuff, I also didn’t have to worry about psychedelicizing my fiber either. Since an alarming amount of dye seemed to be washing out – and the remaining color was a sad brown. With an intensely sinking feeling, I washed all of my materials in textile detergent and rinsed them, taking stock of my situation.

One alpaca skein seemed to have taken the dye well, the other was muchย  paler, and the wool had some definite patches of well-dyed fiber. The habotai silk took some dye, with a couple dark patches, and the silk shirt not much at all. The cotton yarn, ugly to begin with, was now both ugly, brown, and tangled. In fact, I was kind of frustrated at this point and just pitched the cotton yarn straight into the trash. The rest I hung up to air dry.

One nugget of wisdom I’ve learned over the years so far is never to judge a dye batch before it’s fully dry. And though I already knew this, I spent the next few days calling the experiment a failure as it hung on my curtain rod, being shunned.

And then when it was fully dry I took it down and got a good look. I was surprised that the rosy pinks HAD come out after all, though it was still browner than I wanted in places. Overall, the earthy pink and hazel shades were really pleasing and I immediately forgave them all of their supposed misbehavior.

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Not perfect, no. But since I gained a little success, and I have dye extract left over, there will definitely be a Batch 2! The rest of this post is just a bunch of pictures of the dye materials, because I do love them after all. Except for that stupid cotton yarn. ๐Ÿ˜›

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Left to right – Alpaca, wool roving, wool roving, alpaca again, then silk

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The silk shirt just barely got a tinge, except for a few patches that were very dark. Still figuring out how that happened.

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I’ll be ripping this one up for silk fringe on my pixie belts anyway.

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The wool roving turned out nicer than expected, especially since for a moment I had thought I felted it!

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Definitely halfway spun already as I type this ๐Ÿ˜€

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So, moral of the story, it’s difficult and sometimes frustrating to try to learn new things with your art (or anything). But that’s because you have to push yourself to be better in order to grow – and if you love what you do, the risk of failure is nothing compared to the reward of learning.

-MF

 

Tattered Fairy Vest

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I wind up making a lot of bright pieces because I love playing with color, but I have a personal bias for earthy tones and neutrals (like over half of the things I own are brown. I love brown). So when I was thinking about the color scheme for this Forest Fae Vest pattern I bought from the Etsy shop ForeverWanderingg, I decided to follow her example and go with pretty, soft, and earthy.

I’ve been trying to work from crochet patterns other than my own lately and I bought this one as soon as I saw it. I love the tattered aesthetic and the mandala- I never met a mandala I didn’t like. ย So here’s my version of the Forest Fae Vest ๐Ÿ™‚
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I made the main body using Premier Cotton Fair (using two strands held together) and it came out feeling soft and thick and perfect! I wanted to achieve the longer tattered bustle style of the last model picture on the Etsy listing, so I searched through my collection of magical garbage. Which you can see a little of in the background here ๐Ÿ˜‰

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I came up with an old lacy scarf that had gotten accidentally dyed in the wash and a big piece of crochet lace I had salvaged from a dress I found at Goodwill. Time to dye those puppies to match!

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I used some Rit dye that I have had foreverย – can you believe I used dark brown and tan for this? Well, if you’ve dyed with Rit before you might, because it does tend to be a little bit of a crapshoot for color accuracy if you’re not careful. However, I prefer the lovely muted purple and am super glad that it didn’t come out dark brown. I even dyed that jersey cotton cowl to match!

Sewing it on took some psyching up, because taking something you’ve lovingly crocheted by hand and sticking it in a machine to punch a bunch of tiny thread into it is SCARY. But it went smooth as butter and before I knew it this sweet fairy vest was ready to rock!

Maybe you can tell I had a lot of fun making this? My favorite projects have always been based around upcycling – giving new life to old things, rediscovering their beauty. This project definitely fit that category.

-MF

Art Yarn Overload

Thanks to a pro tip from a fellow Instagram spinner, I bought a jumbo bobbin and flyer kit for my Ashford Traveler wheel a few months ago and I have been loving it! Rather than get a whole new wheel for spinning bulky yarns, the jumbo bobbin kit allows me to spin all kinds of yarns on my regular wheel without taking up extra space.

That doesn’t mean I have quit drooling over the Country Spinner or the Majacraft Aura, but it does mean I have been experimenting a lot with art yarns. My most recent foray was with some BFL that I dyed and corespun in a gradient.

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First, I had to split and fluff the roving (factory processing in addition to the dyeing process compacts the fibers – easily fixed by whipping the roving around a bit)..

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Then I separated my colors so that I could spin them into a loooooong, bright gradient.

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Corespinning, or spinning fiber onto a core of pre-spun commercial yarn or thread, is one of my favorite techniques, because the resulting yarn has the smoothness and color-centric-ness (word? I don’t think so) of one-ply yarns, but you can still achieve soft, cushy yarns without worrying about your fibers pulling apart easily. This one is called “Fire in the Mountain” and is available in my Etsy shop, along with a bunch of other art yarns I’ve been hoarding!

Fire In the Mountain was spun from roving dyed in my most recent dye batch a couple of weeks ago, in which these three Merino Bamboo blends also got some color:

The rovings are also for sale in the shop! Basically this post is just a glorified shop update. But I’m okay with that if you are. To compensate, here’s more pictures of yarn I spun (this time from my personal use stash):

The jumbo bobbin also helps with spinning regular sized yarns, as I can fill two bobbins to the brim with singles and then ply them together uninterrupted (like I did with that 4 oz of lovely emerald green pictured above). I think these two yarns are about to find a home in another Lotus Duster

Happy spinning!

-MF

 

 

Roving Color Bomb

There’s been a color explosion over at my Etsy Shop recently as I listed some beautiful rovings that I dyed over Spring Break – along with some other new summer goodies!

This was the largest dye session I’ve managed yet, and I’m happy to say that my process has come a long way since my first foray into fiber dyeing. Here’s a peek at the madness I unleashed on my poor kitchen! It all starts with coffee, of course.

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And here’s the results!

I dyed 4 braids of that earthy multicolored green and brown; it’s a generic wool blend from Dharma Trading Co. – no wool breed listed, but it spins up super nicely. The other three or so braids became faux dreadlocks using a combination of spinning and felting.

I also split the “Mango Punch” colorway BFL braid into thirds and spun one of the thirds for quality control purposes and also because I couldn’t help but play with some of that luscious color after all that work! It spun really beautifully paired with a deep emerald BFL roving from my stash into a bright art yarn I call “Jungle Juice.”

The other 2/3rds of that braid is listed in my shop at a discount since it’s already split!

As much as I am enjoying classes, I’m antsy and anxious as hell for the freedom to keep dyeing and spinning and stitching without other obligations. But I need to buckle down and finish the semester.

Well, maybe just one more row.

-MF

Winter Updates!

I disappeared into an intense bout of spinning lately, trying out my new colorway with a fractal ply to test the harmony of the colors. It turned out GORGEOUS, and pictures will be shared as soon as I’m done setting the twist. The second run of the colorway, “Mango Punch” is officially available in my Etsy Shop, along with my second signature colorway, “Dyed Leather.”

Enough talk. Pictures now.

Mango Punch -Superfine Merino, 3.62 oz. I replaced the muted sage green of the first run of this colorway with a bright apple. I love both versions!

Dyed Leather – on Gray Gotland, 3.62 oz. The natural silver tone of this fiber took the dyes exactly as I was hoping they would, creating complexity and depth.

I also indulged in some doodling over Thanksgiving break, freehand with sharpies on a poster board. I do believe I will color it..

I guess you would call this a Zentangle, although I prefer less dense patterning in my mandalas.

And finally, I am stoked on my very first homebrewed batch of kombucha! I love this stuff, and I have wanted to brew some for years. I finally obtained a Mother, and now I am seeing the formation of the daughter! Woohoo!!!

Slowly, ever so slowly, I inch closer to my goal of being a weird, hippie art teacher who brews magic potions in the woods and wears sweaters made from her own goats. Because it’s important to have goals.

-MF

Mango Punch, Etc

After waffling about whether or not I wanted to try this color scheme I’ve been toying with, I finally bit the bullet and used some superfine Merino to test dye (sometimes exhaustion lends you just enough crazy). I have to confess I adore it. It’s called “Mango Punch” and I’ll be tinkering with the colors and amounts more in the future, as I’d like to make it my first signature roving colorway.

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I also played with getting multiple tones out of a one color + silver dyes in Marsala:

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What else have I been up to? Lots more playing with color in these hooded cowls (for which I am working on a pattern!)
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The cowls themselves are both available right now in my Etsy shop. If you’d like to get notified when the pattern becomes available, make sure you subscribe to my blog or follow me on Facebook!

My Mandala Top pattern still yields me lots of color therapy – I just worked up with autumn-toned version in size small with some extra flounce added to the bottom. It reminds me of browned leaves falling to the ground. Can you tell I have a forest obsession? I have a forest obsession.

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For more Morale-boosting fiber-y goodness, check me outย on Instagram.

-MF

After a Weekend in the Woods

Even with school and rushing from one place to the next and releasing a new pattern, I had time to order and play with some of Dharma Trading Company’s limited-time release 2015 Fall Tones, which were DELIGHTFUL.

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I also added a new pair of floral mitts to my Etsy shop, a pair that I am particularly proud of. The first three rows of petals on each of these pretty half-gloves are hand-dyed by me and handspun with a Navajo-ply technique. They reminded me of big, beautiful garden roses.

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Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Facebook already know that I recently did some vending at my favorite local festival community, Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary. I always receive such love and support from my fellow community members there, and I couldn’t be more grateful! Plus the dancing and drumming ain’t bad.

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Plus, look at that VIEW.

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But now it’s back to reality – or semi-reality – as I crochet some mushrooms for my visual journal project and write about Greek amphora painting.

-MF

Roving Adventures: Steam Setting

As I walked in the door triumphantly with my 33 quart enamel ware canner I got super cheap at Goodwill, I had prepared my explanation about how useful it would be when I had my future garden or got a good deal at the farmer’s market to preserve the theoretical fresh produce. The justification for buying a pot too large to even fit through our cabinet doors, if we even had the cabinet space in the first place (we don’t) was loaded and ready.

My very intelligent boyfriend was not fooled.

“You’re just going to use that to dye stuff, aren’t you?”

Yes. Yes I am.

 

This was my first true venture into steam setting – I tried to do it in the dye crockpot once but it was a pain in the ass. The resulting roving from the crockpot steam was pretty, but not as dark as I intended.

“Mermaid Hair”

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I’m thrilled with how my two latest batches came out…

“Ardor”

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“Witching Hour”

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I can’t wait to spin these. Unfortunately they are pretty far back in the “to spin” pile. I guess I need a wheel!

-MF

The Sweet and the Sass

 

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Yep, used to be a boring, unwanted, lonely, sad white sweater. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that sweaters aren’t good enough. Some of my best friends are sweaters. But I could see this sweater was suffering, yearning for a transformation, wanting desperately to better itself.

So I pulled out the lovely yarn (a cotton / wool / synthetic blend) and dyed it in a self-striping colorway, which I have named “Silk and Cherrywood” because the soft, delicate tones remind me of a fancy, old-timey boudoir.

Thinking about how long I spent on this gives me the vapors.

Givin’ me the vapors!

I lightly freestyled Make My Day Creative’s “Atlantic Lace Shawl” pattern, a wonderful free pattern that I featured in my Spring Scarves Pattern Gallery.

The color change lengths came out almost perfectly for this particular pattern, not too patchy as I feared (I don’t usually like that “camo” look in variegated yarns). I also happened to already have beads that matched! Joy!

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-MF