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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜‰ 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

Freeform #1

For years now I’ve had my eye on creating a piece in the classic Freeform style, a method of crochet that rejects the use of pattern or pre-planned formations and uses highly textural and varied crochet stitches to create odd, asymmetric pieces called “scrumbles.”

Though any crocheting without a pattern could technically be called freeform or freestyle, I differentiate the classic Freeform technique as having a few key characteristics: lack of pattern or overall plan, emphasis on chaotic form and texture over cohesive visual harmony, and reliance on several iconic motifs common in modern freeform (such as spirals, bullions, puffs, and other textural stitches).

Freeform scrumbles are finished bits of crochet that are then arranged and connected to form the final piece – anything from a freestanding “painting” of forms to a highly ornate coat to furniture covers (I dream of freeforming over an entire couch one day…).

Sometimes sewn together, sometimes connected via an openwork web of chains as in traditional Irish lace – the scumbles are like a puzzle you get to create AND solve!

After looking to such Freeform crochet geniuses as Prudence Mapstone and Hannah Martin of Of Mars, perusing some playlists for Freeform shapes on Youtube, and endlessly scrolling the Freeform Crochet World Group on Facebook, I finally collected a bunch of yarn and started scumbling.

And scrumbling.

And scrumbling.

After 8 months of slow progress, and lots of learning curves, I finally put the finishing touches on Freeform #1!

I knew it would be a shawl from the start, but the rest of the journey of this project was a complete and utter mystery until it was finally finished.

I must have arranged and rearranged the pieces so many times, in so many combinations! There are even a few eyeballs stuck in there, left over from practicing bullion eyes for the Forest Guide Hat.

The colors were chosen to be an earthy rainbow, with lots of gem tones (my favorite). Plenty of odd bits of hand-dyed and hand-spun yarn were included that I also created – which adds to the unique and personal “process” art touch.

At some point along the way, I started becoming (more) obsessed with moths, and I couldn’t stop picturing this piece as moth wings, or at least some winged bug-eyed thing – so the prism goggles came out to play πŸ˜‰

I’m overall thrilled with how this piece turned out – better than my expectations, to be sure! My first full-size freeform will be staying in my closet as I don’t think I could bear to part with it.

It’s great to create something that is impossible to write a pattern from! These days it’s hard to crochet anything that I don’t start to consider writing a pattern for (cue the incessant note-taking), but with freeform, that’s obviously not an option…

Although I may do some tutorial videos for the techniques I used at some point!

If you want to try out freeform but don’t want to commit to a huge project, my Pixie Pocket Belt Tutorial series uses freeform techniques to create cute, quick costume projects.

This shawl really pushed my boundaries and challenged me, and I value it all the more because of that.

-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 muchΒ  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. πŸ˜›

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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 πŸ˜€

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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

 

Fiber Review: Polworth Tussah

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about spinning here, but not because there’s been a lack of spinning – most of it has been powering through giant piles of alpacaΒ because, after I finished the first batch I had ordered from Alpaca Direct, I ordered more πŸ˜›

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I plan on coloring the copious amounts of natural white handspun with some liquid natural dye extracts at some point – but it’s been a busy busy summer. More on that later.

At any rate, the fiber I’m talking about today is the Polworth Tussah 60/40 blend that I dyed last year – the other half of the braid I worked with PLUS a big booty 6.75 oz braid of the same colourway are both available (separately) in my Etsy shop.

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The braid I split to spin half – “Celtic Teatime” Polwarth Tussah 60/40

Polwarth is a breed with wool that has a long staple length and a fine fiber around 23 microns. Combined with Tussah, or wild silk, which is also fine, soft, and lengthy in the staple department, what struck me about spinning this fiber was how EASY it was.

As I’ve mentioned before, the long staple length of 100% Tussah silk is balanced by how slippery the fiber is, making it easy to spin but also very easy to lose control of, resulting in lots of rejoining. The combination with Polwarth, which like all wools has more “traction”, totally solves this problem.

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The 2.25 oz skein set on a backdrop of way too much alpaca yarn

I opted to spin this fiber as a 1-ply thick & thin slubby style. Silk always makes dyes look just amazing, retaining vibrant color and sheen, so I wanted to keep the focus on the colors by not plying them against another strand and possibly muddying their appearance.

This was where the fibers’ shared virtues came in handy – I don’t think I had to rejoin that single ply once the entire length! Very handy, and since I was aiming for primitive looking, I spun it at top speeds. Done in under an hour – awesome.

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The silk gives this yarn strength and definition and the wool makes it pillowy soft with a slight fuzzy halo. I plan on using this yarn for another crazy pixie belt – prepare for cuteness!

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Here’s some of the elements of said pixie belt so far – both the mushroom pouch and the shamrock pouch also have handspun in them – you just can’t beat it for giving your projects a totally unique look.

-MF