Friday, 27 June 2014

Weld Dyed Fleece, Overdyeing and Blending with Evernia Prunastri Dyed Fleece

Plant dye baths often seem to have a lot of colour left in them after the intended material has been dyed, even when a second batch of wool fibres has been simmered in the afterbath.  Appearances can be deceptive, though.  Dark looking baths may actually be spent of their dye potential.  

Weld leaves go on giving yellow to a surprising weight of fibre, so it is usually worth putting one last lot of wool in for a simmer. Evernia prunastri lichen takes so much nurturing to ferment it that it would be a crime not to eke out every drop of pink. These portions of fleece were used to soak up the remaining colour from a season of making these two plant dye baths.  They are locks of Polwarth fleece which got a bit mangled before I learned the knack of scouring them hot enough to get the lanolin out without causing felting.  On the left, the results of two or three lichen afterbaths, on the right, yellows from several weld afterbaths and in the middle, combined colours on locks that had a simmer in both dyes.
"Mmm, pink, orange and yellow, is it, Beaut?"  Elinor Gotland looked dubious.
"A red sky at sunset has colours like these."
I teased out the locks and carded them into rolags, some of each colour, some blending fibres from the different batches together. 
"Never mind a sunset, that Polwarth looks like it got left out in the rain. Us Gotlands are very sensitive, too.   I remember when we did a production of 'The Wizard of Oz' at Aberystwyth University. Some silly bugger special effects student chucked a bucket of water over us and turned the wind machine on full blast, trying to simulate a Kansas tornado.  Took me hours to comb the felting out of my fleece."
The effect of mixing fibres is distinctly different to overdyeing. Despite some felted locks, I managed to hand spin a fine single with occasional matted lumps, then navajo three plyed the skeins to keep solid stretches of colour, one seguing into another.  The intention was to knit a scarf with a grey green top line, a semicircular golden sun bulging on this 'horizon' and swathes of pink and yellow sky beyond it. 

"That's a valley horizon, alright, Beaut."

"OK, I know, I'll frog it, I suppose."
"You could do with a lesson in colour blending, too."  She rummaged in her stash.
"Oh, give over, Toto."
Elinor tossed her head in outrage, dislodging her eyewear.

Somewhere under the rainbow, Way down deep,


Are the specs that were mislaid By a very small, cross sheep.

Trawling Ravelry for patterns using no more than 150m aran weight yarn, I found Alise which looked perfect for my youngest niece's birthday. Magically, the colour changes worked better and I had enough yarn left over to crochet a llttle head scarf.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Contact Dyeing Silk Chiffon with Geranium Leaves and Petals

I had a go at contact dyeing silk last August and didn't achieve anything like the leaf prints I've seen on other blogs. Cutting back a hardy geranium which was going to seed, I remembered seeing dramatic prints from these leaves, on fabric dyed in ecobundles.  Had to be worth another try.
Some ecobundles are described as being simmered in a dye bath, a method I have not tried.  A bag of red geranium petals has been sitting in my freezer all winter. Frozen hollyhock flowers turned out to have lost much of their dye potential, so I hadn't bothered with these.  Still, a geranium petal dye had to be top choice for a test of geranium leaf printing. After a gentle simmer, the petal dye bath went ruby red.

For fabric, I used 1.5m silk chiffon, a very fine gauze which only weighed 25g. Half a teaspoon of alum was dissolved in hot water then topped up with enough warm water for the chiffon to float freely. I left it soaking for 24 hours to cold mordant.
A selection of fresh leaves and flowers from hardy geraniums was laid over half the cloth, then sprinkled with a few fresh red petals from this year's annual trailing geranium basket. The other half of the chiffon was draped back over the top, then folded into three lengthways.
Using a cut off length of plastic drain pipe as the core of the bundle meant I could flatten and press the leaves better than when I tried rolling a scarf around a wooden stick.  The garden string had a few minutes to soak in a jar of vinegar and rusty nails before being bound tightly round the chiffon.  The pipe was stood up inside the dyebath and the pot slowly heated up to 90 degrees Centigrade.
Taking off the lid an hour or so later revealed a blackened lump in a steamy stew.
"The horror! The horror!"  I was appalled.  The bundle had looked so pretty when it went in.
"That'll be the iron from the vinegar on your string.  Saddened the red petal dye alright, didn't it, Beaut?"  Elinor Gotland thinks she knows it all, these days.  She peered into the darkness of the remaining dye bath.  "Looks like the River Zaire on a humid morning."  As I pulled out my ruined ecobundle she positively chortled. "Wouldn't put your hand in there, a crocodile might have you!"
"Thanks for that, Elinor.  Cheers me up no end.  Like you know what colour the River Zaire is, anyway."
"If I don't nobody does.  Bloody nearly fell in it, jumping on to the Ngombe.  That river boat didn't so much stop at Lisala as slow down a bit.  The lower deck was like a floating market, no railings, kids everywhere.  Any Health and Safety Inspector would have forty fits."
"Now, I cannot believe you've been to Africa.  Surely it's far too hot for sheep?"  I may have protested, but I knew I was fated, before the dye began to run, to hear about one of Elinor's inconclusive experiences.
Sure enough, she returned with an old photo album and flicked through the pages.
"Look, here's one of me on the river boat.  After that picture was taken, one of the ladies corn rowed my fleece for me.  Put blue beads in it - I chinked like a wind chime under the fan in the third class bar.  Still sweated buckets, mind.  Half the crew slept on the roof, to get the night breeze.  We were on our way to film 'Apocalypse, In A Minute.' on location."
"Just sounds crazy to me." I snapped.
"A ewe cannot live with her hoof everlastingly on her pulse."  Her lofty look was guaranteed to wind me up.  Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence -- but more generally takes the form of apathy.  Leaving Elinor, the dye pot and my poor blackened ecobundle sitting on the patio, I spent the next couple of days in concentrated silence, trying to spin Polwarth fleece into laceweight yarn.  

When at last I unrolled the ecobundle, I saw a tranquil water way, barred by a black bank of clouds.  
Once the leaves were peeled off the cloth, they had left prints.  Elinor was very taken with the patterned chiffon and fancied it for a party outfit.
"A loose blouse, over a sheer silk tubular dress.  Low heels and amethyst jewellery. Gorgeous or what, Beaut?"
Now we were back on speaking terms, I had to know how the filming of 'Apocalypse, In A Minute' had gone.
"That film went totally tits up, Beaut.  Turned out Curtis, the location manager, had lost the plot. By the time we got there, he'd given people in Kinshasha the idea that he was a filmstar.  They were treating him like an A list celeb. Can't blame them, the closest they'd ever got to a night at the movies was an old cine reel of Charles Aznavour projected on the wall of the Catholic Mission.  He was milking it.  Shall I say, Mr Curtis lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts."
"The swine!"
"Anyway, he hadn't done his job. No hotels had been booked and tempers flared when the crew found the catering trailer hadn't been stocked.  After I heard some of them muttering about mint sauce, I had a mind to go.  Went my own road on my own legs."
"Elinor, you walked all the way home from Zaire!"
"To be honest, Beaut, I'd met some overland travellers in a bar and they gave me a ride in their truck.  In the tropics one must, before everything, drink beer."

The leaf printed chiffon turned out an exuberant and entangled mass of vegetation. After a wash, the black became more of a purple grey.  I am calling it 'Heart of Darkness'.  
Here, Elinor is reprising her role in Apocalypse - savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Trial of Comfrey Plant Dye on Wool with Alum, Iron and Copper Mordants

Every garden needs a patch of comfrey.  It has big tap roots that suck up nitrogen and potassium locked in the depths of the earth, making its leaves rich in the good stuff that other plants love, but cannot access.  Though it disappears in winter, it is always waist high by the end of spring.  I cut this patch back only a few weeks ago and look at it crowding the place out again.  The first lot of foliage is festering in a lidded bucket, to make tomato food.  As I have also started a fermented suint vat, the tomatoes should be riotously well fed this year, with fleece rinse water to wash down their comfrey juice.  The greenhouse is going to honk.
I am sure I tried dyeing wool with comfrey a couple of years ago, getting a beige that faded.  Jenny Dean's book 'Wild Colour' says it gives sage green.   Last year, dyeing with a 10/1 ratio of bracken shoots gave a beige that kept its colour better than a previous, weaker dye bath.  As I had 1.5kg comfrey leaves, I looked out three 50g skeins of wool.  First to hand came 50g chunky yarn from a Welsh Mountain fleece, mordanted with 10% alum.
Then I rediscovered a bag of 50g skeins of hand spinning which were sold off at a Christmas Craft Fair.  A retired spinner had had a turn out of her old stash.  This wool is evenly spun about double knitting weight and the skeins were already secured with loops, ready for dyeing, though stiff with well aged lanolin.

I gave them all a hot soak with washing up liquid and a few hot rinses, then premordanted three skeins in a pot with a cupful of iron water added - vinegar and water in which rusty nails had been soaking - which turned the wool a pale rusty orange.  The other three were premordanted in copper water - same vinegar and water mix which had had bits of copper piping soaking in it for months.  These turned palest green.

The comfrey leaves were simmered for an hour and left to cool overnight.  Once the bag of leaves was squeezed out, I used them as a mulch for my woad plants.  Even if there is not much goodness left in them, they will help keep the soil damp.  Next day, I simmered one skein with each mordant all together in the brown dye bath. 

The results are greenish - more so than the photo has picked up.  From the left, copper + comfrey next to an undyed copper premordanted skein.  In the middle, iron + comfrey next to an undyed iron premordanted skein and on the right, the alum skeins. Comfrey on alum mordant gave the most herbal green.

"I'd keep that comfrey for your tomatoes, Beaut.  Cut back the mint, that's full of vitamins and minerals too.  You could benefit from some lovely green Creme de Menthe.  Proper tonic. It's kept me going before now."
"Your interest wouldn't have anything to do with the vodka involved, would it?  How long do you think that lovely green would sustain you for these days?"
"Grow the right herbs and you could make Chartreuse.  Best green of all."
"They say the monks had a secret recipe with 130 ingredients. Nice to know you have so much confidence in me, but 130 pots might be more than the patio can take."
"How about absinthe!  Would you have any wormwood wanting pruning?"
"In the tub behind you, Elinor.  Stop sniffing it. You can't start distilling your own absinthe, I need that wormwood to fumigate the dog basket." 
"Awful waste. I've heard it's everso good for you.  Ahh, the smell takes me back to my modelling days in Paris."
"Haute couture catwalk, was it?"
"Artist's model, Beaut.  Poster girl, me."  
"You never were."

This must surely be a wormwood fume hallucination.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Spinning Bond Wool Tops and Dyeing with Woad and Onion Skins

Having spent a century and more breeding their flocks for fleece quality rather than meat, Australia and New Zealand have some enviably smoochy sheep's wool.  Bond must surely be one of the best. In the Fleece and Fibre Sourcebook, it says the breed started as a cross between Lincoln rams and Saxon/Peppin Merino ewes, selected particularly for fineness of fibre. This Bond wool top was an enormous birthday present, brought all the way back from South Australia in my Mum's suitcase.  It is called grey, but descriptions of natural wool colours have baffled me before, like that intermediate brown on a Jacob being called 'lilac'.  This does have a grey halo to it, but to the untutored eye, the wool is even more of a soft brown than the photo suggests.  
Wool tops have been scoured, removing all dirt and grease, then combed, which takes out all the knots, short fibres and debris.  These Bond top fibres are between 12-14cm long with a fine crimp still discernable.  After all my struggles with raw fleece, I appreciate that the attributes of the final yarn depend as much on the method and care taken with preparation as the actual hand spinning.  Stroking my lovely, smooth Bond tops, I luxuriated in the expectation of sitting down to spin instant worsted laceweight.  Too cocky by half.  It is bloody difficult to draft an even stream of aligned fibres straight off the end of wool top.  While I was drafting out the fibre, hoping to feed a thin end through more smoothly, Elinor Gotland admired my birthday gift. 

"I met one of the Bonds on the Comedy Circuit.  Immaculate fleece, real smooth operator."
"Wasn't named James, was he?"
"We used to call him Dapper Jimmy. Haven't heard from him since he went inside last winter."
"Can't he take the cold?  Or was that to keep his fleece nice?"
"It wasn't by choice, Beaut. He was done for tax evasion."

Each metre of tops was parted into four longways, then drafted out til it was several metres long. With one of these looped over my arm, spinning on the 10/1 ratio with minimal tension, I managed to handspin a fine single.  Even so, my two plyed yarn veered between laceweight and double knitting.  One 40g skein had the first dip in my first woad dye bath of the year, another had the second dip.  Not a strong or particularly attractive blue overdye on the grey/brown wool.
Having used up the remainder of the woad vat on some equally unprepossessing beige felt, I was casting around for a way of jazzing that up towards a warmer green.  A conversation on Ravelry reminded me of a stash of red onion skins.

100g red onion skins gave a rich red dye bath after an overnight soak, even before the pot had a long simmer.  The felt came out just as I had hoped, so the two blue-ish Bond skeins went into the afterbath.  Though the dye still looked very strong, not much yellow was going on to the yarn.  An unmordanted washed lock of white wool I put in as a tester showed little change.  Though I had supposed things had to be mordanted again before overdyeing, going back to the books, I read that one mordanting is sufficient for multiple overdyes.The felt had been mordanted before its beige dye bath. This onion dye needed a mordant.
Once I had added 8g dissolved alum  to the simmering dye bath, the two 40g skeins of blue and faint blue yarn soon developed a distinct green with the yellow onion overdye locking to the fibres.  By this point, I was well on my way with knitting the easy bit of a small shawl called Oaklet and bracing myself to tackle the simple lace border.  After having to unpick and reknit the first and third row almost entirely, I was wondering why I ever dreamed I could get the hang of lace knitting. A nice easy stretch followed from row 4 onward and after that, the pattern grew clearly marked.  The remaining rows now made sense and errors were obvious within the repeats, well before I had finished a great long row.  Oaklet really is a good pattern for the beginner and better still, it is free to download.

"Shall I call my shawl 'Onionlet', Elinor?"
"How about 'Shallot'?"
"As in 'Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror crack'd from side to side; "The curse is come upon me," cried The Lady of Shallott.'"  I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead and struck a downcast pose.
"You look nothing like a girl about to go chasing off after bold Sir Lancelot."
"Tennyson's allegory goes deeper than that.  The Lady of Shallott embodies the artist abandoning her self imposed exile, sacrificing her creative distance to join in the normal run of life."
"My dags she does.  Shallott was a good girl doing her work at home til she got a glimpse of himself.  Then it was 'Look at the silver bugle on that!'  Silly bint had no idea he was already well in with Guinevere."
"In your version, who plays Lancelot?  Handsome Jimmy Bond, perhaps?"  
Elinor thought this was hilarious.  She dropped ash all over my shawl, rolling round laughing.
"Jimmy Bond!  He's a wether!  About as much machismo as a daytime telly presenter! Nothing more to him than chitchat and who's got the smartest fleece this year.  No, I'd be thinking Black Jack Wensleydale. Unpin this shawl blocking, open the window and I'll show you how it should be done."

The Gotland interpretation.
She made three paces thro' the room, She saw the water-flower bloom, She saw the helmet and the plume, She sprayed on plenty of perfume, 'Come up and see me, sometime soon!'
So long as Elinor does not fling my web too wide while looking down to Camelot, Shallott the Shawl will be a birthday present for Mum.