24 August, 2011

My thoughts on Dyeing and Spinning

Over the years I have experimented with natural dyes.  I have two great books: The ashford book of dyeing  and Wild Color.  However, I find that it's too much like science.  Too much NOT how my brain works.  When I cook, I don't really follow recipes, when I glaze pottery, I don't really keep tabs of all the different effects (much to my own frustration sometimes).  It's just how I roll.  SO I always have limited success with natural dyes.  

This time,  I used some lichen collected from the logs of the tree we had cut down in VT (which had to sit in some urine for a few weeks), some apple tree bark and birch bark (all collected from the garden) and then some brazil wood, madder, annatto, and something else; all bought from a dye supplier years ago.  I mordant the natural fibres (this time I used a baby llama top, some alpaca, some domestic sheep and some flax) and following the instructions very carefully, I dye the wool.  And the smell (think stinky toilet water- but that may be because I left the bark to soak too long).

BUT, I'm always disappointed in the colours.  They always come out more or less the same, and in my frustration I mix my vats.  It was fun to watch the reddish colour of one pot turn very purple once I mixed in the wool that had been done in the urine soaked lichen mix (chemistry in action), but then I end up with more or less all the same colours.  Wool always picks up more dye than the softer fibres of alpaca and llama.  I had also bought some gorgeously soft angora/merino mix, which I decided not to dye.

But once all my fibres are dry, then comes the fun part- the carding to mix the wool.  I take a pile of different fibres and colours that I like.  In this lot are some I've dyed previously - some Koolaid, some commercial dyes (like dyelon and rit) and probably some natural dyes.
I load up my carder trying to make sure I have a good mix of sturdy elastic fibres and super soft and lofty ones. And then I blend.  
 Once I have some lovely "rolags", I spin them into yarn.  My band wheel on my wheel broke last year, and I had to put it back together shorter (and keep forgetting to get a new one), and since I've had problems with over spinning the wool (making it too tight and twisty) and just spinning once the bobbin is full.  But this time, I was trying really hard to make sure that I spun it loose.  Those lovely soft and fluffy fibres can get very harsh and scratchy if they are over spun.
Once I have two bobbins, I usually ply them.  Some of the wool I spun last week I kept as a single spin, and then knitted a pair of booties using three strands- that kept them soft and I was able get some of the twist out as I knitted.  These are super soft and warm- for a friend that's having twins this winter- I think another pair is in order.  This is them being blocked, pattern from this book with the variation of little ties as I hate it when booties fall off.
But after all that natural dying, I decided that I would use up the rest of my undyed fibres using some Koolaid.  SOOOO much easier.  You can literally mix the different "flavours"/colours to make your own.  The green was 5 packets of yellow with one of blue.  The blue was 4 packets of blue and the purple was 2 or 3 blue with some pink lemonade and some tropical punch.  I also like to just sprinkle the koolaid powder on the wet fibres and see what happens.   Once you mix it up, you just put your wet wool into a container with water, add the koolaid and bung it in the microwave.  I usually give it increments of 5 minutes until the water turns cloudy and there's no colour left in the water.  Then let it cool, gently rinse and VOILA!.  Some nice bright colours that I can't wait to card.

 So there you have it.  I think you could probably tie dye hankies or bits of fabric with koolaid this way. I went to the gym with bluey green hands.  Fun and safe for kids (just be careful with the hot water coming out of the microwave)- or even if you have some white/cream/light wool laying around.  As for the natural dying, ahhh, I SO love the idea of it.  I love reading books about it, and no doubt I will keep tinkering with it, but I'm not sure I could be exclusive with it.


  1. love the sound of the "tropical punch"!!!

  2. I just love those subtle natural colours myself, but I can see the attraction of the koolaid. I thought Koolaid was a drink, am I correct? I wouldn't like to think of those dyes in childrens' stomachs though. mum xxx


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