Saturday, April 10, 2010

From Aristotle:

All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion and desire.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Natural Dyeing- Part 1: Mordanting

This is a record of my first attempt to dye yarn! I don't know much about this process, but I got two books from the library to help me out- awesome products of 1970's as you can see from their covers! I ended up using The Complete Illustrated Book of Dyes from Natural Sources by Arnold and Connie Krochmal the most. This book has lost of dye recipes and outlines the method for dying clearly and simply.
I found the left book to be most helpful. The second has some beautiful illustrations of plants, but I like the dye recipes in the first book better.

My alpaca yarn skein

So the first true step in dying yarn would be to wash it. My skein has been prewashed by the woman who spun it, so I get to move on to the next step- the mordant.

Mordant is any number of chemicals that you boil into the yarn before putting the yarn into the dye bath for coloring. Mordants vary between types of yarn (wool or cotton) and different mordants will often give off variations in color even when using the same dye material. Common mordants used are alum, chorome, copper, and iron.

The mordant is cooked into the fibers of the yarn and helps the dye really stick into the yarn. Without mordant, the dye would eventually wash out of the yarn and the color would fade drastically.

Mordanting is the unexciting part of dyeing because it follows the same process as dying, except the yarn doesn't end up colored at the end. But it's a necessary step that can't be avoided for a nice dye job.

My mordant of choice: Alum and Cream of Tartar

For my mordant, I am using alum, becuase I can get it at the grocery store! I am dying 1/2 pound of yarn, so into my enamel pot went 1 gallon water, 1/4 cup alum, and 1/8 cup cream of tartar. The cream of tartar helps the alum to be absorbed into the wool fibers. I read that you should always use an enameled pot for dyeing, becuase exposed metals can affect the tints of your dye.

Enamel Pot

The water is heated up to boiling as the alum and cream of tartar dissolves. In a separate pot, I heated up the yarn becuase wool is sensitive to rapid changes in temperature. Too quick of a change can cause the fibers to shrink or become rough.

Me waiting for my water to boil...

Once the mordant water reached a boil, I added the warm, wet yarn.

The house fills with the smell of wet llamma...

Stir carefully! Don't stir in a circle- you'll tangle your skein. Don't be aggressive or the wool will felt itself.

Let simmer for 30 minutes. The book informed me that one shouldn't vigorously boil the yarn because this can roughen it. Keep it at a calm simmer.

Drip Dry

30 minutes are up! I took the yarn out, let it drip for a minute, rolled it in a towel to sop up the extra water, and hung it to dry. The yarn should be completley dry before putting it into the dye bath. That's for tomorrow. I can't wait!!

Ready to dye

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Alpaca Yarn and Natural Dyes

For my birthday, I got two wonderful presents- from my mom: some soft, beautiful skeins of creamy white alpaca wool yarn, and from my husband: a small antique loom! The funny thing is they didn't talk with each other to decide to give me correlating presents. They just both know me really well and know what I like :)

I've decided to try my hand at dying the wool- something I have never done but have always wanted to try. I'm going to dye several colors with natural plant dyes. After reading a couple books from the library, I've found that it's pretty easy to get a lot of yellow, green, and earthy colors, but things like blue and purple are more rare.

Since it's just barely Spring, there's not a lot of plants ready for harvest, but a friend of mine had some frozen elderberry juice (thanks, Debbie!) and it's supposed to give off a blue or purple dye. I thought it would be a good first dye experience.

Elderberries grow wild out here and they are one of my favorite medicinal/edible wild plants. They can be used for so much! My parents have a giant elderberry tree growing right outside of the garden. When I was a kid, my mom would make a delicious elderberry syrup and serve it with her sourdough pancakes. We would also make elderberry jelly, and a few failed attempts at elderberry wine :) The white, delicate flowers are said to be good when fried up in pancake batter, but I've never tried it. Maybe I finally will once they bloom this year. I have had elder flower tea though- it's supposed to be good for colds and induces sweating to help sweat out fevers. The berries are a diuretic and are usually really tangy or even sour sometimes. Usually when eaten raw, they can make one nauseous or can even poison small children if too many are eaten, but when cooked they are not so bad.

I'll start dyeing in a few days- I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and I'll post the process on the blog. Stay tuned!