This Saturday, the lovely ladies of the Spinning/Weaving Guild that my Mom belongs to (name withheld because I didn’t think to ask if they were ok with me name-dropping them online) held their annual Dye Day.
One of the members volunteered her garage (located on a lovely 12 acre farm with sheep), and set up tables and tents. They had a very cool 12- or 16-burner pot-boiling contraption that was ideal for a dyeing extravaganza, but it’s a mystery to me what the normal purpose of such a device would be.
Various guild member had charge of different pots and recipes, and all I had to do was show up with some 50-yard skeins for myself. In retrospect, I wish I had skeined up more yarn, because having one of each color would have been neat. But instead, I had 8 skeins of KnitPicks Peruvian Highland Bare, 4 of which I decided to use for Kool-Aid dye and 4 I used for the big vats of natural dyes.
Now, I should mention that I have done natural dyeing on my own in the past. The summer I learned to spin, I also decided to dye my own yarns, and hippy that I was, only natural dyes would do. The primary reason that I haven’t done much of it since is that natural dyeing can be a real pain. At that time, my only method of cooking the dyes outdoors was on my Dad’s grill, slowly and inefficiently. It also takes a lot of plant matter to make vegetable dyes, and at the time I didn’t have a garden. So I borrowed from friends and dyed with Tansy, Lily of the Valley, and Eucalyptus. It all came out yellow… different shades of yellow, but yellow. I am not a huge fan of yellow by itself, so this was a major disappointment and turned me off of natural dyeing for a while.
But as this Dye Day showed me, natural dyeing is so much more fun when you are working with guild people who have access to different mordants and plants. And with so many people involved, so many different talents and perspectives, it was just a wonderful experience all around.
So after deciding which 4 of the 8 natural dyes I wanted to try, and adding my labeled skeins to those, we went to the tables where rust-dyeing was going on. The rust-dyeing process seemed pretty straight-forward, some people were using silk and some people were using denim. Soak your silk scarf in vinegar, wring out, lay flat on table, rub in a little table salt, place various rusted objects on the surface, sprinkle with more salt, maybe spray on a little more vinegar if you are using something not pre-rusty like steel wool, then roll it up, apply weight (just to ensure contact) and leave for a couple of days. I can’t wait to see how my two rust-imprint scarves turned out tonight.
With the rusty object scarf done, we moved on to the Kool-Aid dyeing lesson. I have done all manner of dyeing techniques before (vegetable and animal fibers, silk-painting, tie-dye, shibori, space-dye, vat dye, tea staining), but somehow, I have never Kool-Aid dyed, so this was something I was eager to try. I couldn’t believe how simple the process was or how nice the colors came out.
Ratios: 1 oz of animal fiber per packet of unsweetened Koolaid, about 2 tsp vinegar and 6 oz water
Process: mix each color individually or blend together, apply color as desired to damp fiber in a pot, squeeze fiber to distribute dye if desired, add a little more water to the pot to prevent burning/sticking, steam 30 min
I went with Black Cherry, Berry Blast, Ice Blue Raspberry, and one that was a blend of colors that were lying around on the table. I arranged my fiber around the edge of the pot, and added the color in a radial pattern. I kneaded the yarn (perhaps a bit too much) until there was no white left. My yarn was KnitPicks Peruvian Highland Wool in Bare.
This was ridiculously easy and fun, it’s all I can do right now to restrain myself from buying a massive quantity of KP Bare yarn to experiment on (I was surprised at how soft and lovely their yarn is, and the Bare yarns are already skeined and ready to dye!). We’ll see if I can make it to the end of the day without buying anything.
Actually, while I’m mentioning KP yarns, my Mom dyed with their Superwash Bare, and despite conventional wisdom that superwashes never take dye as well as their regular wool counterparts, everyone was envious of the intense, rich color that her Superwash skein took. Her skein in the cochineal and tin came out a brilliant ruby color.
After the Kool-Aid fun, I settled in with some of the guild ladies for some stitching. What a fun group of people! I didn’t have any “mindless” knitting to do, so I had brought along my needle-tatting project and suddenly I was the center of attention. I didn’t think tatting would be uncommon among fibery folks, and it’s not, but a lot of them had never seen needle-tatting, only shuttle tatting. By contrast, I don’t know how to shuttle-tatt. I have the MaryJane’s Farm Stitching Room book with beautiful illustrations of needle-tatting and that is the beginning and end of my knowledge. I really only know how to do the one kind of ring chain with picots, but that’s enough for now because I’m just making trim for some white muslin curtains.
Someone was de-stashing, so the porch was full of free yarn at lunch time. I have plenty of stash at home, but I could not resist some lovely free yarn, including a chocolate-brown laceweight boucle that is begging to be some kind of funky, modern shawl or lace scarf.
So finally, the finished rainbow of natural dyes:
The skeins above were not mine, I don’t know what yarn was used. There was a great deal of variation depending on the yarn. Some guild members were using purchased yarns, some were using their own handspun, but all were lovely.
One clever gal even dyed a couple of pairs of panties for herself! I think that sounds like a fun idea, I love colorful and inexpensive underwear, but as I get older, the more youthful cuts are more annoying to me (“boyshorts” are just stupid, at least on me, they ride up like a rocket). Practical underwear dyed in fun colors sounds like a terrific idea to me!
I was so inspired by all the fiber fun, that I went home and finally started spinning some beautiful merino/corriedale roving that my Mom got me for my birthday. It’s my first time trying to spin multi-colored roving, so I hope I don’t make a muddy mess of it! I’m aiming for a 2-ply worsted, but if I at least get something like DK, I’ll be happy. Before I drifted off to sleep, I also was struck by a brilliant idea for some ingeo singles I had spun, because it can’t be dyed, but perhaps if I ply it with a colored lace-weight yarn…