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Posts Tagged ‘yarn’

Being in between knitting projects, I started getting the hankering to dye more yarn. I combed my dye books for possibilities. Early spring and where I live gave me few options to choose from. One that caught my eye was willow. In the book Wild Color, by Jenny Dean, she shows willow as dyeing a light beige color with no mordant. I was instantly intrigued as willow grows abundantly along the Owens River which flows a few miles from my house.

IMG_5521Last Saturday, boyfriend, dog and I hopped in the truck and headed down to the Owens River with dinner to go to collect some willow.

IMG_5464The willow was just beginning to leaf out, and the collecting went easy. The recipe called for a one to one ratio, and I had 500 grams of yarn needing to be dyed. 500 grams of willow filled a small tote bag.

IMG_5525What struck me as interesting is that willows offer a good source of tannin, like oak trees. Tannins are used in many recipes to mordant cotton in addition to an alum mordant, before dyeing. This was a quick and easy dye project because I was able to skip the mordant step, and just boil the yarn in the dye bath.

IMG_5493To make the dye bath, I followed the instructions in the book: I poured boiling water over my leafy stems and let them steep overnight to begin the dye color extraction. The next day, I simmered the willow leafy stem dye bath for half an hour. I strained the plant fiber from the dye bath, and brought the yarn and dye to a boil and then simmered for an hour. I then let this sit overnight to allow even more dye to penetrate the yarn. Rinsing on the third day, the yarn emerged a soft beige color.

IMG_5551Still, my color came out lighter than the book’s example. One possibility is that I collected the willow in early spring, and the book recommends late spring to early fall. I look forward to trying again in the summer to see if I can get a darker brown.

IMG_5554The bark can also be used for a slightly different range of colors, but it seems like a more intensive process of stripping the bark and letting soak for a few days before starting the dye process.

IMG_5557The pattern I chose is one my friend Lesley knit, of a lacy long sleeve pullover, with a hood! It will be perfect for cool spring evenings or warm summer days at work.

IMG_5560With my first skein wound into a ball, I’m ready to swatch!

IMG_5506

Thanks to Aaron for taking photos of my harvesting, and to Winston who is always up for an outing.

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On Sunday, Lesley, Brianna and I experimented for the first time with dyeing yarn and fabric with indigo. Lesley had ordered a kit from Dharma, and we started by dissolving and mixing the indigo powder and reducing agent in a big pot of warm water.

After stirring, we let the pot sit for an hour, while the chemical reaction worked its magic. When the water turned a yellowish-green, it was ready to dye. The instructions said to remove the “flower”, a bubble of blue stuff that formed on the top of the water. Lesley gamely jumped in to give it a try. It was very, very stinky.

Then it was time to dye the material! After soaking each hank or piece of fabric in water to wet thoroughly, we held in the pot for three minutes or so, gently agitating to make sure the dye penetrated the whole piece, without making bubbles or splashes.

When the fabric was removed, it was a bright yellow color, which rapidly started to turn blue as it was exposed to the oxygen in the air. Wild!

We lay out the pieces for twenty minutes, watching with excitement as the colors continued to deepen and darken as time passed.

I  then rinsed, washed, and dried the fabric. I made different colors by starting with white fabric or yellow fabric, and varying the amount of time the fabric was exposed to the dye, sometimes dunking the pieces for two times.

Such a different way to dye fabric, stretching my understanding of chemistry a bit, what with reacting agents and oxidation and the like. Crazy to take a moment and imagine that this is how our blue jeans are dyed!

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Saturday morning, Lesley, Becca and I hopped on our bikes and rode down to the Owens River to harvest rabbit brush.

We quickly noticed that there were a lot of bees, all going for the same flowers we were! This made for slow work, but luckily no one got stung.

Some bushes had larger flowers than others, and we gravitated towards those, which filled our buckets quicker. We harvested from one bush and then moved onto another, covering a pretty large area, but there was no end to the rabbit brush!

After almost an hour of collecting, we had ten pounds of rabbit brush, which would dye about three pounds of yarn and fabric. Yikes!

We loaded the flowers into my bike trailer, and pedaled home.

Then the boiling began. First, we mordanted the yarn and fabric in alum, and rinsed it prior to dyeing.

Next we boiled the rabbit brush for an hour. I started to get excited when the stirring spoon started to get yellow! After boiling for an hour, we removed the flowers to make room in the dye pots for the fiber.

The second the yarn was placed in the water, it started to turn yellow!

Then we simmered the fiber and dye together for another hour. With great anticipation, we removed the dyed fibers from the dye pot to much oohing and aahing, and rinsed before hanging to dry.

Some rabbit brush flowers still stuck to the yarn!

Just look at the color. So brilliant and happy.

The work went quickly with three of us working to rinse and hang the fibers to dry.

The finished product: nine hanks of yarn and two yards of fabric. Note the color difference, the cotton not taking up the color as brilliantly as the wool.

What would you do with yarn of this brilliant nature?

Learn to knit a sweater of course! More on that coming soon.

What’s next? Maybe dyeing with pear bark from Lesley’s tree?

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