Friday, June 23, 2006

Indigo and back again

I apologize for the delay. I've had some trouble making these pictures come up properly, but now everything seems to be fixed. So, then, indigo dyeing.

First, you have to make the dyebath. I got my indigo from the Weaving Works, and it came in gravel-sized chunks that I chopped up with an old knife into a fine powder. Now with a regular dyestuff, this should be sufficient to create a dyeable medium, but indigo requires two further steps. First, the dyebath has to be extremely basic (as opposed to acidic), so I mixed one cup of soda ash into warm water and added it to a stainless steel pot with 2 gallons of warm water. I then combined the now-powdered indigo (about 2 ounces, which was way more than I needed) with a bit of warm water and worked it up into a paste. I added progressively more water to this until I thought it was thin enough to add to the dyepot, which I did. This is the result:

I warmed this to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, without stirring. It is important when dyeing with Indigo to not introduce any extra oxygen into the mixture by stirring it or sloshing it around. One book I read even said not to let your yarn drip back into the pot when you pull it out after dying. This, it turns out, is just a bit too persnickety. Drips, as long as they are kept to a minimum, are fine.

Now, to the 140-degree dyebath, which I was heating on a hot plate on my back porch, I added one package of RIT color remover. This is a "reducing agent," which removes all unattached oxygen from the dyebath and turns what was now a deep indigo color into NEON GREEN. This is referred to, for unknown reasons, as "indigo white." It's not. It's neon green. I can't show you a neon green dyebath, unfortunately, because the surface, which stays in contact with the air, does not reduce, and therefore remains blue.

It worked, but you'll just have to trust me. Now this "indigo white" is what you need to dye fibers. The plain blue dye will not bond to your yarn, but the neon green will. And, boy, does the yarn come out green. Exposure to oxygen, however, returns it to a blue state. Observe:

And that's all there is to it. For the actual dyeing, I dropped already-wet yarn into the dyepot, let it simmer for 15 minutes, and pulled it out again. For darker blue, I repeated the process two times. For light blue, I dipped it in and pulled it out immediately. Here, you can see the results of my experiments:

The green and purple skeins were originally dyed with cochineal and osage orange, then overdyed with indigo. After the skeins had cooled, I rinsed them out, which was a very labor-intensive process, since I had used far too much indigo in the dyebath. Next time, I will use half as much. I never even came close to exhausting the dyebath, nor did my dipping and dripping ever turn the indigo white back into indigo blue, which indicates that the bath has become useless. All in all, I'd say this was a successful experiment. Not something I'd want to do every day, but something I'll definitely do again in the future.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Dye Odyssey

Usually, I use Jacquard Acid dyes for the yarn in my shop. Simple, safe, mostly non-toxic, and they yield consistent, perfect results every time. Why, then, should I have a sudden, uncontrollable urge to experiment with natural dyes? Insanity, my friends. Insanity.

I took myself off to the Weaving Works to see what they might have in the way of natural dyes. They have all sorts of things you can imagine: logwood extract, madder, cutch...I came home with 3 ounces of refined indigo chunks, a pound of alum, and a bag of osage orange sawdust. I wanted blue, yellow, and red, for primaries, but the cochineal extract was just a little too steeply priced for my wallet, so I decided to see what Dharma had to offer.

Thankfully, Dharma had little packets of dried cochineal bugs (yes, they're dead bugs) for sale at a reasonable price, so I was in business. I decided to try the osage orange, which really dyes yellow, not orange, first, because it seemed the easiest. It requires no mordant, and I could simmer it in the dyeing crock pot overnight, then strain out the bits, add the yarn, and simmer it some more. Here's what I got:

Pretty good, eh? This inspired me to try the cochineal, which is, of course, dried, dead bugs. I dumped them into my little food processor and gave them a whirl. Not enough of a whirl, I later found out, since there were still substantial pieces of bug bodies in the mix. I couldn't see them at the time, though, so I blithely dumped them into the dyepot with some alum and citric acid, brought it to a simmer, and stuck in some yarn. Here are two of my skeins and some superwash wool roving:

The nylon ribbon is pretty spectacular, I think. I also dyed about 8 other skeins of pure wool, which you'll see at some point either here or in the shop.

But now, the crowning glory of natural dyeing was before me. Indigo dyeing, you see, requires complex chemical reactions. Chemical reactions that have the potential to CATCH ON FIRE. Or totally ruin your dye project, one or the other. But, to keep this post from being too long, I'll just leave you with a teaser shot:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ta Dah!!!!

In a new development here at chez TwoWaters, I give you an official FO! Green Gable, on the blocking towel:

The pattern is extensively modified, for no particular reason other than I felt like it. I made the sleeves longer and the ribbing deeper, and I added more decreases and increases in the side shaping. I tried her on before I blocked her, and she fits pretty darn well. I promise to show posed shots once she's dry.

I also added:

Bust shaping! Without it, knits on me, for reasons we shall not discuss.

All in all, this was a very nice pattern. Very well written, for as far as I stayed with it. I cannot say enough good things about the yarn. This is the first time I have worked with Cotton Fleece, and I am very much in love with it. Even though this was made with factory seconds bought off of Ebay, the yarn was perfect. (Any splotches in the pictures are from wet spots.) There's just enough wool in it to keep it from feeling like string, but enough cotton to make it cool enough for summer. Thumbs up!