Sunday, October 31, 2010

Plant Dyeing Wool Yarns

This was my second visit to the Fiber Craft Studio in Chestnut Ridge, NY and I felt the same way I did the first time I pulled up to this beautiful, old white/red brick farm house, the home of the Threefold Educational Center, happy to be out of noisy Manhattan. This time I was here to attend their "Plant Dyeing Wool Yarns" workshop and I had been looking forward to it for several weeks, I was going to get to combine two of my loves, fiber arts with gardening!

If by chance you're a long time reader of my blog you may remember in November 2007 I took a yarn dyeing class at the Kid & Ewe Fiber Fest in Boerne, TX with Gail White, the owner of the Ozark Carding Mill in Durant, OK. That class was my first experience with hand dyeing yarn and we learned with commercial dyes.

The drive out to Chestnut Ridge was really beautiful, Fall is in full bloom and we were treated to bursts of reds, golds, yellows and oranges everywhere we looked. The day was crisp and sunny and perfect for spending some time outside.

This is Mikea Toma the Co-Director of the Fiber Craft Studio. Mikea was a kindergarten teacher in Japan (and three out of five of us attendees where also former teachers). She's a graduate and faculty member of the Applied Arts Program at the Center and she was a our fearless leader in our dyeing pursuits.

Mikea is also the talent behind the Lamb Marionette Kit and the darling Hedgehog Hand Puppet Kit.

She's the one who plant dyed the wool yarns included in the kits and wrote the patterns.

The brown yarns in both kits are dyed in Black Walnuts, which we got to try, and the creamy white yarns are the base yarns in their natural state. Both Kits are available on my website.

After a brief introduction Mikea led us out to their Dye Garden, which is located in the much larger, organic garden of the Pfeiffer Center. The Pfeiffer Center's garden is not only organic but they also practice a biodynamic method of farming which takes agriculture and land care beyond conventional notions of "sustainability" and demonstrates actual improvements in soil vitality, all of which is supposed to lead to better tasting fruits and vegetables. It was a lovely place.

In the Dye Garden we harvested the Madder Root and prepared it for the dye bath by cleaning, scrapping and chopping it. It was a lot of work! Once it was ready we put it in a nylon sack and slowly simmered it at only 185 degrees thus not allowing it to boil. When it was ready we prepared the yarn by slowly raising the temperature of the yarn to 185 degrees by wetting it and added it to the dye bath.

This was something I had not learned before, the yarn should be the same temperature of the dye bath to avoid felting.

Organic Wool and a Wool & Mohair blend yarn in the Madder Root dye bath.

Madder Root releases its red or orange color slowly and the longer the yarn is allowed to soak, the darker the color will be.

Next we prepared the Cosmos Flower dye bath by adding the dried flowers to hot water and simmering, not boiling, again when the yarn was added its temperature was raised. Cosmos Flowers release their yellow color in a quick burst.

And finally the Black Walnuts. Mikea had fought with squirrels to harvest the husks of the black walnuts and than dried them out. Yarn dyed in the Madder Root and Cosmos Flowers needs to be dipped in a mordant of alum and cream of tartar first, but yarn can be dyed in Black Walnuts without a mordant. Black Walnuts release their color fairly quickly too and produce a lovely brown.

A quick note about mordants, the water, alum & cream of tartar mixture can be saved and used up to two times, before its tossed out.

Than it was time to let the yarn soak in the dye baths and for us to eat lunch. My DH and our little dog Toffee came to pick me up.

After lunch we got to stroll the grounds of the center and Toffee got to enjoy this red Japanese Maple.

And commune with nature.

After lunch we took our yarn out of the dye baths and hung it outside to air dry or "mature" as Mikea liked to call it. We also added a second batch of yarn to the baths and decided to let them soak for a shorter period of time to see what new colors would be produced. The "maturing" also effects the color and the longer a yarn matures the darker the color.

The orange or peachy yarn is from the Madder Root, the yellow is from the Cosmos Flower and not shown is the brown of the Black Walnut.

Then we went crazy and began our double dyeing and over dyeing processes. The yarns need to be rinsed in water before they're dyed in a new color. The over dyeing was a big hit and we decided some of the yarn needed to be dipped in all three baths just a different color on each end, our version of hand painting!

My yarn is now drying, I had to do one last rinse when I got it home. After the final rinse you can also dip the yarn in a wool wash to give it a nice smell, but that's optional. In a few days I'll photograph it and post more pics.

I look forward to getting back home to TX and exploring the plants I grow, and the weeds, that can be used for dyeing. Both yellow and red onion skins will work and dried marigold flowers, so I may start with these.

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