Tag Archives: natural dyes

Learning about dyeing with plants

Coopworth roving dyed with dried Japanese Indigo leaves

I’m loving this learning about dyeing with natural materials. Except that the learning curve is so very steep. The really great thing, though, is that even when I don’t get the colors I expected, I still get really beautiful results. BTW, the beautiful and saturated blues I got in the picture above is my beginners luck experience.

I’m a proud producer member of Three Rivers Fibershed. Though I had been interested in the idea of natural dyes prior to joining them, it is really the Fibershed ethic of Local Labor, Local Fiber and Local Dye that encouraged me to begin this journey into local dye plants.

I began raising Japanese indigo several years ago. I have tried to master the fermentation techniques that are a common way of extracting color from indigo, but have not had success with that…yet! I will continue to experiment this summer, but with tiny jars until I gain more confidence. Sea Spell Fiber’s over-extraction stories on Instagram have been invaluable to learning the process.

Japanese indigo extraction experiment
Japanese indigo extraction experiment

Happily, I have had success extracting color from indigo by two other techniques – the dried indigo technique that I first learned about from Deb McClintock’s webpage. And the fresh leaf technique that is like creating an indigo smoothie. You just swirl it up and shazam, it turns the wool a beautiful aqua blue green! Watching the oxidation take place before your eyes is really cool too. I did this experiment with my niece and her good buddy since it involved nothing but indigo and water. And, I’ve learned that where indigo is native, it is considered to be really healthy stuff. In fact, if we are wearing clothes that are dyed with real indigo leaves, the clothing may be healthful to our skin!?!

Fresh Japanese Indigo “smoothie”
The results of dyeing with that indigo smoothie – it is after that when I learned about the wonders of using a paint strainer to keep the plant material away from my wool.

I’m probably most excited about using things that are either food waste or plants that are less than desirable in my environment. In the food waste department, I have worked with avocado pits and skins and onion skins. And, in the less desirable plant department (weeds, non-native invasives, etc.), I have so far done dye experiments with curly dock seeds, stinging nettle leaves and tansy blossoms.

The experiments will continue. My knowledge will grow. The highly enjoyable journey continues! If you would like to get your hands on a skein of naturally dyed Coopworth yarn or roving, have a look at the ever changing color lineup in my online store. And watch for posts of my dye journey on Instagram

Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy.
Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy. Coopworth roving.
Autumn aspen leaf dyed Coopworth yarn
Hollyhock blossom dyed Coopworth yarn and roving
Elderberry dye pot
Elderberry dyed Coopworth yarn – berries tend to be “fugitive dyes” – not likely to stay this lovely pink long-term. They will fade to a pleasing blue-grey.
Marigolds, rudbekia and calendula destined for drying and later wool dyeing.

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Filed under Family and friends, Farm, Fermentation, Fiber Arts, Fibershed, gardening, natural dyes, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability, Wool

New Ideas Part 2

In New Ideas Part 1, I introduced the Spring 2015 issue of Spin-Off magazine with the theme “A Celebration of Stash”, referring to the materials spinners, knitters and any other hobbyists have stored away for some future project.  I always try to look to my personal collection or “stash” before I look elsewhere when starting something new.

Earlier this year I taught a class on knitting with multiple colors, which is technically called stranded knitting, but is often referred to as Fair Isle knitting.  My introduction to the technique was through Norwegian patterns and basically you create a picture with each stitch by carrying the yarn behind (the strand) in a horizontal float and knitting with it where appropriate to the picture.

In preparation for teaching the class, I borrowed a number of books from the library.  I found one in particular that I really  like and have since added it to my personal library (Thanks Santa!):  Mastering Color Knitting by Melissa Leapman

The students in my class had taken the sock knitting class last year, and are now adept at working on double point needles, so we started off with a small project to learn the basics of working with two colors.  I found a project on Ravelry: Colour-stranded Cup Cozy, by Anna Daku that I thought would be a good way for them to master the skills of stranding (reading the grid paper diagram, creating the horizontal floats, etc.) before advancing to a larger project like a hat, cowl, mittens, etc.

cup cozy

Slide one of these washable wool cup cozies onto a cup from your local coffee shop and your coffee will stay warmer and your finger tips won’t smart.  And…you’ll be styling!

For my larger project – I’ve been wanting to make myself a hat with ear flaps for a while.  So, I started digging through my collection of yarn but didn’t find any that was the right thickness or color.  I’m currently trying to bring some semblance of order to my office space and so I had my collection of dribs and drabs from classes, workshops and my own experimentation pulled out and I found something I could get really excited about!  But, was it enough for an ear flap hat?

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Handed carded Coopworth wool dyed with fresh indigo leaves

Background on the dyed wool: My friend Terry grows her own Japanese Indigo to use in dyeing wool from her Shetland sheep flock.  A while back, when she was gearing up to do some dyeing, she decided to make a mini workshop out of it.  I was thrilled to participate and brought along a small bag of white Coopworth wool from my flock to see how it would take the dye.  What you see above is the result!  Terry soaked the indigo leaves overnight in rain water at room temperature and from that preparation extracted the deeper blue.  The icy pale blue is the exhaust from the same preparation.  The warm caramel tan is a second extraction after boiling the leaves.  What a range!  What beautiful colors that are completely comfortable together!  If you would like to learn more about dyeing with plant materials (it is on my bucket list), a good source of information is The Dyer’s Garden by Rita Buchanan.

OK, so now I’m determined to get an ear flap had out of this little bit of lovely wool.  I spun singles and plied them into a two-ply yarn.  If felt like I was over plying, but I finally got a yarn that was balanced after washing to set the twist.  The gauge swatch knit up to about 7 sts per inch using US size 2 needles.  I started out with 74 yards of darker blue, 58 yards of lighter blue and 64 yards of tan.  To keep this challenging, my search uncovered many hat patterns for two colors of yarn and gauges of 6 sts per inch.  I knew it was crucial for me to use all three colors in order to have enough yarn.

So, I adapted several patterns I like.  I started with the ear flaps from Cap for Learning Stranded Knitting by Cynthia Wasner.  Then I moved on to the star pattern from Norwegian Star Earflap Hat by Tiennie.  But, to make the hat large enough, I added one more star.  From here, I alternated between the three colors and looked to the peeries and borders shown in Mastering Color Knitting for inspiration.  I pulled out a pad of graph paper and drew my pictures for each section.

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The end result seen from the stranded side

Coopworth wool is on the coarser end of the wool fiber diameter spectrum*, which makes it extremely durable, though perhaps a bit itchy on my forehead.  For this reason, as well as to eliminate the risk of snagging the floats and to make it extra warm and wind proof, I chose to line the hat with a thin polar fleece.  I made a search online to get ideas for how to shape the polar fleece lining and discovered a marvelous resource… from right here in Wisconsin!  TECHknitting: Fully lining hats with polar fleece a blog post by TECHknitter was just exactly what I was looking for.

Even though I had added stitches, my hat was still a bit snug when I finished lining it, so I searched the house for something to slightly stretch the hat over while blocking it.

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Lined hat during blocking

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The smallest ice cream bucket in our collection was just the thing.  My new ear flap hat fits just perfectly now!

And here’s what is left.  Phew!

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*Coopworth fiber diameter = 35-39, Merino fiber diameter = 18 – 24

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Filed under Fiber Arts, Natural world

Easter egg colors from nature

I found this knowHow feature in the Grow Magazine Spring 2012 edition from University of Wisconsin-MadisonCollege of Agricultural and Life Sciences Communication Program: http://grow.cals.wisc.edu/food/knowhow-how-to-dye-eggs-naturally and set it aside to try out with my niece Kelsey.

We tried it today and had a lot of fun.  We made all 5 of the colors from the article: Blue from red cabbage, Yellow from Turmeric, Orange from yellow onion skin, Purple from grape juice and Pink from canned beets.  I thought the Yellow, Orange and Purple were fantastic, but was less than impressed with the Pink and Blue.  If I try them again, I will reduce the dilution.

Dyed eggs on the drying rack

In the upper left of the photo are the results of the red cabbage blue – not very impressive.  To the right are the grape juice eggs – I’m thrilled with the intensity of the color!  The lower left are the pink from the beet juice – I was really surprised by how little color transferred to the eggs.  The lower right are the orange from the onion skin – incredible!  My mom was inspired by seeing these to try some quilt fabric experimentation.  The yellow in the middle is from the turmeric – again, very nice coloration.  Note that my hens lay a rainbow variety of colors, so some of these eggs began as white eggs, some were brown, some pinkish and some greenish.

We dyed 24 eggs.  There was plenty of liquid left to dye many more.  I recommend doing this for a pre Easter party.

We generally have all the necessary materials on hand – water and white vinegar, of course.  The onion skins came from my own homegrown onions and the grapes for the juice were picked at our friend’s lodge, the beets and red cabbage are readily available at the grocery store, but I also intend to grow both this summer.  And, the turmeric is always on had at our farm for its antibacterial effect.  I sprinkle a bit over the feed while my chicks are in the brooder to keep them healthy and help them avoid coccidia.

We enjoyed this fun experiment and will continue to dabble in natural dyes.

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Filed under Family and friends, Farm, Local Food, Natural world, Research, Sustainability