Belated Tour of My Tour de Fleece 2017

Before we get much further into August, I thought I’d write post about Tour de Fleece before I forget everything. I’m pretending the Tour just ended along with July for as long as I can before my middle son heads to college and my oldest returns to college. Anyway…

I joined a sort of familiar team on Ravelry, Team Fibernate and Solitude Wool. I’ve known the Solitude Wool women for a few years and I knew a few of the team members, like The Fiberists, but I wasn’t familiar with Fibernate. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend all of the in-person meet-ups and missed out on the neat passport system the team started – attend an event, get a stamp, and at the end of the TdF, the people with the most stamps are entered into a prize drawing. Next year, next year – the events all looked fun and interesting and online encouragement & camaraderie are great, but nothing beats both in person. But I didn’t participate in TdF at all in 2016, so I’m just happy I spun this year and had a team to keep up with in terms of pretty yarn making pictures.

I didn’t have any specific goals in mind this year other than to spin each day, which was easy until I got the Wonder Woman Shawl commission. I began the Tour spinning a braid of Spunky Eclectic BFL on my spindles since I was out of town that first weekend. I initially just split the braid in half and started, but I decided I didn’t want to do a 2 ply or chain ply it – I wanted to break the colors up more and try fractal spinning. So when I got home, I guestimated how much I’d already spun (not much) and split the remaining fiber into thirds. I continued to spin the first third as it was dyed, with the color sequence pink, teal, pink, teal, pink (or something like that). The second third I broke in half, then in half again so I had 4 thin strips of roving: (pink, teal, pink, teal, pink) x 4. And the last third, I broke into 8 even thinner strips of (pink,teal, pink,teal, pink). In theory, this breaks the color up enough so that when plied the resulting yarn is less likely to be a solid color.

Spunky Eclectic BFL in Ballroom Dancing
Starting Braid – Spunky Eclectic BFL in Ballroom Dancing

The yarn I ended up with is mostly the classic barber pole look that results from a fractal spin, but I think a fractal spin is more suited to 3 or more colors because there were a few spots where I ended up with a solid strand, though some of the plies varied tonally.

The other thing that I didn’t even think about was the visual blending of the colors – the resulting skein is much more purple than what I anticipated. When the braid was dyed, the pink and teal mixed in a few places to make purple (or perhaps Amy dabbed some purple in a few spots), but I didn’t think the final skein would have the overall purple tone it does – it’s kind of magical. Caveat: color theory is a weak point for me. I did take a color theory class at one of my local yarn stores with an indie dyer who shall remain nameless because instead of starting with the color wheel and jumping into actual theory, she started and ended with colors in nature, which is more color inspiration than theory. I know there are resources online for studying color theory, I just haven’t gotten around to using them after than expensive and deflating experience.

Untitled
Final yarn: 254yds 3 ply fingering, 49 yds 2 ply light fingering, 24yds single ply laceweight

Technique-wise, I spun all of the singles on spindles, winding off the finished singles into a plying ball, my first time using one. I used my center pull winder to make a 2 ply ball and then made a 3 ply ball using that and the singles right off a spindle. I didn’t account for the difference in tension between two plies coming from a ball and one being pulled from a spindle, so my plying ball was kind of doomed from the start to be wonky. The final 3 ply yarn shows this in spots where I was unable to correct the mismatch in ply length that resulted from the tension problems while winding. I think it’ll be a while before I try another plying ball.

When I finished the Spunky Eclectic braid, I decided to spin the batts detailed in the Addendum to this post. Do blog posts have addendums? Well, this one does. After I spun those batts, I started in on:

A batt of merino (not cormo – whoops) that I dyed all the way back in 2011 using indigo and butterfly bush. The batt was 1.8 oz (53g) and semi-felted in places. I decided to chain ply the final yarn (no more plying balls, thanks!) and began spinning straight from the batt, which was semi-felted in places. Rather than stopping and running the whole thing back through my drum carder, which would make more neps than what I was already encountering, I just tore the batt into one continuous strip 1-2″ wide.

ForestBattGreenBlue52g
Forest merino batt; mordanted with alum, partially dyed with butterfly bush, overdyed with indigo

I didn’t finish spinning this batt until yesterday, long after the tour ended. I chain plied it on the porch in the afternoon since it was so nice out (in the upper 70s, low 80s), and then washed and whacked it and this morning it’s dry. It did turn out a little more neppy than I thought it would; I ended each spinning sessions with neps that I had picked out surrounding me on the floor and thought I got them all, but the final yarn shows more. Anyway, I’m happy with it and I think I’ll continue to spin down my fiber stash even though Tour de Fleece is over. In the spirit of my Monday lists, Done!

Forest green merino (not cormo)
Forest green merino, which is a bit less vibrant in person; 240 yds

24/30 Design and Dye

30 Day Knitting Challenge Day 24: Have you ever made your own pattern or dyed your own yarn? How did it turn out?

Yes to both.

I have several patterns for sale on Ravelry and etsy, which all started with the Owl Honeycomb Blanket. That wasn’t actually my first pattern, just the first one I actually screwed up the courage to write, have tech edited, and published (I didn’t know about test knitters then). The rainbow sock yarn baby blanket (probably) was the first pattern … oh wait, no, no it wasn’t the first pattern I made up. I had a special button in my collection and made a felted belt specifically for it. I got the wool from the shepherd on ebay, which was special also – I love the greens in the yarn and it was one of my first all-wool yarns.

belt300
The belt with the special button and special yarn -the special belt.
beltdetail
Detail of the special button.

Now, yarn dying – yes, I’ve done that too. The very first time, I unraveled an angora-wool-nylon blend sweater and dyed it with KoolAid.

img_6535
Recycled sweater yarn dyed with KoolAid. The skein is sitting on the last remaining piece of the sweater, a sleeve.

In the Spring of 2011 (2010?) I took a natural dye class with two friends at The Art League of Alexandria, which I really wish I lived closer to (I live over an hour away) so I could take advantage of their classes more. That class started me on an exploration of natural dying that I’ve only recently finally admitted has fallen by the wayside. If you’re curious, I documented most of it on flickr and on this blog, but here are all of my sample skeins, Lion Brand Fisherman’s wool in white mordanted with alum, copper, or iron and tossed into the dye pot with larger quantities of material.

img_6536
Natural dye sample skeins. Some of the natural dyes represented here: cochineal, indigo, walnut, osage orange, avocado skins & pits, dandelion, marigold petals, lichen, onion skins.

Natural dyeing is a lot of work, so I also branched out to dye/over-dye with Jacquard Acid Dye, Rit, and most recently, Dylon (that Emergency Project). Dyeing is fun, even though when it’s a lot of work. It’s fun to see how the dyed yarn or fiber turns out. If it turns out badly, you can always overdye it with a darker color, keeping in mind that a pure black is very difficult to achieve; basically, you have infinite chances to dye something a color you like, it may just be darker than what you originally hoped for.

 

 

I’m Lichen Your Mushrooms and Berries

No, I won’t ever get tired on the punny lichen/liken joke. Also: I’m pretty sure my capitalization of plant/fungus names is off/wrong. Forgive me.

A few weeks ago I finally took my friend Connie up on her offer to poke around her property to see what I could find to dye with. Connie lives just outside Leesburg in a tiny little community with a lot of history. I was happy when she & her husband found the house – they had been renting for a while after moving to VA – and very envious of both their house (built in … well, early 20th century, if I remember correctly) and their views:

Corn & Orchard 3, Paeonian Springs, VA   N-NW View towards Charlestown, WVA, Paeonian Springs, VA

On the right we have their south west(ish) view of an orchard that cleverly hides route 7. On the left, their north-northwest view towards Charlestown, WV, where route 9 is cleverly hidden by trees and valleys. I don’t know why it took me so long to get out to Connie’s – being there really reminds me of Vermont (aka home/where I grew up – at least I’m currently living in another state that starts with the letter V). She had a lot of lichen, mushrooms, and berries that we collected – yup, she even helped me with that even though it was about 55 and the wind was blowing.

First, there were the mushrooms, turkey tail mushrooms and what I’m pretty sure were oyster mushrooms (not pictured because if I took a picture with my phone, I can’t find it).

Paeonian Springs, VA Turkey Tail fungus 

Both of these fungi are edible and I admit, I felt a little guilty putting them in the dye pot. But I’m still not a huge fan of mushrooms and got over it pretty quickly, particularly since the oyster mushroom was a little buggy by the time I got to it a few days later.

Mushrooms

Turkey tail (56g) on the left (with some pine needles that came along for the ride), oyster mushrooms (28g) on the right. I simmered the mushrooms for an hour or two, popped two soaked 10-yard sample skeins of wool in, simmered that, let it cool overnight (basically, my standard procedure for everything that’s not special according to any of my dye books) and this is what came out (shown after they dried):

MushroomResults

Left to right, top to bottom: turkey tail on alum-mordanted wool, the same on iron-mordanted wool; oyster mushroom on alum-mordanted wool, the same on iron-mordanted wool. The turkey tail samples are kind of blah (khaki greenish brownish yellow) but the iron-mordanted oyster mushroom sample is a deep warm brown.

Moving on: Connie and I also collected some lichen. I say some, but really, I mean *a lot* of lichen – 58g; and believe me, that barely scratched the surface of the lichen population at Connie’s house. (Gentle reminder: when harvesting lichen, one has to be careful not to take so much lichen that it can’t re-grow; for more info, see my previous lichen post – do a little research before you pick/harvest!)

Paeonian Springs, VA Lichen 2  IMG_0753 
Lichen is super cool and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen this much of it growing in one spot; I had a moss & lichen collection when I was a kid and it still fascinates me.

58g of lichen is the mother lode compared with the scant tablespoon (roughly 14g) I collected in August. I also recognize that in VA, August (typically a hot & dry month here) isn’t the best time to harvest lichen. Of course I started another lichen vat and took pictures:

WholeLottaLichen 
See? It fills a little over half of this lovely jar that formerly housed kimchi. Below, the same lichen in the same jar with ammonia and water added seconds before this photo was taken. Seconds after that, it was a little too murky to see through.

WholeLottaLichen2
The last two things that Connie and I collected were bittersweet berries and pokeberries, neither of which are great dye plants, as it turns out. The pokeberry looks really promising, especially since it stained my fingers magenta. It does give color, but the color is fugitive, meaning once sunlight hits it or enough time passes, the color fades to gray or, in some cases, brown. The color you see isn’t necessarily the dye color that shows up on textiles; I’m not quite ready to explain the chemistry behind this because I don’t fully understand it myself yet and while I’ve poked around for an explanation, I haven’t found a good one yet.

Onward.

Pokeberry has been used in the past on items that would likely not be in direct sunlight or on items that could (and would be) re-dyed. Over-dying or re-dying garments was actually quite common before chemical dyes and was looked on as part of garment care. Some natural dye sources (like cochineal and indigo) last longer than other and were, of course, more valuable. For more natural dye history, read A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire; it’s on my to-read list, which is becoming insurmountable at this point.

The other berry we collected was from bittersweet vines, a touchy subject for gardeners and tree-lovers. There is American bittersweet and oriental bittersweet. Guess which one is the bad guy? Yes, it’s the oriental bittersweet. It’s non-native, invasive, and strangles the host tree. American bittersweet is apparently more demure, not strangling it’s host or growing in thickets, but it hybridizes with the non-native to produce vines with the worst qualities of oriental bittersweet (tree stranglers!).

I don’t know how to tell difference between American bittersweet and oriental bittersweet, other than a slight variation in berry color or size and the happiness or strangulation of nearby/supporting trees. For my purposes, it really doesn’t matter since all of my research primed me for dye disappointment anyway.

So. The berries were the last thing I tackled because I kept hoping for some magic that would assure me our effort to collect them had been worth it. I used my standard procedure on the pokeberry berries, leaves, and stems – I weighed the dyestuffs (254g), brought it up to a simmer in water, simmered for about an hour (probably more), added my soaked yarn samples, simmered more, cooled over night.
I did almost the same with the bittersweet except that Connie and I only collected berries (about a cup full). I also commandeered our extra blender (which I later used to chop up the madder) to pulverize the berries (which are poisonous if ingested, along with the rest of the plant), thinking that if there was color to release, this would speed things along, which is generally true.

Instead of straining the dyestuffs out, which I was reluctant to do with the bittersweet in case there was some freak accident and I swallowed some of the dye brew, I put my yarn samples in netting. Checking the color of the bittersweet samples was near impossible without rinsing, so I left the sample in overnight.

But I could clearly see the pokeberry sample and it wasn’t doing anything. Sure, it was a yellowish brown, a color that I’m beginning to think of as the default color for plant-based natural dye. To get some kind of interesting results, I added something extra; some crape myrtle bark that our tree shed (kind like a birch does, but without another layer quite so visible underneath, and a vertical shedding rather than a horizontal peeling) that had been soaking in alcohol since August to draw out the tannins. So I put that in and kept the pots going another hour or so. Then they cooled and this is what emerged:

Berry Results

Left to right: pokeberry & crape myrtle on alum, same on iron; bittersweet berries on alum, same on iron. The pokeberry-crape myrtle skeins are the most interesting, but I think most of that color is from the tannin in the crape myrtle bark, not the pokeberries.

I had a great afternoon with Connie and learned a lot from these experiments, primarily that I need to bring dye books with me or have a specific material in mind before I waste time & effort & natural resources trying something out.

Madder

This is not a rant. Nor another exposition on going off the deep end and finding my way back (or up out of the depression hole). It’s also not about The Yellow Wallpaper, an incredible short story by Charlotte Perkins Gillman that you should read if you haven’t. This post is about my recent dye experiment with some madder root (Rubia tinctorum) that I got from Earth Guild‘s booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool (MDSW) all the way back in May.

The weekend before MDSW, I had finished taking a dye class at the Art League of Alexandria with Steph & Alana and while we had talked about madder, we hadn’t dyed with it. I didn’t even have a dye book and had just started keeping up with online natural dye groups. In the Earth Guild booth, I picked up things I knew I’d need: their Natural Dyes starter kit, which includes basic mordants and Rita Adrosko’s Natural Dyes and Home Dying, some dyes that sounded familiar (madder root and cutch extract) just in case my plans for using plant material in my yard didn’t work out.

After SVFF at the end of September, where I bought 4 fleeces, I decided I needed to process the fiber I already had from the previous spring, when Jenni talked me into splitting 4 fleeces from Willow Hawk Farm. Talking me into more fleece really didn’t take too much effort since I had already decided to buy a fleece and splitting 4 instead of having one meant more breeds to experiment with and learn about. Anyway – Steph and I had already mordanted some of that fleece, Elizabeth’s fleece (she’s a white merino), with alum, so I decided to use that for my madder experiment.

I checked a lot of places for directions and recipes before I got started. I do this with baking too in the hopes that I will have better results and less trial & error. Rita (Adrosko in Natural Dyes and Home Dying) lists several recipes, 2 close to the color I was hoping to get (laquer red), one with a 2:1 wool:dyestuffs ratio, the other at 1:1. Jenny Dean, in Wild Color, recommends a 1:1 ratio but cautions against raising the dye bath temperature too high since that will dull the reds toward a brown range. I turned to Ravelry next; several discussions in the two natural dye groups recommended keeping the temperature of the dye bath below 150° and adding calcium.

I started with 2oz of madder (I know, not that much at all). It looked like this right out of in the container:

  IMG_0692

I dropped it, along with 2 Ultra 1000 Tums (don’t judge: there’s a lot of acid tummy at my house), cooked it at 140°ish for 6 hours, and let it cool overnight. The next day, I put the madder in cheese cloth and got to see the peachy dye bath:

Madder 

I had a feeling my results weren’t exactly going to be red, but I was hoping for a deep orange. I added 78g (2.75oz) of wool I prepped by teasing (cleaning, really) with the teasing board that came with my drum carder, so my ratio of wool:dye was 78:56, a little over 1:1. Forging ahead, I took this at some point during the 4 hours the wool was in the dye bath (again, kept at around 140°):

Madder Dye Bath 

While that was cooking, I prepped more fiber, this time fiber Steph and I pre-mordanted with alum. I’d gotten so much VM (vegetable matter – bits of grass and sticks and burrs) and second cuts (the sheerer goes back & cuts more off the sheep after already sheering some off) out of the wool I’d prepped the day before that I realized pre-prepping the wool was well-worth it so I wouldn’t waste any natural dye material on, well, natural material that was going to get tossed anyway. I also can’t just take clean fleece and pop it onto the drum carder and expect a lovely batt to come off of it; the fiber has to be teased out and layered onto the carder in conservatively thin layers or else you’ll end up with nupps/pills and patches of uneven, wonky fiber.

So. The next morning, when I pulled the wool out of the dye bath, the results were more peachy-orange than I had expected:

MadderResultsPhTest 

So much so, that I tried messing with the acidity of the bath by dipping samples in vinegar (top right), ammonia (bottom right), and the lichen vat (ammonia, basically, bottom left). Ammonia definitely made the color deeper, but more toward peachy-pink, so I decided to leave this batch as-is:

Madder

But I still had more prepped wool and a partially-used dye bath. What’s a girl to do but dump something else in? I had 60g of ground safflower (petals, I assume) that I got from that SVFF vendor who’s receipt I should’ve saved. I read Jenny Dean’s safflower instructions – the petals contain a yellow dye that should be extracted and strained before heating the dye material more to extract red & pink dyes. To do this right would take another dye bath and at least another day; having already spent how many days on this project? I just threw caution to the wind and dumped the entire 60g directly into the bath with the madder still in the cheesecloth. I cooked it for another hour or two, still keeping it below 140°, and added the wool (64g, so about 1:1 ration of wool:dye), cooked it longer (my note-taking lagged at this point), let it cool overnight and what I got was not what I expected or hoped for:
MadderResults 
Left to right: unmordanted merino + madder, alum-mordanted merino + madder & safflower, cotton cheesecloth. When I added the safflower, the cheesecloth immediately began sucking up the pink colors. I had really high hopes that the wool would as well, but alas. I think these orange colors will blend well with the yellows that I got from the butterfly bush; I just need to do some carding and see what I come up with.
I still have the madder roots. On Monday I had the dye blender out (an extra regular blender that will now only be used for inedible stuff) to pulverize some bittersweet berries (a member of the nightshade family & poisonous, use with caution) and decided to blend up a madder smoothie (for dying, not drinking) also. There’s definitely more pigment in the roots; the water went from a murky peach to a deep reddish brown. I also still have the avocado peels from earlier in the summer and have been thinking about making a combined dye-bath.
I confess I’ve also been thinking about using Jacquard Acid Dyes. It would be nice to know, with a lot more certainty, what color I’m going to get. But that will come with time and practice, right? Using acid dyes won’t really be so much of a chemistry experiment either, just a color experiment. Making decisions is agonizing. I think I just need to focus on working with the supplies I’ve got; I didn’t really set out to become an indy dyer, just to see what I can do with what’s available to me. And though the madder & safflower (and the cutch) technically weren’t readily available to me, at least they were natural/close to their original form and not synthesized in a lab.

Catching Up: Shenandoah Valley Fiber Fest

For once I have too much to write about: SVFF, natural dye projects, the sweater I’m knitting out of my own handspun yarn, roller derby, and probably some other things I’m forgetting about. I’m planning on posting more about all of this stuff, particularly the natural dying (madder, mushrooms, pokeberry & bittersweet), but I’ve been remiss in blogging (or blah-ging, as the case may be) and feel like I have to catch up first.

Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival (SVFF) happens the last weekend in September just over The Mountains (the Blue Ridge Mountains, that is) at the Clarke County Fairgrounds in Berryville, VA. This was my second year helping out with the juried fleece sale and the Loudoun Needleworkers (LNW) booth, which were happily in the same building this year thanks to Alana, who did so much organizing I’m surprised she didn’t keel over in exhaustion before SVFF even started. I love driving out to Berryville for this festival; I would love to live farther out, in the country proper instead of suburban Leesburg. The 3 days I spent at SVFF were worth it for the drive alone, but it is a bonus that I carpooled with Steph and Alana.

Friday we got to the fairgrounds around 10 in the morning to set up the LNW booth, which we use to let the community know we exist and welcome new members, and to get ready to skirt and comment on sheep & alpaca fleece brought in for the juried fleece sale. We were a little bit too early; booth set-up went by in a flash so we sat knitting and chatting for most of the morning. From 1pm, when the fleece sale started, until about 4:30 we were in constant motion dealing with over 100 fleece. Although this year we were supposed to be on our own, we had help from some of the jurists from last year and without it, we would’ve been sunk. This is what the fleece sale table looked like when we left Friday evening:

Fleece Sale Table, SVFF, Friday PM

Saturday morning we got there by 9, if I remember correctly, and were off and running with fleece sales. We did the bulk of the selling on Saturday, with several on Sunday. Many people stopped to watch us spin, ask us about spindles and Alana’s Ladybug. An older gentleman from Texas stopped by looking for the woman who’d brought in cashmere from her goats; he had judged the goat competition earlier in the day and explained that there’s more cashmere out there than sheep fleece, but it’s expensive because it has to be de-haired by hand.

As she did last year, Alana got delicious wine from Fabbioli to share with all of the volunteers and we stayed after SVFF closed Saturday & took our time cleaning up on Sunday. Sunday we also made our annual group trip to Sonic in Winchester. Cherry Limeade! Cheese fries! Cherry Limeade! Thankfully, the weekend of SVFF Alise moved to Winchester and though we missed her at SVFF, we’re all very glad that she lives so close to Sonic; we’re half-joking that she needs to take our orders before coming to Sunday meet-ups. I’m sure we’d all chip in for some insulated bags to keep hot Sonic hot and Cherry Limeades cold.

I came away from SVFF with 4 fleeces and some other stuff:

SVFF stuff. Clockwise from top left: rambouillet x, alpaca, merino, cormo. Packets of alkanet, safflower, red sandalwood, sumac. 
Clockwise from top left: 
  • 4.5 lbs coated Romney X (3/8 Romney, 1/4 Tunis, 1/16 Leicester, 1/4 mixed, 1/16 Corriedale) from Hickory Hill Farm in Gore, VA 
  • 2.5lbs of multicolored alpaca (white with dark brown) from a farm that didn’t include a business card or info sheet with the fleece
  • 10.5lbs coated Merino from Black Sheep Farm in Leesburg, VA (you can see the crimp in that fiber even in this picture taken with my phone!)
  •  7.5lbs of coated Cormo from Lavender Hills Farm in Lineboro, MD 
  • Packets of alkanet, safflower, red sandalwood, sumac from … ah … uhm, a vendor who’s receipt I should’ve saved. 

I also got Rock Creek Yarn‘s knitting poetry magnets, which now live on a magnetic white board in The Yarn Office (formerly known as the formal living room).

The whole weekend made me miss Vermont and wonder why I left, why I never got interested in farming/horticulture (I’m guessing that like religion, it was forced on my parents & they wanted to give my brother and I the choice), and how old one has to be to do 4-H. Maybe I just need a farm and a mentor.

I’m Lichen Dying

I’m liking dying & puns and lichen dying. I tried dying with lichen this past spring but didn’t take any pictures of my results. Until now, that is:

lichen dying - May results

On the left is the iron-mordanted sample, on the right: alum. I know, the results aren’t that spectacular. It turns out that mid-May isn’t such a great time for collecting lichen in my backyard. Early August is better and I’ve started another lichen vat with more material with the hope that I will get better results this time around.

Lichen is a fungus that contains photosynthetic cells – it’s a combination plant-fungus (go ahead: read more about it on wikipedia or lichen.com and the U.S. Forest Service knowing that I did too).

Okay. So here’s what I did in May and again a couple weeks ago: I collected lichen from trees in my back yard, mainly oaks and mainly this lichen (it’s the green not-leaf-or-grass thing in the following picture):

5.14.11.FungiUndLichen.1

which also looks like this:

5.14.11.FungiUndLichen.2

Or maybe they’re more than one type of lichen; I’m no lichenologist, but the pale green one in the second picture is obviously a different kind of lichen (I collected the darker green one, but not the deep green moss that’s also in the picture). I left as much of the lichen growing as I could – more than 50% – when I picked it off the bark because they’re so slow-growing. Also, if you’re going to collect lichen, make sure that you’re not picking a rare/endangered one.

Next, I took the lichen – maybe a tablespoon of it, if that – and put it in a canning jar (forever more only to be used for dye projects) with ammonia. Instead of ammonia from a bottle, you could use fermented urine, but I’m not that hard-core (yet):

lichenAmmonialichenInAmmonia

I took the first picture yesterday, which was a cloudy day but you can still see the neon greenish yellow of my ammnoia (Parson’s Ammonia, I think). The second picture was taken less than a minute after combining the lichen and ammonia on August 6. I conclude from the fast color results that no matter what species of lichen, you should know within an hour or two – definitely within a day – if you’ve got a lichen that will give you color. By the way, the first time I did this, I had about 1/8 of the amount of lichen shown.

Next: twice a day for a week, open the container to air it out a bit & get some oxygen in, close it again, and shake it. After that, air & shake once a day, or when you remember that you’ve got a lichen vat going. I ended up transferring my vat to a larger glass jar, one that used to have black cherry juice in it. This is important because soon after I did that, Mr. Q asked me why I’d taken the label off of the cherry juice and why was I keeping the cherry juice on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. (I should have labeled it, I know.) After almost 3 weeks, the vat is so dark, it looks like prune juice or coffee that’s been neglected in a glass carafe on a burner for half a day; I had to hold it up to a light to get a decent picture of the color:

lichenOverBulb

And shaken, not stirred:

lichenShaken

I haven’t decided when I’m going to dye with this vat. In May, I was impatient and only let the vat ferment for 2 or 3 weeks. Tomorrow will mark the 3rd week for this one, which still seems like not-long-enough considering results that other people have gotten, some of which look as purple as cochineal. I have hopes that I’ll get something darker than my first test, but doubt that I’ll get results as vibrant as cochineal.

Dying with Black Beans

Dying with black beans? Really?

Yes. Really. I read it on the internet. And I have a friend who tried it (hookedferret/silverdragon). And I’ve seen pictures with a range of different results, from blah gray to brilliant blue to deep amethyst purple.

Here’s what I did: soaked 2lbs of dried Goya brand black beans in tap water in a covered stainless steel pan at room temperature for two days. I strained the beans out and saved the water, cooking the beans in the crock pot for some black bean cakes (never had them, can’t wait to try) and soup and chili (2lbs is a lot of beans). In the mean time, I popped my sample skeins (all Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool), a hat I made last year of hand spun alpaca (it’s the oh-so-fun-to-knit Caera hat), and some roving (already dyed a pale green during the natural dye class) into a dye-only-pot with the bean water.

Being the impatient person I am, I heated up this bean-smelling mixture to the steam-but-not-bubble point and then left it for a day. The results:

Black Bean Dye: Skeins & Hat

I think the most striking results are in the cotton I used to tie the test skeins; all of them started out white, as they are in the un-dyed skein on the left. Next, unmordanted wool that’s the color of dirty dishwater, but the cotton ties are a bright sky blue. Next, alum-mordanted wool – a darker gray with hints of blue and denim-blue colored ties. Finally, an iron-mordanted skein that’s deep dark gray with navy blue ties. And the hat – once white, now a purpley gray.

Now the roving:

Black Bean Dye: Roving

The yellow is the original dye; I wish I could remember what it’s dyed with or that I had taken better notes or labeled them. The greenish gray are the still-damp overdyed samples.

My results aren’t that spectacular in comparison to others; a simple search for pictures on flickr shows some much deeper, more saturated results. So where did I go wrong?

I think heating the bean water was a mistake, based only on what I’ve read in the natural dye groups on Ravelry. I also think a longer soaking time (for the wool, not the beans) would result in more saturated colors. Also: pre-mordanting with alum clearly results in a deeper color.

I was hoping to have time to get into the science of why heating the beans results in grays (carotenoids, anthocyanins, and other natural pigments), but the phone has rung at least 6 times in the last hour, the doorbell 3. And I’m making dinner, chili because we’re out of eggs. Hoping to write about lichen dye tomorrow, time and interruptions permitting.