Wordless Wednesday

Knit cowl design in pictures



Getting closer

Quill Eyelet Cowl Swatch 3

Violet You're Turning Violet

Finished Knit: Violet Quill Eyelet Cowl

Next quill eyelet cowl

Weaving? Weaving.

I’ve been intrigued but daunted by weaving since a few of my knitting & spinning friends started and I swore I wasn’t going to add it to my repertoire. The cost of additional equipment also put me off, even starter rigid heddle looms range from around $100-$300. And floor looms, perhaps the ultimate in looms, take up a lot of space.

After some reading, mainly Hand/Eye, an excellent art & craft blog, I realized that not everyone who weaves uses a floor loom, that really weaving requires that your warp threads be under tension Weaving (anything from cloth to rugs) is still a source of income for many people in non-western countries, something that’s easy to forget in the land of cushy convenience. So I made my own backstrap loom following instructions from Weavezine using oak dowels I had around from making my own niddy noddy, clothesline rope, and scrap fabric for the backstrap.

After getting everything together, I decided to skip the first recommended project and just began making a back strap, the second project. I clamped some scrap wood to a table, as shown on Weavezine, for an improvised warping board and wound white Bernat Handicrafter Cotton for the warp. I made lease sticks from 12″ crafter’s dowels that I got at JoAnn’s for something else and followed the pictures on Weavezine to get set up and started.

I had problems, of course – like making continuous string heddles instead of making heddles on a stick. The back loom bar, the one that attaches to a stationary object, kept slipping to one side and pulling everything with it, including any tension I had on the warp; I eventually hooked the back loom bar around my feet to get enough even tension with the backstrap. I also didn’t realize the difference between a balanced weave (what I thought I was making, where the warp & weft are equally visible), warp-faced weave (what I was really making, in which the weft is hidden by the warp), and weft-faced weave (the opposite of warp-faced), so I used a different yarn for the first inch or so before I realized that it wasn’t going to be visible at all.

I learned a lot from all the problems I had and the backstrap came out pretty well:

I decided I wanted to more than warp-faced weaving on a backstrap. I considered making or getting a rigid heddle, which would allow me to make a more balanced weave. I looked at other loom options, like tapestry weaving and using yarn on a potholder loom or making my own frame loom. I even considered a floor loom (and still daydream about using or having one) but started looking instead at table looms. During one of my ebay forays, I discovered vintage Structo Artcraft Looms and decided to keep an eye out for a reasonably priced one (i.e., something under $150). In early June, I ended up with this little Structo Artcraft 440/4, with a 9″ weaving width and 4 harnesses. It came complete with a project from the 50s still on it, as evidenced by the July 1955 calendar page used in winding on the warp threads.

I cleaned the loom, oiled the spots that needed oiling, made a raddle with some wood we had around + finishing nails + the cutest clamps ever, and improvised a warping board.

Taking Stock

What follows isn’t entirely proofed. If I wait to proof & edit it, it’s going to be 2012 and I’ll be writing about a hangover, which will be much worse than this, I think.

Last January when I started this blog, I was fighting through another bout with depression. I honestly don’t know that I’ve beaten it. I have good days (like today, where I have a plan & a purpose that I believe in) and bad days (when I get up but end up going back to bed or when I get up & stay up & can’t sleep the following night so that one day includes two sunrises & sunsets) and in between days (of course). Everyone has their ups & downs – I know that – I just don’t want my downs to affect my daily life, such as it is, quite so much.

Really, more than anything, I’ve been looking for a way forward, wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up, and looking for a way to be proud of my past & myself without having to agonize over things all the time. It’s helped to blog, email, and talk about it; I’m really thankful for everyone who’s reached out to me. I’m particularly amazed at how many people have told me their own story and how much talking about it can help us both.

The confrontation in November really threw me off balance. I’m still trying not to feel guilty about how strong my reaction was. I could have been more graceful about it, I wish I had slept on a few posts before making them public, and I sometimes wish I had confronted him with a warning of public exposure instead of just putting it all out there). But what’s done is done and I finally feel a taste of redemption, a way to be good again. (Khaled Hosseini pulled me into The Kite Runner with that idea and I haven’t stopped thinking about things in those terms since reading that first, very short chapter.)

I did a lot of new things in 2011. I’ll be 40 in 2012 and am trying to be nonchalant about it while hurrying to get myself to where I wanted to be in my 30s.

Aside from the blog, I went out of my usual comfort zone and took a class in the spring over 3 weekends at the Art League of Alexandria with Steph & Alana. I drove on the beltway and didn’t die. I met new people and, while I probably made a complete fool out of myself, people liked me, I had fun, I learned a lot, and I strengthened friendships with two strong, funny, intelligent women. I also discovered that beer is quite good if you know what to look for (hops=blech and Guiness is a good go-to in my case).

I started playing roller derby thanks to Misty/electricsoup/Loudoun Dirty. I’d never even considered derby and started mainly because I loved skating in elementary school and wanted to start again. Skating is even more fun when you skate in a circle, work as part of a team, and get to hit people who’re expecting/prepared to be hit. I haven’t felt this good physically for a long time. I’ve also met a lot of people, made new friends, found new heroes. I also learned, again, that not everyone is going to like me and that I’m not going to like everyone – that I don’t have to like everyone and vice versa. It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with me or the other person and it also doesn’t mean that we are arch enemies, although sometimes I think maybe I should have those too (yup, still working that one through).

I briefly had a real job and was a real adult, until I realized that after 7 years of setting my own schedule, a 9-5 job in a windowless office is more than I can handle. After quitting, I vowed that this time, I would start something on my own, something that might eventually make money, not just involve me being parked at a keyboard, and that would allow me to see outside (not that I’m claustrophobic, the windowless office was more demoralizing & dehumanizing). So I started The Yarn Office, which has been hanging over me like a chore instead of my future – I need to put more time & thought into it and really get it going in 2012.

I also volunteered to be the webmistress/admin for NOVA Roller Derby and took it from a cookie-cutter site to more customized HTML (Dreamweaver) to slightly-customized-yet-cookie-cutter WordPress. I took entirely too long to figure out WordPress (& the template files) and was reassured when I finally understood at least the basics. I finally grokked more of PhotoShop & Illustrator this year too and installed OpenOffice on my MacBook so I can stop complaining about how much MS Word sucks.

Then there’s my gig as mother & mate to that guy on the other side of the bed. I could blab endlessly about marriage, motherhood, and the boys, but I don’t want to join the legions of mommy-bloggers. My kids are happy, doing well in school, laugh often, help each other, and are good, responsible people.

While Mr. Q and I have our ups and downs, we’re doing just fine and I don’t feel the need to write about it or get/give advice here,  though he is still exploring permanent employment while consulting: anyone looking for a hard working, highly intelligent, pretty technical VP, look no further.

So 2012: bring it. Whether I’m ready or not, things keep happening to me and I keep waking up every day, breathing and all that – I might as well live, really live, procrastinate and dwell less, laugh and sweat and jump for joy more. And take more pictures! And throw more balls for the dogs! And kiss the boys while they still let me, even if it’s just on the cheek these days! And eat more Smarties because I can never have enough Smarties.


This post might throw you for a loop; read my posts from winter 2011 if it does. 
One of my uncles, the one who will never change, the one born with fetal alcohol syndrome (which wasn’t exactly recognized in 1965 – look at me, making excuses!), the one the same age as my oldest cousin on that side, the pedophile, the incestuous piece of shit, called me a month or two ago. I recognized the area code – New Hampshire’s 603 – and picked up the phone. My mother lives in that area code and while it wasn’t her phone number, I thought it might be my stepfather’s cell phone.
Imagine my surprise when it was Joel, calling from work for my address, he’d found my Dad’s baby book, and to catch up after Hurricane Irene had blasted through Vermont. I am a reasonably good actress in such situations; I can make it seem like everything is okay or (more likely, based on what Mr. Q tells me) that I am pissed, but I will keep talking about normal things, things that don’t matter. It’s the old familial urge to maintain that everything is fine, normal – nothing is wrong – gained from two parents who experts in covering up the sometimes-bad people their parents were.
In such situations, I will also go along with pretty much whatever you’d like to say and I will tell you that I will do what you’d like me to (in this case, email my address even though you probably still have it from when I was still talking to you or you could probably get it from, say, someone else in the family).
I will be cordial.
We will have a pleasant conversation. We will talk about how Hurricane Irene blew through and tore up the town we grew up in, but the trailer that your Dad, my grandfather, fought to place in the middle of a field on the banks of the normally calm Ottauquechee (no joke- it’s basically maybe 200 yards from the river) made it through with minor flooding while the trailer park, down in a narrower part of the valley maybe a mile a way as the river flows, had several homes swept away and many more flooded. Oh, family – I remember you, and miss you, when I was young and we were all together and everything was okay. Except it wasn’t, but I didn’t know that outright until I was older.
You see how the history comes flooding back? My longing to belong, to trust and have family again?
I never emailed him my address. I mulled the phone call over for a few days and then decided that a baby book wasn’t worth renewing contact, just like getting a table that my Dad left me isn’t worth being back in contact with my Stepmother.
Even if this package hadn’t shown up with more evidence that for my Dad’s family (Ben and Betty and Johnnie and Suzy, and later Scottie and Joel) there was a definite before and after (before Betty became an alcoholic, before one Ben or Betty was a pedophile – no evidence, but I strongly suspect one of them must have been up to something to have half of their children do the same – [edited 11/17/11 to cross this out after reassurances that this was not the case, rather more that they were people of their time, with Ben providing for the family financially while Betty took care of the house & kids as well as an alcoholic can] before they moved off the farm, before they moved to VT, so many before & afters to chose from), I have already been thinking about the whys of what happened to me and the price I was ready to pay to keep family in my life.
I’ve been deliberately avoiding news – lately it all seems the same or at least predictable, cyclical. I heard rumblings about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, but not the specifics. Then I made the mistake of watching CNN for a little while the other night and my faith in humanity crumbled even more. My heart is broken for the victims – my heart is broken for every one of my friends who read this blog and told me that they had also been molested as children.
I am angry that more wasn’t done to punish Sandusky earlier or help his victims, that more wasn’t done to help my friends or me. I am angry that as a young adult and now, an adult, that I haven’t do more to defend myself or to prevent more children from dealing with things that I’ve dealt with, things that will stay with me my entire life. Lamely, this – writing and posting in a semi-public place – is my vengeance.
So first I get this phone call. I talk to him like everything is fine. I tell him I’ll email my address to him, but I never do it. Then yesterday a package showed up, from him of course. And in it is my Dad’s baby book, dutifully filled out by Betty from 1944-1957 for her firstborn (of course I looked through the whole thing immediately). All of my issues – everything that fucks me up – come rushing back. Everything I’ve tied up, resolved, and set aside – how many times now? – have come undone and are fresh again. I’m struggling to tie the knots back up and set them aside again.
And now today, I have an email from Joel asking me to at least acknowledge that I got the package and that I’m okay. I am not okay, I am undone again. Last fall my therapist recommended that I cut him out of my life again, what I did in high school, what I did by going to college as far away as possible. When my Dad got sick, him back in, thinking that 20 years might have changed things.
Why couldn’t he send the baby book to my brother? Why couldn’t he drop it by my mother’s house? This is deliberate and I don’t know why. I don’t know what his goal is here. Renewed contact? More of what happened in 08? Access to my children?
I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to drive 10 hours and have it out – a final confrontation. Part of me wants to avoid the situation completely and drink, like my grandmother did, lose myself. I could use my default strategy for everything – carry on like nothing is going on, ignore the situation until it goes away. I should respond to the email and explain how this is fucking with me. I should respond to the email and tell him to leave me alone, that I don’t want any more baby books, any more family stuff, that I’m done because nothing in the world is worth this. Nothing physical in the world is worth my sense of well-being, which has now gone to shit anyway.
Yes, I’m a little crazy and for some understandable reasons.
Yes, you’re probably right – I do have a little too much time on my hands, but remember: I may not have an office job, but I should be moving The Yarn Office forward or at least vacuuming up the dog hair dust bunnies, which are getting as big as the dogs.
Yes, yes – you, too – you’re right that I probably shouldn’t be airing my dirty laundry.
And you too – I am a derby girl these days and we’re supposed to be tough as nails. I can take a physical hit, bruises – whatever. But this?

There are so many reasons for me not to post this, probably the most disjointed of all my posts, (a big huge part of me is embarrassed & ashamed to have this hanging out there) but what I need is a lifeline, plan. I’ve lost the path again and I need some help finding it again.

Edited to Add:

The email I got earlier today, along with yesterday’s package, set me off. Here’s the email and my response, sent a few minutes ago:

Hi there…. Did you get John’s  Baby Book? Sorry it took me so long to get it off to you…it rode around in my truck for a good 2-3 weeks.
I hope this finds you well I also hope you drop me a line at least to let me know you got the book and that you are OK….
Talk later….

And my response, fat lot of good it will do:

Oh, I got it and it ripped me apart, like your phone call did.

Am I okay? I’m still breathing – that counts for something. I’ve been writing a lot too, since last winter, actually. Your secret is out, at least to people who are friends with me on Facebook, follow me on twitter, or follow my blog, some of whom are family & classmates that live in VT or NH.

I never sent you my address because my sanity is worth more than my Dad’s baby book, it’s worth more than having extended family again. You might as well be dead. You and Julie are in the same category here – she has the table that Dad left me, but I’d rather slit my wrists than talk to her to get it back.

I’m sorry your life has been what it’s been and believe me, I sympathize. We all have choices – for example, I was molested by you and Scott, but I’m not a pedophile. Your choice to be a pedophile and engage in incest is not my fault or my responsibility, but because I have been a coward in confronting you about what you did to me, because my parents were cowards before me, I have no legal recourse against you. The only way I can make this right, warn other people about you, is via semi-public opinion, thanks to the almighty Internet.

You should feel as shitty as I do – that you don’t is amazing to me and tells me that you are basically a sociopath, along with all the other pedophiles. I hope you’re not doing anything to Susan’s granddaughter, but since I know that you did something to Kelly also, I don’t have high hopes. I hope your next victim and her family have more courage than I and my family had.

Don’t write, don’t call, but know that there are people in your area that know about you,


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.


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):


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:

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.

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.


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.

The Yarn Office, The Post Office, and Fleece Washing

Over the last week or so, I’ve been super-busy. My knitting friends have been encouraging me for a long time (trust me: for at least a year) to start a shop, if not a brick-and-mortar yarn shop, then a shop on etsy, or really, someplace online. A brick-and-mortar yarn shop seems like a pretty high risk endeavor right now; several local-ish yarn shops have disappeared over the last few years: Capital Yarns and With Yarn in Front both in Chantilly I think, Eleganza in Frederick, MD, and at least 2 others (I’m too lazy to go dig up the thread on Ravelry). I can’t tell you how many people, not just in Loudoun Needleworkers, have longed for a local-er yarn shop. If FibreSpace in old town Alexandria ever decides to open a satellite store, my knitting group dearly hopes it will be all the way out here in Loudoun.

Not being such an entrepreneur type and being rather skittish about things like accounting, I have been procrastinating since June, when I vowed to make this yarn/fiber/artsy thing work. At Shenandoah Fiber Festival, Lisa, one of my LNW friends who’s been encouraging me for a while now, was as excited as I was about the fleeces I bought and told me she couldn’t wait to see what I did with them. Of course, a month passed before I even blogged about SVFF or did more with the fleece than move them out of my way. Last Wednesday, at our regular mid-week meet-up, Lisa told me about the project she had in mind for a batt from me. She had a project. She needed wool. She wanted to buy wool from me! What more could she do except come to my house, force money on me, and make off with wool? So, I started an etsy shop called The Yarn Office, what Ethan, my middle son, called the living room after I took it over with my spinning wheel, knitting books, etc.

So far, I don’t have much in the shop, just some batts that I made last spring, when another knitting friend, Jenni, let me borrow her drum carder to make a few batts. A week or two later, I made a few batts using my own carder, which Mr. Q surprised me with on Mother’s Day or my birthday (both in early May). I did finish the batts for Lisa, she’s purchased them, and I have those two initial sales to someone that I know & like and who will be able to give me feedback (or leeway) if something is wrong with the batts! And if something *is* wrong, I’ll be able to fix it super-quick without having to deal with the dreaded Post Office (of doom). I hate the PO, though of course I’ll be doing some desensitizing therapy in the form of shipping any orders I get by going to the actual building. (Yes, it’s silly that I have a Post Office thing, but there it is.)

I am cleaning fleece like a crazy lady. Well, really, just a lady with a purpose. I’ve used two methods so far on the cormo fleece, which is pretty greasy (but cormo! so worth it!). The first, the lock-by-lock method that Beth Smith of the Spinning Loft showed Jenni and I at the 2010 Spinning Loft Spring Retreat. It involves washing each lock individually using a bar of Fels Naptha (no, it doesn’t contain naptha – they should possibly consider renaming the product). This method was excellent for getting some of the super dirty locks clean, except the water I was using wasn’t hot enough to remove the lanolin and the batt I made from that wool was a little greasier than what I’d like.

The second method is the tulle roll technique also mentioned/shown/described during the Spinning Loft Retreat and detailed by Beth in Knitty’s Winter 2008 issue. Yesterday afternoon (Halloween!) I made rolls just like Beth’s but instead of using tulle, I used some more flexible white netting from some curtains I got a while ago (the curtain story is a post all by itself). Today, I washed the rolls. I filled up two buckets with really hot water, one with some non-enzyme-containing detergent (Ecos Liquid Laundry Detergent, which I bought at Costco while feeling guilty about my carbon footprint but not guilty enough to apply the elbow grease required to get it to work as well as Tide), the other with clean water. And away I washed. It went reasonably well, except that a few of the rectangles used to make the rolls were more like uneven parallelograms and some of the locks escaped. It could have been worse – most of them were still attached by a few fibers to their neighbors and I was able to keep everything together until it was time to dry them. I think for my next washing session, I’m going to use hot water, rubber gloves (with lotion on, killing 2 birds with one stone), and the Fels Naptha.

More soon (Thursday, if I’m with-it) on dying with mushrooms, pokeberries, bittersweet, and indigo. (I used indigo on the freshly-washed locks today, but indigo requires a post of its’ own.)


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:
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.