Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Wool Washing Trial

I have been washing wool (and mohair, alpaca and even angora) for years. Mostly I have used products like blue Dawn because they are widely recommended, readily available and relatively inexpensive. Recently I have had more difficulties with contact allergies and soaps so I decided to give a couple of other options are try. I ran a side by side trial using my standard blue Dawn, Kookaberra Wool Scour (a product specifically for wool scouring) and Charlie's Soap (a locally made product with no dyes or perfumes). I used a light gray Shetland fleece weighed out in 8 ounce lots and washed in buckets in the kitchen with my usual wool method - one hot soak with only water, one soak with soap and the two clean hot soaks - all no longer than 30 minutes each. I used two oz. Dawn (this is my usual starting amount, i.e. 4 oz/lb of fleece), 1 oz of Kookaberra Wool Scour and 1 oz of Charlie's Soap. Once the final clean soap was done, I spun the water out in the tub of the washing machine, and then hung the wool (in wash bags) out to dry. Since the wash bags look identical(but were labeled inside), I was able to mix them up and feel the fleeces when dry so I did not know which was which. The end result was that I cannot really tell a difference - all three did an equally good job of cleaning the fleece. This being the case, I will be switching over to Charlies's Soap since it is free of dyes and perfumes (hence not aggravating for me or my customers) and costs no more than blue Dawn. I also like the idea that it is produced locally. The Kookaberra wool wash is a nice product, but is harder to acquire (must be mail ordered) and is more expensive than either of the other two.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fermented Suint Fleece Washing - Part II

The two parts of the Jacob fleece I described in the last post are both dry. The one that just recieved a hot rinse with no regular washing smells very nice to me, a faint lanolin odor. The section of the fleece that was subsequently washed in the regular way (one hot soap soak and two rinses) has no odor at all. They feel different as well - the fermented, not washed one feels softer and more "alive" for want of a better way to describe it; whereas the one that was given a conventional wash feels harsher and dryer, although the handle of the fleece is still reasonably nice. They card up about the same based on the two ounces of each batch that I have done so far. At this point, I like this method of non-washing; what I still want to do is spin up the samples I have carded and try this method with a fleece that is higher in grease. I also still want to track down and read the original article in which it was described.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fermented Suint Fleece Washing Part I

I have been hearing about this method of fleece washing on various lists and blogs. There is also an article about it published that I have not yet looked up, although I have read many blog postings. Comments on the method have ranged from it being a smelly, disfunctional disaster to having some potential. The appeal for me is that it seems passive, relatively easy, has the potential to save water (and hence energy) and spare the washing machine the worst of the mess of cleaning a fleece. The fleece I selected for this venture is an expendable one - from Pixie, the one coarse Jacob from Gary's flock. This fleece is well-skirted and relatively free of vegetable matter, moderate in grease and not too dirty. Having read rather graphic descriptions about the mess and smell of handling a wet fermented fleece. I stuffed the fleece into a large washbag so I wouldn't have to handle it quite so much once it was removed from the bath. I filled an old plastic tub (that had once contained goat feed supplement) half full of rainwater from the cistern system, dumped in the fleece, covered it with a screen and then covered the screen with an old board. It stayed covered for 9 days, during which outside daytime highs were in the 90s. When I opened it I was pleased to find no evidence of mosquitos, mold and only a slight odor. The water was quite filthy with visible scum and tiny bubbles (see the accompanying photograph). When I lifted the bag out, a wave of stench arose that caused me to re-name this the fermented sewer method. I hung the bag and let it drain (outside) and then dumped the fleece out of the wash bag into a laundry basket. The bag stayed outside and the fleece went into the house for a short (20 min) hot water soak and subsequent spin in the washer to remove the excess water. The resultant fleece looks fairly clean and best of all has only a slight sheepy odor that is not unpleasant. Half this fleece is now drying and my plan just go ahead and see how it feels and works up once dry. The rest will go through a normal, but hopefully ligher wash and drying out, so that I can compare the two batches.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Re-Discovering Natural Dyeing Part VI - Madder

With this post, I've used up the last of the pre-mordanted yarn with some madder dyeing which was a new experience for me. This madder was purchased dried from Louet sometime around 1997 - another of those "finds" when I moved. I soaked 4 oz in toe of an old knee-hi overnight in a cold water pot. This yielded the most amazing wine red color, which did not really translate into the dyed fiber. I used the usual method of putting pre-wetted yarn in cold pot, brought to a simmer and held for 30 minutes. In the accompanying picture, these are top to bottom: wool with copper, wool with alum, mohair with copper and mohair with alum.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rediscovering Natural Dyeing Part V - Red Sandalwood

The red sandalwood was in the form of a fine powder and was purchased from Carolina Homespun around 1996 (back when they were still headquartered in NC). About 4 oz was soaked overnight with pot brought to a simmer before adding the yarn. For this pot, it seemed like it would be interesting to soak portions of the yarn with oil (corn oil) prior to putting it in the pot. The idea was to use the oil as a resist of sorts. It did work in a subtile way as can be seen in the photograph. From top to bottom, the yarns are wool with copper, wool with alum, mohair with copper, and mohair with alum.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Re-Discovering Natural Dyeing Part IV - Osage Orange

For this dye pot, I used 2.6 oz Osage orange (all that I had). It was in the form of a coarse ground bark and probably purchased from Louet in 1994. This time I filled the dye pot, dropped in the osage orange in its sack and let it sit overnight. The water was a fairly deep shade of yellow the next morning. Pre-wetted skeins went directly into the cold dyepot, brought to simmering temperature and allowed to simmer for 30 minutes. Results are in the accompanying photo. From top to bottom they are: wool with copper, wool with alum, mohair with copper and mohair with alum. The colors have a brighter clearer quality of yellow compared to Eucalyptus and the copper mordant renders a color I would describe as old gold.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rediscovering Natural Dyeing Part III - Eucalyptus

For this particular dye pot, I used the same general procedure as before, i.e. soak dyestuff in mesh bag overnight, add to dyepot next day and simmer a few minutes before adding the fiber. The eucalyptus was picked locally by a friend and dried sometime around 2002 - another one of those finds from when I moved. I used about 8 oz. of dried leaves for this dyepot. The color is a clear, but slightly dull yellow when used with alum. The shine of the mohair really doesn't show through with the alum mordant as much as it did with the copper-mordanted mohair. In the photo from top to bottom the yarns are wool with copper, wool with alum, mohair with copper (my favorite) and mohair with alum. The dyepot smelled very nice on the back porch.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Caplets

At SOAR in 2004, I saw a caplet done in triple crochet using ribbon yarn. It was beautiful. It took me another year to find a ribbon yarn that I liked and a few months thereafter I had a caplet. It is the top one in the photo. The problem was that I found I didn't really like it all that much and it has hung in the closet ever since. Last winter I decided that I would try to crochet myself a net market bag using a grayish tan yarn that I think is a blend of linen and cotton. There is no way to know as this yarn is something I picked up at our Guild's annual Christmas swap and giveaway. Since I didn't have a pattern I improvised, first trying bottom up which I didn't like and so took apart. Next came a top down attempt. Unfortunately this just didn't seem right either, but along the way I looked at it and decided it would be a lovely caplet. This is the one at the bottom in the picture. I really like this one and have worn it twice. It would look even better with wooden beads along the bottom, but I haven't yet figured out how I want to add them. The bottom line is that I did get a caplet, just via a different route than originally envisioned.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Re-Discovering Natural Dyeing Part II - Alkanet Root

For this particular dyepot I used dried alkanet root that I purchased commercially so long ago that I do not know the source, but it has to be at least 15 years old. I put about 6 oz of dried root in a mesh bag (old knee hi) and soaked it overnight. Next day I added the four skeins of yarn and simmered it for 2 hours. The accompanying photo shows from top to bottom - wool with copper, wool with alum, mohair with copper and mohair with alum. The bag with the dyestuff actually burst in the bath resulting in lots of vegetable matter in the yarn. It mostly came out with brushing and beating. According to my books alkanet root yields shades from soft gray-blues to gray greens under alkaline conditions and pinkish shades under acidic conditions depending on the mordant used.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Re-Discovering Natural Dyeing - Part I Mordanting

Several years ago, for reasons that I no longer remember, I had some white shetland and white mohair yarn spun up as singles. I also have no record or memory of the mill that did the spinning. A big box of this was one of those discoveries made during the move from Apex to Efland (now almost two years ago). Another discovery was all these natural dye materials that I did not even know that I had. It seems natural to bring the two together. As a first step, I pre-mordanted the yarn. I decided on aluminum and copper since I already had them - Copper sulfate at the rate of 2 oz/lb (2.6 lbs total for 5 skeins each wool and mohair) and potassium aluminum Sulfate at the rate of 3 oz/lb + 6 tablespoons cream of tartar (5 skeins each of wool and mohair). I dissolved the metal salts completely in warm water before filling the pot. The yarn was simmered (not boiled) in a huge pot outside for 1/2 hour and allowed to cool in the pot. The accompanying photo shows the yarn hanging to dry. The plan was to dye a total of four skeins in each of five different dye baths. This will give me a comparison of wool and mohair with two different mordants.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Snow Dyeing in North Carolina

I first heard of snow dyeing on the dyers list a few years ago, but never had the opportunity to try it because snow storms are relatively uncommon here in the piedmont of North Carolina. When a snow storm was forecast about a week before Christmas I planned out a couple of snow dyeing trials. This was mainly to give me a fun activity to look forward to since caring for farm animals in the snow and cold or the very real possibility of a power outage if it turned to ice. Most snow dyeing that I've read about uses cotton cloth, but I opted to use a skein of white handspun shetland yarn and a couple of silk scarves I happend to have on hand. I pre-wetted both scarves and yarn with vinegar water. I placed the scarves on an over-turned plastic serving dish that was put inside a basin; this gives the water in the snow a way to drain away as it melts. I also folded and scrunched the scarves together to allow for uneven penetration of the dye and produce more interesting patterns. The snow I used was actually frozen chunks of snow from the hood of my truck which I placed on top of the scarves and wool. Then I squirted various colors of dye (using 0.1% dilution of Mother MaKenzie's Miracle Dyes.
When the snow was melted I wrapped the yarn and scarves (separately) in plastic wrap (salvaged from the local feedstore) and microwaved them for 10 minutes total (2 five minute sessions). The first two photos below show the setup with snow and dye and the second two photos show the finished results.