Grackle & Sun

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Dye Day #1 Results: Yellow Onion Skins

Foolproof.  Easily collected.  Non-toxic.  Beautiful.  Yellow onion skins are a very satisfying dyestuff.    Definitely recommended for beginners—you’d be hardpressed to mess this up.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Yellow onions

Part used:  Dried outer skins

Source:  My kitchen and the grocery store where I used to work

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I’ve seen anywhere from 1:1 to 1: .05 recommended.  However, I used everything I had (and I’d been saving them for years!): 384g of onion skins to 160g of fiber.  So, this means our ratio was over 2:1 dyestuff to fiber.

Extraction method:  We stuffed the onion skins into panty hose and simmered them for 1 hr.

Lid on top to keep the pantyhose bags from floating.

Dyebath:  We left the onion skins in the dyepot, added the fiber and simmered for about another hour.

The results?  Beautiful golden yellows and browns.

Fresh from the dyebath, superwash on the right.

I gave the Fisherman’s Wool a second dunk to darken it, and at the same time, overdyed the birch bark skein:

And for added comparison, here are my friend Kittyraja’s skeins of glory:

Both are mordanted.  The left is superwash.  The white spots are where her yarn was tied a little too tightly.  Lesson learned—making a resist on yarn while dyeing is EASY.

There was one more adventure in onion dyeing on Dye Day #1, but that story will have to wait for later.  Until then,

Live happy, dye happy!

The Fast and the Fugitive

It’s time to play…


It’s all fun and games until your colours fade away.   When we talk about dyes, we often refer to them in one of two ways:  substantive or adjective.  A substantive dye is one that does not need a mordant to adhere to the fiber.  It is capable of bonding directly to the fiber on its own.  An adjective dye does not bond to the fiber on its own and requires a mordant to help the dye adhere in a lasting manner.  We also use a few other terms when talking about dyes—like fast and fugitive.  A dye that is fast means that it has staying power.  A dye that is fugitive means that it’s going to run for the hills–ie, is going to fade in some manner and make you weep tears of woe for all your hard work wasted.  This fading can happen by washing, wearing, or being exposed to light—the latter being one of the more common ways for a dye to fade.   From what I’ve read, there are very few substantive natural dyes.   The majority require you to add a mordant to your dyeing process to help not only bond the dye to the wool, but also to help a fugitive dye become more wash- or lightfast.  It is recommended that one perform a lightfastness test on naturally dyed yarn to determine whether or not you’ve achieved a relatively stable dye.  This is also recommended to test for fastness anytime you experiment with a new process or dyestuff.  It lets you see firsthand if it worked.

Following are the results from the lightfastness test I conducted on the dyes used for Dye Day #1.  It is very important to note:  This is the unmordanted yarn that I used as a control.  I repeat, this yarn is unmordanted!   I wanted to see how fast these dyes were on their own.  To my knowledge, with a mordant such as alum, these dyes are all quite lightfast.  The lightfastness test was conducted for exactly 1 month, from June 23 to July 23.  Swatches of each yarn were collected, and half was tucked between several sheets of dark construction paper, while the other half was left exposed to full sunlight outside.  Here goes:

As you can see, the majority of the swatches demonstrate a study in lightfastness FAIL.  A few, like the elm and onion, only faded a little bit.  The alkanet faded more than I expected, but given how super unexpectedly dark it dyed to begin with, it’s really faded to closer to the colour I thought it was going to dye anyway.  Particularly low scores go to safflower and eucalyptus.  They surprised me.  And the TOTAL FAIL! of the lightfastness test goes to… annatto seed.  Whoa, nelly!  For something that was so willing to dye everything in sight, it sure did fade fast.  The annatto was gone by week 2.  Some of these dyes, like the eucalyptus, are said to be substantive, and I think that perhaps under normal circumstances it would not have faded so much.  We’ve had crazy high UV days here this summer, such that it would test the lightfastness of dirt, I think.   I suspect that if this test were conducted at a different time of year, the onion, alkanet, elm, and eucalyptus would have faired much better.  Just conjecture, but I think a safe assessment.   As always, I’d love to hear about your results with natural dyeing.

Live happy, dye happy!

Dyeing and Science. I Have a lot of Questions and Not as Many Answers.

I’ve been having some fun discussions on Ravelry in an attempt to suss out some answers to the millionty questions buzzing around in my head about solar dyeing.  Solar dyeing is where you let the sun do the work of your stove in the dyeing process.  This is most commonly accomplished in large Mason jars, although I’ve seen solar cookers and roasting pans used, as well.  The fiber and dye (or dyestuff and water) is put all together in the container.  Then you let the jars sit out in the sun anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and bam!—you’ve got dyed yarn.   Other steps of the dyeing process can be done with the sun, as well.  The extraction process is one of these.

Right now, on my back porch, I’ve got a big jar of avocado pits stewing in a solution of ammonia and water to extract the dye.  The instructions said to put this in a sunny spot and leave it for a couple weeks.   So I did.  And right next to this big jar of wonderfully dark red-brown liquid (the extraction is working) is my collection of unmordanted control swatches from Dye Day #1 sitting in the full sun for their lightfastness test (which mostly are failing).  The other day as I was washing dishes, I looked out the window at my avocado dye and yarn swatches—I had a moment giddy squee!–and then it struck me that I was watching the sun concurrently create and destroy my dyes.  How could this be possible?  I’ve been thinking hard about this one for days now.  My conclusion?  It’s time for some science.

Here are the issues I’m pondering (please be patient as my mind wanders), and the answers I’ve got so far:

1.  Some instructions for solar dyeing say not to use plastic containers, because they do not allow enough light in.  This implies that it is the light rather than the heat that aids in the dyeing.  But I’m pretty sure that’s not true, because if it was, dyeing wouldn’t work on the stove, in a pot.  With no sun.   So perhaps they meant that it’s a matter of glass doing a better job of heating up in the sun than plastic?  I haven’t tested it, but maybe that is true.

2.  Other instructions use dark pots or roasters to dye in, which supports the idea that only the heat  matters.  Which means that solar dyeing could be done perhaps more effectively in something other than a glass jar, or at least covered with black plastic to increase the solar gain.

3.  It is very common for dyestuffs not to be lightfast on yarn without a mordant.  Is a dye in solution equally as susceptible to photodegradation as it is on unmordanted yarn?   I don’t know yet.  But I think this is a pretty crucial question to answer.

4.  Assuming a glass container is being used, if a fugitive dye is used in a solar dyeing process, even with mordanted yarn, does the longer uptake time (for the dye to adhere to the yarn) allow enough time for there to be detectable photodegradation of the dye in solution before it can dye the yarn?   I don’t know this yet, either, but the solar dyeing that I’ve seen has suggests that the process takes a much longer time.  I’ve seen experiments with one dyebath where different samples are left in for increasingly longer periods of time (up to 10 days), and the colour on the yarn just got darker and darker.

5.  Which wavelengths of sunlight are most responsible for fading of dyes on yarn or in fabrics?  The Florida Solar Energy Center had this to say about sunlight and fading of dyes on fabrics and furnishings, which I think is relevant:

Fading of interior furnishings is often attributed to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun passing through windows onto interior surfaces. However, UV is not the only portion of the solar spectrum which can damage artwork or furnishings inside buildings. Virtually the whole spectrum is of concern, which is why long term exposure to solar radiation should be limited.

Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the single largest contributing factor in fading of fabrics, carpets and other furnishings. Although visible light, electric lighting, heating, humidity, age of fabrics and fabric dyes all play a part in the process, UV radiation is attributed to 40% of the damage. Protecting against UV is not just important in hot, sunny climates. Even in cold, cloudy climates, UV radiation can damage furnishings.”

6.  So, which wavelengths can pass through glass anyway?  Apparently the answer to this can be quite variable.  It depends largely on the composition of the glass.  But for ordinary glass, like in a single pane window with no low-e coatings, the International Ultraviolet Association (yeah, there is one!) had this to say about it:

              Normal glass (as used in windows) is transparent to UV radiation up to a wavelength of about 330 nm (or UV-A light). The transparency is quite high so almost all UV-A light will pass through glass. Below 330 nm (UV-B and UV-C), almost 100% is blocked by normal glass.

Here’s how the spectrum breaks down according to Wikipedia (yes, i know it’s not really a reliable reference, but I think it’s safe this time):

Ultraviolet C or (UVC) range, spans a range of 100 to 280 nm;  Ultraviolet B or (UVB) range spans 280 to 315 nm;  Ultraviolet A or (UVA) spans 315 to 400 nm;  Visible range spans 380 to 780 nm;  Infrared range that spans 700 nm to 106 nm.

7.   If those wavelengths pass through ordinary glass, what can pass through a typical canning jar?  I don’t know for sure, but I found out that beer brewers and wine makers say that if you use a Mason jar, to keep it away from sunlight, because the UV will make a brew go bad.  So, I’m going to guess that it’s probably much like regular glass, ie it lets a lot of light and UV through.   Here is a great article that shows what wavelengths of light go through ordinary glass (in this case a glass bottle), and how it differs in coloured glass.  I’m guessing this data would be true for canning jars.

Alright.  So what do we know?  Solar dyeing relies on the heat of the sun to help extract and set the dye.   Canning jars are most likely totally transparent not only to the visible light spectrum, which plays at least a small part in photodegradation, but also to all UV-A light, which is largely responsible for photodegradation (and skunking your beer).

It seems logical, then, to do one of 3 things when solar dyeing:

1)  Use brown glass jars (and raise a toast to our beer-brewing friends)

2)  Use a dark pot or roaster

3)  Use a glass canning jar, but cover it with black plastic

The point of all this?  I really want to know if the sun will photodegrade dyes in solution.  It could play an important part of getting clearer colours when solar dyeing, and also of getting more consistent, successful results.  I think that a simple experiment would help test this.  I see two ways to do this:

1) First, do a standard heated extraction of a known fugitive dye, then dye mordanted wool with half in brown glass and half in clear glass.  This would test the dye in solution at the time of dyeing only.  I’d do a minimum of 3 days in the sun, and I would monitor and adjust the heat of each one to rule out that variable from the equation, since some dyes change according to heat.

2)  The second way would be to do a solar extraction, half in brown glass and half in clear glass.  Again, monitoring the temperature.  Then dye your mordanted wool with it in a standard heated way on the stove.   I would use the “canning” method, where you heat water in a large pot, and place your samples in their individual jars in this bath to heat them.  This would test photodegradation of the extracted solution only.

It would be interesting to see the results of this, don’t you think?

Oh, and that whole heat thing reminds me.  I was talking with my husband about this the other night—he’s a scientist—and he reminded me that pH tends to change with heat, as well.  Which got me thinking about a whole other issue:  when a dye recipe tells you to dye at a certain pH, do they want you to check that pH in the beginning, before you heat the dyebath, or once the goal temperature has been reached?  I’ve never seen anyone differentiate, but it makes a difference.   Some dyestuffs, like alkanet, are quite pH sensitive.  Alkanet must be used at a neutral pH.  Our alkanet dyebath was acidic, so we adjusted the pH to near neutral before we heated that pot.  But since pH changes with heat, and we totally forgot that little fact, we likely did not actually have a neutral dyebath once it reached a simmer.  This quite possibly effected our results.

So, does it really matter when you measure pH for natural dyeing?  Yeah, I think it might if you want consistent results.  My husband says that in his lab, he only counts the pH that is measured at the temperature needed for the experiment.  Although some dye adheres to the yarn when it’s initially dropped in, it’s typically during that hour long simmer that the bulk of the uptake happens.  In the future, I will measure and adjust pH at that point rather than at room temperature, unless I’m doing a cold process dyebath.

Alright.  Those are all my semi-scientifical thoughts for now.  I’d love for any of you who have more experience with dyeing or science to weigh in on this.  Keep the conversation flowing, keep the dyepots going!

Dye Day #1 Results: Barking up the Wrong Tree, or the Semi-FAIL of Walnut and Birch

Not all was a righteous success on Dye Day #1, but lessons were learned on all fronts.  Two such cases were with walnut and birch.  We’ll start with walnut.  This, by all counts, should have been a cakewalk.  Walnuts stain very easily, but getting that colour to stick to wool proved more difficult.  Let’s see why.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Walnuts

Parts used:  Hulls and bark.  IMPORTANT NOTE!  I always thought that a walnut hull was the brown part that directly encases the nut.  Silly me, that’s apparently not the case.  The hull is the green part that wraps around the whole shebang.  The hard brown casing is just the shell.  Why is this important?  Because the bulk of the dye is in the green hull—not so much in the shell.  Oh, you’ll get a very dark, dark extraction—it just won’t be potent enough to stick to the yarn.  Or so I learned.

Source:  Martha the basketweaver

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar, Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  The recommended minimum ratio is 0.5 : 1.  But as I did not prep this bucket, I have no idea how much was in there.  A fair amount of bark was soaked by Martha for an unspecified number of months.  When I got the bucket, the liquid was black, but not stinky at all.  I added to it a bag of whole walnut shells, meaning the nuts were still in the shells, but there were no hulls.  I soaked all of this together in a warm spot on the back porch for 2 weeks. The total amount of yarn used for this pot was 160g.

Extraction method:  I strained the bucket through a colander and coffee filter and reserved the dye liquid.  I measured out 166g of the soaked walnut shells and tied them off into some pantyhose and added that to the liquid.  This was gently simmered together for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  Yarn was then added the pot, and the dyebath was simmered for another hour.  Everything was left to cool in the pot overnight.  The pH of the dyebath was 6.7.

The results?  When we first pulled the skeins out of the dyebath, we thought we’d nailed it.  And then we watched in horror as the dye liquid dripped back into the pot and all the colour leached out of the yarn , leaving it cream or tan again.  In the end, the results were ok on superwash, not so much on non-superwash.  Unmordanted was a total FAIL.  On the Fisherman’s Wool, I ended up with what I dubbed as ‘walnut creme’, by which I mean a slightly darker cream colour than what I started with.  No photo, as I immediately overdyed it in another dyepot so it wouldn’t stare at me banefully from my stash, a reminder of my failure.  The superwash was slightly better.  I got brown, but not delicious brown.

Walnut on mordanted superwash; iron modifier

Modifiers:  The after-dip in an iron modifier helped to darken the yarn significantly, but it took out any red tones that were originally in the colour.  I’ve heard that some people will just add the iron to the dyebath from the get-go, but I wonder if that ultimately effects the yarn, as too much iron can make it brittle.  It is also possible to continue to overdye the yarn until you get the depth of colour that you desire.

Below is an example of the overdyeing and modifying as done by my friend Kittyraja:

Superwash on the left, regular wool on the right. Both alum mordanted.

She says, “The bulky yarn on the right was also treated overnight in more walnut dye and an iron modifier, which helped to darken it some.”  The superwash appears as-is from the dyebath.  I like that the bulky yarn essentially turned greyish.

Lessons learned?   I wonder if the bark in the extraction had anything to do with these results?  Maybe.  Next time, it’s nothin’ but hulls, baby.  I’d like to get good colour without having to use an iron modifier.  I will definitely mordant my wool and after the hot dyebath, maybe let the yarn sit in the pot for an extra day or two.  Or three.

On to birch.  Oh, I had hopes for this one.  Wild Colour says that it’s possible to get a kind of mauvey colour from birch bark.  Definitely in the light pinky-purpley range.  As that would have been a totally different colour on our palette for the day, I was really hoping that this one would turn out.  I followed ALL THE STEPS, people.  Which is not like me, as my curiousity to randomly follow other paths gets the better of me on most days.  But I did good here.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Birch

Parts used:  Bark

Source:  also Martha the basketweaver

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  1:1 is the recommended minimum amount for results.  I used more of a 2.5 : 1.  The total amount of yarn in the dyepot was 160g.

Extraction method:  Martha send over birch bark scraps that she couldn’t weave with.  Who needs ratios?  I decided to soak the whole kit and ask questions later.  So, 394g of birch bark was broken into small pieces and then soaked in a covered bucket of cool water for 2 weeks.  The bucket was then strained through a colander and coffee filter and the dye liquid reserved.  166g of bark were kept out and tied off into panythose and added to the dye liquid for a hot extraction.  This was simmered very, very gently for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  160g of yarn was added to the dyebath for a cold, overnight soak.  The pH of the dyebath was 6.3.  It is said that if you boil this dyebath, you will hate your life.   Boiling is bad news for bark.   It is also said that this dyestuff is suitable for a cold dyebath, but I’m doubting that now.

The results?  So unremarkable, friends, that I don’t even have any pictures of mine.  It pretty much did not dye at all.  For anybody.  Not on superwash.  Not on wool.  Not mordanted.  Not unmordanted.  Not with a fox.  Not in a box.  Zilch.  Nada.  Goose egg.  The upside of this?  Our yarn emerged from the dyepot so pristine that it was ready to immediately overdye a different colour—which is what all of us did.  Lol.  So at least our yarn wasn’t trashed.  That would have been sad.

Modifiers:  Kittyraja had fun playing with modifiers on her skeins of birch (not)dyed yarn.  She also painted them with some alkanet.  They turned out pretty cool:

Kittyraja says, “Birch Bark. Didn’t do a damn thing to my yarn. But, the finished product ended up being one of my FAVES. I modded it with iron and spot-dyed with some leftover alkanet dye, which gave it the pale purple bits. I like it.”

Lessons learned?  I dunno.  The only thing that I can think of is to try a heated dyebath and then go from there.  I didn’t read of birch having pH issues, but maybe that was it.  The one thing we do know is that it wasn’t for lack of dyestuff.  We had more than enough to yield colour.  Maybe it was a species issue?  Could be.  There are lots of different Betulas, and I have no way of knowing what type I had.  I would say that I prolly wouldn’t try this one again, but I feel it’s a challenge now to get this one right.  Has anybody had success with birch bark?

Live happy, dye happy!

Dye Day #1 Results: Annatto Seeds

Some dyestuffs are so easy to dye with, and so generous in the dyebath, that they are very nearly foolproof.  Annatto seeds fall into this category.  It would be impossible to not dye your yarn successfully with annatto seeds… or your clothes, or your hands, or anything else they come into contact with.

Annatto seeds drying after dyebath. I think I can get a lot more colour out of them…

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Annatto

Parts used:  Seeds

Source:  Hillcreek Fiber Studio

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar and Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  226g of annatto to 160g of fiber.  In retrospect, folks, this was too much.  Jenny Dean recommends a 0.5: 1 ratio of annatto to fiber, but since we all did this cooperatively (and paid cooperatively), I didn’t want to have to fuss over divvying out exact amounts of the unused annatto to everyone—especially since it would have been so little per person.  Now I know that one single seed of annatto is enough to dye your whole stash, and that sending everyone home with something like 8g of seeds would have been more than enough to dye an actual quantity of yarn.  For realz.  It’s muy potente.

Extraction method:  I soaked all 226g of seeds in water overnight.  On Dye Day, we put them into pantyhose, tied them off and did an extraction bath by simmering them with a teaspoon of washing soda for 1 hour.  Some recipes recommend crushing or blending the seeds to get more colour.  If, by some miracle, you have a hard time getting colour out of these seeds, then you can try it.  But we got plenty without doing that.

Dyebath:  We chose to do a cold dyebath, and so the yarn was soaked in the dyebath overnight.   The pH of our dyebath was 8.3, which is interesting to me, because my tapwater is pH 8.8 and we added a teaspoon of washing soda to the extraction, which should have further bumped up the pH.  I’d like to measure the pH of the annatto seeds in the water before the soda.   I will add two bits of additional information here.  Bit number 1)  we left the pantyhose bag of seeds in the dyebath.  The yarn that came into contact with this bag dyed darker than the yarn just floating in solution.  Great technique if you want variegation, not so much if you want a smooth solid tone.  Bit number 2)  even though we used whole seeds tied off in pantyhose (ie, a very fine mesh), we still got an awful lot of particulate from the seeds on our yarn.  This has proven quite difficult to get off the yarn even with multiple washings.   Next time I will take greater care to rinse the seeds really well before using them.  Maybe that will help.

The results?  A red-orange that we all dubbed “tomato soup”, which is pretty much what the dyebath looked like, too.

Tomato soup yarn

My Fisherman’s Wool came out really variegated, as you can see on the right.  I think part of the skein was pushed right up against the bag.  The superwash took much more of a burnt orange, whereas the unmordanted non-superwash took more orange-red.  Here it is unskeined:

Drying after the dyebath. Orange!!!

And, as always, for comparison are my friend Kittyraja’s skeins of awesomeness:

This is a great photo, as it clearly shows how kickass that orange is! (I might add that her boyfriend has a sweet, sweet camera—am just a teeny-tiny bit wishing that IT WAS MINE! Mwahahahahaha!) Uh… I’ll stop the camera envy now.  :)

The left is superwash, the right is not.  Both are mordanted the same as mine were.  Infinite variety of the dyepot, right?

Modifiers and other notes:  Ammonia after-dips seemed to brighten the orange, whereas iron, of course, darkened it.  Several people mentioned, after taking their skeins home, that they had a lot of problems with crocking.  I’m not sure what methods they used to rinse their yarn to get any excess dye out before knitting with it.  I will say that my skeins had minimal if any crocking.  I let my skeins hang and cure in the sun for a week before rinsing, and then I triple rinsed them in Eucalan because so much excess dye came out (remember how I said I won’t use that ratio again?).  I think both of these factors made a big difference.

Finally, I had a skein of Fisherman’s Wool, unmordanted, which I dyed with walnut somewhat successfully.  I say somewhat, because the colour came out exactly what the book said it would—sort of a “walnut creme”, which is to say a creamy tan colour.  However, since the battle cry of Dye Day #1 was “NO TAN!!!!!!!”, I decided to overdye this skein.  And since I can never leave well enough alone, I also decided to see what the annatto exhaust would do if I dropped the pH substantially—to 4.0.  I put my skein in this new exhaust bath in a jar on the back porch.  I’m calling this a semi-solar dyebath.  I took it out after 24 hours:

Still kinda tan, albeit a slightly orangier tan.

All in name of semi-scientificalness.  Lol.

Live happy, dye happy!

Beginner’s Mind: Lessons from Laird Hamilton

Books have a way of finding me.  Maybe it’s just my constant state of curiousity that causes me to notice them.  Maybe its the serendipity that follows me like my shadow.  In our lives, there are threads that get tugged and retugged, pulling us in a definite direction as we skip (or tumble or crawl) down life’s path.  I get a lot tugs at my local library, usually as I wander aimlessly down the aisles, my head tilted sideways like a bird, letting my eyes focus and unfocus on the spines and titles as I walk past.  Now and then, a particular book will appear sharply in my view.  It is always just what I need.

One day last year, I found my way to one such book.  I would say that it was an unlikely match—the type of book, that is—but given that I was born in California, land of sun and surf, and have spent every day since my family moved from there yearning to go back to my home, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Perhaps it was just the power of my pining that led me to that shelf, the one where I saw this book:

I stood staring at it, knowing that I had to pick it up, but not having a clue why.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought that surfing was cool.  How can you not?  It’s brilliant.  But why would I read a book about it?  I’m a landlocked 30-something mother of two.  I knit.  I don’t surf.  Hell, I didn’t even know who Laird Hamilton was.   But for all that, I was compelled.  I checked out the book, took it home, started reading, and couldn’t put it down.

This post isn’t meant to be a review, although the book is awesome, and I highly recommend it.   The point is that something in this book really resonated with me.   In the book, Laird talks about the importance of being a beginner and being ok with being bad at something.  He talks about how learning new skills and activities keeps the body and mind in shape.  How it fuels the spirit.  In a sense, Laird, with his infectiously blissed outlook on life, uses surfing (and standup paddling and mountain climbing and everything else) as a model for explaining the beginner’s mind in a way that I not only understood, but immediately felt joyous about implementing in my life.  This is something that years of studying Buddhism never accomplished.   Chalk that up as another point for ecstatic earthiness.  Trying to tame the monkey mind by beating it over the head with hours of stillness and meditation has never worked for me.  A friend once told me, “Move the ass, and the mind will follow.”  Truer words, my friends, truer words.  The way I figure, if Laird Hamilton, a world-class big wave surfer, is ok with being an awkward newbie in his pursuit of learning new things, I can be, too.   Liberation.

So, I read the book in one big gulp, and I tucked away the lessons inside, where they burned like a little fire in my heart of hearts.  I, too, want to be a force of nature!  I, too, want to spend my days under the sun, playing, working, keeping my mind and body nimble by challenging myself to do new things.   It’s easy to get fired up, isn’t it?  But contrary to popular belief, the greatest challenges in life are not the big ones—where the lessons are huge and obvious.  No, it’s the day after the lesson is learned that is the hardest.  And the week after.  And the month after.  Why?  Because it’s really easy to slip into old habits, to get lazy.  It’s like when you have a Really Important Dream… and then you fall back asleep, you lose the details.  We sleepwalk in the tedium of daily life—work, bills, drama, stress—and when we sleepwalk, it’s easy to forget that we have a fire burning in our heart of hearts.  Sleepwalkers cannot tend their inner fires.  It is epically sad to live this way, with nothing to fuel us, nothing to feed our souls.   Which is why we need the Laird Hamiltons of the world to remind us to throw a log on.

Well, I think I’ve found another passion that I’m willing to be a beginner for:  kayaking.

My dad’s had an old Klepper folding sea kayak for years, packed away.  A few years ago he started working on it, making it seaworthy again.  I’ve been fascinated by this process—watching him recraft parts for the boat by hand, resewing seams, sanding and varnishing wood, doing mysterious things with vinyl glue.  I think I was secretly as excited about it as he was.  Then last year he found another used Klepper for sale, which he bought… and gave to me.  Whoa, I was surprised.   This was a gift that carried weight, you know what I mean?  The kind of gift that must be taken seriously.  Because on the outside, a boat is just a boat.  But if you look again, you see that it is archetypal in its symbolism.  It is a vessel, a craft, a means of transportation.   The lines of a boat are something that we, as humans, know innately.  It is almost as familiar to us as the ocean itself.  Suddenly, I possessed something that not only could move me literally, physically, but spiritually, as well.  It felt powerful, meaningful.  And it needed a lot of work.

My dad did some of the repairs before he gave it to me—sewed some seams, replaced some hardware.   We worked on it together the weekend he gave it to me.  We repaired the Hypalon skin where it had been worn through.  We waterproofed areas that had been damaged from use and age (this boat dates to the early 70’s).  He showed me how it all gets put together and what still needed to be done to the boat to make it last.  Then I packed it up in the car and took it home.

And it sat in the garage.  And sat.  And sat .  For months.  I told myself that it was because I didn’t have time to work on it or that the weather wasn’t right—first too cold, then too hot for being outside sanding crossframes and varnishing wood.   But the truth is, this whole time I’ve been thinking, I don’t know shit about kayaks, what am I doing?  I’ve been afraid of jacking up an awesome gift.  Of doing it ALL WRONG.  Of not belonging in the kayaking circle of the universe.   I was so unable to believe in my own abilities to learn something new, something that would be physically challenging, that I let the inertia of doubt take hold.  Then I remembered what Laird said about the importance of being a beginner.  I thought about the fact that it would be far, far worse to let a gift like a freaking sea kayak sit in my garage unused due to fear than to give it a go and make mistakes and be an awkward dork.  And I calmed the hell down.

So we planned a camping trip with my parents at Clearwater Lake last weekend—the perfect motivation to get my ass in gear.  Husband is totally psyched about the kayak, too.  He really wants to work on her and to paddle, and I am happy for both his help and his general awesomeness about everything.  I am excited that this is something that we can do together, as we both feel that we never have enough time together.  This kayaking thing has very quickly become pretty important to us both.

Which means that work must be done.  We completed the first step:  adding keel strips to the Hypalon.  There were lots of places that were worn down to bare canvas on the hull, and my dad and I repaired those.  He suggested a simple fix of using Gorilla tape to put extra protection on the keel.  This would be my first solo task, my first foray into being an amateur boat fixer.  Ok.  It’s just tape.  I could do this.  But first we had to put the boat together.  Have you ever seen all the parts to a folding kayak?  That’s some serious German engineering.

A Klepper folding kayak (mine is an Aerius II) consists of a collapsible wooden frame which gets put together in two sections (bow and stern) and inserted into both the bow and stern ends of the skin before being snapped together to join the two halves.  Then sponsons that run along each side of the boat are inflated to make the skin taut.  And Bob’s your uncle.  You have a seaworthy vessel.  Well, Bob is my uncle.

Bow and stern being put together: keel boards, gunwales, crossframes (ribs) and rods.

Hypalon hull folded next to partially assembled frame.

Boat almost completely assembled—the seats and seat backs are laying next to it in the grass.  Yeah, those things that look like clipboards are the seats.  Very efficient, those Klepper designers.  No comfy seats for you!  Lol.

She’s beautiful.

The frames could use a little sanding and revarnishing, and I’ve already thought of some modifications I’d like to make for both comfort and touring practicality.  But she is ready for the water.  No excuses.  Time to paddle.

Setting up my Klepper, my dad’s Klepper and the Folbot at Clearwater Lake.

Out on the very green water. My son likes to paddle, too.

As it turned out, we cancelled the camping trip in favour of doing a day trip paddling on the lake.  It was way too hot—104 degrees!  Really ridiculously hot.  But we all wanted to paddle.  And once we were on the lake, it was actually quite pleasant.  The Klepper handled well.  She won’t turn on a dime, but she’s very stable as a sea kayak should be.  I don’t have a sailing kit for her, but I’m hoping to add that some time in the future.  My dad sails his Klepper, and it’s pretty awesome.  Later I paddled with my dad in his boat, and we saw dozens of blue herons out on the water.  And I realized that I intensely dislike the noise of loud motorboats.  When you’re in your groove, paddling silently through the water, listening to the birds and the insects and the rippling waves, and a speed boat cruises by, it really jacks up the atmosphere.   On the upside, I like the wakes.  ;)

Husband was a rockstar, and totally hossed out both putting together and packing away the boats in the heat.  I had a case of the vapors at one point, but managed to bully through.  I’ve never drank so much water in such a short period of time.  I am really looking forward to the weather becoming more humane.

Husband and I are already working out a plan for kayaking regularly.  We’ve also set a goal for ourselves—next year we want to paddle the MR340.  Daunting?  Yes.  Doable?  I think so.  We’ll have to bust our asses getting ready, but that is the point.  We’re both pushing 40, and neither one of us wants to age by way of complacency.  I believe firmly that we can remain fit and healthy and energetic as long as we keep moving and keep challenging ourselves.   So, thank you, Laird Hamilton.   You’ve taught me an important lesson.  I will revel in my beginnerness.  I will play and have fun and live passionately according to my true nature, as a force of nature.  Awkward or not, I will learn mad skillz and do awesome things.

Edit:  Just found this gem.  Laird and Gabby on TEDMED.

Daytrips: Elephant Rocks

Husband is on vacation, and we’ve been taking day trips out of the city.  Last week we went to Elephant Rocks State Park and Johnson Shut-Ins which are located just outside of Ironton, MO, in one of the most scenic areas of the state.  Nearby is Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri, and the Mark Twain National Forest.  I love the Ozarks.

If one will please allow me a brief moment to both bemoan the fact that my real camera died some time back and also to apologize for the shite quality of my phone camera… (me bemoaning silently)…  Thank you.  I feel a little better now.

Elephant Rocks was the site of two granite quarries in the eighteen and nineteen hundreds, and the evidence of this history is still viewable today in the engravings the quarrymen left in the rocks, the marks from core testing, the shards of granite left in piles, and of course, the quarry now filled with water.   The granite mined from here was sent all over the country for fine building, and much of it can be seen in St. Louis.  The stones that you see in these photos were spared from being quarried because they were exposed, and millennia of weathering made them too soft to use for building.  I’m glad.  It would have been criminal to destroy this amazing geological wonder.  The rocks here date from the pre-cambrian age—some 1.5 million years ago.   Although this land is now a state park, granite mining still continues very close by on adjacent properties.  Here are some photos of Elephant Rocks.  No photos of the Shut-Ins, as it was all swimming and climbing over wet rocks.  Good times.  Enjoy.

Elephant Rocks

Bigger than they look

For scale, Husband is 6’1″.

There are lots of off-the-pathway paths through the nooks and crannies and chinks in the rocks here. You have to be comfortable with both climbing, jumping and squeezing to get around anywhere off the paved trail.

My son, the mountain goat.

The biggest one of all, aptly named Dumbo, is 27 feet tall, 35 feet long and 17 feet wide.  At a weight of 162 pounds per cubic foot, Dumbo tips the scales at a hefty 680 tons.  It looks precariously perched, but it’s not going anywhere.


For scale, daughter is 5’3″.

Up high, beautiful view.

Drill marks from the hand-drills used to cut away the stones.

Miners carved their names into the rocks. This is E.W. Taylor.

H. Kaye.

Dan. Hearley.

C. Hay and G.M. Hay and others.

When my husband was a teen, it was common (and cool) for kids to jump into the quarry to swim. That’s not allowed now, go figure. I’ve heard it’s because of the snakes…

Looking into the water-filled quarry.

Elephant Rocks has an amazing crop of interesting lichens and mosses, too.  I find these beautiful and fascinating.

gorgeous lichen



And hiding deep in the woods was the old engine house. We didn’t even know this was here.

The rails for the engine are still there.

Even the trees grow around the granite at Elephant Rocks.


Elephant Rocks rocks!


The end.

Now go out and see the world!








Post Navigation