Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “Missouri”

Guide to Spring

In Missouri, you can’t count on the weather to tell you what season it is. It might be 65 degrees in December; it might be 35 degrees in May. Strike that. At some point, it will be both of those things.  But despite the fact that I never seem to know when to pull my head out of the covers, the earth knows when to stretch. The flora and fauna know when to peek out and then get busy.  From one moment to the next there is a shift, the light turns white and crystalline bright, and suddenly you’re late for Spring! Here’s a lovely, quick little visual guide to my cues this time around the wheel…

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Lambing season is in full gear–31 and a few still due. No bottle babies this year, which was a major Phew! The garden has had a generous helping of sheepy compost and a tilling or two. And if it ever stops raining on my days off, I’ll plant some seeds… I have so many seeds to plant. So, so many.

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Super exciting things are in the works on the farm. And in my life. I don’t want to jinx anything, so we’ll wait to talk about it until the will-be becomes the is. I hope all your springs are pleasingly full of potential and the emergence of glorious creative goodness. And seeds. And if you’re very lucky, lambs. ;)

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live happy,

dre

 

 

{Morning Meditation} Understory

Before the canopy above awakens from its dormant sleep, blocking out the rays of the sun from the forest floor, the shrubs and bushes, vines and fleetingly flowering plants hurriedly open their leaves to bask in as much of that early spring light as they can before the tall trees claim it for their own.

This part of the forest is called the ‘understory’.  It is a fitting name, as this story unfolds often unnoticed, out of sight, below what is obvious and easily seen.  To observe what is happening, one must also be willing to go under and below, to allow the senses to go to places that are usually overlooked and ignored. Like Tiffany Aching teaches us, we must learn to open our eyes—and then open them again.

When we learn to do that, we understand that this understory can be watched, read, and heard all around us. We can follow the story as it unfolds. The closer we are able to look, the more we find such unimaginable beauty.

And things we take for granted as being common,

become uncommon treasures.

How much do we miss by keeping our eyes only on one level of things? How many subtleties escape us? Most days, I feel as though I am seeing this land for the first time.

I am learning the story of the dogwood. Did you know that the bracts of the flowering dogwood are often light green when they open?

They change to white when the flowers are ready for pollination.

This I learned by walking through the woods with my eyes open. Walking slow and staring in wonder at what I saw.  Asking questions, listening and observing.

And then Googling. But listening and observing first.

Plants are not the only ones with understories. All living things, animate and inanimate (yes, I mean that) have stories beneath the surface.

Under rocks,  there is fire.

I think this is a Southern Red-backed Salamander. Which I would not have seen if I hadn’t looked under that particular rock. I’ve never seen one of these before, and I saw two that day! Which makes me very happy since amphibians are indicators of the health of creeks and streams. Stories interweaving–the salamander, the creek, and me.

And then there is the understory of the underworld. Important in myth, for sure. But a different kind of underworld story is playing out right underneath our feet. No ferryman needed.

Entire worlds below us, and we just step over them like it’s nothing. But what is happening below is so complex that we are just beginning to understand how truly remarkable and necessary it is to life ‘above’. In this understory, ants play an important part in keeping the soil healthy. They turn and aerate the soil, affecting nutrient content, allowing air and moisture to reach the roots of the plants growing above. They carry seeds into the tunnels below—seeds that will germinate, thereby helping to disperse them to wider areas, helping to ensure survival and diversity.

Sometimes the understory has understories, but you’d never know this without getting down on your hands and knees to find out. Mayapples carpet the forest floor in colonies every spring. Their leaves are like umbrellas.

If you look underneath these funny, leafy umbrellas, you will find the most beautiful flowers. You cannot see them from above. I think they are worth crawling around of the forest floor to see. Next month, the flowers will have fallen, and the little fruits will grow in their place.

Every thing has a story. And every story is intertwined in some way with every other story, whether it’s big and obvious as a forest canopy or part of the ever-twining understory. Not every story will be one you want to know, and that’s ok. Not all stories require our participation. They don’t even require our awareness. That is for our benefit, not only to enrich and give greater meaning to our lives, but to help us understand our place within this world. Within the greater story.

As an example, even the goddamned poison ivy belongs in the understory. We don’t have to participate in that story, but we ought to be aware of it. ;)

Our stories run like currents underneath the surface. Our subconscious language of imagery and symbols, our constant thoughts, our changeable feelings are always present under our skin, under the canopy that we present to the world. One story on the outside, another on the inside. Both necessary, both meaningful. We are surrounded by stories at all times in all places. Being aware of our ‘understory’ reminds us that everywhere we look, if we look closer, we will find amazing stories playing right before our eyes. And being aware of the ‘understory’ around us reminds us to look closer at what is within ourselves, too.

 And that’s all my deep thoughts from the forest floor, lol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vernally Obliged

Happy day after the vernal equinox!  Here are some perky and punctual jonquidils that opened up just yesterday.  Even though the world still seems half asleep, everything is stirring.  The sap is rising, metaphorically, and circulating literally. I feel this in me, too. A few weeks ago, I was compelled to visit my favorite local herbal shop for some spring tonics. I’ve been drinking blood cleansing teas made of nettle and burdock, red clover and violet leaf.  I am craving all green things, to eat all the green. I often eat according to what colours I’m hungry for.  It’s a fun and pretty darn informative way to get intuitive feedback on what one’s body needs. Just listen. It will tell you. This year is all about listening.

Usually, I notice spring first with the change in the angle of the sun and the restlessness of the breeze. This year, though, spring has rung in with sound.  The frogs are out in mighty chorus—the spring peepers, pickerels, and southern leopard frogs—announcing that spring has arrived. The toads will be next, and then later the bullfrogs will add their baritone to the summer sound.  A pair of barred owls have been conversing like love struck teenagers every night for the last week.  Wild ducks have been visiting the lake, and just today, we saw a blue heron circling above.  And what else has come to roost at the farm this spring?

Chicks!

Meet the 4 Buff Orpingtons. Question. What do you do when you spend several years dreaming about raising chickens and reading books on raising chickens and deciding that the perfect chickens to raise would be Buff Orpingtons, and then one day you go into the local farm store for some Sav-a Lam and see that they’re stocked with all manner of poultry and waterfowl—which you are, of course, obligated to peruse—and amongst the countless pens of countless Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds and sex-linked this and thats, lo and behold there are four lone Buff Orpington chicks tucked in a tub in the corner?  This is not a trick question.  Clearly I was meant to take them home.  The end.

I will go back for some Leghorns.  Lol.  In a week or two, they will go live in the chicken house with the rest of the flock, but for now they are in their cozy box in the front porch where I can listen to them peeping as I work on various projects. What else? Gardeny goodness. I planted a millionty seeds and am curious to see how they fare starting indoors.  I will bore no one with photos of a table full of little cups of dirt. Garden plans are being tilled in the fertile fields of my mind. These plans involve raised beds, fencing, and part-time garden-wandering chickens… If I’d been here in time, I would have prepped the garden in the fall. As it is, I am very late and will have to make do with what I can get done in the next month. No need to feel bad about it though—something will grow.

The sheep are enjoying the first nibbles of spring grass.  Here you can see a very chubbeh Phillip in the forefront. He is such a pet.

We are very seriously considering adding a couple wool sheep to the farm to try out. (By which I mean for me to play with their wool). I’m looking at Clun Forest, Romney, and Cheviots, but am listening to any and all advice from those with wool sheep raising experience.  A shepherd/spinner friend has also recommended Montadales and Coopworths.  I am unfamiliar with both.  So far, I am most interested in the Cluns as a hardy dual purpose sheep, but have never seen or felt Clun wool.  Anyone?

Finally, Ronin is a happy farm dog.

Be well and listen hard.

Fiber Retreat

This last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Fiber Retreat with a dear friend of mine, E.  You might remember E from our pokeberry dye fun.   We had a blast. Mad skillz, friendly people, and more homegrown fiber than you could shake a weaving stick at.  I think that was my favorite part of the whole weekend—meeting all of the local fiber farmers who set up in the market.  I believe in supporting local, sustainable, and small farmers, crafts-people, and artisans, and I love attending venues that focus on local rather than commercial goods.  Besides, small batch homegrown wool has so much character and life—once you’ve worked with it, you don’t want anything else.  The market was packed with luscious wool, alpaca, llama, and mohair.  It was also really cool to meet so many highly talented fiber artists from my state—many of whom live in small towns and out of the way places where the unsuspecting might be surprised to find such artistic genius.

I took three classes at the fiber retreat:  weaving sticks, continuous strand weaving, and wet felting.  Three things I have never done before.  The classes were lively, the teachers were wonderful.   So let’s go on a little photo journey of newly acquired craft knowledge:

Weaving Sticks

The history of stick weaving is not well defined online.  Some claim it was used by Native Americans, others that it was brought to Europe by the Crusaders, and yet others claim that it was actually developed as recently as the 1940’s.  However, I’ve seen no actual proof in any of these assertions—no references or photos of any kind, and it seems that the same information about the history of stick weaving is simply being passed around from site to site.  My thought, however, is that we know weaving has been around for many thousands of years, and this method is so simple that surely somebody somewhere used it.  In conclusion, I have no idea what the real history of stick weaving is.  If any of you weavers out there do, I’d love to know!

Stick weaving is a very simple form of weaving.  It is essentially the same process as weaving on a peg loom, only instead of the pegs being fixed, you hold them.  This can be done with as few as two sticks or as many as you can hold.  Each stick has an eye, and like a needle, is threaded with what will become the warp.  Our warp yarn was too thick to go through the stick holes, so an extra string was threaded through those to create a bigger loop that hung down below the stick.  You can this this in the photo below.

The the working yarn is woven in a figure eight (for two sticks) or a serpentine (for more than two sticks) fashion around the sticks.  This is the fun part.  It is very soothing.  Mindless and rhythmic.  As the weaving is done, it is pushed down on the stick to keep a nice even tension.

When enough woven yarn is on the sticks, it is pushed down onto the warp yarn. This process can be more difficult than it sounds.  It took a lot of wiggling.  Smoother, polished sticks would be the way to go. This is done over and over until you have the length you want for your project.  Of course, shorter sections can be joined together in a project, as well.

Here you can see the long strand in progress, including the colour changes and unwoven ends.

This is what my finished mug rug will look like if and when I get around to whip-stitching it together.  Our teacher recommended doing the whip-stitching on both sides of the piece so that it maintains its shape without splaying out.  It is fairly fugly, but it represents new skills and a lot of fun, so I am happy.  I can see how with a little measuring, the colour changes could be coordinated in cool ways.  Because the strip is stitched together coiled along its flat edge, the finished piece is as thick as the width of the strip.  This makes for very thick, cushy rugs or cushions. I’d also like to try stitching the strips together lengthwise to make a flatter rug.  This could be easily done with wider strips woven on 4 or 5 sticks.

Continuous Strand Weaving

My only experience with weaving is with basket weaving using bark and plant fibers. I’ve never woven on a loom, not even to make a potholder as a child. I am fascinated with woven fabric.  It is beautiful.  Now that Ravelry has added weaving to the mix, I find myself looking at a shawl or scarf wondering what gorgeous stitch pattern was used to create that texture—and discovering it was woven.  Happens all the time.

Continuous strand weaving is interesting in that rather than pre-warping the loom,  it warps and weaves the loom as you go.  It is also interesting in that the weaving process occurs symmetrically from two opposite sides as you go.  I know next to nothing about weaving, and so cannot articulate this in any way other than to say it is magical.  There are many tutorials and videos online if you search “continuous strand weaving” or “triangle weaving”.  It can be done on rectangle and square looms, also. Our class did a travel size triangle and then a travel size square.  Below you can see the triangle loom weaving in progress, with the weaving happening on both sides and working in toward the center.

And then before I took it off the loom.

Here is the finished triangular piece:

And the finished square piece.

Fact:  My weaving in of ends leaves much to be desired.  And despite triple-checking my work before I took it off the loom, the square piece has a glaring error in it.  Ain’t that the way.  I won’t point it out as I’m sure the weavers out there have already spotted the mistake.  For everyone else, it can be a fun search puzzle.  :P

Weaving FTW!

Wet Felting Boots

Actually, the class was wet felting boots or mittens.  I chose boots, because BOOTS! I enjoyed this class a lot—not only for the fun people, great teacher, and neat new skill, but because wet felting is a very physical craft.  You can’t sit and demurely make wet felted boots—you have to put your whole body into it, and I really liked that.  If you are not familiar with wet felting, it is the process of causing the microscopic scales on wool fibers to lock on to each other through heat and/or agitation, and is often done in conjunction with a healthy squirt of soap.  This interlocking of the fiber’s scales creates a dense woolen fabric called felt.  Wet felting is done with wool roving or batts.  When heat/agitation is applied to already knitted goods, it is called “fulling”, although the two terms are often used interchangeably because the final fabric is still called felt. My good friend Laura over at Mommayaya makes the coolest felted (but actually fulled) slippers, and it was talking to her and watching her work that got me interested in this whole felting/fulling thing and taught me the difference between the two.

The first step to making our boots was creating the resist or form that would give the shape of our boots.  In order to do this, we traced our shoes on a piece of paperboard.  After our shoes were traced, we added an inch all the way around. Since felting shrinks the wool, we had to make our resist bigger than the final size we wanted.  So we traced our left and right foot on the same piece of paperboard.  With me so far?  Because this is where things got funny, and I’ll explain why in a minute. The next step was to join the left and right feet with a “leg”.  Here you can see the resist–two feet and a central “leg”– cut out and ready for wrapping:

So basically, we would be making both boots at the same time, and the “leg” we drew in the middle would form the ankle part of each boot.  “But wait!” I hear you say.  The foot is drawn flat on one axis, and the leg on another. Yup.  I asked about this, too, because you see, on the day I took this class, I was wearing a pair of crunchy granola Birkenstock foot-shaped shoes.  You can see in the photo above that my shoe has a definite left and right toe rather than the generic roundness or pointiness of most shoes.  And if you’re wondering what the point of that is, we simply have to rotate the picture:

This orientation shows the actual shape that the boot will take when it’s felted.  And because of my funny shoe shape, I highly expected a funny boot shape outcome.  However, my teacher reassured me that it would be fine.  So I went with it.  What the heck, I was having fun.

The wool was arranged on the resist in two directions, layer by layer—toe to heel and side to side.  We sprayed the layers down with soapy water as we worked and flipped the piece over to cover each side, wrapping the overlapping edges to secure each side firmly.  Below I’ve completed two layers on the one side of the resist and have flipped it over, wrapped the overlap, and am ready to begin applying the first layer on that side.  The most difficult part of this step was keeping the wool wrapped as tightly around the resist as possible.

After all the layers were done, the piece was ready to felt.  We resprayed the whole thing with soapy water, put a layer of tulle around the piece, and rolled the whole thing up around a 1″ dowel.

Then the fun began!  Rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling, turning, and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling, flipping, and rolling and rolling and rolling.  We rolled, flipped, rolled, turned, and rolled for AGES.  And then magically…

There was felt.

A  little more rolling and soapy water for good measure, and then, with a few snips, there were boots.

You can already see that my boots had a little more going on up in the toe region than they should have.  After the resist was removed and the ankle seam snipped (I made mine too narrow to put on without a snip), the final step was to put the boots on and finish the felting.  The last bit of felting is what does the final shrinking and shaping to the foot, and this is done while wearing them.  So, the flat shape becomes a three dimensional shape.  And since mine had Birky toe, they looked pretty funny when I put them on.  In the picture below, you can see all the extra material gathered into a flap.

I debated about just cutting it off and seaming up the toe like this, but then while playing around with it, I pulled the flaps over and realized that it was actually a kind of a neat design element.  It was a fun and quirky class, and I made a pair of fun and quirky boots.  They fit, too.

My teacher had a great idea to tack them down with buttons, and so I picked up some cute buttons in the market at the retreat.  I haven’t stitched them on yet—been waiting for the felt to dry—but here’s what it will look like:

I’m tossing around the idea of adding some needle-felted designs to the boots.  E loaned me her needle-felting needles to play with.  I’ve never done that before either. Or I might try my hand at some crewel embroidery.  I’ll show you when I finish them up.

So, a great weekend was had with nice people, great teachers, fun classes, and happy accidents.  All good things.  It was a nice jump start into crafty creativity again after  a year of still hands.  And, the best part is that I learned that there are more of these little (and not so little) local fiber and craft workshops all year long, many of which only charge nominal registration and class fees.  I’m looking forward to more.

Queen of Winter

A lot has been going on the last couple months.  Things that have kept me from being creative or productive or myself, really.   Sometime I might be able to write about this, but honestly whether or not I will work up the courage to hit “publish” is another matter entirely.  In the meantime, here is a wonderful example of the subtlety of Nature and a gentle reminder to open one’s eyes and one’s senses so as not to miss the beauty hiding in plain sight all around us.  This is one of my favourite plants in the yard:

Hamamelis vernalis, the Ozark Witch Hazel

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During these months, this little shrub is easy to overlook, the eye drawn to the striking silhouettes of greater trees with their stark bones outlined darkly in the winter sky.   She looks like this every year—withered and brown—for a good month or so before I remember what it is that I am actually seeing.  I am slow as molasses.  I always forget and think that those are dead leaves too stubborn to come off their stems.  Like those of the pin oaks that are all too common in St. Louis neighborhoods, dropping dead leaves all winter long.   But they are not.  They are her flowers, beautiful and otherworldly, releasing their heady, spicy-sweet fragrance to the cold spring air—and to anyone who knows well enough to step closer.  I remember to do so.  Eventually.

hamamelis vernalis 3-16-2013 12-21-12 PMJust when I’ve had all the winter I can take, the witch hazel sends her gift—a call to awaken.  I need reminders like this often.  Open your eyes!  Look around you!  Breathe deeply!  Wake up!  Time for the sap to rise, time to shake off introspection and move into action.  And always, always time to find beauty no matter what the circumstance is around you.  And when you cannot find it, make it.  Make it!  And know you are not alone.  There is the witch hazel, making beauty while all else succumbs to sleep still.  That is true strength.

Soon enough the sun will shine again.

 

The Fast and the Fugitive: Pokeberry Edition

It is once again time to play…

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OR

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I sandwiched the samples from each of the original pokeberry dyebaths between heavy cardboard and taped it up against a south-facing window for a month.  All yarn is 100% wool mordanted with vinegar only.  Here are the results:

Pokeberry–First Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-25-02 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-24-25 PM

Pokeberry–Second Dyebath (First exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-29 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-05 PM

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-27-47 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-27-35 PM

Pokeberry—Third Dyebath (Second Exhaust):  These are on superwash wool.  Somehow I didn’t test the skein of regular wool from this bath.  Not sure why.

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-29-10 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-28-43 PM

Pokeberry—Cold Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-30-47 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-30-05 PMSo far, I think everything is as should be expected.  We know that pokeberry is not normally lightfast, but that with proper mordanting and dyeweight ratios, can be made more so.   You can see a substantial difference in the lightfastness between the original dyebath and the two exhaust baths.  Here is the good news.  This lightfastness test was conducted in a room in my house lovingly known as The Snug, short for Snuggery, aka the Sun Room.  It is a very tiny little nook of a room made entirely of mullioned windows.  For the purposes of this post, that means that anything in the room gets not only full south-facing sun, but also east and west sun, as well.  The photos you’ve seen so far are of the side of the yarn which had direct south-facing exposure pressed right up on the glass.  The next series of photos are of the back side of the exposed yarn—the side exposed to normal daily levels of ambient light from the east and west windows.  You can just see the outlines of the direct-exposed areas.  It’s like the yarn has tan lines.  Look at this:

First Dyebath

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-25-17 PM

Second Dyebath (First Exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-26-42 PMPokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-28-01 PM

Third Dyebath (Second Exhaust)

Pokeberry Lightfastness Test Results 11-17-2012 2-29-23 PM

Pretty cool, huhn?  The first dyebath had almost no fading on the ambient-exposed side of the yarn.  The exhaust baths had very little.  I think this is a good sign that these pokeberry dyed yarns will stand up to regular wear in normal lighting.  I mean, it’s not like anyone is going to be wearing handknit items when the UV levels are crazy high, so I’m not terribly worried about it.  I’m particularly impressed with the cold dye process.  Not only did it dye awesomely, but it was the most lightfast out of the bunch, too.  The back side of the sample was as purple as the covered section.  It was just hard to get a good picture of it.

Next, I’ve got to get lightfastness tests of the raceme dyelots.  Gotta wait for more sun, though.  Until then,

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 8: Pokeweed Racemes, Take 3

Here is the third and final installment of this first round of pokeweed raceme dye experiments.  I think the racemes are so beautiful.  I’d say “otherworldly”, but it’s hard to think that of anything born out of Missouri Ozark clay and rock.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed (phytolacca americana)

Parts used:  The racemes (the part that holds the berries)

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, my friend Debbie’s yard, and the Farm

Yarn:  Mountain Meadow Cody, 100% wool.  I mordanted a little differently this time, opting not to follow any instructions other than those given by the seat of my pants.  I decided to use more vinegar, and pretty much did a 1:3 ratio of white distilled vinegar to water.  The reason for this is that in lieu of using straight acetic acid, I’m hoping the higher acid content will help with the fastness of this dye.  So I soaked 100g of wool yarn in a pot of 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water.  I heated the pot to 190F and held it there for an hour.  Then I let the yarn sit and cool in the mordant bath overnight.  The starting pH at room temperature was 3.1.  At 188.2F, it was 3.0.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I only used half of the yarn I mordanted for this particular dyebath, so 50g total.  I’m not sure of the exact amount of racemes.  I didn’t weigh them out, as this was done on a whim.  But I can tell you that when I pulled them all from the bucket, they easily weighed a pound.   I’m sure most of that was the vinegar that they absorbed., so I’m going to say maybe 100g starting weight, and next time I promise to weigh them out.

Extraction:   Chucked the racemes into a bucket and covered them in white distilled vinegar.  Put a plate on top to hold them down.  Left them on their own for a couple months.   As you can see, these didn’t leach out the way the other ones did.  I think had I put much more vinegar in, they would have.  They were pretty compacted in this bucket.

Dyebath:  After the recent success with the cold pokeberry dyebath, I knew that I had to try a cold raceme dyebath, too.  I strained out the racemes through a colander and reserved half of the liquid for the cold dyejar (the other half was used for the hot dyebath).  I added the premordanted yarn and brought the dyejar inside the house, because I was afraid it might freeze and crack if left outside.  I kept it covered with black cloth (actually, just a black shirt—sorry if that is less poetic) to block out the sunlight.  The yarn sat undisturbed for 9 days.

The results?

WOOT!!!  Slam dunk and SCORE!  Cold dyeing with poke is the way to go.

Here is a picture of all 3 pokeweed raceme experiments together:

Fascinating, don’t you think?  That such totally different colours could come from the same plant, the same part of that plant, on the same yarn, and with the same mordant—just because of a difference in the specific dyebath process.  Very cool.  So does anyone want to hazard a guess as to why the cold process put the red on the wool when the heated baths didn’t?  Next I’ll put samples from these 3 up for a lightfastness test.  Will be interesting.  Here’s to curiousity and experimentation!

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 8: Pokeweed Racemes, Take 2

You have seen the results of the first pokeweed raceme experiment, but that is not all that has been cooking!  Unbeknowst to you, I have been extracting a second bucket of pokeweed racemes!   :D  How cool is that?  Mas racemes.  Pretty fun.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed (phytolacca americana)

Parts used:  The racemes (the part that holds the berries)

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, my friend Debbie’s yard, and the Farm

Yarn:  Mountain Meadows Cody, 100% wool.  I mordanted a little differently this time, opting not to follow any instructions other than those given by the seat of my pants.  I decided to use more vinegar than used in the vinegar mordant for the pokeberry dyebaths, and pretty much did a 1:3 ratio of white distilled vinegar to water.  The reason for this is that in lieu of using straight acetic acid, I’m hoping the higher acid content will help with the fastness of this dye.  So I soaked 100g of wool yarn in a pot of 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water.  I heated the pot to 190F and held it there for an hour.  Then I let the yarn sit and cool in the mordant bath overnight.  The starting pH at room temperature was 3.1.  At 188.2F, it was 3.0.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I only used half of the yarn I mordanted for this particular dyebath, so 50g total.  I’m not sure of the exact amount of racemes.  I didn’t weigh them out, as this was done on a whim.  But I can tell you that when I pulled them all from the bucket, they easily weighed a pound.  But I’m sure most of that was the vinegar that they absorbed.  I’m going to say maybe 100g starting weight, and next time I promise to weigh them out.

Extraction:   Chucked the racemes into a bucket and covered them in white distilled vinegar.  Put a plate on top to hold them down.  Left them for a couple months.   As you can see, these didn’t leach out the way the other ones did.  I think that had I put more vinegar in, they would have.  They were pretty compacted in this bucket.

Dyebath:  I strained out the racemes and reserved the dye liquor, pouring it into the dyepot.  To this I added the remains of the mordanting bath.  The starting pH of the dyebath was 3.5.  I gently raised the temperature to a window between 175-195F.  At temperature, the pH was 3.2.  I held the bath in this temperature window for 2 hours and then let the yarn cool in the pot overnight.

The results?

Again, unexpected.  This time we had a much higher dyestuff to fiber ratio, but we still didn’t get the red that they dyebath seemed to promise.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I think it could be one of several things.  1)  Perhaps although the bath looks red, there really isn’t enough of that compound in it to dye the yarn?  2)  Although the dyebath never boiled, perhaps it would have preferred to stay under 190F?  Even the next morning, when I took the yarn out, the bath was still full of colour.  It just wasn’t on the yarn.  Will have to play with this more…  Anyway, I think it’s a lovely soft yellow ochre, and I’m sure I’ll find something nice to knit with it.

Here you can see it next to the all-in-one raceme skein from the day before.  I am surprised that the slight difference in dye methods yielded such different tones.  Or was it something inherent in that first batch of racemes collected earlier?  Could it be due to the complete leaching of those first racemes?  I’m not sure.  Two nice colours, I think, though.  I’m eager to see how their lightfastness test turns out…

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # 8: Pokeweed Racemes, Take 1

When I first started gathering the berries of the phytolacca americana, aka the glorious pokeweed plant, I threw the racemes into the compost heap after carefully removing all the precious berries.  Everyone says to just dye with the berries.  But I do so love to figure things out for myself, and besides, just because someone said so isn’t a great reason for doing anything, is it?  So when my curiousity got the better of me (although arguably, it makes me better, so I’ll keep it),  I decided to see if I could extract any colour from the racemes themselves.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Pokeweed, phytolacca americana

Parts used:  The racemes (the part that holds the berries)

Source:  My yard, the Haggencrone’s yard, my friend Debbie’s yard, and the Farm

Yarn:  Mountain Meadows Cody mordanted in vinegar.  I did the mordanting a little differently this time.  I basically mordanted in straight vinegar as part of an all-in-one dyepot.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  To be honest, I have no idea how many grams of racemes I had here.  I’d guess maybe 40g or so.  The hank of wool was 50g.  So, I probably did not get a 1:1 ratio.  But I really wanted to dye the whole hank.  It’s hard sometimes to figure out what to do with all those mini-skeins.  There’s only so much end weaving I can handle, lol.

Extraction:  For this first batch, I put the racemes in pure distilled white vinegar to cover and left them for about 3 weeks.

To my surprise, when I took the racemes out to strain off the liquid (and mostly just to see what was going on in there) I found this:

All of the colour had been leached out of the racemes and magically put into the vinegar.  Pretty damn cool.  Presto change-oh!  And all the colour is in the liquid.

Dyebath:  I decided to do this dyebath as an all-in-one, meaning mordanting and dyeing all in one go.  Why not?  After all, it just requires a vinegar mordant, and the dye liquor is all vinegar… just seemed to make sense.  I didn’t want to have to add any more liquid to the pot, opting to leave it just the vinegar dye extraction.  There was just enough room for the yarn to float around, and since the racemes were totally bleached out already, I did not bother doing a heated extraction with them.  The starting pH of the dyebath was 3.4.

I slowly and gently heated it up to a temperature window of 175-190F.  At a temperature of 188.9F, the pH was 3.1.

I kept the dyebath in this temperature window for an hour, turned off the heat, and let the yarn sleep overnight in the pot.

The results?

Not what I expected at all.  Did you see how red that dyebath was?  And yet the yarn came out this lovely soft peach colour.  It’s ok.  I’m sure I’ll find something peachy to knit with this.  :D  Lesson learned?  Waste not, want not.   Not every dyestuff makes a colour that you’d want to repeat, but to me part of the fun of this great dyeing adventure is exploring all the variables, going down all the roads.  It’s not just about the end result.  Yes, a beautiful skein of yarn is a sweet, sweet bonus, but if that’s all I wanted, I could go buy that at any yarn shop.  That’s not why I’m here, though.  So, I’ll keep my dyestuffs extracting and keep my pots simmering and maybe one day I’ll figure this dyeing thing out.  I’m going to have a lot of fun trying.

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow DyeTable # Two: Harvest Moon Dyeing

When better to dye with the bounty of a late summer harvest than under the harvest moon?   Saturday night I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning dyeing more yarn in the first exhaust of the pokeberry dyebath.   Ronin and the full moon kept me company.  We’re going to see just how much colour we can get out of this pot.

Dye Notes:

All of the dye notes for this first bath are identical in method to the first pokeberry dyebath.  The only notable exceptions are the following:

Yarn:  I used both Paradise Fibers 4-ply undyed wool and Mountain Meadow Cody.  Both were mordanted in vinegar as before, only this time because I was dyeing 250g fiber, I used 1.5 c. of distilled white vinegar.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I left the dyepot exactly as it was the night before, which means that it still had the 2800g pantyhose bag of pokeberries in it.  At this weight of fiber, our ratio is now only roughly 11:1, and that does not take into account that it is an exhaust bath which means a substantial amount of dye has already been used out of it.  So the actual ratio is incalculable.  By me anyway.

Dyebath:  The only difference with how I did this dyebath is that I paid closer attention to how much heat I actually had to give it to keep the temperature in the 160-180F range.  It was surprisingly little.  I brought the temp of the dyebath up while I mordanted the yarn in the vinegar/water.  Once the yarn was transferred to the dyebath, I kept a timer counting down 15 minute intervals.  From 180F, with no heat on the burner, it only lost maybe 3 or 4 degrees in 15 minutes.  So basically, I just fired up the campstove for 1 minute every 15 minutes to keep the temperature between 175-180F.  The rest of the time it was off.  This save SO MUCH propane.   Once it was up to temp, I only turned the stove on for 8 minutes in 2 hours.  And it allowed me to not have to worry about the pot overheating.  Instead I enjoyed the quiet of 2am and knit on my EarthSea socks.

After the 2 hour dyebath, I left the skeins in the pot to cool until morning—about 6 hours—and then hung them up to dry in the shade.  This time in the dyebath is about half of what the first skeins had.  This was not intentional, just the way my day dictated.

Then my friends Hollie and Patrick and I went to the Strange Folk Festival to check out all the crafts.  My friend E was there helping Martha with the baskets at her booth.  I wish I’d had my camera with me, because her booth and the baskets and carved gourds were gorgeous.  So inspiring.  E and I are planning to do a hickory stool workshop with Martha in the spring when the hickory bark is ready to harvest.  Am so excite!  After the festival, we came back to rinse the skeins—so they were hanging for about 7 hours.  They rinsed clean after only a few water changes.  They are slightly but noticeably lighter than what came out of the first dyebath.

Here are skeins from the original dyebath and the first exhaust bath together so you can see the difference.  We went from damson to raspberry.

I’ll be writing about the second exhaust bath in the next couple days.  I’m really interested to see how the reduction of dyestuff to fiber effects fastness.  I’m hoping these colours stick around for a long time.  I think they’re gorgeous.

Live happy, dye happy!

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