Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “nature”

Morning Meditation

I was feeding the horses one morning when I saw this stump in the ground.  I went kicking around the stump and found that someone had, at some point, tossed several big rocks around it—probably when it was still a tree leaning over the paddock fence. Now they were half buried in the dirt and covered by tall grass. I began to dig them out.

What is it that makes a person meddle with things? What is it that gives us the desire to put our hands on nature, rearranging, ordering, moving and creating? I’ve long been captivated by the simplicity of balancing rocks, warmed by the familiarity of the form and message of inuksuks, and indelibly inspired by the art of Andy Goldsworthy. I am fascinated by art made from the most natural of materials. And so I lifted each rock and began to balance them on one another on the surface of the wood.

I was clumsy at first. Impatient. I stacked, the rocks fell. But after a bit, my hands understood the weight and heft of them. They began to call out their placement. Unmistakably.

The rocks speak. That is what my gut tells me, how I understand my interaction with this form and matter. Matter and spirit.  My cynicism argues, is it really the rock communicating its balance point? Or is it my small mind powering down and allowing intuition to hum into action, to pay closer attention to physical details? Is it my brain finally shutting up that lets me listen, to concentrate on a deeper level? Or is this a rare moment of experiencing the connectedness of all existence? Yes. Yes to all those things. That is my answer.

As I stack the stones, I move beyond my animistic awareness to the complexity of what is actually happening in front of me, what I am participating in:  balance. I move carefully, minding my breath, my posture. I am balance to create balance to have balance returned to me. That is the gift of stacking the stones: the act of balancing the external form creates balance within.

This exercise was so satisfying as I worked at it, that I told myself I would do it everyday as I waited for the horses to finish eating. I would explore all the different ways those same rocks could be balanced. But then after the last rock was placed, I stood back and thought instead that maybe I would not do this every day. That I would only balance the rocks when they fell down. In part, this was out of curiosity to see just how stable my structure was. To see if the balance achieved was precarious or sound.

And in truth, I liked the stack and didn’t want to take it down. Now, a month and a half later, it is still standing. Through the snow, rain, thunder storms, strong wind, and with horses galloping by.  They remain balanced as though some force stronger than physics holds them in place. Not that I think that, physics is enough for me, I am just amazed that I got them to stand for any length of time. So now I contemplate taking the rocks down, or going out to the field one morning and finding them on the ground. The magic dissolved. The lesson transformed. Now instead of balance, I contemplate impermanence. :)

 

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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

hamamelis vernalis 3-16-2013 12-21-42 PM

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.

 

A Hope-filled Plan: Dye Garden

For all the successes that I’ve had with welcoming volunteers into our yard, our raised bed gardens have failed miserably the last couple years.  In all fairness, the weather in St. Louis is shit for most of the “growing season”.  Last summer we had record droughts, a truly inhumane number of days over 100F, and record lows for the Mississippi river (which are still in effect).  I planted radishes in the beginning of June that finally germinated a month later and didn’t grow an inch until mid-September.  The harvest, if I’d picked it, would have come in October.  I kid you not.  Radishes typically go from seed to harvest in roughly a month.  That should tell you how bad it was.

So this year, I’m doing something totally different.  I’m planning a dye garden instead.  Who needs food, anyway?  It’s kind of surprising how few places have a fully stocked catalog of dye plants.  I ended up ordering seeds from 2 different places—The Woolery and Horizon Herbs.  After I’d already ordered from the other two, I found this shop.  Harold has a great assortment of seeds!  I look forward to ordering from this shop in the future.

Here’s what I got:

  1. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
  2. Madder (Rubia tinctorum)
  3. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
  4. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  5. Our Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum)
  6. Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus)
  7. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
  8. Dyer’s Woodruff (Asperula tinctoria)
  9. Woad (Isatis tinctoria)
  10. Weld (Reseda luteola)

I’m hoping to add black hollyhock, coreopsis, and blue false indigo to the list, as well.  To my knowledge, none of the above plants are native to my region, although many have been naturalized.  However, coreopsis (coreopsis tinctoria) and false indigo (baptisia australis) are. There is a variety of nettle native to North America, but I didn’t find it offered at either of the seed companies I used.  My hope is to eventually have a dyer’s garden that is at least in part native varieties.  I already have pokeweed, goldenrod, and elderberry growing in my yard, and I’m trying to figure out what else I can grow.  The majority of native dye plants from this region (that I know of) are trees.  Not the easiest thing to toss into an urban garden.  But I think this will be a good start.  I kind of missed the boat for planting native seeds this year—most need a good period of wet/cold to germinate, and the recommended time to plant is in December or the very beginning of January.  I am hoping to add a number of native varieties this spring, though, by ordering actual plants  The very excellent (and friendly) Missouri Wildflowers Nursery sells both seed and plants.  My wish list is loooooooooong.  Lol.

Now, where to put it all…

Do any of you have dyer’s gardens?  What do you grow?  Any growing tips?  I’d love to hear!

Live happy, dye happy!  And get dirty!

Transitional Winds

bryce canyon

Although I come from the West, and left a bit of my soul there to guide me home, I grew up in the old, worn down mountains of the Missouri Ozarks.  It is a land that is very changeable.  A land that like Crowded House sang about, can often have four seasons in one day.  It is now December, and although last week we saw temperatures in the 20s, yesterday was almost 70 degrees.  It will do this back and forth well unto January, when winter will finally decide to settle in for a month or so.

The weather here has never fit the model of the seasons that I was taught in school as a child—each season having its 3 months at the prescribed regularly occurring times.  Winter from December to February; Spring from March to May; Summer from June to August; Autumn from September to November.  No, our temperatures rise and fall on the thermometer with a mercurial playfulness that makes gardening, planning picnics, and even dressing a daily guessing game.

There is one thing that can be counted on like clockwork, however, and that is the wind.  I am an air sign, not that I believe in that kind of thing.  Mostly.  Even so, I have always had an affinity for all things air and a natural inclination for observing the moods of the wind.  One such observance is that which I call ‘Transitional Winds’, that is, the winds that blow the out the old and blow in the new.  This is something that I have experienced since I was a child.  They occur at specific times of year when the seasons are changing, and while it sounds a little woo-woo, it is a very real, observable, tangible phenomenon.  The wind becomes different.  It used to bother me, make me restless and unsettled.  That’s how I knew when they were coming—I’d get all jumpy in my solar plexus, and the hair would raise on the back of my neck.  I had a lot of cultural superstition and a mighty religious lens to work around back then.  The lens was not my own, but nonetheless made it hard to make peace with what spoke to me.  Things are much different now.

It also happens that as these Transitional Winds keep the wheel of the seasonal cycle shifting, they also typically coincide with major shifts in my life.  Maybe it’s coincidence.  Maybe it’s my brain seeking patterns where there are none.  Or maybe it is as I see it.  Either way, it is how I live it.  And this year’s autumnal Traditional Winds were no exception.  The thing about Transitional Winds is that you can either fight them and get blown to shit, or you can allow them to bring needed change in your life and use the time to examine and reevaluate what gets stirred up.  The only way to grow is to change.  All things are impermanent.  Transitional Winds remind us to shake up the spirit, to blow the cobwebs off the soul, turn things upside down, and get to work.

Early Morning Upside Down (triptych 1)

The most major change recently is that following my daughter’s decision to leave homeschooling so that she might attend a new charter Arts Academy, my son, out of the blue, decided in mid-October to do the same.  My kids are artsy, and they wanted both a new experience and to have the opportunities that a school with daily multi-discipline arts instruction could provide.  So, I went from living a decade of unschooling and progressive, child-led learning philosophy and education to having kids in public school (gasp!) and me looking for a day job in the span of one week.  Whoa.    And though I struggled with it for a good minute, seeing both of my kids doing well in said school, despite my continued disillusionment and disagreement with the American Educational System, has been very reassuring and rewarding.  Realizing that I am now free to pursue interests that I’d put on hold is also ridiculously exciting in a quiet, can’t-quite-say-it-all-out-loud kind of way.    As wonderful as homeschooling was, it was a tremendous responsibility—one that I must admit to bearing with difficulty at times.  Like every worthwhile thing in life, it was not always  cuddly puppies and sparkly rainbows.   I had to learn my unschooling mantra very quickly:  Observe, Reflect, Adjust.  It was a challenge to give two completely different kids with two completely different learning styles everything that they needed each day.  I did my best.  My degree and certification in Elementary Education was, contrary to what most people thought, often more of a hindrance than a help.  I had a lot to unlearn and relearn properly, you see.  Homeschooling was, however, a fantastic journey and one I’d do again in a heartbeat.  I think the Chickpeas would, too.

It seems that I am looking down the barrel of finding a new job, potentially a new career, and I’m totally stoked.  I’d feel conflicted about it, but the Chickpeas are happy with their choice, and that, it seems, was the key to my new-found liberation.  It is an amazing double truth of motherhood—from the moment your first child quickens in your womb, one full part of your brain is always on them, dedicated to their health, safety, and well-being; and when your children are happy, you can be happy, too.  Knowing that they are where they want to be—even if it was not where I imagined in a million years they would be—feels really good.  Not being solely responsible for their educations feels good, too.  I feel lighter than I have in years. Happy to just be Mom.

zo

So what is next?  Well, for a decade I’ve said that I would never go back to teaching.  And I meant it.  I have no desire to teach in a regular school setting, because we’ve got two very different philosophies of education, how children learn, and what is in their best interest.  Trying to fit in that system would require lying to myself and everyone else in ways that I do not find acceptable—which is to say, at all.  But I do love teaching.  Rather, I love helping to facilitate and guide learning.  There’s a difference.   I don’t want to waste a perfectly good degree—one that can give me a steady job (that is NOT waiting tables), a meaningful career, be a positive influence on the lives of children, and someday help us to retire.  So I started thinking about under what circumstances I would feel good about returning to the profession of teaching, and immediately I thought of the different types of “alternative”, progressive models of schools out there:  Reggio Emilia, Sudbury, free skool, and Montessori  to name a few.  I had studied, albeit briefly, a few of these different philosophies and methods when I was at University, but soon found that while my degree required that I know they exist, it did not require that I learn how to pursue working within those models.  In practice, it was actually discouraged, which is sad because I felt a real spark for these models even as a green teacher-in-training.   Now I have been revisiting these models with a different kind of experience under my belt, and I have a steadily growing realization that this is the direction I need to take.  As it turns out, my decade as an unschooler (which is its own story) probably taught me more about education, how children really learn, and the true role of a teacher than I ever learned in my degree program.   As I am relearning the tenets of these models, I’m realizing that I pretty much unknowingly gave my kids a Reggio Emilia and Montessori inspired education for the last ten years.   That makes me smile.

There aren’t very many “progressive” schools where I live here in the good ole Heartland, but that is sloooooowly changing.  I was very happy to find that there are several Montessori training centers right here.  I’m not only looking into adding a Montessori certification to my credentials, but I’ve been interviewing with a couple schools for assistant positions (all Montessori teachers have to start out as assistants).  I’m really excited about the potential for working within a school environment that is harmonious with my beliefs about education and child development.  Keep your fingers crossed.  Good things are happening.  Now I have the challenge of being patient, waiting for others’ decisions and seeing what opportunities pan out.

On other fronts, I’ve been spending a lot of time considering my new passion for natural dyeing and how to better integrate it with other aspects of my life that are similar—native gardening, sustainability, simplicity… I find myself wanting to more fully settle into these practices and flesh them out not only individually, but also to suss out how they can work together.  I’ve recently been inspired by the projects of others who are working to be more sustainable in their use of fiber and textiles—right down to the clothes they wear and what they’ll use for crafting.  I’ve got a lot incubating in my head about that.  I’ve also been following my usually dip into wintertime introspection and examining how I am living out my beliefs in my daily life.  There’s been more sussing out on a spiritual level about the connection between soulwork, physicality, and how one can be an atheist and a pagan-daoist-stoic all at the same time.  I finally made peace with the fact that I’ve known for decades what my path is, I just had to accept that it doesn’t have words, titles, labels, or names.  It is not tidy, but it is real, and my goal now is to find a voice for what I do, so that it can be outside my head, too.  Talking about things like ‘Transitional Winds’ is a start.   I’m thinking ahead to what the New Year is going to bring with an optimism that I haven’t felt in a while.  I feel firmly in my skin and happy to encounter new adventures.

Here’s to Transitional Winds and the lessons they bring.

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 # 7: Lychee LOSE & Walnut WIN

This whole dyeing thing never ceases to amaze me.  Just when I think maybe I’ve figured something out, the dyepot decides to teach me a lesson.

Call me grasshopper.

Back in May when I started the monster avocado pit extraction, I made another little experimental extraction on the side.  One day the kiddos were eating lychees, and I looked over and saw the pile of pits on the plate and a light bulb went off in my head:  if avocado pits can dye things, maybe lychee pits can, too!  So I took the pits and stuck them in a jar and covered them with ammonia and water just like I did for the avocado pits.  And you know what happened?  Let me show you…

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Lychee

Part used:  Pits

Source:  Grocery store/Asian market

Yarn:  Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool mordanted in 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  I used 18 lychee pits, which weighed out to roughly 54g.  The little skein of yarn was around 46g.  So I had slightly better than a 1:1 ratio, bonus points to the dyestuff.

Extraction method:  I left the pits whole and put them in a jar with a 1:1 ratio of water to ammonia.  Started getting colour pretty fast.

This is just on day two.  I added more pits over the next few days.

The extraction went from this clear red to couldn’t-see-through-it brown in under a month:

Total extraction time, approximately 5 months.  I occasionally opened up the jar and shook it up to oxygenate the solution.  I’ve read that it helps other extractions, so I figured why not.  It never molded or got funky.  Just got darker and darker.

Dyebath:  So the pH of the lychee dye liquor was 9.8.  The pH of my tap water is 8.8.  Together they made a pH at room temperature of 9.1.  I didn’t measure out the amount of water since it’s not supposed to effect saturation of the dye, but I’d guess about a gallon to a gallon and a half of tapwater to the one jar (maybe 12 oz) of dye liquor.   I added the yarn and brought it up to a temperature window of 185-200F for an hour.  At this temp, the pH was 6.6.  Isn’t it amazing how much some of these solutions drop when heated?  Maybe it’s not.  I’m not a chemist, so I don’t know why it happens or if it effects the dye results, but I’d like to know.  When I’ve got more time on my hands, I’m going to try to sort this out.  Maybe someone’s done some research on it already…  I did not add the actual pits to the dyebath since the dye liquor was so strong already.

I left the yarn to cool overnight.  Only that turned into 2 nights.  And when I checked on it, I was surprised by the utter lack of saturation of any good colour.  Hmmmm.

So I decided to chop up the lychee pits, toss them in pantyhose and add the to the dyebath.  I reheated the whole shebang again for another hour and left  it overnight to cool one more time.

Results?

Nothing.  Zilch.  Next to no colour at all.  WTH?

Rinsed and awaiting my disapproval.

Lesson learned?  Just because you have a super saturated extraction doesn’t mean it will dye anything.  Maybe I did something wrong?  Maybe some dyestuffs just don’t dye well.  Maybe this would have worked on silk or hemp better than wool?  I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.  I know that this lychee thing can work.  I just have to figure out how…  But listen, we can’t end on a lame bummer dye job.  Besides this wasn’t a total FAIL, because the yarn was pretty much ready to overdye immediately.  So overdye I did.

On to Walnut WIN!

The last time I tried dyeing with walnuts wasn’t so successful.  I didn’t realize that though the nuts and shells will give off colour,  it’s the green hulls that do the real dyeing.  It took a failed dyebatch to learn that lesson.  But learn it I did, and then I waited patiently for a new batch of walnuts to fall.  Every autumn, my Gran asks for help clearing her yard of the millionty walnuts that fall from her neighbor’s tree.  Usually she just chucks them back into her neighbor’s yard (which makes me grin), but this year I was only too happy to help.  I took home two 5 gallon buckets, two 2 gallon bucket, and 3 trash bags full of walnuts.  That’s a lotta nuts.  I made the mistake of setting them outside until I could soak them.  We’ve got very, very ballsy squirrels in the city.  They helped themselves to quite a few of the nuts, tearing right into the trash bags to get them.  So much so, that I finally made a peace offering and emptied the remains of the 3 trash bags under the tree where our squirrel family lives.  I figured, they’ve got to survive the winter.  I just need some dye to play with.  No contest.  I did keep the two 5 gallon buckets and filled them with water.  After the squirrels took all the nuts under the tree—ALL OF THEM—they actually started taking walnuts out of the water in the big buckets.  So I replenished those with what was left in the 2 gallon buckets and then covered them.  I don’t know if it’ll be squirrel proof, what is?  But it seems to have slowed them down.  Enough for me to get one batch of dye, anyway.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Black Walnut (juglans nigra)

Part used:  Green hulls

Source:  The Haggencrone’s yard

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

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  No clue.  I just poured about a gallon of the dye liquor out of the bucket.  Again, it’s about a 46g hank of wool yarn.

Extraction method:  This is a pretty fresh batch of walnut juice.  It’s only been soaking in water for about a week or so.  Doesn’t take long to get good colour of of the hulls.  I’m told, though, that letting it all mold and ferment just makes for richer, darker browns.  It’ll be interesting to see what I get as time goes by.

Could totally do some scrying in this pot.

Dyebath:  The pH of the dyebath at room temp was 6.2.  I heated the dyebath to a temperature window between 185-200F.  The pH at 198F was 5.9.  I held the dyebath in this temperature window for just over an hour and then let the yarn cool in the bath overnight.

The Results?

Mad awesome brown.  Here it is fresh from the dyepot, rinsed and hanging to dry:

And here it is after drying:

This looks a smidge brighter since it’s in full sun.  It’s actually a little darker than this.  I’m really pleased with the results.  I’ll do a lightfastness test, but anticipate that it’ll hold up pretty well.  I opted not to modify with iron, because I really like the colour as is, but I would like to play around with some iron in the dyepot and as an afterdip.  Now I have to figure out what to knit…

Live happy, dye happy!

At the Burrow Dyetable # 3: Children’s Class

Just finished teaching a children’s coop class on natural dyeing for my local homeschooling coop group. The kids were great, the timing went perfectly, and the dyepots were awesome.  In all, it was four hours of fun work. I am very pleased, and more importantly, I think the kids had a blast.

The Prep:

I pre-scoured, weighed and divvied, and pre-mordanted (8% alum/7% CoT) all the yarn, so we were able to jump right in.   Each child (and a couple parents) got a 20g mini-skein of yarn for each dyebath.  There were 9 participants and 4 dyebaths.  It was a lot of divvying and weighing and winding.  I did it in my pajamas in the wee hours.  Good times.

The Class:

We began with an introduction to natural dyeing:  types of fiber, dyestuffs, terms, safety, and a show-and-tell with fiber, dyestuff, and dyed samples.  I even made posters with illustrations and everything.  I love teaching.  I wish I had more time to do classes like this.

We dyed with black tea (English Breakfast, 20 bags), yellow onion skins (.75:1), red onion skins (just under 1:1), and I sent them home with a bonus black beans solar dyeing project. They had fun stuffing pantyhose legs with onion skins and weighing and calculating the ratios. They really liked getting to wear the blue gloves and using the Grackle & Sun super-scientifical gear—you know, the pH meter and temperature probe. Who wouldn’t? Lol. The real winner, though, was the awesome presto-change-oh! trick with the red onion skins. The magic of a little washing soda. Red dyebath, green yarn.  Show-stopper. :D

Quick scientifical aside here:  My tapwater is pH 8.8.  The black tea dyebath dropped to a 3.4.  The yellow onion bath went down to about a 4.1.  The red onion bath was made more basic with 1/4 teaspoon of washing soda which brought the pH up to 9.4, and that instantly turned the extraction green.  But later (after about 45 min.), the dyebath was claret coloured again.  So we remeasured the pH, and it was 3.5!  But the yarn still took the green colour.  Interesting that it dropped back down though.  Will have to play with this again later.  All the dyebaths were done as a combo extraction/dyebath deal.  The yarn and dyestuff was added at the same time.

In the down time, we took a tour of my yard and learned about various native dyeplants and their proper names. We also took a tour of the Grackle & Sun DyeTable (aka, my studio space in the garage). They called it my dyer’s lair. Funny.  And true. They loved all the different extractions and experiments going on.  I love to see the inner mad scientists of 10 year olds being engaged and encouraged.

The best part was seeing how excited they got about their successful dyepots. Mad skillz little dyers. I think a couple of them are hooked. They’re already asking for more classes and planning what dyestuffs they want to try out next. Total success. :D

The results:

Sorry for the over-exposed picture. I didn’t dye any yarn myself today, and so I tried to snap a quick picture before the kiddos had to go.  The green is actually greener, and the peach is actually browner. The yellow is pretty bang-on, though. I didn’t tell them what colour they’re going to get with the black beans though. I can just imagine the surprise when they see blue yarn. Good times. Love sharing this awesomeness we call natural dyeing.

Yellow Onion—Red Onion—Black Tea

Live happy, dye happy!

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