Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “plants”

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

 

 

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{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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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!

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 # Five: Red Onion Revisited

After seeing the awesome green that my class got from the red onion skin dyebath the other day, I didn’t have the heart to chuck out the exhaust.  I knew that most likely my results from the same bath, which had been sitting on the back porch for 3 days, would be quite different, but I had yarn already mordanted practically screaming at me to go play.  So, play I did.  Husband kept me company, which made the whole thing infinitely more enjoyable, and I really like dyeing, so this was pretty damn good.

And, in the middle of it all, we heard a loud noise, looked up in the sky, and saw this behemoth flying low, low, low overhead.  Unexpected, right?  It had propellers.

Alright.  Back to work.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Red onions

Parts used:  The papery outer skins

Source:  The restaurant where I work, my kitchen, and grocery store onion bins

Ratio of dyestuff to yarn:  The original dyebath was roughly a .75:1 ratio of skins to yarn.  If I were to go strictly by weight for this exhaust bath, it would be about 200g onion skins to roughly 36g yarn, which is a just about a 5.6:1 ratio.  However, since this is an exhaust bath, and I have no idea how one would even begin to calculate how much dye has already been removed from the skins, the weight of said skins is very nearly meaningless.  I wish there was some way to figure it out, but it is beyond my arithmetical skillz, of which there are few.

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

Dyebath:  Added just a little glug of white distilled vinegar before heating, thinking that lowering the pH might help me get the pinks that red onion are supposed to give in a more acidic bath.  The pH at room temp. was 3.6.  Once the bath came up to temperature (195F), I remeasured the pH to be 3.4.  Initially, when the yarn was added (at room temp.), it seemed to take in the claret colour.  But as soon as the bath started heating up, it became clear that it was going to turn toward yellow.  Eeeeeenteresting….  Held the dyebath between 175F-195F for 1 hour and then let the yarn cool in the pot for several hours.

The results?  A weird burnished golden green.  Here it is straight from the dyebath:

And here is the skein after being rinsed and dried.  That is NOT pink.

It’s hard to describe just what this colour is.  The picture doesn’t capture just how much of a strange, otherworldly green cast it has.  The best way to describe it would be to call it… tarnished.  I rather like it.  But it is not what I was expecting.

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Then later the same day another little hank of premordanted yarn called to me, and I decided to bump up the pH dyebath and try it one more time.  It still seemed to have so much colour in it.  So I added enough washing soda to get the pH up to 9.4 at temperature.  The colour of the bath immediately went from red to green.

In the original dyebath, after we got the pH over 9, we saw the same colour shift of the bath, but then it turned acidic (and red) again pretty quickly.  I assumed this was because I’d left the bag of onion skins in the bath and that they were still influencing the pH.  So this time, I took the bag out before bumping up the pH. I did, however, add a few fresh red onion skins I’d snagged from the restaurant this week.  No more than a couple grams.

But it didn’t make any difference.  Even though the bath stayed green for the hour that I heated it (in the same 175-195F window). after it was left to cool overnight, the next morning it was claret red again.

The results?  Not green.  Or pink.

So what was going on here?  I must begin with the disclaimer that I have no idea.  But if I were to guess, it would be that there are a couple different components to whatever compounds are in red onion skins that make them red, and that the uptake of those components occur at different times.  It is my understanding that if you take red onion skins and make a fresh dyebath with them, and leave the bath acidic, you can get pinks on your fiber.  If you take that same fresh dyebath and make it basic instead, you will get greens on your yarn—even though the bath looks red.   And that is exactly what happened with the original bath.   The kids got green yarn.  Very green.  Clearly, in the first exhaust bath, the green dye was all but gone.  In the second bath there was none left—even though the bath was alkaline.   So, I would venture to say that making the bath alkaline is what extracts the component that dyes green, and that it is taken up before the other components that dye either pink or yellow.  I would like to try red onion again and get pink from it, because I think this would help clarify what is happening chemically in this bath.  I’m really just guessing about all of it at this point.

Any of you have experience dyeing with red onion skins?  What do you think?

Live happy, dye happy!

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