Archive for February, 2009

Part Three: Dyeing

February 25, 2009

Dyeing is kind of cool, because you can do it at any stage in the process depending on what results you want.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to dye before carding, because you can even out any colour differences and worry less about it getting all matted, and if it’s not too dirty you can even dye it before washing, and skip a whole step.  Although probably most of the time these days people get their wool already processed, so those two choices have been eliminated.  Anyways, dyeing at different times can give you different effects.  For regular repeating stripes, I’d do it in the yarn stage, with half the skein in one pot and half in another.  For one long shift from one colour to another, I’d probably do it after it had been knitted (or whatever) but you can also get that effect if you paint the roving (there’s a good article on how to manage it here).  For a really good, solid colour, dyeing in the wool is best (that’s where the phrase ‘dyed in the wool criminal’ came from – it means they’re a criminal all the way through).  For a speckledy tweedy kind of product, I’d dye in the wool, and then ply three (or four) different colours together.

In this case, I’m going to use logwood, a natural dye, mordanted with alum, which should give a nice rich purple that will go well with the green glaze on the teapot lid and the inside of the cups.*

Step One: Place wool in nylon stocking, to give it kind of a roving-like shape.  The stocking should help control the mass of wool so it will be less of a giant sticky mass (especially useful if I decide to throw in a skein of something else just for fun).  Don’t use your favourite pair – most things that dye wool will dye nylon, too.

Sexy Legs, er, wool.

Sexy Legs, er, wool.

Step Two: Weigh the fibre.  A good scale is one of those tools I am still sadly lacking, so to get an approximate weight, my genius boyfriend set up this genius scale:

Genius Balance Scale

Genius Balance Scale

Counterbalancing it with a known quantity of fibre gave me slightly more accurate results than the old “heft one in each hand and guess” trick.

Step Three: Soak in lukewarm water, with a little bit of soap.  The soap helps the water get into all the little nooks and crannies inside the stocking.  You have to soak it way longer than you’d think, all those little air pockets that make wool so warm are really good at resisting water.  And if it’s not wetted all the way through, the dye won’t get to the middle.

Step Four: While wool is soaking, make up the mordant solution.  Measure the mordant into a small container, add some hot water, then stir until it dissolves.  Pour this concentrated solution into your dyepot, with enough water for the wool to float freely.  Make sure that the water in the solution is the same temperature as the water the wool is soaking in, the shock of going from cold to hot quickly begins the felting process.  Most natural dyes require a mordant to make them light and washfast.  Different mordants are required for different types of fibre (primarily split into two categories – plant or animal fibres, like linen vs. wool).  They can also be used to change the colour of the final product.  Changing the mordant can allow you to get light pink to dark purple, or yellow to green or even black.  To get purple from logwood on wool, I’m using alum to mordant it.

Step Five: Add wool, begin heating.  DO NOT let it boil, the wool will partially felt in an icky, messy shape, and then you’ll have to start all over again.  Use a candy thermometer, if you have one, to keep track of the temperature, lowering the heat and/or removing the pot from the element if it starts to get too hot.

Mordanting

Mordanting

Step Six: After an hour of not-quite-simmering, remove pot from heat.  Let sit for about twenty minutes, to cool to handling temperature.  Hang until it stops dripping, but don’t let it dry all the way.  At this point, you can take a break and do the actual dyeing in the next day or two, but you should do it within 48 hours, and the wool should stay damp the whole time (wrapped in a wet towel should do).  At least, that’s what my instructions say, but I also know people who mordant lots of fabric or yarn at once and then just dye with it as they get the chance.  I personally have not experimented with either method to say for sure.

Dripping

Dripping

Step Seven: Extract the dye.  Some natural dyes need to be extracted, some don’t, it depends on what form you get them in.  Logwood sawdust just needs to be boiled for about two minutes.

Step Eight: Dye, yay!  Basically the same process as mordanting.  Put the extract in enough water to completely cover the fibre, at the same temperature as the wool already is.  Place the wool in the pot, and turn the heat on.  Again, don’t let it boil.  Not only do you want to avoid felting the wool, logwood is particular about the temperature, the colour will be dulled if it gets too hot.

Dyeing

Dyeing

Step Nine: After about 45 minutes, remove pot from heat.  Let cool, then remove wool.

Step Ten: Wash the wool – soak in water that’s the same temperature as the wool is, with a little bit of soap.  Soak again in plain water to rinse out soap and any extra dye particles.

Rinse

Rinse

Step Eleven: Roll in towel and squeeze out excess water, lay out flat to dry.

Step Twelve: Remove from nylon stocking.  I like to do this while the wool is still a little bit damp, to cut down on static issues.

*I’m using logwood extract from Maiwa Handprints.  This section is intended to provide some general procedure tips not  included in dye recipes.  For full technical instructions, see their handout here.

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Part Two: Carding

February 24, 2009

Now that I have some lovely dirt-free, grease free locks, they need to be processed.  There are several different tools that can be used to turn freshly washed wool into spinnable wool, and each has a purpose.  For this wool, probably the best thing for me to use would be wool combs, which look like a pair of sabre-toothed tiger paws (really!).  And apparently a tool so archaic they don’t even have a page on Wikipedia.  Umm . . .  here’s a pretty good picture. They are generally accepted as the tool for preparing wool for hand spinning – they will straighten the long fibres, sort out the shorter ones (from second cuts during the shearing or just broken hairs),and  open up the locks to allow the remaining vegetable matter and dirt to fall out.  Carding brushes are generally used on shorter staple fleeces, or the leftover bits from previous combings, for either spinning or felting.  Drum carders (hand-crank or electric) are the industrialized version of the hand carders, and will give you a batt, which can be turned into roving, which is commonly what you would buy in a spinning shop.  Lately there has been a bit of a fad using drum carders to create art batts (like this purty sparkley one) that are a combination of all sorts of fibres and colours and even some other materials that you wouldn’t normally think to spin.  But I’m getting off topic now, so back to it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any combs.  Yet.  So, on a tip from the shearer from whom I purchased the fleece, I will simply comb the wool with my carding brushes.

Carding Brushes

Carding Brushes

Observe the lovely pile of washed wool just waiting to be turned into a fluffy cloud of softness . . .

So (keeping in mind that this is in fact the WRONG way) here’s what I’m gonna do:

Step One: Pull a lock or two out of the bag, enough that I can hold onto it comfortably.

Step One-and-a-half: Pick out any big bits of plant.  This fleece doesn’t really have any, but if it did, I’d have to take care of them first.

Step Two: Holding the lock by the end, brush a couple of inches by the skin side.

Step Three: Reverse grip, hold onto newly brushed end, and brush out the tips.

Step Four: Place the now beautiful fluffy lock in a pile, put what’s stuck to the brush in the process-more-later pile.

Step Five: Repeat, lots and lots of times.

This is the first video I’ve ever done, so . . .  I’m sorry.

Next up:  Part Three: Dyeing

Dyeing Math and Terminology

February 22, 2009

Many of the people I know who are into fibre are not math people.    Just seeing all the % signs and cryptic abbreviations like “WOF” makes them curl up in a ball.  Well, not quite, but it does make something that should be enjoyable a little bit less so.  So to combat this terrible trend, I’m going to do my best to explain, in simple terms, some of the terminology used in dyeing and how to do some of the basic calculations required to get approximately the colour you want.  I’m mainly going to focus on the ones used for Procion MX dyes for cellulose fibres and Acid dyes for plant fibres, because they are the ones I’m the most familiar with.

WOF stands for Weight Of Fibre.  This is the first thing you measure, and it’s the number you base all of your calculations on.

DOS stands for Depth Of Shade.  Essentially, how dark do you want it?  A given fibre can only absorb so many dye particles.  Sometimes if you’re going for a really dark colour you pile in more dye than it can possibly absorb, just to be sure that each available site that a dye particle can latch onto is full.  The limit is different for each dye, so until you’re comfortable with the dyeing, you probably want to do a few tests at different depths of shade to see which one you want, especially if you’re trying to match a particular colour.  The instructions that come with your dye should tell you approximately what the percentage of the weight of fibre should be to give you light, medium and dark shades.  With Procion MX, for example, .5-1% DOS is light, 2-3% DOS is medium, and 4-5% DOS is dark.  Recipes will often leave off the ‘DOS’ and simply say something like “wool is usually dyed at 1% for a full shade.”  Or they’ll say “use 4-8% cochineal bugs to WOF.”  Which makes sense . . . until you start doubting and double-thinking, and then you get confused again.  At least I do.

Stock Solution is a pre-mixed solution of dye and water.  You cannot make a stock solution of Procion MX because of the nature of the dye – it will fix to the water particles, and by the time you stick your fabric in it a week later, there are no available dye particles left.  Acid dyes, however, do very well with a stock solution.  You can make a solution any concentration you want, but for ease of calculations I usually do a 1% solution – one gram of dye per 100 mL of water.  Then if I want to dye 42 g of silk to a 1% DOS, all I have to do is measure out 42 mL of stock solution, and I’m all set.

Percentages. Time for a bit of real math now, yes?  I’ve found that everybody has their own system of figuring out percentages of things, and you probably have already practiced this without thinking about it, whether you were calculating taxes on a bag of chips or figuring out what the actual price is on those shoes that are 30% off.  Some people count back decimal places.  Some people think better in fractions.  Some people even (and this one I’ve never gotten the hang of) use the % button on their calculator.  A friend of mine can only multiply anything in his head by adding.  I’m a convert-the-percentage-to-a-decimal-and-figure-it-out-from-there girl.  Sometimes it’s really easy to do in your head, like 5% 0f 500 g.  But then what do you do if it’s 12% of 368 g of luxurious cashmere (it’s fantasy land, why not make it good?)?  I’m going to go through a couple of different sequences of number-punching on a calculator so if it’s been a long time since Math 8 (heck, it’s a long time for me, and I’m pretty much the definition of a spring chicken) then hopefully one of these methods will stick in your head well enough that you don’t have to do it six times for each calculation just to be sure you did it right.

Method 1: Decimalize! Hey, let’s do my way first.  The way I do it is to think of the numbers not as percentages, but as decimal points.  So 12% is .12, 8% is .08, and 70% is .7.  The only time this way can be confusing is with percentages that are less than 10 or more than 100.  With less than ten, you have to remember to stick a 0 in front.  More than a hundred, you’ll have a whole number and then a decimaled number (437%=4.37).  To calculate how much dye you need to do 12% DOS on 368 g, you multiply the percentage-turned-decimal by the weight.  So the actual buttons you would push are:  [.][1][2][x][3][6][8][=] and it will tell you the answer! (It’s 44.16, I’m sure you’re just burning to know what it is, assuming you haven’t calculated it yourself already).

Method 2:  Divide and Multiply!*  Another method that I use sometimes, usually if I’m confusing myself with a percentage that’s greater than 100.  This way bypasses the convert-to-decimal step of Method 1.  What you do is take you WOF (let’s use 692 this time, just for fun), divide it by 100, and then multiply the answer by whatever percent of 692 you wanted.  Say, 423%.  The calculator buttons: [6][9][2][/][1][0][0][x][4][2][3][=]  . . .  2927.16!  So if your recipe called for 423% WOF dyestuff (hmm, must be a natural dye!) and you have 692 g of fibre, then you’ll need 2927.16 g of dye.    *You have no idea how hard it was not to type “Divide and Conquer”!

You want to practise either one of these methods or your own until you can do it quickly and easily.  Almost all dye recipes require you to calculate the weights of more than one ingredient, some go as many as four or five.  If you’re doing it for fun then there’s no big time crunch looming at you, but nobody wants to do something that makes them flustered and frustrated.

Colour Mixing. The last little bit that I’m going to cover is colour mixing.  Now, there are enough colours out there that you can dye any fibre you want and get almost any colour.  But sometimes you have a particular one in mind, that’s in between the shades that are commercially available.  Or you have a shortage of storage space and you only want to keep four or five colours on hand.  Or you just like the idea that nobody else out there will ever dye something quite exactly that shade of purple.  The trouble with mixing colours (as far as the math is concerned) is that now you’re dealing with a percentage of a percentage.  For example, you have a 320 g of silk hankies that you want to dye a really lovely olive green, to a DOS of 2%.  You calculate that out, and discover that you need 6.4 g of dye.  As it happens, you don’t have a pre-mixed olive on your shelf, but you do have yellow and black.  Well, you’re in luck – you know that you can get a nice olive green by mixing yellow and black in about a 9:1 ratio, or 90% yellow and 10% black.  The total amount of dye remains the same, 6.4 g.  Now you need to do a second calculation, to find out how much 90% and 10% of 6.4 are, to discover the amount of yellow and black each you’ll need.  The answer is 5.76 g of yellow, and .64 g of black.  You can do the same thing mixing two, three, even four colours together.

One last thing:  Keep records!  Keep sample books!  Try to always throw in a bit of extra fabric/yarn/fibre and stick it in a binder with a note of the fibre, the dye, and the colour ratios you used.  It will save you from extra work doing samples every time you want to dye something, you can just look in your book and think “well, I want it pretty much like that, just a bit darker (or yellower, or paler, or more intense)” and you can look at your numbers, fudge them in the direction you want, and odds are you’ll come out pretty close to what you were looking for.  Plus, if your best friend/daughter/boss loses one of her favourite mittens that you dyed for her, then you are much more likely to be able to replicate the colour if you wrote down what you did, rather than having to guess and start from scratch.

Do I do this?  Absolutely not.  But I did in school (’cause I had to) and I often tell myself off for not doing it now.  And it’s amazing the number of times I’ve pulled out my school sample books to peruse them for ideas.

Now, if just one persone reads this and shouts “Eureka!” (I’ll settle for “oh!” or “I get it now!” but eureka would be best) then my job here is done.

Part One: Washing Wool

February 20, 2009

First of all, here’s a taste of what raw wool looks like:

Raw Wool

Raw Wool

This is a fleece I bought last summer, from a Shetland/Cotswold crossbreed lamb.  It’s quite beautiful, and I’ve very much enjoyed working with it so far.  The staple (length of  the hairs) is quite long, 6-8 inches, with a moderate amount of crimp (waviness).  Very soft and silky smooth, and takes dye like anything.

Doesn’t look like much in this state, does it?

Raw Wool Detail

Raw Wool Detail

The first step of making this muddy, greasy, sweaty mess into something useful is washing it.  Washing both removes the dirt and some vegetable matter and cleans off the lanolin (sheep skin oils), which would inhibit take-up of the dye.  If it was still summer, I would consider washing the whole fleece all at once in a big tub in the back yard, but it’s still rather cold for that, plus I only need a small amount for this project, so I’ll do a few small batches in the kitchen sink instead.  (Really I should have washed it all at once when I got it to discourage moths, but I didn’t.)

Apparatus:  Strainer from salad spinner, large, deep bowl, old towel(s), Orvus Paste (or Ivory dish soap), raw wool.

Tools

Tools

Step One: Fill bowl with the hottest water from the tap (hot water melts and dissolves the lanolin).

Filling Bowl

Filling Bowl

Step Two: Fill strainer with dirty wool.

Filling Strainer

Filling Strainer

Step Three: Gently immerse wool in water.  Do not swirl, squish, or agitate in any way, just let it soak for 10-15 minutes.  Don’t wait so long that the water gets cold, or the lanolin will solidify back onto the wool.

Soaking Wool

Soaking Wool

Step Four: Remove strainer full of wool.  Pour dirty water onto garden or lawn.  Don’t put it down the drain, it is a) illegal (at least it is in my city), because it clogs them and b) unwise, because it clogs them.  Plus c) it’s good fertilizer.

Fertilizing Lawn

Fertilizing Lawn

Step Five: Repeat steps one through four until water is more or less clear.  For this fleece, I’ll probably do three or four rounds.

Step Six: Fill bowl with hot water as before, but also add a kettleful of boiling water (hotter will melt off more lanolin) and a small amount of Orvus Paste.  Gently stir the soap in last, if you add it first, you’ll get lots of suds that will take forever to rinse out of the wool.

Step Seven: Let sit as before, maybe a bit longer, but again, don’t let the water get cold.  Dump the water as before.

Step Eight: One more round, to rinse off the soap.

Step Nine: Let wool drain for a while in the strainer.

Draining wool

Draining wool

Step Ten: Remove wool from strainer, and lay out on an old towel.  Roll towels up and squeeze (don’t wring!).

Squeeze in towel

Squeeze in towel

Step Eleven: Unroll towel, transfer damp wool to fresh, dry towel.  If you’re feeling really fancy, toss the second towel in the dryer for a couple of minutes so it’s warm and will dry the wool just that much faster.

Step Twelve: Wait.  Cover with tea towels if you have animals that will hop up on the table and try to play with the fresh clean sheepiness (I’m looking at you, Opus!).  Again, if it was summer, I’d just lay it out on the lawn and the sun would dry it out MUCH faster.  Instead, I’ll probably have to wait overnight.

Drying Wool

Drying Wool

Step Thirteen: Marvel at the difference between the dirty wool and the clean wool.

Clean vs. Dirty

Clean vs. Dirty

Stay tuned for Part Two:  Carding!

New Project

February 18, 2009

The next several posts will be two projects I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  The first part is simple – I want to make a tea cozy for my boyfriend’s lovely little Japanese teapot.  It’s perfect for an afternoon’s worth of tea, but it needs some equally cute insulation to keep it hot for a couple of hours.

Tea Pot

The second part is more fun – I’m going to document the whole process, in detail.  Beginning with the raw Shetland/Cotswold fleece I got last summer (“Beryl’s ram lamb”) through washing, carding, spinning, dyeing, knitting, and probably felting the final product.  Maybe some embroidery.

*OK, I confess most of the reason that I’m doing the second part now is for a school blog assignment.  But still.  It will be fun.

Portfolio!

February 17, 2009

Most of my energy recently has gone into an application portfolio for art school, yay!  Which has, as of Saturday, been submitted, so I have time to do stuff for myself again.  For the curious . . . some pictures can be found here. I won’t say that I’m completely happy with the final results of my efforts (it was rather a last minute decision to apply, so I didn’t have time to make anything specifically for it and a lot of the pieces are on the older side) BUT . . . I did the best I could, now I just have to wait and see if they liked it or not.