So What’s Next? Part I

Part I – Yarn

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I’ve been thinking a lot about life. The universe. Everything. Towels. Towels that get you high. Towels that hitch you rides on spaceships. But I digress. I’ve mostly been thinking about what to scribble on this awesome blank page that is my life. Other than curse words and PENIS because, you know, I might still be 12.

I fired up the electronics brain again, and also fired up the dye pots and dyed a metric fuck-ton of yarn for Stitches West. So what’s up? Is it yarn? Is it engineering? For the love of Bob, what is it going to be?!?! As far as I can see it (and some days I can’t even see across my backyard), the plan is this. Yes. Yes is the plan. Doing things that I feel positive about, am excited about, doing things that I’m learning about. Because I’ve figured out that I’m kind of a learning junkie. If I’m not developing some new skill, or challenging my brain in some way, I get really bored and dissatisfied. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some solid repetition of things that I’ve learned to do well. I do! But constant repetition with nothing new kills me. I need variety.

Take yarn. Yarn is squooshy. Yarn is colorful! We make cool, three-dimensional things that we can put on our bodies – and lo! might even be functional! – out of yarn! Yarn is great. But as I was dyeing the metric fuck-ton, I remembered what I didn’t like about yarn. I didn’t like dyeing the same colors over and over. And I found that I tended to gravitate to the same palette again and again -the colors that I knew would sell, the colors that were predictable, the colors that were easy to make, the colors that I knew I wouldn’t screw up. They’re   delightful colors – I love almost every single one of them – but I felt like I was on a treadmill. With natural dyes especially, there are so many things you can try, so many variables. Every time I dyed a batch, I would think of a dozen other questions I had, experiments I wanted to do, things I wanted to explore. What if I used a different acid? What if I used a different reducing agent? What if I used a different species of plant? What if I used more of this and less of that? But the metric fuck-ton and Stitches West wait for no dyer. No time, just makes the pretty colors that you know will turn out well. Even then, there are guaranteed to be surprises that will completely muck with your schedule.


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I also learned something else – it was super fun to share the process of how I dye with people. If you haven’t already read it, I wrote a series of posts in the Stitches West Vendors Thread about each dye I used. The preparation, the boiling, the straining, and the yarn-coloring. The response to my posts, especially in person, was amazing. Far beyond what I had even hoped for in a tiny little corner in the back of my brain. So many of you came up to me and thanked me for sharing, it was just really sweet and completely made all the effort totally worth it. Thank each and every one of you so, so much. (And to the lady who works for Facebook who was interested in putting together a class but didn’t have a business card – info at alpenglowyarn eagerly awaits your email. Dorking out with other engineers about dyeing is totally my idea of a good time.)

I want to do more of these things. More sharing, more exploration. So I’ve made the decision to stop the production dyeing, and morph into something a little different. Clubs. That’s right, CLUBS. The c-word, the thing that has made several people fake their own death on the internet because it was just too much. Clubs. The cool thing is that I’ll have the opportunity to do a different exploration and theme with each one. To maximize the number of colors without making it stupidly expensive, each club would be a series of mini-skeins. So you would get 100 yds of 8 or 12 different colors that would all work together. You’d also get an article with each one, with a detailed account of how each color was made. Maybe sometimes, you’d even get mordanted yarn and some raw dyestuffs so you can try it at home. Sound like fun? Let’s see, which one of these should I do first? Tell me at the end of this post!

  • The Mythical Blue-Red. I managed to create it once and I’ve been trying to do it again for years, ever since it immediately sold out and people were pissed that I didn’t have the same exact red that the display shawl was knit out of. Seriously, I had to take the shawl down because it was causing too much trouble!
  • Madder Red. Related to the above, but different. What is the reddest shade I can coax out of madder, without making the wool harsh? Can I use chalk at all? How about no acid in the mordant bath? How about rubia tinctoria vs rubia cordifolia? Whole roots vs finely ground? Keeping the extraction bath under 160F or boiling the crap out of it?
  • Shades of Blue. How does indigo tinctoria differ from indigo suffruticosa? Does using thiox vs hydros affect the color? What’s the difference between 1-minute dips and 5-minute dips? What’s the difference between 1 dip and 10 dips? The list goes on, I could probably do several clubs with just indigo.
  • Backyard Sunshine. Yellows are the most prevalent natural dye and the easiest to grow. Weld, French marigold, Mexican marigold, chamomile, coreopsis, dyer’s broom, goldenrod. I’ve grown a bunch of this already, it’s just waiting in a dry bin for me to get around to playing with.
  • All Those Other Random Dyes I Have that I Haven’t Gotten Around to Trying. With lightfast tests. This is usually the piece missing from a lot of dye books. Some have this real boner for “dyes” that are hardly more than stains, that fade to brown and grey in under a year or with a few washes. Let’s look at some of these, and put them through their paces. Maybe I should do a half-price one called “Fugitive”, where the entire point is to use dyes that won’t last. Whoa. That would be crazy. Who would buy that?

Anyway, these are the ideas that fly off the keyboard in just a few minutes. I have tons more. You could spend your entire life experimenting with and coming up with processes for natural dyeing. People do!  I could. The fact is, I’m not exactly going to. I’m thinking of only doing 2-3 Alpenglow clubs per year, and 2-3 collaboration clubs with other dyers or businesses. Wait a minute, do you know about Among Friends? It’s an amazing group that I’m thrilled to have recently contributed to (and hope to again!). It’s run by the fantastic women behind Knitted Wit, Sincere Sheep, and Spark!, and the whole idea is to put together themed kits from a few different dyers and designers each time. With awesome, really cool, side-goodies. Go sign up for one now. I promise you will not regret it!

Where was I? Right. Spending less time on yarn. And more time on??? Electronics, duh! I think I’ve already rambled enough for one post, electronics is a whole ‘nuther topic worthy of its own post. And I totally promise that I will not be George RR Martin and make you wait for 5 years for Part II. (TV series coming soon! Now with EVEN MORE BOOBS!)

Where the hell have you been?

Seriously, WTF?

Stitch marker commentary provided by Knitifacts

Honestly, the first thing that popped into my mind for this post title was “Back in the Dye Life Again”. But then I realized I would be quoting Steve Winwood and I am way too freakin’ young to be that much of a fogey. So instead I went with profanity, that and beer are always a good choice!

But we have a question at hand – where in the hell have I been? It’s been almost 2 years since I updated this blog, DOH! Well, I really have no excuse for the first half of 2012. I dyed a lot of yarn, did a lot of shows in California, and was just generally pretty busy with yarn. Until the summer, when a friend called and I decided to change my entire life all at once. The short version is that he asked me, “Hey, wanna join my startup?” and I said “Hmmm….OK!”

That really is quite the oversimplification, though. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I really, really, REALLY loved living in San Luis Obispo. It was the first place I felt I had a community and a home. It was small enough to make me feel like I knew everyone, but big enough to be interesting. And there were hills without houses that you could see from everywhere around town. And the weather was nice. And the rent was cheap. (Though I didn’t appreciate that until I moved to Mountain View! Holy Shitballs is rent expensive in the Bay!) Anyway, I was Happy. I wasn’t making any money (newsflash: it’s incredibly hard to make dyeing yarn pay the bills, much less pay for anything else), but I loved my life. Honestly and truly.

And then this asshole from college calls me up and has to ruin everything. :) I kid, but that’s a little how I felt. A smidge angry at having to make a really hard decision. Risk my happy life to do something new and uncertain, or risk staying where I was and bypassing a unique opportunity that had the potential to be awesome. What it came down to was one simple thing: if I said no, I would always wonder. And that I just couldn’t handle. I knew I would always ask myself “What if…?”

It’s true that we fear change. I feared it a lot. But fearing something kind of makes me angry. It kind of makes me committed to overcoming that fear. So I said fuck that, I’m lookin’ you straight in the eye, Change. Come and get me.

And ohhhhhhh, it did with a vengeance. New job, new location, and new boyfriend all within a month. It was crazy, really really crazy. Crazy fun, crazy exciting, crazy exhilarating! Crazy exhausting too. I don’t even know where the rest of 2012 went, I blinked and it was 2013. Actually, I pretty much blinked and it was summer. Work consumed every ounce of energy I had. I became a hermit, I didn’t visit with new Bay Area friends, I hardly kept in touch with old SLO friends, I didn’t make any new friends. I’m pretty introverted at my core, and at the end of every day, I had no energy for interacting with people. I barely had energy to make a pizza or a salad, and sit in front of the TV and watch something really really stupid that didn’t take any brain power (oh CSI, thank you for a year of brain-dead zoning out).

I found that I missed making stuff. This was the first job that was 100% management, where I never created anything physical. Well, it turns out that I have no sense of accomplishment or fulfillment when I’m not either: A) making a physical thing, or B) making a physical thing go. I also found that I really like driving the bus. I’ve always worked in small companies, and the great thing about small companies is that you have a bigger impact on projects and the company itself. But after 3 years of being my own boss and having my own (albeit one-person) company….well let’s just say that I like being the boss. I like making the decision of what direction to move in, I like doing what I think is right.

The other thing I really missed was lifestyle. Working for myself, I could go grocery shopping in the middle of day when the stores were quiet, and then work until 9pm at night. I had almost completely merged life and work. I had no concept of weekend and weekday anymore, I did personal stuff and business stuff all day every day. I know that’s probably not for everyone, but it totally worked for me. I rarely got burnt out, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like personal tasks were these awful chores that took away from my preciously hoarded free time. (Well, except for laundry. Laundry is always a chore.) When I went back to a “normal” workday, I hated it. I also missed SLO something fierce. The Bay is big and busy, and doesn’t fit me well.

After a year, it simply became time to move on. I needed personal fulfillment again. I needed to do technical work BADLY, I felt my brain was rotting from pushing Google documents around and going to meetings all day. There was a good stopping point for my job in late September, just after we delivered the first new unit to a paying customer, and the next phase would be mostly planning. So, I stopped. And promptly moved in with my boyfriend, because after the previous year, one huge change just wasn’t enough. ;)

So here I am! I’m in Redwood City now, even though my website still says that I’m in San Luis Obispo. I haven’t really had the time – no – I haven’t really had the heart to change it. And it doesn’t lie – all that yarn was absolutely dyed in San Luis Obispo. I haven’t dyed a single thing since moving up here over a year ago. LAME!

But that’s all going to change, right about now. The house we’re in has a huge backyard with a gazebo which just screams DYE YARN UNDER ME NAO! I just finished an inventory of my dye shop (OK, so it’s currently a storage unit) and I have a fair amount of undyed yarn and natural dyes. So my current mission is Wrap-Up and Re-Evaluate. Stay tuned for more relevant info about that mission. I swear, I SOLEMNLY SWEAR I WILL WRITE IN MY BLOG REGULARLY.

I know what you’re wondering. Gee, it sounds like you weren’t real happy, do you regret your decision? I can honestly say NO. No, I don’t regret my decision one bit. What I would have regretted until my dying (no “e” for once) breath, was never having tried.

A Day in the Life of Big Fat Alpaca

Psst…want a behind the scenes look at how yarn is made at a mini-mill? Come on, follow me! Mette of Ranch of the Oaks was kind enough to take many of these pictures during several steps of the process.

First, the fiber is washed in a special non-agitating machine, then set on a mesh rack to dry. I don’t have any pictures of this because it would be rather like….watching fiber dry.

The first fun step is going through the picker. This machine picks apart the fibers, opens up the locks, and fluffs it up. Locks go in, fluff comes out!

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Conditioning oil is then sprayed on the fiber – I know, weird right? You just washed it and now you’re spraying oil on it? This helps keep the static down, and keeps the fiber from sticking to the machines during the rest of the process. Then chunks of fiber (see how much fluffier they are?) are sent to the fiber separator.

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This machine gets out more vegetable matter – oh how those alpacas love to roll and get dirty! – as well as shorts and second-cuts for shearing. It can also be used to dehair and separate downy undercoats from coarser outer coats of other fleeces such as pygora, but requires many passes. Typically, a run will go through the fiber separator twice. Unless you’ve bought fleece that is riddled with vm…ask me how I know! I’m much pickier about my alpaca fleece nowadays. It wasn’t easy, but I now have the willpower to refuse the softest fleece if it’s chock full of hay and stickers. :) Anyway, this is the waterfall of fiber that comes out of the fiber separator.

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The next step is the carder, these are pix I took from a different alpaca run. The carder brushes the fiber and funnels it into a strip of roving. Consistency is important at this step – the more consistent the roving produced, the more consistent the finished yarn will be. The carder operates at a constant rate, so the thickness of the roving at the output is completely dependent upon how much fiber you feed into it. You’ll notice the blue stripes on the conveyor – these are marked so the operator can spread out a consistent weight of fiber between each stripe. To make roving for a bulky yarn, 3 oz of fiber might be laid down at a time. For a lace yarn, 1 oz of fiber might be laid down.


The carder consists of one large central drum, surrounded by 6 pairs of carding rollers. The large central drum really just conveys the fiber from roller pair to roller pair – the pair do the actual carding. You might think that the carders align the fibers, but they don’t. They really just separate them and create a consistenty fluffy sheet. The fiber orientation is still pretty random in this sheet – meaning some are parallel, some are perpendicular, and many are at all sorts of angles and orientations in between. Here’s the roving coming out of the carder:


Do you see where I’m going with this? Because the fibers aren’t aligned, lots of air is trapped in the roving. This is considered a woolen preparation. Most yarn that is mass produced, that you buy in your local yarn store, is spun from a worsted preparation. It goes through a commercial combing process – different machines with different actions prepare the fiber so that each one is parallel to the next, any fibers of inconsistent length are removed, and the resultant top (not roving! Roving = carded prep!) also goes through a straightening and steaming process during which much of the crimp is flattened out. This type of prep is done so that the spinning is as consistent as possible, and it makes a very compact and durable yarn.

Are you starting to see some of the differences? Neither is right or wrong or good or bad, they’re just different! There are many different ways to make yarn, and it’s great to explore them all! If that’s even possible, but I’m working on it. :) Anyway, yarn made from a woolen prep (that’s the carding process that I’ve photographed above) is going to be lofty, airy, but is going to be a little more variable in texture and thickness. It’s also going to retain a lot of the characteristics of the original fiber – since the roving isn’t straightened or steamed before it’s spun, the resulting yarn is pretty lively. Yarn made on a large scale from a worsted prep (the combing & the steaming) is very consistent, and tends to be more compact.

Have your eyes glazed over yet? Or are you salivating and considering buying a spinning wheel so that you can experience all of this fiber wonderfulness for yourself? Enabler, me? Never. Anyway, MORE PICTURES!

A hand-spinner could take roving straight from the carder and spin it forever in eternal bliss. But unfortunately, machines aren’t as good as a hand-spinner. Your hands will automatically adjust if the roving is slightly thicker or thinner, and will create a pretty consistent yarn no matter what. A machine can’t tell the difference, so we have to feed it the most consistent roving we can. One way of making roving more consistent is combining it with another strand of roving – the thick and thin spots of one tend to even out the thin and thick spots of the other, and the result is more even. It’s combined at the draw frame – each roving is drafted a little separately, fed together, then drafted a little more together. Below you can see 2 sets of 2 strands of roving going into the drawframe.

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Here (different run) you can see the 2 sets coming out of the drawframe as single rovings.


Now, since we’re further aligning the fibers in this step, we start to leave the realm of a fully woolen preparation. The fiber orientation is still quite random, but not as random as it was before. I don’t think that it’s wrong to still call it a woolen prep, as it’s just a smidge off (and there’s endless debate over the precise definition of these words – some feel that the only true woolen prep is a hand-carded rolag). But you can call it a semi-woolen prep if you like. Clear as mud, right?

And finally, the spinner! These pics are from a day that Mette was spinning quite a large batch – all 8 spinning heads were going at once. From the back, roving goes in:


And at the front, yarn comes out!


For my Big Fat Alpaca run, she only had 2 spindles going at once:

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Now, to further blur lines between woolen and worsted, this yarn is essentially spun short-draw – there is no twist in the zone between the drafting rollers. So a woolen prep, spun with a worsted technique….semi-worsted yarn! No, semi-woolen! No, woolsted! No, worsten! I have an idea – LET’S JUST CALL IT AWESOME.

Now, we have bobbins of freshly spun singles. Let’s ply! The two singles are twisted together in the opposite direction at another machine, which only plies.

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A close-up of the actual business:

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The result:

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And steaming! Which I had to take a quick video of to show you the whole shebang.  This evens out and relaxes excess twist energy.

Leaving you with….ta-da! A cone of beautiful yarn.

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You might think we’re done there. Well, Mette is, but I’m not. I then take the cone of yarn, wind it into skeins, tie it up tidily, and wash it. Why wash it? The cone is wound under tension, so the yarn will be a little stretched out when first skeined. Washing it relieves that tension, and makes is sproing back up again. Plus, remember when we added conditioning oil in one of the first steps? That’s still in the yarn. The yarn is also a little dirty – even though the first step was washing the fleece, the fiber has been picked, separated, carded, and fluffed many times, all which helps loosen up dirt that was initially trapped in those locks.

So I wash, dry, hang in the sunshine, label, and presto!

Yarn, ready for whatever you have in mind.

I should be…

  • Taking photos of yarn
  • Updating my website
  • Endlessly tweaking my website to make it better
  • Updating my yarns on Rav
  • Updating my projects on Rav
  • Figuring out sales tax for last quarter
  • Sending out a freakin’ newsletter since it’s been…what? Yeah, you probably didn’t know I even have a newsletter. Me neither.
  • What I am doing:

  • About to graft together the hood on my Vivian
  • Watching interviews with Lady Gaga on the internet.
  • Vivian Hood (Medium)

    Hey, don’t judge me on that last one – I blame my fitness teacher Michele for getting “Bad Romance” massively earwormed into my brain yesterday while doing a bazillion squats. Actually, to be totally honest, I think Lady Gaga is pretty damned talented. And I do like her Honeybadger doesn’t give a shit attitude.

    That said – GRUNGE 4EVER!!! I’m going to see the Foo Fighters tomorrow at the Forum in LA and couldn’t be more excited about it. I’ve been listening to their new album and watching videos on YouTube for a few days now. They are so goofy and awesome, I love you, Dave Grohl. LOVE YOU.

    Anywhoo – knitting, what? Well, since the weather started to turn chilly (until a heatwave decided to roll through – supposed to be 96 today, WTF?), I took my Vivian out of hibernation. (Which is being knit out of the blue yarn pictured in the blog header.) I set it aside for a few months since A) It was too darned warm to contemplate serious wool sweater knitting, and B) Once I completed the shoulders, I felt the waist was too high. So I busted it out again, tried it on again, took it to a few of my knitting groups, and got some opinions. All of which were along the lines of: “It looks great, WTF are you talking about?” And now that’s it’s sat for a while, it looks less short to me too. And it feels pretty nice when I have it on. So I decided to stop being such a stupidly picky perfectionist and just finish the damned thing already. I knit the remaining few rows of the hood last night, and now all I have to do is graft it together and install the zipper. Those are 2 huge things – the grafting is in cables & seed stitch, and I’ve never put in a zipper before – but I’m gonna power through them. Maybe even be done by the end of this weekend!

    There was another impetus for me to pick up the sweater again, which was reading Yarnagogo’s book A Life in Stitches. I was recently up in Oregon for OFFF, and hung out for a few days after to visit some friends. One of them told me that I had to go to Powell’s Books, and boy, was she right. It’s giant, a full city block, and it has its own map and information desks sprinkled throughout. I walked in, and was looking up with big wide eyes at the sign with all the subjects and their locations, when a nice voice asked, “Can I help you find something?” I turned around to the woman at the information desk and said, “Um, I don’t know. It’s my first time here. Maybe textiles?” She pulled out a map and gave me the quick overview, pointed out the textiles section (just through sci-fi, perfect!), and I noticed she had a knitting book in front of her. I excitedly asked, “Do you knit?” At which point she actually looked a little embarrassed and said, “Yeah, I knit.” I gave her a smile and said, “Me too, I actually have a business hand-dyeing yarn.” But she still looked a little uncomfortable, which seemed odd and made me uncomfortable, and so I didn’t bust out a business card and instead headed towards sci-fi and the coffee shop.

    Far from being giant and overwhelming with largeness and fluorescent lighting, like you might expect for a giant bookstore that takes up an entire city block, Powell’s is cozy and intimate. There are several floors and rooms, each one having a different subject. So I wandered through the sci-fi room and felt like I was in my own little geeky heaven. I went to the textiles section and found some awesome old books and pamphlets on natural dyeing. The other great thing about Powell’s is that used books are mixed right in with new ones, so all available knowledge on a subject is in ONE place. Brilliant!

    Anyway, I was wandering around with a 10-mile stare (have you ever seen people at the Stitches West Marketplace for the first time? Kind of like that!), just reveling in the fact that I was in a giant repository of human knowledge on just about every subject imaginable. And then, as I was scanning through the spinning books, I saw Abby’s Respect the Spindle. And I thought “Man, how cool is that. Someone I know has added to this great repository, has made a meaningful contribution to the sum total of human knowledge, and other people can come here and read and learn from her.” It almost made me want to buy the book again. And then I saw the latest issue of Spin-Off and thought about Jacey and her new book coming out. And then I thought “Hey! I haven’t read Rachael’s latest book!” Yes! Something I can buy from a person that I know! But wait – would that be in autobiographies or knitting or ??? So I went to the nearest info desk and the clerk looked it up for me. “I like the title,” he said. Yeah, me too. He directed me back to knitting, scan, scan, scan, scan – there! And I picked up a shiny new book, written by someone I’ve actually met and hung out with, and took it to the checkout counter with a silly grin on my face.

    It’s hard to articulate why that was such a neat experience. First, there was Powell’s. Instead of being some giant warehouse where everything looked the same, I instantly felt at home and like this huge place was my bookstore. Then I had the personal connection of knowing a few authors, which made purchasing something truly enjoyable. I was happy to be giving my money to a cool place, and know that a person I cared about was going to benefit from my small action. And at the same time, it was like a big FU in the face of giant chains and corporate branding and the growing homogeneity of our culture. My experience was actually personally relevant, suck on that Borders and Barnes & Noble! And there was also a smaller, and perhaps futile FU to the concept that books are obsolete. I’m a big technology whore, and I love that Kindles and iPads and tablet computers exist, but there’s nothing like browsing through an actual store and holding a physical book in your hands. Smelling the (probably toxic) page fumes. It’s just magical.

    Ahem. Where the hell was I? Inspired to knit sweaters, right! Well, in Rachel’s book, she talks about what was happening in her life at the time she was knitting certain things, and how those are intertwined. What I got out of all this was Damn, that girl has knit a lot of sweaters. Sweater knitting apparently is not a big deal for her. And then this giant lightbulb went off and I thought, “Shit, sweater knitting doesn’t have to be a big deal for me either. I’m the one who makes it a big deal just by thinking it’s a big deal, and you know what? I can control my own damned thoughts!!!

    So you heard it here first, folks. Sweater knitting – no big deal. I have a crapton of yarn, I know how to freakin’ knit, all I have to do is do it. So I’ve actually been using Ravelry to – gasp! – look up patterns lately, instead of drama. :) After all, Winter Is Coming.

    Never Not Knitting Podcast, Episode 56!

    Hey, all! I’m featured in the latest episode of the:

    NNK Podcast Logo

    Podcast, #56! I was thrilled when Alana asked me to be a sponsor, and it’s just plain awesome to be able to share the story of my Small Farm Yarn with everyone.

    There’s even a giveaway of an Alpenglow Yarn sampler – enter a comment on her blog here for a chance to win! And let me just say, the comments have totally made my year. I have read each and every one of them (and continue to check and read the new ones!), and I’m incredibly touched and a bit overwhelmed by all the excited and glowing responses. It’s simply amazing and wonderful to have that kind of feedback, and I wish every comment had a love (1) button because I would click them all.

    If you’re checking out this blog because of the podcast, you can follow Alpenglow Yarn in a few ways:
    Friends of Alpenglow Yarn group on Ravelry
    curlie or Alpenglow on Ravelry
    Alpenglow Yarn on Facebook
    Newsletter signup (I don’t send out many of these, I promise!)

    Thank you all so much!

    Home-grown Weld

    Funny story. So I’m growing weld for the first time, which is a dye plant that gives the most light fast yellow known. It shot up stalks and was taller than me, the little yellow flowers were starting to open. I wondered when the heck I should pick it, so I did what anyone with a computer does – I Googled it. And I became a bit confused by all of the hits for marijuana cultivation on the first page of results. (Get it? Hits? Ba-dump-chhhh!) At which point I notice the one-liner below the search box:

    Showing results for when to harvest weed. Search instead for when to harvest weld.

    Um, yes, please search instead…..

    Anyway, opinions seemed to vary on when to harvest weld (imagine that), and I also heard from another dyer that plants in crappy soil that only grew to about 2 feet tall yielded the best dye, and larger plants were likely to be quite weak. Hmmm. My plants were a bit over 2 feet tall….these are the couple I left after harvesting 4 more just like them:

    I cut off the flowers, put them in a paper bag, and hung the stalks upside-down in a dark place to dry. I left them for about 2 weeks. The flowers were already separated, I further separated the leaves, the remaining small stalks, and the large main stalks. Time for a test! Here’s the relevant data:

  • Yarn was superwash merino
  • Mordant was alum
  • Weld used at 50% WOG
  • For those not familiar with natural dyeing terms, WOG is “Weight Of Goods”. In other words, the amount of weld used was 50% the weight of the yarn dyed, or 50g of weld per 100g of yarn. My 5 batches were:

  • European dried weld, what I normally purchase and use
  • IMG_6593

  • Home-grown weld large stalks (not pictured)
  • Home-grown weld small stalks
  • IMG_6592

  • Home-grown weld leaves
  • IMG_6594

  • Home-grown weld flowers
  • IMG_6595

    And the extraction & dyeing process I used:

  • Soak weld in water overnight
  • Soak test skeins in water overnight
  • Put weld and water in a stainless steel pot, bring to boil
  • Boil for 30 mins
  • Strain out weld
  • Add wet test skein to hot dyebath, leave to dye/cool overnight
  • Normally I’d be more conservative about adding cold yarn to hot water – with minimally processed wools, it’s a recipe for harshness, if not outright felting. But these were small test skeins, superwash wool, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of effort on cooling the dyebath, since I was also dyeing production batches at the time. So I didn’t really care if they lost a little hand.

    And the results!

    IMG_6606 (Large)

    IMG_6601 (Large)

    Going from most saturated (left) to least saturated (right) in both shots above:

  • Home-grown flowers
  • Home-grown small stalks
  • European dried weld
  • Home-grown leaves
  • Home-grown large stalks
  • So…I have to say I’m pretty stoked. I got what I’d consider really good color from my first crop! The flowers and small stems were definitely worthwhile, and the leaves were about on par with the European dried weld I had. The large stalks aren’t really worth the effort, I’d say they have about equivalent color to a typical exhaust bath.

    As far as when they were harvested…well, they had been flowering for the better part of a month, and the flowers near the tops of each head were just opening. Plants were about 5 feet tall, and as you can see in the very first pic, had one main stalk with many sub-stalks and flower heads. Another very interesting thing is that all of these plants are less than a year old. This is a little strange – weld is supposed to only form basal rosettes the first year, like so:

    Weld rosettes (Large)

    I planted these in July of last year, so I guess you could argue that it’s the second growing season and they’ve seen one “winter”. But, I planted more seeds in early April of this year, and a few of them are now stalking in their first season:

    Weld small stalk (Large)

    San Luis Obispo does go hot/cold a lot in the spring and fall. It’s not unusual to have a week of 85-90 degree weather followed by a week of 60 degree weather. So I think the temperature swings faked them out into thinking they had seen a “winter”. Speaking of “winter” – it does dip below freezing at night, but a high in the 50s would be a pretty cold day. I shut off the sprinklers between November and February this past year, and the weld rosettes were overgrown by coreopsis and marigolds. So I pretty well neglected them for about 4 months and they survived and dyed splendidly.

    The moral to this story – JUST GROW IT! Seriously, you have nothing to lose and weld is spendy stuff, so there’s a lot to gain. As you can see from these last 2 pictures, I’m planting it in whatever space I can around the house and it seems to be doing well.

    Where you can buy weld seeds:
    Thyme Garden Herbs
    Sand Mountain Herbs
    Alchemy Works
    Earth Arts
    The Woolery
    Horizon Herbs doesn’t carry weld, but carries a lot of other seeds and even madder seedlings in season.

    Do note that the proper name for weld is Reseda Luteola. The main dye compound is luteolin, which is the most light fast natural yellow. There is also a species of plant called Reseda Lutea, but this is not true weld and contains zero to very small quantities of luteolin (Cardon, Natural Dyes, pg 171). So make sure you get the right stuff!

    Happy growing!

    The Dye Garden

    I’m so excited – I have seedlings! They’re so fragile and green, I check on them every morning over a cup of coffee. Warmer days are finally here, and these 3 madder starter plants I got from Horizon Herbs are really taking off.

    Madder seedlings (Large)

    And I have a few that I started from seed just breaking though the ground!

    Madder Seedling 2 (Large)

    I’m a long way from growing enough of my own dyes to actually make an impact on my dyeing, but it’s fun and really rewarding to grow a few plants. I’m learning a lot and who knows? Maybe someday if I have access to enough land, I could have a dyeplant operation and grow enough to supply multiple dyers. It is incredibly difficult to get natural dyes, and they are very expensive. How cool would it be to having a dyefarm operating in the US where you could buy madder, weld, indigo, and a host of other plants….

    Ok, back to the current reality. Check out my weld from last year! I seriously did not water this at all over the winter, ignored it for months as it was overtaken by marigold and coreopsis, and look at it now:

    Weld2 (Large)

    I cannot wait to harvest the stalks later this year! I also planted some indigo, which I think is coming up….but since I’ve never grown indigo before, I’m not entirely sure what’s a weed, what’s a volunteer, and what’s an indigo seedling. :)

    My marigold seedlings are doing well, these are African marigolds. I have French in another planter.

    Marigold Seedlings (Large)

    And I have a few Hopi Sunflowers poking up! I love how some sunflowers are still wiggling out of their seed shells when they break the surface:

    Hopi Sunflower Seedling (Large)

    Apparently these make a purpley-black dye. The seeds are striking different from “normal” sunflower seeds – they’re solid black. The flower heads are big and yellow as usual, though. I have some seeds from last year that I need to test out soon! And since most of my big mundane chores are finally wrapping up (taxes and a massive post-Stitches update of the website), I think I’ll finally be getting back to pots!

    I’m planning to vend at more fiber festivals this year, yay! Here’s a current list of events:

    June 4th – Spinning at the Winery – Retzlaff Winery, Livermore, CA. I had a really cool conversation with Will Taylor a few days ago about the event. I hadn’t realized how strongly focused it is on local and American-made yarn, they specifically do not want to see any yarn made in China, Australia, or abroad. So I’m leaving the Global Yarn at home (yes, that does mean no superwash sock, though in other news, a superwash facility is finally coming online in the US), and bringing lots of fiber, Small Farm Yarn, and American Yarn! I’m hoping to get all of my natural-colored alpaca from the Central Coast swatched and labeled by then.

    July 10th – Oakland Fiber Festival – Splash Pad Park, Oakland, CA. This will be a day of fun at the park with a bunch of vendors! There’s a Rav group here . It’s always fun to head to the big city, and exciting to have a fiber event that’s reasonably close to home. I’ll have my whole line-up of yarn there!

    October 1st – CogKnitive Fiber Retreat – Tehachapi, CA. This was my first vending event last year, and I’m looking forward to celebrating an Alpenglow Anniversary with Dr. Gemma, Nathan, the Knitmore Girls, and the CogKnitive crew!

    That’s all for now, though I have an application out to OFFF, so cross your fingers for me on that one! I’m also hoping to vend at the Southern California Handweavers Guild show in Torrance in November. And even though I won’t be there, some of my yarn will be at Sock Summit with the fabulous Didi of Little Red Bicycle!

    I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get into Black Sheep as a vendor – 15th on the waiting list – but hopefully next year. And I’ll be going as a participant this year since I’ve never been! So it’ll be pretty darned fun anyway – road trip with friends, camping, partying with ColorBomber Velma at her Pie & Beer shindig, trying to not buy Any.More.Fiber(!!!)….good times for sure!


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