Category Archives: Knitting

Bleeding Natural Dyes!

Hey, it’s way past time for another post that’s actually about natural dyeing.  Many of you know that I’m not doing much dyeing right now, but I’m still knitting with plenty of natural dyed yarn.  I recently pulled a 50/50 cotton/wool blend out of my stash that had been languishing there for a while – it’s a nice wheat color that I always loved, but I guess didn’t have good skein appeal.  I pulled it after carrying it to too many shows, and last week got inspired to start knitting a loose summery sleeveless wrap.

img_1319.jpgI knit a panel and blocked it by soaking it in slightly warm water with a little Eucalan.  Here’s what the water looked like after soaking:

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You might be thinking – hmmmm.  Or even – whoa!  That’s a _lot_ of color washing out.  And it’s true, that’s what it looks like, and it’s not surprising that you might jump to the conclusion that the yarn is bleeding like a stuck pig and it wasn’t dyed properly.  But let’s wait for a few hours and look at that rinse water again:

 

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Can you see that there’s fine silt lining the sides of the bowl?  It looks like something has settled out of the water.  What’s going on here?  Because I’m the one who dyed the yarn, I can actually tell you.

This yarn was dyed with fustic, which is a wood.  I use raw dyestuffs, so I buy fustic chips and boil it several times to create a dyebath.

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Fustic wood chips

You can see that the wood chips are mostly small flakes – thin so they wet out and extract nicely.  And there’s also a bit of fine sawdust in there too, check out the bottom of the bag:

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Check out the fine sawdust

The sawdust also wets out and extracts nicely.  But what happens after you’re done with extracting the dye?  Now you have 5 gallons of hot water with wood chips floating around in it – if I stuck nice fluffy wool yarn straight into that, it would immediately be full of chips.  So I filter.  And then I filter again.  And then I filter even more.

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Good filters are a dyer’s best friend

I’ll typically go through 3-4 stages of filtering before the dyebath is ready for yarn – one large strainer to get most of the large material out, then a 220 micron filter to remove sand-sized particles, then a 75 micron filter to remove fine coffee-ground-sized particles, then a 43 micron filter to remove as much of those fine silt-like particles as I can.  This is my least favorite part of dyeing with raw dyestuffs.  It’s physically demanding – hoisting and slowly pouring 5 gallons of liquid over and over – and it’s a little dangerous because the water has recently boiled and is still quite hot.  I do wait for it to cool after the first filtering stage, but I usually need to get something else going in that pot.   It’s also slow.  If I try to hurry and skip filtering steps, it takes even longer because the filters clog.

Even after all of those filtering steps, there’s still some degree of fine wood particles left in the dyebath, you’ll never get every one out.  Which means that some will get picked up in the yarn.  Some fall out when the yarn dries.  Some fall out during ball winding – this tends to leave a layer of fine particles on your table that isn’t usually apparent until you wipe it off with a damp paper towel.  Some fall out during knitting, which is usually only noticeable if you wear lotion.  You may see a streak of color on your fingers, where the yarn has run across them.  And some still remains in the yarn, and falls out when you wash it.  Let’s look at the wash water again – I scooped some water off the top of the bowl with the wine glass and you can see it’s almost clear.

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When I slowly poured the water off, this is what’s left behind:

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So, it’s totally normal for naturally dyed yarns to still have fine particles of the dyestuff in them, and to appear to bleed when you wash them.  Your yarn won’t lose color and it won’t lighten.  It also won’t contaminate another color, though I always recommend knitting and blocking a swatch first.  Especially if you’re thinking of doing a complicated colorwork project with high contrast, make sure it washes well before you have an orange sweater instead of a red & yellow striped one.

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This is what a swatch looks like.

That covers wood-based dyes, and the same is true for flower and leaf-based dyes.  Weld especially has very fine pollen that creates a fair bit of silt.  Though indigo is a different beast entirely (which I’ve talked about in this silly video) the crocking mechanism is actually pretty similar to what I’ve been discussing in this post.  Solid particles get stuck in your yarn, then get loose.  With indigo, the main difference is that the particles are even smaller and are pretty much how the dye works in the first place.

Before going on to the last type of dye – animal dyes like cochineal – I’m going to digress and talk about extraction.  It’s very important for natural dyers to get the most out of each dyestuff.  They’re expensive!  Way more expensive than synthetic dyes, so in order to compete in a market that is dominated by synthetic hand-dyed yarn, and only price your yarns a few dollars higher, you have to be really thrifty with getting the most out of every dyestuff.  It is not uncommon for natural dyers to have $2-$5 of pure dye cost in each skein.  And of course, the cost varies according to the dye.  And it can vary by time of year – it’s like food.  Sometimes a particular fruit is bountiful and sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes there’s a drought that affects the entire supply.  Sometimes fashion and food trends impact demand and suddenly send dye costs skyrocketing.  This happened to cochineal around 2009 – the price increased by 600%.  Politics and war can also play a part – Afghanistan used to grow a good amount of high quality madder, and now much of that has been replaced by opium.

For cochineal in particular, I boil it several times, using the first extraction for reds and pinks, while the second extraction goes to lighter shades of pinks, or purples by saddening with iron or copper mordants.  I still have 6 containers of once and twice-boiled cochineal in my freezer, waiting for me to dye something else with it.  This may make me sound like a crazypants dye lady, and no, there are no more inedible dead animals in my freezer, but this is what cochineal retails for.   If you grind up 1 oz of high quality cochineal, it’ll dye about 4 skeins of yarn.  Maybe 2 skeins if you’re going for a really bright fuchsia.  And sometimes the quality isn’t as good and you need to use more.

OK, so now that you understand why extraction and getting the most out of dyes is so important, I’ll go back to cochineal preparation.  I buy whole dried cochineal bugs.  You can boil them whole, but they don’t extract as well as ground bugs do.  I grind cochineal in a burr-style coffee grinder on a coarse setting, put it in cheap pantyhose, and boil it.  The reason I contain it in pantyhose is that it takes forever to filter if I don’t.  I made the mistake just throwing the ground cochineal into water once, and it was a never-ending filter clog – I’d pour out a quart, the filter would clog completely, I’d pour it back into the unfiltered pot, rinse the filter, repeat.  I can’t tell you how frustrating that kind of problem is, or how much it actually costs a dyer.  If you spend an hour babysitting a filter like that, you’ve just lost money on that batch of yarn.  You can’t indiscriminately boost the price of a few skeins because it took you longer to dye them, and sometimes you wouldn’t be able to charge enough to actually cover your time on a troublesome batch.

So pantyhose does a reasonable job of containing the ground cochineal, but it’s not perfect.  There are still a couple of filtering stages, and there are still going to be some fine solid bits.  Cochineal also seems to be the one natural dye that does legitimately tend to run more than the rest.  It’s not considered as washfast as some of the other natural dyes, though it’s fine for the typical hand-washed life of a hand knit.  I’d recommend washing any cochineal-dyed yarn in cold water, go very very light on the soap, and don’t soak it for very long.  Set a timer for 5 minutes, just enough to fully wet the yarn and clean the garment.  In contrast, cochineal is one of the best dyes in terms of lightfastness, so go wear that hat in all the direct sunlight you want.

But what about dyers who use extracts?  Will their yarn still have fine particles in it?  Yes, it will.  Extracts are not perfectly 100% soluble, there’s almost always a tiny bit that remains solid.  It also depends on the dye, for example, I hear that madder tends to have more insoluble bits.

Well, I hope you’ve learned a bit about natural dyes and what to expect in terms of washing.  Good natural dyers will go through several wash steps before the yarn is dried, skeined, labeled, and sold to you.  But no matter what, you’ll probably see some color in the wash water (more so when the dyer uses raw dyestuffs!), and that’s OK.

But what if it’s not OK?  What if it’s really running a lot and you actually ARE losing color?  Contact the dyer.  No matter how careful we are, there are a ton of variables that influence natural dyeing, and despite our best efforts, it’s impossible to fully control them all.  Sometimes shit just happens.  No dyer wants you to be unhappy with their yarn, and they do want to know about problems.  Send them a calm and collected email, explain what’s happening, and find out what you or they can do about it.  If you’re not cool and collected because it took you 2 years and 5 million tears to knit this fucking sweater which is now NOT the color the yarn was in the skein…..well, that sucks, but maybe now you understand why swatching AND blocking your swatch is so important.  Still contact the dyer, but maybe have a drink and good night’s sleep first, especially if that dyer is me.  :)

xo, and happy knitting with natural dyes!

-Carrie

 

 

 

 

 

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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.


    Ta-Na-Na-Ah, Ta-Na-Na-Ah, Stitches, Stitches, He-e-llo

    Lambie says: Stitches is in just a month! Get on it, yo!

    Lamb Talking 2 (Medium)

    I just got back from TNNA, so I’m full of energy and inspiration! It was great to visit with a few of my yarn suppliers, put more faces to names, and see good friends. I also spoke with several smaller US mills and hope to have a new American yarn base or two in the late spring. Good stuff!

    So have I mentioned that I’ll be vending at Stitches West this year? It’s my first time, it’s both exciting and terrifying. Myself and Ranch of the Oaks are splitting a booth – 1048, be sure to drop by! Mette will have lots of natural colors of her own alpaca yarn, plus Icelandic wool, plus llama yarn, plus blends of everything. I’ll be bringing lots and lots of naturally-dyed yarn, about 1/3rd of it will be Corriedale from the Ranch and Central Coast alpaca. And we’ll both have lots of fiber for spinning! And have I mentioned the 15 micron merino that I brought back from Australia? Mmmmmmm…. And! If that wasn’t enough…I’ll also have some Little Red Bicycle yarns! Yay! Hopefully her laceweight order will come in and I’ll have some beautiful hand-dyed skinny stuff, but I’m certain to have sock yarn at the very least. Woot!

    There are going to be several natural dyers at Stitches this year – I definitely encourage everyone to check us all out, as we all have different twists on colors and fibers. As far as I know, the following will be there: A Verb for Keeping Warm, Tactile, Pico Accuardi Dyeworks, and Carolina Homespun usually carries Nature’s Palette yarn.

    What else is noteworthy? Two of my yarn suppliers will be there – Green Mountain Spinnery and NordicMart. Green Mountain Spinnery is located in Vermont, they make wonderful yarns out of American wool and US-made Tencel. Several of my American Yarns are theirs. And a few of my Global Yarns are from Garnstudio – NordicMart is based here in San Luis Obispo and carries their complete line. Ball and Skein and More in Cambria will also be at Stitches for the first time, and they’ll be highlighting O-Wool yarn, which I also use for dyeing. Michelle Miller of Fickleknitter Design will also have a booth – she creates great patterns, many of which are small yardage and perfect for hand-dyed yarns. I’ll also be a selling a few kits of: one of her patterns, yarn to go with it, and a handmade project bag!

    I think that covers my shout-outs for now. Stitches can be pretty overwhelming, so it’s sometimes handy to have recommendations, especially for us new companies that no one has ever heard of. Oh, I have one more shout-out for very interesting stuff – don’t miss John Marshall’s booth. Last year he had very interesting gold yarn (yes, real gold over silk), he sells really cool fabrics, and also very good and user-friendly instant indigo (though I don’t know if he’ll be bringing that to Stitches).

    And don’t forget my booth, okay? :) 1048!


    Days 2 and 3

    Apparently the grocery store here is a racket. Not only is everything expensive, but everything is also expired. Dan warned me, but I’m not in the habit of checking every single item for its expiration date (called expiry dates here – I love how they just shorten and add a “y” onto words here), and I forgot. So I bought $5 peanut butter that expired in January. Really? 4 month out of date peanut butter on the shelf? Wow. You know that shit has to be really old because peanut butter never freakin expires. The locals think that Fishers (the grocery store company) sends all its expired stuff from other stores to Robinvale – since there’s no other competition in town, people are kind of stuck with it. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s pretty impressive that the grocery store is so bad that there’s a conspiracy theory about it.

    So I went back into town today and bought some non-expired peanut butter. All the peanut butter looks kind of weird to me – like it’s too light in color. Of course, it’s all very processed Kraft and generic stuff, no “real” looking peanut butter on the shelf at all. Oh Trader Joe’s, how I miss thee! I broke down and bought some Nutella too this time.

    I’ve been leafing through the handouts I got at the tourist information bureau, and there are two kind of cool things that are on my list to do. One is a winery! According to their ad, Robinvale Wines is organic and open 7 days a week for tasting. :) There’s also Robinvale Estate which grows olives and makes all sorts of oils and dressings. I bought a jar of kalamata olives and a bottle of orange-poppyseed dressing at the tourist center. The olives are great, I haven’t tried the dressing yet. Maybe on a salad with red onions, tuna, mandarins, and avocado….oh, another example of what a rip-off the grocery store is — avos are $4 each. Yeah. $4. They’re a more typical $1 or $2 each in Mildura, the larger town an hour away.

    I walked into the drug store and bought some pain meds with codeine just because I could. It’s essentially Vicodin – 500mg of paracetamol (acetaminaphen) and 9.6mg of codeine phosphate. The typical uses listed on the pack include “Period Pain.” What a civilized country, where you can get over-the-counter Vicodin for cramps! I think I might stockpile some to bring home with me, you never know when it’s gonna come in handy. Oh, and 24 capsules for $3.50, how’s that for health care? Although I guess Dan bought a 50-capsule pack in Mildura for $1.50. Shocking how much we Americans overpay for drugs, huh?

    Driving the Ute today was no big deal. I only accidentally turned on the windshield wipes once. Now the phase of dangerous complacency is coming on, I can feel it. It will likely be followed by a mistake and a close call, and then I’ll have the perfect amount of comfort + paranoia to make me an OK driver.

    Yesterday it was all rainy, so I stayed inside and knit. I’m working on a hat pattern for my SMerF sock yarn. There’s this hat that Linzee made out of mini-Mochi that I really like (green stripes, diamond lace pattern), and I wanted to make something similar. I brought one of my Barbara Walker stitch pattern books and picked a cool lace pattern with a wrapped-stitch component. I mucked with it a little to make it look a littler nicer (in my humble opinion), and now I’m making the hat. You have to cast on a lot of stitches to making a hat with sock yarn on #2 needles – I did 140! And yes, I made a swatch first (of course!) so I’m reasonably certain it will fit. I have a few more rounds to go before putting it on some waste yarn and trying it on. Hmmm….do I even have any waste yarn…. I’ve also been playing with my copy of Intwined Pattern Studio. It’s pretty nice. I have a few things on my list that I wish it would do, but for $40, I’m not complaining. It makes creating charts easy, which is exactly what I need.

    I met Dan’s roommate last night – his name is Brad and he’s here about half the time. He and his family live in Mildura, so he stays here some nights and goes home others. We watched an episode of Top Gear on TV (ha! I don’t have to pirate Top Gear for a while!) and I tried to understand what he was saying and not seem like an idiot. I mean, Australians speak English, but it’s not the kind of English I’m used to. They use so many different words and slang, that it can actually be hard to just chat conversationally. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it, but I hate not understanding what someone is saying when they are plainly speaking English. It just makes me feel dumb. But on the other hand, maybe it’s just as hard for him to figure out what the hell this chatty American girl is saying. :)


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