I’m psyched to announce the first installment of the Alpenglow Yarn Dyer’s Club!
In a post a few months back, I talked about how I really wanted to do more explorations of natural dyes, and share those with people. And I want to do that on a level deeper than Hey, so cochineal is red and indigo is blue and here’s how you make a red and here’s how you make a blue. I want to explore the questions that came up when I was dyeing production batches, things like – how do I make that particular shade of red, and how do I do it repeatably?
There’s kind of a hole in the information available on natural dyeing. For thousands of years, it was experiential lore passed down from generation to generation. Most of it was based on observation – I did this and that happened. Right around the time when science started to flourish, natural dyeing on a large scale pretty much ground to a halt. Why? Because synthetic dyes were first created. In fact, some people date the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as the year in which William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered mauve, 1856.
Sources of dye knowledge available now generally fall into two categories – the home dyer’s reference and the organic chemistry tome. The home dyer’s reference is usually written by a textile artist with several years experience in using natural dyes. It generally suffices to get you started, explains basic mordanting, and gives an overview of several dye stuffs. It’s full of general knowledge and rules of thumb. It can also be full of erroneous jumps to conclusions and misinformation. These books are no help when one batch turns out a different shade than another. Or when a recipe you’ve used a hundred times is suddenly turning your yarn brown and brittle. A lot of people will just throw their arms up and say Well, that’s natural dyeing for you. But there are actually scientific reasons that these things happen. So then you start digging through an organic chemistry book and realize that frosh chem was a hell of a long time ago and not all that useful. Digging out fact-based knowledge and practices that are understandable to someone without a chemistry degree, and also relevant to hand-dyeing wool, is like finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s definitely a goal of mine to bring a more scientific context to natural dyeing in an understandable way. And also to debunk some common misconceptions. (I’ve been thinking about doing a post on The Great Mordant Debate for a few years now, and I think I’ll actually be writing that one soon.) One of my goals with this club is to not only provide members with beautiful yarn, but also provide insight into the science behind the colors. I think of my audience as both knitters and experienced natural dyers alike, and seek to provide relevant information on how to repeatably and successfully naturally dye wool a certain color.
But I’ve blabbed enough about my super deep dye motivations. Let’s hit the juice! (as our wine appreciation teacher would say.)
First up is The Mythical Blue-Red. This is a color I’ve managed to create once, maybe twice, but is a devil to reproduce. It’s the color of red velvet ropes, of fancy theater curtains, of dragon scales. The kind of red that drinks in your eyeballs and sucks the blood out of you (in Soviet Russia….color drinks you!) I’ll focus on how to create this color out of cochineal, because it provides the most fade-resistant fast red. I should note that this color tends to be the natural color you get out of brazilwood. Why not just use it? It’s not quite as lightfast. Really, it’s totally fine for the typical life of a piece of knitwear, but I worry about someone leaving their yarn in a south-facing window in summer for too long (I’m probably overly paranoid, I know) . I may dye one of the samples with brazilwood, just for reference.
I read everyone’s responses to my survey about the club, and noticed a definite and quite funny trend. Anyone who was primarily a dyer wanted the option that was more colors and less yardage. Anyone who was primarily a knitter wanted the option that was fewer colors and more yardage. :) So I’ve given you both, plus one more for those of you that want both colors AND yardage.
- No Frills – $65 – for the budget-conscious who still want all the colors: Members receive 100 yd skeins of 8 colors in the Smerf base (100% superwash merino, fingering weight), dye notes, and nothing else. Ships in a USPS first-class tyvek envelope.
- Knitter’s – $110 – for those who want a little more yarn and don’t mind fewer colors: Members receive 200 yd skeins of 6 colors in the Springy Corrie Sport base (100% Corriedale, very springy sport weight, 100% USA made), dye notes, and a few goodies. Ships in a USPS Priority Mail box.
- Gimme Gimme – $140 – for those who want it all: Members receive 200 yd skeins of 8 colors in the Smerf base (100% superwash merino, fingering weight), dye notes, and a few of my favorite things. Ships in a USPS Priority Mail box.
But what if there’s this color that you really really love and you want a full skein? Or enough full skeins to make a sweater? Well, after you get your club shipment, you have a month in which you can order full skeins of any of the club colors for 20% off. How does that sound?
All members receive their choice of yarn above, complete dyer’s notes about the processes involved and what influences contributed to each color, as well as the final dye recipes for each. I’ll also include some project ideas for using the coordinating mini-skeins. I’ll leave the club open until it either sells out, or September 22nd rolls around. Shipments go out October 31st, 2014.
I hope you’re as excited about this as I am! I can’t wait to get to those dye pots!