Another day of natural dyeing

I spent a happy (ha ha) half hour picking nettles last week, and another not-so-painful time collecting laurel leaves. These were going to be my latest experiments in natural dyeing. Yes, I know everyone else has probably moved onto far more exotic materials, but I am still plodding along with what I remember to collect in the park or garden. Luckily I had a pair of gloves (it was windy and cold), and a clean dog poo-bag in which to store those nasty nettles. I didn’t think the nettles would sting through gloves, but they seemed to. My fingers were still stinging when I went to bed.

So I chopped up the nettles and laurel and boiled them in large pans, left them to steep in the cooling water and re-boiled the next day, left them to steep again.

Laurel leaves steeped for 24 hours
Nettles steeped for 24 hours

So far the liquid was looking a pretty good colour. Next I strained this off and pressed the remaining soggy leaves to remove all that precious colour. To encourage the dye bath the give up all its colour, I added some salt to the dye bath.

I had already mordanted hanks of DK wool, and some of Aran 60/40 wool acrylic in a pale tweedy beige to see what happened with this coloured blend. The mordant was 8% Alum with a teaspoon of cream of tartar added to the water. This was also boiled for an hour and left in the mordant overnight before being rinsed and used damp.

The damp hanks went into the dye baths, and simmered away for an hour or so, then I removed those and added some vinegar to the laurel bath and added some new hanks. This was supposed to make the colour a little pinker, but not sure it did.

The nettle hanks were put into a bowl of copper modifier to see if the green would intensify. It did.

Because I wanted to check out the colour saturation possible with the 60/40 blend, I had included a hank of this with each test.

Next I made a madder bath (cheating here with madder extract), and dyed two hanks – keeping the heat below boiling to try to preserve the brighter red. Not sure I managed this, but got some lovely rich reds.

Finally I made an onion skin bath and dyed a hand of 60/40 wool acrylic – bingo, this worked really well!

Out of the dyebaths and drying well

Above hanks left to right are: laurel (DK wool), Laurel (60/40), laurel +vinegar (DK wool), madder (60/40), madder (DK wool), nettle+copper modifier (DK wool), rather obscured hank is nettle (DK 50/50 wool acrylic – this slipped through when I was mordanting), nettle +vinegar (60/40), and at the top, onion skins (60/40).

And below are the small hanks wound into knitable balls.

On the left is a hank of hand spun yarn that I dyed the week before last using oyster mushrooms gathered from a tree trunk.

Oyster mushroom dye process

I dyed a couple of hanks with mushrooms, not an exciting colour, but very pretty.

Hand spun yarn dyed with oyster mushrooms. In background the yarn has been machine knitted with a silk in stripes before being dyed.

So that is that for the moment, but I am pleased with the results, and will be sharing them with students before a natural dye workshop next week. There won’t be time to stew up plants as I did for these, but we will be using red cabbage, carrots, madder extract, onion skins and turmeric with vinegar as a modifier. Plus we will be over-dying, dip dying and tie-dying for effects.

Should be fun!

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Spinning days

Last week I hosted a ‘learn to spin’ afternoon. We had drop spindles and two wheels. Because no-one had spun before I started with lengths of commercial my sun yarn – about 12 metres each. These were used to learn the basics of working the spindle and twist direction.

After everyone was feeling more confident, fibre was introduced. This was lightly scoured Jacobs fleece with a little oil left to make it easier to spin.

Strengthened by team and home made oat biscuits we progressed to the wheels.

The Ashford single drive, double treadle Traveller was the most popular. But even that took some easing into.

Everyone got some yarn made.

We plan another soon.

Notes on spinning and plying

Spinning 

Spinning is twisting fibres together to make a single spun yarn (singles). All sorts of fibres can be spun, but generally speaking, the longer each fibre is (it’s staple length), the easier it is to spin into a yarn. Singles yarn, especially those with more twist tangle back on themselves, and do not usually make good knitting yarns. They are weaker, and will produce a knitted fabric that lies crooked (bias).

When a yarn is spun, the twist of the fibres can only go in one direction, either ‘S’ or ‘Z’ . ‘S’ is is when the yarn wraps like the central diagonal of the ‘S’ and ‘Z’ is the opposite direction, when the wrap follows the central line of the ‘Z’ opposite. On a drop spindle, ‘S’ is created by the spindle being spun anticlockwise, and ‘Z’ is produced when the spindle is spun clockwise. On a spinning wheel the direction is controlled by the direction of the wheel itself.

Plying is twisting two or more yarns together so that they make one, thicker yarn. It is done for various reasons; it will balance single spun yarns and prevent bias twist, it creates a thicker yarn, it adds strength to delicate yarns, and it combines different colours and textures for aesthetic results and can be used to produce a combination of these results.

When yarns are plyed, they should be twisted together in the opposite direction from their original direction of spin, e.g. two ‘S’ spun yarns would be plyed in the ‘Z’ direction.

You can ply your own single spun yarn or make thicker and decorative yarn by plying commercial yarns together.

Decorative effects to try: threading beads/sequins onto one strand, using a fancy and plain yarn, twisting singles and then twisting them again with commercial yarns in the opposite direction to the first twist (cable plying).

Method 1: When plying the same yarn together. Wind a centre pull ball using a ball winder and taking the yarn from both centre and outside ball, ply them together on a spindle.

Method 2: When plying the same, or two different yarns together. Wind the two ends of singles (or commercial yarn) together into a double ended ball, tie the end to the spindle and off you go.

Method 3: Andean Plying. Can be used in either of the above situations.

 Step 1: Hold your left palm facing you with the fingers splayed.

Step 2: With your right hand, take the end of the yarn, and tuck it into your watch band, sleeve, or hold it under your thumb. Do not lose this end!

Step 3: Take the yarn left around the the back of your wrist.

*Step 4: Bring it across the back of your wrist to the right side of your wrist

Step 5: Then take it left across your palm and around your middle finger from left to right.

Step 6: Next take it back around your wrist from right to left.

Step 7: Take the yarn to the right across your palm, and around your middle finger from right to left, then back to the left side of your wrist *

Repeat from * to *

Step 8: When all the yarn is wrapped around your hand, and making sure you don’t lose either end, slip the ring of yarn off your middle finger and twist the whole bracelet of yarn around your wrist so that this ring is on the back of your wrist.

If you need to take a break now, slip the main bracelet onto something like a toilet roll centre, being very careful to keep the ends visible.

Put the bracket back on your wrist. Once it is on your wrist keep your fingers splayed to prevent it slipping off whilst plying. Tie the two ends to the spindle or leader and start the spindle off. Use your fingers to feed the yarn evenly and control the amount of twist travelling up the yarns as you do when spinning.

 

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4 ends of commercial yarn being plied using the Andean method. Finally it is wound into a hank. It could just be wound onto ball for knitting, but if a bit lively it may need to be hanked, steamed and hung before making into a ball.
This is a downloadable pdf of this page. Please note that you are welcome to print this for personal use, but it must not be  reproduced or distributed. Plying  

 

Return to hand-spinning

Although I teach in knitted textiles, this is the first year I have taught spinning as part of a module, so in a fit or inspiration I asked my son to climb into the loft and retrieve my Ashford wheel that had been up there for 15-20 years. 

I used to have two wheels, and spin on both at one time. However a succession of small children  couldn’t resist fiddling with them, and. I didn’t have time to use them. First of all one went in the loft, and then I reluctantly sold the other as there wasn’t space for it and I couldn’t bear to see it being damaged. Now child-free, but sadder for it, I have resurrected the Ashford.

A year or two ago I had prematurely acquired a fleece thinking my time had come, only to myself busier than ever.  By the time I got there, apart from the smallish amount I had had time to scour I had to throw the rest away as it was infested with moth. So I am starting to spin with the small amount of Kent wool mixed with Merino tops I had bought in for felting. It’s not a problem as I need LOTS of practise, so odd colour mixes rule at the moment. 

Of course the wheel seems to have shed bits during its vacation in the loft, and a refurb was necessary. I have purchased a flexible drive belt because the one on the Kiwi wheel we have at University does seem to give a nice drive to the wheel, plus the old one is a little brittle. The tension knob and spring has disappeared, so they needed replacing, and I wanted a drop in to make the bobbin easier to swap. Finally one of the Lazy Kate spikes and a bobbin have gone walkabout, so new ones of those were required. 

This photo is of the first hand-spun yarn I have made for years, so apologies for its unevenness and it’s mish mash of colours. I just needed to celebrate my enjoyment.