Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Through Rose-Colored Glasses: Dyeing with Cochineal

Silk satin ribbon dyed with cochineal, alum mordant

Using the book Colours from Nature: A Dyer's Handbook by Jenny Dean, I dyed some fabrics with cochineal, using an alum mordant. I started with the bugs themselves and ground them up in a Krups coffee grinder. (No mortar and pestle for me -- it takes too long!) Silk takes dyes brilliantly, I've found, so it's my fabric of choice. Instant and immense gratification. The ribbon you see above was soaked for maybe two days in an alum mordant solution.

Silk gauze dyed with cochineal, alum mordant

This silk gauze (above) was dyed using the same recipe. Because the fabric is so light and airy, it doesn't have the brilliant fuschia/red that you see with the silk ribbon. Still, this delicate pink is quite lovely!

Wool locks dyed with cochineal, alum mordant

I threw these wool locks in at the last minute -- mordanted in alum for maybe 1/2 hour, no scouring, simply dyed "in the grease." Perhaps I'm seeing the results through rose-colored glasses ;) but I think they're beautiful. I'll use them in spinning, combing them out a bit with a Dutch comb and then throwing them randomly into my handspun when I'm plying. It adds a lot of interest, texture, and color, creating the hand-spinner's version of a novelty yarn.

Locks dyed with cochineal, the second sample using an iron after-mordant

I've read a bit about using various "after-mordants" such as iron or copper. Copper tends to brighten the colors, while iron will "sadden" or tone down a color. Just what is an after-mordant? It's exactly what it sounds like: After you have dyed your fiber, you place it in a bath of iron or copper or whatever you choose to alter the color after dyeing. 

And how do you create the iron bath? I used a fistful of rusty old nails and whatnot -- actually, some of them dug up by my dad as he searched the bed of the original Erie Canal. I placed them in a bucket of water, added one cup of white vinegar, and let the solution sit for about two weeks. Now I have my iron after-mordant, to be used whenever I want to "sadden" a color.

Next I have some goldenrod I gathered from a late-summer walk. I'll keep you posted on the results!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Tale of Woad

Told mostly in pictures.

Satin silk ribbon dyed with woad

Cotton voile dyed with woad

Sheep locks dyed with woad (on left, Cotswold, and on right, Merino, I think)

The tale: Planning on an upcoming weaving project, I'm in search of turquoise -- achieved with natural dyes. This isn't easy, but a friend of mine who knows a lot about natural dyeing suggested that I start with woad and then overdye it with just a hint of yellow. From the photos I saw, woad produces a slightly more turquoise color than indigo to begin with, so I thought I'd try it out. 

First challenge: Woad is hard to come by in the United States, for some reason. Searching the web, I found a place in England, All About Woad, the work of textile artist Teresinha Roberts. I emailed my order and received it in a week or so! I followed her recipe as well. Great site. Here's the link:

Woad has the same ingredients as indigo and has been used far longer in human history, 4000 years or more. The difference is that woad doesn't achieve quite the deep blue colors that indigo does, so indigo has become the dye of choice. You basically use the same recipe, using no mordant and creating a vat that needs to have a pH of 9 or so, dipping the fiber in and then taking it out to let oxygen do its work.

More to come, as I plan to do some overdyeing with goldenrod. Then, the quest to achieve a burgundy color with natural dyes, then gold, then olive....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Soleri Bell Hangs in My Japanese Maple Tree...

And inspired me to weave a scarf in autumn hues. I dyed the warp -- in bouts of 60/2 silk, 24 ends each -- in shades of russet, olive, gold, and copper, along with the patina of the bell, a kind of turquoise-verdigris. Although the colors came out a bit too light for my taste, here's what the fabric looked like on the loom.

The weft is a very fine over twist wool, hand dyed in a spice-red color, and the weave structure is an 8 harness twill, in blocks of 3/1 and 1/3. Here's a closer look.

The sett is 44 ends per inch, which sounds a bit daunting, but the weaving went really fast! I'm very partial to this structure, because it's a collapse weave which, encouraged by the over twist weft, crinkles and scrunches in very interesting ways. Like this:

It's for sale in my Etsy shop:

And what's a Soleri bell? It's a beautiful bronze piece, weathered to a turquoise color, designed by the visionary architect Paolo Soleri. Here's a link to his site:

What's on the Loom?

More accurately, what's going on the loom? At this writing, I'm in the process of winding on a painted warp for a Jin design on 28 ...