Having acquired a Devon/Cornwall fleece that is quite similar to a Romney in feel and quality, I thought I’d dye some for blending. This fine will be great to comb for a semi-worsted spun yarn.
One of my favourite methods for safely dyeing fleece without matting the fibres is to use a slow cooker. I have a large family sized one that will dye 100g comfortably and 150g at a pinch, and a single-person one that does 20g for samples etc.
Using a pre-mixed colour I’ve used before I did a blue first. However, on this fleece it came out darker than I anticipated, but will probably lighten up once combed or carded and spun.
From the remains of the dyebath I got a pretty light turquoise.
I have combed these colours as shown in this video.
I also wanted an olive green, and have a recipe that worked perfectly on a Dorset fleece last year. I must have made a mistake somewhere, because I got a dark green instead. Maybe it is the different fleece, but I think I got my proportions wrong!
Once again they was some colour left in the bath, so in went 100g of Dorset fleece. OMG, the colour was bright! No idea what I did wrong, but it makes me blink.
That bright green total exhausted the dye – no surprise really! I will probably card this as the staples of the Dorset fleece are short and it is a soft fibre. Great for soft woollen spun yarn.
If you are interested in discovering the difference between different terms such as roving, tops etc, click here to read Abby Franquemont on Spin Off.
I’m practising my red cabbage dye recipes for Friday because if anything can go wrong it will. At least if I test the recipes it’s only likely to be the technology that glitches.
Friday p.m. update Wow, I think that went well! My camera man was brilliant, he cued me to face one of the 3 cameras he was using according to the best view, and even made me a coffee!
We started with onion skins because as a substantive dye everyone could use these even if they had not mordanted their wool yarn. Some people used red skins only and got an olivey green whilst I used mixed and got a dark gold. Interestingly I popped a 50/50 acrylic wool skein in and got a brilliant yellow.
Second dye was another substantive material – avocado skins and pits. Some people mixed them, but I kept then separate. I soaked both overnight, in fact the pits were so hard I had to cook them overnight on a slow cooker in order to soften then enough to be able to chop them up and release more colour as they continued to cook this morning.
I added ammonia to the avocado skins as they soaked. I read somewhere that this develops the colour well – but maybe that was pits? The colour from the skins was a yellowy mid peach, and from the pits was a pinky deep peach.
Dyes four, five and six were red cabbage. But itself as for, but five had ammonia added to make it green whilst six had citric acid added to make it lilacy pink.
I have never had such great colours from cabbage before! Stunning, if fugitive as they will fade over time. I chopped half a large cabbage very small, layered it with 4 tablespoons of salt and covered it with water. Then cooked it to the boil and left it to soak overnight. Fab results!
The dark blues are amazing! See below…
I’m now soaking some fleece in mordant to use up the red cabbage baths tomorrow. Plus have dyed 4 hanks of handspun wool/alpaca in the onionskin and avocado baths.
I’ve just put the beans to dial in cool water in a large jar. I’ve used 100g beans so will see what weight of yarn I can dye with these. Now I have to wait for 24 hours, shaking it gently now and then.
It’s 24 hours later, and time to get the due working. Of course I’d overlooked the problem of getting the liquid or without disturbing the beans. Instructions said to stop shaking the beans at least an hour before adding the fibre, so I did that. Then to remove the liquid carefully as any bean debris will turn the dye brown. However, it’s not easy to get the liquid out without the beans when you’ve stupidly put it in a narrow-ish mouthed jar!
Luckily I found a small ladle in the kitchen that just fitted, so managed to get some out. Not sure if it’s enough. I’ve added plenty of salt and enough water to cover the yarn and am now waiting…
It did not work sadly. But I may try again with more means this time.
I belong to a local community textile group, and we have just launched our new website. Please take a look and see what we have been doing. Of course that has not been a lot since April 2020 as much of what we do involves going to outside events to share skills and demonstrate.
Lets hope the coming year will allow us to start doing this again. Meanwhile we have been meeting (in 6’s only) during the summer to spin outdoors, but the latest lockdown, along with the colder, shorter days has put a stop to that. Online meetings are OK, and I have organised a few, but its not the same!
We hope to be able to take ourselves along to demonstrate natural dyeing, eco dyeing, spinning, and fibre preparation at Bentley Wood Fair near Ringmer in September. Allan will hopefully demonstrate his fascinating nettle fibre preparation methods, and we will all be suitably masked and socially distanced of course.
Having been eating loads of avocados last summer I dried the skins and stones for dye material later on in the year. I want sure if the colour outcome would be effected by drying so decided to try some out recently.
I took 60g dried avocado skins and two skeins of yarn; one 14g hand spun 50/50 cream wool and alpaca and 12g commercially spun 2/9nm will and nylon (sock yarn). I reckoned half yarn to dye material, but being dried may have made a difference.
I cold mordanted the yarns overnight and soaked and cooked up the skins. Stained the liquid and made up the due bath. Then gently simmered the yarn for about 60 minutes, with the skins in a muslin bag in the bath as well. After that I left the whole pot to cool overnight.
I was surprised that the hand spun did not take much colour whereas the wool and nylon took loads. Both had had same pretreatment.
I will be using the will nylon in machine knit socks, so pleased with the colour. It’s not as warm as the undried skins I’ve used in the past, more like onion skin colour.
UPDATE On reflection I think the Alpaca may have influenced the way the dye was taken up by the hand spun yarn
Although an older model, the Knitmaster 700 is a lovely machine. It is a punchcard machine and ball bearings so it slides very smoothly on the bed. One really nice feature is that it will knit intarsia without using a special carriage. Two white levers on the left and right of the carriage activate the intarsia setting.
Whilst knitting the sock, I found the tension dial was unreliable and replaced this with a secondhand assembly and this records doing this.
‘The Answerlady and Jack’ on YouTube are life-savers for machine repairs.
A trick for reassembling the carriage when it is difficult to get the tension assembly back into the carriage so that it will turn all the way round.
Never use metal things to poke inside your carriage unless you know what you are doing!
Mend the plastic carriage cover or any other plastic cracks, chips etc with epoxy resin glue. If you leave the cracks, particularly if they are around a metal screw head, they will quickly deteriorate and bits will break off.
Don’t use spirit on the plastic parts of the machine, use a slightly damp cloth to wipe these parts. Metal areas can be cleaned with surgical spirit (rubbing acohol) with a drop two of oil in it. This leaves a film of oil after cleaning. Make up a small jar and keep it with your maintenance tools so that it is always to hand. Use soft cloths and cotton buds to clean your machine.
Keep your machine oiled for the best performance, oil the bed every 100 or so rows. Invest in proper sewing machine oil or knitting machine oil.
Sock knitting on the knitting machine. Not being a keen hand knitter of socks, I revisit machine knitted socks made from wool yarn. Short row heels, short row or decreased toes?
Having a few smallish quantities of hand spun yarn I decided to dye them.
The first was about 30g of blended tussah silk/wool singles that I’d then plied with itself. This is a slightly textured yarn with an interesting matte surface owing to the silk content. It took the deep purple dye beautifully, although the different fibres had varying take up of colour, so it isn’t quite even.
The second was a black and cream space spun yarn, plied with a solid cream. The solid is made from 50g of cream Suffolk fibre, woollen spun into singles. The second singles, with which this is plied, was prepared on a drum carder in alternating stripes of the same cream yarn and stripes of black Belwin fibre. This 25g batt was then woollen spun into singles, after which the two yarns were plied together into a 50g hank. This combination created a pretty spaced marl effect along a yarn which is reasonably even in thickness throughout.
The completed yarn was dip dyed in the same dye pot as the silk/wool yarn, plus another pink dye I had on the go. It was dipped a little into some yellow as well. Over-dyeing this black and cream marl yarn gives the impression of many more colours than there really are.
I’ve used the silk/wool as a band for a hat and the over dyed marl as the crown.
I’ve had a number of different colour hand dyed carded batts sitting waiting for me to find inspiration. They are all from fleece I have scored and carder myself, so are a mix of Shetland, Suffolk and Texel, with maybe a little Alpaca blended into some of them. Some are in 200g amounts, some less. I’d got a bit stuck about how to use them until I saw a useful tip by Anna from my spinning group that she has put on YouTube.
Before you start, select a group of colours that work together. After a designing session during which I wrapped different colours together, I chose five: orange, pale green, mid blue, pale blue and lilac.
Anna used a combination of hand dyed and commercial roving, but the principle is the same with your own carded batts.
1. First of all split the roving/batt into the required lengths, (I just used the whole length of the batt of my drum carder).
2. Then split each length lengthwise into 4, (or more, depending on the thickness of the roving/batt).
3. Next, lay out the colours lengthwise, next to each other in the order you want to spin them into yarn. Test this beforehand to see how they mix throughout one repeat of a yarn, and if this works for your chosen outcome, such as knitting.
4. Repeat the colour sequence three more times so you have a table full of ‘stripes’ of fibre. If you have more than four lengths let colour, carry on until all are used up.
5. Now this is the clever part. I have hand spun colour changing yarns before and got the sequence wrong because I put it all away in a box between spinning sessions. To keep the sequence do the following.
6. Take a metre + long length off ribbon and tie a pencil or empty pen across one end. This is your fibre-stopper. Tie a hand-sized loop on the other end. This is your distaff.
7. Starting at one end of the ‘stripes’, wind each length off fibre into a loose roll and slip the looped end of the ribbon through the centre hole. Carry on doing this, working methodically through the fibre lengths, keeping the colour order as mapped out in your ‘stripes’.
8. You will end up with a ‘necklace’ of colour ordered fibre rolls on the ribbon. Tie the ends together to stop the fibre sliding off.
Now to can put them in a box and they won’t get muddled. To start spinning, simply lift the necklace out, untie the ends, and slip the loop over your hand. It acts as a distaff and will hold your fibre nicely as you spin each colour.
What a great tip!
I plied the colour changing yarn with a single spun made from navy blue Corriedale. This made a lovely marl yarn that to me resembles stained glass windows. I can’t wait to see what it looks like knitted.
A recent stock-take of the various bits of hand-spun yarn sitting on bobbins I now want to use for other projects inspired me to ply them all up and dye them into interesting yarns. Only small quantites of most, but great for small items.
One was a test of blending Tussah silk with Lleyn fleece, and I plied this with some nice soft spun Dorset singles. The silk added a pleasant dry handle to the plied yarn, and the noils added texture. There was more Dorset singles left, so I plied these together as a separate yarns. Next I plied two ends of Suffolk together, they were somewhat different thicknesses and twists, so made a slightly uneven, spiralled yarn. Finally I worked with a lovely colour changing singles, spun from a blend of Alpaca and Texel (cream) and Black Alpaca and Dark Grey (almost black) Suffolk fleece. The Alpaca blends had been carded in stripes on the drum carder so that when it was spun off the batt it alternated in dark and then light lengths. I plied this with a pale grey Suffolk single that I had acquired from a farm in Hereford last summer.
All these came out as interesting yarns in their own right, but I wanted to add some COLOUR. So I got out the dye kettle and the acid dyes. After some thought I decided to aim for a Deep Red and a Blue-Violet. I’ve been trying to be more technical about my dye mixing, and so with the aid of an Excel spreadsheet I have devised, I carefully mixed the solutions, but the Blue-Violet still emerged as Violet.
There was 66g of the Dorset and Suffolk/Dorset, and they went into the Red dyebath, whilst the 45g of Lleyn/Tussah/Dorset went into the Blue-Violet bath and they gently cooked away for an hour or so.
Part of my improved technique is to use a jam thermometer to keep the bath below 90C, preferably just above 89C to prevent felting. I also walk away so I am not tempted to STIR IT! The only stir I am allowed is after teh bath gets to temperature, when I gently remove the yarns, add the vinegar and stir it in. I read that doing this allows the different colours in the mix to be absorbed into the yarn (or fibre), before the acid does its work to set the dye to the fibres. Both these techniques seem to work well for me as I am getting less felting and more even, accurate colours (apart from the Blue Violet of course).
The dye baths were not exhausted – I had worked with a 2% colour to fibre weight ratio for medium depth of colour – so the lovely tweed ply was dip dyed into both pots, leaving mid-sections of the natural tweed plies undyed. I felt this needed a third colour to lift the others, so a very small section between each of the main colours was dipped into a weak yellow dye.
I’m really pleased with the products of the session – carried out whilst I watched the new TV programme ‘Roadkill’. Unfortunately I was a bit stupid, or maybe it was the effect of the programme I was watching, and whilst mixing a new batch of yellow stock solution I mindlessly poured boiling water onto the dye powder in a plastic jar. Of course the jar melted, buckled sideways and then toppled to the floor before I could catch it. Waves of strong yellow dye flooded the kitchen floor (I am exaggerating, it was only 150ml or so, it just felt like waves). It took five washes to clean the floor so that no-one would walk yellow onto the beige carpets, and my socks will never be the same again! Plus I had to start again with the stock solution. I did debate mopping the floor with some yarn, but decided that might be too hit-and-miss even for me…
In fact this morning, whilst hiding from the dog, (don’t ask why) I noticed a snail-trail of yellow dye snaking down the side of the kitchen cabinet – how did I miss that one?
What am I going to use the yarns for? I think a warm hat to cheer me up with its bright colours during this depressing winter-to-come is on the cards. I might knit it by hand or I maybe use my Brother KH260 chunky machine, and hope to report back on here when its finished.
Leaving the dye overnight in the pots – I was tired after all that floor-mpopping – the next morning I decided to finally extract the last from each one. So 50g of Dorset fleece went into each, and I got a rich coral pink, and surprisingly bright lilac for my troubles. It was so rewarding to empty clear water out of the dye baths afterwards.
I have been doing quite a bit of drum carding of raw fleece I have gathered over the summer, and whilst doing this I recorded a couple of videos of the process.
I always put the batt back through the drum carder. I find this second carding makes a much nicer fibre for spinning. The second video covers doffing the fibre, splitting it and putting it back through. After this you can either take the batt off, as shown in the video below, or use a diz to take it off in a continuous roving. To do this, only separate one end of the batt (to the width of the diz), and pull the fibre off in a spiral as the drum reverses around.
The wool is from a Dorset sheep, and I have hand-dyed it in acid dye to this rather pretty duck-egg blue.
I haven’t spun this fibre into any meaningful amount of yarn as yet. That is a pleasure I am saving for later.
In the video below you can see the fibre being picked prior to the carding.