Progress on Experiments and Play

My experiments in natural dyes and inks are progressing slower than I expected. It’s ok, I’m learning at every step. There have been a few unexpected yet welcome turns as I play with the entire process. The lessons have slowly helped me figure out how to approach these two projects using the same materials: cause fibers to change color and create ink.

Initial Spinning

closeup of a spindle with chain ply on the fly and some single. there is some fuzz around the yarn.

After creating the first batch of natural dye in mid-June, I scrambled to finish spinning some silk samples. I ended up with three finely spun micro skeins, the first two were chain-plied and the third is a simple 2-ply. The 2-ply ended up the largest with 41 meters. The silk is a joy to spin in this manner, but it’s impractical for me to think these skeins will be for anyone other than myself. I switched to a different spindle, which has helped reduce my fear that I’ll shatter the shaft if I’m spinning above a hard surface. I still take a very long time to spin with spindles.

I’m much faster on my wheel. I spun the churro with the intent to divide it into different mini skeins to experiment with. In the interest of yardage, I went with a simple 2-ply. The final result was 343.5 meters and I’m pleased that it’s somewhat-consistent throughout. It was a very good way to return to sitting with intent at my wheel for the first time in years.

Other Skeins to Play With

cone of yarn and small amigurumi penguin

Many years ago, I was gifted a cone of … something. She wasn’t sure since the label disappeared; maybe it’s cashmere? I’ve been intimidated by it. Yarn should be enjoyed, so I wound it off into several 75-meter skeins. I also went through my stash and skeined up anything that was as close to a natural/undyed state that I could find.

After this first batch, I recognized at this stage of my experiments I needed consistency in the fiber to evaluate the colors. After factoring how much time it took me to skein the yarn, I broke down and bought a pack of 25 mini skeins (20g each) of a fingering weight non-superwash wool. They are definitely making this part of the project much easier!

First Batch

After preparing the fiber (scour & mordant) I tossed it all in the jars. Yes, even the silk went in with the wool.

My biggest challenge was the size of my jars — at 4oz in size they threatened to overflow once they were full. It was at this point I realized my notes from various e-books weren’t complete. There was a moment of “now what?!” panic and I scrambled to download the e-books again so I could fill in what I missed.

It reminded me that theory is not the same as experience!

yarn drying on a rack with a plush rabbit looking on. two small handwoved mats are also drying. Lids from small mason jars have labels and rest on top of the skeins for identification
My very first batch of naturally dyed yarn drying.

Next Batches

I went and bought quart jars which lead to a different issue, I can only fit four into the slow cooker at once. That’s ok, lessons in patience are good for me.

At this point my yarn order arrived and I now had consistent skeins available use to test color shifts. These first experiments are with an iron wash.

I also began to better understand colorfastness. The dye bath looked beautiful and rich, however when the yarn did not take to the dye. I’m not sure if it’s the mordant I used or the material. I’ll keep experimenting.

First Inks

swatch of acron ink on a small card
acorn ink swatches

In my initial excitement at causing fibers to become different colors, I forgot that I also intended to create ink. I lost some interesting colors that weren’t color-fast on fiber but may have been beautiful as an ink. It was a lesson that I won’t soon forget!

It’s now acorn season and I’ve been collecting them off my deck. I’ve been both dyeing wool and working on an acorn ink.

I’m curious if the colors change as the acorns mature throughout the season.

Results & Next Steps

I’m having fun and don’t see myself stopping soon. I checked out several more books from the library in order to make my experiments more efficient. I found Vegetable Dyeing: 151 Color Recipes for Dyeing Yarns and Fabrics with Natural Materials by Alma Lesch, Watson-Guptill Publications, 1970 (worldcat link) to be one of the most informative volumes I’ve found in my library system.

I’m still foraging in my yard and the kitchen. This part excites me as I love taking something that I once dumped into the compost pile and turning it into something new. I look forward to discovering what various scraps will become.

My plans for what I’ve dyed to-date are a small project or two. I think the churro will became a hat, I’m not sure about the other yarns. I’ve always intended the silk for embroidery embellishment, of something.

I’ll continue to refine my acorn ink. I need to find the logo stamp a friend carved for me years ago. I also need to dust off my own carving tools and work on a woodblock for larger printing.

an array of natural dyed yarns in various shades
selection of naturally dyed yarns

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