Saturday, October 22, 2016

Natural Dyeing Workshop at the Hans Herr House

This morning I spent a very enjoyable three hours at the Hans Herr House near Lancaster, PA participating in a natural dyeing workshop. Marty and Jess were our instructors for the course; Marty focusing on pennsylvania german dyeing and Jess on native american dyeing. We used indigo, onion skins, blood root and the bark of the sassafrass root. The main reason I wanted to attend this workshop was to learn dyeing in a more historical setting, using a wood fire and seeing how dyes worked in cast iron pots. Well, how about this for a hearth!
The site itself was beautiful. We were in the basement kitchen of this old stone house.

We even had a very affectionate furry visitor!

 But, alas, no cast iron, just enameled and stainless steel. So I will have to do more practice on my own with some of the cast iron and brass/copper kettles I have.

Marty started by talking about some of her dye books. I think my next purchase will be a lovely looking dyeing book from Colonial Williamsburg, "Organic Fiber Dyeing."

We all brought something made of natural fiber (wool, linen, silk or cotton) to dye. I brought an off white silk blouse I had bought a while back for dyeing and had just never gotten around to doing anything with. Others brought cotton shirts, pieces of linen or cotton, a silk scarf. One woman brought a beautiful vintage young child's dress that looked amazing dyed in the indigo vat.
It's hard to see in the photo, but the cotton lace and a sort of ribbon near the hem had subtle shade variations. The whole piece was just incredible.

I realize now that I didn't get any pictures of things dyed with other colors. My silk blouse came out a very vibrant orangey mustard that is right now simmering in a walnut over dye bath. I loved the color but I didn't think I would have worn the shirt. I am hoping for a more burnt orange after overdyeing.

Marty showed us some of the colors she has dyed in the past:

And rugs she wove with some of the yarns she dyed.

And Jess talked about porcupine quills in native american decorations and had quills for us to dye.
And that orange thing that looks like a leaf in the photo above is a deer tail dyed in blood root. How cool is that!

I definitely need to dye with onion skins. The yellow skins gave a really deep color but I have seen people getting a really pretty green with red onion skins on wool mordanted with alum.

The sassafrass was a bit of a disappoinment. It was very expensive but only yielded a color that was OK.  But it smelled good!

 And here are a few more photos.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

NY Sheep and Wool Festival

My daughter and I went to the NY Sheep and Wool Festival on Sunday. Last year I wasn't able to get there but this year we were successful. The three hour ride was uneventful and the long lines to park that I had been worried about did not materialize, thankfully. My first impression was how uncrowded it was. The MD Sheep and Wool festival has always been packed when I have been there. I did hear that the crowds on Saturday were much bigger. The weather forecast for Sunday was a little iffy so that may have had something to do with the lack of crowds. This was also the first year for the equipment auction on Saturday so that may have also had an impact on which day people decided to attend.
I had three goals for the festival. The first was to not buy any fiber! And I succeeded. The second was to get a pair of combs, and there I also succeeded. I also wanted to get some Kookaburra wool wash but I found no dealer. My only impulse buy was some natural dyeing materials- logwood, weld and cochineal.
I had been told that the MD festival was more about sheep and the NY festival was a little more about fiber. I think the focus was pretty similar between the two festivals but the NY festival seemed smaller. I really missed the lamb kebobs!
But we did see lots of sheep!

And alpacas!
The weaving demo was impressive too!

I learned a lot and have a better understanding of what I need to do to sell with my Coopworth group at the festival next year.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Browns, Magentas and Blues!

I've spent the last week and a half experimenting with natural dyeing. First I made up a dye bath with some of the MANY walnuts on the ground here. The resulting  skeins dyed brown have a wonderful depth and glow to them that pictures just don't do justice to.
Next up was picking some of the pokeweed berries growing everywhere here. The first dips into the dye bath gave a deep magenta. I still had the walnut dyebath so I did some lighter dyeing in the pokeweed bath then let the yarn sit in the walnut dye bath. I also played around with some mottling of the pokeweed and walnut on some of Elwood's roving.
Yesterday I played in the indigo vat. What fun! I am in love with this blue. I haven't decided it I want to make some of the skeins a darker, deeper blue.
I was hoping to get some mordanting done this morning and then spend the afternoon making up dyebaths with jewelweed and madder root, but we've been having off and on showers. I need a little yellow/red spectrum in the mix.

Monday, October 3, 2016


Have you ever really wanted to do something but just needed a confidence boost? That's how I was with dyeing. I have lots of books, have watched videos and read website and blog instructions. But still there was that feeling that I needed to actually watch someone dye from start to finish and ask all the questions that came up in my mind.
Saturday I took an amazing workshop at White Barn Farm in New Paltz, NY. I saw the pictures of a workshop done by Paula last year and had been looking for another one this year. The over 5 hour drive (round trip) was more than worth it for all the education and experience I gained.

Paula has an amazing space for dyeing that I can only dream of.

Paula taught us much more than I could have even hoped for in the short 5 hours of the course, and we all came home with amazing memories and beautiful mini skeins of samples.

Documenting what we were doing (so we would remember) was stressed and we made these notecards for reference.

The day began, after getting a nice big mug of my favorite Earl Grey tea, with a discussion of mordanting with alum and cream of tartar. Paula had already started mordanting the wool we would be dyeing during the workshop. After splitting up our skein into ten mini skeins and marking them with different colored rubber bands (so we could tell ours from the others) we went out to look at Paula's dye garden and pick some leaves and flowers.

She had two nice patches of indigo.

One of madder (which needs to be three years old to harvest the roots. Unfortunately this patch was only on its first year.)

Then we focused on flowers; specifically marigolds and cosmos.

Back inside with our harvest from the garden, our first task was making a dyebath with fresh indigo leaves. A blender was packed full of leaves, then distilled water was added and the whole lot blended.

We added our mini skeins and waited.  While waiting we went on to the indigo vat. This was just indigo powder, lime and thiox. The scum on top is removed when dyeing, and then replaced.
The color was at first a blueish green which quickly turned blue in front of our eyes.
The longer the skeins from the indigo vat were exposed to the air the darker blue they became.

The skeins dyed in the fresh indigo leaf vat also started out green then turned a beautiful pale blue with exposure to the air.

The skeins on the left, above, were dyed by us, the skein on the right had been dyed the day before with about half as many indigo leaves as we picked.

We made up three half gallon canning jars with madder root, brazilwood and logwood in a large canning kettle on a camp stove. Each jar received two tablespoons of the dye material and was a little over half filled with distilled water. The jars were the simmered in the water bath, then our skeins were added.
I can't remember if this was brazilwood or madder, but the colors were gorgeous!

We made another three jars with cosmo flowers, marigold flowers, and cochineal. The cochineal bugs are shiny little bugs that live on the prickly pear cactus in the southwest.
Two tablespoons of cochineal were added to a jar, and the flower heads were half or more filling the jars. The cosmos gave a yellow with a little more orange tinge while the marigold gave a clearer yellow.

One of the most interesting parts of the workshop was playing with the modifiers. An ammonia rinse gave the most gratification.  The ammonia turned our deep purple/brown logwood into a lovely shade of blue with a touch of violet. The cosmo yellow became a vivid orange, and the ammonia brought out more of the reds in the madder. The iron modifier turned the marigold yellow into an olive green.

With all the knowledge I gained on Saturday I felt confident enough to play around on Sunday at home. I had a vat of soaking walnuts and over 30 skeins of Mercer's wool. After straining out the walnuts I simmered the dye on the Coleman camp stove I found in the basement from our modern camping days. Then I added the skeins. From all my reading I  learned that walnut dyeing does not require mordanting, unless you want to change the end color.
In the first bath I dyed on skein for 10 min, one for 50 min and one for 60 min. In the exhaust bath I did the same with another three skeins. These were my results:
The exhaust bath skeins are on the right, above. The colors in real life are much richer than this screen shows. I put another two skeins in the second exhaust bath and will take them out after 24 hours. This is so much fun and I can't wait to try more colors!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Falling Trees

The state game lands surrounding our property routinely drop trees onto our property. Thursday night when I got home from work Alan told me about his near brush with having a dead tree drop on top of him. He was mowing the lawn and had just finished the little strip between a large clump of lilacs and the garden fence. He did a loop through the next portion of lawn and when he drove by that little strip, about a minute later, there was a large dead tree.
The tree missed the garden fencing and the lilacs and fell exactly in between. It crossed our barn access road:
And went up into the woods.
Alan thinks its ash and has been dead a while. The wood is ready for burning this season.

A few weeks ago another tree, a locust this time, fell out of the game lands and missed the barn and fencing.
This tree fell right between the barn and a jog in our pasture fence, damaging nothing. Once seasoned this tree will provide close to a cord of wood.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sheep Updates

Lots of sheepy updates from the past couple days. Saturday morning I found Moose in with the rams. She went through two sets of electric fence and a stream to get there. She looked very happy and Elwood had definitely claimed her.
Sunday we took Rufus up to his new home so we moved everybody around. Moose went into a breeding group with Mercer, Mama and Ruthie. And Elwood's new girlfriends are Hazel, Clara and Chloe. Rufus and Clementine were put into a small stall together (Clementine would ride up with Rufus for company and then be the quarantine buddy for the new ewe lamb we swapped for Rufus.) That left Salem and Hiram to hang out in the barn. I decided to keep the young ones away from the commotion of breeding.  I am pretty certain that Elwood bred Moose on Saturday and Ruth was marked by Mercer's red crayon this morning. It's hard to believe that lambing will be coming around before we know it.

So here is our new ewe lamb, Della.
She has lovely fleece, just need to get a coat on her! She is adjusting well and getting along just fine with Clementine. She has been sniffing my hand and doesn't run away from me when I am feeding her. She will let me pick hay off her fleece while she is eating.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Rams Meet Matilda

The rams are sporting their new Matilda sheep coats.
This summer I bought a few Matilda coats and liked them a lot, so I bought more. Mercer hasn't had a coat all summer because the only one I had that fit him was black. The poor guy would have been way too hot in a black coat with the record high temps we had this summer. The Matilda coats are a shiny almost reflective silver nylon that seems much better in heat. Hazel is always warm and has been much more comfortable in her silver coat.
Of course now the rams have to check each other out and have been slightly working out their dominance issues again. Thankfully they are just pushing against each other and licking their tongues at each other. They have been smelling the ewes and are getting anxious to start breeding. Soon guys, soon.