Green Yarn

This has been an extremely prolific year for Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot or Daucus carota. It is absolutely everywhere!

Back in July I ran two dyebaths with fresh Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. Since it’s so abundant, I decided to just use the flowers this time, though you can use the whole plant. For the first dyebath, I had no trouble collecting 30 oz. of flowers from various spots around Amherst, including the sides of parking lots, the side of the road, and next to bus stops.

The flowers are incredibly fragrant and sticky, and consequently they host a huge range of insects. When you pick the flowers, all the insects come along, too. This fact gave rise to a new house-hold rule:

I weighed the plant material outdoors! I also made the first dyebath outside on the portable electric stove outdoors. We had some rainy weather after that, so I made the second dyebath indoors using 24 oz. of flowers that I picked in Hadley.

Here’s a pot full of flowers:

Here’s a close-up. It’s a really beautiful plant:

For the first dyebath, I filled the pot with water, heated it to 140 degrees, maintained that for an hour, and then let the plants soak in the pot overnight. The relatively low temperature was due to the fact that my portable electric burner has two rings. One of them can get very hot, but the other only has a “simmer” setting. The Queen Anne’s Lace was on the simmer side, while I mordanted yarn on the other burner.

Here are the strained flowers after they were heated, soaked, and cooled:

The dyebath looked reddish in the pot, but when I put some of the liquid in a jar, it was light gold. The little white dots are flower petals and maybe pollen that didn’t strain out.

For this project, I decided to over-dye some blue woad-dyed woolen yarn from last summer. I hadn’t bothered to mordant the yarn for the woad vat originally, so I had to mordant the skeins before overdyeing with Queen Anne’s Lace. I used aluminum sulfate at the ratios recommended in Rita Buchanan’s A Dyer’s Garden (1 tablespoon per 4 oz. of fiber). It looked pretty funny to put the blue yarns in a pot with clear water:

To mordant wool with aluminum sulfate, pre-soak the scoured yarn in water for at least an hour in a separate tub. Dissolve the mordant in a pot of hot water, then add the wetted out yarn. Bring the temperature up to 180 degrees, maintain that for an hour, then shut off the heat and let the fiber cool in the mordant bath as long as possible. In this case, it cooled overnight.

The next day, I put a 6 oz. skein into the first Queen Anne’s Lace dyebath, heated it to 160 degrees, and kept it between 160-180 degrees for an hour. I let it cool from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., then pulled it out to dry before rinsing it. I got a very nice shade of green!

Here’s the skein while it’s still in the dyepot, shown with another skein of the same, original shade of blue for comparison. Colors are always darker when they are wet:

Here’s the green skein dripping and drying outside, amidst all the other gorgeous greens of July:

I used the first dyebath again to over-dye a 3 oz. woad-blue skein of wool, and got more of a slate shade of green (less yellow, more blue). It’s in the center in the photo below. When you use the same dyebath again it’s called “exhausting” the bath, and usually results in a lighter color. After the exhaust bath, I poured out the liquid.

The second dyebath I made a couple days later wasn’t quite as strong, only 24 oz. I heated it to 200 degrees, maintained that for an hour, and cooled it overnight. Again, I got a beautiful shade of green on a woad-blue skein. Here are the three skeins once they were all rinsed and dried:

I used the exhaust bath from the second dye bath to over-dye 7 oz. of mohair. It was an extremely pale gray-blue from an exhausted woad vat last summer. I ended up with a sort of pale silvery gray. which was not what I was expecting. In the photo below, there’s a light-yellow lock on the top left corner that shows what the color would have been if the mohair wasn’t already gray-blue.

There is still plenty of Queen Anne’s Lace blooming now that it’s mid-August, but I may turn my sights to other plants next. Goldenrod, perhaps.

Past Speaking Engagements

Over the past year, I have had several opportunities to demonstrate flax processing and talk about natural dyeing. Here is a quick summary of four events that I didn’t get around to writing about when they happened. I just want to document and share them before too much more time passes.

Last August (2016) I did a flax processing demonstration at the Amherst History Museum, in conjunction with the art exhibit “Artifacts Inspire” by the Fiber Artists of Western Massachusetts. The museum asked the participating artists to create original works inspired by objects in the museum’s collection. Two of the pieces in the show were created by Martha Robinson, inspired by two antique hetchels, which are flax processing tools. There’s a good photo of one of her felted pieces here. It was great fun to show people how flax was processed in the past, and to let folks try their hand at using the tools.

Here’s a shot of crowd at the beginning of the demo:

Here I am by the brake and the scutching board:

And here’s Marianne, their consulting curator, getting a kick out of using a hetchel:

The next gig I wanted to mention was my presentation to the Weavers Guild of Springfield on March 4, 2017. I showed a slideshow about planting, growing, harvesting, and retting flax:

Then, I did a quick demonstration of how to use the tools:

It was lovely to meet a new group of weavers, and inspiring to see some old acquaintances there, too.

The third event I wanted to note was the FIBERuary panel I was part of on Feb. 19, 2017 at Sheep and Shawl in Deerfield. FIBERuary is a relatively new event here in Western MA celebrating our local fiber farmers and fiber artists. It’s spearheaded by Carole Adams of Whispering Pines Farm in Colrain, MA. In the past two years it has included a month-long blog and speaker series at Sheep and Shawl. On our panel, we addressed dyeing natural fibers from three perspectives: Linnie Dugas of Woollies of Shirkshire Farm talked about dyeing wool with natural dyes, and brought some luscious dyed batts and roving. I talked about natural dyeing skeins of linen. Scott Norris of Elam’s Widow talked about his process using Procion fiber reactive dyes to dye the linen yarns he uses in his spectacular handwoven kitchen towels.

Last but not least, I was a presenter on a panel at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Sustainability in Textiles Summer Institute in New York on June 7, 2017. Our panel was called “Local Fiber Connections” on the theme of “Farm to Fashion”. The other panelists were Jeffrey Silberman, Chair of the Textile Development and Marketing Department at FIT, Mimi Prober, designer, and Sara Healy of Buckwheat Bridge Angoras. My portion of the panel was a slideshow about retting and processing flax, and basic information about spinning and weaving linen. Sara has worked with Mimi to create custom blended batts for felted garments in Mimi’s collection.

Jeff, Mimi, some other folks at FIT, myself and other members of the New England Flax and Linen Study Group are working on a Farm to Fashion project in which we are collaborating to grow and process flax, spin and weave it, and produce garments for a runway show! At this point, the flax is still in the field, but it’s an exciting prospect.

 

Farm School Dye Day

One of the fun things I got to do last week was to visit the Farm School in Athol, MA, and to lead a natural dyeing workshop for the participants in their adult farming program. The Farm School combines two of my favorite things: agriculture and education. I had never visited their farm before, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be there and to get a better understanding of their different programs. I was greeted by this cheery sign when I first arrived:

Continue reading “Farm School Dye Day”

Gleeful Woad Vat

On July 18th and 19th I ran a woad vat! This is exciting because last summer I planted woad, but didn’t have time to use it for dyeing. That made me sad, and I vowed to rectify that this summer. This summer I planted two beds about a month apart, so that the leaves will mature at different times. I ran this first vat of the summer with much glee and happiness.

I stuck with my tried and true but not truly “sustainable” chemical vat, using ammonia and RIT Color Remover. One of these years I will learn how to precipitate my own woad powder and master a natural fermentation vat (maybe even the urine vat!). Meanwhile I dyed some fiber blue with my own woad and it made me happy. Continue reading “Gleeful Woad Vat”

Exciting Lichen Information!

After all the flax-related posts lately, you might be justified in thinking that I don’t care about dye plants anymore. Not true! I thought I’d kick off what I hope will be a series of posts about dye plants with a link to a fascinating article about recent research on lichen.

OK, technically a lichen isn’t a plant. What exactly is it? Well, I used to think that a lichen was a symbiotic organism composed of a fungus and an algae (perhaps more accurately, “alga” singular). My go-to definition is from Lichens of North America by Irwin M. Brodo, Sylvia Duran Sharnoff, and Stephen Sharnoff. This massive and beautiful book is one of my prized possessions, acquired from Raven Used Books in Northampton many years ago (FYI my beloved Matthew is a former employee and does their website, as well as websites for many other good folk). I abbreviate the definition here:

“[A] lichen is not a single entity, but a composite of a fungus and an organism capable of producing food by photosynthesis. Lichen fungi can associate with green algae or cyanobacteria (the latter also known as blue-green algae), or sometimes both […]. The special biological relationship found in lichens is called symbiosis.”

The authors also offer a sweet, almost diminutive term for the photosynthetic symbiont, “photobiont, for short,” which is a word I aspire to slip into casual conversation more often. (Well, OK, ever!)

However, please follow this link for some exciting new insights into the life of lichen ….

 

Winnowing and Wine Bottles

OK, so I said earlier that I am bad at winnowing. This is still mostly true. I also said that on the next sunny weekend day I would use the wine bottle method to get the seeds off my flax in an efficient way. This is only a bit true, but it’s “truthy” in a way that can be explained with details and isn’t a lie.

This post is about how I spent a significant portion of April vacation removing the seeds from six varieties of flax from last summer, and got it cleaned up for planting. I know that ostensibly my blog is about dyeing, but I have been flax-obsessed lately. You might have noticed the flaxy-flaxy-flax-flax theme…. So, yeah. Flax. Again. Continue reading “Winnowing and Wine Bottles”

Low Humidity! April Vacation!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to process flax, you’d better do it while the humidity is low. I am not entirely positive why this is so, but I know from experience that it is true. If you try to break or scutch your flax while it’s humid, the stalks just bend and the shives cling to the fibers for dear life. You do not hear the gratifying crackling, snapping sounds that should accompany such activities. It is arduous and futile. Well, maybe not futile, but it’s certainly a lot easier and more successful when the humidity is low.

I suspect that this is related to one of the properties of linen that make it a desirable fabric. Flax fibers are hydrophilic, meaning that they absorb water easily. I am sure someone has done research on how being damp also makes flax want to stick to itself. If you know of good resources on this, shoot me an email.

For the past several days here in western Massachusetts, we have had very, very low humidity. Well, low for Massachusetts. It’s been anywhere from 30-50% in the morning, dropping to about 18% in the afternoon. The weather has also been bright, sunny and warm. And best of all, it is April vacation! So, I have had time to sit and process flax! Everything I’m working on this week is the variety Marilyn, though I’m chipping away at bundles from various years. Continue reading “Low Humidity! April Vacation!”

Magnification Technology Mach 2

Apparently one of the unforeseen functions of my blog is to document the decline in my vision over the decade of my forties. I have written about it here and here. Despite my attempts to be philosophical about it, I still find it annoying (at best) and unsettling (at worst) that I can’t see as well as I used to. Fortunately, magnification technologies come to my rescue at opportune moments. So honestly I cannot complain. Here’s a great example of such a rescue.

I’ve been stripping the seed bolls off of my flax from last summer, and sifting through debris for individual seeds. Flax seeds are shiny and glossy, and they stand out amidst the beautiful but comparatively lusterless dried leaves, flowers, and other bits of plant debris. Well, they stand out a *bit*. They do not stand out a *lot*. The chaff and other debris are highly textured and multicolored, and even glossy, shiny seeds can get lost in the mix. Especially with my not-so-awesome eyesight. The other day I was stripping the seeds off of the variety called Ariane. I’d removed all the seed bolls from the plants. Yay. However, I had a huge pile of debris to sift through with loose seeds mixed in. Sigh. Time to double down. Continue reading “Magnification Technology Mach 2”

If It’s April It Must Be Time to Plant Flax

It is, in fact, April. No foolin’. I am excited that it’s spring but, as usual, I’m ill prepared. Even though we had a mild winter here in terms of temperatures and snowfall, it was still winter. And I was still surprised by the sudden acceleration of the hours of daylight around the spring equinox. Winter winter winter winter winter, then, ta da, spring!

The other day I read on a blog post from one of the Vävstuga students that they had planted flax as part of the Väv Immersion class (tip: hit the back button to get back to my post from these links). What? I felt a sudden panic. I am not ready to plant. Continue reading “If It’s April It Must Be Time to Plant Flax”

FIBERuary in Western Massachusetts

In case you haven’t heard, it’s FIBERuary here in Western Massachusetts! Carole Adams, of Whispering Pines Fiber and Herb Farm in Colrain, came up with the idea as a way to promote local fiber farmers. She was inspired by an initiative in the UK called Wovember which encouraged people to think more deeply about where wool comes from, to celebrate the incredible diversity of British wool, to wear 100% woolen garments, and to knit with British wool. Continue reading “FIBERuary in Western Massachusetts”