Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft 2018

On Memorial Day Weekend I did a dyeing demonstration at Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair in Cummington, MA. I’ve done demos there before, but this year was special. I was dyeing hand-spun yarns from a variety of sheep breeds, spun by Lisa Bertoldi of Weft Handwoven Linens, and supported by a grant from the Northeast Handspinners Association.

Here was the table with examples of my own naturally dyed handspun yarns, some of my favorite books, fliers for the Northeast Handspinners Association, and a 6-pack of marigolds:

Next to that I set up the portable electric burners and dye pots:

The jar on the left contains powdered madder roots that I weighed out and soaked in water the day before. The other dye plants I used that day were weld, marigolds, and black walnut hulls.

On a bench beside the pots I set out the tools, dried dye plants, tubs, measuring spoons, and other supplies, mordants and other additives that I would need:

I scoured and mordanted all the skeins ahead of time using aluminum sulfate. I transported them damp, and kept them in a tub of water to pull out and use as the day went along. In addition to Lisa’s skeins, which weighed about 13 ounces all together, I had prepped some mini-skeins from Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont (from their end-of-the-run stash) and some natural colored wool yarn from Bartlett Yarns in Maine (a very light gray-brown).

Since my demo ran all day this year, I had plenty of time to make the dyebaths as well as dye the yarns. In each case, the dye plants heated in the dye pots for approximately an hour, then I let them cool off a little before straining out the plant material and putting in the yarn. Usually I like to let the fiber cool and soak overnight, but in this case I wanted to keep the process moving along fairly quickly.

Once the crowds arrived I took no pictures whatsoever! It was a busy day with lots of curious visitors, great questions and conversations, and a couple unexpected but pleasant surprises regarding color.

Some of the skeins that Lisa had spun were naturally colored browns and grays. I felt a little bad dyeing them, since they were already very lovely. But, that’s what I had to work with, so I just went for it.

Some of the visitors came back multiple times during the day to check on the progress of the dyebaths, and I was able to get suggestions from them about which skeins to try in which pots. One young visitor was especially engaged and came back several times. At the end of the day, I let that young person pick the ones they liked the best. Hence, I do not have photos of those skeins (a madder skein and a weld skein).

Here are the details for each dyebath:

Madder

The day before the demo, I weighed 3 ounces of powdered madder root from Dharma Trading and soaked it in plain tap water overnight in a tall glass jar. The day of the demo, I poured the whole jar into a pot with some additional water, heated it to 150 degrees F, and maintained that temperature for an hour.

Because the powder was very fine, it was hard to strain. The remaining dyebath was still a little sludgy. I added 1/2 a teaspoon of calcium carbonate and a glug of soda ash solution.The pH was 11, which is much higher than I was going for. So, I added more water and brought the pH down to 9. It also cooled off the bath a little.

In the first, strongest madder dyebath, I dyed a charcoal gray skein, at the suggestion of the young visitor I mentioned. The color turned out to be a very interesting shade of purple! I wish I had a photo of that one, and it’s an experiment worth repeating. The charcoal gray skein weighed about 2 ounces. That first bath heated for an hour, around 150 degrees.

Next, I put in two of the tiny Green Mountain Spinnery wind-offs (approx. 1 oz. each). The first exhaust bath heated for an hour. Alas, it got busy and I wasn’t watching the pots carefully. The first exhaust bath overheated and got up to a boil, but the color stayed pink nevertheless.

After the hour was up, I pulled those two out, and put in two more tiny Green Mountain skeins, plus a 4 oz. Bartlett skein. I heated them for 30 minutes.

At this point I added another of Lisa’s handspun skeins to the pot, a 1 oz. gray-brown skein.  All the skeins stayed in the pot together for another 30 minutes, then I turned the heat off and pulled it off the burner to cool.

Back at home the next day, I finished exhausting the madder dyebath using another 4. oz skein of Bartlett’s. Before adding the wool, I added a little more soda ash solution and a half teaspoon calcium carbonate to get the pH back up to 9. I heated the pot to 140 degrees, and maintained that for an hour.

Here are the exhaust skeins after they were all rinsed and dry (the one on the far right is walnut-dyed):

Weld

For the weld bath I used 7 ounces of dried weld (whole tops, including stalks, leaves and flowers). Normally I would soak this ahead of time, too, but for the demo I weighed out the plant material while people were watching, and only extracted it once. After the pot got up to about 150 degrees, it heated for hour. I only cooled it a little before straining. Then we added calcium carbonate and soda ash solution to get pH9, and I put in two of Lisa’s handspun skeins (total weight about 2 1/2 ounces). They heated for an hour. It was a very strong bath and we got vivid yellows!

One of Lisa’s white handspun skein weighing about 2 ounces went into the first weld exhaust bath. It was also bright but not quite so neon-electric as the first two. That skein also went home with the young person who was very excited and engaged with the whole process.

Back at home a couple days later, I exhausted the weld bath. It was pH 7, so I added half a teaspoon of calcium carbonate and some dissolved soda ash to get the bath to pH 9. Then I dyed a 6 oz. skein of my own handspun, mordanted with aluminum sulfate.

The top rack shows the weld-dyed skeins on the left hand side. The marigold skeins are on the right:

Marigold

I used 4 oz. of dried marigold flowers, all types of colors mixed together. People often ask me whether different colors of marigold give different shades of yellow or gold. I don’t actually know because I’ve never bothered to separate them. My hunch is that they all give basically the same color, but it might be worth it to test this out sometime.

The procedure for making the dyebath was the same as the weld, but I didn’t add any pH modifiers or other amendments. The first skein to go in the bath was a 6 oz. skein of Lisa’s. The skein heated about an hour, and turned a rich old gold color. In the marigold exhaust I put in two of the Green Mountain wind-offs, total weight just over 2 oz. They also yielded an old gold shade, but a little bit brighter. You can see the marigold-dyed skeins on the top right hand side of the drying rack above.

Black Walnut Hulls

I used 3 oz. of dried black walnut hulls for this demo. I usually use them fresh, and I wasn’t quite sure how dark of a bath this would give. The answer is, not very. I also only extracted them once: I brought the hulls and water up to about 150 degrees (could have been hotter, but that takes longer), held that for an hour, then strained out the hulls. In this short amount if time they probably didn’t have enough time to really soak and release their dye.

Nevertheless, the result was interesting. I used one of Lisa’s light brown skeins, about 2 oz., with a lot of gray. I didn’t think to take a “before” picture, but what happened was that the walnut shifted the grayer, cooler tone of the original skein to a warmer more yellow tone. You can see the skein in the image above, on the far right of the bottom rack with the madder dyed yarns. The pinkish-brown skein from madder exhaust is next to it.

Because color looks so different depending on the lighting, I also though it would be interesting to show how the skeins looked on the drying rack in the shade:

The weld exhaust looks so pale in this lighting, when in actuality it’s much brighter.

Tannin and Black Walnut on Cotton

I have often joked that using black walnut hulls on white wool is perhaps not the best use of my time. Black walnut hulls make various lovely shades of brown, but there are plenty of brown sheep.

Dyeing cotton brown, on the other hand, makes sense. There are naturally brown cottons, but they are not commonplace. Sally Fox has spent many years breeding naturally colored cottons in a range of beautiful colors, which you can see for sale here. However, most of the cotton that’s available at the moment is white.

Using the same heavy cotton twill samples that I used for the tannin-iron-madder and tannin-copper-weld experiment, I ran some samples with black walnut hulls. I should note that black walnut itself is a source of tannin, so the tannin step at the beginning was probably redundant. However, for this series of experiments, I treated the whole piece of cloth with tannin originally before I cut it up for samples.

I usually use walnut hulls when they are fresh in the fall. But since it was winter, I used dried hulls. I made the dyebath with 1.5 oz. dried hulls, which I extracted three times over three days and then combined the dyebaths. I am a fan of really giving the plant material time to soak to get the most out of it. This is especially true when the material is dried and woody.

As you can probably read on the label, the sample above was made with the sequence tannin, copper, weld, black walnut. You can read all the steps in the tannin-copper-weld process in my last post. I cut that piece of cloth in half and then in half again for these walnut experiments. This one was dyed in the original full-strength walnut dyebath, along with the sample below. With all of these walnut samples, I brought the bath up to 180 degrees, kept it there for an hour, and cooled the fiber in the bath overnight.

Above you see tannin, iron, black walnut. It was dyed in the same full-strength bath as the sample above it. For the iron process, see my earlier post about “Amish Purple”. I really like this warm chocolate brown. I was expecting a darker gray-brown because of the tannin-iron combination, but I think that would require a more concentrated black walnut bath.

The sample above was tannin, copper, weld, black walnut exhaust. “Exhausting” means using the same dyebath again to get a lighter color. After I pulled the first two pieces out, I put in this sample and the one described below. The stray pink thread is from the madder exhaust (which I will write about later).

The sample above is tannin, alum acetate, black walnut exhaust. Alum acetate is the mordant that I usually use with cellulose fibers. Many dyers recommend it for cellulose, rather than aluminum sulfate (which is what I use on wool). After the tannin treatment, I mordanted some of the cloth with alum acetate at a rate of 5% of the weight of the fiber. Use caution with alum acetate, as the powder is very fine and light, and goes airborne easily!  Once it was dissolved in the dyepot, I added the fiber and maintained the temperature at 100 degrees. That’s basically the temperature that hot water comes out of my tap, so it doesn’t really need to be heated at all. Maintain that temperature for an hour, stirring regularly. As with other dyeing steps, I usually let things cool overnight.

Here they are all next to each other:

From left to right, they are: tannin-copper-weld-black walnut; tannin-copper-weld-black walnut exhaust; tannin-alum acetate-black walnut exhaust; and tannin-iron, black walnut. A nice range of browns!

Black Walnut Ink

Over the past few weeks in my class at school, we have been making black walnut ink. It is one of the craft and science projects we’re doing as part of our study of Colonial New England. We plan to use the ink to write with quill pens in pamphlet-stitch-bound “copy books” to scribe historical aphorisms such as “Mind your book,” “Strive to learn,” “Call no ill names,” and “Cheat not in your play”. Yes, OK, these are pretty moralistic, but speaking as a primary school teacher, I actually think they are still pertinent to a 21st century classroom in a progressive independent school.

To make the ink we are using the highly composted/aged/fermented contents of a 5 gallon bucket of black walnut hulls in water, which dates back not just one but TWO Autumns ago (i.e., Autumn 2012). Fresh walnut hulls are fragrant, even perfume-like. Mine, as it turned out, had become manure-like. Continue reading “Black Walnut Ink”

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

The time is drawing near! Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Work by Michelle Parrish and Amanda Quinby will go up on Tuesday at the Shelburne Arts Co-op, and will be open to the public from Wednesday October 2nd until Monday October 28th. Fall hours at the co-op are Sunday, Monday and Wednesday 11-5; Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11-8. The co-op is closed on Tuesdays. Here is a sneak peek of the ryas that will compose my portion of the show. The other portion of the show will be Amanda’s enchanting gilded panels, which have been on display at KW Home in Easthampton this month. Continue reading “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral”

Orange Cosmos Rya

I finally finished this rya that I’ve had to un-weave and re-weave four times due to various problems and mistakes. The oranges and yellow-orange are dyed with orange cosmos. The brown is black walnut, and the blue at the center is dyed with woad. What looks like a solid orange block around the outside is actually two shades of orange, the darker blending into the lighter. Continue reading “Orange Cosmos Rya”

Easter Egg

Today I wove the wood thrush’s “egg” part of my nest-like rya. The egg is dyed with woad and Queen Anne’s Lace. The nest is dyed with black walnut. The darkest shade of brown right around the egg is hand-spun naturally brown Romney singles combined with my darkest shade of black walnut. Romney is a breed of sheep. I bought a huge bittersweet chocolate colored fleece many years ago at the Webs Fleece Market, but alas I can’t remember who I bought it from.

Row one:

egg row one Continue reading “Easter Egg”

Nest Rya

Once again, thanks to a snow day on Tuesday, I have made more progress on my new rya this week than I might have otherwise. Nevertheless, it is posing many challenges. The design is supposed to resemble an egg in a nest (Matthew’s idea–Thanks, Matthew!). Specifically, I’m thinking of a wood thrush egg, which is a very beloved bird to me. My colors are shades of tan and brown, dyed with black walnut, and blue-green for the egg, dyed with Queen Anne’s Lace and woad. Wood thrushes like to incorporate white material into their nests, so there is a very light colored layer around the outside of my design. Continue reading “Nest Rya”

Black Walnut Dye Project

OK, I haven’t sewn a new book in a couple weeks because I have been taking advantage of the extended fall weather and have been dyeing (outdoors) with some particularly stinky and stainy dyes: weld, black walnut, and an ancient umbilicate lichen vat from 2006. Each one deserves a post of its own, so I’ll start with the black walnut.

The black walnut has been an unintended exhausting marathon. That’s a pun. “Exhausting” is what you call it when you re-use the same dyebath (or dye liquor, or ooze, depending who’s talking about it) multiple times until there is no color left. One of my on-going projects is to weave a series of rya rugs using a limited palette of yarns that I have dyed with a given quantity of plant material.

To dye the yarn for the first rug, earlier this summer I dug 5.5 lbs. of Lady’s Bedstraw roots. This quantity ended up dyeing 2lbs. 12 oz. of wool in various shades of pink, peach, apricot, salmon, and, yes, warm beige. Beige in any of its various shades is not my (or, I think, any dyer’s) favorite color. Certainly it comes in handy when you need some neutral to balance out a design. But considering all the work involved in dyeing with plants, especially when you start with the raw materials themselves, it’s not really worth it just to make beige, even warm beige. There are plenty of beige sheep. Creating beige does not inspire awe, or joy, in the dyer. It also does not impress non-dyers with the power and magic of natural dyes. Since part of my concept with this project is to demonstrate the incredible range of color that a single plant–even a single dyebath–can generate, too much beige defeats the purpose.

This year, as you may recall, was a bumper year for black walnuts around here.  I decided to commemorate the bumper black walnut year with a rya rug, even though I often joke that dyeing white wool brown is a questionable pursuit (there is probably a fairytale about the foolish girl who spent her time and energy on this…). There are plenty of brown sheep. Nevertheless, I really love noticing and celebrating the natural world around me, whether events are daily and mundane or unusual and remarkable. Being aware of and participating in the cycles of plants, especially, is one of my great joys in life, and one of the reasons I am passionate about natural dyeing. Plus, you can get an incredible range of colors from black walnut. Thus began the mega-black walnut project.

After the bedstraw experience, I decided I didn’t want as many beige skeins relative to the total quantity of yarn. So, I started with an admittedly huge amount of walnut hulls hoping for a lot of nice dark browns and not so many beiges.  OK, you can already tell at this point in the story that I was dreaming, but my vision was blocking my vision, so to speak, and I can only see that in hindsight. I started with nine and a half pounds of walnut hulls that had been soaking in buckets outside for several weeks. I usually think that boiling walnut hulls smell delicious, but these had an unpleasant “swamp” smell due to the fact that they had been decomposing in the relatively warm weather. So, this had to be an outdoors project, using the portable electric burner.

I don’t have large pots, so this whole operation is being run with small pots and small quantities. In fact, I’m thinking “Small Potatoes” may become the name of the series (assuming I ever actually weave these things). I divided the hulls between two potsblack walnut hulls and second dyebathblack walnut hulls and first dye bath and extracted the same hulls twice, creating 4 different dyebaths.

 

 

 

extracting black walnutwalnut hull in dyepot

When extracting the hulls you can let them boil and it won’t hurt the color, but it will make a huge mess if it boils over, so I kept a close watch. Above on the left, “a watched pot never boils.” On the right, a portion of a hull in the dyepot. Below on the left you can see the white skins being mordanted with aluminum sulfate, and on the right, the rich color of the dye bath once the hulls were strained out. black walnut dyebathmordanting yarn

 

 

Ah, turning white wool brown!

Those four original dyebaths have thus far dyed 4 pounds of wool, in successive batches of 4 ounces each, and I have yet to reach beige (I’ve gotten to tan). I have been mulling for many days now whether or not to continue. I already have plenty of wool for a rug, at least a rug of the size I initially envisioned. But I have not truly exhausted the baths. I think I could dye another pound of wool before I actually exhaust the color.

I took a hiatus from the walnut project when we had a cold snap, and my pots and buckets froze (too stinky to keep indoors). Here are hulls with frost on them (which I could even extract again, if I was crazy) and a frozen dyebath:black walnut hulls with frost

frozen black walnut dyebath

 

 

 

But I think I have to continue to the point of true exhaustion. A bumper walnut year calls for an epic quantity of brown yarn, and perhaps an astonishingly big rug.

Happy Fall Equinox!

Going Nuts…

This fall we are having a bumper crop of black walnuts here in Amherst. All summer I’ve been eyeing the big green spheres hanging high in the trees around town, anticipating the happy day when they would start to fall to the ground. The happy day has arrived. At the moment I have a 5 gallon bucket of hulls outside soaking, and three more full of nuts waiting to be processed.

bucket of black walnuts
Bucket of black walnuts still in the hull

Thanks to a former student of mine, I now have a quick and fun way to get the hulls off the nuts. I used to laboriously cut off the hulls with a knife. This is time consuming and a bit dangerous. The hulls are thick and tough. After once staining my hands a really ghastly shade of mottled zombie skin, I always wore thick gloves for this task. But wearing gloves makes my hands sort of clumsy, and the hulls are juicy, and the knife can get slippy…. Fortunately, about 4 years ago, one of my students invited me to collect black walnuts from his mom’s back yard. While I was there, he showed me his method for getting the hulls off: place the nuts on a cinder block and whack them with a piece of 2×4. The hulls pop right off! You can bash ’em with a brick, too.

removing black walnut hulls
Ready to bash a walnut with my 2×4. You can smash several at a time, of course.
black walnut in hull
There’s the walnut inside the hull.
black walnut separated from hull
Hull on the left, black walnut on the right.

After all this bashing, what color do you get from black walnut hulls? Various shades of brown from rich and reddish to silvery grey. I have sometimes wondered whether it is foolhardy to dye white wool brown, when there is plenty of brown wool to be had. But I find black walnuts hard to resist. They are fragrant and abundant. And forgiving; you can let them rot in a bucket for months with no harm done. I let them freeze outside over the winter, which has been bad for the buckets but no problem for the walnut hulls. Some people find them a nuisance when they’ve been littering the ground for a few days, and get all smooshed up and brown and squishy. So really, why not use them? Since I have become more interested in dyeing plant fibers over the past couple years, my new quest this fall is to get a good dark color on linen yarn. Here are some images of walnut dyed wool and linen from seasons past. I’ll keep you posted on my dark-brown-linen ambitions.

black walnut yarn drying
Brown skein on the right is black walnut on Corriedale mordanted with aluminum sulfate and cream of tartar
yarns and fleece dyed with black walnut and woad
Corriedale skein again, with black walnut exhaust on upper right (mixed breed fleece from Hampshire College Farm Center). Blues are from woad.
black walnut on wool, silk, and linen yarns
black walnut on wool and linen yarns and silk hankie

On Saturday, October 1st, I will be introducing others to the pleasures of black walnut hull-bashing, and the fragrant scent of simmering hulls, at Small Ones Farm in South Amherst. I’m hoping people get as much of a kick out of it as I do.