Madder the Inexhaustible Root–Part One: Orange

Earlier in November, another teacher at school wanted to dye some cloth to create kid-sized monarch butterfly wings as part of her classroom study of butterflies. Her initial dyebaths, composed largely of marigolds combined with some orange cosmos and wild bedstraw roots, had not yielded the color she wanted. I suggested over-dyeing the cloth with madder roots, even though they weren’t from our garden at school. She decided to use some chopped roots that I had bought from Aurora Silk a few years ago, and was pleased with her results.

I asked her to save me the exhausted dyebath and the roots, which she very kindly did. I spent every spare moment of the next two weeks happily creating various shades of pink and orange on linen and cotton-linen blend yarns. I was well-satisfied with my efforts! Here they are:

drying rack madder yarns Continue reading “Madder the Inexhaustible Root–Part One: Orange”

Rinsing and Drying Madder Roots

Today was a very productive day. I had the day off. It was mostly sunny and warm. And, despite weeks of frosts, the ground was still workable. We’re supposed to get lows in the teens and highs only in the 30s later this week, so I was very motivated to take care of some outdoor tasks before the really cold weather rolls in.

I already wrote about digging up approximately one third of my madder bed a couple weeks ago. I already rinsed some of the madder roots I dug up, and they are already dried. I didn’t document that earlier batch. This morning I rinsed the rest of what I had dug up the other day.

Here is a brown paper grocery bag full of dried but still dirt-covered roots. I hadn’t planned to dry them first, it’s just that I didn’t manage to rinse them off before they dried. Fortunately I didn’t have any issues with mold.

dirt-covered madder roots

Continue reading “Rinsing and Drying Madder Roots”

Digging up Madder Roots

After a glorious and fairly mild autumn, the colder weather arrived about a week and a half or two weeks ago. We have had at- or below-freezing temperatures every night since then. Fortunately it’s been warm and sunny in the day times, so the ground isn’t frozen. It has also been very dry, so the soil isn’t wet or heavy. Perfect weather for digging up the madder bed in my fiber and dye plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm. So, on Saturday I headed over there in the morning… a bright but cold and windy day. Continue reading “Digging up Madder Roots”

Madder is Up

Spring has sprung here in our corner of Massachusetts, despite the sleet and hail yesterday. Today Matthew and I went to check on the madder at my dye and fiber plant garden at Bramble Hill Farm.

The madder has been there for three summers now. It likes the location, and has been spreading very nicely. After trying to keep it contained for the first couple years, I decided to double the width of the bed this season. So, today Matthew and I dug up the roots and shoots outside of the parameters of the new bed. Continue reading “Madder is Up”

Hopvine

My new book cloth is a variation of a miniature overshot motif called Hopvine. To create my threading I worked from two other drafts. One was “Modified Hopvine” from a sampler from the Hill Institute. The other was “Modified Hop Vine” from Marguerite Davison’s classic A Handweaver’s Pattern Book. The threading from Hill had too many ends in each pattern repeat to suit the scale of my book covers (5.5 inches by 8 inches) so I wanted to make the motif smaller. The Davison draft had fewer ends in a repeat but looked weirdly jittery in the drawdown in my weaving software.

So, I tinkered until I found a satisfying balance in the pattern, and am still tinkering with the treadling. The design consists of two different diamonds, one a longer and more pointed and the other a little more squat and rounded. I am not sure if these are supposed to evoke different elements of a hop vine, for example the leaves and the inflorescences. Or maybe the name of the pattern has a different origin. There are some nice images of hops plants here.

For those of you who recall my emboldening tabby travails of a year ago, you might be surprised to hear that I ran into the same problem of keeping a consistent tabby this time, also. Sigh. Continue reading “Hopvine”

Microscope Images of Flax Fibers

On Thursday, May 17th, our flax and linen study group met at the lab of one of our members to look at flax fibers under a microscope (and cotton and wool, for comparison). It was so incredibly fun!

Here are the tools and equipment we used to make slides.

making slides (permanent mount)We used tweezers to position our samples and to pull them apart a little to separate the fibers so the light could pass through. We put our samples on a slide (in the square boxes on the right), and added a drop of the mounting adhesive on top (from the little bottle in the blue box). Then we dropped on a small glass cover and used tweezers to press out the air bubbles and get the adhesive to spread evenly between the slide and the cover (small glass covers are in the orange box).  Sharpies are for labeling slides. The pink yarn in back is madder-dyed 40/2 linen. Scissors and razor blades are for cutting. Because the samples were dry, we could make permanent mounts.

Folks brought in a range of flax in various stages of processing: dried but un-retted, retted but unbroken, and retted and broken but not scutched (or hetcheled), and fully processed strick, both old and recent. We looked at flax in several different stages including some of my naturally dyed yarn.

Here is the microscope.

microscopeHere’s the big monitor, which was awesome because we could all see the slides without having to take turns looking through the microscope.

monitorThe program let us do things like adjust the color and take photographs.

We took a lot of very beautiful photos. Here are a few highlights. This image shows the tips of two flax cells overlapping. You can see it in the upper-most edge of the large central bundle, just to the right of the less-in-focus strand that’s crossing diagonally in the left hand corner. Those two greyish-colored pointy tips are the ends of two fiber cells.

retted and broken flax cell ends overlapThe granular purplish area just to the right of the overlapping cell ends shows that part of the structure of the fiber there is hollow. The black circles are air bubbles. Beautiful but irrelevant.

This image shows cotton fibers for comparison. Cotton fibers are flat and ribbon-like in structure, and they twist, whereas flax fibers are rounded or tubular.

cotton 2There is some twist in the structure of flax fibers, also. The image below shows this twisting (in a greenish color in the thin strand in the center). One important thing I learned on Thursday is that the flax fibers we use for spinning and weaving are not the fibers from the circulatory system of the plant (xylem and phloem), which I had previously believed. In fact, they are the structures that give the plant strength and rigidity. They are associated with the vascular cells but are different.

retted and broken flax twistThe two images below show strick fibers (fully processed and ready to spin) from the Zinzendorf brothers in Pennsylvania. The flax was grown and processed on their farm. In the top photo, the center-most green, translucent strand shows the horizontal bars that are typical of flax fibers. In the upper left hand corner you can also see some brown decayed plant matter that is still sticking to the fibers. Click on the images to see a larger view.

brother johannes strickbrother johannes strick 2On slide below we used a stain that shows lignin (the woody material that makes the fibers strong and rigid) in blue and pectin (the starchy glue that holds cells together) in pink. This is a piece of water-retted flax fiber. In the process of water retting, bacteria consume the pectins and allow the fibers inside the plant stalk to separate from the woody core and the outside “skin” of the stalk. If you let the retting continue until all the pectins are eaten, then the individual cells separate also, and you don’t get long fibers to spin. You just get a hairy mess. So, since these fibers are still holding together, there is still pectin present. We think the blue made the pink hard to see. You can see the tubular structure of the flax fibers and the horizontal bars very clearly.

stained retted flaxThe photos below show pale pink madder-dyed 40/2 linen. I used alum acetate for the mordant. I was amazed at how the color sticks to the fibers in clumps. I wonder if yarns with a darker color would show the color adhering more evenly.

madder dyed linen yarn1This photo shows some strands of undyed fiber next to the dyed fibers. I wonder if these were on the inside of the yarn and came free when I teased apart the snippet of yarn to put on the slide.

undyed strandWho knows what is going on here, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look good. That little nugget of color is about to get away.

madder clumpHopefully we will have a chance in future to look at cross sections of the plant stalks at different points in their growth, to see how the fiber bundles develop. Science is fun!

 

 

New Huck Lace Bookmarks–Still Pink, Still Heart-y

Since my madder-dyed linen heart-motif Huck lace bookmarks have been selling pretty well, and since Mothers Day is coming up soon, I decided to weave some more of them. Also, I thought my loyal readers might like a little break from photos of small flax green plants (as there will be a lot more on the way). So, here’s a photo of a bookmark in progress, showing the edge of the two-inch spacer I use to separate each one.

book mark with spacerThere are a lot of steps involved in planning and weaving anything. There are more steps involved if you dye your own yarn and, like me, do not necessarily dye it for a specific project. For example, I had dyed three skeins of 40/2 linen with madder a while back, and had used two of them for my previous batch of bookmarks. Luckily, I keep copious records and I always “show my work,” since I was raised in that 1980s math-generation. So, I knew that I had used 2.16 ounces for the warp last time (with a little left over) and 1.56 ounces for the weft (with almost a full bobbin left over). With 3.72 ounces I wound a ten yard warp and wove 23 bookmarks, plus some weft to spare.

My third skein was 1.7 ounces, a very pale but pretty shade of bluish-pink (the others were more on the red/orange/salmon side of pink). That’s about half as much as I used in my last project, and the question was, how many bookmarks could that make? There are a few ways to find out. Here’s my way.

Yarn is usually sold with a certain amount of helpful information provided, e.g., its size and ply. Sometimes the vendor will also give you a measurement called “yards per pound” which tells you just what it sounds like: how many yards of that yarn it takes to weigh a pound (or an ounce, if you divide by 16). If you don’t know the yards per pound, you can figure it out (or get a good approximation) using a nifty tool called a McMorran yarn balance. You could use the yards per pound for the yarn, and the weight of your skein, to figure out how many yards your skein is.

However, when dealing with limited quantities of naturally dyed yarns (or handspun, naturally dyed yarn, even more so), I have found that the best way to be certain of what I have is to measure. Ideally I would have a niddy noddy that measured skeins by the yard or some other useful increment, but mine doesn’t. So, I often count out the length on a warping board, and that’s what I did this time. OK, done! I had 630 yards of pale pink. Since I had roughly half as much yarn as I used in the last batch, I estimated that I could wind a 5 yard warp and get about 11 bookmarks out of it. But how to be certain? (Certainty is important to me, to a point). Math to the rescue.

To calculate the amount of yarn I’d need for the warp, I first multiplied the width in the reed by the ends per inch (which really just tells you the number of ends in my project, which I actually knew already). My project has 75 ends (a bit more than 2 inches in the reed sett at 36 ends per inch, or epi). Then, I multiplied that by the number of yards in my desired warp, which means I’d need 375 yards for a 5 yard warp. To calculate the number of yards I’d need for the weft, I multiplied the length of each bookmark (12 inches) by the number of bookmarks I thought I could make (11), which meant I would need to weave 132 inches of warp. That’s the length part of the bookmark (two inches of each bookmark is just fringe, which doesn’t use any weft, so I figure this covers the take-up and then some…see below). Now for the width, 75 ends, which means I need a total of 9900 inches (75×132) or 275 yards of weft (divide 9900 by 36). Add that to the warp requirements, and you get 650 yards total. Well, I was 20 yards short, but luckily I had a bobbinful from last time that was definitely more than 20 yards.

My way is sort of a middle way. I could have gone with my initial estimate, which was accurate enough. Or, I could do a lot more fastidious calculations involving additional factors, including draw-in (how much the project pulls in as you weave compared to its width in the reed), take-up (how much it shortens in length due to the fact that the threads are traveling over and under one another; even though the distance taken up by each little bump is minute, it adds up over the length of the warp), and shrinkage (how much it shrinks when you wash it). I have notes about all these things from the last batch of bookmarks (“I have detailed files…“), but I glossed these considerations because eventually you just have to get started on the weaving before it actually IS Mothers Day.

So, I wound a 5 yard warp, dressed the loom, and began weaving away. The first two bookmarks were happy enough (the second was a little squat from beating too hard). Then near the end of the third, I got one broken end, and then immediately another. Grrr. Broken ends are when one, or more, of the yarns in the warp break. Then you have to stop and fix them, and it slows everything down. These bookmarks take me about an hour and a half *each* as it is (including winding the warp, dressing the loom, weaving, washing, ironing, trimming, but not including the dyeing because that labor is infinite and cannot even be quantified). So, I fixed them and then decided I needed to be more strategic about preventing any more broken ends.

A note here. I had problems with broken ends last time, too, and didn’t ever solve the problem. I blamed my yarn, and thought perhaps it was not high-quality. But then I had the good fortune to confer with another weaver who weaves with the same yarn, and he said he has no trouble with it and thinks it’s very good quality. He also hand-dyes his own yarns, but with synthetic dyes, so they are not subjected to the same high-temperature, high-alkaline treatment that mine are. The fault, we decided, was in my comparatively harsh treatment of the fibers in the scouring process (too much soda ash and boiling water is maybe a bad thing). Something to keep in mind as I perfect my cellulose techniques. In sum:

1. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the yarn.

2. I only had myself to blame for its weakness.

3. I will certainly need to continue to use soda ash and may run into this problem again.

Thus, I’d better find a way to solve the problem.

Much of the information I have read about weaving with linen insists that you have to size the warp (or apply “paste”). I have never sized a warp. I admit my total ignorance, and even prejudice, on this matter. Partly, I just can’t believe it actually helps rather than make everything worse, though I don’t want to offend the hundreds of weavers who say it does help. But mostly I cannot imagine having a lot of sticky-when-wet-dusty-when-dry starch smearing all over my lovely loom and getting everything gross. NO!

So, instead I cast about in my memory for other ideas I had read about…. Linen fibers are stronger when damp. Weave in the basement? Don’t have one. Run a humidifier by the loom? Our apartment is built on a concrete slab by a stream in the floodplain of the Fort River, more generally located in the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts, on the east coast of the United States of America. I can’t imagine voluntarily adding extra moisture to the air. We have to run a dehumidifier in the summer to keep the mildew at bay. So, NO! Then I recalled someone saying that it used to be her job to spray the warp to keep it damp as her mother worked. So, I acquired a clean spray bottle (ours always get filled up with fish emulsion or borax or vinegar or somesuch thing, don’t ask me why).

spray bottle with waterI put some water in it, and I sprayed the warp just at and above the fell line (where the beater presses the new rows, or picks, of weft into place). Bad idea. Everything got wobbly, the fibers swelled up, nobody could stay in their correct place and threads were pushing and pulling all over the place. It was a sad sight to see among my orderly little linen threads. So I let it dry. Then I decided to spray up where the beater rests when it’s upright (the white cloth in the photo is to absorb excess water and wipe off droplets from the shuttle race and reed).

spraying near the reed when the beater is uprightThen I pulled the beater forward and sprayed in amongst the heddles.

spraying among the heddlesThis was the zone of weakness, where the breakages occurred, where there must have been a bad combination of abrasion and stress. In addition to keeping that region of the warp damp, I also kept the fell line closer to the breast beam and advanced the warp more often so I was always weaving with the widest possible shed. These techniques are good practice anyway, but when I’m feeling pressed for time I try to push it a little. You can’t really push linen.  I re-sprayed each time I advanced the warp. And ta da!  Success! I wove 5 more bookmarks with narry a broken end!

Last but not least, if you read my earlier post about hemstitching and Chuang Tzu, you may remember my trouble with fraying in the hemstitching process. I tried adding twist as I worked, using a magnifying glass, and other tricks. But the one that really seems to work is wetting the thread. Don’t get it too wet, or it swells up, and then the water absorbs into the woven cloth and it also swells up, and then even with a magnifying glass you can’t see where the holes are or get your needle through…. Enough water to make it damp. Once in a workshop at Long Ridge Farm, when she was describing how wet you want your cloth when you apply soybean-milk as a binder, Michele Wipplinger described it as feeling damp, but only just damp, not wet, and primarily cold. You feel for the temperature. It’s a bit like that with the hemstitching thread (which is a piece of extra weft yarn reserved for the purpose of securing the edges of my bookmarks. Six times the width of the bookmark is optimal. Five times is enough, but it cuts it a little close and is stressful.) You want it cool, damp, but not dripping wet. And bingo.

You can go buy my new batch of bookmarks at the Shelburne Arts Co-op in Shelburne Falls or at Saw Mill River Arts in Montague.

Exhausted Madder and Exhausted with my Warp

I have exhausted the madder bath I’ve been working on.

madder exhaust on bleached cottonThese are the 10/2 bleached cotton skeins which were double-mordanted with aluminum acetate and heated in the calcium carbonate fixing solution. Actually, I could probably run one more bath for an extremely pale pink, but I’m ready to move on with other projects.

Now that I have a pretty decent stash of naturally dyed cotton, linen, and cottolin, I have been using only naturally dyed pattern weft yarns for my current batch of book cloth (the warp and tabby yarns are commercial). Thus far, I have really enjoyed using yarns that I dyed myself. However, on Monday I was having a mightily difficult time choosing color combinations. I couldn’t figure out what my problem was, but I was dissatisfied with everything I tried.  Colors that I had been perfectly happy with before–my screaming yellow weld, for example–looked ugly and annoying.

After a while I realized that I was just tired of weaving the same pattern over and over again (Young Lovers Knot). I put on enough warp for about 20 pieces, with the idea that I was being efficient. But instead I was bored. I am never, ever bored. There is so much to do all the time, and so many interesting things in the world, how could I ever be bored? It took me a while to recognize the feeling, and I felt better when I figured it out.

So, I decided to mix things up a little. I bought some new spring-like colors of 20/2 cotton (the sadly discontinued line from UKI) and decided to use commercially dyed 10/2 for the pattern weft for a while. I also switched from weaving the Young Lovers Knot pattern “Star Fashion” (which gives it those nice diagonal lines) to weaving it “Rose Fashion” (which makes all the motifs more rounded). It was a nice change of pace, and the new colors got me motivated again. In fact, with the new tabby colors, my naturally dyed yarns have taken on all sorts of new possibilities. Here is a 20/2 linen madder-dyed skein from the recent dyebath woven with a rich purple commercially dyed 20/2 cotton tabby weft. It’s sort of easter-eggy but considering that crocuses, daffodils, and all the other bulbs are blooming now, it feels OK to me.

madder-dyed pattern weft with purple tabby

Madder Dyed Yarns

After a leisurely process of heating, soaking, and delayed rinse, the first four skeins of madder-dyed yarns are done. Here they are outside today, a bright and sunny day.

madder dyed yarnsI’ve done four dyebaths so far. The photo above shows successive dyebaths moving from right to left. The yarn on the cone is from the first dyebath. The yarns in the first three dyebaths were 20/2 linen and the fourth was 22/2 cottolin. The linen yarns were mordanted with alum acetate, and the cottolin was mordanted with alum acetate plus tannin. The weight of goods in each dyebath was about 2 ounces.

For the last couple exhaust baths I am preparing 10/2 cotton (bleached) because that’s what I have on hand at the moment. After some disappointing results with my last two umbilicate dyebaths, and out of a general desire to achieve greater depth and brightness of colors on cellulose fibers, I am going to try some new procedures. I’m especially frustrated with cotton at the moment, and for help I am turning to Jim Liles’ book The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use. In his instructions for scouring cotton, Liles writes, “… simmer or boil for an absolute minimum of 2 hours. Three or 4 hours is better in some cases, and in the old days cotton was sometimes scoured at the boil for 8 hours. Cotton is full of wax, pectic substances, and oil, all of which must be removed.” This is much longer than I’ve ever scoured before.

So, I boiled the skeins for two hours with anionic scour (from Earthues) and soda ash. Then I rinsed them three times, and mordanted with alum acetate at 5% weight of the goods at 100 degrees for one hour, let the yarns steep in the mordant for a couple days, dried them, and am now re-mordanting in the same mordant bath. This procedure is a combination of my usual cellulose treatments (based on recommendations from Earthues) and recommendations from Jim Liles.

Double-mordanting with a period of drying in between is a new experiment for me. Liles gives instructions for making your own aluminum acetate, and writes that you should wait until the acetic acid smell has dissipated before proceeding with dyeing. Since I am using alum acetate that I did not have to make myself, I didn’t detect any acetic acid smell after mordanting the first time, so I went ahead with the second mordant bath after just drying the skeins for a day.

Next will come the “fixing solution” Liles recommends. To remove unbonded mordant, he recommends soaking with a solution of calcium carbonate or sodium phosphate for 30 minutes, then rinsing with water. I’m not sure from the book whether I can just use calcium carbonate, or whether it has to be soaked with cattle or sheep dung. It seems to me that if I have the calcium carbonate, I don’t need the dung (since that seems to be a source of sodium and calcium phosphate), but maybe it helps.

Since I am already pretty far along with this madder project, I’m not planning to make any changes to my usual dyeing, drying, or rinsing steps with the last exhaust baths this time around.

However, for my next madder project I will try one of Liles’ recipes for madder red. Reading through his recipes has been very eye-opening and I am fascinated by, and kind of surprised by, many of the things he writes about. For example, instead of just rinsing the madder-dyed goods, he describes a process where the dyed material is simmered or boiled with soap. This is supposed to make the color brighter and more clear. I watch the temperature very carefully while the roots are extracting and the yarn is in the dyebath to make sure it *doesn’t* boil or even simmer. It never occurred to me that high heat later in the process could be beneficial. Also, he writes that the dyebath ought to be acidic when dyeing cotton or linen with madder. Oops. Did you see my pH comments in the last post? Clearly I had the wrong idea about what that calcium carbonate was for. In fact, he writes that making the dyebath alkaline will produce a bluish-purple. Well, I didn’t get anything like purple this time with my alkaline dyebath, but maybe I can…. So many things to try.

Here’s the madder-dyed linen yarn getting woven into cloth with black 20/2 cotton tabby weft.

cloth with madder-dyed yarn coming around the breast beamThis shot is from underneath the breastbeam to show the cloth winding onto the cloth beam. I really like these colors together. The blue-green is woad overdyed with weld.

book cloth going onto cloth beam