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:

Well, actually, when I first pulled up I was greeted by large, white goats browsing the brambles along the side of the road. The goats were accompanied by some friendly humans with welcoming smiles, so I knew I was in the right place. But at that point I was keeping both hands on the wheel and was driving very cautiously. I did not try to snap photos, since goats can be unpredictable! In reality I took this photo on my way out, once the coast was clear.

After a helpful orientation, I was invited to a delicious lunch of spicy daal with the adult student farmers with whom I would be working that afternoon. The food was very yummy and much appreciated! And in case it wasn’t spicy enough, there was a bottle of Sriracha to squirt on top. That’s my kind of meal.

After lunch, we jumped right into the dyeing process. There were roughly 15 students, and the goal was to run a hands-on workshop in which everyone could directly participate. We ran five different dyebaths or vats, in order to offer a range of colors and techniques. We used dried weld to make a bright yellow, dried marigolds to make a golden yellow, an umbilicate lichen vat for a purplish-magenta shade, chopped madder roots for a brick-red, and natural indigo powder for blue.

Students divided into teams of three to make and monitor each dyebath.  We used the Farm School’s own wool for this workshop from their flock of primarily Border Leicester sheep, which were sheared earlier this season. The fleeces were spun into skeins at Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, VT, and were mordanted with aluminum sulfate by Stephanie Cook, who organized this whole lovely experience.

Here is a photo of some of the students testing the pH of a dyebath using pH test strips:

Students also mixed and tested a solution of soda ash that we used as a pH modifier. The pH of a dyebath (how acidic or alkaline the bath is) can make a big difference in the colors that are obtained. Weld and madder also benefit from the addition of calcium carbonate (chalk) to enrich the color, so we used it for both of those baths.

Indigo vats are particularly tricky. For making blue, I usually use fresh plant material during the summer and fall months. For many years I have used woad, and more recently, have used Japanese indigo a couple times. I am very confident with those methods, but I was a little anxious about the indigo vat. While I have certainly run indigo vats before, they can be fussy and we were on a limited time table. Luckily, it worked out fine.

The team that set up the indigo vat wore gloves to handle some of the ingredients. In the interest of time, we used a quickie chemical vat rather than a natural fermentation vat. We used lye and thiourea dioxide to make the stock solution. The indigo powder and Thiox were from Long Ridge Farm in Westmoreland, NH.

Here’s the indigo station. The deep blue skein in the tub on the right is what we dyed that afternoon:

Here is a happy dyer contemplating the prospect of brightly colored yarn:

Here is a shot of students watching the stove:

Each team was responsible for monitoring the temperature of their dyebath and timing how long the dyeplant or the yarn was in the pot. This photo reminds me of the proverb, “A watched pot never boils.” I actually think that this adage is meant to remind dyers that you have to watch your dyebaths to make sure they don’t get too hot. When you are dealing with natural dye materials that are temperature sensitive, such as madder and umbilicate lichen, it is important to make sure that your pot never boils.

Here is a shot of the stove in the kitchen where we were working. I have never run a workshop where we had access to an industrial gas stove, and it was quite a thrill! Six burners could run simultaneously:

I am a proponent of a long soak (overnight or more) and a delayed rinse (allowing the fiber to dry before rinsing) when using plant-based dyes. So, with the exception of the indigo-dyed skein, we transferred all the skeins and dyebaths to five gallon buckets at the end of the workshop so they could absorb more color before rinsing. The colors looked rich and promising by the end of the afternoon, and I hope the skeins turned out well. I certainly enjoyed my time there, and was grateful for the opportunity to meet this energetic and creative group of farmers!

Bookmark Success!

After I wove off that pink warp, dyed with madder, I finally put a new warp on the loom. It’s a blue warp, dyed with woad, for more “Jack Frost” pattern bookmarks. Amazingly enough, the first three came out exactly the same length! This is a feat of consistency of which I am rarely capable, so I was pretty happy. Here they are:

consistent weaving

What I have been aiming for in my bookmarks is a woven length of 10 inches, with 1 inch of fringe on each end. This allows them to fit exactly into the stylish wrappers Matthew designed, which are 12 inches long. Continue reading “Bookmark Success!”

Bookmark Failures (Successes Coming Soon)

This post is the latest installment in a longer saga about weaving bookmarks with naturally dyed 40/2 linen. The saga spans many months, if not years. I have posted about these bookmarks in the past. You can read my most recent post about it here.

Or you can just catch up on the back story in this post!

My linen bookmarks are woven with 40/2 linen. They are not too time-consuming to produce, though the pricing still works out to a meager hourly rate when I take into account all the steps involved in the dyeing plus the weaving. Continue reading “Bookmark Failures (Successes Coming Soon)”

Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom

On March 8th I presented two workshops at the annual conference of Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom. You can check out their website here. One workshop was on growing and processing flax, and on ways to incorporate flax into the school curriculum. The other was on growing a dye plant garden at school and using dye plants with kids.

Based on an idea from Joan Morris, shibori artist extraordinaire, I decided to make two swatch books for the dyeing workshop. Each book had five small cloth samples sewn together. The dimensions were 3 inches by 1.5 inches. One swatch book was made up of cellulose (i.e., plant-based) cloth samples, including three kinds of cotton cloth, a linen-rayon blend, and a 100% linen piece. The other was made of protein (animal-derived) cloth, including silk satin, raw silk, and three weights of wool. I mordanted the cellulose swatch books with aluminum acetate at 5% WOG (weight of the goods, or fiber). I mordanted the protein swatch books with aluminum sulfate, at 1 tablespoon per 4 ounces. The protein booklets weighed about 6oz. altogether, and interestingly the cellulose booklets weighed almost the same. Continue reading “Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom”

Madder the Inexhaustible Root–Part Two: Pink

If you read my last post, you may be wondering why I wasn’t totally content with my orange linen, as bright and cheery as it was. Basically it’s because I wanted pink. Light pink, to be exact. Light pink 40/2 linen, to be exact, and lots of it. Why? Well…!

A fortunate side-effect of my successful show with Amanda Quinby at the Shelburne Arts Co-op in Shelburne Falls in October was that I sold all of my usual inventory of naturally dyed linen bookmarks and hand-bound books with hand-woven cloth covers. Hence, I need to weave more! My main objective with this madder exhaust project was to create light pink 40/2 linen yarn for weaving heart-motif bookmarks in Huck Lace. I must confess that all the other lovely colors I obtained were just happy by-products in my quest for pink. Continue reading “Madder the Inexhaustible Root–Part Two: Pink”

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”

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”

Small Woad Vat

This summer I have spent most of my time and energy on weaving, but I didn’t want to let the summer end without at least a little bit of dyeing. So, last Friday I ran a woad vat, following my usual routine based on Rita Buchanan’s directions in A Dyer’s Garden and A Weaver’s Garden. The woad plants in the bed that self-sowed, and the transplants from that bed, were still pretty small. I lost about half of the plants in the bed affected by club root, which left one short bed with decent-sized (though a bit moth-eaten) leaves. I picked from all the beds, and collected two and a half pounds of leaves. I was worried that there wouldn’t be much color in the leaves yet because they were still small, but you can see the “breaking blue” as it oxidizes here on the cut stems:

cut woad stemsThis is always a good sign. Here I am rinsing off the leaves.

rinsing woad leaves

Continue reading “Small Woad Vat”

Green and Yellow Rya

After I finished the lichen-dyed rya the other day, I was close to the end of the warp. What to do? Plan a small project to make use of it? Cut it off? I had a similar problem earlier in the spring (see my “Too Short Warp” post). At that time I planned out a small project with green and yellow yarns, but I was ultimately stymied and I didn’t end up weaving it. I cut off the warp regretfully, since 8/4 linen warp isn’t cheap and I hate to waste linen because I know what goes into creating it. Continue reading “Green and Yellow Rya”