Archive for April, 2009

I Dye

April 25, 2009

*This post is a draft from a hundred years ago…but it may have some value for others that foolishly do not buy their yarn from a single dye lot*

Well, my friends, it’s finally finished, my Phildar meshy sweater, made with Rowan Purelife Organic  Cotton in Logwood.  I dyed it (using Logwood natural dye) and did not kill it.  It’s soul is hardened, but it is better for it.  Actually in reality, it’s not nearly as soft as it used to be.  But it kind of went through hell, so I can’t blame it.  I hope that it will soften with wearing and eventually trust me again as a loving owner.

So, I said I would report on the dyeing process and I will.

I had to do quite a bit of research and found some great online resources, mostly through Ravelry, and I also relied on some instruction sheets from the shop I bought my dyestuffs from, Griffin Dyeworks.

So I’ll try my best and share my process in using logwood to dye a cotton sweater–natural dyeing seems to have a different process than conventional dyeing and cellulose fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, etc) have different prep and requirements than protein fibers (wool, alpaca, anything from an animal).

There are three important steps in the natural dyeing process, which I’ll go over…

1. Scouring

This was not something I was aware would be necessary until I read on a Ravelry forum that cotton yarns are very particular.  If not dyed properly it can be difficult to get bright vibrant colors–especially with logwood (which apparently has been known to fade and rub off pretty quickly).   Apparently cotton yarns come to us with quite a bit of waxy residue, which was very clear to me when I dunked my sweater in some plain old water and soaked it for a bit (in a vain hope that the dye was crappy enough to even out if just soaked) and the water was completely brown.  So in order to remove the residue so the cotton can take dye better, it must be scoured.  I got this scour mess (powder detergenty stuff) from Hillcreek Fiber Studio and followed some simple directions using a big enamel pot on my stove: 5% scour to the weight of the fiber, simmer for half an hour, and then thoroughly rinse.

2. Pre-mordanting

The next step is this thing called mordanting, which *I think* is necessary for natural dyeing only (?) to prepare the fiber for taking the natural dye.  Different mordants are used for different dyes, different fibers and to get different colors with certain dyes (like using iron for darker colors).  There’s a good table here, showing the different outcomes with different dyes using different mordants.  It can also be done two different ways–mordanting before dyeing or mordanting and dyeing at the same time.  I did the former.

So of course, cotton also requires a different mordant than protein fibers: aluminum acetate.  There’s a great blog post on the different mordanting methods for cotton here.

This was also really easy, basically following some simple directions for the alum acetate method: using 5% mordant to the weight of the fiber (or 4 Tablespoons for 1 pound), dissolve the alum acetate in boiling water. Simmer for an hour (longer is fine, too), drain water and do not rinse (though some would argue that you should rinse…I did not).

3. Dyeing

The most exciting step is the actual dyeing.  I used logwood extract, which is a finely powdered dye concentrate.  Logwood is a bark that would require a more intensive preparation than I was willing to do and the extract seemed like a perfect lazyish solution.  I don’t remember exactly how much dye I used, but it was a very small amount–maybe a teaspoon of dye in total.  The kit I bought from Griffin Dyeworks came with an instruction book, and I would imagine any dye you bought would also come with specific instructions.  It followed the same general process of dissolving the dye in a bunch of boiling water and then soaking the fiber for a while.

One interesting thing was the addition of soda ash to the dye.  If you look at the first picture the dye is a reddish purple and in the second it’s a dark bluish purple…it was like magic–it just turned the instant the soda ash hit the dye bath.

The rest needs no explanation.

A 4th obvious step of Rinsing

And finally, Drying

I may have to find a good method of softening this up again…conditioner maybe?


April 19, 2009

Dear Friends,

I want to apologize for my extended absence.  I have been in a weird little funk for a few months now…I think perhaps called “winter”.  A few days ago something turned–shifted–in a major way.  I was home sick in bed Sunday watching unbelievably and unjustifiably bad “reality” TV on (yes, I clearly sought it out enough to first see if MTV showed the episodes online and then to subsequently watch them online) and then magically decided to sew a shirt.  It sounds minor, but there was a palpable click, turn, shift in my mental state of being.  Like I was re-excited, re-motivated and reinvigorated.  Going to work the next day didn’t seem so painful and it actually got interesting for me again. All the extra obligations in my life stopped feeling so burdensome and actually seemed like the opportunities I thought they were when I first took them on…not that I’ve really gotten moving on them, but at least my mind and spirit are on board again.

A lot of this is really just seasonal.  I think it’s getting worse as I get older and I’m seeing why people retire in Florida.  I’m always ok at the beginning…even hopeful that I’ll enjoy it a little.  But it never sticks.  The bare branches, the grey skies,  the fact that I literally would get around 15 hours a week of exposure to even a hint of sunshine, all concentrated on the weekend (I work in a windowless office where it’s easy to forget that there even is an outside with weather and sun).  And although spring has taken a long time to come this year, once it did, my will to live made a full 180.  What’s strange is every year it’s such a surprise as though I have absolutely no long term memory.  Maybe it’s because I do feel like it’s getting worse, but maybe I only feel like it’s getting worse because I can’t seem to remember that this is obviously going to happen every year…so I’m caught off guard and then strangely shocked that I could be so seasonally affected.  It’s the hope that gets in the way–the hope that this year I will like winter.  I’m not much of an optimist, so whenever I attempt it it really throws the rest of my brain functions, like logical reasoning, out of whack.

And now, I will share the first piece of physical proof that things are looking up.

I think I’m getting more patient, detail-oriented and just better at this with each project…which is ****ing fantastic.  On this one, I made up the (relatively simple) pattern using an old shirt for fit and an Anthropologie shirt for the design.  I’m still in the copying stage, so I can build up techniques and then go crazy with my own designs later.  My case in point that I don’t know what I’m doing yet is facings. Facings!!!!  Arghh!  I didn’t realize until I had no fabric left that it would have been far better to have done an all-in-one facing than separate armhole and neckline facings, which when overlapped get a little bulky.  It’s not too bad in this case since the fabric is Liberty of London cotton lawn, which is very light.  But I also had a lot of trouble keeping the damn facings down, which forced to me do some research on proper techniques.  Hence the (organic) lace trim to weigh the facings down a little and this simple, yet surprisingly effective little trick called understitching.  Ultimately, this was the first time the inside of the piece looks just about as neat as the outside. Maybe my laziness is seasonal, too.  Here’s hoping…

Speaking of hope and change…I’m hoping to come back to this space with greater regularity…my life has been consumed lately with the purchase of a new bicycle (or I should say the saga of an attempted purchase), which is a story/issue I want to share soon…

Until then, happy Spring!!!!!