Actually, the title may be a little misleading as I’ll be talking primarily about dyeing wool. I like the theme we have going here at Sensitive Souls however, of trying something, anything, and not feeling we have to be skilled, learned or perfect at creating, drawing or making – but to just have a go! After all, was not Kirstie Allsop on the tele just recently dyeing knickers?
So, don’t Dye Another Day (oh sorry, I couldn’t resist!), nope, let’s have a go today…
I know a Shepherdess. (That line sounds so dashed cool, I want to write it again.) I also have a friend who is an expert at, among other things, dyeing and spinning wool. There is surely some kind of synchronicity occurring here? The Shepherdess friend (I had to slip that in again), told me that one fleece of wool – that is, the wool from one sheep, – sells for as little as 60p. But it costs 40p to sheer a sheep, so a profit isn’t made. I couldn’t get this out of my woolly head.
In an age where we buy, very cheaply, off the peg clothes in any colour, style or material we like, it’s easy to forget the creative process involved in the making of garments. (Not to mention that we rarely buy a 100% wool product.) It’s a bit like many kids of today not knowing how a carrot or strawberry started its life, so too, many of us can’t imagine making a jumper or garment, from sheep, or cotton field, to wear-ability.
After all, you needn’t have your nose buried in a Georgette Heyer novel for long to hark back to a period when ladies would chatter excitedly in drawing rooms of a “new” colour, shade or style of garb. How different the times in which we live, where there is nothing in fashion, no style, fabric or colour that hasn’t been created, tried and retried. (Funny that ‘tried’ is an anagram of ‘tired’, which, it seems to me, we have become with the interminable cycle of fashion.) There is nothing “new”. Little wonder then that there is a drifting back to making things from scratch, up-cycling, re-cycling, going vintage or, what I prefer to call just good ole second-hand buying. It feels altogether more wholesome and satisfies our very human need to be original (not cloned!), creative and inspired.
So, when my friend Cathy asked if I would be her pupil for the day to practice her forthcoming class on dyeing wool, I didn’t refuse.
Cath wanted me to just play, dive in, have a go. In theory this ought to be easy but I found myself wanting exact instructions for fear I did something “wrong”. When in fact, it’s getting it “wrong” that makes us learn.
Questions are vital, of course, in learning but sometimes we even shy away from asking questions fearing we may appear stupid. “Fyodor Dostoyevsky rightly observed: “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” How true Fyo! I wrote a post for Moodscope.com last week entitled, not surprisingly, Ask a question. Any Question!
Wool not yet spun
Cathy took out some wool that had already been spun and wound into a skein and also a heap of fibre (fibre is wool before it has been spun). Both the fibre and spun wool come from a Blue Faced Leicester (the breed of sheep…that I had never even heard of). The spun wool reminded me of locks from an aged Goldilocks. It was white, long and straight, with kinks in it where Goldilocks had worn it in pins (actually from the ‘locks’ being wound into a skein). The fibre on the other hand, was soft and rather like little children imagine God’s beard to be like; comforting.
We tried two different types of dyeing – natural on the spun wool and chemical on the fibre. My favourite result was definitely the latter.
Chemical dyeing, also known as acid or space dyeing, is not as toxic as you may at first think. It simply means that the fibre has been soaked in very warm water and 1/4 cup of vinegar (the acid is in the vinegar). It is this process that enables the fibre to ‘accept’ the dye. This bit is called mordanting. (Learning to dye means learning some new vocabulary.)
We then pop the “pickled” ;o) fibre into a big pan ready to be heated on the stove. (A word of warning here about H&S regs: All dishes used for dyeing must never be used for cooking – or else you could meet the same fate as Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Remember? Her skin’s pigment changed to blue as she turns into a one ton human blueberry!
Seriously though, the dyes may contain substances that can be harmful to health. Plastic gloves, apron and mask are important too.)
The pan is filled with water and another glug of vinegar and then in goes The Old Man’s Beard. Sprinkle with the dye. After a lot of deliberation and fretting I would make a “wrong” choice of colour, I opt for orange and blue (brilliant blue and golden yellow), I adore these two colours together – opposites on the colour wheel. Check out Google Images for orange and blue decor.
I pushed the fabric down into the water wherever the dye had landed but Cathy reassured me not to fear the white spots. This is easier said than done. I felt a strong desire to shove it all in and swirl around and round. This would create a muddy colour, of course, so I kept my surgically gloved hands behind my back. Eventually, as it heats, the wool soaks up the water and the weight causes it to sink. We left it over a medium heat for around a half hour or so. Maybe more.
If you take a class in dyeing you will no doubt hear your tutor, at some point, caution about the danger of felting the wool, whether spun or still raw, by overheating. This was fascinating to me. It’s only now that I realise that this is essentially what happens when you unwittingly wash your woollies on a hot wash and they shrink to child’s size. You have just made felt! This is something else I want to try – felting. And I don’t mean shrinking my favourite jumper.
What was so incredibly satisfying was pulling out the hot fibre from the pan with a pair of tongs and observing that all the drips were clear. The fibre had truly drank in the colour like parched ground does the rain. This is why the soak in the vinegar was so important.
This is not intended to be a Master Class in the art of dyeing. (For that you’ll have to go to Wicker Wool, Cedar Farm, Mawdsley.) But oh how good it felt (excuse the pun) to try, fiddle, play, get excited about colours and make new discoveries, whilst at the same time, chin-wagging, drinking tea and watching the rain from the right place – the inside.
Next? I’ve booked a spinning class to spin my beautiful fibre into delicious yarn. Can’t wait. Plus the fact, I love that I’ll be legitimately able to say to my “fit, not fat” friends that I’m going to a “spinning class” safe in the knowledge that there won’t be an exercise bike in sight. ;o)
I’ll report all on this sadly now somewhat esoteric of practices. A hearty thank you Cathy for facilitating my journey of sheep to skin. You can find Cathy’s blog at: http://lazypeasant.blogspot.co.uk/ and her shop here.
I want to purchase Rita Buchannan’s book, A Dyer’s Garden and dabble with dyeing from flowers and vegetables.
My blue and orange wool. Beautiful. The finished result puts me in mind of Mediterranean blues and greens with bright sunshine.
Actual dyeing measurements…dash, tad, smidgen, pinch. Cute!
As I wended my way home, trying to keep sleep at bay until safely ensconced on the train, my sleepy eyes saw this.
This was a much loved jumper that I unintentionally shrank in the wash. Instead of throwing out, I reincarnated it as a cushion cover. All was ticketyboo once more.
Thoughts on above? Please feel free to leave a comment…