Today was perfect weather for dyeing - dry and sunny (if a bit chilly first thing) and no wind.
So from this
in seven hours I had this
The plants are Japanese Indigo - Persicaria tinctoria. Back in early spring a fellow member of the On-Line Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers gave me a little envelope of seeds, and directions for how to grow them. I raised the seedlings in my greenhouse until mid June, when I planted out 50 plants in my vegetable garden. It was such a poor summer, cold and wet with very little sunshine, and the poor little plants didn't seem to grow much for a long time. But eventually they branched out and reached about 50cm height.
For the last few days I have been worried that the cold early mornings would damage the plants before the day I had set aside for the dyeing, but this morning the plants were in good shape and I was ready to harvest them.
I stripped the leaves from the outdoor plants (two plants are growing on in the greenhouse in the hope that they will produce seed for next year) - it took about an hour and I harvested 1275g of leaves. Two buckets full!
I crammed 1kg of leaves into my biggest dyepot and the rest into a smaller one. I was following the method described by Isabella Whitworth and Christina Chisholm in the Winter 2011 issue of the Journal for Weavers Spinners and Dyers www.thejournalforwsd.org.uk
I added cold water and slowly heated the pots aiming for 60 degrees. Unfortunately the big dyepot overheated and I had to let it cool off. After 2 hours the dye was ready to strain.
I squeezed out the leaves to get every last drop of precious dye before adding them to the compost heap.
Next the chemistry bit - first adding washing soda to raise the pH to 9 or 10 (I checked it with litmus papers), then whisking vigorously (my neighbours must sometimes wonder what on earth I am doing in my garden!!) to oxidise it, producing a blue foam on the surface.
That's the big dyepot - the foam on the small one never did go blue, but it turned out to be the better of the two vats.
I used some paper to remove the scummy foam - and now have two sheets of marbleblue paper to cover my dyeing notebook.
Anyway, the next thing, having whisked all that oxygen in, is to add spectralite to remove the oxygen (I dont need to understand why it works, just to know that it does!!) After a couple of minutes the vats were ready to start dyeing.
The yarns I had prepared were: my own handspun Shetland wool, some white and some dyed yellow with silver birch leaves; my own handspun white crossbred (english) wool; commercially spun local blue-faced leicester wool from Strathearn Fleece and Fibre; 2/9 wool yarn (a bit finer than sock yarn); 2/18 wool yarn (very fine laceweight); wool boucle yarn; mohair loop yarn and a cotton/linen cable yarn in natural beige.
I wound 2 x 100g cakes of the 2/9 wool and 2x100g cakes of the mohair loop yarn, because I wanted to see if I could get a variegated yarn due to the dye only penetrating part of the cakes. The rest of the yarn I made into skeins with at least three string ties on each skein to avoid tangling.
All the yarn was put to soak in basins of cold water the night before. I also soaked some washed wensleydale fleece (also Strathearn Fleece and Fibre - from one of Linda's own sheep, a ewe called Matilda).
Now for the exciting bit! I put a small skein of blue-faced leicester wool into the bigger vat for a first 'dip' of 10 minutes. I lifted it out and watched that magical transformation from yellow to blue as it met the oxygen in the air
After that I was away, dipping and re-dipping skeins and cakes of yarn. I dipped once, twice or three times hoping to build up deeper colours but because I was dipping quite large quantities of yarn each time the vats were becoming weaker and the later dips did not make much difference. I continued until the last skeins of yarn appeared to have exhausted the blue - the last skein of very fine yarn in the small vat developed hints of pink and palest turquoise, while the last skein in the big vat came out beige with pinkish hints. Then I tried some washed wensleydale fleece and continued to get three increasingly pale blues from the big vat - with grey and pinkish variation in the tips of the locks which will be interesting when spun up
Yarns from the big vat - The overdyed yellow yarns gave green - noticeably deeper after three dips (the furthest away skein) than after one (the nearest one).
The two cakes of yarn on the left have had one dip, the two on the right had two dips.
Yarns from the small vat - the greyish looking skein on the right of the picture is the cotton/linen yarn. I didn't much like the colour so I didn't dye the other two skeins that I had prepared of this yarn. The third batch of yarns that went in to this vat were very crowded and they have dyed unevenly - the mohair loop yarn has blue and pale lilac variations which are really pretty. They are in the second row from the back in the picture.
I rinsed all the yarns in cold water and they are drying as I write. In total today I have dyed 1400g of fibre. Jenny Dean, in her book Wild Colour, says that you need 3 times as much dyestuff as fibre for this dye - perhaps if I had limited myself to 400g of yarn I could have got deeper shades, but I am very pleased with the colours I have got. I can't wait to see what the colour changes in the yarn cakes are like - I think I will be knitting several blue shawls this winter!