In which we begin playing with fire

On day 3, we prepared our yarn for natural dyeing. Leslie assured us that natural dyeing, or any dyeing really, was just like cooking. You gather your ingredients, prepare your yarn/fiber, and follow the recipe. Wednesday, day 3 was the day we prepared to dye.

Joanne, who was responsible for bringing the program to Smithtown, had arranged for us to have six brick fire pits. We only needed one for prep day. It’s a good thing too. The wood we had was a little wetter than we would have liked. Joanne was an Eagle Scout though, and got the fire going.


I can’t believe they let us play with fire, like we’re actual adults!

We were thankful that it was a cooler day. This July was brutally hot at times.


It took a while for the wood to catch

Once the fires were mostly started, we put the grates on top to make sure they were level. In hindsight we realized that we should have done that before we had the fire going.


A great grate.

We kept poking the fire to make sure it stayed lit. That’s a tried and true girl scout method of fire tending… right?


Poking the fire

Once the fire was good and hot, we all sat down to prepare our skeins. We had each been told to bring 25 ten yard skeins. Each skein should be tied in three to four places. Handspun yarn was not required. In fact we were told that most level one students used commercial yarn. It just had to be wool, and it had to be white.

I spun mine out of 15 micron organic merino wool. In hindsight (there’s a lot of hindsight here), I wish I hadn’t. The yarn I used was WAY too fragile for this experiment. Next time I’ll find something hardier, a corriedale or a BFL, but what’s done is done.

We all sat together to prepare our skeins for dyeing. We were going to dye with six different materials, and four different mordant combinations. We sat together and labeled four skeins each for Cochineal, Annatto, Turmeric, Logwood, Rhubarb, and Marigold (fresh, from Joanne’s garden). As a tip: I had brought Tyvek wristbands for labels. You can also cut up FedEx envelopes as they’re Tyvek too. Also, use black Sharpie marker to write out the labels. Other colors run in the heated bath. Bonus: If you have little kids, put a Tyvek wristband with your contact info around their ankle while you’re traveling in case they get lost.


Our skein tying party

Once all the skeins were tied, we started to bundle them together.


Laying out the skeins

We bundled all the yarn destined for a specific dye material together. That meant that there were twenty four initial bundles, four each for Cochineal, Annatto, Turmeric, Logwood, Rhubarb, and Marigold. We did it that way so that we could weigh them to figure out how much dyestuff we needed.

The photo below shows Deb (of Hamptons Artistic Yarns) holding up one of our tied bundles of yarn. I made her hold it there for me because it looked for all the world like she had just caught a fish, and she was THRILLED about it.


Deb and the yarn trout

Then we started weighing out yarn. This was the Rhubarb 4 bundle. It was destined for the Rhubarb pot, with Alum mordant and Iron assist. More on that next post. For now, you just need to know that the bundle weighed in at 41 grams.


41 grams of yarn destined for the Rhubarb pot

Once we had weighed them all out we tied the bundles together. All the bundles that were destined for no mordant and no assist went in one master bundle, all the yarn meant for just the Iron assist went in one master bundle. All the yarn meant for only the Alum mordant went into a bundle, and all of the yarn meant for both Alum and Iron went in a bundle.


Bundling the yarn together

In the end, there were four bundles of yarn. One bundle got no mordant at all. One bundle got only Iron. One bundle got only Alum, and the last bundle got both Iron AND Alum. If you’re counting, that’s 24 skeins. The 25th skein was the control. It got no dye and no mordant. It should have stayed home.

We put the two bundles that were to touch Alum (Group 3 and 4 for those of you playing the home game) into a pot. The pot was full of water, and alum. The recipe for alum is: 113 grams of wool +1 Tablespoon of Alum + 2 teaspoons of Cream of Tartar. We put 481 grams of wool into the pot to be mordanted, so we also added 4.25 Tablespoons of Alum, and 8.5 Teaspoons of Cream of Tartar.


Into the pot you go!

Then we all went inside, and started preparing the two dye materials that needed to be pre-soaked: Cochineal and Annatto.

I’m glad that someone else crushed the little cochineal bugs. They looked like tiny pebbles, but my brain still said “BUGS!!!”, and I had a gut reaction. The color that they let out into the water was FANTASTIC!


That famous cochineal red

The Annato is the same stuff you buy in the grocery store. It slowly started to seep yellow into its jar.


Pre-soaking the Annatto

And then! Would you believe we spun yarn! Leslie showed us long draw, both the supported and the unsupported version. This, my friends, is exactly what a well prepared Rolag is designed for. It’s my FAVORITE!!!


Long draw, supported style

On the next episode of Master Spinner Theater, we will dye yarn!