Our lovely Corriedale sheep has decided to share his wool with us! We are thrilled–we LOVE wool! After shearing, processing, and carding, the lovely wool was formed into the roving that Arabella shared with me on my birthday.
I took the dyed roving with me to my very first fiber retreat, Wildflower 2011, and happily spun it between workshops, which were all about color this year. I have discovered that dyeing wool is a creative process within a creative process, because the spun wool can look so different than the dyed roving–it is it’s own creativity!
Arabella suggested that I ply this yarn with a thread, choosing one of the colors I wanted to bring out. Plying the yarn with thread gives me more final yardage of the wool, because otherwise I would ply the wool upon itself, and get half as much to knit with. So I choose a lovely teal thread from the fabric store.
On a gorgeous Texas day in February (yes, we have those!), Arabella invited me over to learn some color dyeing techniques. She has a very high-tech operation going on in her kitchen:
Sometimes it’s nice to know that the practices from 10,000 years ago still work! Get a pot, get some water, get it hot, you can dye wool! Yes, that is a large aluminum mixing bowl set directly upon her electric stove burner, filled with water and roving. Do NOT boil the water, or you will end up doing something else that is 10,000 years old — Fulling. (You’ll have to click to get the rest of that story…)
The water should be hot, but not at all boiling or simmering. Add some vinegar. When I asked Arabella how much vinegar, she moved her hand as if she were pouring out vinegar from a bottle, and she said, “I put glug, glug, glug.” Classic instructions! (Good news: you can’t really go wrong. So glug, glug, glug, and you’ll be fine!)
So far we have roving
we have the dye pot, some water, and some vinegar…..which makes delicious hot roving soup!
Now we mix the dyes. We used Jacquard acid dyes. Mix the powder with water in a jar according to package directions.
Remember your color wheel from high school art class? It still works! We used our primary colors yellow, red and blue.
With more high-tech tools such as a chopstick and syringe, add the dye and work it into the layers of roving by poking at them with the chopstick. You can also create additional colors by blending where the colors meet each other. Simply use the chopstick to move the roving a bit, adding more of whatever primary color you want to that area with the syringe. Stir a bit, and voila! new colors.
Let the roving soup sit on the stove until all the dye is absorbed into the roving. Like all things good, it takes a little doing before you’re going to feel like you’ve got it! Take the dyepot off the heat and let it cool down naturally. Once you can put your hands into the water, then rinse the roving a few times with the same temperature of water. You are rinsing out any unabsorbed dye, and the vinegar.
Cooling and rinsing the roving is a S L O W process, and you should not be eager to hurry it up, or you can end up “shocking” the wool into felt! Once the roving is very cool, you can put it in the spin cycle of your washer (on cold!) to remove excess water. Then air dry.
Ahhh! I get it! Dyeing the wool before it is spun (i.e., dyed-in-the-wool) is the best way to ensure the color doesn’t fade once the wool is spun into yarn or thread, and then fashioned into a garment worn around town. The literal meaning of the phrase is simply a description of when the dye is added.
The phrase has evolved over time to mean something metaphorical as well. We use this expression “dyed-in-the-wool” to indicate a person who is committed to an ideal so deeply that it has become a permanent part of their being, as if they had been “dyed” that way prior to being “formed.” For example, I would say, “My dear Arabella is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic.”
Here, Arabella is rinsing some Corriedale roving that she dyed while it was “in the wool.”
I have been anxious to get my hands into the dye pot, and finally had opportunity at Arabella’s. She had received a 3-lb bump of lovely Corriedale, and shared a generous portion with me as a birthday present.
A “bump” is simply a bunch of roving, usually 1 to 3 pounds in weight.
Here is what our lovely and generous sheep might have looked like when the wool was still a part of him!
Gorgeous and generous sheep! They have been supplying us with fiber for our clothes, blankets, coverlets, coats and carpets for centuries!
Check out International Fleece’s blog post on spinning camel fiber! Talia says camel fiber is 1/2 the price of cashmere, yet as soft with a micron count of 15-22; cashmere falls in the micron range of 14-18.5.
Basically, micron count is a way to measure the quality of fineness or coarseness of fiber. A micron is equal to 1/25400th of an inch, or about a millionth of a meter! Special lab equipment is used to measure the actual diameter of each fiber in these tiny fractions. The lower the number, the softer and finer the quality of the fiber.
Click through to this brief article from bellaOnline about the three grading systems of fiber.
Did you know that the finest cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of Kashmir goats primarily raised in Mongolia, Tibet, India and China? Lesser grade cashmere (thicker in micron count, and also shorter in length) comes from the Kashmir goat’s back and legs. It is said to take four years for one goat to shed enough wool to make just one sweater! No wonder it is so pricey!
Watch out once you start spinning luxury fibers such as alpaca and mohair. The incredible feel of the fibers in your hands is completely addicting, and soon you’ll be panting after some cashmere…so I am thrilled to hear Talia’s explanation that camel fiber is half the cost but in the same range as cashmere. More luxury fiber for less money!
It makes sense, really. Naalbinding is perhaps the most ancient form of creating garments from yarn. The craft utilizes a large-eyed needle, which could easily have “morphed” into a crochet hook; both arts pull yarn through loops to create intricate and beautiful patterns.
Ta da! The process still works! Take some beautiful, soft white wool from a merino sheep and some shiny, slick gorgeous white mohair from a goat, spin singles of each, and then ply them together for a lovely length of textured and interesting yarn.
Using US 10 (or larger) needles, knit with a pattern from f.pea for a baby heirloom blanket with a lovely scalloped edge. Add some color–in this case, a skein dyed aqua and salmon from Arabella, handspun thick and thin for extra texture and interest. Keep knitting–in airports, in the car, on lovely evenings at home, to avoid housework, when you should be working, etc.
Archeologists seemed surprised to find intricate beauty when they uncover textiles (or art) from thousands upon thousands of years ago. Their surprise is odd to me–because as long as we have been human, we have infused our material objects with artistic beauty and creativity. This is what it means to BE human.
A TIME magazine article, Science: Cave Cache, published Monday, April 8, 1985, describes some astonishing artifacts found in a cave in Israel, and dated around 9,000 years ago from today (give or take several hundred years). The article says that in addition to the oldest painted mask ever found, the artifacts include:
“…basket and box fragments made of woven rushes waterproofed with asphalt, delicate thumbnail-size human heads and a rodent figurine, carved wood and bone tools, clay, stone and wooden beads and a human skull adorned with asphalt. Perhaps most remarkable are the fabrics, which are woven in eleven intricate designs, some resembling knotted macrame, others fine mesh.” (italics added)
In a previous post, I described a tomb wall-painting found at Beni Hasan in Egypt, dated around 2000 BC, that depicts at least two weavers and a spinner in great detail. That’s old!! But the remnants described above date 5,000 years earlierthan those tomb wall paintings. We are now stepping so far back into the past that it is fuzzy and mysterious. Who really knows what was happening in 8,000 BC? It is precisely at the point of “fuzzy” and “mysterious” that our biases emerge. (There’s lots of room for MSU.) For many scientists and archeologists, “primitive” and “intricately designed” just don’t go together, and that interests me.
I thought of this assumed contradiction again as I read descriptions of Naalebinding as “primitive knitting.” Primitive is most often used in a pejorative sense, implying not only from the fuzzy past, but also meaning “being little evolved, uncivilized, characterized by simplicity or crudity.”
When I finally saw examples of Naalebinding, my first thought was “there’s NOTHING primitive about this!” In fact, Naalbinding is a complicated series of intricate loops created with yarn threaded through a large needle’s eye, rather than looped with two straight needles, as we know knitting today. I will agree that this form of constructing garments is primitive, but only if we use THIS definition: primitive: “not derived by something else; basic.”
Naalebinding is primitive in that it is the first form of knitting. Nothing about it is “crude, unevolved, uncivilized.” The technique produces quite lovely, smart, well-designed material objects such as dense, warm mittens, socks, hats, and sweaters. So, our 8,000 year-old ancestors not only made warm clothing to survive their winters, but they also expressed themselves creatively in design…isn’t creative expression the most basic way we are distinguished from animals?
Spin-Off magazine and website is, of course, the authoritative site for all things spinning. If you haven’t been there–GO! However, be prepared. I have found the sheer volume of information on the site can be…well…really overwhelming for someone who still has everything to learn. So today I wanted to point out two very interesting areas within the website that you can get to straight from this blog, and avoid the frustration of wandering around lost!
The illustrations in a few of these little brochures are simply lovely, and satisfy my need to see the topic rather than read about it. Susan Strawn Bailey is credited for these elegant line drawings.
Plus, I love Spin-Off’s philosophy behind providing these simple and beautiful brochures–small print on the back cover reads, “For the general advancement of the spinning community.”
The second area I want to show you is in the Forum. It’s an ongoing discussion of What’s the most adventurous fiber you’ve ever spun? Dryer lint? The cotton from inside a pill bottle? Long locks of someone else’s grungy hair to be spun and made into a belt for his girlfriend? EWWWW……
Now I don’t want to get snobby here, because I have definitely been bitten by the spinning bug, and one day if I run out of wool to spin, I just might find myself behind the camel shed at the zoo digging around for fiber…though I think I can safely say I’ll stay away from the human hair belt.
I’ve been traveling to Plymouth, MA from Texas for work over the last few months. As is typical of most business trips, I wasn’t seeing anything in the town other than the car, the hotel, and the conference room at the office. Finally, I just couldn’t bear it! Plymouth, of all places! I had to see at least something Pilgrim-ish, or never eat Thanksgiving dinner again. So, on my final trip, I went a day early to hang out at Plimouth Plantation, a “living” museum of the village that operates perpetually in the year 1627. I was particularly interested in….of course…fabrics.
Mrs. William Bradford, enjoying the lovely weather while hemming an apron, was kind enough to let me get up close to see the weave on her clothing.
I asked her if anyone in the village had a spinning wheel (yes, they talk only in character!) and she said, “Oh, no! We buy our clothes ready made when the ship comes once a year.”
These actors were very knowledgeable, actually, about the characters they were portraying, and also lots of details about the village–Mrs. Alden was even cooking a tansy (spinach, bread, & eggs), taking coals from her open hearth and sticking them under an iron skillet on little legs to cook it. Fascinating! My taxi driver said the actors come from all over the country and stay 6 months at a time in houses near the village. They study up on the history of the period, read the journals and diaries left behind, and love to chat about 1627! (The Pilgrims arrived in 1620.)
I also learned that back in Holland, where they lived as a community for some years before coming to Plymouth, this group of women did not do much spinning of their own to make fabrics. Living in the large city of Leyden, they purchased their clothing ready made, or bolts of cloth if they wanted to sew something on their own. But it bears repeating that although they themselves weren’t the onesspinning the threads that were ultimately woven into the fabrics they were wearing or purchasing….someone’s pair of hands were, since every thread woven into a cloth in 1627 was handspun and handwoven!