Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rag Rugs

Lila's beautiful blue-themed rug

Alison's ingmar bergman rug

Taylore's wonderful experiment with velvet and sari fabrics

Jackie's colorful striped warp

Lynnette's a wizard when it comes to unique color combinations
Amidst all the weaving of warm floor coverings that's been happening around the barn, there have been several beautiful rag rugs flying off the looms.

The warps have been set up with a 8/4 cotton, set differently according to whatever pattern the weaver wishes the warp to contribute to the overall design. We had started using a standard white yarn, but then Lila, Kate's 12-year-old apprentice, decided to use a blue warp, and her rug was the stunning beginning of people experimenting using color in the warp.

For her weft, Kate used some printed linen scraps that she had in her rag bag, but for the most part the rest of us have been using rayon dressmaking scraps from a local clothing manufacturer, which are often beautiful textures and colors. Lynnette mixed old flannel sheet scraps with rayon, to great effect. Taylore brought in velvets and old sari fabric from her stash at home, which make for a rich, luscious texture and visual appeal. 

There really seems to be no end to the spontaneous creativity possible with this kind of rug making. It's a quick and gratifying useful sort of project.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jacques' Dishtowels

Kate's original cottolin towel

Jacques' design, inspired by Kate's original, also in cottolin

Sandra's version, in 8/2 cotton

Susan O's version, in 8/2 cotton

Susan's second version, in 8/2 cotton

more of Jacques' original run of towels

Stevie's version, in 8/2 cotton

There's been a recent frenzy of dishtowel weaving, everyone getting ready for winter gift-giving and such. Many of the towels have been Jacques' Dishtowel Pattern (which we capitalize the spelling of because they have become a nearly holy thing around here).

It all started five years ago when Jacques Tremblay, one of Kate's students, wanted to weave a run of dishtowels for his house in France and to give as gifts to friends across the pond. He was inspired by a cottolin towel that Kate had designed which was kicking around the studio at the time. In his typical fashion, and true to his colorful french canadian background, he fashioned the prototype for what we now call "JDT" with bold colors and a distinctive twill pattern.

It's a straight twill that changes direction on the warp color changes, with a couple of interesting twists; one is that in the middle stripe of each wider band there is a herringbone, and the other is a very interesting section in the middle of the towel that is threaded as a straight twill, but is woven with two shots of one color, followed by one shot of another in sequence. Depending on the weft colors chosen, this section can be tremendously effective in creating an unusual pattern for the eye.

This year many of the local weekly students have made their own unique versions of this dishtowel, with some incredibly lovely results. It's taken some work to write up a draft based on Jacques' original design, mostly in counting the exact number of warp threads needed to create a centered herringbone in the middle of each stripe, but by now it's practically a yak route, so many students here have made their own. 

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    visual cat poetry

    they really are so beautiful, our sweet little ginger babies.

    *all handwoven products carefully inspected by our quality control team

    In Pursuit of Purple: Learning From Alkanet*

    For over a year I've been watching a packet of alkanet seeds that sits on my shelf. That folded paper pouch with its line drawing of a sprawling, hairy-leaved plant represents the next step in my ongoing dye-garden dance.

    I missed a few beats this spring, because at the exact time I should have been dibbling holes in six-packs of soil and sowing those Alkanna tinctoria seeds, I was finishing out my long-deferred bachelor's degree at Sterling College in my hometown of Craftsbury. Or perhaps I was only dancing in another set - after all, my final senior project dealt with using all sorts of natural colors from the plants already existing in my garden.

    At any rate, those seeds never got started and I still haven't got alkanet established in my garden. I've vowed to start a flat next spring, but to further delay matters, alkanet's dye comes from roots, so I'll be waiting until my young plants are two or three years old before I first harvest their color.

    Imagine my pleasure then, when I visited Kate Smith's group of natural dye students at the Twin Ponds Fiber Fest, and found well-grown alkanet plants for sale, right beside a basketful of cleaned, dried root, ready to make dyes! Grower Joann Darling explained that her plants were winter hardy at her Garden of the Seven Gables in East Barre and should do well in my Northeast Kingdom garden too. I bought two plants and two half-ounce bags of roots on the spot, and when I got home I proceeded to learn about dyeing with alkanet.

    I turned to what I call my ABC's of dyebooks: Rita Androskos' Natural Dyes of the U.S., Rita Buchanan's A Dyer's Garden, and Karen Casselman's Craft of the Dyer. Between these three authors I can usually cross-reference an identification or a recipe if I find myself on unfamiliar ground. But all three failed to mention alkanet! So I looked further along.

    Jenny Dean discussed it, mentioning in Wild Color that the red color was soluble only in rubbing alcohol, methylated spirits, or acetone, and that extracting dye in a water bath would yield grey, lavender, and purple. She also indicated that alkanet is sensitive to pH and mineral content in the water. Dean's recipe used a hot water extraction to obtain grey or purple on wool. Trudy van Stralen in Indigo, Madder, and Marigold, described using a small quantity of rubbing alcohol to aid the hot water extraction, and cautioned against steeping the roots overlong in alcohol. Her results on various animal fibers were quiet lilac-greys and beiges, not the strong purples or reds historically attributed to alkanet.

    Two local dyers' recent trials also hadn't yielded purple. Kate Smith used a water extraction of alkanet and modified the pH with ammonia, resulting in a grey color, despite the same recipe having yielded maroon/purple previously. Sara Turnbull, a Sterling College student studying natural dyes, applied a hot water extraction to alum mordanted linen and silk fabrics and got a strong beige-grey, with tantalizing flecks of purple (which perhaps indicated undissolved alum crystals).

    I decided to experiment with my two packets of roots, using one to make a hot water bath and the other for a solvent extraction. I emptied the first packet into a pint of tap water, noticing that the dried roots resisted wetting and formed a flat floating mat. The second packet I put into a pint of 70% rubbing alcohol, standard drugstore strength. Those roots immediately soaked through and sank to the bottom, trailing beet red spirals of color in the manner of a hibiscus flower teabag. I let both vats sit at room temperature for two days, mainly because I was too busy to dye until 48 hours later. I believe the water extraction didn't particularly benefit from the long soak, because the liquid was barely colored, similar to weak tea, until I applied heat to the bath just before dyeing and persuaded the roots to release substantially more color. The alcohol extraction appeared a dark red wine after the first 24 hours, and didn't deepen much further during the second 24 hours.

    To make the dyebaths, I simmered the water extraction for an hour and strained off the liquor which was the color of strong but murky black tea. The alcohol I kept as a cool extraction - I strained the colored alcohol into a few quarts of hot water, but never directly simmered the roots.

    I entered wetted, alum mordanted habotai silk, silk thread, and wool roving into the dyebaths, at a ratio of one part roots to two parts fiber (dry weight) which is half-strength, according to Jenny Dean's 1:1 recommendation. Out of respect to the silk, I kept the baths below a boil, at perhaps 190F. The alcohol bath's color struck quickly, within the first 10 minutes; the paler lilac silk was entered just 10 minutes after the first, darker silk, the silk thread, and the purple wool, but the color on the pale silk represents a nearly exhausted vat. The beige silk and the grey wool resulted from a vat of two quarts of water plus the liquor strained from the hot water extraction. That color likewise seemed to strike quickly - after the first ten minutes, the fiber did not noticeably take on more color.

    I let both vats simmer for about a half an hour, then turned off the heat and left the baths to cool somewhat. When I rinsed the alcohol vat's fibers in hot water, my fingers turned purple and what seemed like a lot of free purple color flushed from the fiber. It did lighten somewhat with the rinse, but there was sufficient color left to declare 'purple'. The alcohol smelled very strongly at first but soon rinsed away. The dry wool has a slight bit of tack or residue, and leaves purple marks on my skin - this may mean inadequate rinsing, or it may be the nature of solvent extracted color, which more testing might determine.

    The fiber from the hot water extraction rinsed out cleanly and quickly. The wool roving, however, as promised by Jenny Dean, turned a lilac-grey and even had a few streaks of purple. My alum mordant bath was hastily done immediately before the dyebath, and I suspect the wool did not mordant evenly, hence the streaks.

    From the dyebook research, I know that alkanet is susceptible to many of the usual dyer's variables: pH, water hardness, different mordants. That's one possible reason for the unpredictable results from different dyebaths. But when I looked in botanical references, I found more potential for differences. Alkanna tinctoria is a common dyebook classification for Dyer's Alkanet, what my horticulture books call Anchusa tinctoria, of the Borage family. Anchusa is the genus commonly called Bugloss, familiar in the world of garden ornamentals. Within Anchusa are many species and cultivars...and this leads right back to my reason for purchasing that little packet of seeds: if I grow my own dyestuffs, I can guarantee the material from the right plants goes into my dyepot.

    My alkanet experiment has temporarily slaked my impatience with those little neglected seeds on the shelf, and ha posed some questions for further exploration: for instance, how can I get the red color I read about? How would dry gas (methyl alcohol) compare to rubbing alcohol (isopropyl)? Are the colors lightfast? (This test is underway on samples of wool right this minute, on my windowsill.) Are the colors washfast? How will after-mordants or top-dyes affect the way the color rubs off the wool? Is this a better way to get purple than my current method, which is top-dyeing ammonia fermented lichen pink with japanese indigo?

    Perhaps you will know some of these answers. Perhaps we'll discover them together, at one of Kate's amazing natural dye workshops. Perhaps we'll never know - but let's keep on trying, and keep on dyeing!

    *blog post written by Jody Stoddard of Craftsbury, Vermont

    photos from top to bottom:

    • wool dyed with alkanet by Kate Smith (photo credit APyott)
    • Alkanna tinctoria
    • alkanet in the dyer's garden at MSW (photo credit APyott)
    • Jody's dye experiments: left to right: (photo credit Ethan Darling)
    1. purple wool, purple silk thread - alcohol extraction
    2. beige silk fabric - hot water extraction
    3. light purple silk fabric - exhaust of alcohol vat
    4. darker purple silk - first thing in the alcohol vat

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Ginger Sisters, by Lila

    In the first week of September, a tragedy struck the weaving studio: the beloved kitten Isabella disappeared. After she did not return for a few days, we all assumed the worst, and grieved for her death.
    She was gone for a good week, and then Norman found her outside of the weaving studio one morning, with a broken hip. Every one was very relieved she was alive, though she was skinny and very...battered-looking. And we didn't know what to do about her broken hip.
    Eventually it was decided to let her hip heal on its own and hope for the best. The first week she was back we were not supposed to pick her up, in case it hurt her hip. Whenever I would sit down on the floor, Izzy would find me and curl up on my lap. I think I spent most of the day with one, sometimes two, cats on my lap. Rosie was very glad to have her sister back.
    It has been a month or so, and Izzy is now doing fine. She is much smaller than her sister, Rosie, who has grown tremendously, but she will hopefully catch up soon.
    Last week, Izzy climbed up onto the ceiling beams. Everyone was quite impressed, even if she did need help getting down.
    Later on, Rosie climbed the ceiling beam as well, not to be out-done by her sister. She got stuck up on the beam, and no one took pity on her like her sister and rescued her. Eventually she figured out how to get down: the way she got up.
    Izzy is now doing fine, and she is mostly back to her normal, insane self.
    Currently she has curled up on my lap, and a moment ago she was trying to eat my earring.
    Rosie is doing great as well. She is more independent than Izzy, but she is still very lovable. She was distraught all the while Izzy was gone.
    Life is good once again for the ginger sisters.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Dyeing with Local Plants at the Fiber Fest at Twinpond Retreat Center

    This August I had the great opportunity to teach a dye class down at the Twinfield Retreat
    Center in Brookfield, VT. It was a wonderful weekend and we dyed some fabulous colors!
    Jennifer Streckler, owner of the property, had just finished the wonderful outdoor structure
    complete with a full fledged dye kitchen. Here's Elena sorting out the skeins for dyeing.
    Some of the local plants donated by Joann Darling from her dye garden - safflower, sunflowers,
    and Dyer's Greenwood.
    Weld and Madder root from my garden
    Carol with Dyer's Greenwood
    Carol and Betsy cutting up the plants to get ready for simmering.
    Checking the dye pots
    Our woad/indigo vat
    Some of the first day's colors hanging out to dry.
    Alakanet root (grey) and Rhubarb root (rust).
    We overdyed the yellows from Sunflowers, Safflower, Tansy, Zinnia's, Weld, Dyer's Greenwood
    and Onion to make a great variety of greens.
    Here is the group cutting up samples for the sample books. Twenty colors in all!

    Friday, July 30, 2010

    Wool/Silk Dye Class - July 2010

    One of the students from my last dye class, Debbie Harpe, has agreed to write this post about her experience...
    "Being a highly visual person, I enjoy experiences in life that heighten my awareness of the beauty found in the world around us. Last weekend I took Kate Smith's dye workshop on dyeing wool and silk, and it was indeed one of those experiences, Using the roots and flowers of plants, insects, and extracts we created dyes: indigo (blue), madder (red), cochineal (pink to scarlet), cutch (brown) , osage, yarrow and more (yellows), alkanet (purple), Saxon's blue, Saxon's green, bottle green silk and more.
    When the indigo dye is ready to be added to the vat (photo above) , it has a mesmerizing purple and copper colored scum swiming on the surface.
    Lowering the skein into the can see it turning green.
    Upon emerging from the vat, it is a yellow green color. The air hits the wet skein and it oxidizes and turns blue almost instantly.
    First dip skeins airing.
    Although I found the indigo process the most fascinating, the other colors we created over the course of the two days were just as beautiful. Here is vibrant bottle green silk.
    Yarrow flowers ready for the dye pot.
    Muted purple from the roots of the alkanet plant...shown next to the plant.
    Beautiful Saxon's Blue pulled dripping from the vat...
    ....and cheerful yellows which were overdyed with indigo to creat vibrant spring greens!
    Kate and Debbie the end of two days hard but satisfying work!