Friday, June 24, 2011

The Cotton and Linen Dye Workshop

we had great weather for the most part

Barb weighs mordants while Tomi skeins up some cotton

cutch vat underway with its chrome dip

yarn to overdye in the indigo vat

demonstrating the setup of the indigo vat

Sylvia wringing out skeins

black walnut extract and vinegar in the iron kettle

overdyeing greens in the big indigo vat

we set up a smaller indigo vat for blues 

Barb preparing yarrow for dyeing

the iron kettle on the morning of Day 2

copper sulfate and logwood mixtures

yarrow ready to boil

Tomi checking skeins after the first stage of amish logwood purple

cutch and yarrow vats - Day 2

Sylvia working skeins through the osage vat

last stage of amish logwood purple

end of Day 2 - making up the sample books

cotton and linen samples drying at the end of Day 2

We had a great time dyeing yarn for twenty different colors during our annual Natural Dye Workshop for Cotton and Linen. Kate and I premordanted the samples that required a three-day alum-tannin-alum treatment to help save time, so after getting everyone's yarn skeins labeled and scoured, we set to work making up the remaining alum and tannin mordants for the simpler processes that could well be completed in two days.

Each student focused on preparing three or four dyes, from start to finish, although there was time during the day to check in on what other people were doing. Just a quick run-down of the dyes we worked with over the weekend:

Egyptian Purple
Amish Logwood Purple
Iron Buff
Black Walnut
Cutch Brown
Jet Black
Osage Orange
Madder Orange
Copperas Indigo Vat
Thiox Indigo Vat
Prussian Blue
Saxon's Green
Fustic Green
Olive Green

Many of these receipts call for an elaborate, multi-step procedure of mordanting, dyeing, fixing, airing, more mordanting, and overdyeing until they are complete. Logwood Purple and Jet Black are great examples of this; to obtain the rich deep traditional purple, the fiber is first mordanted with tannin overnight. The next day it is worked in the logwood vat, then aired, then alum and copper sulfate are added to the vat and the fiber is worked again, more logwood is added, then it is aired and rinsed out. It's pretty amazing to see the initial vibrant stages of deep orange turn into vivid purple. The Jet Black is similar and involves tannin, lime water, copperas, copper sulfate, logwood, fustic, madder, washing soda, and more copperas in a very precise sequence. I've never seen it a rich black, but it did go a very nice charcoal grey this year, which is better than I've seen it before.

We dye samples of cotton and linen yarn in each dye, so that each participant can have a record of each color and how it takes up with both fibers. In addition, students can bring some of their own yarn or cloth to experiment with, so they have some great natural dyed yarn to take home for a project.

By the end of the weekend we have a rainbow of lovely, subtle yarns hanging out on the line to dry in the sun and breeze. After clean-up everyone sits with the now-dried yarn samples and makes up a beautiful sample book to take home, which is a great review of the weekend's work, and a chance to really fix in one's mind just what all the colors look like.

It was a great class this year, with ample participation to make dyeing such a wide range of colors relatively easy. This course is a great general overview of the traditional receipts for natural dyeing. At the request of several participants, we are considering offering some more intensive work with mordanting and with single colors, so that each person has the opportunity to experience the full process. We may try this as more weekend courses or as an ongoing study group. We'll keep you posted as this develops.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Week of Checked Linen Weaving

setting up for the weeks' projects

Kate introduces Suzi to a barn loom

beaming on Suzi's project

Suzi threading her linen towelling

Sylvia and Kate enjoying a threading conundrum

Sylvia threads her linen towelling

Suzi's indigo and white linen check

Suzi weaving

detail of Suzi's linen

detail of Sylvia's lovely cutch and silvery grey linen

It's been a busy last few weeks around here...getting prepared for our first dye workshop of the summer, juggling the schedule to accommodate new work and new students...and in the midst of all that we had two students here for a week to learn some more advanced techniques in weaving checked linens. Sylvia returned from her home in Massachusetts, and Suzi came all the way from a small town in the center of Georgia.

Checked linen is pretty interesting because it gives one the opportunity to practice weaving with linen in a fairly non-intimidating way, if one has never worked with it before. Most towelling is not particularly wide, so it is possible to learn about the particulars of warping and beaming on and weaving without having to deal with a long shuttle throw as well.

The first thing to figure out with weaving a check is the warp sequence, so that you can efficiently build the warp off a skarne of spools and have the pattern of warp stripe build itself on the down and back. The only tricky part of this is remembering to be mindful of which way you turn your hand to make the cross at the beginning of the warp, so everything stays in the correct order! But once you have this sorted out the only critical thing is making sure your tension while warping is even; not too tight and not too loose.

Linen has a remarkable tendency to sag and bag under excessive handling, so when beaming on it is very important to fuss with it as little as possible, something akin to wrapping a gift in fine tissue paper...the less it is smoothed and touched, the better off you'll be in getting your warp on the loom successfully. Once you start correcting things by handling, there seems to be a domino effect of ever-increasing baggy-ness in the warp, which can be very difficult to make right, and can make the entire loom-dressing process much less efficient. Typically, minor inconsistencies in warp tension will naturally be overcome and evened-out once you are threaded and tied-up, so it's really best not to mess with it too much in the beaming on.

Taking some extra time to make sure the threading is correct and the equipment tie-up is tweaked to give you a clean shed on each treadling will go a long way toward making the actual experience of weaving smooth and trouble-free. It can take a period of adjustment to figure out just how one needs to throw the shuttle in order not to break threads, but I have found that a light touch and a relaxed awareness is key. The selvedges seem to take care of themselves, as long as you don't unintentionally tear out an edge by setting the tenterhook too far out.

Sylvia and Suzi's projects were really beautiful, both of them having chosen very traditional colors. It was a delight having both of them add their experience and perspective to our group of weavers for this week and we hope they enjoyed being with all of us as much as we enjoyed having them here.

Sylvia stayed on to participate in the Cotton and Linen Dye Workshop over this last weekend (I'll post about that at the end of this week), and Suzi left to catch her flight back to Georgia on Saturday afternoon. We hope to see them both back here again!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Adventures with Indigo

an outdoor vat set up to dye 7 pounds of worsted wool

draining the wetted-out yarn 

after the first dip

after the second dip

rinsing out after fifth dip

This week saw an increase of indigo-related activities going on at the studio. I had a fabric job to dye seven pounds of fine worsted wool for, so Tuesday morning I set up a lye-thiox vat outdoors, as we were due for some fine warm weather. After a year and a half of working with indigo at the studio and at home, my questions of the process are more refined and I am much better able to understand the subtle workings of the vat and of my technique.

The weather was great for a few days and I was able to obtain a deep blue after only five dips in what was a very active vat. It was a great feeling to get in the groove and methodically, slowly, continue the work of cycling the skeins through the dye. It can be a really meditative thing to do, barring distractions and minor emergencies elsewhere.

The first indigo dyeing I did was in the winter, indoors. It was cold downstairs in the dye lab and it was hard to keep the vats warm and active. My hands got kind of chapped and blue from handling the yarn to open it up for oxidation. I made a big mess. My yarn came out nicely, but I didn't rinse it enough after dyeing and some of it fell apart because the alkaline dye solution was left to dry on it. But I was inspired by my first encounter with the mysterious process, and with the subtle quality of this particular color, which vibrates somewhere on the knife edge between blue and green.

In my ongoing experiences with indigo, I became more comfortable with setting up a vat and working the yarn through the process, but there were many fine points that eluded me, and I still didn't really understand much of what was going on with the chemistry of it. Finally, I decided to take my interest seriously and to buckle down and do some serious studying, to take good notes, and to let myself ask all the questions to the parts I didn't really understand.

Working on trying out other kinds of indigo vats with our mad scientist, Zoe, has helped me delve into the intricacies of indigo much more effectively. This week we set up a copperas vat, which Kate and I had had no success with last summer. It's reputed to be a better vat for dyeing plant fiber with. Last summer we just had kind of an unsatisfactory experience with murky, somewhat ugly results...nothing to write home about. And in March, Zoe had given it a whirl, but had had similar feelings about its general murkiness. But this week we were careful. We followed the directions in J.N. Liles' book to the letter. It was, in addition, a hot and humid day, which seems to be one extremely favorable condition for working well with indigo. We dipped a few sample skeins of cotton and linen, and voila! ... were rather magically transported to Yemen, where the indigo beaters can coax a beautiful bronzy sheen out of well-dyed dark indigo. (Then we had to go herd an escaped cow back into her fenced pasture, but that is another story...)

Suffice to say, worked with over and over again, indigo will yield up her secrets to persistent devotees. The process is indeed a fascinating and mysterious one, which also opens doors into the simple chemical relationships underlying all ordinary physical (and metaphysical) phenomena. We will be sharing our experiences and knowledge and will be diving into much of this during our Indigo Dye Intensive, the weekend of July 23-24, so if you've wanted to broaden and deepen your own experience of indigo, consider attending this workshop. Fingers crossed for hot weather and beautifully active vats.

Friday, June 3, 2011

This Week...

Sandra standing at the edge

some insight into the formation of canyons

another culvert around the corner washed out too

Susan Osterman's finished pillowcases

Our high excitement in the last week has been adjusting to the after effects of the flooding that hit our area on May 26th. We had severe thunderstorms overnight with torrential rain. Many roads were washed out from the heavy run-off, and local rivers flooded.

Memorial Day Weekend found us picking up the pieces and figuring out how we were going to make due with some changed circumstances. At the school, the upper driveway is not passable by vehicle, and the ditch in front of the property is badly washed out. The dye gardens are sodden and the ground completely saturated with water, to the point where we have to drain the big dye vat in stages so our leach field can actually absorb it.

The scene around the corner is a great deal more dramatic...Kate's road is completely washed out at the culvert. She now has a wonderful moat, keeping all but the most intrepid dog-walkers from wandering by. With the help of a good friend she was able to rig up a small foot bridge to cross the brook, and has been able to use a neighbor's car to run necessary errands. But she has been enjoying the quietness and peace of not being able to do everything as usual.

Just down Eaton Cemetery road, the road is mostly washed out at the culvert where the same brook goes under the road. You can walk over it, but you can't drive a vehicle past. Both of these culverts are so big that they need to be custom-fabricated, so it will be some matter of weeks before these roads are repaired and useable once more.

In driving around the Montpelier, East Montpelier, Barre, Plainfield, and Marshfield area, it is remarkable to see all the damage caused by this one storm. and to understand more clearly about the power of water to change things. Some of what i have seen is truly incredible, from cars underwater on the side of a road, to deep washouts down to bedrock, houses that have had their foundations all but washed away from underneath them, mud thick and caked in backyards and along city streets, and silt and stone fields where brooks are rivers have carved new pathways.

On a lighter note, Susan Osterman finished her linen pillowcases and brought them in for us to see. They're gorgeous. They feel very durable and you can tell by touching them that they will become washed into a rich heavy softness over the years, and will most likely become treasured family heirlooms. Hats off to you, Susan, for beginning this project of weaving your own bed linens, which no one else here has completed so far (except for Norman, of course).