August 25, 2008

Weaving! Finally....

Lots of little things had been getting in the way of warping the loom. First, I'd said I would autocrat an SCA event called Fruits of Our Labours 2, (FOOL2). As well, I was trying to fit in making a 10th-11th C Anglo-Saxon outfit for my husband so he could be dragged along to a reenactment weekend. It was the first event of the Regia Angolorum Ontario group at the totally awesome longhouse and campsite. It was a totally relaxing and fantastic day and one of those spurs to more authenticity in re-creation archaeology activities. We weren't able to camp out that weekend due to some family commitments unfortunately.

Last week, between sewing and FOOL planning, I found time to start measuring off the warp on the warping board. It took 3 or 4 days - don't know exactly as I was just fitting it in here or there when I had time. The threading of the reed went really quickly, I'm presuming because a) I really enjoy dressing the loom and b) I'd done a good job of winding the warp on the warping board. Threading the heddles seems to involve some sort of time-space compression and expansion. From one side to the middle takes a fair bit of time - enjoyable time, but still. Once you get to the halfway mark, the heddles almost thread themselves, until the last 2 or 3 inches which seem to slow down and take 4 times longer than any other part. It took only 2 days and it was done. Then I started winding the warp on the back beam - I know, Front to back isn't supposed to be as good as Back to Front, however it works for me and I've never even seen a loom dressed the other way, since I taught myself to weave. The whole dressing of the loom went so smoothly that when it was done I was wondering why something hadn't gone awry.
I started weaving this afternoon and I sampled.. the sett looks good - it's a tabby so not much to go wrong with the pattern and it is pretty woven up. It isn't quite as red as my picture shows it, on my monitor at least. The fabric has a nice hand and I think my main concern with weaving this will be to keep the weft from packing too tightly.

This morning I made peach jam - mmmmmmm. It made the whole house smell delicious and it looks so pretty. I got to taste the little bit left in the pot for lunch and yep, it's a keeper! Peach jam is one of those comfort foods that I find to be a taste of summer. That is a good thing at the end of January, when the winds are blowing and the sun has forgotten to shine for the better part of a month and the high temperature is -17...

August 20, 2008

Not so Mellow Yellow

On Sunday, I went to a friend's house. She owns Earendel Farm. Really, it was a Regia Wynmerestow work weekend, but Edith and I really just played. I helped her warp her loom. Then as she was jetlagged from a trip to the UK, we went for a walk and picked a half a garbage bag full of Canadian Goldenrod (solidago canadensis). I spent Monday and Tuesday cooking down the goldenrod into a large pot of dye. As well, I mordanted 2.5 yards of wool gabardine with alum on Monday and let it soak until I needed it.
This morning, I mixed the fabric with the dye, added a bit of water and slowly heated it. I kept the fabric moving as the pot I had was obviously much too small. After about 3/4 of an hour, I was getting awfully tired and the wool was very yellow!

I moved the wool fabric to a Rubbermaid tote, heated up the dye with a bit of copper sulphate ( 2% wog) and poured the hot dye over the fabric and kept manipulating it. Finally when I was too tired to move it around anymore, I rinsed it out and put it outside to dry.
- Goldenrod smells horrible cooking in large amounts
- Goldenrod has this very odd way of foaming whenever the pot is stirred or fabric moved. Lots and lots of foam.
- Goldenrod is very yellow - makes a very yellow dye
- When you rely on the properties of Copper to dull or green a fabric down - it WON'T!

This will be a tunic for my husband. He wanted a shirt in a colour other than white. I can't bring myself to make an Elizabethan shirt in a colour other than white, so he's getting a tunic. He is someone for whom I would spend 3 days dyeing fabric for... I did, with love and care... It is a gorgeous yellow, in a neon-school bus sort of way.

August 15, 2008

Madder Part ll

Madder is a natural dye which can provide a rainbow of colours in itself. It ranges from brown, purpley-pinks, brick reds, deep reds, burgandy, salmon, coral to bright orange. Acidify the water or mordant with cream of tarter ( tartaric acid) and it is easier to get oranges. Heat it too much and you get browns. Alkaline water brings out the blues. Adding calcium carbonate ( yes Karen, there is a reason) apparently helps with reds as it helps bind the alarzin into madder lac pigment.

So into my vat went the ground dry madder root. Didn't the coffee grinder to a good job? Then I tossed in the chopped fresh and well cleaned roots on top. I added 2 Tums - a convenient and easily dissolved source of calcium carbonate and covered it all with distilled water. We have really hard water here, but it has been quite chlorinated with all the rain, so I didn't want to take chances. Within a couple of hours, it started foaming and fermenting. I stuck the pot on the back of the stove and heated it gently to 100F several times over the next few days to help the soaking. When my son stuck his nose in the pot to ask what was stewing and said eeew, I figured it was time to try dyeing with it.

This experiment was to dye 3 lbs of merino yarn - about 10,000 yards. The warp and weft were divided ahead of time based on estimated yardage after winding off cones and into skeins. Knowing that I didn't have a pot large enough for the whole amount, I figured I would aim for one colour, with warp and weft in two different shades which would hopefully be close but not totally the same. Using two different shades of the same colour is a way to make handwoven fabric have more depth without being obvious.

I had also decided to do a low temp dyeing experiment and keep the temps below 160F, aiming for 150F or so. I also kept a running tab on the PH, making sure it was exactly in the neutral area - about 7. Yesterday I spent the day watching my dye vat, adjust the heat and gently stirring once in a while. After heating for about an hour and a half, I strained it - ugh, messy job and put in my weft wool, which by the way had been damp or mordanting in alum for nearly 4 days. This is what happened after a couple of hours of staying between 120F and 150 F. It looks like a huge pan of ground beef, but it is madder dyed wool.

Then I put in the warp wool and simmered. Because I couldn't watch it in the evening, I let it cool in the pot and after a quick check before bed, I let it sit over night. I chose to do the weft first as there is less waste so if the colour turned out darker than the warp, it would be a better use of dye. This morning the warp was a fine colour, just a tad lighter than the weft. It is waiting to be hung out to dry - raining again.
I am thrilled to pieces with the colour. The weft is fairly evenly dyed and a great madder colour. The warp is almost as evenly dyed, though there are a few uneven bits just 'cause it sat all night cooling.

Dyeing samples is fun. You can try new things, repeat others and using small amounts you aren't out much if something goes awry. Believe me, it can go awry and give you unexpected results. Dyeing for a specific purpose, aiming for a particular colour and dyeing a huge amount was a real challenge and I did worry that sometime later this year I might be weaving a length of fabric in clown hair orange or coral. euwwwww. In the end, I felt very MacGyverish when I was looking at the hanging yarn, thinking that I loved it when a plan comes together.

August 11, 2008


I had a lovely and relaxing holiday, camping at Pennsic. Our camp was on the other side of the lake, full of wonderful bards and with a pirate ship parked behind my tent. The only downside was having to say goodbye to one of my very best friends. I shall desperately miss running errands with her, sleepovers and sharing everything. She also had an awesome workshop, which while I will miss having access to, I'll not miss it nearly as much as I'll miss her.

I came home and between catching up on the laundry and making up t0 the beasties for being away, I started grinding madder roots. Lots and lots of madder roots - so far about 2 lbs of madder are soaking. There is dry madder root, some from last year's purchases and the rest I bought this year. I got to use my new coffee grinder to grind it up which is the best way I think to grind old madder roots.

There is fresh madder root that I dug up from the garden yesterday afternoon. I know why they suggest digging it up in the fall or spring. My arm is scratched to bits from the little thorny bits, trying to move away the greenery to find the actual plants. Three madder plants, all 3 years old, filled my 8kg kitty litter pail to at least the 3/4 mark.

I spent the afternoon and part of the evening grinding the dry roots, cleaning and chopping up the fresh roots. Each of the fresh root clusters seemed to have a clump near the top where the roots twisted around lots of dirt. It took a while to clean them all and my knife and cutting board were covered in orangey coloured madder juice. The combined dry and fresh roots filled my largest dye vat to at least the 1/3 mark, maybe more.

Now the madder is soaking, with a bit of heat once in a while as I've just read that the alarzin (dye pigment) in madder is more soluble in warm water. It is fermenting nicely - bubbling up and smelling very maddery. Good thing I like the smell and even better that nobody in my family complains about it. It smells like dyeing.

I've some finely ground madder yet to add, but this is all coarsely ground and I want to add the fine stuff later, after a few days of the coarse madder soaking. I think that the coarser stuff will take longer to soak, no evidence for it but mainly because I need to run out and get a new jelly strainer before I even think about adding the really finely ground madder powder, or I'll never get the madder powder out of the yarn.

I've almost 10,000 yards of 2/12 wool yarn mordanting in alum right now - 3 lbs of it. According to several different sources, the amount of madder should get me a rich colour - J.Liles says red, but not quite lacquer red. I'd be happy with something reddish and not rust or salmon coloured, and definitely not the bright madder orange. I'll be checking the ph regularly to keep the vat neutral or slightly alkaline as it is the acid side which gives orange.