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Debra Wallace

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Fruit of the Spirit

At first glance, you may think I’m writing a post about a verse in Galations, but actually this is about how I make the little knitted pears that are so fun to give as gifts!

NATURAL DYEING 101:

You can make them, too. Here’s how…

First, you’ll need to buy some yellow-gold wool fingering weight yarn. (Synthetic yarn will not felt, and this pear has been felted. More later.) Or dye some white wool yarn with turmeric, like I prefer doing. (Cuz it’s sooooo fun!) Since turmeric is a household kitchen spice, I don’t worry about using one of my regular cooking pots to dye with.

If you’re going to be dyeing using mordants such as iron or copper sulfate, you’ll want to have separate pots and utensils ONLY for dyeing, (so there won’t be any chance of later contaminating your cooked food with dye or mordants.)

If you’re a newbie to dyeing, you may be asking, “So what’s a mordant, and what’s it used for?” (I can read minds, too, Ha!) Before you go to your dictionary app, simply put, a mordant is a reagent that fixes, or adheres the dye to the fiber. Sometimes a mordant is added to a fiber prior to adding dye, and sometimes it can be added directly to the dye bath, or added after dyeing, to create a different color. Some dyestuffs such as lichen or acorns need no mordants added because they have natural mordants already in them, such as tannin. Now that you’re up to speed on mordants, I will delay the “using mordants with dyeing” for another post!

Wonderful references I use for natural dyeing.

Great books on natural dyeing, fibers, knitting, and felting.

FIBERS:

Now about fibers. Natural dyes work best on protein fibers, such as wool and silk. You can also use them on plant fibers, such as cotton or linen (flax), but expect a bit lighter shade for the finished product. Sometimes a mordant (such as alum) used on plant fibers can give it a brighter, more vibrant color. Or adding a mordant (such as iron) can also dull, or sadden a color. Some mordants will change the color altogether. So that’s the fun! As we dyers say, “Love what you get!” (because the end color is often a surprise). There are many variables when dyeing. The pH factors into dyeing, and also what type of water comes out of your faucet. Adding salt, vinegar, or baking soda may also alter the end result.

While working with protein fibers such as wool or alpaca, one needs to be careful not to agitate the fiber while it’s in the pot at a high temperature. Stir GENTLY to ensure even dyeing, however, too much stirring and it may cause the fiber to start felting! (If you’ve ever accidentally thrown a wool sweater into a dryer after washing it, then you know how sad it is to pull it out and discover it’s now a hand-me-down for your daughter’s American Girl doll.) Believe me, I know! So don’t overly- agitate during the dyeing process. When felting (on purpose) you want the project to shrink and get a little fuzzy, so then it’s fine!

In the photos above, are some examples of items I’ve dyed.

Left to right: gold wool yarn, (dyed with turmeric) soft pink wool yarn, (dyed with avocado pits) sage green yarn, (dyed with stinging nettles). Below: blue silk scarf, (dyed with indigo).

To start the dyeing project with turmeric, fill a cooking pot full of water and add approximately 1 ounce of turmeric. Stir well, bring just to a boil, and then let simmer for one hour.

While waiting for the dyepot to heat and get ready, prepare your yarn. (So the yarn doesn’t get tangled once it’s in the pot, I prefer winding my yarn on a yarn swift like this one.) 

It’s OK if you don’t have one, winding yarn on the back of a chair will do just fine.

Notice the little ties I used to hold it together in a loop. This makes it a whole lot easier when you want to wind your yarn into a ball after it’s dry. 

While your dye pot is heating up, it is important to pre-wet your yarn (or T-shirt or whatever you feel like dyeing). Fully submerge your item in lukewarm water and let it soak in the warm water while your dyepot solution simmers.  

Once your dyepot has simmered for an hour, and your yarn had time to completely get saturated with water, squeeze out any excess water from the pre-soaked yarn and gently lower it into the heated dye pot.

Push the yarn down with a spoon until it is completely covered. Stir every 10-15 minutes to ensure even dyeing, and let it simmer for 1 hour. 

After it simmers for 1 hour, I like to then turn off the heat, put a lid on the dyepot, and let it continue to sit in the dye solution overnight. (This  gives the most saturated color.) The next morning, I take it to the sink, pour off the dye water which should be much clearer by now (all the dye having been absorbed into the yarn), and rinse the yarn thoroughly with cool water. After several rinses, I give it a light wash with a pH neutral soap, (such as Dawn dishwashing liquid). Gently squeeze all the water out. Do not wring the yarn, just gently squeeze.

(Note: the color will appear darker in the pot and when wet.) Hang the washed and rinsed yarn to completely dry. (Sometimes I just hang it over a showerhead in the shower, or over a tree limb if it is not in direct sunlight.)

Finished Product!

All dry? Now you have some lovely yarn to knit your pear! If wool is just not your thing, take a look at the T-shirt I dyed using the same method of dyeing above. You may find it fun trying a tie-dyed project!

Stay tuned for the knitted felted pear pattern in the next post on fiber arts!

2 comments on “Fruit of the Spirit

  1. molly says:

    A picture is worth a thousand words! Thank for these pics and instructions that describe the process creating the beautiful golden yarn pear in my dining room. I get it now.

    Like

    1. So are you ready to dye?

      Like

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