Monday, August 23, 2010


I never thought I'd really want to learn how to dye yarns. It's silly but there are so many great options out there already that I felt like I needed some parameters somewhere. But that was before I started gardening at my own house and read about a dye plants lecture at the local Weavers and Spinners Guild. I don't spin and I didn't (I've since been very generously given one which I need to learn how to use) have a fancy harness loom but those are both things I'm interested in so I went to the lecture (back in April) and was promptly convinced to join the guild. Then I looked forward all summer to this dye workshop which was held on Saturday.

Not only was the dyeing itself a lot of fun but learning about the histories and materials behind many of the dyes was fascinating! Above, left is cochineal which is a bug which is a parasite on cacti in South America. It makes a beautiful red/pink and was monopolized by the Spanish for 300 years and second only to gold in value of products from the "New World".

In the middle is madder root. I think I may try to grow some of this in my garden next year as it was my favorite of the colors shown (surprisingly -- I thought my favorite would be indigo). We may be a bit too far north but it never hurts to try. The yarns on the left in the photo below are done with madder root. Our batch didn't work out too well so I overdyed my roving (yes, it's true that I don't spin -- but I do want to learn!) with cochineal -- photos of that to come. But I'm willing to try again, for sure. This is the dye used for the reds in real Persian rugs. Always beautiful, right?

The last of the photo mosaic at top (the photo on the right) is a thing called oak galls. These occur when a certain wasp stings an oak leave and creates a kind of cancer in the leaf that grows into one of these galls. The insect lives inside and crawls out through a hole. These can be found on the forest floor, although rarely. She said that the basket in the photo represents half of FIVE YEARS of collecting these doodads. And she's a park ranger! I don't know what color they make but it sounds like a fun treasure hunt to search for them and give them a try someday.

The thing about natural dyes, as mentioned above, is that they are not particularly reliable. But that's part of the fun, really! All we did was mordant our yarns or rovings (with potassium alum) while the lecture was given and then the dye pots were heated and we all ran, full speed ahead, at the dye. It was crazy but a whole lot of fun! I'll post photos of my dyed roving once it stops raining here (it's been raining non-stop for the past two days) and I can get a decent shot.

1 comment:

alexia said...

this sounds amazing!