Self-Striping Experiments!

For the love of stripes!!

I’m addicted. There’s no way around it. I started dying self-striping sock yarn, and it has taken over my brain. It’s such a different way of combining colors than I am used to from blending batts, and the process has been lots of fun.

I mean, like some of the process. The time I warped 750 yards of yarn incorrectly and had to unwind it all kind of stunk. And that other time when I was over-ambitious and had to ball 4 twisted skeins by hand (without using my swift or ball winder) wasn’t great either.

But, now I have a process. And an understanding that prepping, dying, and reskeining this yarn requires unimpeded unitasking. And also Bill – the calmest person on earth – has decided “yarn touching” (helping me reskein the dyed yarn) is about the most fun a dude can have at a warping board.

If you aren’t familiar with how self-striping yarn is dyed, here are the basics… Any given single stripe is likely made of up 4-10 yards of yarn. There are a couple of different options for preparing yarn to be dyed in long lengths. I use a warping board – a tool used by weavers – to create a large loop about 20 yards around. Then, I tie off lengths that tell me where each color will be dyed and dye each section by immersion. After rinsing and drying, the yarn is put back on the warping board, and Bill helps me reskein it.

So far, I’ve got three colorways on two bases – a fingering weight Corriedale/Nylon and a sport weight Targhee/Nylon. I’m open to exploring new bases and am interested in what you enjoy – or don’t. The colorways are…

County Clare, based on a trip I took to Ireland with Bill’s extended family in the early Aughts.

Barn Love is inspired by the colors of my barn.

Finally, Woolly Mammoth was dyed to match the quilt on our bed – a large quilt with wool batting made with pieces of old clothing.

The yarns will be introduced when I vend at the Knitting Pipeline Retreat in February, and hopefully available online shortly after that. I’m starting a little slowly because I want to get to know the yarn bases before I dive too deep. But, I see lots of fun dye days…and reskeining days…ahead of me!

Wool Noir – Conclusion

I think they’re still sleeping it off out in the woods…

The last shipment for the Wool Noir batt club contained the reveal of our mystery and a gradient batt. Did you guess the corn thief?

 

Chapter Three: Missing Pieces

The falling autumn leaves were giving way to light flurries. Decidedly chillier air was descending upon the farm when Cora called for an assembly in the barn. Some things were clear, but she’d need to talk with the flock to fill in the missing pieces.

Cora arrived in the barn 20 minutes before the scheduled meeting to find the llamas already set up and waiting, goofily expectant grins on their faces – and they were making popcorn. They LOVE drama, apparently. This real-life show has been better than anything they’d seen unfold before.

As the goats, chickens, and sheep trickled in, Cora went through the chain of events in her mind one more time.

At first, upon finding the black and white fibers, she’d assumed that Pickles was somehow involved. That theory was quickly dismissed when she realized the reason the farmer was working so hard in the orchard. Pickles, and the rest of the goats, had broken into the orchard, eating the apple trees, the raspberry bushes, and anything else they could find. An air-tight alibi. They were in trouble, but not for the corn. The farmer would deal with them.

Returning to the fence for more investigation, Cora realized that the fibers were not hairs, but bits of a feather. Following a trail, she found many more, and eventually, a large pile of mangled feathers. Black and white barred feathers. Only one chicken on the farm with feathers like that. Tailpipe. It appeared that he’d been attacked. When Cora first met Tailpipe, she’d assumed that he was molting, but this provided an alternative explanation for his crazy appearance. To survive such an attack was rare, there must be a connection with the missing corn… She needed to confront him to find out what it was.

When all the animals assembled, Cora shared what she’d learned with the denizens of the farm. When she finished. Tailpipe was near tears. “It was me. I did it!” he sobbed. “It was all my fault, I’m so sorry!”

“Why don’t you tell us what happened, Tailpipe” encouraged Cora.

“I spend a lot of time back there by the fence, because no one here in the barn likes me. One day, I saw that the fence was loose. I thought – hey – I’ll go exploring, and see if I can make some new friends! So, I made to slip through the fence. Just as I was doing so, I was snatched by a family of raccoons. I tried to fight them off, but there were too many of them. I feared that they were going to carry me away and eat me, so I tried making them an offer for my life. I told them about the corn. At first, they didn’t believe me, but I showed them. They called all their cousins, and ate ALL the corn in a single night. I think they’re still sleeping it off out in the woods-”

Tailpipe was about to continue his story when Martha interrupted him.. “Tailpipe – We are sorry. We didn’t mean for this to happen to you. We didn’t realize this until just now, but the missing corn is our fault. Not yours. We honestly thought that the goats stole it!” Martha shot a very unfriendly eye over to Pickles, who was sneaking up on the llama’s popcorn…

“Let me explain Cora, so you understand…” Martha began her story. “I see that even you have a scratch on your nose. From Tailpipe, no doubt. He has been scratching noses across the farm with in appropriate flying for years. Earlier this year, he scratched the nose of one of our lambs, as you may have heard. The scratch got infected, and the farmer thought it might be signs of a serious infection that she called ‘SEE-EL.’ She was very worried. She even talked about killing our lamb to protect the rest of the flock! Fortunately, before she made up her mind, the infection began to heal. That’s when the flock voted that Tailpipe had to go. He wouldn’t listen and stay on the ground. Stop flying onto our noses, Tailpipe!!!

“We wanted him to just leave. I asked the ram to loosen the fence back by where Tailpipe was hanging out. We figured we’d wait until he left, then make noise for the farmer to fix it. We NEVER wanted him to get hurt, just be gone.”

Cora nodded her head, and thought silently for a moment. Then she had a solution. “Martha – that was a very careless thing you did. What if one of your lambs slipped through the fence? They could’ve been eaten by coyotes!” For the first time, Martha seemed to become smaller. She realized the error of her plan – a plan enacted out of frustration and the desire to protect her flock, but with little thought.

Cora turned to Tailpipe: “Buddy, you’ve got to stop flying onto noses. You’ve not stopped when asked, so I’m afraid we’re going to take drastic action.” Addressing the crowd, Cora asked, “Does anyone know where the farmer keeps her wool shears?”

The llamas sprang to action and were back within 30 seconds, razor sharp shears in hand. Cora held Tailpipe down, while a llama descended upon the immobilized rooster with mischievous glee. One second later and “SNIP!!!” It was done. Tailpipe would never land on a nose again.

…And he was OK with that. The shears had painlessly snipped the flight feathers from his left wing. If ever he tried to fly, he simply tumbled to the ground. As he was now flightless, the rest of the farm started calling him “Penguin,” but Martha put a stop to that, saying that he’d been through enough, and shouldn’t be teased.

In the end, the incident of the missing corn brought the farm community closer together. All the animals better realized that their individual actions had the ability to affect many animals. Martha agreed to no longer lick up the chicken’s breakfast corn, and Tailpipe found contentment on the ground. With the exception of the shenanigans of Pickles, the farm was peaceful and drama free for many years.…to the great disappointment of the llamas.

Dying Wool with Black Walnuts

If you have goats who are willing to help, don’t let them.

There has been a lot of walnut dying happening here lately…and walnuts are not just for brown! Dying wool (or cotton, or silk) with walnuts is an excellent intro to natural dying. The process is very flexible and the results are reliably gorgeous. I’m going to describe the process I use, as well as modifications you can make.

First, gather a bunch of walnuts. If you  have a 5 gallon Menards bucket, use that – especially if it is dirty. If you have goats who are willing to help, don’t let them. Mostly, they will be wondering if they can eat the things in your dirty bucket and they’ll tip the bucket over trying to find out. They will do this a stupefying number of times, no matter how firmly you try to explain that the inedible contents of the dirty bucket are exactly the same as they were two minutes ago, when they last knocked it over.

Walnuts will be found in many conditions, including unblemished fully green husks, bruised husks, and dried cracked mummy husks. All of these can be thrown into a pot of water – as is – and will make a lovely dye. Cold water. Warm water. Soak for an hour. Soak for a week. Throw your yarn in with the walnuts, or strain the dyebath before putting in your yarn. Whatever! It will all work.

I have visions of cracking the nut inside the husk and obtaining the walnut halves inside. This is madness because the shells are unbelievably hard. We did research to find the one tool that will crack them and still haven’t been brave enough to try. There are stories of Native Americans using rocks to crack the husks and the idea impresses me without end. But, I am an optimist (and apparently a squirrel), so I enjoy collecting the nuts with visions of winter evenings cracking shells by the fire. This requires relieving the nut of its husk.

I do this with a pickup truck.

Once the nuts are smashed it is easy to separate the husk from the nut. Oh! Do this bit with gloves. Unless you want your hands to be stained brown for the next month. Your call. I’m not judging.

Some of the husks – especially the ones with brown spots – will be home to little white worms in various stages of development. I don’t get squeamish easily, but I’m not fond of the worms. If you have chickens helping you with this process, it is now their turn to scratch around in the broken husks and eat up the worms. Mostly, they will just scatter your walnuts over a large area with their scratching, and they will only eat a few of the worms. I scrape the worms out of the husks (or abandon the ones that are too infested for my sensibilities), but other dyers just throw them in the pot stating that the worms become part of the dye.

Ok. That’s enough about worms.

At this point, I tossed all the husks into bags and plopped them into a freezer. You can use the husks to make a dyebath now, freeze them like I did, or set them somewhere to dry for later use. I’ve never used dried husks, but I am told they are not quite as potent as fresh. I have noticed no difference between using fresh husks or frozen ones.

To make a dyebath, I put the husks into a pillowcase which is in my dye pot, cover with water and simmer for an hour. I let the bath cool overnight and dye the next day. The pillowcase helps keep debris, like dirt and little husk flakes, contained. If you don’t have a pillowcase or bag you are willing to sacrifice, you could pour your dyebath through a strainer, or just not care that there will be little flecks of nature in your yarn.

I don’t measure any part of this, but if you want to experiment or get more repeatable results, you could measure the total weight of your husks. Often, in natural dying, the recommendation is 1:1 dye material to the weight of what you’re dying. So, a pound of wool would require a pound of walnut husks (or goldenrod stems, or whatever). But, varying the strength of your natural dye, or the amount of time your yarn sits in your dye, will often result in a variety of colors.

The first mini in this photo is undyed. The next three colors were obtained by varying the strength and timing in the dye bath. If you are looking to dye a very light brown, I recommend doing it after you’ve dyed darker colors. Let the first few yarns soak up most of the dye, and then dye your lighter colors. That lightest skein actually stayed in the dyepot the longest, but was dyed after the other two. Walnut dye is very potent and clings to wool quickly. When I’ve tried to get a light color in a strong dyebath, even a quick dip of 10 seconds has resulted in a rich medium brown.

An important thing to note is that walnut dye will never exhaust. When using acid dyes, a general rule is that you let the wool sit in the dye bath until all the color is absorbed and the bath is clear. That won’t ever happen with walnut (or many natural dyes). So, when your wool is submerged, it will look darker than it really is. To see what your yarn actually looks like, pull a bit out of the bath and squeeze the water out. It will be noticeably lighter, and when it dries, it will be a little lighter still.

You don’t need any mordant with walnut dyes. I’ve noticed no difference between using unmordanted wool, and wool mordanted with alum. Iron, however, causes a delightful change in hue. Iron is typically used as a post-dye modifier, meaning you dye your wool and then dip it in an iron bath to change the color. Iron usually darkens whatever you’ve dyed. The last mini in the photo above was dipped in iron. I made a warm water bath with 12 grams of iron for 1 pound of wool. I purchased iron mordant from The Woolery (it is quite inexpensive), but you can also throw some rusty metal into a pot to make your iron bath – though this is less precise.

The color change is nearly instant, but I simmered the wool for a half hour (180F). After I finished with the darker colors, I made a charming gray with the exhaust of both the walnut dyebath and the iron modifier bath. I dunked a few wet skeins of wool into the used dyebath for just a few minutes. I squeezed out the water and plopped them into the iron exhaust (now cold), for about 20 seconds. Isn’t this a fabulous gray?

Walnut dying is a ton of fun with so many color possibilities! I have a bunch of husks in the freezer for winter experimentation, so there may be more soon! I did a test batch of self-striping sock yarn, but I’m a little concerned about how walnut dye holds up against potentially sweaty feet… Any experience with that? I’m going to knit a little swatch to wear in my store-bought socks for a day and see what happens. More soon!!

Walnuts!

Our walnut trees produce a large number…like, an insanely large number…of green-husked walnuts the size of an overlarge golf ball.

IMGP3231Our old farm includes a stand of tall, mature black walnut trees. I don’t know when in the 150 year history of our farm they were planted, or what the people who planted them hoped they’d become…but I love the trees and am so grateful to the previous owners who had the foresight and patience to give us this gift.

IMGP9070

When we first moved to our farm, the acre of grass around the trees had been mowed regularly, and the stand was very park-like. We’d get frequent visits from local logging companies asking if we wanted to sell the trees. Mature black walnut trees can be turned into big bucks and our little forest was very inviting. When we looked up the value of the trees online, we were tempted to allow some selective harvesting – after all, our old farmhouse needed (and, ten years later, still needs) a lot of expensive attention. Instead, we decided to wait and think of our little walnut grove as a long-term savings account.

IMGP6147

We didn’t mow the grass around the trees. Neither Bill nor I have any affinity for grass or the disruptive noise and energy of lawnmowers, so our walnut forest started producing acres of black raspberry bushes, and we’d spend sticky summer afternoons among thorny vines acquiring scratches and gallons of tart berries. Walnut trees have a chemical called juglone in their branches, leaves, and roots. Juglone is quite mean to many plants which can’t grow under or near walnut trees as a result. Black raspberries don’t care about juglone, however, and the walnut trees provided a safe space for the raspberries to flourish.

IMGP8496  IMGP8114

After a few years of growth, we put up a ring of electric fence around our walnuts, and let our sheep, goats, and lambs in to graze. They demolished all the vegetation they could find and the once impenetrable tangle of raspberry vines has become a cropped carpet of grass and weeds again. Goats love raspberry leaves but have little understanding of sustainable harvests.

IMGP4686

Our walnut trees produce a large number…like, an insanely large number…of green-husked walnuts the size of an overlarge golf ball. Inside the husk is an impossibly hard shell which protects the walnut morsels inside, and never – ever – decomposes.

DSCN2205

Red squirrels love walnuts like goats love raspberry leaves. Every autumn the small chipmunk-like rodents collect the nuts for their winter stores, creating huge piles of hard shells in my garage, woodshed, and, I assume, attic. When we pulled out the 1970s era plastic shower form in our bathroom a few years ago, there was a mass of holey walnut shells between it and the wall. The squirrels presumably gained access to the dark corners of our bathroom through the small gap around the shower drain leading into the basement.

If it sounds like these walnut trees are a burden (did I mention the ankle-twisting mine field of nuts I cross 8 times a day to get to the barn, or the thunderous clanks of nuts hitting the metal woodshed roof, or how scary it is to walk under a tree during strong autumn winds, or how the red squirrels have learned to use the nuts as projectile weapons?), I assure you they are not.

Behold:

IMGP2395

Black walnuts produce glorious wash-fast, light-fast natural dyes. You can dye wool, cotton, and your fingers without a mordant and even without applying heat. Walnut dye is one of the simplest, foolproof natural dyes available and can produce a range of delicious tans and browns. You can just throw a bunch of walnuts in a pot of water and add your wool. Wait a few hours or a few days, and pull the fiber out. Rinse (and rinse), and you’re done!

Adding a little more sophistication to the process will give you more repeatable or dynamic results – and I’ll write more about that next time!