Thursday, August 28, 2014

Processing Raw Wool

Most of my friends and blog readers know that I am an avid crafter and artist.  (If you haven't figured that out by now, you really haven't been paying attention...)  I have been crocheting and knitting for many years, and last year my friend Mary taught me how to spin yarn.  Spinning is something that got put on the back burner with all the other things going on in my life, but recently I've had a renewed interest in spinning and natural dyeing.
Part of what fueled my renewed excitement for spinning is this large trash bag full of raw wool!  I made friends with a woman named Diane that had come to Cleveland to take workshops at the Morgan Conservatory where I work.  She has a flock of sheep and three herding dogs.  (I have not seen any of her sheep but I met her dogs, they are adorable and very well behaved.)  On her second visit to Cleveland, she brought me a bag of raw wool from her Leicester sheep, half white wool and half black.  Now that I have the raw materials there is no excuse not to spin!

Before I could start spinning, I had to learn about processing raw wool.  Raw wool has a combination of dirt, grass, and lanolin embedded in the fibers.  Lanolin is a waxy substance secreted by sheep to help protect their skin.  Lanolin helps make the wool waterproof, but it also feels oily and is more difficult to work with than clean wool.  To clean the wool I filled a bucket with very hot water, added several squirts of dawn dish soap, and let a bunch of wool sink into the water.  It is necessary to use very hot water so the lanolin can melt out of the wool and get absorbed by the dish soap.  Once the wool is in the water, don't touch it.  Heat and agitation together will felt the wool into a blob.  After 15-20 minutes, remove the wool from the bucket, pour out the dirty water, and start again.  I soaked the wool 2-3 times in hot soapy water and 2-3 times in clean hot water to remove the soap.

Once the wool is clean, use a towel to gently squeeze out excess water.  Don't wring out the wool or it will turn into a blob.  I spread my clean wool out on a folding drying rack with a mesh top so air can get above and below, and help it dry faster.  If that is not available, a towel on the floor will work fine.  After the wool is dry, there are still a few pieces of grass and dirt tangled in the fibers, and a little bit of lanolin holding the ends of each lock together.  To help clean and detangle the fiber I purchased a set of hand carders.  The hand carders basically brush the wool and loosen the fibers so the remaining dirt particles can fall out.  After carding, I remove the wool and roll it into a cylindrical thing called a rolag.  These rolags can be used to draft the fibers for spinning.

So there you go!  That is how I got from a bag of raw wool to being ready to spin.  I have cleaned 3-4 buckets of white fiber, 2 of black fiber, and I have only made a dent in the amount of fiber left to clean.  Needless to say, this will keep me spinning through the whole fall and winter.  I have enjoyed using the clean wool in my natural dye experiments.  Pretty soon I will have my own hand dyed and hand spun yarn.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dyeing Yarn with Turmeric

So I actually dyed this yarn almost a year ago.  I had been putting off taking photos of the yarn and finishing the blog post... But now that I am getting back into natural dyeing and will be posting more of my experiments with natural dyes, I figured it was time to actually post this.

I participated in a local CSA program (community supported agriculture) which gives members a bag of fresh vegetables every week.  One week the bag included fresh Turmeric grown in the hoop house.  The turmeric root is bright yellow and usually used in curry and other similar dishes.  I already had a container of good ground turmeric in my spice rack, so I decided to use the fresh stuff to dye yarn.

I started by cleaning the roots and chopping them into small pieces.  The more surface area that is exposed, the easier it is to extract all the color available into the dye bath.  I added the chopped pieces to a pot of water and simmered for an hour or so to extract the dye.  (Note: I have a special pot set aside for dyeing, that is not used for food.)  I noticed that the dye wasn't very strong, so I supplemented the chopped roots with a teaspoon of ground turmeric from the pantry.

Luckily turmeric does not require a separate mordant to dye effectively.  Mordants prepare the fiber for dyeing so it can accept color from the dye bath.  Certain natural dye stuffs have a natural mordanting agent, so the fiber does not need any pre-treatment.  I took my ball of Paton's Classic Wool and wound it into a large loop so it could move freely in the dye bath.  After securing the loop, I soaked it in cool water in the sink to remove any bubbles or air pockets from the fiber (this helps the yarn dye more evenly.)

I turned the stove down and added my fiber to the dye pot so it could simmer for an hour or more.  I also added some wool roving to the dye pot, so I could use it for spinning later.  As an experiment I dipped one section of roving into an acidic solution (vinegar) after the dyeing process, and one section in an alkaline solution (baking soda and water.)  Treating dyes fibers in different pH solutions will change the color.  One section of roving turned brighter yellow and the other turned a little redder, and shifted towards orange.

Apparently I fail at documenting my process in photos... Because this is all I've got.  Don't worry, I've done a lot more dyeing since then and I (sort of) got better about taking photos.  Stay tuned for more posts about natural dyeing!