If you follow my social media and these blog posts, you know that I am currently working very hard to bring a naturally dyed yarn line to you. I also want part of the yarn line to be Fibershed certified, when it is possible to do in our Chesapeake Fibershed. So I’ve been foraging around our 25 acres and in places within 10 miles here to find dye plants that I can use. Yesterday, I was able to get some of these dye plants collected and prepared for dyeing into the fall.
Black Walnuts grow wild here on the property. They are just beginning to ripen and fall off the tree. I collected several pounds of them. Walnuts are dual purpose. The outer husk is where the dye lives. And the inner nut is oh, so yummy. Yes, they are hard to pick out from the shell, but they are worth the trouble in my opinion. So yesterday I broke open the husks and put those into a dye bag and laid out the nuts to dry in the sun.
We grew Hopi Black Sunflowers this year. Bill harvested the seed head several weeks ago, and I’ve been slowly picking the seeds out of the sunflower head. I’ll save these until later to dye, they will keep just fine. I saved the seed heads with some seeds in them to plant for next year. The plants are lovely and grew probably 8 feet in height. There’s nothing prettier in summer than a row of sunflowers.
And then there were the pokeberries. I cut off the sprays of berries and put them straight away into the freezer. I have to read up on how to dye with these. Unfortunately this dye tends to fade but still it will be lovely to try to use plants that our ancestors used.
We also harvested acorns, although we don’t have nearly enough to do anything with at this time. I will just keep adding to the stash until I have enough. And we picked up hickory nuts too. Those are just to pick and eat. They are also hard to crack and to get the nut meat out of, but they are really really nice. It feels great to live in a place where we can go out and forage for dyes and for food.
It’s just days away until Summer is over. And it’s time to be gathering some of the best dye plants in our area. This past weekend, Bill and I headed out to find Goldenrod. It is an amazing dye plant. It grows wild all along the roadways here in Maryland. And we were lucky to find some that had been spared from mowing and herbicides that are used along roads to keep the weeds at bay. They were in full delightful bloom.
My plan is to separate the blooms from the leaves and woody stem. The stems will go into the compost pile. The leaves will be dried and frozen for later dye sessions throughout the winter. The flowers will be made into a dye pot this week.
Here’s what I will be doing…. I will cover the blooms with water (at a neutral pH). In fact I may put my rain barrel back in service, since we should be getting some rain this week. I will slowly raise the temperature of the flower water mixture, careful not to boil it. I will keep the water just below the simmer. Then I will set it aside and let it cool. Once cool I will remove the flowers.
When it’s time to dye, I will presoak my scoured and mordanted wool and then add it to the dye pot. A good rule of thumb is to have equal weights of fresh flowers and dry wool. This will give you a nice shade. I will begin to raise the heat of my dye pot and again keep it under the simmer for 1 hour. I will check it to see if I want to leave the wool in overnight, or just stop there.
Then I can make a determination if there is leftover dye (exhaust) that I can use to dye more yarn in a soft, more muted color. I’m super excited to get started!!
Each week I do a Facebook Live session (Thursdays at 1pm). And each week I try to give my viewers a tip or two that might help in knitting, spinning or color confidence. Yesterday my tips were to help you make charts easier to understand and read.
So the first one is to use highlighter tape to mark your place in the chart. Here is a link to the tape. The way that I use it is to put the tape just under the row I am knitting.
My agreement with myself is that when I finish knitting for the day. I leave the tape where is was, just under the row I have JUST finished. Then when I pick it up next time, I will move the tape forward.
The third tip is to number the rows on the chart if there isn’t numbering already. I number on both sides of the row so it’s easy to line up my tape. For this particular pattern there is a separate chart for the thumb gusset so I put the row numbers there too. And I put a smaller bit of tape there too.
This is not to disrespect any designer. It is just to make life easier for me, the knitter. It’s really fine to make changes, to add rows so the garment fits better. You have spent time. You have spent money. This knitting is supposed to be fun, not stressful, not frustrating. So take care of yourselves, my dears!!
I’m starting to do my natural dye experiments for a truly “Fibershed” yarn. The base is our new Polypay worsted. It is made from fleeces grown at a partner farm in Virginia and spun in Pennsylvania.
First I gathered the whole black walnuts on our property. I cracked the husks off the nuts. (I really thought I took a photo of this step, but alas not). Then I soaked those husks for about a month.
Wednesday, I heated the dye liquor up and put in 2-color skeins and a semi-solid skeins. I heated them for at least an hour. Dyeing with walnuts doesn’t need a mordant as the tanin in the dye is mordant enough. Then I let the pot cool down and let it sit for another day. Then on to rinsing and drying the yarn.
I think these look great. The pot still contains a lot of dye, so I’ll be using it until it’s exhausted. I’ll do some other 2-color experiments with maybe some madder or some cochineal too. Those would look nice. Stay tuned!!
I’ve been talking about Fibershed. And in that light, I know that I need to relearn all about natural dyeing again. I’ve done it a lot. I’ve taken a lot of classes. But I’ve never done it in a production with reproducibility in mind. I will have to really pay attention to water and temperature and weight. And still I know there will be variability….that’s just the nature of natural dyeing.
As many of you know I do have a few naturally colored yarns in my line up already. They are more rustic yarns. They are not as soft as my Livily or Trasna yarns. They are just a little more hardy. And still, there are many items to make with these yarns. They are great for outwear. They are long wearing and will last a long time.
So in that vein, I’m now knitting a truly local sweater. I’m making a Shifty sweater. And I’ve had to do a lot of math and fanageling because I am using my own yarn that is bigger than the pattern calls for. And I don’t want a pullover style. So I added a steek area and so I’ll have a cardigan at the end. The back ground yarn is my Puck which is charcoal wool, mohair and alpaca. And the contrast yarns are mohair yarn that is naturally dyed. In fact this yarn has been hanging around for a long time since I dyed it. And now I have a project for it.
We’ve had a really mild winter. We had a week or two with temperatures in the teens. But it was a dry cold. We had maybe 2 or 3 days of snow and then it didn’t stay for a long time. It has made my winter feeding pretty easy.
So now I’m dreaming about restarting my natural dye garden. I tried this several years ago. And the only successful planting was the Madder. Oh Boy! It has taken over. I’m hoping to dig all the roots up in a few weeks. A great resource for dye plants is Rita Buchanan’s A Weaver’s Garden.
As part of my thoughts about a local wardrobe and a local fibershed, I decided to go all in with dye plants this year. I got plants that make blue, yellows, reds and a black.
I’m going to plant more and in a place where there is more sun as well. I’ll be updating here as the season progresses.
Where to find us
The studio is currently CLOSED to visitors….under construction. We will reopen soon!
We are located in Frederick MD. You can shop in person with a mask and lots of social distance! Or buy online and stop by to pick up…I’ll run your purchases out to you in your car.
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