Friday, 25 January 2019

Dyeing White and Grey Yarns with Brown Onion Skins

Currently, I'm interested in the effect of using plant material to overdye grey yarn, because although the plant dye itself must be just the same colour, it can look quite different on grey compared to white yarn. I've found it doesn't seem to matter whether the grey yarn is naturally a grey sheep colour or synthetically dyed. Since the latter is cheaper and easier to come by, my test subjects for brown onion skin dyeing were DROPS Alaska wool yarn in white and two shades of grey. 

As I huddled over the supermarket tray, picking out all the the loose onion skins, my companion, Elinor Gotland, got fidgety.
"At least put a couple of onions in the bag, Beaut. This is doing nothing for my image."
"I'm aiming for a really saturated dye colour, just give me a few minutes, it takes lots of onion skins to get a strong ginger." 
Next thing I knew, Elinor had shot across the aisle and appeared to be toying with the avocados as she turned with a smile and a gasp,
"Flossy! What a surprise!"

Once I had collected 100g brown onion skins, in order to extract the maximum dye, they were given a low boil for a full hour, were left in the pot to cool overnight and remained in the dye bath once the wool was added.  An equal weight of yarn was boiled for an hour, rather than simmered, and left to soak until the next day. Once dried, the results looked a proper ginger, with the light and dark grey yarns taking the colour toward brown. 
The fluid in the pot still looked yellow, though I'd done my best to get all the dye out of it.

A sample of the afterbath tested as mildly acidic at pH 5, possibly because by this stage, the onion skins had been fermenting in there for a couple of days. Adding vinegar to acidify another sample reduced the yellowness whereas adding soda ash turned it deep brown. Despite the obvious change to the dyebath, soaking either end of a length of dyed yarn in acid and alkali made minimal difference to the apparent dye colour on the wool. Casting about for an explanation, I turned to my companion.
"Maybe it's because that dyed ginger yarn is already at maximum strength, so reducing or increasing the colour slightly has too little effect to register."

Elinor was busy rearranging the yarn, her thoughts elsewhere.
"Let's just see how the dyed skeins look against the original wool colours."
"Hey, I need those undyed balls. Think I'll try dyeing another 100g of yarn."

There was still dye in the pot, though the second 100g of wool came out much paler. Grey yarn only shifted the gold toward a greenish beige. Probably not my most exciting discovery.
I tried soaking the pale gold yarn in the acid and alkali sample jars, but even then, there was minimal change in the colour at either end. I'm fairly confident there is no point in messing with the pH of an onion skin dyebath.

Elinor is contemplating a new image. At least if she becomes a redhead, I'll have no more fuss about collecting onion skins.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Knitting a Swatch Helps Predict Yarn Yardage

"Like my new scarf?"
"It's enormous, Beaut. Certainly keeps your ears warm. Wouldn't you be better off wearing it round your shoulders?" My companion, Elinor Gotland, tugged at the lower edge, but I shrugged her off. 
"I like wearing shawls as scarves, and I like big scarves."
"Don't get your neckwear in a knot. Far be it from me to smother your personal style." We walked on in silence until she reached out to tweak the scarf again. "The colours are too cool for you and it's hardly your new look for this winter. I'm sure I've seen this pattern before."
"Mmm, it's from Shawl Joy, same shawl I knitted in Brooklyn Tweed Targhee wool a couple of years ago. It's just come out bigger in the Danske Pelsuld Gotland yarn."
"To be honest, Beaut, it's just too big. You could have dodged the outsize issue if only you'd knitted a tension swatch. I'm amazed you had enough yarn to finish the pattern."
"Ooo, look at all those crows flocking down to the hollow over there."
"Probably meeting for lunch. They don't call it a murder of crows for nothing." Elinor plunged her own beak in for the kill. "Shouldn't this shawl have a fancy bind off?"
I felt like a trapped rabbit with nowhere to run.

I really like both the knitting and the look of the perpendicular border in The Rain Outside pattern, but I did run out of wool.
The pattern calls for 714m double knitting yarn. The first shawl started out as 300g of Targhee, which should have been about 795m. When I had to miss out the last couple of rows in order to have enough to do the fancy bind off, I blamed it on the fact that 100g of the Targhee had been handspun and quite probably, my measuring of the yardage was wrong. The Gotland version was also made on 4mm needles and entirely millspun. According to the ball bands, 300g should have been 825m, yet still I ran out of yarn.
My companion sighed.
"I knew you'd buggered up something when I saw this shawl blocked out - it was too long for the double bed. You're a loose knitter and a Slack Alice. If you'd gone down a needle size, you'd have got the right dimensions and had plenty of yarn to do the border." 
I couldn't argue. I've always felt that size doesn't matter with shawls, one of the many joys of knitting them is that there's no need to do a tension swatch before beginning. Comparing these two, the Gotland is wider and longer than the Targhee, not only because it has more rows of knitting, but also because the tension is 15 stitches to 10cm while the Targhee has 17. The pattern actually says there should be 18 stitches to 10cm and the final wingspan should be a whole 50cm shorter than the Gotland actually is. I was forced to admit a tension swatch is not only needed for getting the bust size of your cardigan right, working a shawl to the correct gauge would also ensure the yardage stays predictable.
"Fair play, Elinor. Size matters."
"Too right." My companion swooped down the hill, scattering the birds as she shouted "Eat crow, Beaut."

In the final analysis, I enjoyed knitting both shawls and I'm happy wearing them. The characteristics of the two kinds of sheepswool have proved much as I anticipated. The Targhee is still cuddly and soft and I'm pleased to report it has stood up to two winters of wear without pilling the way Merino yarn tends to. 

The Gotland is more lustrous and bloomy. It drapes better and is likely to be at least as durable as the Targhee, although more sensitive family members consider it a bit scratchy. I bought it chiefly because I loved the colours - seems I have a predilection for the effects of overdyeing grey yarn. Gorgeous shades in themselves, but maybe not right for me.

"This would suit someone with grey hair, Elinor."
"Only if she had a very long neck, Beaut."

Friday, 11 January 2019

Overdyeing Grey Yarn with Yellow Plant Dyes

"See? Yellow and black does make green." This was the conclusion of a vexatious day, spent with me telling Elinor lots of natural dyers had said that yellow plant dyes turn grey yarn green and her insisting that everybody knows yellow and blue make green. My companion studied the saucer of acrylic paints.
"Reminds me of nappies."
"Personally, Elinor, I prefer these colours to the blue greens." I was quite intrigued to find that though the tube of 'Mars Black' acrylic paint had dried into lumps, brushing it briskly into fresh Cadmium Yellow evidently did produce shades of green, albeit of the organic variety. My companion muttered something about cow dung, or it could have been horse shit.

Last week, weld and meadowsweet dye baths both turned some synthetically dyed light and dark grey DROPS merino yarn rather green and though I'd believed this must be because of blue dye within the grey yarn, several other dyers commented that they had noticed the same phenomenon. This week, I wanted to try dyeing naturally grey wool.
Unfortunately, my yarn stash mainly contains greys that include strong shades of faun to chocolate brown.
"It's not easy to come by a pure grey fleece, Beaut." My companion ran a loving hoof over her own lustrous Gotland locks and gave me a pointed look. "Hand spinners have been known to go to desperate lengths to get hold of one."
Down the bottom of the box, I found a skein of Romney X Shetland in mottled grey with no noticeable brown. I'd spun it in the grease ages ago and been a bit disappointed at how rough it turned out.

Mordanted with 10% alum, two skeins of about 50g Romney X Shetland went into the same baths of weld and meadowsweet I made last week. In the weld bath, the last 100g of the DROPS yarn was also dyed for a direct comparison.

At the top of this picture, samples from the first use of the weld bath show the strongest colours. In the middle are skeins of white, then light and dark grey synthetically dyed DROPS yarn. At the bottom is the naturally grey Romney X Shetland. With the weaker yellow from the second use of the weld dye bath, the greening effect of overdyeing the grey yarns is even more pronounced and has proved very similar on both the synthetic and natural grey bases.
Such a qualitative shift from one colour to another hasn't happened when I've overdyed shades of grey wool to blue with indigo or red with madder.
"Soon there'll be daffodils and dandelions and new tree leaves all giving yellow dyes, but I shall have no grey handspun to experiment on."
"Well, Beaut, after last week, I wouldn't recommend you using any more of that iron."

Modifying with iron would be my usual way of saddening a yellow plant dye on a white yarn toward green. I tried using iron on two skeins of white and grey DROPS yarn that had been dyed in the first weld dye bath and made rather a hash of it. Not having used my iron solution for months, I only added a little splash in case it had dissolved a lot of rust in the interval and grown more concentrated, then after ten minutes heating, when nothing seemed to be happening, I added another slug of iron straight onto the wool in the pot, overdid it, tried to cool the bath and rinse the yarn quickly, ending up with unevenly variegated and rather dark iron modified colours. As someone suggested on Ravelry, starting with a grey base would obviate any need to modify yellow dyes with iron, which, even in better hands than mine, will tend to weaken and roughen wool fibres.

In last week's comments, Freyalyn advised on what to do if you do want the deeper tones of yellow over grey and you don't want green - start with a warmer, more orange-yellow plant dye. The skein of Romney X Shetland on the right of this picture, which went into the meadowsweet dye pot, came out quite differently to one on the left from the weld. I held up the two skeins to my face.
"I do like this darkened yellow, it's just that reliable sources of green dyes aren't so easy to find. When I resort to indigo overdyeing, my results are so unpredictable."
"Fair play, Beaut, I can see the problem. Yellow really doesn't suit you - makes you look like something the dog dragged in."
I put the dyed skeins down.
"I'd love to do more with yellow dyes on grey. It was a good grey, that Romney X Shetland fleece, shame it wasn't softer." 
"Might have come out nicer if you'd made more effort with preparing the fleece - never your strong suit, is it Beaut?"
"True enough."
"This might resolve your difficulties." Elinor showed me a photo on UK Spinners.
"What is it?"
"Someone's selling a whole grey Merino sheep fleece from Yorkshire. Bound to be soft and fine, but it's already been washed and carded by a local mill, so even you can't felt it before you try spinning."
I really shouldn't have bought it. But I'm so glad I did. 
And Elinor says she'll sleep more soundly knowing I have my own grey fleece.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Dyeing Wool with Dried Weld and Dried Meadowsweet

Last month, while crawling around the darker recesses of the attic in search of boxes of Christmas decorations, I rediscovered some ancient bunches of dried dye plants. There was a bleat of horror when I carried them out to examine in daylight.
"Did the tinsel die of dandruff? What is that dusty, shrivelled mess? Oh, just look at the floor, all covered in bits!" My companion, Elinor Gotland broke off from unravelling the fairy lights. "Whatever you've got there, it can go straight in the bin."
"These look like stems of meadowsweet and I think the others must be weld spikes. The leaves are so brittle they're falling apart - can't remember how long ago I picked them, but I wonder if they might still have any dye to offer?"
Elinor grabbed at a tag dangling from one of the bunches. "Shouldn't think so, Beaut. This says 'Weld, May 2014'. Stop waving the stalks about, you're shedding seeds everywhere." She thrust the lot into a bag and gave me a push. "Make yourself useful and put that on the compost heap."

I hid the bag in the garage over Christmas. Last Sunday, I fetched it back out and put about 200g of dried weld and 200g dried meadowsweet in two buckets to soak. Looking for something cheap and cheerful to experiment on, some DROPS Merino wool that I'd bought at Wonderwool seemed spot on. There were balls of white, light grey and dark grey, which I was particularly pleased about, because lately, on the Plants to Dye For forum on Ravelry, several people have shown off impressively rich and intriguing colours from their dye work on grey yarns. Eight 25g skeins were scoured, soaked and left to mordant in a cold 10% alum solution for the next few days.

The soggy brown meadowsweet stems were simmered in a dye pot on Tuesday and left to stand. By Wednesday, the bucket of dried weld hadn't developed much of a froth or the evil smell typical of its fermentation phase, but I put it on to simmer anyway, while I was out with the dog. Himself was working from home and he assured me that the pot stank to high heaven by the time he carried outdoors. After sieving out the plant material, samples of both dye baths (meadowsweet on the left and weld on the right) showed a promising amount of colour.

Despite their years in the attic, the dried leaves had fermented once soaked. Both samples tested as acidic at about pH4 with indicator paper. Adding enough soda ash to bring the pH up to neutral 7 deepened the colour of the dye baths even more. On Thursday, I put skeins of each shade of yarn into the two dye baths and simmered them for an hour.

Eager to see the effect of overdyeing with yellow plant dyes on grey yarn, I hooked the skeins out to inspect while the pots were still warm.

"Elinor, come and see! I thought the grey yarns would make the yellow dyes come out in deeper tones, I never imagined it would turn them green! Wait til I show the others on Ravelry, they'll be amazed."
"Hold your horses, Beaut. That grey DROPS yarn can't have been natural wool."
I ran to check the ball bands.
"Yes it was, the label says 100% extra fine Merino."
"And it also says 'Dyelot 406833 '. I'd say the people at DROPS use quite a bit of blue in their grey dye." My companion took one look at my crestfallen face and started laughing. "Blue plus yellow makes green. What a muppet you are." 
"Well, at least I know that dried weld and meadowsweet are worth keeping for as many years as I like." I pondered over the yarns for a moment then looked at her speculatively. "Those colours are well saturated, there's obviously lots of dye still in the pots. All I need is some naturally grey wool to experiment upon." I picked up the kitchen scissors and snipped the air. "A nice bit of Gotland fleece would fit the bill."
Elinor stopped giggling.
"You wouldn't. You monster!"
I've never seen her move so fast.