UFOs (Unfinished Projects)

This one is embarrassing. About a year or so ago I received a box of heirloom cotton. The project was to gin it, spin, and do something. It sat on my desk for way to long while I’d occasionally get some of the ginning done, comb, roll some punis, spin a bit and that was about it.

Since I’ve been working from home – the faux cubicle with a view – I got on a roll hand ginning all the cotton. Unlike my backyard Pima this cotton didn’t peel easily off the seeds. I ginned through Zoom meetings, breaks, the occasional netflix movie and about two weeks into quarantine that part was finished.

Originally I learned how to spin cotton on a book charkha from Eileen Hallman / New World Textiles (https://newworldtextiles.com/). She’s a fabulous teacher and if you have the chance to take one of her workshops do so.

Ashford Charkha

Over time my cotton spinning preference has been the Ashford Charkha. I’m able to spin in a chair with the weel in my lap. Wheel base is less than a foot in length and very portable.

And recently I bought myself a GypsySpinner Mini-Lap Charkha (https://www.facebook.com/minicottonspinner/). Spins beautifully and even more portable. So I have no more excuses.

GypsySpinner Mini Lap-Charkha

On the Internet No One Knows You’re a Dog or That You’re Spinning Cotton During Zoom Meetings

GypsySpinner Mini Lap Charkha and the cotton shrub that ate my clothes line

Still working from home. This is the first time I’ve had a window in my cubicle. And I can water what’s left of the post-drought garden on my breaks.

Today, like about an hour ago my GypsySpinner Mini Lap Charkha arrived in the mail (https://www.facebook.com/minicottonspinner). Picture me happily spinning during Zoom meetings. While my co-workers assume I’m knitting another pair of socks.

I work cramped and I like fold-able and portable. This is as portable as a book charkha. When UCLA employees go back to working on campus the mini-charkha is going with me for lunch breaks.

Interminable reboots during software updates no longer irritates me. Grab a spindle or sock knitting.

Back at the home-cubicle I have a UFO (Unfinished Project, not a flying saucer) that involves cotton spinning so more on later.

Of Woad, Oxalis, and Cotton Mordanting

[Bees in the Oxalis]

About the Woad.  I haven’t written much about Woad since there hasn’t been any for awhile. Woad is not a desert plant. (Pause for a moment of duh.) My area of southern California is what some may call “reclaimed desert”. Something you can forget until the car breaks down in the San Fernando Valley in July and there is your reminder. 

Two years of drought wiped out whatever Woad I still had growing. But, I still have seeds from the last plant so I’m going to try again this year. Nothing of course can wipe out Oxalis.  And the bees like it.

My other on-going project will be mordanting cotton following the method described in John Liles ‘Art and craft of natural dyeing”.    Lots of scouring, soaking and then mordanting, more steeping, more soaking and then you get to the actual dying.  

 

Dyeing with Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

rosmary-wool-01

I have lots of Rosemary. Even sharing it, making incense and medicinals there’s lots left over. At some point it does have to be trimmed back so I tried it out as a dye plant.

rosmary-wool-01

The bottom row is what I started out with, my standard Bartlett yarn ‘natural white’, light gray, medium and dark gray. Cotton was unsuccessful.

For the dye stuff, starting with Ida Grae’s suggestions* I used fresh Rosemary 1×1 and 3×1. Simmered the Rosemary for an hour and let it cool over night.

Here are a couple of sites that describe Rosemary as a dye.

Naturally Dyeing: <http://naturallydyeing.blogspot.com/2011/05/rosmarinus-officinalis.html>

Dyeing Fabric with Culinary Herbs: <http://www.motherearthliving.com/garden-projects/culinary-herb-goes-dye-crazy.aspx>

Ida Grae points out that most cooking herbs will produce  yellows. If I can eat or use something as a medicinal I tend not to dye with it but the Rosemary here is so plentiful it’s worth trying. Same probably goes for Lavender but I haven’t tried that yet.

 

*Ida Grae / Nature’s Colors: Dyes from Plants, 1979.

 

Thanksgiving and first Oxalis

Earlier this week I picked the first Oxalis of it’s – the Oxalis’ season. I don’t think that this really qualifies as a “season” but what I’ve observed locally is: Fennel blooms and continues more-or-less to late Spring to Fall and Oxalis blooms late in Fall and continues to Spring. (Glove on the hand because I am a total weather-wimp.)

And since I’m writing this on the (United States) Thanksgiving Day holiday, I will note that one can always be thankful for a consistant, reliable dye plant that dyes wool, cotton and probably things I haven’t tried yet. (And the bees like it too!)

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Hibiscus and yet more yellow, reddish-brown, nearly-green


Hibiscus Rose Mallow (Hibiscus spp.) on Wool, scoured but no pre-mordant or pre-Alum.

Far left, Hibiscus with a pinch of copper after-bath. Middle, dried Hibiscus flowers mashed (in the dye pot while simmering, before adding the wool) to yield a darker color. On the right wool and soy-silk simmered conventionally with dried Hibiscus.  Other fibers – like silk – will probably get different results – but this is what I got dying wool.

Again, the wool  samples were not pre-mordanted. Simmered, lowest stove setting, for about 3 hours, sat in the pot 2 days. I haven’t done a fade-test yet but much of my dyed wool ends up a boot sock, in a boot out of the sun, under a hot pot, on the floor, on a wall but not out in the sun so up to now  fading hasn’t been a problem.

One well might ask why more yellow. Quite a few plants yield yellow so
chances are yellow is what you will get. For me, yellow is handy for later
overdying with Indigo or Madder. The small sampler rug (above)
wasn’t dyed with Hibiscus specifically but an example of what can be
done starting with mostly yellow, excluding the black wood.

Next,  I’m trying to find local plants that don’t require strong chemical mordants. Like onion peel and Wood Sorrel, you can probably use this at home.

Copper after-bath on the far left could have been accomplished with an Indigo over-dye, otherwise the rest of the tests were done without mordanting (copper, tin, chrome, etc.) Different dye-times and mashing up the dye stuff yield different shades of yellow. I don’t mind using vinegar or amonia, but those two didn’t change the color much.

Lastly, Hibiscus is easily available in Los Angeles, southern California,  and works dried or fresh. The shrubs are all around the city and I have a small plant at home so it’s easy to stock up. For a good laugh, picture me wandering around in the back of a Nordstrom’s parking lot with picking up dried Hibiscus.

More about the Woad that is really Weld

Since I now know what I’m actually growing I’ve been reading up on Dyer’s Weld (Reseda luteola) – Ida Grae, etc. It can be used fresh or dried  and I’ll probably harvest the tops as they bloom and dry them.

I put a yard stick in the picture for size context. Picture below is a 2nd year plant. I’d say it falls between my elbow and shoulder but since I’m behind the camera that doesn’t give anyone an idea of the height.

Don’t Diss the Onions : Onion Skins as dye

Not the most exotic sounding dye material but don’t underestimate the onions or the onion skin. For me it has been a reliable, versatile dye that I can use on both protein and plant fiber. So far  I’ve dyed wool, cotton, and soy silk.

Above, pre-alumed wool dyed with onion skins. The green is indigo over-dyed in the same batch. The plant:fiber ratio was .5:1 but I believe that I could have used considerably less dye stuff. The onion skins and fiber had been simmered for an hour and left to soak over night. The next day the dye still wasn’t exhausted so I over-dyed some previously indigo-dyed wool.

Copper and Iron after-baths darkened the color but ended up with similar shades. The Ammonia after-bath brightened a bit.

Onion skins are easy to save up and store. When I am shopping produce I sometimes tidy up around the onion bin.