Old Kyoto by Diane Durston (a book I highly recommend if you're heading to Kyoto). It was a slow day at Aizenkobo & I must have asked the right questions, because the owner decided to spirit me away to the back of the shop & give me a tour of the indigo vats, share album after album of pictures of indigo cultivation & samples dyed with lots of natural dyes, & pretty much tell me anything I ever wanted to know about indigo dyeing (he demonstrated the fire-resistance of indigo-dyed fabric by trying to set a scrap on fire in an ashtray...). My husband & son were reduced to playing Uno in the empty shop & wandering the street outside looking for a cold drinks machine while all this was going on, but I was very grateful for their patience. In the end, we bought a load of gifts & things while we were there (shibori-dyed sashiko thread which I used to tie a quilt with fabrics from japan for Brendan a few years later), but the biggest gift I received was the kernel of an idea that formed while I was looking at all those samples & pictures- how to make shibori-dyed yarn.
When we got home in mid-July 2007 I got to work almost immediately. I first made a chart of how many colours I thought I could get on one skein of yarn from 2 dye baths (plus a mordanting bath) & came up with four. I didn't want to put the skeins of wool through so many dye pots that they felted (out of self-preservation if nothing else), which is why I limited it to 2 dye baths per skein. I then got out Wild Color by Jenny Dean & researched all the dyes I could find around my house & neighbourhood, just to give them a try. I stocked-up on silk scarves, too, since I like to dye a silk scarf in any new natural dye pot, to give me an idea of how the colour comes out on silk (since I mostly dye wool yarn). Then I decided on my colourways- brown-based, red-based & blue-based.
Speaking of the yarns, as I mentioned in my first Shibori post, I dye with wool or wool-blend yarns because they can be mordanted & made colourfast. I go into even more depth about it in this post as well. For this series of dyeing, I used one of my main standbys: Knitpicks Bare yarns. I used peruvian & merino wools in lace weight, fingering weight, worsted weight; & wool & silk blend in fingering weight yarns for these shibori-dyed yarns.
I thought a bit about how I wanted to make the resist areas on the yarn- how to keep the dye from getting there- & decided to wrap them with yarn or string. So I went through my weaving stuff to look for different materials to wrap around the yarn. I decided that bast fibres would be best (cotton/linen/etc) because they don't take the natural dyes very well in the first place. I also came to the conclusion (as I was doing the wrapping) that thicker yarns/strings made for quicker tying, which helped my patience a lot :) One of my concerns when it came to tying was how to arrange the resisted areas so they didn't repeat (like the ombre yarns from my teen years that made weird patterns as you worked with them). The other concern was how long to make the resist areas- short resists make for a speckled yarn, but it's not really possible to get long repeats when using yarn in skeins. In the end, I just experimented & took pictures of my experiments, so I could repeat any I liked. I used my swift to hold skeins for tying, plus experimented with tying skeins tightly around thick dowels.
|Skein in the process of being untied & rewrapped for the next dye bath.|
|Skein wrapped around a dowel- ready for second dye bath.|
I also find that I can get nicer yellows from yarrow or coreopsis, so I probably won't bother with birch leaves again. I was expecting yellow from the rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) but got light brown, so that was a surprise, too. The birch bark gave medium rust-brown, but it was a major pain in the butt to harvest (you use the inner bark, which has to be chipped off the logs) so I probably won't be tempted to do it again. The Rose of Sharon flowers were really interesting to work with- they dissolved into a mucousy-mush when water was added (which explains why they're not nearly as messy to grow as magnolias, for example) & gave some lovely rosy-tans, especially on silk. The problem with harvesting them is to avoid the bees... I was nearly stung twice!
I ran the dye baths from lightest colour to most intense colour, so most started with tans & yellows & then ended-up in brown, red (brazilwood), orange (onion skins), or blue (indigo). On some skeins I left white areas, but on some I dyed over the white.
Here is one skein in the process of being untied. I dyed it first in coreopsis, which gave a goldy-yellow, then untied it in some spots to expose some white areas, & retied it over the goldy-yellow yellow in some areas. Then I dyed it in brazilwood. The result was some areas of white, gold, red, & orange.
The actual dyeing went on from the beginning of August to the end of September, because I kept thinking of something else I wanted to try. The tying & re-tying of skeins was probably the most tedious part of it all, but it was so cool to see what came out when they were all untied & rinsed!
And, as you can see, I've been having a lot of fun working with these yarns I dyed myself. Please let me know if this inspires you to give it a try!