Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shibori-Dyed Yarn Part 2: Shibori Dyeing

So, now that I've posted about the dyeing part of it all (at least with naturally-occurring dyes) I'll move on to the shibori part. Shibori is a specific method of dyeing that makes patterns on the thing being dyed, rather than the whole thing coming out uniformly dyed. Tie-dyeing is a basic form of resist, or shibori dyeing, but it's been taken to high art in places like Japan (where the word shibori comes from). As a child of the 60's I've been tie-dyeing for many years :) As a knitter, I've enjoyed making socks & such from fair-isle dyed yarns for as long as they've been available. The idea that I could make multi-coloured yarns similar to the ones I'd been making socks from was hanging around somewhere in the back of my brain, but it didn't coalesce until we made our first family trip to Japan in 2007.
We were in Kyoto & had decided to spend the day visiting fibre-related places. We began the day at Aizenkobo, which means "Indigo Dyeing Workshop", a place we'd discovered in the wonderful book 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.
By August I had collected the following dyestuffs to try: birch bark & leaves, rhubarb leaves, coreopsis tops (greens & flowers), elder leaves, onion skins, yarrow, rudbeckia flowers, & Rose of Sharon flowers (med. purple). I also purchased safflower, brazilwood, indigo, & alkanet. Of the above, I'd previously used indigo, brazilwood, yarrow, coreopsis, & onion skins before, so there was a lot of experimenting to do! I noted the colours that Jenny Dean got from the new-to-me dyes (with alum mordant, since I won't use anything else due to toxicity issues), & made sure to record my own results in my dye notebook (which I'm referring to as I write). I was careful to reproduce her suggested ratio of dyestuff to weight of goods (the weight of what you're dyeing with that dyestuff). Of the new dyestuffs, the only real dud was the elder leaves, which gave such pale results that I tossed the skeins into the safflower exhaust (2nd) bath in order for them to have any colour at all. (I talk about exhaust baths here as well.)

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.
I crocheted this shawl from the resulting yarn.
Here are some of the red & brown shibori-dyed skeins, & some scarves.
Here are skeins & scarves that ended-up in the indigo pot.
I did shibori-dye some scarves, as you can see.

And here are some socks that I knitted from the shibori-dyed yarns.
And the Spiral Scarf from Norah Gaughan's Knitting Nature.

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!

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