Thursday 30 August 2007

Ongoing projects.

Ten days silence here - it must seem like I'm not doing much at the moment. In fact the reverse is true. I've been busy with other commitments, but also doing plenty in the fibre to fabric line.

So, what's happening today?

There samples of superwashed merino wool, dyed today using logwood chips, drying over the bath.

Drier samples of the same wool dyed with dock seed heads this morning, and over the weekend, are on my work table, waiting for me to get to file a record of the latest results.

On the sofa is my latest sock knitting project (second sock of the pair) that gets picked up when I have odd bits of time through the day.

Next to the sofa is a work basket with a jumper I'm knitting in the round. The knitting has been on hold for a couple of weeks as I had to stop and draw diagrams of the planned collar and shoulder shapings. The diagrams were drawn last weekend, and as soon as the sock is finished I will get back to the jumper. I need this jumper finished to wear this winter!

Next to the loom are lying two bunches of chained warp that I wound yesterday evening and the evening before. For the first time I have used more than one colour, three shades of blue, and this presented some new technical problems. That's why I started one evening, then had to stop and think before carrying on. The warp's ready to go onto the loom now.

All around the house are books. Anywhere I might stop for a moment is a book I am reading. Not the kitchen as it's a bit small and full, not the bathroom as it's full of stuff for washing / drying / dyeing wool.

There's Folk Socks by Nancy Bush by my bedside. A French Grammar book is on the landing because I'm revising my French, having bought a copy of Dominique Cardon's Le Monde des Teintures Natruelles, which is on the floor by the sofa because I keep picking it up to learn a little more. Also by the sofa (because it had to move off the table at tea time) is The Art of the Loom by Ann Hecht, and a Textile Terminology by Dorothy Burham. On the sofa are two books that arrived at the weekend: I've finished reading Gosta Sandberg's Indigo Textiles, techniques and history and started Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Oh, there's a book that's travelling around the house a bit, which is Eight Shafts a place to begin by Wanda Jean Shelp and Carol Wostenberg (and a little Field Guide to Bumble Bees - not strictly relevant here!).

On my work table (close to the loom) is The Best of Weaver's - Fabrics that Go Bump which I was using when planning what to do with the new sample warp. Also (new today) Rita Buchanan's "A Weaver's Garden" which arrived just in time to tell me how to use weld - I have two plants that have put up flower spikes.

It might seem that I spend all my time at my hobbies, but no, they have to fit in with other commitments. I had two full days Tuesday and Wednesday with voluntary work both mornings and paid work in the afternoon. Tomorrow is a full day at voluntary work.

This morning I just got away from it all - books, weaving, dyeing, work, studying, house work - I put my boots on (over handknitted socks) and walked away from it all. It's a wonderful thing to live somewhere I can do that. Very important to me. Up the road, surrounded by fields, hedgerows and stone walls, moorland, woodland, a river. A tiny toad hopped across the road in front of me. House martins were wheeling and diving over new mown hay. Cows were busily grazing, sheep chewing grass and watching the world go by. It was time to create space in my mind and just be alive, no pressures. My imagination and my interest in life dries up if I don't make sure I take time out like this.

More will follow on the above topics, as I get time, and even photos, when I can get to the local library and upload them.

(Note: no t.v. in this house, over the past twenty something years many useful hours have not been spent in front of t.v! That's how I find time for everything else.)

Sunday 19 August 2007

Natural dyes - results of tests for lightfastness.

Apologies to Online Guild members, who should have seen this on our mailing list, but these results belong here also as I have been writing about my work with natural dyes.

I have just taken down my lightfastness test cards which have been taped to
the hall window for the past two months. The cards have yarn samples wrapped around them, and the top half of each card has been protected from sunlight with a double thickness of white card over the top of the yarns, so half of each yarn has been in the sunlight and half hidden.

I tried scanning the cards, but my scanner is old and just about dead. I tried photos, but they weren't particularly useful to show the more subtle changes, so here's a description of the results.

For most of these dyes I have samples mordanted (1) with alum, (2) with iron after-mordant. In most cases the samples treated with iron after-mordant are less faded.

The most light fast dyes, barely faded at all are:

Broad leaf dock root (Rumex obtusifolius) (1) and (2)
Heather (1) and (2)
Weld (1) and (2)
Marjoram (1) and (2) (this was unexpected!)
Eucalyptus coccifera (1) and (2)

Slightly faded, with dark greenish shades becoming brownish are:

Bracken (1) and (2)
Broad leaf dock leaves (2)
Feverfew (1) and (2)

Moderate fading:

Broad leaf dock leaves (1) (went from khaki green to light brown)
Henna (1) (strong orange to soft orange)
Stinging nettle (2) (deep green has gone a bit silverly - still a lovely colour)

Badly faded - in worst cases now off-white (x) are

Twilleys Freedom Spirit (yes, a commercial, chemical dyed yarn faded more than some natural dyes!)
cutch (1)
onion (1)
Stinging nettle (1)
Madder (1) (still very pretty)
Turmeric (1) (this has gone greyish!)
Buddleia (1) (x)
Dyers chamomile (1) (x)
Buttercup (1) (x) and (2)
Buckler leaved sorrel (1) (x) and (2)

Several surprises here, for example, Feverfew kept its colour far better than I anticipated, and the commercial yarn much worse! It was well worthwhile doing these tests because the results were in most cases not what I had expected. My next sample card will included more commercial yarns, it's a useful comparison as I think we would normally assume they don't fade much.


Thanks to my Online Guild friends I have been able to work out why some of my test results were unexpected. Everything that faded more than expected was a Shetland sample. This may be due to the original dye take-up being less than the dyes used on the superwashed merino. Possible reasons why include the wool not being wet through properly before dyeing, the amount of lanolin in the wool, the superwash process may improve dye take-up.

Looking at the dyes on Shetland wool:

Weld dyed samples (yellow from just Alum and C of T, also two shades
green from iron after mordant) did not fade at all. Wonderful!

Madder went from pinky red to pink - significantly less faded than
other samples on the same card (except the weld).

Turmeric yellow went grey. Even where had been covered this yarn
was greatly faded.

Showing white in part or all of the faded sample were: Cutch, onion,
henna, Dyer's Chamomile, and Buddleia.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Making new aprons for my Toika Norjanna loom.

I have a lovely 8 shaft, ten treadle, countermarche floor loom. It's the beautiful, compact, Norjanna from the Finnish loom builders, Toika.

I am the second owner of this loom, which I found through the wonderful resource of the Loom Exchange. The previous owner, Sue Foulkes of Durham, England, is a skillful and talented weaver. She now uses a Louet Megado dobby loom, and her work will be in a joint exhibition with another weaver at Durham Art Gallery in December. Sue also gives talks and demonstrations. She tells me she's pleased the loom went to a good home, it is certainly loved and used, I can only hope that given time and dedication I will learn to be as good a weaver as Sue!

I don't have a warp on my loom at the moment. Earlier this year I was working hard at learning to design twill weaves. I was using Bonnie Innouye's book Exploring Multishaft Design. Bonnie says on her web site (under "My Book") that most of the projects are suitable for 8 shafts. I found that I had to work very hard to find ways of making some of the weaves work on just 8 shafts, and I could see many patterns would be easier with 16 or more shafts! It was very interesting though, I created some pleasing designs, and, most importantly, I enjoyed myself.

While working through the exercises in Bonnie's book I used a long, narrow, warp. As I worked I found that the tension on one side of the warp went slightly slack. This was consistent with a problem caused by the arrangement of the texsolv cord loom aprons and them winding onto the cloth beams slightly crooked. What starts as a slight, imperceptible difference on one side of the loom increases as more of the warp is used. I realised this problem will occur more often where a narrow warp is used.

You can see the cord loom apron in this photograph of the back of my loom.

The Texsolv apron cord threads through the cloth beam and loops around the apron rod (to which the warp threads are tied). In this photo the cord runs from the cloth beam, over the back beam and the apron rod hangs below. It doesn't hang loose like this when there's a warp on the loom. I realise a photo showing this part of the loom with a warp on would be useful, but I don't have one at the moment.

A big advantage of using this Texsolv cord apron is that it is very strong. I want to do rug weaving on my loom, which requires a very high tension linen warp, and so I will find this system invaluable.

However, after much thought I decided that the alternative system of lengths of cloth for loom aprons was likely to be better for weaving on lower tension warps, and especially for narrow warps. It will need less adjustment than the continuous Texsolv loops and should wind on to the cloth beams evenly.

I was interested when Leigh got a countermarche loom with the Texsolv system recently to see that the previous owner of her loom might have had similar difficulties, and had a different solution. On Leigh's loom the continuous cord has been cut and straight tie pieces are use instead - see here.

I'm a self-taught weaver and have only seen a couple of looms other than my own. I've never actually seen a cloth loom apron. However, I found useful advice in "Handloom Weaving Technology" by Allen Fannin (pub. 1979, by Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York), and fellow members of the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers were very helpful.

I bought canvas cloth, medium weight, from Whaleys of Bradford. I bought cloth that was longer and wider than necessary. The cloth is a single piece across the width of my loom, one side utilises the selvedge and the other is only protected from fraying by having a wavy cut edge. It is does not have a sewn hem on either side because more knowledgeable weavers have warned me that the cloth will stretch unevenly if I stitch it. The ends of the aprons are folded over to hold wooden rods and have large slits to enable me to wrap texsolv ties around the rods. I used hard wood slats that are sold in the hardware shop for the sort of clothes drying racks that are suspended from ceilings. I cut the wood to the same length as my cloth beams are wide. I'm using six. One at each end of the two aprons, plus two more to tie to them and to which I will tie the warp.

Here is the new cloth apron on the back of my loom.

In order to attach the apron to the loom by the most simple, and least obstructive method I could think of, I have use texsolv ties that thread through the holes through the cloth beam and are retained by knitting needles threaded through slots in the cord. (I should have mentioned that texsolv cord is made with short slots in it, like a chain).

The next photograph is a close up of one of the slots in the apron (edges finished with a machine sewn blanket stitch) and the texsolv tie cord. You can just about see how I cut channels in the wood with a saw and chisel (I had to dust off my memories from school woodwork classes!) This prevents the cords sliding along the wood.

So, maybe you, like me are now wondering if this hard work has been worthwhile? It's time to get a warp on the loom and find out.

Monday 13 August 2007

Dyes from Eucalyptus and Buddleia.

Here are the beautiful colours I obtained from dyeing superwashed merino wool with the leaves of a Eucalyptus tree - a Tasmanian Snow Gum (Eucalyptus coccifera) - that my sister Catherine used to have growing in her garden. All the wool was pre-mordanted 10% alum (potassium aluminium sulphate) and 8% cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate). The sample on the left is treated with only this pre-mordant, the centre sample was obtained with an after-mordant of iron (ferrous sulphate) and the more golden shade on the right with an after mordant of tin (stannous chloride).

I used dyeing instructions from a wonderful Australian book, sadly out of print, "Dyemaking with Eucalypts" by Jean K. Carmen, published 1978 by Rigby Ltd. I am lucky that a 2nd hand copy turned up in the U.K. This book is especially good because it is the result of a decade's research by the author using 240 different Australian Eucalypt species. It's not a big book, and it's not a heavy read. Dyeing with Eucalypt leaves and following Jean Carmen's book is just like having a knowledgeable friend at your side.

My Eucalypt leaves, being from a Tasmanian tree, are not included in this book! However, I did use the dyeing method Jean Carmen recommends. The dried leaves were broken and soaked in water for 24 hours. The water in the pan was yellow-gold from this cold soak, even before I heated the pan and simmered it for 2 hours. I then drained the liquid into a second bowl, discarding the leaves, before dyeing my wool. My sister was staying with me and had the fun of adding the iron after-mordant and observing the colour changing before her eyes.

The tree sadly had to be cut down, it was a very big gum tree to be growing in a small town garden. Maybe it was planted by a flower arranger who had intended to keep it cut back? I understand that flower arrangers do this in order to keep a good supply of the juvenile foliage. Eucalypt leaves on new growth are round, but the mature tree produces pointy leaves.

I've also been dyeing with buddleia flowers from our garden. I used the superwashed merino again, pre-mordanted as above. These two pictures show an intersting effect of simmering buddleia flowers... they lose their colour and turn white! I've not observed this with any other flower.

I like the colours that buddleia gives. The photo here shows samples (from top) with iron after mordant, without any after mordant, and, at bottom, with tin.

I am very interested to have obtained a yellow-green with the tin. If you look at the Eucalypt above, tin gave a stronger yellow. In my post of 23rd July, you see how it turned a yellow-green from nettle to a gold-brown, and pale yellow from Feverfew to bright orange. This is the first time I've seen it turn yellow to green. The chemistry involved in dyeing with plant stuffs is clearly rather complex.