Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Japanese Indigo

These skeins of yarn (commercial spun, not my spinning) are all dyed with indigo from Japanese Indigo plants (Persicaria Tinctorium) grown at home, on the front room windowsill and in the greenhouse.

The yarns in the top row are a Traub worstead spun wool, in the bottom row spun flamme silk from Gaddum & Gaddum Ltd. (I intend to use these yarns in weaving scarves).

And this is what the plants look like, they are the straggly green leaved plants. The dark leaves belong to basil "Purple Ruffles" and the stoneware pot at the left side of the picture holds a Pelagonium with nutmeg scented leaves.
The seeds arrived in the post last winter from one of my friends in the Online Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers, along with instructions for different ways of making dyebaths and some samples from my friend's dyeing.

Following my instructions I found a large Kilner jar, filled it with leaves, covered them with water and left the jar to stand for a few days. The "few days" turned into a week, and the leaves had started to ferment. Gas bubbles pushed the leaves up the jar and it overflowed (note: next time leave a couple of inches empty at top of jar). The liquid at the bottom of the jar looked yellow, and it began to smell like rotting brassicas (i.e. cabbage, another plant in the brassica family).

Even before the dyeing process was begun, it was clear that these leaves contained blue pigment, see what has happened where this leaf is damaged...

Before the dyeing session I also had to prepare the yarns. The wool came in an 100g skein, from which I wound smaller skeins (not weighed, but 12 skeins of differing lengths), and the silk came on a large cone. When the skeins were wound, and loosely tied at least 5 or 6 times per skein, I put them into pans of warm water with detergent and heated them gently for about 20-30 mins. to make sure they were well scoured of any substance (especially lanolin in the wool, seracin in the silk) that might impede dye take-up. After the detergent and anything else was rinsed out, I left them in bowls of water to wait for dyeing.

The dyebath was prepared by warming the jar in a bain marie, created by resting the Kilner jar on the stainless steel basket from my pressure cooker, turned upside down in a 20 litre stainless steel dye bucket.

The instructions said to raise the temperature slowly to 71 degrees centigrade. I actually stopped heating it at 68 degrees. Then, I stained the liquid from the leaves with a nylon sieve that I reserve for dyeing use, poured the liquid into my bucket, and whisked for 20 mins with a slotted stainless steel spoon. At the end of this time the bubbles looked blue.

Why whisk? To introduce air into the liquid and oxidise it (i.e. introduce oxygen). There's a good article about using Indigo in Shibori dyeing in the latest Journal. Author Jane Callender explains how the oxidisation causes two indoxyl molecules (which are unstable) to combine and form the blue pigment indigotin.

The next stage was to add an alkali liquid to the dyebath to adjust the pH level. I was going to use "washing soda", but my dyeing instructions did not tell me how to make the liquid.

I recalled that I have a little booklet from Helen Melvin: "The Colour of Sea & Sky: The Art of Dyeing Indigo". I ran to find it, confident that she would have explained this - and there it was, p.9. 4 tablespoons Soda Ash into a litre of very hot water. Thank you Helen! It was like having a friend on hand when I needed you.

The dyebath was returned to the electric hob and warmed up to 50 degrees, and then half a spoon of "spectralite" sprinkled on the surface. This is a reducing agent (reduction is the removal of oxygen). Jane Callender says " a reducing agent... removes or 'digests' some oxygen from the indigo [and] causes it to change to leuco-indigo". The change is visible to the eye, as the dyebath gains a yellow tone, which took my dyebath from very blue to a deep moss green. Good! Just as my instructions said it should... so, time to add a couple of small wet skeins, and leave them 10-15 mins for the dyebath liquid to penetrate. Helen makes the point that leaving material in an indigo dyebath longer does not give a deeper colour. Deeper colours are produced by re-dipping... I remember reading about this before in Jenny Balfour Paul's book "Indigo" which is a wide ranging account of the historical and worldwide traditions of indigo dyeing.

After several skeins had been dyed, the reduced bath became more yellow, and this very yellow looking bath below was the one that actually gave the deepest shades of blue.

I used almost all the bowls and buckets I could find. I had one bowl with wet skeins of wool ready to dye, another with wet silk ready to dye. I had a bowl to rest my sieve on to put yarn in when it was immediately out of the dyebath...

oh, better interupt here. When the yarn is lifted out of a dyebath, like that one pictured above, it looks yellow. The blue colour forms as the pigment oxidises - or takes up oxygen from the air. Magic to watch!

...back to buckets etc, see below, a bowl to rinse the yarn after it has oxidised and turned blue, then a bucket to soak it a while in a strong saline (salt water) solution. A bowl to leave the saline soaked yarns until I get a moment to rinse them. The rinse and the soak in saline are essential to remove excess pigment and fix the colour so it won't rub off the yarn later.

It was all great fun and I was happily "singing the blues" to myself throughout this wonderful dye session.

(article)Indigo and the Tightening Thread, Jane Callender, in The Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, 231, Autumn 2009;
The Colour of Sea & Sky: The Art of Indigo Dyeing, Helen Melvin, copyright 2007, self-published;
Indigo, Jenny Balfour Paul, 2nd edition pub. Archetype Publications Ltd. 2006, ISBN 1-904982-15-8

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Cats for company, and new spinning wheel.

There's a delay in getting my post about indigo dyeing to you, I went to the library today with a memory stick to upload photos for my blog (I can't upload any from home due to our firewall settings) but found when I got there that one important photo was missing. I'll try and get it sorted out on Monday.

So instead, you're getting a post about our cats and some friends.

This cat is nobody's cat, she's an independent country lady who pops in for meals from time to time and sleeps in a basket in our greenhouse.

We call her Stumpy, because the little bit of tail you see curled behind her is all the tail she has. She is stray rather than feral, and used to be fed by the old man next door (for at least 5 years we know of). When he went into hospital, and then a nursing home this year poor Stumpy cat got very thin. She also started getting in vicious fights with all the other cats in the neighbourhood. Next-door but one she had such a fight-to-the-death approach to Bertie that the two of them rolled into the garden pond, and were still fighting in the water as our neighbour (Bertie's owner) tried to separate them.

As she'd always slept in our greenhouse from time to time, I started offering her food there. At first she'd run away when I was still 20 feet from the greenhouse. Gradually she ran off later and later, and started peeping through a hole in the wall ready to run back for her food when the dish was down. Now I can get to within a few feet, and she talks to me. Talk still sometimes starts with a "don't get any closer" hiss, but she meows too.

Getting her to give up sleeping on some dead plants in the corner and to move into a comfy basket also took time. Eventually one day I put her food bowl in the basket, after that she realised it was comfy and now I think she knows it's special for her. I shake the cushion out every day, and so know by the debris that she sleeps there every night, even if she doesn't turn up for a meal.
Here she is again, with a customary, "I'm not quite sure about you, but you might be my friend as long as you don't get closer" look.

I'm also pleased to say that now she has a place of her own, Stumpy doesn't get into fights.

Now to introduce the boy from over the road, Jasper, a lanky fellow, smartly dressed in little white socks.
Cally, and other readers of Molesworth, will know what I mean when I say he's the Fotherington-Thomas type.

He's a great friend to our little Annie (and they're the same age, 2 years). Jasper spent the first 5 months of his life in a cat rescue centre with his litter mates. When he moved in over the road he was lonely for other cat company, and made friends with my old cat the late & lamented Oscar. When we went to the cat sanctuary after Oscar's death to find a new cat we were looking for one that would be a good friend to Jasper.

Our little Annie spent the last 5 months of her first year in a cat rescue centre with a litter mate, her litter mate found a home a week before we turned up and Phoebe joined Annie in her pen for that last week. Annie hates being without cat company, but her aunt Pheobe (originally from same home) is more independent. So Annie and Jasper are pleased to have each other around.

Here is Annie at the front door,

Jasper outside.

Being friends means to Jasper that he has someone to do cat things with, like creep up behind her and jump on her tail.

Being friends means to Annie someone to mutter and swear at and chase down the garden path. She chases him half way, turns round and walks back to the house, Jasper follows her up the path, and the game repeats.

Another game is where she hops through the cat flap that opens for our cats microchips, and Jasper tries to follow. She stops right in side so he can't get in, then he sits outside while she sticks her head out, swears at him, pulls her head in before he can get to the door. It is absolutely hilarious to watch. Jasper really is a very polite gentleman, he doesn't swear back, and he only rarely fights her (he'd easily win a proper fight).

Both Annie and Jasper are very respectful to Aunt Phoebe. She has a way of looking down her nose at them, and they respectfully take a few steps backwards while she walks past.

Phoebe surveys her realm:

Annie and Jasper, whose move next?

Here you see Pheobe has just finished inspecting the box containing my new Majacraft Suzie Alpaca spinning wheel, so now I can unpack:

And here's the wheel when I was part way through putting the bits together:

The assembled Suzie Alpaca has joined my two Timbertops Leicester wheels in my spinning corner:

I'm delighted to say that she is a beautiful wheel to spin on. I actually prefer the Majacraft treadle action, although the Timbertops wheels are very easy to treadle and made to last a lifetime. The Majacraft wheel is less robust, but folds and can be carried about.

Down on the floor to the left of the Suzie Alpaca you can see the little travelling lazy kate she was supplied with. I was a bit concerned before it arrived that I might not like this lazy kate, but I do. It works beautifully.

My Suzie Alpaca was supplied by the wonderful, helpful, P&M Woolcraft. She arrived with a broken bush (supports the wheel axle) which they replaced, and Martin talked me though how to get my bobbins to run smooth - they are plastic and were a bit rough to start with. The holes for the shaft are drilled out, but had been left a bit rough. The surfaces were easily smoothed off by scraping with a small craft knife, and a little vaseline on the shaft as well got them working properly.

Now the only thing that can stop me from enjoying spinning is the Top Cat, a.k.a. She Who Must Be Obeyed, who sometimes takes up residence on my spinning chair.
I suppose it's my own fault for putting the chair in the sun with a tapestry-wool covered feather cushion.

Editing to add: yes my health is much improved, but am totally exhausted after my walk this a.m. and writing all this. Time for a sleep! Progress is slow, I feel a bit better one day, then a bit worse, then a bit better... I'm happier for being able to do one or two things that I want to do, othertimes I'm overwhelmed by a wave frustration - but I try and let that pass over me, as frustration saps my energy and I've not any to spare.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

And now I'm Dyeing!!

That's right, colours not death!!

I'm beginning to feel more myself, in fact, I feel quietly normal 3-4 hours a day which is really useful. My brain is starting to work again so I can formulate ideas and then carry out tasks involving different stages and co-ordinating things. Hurrah! Better not get excited now and try and do too much, just in case it winds the clock back.

It took about 3 weeks to manage to carry out the plan of picking leaves from my Persicaria tinctorium (formally called Polygonum tinctorium) plants and putting them in a large Kilner jar covered with water. I meant to leave them a few days to ferment, but with the ongoing struggle to do much at all that turned into a week. Nevermind. They started fermenting in the jar, the water at the bottom went yellow and the leaves got pushed to the top by gas bubbles, the water at the top surface turned blue. Today I got the Kilner jar into a bain marie - that involved the stainless steel dye bucket with a metal basket from my pressure cooker under the Kilner jar to ensure it was not in contact with the bottom of the pan. I followed instructions from one of my friends in the Online Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (who had sent me the plant seeds) and heated it very slowly to just under 71 degrees centigrade and now it's cooling.

The next stage involves draining the liquid off the leaves and using an alkali solution (made with Washing Soda from Fibrecrafts) and spectralite... sorry can't remember what I do next, must look at the instructions again.

Anyhow, photos soon.

By the way, I have also wound a warp... more on that another time.