Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wrapping it up

A lot has been percolating here in this brain of mine.

I know this will seem like an abrupt reversal, but I have decided to discontinue the Fiber Dyeing Workshop project. It just was not that satisfying to me or useful and I want to streamline things in my life.

Thank you so much for your interest in the project.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dyer Interview: Christine Eschbach of Into The Whirled

I was first attracted to Christine Eschbach's Into The Whirled hand painted yarns and spinning fiber by the wonderful photographs on her blog. Each one is a little gem. The colors are vibrant and juicy and saturated and satisfying.
So I reached out to her to see if she would be up for an interview. I was nervous, because I know from her blog that she is busy, and I was basically approaching her from out of the blue (well, she is not the only one of my interviewees that is true for). But I needn't have worried: She responded enthusiastically and (you'll see below) she put a ton of love into the interview.

How would you describe your method - hand painted? Kettle dyed? Jackson Pollack? :) Has it changed since you started dyeing?

Hand painting is my primary means of dye application. Time and time again I have tried to explore other techniques that are a little less restricting but always return to the predictable nature of hand painting. Let's just say that my obsessive tendencies get in the way of free style dyeing.

How do you apply heat to your product - microwave? Steam bath? How many pots do you have? Anything else about your setup that you think is interesting and don't mind sharing with other dyers?

Having taught myself from various tutorials on the Internet I have collected a wide variety of heating tools; many are still in use today, others sit at the bottom of a closet. As you might imagine each technique requires a specific tool, so it is safe to say that I have amassed at least a couple dozen 'pot-like' receptacles. These days I find myself favoring crock-pots for larger projects, steam baths for busy nights when I need to stray from the restrictions of the studio and the microwave for testing and quick dye projects. Oh and turkey roasters - lets not forget the roasters, they are great for larger crock-pot type projects.

Something interesting about my setup? Aside from being overcrowded, my studio and current production setup is pretty random. One of these days the dream of industrial steam tables and a wall of ovens will be realized. Ask me the same question in a couple years...

Where do you work? Do you have a special studio or do you use the kitchen, or work outside?

I would like to think that I work exclusively in my studio which once doubled as my office. However, that is often not the case - especially on dye day, oh and day after dye day. Have I mentioned that I dye four days a week? Let's just say I have a tendency to spread out into the kitchen, living room, guest room, porch, and, well, you get the idea. [My husband has the patience and tolerance of a SAINT!]

What made you want to start dyeing yarn & fiber?

As a spinner there seems to be a natural progression of the obsession...

Purchase drop spindle and fiber. Research and choose wheel. Join a fiber club. Attend festivals and buy lots of colourful fiber. Purchase four to eight pounds of raw fleece to hand wash and spin. Buy more colourful fiber. Grow curious and decide to try your hand at dyeing. It goes without saying that I followed that very path. I spent endless hours on the Internet, read every book published on the topic, and purchased some acid dyes. As it so often does, life got in the way and I tucked the dyes into my closet for another day.

After my father passed away in the winter of 2008 I found myself a little lost. The affairs of the estate were dealt with and I had a long winter, promising to be filled with grief, to contend with.

The passing of a parent or any loved one affects everyone differently. I found that reorganizing the entire house brought me some peace. I imagine that a therapist would have declared that I was taking stock of my life and determining what matters and how I fit into it all.

One night it hit me. Among other things, I had inherited dozens of canning jars, four crock-pots and a 3000 yard roll of plastic food wrap. Add to that the dye I had stuffed in my closet months ago - my grief-filled nights quickly turned into colour filled mornings.

Your photography is striking and appealing. Do you photograph your yarn & fiber outdoors, or do you just have enviably fantastic lighting in your home?

Thank you! My setup is simple. I work inside; in a corner of the studio are a couple windows, three lamps with daylight bulbs, a light tent, and a simple point and shoot camera. Eye catching photographs can be achieved with practice, time, and a whole lot of discarded photos.

What part of dyeing is the most satisfying to you?

Oh, tough choice! I would imagine an answer like "everything" would be a little boring for the reader, so let me think a moment. Time and time again I tell my customers that I simply fill the spinner's palette and they are the true artists; hands down, the most satisfying moment is Show and Tell! On the Into the Whirled Ravelry group, sharing is strongly encouraged for somewhat selfish reasons – I love to see what folks create with the tools I have provided!
Does any part of dyeing freak you out a little or irritate you?

Once I was able to move past the word "ACID" in "acid dye" I quickly realized that there really is little to fear when it comes to dyeing. However, not being afraid does not translate to throwing caution to the wind! Pardon me while I step up on a soap box and take this opportunity to add a small public service announcement for aspiring dyers: While dyeing is a relatively safe pastime, please take every precaution prescribed by the dye manufactures and protect your health!!

Lastly, do you have any heroes or guiding lights who you have learned from or been influenced by?

Perhaps the group most deserving of recognition are the unsung heroes and guiding lights who stand by my side every day of the week. Words cannot describe how much I appreciate all the friends and family that gave me the confidence and support I needed to launch and grow ITW.

There are two very talented individuals who have been a tremendous influence, especially over the past year: Jill Draper of Jill Draper Makes Stuff and Cal Patch of Hodge Podge Farm. Together they are known as Double Knot Studio. The talent, the knowledge, and the commitment to living as successful working artists is truly inspiring. Needless to say, I have endless amounts of respect for these ladies. After undergoing bilateral Carpal Tunnel release surgery I found myself unemployed with a choice: find a new job or focus my energy on ITW. With the encouragement of these two ladies I found the confidence to make the decision to leave the life of corporate America in my past and dedicate myself to a completely creative lifestyle.

Thank you so much, Cris, for putting your heart into this interview. I loved reading about your process. Your work is so lovely and you are so tremendously prolific. It's wonderful to see your business grow!

You can find Into The Whirled on the blog, in the shop, and, of course, on Facebook.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Some dyeing log entries

Lavender pink:
Tied 8 oz BFL in knots, did not presoak.
1 tsp red
1 tsp blue
1 tsp yellow
1 tsp citric acid
1/2 hour near-boil.
It came out nice.

While still in the dyewater in the pot. I didn't get a photo of it after drying.

And I probably screwed up the above.

I put a tsp of red in the pot with 1/2 lb of dry BFL tied up, heated it for over half an hour, took that out and let it cool in the sink.

The dye water was not exhausted so I added 1/2 tsp of yellow, ~1/8 tsp blue, and some more squirts of red liquid. It's a nice avocado green, based on the sample I put on the coffee filter. I tied up the lavender-pink-white and put it in the green. I don't know how this will come out. I don't expect a good outcome.

So the avocado over lavender actually did come out quite well.

ETA: I like how there are still plenty of bits that are pink; and it's a really nice pink, almost like a young rose. And the greens are good too, not too kelly or anything. And I like the parts that almost remained undyed. They got a little color in them, but pale enough for my taste. I wasn't sure about this when it first came out, but I'm happy with it now. I wonder how it will spin up? I would like to keep it to spin myself, although I'm listing it on the Etsy shop; but I can't say how I would spin it, or especially how I'd ply it.

The red, meanwhile, was a bit plain. The parts I tied up were hardly white at all, as the dye was so strong that it seeped in and there was very little masking.

Tonight I mixed 1 part red and 2 parts yellow, and separately 1 part red and 1 part blue (of the premixed liquid dyes), and put them on the red after soaking it. Then I microwaved it (3 min on, 3 min off, times 3). I did it in 4-oz lengths so I alternated the two pieces in the microwave. It's in the strainer now, and it looks (in wet form) like it will be quite pretty. Hard to tell when it's wet.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dyer Interview: Lynne Vogel, Twisted Sister

The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook: Dyeing, Painting, Spinning, Designing, KnittingA couple weeks ago, I interviewed Tricia Hunt of Spinning Wheel Studio. At the end, when I asked her who she'd love to see interviewed here, she directed me without hesitation to Lynne Vogel. I contacted Lynne and somewhat timidly asked her whether she'd be willing to do an interview with me; she replied right away that she would! So I started to research and as I did so, I realized that her book, The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook: Dyeing, Painting, Spinning, Designing, Knitting, was not only already on my bookshelf but was one that I had used big time when learning to dye yarn & spinning fiber. I re-read the book so I wouldn't be asking dumb questions, and realized that the book is so comprehensive, she had already answered a lot of the questions that I had already prepared! But this was cool, because I was able to ask her some follow-up Q's about things that I had been wondering about...

In your book, you describe learning wonderful things by accident - is there any experience you wouldn't mind relating in detail?

In my Harrisville dye class every year, we save every ounce of unused dye in a big kettle we call the "soup". Everything we pour down the drain there goes into a holding tank that has to be pumped out and the thought of dye in there really grosses me out. So we save it all up and at the end of the week I go down to the dye area and exhaust the soup. Last year, even though we had the soup in two big canning kettles, we had no heat source to heat the kettles because we'd been using the microwaves exclusively! And there was tons of dye in that soup.

So I just started plunging dry superwash bfl wool roving into the soup (with big gloves on, of course). I heat set each one in the microwave. Dye strikes superwash wool to some degree even when the dyebath is cold, and I figured that putting the fiber in dry would give it a little more absorbancy, and it did. For the first pound of fiber I ladled some of the soup into a ziplock baggie with the fiber and stuck it in the microwave, getting dark teal and peat brown. About 3 pounds of fiber later I could see that the soup was really exhausting and I had a lot of beautiful mid-range browns and teals with some really fun bleeds. The lighter colors were even more interesting, especially because putting dry roving in the solution caused the dye to strike very unevenly. As the dye exhausted and the resulting colors became lighter, the bleeds were even more obvious. This translated to teal roving with pale rose pink bleed and brown with silver grey green and a touch of orange! And the browns...straight from the earth browns, browns it would take me an entire day to match. We ended up with over 5 pounds of gorgeous muted colors from the soup and everybody went home with some. Some people spun them for socks and hats (really great guy colors too). I've since spun some of them into art yarns. I love the fancy textures of art yarns worked in understated colors and neutrals. I wouldn't have chosen to handpaint rovings with these colors because they are too subtle to look enticing online, but when people see the yarns I've spun from them, they always want more.

Why did the soup give such a variety of colors? Was it because the dyes separated out as the heat was applied?

The dyes separated out even before heat was applied. You can see this happen especially with dilutions with the cold pour technique. This happens most readily with washfast acid dyes, not so much with sabraset. The reason being that different colors strike at different rates. Yellow strikes first or at lowest temps, red (pink) next, then blue last. That's why it takes the longest time to exhaust a blue dyebath. No matter how you mix the colors, in powder, stock solution, direct application, or immersion, this is still true to some degree. Also, when I put the fiber in, I took 4 ounce hanks and grabbed them, pressing them in dry. Where I was grabbing the fiber I was forming a resist, so less dye struck at those points. The fiber can resist itself too when it's in tight coils. Those resisted areas were the ones that showed the bleed from the separation of the dyes.

What made you want to start dyeing yarn/fiber? Was it simply that you had become a spinner?

Photo: Jim Ann Howard
(from The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook)
Actually, I learned to dye before I became a spinner. Back then I was selling my knitted pieces in galleries, combining handspun and millspun yarns. I could never seem to find the colors I wanted in the yarn I wanted. I'd been a painter since I was a kid. My dad taught me how to mix any color under the sun in paint. In the early 80s I had a job painting custom needlepoint canvases for a shop in California. It used to frustrate me so to try to match yarn colors to the canvases they carried in the shop, because no matter how many colors they had, and they had tons, there were never enough. So I would pull the yarns for my designs and match them with my paint when I painted my own designs. So you can imagine how hard it was for me to try to find yarn colors in knitting yarns.

When I lived in Taos, I worked primarily with La Lana Wools' beautiful naturally dyed yarns. I also spent a summer as an assistant to a local weaver who taught me natural dyeing. But those colors are like found objects, often very muted and difficult to repeat. I had watched Rachel Brown dye with acid dyes in Taos, but it was daunting. She had huge cauldrons set up outside over an open wood fire, with pulleys for the skeins (often pounds at a time) hung from massive logs suspended over the dyepots. Once the water came to a simmer, she would throw in a carefully calculated spoonful of dye powder and lower her weighed skeins into the color. Her calculations were always perfect, and the skeins would completely exhaust the dye, whether she was dyeing solids or partial skeins. She would always end up with clear water in the cauldron between dippings. Of course it would be prohibitive to change the water in those cauldrons, so she had to be right the first time. And that's not to mention feeding the fire with cedar logs. It seemed like alchemy at the time.

So when Twisted Mother Sandy showed me how to work with acid dye stock solutions I was back in native territory...paint. Before long I could get any color I wanted and my work at the time usually combined both natural and synthetic dyes in perfect harmony. An example would be my Tree of Life Jacket in Knitting in America (now called America Knits) and the Chinese Tree of Life in Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters. Luisa Gelenter, master natural dyer behind La Lana Wools, once told me that few ever attempted to combine natural and synthetic dyes in a single work, as they were so difficult to combine. I guess I took this as a challenge! Learning to dye with acid type dyes completely satisfied my color glutton.

One thing that really jumped out at me today was this: "Twisted Mother Sandy invited me into her kitchen to learn her pour-dye methods. In my mind I felt like I was being dragged kicking and screaming to perform some horrible tedious task...." I really related to this! I have all kinds of creativity-related fears. Do you have these? How do you get past the fear of failure?

In any creative endeavor, each new project requires risk. Many folks are uncomfortable with risk or don't have the time it takes to sail into uncharted waters, so they stick to tested patterns and yarns and this is fine. But trying something new requires risk. Will I have to do it over? Will this color match something I already have? Sometimes this element of risk is exciting and drives me to experiment, other times it stops me dead in the water. It helps to determine the exact nature of the fear especially because that fear can come for a different reason every time I start something new.

Photo: Jim Ann Howard
(from The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook)
Fears can sometimes just be dislikes disguised as fear. For instance, I hate to waste materials. I can be very tight that way. Not having enough fiber to properly experiment with a colorway or trying to work something out perfectly with very little time is a limitation I regularly inflict on myself. I often come out on top which only encourages me to do it again. But if I know I'm not going to run out of fiber or yarn, if I know I have plenty of time, stress subsides.

Another fear comes from performance anxiety. Who am I trying to please? Myself or the world? Are people watching me, as in a class demo? Again, it's important to keep my intention clear. If I please myself with my work, then there is joy in it and everyone that sees it responds to the joy. If I'm in front of a group of people, I focus on my love of sharing rather than my nervousness at being watched or judged. If I approach a project with anxiety, it's never going to be as strong as if I approach it with a positive intention. Often I find that I backing off, trying again later, waiting for the perfect moment only leads to procrastination and cold feet and this snuffs out the flame of invention. I get around this by setting up a work area with care, collecting my materials, cordoning off my time, and sometimes, just sitting and meditating for a moment before I start (which sometimes manifests in the form of a big gulp of air and a swan dive). Even if I only have one talisman of my comfort zone, (good music for instance), I have something positive to help me along, something to help me relax and focus. I never have enough room, enough time, enough energy, so if I waited for that kind of comfort I'd never do anything.

For instance when I first tried to learn to spin, I was selling my work in galleries and couldn't learn to spin fast enough, well enough to make spinning worth my while. I had to have yarn I could sell at a good price. It took so long to complete pieces that time was money, something I wouldn't let myself have to learn a new tool. But when I finally decided to spin that yarn for myself...my own sweater? I was spinning in no time. Pressure off. I think that dealing with anxiety is like tempering a flame on a gas stove. I need enough heat to get myself going, but not so much that I'll boil over or burn out. Removing some, but not all, of the pressure of risk seems to work best for me.

Handspun Bound Boucle Yarn in "Black Hollyhocks," 122 yds

When I teach workshops I feel that my most important job is to help class participants to open to their own muse. It's not about "do as I do". It's about "if you do it this way, you'll get this". It doesn't matter if we are spinning, knitting, dyeing. As soon as people start paying attention to what they are actually doing, the relax into themselves, start to see what they actually can do and their vision sprouts from there. It's like having both feet firmly planted. Fear of failure is really just a belief that one is incapable of performing a task, but it can feel like one is about to leap off a cliff. If you start with what you know you can do and build on that, every moment you spend increases your experience and ability. Your "failures" are really just mistakes of a sort and only increase your knowledge. Cuz they tell you, "if I do that, I'll get this". As my friend and fellow dyer Mary Ann Pagano of Three Waters Farm says, "If you don't make mistakes, you don't learn". And I have definitely learned more from my mistakes than my successes.

Is there any technique you would like to learn how to do (related to dyeing)?

Can you believe I'm still an Indigo virgin? Sure, I could try it by myself, but I want to do it with somebody who has done it before. Why? It's one of the oldest and most revered dyeing techniques in the world. I look at indigo dyeing as an art form in itself. I think I'm waiting because I'd rather use indigo on fabric than yarn or fiber, because it does rub off when you spin and knit with it. And it's so beautiful on fabric. Soon....

Lastly, I know you do sometimes purchase fiber from other dyers; is there an indie dyer out there whose work you especially admire?

There are lots of them. First I'd like to say that I consider any handpainted or handdyed piece (fiber, yarn, whatever) to be a found object. The most beautiful ones can't be replicated. And yeah, I could remember their colors and go home and copy them to a great degree (though never exactly...I can't even do that with my own work), but that wouldn't be right either. It's important to appreciate the work of others and reward it accordingly. Also, when I purchase someone else's work, it isn't just the colors that are important to me. The handle of the fiber, whether it's soft or harsh, whether it smells good, whether (in the case of fiber) it drafts easily, all of these elements go into my ultimate appreciation. So although I've seen a lot of work that looks beautiful online, if I haven't held it in my hand I can't recommend it to others. So, my first choice is Three Waters Farm. Mary Ann dyes my colorways as well as her own beautiful creations and furnishes the fiber for my workshops. I can always count on the draftability, the softness, the sweet fragrance as well as the beautiful colors, both radiant and subtle. I'd also like to mention Woolgatherings, now in its second generation. Twisted Mom Sandy started Woolgatherings in the late '80s and her daughter-in-law Kate is carrying it forward with her own totally different color sensibility. I love what Carol Larsen of River's Edge Fiber Arts is doing with totally unique fiber blends. There are so many wonderful dyers out there who don't dye full time who sell their work at fairs or on Etsy. Enjoy the hunt, it's half the fun.

* * * * *

Lynne Vogel's latest book is The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters: A Knit-to-Fit Workshop. You can follow her doings as she blogs at Handspun Central. And finally, be sure to check out her original patterns and gorgeous handspun art yarns at http://lynnevogel.etsy.com.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Dyer Interview coming, I promise

I was lucky enough to score an interview with Lynne Vogel of The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook: Dyeing, Painting, Spinning, Designing, Knitting and now The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters: A Knit-to-Fit Workshop fame. She answered my questions in glorious detail, but I have been so swamped with work and dealing with contractors on my house that I haven't had one moment available to finish putting the interview up. I'd like to prettify it with a few pics, etc. I promise it is coming and will be worth the wait!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: A Dyer's Garden, by Rita Buchanan

File this one in the "New To Me" category; this book was published in 1995. Late last summer I bought it at the bookstore and read through it casually. I was attracted by its beautiful section in the back of the book, with pictures of swatches of various yarns dyed with the plant combined with different mordants. I have a garden in my back yard where I grow mostly vegetables for our consumption, but have long wanted to try growing some dye plants.

At the moment I am strictly a non-natural-dye dyer, but the thought of growing my own dye plants is appealing to me, especially framed by the back to the earth conversation I see happening everywhere I look.

This winter, as I gathered my notes, drew up plans, and made the list of the seeds I was going to order for our vegetable garden this coming summer, I took A Dyer's Garden out again to figure out what would be a good plant to start with. I need to start slow, as I know from experience I tend to get overwhelmed if I jump in with both feet. Again I turned to the back pages with the rainbow of swatch pictures, and looked through all the descriptions of the plants, their growing needs, and how they are processed to dye fiber. This section is truly excellent in the depth it examines each plant. You get a lot of information crammed into two pages devoted to each plant.

After looking through all the plants listed, I decided on Black-eyed Susan. They'll be pretty as well as useful. What I especially like is I can collect the plant parts and flowers and save them for later. Many dye plants you have to use right away, and I know I'm not going to be able to do that reliably, so I need to be able to save the plants up.

I also found myself drawn to the indigo-bearing plants, so I turned to the section on how to dye with plants, in the middle of the book. This section is great. Indigo dyes are processed in a totally different way than the others, so that part is set off at the end. After reading through it, I realized it was a process that was way over my head at the moment and I crossed those plants off my list. (Sometimes, finding out what you don't want to do is just as important as what you do. And apropos of which, there is a super helpful "plants not to grow" section in this book.)

One great tip that the author offered, about the timing of mordanting, completely set my mind at ease about trying to use plant-based dyes. I kept thinking how many steps there are when you add in the mordanting before everything else, and that seemed to make this a prohibitively work intensive method. But she points out that you can do your mordanting all at once, in a separate step, and store the yarn/fiber pre-mordanted, rather than having to do it at the same time as you are doing your dyeing. She also offers some terrific and "green" tips for disposing of many mordants; I had always heard that the mordants are the most dangerous part of natural dyeing (and some really are), which had put me off it as well. Rather than give away those tips, I'll let you find them out for yourself in the book.

This is not an exhaustive resource for dyeing plants; in my seed catalog I found dozens of additional plants for sale for dyeing. It is more aimed at newcomers to the craft, and as such is very encouraging and gentle. The book starts with a FAQ, for heaven's sake!

This quote sums up the style and attitude of the book: "If you follow my general directions, I'm sure that your colors will be pretty and you'll have a lot of fun." Highly recommended!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Amazing color resource: Kuler

A designer friend put me onto this resource for color work. I am in the process (I swear) of having a professional redesign this blog, but she wanted me to provide her with color scheme guidance. My buddy sent me here and my head almost exploded:

You can browse through other people's color schemes and edit them to make new ones, or start from scratch and create your own. For trying out color combinations or getting ideas, this is a really fun and useful tool.