Thoughts on the Shop Launch + The Natural Dye Knit Along

 Want to join the Natural Dye Knit Along? Come visit the thread in my Ravelry group  here  for more information.

Want to join the Natural Dye Knit Along? Come visit the thread in my Ravelry group here for more information.

I meant to cast on for the Natural Dye Knit Along the day it began (April 1st), but I was so absorbed in preparing for the shop launch that I decided I needed to wait. After all, this KAL is running for several months specifically so nobody feels rushed or pressured, so I suppose I should relax and give myself plenty of time too, right?

In any case, the shop went live on Monday at 12pm PDT and it completely exceeded my expectations. I thought I’d get a sale or two, but I had no idea most of my yarn inventory would sell out within 45 minutes. I’m still a bit stunned, to be honest, but in the best possible way. Not only do I get the pleasure of seeing the yarns I’ve dyed in the hands of other knitters, but this also means I get to dye way more yarn! Hurray!

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Side note: if you make something with my yarn and you’re on social media, please feel free to share it with the hashtag #awoodennestfiber! I’m so excited to see how it will be used.

Anyway, I’ll be using the earnings from this update to buy more yarn. I’m hoping to have another shop update early next month (date TBD), and I’ll be dyeing in much larger quantities this time around to bulk up my inventory. Also, many of you have made requests for specific bases (more fingering weight and tweedy sock yarn) and dye techniques (more variegated), so I’ll try to keep that in mind when I order as well.

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As for the #naturaldyekal, I’ve finally begun swatching for a cute little summer top for my daughter. This will be my first time working with a cotton + linen blend, so it’s a bit of an adjustment knowing that the stitches won’t bloom, but I’m enjoying working with it so far. I dyed this yarn with Sappanwood from Maiwa a month or two ago and used soda ash to adjust the pH. It turned the dye bath from an orange-red to a dark purple-pink. I think this may have affected the overall tone, but a great deal of the intensity and depth of the color from the bath washed out of the fiber. I’m left with something similar to a dusty, avocado pink, which I don’t mind in the least, though I wish I'd stuck a skein or two of wool in with the bath to see how the colors would compare.

Cellulose fibers are still a bit of a mystery to me. Not just cellulose yarns, but fabrics as well. I’ve heard a rumor that soy milk actually works better as a mordant for cellulose than alum, but I haven’t done any comparisons. I’ve read Botanical Colour at your Fingertips by Rebecca Desnos, though, and she uses soy milk with great success.

I’m thinking of including a short clip in my next podcast episode about mordants for those of you who are feeling a bit gun-shy with regards to joining the Natural Dye KAL. Of course, you don’t have to dye your own yarn. You’re plenty welcome to use yarn from another natural dyer, but several of you have mentioned that you’d like to try dyeing yourself but are feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps I can help with that.

Modifying with Iron

 left to right: iron modified logwood, lavender and twist-dyed avocado

left to right: iron modified logwood, lavender and twist-dyed avocado

 left: pomegranate on eco merino, right: iron-modified pomegranate on eco merino

left: pomegranate on eco merino, right: iron-modified pomegranate on eco merino

I’ve been playing with iron water over the past couple weeks, dipping skeins I’ve previously dyed using alum or tannin-rich plants as a mordant and comparing the results. Most books describe iron’s effects as a saddening of color, and although I don’t necessarily agree with “sad” as the descriptor, iron does seem to dull the brightness at the very least. In many cases, it completely transforms the color into something intense and rich, yet somehow muted. In short, iron color modifying is right up my alley.

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For my first iron experiments, I dipped four skeins of ultra alpaca that had been dyed with logwood exhaust into the pot and left them there for 20-30 minutes over low heat. I’ve read that you’re not supposed to leave animal fiber in the bath for much longer than that because it degrades the quality of the wool, but it doesn’t seem to take very long for iron to work its magic. This wool transformed from a light purple to a muted, inky blue within a matter of minutes.

 iron modified twist-dyed avocado on superwash 80/10/10

iron modified twist-dyed avocado on superwash 80/10/10

 top: iron modified walnut + yellow onion skin (twist-dyed) | bottom: iron modified avocado + yellow onion skin (twist dyed) - both on superwash 80/10/10 base

top: iron modified walnut + yellow onion skin (twist-dyed) | bottom: iron modified avocado + yellow onion skin (twist dyed) - both on superwash 80/10/10 base

In the same bath, I chucked in a skein of avocado twist-dyed superwash yarn just for fun, and ten minutes later emerged a skein of pure variegated magic. I can’t help but wonder if some of the logwood molecules from the ultra alpaca were somehow absorbed by this fiber in the bath because I reused the water, or if the variation in color would have occurred regardless. Further testing required.

 left: logwood on eco merino | right: iron modified logwood on eco merino

left: logwood on eco merino | right: iron modified logwood on eco merino

The only color the iron didn’t have much influence over was this skein of merino richly dyed with logwood (first run). It changed ever so slightly to a more blueish-purple, but you can only tell when the skeins are held next to one another in natural light. It’s a similar tone change to the ultra alpaca from the first experiment, but with less pronounced effect. I confess, this was a surprise and a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting dark blues, grays and maybe even blacks.

Pomegranate + Avocado Peel

 experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

 experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

 pomegranate on 100% wool (licorice twist base)

pomegranate on 100% wool (licorice twist base)

Over the holidays I came across a pack of pomegranates while shopping for groceries and immediately felt inspired to work with them in my dye pot. Pomegranates are usually expensive here so I don’t buy them often, but knowing I was using the whole fruit (snacking on the seeds and dyeing with the peels) helped me justify the purchase. And while I hadn't had any previous experience with pomegranates as a source of dye material, I remembered reading about their ability to impart a rich, buttery yellow onto fibers. I also read that they make a great source of tannins, which is especially useful in regards to cellulose fibers, which seem to benefit from a combination of both mordant and tannin preparations. 

 avocado peel on baby alpaca-tussah silk

avocado peel on baby alpaca-tussah silk

 pomegranate + avocado peel on 50/50 merino-silk

pomegranate + avocado peel on 50/50 merino-silk

I also decided it was time to make a second dye bath with avocado peels. This decision was made more out of need for freezer space than anything else, as the peels take up more room than my other kitchen scraps, but I also thought the two colors - the yellow from pomegranates and the pink from avocado peels - would work well together if I decided to experiment with twist-dyeing both colors onto one skein. Turns out, they do!

One thing I’ve noticed about my experiments with avocado peels versus avocado pits is that the colors obtained from the peels tend to be more intensely pink, whereas the pits tend to dye with more undertones of orange/coral. I think both shades are lovely, but it’s nice to know you can get a little variation by separating the parts of the fruit from one another. I experienced something similar when I worked with marigolds last year after separating the flower petals from the rest of the stem/heads (which I'll talk about in a later post). I'd be very interested to know if anyone else has experienced this from separating and isolating different parts of a plant for dyeing as well.

 avocado peel on BFL

avocado peel on BFL

After dyeing with silk-blends in the avocado bath, I decided to add four skeins of non-superwash Blue Faced Leciester to exhaust any remaining color. I wasn’t expecting a lot because the silk (about 300g worth of fiber) had already absorbed so much of the color, and I only used 10 avocados-worth of skins for the whole bath, but the color that resulted on the BFL is that quintessential pink color that I associate with avocados and love so much. I’m really happy with how it turned out and can’t wait to cast on with the yarn.

And because I don’t need all four skeins, I’ve decided to keep two for myself and host a little giveaway in my Ravelry group for the other two. I announced the giveaway in my latest video podcast (episode 5), but I thought I’d mention it here, too, in case anyone would like to join in. I’ll be announcing the winner in my next podcast episode on YouTube, which will (hopefully) come out next weekend, so stay tuned for that!

Early Experiments with Madder

 Left: Sustainable Merino, Right: Superwash Polwarth

Left: Sustainable Merino, Right: Superwash Polwarth

 Swatching for Carl's Cardigan on Eco Merino dyed with Madder 

Swatching for Carl's Cardigan on Eco Merino dyed with Madder 

 Playing with techniques. Left: Twist Dyeing Madder + Black Tea, Right: Dip Dyeing Madder

Playing with techniques. Left: Twist Dyeing Madder + Black Tea, Right: Dip Dyeing Madder

 Carl's Cardigan made from Eco Merino Dyed with Madder

Carl's Cardigan made from Eco Merino Dyed with Madder

I began experimenting with madder last year during the tail end of August, and as it turned out, it was the perfect color to work with as the weather began transitioning from summer to fall. I was very eager to dye with madder at the time because I’d seen such beautiful results from other natural dyers, so I bought a pound of dried madder root from Mountain Rose Herbs, which is a local Oregon company that sells loads of organic herbs, essential oils, teas, and other useful things.

Once the madder arrived in the mail, I went ahead and made up a dye bath in my usual way. I filled an aluminum pot half full of water, chucked in a handful of the plant material without weighing, and turned the heat on the lowest setting. I kept the stove on for several hours each day for the next day or two, turning it off whenever we slept or left the house. Once the bath seemed ready, I went ahead and added my wool and a little powdered alum to the pot because a quick scan of the internet told me that madder is an adjective dye that requires a mordant. I also read that the resulting colors would turn out richer if the plant material was left in the bath rather than strained out.

The colors that came out of that dye pot were incredible. I used a variety of different fibers, from organic merino to superwash polwarth, and I was also able to experiment with different techniques. My one regret is that I only used the same bath twice more rather than continuing to dye from it until the color was completely exhausted. As I’ve continued dyeing and learning about this process, I find myself more and more hesitant to waste color, even if there's just a little left.

 Carl's Cardigan | Eco Merino Wool | Dyed with Madder Root 

Carl's Cardigan | Eco Merino Wool | Dyed with Madder Root 

Happily, I had the foresight to dye a sweater’s quantity of organic merino rather than my usual two skeins, so I was prepared with the perfect yarn when I found the fall cardigan pattern I wanted to knit for my daughter. I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure the whole project was to make, from start to finish. I would 100% dye and knit with this yarn again, and there will be many, many more experiments with madder in my future.

Avocado Pinks

 Left: superwash merino. Right: non-superwash merino. No mordant. Just slow processed in aluminum dye pots.

Left: superwash merino. Right: non-superwash merino. No mordant. Just slow processed in aluminum dye pots.

I can’t get over how beautiful avocado pink is. As someone who almost always prefers neutrals, these surprising shades from avocados stones and skins have been my gateway drug into a whole new world of color. Not only am I discovering newfound appreciation for every tone and shade that emerges from my modest kitchen dye pots, but I’m also finding myself incorporating more color into my clothing and home decor choices now as well.

Who is this person? Where did she come from?

 Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

 Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

One of the questions people frequently ask me when I share my natural dye experiments on Instagram or YouTube is, “Where do I start?”

And while there is no specific way to begin the process, I highly recommend beginning with kitchen scraps. Especially those that are known to produce colors that last, like onion skins, tannin-rich teas and coffee, pomegranates, avocados… Just start saving your scraps in the freezer until you have enough for a dye bath. In the meantime, pick up a book or two on natural dyeing and read about the basic process. That’s essentially how I got into this myself. Eventually I’d like to grow my own dye garden or wander out in the forest with my foraging baskets for natural dye sources, but the kitchen will always be a useful source worth tapping into.

 Avocado Peel on Non-SW BFL | Third Exhaust | No mordant - Aluminum Dye Pots

Avocado Peel on Non-SW BFL | Third Exhaust | No mordant - Aluminum Dye Pots

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to retroactively record all my natural dye processes and the colors I've achieved here in this space. It's a great way for me to keep track of my results, especially because some of the skeins are no longer in my possession. Perhaps these recordings could also be useful for those of you who are interested in trying natural dyes yourselves.

Hover over the images if you're interested in reading a few quick notes about each skein of yarn.