Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dye Pots!

......and so, in spare moments, I decided finally to make good on the threat to dye some yarn. Sound of drums rolling.

My wonderful friend Ellen Minand (Ellen's Half Pint Farm in Norwich, Vermont) has been my coach -- so has Sybil Williams (an incredible knitter/weaver/natural dyer/chiropractor/cardiac nurse), also the source of my wonderful ginger cat, Sheba. It's a new variety of Rainbow Coalition.

A couple of days ago, I ventured into my third-floor stash (what a misleading word! It's a thousand square feet of YARN, for god's sake) and hauled out about a ton of fairly old but still sound Green Mountain Spinnery (Vermont) undyed, single-ply worsted weight wool in cream.......I won't tell you how many skeins I had, but the number rhymes with 'plenty.' That's not counting the natural gray wool (from the Orkney Islands) that I brought home from the studio with another dozen skeins of Michigan natural white yarn. From the basement came a number of huge enameled pots and my insanely huge plastic salad bowl (!). Into the latter went the first half-dozen skeins of natural wool with a dab of Soak (my favorite rinseless soap) to help the yarn give up its natural oils, dust, and general resistance to change (like some people I know?). An hour or two later, I was ready to go.

The big enameled pot eventually had about 3 gallons of boiling water in it and maybe 8 teaspoons of dissolved acid reactive dye -- a gorgeous raspberry. Into the pot went the skeins. I want them to be slightly variegated, so I didn't stir -- just pushed them down. They simmered for about 30 minutes, then another 10 for good measure. Then into a vinegar bath. Then into cooler and cooler (never cold) rinse waters. Gentle squeezing... Then back into the salad bowl for hanging on the second-story wooden deck railings. What a sight from the street this must have been, particularly as the colors multipled (raspberry, almost raspberry over the natural gray, tealy bluey, golden pear, etc.). Now there is a basket of wool at the studio with new labels that say "Sandra's Kettle-Dyed Yarn." The colors are soft -- I have deliberately cut back a tad on the dye -- not unlike the ones that a Maine woman makes with her son from local wool, dye, and vats of sea water.

What a wonderful thing to do. I made sage green with 7 parts golden pear, 1 scant part teal. When I have time to do it again, I'll add a bit of lilac to burgundy and see what kind of dark mauve results. Or maybe I'll add a tad of ochre to burgundy. Or maybe a dab of purple with teal....what would happen?

......all of which took me back (don't laugh) to finger painting. In grade school, I remember being completely mesmerized by the way the shiny primary colors from the finger paint pots merged on wet paper -- orange, green, purple, where once there were only red, blue, yellow. I tried to make a sunset once -- I remember all too well -- and the teacher actually slapped my fingers with a wad of paper because I was MIXING IT ALL UP. "If you want orange, use orange..." Really annoyed.

...but of course I'm a rule breaker, and nature mixes it all up every minute of the day....White light becomes a cascade of colors only partly captured in dyepots, the pigments of life imperfectly replicated by creatures who can't even see the entire spectrum of natural light. But we try, much as Chopin kept trying to write the perfect nocturne. He was right to think that, had he succeeded, music might have stopped, at least for awhile. So I will work toward Beet and Sky and Fern. To that damaged second-grade teacher, I say this: I am mixing it all up again, you poor fool, still being naughty, still making a mess. Taking liberties all the time with damn near everything. You should, too.


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