A Promise

... or a Meteorological Phenomenon?

My first exposure to the story of Noah and the flood was in first grade Sunday School.  I don’t recall the exact details, but I’m fairly sure it included flannel animals going two by two into a flannel-graph ark.  What I do remember clearly is the end of the story.  The teacher told us how God put a rainbow in the sky as a promise that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood.  

But then the teacher to it a step further and said something that wasn’t strictly speaking necessary.  She told us that this was the first rainbow ever - that there had never been any rainbows before that one in the history of the world.  And I remember thinking “that doesn’t make any sense.”

(Note: Bruce tells me that this is a common interpretation of the scripture.  I don’t get that.  You can decide for yourself - Genesis 9:8-17.)

A few years later, in an elementary school science lesson, our teacher showed us how a prism broke apart light and made a rainbow.  It was a particularly rainy year and I remember the class going outside to the playground to look at a rainbow in the sky.  The teacher explained how the rain in the sky acted like the glass prism and broke apart the sunlight to make the rainbow.

Click. I remembered the Sunday School lesson.  Now I knew why it didn’t make sense. 

But here’s the thing - and why it wasn’t necessary for my Sunday school teacher to chance her arm - because whatever else it is, a rainbow is a promise.  A promise that after the deluge, the sun does shine.  That after years of drought, the water and the sunlight together will bring green growth and bright wildflowers to the hillsides.  That when all around us is chaos and devastation, and everything seems hopeless, yet there is still hope.  And that is God’s promise to all of us.  

A rainbow of hand-dyed yarn for my next weaving project.

A rainbow of hand-dyed yarn for my next weaving project.

Not Afraid of Dyeing (Hallelujah!)

Once upon a time, not that long ago as the ages are reckoned, I was more than a little intimidated by color.  Not being trained as an artist, I knew very little of color theory beyond "mix blue and yellow, get green."  The concepts of value and hue, tints and shades, meant nothing to me.  

At first, this meant that everything I made was "naturally colored" - white or cream or various shades of brown or grey.  It's pretty impossible to go wrong with a neutral palette - right?  Eventually, this got a little boring.

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Then I took a workshop on color blending from Deb Menz at the Spin-Off Autumn Retreat. She introduced me to the Color Star.  With this I could mix colors and know what I was going to get without making a time-consuming and expensive yarn mistake.  Deb has since published some great books and videos on color and dyeing.  I refer to them regularly.

But sometimes you feel like a stripe, sometimes you don't.  Sometimes what I made came out all stripey when I didn't want it to.  In another SOAR workshop, Stephanie Gaustad explained this.  When you have two (or more) colors of different values, you get stripes; same values, you don't.  She shared this helpful hint: hold your yarns in the shadow under a table, if they are both the same gray, then they're the same value.  Click.  Another piece fell into place.  (Stephanie is a great teacher - if you have a chance to take a class from her, you should.)

Finally I took a three-day "Dye Any Color" SOAR workshop from Sarah Lamb.  This was a life changing experience.  Before that, I had been afraid of dyeing because whenever I tried it the results weren't what I was hoping for.  I was not comfortable with a "throw it in the dye pot and see what you get" philosophy.  Sarah's carefully controlled approach of weighing, measuring and mixing appealed to me.  There's a reason that Quantitative Analysis was my favorite chemistry class in college.  

Click.  The final cylinder fell into place, like Alan Turing's Bombe machine, the enigma of color was unlocked for me.  Now I am no longer afraid of dyeing.  I weigh.  I measure.  And perhaps most important, I sample.  I get predictable, reproduceable results.  Hallelujah!

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Respect the Chemicals

When working with my technical dyes, I try to treat them with respect.  I like the the consistency of the results, but I am well aware that they contain potentially dangerous chemicals and certain procedures need to be followed.  I wear eye-protection and a mask when working with the dye powders, and wear gloves when working with the powders and the mixed liquid dyes.  These are the protections recommended by the manufacturer on the material safety data sheets. 

The use of potentially hazardous chemicals is nothing new to the home dyer.  In my grandmother's papers I found this newspaper clipping from 1905 with recipes for dyes for carpet rags.  The poisonous chemicals involved include copperas, Prussian blue, sugar of lead and bichromate of potash. 

I don't know what I find more disturbing: the knowledge that the early 20th century home dyer did not have access to basic protections such as safety goggles, filter masks and nitrile gloves, or the fact that these chemicals were readily available at the local "chemists."

So with the caveat to "don't try this at home," here's a copy of the clipping.

Looking for Gold

Did you ever pick out paint, and the color looked great on that little swatch card in the hardware store, but when you put it on a whole wall it was all too much "more"?  That same thing happens with yarn.

I've been trying to come up with the perfect "gold" yarn, but it's hard.  It can't be too yellow, too orange, or too brown.  What looks good on a small swatch can be way too intense in a full skein or two of silk yarn.  

It was time to approach this scientifically.  I picked three different mixes of gold, scarlett and blue dyes, and then tested them at different strengths.  

You can tell this is scientific, because - graduated cylinders!

You can tell this is scientific, because - graduated cylinders!

After the dying was done, I had 15 skeins to choose from:

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And when they were dry and labeled, I'd found gold!

Fifteen Shades of Gold! 

Fifteen Shades of Gold! 

Silk Rainbow

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Like many of you, I've been busy with making Christmas gifts.  Each year I face the dilema: what to make for my co-workers?  By now, they must be pretty tired of getting scarves from me, and this year is no exception. But I did put away my knitting needles and got out the paint brushes. 

For my striped silk scarves, I mixed up fiber reactive dyes and mixed two colors in varing percentages (20/80, 40/60, 60/40 and 80/20) to give a color gradient. I then painted repeating stripes on wet silk, letting the colors blend at the edges.  I wrapped each scarf in plastic wrap and let them sit for 24 hours to set the dye.  Any wrinkles in the plastic wrap add addition interesting texture to the scarf.

Fortunately, each of my co-workers have different color preferences, so I have a veritable rainbow of silk:

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It don't come easy

You gotta pay dues
If you're gonna sing the blues
And you know, it don't come easy.
--Ringo Starr

Some projects just aren't meant to be easy.

First off, there are no size 00000 knitting needles in Ventura for ready money.  (Anacapa Fine Yarns did have some scrumptious yarns, so I didn't leave the store unscathed).  I could have ordered the needles on-line, but I wanted immediate gratification. 

So I toodled off to the hobby shop in search of 1mm brass rod to make my own needles.  Hobby shop doesn't carry metric, so my choice is between 3/64" rod, which is more than 1mm, and 1/32", which is less.  I buy both.  The 1/32" rod is more like wire - super bendy.  So I cut the thicker rod, and grind the ends into points.  Viola!  I'm calling these 00000.5 needles. 

The 20/2 silk that I was planning to use won't work on the smaller needles.  But that's ok, I have some 30/2 silk in my stash.  I wind some off and start knitting a little swatch.  I also get some more practice picking up dropped stitches. 

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The resulting gauge: 14 stitches per inch.  Not the 18 I was hoping for, but I'm going to live with it, especially as I know that with the two color knitting I'll have some draw-in from carrying the thread across the back.

You may have noticed that the swatch is white.  My design is not.  So that means dyeing the yarn.  Out comes the dye notebook, I pick my colors and get to work.  But first I have to divide my yarn into skeins.   That's when I discover that the counter on my reel is broken.  So I count the turns out loud - 1,020 times.

Eventually, I actually get to the dyeing.  Whenever I dye yarn, I thank Deb Menz for her super easy to follow directions and computations in Color in Spinning.

Here are the results:

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So there's day 4, 5 and 6 of Art Every Day Month: making the needles, making a test swatch and dyeing the yarn.  You won't hear any more about this project for a little while.  I don't intend to start the actual knitting until I have my new glasses.

Getting Ready to Dye

This morning I mixed up the dye solutions for the projects I'll be working on this week.  With the solutions already mixed, dyeing the yarn will be much simpler - just mix the solutions in the right proportions and put them in the crockpot with hot water, yarn and, after a while, a little soda ash.

Mixing the dye solutions reminds me a little of my college days as a chemistry major:

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A Week's Vacation

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I have a week’s stay-cation and my plan is to fill it with as much fibery goodness as possible. First stop was my yarn stash to see what spoke to me. There were lot’s of possibilities, but I settled on this.


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Doesn’t it remind you of Monet’s Water Lilies? But there is not enough to warp up a full shawl, so back to the stash where I found this white cotton/rayon blend. I don’t want white, though, but this cotton/rayon blend should dye up beautifully with Sabracron F dyes.

Using my swatch book from Sarah Lamb’s workshop, I picked a blue and a green to match the Water Lily yarn, and a purple for some 20/2 silk for the weft.It will take a couple of days for me to get all the yarn dyed. I don’t want to wait to start weaving, so in the meantime, I warped up my rigid heddle loom with a warp I’d had sitting around for a while.

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This is a mélange of left over yarns: some black and purple ladder yarn, pink and purple eyelash, purple 20/2 silk (doubled), purple wool (a sample from a workshop) and some gray kid mohair from a UFO sweater. The weft is a super-fine lavender kid mohair.

Tomorrow I start weaving and dyeing.

Thoughts On Dyeing

“Of the blue, purple and crimson yarns they made finely worked vestments, for ministering in the holy place” Exodus 39:1

Taking breaks from weaving the white stole, I’ve been dyeing the yarn for the red and purple stoles. Because I am going to weave the red and purple stoles from the same warp threading (different tie-ups and treadling), I want a warp that is a “plummy” red. Then I will use a brighter red for the weft of the red stole and a dark purple for the weft of the purple stole.

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I admit it, I am no great shakes as a dyer. In fact the red warp started out as a failed dye experiment. I had several skeins that had been dyed with cochineal and over-dyed with indigo. The result was blotchy and not at all what I was hoping for. The skeins went back into my stash where I didn’t have to look at them. This time round I’m not messing with natural dyes. I’m going straight to the more predictable results from technical dyes.

As I am measuring the dye powder and other ingredients for my Sabrachron F - what you see is what you get - dyes, I marvel at the dedication of those ancient Israelite dyers. On what was essentially a forty year camp-out, they took the care to dye precious linen threads – undoubtedly brought with them out of Egypt – blue and purple and crimson for Aaron their high priest to wear in the tabernacle they were building (are Kermes indigenous to the Negev?).

I think on this again several hours later when I’m trying to wash the last traces of red dye from my warp. I gave up counting the rinses. How did they do this in the desert? “Hey, Moses, can you come over here and smite this rock? I need some more water to rinse my yarn.”

To pick my colors, I referred to the sample notebook made in Sarah Lamb’s workshop class at SOAR several years ago. I’ve found this book to be an invaluable resource ever since. I used my crockpot set on “low” for the dye bath, but otherwise followed the instructions on Pro-Chem’s web page.