Tuesday, October 3, 2006


Sometimes creative curiosity leads one down all sorts of funny paths. I am now officially up to my eyeballs in yarn! Today when I arrived at the post office, my order from Yarn Country was waiting for me. Remember the yarn I ordered for the felted bags? There will be five of them in various autumnal colors, and I'm hoping to get $25 for each of them:
1. Lamb's Pride Worsted in Spice and Oatmeal (click on links to see the colors)
2. Cascade 220 Wool in Dark Plum and Claret
3. Cascade 220 Wool in Japanese Maple and Burnt Orange
4. Cascade 220 Wool in Mahogany and Mimosa
5. Cascade 220 Wool in Pumpkin Spice and Burnt Orange
Okay. Now that I've tooted my own horn about the bags I'm going to knit for the craft fair, I can move on to the yarn I'm spinning. After reading Rachael's blog and forum entries about her experiences with using pokeberries as a dyestuff, I decided to take a stab at it myself. We discussed the problem of her yarn turning brown, and I wondered if maybe there wasn't some substance that might help neutralize the tannins responsible for the browning as well as making the pokeberry more wash and/or lightfast. She suggested sodium carbonate, but warned that there might be problems with making the solution too basic, thus altering the pH so much that it the pokeberry juice would be rendered useless for dyeing.
What it boils down to is that I tested it using a bunch of plastic cups and solutions of varying strength to see what would happen and my findings are mostly invalidated because I didn't actually have litmus paper to test the pH.
1. The solutions in the test cups changed colors varying with the strength of the sodium carbonate solutions.
a. weakest solution produced a dark brownish-purple
b. the two middle solutions produced a really icky brown
c. the strongest solution produced a really, really weird shade of green.
2. After over an hour of soaking time, none of the blobs of wool actually took the dye, which suggests that some other substance might work better. Lye is likely to damage the fiber because it's so caustic, and I have a feeling it'll also make the pokeberry solution useless as a dye because of how much the pH will change.
For the wool I wanted to dye, I started by mixing alum and cream of tartar with hot water and pouring it into the pot with the pokeberry juice; that was the first color change -- from a sickly puce to a lovely burgundy -- but not the last. Next, I mixed up what I hoped was an extremely weak sodium carbonate solution -- 1/2 tsp sodium carbonate to 2 cups of hot water -- and poured that into the pot; where the solution came into direct contact with the wool, the fiber turned brown, which leads me to believe that the tannins experience an accelerated reaction rather than being neutralized. Not that I know much about chemistry, so that's really an uneducated guess.
Over time, the pokeberry solution changed from burgundy to an odd golden-orange-brown/bronze/copper/something in the middle that I'm having some difficulty coming up wit a name for -- I'm hoping to dredge up the name of some suitably obscure goddess relating to either fire or earth or something because of the color, but ten that depends on what, if anything, I decide to ply it with. Of course, the fact that I left the heat on under the pot and accidentally let it boil might also have something to do with it! Utterly the opposite of what I was aiming for... again. This time, however, I decided not to try to correct the color with help from the Gods of KoolAid. Sometime tomorrow I'll boil a little bit of wool to test for washfastness; I'll also see about putting some in a window to see if the color fades or changes again over time. The other thing that's left me scratching my head is what color would go with this strange copper if I decide to ply it with something. Green, maybe? Orange? Red? Maybe some plain white wool? Suggestions are definitely welcome here. I'll post a picture of the bronze yarn after I finish spinning the wool tomorrow.
Oh! I'm getting a ball winder! Yay! No more musical chairs!

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