03 July 2012

When Life Gives You 100°F Weather . . .

 . . . dye fiber!

I don't wander into politics too much on this blog, but it needs to be said that at this point, the arguments against the existence of global climate change are cold comfort. (There is, however, plenty to discuss about possible causes and what our responses should be.)

After that non-winter, I don't think there was a lot of surprise that summer came in with the fiery heat of a woman scorned. And I am giving a lot of thanks for all those lovely mature shady oak trees in my yard, thank you very much Atlanta developer who didn't denude my neighborhood in the 1970s. Still, there had to be something useful to do with all this heat. I've been thinking for awhile about dyeing some fiber, and had recently read this old Knitty article by Kristi Porter. She mentioned that you could dye yarn in the same way as making sun tea. So that's what I did.

Yellow and pink mohair, blended with hand cards.
My inspiration is a batt I suspect of being a wool and mohair blend. It contains both pale pink and pale yellow fibers. I hand carded the batt to blend the fibers into a gently glowing peachy mass of optical blending. If I had a drum carder, I'd probably run this through it a couple times to make an even better blend. I have some books about knitting dolls and I was thinking that a fancy hand-knit doll might be a fun, creative knit. This fiber might make lovely Caucasian skin. I want to core spin this batt. But I need a core.

At our May North Georgia Knitting Guild meeting, Lynne brought mohair from a friend who has goats that needed to be clipped. Several of us left the meeting with bags of free raw mohair. I put mine in a mesh bag and gave it a wash and rinse in the sink. I think I used Johnson's baby shampoo. Then I used wide-toothed pet combs to process the fiber. The longest locks were fairly easy to process, as I could hold one end and comb out the kemp and shorter fibers. Shorter locks were harder. I ended up with a small pile of silky, long white locks that are first rate -- glowing and glossy and worthy of the elves of Lothlórien. I ended up with a much larger pile of shorter, second rate fiber. The seconds include some fine, nice white fiber but also some brownish kemp. One of the nice things about this fiber is that the good stuff is mostly one color and the bad stuff is mostly a different color. With the correct equipment I could probably separate the two, but I haven't the correct equipment. There is also a small pile of long locks that are both white and brown. And there was a huge pile of waste. Since I'm looking for a core, the softness of the material is not a high priority. I'll save the two small piles of long, fine fiber for other projects. The waste went to the trash or the compost pit.

Second-rate mohair, fluffed but undyed.
The pink color at top is reflected light from the antique roll top desk.
While I ought to be able to just spin a core and cover it up, I'm not that certain of my core spinning skills. I decided dyeing the core pink might help. That way, even if the core shows through the peachy-colored fibers, the yarn will still look good. I soaked the 49g of mohair in water with two lemons' worth of strained juice added. I shouldn't need to add juice, but I wanted to be sure the whole mixture was plenty acidic. After an hour or two, I drained off a little of the water and took the bowl of fiber and lemon water outside. I mixed up a packet of pink lemonade Kool-Aid in a fairly intense half-cup mixture. I then poured the dye into the bowl. I swished it around a bit, and then placed a piece of clear plexiglass on top. Then I went inside while everything baked in the sun.

After an hour or two I checked the mixture. The dye didn't take evenly -- probably because I didn't swish the mixture around enough. It also wasn't as dark as I wanted, so I mixed up a second packet of pink lemonade Kool-Aid. This time I pulled the fiber out of the water, added the dye, stirred it, and then put the fiber back in. I put the plexiglass back in place and went back into the air-conditioned house.

When I checked in another hour, the water was clear. All the dye had soaked into the fiber! I tilted the bowl and let the water run down the driveway. I left the fiber sitting outside in the bowl for the rest of the afternoon so that it could dry. Then I brought it indoors. Later, I put the fiber in a mesh bag, gave it a soak in the sink to rinse, and hung it up to dry in the guest bathroom.

Pink lemonade mohair, after dyeing. Not a natural strawberry blonde.
A few days later after it was dry, I needed to process it again. For one thing, the fibers had begun to felt. Ack! I used the wide-toothed pet comb to open up all the fiber again. The dye penetration was a little uneven, again, probably because the fiber was packing down as it tried to felt and also because I didn't stir the mixture. I used my hand cards and in under two hours was able to card all the fiber into nice little rolags. I did roll them to be parallel with the fibers rather than perpendicular, as I want a semi-worsted rather than a semi-woolen yarn for my core.

Pink lemonade mohair, processed into roses of rolags, ready to spin!
After all that, I'm ready to spin this pink mohair into a two-ply core. And I won't be shy about playing with Kool-Aid in the sun. It was fun!

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