Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sumac Bark Dye on Wool & Linen

As a first serious attempt at natural & mordant dying, I don't think it came out too badly. At least not all of my pretty wool bits have been turned into nasty little brillo pads... though some have. -This is coming from a person who has thrown canvas into a barrel of walnut gunk & called that dying - yuck.-

One thing to remember when dying wool: Heat + Agitation = Bad.

Here's how this color was achieved:

1. Peel the green bark off of sumac trees, (Pholem & Cambium). We just cut them down, they grow like weeds here.
2. Separate the brown bark from the green.
3. Dry the green.

I used 2 trees worth, or 1 mid-size cardboard box, about 12"x16"x12" for one pound of wool.
The bark wasn't pounded down, so this is an inexact measurement.

Weigh out one pound of dry wool (or other fiber).
Put in mesh bags, about 75% full so the wool has room to expand - Don't stuff the bag.

4 oz (8 tbsp) Alum
1 oz (2 tbsp) Cream of Tartar
Dissolve in a large pot of water.
Add wet wool
Heat for 1 hour between 160 & 180F.
-Never over 180.
Let sit overnight to a week depending on directions.
-This was 48 hours.

Apparently the fiber will only absorb so much mordant, so it's not a big deal. It does add weight to the fiber, so it's important to weigh it before, not after. Also important not to use too much mordant.

Soak the bark in water, just covering the top. Soak overnight to a week depending on the dyestuffs. I soaked this for a week in plain water.
(Some people have said to add rubbing alcohol to help release the color, I didn't try that.)
Boil it. Pour/strain colored water off into another container, add more water & boil it again... about an hour. Once color stops coming off, you can throw the spent bark away... or dry it again if it's still giving color & you have all the dye you need.

I let it sit for 48 hours and as it sat the sap formed into resin at the top, which I was able to skim it off. I honestly have no idea how this is handled commercially, if at all. But it was very sticky & I really didn't want it on my fiber.
You can see the resin at the edges of the stainless steel bucket, it's reflecting the light strangely.

The bottom of the bucket had some really gross sediment. NOT what you want in your fiber... pour slowly & skim the rest of the good dye up in a bowl or ladle.

In a large stainless steel pot (that's what I used here - the metal of the pot will change the color), add in the dye & the mordant fiber.
Heat to 160-180F for 1 hr. or longer until you get the desired color or until the fiber won't take any more or until the dye bath is spent.
Check it every 20 minutes - Do Not Agitate!

Fill a large bowl with hot water, transfer the mesh bag of dyed fiber into the bowl of water & let sit.
Pull the bag out, dump the water, repeat until water runs clear.
The first batch took 4 rinses, the second batch took 3 rinses. I let it sit for about 10 minutes each rinse.

Spin out the excess water in salad spinner or washing machine spin cycle (I have no issues with this at this point, it's as clean as anything else that goes in the washer).
Spread out to dry according to fiber type.

I put scraps of linen in the mordant & dye bath at the same time as the wool. Different fibers will dye different colors even with the same dye process.

After mordants, like rusty nails, copper scrubbies, vinegar, etc. are added into the last dye bath to change the color. I have not tried these.

Ummm... it's so pretty... like a Ginger Cat or a Pomeranian.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adventures in Wool: Step 2, Scouring Fleece

In the last post I talked about 100%, just off the sheep, raw wool and how to clean that stinking mess.

Only after you have fully skirted the wool should you even think about dunking it in any kind of water at all... so if you have any bits of anything pickable in your lovely fleece, go back & see the post on skirting. Really & truly, it's best to have all that stuff gone before Lady Lovely Locks takes a bath.

So, without massively disturbing the lock structure, make sure all the VM, tags, bugs & hopeless dreadlocks are gone.
They are gone?

mesh laundry bags / strainer / container with a way to drain water
Dawn Dish Detergent (blue) / Laundry Detergent / critter shampoo
2 Totes, basins, washing machine, sink or bath tub
drying racks / screens / towels
a place to dry wool.
rubber gloves
salad spinner / spin cycle on washing machine / screens

- First step in scouring your wool is to break the fleece into chunks & grade it according to hair/wool type & the amount of cleaning it needs. (If you are using a bath tub you can leave it in whole fleece form). I am NOT using my bath tub, or my washing machine at this point in time... so I break the fleece into chunks according to type & dirt level. Approximately 8"x8" chunks of lock structure - Do not disturb the lock structure!
- Really dirty bits go in one pile, cleaner bits go in another (or like fiber with like fiber).
Note: I was using the term classing and the correct term is grading, but you can still read more about classing here:
http://www.wikihow.com/Class-Wool-in-Your-Own-Shed and
You can also grade based on where the wool grows on the sheep. Butt Socks are made from britch wool (the back legs) and are the best socks - so I've read. It's tough wool. Put that in its own bag until you have enough to do a batch.
"The nice, even staple wool that grows on the sides of the sheep is what spinners love" - apparently... that was a quote.

Really Dirty Bits: Pre-soaking
Sheep are nasty, dirty, filthy critters. Even the clean ones. Some of their wool/hair is much dirtier than the rest of it. When (not if) you run into some very dirty, very nice quality wool, it should be pre-soaked.
- Fill a basin (tote) with cold water & add some Dawn Dish Detergent, Laundry Detergent (no bleach, no color safe), or critter shampoo. NO SUDS!
-Let the water go still
- Put the wool bits in mesh laundry bags loosely & carefully & gently lay them in the water. DO NOT AGITATE! You may have to very gently sink the bags. (in theory it shouldn't felt with cold water, but it's best to get in the habit of not poking at it).
- Walk Away!
- Let soak over night.
- Gently remove laundry bags in the morning & let drain.
- Repeat OR Dry on a rack / towel / screen OR proceed to scouring.

To spin in the grease to to spin nice clean wool? That is the question.
Quite frankly, you do what you want. Me, I wants clean wools.
- Put wool in mesh laundry bags & set aside.
- Fill tote with hot water (you may want to boil some water on the stove to further heat the scouring water if your heater is like mine... the recommended temp is between 120F & 160 F, but never over 180F).
- Add detergent of choice (not soap! soap = felt).
- Let the water go still
- Gently set the wool into the hot water, gently push under if necessary (usually it just sinks)
- Set timer for 15-30 minutes & WALK AWAY!
- When the timer goes off, come back, check the temp. If it's still hot, set timer again & walk away. If it's cooled off a little, gently remove the wool & either re-heat the water & add more detergent (if it's not gag-inducing) or change the water.
- Repeat until water runs clear or mostly clear.
- Gently remove from water, let drain in bags.
- Conventional wisdom says this takes anywhere from 4 - 8 baths. The Dorset was clean in 5 baths.

I used about 1 large bottle of Dawn to clean the Dorset (long staple, lots of grease, chunky locks).
Avoid agitation at all costs. Don't even pour more hot water in the tote when the wool is in there. Take it out, set it aside, give it a warm-up & then put the wool back in. No dunking, no poking, no swishing. If using a bath tub, gently move the fleece to the back of the tub, drain & then slowly refill.
Heat + Agitation = Felt
Maintaining lock structure will help you avoid felt for as long as possible (until you want it to felt).
Apparently if you let the water cool down after the lanolin has been heated off, it will re-adhere to the fibers & become a sticky mess. How this doesn't happen when you pull it out to drain & it cools off then is a mystery to me, but I'll bow to conventional wisdom & just pass it on. Don't let your water cool.

- Hot water into the clean tote.
- Gently place mesh bags with fleece into rinse water.
- Let sit 15-30 minutes. Walk Away.
- Check temps & water cleanliness.
- Repeat until water is clear & wool floats.
- You can add a little vinegar to the last rinse water, supposedly to condition the wool. I'm not sure this has any effect, but again, conventional wisdom.
Rinse water can get progressively cooler & it won't hurt anything - your hot water heater has probably given up by now anyway & is filing a complaint with OSHA regarding unsafe & unreasonable working conditions.

- Remove wool from rinse water & let drain in mesh bags (spin in washing machine).
- Remove from mesh bags & set out on a screen, towel, tarp or rack OR spin out in salad spinner. I just set it out on screens and tarps to let it dry in the sun.*
- Make sure it's DRY. Wool holds a lot of moisture for a very long time.
- Continue to maintain lock structure, as in, "don't pull it all apart!"
It took about 4 or 5 days of screen drying & tossing about for my Dorset locks to dry. Note that I did not spin the water out though.

Once it's dry, if it needs to be scoured again (it's sticky or still really dirty, you can do that now, or you can wait until after the pre-carding, or even after carding or spinning - if you want to spin in the grease**)... but no matter what, that lanolin must come out before it's usable because after a couple years (months) it will harden & stink. Think "nasty old gym bag that you forgot about in the closet for 8 months."

At this point, after everything is dry, you are ready to pre-card the wool. It's no longer raw wool, but may (in some cases) still have to be scoured again.

Funny notes:
*Controversy over "drying in the sun." Where, pray tell, do you think the sheep lived for the last year? A few hours in the sun aren't going to hurt that wool one tiny bit. Nor is it going to hurt my sweater if I wear it out in the daylight. They aren't vampire sheep after all, the wool isn't going to go up in flames - though it does, occasionally, spontaneously combust. Just so's ya know... which could be explained by vampire sheep... possible.

**"In the grease" vs. "squeaky clean" folks are quite territorial about their spinning, felting & dying methods.
Amusing, but for my purposes "squeaky clean" is the way to go. As I'm not sure if I'm going to use this wool for spinning, batting, stuffing or dying OR how soon I'll get to it; I'd rather have it be clean.

Storing at this stage:
You can store the wool in cloth bags at this point - the feed bags from before should be OK if they aren't too dirty, mesh bags, or muslin bags. Store in a cool, dry place. Not in plastic. Don't compact the wool, let it be "fluffy."

Adventures in Wool: Step 1, Skirting Fleece

Long time no post. This summer has just flown by, and in other ways it has dragged - I'm in no rush for it to end despite the leaves starting to turn & fall.

I wanted to put one of those nifty word-list things along the right side of my blog. You know the ones that you click on the big or little word & it takes you to related posts? So cool. Love them.
No deal. This template doesn't support that. What it does let me do is label the post at the bottom by the comments & you can click on that to go to related posts! Yay!

I recently took a small detour from sewing when a family friend gifted me with 30 -yes THIRTY- fleeces. Raw fleeces. From sheep. Smelly, dirty, nasty, BaBa Black Sheep and oh does he ever have some wool. There's more if you want it. It's free, but you have to come get it. And I mean that too. Please... take some! (I'm offering the raw or skirted fleeces - you have to wash your own).

The sheep are hair (not a spinner's friend), Dorset & Finn. The Dorset & Finn are absolutely lovely. The hair is OK for batting, which is fine with me, I do more quilting anyway.Link
I learned A LOT about sheep, fleece, VM "vegetable matter" (a.k.a. vile muck, veritable mess, very manky), lanolin, "tags" (poop & grease - eew), shorts (second cuts), wool vs. hair, skirting, classing, scouring (ie washing - don't agitate it!), BTW is your Tetanus shot up to date? What gloves fit, how much hot water our heater holds, drying, picking, flick carding, ticks, burrs... oh boy...

Moon LOVES fleece. She's officially left me for the sheep in the basement.

I am not in any way a professional here, I'm just sharing what I learned after making some BIG mistakes.

So, without further delays, I'll tell you How To Skirt a Raw Fleece.

1: DO NOT just pull it apart & toss it in hot water! NO! Bad plan... bad, bad, bad plan.
ask me how I know this... that stuff does not "just fall right out."
2: DO get yourself the following equipment & prepare for one of the grossest things you will ever do (and the most fun).

Tools & materials for skirting wool:

To make the mess
- skirting table (how to build one) OR
- large wire rack
- Sawhorses to set the rack on
To contain the mess
- 2 plastic tarps, the kind that are waterproof & can stand up to some abuse.
- trash bags
- trash can, in my case a big pink tote
To keep you clean (ha)
- rubber gloves
- work clothes; pants, long sleeved shirt, shoes, socks, head scarf or at least a hair tie
- safety glasses (you really want these)
- dust mask; I admit I couldn't tolerate the mask & took it off.
Go for the Hazmat suit & call it a day!
To keep your clean fleece clean
- clean feed bags or cloth bags - NOT plastic bags!
- paper & pen to label the skirted fleece in the bag(s)
- soap & water for hands & face
- tissues or paper towels to blow your nose
- other clean clothes before you ever go in the house
- work apron
- scissors
- broom & shovel (not a dust pan, a shovel).
- an outbuilding or outside is preferable. This makes a genuine mess.
- a place to store the skirted fleece, again, not in your house!

Initial Skirting:
(it will be gross)
Initial skirting should be done on site by the shearer / Shepard - but it may not be. Belly wool shouldn't even come into the main part of the fleece, but it may. So when you go see the Shepard, and are confronted with that Giant Mountain Of Manky Wool you will know what to tare off right away.
A good fleece (so I've read) will stick together even as you pull it off the pile (or out of the pile - which will then fall on you - wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves - it IS a barnyard).
- Immediately remove poop tags. These are generally located at the back end of the fleece.
- Pull off any truly heinous belly wool, it'll be right at the edges & will look like something off of a homeless sewer hippie in a bad episode of Law & Order - NOBODY gets that grungy, nobody. Except sheep, apparently.
- Bag that nasty, mucky, smelly thing so you can move on before your friend tosses the next fleece on your head. Go ahead, fill the back of the truck! There's lots more where that came from.
Don'ts & Do's
Don't take anything that's wet unless you have a place to dry it or can soak it right away (soaking is different from scouring). Wet = mold, mold = trash.
DO NOT TAKE THE RAM! ask me how I know this...
Don't take anything that is hopelessly messed up or falling apart.
Do not take a fleece that is super-dirty from the cut side. Waste of Time.

Do educate yourself on the fibers you want to use & look for those characteristics (under the grunge) hehe.
Do take fleeces that are holding together & look relatively clean from the cut side.
Do look for a Shepard who raises sheep appropriate for what you want to do (and keeps them clean - those nice little coats are just so cute).
Do look into a breed that isn't Merino. Yeah, it's the best but give another breed a chance too.
Do look into paying someone like these guys http://www.woolyknobfibermill.com/ to do this stuff for you! (or at least tell you how).

OK, so now you've got this heaping, stinking pile of greasy, vm-encrusted mess (in feed bags no less)... what do you do with it?
Well, you don't just toss the whole thing in a tub of hot water! Oh NO!

I did this a bit differently than it's done commercially.

Laying Out.
- First, I laid out 2 or 3 fleeces on the downwind tarp at a time (or on the floor of the little outbuilding when it was raining).
- Then I looked for the head, sides & back.
- Remove any remaining poop tags.
- Remove heavy areas of VM (vegetable matter) from the neck area.
- Remove any obvious grease tags - these look like that L&O sewer hippie's dread locks & if you squeeze them grease actually comes out (I think I just threw up a little there). DO NOT try to clean them, they don't clean.
- Remove any obviously stained areas, no point in keeping them if they don't come clean.

Throw the fleece!
- Throw the fleece cut side down onto the skirting table! It's fun. You'll like it. It'll bounce.
- cut side down, grab ahold of it & shake it a little.
- flip it over & take any obvious VM or second cuts off (short hairs that are a re-buzz on the hair cut), any remaining grease or poo tags.
- Shake the heck out of it with the lock side down. Super gross & tons of... stuff... will fall out. I mean TONS - your fleece will lose about 1/4 of it's weight right here.
- Repeat many times.
Now, the fleece is going to start to get loose & kinda fluffy & may start to fall apart a bit. This is where I separate out the different hair types & give myself smaller chunks to work with. If you are selling the fleece, you will want to keep it in one piece (apparently).
- I divided the fleece according to wool types: breech wool (back legs), nice wool (clean-er), and manky wool (pre-wash). About 15" x 15" chunks, or however they divide. (the one pictured is still in that chunk, but you can see the different hair/wool types clearly).
- Back on the table & shake, shake, shake.
Note: when shaking, keep it DOWN. Don't pull it up in the air so that awful mess goes in your face... it's a movement of the wrists & elbows, not the shoulders... get it?

Monkey Picking!
- Remove any left-over bits. Don't eat what you find.
- Maintain the lock structure! Do NOT pull the locks apart! Yes, get the ticks & burrs out, but don't separate those locks, you'll need them later. ask me how I know this...
- Shake it again both sides until it goes light & fluffy, you'll know.
(What's pictured here is actually cleanable, but if it's worse, get rid of it.)

At this point it should look like something you might not be afraid to touch with your bare hands if you have a sink & soap in the near future. Perhaps the cat won't need a bath after rolling in this fleece.

And you are done skirting! Congrats, you just did one of the grossest jobs on the face of the planet! Well done. I'm proud of you.

- If the fleece is still intact, lay it down, lock side up & then fold the ends in. Roll the fleece into a bag & label it.
Sheep Breed
Name (if it has one)
Date shorn
Date skirted
Date scoured
Date carded
Date dyed/spun/etc.
If you want, just for kicks, weigh it before & after to see how much stuff fell out of it.

If the fleece is in pieces, you can either group like with like from different sheep or keep it all in the same bag & process it as one fleece later. I suggest, if it's in pieces to group like with like even if it is from different sheep; that will make scouring & further processing much easier.

A single fleeces yields a lot of wool. Much more than the original volume, considering that it has lost over 1/2 its weight in the skirting & scouring process. I think what it loses in weight, it gains in puff.