Saturday, August 25, 2012

Will This Thing Ever Dye? Comfrey

Well, yes, it will... but not "sage green" as the unfounded & lacking specific recipes chart said.
Actually, comfrey will make a lovely sage green, I just haven't figured out how.  I know this because I've seen it done many times on Google Image Search.  Just not by me.  By the time I find a real recipe the plants will be dead for the winter & I'll have to wait till next year.

Comfrey.  Useful. Horrible. Weed.
Anyway, Comfrey.  Multitude of uses, not least of which is Taking Over Your Flower Bed With Roots More Than Three Feet Deep.  No, really.  More than three feet.  I know this because that was the depth of the hole I dug 2 years ago trying to get rid of the nasty buggers.  Didn't work.  Filled the hole in.  Comfrey grew back.

Ooh, pretty green!  How promising...

So, in an attempt, perhaps a misguided one, to get rid of this horrid plant of many uses, I decided to chop some leaves off & cut them up into itty-bitty pieces courtesy of kitchen scissors & a blender; then toss all that green gook into a pot & boil me up some dye!  Surely this will produce a lovely soft sage green as all of the internet claims...

I can only tell you that I filled the pot, not how much things weighed.  Actually, I filled the pot twice, the second time after the first bit boiled down to an incredibly icky spinach looking thing that I don't want to contemplate eating.  So, two sauce pans of chopped green gloppy stuff to make a small dyebath.  (Surely I'll get a lovely sage green)... strained out several times through a paper towel & squeezed for any residual pigment...

Comfrey dye soup?  No thank you.
Into the pot goes the yarn!  (alum mordant)
After all that straining & draining we still have green stuff  "stuck in our teeth."  Yuck. (don't eat it).
Um... yarn's lookin' a bit yellow... OK, maybe it'll turn green later.
30 minute simmer as per (OMG there were directions!.. kinda)...
Not-green comfrey dyed yarn
It's still yellow.  No, it's not green.  It's yellow.  Like a Bad Blonde Wig yellow.  OK, maybe it's not that bad.  Maybe I have to change the ph.  Maybe vinegar will work?  At least a dunk in something will help get all that horrid VM (vegetable matter) out of my nice clean wool!  Vinegar it is...

Not noodle soup, really.

Um... no green.  The green literally leached out into the vinegar leaving me with even MORE yellow.  Wasn't happy about that at the time. (Note to Self: vinegar makes things lighter - sometimes).

Best Pasta Impression of the Year
But after about 20 minutes of rinsing the stuff in cold water the comfrey bits finally let go of my poor yarn (mostly) and I got a nice pale yellow that seems rather stable.  Perhaps my dismay came from the pasta impression; "pasta = pain" for me.

Not-pasta yellow.
It's really not bad... it still looks a bit like spaghetti to me, but it is a nice pretty light yellow.  I'm not dissatisfied.  It just wasn't the sage green I was expecting.  I think next time I'll skip the mordant & see what happens.

Comfrey Yellow Dye Recipe:
1 saucepan of pureed comfrey (put it in a mesh bag, ok?) boiled/simmered for 1 hour.
Strain.  [Compost goop... or incinerate it in a Biohazard bag - that stuff will grow anywhere!]
1 skein of alum mordant wool yarn.
30 min. simmer.
Water/vinegar 4:1 rinse bath after-mordant
lots & lots of cold water to get the icky green bits out.
Spin wool out (Salad Spinner!), hang or lay to dry.

Dye! Dye! With Ragweed.

Ragweed yarn in ammonia.  Pretty.

Party Of One?  I had a good time anyway, and I didn't have to share my dyestuffs - which is both good and bad.  Good because I got to dye more of my stuff.  Bad because it's always fun to share with friends.  Ah well, "stuff" happens (like fall colds, getting called into work, and over-booking)... I really don't smell that bad... really.

I've been collecting dyestuffs all last year & this summer, and I've been spinning like mad to get enough yarn to dye up.  At 1/2 lb. I decided to cave in and mordant a bunch of yarn in alum, and cook up the weeds!
I use a "divide by 4" equation to figure out how much mordant to fiber I need. 

To make it easy:
1 lb. of wool = 16 oz.
16 divided by 4 = 4 oz. alum
2 tbsp = 1 oz. alum
4 x 2 = 8 tbsp alum into mordant water per lb. of fiber.
(or something like that)

In no particular order... 

In this case, it's literally a weed: Ragweed.

We cut the weeds in early summer (June), which was a little late to be doing that for a "young plant" but I swear they didn't grow until then!  Supposedly the color they give you is "olive green"... um, yeah... but with no info on what mordants, what fibers, hot/cold, how long, after-mordants, etc. it was impossible to tell how the claim of "olive green" came about.  Anyway, I didn't get olive green, I got golden yellow, which is quite lovely - as you can see.

Itch.  Itch.  Itch.
I ended up drying the ragweed in my solar dehydrator, because despite having 180 acres to roam about on, much of it farm fields; I couldn't for the life of me find more than a few plants of this over-abundant weed anywhere but right on the doorstep.  So it's dried, labeled & somehow got a lock of wool stuck in with it.

Itchy bag

It smelled soooooo good.

I was smart enough to wrap this batch of dyestuffs up in gauze (unlike the comfrey, which I'm still picking out of the yarn), so when I pulled the bag out of the "tea" there was very little straining that had to be done.  One paper towel in a colander took care of the escapees.
1 hr. of boiling extracted a good amount of dyestuffs, and I set the rest aside to see what I would get, (I later boiled it a 2nd time with fresh water for another hour & combined all that for another batch that is only a little weaker than the first - it's in a milk jug, carefully labeled, right now).  I can tell you that the kitchen smelled like the best tea you've ever tasted.  It was amazing.  No, I didn't taste it.

yarn simmering in ragweed dye

In went my trial hank of wool yarn, which I simmered for 1 hour then let it sit overnight because there wasn't much initial color change.  GOOD decision.

overnight color
When I pulled it out, it was a rather... eeh...ok-sorta-yellow-ish color.  Much better than it was the night before anyway.

stinky after-mordant
But it just smelled like it needed to go into ammonia, or something like that.  (I was still hoping for a cool green at this point).

Ragweed dyed yarn - wet.  It got more golden as it dried.
What I got was this totally awesome yellow-gold!  Spiffy. 
It's more gold/orange now as it dries.

So, in short, here's the Ragweed Recipe:
1 gal. bag dried ragweed in gauze bag, simmer/boil 1 hr.
Remove bag & strain.
Add hank of alum-mordant yarn.
Boil/simmer 1 hr.  Let cool & sit overnight.
Remove & drain yarn.
After-mordant in ammonia & cold water mixture.  Dunk a few times.
Rinse in cold water.
Spin out & hang or lay to dry.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

1829-33 Dress

1829-33 Dress with Pink Ruffle of Awesomeness
 Post-surgery & post-mini-stroke, I decided to get back to "work" as soon as I could to troubleshoot the areas I'd have difficulty with.  Math was a big one.  Reading comprehension, balance, coordination & speech were all effected.  I've had to learn to slow down, in speech, typing, thought, action & self-expectations.  Full Steam Ahead isn't working because -- no steam.  Everything has gotten better, but a few areas still need a lot of work (reading comprehension - I can write, but reading directions is a real pain - literally.  Memory - I just plain forget to do things, or have obvious gaps that I know happened but can't recall at all.  Some physical things like precision hand work & turning around & stepping to the side, I lose my balance or get dizzy... and my emotions are about on par with a 4 yr. old, which is better than the 2 yr. old I was a few weeks ago... sometimes I still can't see things, or rather, my eyes work fine, but I don't understand what I'm looking at)...
But oh how far we've come!

Perhaps I should call this my Rehabilitation Dress as it presented me with numerous problem solving issues and a multitude of mistakes that required constant change of plans, rip-out, re-do, calm-down, it's OK.  The final price will never reflect the number of hours that went into this, and I'm a bit "eeh" on the finished product, but it was good for me.  It will fit a human being & she will look lovely in it - which is what matters.

This dress re-taught me my multiplication tables, addition & subtraction.  The day I was able to divide by 3 in my head was pure triumph.  Reminding myself how to do something as simple as gathering vs. pleating was a joy, because I'd forgotten how.  I wrote out directions for myself to follow.  I re-read them to see if I understood... I re-adjusted plans based on the yardage available & re-purposed several things to make the dress better than the original plan would have been.

There are some problems with it, for example: the neckline & sleeves do not fit in with the modes of the time.  While both are correct, I'm not sure a high neckline was ever paired with short sleeves.  I may cut it down at a later date if I can't find an example of this configuration.  The roller printed stripe/floral was almost always paired with long sleeves.  The fact that I was 2 yds short of the fabric I needed... well, sometimes these things happen & if I hadn't already cut it, trusting that the yardage on the tag was there, I'd have chosen different fabric.

Construction process:

Piped & pleated fronts

I'm going to skip over the front pleats & piping for now, only because explaining how I did it is making me dizzy.  I promise I'll fill in later... but I will say that if I ever do this again, I'll cut them individually & stitch them on that way - it's more fabric conservative & less likely to be the wrong direction.

Piping pinned on Back & Side Backs
Stitch the piping on the back seams (note: the CB seam should have been on the fold, not a seam - I got my wires crossed when cutting & didn't have enough fabric for a re-do).  This is not incorrect, it's just not the way I wanted this particular dress.

Bodice with way-small armholes

The bodice stitched together.  The center front bottom is raw here because that gets turned up & hand-stitched so that the pleats maintain their form.  In the future, I'd do this a bit differently, using the individual pleats, vs. a big piece of fabric.  One very tricky thing about this pattern is that the "normal" size of armholes doesn't apply.  The armhole is actually down on the arm, not at the shoulder, so it seems to be way too small, but is, in fact, the right size.  (This played with my head quite a bit trying to remember that)... but it DOES work.

Sleeve with piping & cuff
I changed my mind about the sleeves three times.  The first ones I cut were pink linen, full-length & mimicked the inspiration dress quite closely.  Once I decided to go with brown piping (I was out of pink), I switched over to this tan-ish linen that matches one of the tan bits on the bodice.  I'm not unhappy with it, but I'm not Super-Yay about the change in plans.  The piping & cuff match the dress.

Bias Strip for Hem Decoration
Due to a 2 yd. fabric shortage, I couldn't have the length of skirt I wanted with the bias ruffle out of the stripe/floral.  Alas.  Cry.  Weep.  Agony.  Creativity!  So I took the scraps & cut them into stripes & flowers, stitched them together with pink linen & did a bit of quilting magic for the hem.  By doing all this fiddly stuff I got the look of the diagonal & a fussy hem that pushes the date of the dress back just a bit in style... more in line with the late 20's than the early 30's, but then museums are full of transitional elements.
So, if you want something like this, sew strips of color together, press seams & cut on the bias.  Sew bias edges together to form a straight seam (you'll have to line it up on the straight & use a ruler to determine where to sew it - this was 1"-1.5" down the first strip depending on the width of the next one).  Try it, you'll see what I'm talking about.

Decorative Hem Construction

Next was assembling the hem on the base fabric (mint green cotton - yuck) to extend the hemline to an appropriate length (10" longer than my fabric).  I used a row of brown piping, the patchwork bias strip, several rows of piping between the brown & the green, and then a Pink Ruffle of Awesomeness.  There was much changing between the regular presser foot & the zipper foot to accomplish this.  It made me rather dizzy.  For the ruffle, I evenly pinned the fabric on & then hand-gathered it as I stitched vs. using thread to gather it in.  This is more efficient on very large pieces that don't require perfectly spaced & even gathers.

The World Needs More Pink Ruffles

The finished hem in all its Pink Ruffly Awesomeness... 
(I do wish I could learn how to make these pictures turn in the direction I want them).

It still needs a belt & a corded petticoat to go under it... maybe a pelerine just for fun.

[In case you are wondering why I'm going on about personal medical stuff, well, I can't separate it out from my creative process.  It's now part of who I am, and it's a struggle to deal with it - I'm finding new mental land-mines every day, and working to overcome the things I've already found.  To get myself back to being ME, I can't deny or ignore it... so, Dear Readers, I'm afraid you'll have to read about my brain damage along with the Pink Ruffles of Awesome.]

Monday, August 20, 2012

Who Took The Time?

"It boggles my mind that people today think that the same exact people who built castles and pyramids never wore more than a rectangular sack with a belt! I'm highly amused.  "They wouldn't have taken the time" seems to be the excuse.
No, YOU don't want to take the time.
Totally different."

1408, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, December

There are works of art that just keep coming back to me as stunning examples of fiber manipulation.  Yet I'm supposed to believe that the same people who built The Seven Wonders of The Ancient World, just threw a rough and ragged bit of fabric over their shoulders & called it good?  That when the average person owned 4-10 outfits*  "they wouldn't have taken the time" to make their clothes:
1: last
2: fit
3: be of good quality or repair
4: look good
*(insert violent debate here)

This is nonsense! 
We know these people had a vast store of knowledge in areas that we scarcely remember today.  Jobs "then" were just as diverse & specialized as jobs today, and often passed along family lines, with children learning the skills of their trade from Parent's Knee, and then passing that knowledge on to their offspring.  That is a lot of specialization, practice, advancement, technical skill & care for a trade/craft.  Even accounting for continuity in styles there will be an improvement in an individual's skill over time - because they were human like us with the same ability to learn, and "Practice Makes Perfect," etc.

If you can't imagine doing "all that on top of everything else those people did just to survive," either your self-confidence is too low or you have an over-inflated idea of what "all that" really was - and a serious case of Modern Ethnocentrism.  People did not live a single-handed existence, they were part of a community that worked together to accomplish amazing things.

1408, Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, June
(Because Poor People Only Wore Sacks...)

No single man built the pyramids, and no single woman clothed a nation from sheep to gown.

One of the things that most modern people say when they look at old paintings or come to reenactments is "gee, I wish we could dress like that every day!" The implication being that folks of yesteryear look infinitely better than our Zero Time, off-the-rack, single-layer sacks of today.  (Please note: not all modern clothes are ugly).
The issue comes in when we, as modern people, find out exactly how long it takes to make something like that... how much effort, how much time, how much material, how high the cost, how l-o-n-g it takes to get dressed; and so we assume that because we are not capable of that ourselves* that no one was ever capable of it. 
Please, buy another cultural lie & I'll sell you a bridge in Brooklyn... which was not built by one man alone, just so you know.
*Don't want to...

1790, Henry Singleton, The Alehouse Door
(This cap is not "Just a circle" - Trust me...)

Am I saying that there were never people who did things slap-dash?  No.  Of course there were people like that, people are the same through time, and some of us just don't care about certain things... but that doesn't mean that we don't care about anything - we take the time to care about the things we think are worth our time, dedication & effort, and we excel at them; or at least we should be.

(I will post pictures later... must go excel at sewing on a pink ruffle)...

Ummm... pretty piles of stone...
This is a great article on various castles in Finland.  Please note that the folks who built these couldn't possibly have thought of cutting anything other than hose on the bias.  <-- that was Sarcasm, folks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Re-writing Your Own History

Real Quick:

Ever been tempted to go back & edit the heck out of your old blog posts?  Erase all those silly beginner mistakes so some poor hapless (now) beginner doesn't stare into your old pitfalls & think it's a brilliant idea to jump right in?

Yeah... but just coming off chemo, recovering from head trauma & re-discovering the joy of normal hormone levels is probably not the best time to do this. 
Who knows what heinous mistakes will be typed out for all to see & how much worse it would be than the 3:00 a.m. ramblings of a newbee costumer? 

In other news, I'm feeling much better, the world has stopped spinning (mostly) and I'm slowly getting back to work & starting to socialize again.  I've got about enough energy to take me from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. before I crap out on sewing, and that's slow with much cursing & ripping out & face/palm actions.  Every time I think I'm ready to start in on Important Orders I make some bone-headed mistake that tells me I'd better not cut that customer's fabric right now.  To top it all off, I do forget my head, even though it IS attached.  But it is much, much better than it was.  We aren't done with Medical Crap, but the worst is basically over.

OK, so because this should have something to do with a relevant topic, I was picking poke berries for dye today.  One of my bone-headed friends stopped over (he has no legit medical "brain-not-working" excuse for this question - NONE).
Just as an FYI, the 1/2 gallon milk carton really does have a skull & cross bones on it, with "POISON! DO NOT EAT" written all over it.  You can't possibly miss it.  I made sure.

Monday, August 6, 2012

And a Distaff.

1646-48 Old Woman Spinning, Micheal Sweerts, Flemish

I have been searching high & low for "how to dress a distaff with wool" and so far, all I've found is either vague references or flax instructions.  A few You-Tube videos show spinning from a loaded distaff, but as there is so very much in fiber preparation for your drafting, it's just plain frustrating... so, without further ado, here is how I loaded my make-shift distaff, which (with some changes) I think will work well... just take note, this did NOT work well on the first try.... nope, not at all, not one little bit. 

(Edit: 8/8/12)
I tried again last night (8/7), and by switching the distaff to between my legs, I was able to spin like nobody's business.  It shortened the distance between spindle & distaff, my drafting hand was able to control the amount coming off the fiber bundle & I was able to spin the spindle or let it go as needed.  Sometimes it was suspended, sometimes it hit my leg, but as the twist was all at the top, it didn't seem to bother the yarn one bit. 
Occasionally I had to readjust the tie or turn the distaff, or splice on more fiber, but it worked.
Still need a longer distaff & a smaller spindle - but this method works.
(End Edit)

Please note: I could be 100% wrong on this.

This is the painting maul that I used to test-run the distaff theory of the "stick & finial" variety.  It has a smooth shaft (not perfectly so), with a place to tie the ribbon at the top, which is the important thing... though I'm not sure that securing it this way is correct... the Romanian You Tube video shows the lady with her massive load of wool sorta sliding down the distaff as she goes, but many of the paintings & illuminations through centuries & various countries show the top being wrapped & secured.

Unfortunately, it's a bit short and the drafting zone is a little too low for perfect comfort.

wool for a bat on a distaff
The fiber has to be a relatively long staple, at least 5" to work with this method. (I think).  I'm using the "shorts" from the Border Leicester here.

carded wool bat
I found a reference to using bats of wool on the distaff, so that's what I'm doing.  Rather than rolling a rolag, I stop as soon as I've doffed the carded fleece.

Here is the "how to roll the bat onto the distaff.  (Near as I can figure)

Dressing a distaff with wool
Tie the ribbon onto the distaff, point it up (not to the side like is pictured here)
Lay the bat on the table,  with the distaff at one end of it.
Roll the distaff & bat together until you've reached the end.
Make up a few more (or a bunch more) bats & roll them on.  You can start each one a bit lower than the top bat to create a graduated cone of fiber.
Wrap the ribbon around the wool & tuck the end in on itself.

Distaff kinda dressed right.
This is the finished "dressed" distaff.

There are some problems with it that are easy fixes.
- The distaff is too short.  It has to fit comfortably on your arm, with the wool above your hand for easy drafting.  Get Longer Stick.
- The wool I used here is too "sticky."  Your wool bats must slip easily & cleanly off the distaff, this particular fiber does not.
- Longer ribbon / Silk ribbon... first, my twill tape tie is way too short.  Second, it doesn't allow the wool to "slip" past it, it catches & holds, which is not what I want it to do... I want it to hold gently, but not grip.
- My spindle is too big.  WAY too big.  Solution: get smaller spindle.

The next technique I will try is pre-drafting the fiber & winding it around a "y" shaped stick.  I think once I get the hang of it, I'll do OK.  It sure will save on shoulder strain.

I should also mention that this type of spinning is done with low whorl only, and the spindle can be long, but the rock/whorl needs to be relatively small... as you aren't doing the Greek/modern style of suspended, with an extended spin time, a smaller weight is just fine.

For your enjoyment, here are some images of women spinning wool with a distaff throughout the ages.

1529, Marten van Heemskerck,
woman spinning,
She's spinning on a wheel, but the distaff principle is the same.
The Tenant's Daughter
Haines & Sons
Yale, London

1180's Normandy (the Hague)
Hers is pre-drafted

More Sheepie Fleeces! or Ba-Ba Brown Sheep!

Since I've been down after surgery, and loopy as all get-out (2 weeks & I'm still dizzy + a bunch of other mental & physical "junk"), I've been spinning to counterbalance what's happening in my head.  Not a fan of any of this, just so's ya know.  I miss my Singer, but don't want to run over my fingers because I'm zoning out; she's not the most forgiving machine in the world... and my hand-eye coordination is not yet good enough to hand sew anything.  I do not like not being sober, no matter how good the cause.

So spinning it is!

I  wanted to look at something other than "white" so I spun some pre-dyed fleece (goldenrod Border Leicester) and some black Shetland (love), but blew through that rather quickly.  Before this whole medical mess... or rather, in between the sick - in my hyper times - I scoured a Finn/Dorset 1st year cross & it came out lovely.  It's rather short staple, very fine & downy, and must be made into woolen as worsted simply won't work.  I may or may not have to ply it, but I'm leaning towards plying as I think it'll fall apart if I don't. 

Top of Finn/Dorset fleece
Underside of Finn/Dorset fleece
This is the lovely sheepie fleece,  de-sheepified (scoured) for the most part.  It's quite clean, being a first year, and very fine. 

From what I've learned, Dorset doesn't really felt well, so it's a forgiving fiber in that regard, but because it's a downy fleece, it is not easy to spin for beginners... had I known that, I never would have started spinning... nobody told me, that's all I can say.

Lock length
This is the staple length of the fiber (sorry, this format is automatically re-orienting my images & I don't know how to turn them the right way around).  You can see the length of the original lock, the natural split in the hair & how the tips are a bit weak.

You can also see how there is a color variation from base, to tip.  The undercoat is a lovely black, which lightens to a cream/white after the break, then to a nice brown & a lighter tan tip.

Clean lock
Once I pull the undercoat off & fluff out the tops, or cut the damaged ends off, the staple length ends up being about 2"-2.5" long.  Not impossible to spin, but it's a short draft fiber, which is not easy for beginners.  It IS easy to splice, thankfully.  There is a bit of VM left in the fiber, which needs to be picked out, but not much at all.

card loaded with locks
Just for fun, I've been laying the locks on the cards with the tips towards the handle... it just looks so pretty that way.  It really doesn't matter much, as when Ive passed the cards over a few times, the fibers are evenly distributed & tip to base no longer matter.  It's a nice mottled effect though.

I have been laying them out in 2 rows, and trying to keep the fibers evenly distributed.  This makes for a better rolag in the end & because I intend on plying, having approximately the same amount of fiber in each batch is semi-important... it will not work out perfectly, but it's better than total guess-work.

first pass
A few passes with the cards & my Dorset/Finn cross becomes a beautiful bat.  This is by far the easiest fiber I've ever carded, it just blends like a dream. 

Carded wool
Doffed bat
Here is the fiber, all carded & ready to be doffed.
Doffed bat.
(at this point, if I were loading a distaff, I'd stop & roll the bat onto that)

Rolling a Rolag
I like to roll my rolags right on the teeth of the cards.  I know a lot of people transfer the bat to the back of the card & roll there, but I find it easier to use the teeth to my advantage.  I roll in the direction the teeth are pointing & this helps blend the fibers just a little bit.

Carefully tucking the first edges in & then making sure to roll evenly will create a beautiful rolag with good "pull" from either end.  Sometimes I do choose what end to go from if one has a better draft than the other, but not often.

Finished Rolag... I put them in cardboard sweater boxes to keep them neat.  Many people put them in a basket, and they will keep fine there if you don't have a Rosie Dog who thinks they look like Her Toys.

I also find it easier to pull the next rolag out of the sweater box than having to fight with 6 surrounding rolags in a basket.  As a bonus, the sweater boxes can be broken down & tied up in a relatively small space when not in use, and they fold up & down quite well for a long time... when they break, just recycle!

This little Finn/Dorset spins very, very fast.  It slips through my fingers so quickly it's amazing. The final yarn isn't super-soft, but it has a good spring to it & overall has a good feel.