These are recent experiments in dyeing combed wool top using acid dyes and the stovetop method I described earlier. The tops are all "Heinz 57"-type mixtures of sheep breeds from the Eastern U.S. The wool is medium-soft and springy.
Above, a mixture of blue dye modified by a little black and some yellow.
I dyed these colors using red, fuchsia, and a bit of yellow. I think I'm learning that red/pink dyes can be hard to handle. If you use too much vinegar too fast, the red clumps on the fiber a bit (it's called crocking). It also takes the last part of the pink or red dye a long time to fully strike onto the fiber, if it ever does. This is 8 ounces of wool top. I had more than this leftover in all pink shades, which I set aside to overdye later.
This is a gradient I dyed by gradually exhausting violet colored dye. Both this length of top and the pinkish one above are shown rolled rather than braided because they were still slightly wet when the photos were taken. After full drying, both were as fluffy as in the top photo.
I've just finished a pair of cups that will go to The Art of the Cup, an invitational exhibition at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans. I threw these cups from porcelain, dotted them with overlapping layers of underglaze, and fired them to cone 6 in an electric kiln. These cups are big - even after the final firing, they hold 16 ounces of liquid each.
I've been dyeing combed wool top, and some of it started as a natural brown color. I had two pounds of this stuff, all bought so long ago that I don't remember the particulars on the fiber. Originally the wool was a pleasant light-medium brown color with some variation. The texture is reasonably soft, and the fiber length and crimp are in the medium range. I think I meant to spin the fiber just as it was and use it as brown yarn (such a yarn would look great in a cabled sweater). But recently I've seen combed tops for sale that are mixtures of white and brown fiber, and when they're overdyed, lots of complex shadings result. So I thought, why not overdye this brown top?
I tried out blue, violet, red, and yellow dyes in various combinations, all acid dyes. For dyeing wool top, I've been using the following method:
1) For about 4 to 6 ounces of wool top, put 4 to 6 inches of water in a designated metal pot (i.e. a pot you use only for dyeing, not for food).
2) Put the pot on a stove burner and turn it on. Add about a half to 3/4 of a teaspoon of dye to the pot (use a dedicated teaspoon). Be careful with the dry dye - it makes dust - don't breathe it. I was happy to observe that the Jacquard Acid Dye jars that I bought recently are processed to have a granular texture that is not very prone to make dust - thank you, Jacquard. I also like to use a dedicated pair of dishwashing gloves when handling dry dye.
3) Add a glug of white vinegar (one glug is approximately 1/4 cup). Stir.
4) As the water in the pot begins to warm up (touch the outer sides of the pot to feel), start feeding a continuous length of combed top into the pot. Move languidly, poking the top gently under the surface of the water with your teaspoon. Use dry, unsoaked top. Move slowly and do not agitate the top, because top will felt in a heartbeat and with very little stirring. If air bubbles cling to the top as you submerge it, press them out gently with the teaspoon.
5) As the water heats, the top will begin to take up the dye. You will see the murky colored dye water begin to thin and clear. If you have more top to dye, or if you want more variation in color, add more dye and more vinegar on top of what's in the pot. Be careful, stirring = felting. Top that is even slightly felted is very hard to draft in the spinning process.
6) You can add more water to the dyepot at this point if you are running out of room but want to dye several more ounces of top. Add warm water to a warm dye pot. Temperature change = felting. You can add more dye powder and vinegar later, too.
7) Continue to allow the dye pot to heat, but when any bubbles form, turn off the heat. Don't allow the dye pot to reach even the beginning stages of boiling. I've read that you can damage the wool fibers this way, but I haven't made that particular mistake yet (though I have learned the hard way how easily wool top will felt in a dye pot).
8) If the water is clear or nearly so, your top has taken up the dye, and it should be set. If the water is slightly colored, it would be smart to put the lid on the pot and let the wool steep in the dye water for awhile (half an hour to an hour), and then the water should be clear or almost so. If the dye water is not almost clear, then add more top until you get nearly clear water. The reason I do this is that I won't have to rinse excess dye out of the wool. Rinsing = felting, plus you're wasting dye. The excess dye could dye more wool for you, and then it wouldn't have to enter your sewer or septic system.
Most of the elements of the dyeing process I've outlined lead to a result that is not completely even and is not exactly repeatable. I wanted that effect. I also like that it's easy.
Now, when you have your top dyed and the dye water is nearly clear, here's the rest of the process:
9) Presumably you have a large pot of very warm to hot wool and water. Tip the pot into a sink to drain off the water (you might want to run a stream of cold water from the tap as you do so - it can help protect your plumbing from the sudden influx of hot water).
10) When the water is almost all drained, I tip the wool into the side of my sink that has a thingy over the drain so that the water can drain but the wool can't go down the pipe. This is hot wool. Don't run any water over it. Put your dedicated gloves back on and gently press more water out of the wool. Don't lift and squeeze. Gather the wool back into the pot.
11) On a sunny day in a place like Georgia, I can just take the pot of wool out to my back fence and drape it in loops to dry. Sometimes I need gloves for this if the wool is still hot.
12) When the loop of top are cool enough, you can gently squeeze some of the dripping water out of them to accelerate the drying process. Drying takes 2 to 3 hours, unless I have to dry indoors using a rack set up in a bathtub - then it takes 2 to 3 days. As the wool dries, it fluffs up naturally.
What I found was that the beginning brown tone allowed for rich-looking colors that have subtlety and a sense of layers. Compared to white top, brown top required a bit more dye to get deep color. Also, you can't make the top lighter, so yellow dye yields a yellow-brown rather than any kind of light, clear yellow like it could on white top. With the top in the photo, I wasn't in the mood for green on top of brown, but I'm guessing I could have gotten greens in the hunter range if I had wanted to.
Below is a photo of white Falkland top that I dyed using the same dyepot method. You can see how the dye takes differently on a white wool. This is the same top I showed drying on the fence in the previous post.
This is my latest try at a gradient, in which the color moves smoothly through the yarn from one shading to the next. The second photo shows the combed wool top that I dyed using acid wool dyes. I bought the top long ago, and don't remember the breed, but it is lustrous, slightly coarse, with a medium-long fiber length.
I spun this as a finished single, with as little twist as was needed to make a strong yarn. Then I felted it about halfway as part of the finishing process, so that the yarn no longer kinks. This is about 1400 yards, and about 8 ounces.
Below is part of a pound of a blend of 70% merino, 30% silk that I spun into a two-ply yarn. The silk smell really kicks in when you wash the yarn. The coloring is a grayish green, the weight is DK. I'm wondering if this yarn will prove to be a little delicate in use.
Below is some more top that I dyed using acid dye. This is Falkland, which is a mix of breeds from the Falkland Islands. Wool dries really quickly in the summer sun, in Georgia. Here the top is still dripping wet. As it dried, it fluffed up quite a bit, becoming springy and pleasantly soft. I'll post more photos later.
I've just finished another altered book/sketchbook. I use these to experiment and think about ideas. This one is really a souped-up sketchbook. To make it, I started with a commercially available cork-bound sketchbook that had acid free pages and a sewn binding. I used watercolor to make colored patterns on the pages, and then I tipped in charcoal drawings I had made of various things - mostly plant parts.
The Year of the Monkey begins on February 8. Here are six small teapots that I made to celebrate the new year. Each teapot is 4 to 5 inches tall, made individually and by hand of porcelain, hand drawn and painted. Each teapot has two monkey faces, one on each side.
This fall I'm having an exhibition at the Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh. The show is kind of a combination of installation and learning lab for art. To get a whole show into one small truck, the large paintings were made unstretched, with grommets for hanging (unstretched canvases can be rolled for transport, which saves a lot of cargo space). The gallery at the school is kind of a multipurpose room, so the teacher who runs the gallery put up the colorful traffic cones (borrowed from the PE department) so that all the various people who use the room won't run into the art. It's all been an interesting experience. The best part has been working with these extremely engaged students - they have all been a joy.
For specific views of the paintings, view this page:
I've been working some more on the Swamp Drawings that I completed several months ago. I have mounted each drawing on a painting panel and added paint to the backgrounds. Each finished painting is now ready to hang, and measures 12 inches high by 9 inches wide by 3/4 of an inch deep.
I have just completed a set of 7 teapots for the Year of the Sheep, which begins in February 2015. In China, both sheep and goats belong to the Year of the Sheep. It's pretty different from the biblical perspective, in which the sheep and the goats are always being separated. These teapots are no more than 4 inches high, which is full size in China (tea is drunk very differently there than in the European traditions). All of these teapots are completely handmade of porcelain clay.
I think so often when people come out to the Phinizy Swamp, they are hoping to see animals. I know I am. Plants are fascinating, and I enjoy looking at them very much. But where are the animals?
As you know, animals are mobile, and often survival for them depends on not being seen more often than necessary. Therefore, we people who want to look at them sometimes have to gain satisfaction from interpreting the signs that the animal leaves behind. In this case, you can tell that beavers are active because of the canal they’ve recently dug on one side of the main stream channel. And there is a pile of sticks on the stream bank that was made by beavers – it might be part of a lodge. Since my Swamp Drawing Project is about things that I actually see at the Phinizy Swamp, I’ve indicated a beaver in my drawing only through a dotted outline.
Beavers are found throughout most of North America. There is just one species in the New World, Castor canadensis. There is also a species that is native to Europe and Asia, Castor fiber. The two beaver species cannot mate because they don’t have the same number of chromosomes.
Castor canadensis is the largest rodent in North America. Their upper incisors continue to grow throughout their lives, and are continually ground down by chewing on wood. Beavers close their nostrils and ears as well as their eyes while they dive underwater. They can even close their mouths behind their front teeth, so that they can dive while carrying a stick in their mouths without ingesting water. Their back feet are webbed for swimming.
The beaver is a wetland animal – it lives its life by maintaining wetlands through damming streams. Many landowners have been irritated when beavers move in and dam up streams, flooding the land. But it turns out that the wetland creation behaviors of beavers have significant ecological benefits. Beaver activity tends to increase streambank vegetation and general biodiversity in dry areas over time; it also creates more open water area even in drought years.
Beavers fell trees to build dams and lodges. The inner bark and leaves of the tree are a major food source for them. The lodges are made of sticks, grass, and mud. They tend to be built so that there is an underwater entrance. A major function of a dam from a beaver point of view is to ensure water depth around the lodge.
Beavers are active at night. They tend to stay in or near the water. They can submerge for up to 15 minutes. There is research that indicates they build lodges or repair them in response to the sound of running water.
Another way you might encounter a beaver is by hearing it. Beavers have a broad, flat tail that they slap against the surface of the water as a warning to potential predators. To me, the tail slap can sound like a cement block being dropped into water – it’s startling.
Beavers are monogamous, but if their partner dies, they will look for someone new. They live for 10 to 20 years in the wild. Their main predators in our area are people and probably coyotes. People kill beavers for sport or for their fur or when they feel that beavers are harming land by building dams. People also kill beavers by destroying wetlands and through pollution.
For more information on visiting the Phinizy Swamp: http://phinizycenter.org/
Priscilla Hollingsworth, artist.