Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Sutherland one of our forum members who had the good fortune to visit the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this year. Thanks for the post Elizabeth!

I had a free ticket Southwest Airline ticket to spend and a sister living close to the Howard County Fairgrounds, so I took the plunge and signed up for the Intro to Natural Dyes and Indigo Dyes classes by Jackie Ottino Graf.

Jackie is from Maine and was formerly the head dyer at Swans Island, a company that use locally spun wool and natural dyes to produce yarns and fabric. Jackie was with Swans Island when they were dyeing in small lots on the back porch to when they moved into a large industrial-sized building and began dying in much larger lots.

I really have done very little natural dying, so it was all new to me. We began with a lesson on the importance of keeping a log of our experiments. The log should include the type of fiber and weight (Weight of Goods – WOG), type of mordant, the dye, the dye’s material type and amount, and notes about the process.

Date:
Fiber to dye: Description of the fiber being dyed
WOG: weight in grams
Fiber Preparation: any notes on how the fiber was prepared before mordanting
Mordant: List the amount of mordant, temperatures, and duration
Dye notes: The percentage and type of dye used

Jackie showed us the differences in types of dye materials. She favors the powdered extracts for ease of use and consistent performance. She showed us the shopped madder root vs powdered, and the cochineal bugs vs ground bugs vs extract.

NaturalDye_1

The dyes we used were:

Cochineal
Madder
Osage Orange sawdust (aka Bois D’arc)
Onion skins
Saxon Blue Indigo
Logwood
Cutch
Walnut Hull Powder

One thing that was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me was when Jackie said that mordant provided a ‘primer’ between the fabric and the dye that allowed the dye to adhere to the fibers. Alum tends to make fibers sticky, so a pinch of Cream of Tartar helps counteract that.

I took many notes as Jackie was always mentioning things that I had never heard. She talked about when Swans Island build the large dyeing building and change the water supply. They never could get the new water to match the old and just had to change their recipes and dyes. One time she was teaching where the water had a lot of iron in it. The results were very unexpected. Iron ‘saddens’ colors (I like that phrase).

We proceeded with the dying – all fibers were pre-mordanted. The class was in an unheated metal barn, so it was pretty cold. We dyed in an outside area with an overhang. This was the setup we used. Jackie is in the olive sweater on the right.

NaturalDye_2

We started with the cutch and walnut dyes. This is the walnut.

NaturalDye_3

Then we proceeded to the madder (left) and cochineal (right). Cream of tartar added to cochineal takes the pH down for a brighter color. On the other hand, a higher pH for madder gives red and lower pH results in more orange. pH can be lowered with vinegar, citric acid, cream of tartar and raise with chalk, Tums.

NaturalDye_4

We did a quick walkabout to find local materials to use for a mystery dye. We chose some wold raspberry leaves. We threw them into a pot with 2 skeins of wool at about a 1:1 ratio by weight. We were to end up with a ‘rainbow’ of mini-skeins dyed with natural materials, as so. By the way, the rings Jackie’s brilliant find and are usually used in lobster pots.

NaturalDye_5

The Saxon Blue Indigo was to give a blue, and the Logwood was for Purple. The logwood looked very promising when the wool was initially put into the vat, but turned into an indigo blue at the end.

NaturalDye_6

The Osage orange was interesting to me since it’s a native tree in Texas. It gave a nice yellow. The onions gave browner yellows. The raspberries did nothing , so we ended up overdying the skein with several colors to get a green. The colors were a little more subdued than if we had been able to leave them to soak overnight.

Here is the final ‘money shot’, with Jackie.

NaturalDye_7

From Left to right:

Walnut hull powder with iron
Walnut hull powder
Cutch with iron
Cutch
Logwood
Saxon Blue Indigo on Gray wool
Saxon Blue Indigo
Osage orange sawdust with iron and then put in the logwood exhaust
Osage orange sawdust on gray wool
Raspberry with Dyer’s Chamomile powder (and I think indigo exhaust)
Osage orange sawdust
Onion Skins
Madder
Cochineal exhaust
Cochineal

The following day was a class that used madder only. They changed the pH to get a huge range of colors. When I saw the colors I almost wished I had taken it, but I’m still glad that I spent the day with my sister instead. Here is a photo of the skeins they dyed.

NaturalDye_8

The second class I took was the indigo class. I was a bit hesitant to take an Indigo class as I had heard that the ‘vat’ took a long time to get going properly. Jackie dispelled that notion since she uses indigo powder that has already been fermented and stabilized (or whatever is needed). Also, since the leaves must be processed within minutes of picking (and the nearest indigo plants were hundreds of miles away), creating a true Indigo dye vat is not practical.

Two easy things about Indigo is that it does not require a mordant, and the measurement of the WOG to dye is not particularly important since you can just keep using a pot of dye until it’s gone. Two more difficult things about indigo are that it is temperature sensitive – you must keep it between 125 and 145 F. The pH needs to be 9-10. The harder thing is that you need to keep the oxygen out of the vat – no splashing around.

 

IndigoDye_1

It’s not just a dump and shake, as there are chemical reactions occurring that you want to take care with. The indigo powder was mixed with a tad of water to get it wet (it doesn’t like being wet so you have to coax it). Then slowly add more water to about ¾ full. Carefully add the lye and stir. You should feel some heat coming off the jar. Add some more water to almost full, then ½ of the Thiox. The Thiox removes the oxygen, so you want to be able to adjust this as needed. Let the mixture sit and mingle for a while. It should turn a green after 20-30 minutes. If it’s still blue, then add a bit more Thiox. This stock should last indefinitely if stored away from sun and in moderate temperatures.

We pre-soaked our yarns and fibers while the water was heating up. When it was at least 125 F we added some of the stock and let it sit for another 20 mins to mingle and meld. After that Jackie showed us how to ‘read the vat’. The first two – temp and pH are simple since you can use a thermometer and litmus paper to test. The third, the Oxygen content, is more subjective as you have to look for the green color. Here’s Jackie showing us the green color.

IndigoDye_2

When all looked well, we skimmed the ‘bloom’ off the top, since it would cause discolorations in the dye. You can see the scummy bloom here.

IndigoDye_3

After this, the dying! Remembering that oxygen affects the colors, we slowly dipped our fibers and fabrics into the vat. We left them in for 2-3 minutes, then took them out to oxidize. That was interesting and fun – watching the colors change from green to deep blue. We just kept dipping and oxidizing until we got the color we wanted, and the class was finished. Voila!

IndigoDye_4

The next day was Saturday and was the start of the MSW Fair. I went with my very patient sister. Her oldest son, his girlfriend, and their 9 month daughter, were soon to depart Maryland for a new job in Washington State, and she was hosting a farewell party, so our time was limited. I had thought about trying to get a fleece, but at one of the classes someone said that the fleece barn was usually packed with people. Since I had not a clue of what was a good or bad fleece, I decided to skip that and head directly to the prepared fiber sellers. When we arrived, the fleece barn had a long line.

FairGrounds_1

Luckily the weather held up for us. The previous days were very rainy and cold for May. You can see the clouds in this view back to the parking area.

Photo by Elizabeth Sutherland

Photo by Elizabeth Sutherland

I hit the main shed first, so I could do some power-shopping. There were sellers of all types there – from raw fleece to finished apparel. There were a lot of sheep-themed nick-knacks along with the fibers and tools. I didn’t see a slant toward knitters, spinners, weavers, or felters, but I was pretty focused on getting the roving. After I had purchased all I could justify, and more than I thought I could take home on the plane, we toured the sheep sheds. I was wishing I had a small pair of snips so I could ‘sample’ the locks.

Many of the exhibitors had nice little displays about their breeds.

I was quite taken with the Jacob sheep and those horns.

Being a city girl, I had never seen a sheep shorn like this.

FairGrounds_10

I thought that I was going to have to have my sister ship my purchases home to me, but I was able to fit everything into my suitcase and the bag I threw into my suitcase at the last minute. The fibers were packaged in plastic bags, so I just sat on them to remove the air and shoved them into the bag. I joked with my sister, telling her to watch the news that evening to see if an airplane crashed due to a sudden explosion of sheep fluff. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I had a great time at MSW, and visiting with my sister and her family. I hope I can go again next year, but stay longer to shop more!

Thanks Elizabeth, looks like next time you need to bring an empty suitcase with you!

 

This entry was posted in Classes, Community, Fairs and Shows, Guest Writer and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

  1. Lyn says:

    So glad the sheep fluff didn’t explode! Thank you for an entertaining post with lovely photos – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  2. zedster66 says:

    That was great, Elizabeth, you demystified natural dyeing! I love all those blue shades from the indigo and the sheep photos are ace 🙂

  3. Wow! What a fabulous time you had – I’m jealous!😀

  4. ruthlane says:

    Thanks for the post Elizabeth, sounds like you learned a lot 🙂

  5. Teri Berry says:

    Looks like a fab trip Elizabeth, great thinking to stuff an empty bag into your suitcase before leaving! Otherwise you might have been forced to leave your dirty laundry and toiletries behind…

  6. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    Elizabeth it certainly looks like you got your money’s worth and made good use of your time there. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Leonor says:

    Elizabeth, what you mentioned about the water is so very true – I use bottled water for my dyes and am now switching brands, so I’m very curious/afraid to see what’s going to happen!

  8. Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip to the Maryland festival. It looks like a worthwhile adventure!

  9. Looks like a great trip and so fibery. One day I hope I ca get there or to Rhinebeck. The American shows are so much bigger than the ones here in Canada.

We love comments and love to hear your opinions. Thanks for stopping by.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s