Ok, I know, it’s a dreadful pun but I’m too tired to think of anything better!
Last year, at Fibre East, I bought some silk fibre and merino roving which I planned to spin using the rakestraw spinner I bought at the same time.
I never got around to spinning it, but visiting Fibre East this year gave me some fresh ideas… why not try dyeing it? My friend Dawn bought some sachets of Kool Aid to dye her roving with (she’s a big fan of bright colours), but I wanted to try something more natural (muted colours are my thing).
There’s an elder tree growing in the garden behind mine, and the for the past few week I couldn’t fail to notice the berries overhanging the roof of my studio (well, more specifically, the really fat pigeons hanging upside down eating them were grabbing my attention!), so I thought this would be a good time to experiment with home dyeing. I picked a kilo of elderberries, and here’s how it went…
I put the berries in a large saucepan, with just a dash of water, and heated them up while mashing them to help break them down. I kept mashing until I was sure that I’d squashed most of the berries and then sieved contents of the pan.
The juice went back into a pan, and the seeds/skin/flesh all went into a square of muslin which was tied up tightly.
Meanwhile, before all this, I simmered my roving in a pan of water with approximately 3 heaped teaspoons each of salt and cream of tartar. I simmered the roving (25g of silk, and 25g of merino) for around 20 minutes, then drained it and squeezed out any excess water.
The roving was then added to a large pan with the mush-in-muslin, and the strained dye was poured over. I then simmered the whole lot for about 90 minutes.
I then removed the pan from the heat and left everything sitting there overnight. The following morning I removed the roving, squeezed the excess dye back into the pan, and then rinsed the roving under the cold tap until the water ran clear.
There was an awful lot of dye left in the pan, so I decided to use the last of the silk roving (25g) to try a slightly different technique. I simmered it in the same salt/cream of tartar mixture as before, for the same amount of time, but then changed my approach. I brought the dye bath back up to the boil, then turned off the heat before adding the silk. I didn’t heat it up again, just left the silk in the dye bath overnight, then rinsed it out in the morning.
Would you like to see the results? Of course you would!
That’s the silk from the first dye batch (the one which was simmered for 90 minutes)… a rather lovely purple colour, and I’m really pleased with it.
That’s the merino which was dyed at the same time as that silk… yeah, it’s not gone so well, the fibre has felted and is absolutely no use now! I guess I agitated it a bit too much while it was simmering, so that’s an important lesson learned and I won’t make the same mistake again! The colour is gorgeous though, and so different from the silk!
This is the second batch of silk, which wasn’t simmered. The colour is much richer, and has more red in it. Another pleasant surprise, and again I’m amazed at the difference in colour from the previous batch.
It’s been good fun experimenting with dyeing. I haven’t got any books on the subject, but I did do some extensive research online*, from which I extrapolated the key facts**. Would I have had more success, particularly with the merino, if I’d gone about things in a different way? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have been half so much fun!
I will definitely be trying my hand at dyeing again, although probably not until next year… I probably ought to spin this silk and then make something with it before I add any more roving to my stash 🙂
*skim read a lot of articles and forums
**basically got bored and made it up as I went along