Record keeping - The theory behind this is we can reproduce what we made before. But here we are, working with natural materials. Nature by her very essence is constantly changing. The weather, soil, air, sun, and wind all have their effect on the colours these plants produce. Every time we dye with natural ingredients, we are promised a different colour. I wonder if anything beyond the most basic record keeping is strictly necessary (although, it can of course be fun).
Mordants - I've discovered that there are a great variety of mordants and many dyes will affix to the yarn without any mordant at all. The sheer range of alum I've seen recommended in dyeing from 2% weight of fibre (WOF) all the way up to 22% WOF. I wonder if precision is really that vital when it comes to mordanting yarn and fibre.
Ratio of dye to yarn - I've had very bad luck following directions. I carefully weigh everything to the decigram and at best, I get a pale imitation of colour. However, the times I simply stuff my dye pot full of leaves or flowers, simmer a while, then add yarn, I'm greeted with vibrant results. I wonder if being less precise is actually the key to dyeing.
So what is the most vital part of dyeing in my opinion?
The most vital part in dyeing yarn, is final step - washing the yarn.
Why do I think this stage is the most important? Because this is the stage that teaches the most.
Being gentile at this stage is abusive to your future self. One quick rinse and hang the yarn to dry and you risk using that yarn, putting loads of work into a project, and first time through the washing machine, all the dye washes out. It didn't take. Or worse, it bleeds and stains the rest of the project.
I once wove a set of towels from hand dyed linen. The arbutus dyed linen was a gorgeous brown, and the carrot top dyed linen, a lovely lime green. But one trip through the washing machine, and all the carrot top washed out. It looked okay, but not as good as it would with the green.
Before I moved to the farm, I lived in the city. Right at the heart of downtown, in a cement cube with south facing windows surrounded by other people also living in cement cubes. But living in the city had its advantages.
All that concrete and asphalt absorb the heat from the sun and holds onto it. This creates a warmer climate than the rest of the area, bumping us up one or even three climate zones. In the city, we can grow things that we cannot in the surrounding countryside. Banana and palm trees are popular choices - in Canada!
What I wish I knew at the time is that we can grow cotton too. Cotton grows in the same condition as tomatoes. Cotton loves the warmth and isn't adverse to being kept in pots. In a pot, you can bring cotton inside for the winter. Another thing the city gives us that I don't have on the farm is limited daylight. Cotton is daylight sensitive so on the farm, I have a challenge getting it to set bolls this far north because our days are just too long. But in the summer, the buildings act as a false horizon, cutting off the sun from the earth early. Warmth plus limited daylength.
There are lots of other fibre crops and animals we can grow in the city. Linen can also be grown in pots so long as you don't sow the seeds to densely.
Within walking distance of my condo were several mulberry trees on public land. Two of them are in gardens specially designed for public harvest - food forest community gardens. I know more than one person who kept silkworms hidden away in their pet-free apartments (caterpillars don't count as pets, right?). They snuck out each morning, about 5am, to harvest mulberry leaves, being careful never to take too much and to always ask permission first. There was an abundance of wormfood available.
There was a great article in Spinn Off a few years back explaining how easy it is to grow silk. It was the same one that introduced me to cotton and got me wondering what non-sheep plants and animals can grow fibre in small spaces.
Don't have mulberries, try wild silk moths. There are a hundred or more different kinds of moths that produce silk and chances are some of them are native to your area. These wild silk moths produce various colours and textures of silk and in my opinion, they are even more beautiful than bombyx silk. The best thing about them is if they are native to your area, then their food can be found in abundance. Many wild silkmoths consume a variety of different fodder. The Polyphemus moth that is native to my area eats a dozen different trees, so I don't have to go hunting for mulberries. Wormspit's website is the place to go for more information on
Bunnies take up a bit more space than silkworms. Angora or any fluffy bunny produces warm and soft fibre. Comb the bunny each day and spin the fibre into lovely lofty yarn.
Wildcrafting fibre like nettles or kudzu is another option. Talk to your local parks department to see what you're allowed to harvest. This is also a good source of dye materials.
Of course, if you absolutely must have sheep, you can always try to sneak some on the roof.
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