Saturday, a friend and I were lucky enough to get into a workshop down at PortFiber in Portland. Taught by Robin Russo, it was a day spent learning about the history of sericulture (farming silk worms) as well as a lot of hands-on work with silk cocoons, reeling silk, pulling cocoons into “hankies,” and then spinning wild and cultivated silks. It was an absolutely fabulous workshop, and I would highly recommend any workshop with Robin! She is a wonderful teacher. She even brought in silk moths who were mating and laying eggs.
Yesterday was spent at Hatchtown Farm having a spinning party/end of summer blast. As usual, we had lots of food, laughter and fun. Sitting on the porch listening to the crickets and watching the crazed grasshoppers and dragonflies was very therapeutic!
One of our spinning friends, Chris, set up a woad experiment for us to work on during the afternoon. She grew the woad plants over the summer, and got the initial dye pot set up yesterday morning. When we got together, she continued the process and we got to put a bit of fiber into the pot during the afternoon. It was magical! The woad was a lighter blue than most indigo will dye, and it’s beautiful. Chris threw my little misshapen mawata into the pot and it’s turned fabulous shades of blue.
It was an exceptional weekend to end the summer fun. The weather totally cooperated, and of course, the heat and humidity are coming back just in time for school to begin!
I suppose I should say “insects!” Last week our friend Chris and I decided to do some cochineal dyeing. The insects that create the magnificent purple and red colors is dactylopius coccus. These are insects that feed on prickly pear cacti, and are native to the southwest and Mexico. The colors that can be produced from drying and then crushing the bugs are amazingly beautiful.
Natural dyeing is not something I do on a regular basis as there are a few more steps involved before you get to the actual dye pot. Not bad, but instead of just soaking the yarn or roving in a vinegar and water bucket, you need to mordant or prepare the wool by heating it up in a pot with some alum (or iron, tin or chrome) and keep it at a certain temperature for an hour. Just a little more fiddly than I usually care to bother. (Particularly since my lobster cooker got crushed over the winter and is not fixed yet, so it means using the kitchen stove).
Last week during one of the stormy days we had, I mordanted two skeins of silver/grey wool and some white lamb locks which I popped into a lingerie bag. Then the next day I went down to Chris’ house and we proceeded to fire up the dye pot.
Chris had already prepared the cochineal by crushing the bugs and simmering them overnight in a crockpot on low. Then the liquid is strained (get all those buggy parts out of the dye stock) and she added it to more water in a big pot and then heated that. So we put our wool in and let it simmer for about a half hour. I wasn’t sure what kind of color was going to be produced, because the dye water was a deep ruby red color. The skein came out an amazing purple, and the locks, both batches of which were in bags, were not as deeply colored, more a lavender, but they are all amazingly beautiful! It was a fun process, and in the meantime Chris and I had a lovely visit.
(Just a note: I would not, nor would Chris, have used our kitchens if we had been mordanting with something other than alum, as the alum and the bugs can’t do any harm to people. Actually, cochineal insects are used to color food, so it is not something I would worry about!)
Coopworth Fiber, LaMancha Dairy Goats and Cheese on the Coast of Maine!