It’s been almost 3 weeks since I got back from another wonderful week on Orcas Island, immersed in spinning and dyeing with Judith MacKenzie and about 20 participants. For the third year in a row, I have gone over with 2 friends from the valley. Somehow we manage to squeeze our spinning wheels, tools, fiber, personal belongings and ourselves into my Honda CR-V and journey across the mountains and onto the ferry at Anacortes. There you are, you know who you are!
On the first day we each chose a bag of “scrap fiber” that Judith had put together – bits of spinning fiber, both commercial and JM-dyed, mostly wool or wool/silk blends. We were asked to spin a singles, using whichever method worked for the fiber prep, and changing colors fairly often. Ideas of what to do with the singles: (1) ply off multiple bobbins to even out the color and diameter, (2) spin to the left and then make a boucle onto a silk or rayon thread, then make a compound boucle in the opposite direction, (3) ply with a solid color. I chose the latter and she had merino top in a variety of colors to work with for the solid.
On Day 2 she laid out a circle of dyed merino tops (see photo above) to show us a technique for making a marled yarn from 5 colors. You hold 3 of the colors at a time across your hand and spin back and forth, from side to side, making sure to spin 2 colors together for a bit at each transition. Then drop one of the colors and add in a new one at the other side. You can make a 2-ply, and optionally overtwist the 2-ply to make a cabled yarn to get even more color mixing. I have done this exercise in the past so skipped it (worsted spinning also not being my strong point…) but she did suggest lashing the 3 colors onto mini-combs to open up the fibers and make it easier to hold for spinning, if it is a struggle.
This day she also had us do an over-dyeing exercise to explore “The Harmony of Dominant Hue”. We made pigtail bundles of a variety of commercial yarns (different colors and textures but all protein fibers) that absolutely did not go together! They set up mason jars with different dye colors to drop our bundles into for overdyeing.
A bonus of this exercise for me was the dye left in the mason jars. I had brought some washed mohair locks that I wanted to dye in various colors and small quantities, to use in drumcarding wool batts for color and fiber accents. So I got them soaking in a bucket and later that evening we dropped them into the jars and surrounding cookers. I also did some later over in the “dye cabin” using up leftover dyepots, and by the end of the workshop I had a nice variety of colors.
Over the next couple of days, Judith also gave us lots of information and samples from lichen dyeing, and we compiled a little notebook with her notes, lichen samples and dyed yarn samples. I didn’t get any pictures but it was very informative.
Another color exercise was making your own gradient yarn from a multicolor hand-dyed braid, instead of just spinning the color sequence the dyer had created. She broke the braid up into color groups, from dark to light.
Then split the piles in half and spun 2 singles from dark to light. When plied in the same order, the 2-ply is your own gradient created from the colors of a braid you loved for the color.
Here’s mine laid out and then the finished yarn. I added a bit of solid colored merino to augment the color/shade sequence (especially the lemon yellow at the end). This was fun and I can see doing it again with a full 4-oz or so braid (we only had about 1 oz to play with).
The other dye project I had in mind was to dye some fine 25-micron wool skeins (merino type) to use for weaving. This we wound up doing in a steam table, and as usual I hovered and Judith worked her magic for me. I wanted a “semi-solid” effect, i.e. not stripes of color across the skeins, and as it turned out we also got a gradient of color from skein to skein. We were using Judith’s dyes (weak-acid super milling dyes for protein fibers) and we used lots of vinegar to make sure the colors struck fast and didn’t migrate around and make a mud pie in the dye bath. She gently poked and lifted the skeins with a chopstick to make sure there were no “white spots” and that the dye worked its way down through all the fiber.
It may be a while, but you will see these show up in scarves and/or shawls.