So About that Workshop…

One thing that’s been difficult for me in transitioning from hobbyist fiber arts nerd to semi-professional fiber arts nerd is fighting the sense that I’m wasting time when, for example, skimming 19th century travelogues for descriptions of shepherding practices. Okay, that probably still counts as wasting time. But it’s been really hard to convince myself that this is my work now, and that it’s really okay to spend a hefty chunk of my time reading about and playing around with string. So I’m really excited to have my first gig as a fiber festival presenter next month. Yay for Lambtown!

I’ll be leading a workshop on natural dyes, focusing on locally available materials and environmentally sustainable methods. I promise that it will be fun! If you happen to be in the Sacramento area in the first weekend of October, please check it out.

I’ll also be demonstrating card-weaving the following day, and I promise that that will also be fun. Thanks to my colleagues in the Davis Spinners’ Guild and Sacramento Weavers and Spinners Guild for putting together this event and letting me be a part of it.

Purple Corn

I was going to philosophize about the haphazard nature of my blogging habits, but let’s cut to the chase.

Purple corn.

purple corn

Purple. Freakin’. Corn.

I adapted the recipe from  Navajo and Hopi Dyes. I was supposed to leave the yarn in the dye for 48 hours but was too impatient. I don’t think it really mattered. The lighter, more pink one is from the exhaust bath, which I just put out in the sun for the day. I don’t know yet how light-fast or wash-fast they’ll be. I’m drying the corn kernels back out and think they’ll still be edible (it’s a variety for grinding up into flour anyway). I have enough corn left to do a little batch during my workshop next month (oh yeah, remind me to tell y’all about that) and am asking around among farmer friends to see if anyone is growing some in this neck of the woods.


The Colours of Nature


Happy fiber artist is happy.

Today we made it to The Colours of Nature, a natural dye company here in Auroville. Yesterday we rode our janky single-speed cruisers about 5 km over sandy, rocky, rutty roads in search of the place—we were pretty close, but didn’t ever find it. Today we were determined, and also had slightly better directions. It was a glorious sight when we found the sign out front!

TCoN uses pomegranate, jackfruit, cutch, madder, lac, and indigo to dye organic cotton for various clothing designers. Their main focus is indigo, which they do with natural fermentation vats. Anybody who’s lived with me knows I have a special fondness for projects involving mystery buckets of stink, so I was in heaven.


The dye room floor was covered with little wicker bumps, which are the lids to the dye vats. The vats have been going for 19 years—they add water and indigo to them, but never empty them out. I commented that it didn’t really smell too bad, but Robyn gave me a look. Later she said, “it STANK in there, Jen!”  It really didn’t bother me, though.

One of the master dyers came and dyed some cloth for us. He sat right down next to the vat, stuck his gloved hand in and swished around the foamy mess at the top. He put in the cloth, worked it for a few minutes, then pulled it out and immediately snapped it open and started flapping it around in the air. In a matter of seconds, it changed from green to blue–which I knew would happen, but man, is it magic.

100_1608 100_1609 100_1610 100_1611

This was after one dip–depending on the depth of shade desired, a piece may be dipped up to 16 times. Which is a lot of work. Just maintaining the vats is a lot of work, too–he has to come in and tend to them every day–“it’s like having a baby.”

We were hoping to get some information about growing indigo, but this company purchases indigo from a farmer, so they couldn’t help us there. It was still pretty awesome, and now I have lots of fabric to lug around for the next few days.

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

So I’ve been researching natural dye traditions of the Himalayas, and came across a mention of “curd water” being used as a mordant. No information about how it is used, so I am experimenting. This will be so awesome if it works. I mostly use dye materials I’ve grown or gleaned myself, but I still have to buy alum and I’ve been looking for a lower-impact alternative. (The article I read also mentioned cow dung as a mordant, but housemates fear not, I’m not going there.)

Last night my cheese-making neighbor brought over a tub of whey, and I simmered some test fiber in it. Put some in a black bean dye bath today, with some alum-mordanted wool as a control. Here are the results:

whey and black bean

The alum-mordanted wool did the best (it’s the one on the far right) but the whey clearly did something. The white wool didn’t go into the dye bath–I just put it in the picture to provide contrast. The skein on the far left is silk yarn. It seems to have dyed a bit more evenly than the wool did. I didn’t rinse the wool after taking it out of the whey, so there are places where stuff sort of clumped on, and those areas took more dye. So, further research is needed! Everybody start eating a lot of cheese so I can play around with more of this stuff.