The Goddess Door

Divine Hand Knits From Door County, Wisconsin

wool

Adventure in Dying Yarn with Wild Grapes

The Goddess DoorComment
Before the final rinse. See all the grapey goodness?

Before the final rinse. See all the grapey goodness?

So, my dear husband arrived with a bucket full of wild grapes. He squished them to make bottles of grape juice with a distinct, not unpleasing wild and musky flavor (after adding a bunch of sugar). There was still quite a lot left, and he asked if I wanted to use some to dye some yarn.

Well!

That sounds kinda fun!

I looked up a bunch of information online, squished it together much like the grape juice, and jumped in!

The naked wools before meeting the grapes

The naked wools before meeting the grapes

My process:

Find natural yarn in stash. I used 4 hanks of lovely wool, all different kinds, from Cascade 220 to local fibers in specific sheep breeds, and one unlabeled surprise. It ended up being about 18 oz of yarn.

In the above picture, the yarns are (from left to right) from Wisconsin Highlands Farms (bought at the Madison Farmer’s Market), White Dog Farm Lincoln Longwool Lamb sportweight (from Forestville, WI), Cascade 220 100% Peruvian Highland Wool, and an unlabeled yarn that looks similar to the first one.

Yarny Noodles

Mix up a mordant. I used 1.3 oz of alum (various online instructions suggested up to 10% of dry weight of yarn, and that too much makes the wool rough, so that’s how I chose 1.3 oz) in enough filtered water to cover the yarn. I filtered the water because our well water has heavy amounts of iron and can make anything orange. Orange and purple don’t mix well. So, bring the mix to a boil, place yarn in water, and remove from heat. Let yarn sit in mixture for an hour as it cools.

Grapes approaching the boil

Grapes approaching the boil

Prepare dye. Mash up the grapes. Add water (2 parts water to 1 part substance is the advice I read). Bring to a boil for 1 hour. Let cool a bit, and filter out the solid bits. Add yarn to the liquid. Let sit overnight.

Introducing the wool to the grape

Introducing the wool to the grape

In the morning, I decided to try a citric acid soak to help set the dye. 3 teaspoons citric acid to 12 cups water, dissolved. I rinsed the yarn in tepid water (not as thoroughly as I should have… a LOT of color came out!) and soaked the yarn in the mixture for about 30 minutes (10 probably would have been enough, but I was distracted). Squeeze each hank out, wrap in a burrito of plastic wrap, and microwave 1 min, twice. Each hank done separately.

After my incomplete rinse out of the dye, but also a citric acid soak.

After my incomplete rinse out of the dye, but also a citric acid soak.

Then I placed all the yarn out in the yard to dry. I am amazed by the different colors! One is a light pink, one a dusty gray-purple, one more of a purple-ish pink, and one has features of purple that I would call grape. A big surprise! As I write this, the yarns are out drying. However, I am thinking that I didn’t rinse the dye out well enough. I might go out with a bucket and some wool wash and see if I can get them to the point at which they no longer drip colors. I don’t want any surprises when I use this yarn to make something!

So, washed in lukewarm water with Eucalan, rinsed until water ran clean, and rehang the yarn again. Final picture:

Rearranged the order of the hanks too, but overall a lot less color intensity

Rearranged the order of the hanks too, but overall a lot less color intensity

In the last picture, I believe the Left furthest is the Cascade 220, which was really the one to take the dye the least, and looked pale pink right from the beginning. The next one is likely the unlabeled one, the third is from Wisconsin Highland Farms, and the right end is the White Dog Farm wool, which was more cream than white, and took on a gray-purple cast.

The color isn’t fully accurate in the last picture, either. The colors have more pinks and magentas in them, although they are certainly more pastel than I had expected. I like them, still, and am happy I got to experiment with dying, and didn’t have to use harsh chemicals. Next time I get an urge, I think I will try the Kool-Aid dye strategy!

Wool is Amazing!

The Goddess DoorComment

I used to think I didn't like wool. I pictured a scratchy and stiff wool sweater against my bare skin, and shuddered. That's before I found out two things: 1) there are many kinds of wool, some very soft and pliable and 2) wool is amazing!

Cool summer style (yes, the sheephearders thing bothers me, too, but it came with the image!)

Cool summer style (yes, the sheephearders thing bothers me, too, but it came with the image!)

Wool is a breathable fabric, providing light insulation for warmth in the winter and to help keep you cool in warmer temperatures.  It can absorb up to 30% of it's weight in moisture without feeling wet (ever sweated in a cotton t-shirt? blech).  I've worn a wool sweater I made for myself on rainy days, and dashing into the store and back out through the rain results in no heaviness, no chill from damp, just comfortable warmth.

If you've bought synthetic exercise clothes, after a while you've learned about the dreaded stink problem. The synthetic fibers hold onto sweaty odors even after washing.  Wool does the opposite. Because of the nature of the crimp in the fibers, dirt stays on the surface and odors don't penetrate.  Never use strong soaps or bleach on wool, because that will make the fibers stiff and you lose some of wool's magic. Gentle detergents will wash away any dirt and keep some of the oils that make wool so soft and water repellent.

Wool is also naturally fire retardant. Wool is renewable and doesn't require killing an animal. Wool is naturally resistant to mold and mildew.  It also doesn't collect static, which means less dust and allergens in the fabric.

Wool felts, which is pretty cool if that's your plan, very sad if it isn't. Felting means that the fibers cling to each other in fear (paraphasing EZ), making for a thick and firm fabric much smaller than the original unfelted item.  Here's a pair of felted slippers I made:

These were in the dryer until they had shrunk to the right size, then brought out to air dry the rest of the way. I placed bags with rice inside to shape them, because they stay very much in the shape they are pulled and stretched into when drying.   

These were in the dryer until they had shrunk to the right size, then brought out to air dry the rest of the way. I placed bags with rice inside to shape them, because they stay very much in the shape they are pulled and stretched into when drying.

 

When one is knitting, wool is the bomb. It has a little stretch to it, and is comfortable to your hands. After knitting with 100% cotton or linen (no stretch at all!), you appreciate the softness and comfort of wool even more!  And acrylic yarn feels all plasticy, a bit like the plastic coated rope used to make clothesline.  It is fine in its place, but for anything next to the skin, I'd prefer at least some wool content.

What about a wool allergy? From my reading online (i.e. not a wool allergy expert here), it sounds like the lanolin in the wool can cause an allergy, which is fairly rare. Those people would also be allergic to lotions and makeup with lanolin in them. Many people who say they have a wool allergy have had an itchy sweater experience instead. Maybe some fine merino would be in order?  Some people do develop a rash and hives and all that, so I don't mean to discount a real problem, but again, it's fairly rare.  

If you are just unsure about wool, give it a try. It's great for sports, outdoors activities, and keeping warm, but also for luxurious softness and high style. It takes dyes well, and rich, amazing, vibrant colors exist. Here's a picture of a wool sock yarn I just bought:

Peacock colors!

Peacock colors!

And there are superwash wools out there. They are coated with some magic material that allows them to be thrown in the washer and dryer. Pretty cool stuff, which I like for baby and kids knits, because it's just easier.  One thing I've learned with superwash, though, is that the object will grow a bit because the fibers don't grab each other as much, so after wearing your hat or socks or whatever, you might find it's loose on you. It will tighten back up after washing and drying, but this quality is unique to superwash wools only.  Just a little tip if you are handwashing and lying flat to dry: your hat might fit a melon after a while!

Regular wool that isn't superwash can be washed by hand, which isn't too big a deal. I use Soak or Eucalin, which comes in nice scents. Just fill a bowl with lukewarm water, add a cap of the wash, wet the item and let it soak for 20 minutes, then rinse once in the same temperature water (no agitation or wringing).  I lay it out flat to dry, or shape it over a bowl or styrofoam head (doesn't everyone have one of those?).  Washing doesn't need to happen very often for hats or outerwear, as dirt doesn't penetrate. I will let things hang outside to air out occasionally, and that is always nice.

So, yes, wool is a pleasure to knit, a pleasure to wear, lovely, and practical.  If you look at my Etsy shop, you will see that I often use at least some wool content in the things I make. And oh, don't get me started on Alpaca: yum!

Any thoughts or questions about wool? Feel free to share in the comments!