Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dyeing Raw Alpaca With Black Walnut Dye

This fall I embarked on a walnut dyeing adventure. Previously I explained how I collected the back walnuts and removed the husks to make a dye bath. Soaking the walnuts was a long process. I did two batches at two different times and each batch soaked for 2 weeks. I didn't dye up the alpaca right away as I was still in the process of washing the fiber. Speaking of which, I hope to explain in the near future how I wash raw alpaca fiber. I know there are all kinds of methods out there for prepping alpaca fiber, though this summer when I looked up "how to wash raw alpaca fiber" I didn't find many satisfactory options.

These pictures are from my first time dyeing with walnuts on Wednesday, November 18th. It was a chilly, windy day. And though the sun was shining I was very thankful for my little fire and a cup of cocoa.  To prep my walnut dye for the dye pot I strained it through a cloth and fine mesh strainer. I filled the dye pot with the strained dye. I also put some of the husks that had been soaking into  a pillowcase, knotted the top and tossed it in the dye. My outdoor fire was set up as follows: 1. I stacked bricks 4 high and 5 deep, per side. I placed a couple bricks on top of the grate on either side as a safety precaution to keep things from sliding about. 2. I spread a generous helping of pebbly sand underneath my grate and a little overflowing out to help keep the ash and coals contained. 3. Then it was time to collect kindling. We have silver maples down in the field that drop an abundance of twigs and branches whenever there is a stiff breeze. Which, by the by, happens quite often here. In addition to the branches I also rummaged up some hardwood scraps from out in the wood shop. These were a great help as they had a longer burn time then the branches.

I had a good fire crackling while the dye bubbled merrily for an hour. When the dye was close to being done went inside to prepare the alpaca fiber. This is where I made my first Mistake Of the Process. I had a pound of alpaca fiber washed and ready to go. I divided it in half and stuffed (yes, I said stuffed *blush) it into my two mesh bags. On later reflection I realized that wasn't my best plan. I did dye again this past Monday, which was Dec. 5th. For that batch of alpaca I put approximately half a pound in each bag only this time I stacked them in three neat rows with tips all pointing the same way. Before putting the locks in the bag I enlisted help to fluff out the tips and tails of the locks. When they get washed they get a little smooshed together, and I figured the locks would be less likely to felt if they were fluffed somewhat.

My second Mistake Of the Process was not letting the dye cool down somewhat. I soaked the bags of fiber in hot water prior to adding it to the dye. But I forgot that the dye was boiling hot. So consequently I felted the fiber just a little. When I dyed with walnuts on Monday I let the dye cool down until it was warm, and I soaked the fiber in the same temperature of water before quickly adding it to the dye pot.

The fiber bubbled over the heat for an hour. Then I let the fiber sit in the dye for six hours. After the fiber had soaked I brought in and rinsed out the excess dye. For the first batch "slightly felted" translated into some back breaking time over the sink as I pulled the locks apart and rinsed them, trying to make sense of the jumbled mess I had created. Two hours was all tidy and laying out to dry.

This is my first batch of walnut-dyed alpaca locks. So far I have not had time to photograph my second batch. The colors turned out different, but as it will all be carded together then spun and knit, I don't think it matters much.

The white locks in the foreground is the natural color of the alpaca before it was dyed with walnuts. I'm hoping to spin up my two pounds of fiber and have enough yarn to make the Oatmeal cardigan from Spin Off. That will be a project for later this winter though as I have many Christmas projects in the works right now. The next week and a half will be very busy indeed!
Well I hope you have enjoyed this little look at dyeing with black walnuts. If you have any comments or questions don't hesitate to drop me a line. I always love to hear from my readers!