Dyeing yarn with indigo

Indigo dye vats have fascinated me for a while now; the magic that happens when you add fibre to a yellow green dye pot to get a blue result puzzles and excites me. Recently I found the time (and courage) to have a go at it; thank you Sandy for the push.
First I did a fair bit of research about how indigo is made from the plant. Indigo is made from the leaves of indigo plants which are fermented, soaked in a caustic solution and then dried to produce the blue ‘rocks’ or powder that comes in the mail for me to play with.
Once I had my little pots of powders and chemicals, I downloaded the instructions for use and got to work…

I decided to dye some hand spun cotton as I had an order for cotton gloves.

I gathered up pots, scales, utensils, indigo, caustic soda
sodium hydrosulphite, yarn and a sense of adventure as per instructions 

I added the caustic and hydrosulphite to the 15 litres of water

I added the indigo to the dye pot

It made a big pot of blue at first, so I put the lid on and waited.

Until the pot was yellow/green with a copper scum on top.
This photo doesn’t show the copper scum to full effect, but it is there.

I decided to experiment with cotton, merino and suffolk yarns (because I had those lying around).

Better late than never, I found a pair of rubber gloves.

I made a tiny skein to test dye first, this one is cotton.

Well, it came out blue.

So I tied the skeins to a bit of wood and lowered them into the pot.

They went a lovely shade of dog vomit green/yellow at first.
 The copper scum shows up much better in this photo.

I lifted the yarn out and waited for it to turn blue

Which it did

Then faded to a much lighter blue as it dried.

That was the batch that worked……the story of the vat that didn’t is much the same until the ‘lifting the yarn out’ stage then I found that my four skeins of cotton yarn (which take forever to prepare and spin) had turned into a big blue jelly fish in the bottom of the vat. I eventually figured out that the 150g of caustic recommended in the instructions was just too much for the yarn and it melted. The second lot I cut the caustic down to 15g (about a tablespoon) and it worked well; must have been a misprint.

In ancient times indigo dye vats were made using stale urine (because they didn’t waste anything). The processed indigo was stuffed into a cloth bag and lowered into a big tub of stale urine and left to ferment for a week. Cloth and fibre was then soaked in the vat for various lengths of time then rinsed (really well, I would think) and left to dry in a breezy place. This kind of dyeing vat is called a sig vat. I will try this method at some point, when I can afford more indigo dye.
Maybe I should try growing some indigo plants, what do you think?
Have you tried indigo dyeing? What was your experience?

Spinning and Plying cotton – part two

Now for the fun bit…
Spinning cotton requires patience and practice. The method is different to wool and the settings on your wheel are different too.

First, the wheel. My wheel has a double band drive, which is not recommended for spinning using the long draw method (commonly used for cotton) as it is hard to adjust the wheel to take up the yarn slowly enough. I have found it is possible to use the long draw method with a double band wheel, you just need to be patient and keep a close eye on the yarn.

 I use what I would call a medium draw method that works efficiently for me. Instead of drawing the fibre back past my hip, as you do with the long draw, I draw back about 30 cm at a time before letting the yarn wind onto the bobbin. I also ‘bend’ the yarn a bit so I can control the twist in the yarn I am drafting. For non- spinners; drafting is pulling the fibre out into a thin line before the spinning wheel puts twist into it.

The clip below shows how an expert spins cotton using the long draw method.

This clip shows how I spin using my medium draw method.

It takes a long time for me to spin a bobbin of cotton, but I enjoy the challenge of getting the single (the un-plyed strand of yarn) smooth and even.

The singles are getting fairly even.

Almost filled a bobbin, just a few more nests.

When the bobbin is full it is time to ply the yarn….see you then.

Spinning and plying cotton – part one.

Spinning cotton is hard but not impossible.
Most of the reading I have done leads me to believe you need cotton carders, a takhli or Charkha spindle and immeasurable patience. Having none of these things I just used what I had and did it anyway.
I spin my cotton without all the traditional equipment; no cotton carders; no supported spindle or  Charkha. I use my wool carders to prepare the fibre and spin it on my old faithful traditional spinning wheel.

The first part of the journey is to prepare the cotton. I am lucky enough to have a sister who grows cotton so she occasionally brings me a garbage bag of bolls (the ‘fruit’ of the plant; a lot of seeds with a cotton ball attached). These bolls need to have the vegetable matter and the seeds removed before being carded into submission ready for spinning.

Removing the seeds and the vegetable matter is not a process that can be rushed; I sit and pick the seeds out of each boll individually along with any large bits of vegetation. It takes about two full bolls to ‘charge’ the cards (charging the cards is a fun way of saying ‘put enough on one carder to make a rolag’). The cotton is then carded or combed from one carder to the next until all the vegetable matter has fallen away (some has to be picked off) and the fibre is smooth.

The usual method is to make punis from the carder cotton by wrapping the little mat of fibre around a stick really tightly to make firm rolag of fibre. I prefer to make mine into nests of soft and fairly airy rolags (a rolag is the mat of carded fibre from the carders rolled up into a cylinder).

Carders and cotton, ready to go (and a drop spindle that photo bombed the shot)

The cotton boles; the brown stuff is vegetable matter

The lump in the middle of the cotton ball is the seed; there are between two and ten of these in every bole

The cotton all loaded onto my carders and ready to be tamed

I don’t make traditional punis, I just make the usual nest, the same as wool.

It takes 26 nests to fill a bobbin on my spinning wheel, so the preparation takes a long time. The next step is spinning the cotton, which has its difficulties too.

Wool spinning advice

If you read this blog regularly, you will have noticed that I am somewhat hyperactive (adult ADHD) and so Like to skip from one thing to another constantly. I have many hobbies that I keep returning to after long breaks. One of the things I like to do is spin…..sheep and alpaca wool, cotton and hopefully one day silk. I just found a great post about how to spin sock yarn that I thought I would share with you.

Knit Better socks Blog

If you are interested in spinning at all, please have a read.

Some of my home spun wool; from left to right- Suffolk cross, natural – merino, chemical dyed – merino, natural.

My old Scotch tension Ashford Traditional spinning wheel.
The start of a reel of cotton; very slow preparing and spinning.

What I like to make from my wool. I didn’t spin the red and green wool for these socks; unfortunately.