Sheepies in Love Pattern

For Valentine's Day at the shop this year I designed a free embroidery pattern of two sheep in love for our customers. Valentine's has come and gone and since this weekend is the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Fest, I thought I would offer it up here. The sheep love pattern can be downloaded here.

Also, if this is your first embroidery project or your first hard copy transfer, I highly recommend Jenny Hart's tutorials, they are how I learned. For this project I used the tracing paper and transfer pen technique, but if you don't have a transfer pen or carbon transfer paper, you can get away with tracing it lightly onto your fabric with a thin graphite pencil. Have fun!!


Dyeing with Dandelions, part 1

Dandelion heads in the dyepot.
I have to admit, I have never understood the appeal of a manicured lawn and find grass boring. It could be due to this or my laziness that I allow dandelions to grow freely in my yard, much to the dismay to my neighbors. I love dandelions, they are bright and beautiful and are one of the first glimpses of the warm summer days to come. Spring started late this year so the dandelions didn't start popping up until the beginning of April, but within a week of the first flower they were everywhere so now seemed a good time to try out their dye capabilities.

I use mason jars for the copper and iron
baths. They are marked so I can reuse
them in future dye experiments.
I read a bit about dandelion dyes before I started so I knew that the results would be yellows, greens and browns. I decided to experiment a bit with dye concentrations so instead of sticking with the standard 1:1 ratio of dyestuff to fiber I did an additional 2:1 batch to see how deep the colors would go. I am only dyeing with the dandelion flowers this time around so after gathering the dandelions I decapitated them and weighed the heads. Dandelions need to be used fresh and according to one thing I read, the best color is achieved later in the season when they are getting more sun (it has been rainy and overcast here for a few weeks now so I might try another batch later in the summer to see if that actually does make a difference.) To make the dye liquor, I boiled the dandelion heads for 30 minutes, removed them from the liquid and then threw in my mordanted fibers to simmer for about 40 minutes and let them cool overnight before rinsing.
Final results- alum mordant, alum mordant with copper bath, alum mordant with iron mordant.
Now the specifics- I mordanted all of the sample skeins in alum and cream of tarter (12% alum, 6% cream of tarter.) The first skeins of each set were dyed with a 1:1 dyestuff to fiber ratio and the second skeins in each set were dyed with a 2:1 dyestuff to fiber ratio. I am absolutely in love with the lighter version of the green and plan to try some larger skeins. 

Next week I will dye with the leaves, stems and flowers of the dandelion to see if I can get more greens. 


Dyeing with Hibiscus, part 2

Last week I wrote about my hibiscus dyeing experience and how I was pretty disappointed with the color results. Since hibiscus is supposed to be very sensitive to tap water, I used distilled water for the entire process. The results I ended up with were pretty boring so I decided to try again using tap water to see if that might shift my results more towards the lavender I desired. Unfortunately, the tap water just produced slightly browner results, also something that did not interest me.

I wrote about indigo dyeing last month after I taught my first class on the process. I mentioned that pre-reduced indigo is reduced enough to be used with just water, but it makes for a more delicate one-time-use vat. While that process is completely inappropriate in a group dyeing setting (I spent a good chunk of my class time dealing with vats that kept getting oxidized by students not used to dyeing with indigo,) it is perfect for me when I need a quick vat. I made up a two gallon vat and was able to get multiple dips in the indigo before it was oxidized which was more than I expected out of such a simple vat. I also found the fibers dyed in the water vat rinsed clear much faster than those in a more traditional vat (which might have also been because all of the fibers going into this vat were mordanted in alum.)

From left to right- hibiscus in distilled water, hibiscus tap water, hibiscus tap water with one dip in indigo, hibiscus with two dips in indigo.

Now the specifics- the recipe I found called for 2 tablespoons of prereduced indigo to one gallon of cold water, but it mentioned that you can use as little as one teaspoon for lighter colors. I ended up going with 1 tablespoon in two gallons of water since I was only dyeing 8 sample skeins and 200g of fiber. I still didn't get the results that I wanted, but I really like the greenish blues that happen when you overdye the hibiscus skeins with indigo so there is a slight chance I will do this again.


Dyeing with Hibiscus, part 1

While browsing possible natural dyes to try this summer I came across an image of wool top that had been dyed a lovely lavender gray color with hibiscus. I have written in the past about dyeing food (well beverages) with hibiscus flowers, but this is my first time dyeing fibers with them. In food, hibiscus flowers range from light pink to deep magenta depending on the concentration, but fiber dyes and food dyes are very different. I only found a little information online about using hibiscus on fiber, but it seems you can expect anything form light pink to deep purple depending on the mordant used.

For the dye extraction I used a ratio of 2:3 dye stuff to fiber. This was a guess based on the 1:1 ratio using fresh flowers given by Jenny Dean in Wild Color, but it seemed like a good starting point. There are a few things I learned about hibiscus in my initial research. I found that hibiscus is very sensitive to high heat and water quality so to get as much color as possible out of the flowers I filled the bowl with distilled water and let the dried flowers soak overnight before doing the actual extraction. I kept the temperature of the extraction at a simmer for just over an hour and then strained to separate the dye liquor from the flowers. The resulting dye liquor was so red it almost looked black.

I did the extraction before I determined the weight of all the goods that I would be dyeing so instead of underestimating what I might need I decided to overestimate and put it into a solution for easy use. I ended up making a 4% solution based on the volume of stock I ended up with, but as long as you label, any ratio will work.

To test the results of different dye methods, I mordanted half of the sample skeins as well as 200g of corriedale top in alum and cream of tarter (12% alum, 6% cream of tarter) and left the other sample skeins unmordanted. I simmered everything in the dyepot for an hour and then let everything cool in the dyepot overnight. Finally, I moved two of the mini skeins into a copper bath and another 2 skeins and the fiber into an iron bath to shift the colors.

In the end, I was really disappointed in the hibiscus. I ended up with pink and pinky browns, none of the lavenders or deep pinks I saw elsewhere. Also, there was no discernible color difference between the skeins that weren't mordanted and those that were which was also a disappointment. I still have some dye solution left so I am going to try a few more sample skeins in tap water to see if I can get different colors, I'll post more about that next week.

Top row- no mordant, Bottom row- alum & cream of tartar mordant, Left to right- hibiscus, hibiscus with iron, hibiscus with copper.  The corriedale fiber was dyed with hibiscus and iron.

And if you have leftover hibiscus, you can always make a batch of lavender lemonade or Jamaican sorrels.


A Study in Blue

I have been slacking on tracking my natural dyeing and since I spent most of March preparing to teach my first indigo dyeing class at Rebelle, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start again.

My past experiences with indigo have been with the dry powder in a chemical vat, but a few months ago I discovered Jacquard's Pre-Reduced Indigo which you can buy alone or in the tie dye kit that includes the reducing agent. I'd never used the pre-reduced indigo, but I read that it is faster and more user-friendly than the more traditional forms which made it a great fit for the shop.

Indigo is what is called a vat dye which means the dye matter is not water soluble and doesn't attach itself to fibers in it's natural state, it must be reduced. The reduction process removes the oxygen from the dye and is usually done with a chemical reducing agent (Thiourea Dioxide, also known as thiox or Spectralite) or by fermentation. The pre-reduced indigo from Jaquard comes 60% reduced so while it is possible to use it without any reduction chemicals, some reduction is required to maintain the vat for more than one use and definitely necessary when dealing with a group of dyers. Even with the wait for the soda ash and thiox to do their things, you can have a vat ready to go in 20 minutes (though if you can wait to the 45 minute mark it seems you will get better blues right off the bat.)
Shibori tea towel- just out of the vat (left) and oxidized after two dips in the indigo (right.)
The other unique thing about indigo is the dyeing technique used. Protein and cellulose fibers are dyed the same, there is no modant needed, and the actual time the fiber spends in the dye is short compared to other dye methods. To dye, the peice is carefully submerged into the vat and stays there from 1-5 minutes. Then it is carefully removed from the vat and comes out a bright green (called indigo white.) After 20 or so minutes outside the vat, the oxygen in the air turns the indigo white to blue. Darker blues are achieved with multiple dips in the dye.
1,2,3,&4 dips in the indigo vat.

The first time I teach anything is always a bit of a mess so two weeks before the class, my friend Chris and I tested the class setup I had planned so I could make alterations before the actual class. This was also a chance for me to do some actual dyeing since I rarely get to do anything during class time other than teach. I dyed some yarn, some roving and a few shibori tea towels. After we solved the set-up issues I made the final shopping list for the class and I was ready to go.

The class set-up consisted of two vats, a flat oxidizing area and a clothesline for oxidizing the larger peices of fabric and skeins of yarn. I used 5-gallon buckets from Home Depot for the vats which can be bought with a tight-fitting lid for under $5 and are absolutely perfect for a vat you want to re-use.

Next adventure- growing indigo in the dirty south.


Project Planner Insert

My project page for the shop, I also have one for personal projects.
Between owning a business, teaching, volunteering, and my gig at the library, I tend to have quite a few projects going at once. I keep an ongoing to do list for projects that need to be done within the next week at the front of my planner, but that doesn't work for long-term projects. I have a lot of "as time permits" tasks, especially for the shop, that never make the main to do list. For these items I keep a LONG running list in Google Drive as well as a shorter post-it style list in my planner. The advantage of keeping a shortened list is that it allows me to focus on just a few of those tasks at a time without getting overwhelmed, so it helps me get more done during my downtime (for this reason I also try to make sure that every project listed on this page can be done in 1-2 hours.) I made a very simple planner insert to be used with the 2" full-adhessive Post-it notes which are my absolute favorites right now. The one I use is single sided with this list on the back, but since the list isn't mine to share I am uploading the page as a double-sided project list that you can print either as single or double sided planner page. Once I was sure I liked this system, I had mine laminated at a local copy shop to prolong the life of the pages.

2-up letter version (cuts to 2-5.5x8.5" pages)
2-up A4 version (cuts to 2-A5 pages)
A5 version


New Year, New Planner

My current planner's dashboard with my
short term to-do list, stickers, post-its,
and a zipper pouch for loose papers.
Toward the end of last year I decided that it was time to overhaul my planning system. I have been using a Slingshot Organizer since 2003 and while I absolutely love this planner, even with the larger size it still didn't quite have enough room for everything I needed it to hold. Around last June my Slingshot disappeared and after a few weeks of hoping for its reappearance, I gave up. I started using Google calendar exclusively as my planner and carrying a small notebook for lists. Long story short, I hated it. I felt scattered and unorganized and while I loved Google calendar's push notifications, I hated my interaction with it and that many times I wouldn't realize the thing was happening until an hour before which resulted in several panicked rushes to a place for a thing. Basically I learned that I need a paper planner with month and week views that I can keep with me. I need a planner that can't access Facebook or Twitter, I need a planner that won't interrupt what I am doing with text messages and most importantly, I need a planner that I want to interact with.

I started looking at Filofaxes, the holy grail of the planner community. I had a Day Runner all through college and had it not been for my simplification to the Slingshot Organizer I probably would have upgraded to a Filofax shortly after. A quick Google image search for Filofax planners yielded thousands of beautiful images of personalized planners, I thought "this is for me." I then started watching YouTube videos of different set-ups, systems, and decorating tips and quickly became overwhelmed. Then I started looking at the non-leather filofax options which were totally disappointing so I looked at used leather versions- of course the one I really liked was a rare model going for three times its original price on ebay. I decided before I spend several hundred dollars on a planner that I might or might not like, I should test run a cheaper model. I knew the A5 was the right size for me so I started with a half-sized three-ring binder I had leftover from a work training years ago. I bought some dividers, blank calendar pages, and some washi tape (the filofax world is all about the washi tape) then started searching the internet for printables to add to my planner. I spent hours putting the thing together and decorating the calendar pages for the first few weeks. I quickly realized that while it looked great and made me excited to use it, there is no way I can devote this kind of time to a tool use to manage my time. I needed something easy but still nice to look at.

My second series of decorated pages after I added the Spiraldex.
Then I discovered the Chronodex, a visual time management tool, and its more aesthetically pleasing (at least to me) cousin, the Spiraldex. As a visual person, these systems work very well for me and in addition to mapping out my time visually they add a bit of decoration to the planner pages, something that I am obviously not going to do. After a week of using the little spirals pasted into my planner, I was sold. I looked into buying a stamp of the spiraldex from the creator, but he has been "working on it" for what looks to be well over a year (insert time management joke here.) Anyway, I sent the image to a stamp company and within a week I had the stamp in my hand, perfectly sized for my planner.  I used the stamp on plain planner pages for a couple of weeks, but I still longed for the decorated pages. I looked at several options on Etsy, but nothing suited me- Saturdays and Sundays are always smaller than the other days, apparently organized people have lazy weekends. Larger weekend days were one of the many things I loved about my Slingshot planner and at this point I was considering going back, but I was already getting used to all the other systems I had set up in my planner, it was just the weekly and monthly planner pages that I couldn't seem to get right. Then it dawned on me- why not put the Slingshot pages into my new planner? It was simple and perfect- the pages are already decorated and my spiral stamp fits perfectly into the daily cells, plus there is the bonus of me already being comfortable with the layout.
Just stamped naked pages and my custom stamp. This is what everything looks like at the beginning of the month.
And here is what the pages look like when they are in use.
So for the last month I have been using my modified Slingshot Organizer and so far I am really happy with it. I love the way it looks and I love the little daily facts and date reminders and most of all I like that there is a little anarchy hidden amongst the organization. Anyway, I thought I would share my system since I learned a lot from seeing what others are doing. Also I created a few custom printables that I will share in the coming weeks so stay tuned.