Dyeing Adventures

I have a good friend who has given me several hand-dyed warps over the past couple years.  I have woven some of my favorite projects using those warps, and have been interested in learning how to dye myself.  As interesting as it sounds, dyeing is NOT an activity that is very child-friendly, especially the fiber-reactive chemical dyes that work better on cotton.  My friend invited me to come on Labor Day and dye with her, to learn the process, on condition the children didn’t come.  Overall that wasn’t a big issue, except that I had never left my baby (almost 7 months old now) for more than 15 minutes prior to Monday.  It was a HUGE decision on my part, whether or not to go since he couldn’t be there.  In the end, my mother babysat the baby, the other children stayed home with their dad, and I’m VERY glad I went!!!

To start, you have to measure off how much yarn you want to dye, and prepare the fibers.  She recommended I hand-wind a 3 ounce ball of slub yarn.  This is Queen Anne’s Lace from Henry’s Attic, that I inherited when I purchased my first floor loom and hadn’t found a good purpose for yet.

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In addition to the hand-wound ball, I wound 400 threads of 8/2 cotton at about 8 yards for a weaving warp, two machine-wound center-pull balls of 8/2 cotton, about 3 ounces each, and two more machine-wound center-pull balls of the Queen Anne’s Lace.

The next step is to scour the yarn, which is accomplished by putting a bit of plain blue Dawn dish soap into a pot of water and boil the yarn for 5 minutes before letting it cool.  This was the very first time I’d ever scoured yarn myself, and used FAR too much Dawn, but even with the rinsing I ended up doing to try to get a lot of the soap out after, it was a good learning experience.

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My actual first big mistake was with my weaving warp.  I used 8/4 cotton warp in magenta as my counting tie, cross holder, and choke ties.  And in the scouring that bled and slightly stained my warp.  I was a little nervous what affect that would have on the entire dyeing process, but decided I’d just make sure to include a “pink” into my dye choices and hope for the best.

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I didn’t take any pictures during the dyeing process (not my home, supplies, or area of expertise, and really I was trying to soak everything in), but it was still fun.  I personally did NOT mix any of the dyes.  My friend did that and I didn’t pay close attention to the quantities since my goal was to see the process more than the particulars.  I chose a green/turquoise/purple colorway, and it was SO MUCH FUN to go through the process of making sure the yarn was rinsed (she had the most awesome solar dryer that made the process so much easier), applying the color (make sure to wear gloves!!!), and experimenting with the balls and the “extra” dye to see what we could come up with for them.

The next step was to wait 24 hours.  Seriously.  I think the waiting has to be one of the hardest parts!!!  Fortunately for me, I still had to go collect the baby, do our weekly shopping, and go home (3.5 hour drive) to help take the time that afternoon/evening, and Tuesday was a school day so that helped my morning hours.  I ended up not even being able to start rinsing until late in the afternoon, so about 27 hours after we finished applying the color.  The instructions were “rinse twice, then boil.”  Here is where I admit to rinsing a LOT more than twice, because there was so much dye coming off into the wash basin.

I ended up putting the yarn on the stove before putting on dinner, and it was comedic to see my children come to check the stove to see what was for dinner, only to see that pot of yarn.  (They KNOW I bought that pot specifically for yarn dyeing, since chemical dyes do NOT mix with food preparation equipment AT ALL, so that made it more funny.)  When my husband got home, the above picture is what he saw on the stove.  It makes me smile!

This morning I got up early and rinsed the yarn until it ran clear (it did still take a while), then did my best to get rid of the excess liquid.  This is when I was REALLY wishing I had access to my friend’s solar dryer for the spinner!

After doing my best to spin it without a spinner, I decided that it would likely take days for the balls to dry as they were, and recognize the likelihood they’d start to go musty by then, I looked for a different solution.  I’m not a spinner (yet at least) so I don’t have a niddy noddy, but I do have a warping mill.  I decided to wind the balls onto the mill so I could loosely chain them and hang them out to dry.

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The added advantage of being able to wind them on the reel was that I got to see how the dye worked through the entire ball at different rates and amounts.  It was really fun to see it come out!

After winding everything (while children read their reading lessons to me, recited spelling words, and did work for their tech classes), I went and hung it on the line to get the added benefit of the evening sun to finish drying.

And here’s the final results:

The weaving warp, which will likely turn into dishtowels.  Originally I intended them for my mother, but I may end up keeping them!

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The hand-wound ball of Queen Anne’s Lace.  This is honestly my absolute favorite of the entire set, but I have NO idea what to do with it to do it justice.  This will take some thought and sitting to get “just the right project” for it.

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The machine-wound balls, 8/2 on the left and Queen Anne’s Lace on the right. These came out amazing, and when I wound them on the warping reel, I realized I have enough to make a narrow warp.  I’m considering using these as warp with the machine-wound balls of Queen Anne’s Lace as weft for washcloths to use around the house.  I believe cleaning should be pretty!

And my conclusions:

Dyeing with fiber-reactive (chemical) dyes is definitely not something that is extremely child-friendly, so I’ll have to figure out how to do it either at night and/or outside while my children are otherwise occupied, and there will be STRICT rules in place when I’m working with the dyes.

And that tells you the other conclusion, that I will DEFINITELY be dyeing my own yarn now!  The entire experience was a big learning curve but so much fun.  I’m excited at the prospect of being able to choose my own colors (within reason, there’s always the surprise of not knowing EXACTLY how the yarn will take the color, and there’s always so many variables it’s difficult to get EXACTLY what was envisioned), and the concept of being about to dye warps AND weft myself to compliment each other is exciting to me.

Now to tell my husband I want to buy dye materials…

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County Fair Results

I love the *idea* of the county fair. As a mom, I don’t love the execution of it. Maybe I’m a spoil-sport. Maybe I’m stuffy. I don’t know. I just don’t really enjoy it. We live in a TINY county, so if my kids enter anything, there’s a VERY good chance they’ll get at least one “blue” ribbon. But since EVERY entry gets a ribbon of some sort, I don’t even think that’s a big deal. They do though, and that’s why I do it.

I’ll do 4-H first. I was a “bad mom” and DIDN’T take pictures of the Cloverbud ribbons. They’re strictly participation. No judging at all. They’re green and pretty. And that’s it. Sariah participated in three 4-H clubs. Here’s her projects:

 

In Leatherworking, she got the 2nd place Champion Ribbon (the red rosette) for her dragon purse (and they didn’t award ribbons for the rounders). In Art, she entered her entire sketchbook, featuring the phoenix. And for hiking the leader had each child put together a scrapbook of the photos they took on their hikes.

Ribbon identification for Open Class: White = C Award (participation ribbon), Red = B Award (better than C, but not top quality), Blue = A Award (top quality, eligible for competing for the purple “Champion” and lavender “Reserve Champion” Rosettes).

And now, our Open Class entries. First up, the LEGO creations.

Left, we have the original “sunken ship” creation, by Sariah, age 10yo. Center is the mishmash Pirate Ship, Dragon, and Rocket/Space Ship (from instructions on the LEGO site) by Kent, one of the twins, age 7. Right is the DUPLO “Playing house with the twins” by Erik, the other twin.

Next, we have the watercolors:

Top left is called “Bookshelf and Toys” by Erik. Top Right is “Blackie the Midnight Horse” by Samantha, age 5. Bottom left is “The Dragon” by Sariah. Bottom right (this one I was most impressed with, because of his drawing ability before painting) is called “The Dragon Car” by Kent.

I want to add a sidenote here to state a disappointment in our county fair display and organization. The watercolors were NOT all in the same section, even though they were supposed to be. One was found in the middle of photographs, another was in the oil paintings, and the last two were where they belonged with the watercolors. When we dropped everything off, they were ALL placed with the watercolors, so I have no idea how that separation happened. It was odd, but okay. My REAL disappointment came in the fiber arts (knit, crochet, embroidery, quilting, and weaving). The displays were set in tables about 20 feet long by 3 feet wide (with a “wall” behind the 3 feet section). There were two full lengths of table for the art. When you went around the corner, you got to the fiber art. There was one FULL length of table covered by quilts, pinned to the wall hanging and displayed on the tables. NONE of them overlapped more than about 8 inches. When you turned the other side of the aisle, there was ANOTHER 15 feet of quilts, displayed similarly, with nothing overlapping more than 8″. Then there was the embroidery, very prettily displayed, not overlapping. Then the weaving. They folded my blanket to 8″ wide pushed it against the framed embroidery/needlepoint on one side and the knitting on the other side, and stacked my daughter’s entry ON TOP of the blanket so you could barely see it AT ALL. Then there was the knitting on the end, prettily displayed and easy to see. And my daughter and I had the ONLY weaving entries, there was NO competition and it was visually obvious they didn’t really care about them at all, based on how they were displayed compared to all the other fiber arts.

Here’s the photo of the weavings:

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So yes, I won the “Grand Champion” for the category. But considering I was also the ONLY entry for the category (children are in a different category than adult entries) it doesn’t mean much to me.

I’m now contemplating the idea of entering the state fair (which in our state is divided between the east and the west state fairs) to see how my weaving compares to others. It’s hard to “judge” a project with absolutely NOTHING to compare it to!

How to Weave (the VERY Simplified Version)

1) Decide what your’e going to weave. This is NOT simple! Good luck. For this example (with the photos) I chose a baby blanket I found in a Handwoven magazine. I decided to do it “as written” EXCEPT I decided to do enough for two blankets instead of just one. And that requires lots of calculating, to make sure you’re going to have enough yarn in the right colors to make it all work. (See, homeschool is EVERYWHERE in life!) The draft I chose is “Sweet Honey in a Waffle” Baby Blanket, available for purchase here:  https://www.interweave.com/store/sweet-honey-in-a-waffle-baby-blanket (NOT an affiliate link) This is an 8 shaft, 40″ wide draft, so requires a large floor loom. The loom I planned to use for this is a 60″ Didier Schwartz countermarch loom, built in the 1970’s. And no, looms of this size don’t come inexpensively.

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1) Wind the warp threads. This blanket is made from 8/2 cotton yarn from the WEBS company. It required 960 warp threads; half were “Turquoise Green”, the other half the variegated “Baby Pastel”. I wound them in 10 sets to make it easier to keep them straight. My toddler was amazingly a great help with the vertical warping mill. (Admission: the yarn on the warping mill in the photo was a different project; I couldn’t pull a decent still shot from the video of my toddler helping and I ONLY had video of that project on the warping mill.)

2) Thread the reed. I threaded this reed with 2 threads per dent. And the close-up photo shows where I missed a dent and had to rethread about 50 threads to fix it.

3) Thread the heddles. Every single thread needs to go through a separate heddle in the correct order and position to make the pattern on the loom.

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4) Tie up the treadles. On jack looms this isn’t as big of a deal but on this large countermarch loom, it’s quite an adventure to get it done. It’s always nice when I have a willing helper, especially since I’m not exactly small and I have to be INSIDE the loom to do the tie-up properly.

5) Tie the warp to the warp beam rod, wind it on, and tie the other end onto the cloth beam. This is an adventure keeping the threads straight, especially since it’s 40” wide and I wound 4 yards of yarn for this project (enough for two baby blankets).

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6) Weave a header (yellow in this project), check for errors, and start weaving! This project used two shuttles, switching every two passes of the shuttle to make the honeycomb/basket weave effect.

7) Measure as you go, to make sure your project is the size you want it. I was aiming for (mostly) square. Since the warp is 40” wide on the loom, I measured a ribbon 40” long to act as my guide. The wood “stick” on the top is called a weaving temple. It helps hold the fabric stretched to the proper width, which helps avoid warp breakage and keeps it more uniform in width as you weave (very helpful with over a yard of fabric length for the project).

8) When you’re at the “end” cut your project off the loom! I only wove off half the warp before cutting off the first blanket. I’ll retie the warp to the warp beam to weave the second blanket later. (I was in a rush to get it off to be able to submit in the county fair.)

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9) Do the finishing work! This includes fixing any mistakes, wet finishing, hemming, and pressing. For this project, after fixing the mistakes I hand-hemmed the blanket, then did the wet finishing. In the photos, before (on the left) and after (on the right) wet finishing and pressing. There is a HUGE difference between the two, and it’s one of the most important steps for a fully finished woven cloth.

And that’s it. That’s the process of weaving. Except it’s really NOT as straightforward as that sounds. Because nothing is. In the duration of this project, I finished weaving off a different set of baby blankets on the other loom (you can kind of see it in the photos on the left side sometimes); had a baby; wound, threaded, warped, wove, and finished a set of towels for a contest/service project; and went on vacation twice. I started winding the warp while we were visiting family for the New Year’s celebration, and cut the first blanket off (remember, there’s still a second to tie back on and weave) just in time for the county fair the first week in August.

Weaving is awesome, amazing, and time consuming, especially with 6 children. And it’s worth every minute when I finally get to the finished product. This blanket will be my now 6mo baby’s blanket for the next while, until it gets too cold. I’ve got another set of blankets planned that will be thicker and better for our frigid snowy winters. That is, if I get them woven off in time.

Homeschooling, Weaving, and Life

Thanks for joining me! So what do homeschooling, weaving, and life (especially large family life) have in common? NOTHING ever goes as planned, and if it does absolutely, it’s an amazing thing.

Here’s my homeschool story: When we were dating, my then boyfriend now husband said “I really want my kids to be homeschooled.” I ended up marrying him, and agreed on that informal condition. Except I had NO idea what that meant really for me! I knew I wanted to homeschool. I studied elementary education for long enough to know that I absolutely HATED the politics of the education system here in the US. I was also either always behind or always ahead, and usually bored, in my years growing up in the public education system. But I really didn’t know HOW to homeschool. My husband thought he did. He’s a homeschool graduate, having been homeschooled for all but 1st grade. We learned VERY quickly that there’s NOT a one-size-fits-all in homeschool. I do things differently than his mother (big surprise) and he was convinced her way was the only right way. It caused chaos in our home for a few years while I tried to do it her way and miserably failed, while when I did it my way we did relatively well but it caused stress in our marriage because I “wasn’t doing it the right way.” We’ve now worked through that stress (and yes, I do it my way, and now he sees that it’s working), but it’s pretty much been the course of life. NOTHING went according to my idealized view when our first child was born.

So what was that view? I thought I’d do school at home. You know, buy a nice boxed curriculum set, sit down at the table every day, work through assignments and worksheets, and be done. Everything neat and tidy! There’s even satellite school programs that you can register for (that cost a LOAD of money) that they send you all the materials, your child does the work, you mail it all back, and they do all the review, grading, and mail you accredited completion certificates at the end of the year. Yeah, that’s what I thought I’d do. Not a big surprise for most homeschoolers, that didn’t work AT ALL. Every day was spent with my oldest spending HOURS at the table, crying, because she hated doing her math worksheets and just wanted to read.

I couldn’t handle the stress, so I went searching. Caveat: the things I mention here work for MANY families, including traditional “school at home”. Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it for you! I learned about and tried Robinson Curriculum with her. That didn’t work for us. I learned about the Thomas Jefferson Education Leadership model of education. It was WAY too “unschool” for my husband, and really for me too. I had a hard time implementing all the “parts” and it really was a failure for us. Charlotte Mason didn’t speak to me AT ALL (as much as I love books, reading, copywork, and memorization for everything isn’t my style). The Waldorf method just confused me. Montessori school method was too messy and involved for our living situation (1200 sq ft apartment with 5 kids by the time I discovered that one). I discovered I always have been and probably always will be an eclectic homeschooler. And that’s just fine!

I view eclectic homeschooling much the same as weaving. You choose the warp, the foundation of your homeschool cloth. What’s most important? What are your priorities in homeschooling? What does THAT part look like? For me, I finally realized that what I wanted was a one room schoolhouse approach to education, where everyone could learn together. I also really wanted to have character development an integral part of our school. Yes, the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are also part of that foundation, but HOW those are achieved is more in the design of what threads go up and down than in the threads themselves.

After you choose the warp, then you need to decide your draft/threading order. That determines what threads move up and down together. And the nice thing is that it doesn’t have to stay the same the whole time. You can change it up mid-warp without ANY issues! I feel like this is the curriculum choices in homeschool. For me, that means the one room schoolhouse approach for conducive subjects (science, literature with family read-alouds for the books, social studies, and character development), with math and reading/spelling on individual levels.

Then there’s the weft. I think, especially having a big family, that is the individuals involved. Changing up the color of the weft (which child I’m working with, or if I’m working with them all at the same time) changes how the cloth looks and interacts. If they are having a tired, off day, it reminds me of the threads breaking (which does happen). And that’s part of life too!

And the last detail is the weaver. In this analogy, that’s me, the homeschool teacher. I have the foundation set up, I’ve chosen the curriculum (draft/pattern), and I’ve got the weft to work with. What order everything fits together, how quickly the cloth is formed, and how it all goes is VERY much dependent on me. If I do nothing, no matter how beautiful the warp, weft, and draft work together, I’ll never get any cloth. And if I try to push too hard and do too much I make stupid mistakes, requiring “unteaching” and redoing things that were done poorly in my push to get results.

So now the large family introduction. My husband and I have been married for 11 years (as of August 2018). We have 6 kids. Our oldest is 10. Then came the twins, who are now 7. Remember the “nothing going as planned”? Who actually EVER plans on spontaneous twins? After them, we got a surprise baby girl who was born before the twins turned 2. She’s now 5. Then two more boys, now ages 3 and 6 months. We also have a 2 year old lab/collie/shepherd mix puppy who is as hyper as that mix sounds. My husband is the director of our local library system (homeschoolers, YES, it’s almost as amazing as it sounds to have a librarian spouse). I stay home with the kids, doing school, household management, and medical management. I’ll leave the medical management for another post. Lets just say NOTHING here is as simple as it seems it should be. And I’m a jack of all trades when it comes to crafting, but I absolutely LOVE weaving! It’s complicated and simple, monotonous and exciting all at once. And isn’t that the way life should be?