Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Waiting for lambs - learning to dye

Abi, a high school senior, loves knitting and wool. She came to stay at the farm this week to learn about raising sheep. It should have been a perfect time-  one week into lambing, the barn should have been full of new babies. We should be cutting umbilical cords, checking for third lambs in mother's uterus', feeding lambs and their moms in their pens. We might even have had a bottle lamb to feed. We should be busy. Very busy.

This week, however, no one has lambed. We have no bottle lambs. In fact, no lambs have been born since February 7. All we have to do is check the sheep every three hours and that doesn't fill up much of a day. So Abby and I have been playing with wool. We skirted and washed a couple of fleeces on Sunday. On Monday, we dyed a fleece navy blue and began experimenting with space dyed yarns.

Most yarns are dyed before they are spun. Color variations are a part of the spinning process. But space dyed yarns have two or more color variations that are created by adding color after the yarn is spun. Sometimes the variations are simple but regular and produce a regular pattern in the knitted garment.

Sometimes the variations are complex and regular, but the knitted garment doesn't necessarily reflect that regularity. The regularity makes it easier to reproduce the pattern again and again on different skeins of yarn.

Sometimes the dye patterns are very complex. Abi introduced me to Koigu yarns on the Internet. They have absolutely wonderful color variations. We decided that reproducing those yarns would be fun. I got out my old space dyeing experiments for examples, but I'd never tried any space dyeing with such complex patterns.  We spent the entire day adding six or eight different colors to a skein of yarn. Then we steamed the yarn to set the color, let it cool enough that we could judge what we had created to learn what worked well and what didn't, and then began on the next skein. In spite of short breaks to check the sheep and eat, we only finished three skeins. Time flew.
 Space dyeing yarns is addictive. We wanted to do more. The knitting that Abby had seen from Koigu yarns had each stitch a different color. Those yarns come in dyelots of 22 skeins. That means that they only guarantee that 22 skeins will knit up in exactly the same collection of colors. They must have found some way to make their seemingly random color choices reproducible.

Dave helped us design a  machine to make our space dyeing more repeatable. We finished it last night. Today we'll try to create a repeatable pattern in lots of colors, while we wait for lambs.

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