Recently I sat in on a class that my colleague taught on fiber and dyeing. I had mentioned a year ago that I wanted to learn to dye my own yarn and she invited me to sit in on this class. I’m so glad that I did!
She started off by passing around a cotton boll. We learned to gin the cotton which means we tore the seeds out of the cotton. Then we took the cotton and pulled it slightly apart to try to spin it with our hands. We also tried some spindles and a spinning wheel. I was surprised how different cotton is from the animal fibers that I usually spin. Cotton is much harder! I also learned that it is illegal to grow cotton in South Carolina without a license. From my research, I think the government is afraid that the boll weevil will demolish the cotton crops and devastate our farmers so only licensed growers may grow cotton. The penalties for growing cotton seem even worse than being caught growing marijuana!
Next we learned how to process flax. We took the bundles of flax and did some “breaking and skutching” which breaks the stalks and removes the fiber. Next was hackling where we threw the fiber on a bed of nails and pulled them through as if combing them. What was left was the fiber that a person would spin. To spin the fiber, you would need a distaff (a long vertical pole) and you would need to spin it wet. We didn’t do that part but it was interesting to see how much flax you start out with and how little fiber you end up with at the end of the process.
Next we learned to dye things in the indigo bath. The indigo bath came out in a garbage pail and smelled really stinky! We used rubber gloves to put our items in the bath. The students dyed tshirts but I dyed some raw Knit Picks fingering weigh yarn that was in a skein. My yarn had to be wet in order to absorb the dye. I dipped the dye in the bath and held it under the water to absorb the dye. Meanwhile the stench made my eyes water! When I thought it absorbed the dye enough, I squeezed as much liquid out of the yarn as I could. Then I hung it up to dry but left the class before it dried. When I brought it home, I rinsed it in water and gentle soap (Soak or Euclan) and a lot of the blue dye came out. Then I hung it up to dry. I love how it turned out!
You can see the pictures from the class HERE.
Original photos by Pat Hensley