Dyeing Fiber by The Arkansas River

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Some fiber friends and I headed west over a couple mountain passes to spend the day in the Arkansas valley attending a natural dye workshop.   Jane, our enthusiastic hostess and instructor, has eleven acres of beautiful property located alongside the Arkansas River set up with everything a fiber enthusiast dreams of.  A physician for twenty five years, she retired to this lovely valley to pursue her passion of fiber.  Her massive studio complete with a dyer’s garden full of color waiting to be harvested, llamas, a variety of sheep and a beautiful patio overlooking the river where one can gather and talk of fiber – the setting was perfect for a day nestled alongside the Collegiate Peaks.

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Jane’s philosophy is simple.  Working with fibers and dyes is a lot of fun. You can follow a lot of rules or you can experiment and see what the results turn out to be. Either way, you end up with something that is more personal that you will treasure.

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The kettles were brewing – weld, logwood, indigo and cochnial and cota.

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Weld produced a knockout yellow color.  It was used by ancient tapestry weavers in Central Asia, Turkey and Europe.  I believe Jane said it is the brightest and clearest yellow flower dye.  We noticed a distinct green cast as the water temperature increased.

Logwood was a seductive, brilliant purple.  It originated from the Americas and to the Aztec Indians it was known as the ‘spiny tree’ because it had a thorny, contorted trunk.  They used it as a weapon.

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Indigo, traditional and most technical of the dyes and, I might add, the stinkiest.  This natural blue dye is affected by oxygen so we had to be careful dipping our fiber in and out of the pot so that the color would not be affected.  As our fiber dried and more oxygen interacted with it the color changed.  I thought it was a bit tricky and only played with it as an overdye.

Cota, or Navajo Tea, produced a beautiful yellow.

My favorite was cochnial with its deep shades ranging from fuchsia to raspberry.  Cochnial is an insect found in South America.  Our instructor imported hers from Peru and ground them to a fine powder to be used in dyeing.  Interestingly enough, it is the only natural red colorant approved by our FDA for food, drugs and cosmetics.

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Most everyone dyed their fiber in variegated tones but I, having knit with variegated yarns that pooled horribly, decided to stick to  semi-solid saturated colors.  After seeing the end results hanging to dry I decided I will be braver next time.  My fiber looks rather plain down there on the bottom rack.

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We had a lesson on how to blend fiber on a hackle.  I’ve only played with blending boards so this was a new technique for me and I had never heard of a hackle before this.

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Fiber animals are always fun getting to know although I mistook one of the alpaca’s intentions and ended up with a wet face.  I thought he was being amorous and leaning in for a kiss for, after all, he was puckering his lips and making smacking noises.  But much to my surprise, before I knew it, he landed a spit storm on me.  He then followed me everywhere I went but I gave him the cold shoulder and told him he blew it and would get no more loving.

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Our day was so delightful that we have already planned another excursion in October.  Guess I better get busy and spin up some fiber!  Meanwhile, I’m off to look at patterns that will incorporate all the yarn I dyed today.  Any suggestions?

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2 thoughts on “Dyeing Fiber by The Arkansas River

  1. I think I prefer the semisolids – especially for bigger projects – variegated is fine for socks and one-skein projects. Yours turned out very well.
    I have some yarn that I want to over-dye but haven’t plucked up the courage yet.

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