Thinking about dyeing

~A day’s worth of dyeing. The yarns on the end are from left to right: madder root, turmeric and beets~

All the pictures in this post are from 2005 and 2006. That was before I had a blog and before I was in the habit of taking pictures of my crafts. They are all of relatively poor quality, so sorry about that. I went through a phase back then of doing A LOT of dyeing. These are just some of the things I managed to find pictures of. There are so many more that aren’t pictured.

~Play silks for wrapping Christmas gifts in~

In the years that these were taken, we were still really sick. I was past the crisis stage by then, up and about, but still ill much of the time and exhausted all of the time. Exposure to a trigger still sent me to bed with my oxygen tank and we were very limited in what we could and could not handle, but I was well enough to go about most of the normal work of life, a fair bit of the time.

~The Boys tie-dyed these as a project for Iain’s 6th birthday~

It was during this time that we found out we were expecting Galen, which was, admittedly a bit of a surprise. We had wanted more children, but I had been so ill and we still didn’t have safe housing. I think I met that pregnancy with equal parts joy and over-whelming fear. It was a really scary and dark time for me and I became deeply depressed. No one could tell me if he was going to be alright or not. There were many times when I would be so sick that I would start to feel myself loose consciousness. Steve would get my oxygen mask on me and things would improve. But I knew that if I was experiencing the effects of oxygen deprivation then he had been experiencing it for longer. Every day brought a new risk to him.

~So many different dyes here! I know that the bright yellow is turmeric and the main color on the sweater is madder root. As for the other colors, I think there is some beet in there, some coriander, maybe some coffee.~

We are so lucky and have been so, so blessed with his general good health. He has residual problems with allergies and yeast, but beyond that no other permanent damage seems to have been done. The joy of his existence, of his wellness, brought me through some really difficult times.

I’m not really sure why I’m talking about all of this right now. Seems like a rather odd lead in to a post about dyeing yarn, doesn’t it? But I assure you, they are connected.

~A close-up. I remember being so pleased with this yarn as I was painting it. Then I tried to steam it and all the colors blended and mixed and lost a lot of their vibrancy. That little soaker is so tiny! I think I was around 24 weeks pregnant when I knitted it and I remember thinking that the baby would have to be born right then for it to fit! But it fit him perfectly for the first couple of weeks, when nothing else did. Màiri on the other hand was too big for it on the day she was born!~

Aside from the obvious, one of the major problems that we were having during that time was finding safe clothing for the children. I had boxes and boxes full of hand-me-downs that I couldn’t go near and they couldn’t possibly wear. Even our own things that should have been passed from child to child were useless. We had all started reacting to the detergent that we had used years before (Mrs. Myers in case you are wondering). So, here I was, with two kids that only had a couple of things to wear and one on the way with nothing at all.

~A couple of baby things; both natural and dyed with black walnut hulls. I always found it interesting how different fibers picked up the colors differently. Those wool booties are from the same dye pot as all the brown cotton above.~

So, hand-me-downs were out, as were thrift stores. Regular new clothing presented a problem as well; needing to be soaked for several days and then washed many times over before it could be worn (and making me sick all the while and leaving me feeling ill at ease about what I might be exposing my little ones to). Organics were great and what I wanted to be dressing them in anyway, but the cost was prohibitive and the selection extremely slim for the older children. I think there are more options these days, though it’s still expensive and limited, but back then it was even worse.

~Toddler sweater knitted from yarns dyed with fustic (the rust color) and madder root (the red)~

What I did have access to were several co-ops that were around at the time (they’re no anymore, so don’t bother asking) that did buys for organic fabric and yarn. I crunched some numbers and figured out that I could make most things for about a quarter of what I could buy them for. And so I took on the task of making most of Iain and Elijah’s clothes and all of Galen’s. I had all but stopped sleeping anyway, out of fear and worry, so I stayed up every night, dyeing and knitting and sewing until I was so exhausted that I would drift off, usually with knitting needles still in hand.

~My Dad holding Sweet Baby Galen, who is wearing a pair of shorties, knitted with yarn that had been tie-dyed using chlorophyll~

I was really excited to find some gorgeous color-grown materials and I worked with then extensively for a while. There got to be a point when I started getting really bored with always working in shades of cream, brown and green. I remember Iain coming to me one day (I think I had just given him a new shirt) and sighing wistfully saying, “Can’t we ever have anything blue? I mean I like green and cream and brown, but…” and then he sighed again.

~Longies from the same yarn, as you can see, I also did some solid to use for trim.~

I started experimenting with natural dyes, the irony being that most natural dyes produce lovely shades of colors like green and brown.

I didn’t want to risk the toxicity of traditional mordants, so I resorted to vinegar and salt, depending on the dye I was using.

I did a lot of experimenting and more often then not, I had no idea what kind of color I was going to end up with. Which is probably how Galen ended up with such a wide selection of pink things! I never did manage to create a good blue, though I did use indigo to dye the snowsuit I made him and turned a pretty pale grey/bluish-green.

~Cotton jacket dyed with madder root~

The sad thing about dyeing this way is that it simple doesn’t last. The madder and the fustic actually held up pretty well. The indigo developed strange rust like stains while in storage. Everything else just faded until it just ended up looking drab and dirty (even when it wasn’t).

~Galen on his first Halloween wearing a black walnut hull dyed bunny suit. The underside of the ears are madder root pink like the jacket above.~

I’ve been really itching to do some more dyeing again. This week I experimented a bit with Kool-Aid dyeing, now that I’m well enough to do so. I’ll share some of those projects with you here tomorrow. It was enjoyable, but by the end I wasn’t feeling real great. I don’t think I’ll attempt it again without running the air purifier near by. I’m also not sure how I’ll be with knitting it, but I thought it was worth a try!


2 thoughts on “Thinking about dyeing

  1. Melanie

    I am so interested in all this dying- and thoroughly enjoyed this post!
    I cannot imagine what you went through while pregnant with Galen and so sick. It is so good to hear he was/is so healthy!

  2. Priscilla

    I love reading your weblog and viewing the photos of your lovely family! You have beautiful children with great names!

    I have a daughter too, she's 7 months old now. Her name is Vlier, that's Dutch for 'Elder'. She's such a joy to our life!

    Have you ever tried dying with henna? I've used it for my hair and it gives quite a bright orange/red color! If you add some indigo it's a litte more brownish.

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