Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Long Yarn to Get This Yarn

I like short blogs.  There's no short way, however, to take gentle readers from start to finish on this tale about fiber.  The story's been started several months back, supplemented here and there as time went on, but now is the time to wind this yarn into a ball.

It's my sister's fault really, if one would say there is blame to be laid.  Her alder tree came down.  She noted the brilliant bark and wood as they were exposed to the air.  Her excitement over the wonderful colors ignited mine.  You can see it all began with her.

But then a search on line showed alder bark could be used to dye wool.  My stash had five skeins of creamy fiber that might lend itself to soaking up some additional color.  And so it began.  Three months later my hubby (the engineer) remarked rhetorically one afternoon, "Wouldn't it be easier to just go buy yarn that color?  Surely, they sell that at the yarn shop." Of course, they do, but don't call me Shirley: it's not about what it is easier.  It is about the experiment.

And experiment,  I did!  Thank you to Leena at Riihivilla, Dyeing with natural dyes. Leena lives in Finland, and her experiments with alder bark showed me how to direct my own. Every step was exciting and energizing.

Since any picture is worth a thousand words, let's cut to the chase and wrap this up.
Preparing the wood:
Grinding chips to release color
Brilliant Alder Bark

Making the Dye:
Fermented Alder sand/water slurry after two months
Bark "sand"
Preparing the wool:

Nicely wound wool on the left needed to be put back into
hanks so the dye would have easy access to the fibers.

Four hanks of yarn to mix with dyes

The wool simmered for one hour with
Alum and Cream of Tartar

Simmering the wool with mordents:

All four hanks simmered for 3 hours.  Two hanks were removed,
rinsed and dried.  Two remained in the dye bath for another
ten days just to see if they would soak up more color.  The
difference was barely discernible.

Simmering the wool with Alder Dye:

Simplest way I knew to get Iron.
Bought 65mg. tablets, crushed
them and mixed them with water.
Used all 100 tablets and soaked one hank of
simmered yarn and one hank of simmered+10
days of soaking to this iron bath to
soak for nearly another three days.
Adding Iron to change the color:

Finally the final results:

Twisted hanks spent the extra 10
days in the dye bath.  The picture
is not totally true--the right-hand yarn
is more green than camel colored.

All wound and ready to knit.

Interesting note:  Whenever I stirred the iron water bath, the spoon would drip into the sink, making a bluish stain.  Yellow and blue make green.

This three-month project filled Things I get to do today for portions of many days. There were times when I was eager to be finished with the mess. I'm thrill, however, even dazzled, with the end results.

You might be wondering what this yarn will become in its newly evolved state: two pair of Finish-style mittens--one for my sister and one for me.  I'll write about knitting the mittens when the weather turns cold again.


  1. So, are you thinking of another project, or in done that mode? Walnut stain would complement those five skeins!

    1. I'm feeling pretty done for the time being. I love your idea of walnut for a complimentary color. But More than "Wouldn't I love to dye wool? It was "What can we do with this glorious alder color?" So I'll see what moves me as time goes on.

  2. Hi my friend
    You have taken some beautiful photos to show us your process. Thank you so much.
    You are amazing! Experimenting!!!Your adventuresome spirit always captures us into your world!
    Gee- did you use a blender to grind the bark? And letting stuff soak for 2 months,,, does it get a little fragrant?
    Thank you for sharing your adventures with us!

    1. The blender is a Blendtec and will even grind up rake handles, though I suppose they would be a good color for dyeing wool.

  3. Great things take time, don't they? The beautiful colors available from natural materials are lush and rich, but sometimes take a good bit of work. Thanks so much for sharing your alder experience!


    1. And the time we spend is part of what gives a material object it value, that and the pleasure we derive from the process. Love through and through.