Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Saori Handspun Yarns

Weaver Misao Jo, the creator of  'Saori Weaving', once said...

“All flowers are beautiful, even though each individual flower is different in form and color.  Because of this difference, “all are good”.
Because everything has the same life, life cannot be measured by a yardstick.  It is this individuality that makes everything meaningful and the uniqueness of each thread that creates the tapestry of life.”

Saori weaving is one of the most beautiful woven art forms there is. In my opinion it is in weaving, what French Impressionism was to art in Monet's day.

This article is about what I call Saori-spinning! Not too many rules, lots of colour and texture, and fun.

I have been developing Saori-yarns with Saori weaving in mind of course.  The latest is called 'Carnival'.  It incorporates every colour that is on the colour wheel, and has four parts to it. Most of it is spun from my own hand-spun yarns, but I have incorporated commercially spun cotton, and novelty yarns as well as BFL hand-dyed locks and other hand spun art-yarns in there as well. 'Carnival' differs from my previous Saori-spun in that it has little hand-felted and hand-dyed balls incorporated.

Essentially this is a core-spun yarn. Over the core are layered lots of random smaller pieces of hand-spun, locks, novelty yarn, and whatever looks good.  I then add another 'layer' of handspun merino, or commercially spun cotton in multi-colours, and in the case of 'Carnival', another 'layer' of little hand-felted, hand-dyed merio balls, and some seed beads. Theres a good bit of spinners-discussion on how to incorporate beads and other objects into yarn.  Sometimes it pays to thread some fibre through the bead or object, and spin the fibre into your spinning as you go.  That's a good method so long as the fibre is strong, and has a fairly long staple.  If it's very fine and short, as some merino wools are, then it is not adviseable because the bead can just rip out very easily.  So you would need to make a decision on that according to what you are spinning.  In the case of 'Carnival' I chose to thread the felt balls onto a strong but fine commercially spun cotton thread which 'disappears' into the yarn.  If you are doing this, when you bring up your beads or objects to be incorporated into the yarn, make sure you over-ply the area with the yarn the bead is attached to, so that it doesn't loosen and 'hang' when the yarn is finished. This can be trickier than you would imagine. So this yarn is not a 'beginners' yarn.  But we learn by doing.

I recommend that you don't try this unless you have about 4 days to spare as it is very time consuming to make. But the whole idea of Saori weaving, like Saori-spinning, is that time is not the issue. It is about the pleasure of making.

Using a similar technique, I also made another version of this yarn, which I called 'Scribbles'.

And another called 'Bazaar'... which does not have any felt balls in it, but is equally bright and colourful.
There are really no limits to what can be done. Try experimenting with different ideas. People are spinning paper and paper on wire, cloth, waste fibres and threads and doing so much more than just knitting sweaters! Try crocheting a door mat!?
In this next yarn, I've felted the core yarn which I spun from multi-coloured hand dyed merino. It's called 'Jelly Beans' and is essentially a core-coil-spun yarn that is over-plied with a single strand of the same hand-dyed merino, merino and silk and alpaca. Really soft.  I hand-felted the core yarn before plying and as wool felts it shrinks, giving it this squiggly spongy look which looks slightly plump. 

'Forest Floor' is the same technique as 'Scribbles', only I have used natural dyed wool and fibre only. I love the earthy look. 

And again, another yarn similar to that above, 'Woodland Walk'... which is the same technique only over-plied with handspun suri alpaca.  In this yarn I incorporated some locks dyed green with Chlorophyllin plant extract from Wild Colours 

Chlorophyllin, is an extract derived from spinach
So far, I have dyed these fairly bold greens with it, but I plan to dip-mordant my next batch of fibre in weak copper and iron to achieve other shades.

When dyeing with plant dyes, I soak my fibre over night before mordanting it, and try to dye it from wet, or to re-wet and soak overnight if I have pre-mordanted. I find this gives a better dye-take up.

The next gallery of hand-spun yarns below are all naturally dyed with vegetable dyes, are named after months of the year.  Starting with 'September'.  There were still plenty of blooms about in my garden, as you can see in the background! So this yarn contains those colours. The background green in the yarn is dyed with stinging nettles (see my other blog post on 'Green to Dye For') Although these are not exactly what I would call 'Saori spin' like the yarns above, they are the same idea of paint-as-you-go-with-fibre.

Then came 'October'...
Then 'November'... the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' and of frost.  Salmon red maple trees and golden beeches. At least here in Northern Ireland. This yarn would need to be a different colour way if I lived in a different part of the world!

'Lichen' (below) was a subtle blend of coreopsis flower, stinging nettle, acorn, and horsetail dyes.

The yarn above was dyed to look like lichen, but the one below was actually dyed with lichen. I have called it 'Caramel Popcorn'. The lichen dyeing process is very ancient, and was used in Harris Tweed.  'Crottle' as it is locally known, imparts a fresh heathery scent to the wool, which never leaves it. That's how you will be able to tell if you have a piece of real vintage Harris Tweed! The process is not commercially used on the Isle of Harris any more, probably in the interests of conservation.  The lichen used to dye my yarn is gathered only from wind-fallen wood that would other wise be on the fire. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

Green to Dye For - Nettles

The many shades of green in the countryside right now are sometimes breath taking. There are points along our road where I slow the car down just to take them all in.

As all natural-dyers will know, green is a notoriously elusive colour to obtain.  The gorgeous baby-greens of these freshly opened beech leaves will dye wool from shades of yellow to golden, depending on the mordant. That could be disappointing, although I love the colours from beech leaves.

But as it is now late May, the stinging nettles are at their peak.  They are just high enough off the ground for me to pick the tender tops without endangering my arms, and they are full of dye.

Over the Winter, I used up all my stock of green dyed fleece, so I am out for a really deep shade of khaki green dye, for some of my lovely soft BFL lamb locks. This is just the first batch, but I plan to have the dye-pot on the go now over the next few weeks.

 Protective gloves on, and plastic trug in one hand, I worked my way over a large patch of nettles in the woods behind our house and just plucked the tops off.

Dye books will tell you to chop them up. But around here we are not short of nettles and a bit of rough pulling apart was all they needed as they are very tender at this time of year.  Following my usual 'method' I stuffed the dye pot with as much as it would hold, brought the soft water up to a simmer, and as they cooked down I added more until the pot was really solid with them. Leaving them to soak for a few hours I then returned to add the fibre. I left enough room at the top of the pot to contain my BFL locks, and then I simmered the nettles with the fibre really gently for about an hour on a very low heat. Some nettle dye recipes will tell you to use a 2:1 ratio of vegetable matter to wool , and I've come across others that recommend 4:1.  But when the dye-stuff is free, and growing plentifully, I go for as much as I can to get the richest shades. A rough guess is that this dye bath was around 6:1.

As it cooks down...in with the next handful...

I usually pre-mordant my fleece in large batches in the Winter, and dry it for later use.  One of the reasons I do this is because I save on mordant as mordant baths can be reused by adding slightly more dissolved mordant for successive batches. But the other reason is because I never know when I'm going to find some plant matter that just has to be used immediately. Having a large stock of ready-to-go fleece greatly reduces the preparation time.

Having simmered my nettles, I added 250grams of pre-soaked and alum-mordanted locks to the pot, on top of, and in contact with, the nettles, and simmered very gently for an hour. I usually like to let the dye pot sit for a few hours longer, or preferably over night as it cools down, to get the best shades.

This yellow colour was not what I was after at all. I removed the fleece from the dye bath, strained off the nettles, and returned the fleece to the pot and the yellow liquid.  The reason for this is that successive mordants that I would be adding would not be good for my compost heap or the worms. So I didn't want my nettle mulch to contain those chemicals.

I was planning an after-mordant copper dip so that was the next stage. I ended up gently simmering that for 30 mins. It was a very weak copper solution, of 1 tspn to around 2 gallons of water. 

This gave me a great golden colour, very nice and a great depth of dye, but still not green.

Stage 3, a very weak iron dip. Now, I mean very weak. I don't like using iron on wool as it is harsh, so this was a quarter teaspoon, and only for 4 mins. I did not even simmer this, but just soaked the wool, the water was very hot anyway, and I could already see the lovely deep green developing.

Cooked nettles could be added straight onto the garden as a mulch, but I prefer to compost them, but that is just my preference.

Below is a picture of the rinsed wet wool. I've photographed it on an upturned laundry basket which is white, so shows the colour best. The thing I like most about this green is, it is almost identical to the colour of the cooked nettles above. Beautiful, rich, deep nettle green. 

The four pictures below are the resulting art-yarn, using this BFL above, and also some merino from 2 different nettle dye-pots. This is all core-spun onto a commercial 100% wool thread, and then plied with a green commercial cotton thread. Quite a strong yarn, and very soft. I've had trouble capturing it's true colour in these photos.  But this is truly the best green I have ever achieved with natural dyeing.

Here's a gallery of what I have done with this green fibre....

Yarn below is a mixture of all natural dyes, but predominantly green nettles. I've called it 'September'.

Below is a pic of this same nettle dye on 4 ply super-wash merino. 

Yarn below is latest that I've used this nettle dyed fibre on.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Build Your Own Rug Loom

My rug loom is inspired by a recent trip to the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh which is set up as an Irish village on one side and the 'New World' on the other.  A living museum telling the story of three centuries of Irish emigration.  There are a variety of old spinning wheels in the houses dotted about the park.

The 'weaver's cottage' houses a large floor loom, which originally would have been built into the floor.  The upright beams of the loom would have been sunk down into the earthen floor for stability.


The wall mounted warping frame in the weavers house is pictured below.


The peat fire smoke was blowing back into the room in the picture below.


Rag rugs have been used here and there in the Folk Park, but only in the 'New World' houses which have wooden floors.  The Irish cottages would have had earthen floors, one of which is still in its original condition.  But just looking at it, one can imagine how hard it would have been to have kept a rug clean on such a floor with the continual rain outside, lack of adequate heating and generally damp conditions.


I usually weave rag rugs on my Glimakra floor loom. The 'Ideal' is adequate, but not as good for this as the Glimakra 'Standard', which is just a much heavier loom altogether.  You will need a great deal of tension on a floor loom to get a good rug made, and the heavier the loom, the better. 

But this time I decided to build a frame out of oak off cuts. You wouldn't necessarily need to use oak, only that is what I had. Pine would do fine, so long as it will not bend. With this type of project there is not much tension on a loom like this though. It measures 28"x33", and I partially screwed in 1.5" wood screws every 1". That amounts to 25 screws x 32 screws.  I didn't use any fancy screws, just Philips head wood screws. At first I thought I needed more expensive pan head screws, but it didn't make any difference. The back of the frame I strengthened with some small triangles of scrap plywood. You could use hardware, but there's no need as the plywood triangles do the same.  In all, this 'loom' cost me about £2.

There are some lovely online examples of huge woven tee-shirt rag rugs made just like this, on enormous home-made looms, using hand-stripped tee-shirt 'yarn'. This weaving is done just like the small pin-loom squares.  Check out my pinterest where I have pinned some examples.

For this project, I used 'tek tek' yarn, available on ebay. There are a variety of tee-shirt yarns available. It obviously makes the project more expensive to buy in yarn like this, but you can achieve a really interesting rug with recycled tee-shirts of your own. Check out how to make your own tee-shirt yarn here

Warning: it takes a lot of shirts to make a rug!
I used 2 colours, hot pink and bright turquoise. The instructions for this are well covered online. Here's one example I found on youtube.  I had to double up my 'yarn' for the spacing on this loom, but you can experiment with what you have. Start by cutting a slit in the yarn, and hooking over a screw. I ended the same way, by cutting a slit.


Weaving can be done by hand, no shuttle needed. This rug took me about 2 hours to weave including the binding off, which was done with a large crochet hook.  You could do it quicker than that as the video shows, once you know what you are doing.
When off the loom, the rug pulled back quite a bit because the tee-shirt fabric is stretchy.  I washed this straight away to pre-shrink it, which pulled it in even tighter. It now measures 18"x23", which I consider to be a perfect size for a bath mat.

This rug took about half a spool of each colour to make.