Thursday, August 20, 2015

There's something I've been DYEING to tell you!!!

Since I've been spinning wool, I decided to take things one step further and learn to DYE!  I've been reading about "eco-dyeing" or "natural dyes" for some time.  Nearly everywhere in the world has some sort of plant or mineral that can be used for dyeing.  And I decided to try a plant that is near me!

Black-eyed Susans grow in abundance in our neighborhood, so they were my dye material of choice!  I took my handy basket and walked down to the lake to collect some.

 The flower heads are supposed to make the best dye, so I only collected those.  When I thought I had enough, I headed back home.

Since dyeing can produce certain poisons, it is recommended that you use a pot only for that.  I found this warming pot cheap at Goodwill and it is now my designated dye pot.

Simmering down the flower heads started to produce darker and darker water.

You are supposed to simmer them for an hour and then let them steep in the pot overnight.

By the next morning, I had a pot of dark dark soup!  It was kind of a pleasant smell, too.  Like freshly steamed spinach.  I would need to strain it before adding my wool.

I did a little test dye in a measuring cup---but nothing would stick to my wool.  As soon as I took it out and rinsed it, it went right back to white wool.  I read quite a bit about "mordants" and while iron in the water can work as a mordant---apparently there wasn't enough iron in our water.  (Though you wouldn't know it by the orange stains we get when we forget to get water softener salt!)  So I decided to use the most common mordant used in home dyeing, "alum."  A mordant is usually a mineral that is added to a plant-based dye in order to make it stick to an animal fiber.  Somehow, the two together allow the pigments in your dye to lodge into your fiber and stay.  Alum is a mineral usually used in making pickles.  And you can find it in the spice section of the grocery store.  (I had to try two different stores.)

I added the alum and then let some of my yarn soak in the dye overnight.  The next morning, I had some permanent color!  It wasn't very dark, but it was darker.  And kind of green (though the photo doesn't show this very well.)  I was excited, but I really wanted an even darker color.

Reading more about it, I saw that the addition of cream of tartar to your alum dye pot would help the alum do it's job.  I added about a tablespoon.  Immediately, the dye color changed to a sort of reddish brown.  I put more yarn in the pot, simmered it for an hour, and let it steep overnight again.

The next morning, I had lovely brown!  It is definitely darker and appears to be colorfast!  I rinsed and rinsed and nothing more came out.

Above is the undyed wool for color comparison, and my dyed wool yarn as well as some dyed unspun wool.

I am just so very happy with this outcome!!!

You could say that I'm a "DYED IN THE WOOL" believer in all these fiber arts!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Living History: Found in a Spinning Wheel!

This fine old lady spinner has come to live at our house!  And I couldn't be more thrilled!

I had been looking for a spinning wheel for quite some time.  There were quite a few that came up for sale on Craigslist, but they were all very expensive and didn't seem to have all their parts.  I did some research on what to look for.  I watched some videos on how to clean and repair antique spinning wheels.  And I kept my eye out for just the right one.  Finally, I found her!  She was also just the right price for my budget!

The only problem was...she was BROKEN!  And in a pretty major way.

One of the uprights that hold the wheel in place had split right out.  But the piece was there and I figured I could glue it back.

The fun thing about working with antiques is that they have a history!  And history abounds all around them.  In every aspect of what you do with them. Spinning wheels are fascinating!  They've been around for centuries!  In every different culture!

But that wasn't the only history I learned about.  In order to fix this spinning wheel, I also had to learn about the history of glues!

Up until the 1930s, there was pretty much only one kind of glue.  Glue made from the hides of animals.  And it had to be hot in order to spread on.  My spinning wheel had obviously been broken before and been glued before.  But I had no idea what kind of glue had been used.  All I knew was that if I wanted to re-glue it---I would need to get the old glue off first.  Because "glue doesn't stick to glue."  Or so I had been taught.  But hide glue DOES!  If this previous repair was older than 1930, I would be able to heat it up, add some new hide glue and everything would stick together!  Hide glue is apparently the preferred glue for true antique enthusiasts.  And they still sell it!  (Poor old horses--still getting sent to the glue factory!!!!)

I read about and did the glue test.  A few drops of hot water on the glue.  If it gets sticky, it's hide glue.  If it turns white?  It's old Elmer's-type white glue.  As you can see in the picture, I got white glue spots.  So this repair was done more recently!  Sadly, this meant all the glue had to come off first.

Reading further, I learned that hot vinegar would loosen old white glue.

Scrub a little with a wire brush...and Voila!

A nice clean wood surface for gluing!

It was easy to dip the broken off piece in hot vinegar...not so easy to soak the whole spinning wheel!  But a wet rag and some patience did the trick.

Scrape with a wire brush.  Scrape with a knife.

New white glue and zip ties and clamps!

A few more small repairs....the discovery of some more old repairs...and then she was as good as new!

I had to learn how to thread it up right.  String around the big wheel and then around the bobbin, back around the big wheel and then around the flyer.  I had to get the proper tension set so it wouldn't wind too quickly.  I had to learn to treadle so it would go continually forward.  I had to learn to treadle without thinking, so I could focus on drafting the wool.  Drafting is allowing the wool to spin with one hand while pulling the unspun wool out into skinny lengths with the other hand.  It involves a lot of thinking and doing at the same time!

At first, I thought I would NEVER get it!  It seemed impossible.  But just like riding a bike---I went to sleep one night after trying and trying---and the next morning, I woke up and I could spin!!!

Now I feel connected to all women.  Through all cultures.

Through ages of time!

It is a magical feeling.  The rhythm of the spinning wheel.  The whooshing sound it makes.  The smell of the wool.  The feel of it slipping through your fingers.  And the joy of seeing it wind up on a bobbin with the promise of being useful.  A scarf.  A hat.  A weaving!

And when I lay down to sleep at night, my mind is still treadling and drafting and spinning straw into gold!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Chairs for Goldilocks!

A few weeks ago, I found some very "old world" looking chairs at the thrift store.  Since we imagine our house as being sort of a Tudor house, I thought they might be perfect.  Really, they are a "Spanish Colonial" look made in Mexico--probably in the 1970's.  But accuracy in "old world-ness" is not that important to me.

This is what they looked like when I brought them home from the store.  Their seats were sagging considerably and they were upholstered in a faded and worn flower print.

Since I've upholstered chairs many times before, I knew this would be an easy fix!

I pulled off the old upholstery and re-stretched the webbing below.  It was hard work pulling and stretching and stapling.  When I got one chair done---I kept going.

I found some nice orange upholstery material in my sewing supplies and thought it would go well with my tile entry.  I cut it.  I carefully cut the corners in.  I put the padding back in.  I stretched it and stapled it all carefully.  One chair was completely done!

But when I stood back to look at all my hard work....all I could think was, "Meh."  A word my son taught me.  There was nothing exciting about it.  The chair was just boring.  Really, really boring.

What could I do?  I thought about finding some more interesting cloth and redoing the whole thing.  I thought perhaps I could upholster it in real leather!  Costly---but it would definitely give it a more "old world" feel.

I decided to take to the internet.  I searched "Old World Chairs."  I searched "Spanish Colonial Chairs."  I found lots of more beautiful chairs in many different styles.

And then I found THESE!!

Not exactly like my chairs---but close enough!  And the cane rush seats were just "Old World" enough for me!  But of course, I didn't even know the words "cane rush" at that point.  I just knew they had some sort of natural fiber wrapped on the seats.

A few more searches and a couple of YouTube videos and I was more educated!  It didn't seem too difficult!  I could learn how to "re-cane" a chair!  But where to get supplies?  No basket weaving stores nearby.  And JoAnn's fabric was unlikely to carry anything.

Then I remembered I live in THIS century and there is something called Amazon!  A couple of clicks later and I had 6 pounds of "fibre rush"on it's way to my house!

Two days later......

How EXCITING!  It's here!  It's here!  And I've watched the "how to" video several times!

First step---take all the old webbing off.  One. Staple. At. A. Time.

Finally done!

One beautifully naked chair!  Now to follow the video instructions...

Measure the back of the chair.  Measure the front of the chair.

Do some math.  With FRACTIONS.  Ugh!

 Measure in on the front of the chair 1/2 the difference on the right and left.

Make a mark.  You will have to "fill in" with pretend weaving to this mark.  So that the real weaving will be straight and parallel to the back edge.

The pretend weaving is tacked down with every strand.  Luckily, it was only a few strands needed before I had reached my mark.  Then I could begin weaving around all four corners!

The fiber must be kept taut as you weave.  So I used a clip to hold the fiber in place while I wove another turn around the chair.  "Over the front, down and up through the middle.  Over the left side, up through the middle.  Over the right side, up through the middle.  Over the back right, up through the middle."  Etc. etc. etc.  I had to say it out loud to keep myself weaving the right way.

It took much longer than I thought.  And each turn around the chair used up more length of fiber than I imagined.

Since you can't fit a whole spool of fiber around and through the chair--you measure off some and wrap it up in a bunch of round loops.  But you will need to add more in periodically.  You make a square knot and hide it on the bottom weaving so it won't show from the top.

You have to make sure your weaving is even.  Mine was sort of, kind of, even.  But good enough!  I kept going.

Round and round.  Back aching.  Round and round some more.  (You can see my bucket of water in this picture---the fiber must be dunked for 30 seconds before using.  This makes it more pliable.)

When you get to this point, you must fill the gaps between the top weaving and the bottom weaving with cardboard triangles.  This will help support the chair seat and keep the fibers from pulling too hard against the edges of the chair.  Making the seat last longer.  I cut cardboard pieces and stuffed them in.  On top.  And on the bottom.

Eventually, your hole in the middle gets very small and you can only pass the fiber through one strand wide.  No passing through a whole looped circle anymore.  Each side becomes one single step.

Here's what it looks like on the bottom.

And the sides get done before the front and back.  But you just keep looping from the front and back then.  You have to open up the center hole from time to time in order to pass your fiber through.  I used a needle-nose pliers to stretch the fibers out of the way.

And when you have squeezed in just the right amount of loops, you tie it off on the bottom of the chair!

Ta Dah!!!  DONE!  

I REALLY like how it looks!  And it's so fun to have learned a new "old world" skill!

Now to undo the first chair and make it more beautiful, too!

Or perhaps I should keep it as is.  The hard chair could be for Great Big Papa Bear.  And the soft one could be for Middle-sized Mamma Bear.  And I would only need to find a half-broken chair for Little Baby Bear.  ; )