Sunday, February 28, 2021

Coffee Dye Experiment

Project Dates:  2/12/2021 - 2/27/2021

Last fall I tried to dye with coffee grounds.  We diligently saved all the coffee grounds daily.  Actually, we still do.  They are composted regularly, and I save some in the refrigerator for dyeing.  The experiment last fall was on cotton.  I researched the web and my library for formulas.  The recipes were all over the place.  Ratios ranged wildly to not existent.  Some recipes were very serendipitous with instructions that sounded like a fairy godmothers’ incantations!

I am making a crocheted afghan from wool out of my stash.  It is the current morning coffee and wakeup project.  Hubby says, “that needs a couple of pillows to match!”  So, before the afghan got bigger than a very large dinner plate, I immediately made two more.  The plan is to applique them to make pillow covers.  So online I went and purchased pillow stuffing and raw silk fabric and zippers!  So where does the coffee come into play?  Besides fiber and coffee in the morning!

The five wool yarn colors are natural cream, a dark blue green, a variegated that ranges from pale blue green to light gray, mint, and a beautiful reddish-brown tween that also ranges in tones from light to dark.  I had some leftover dye in burgundy and blue green.  The plan was to tie-dye with the burgundy and blue green, and then overdyed with coffee.

The earlier cotton experiment was disappointing.  First, I used tannin as a mordant which dyed everything a very beautiful, but unexpected golden beige.  So, I then restarted again with fresh cotton and didn’t use a mordant because some of the guidance indicated coffee didn’t need a mordant.  I used a very light ratio of two to one.  The color was a very very pale beige.  Beautiful, but hardly worth the effort.

So, onto the current coffee experiment!  I selected four different fibers to test; naturally white wool yarn, white silk charmeuse, natural silk noil, and cotton knit.  Two experiments were completed.  The process was identical between the two.  The only variation was the ratio of coffee grounds to weight of fiber.  In the first experiment I tried 4 to 1, and in second, it was 12 to 1.  The results consistently were darker for the wool and silk compared to cotton.  The 4 to 1 came out a light shade of beige, kind of like coffee with a heck of a lot of creamer.  The 12 to 1 was much closer to what I was aiming for, and on the silk and wool resulted in a beautiful shade of dark coffee.

Figure 1: (bottom to top) cotton knit, silk charmeuse, silk noil

Figure 2: wool yarn

By the way, I through caution to the wind, and after seeing the results of the 4 to 1 ratio and deciding to triple the ratio to 12 times weight of coffee to weight of fiber, I just threw in the pillow covers before seeing the results of this test.  The pillow covers were created from silk soil hich had been sewn into round pillow shapes with zippers, and tie-dyed in burgundy and blue-green first. On the samples I let the fiber soak in the dye bath for 24 hours while cooling down.  I didn’t do that with the pillow, and it came out closer to the lighter color than the darkest shades above.

So, I re-dyed them one more time.  This time I tried 24 times weight of coffee to weight of fiber. The same process was used except because of the amount of coffee material needed I had to split up the fiber and coffee between two slow cookers.  The ratios remained the same, just done in two batches simultaneously.  I love how they turned out!  See the difference after this second dye below.

Figure 3: Over dyed once

Figure 4: Over dyed twice


Friday, February 19, 2021

Hitomi Ode King Knitted Quilt

Project Dates:  12/18/2018 - 1/3/2021

This adventure started with a holiday present of the book "250 Japanese Knitting Stitches" by Hitomi Shida for the December 2018 holiday season. Next came a trip to the yarn store for a March birthday.  I spent a lot of time touching, testing colors and textures against each other during that yarn buying adventure.  I had no pattern, just the vague notion of a large bedspread.  This was and is this fiber enthusiast’s Nirvana!  The basket of yarn grew until it looked like it would be enough to make something to cover a king size bed.  The colors were in various shades of purple, green, blue, with rust and peach to add energy.

The design target idea morphed over time.  Originally it was going to be simply a conglomeration of different size knitted squares pieced together, sort of a modern take on a 1950’s mod esthetic.  It was going to be an afghan large enough to cover the bed which eventually turned into a  sewn quilt with stuffing and backing.  The end results incorporated knitted squares and rectangles appliqu├ęd over grey flannel, and topped off with a combination of hand and machine quilting.  And, of course, it just demanded to have matching pillow shams.

This journey of the “make” starts with a habit.  Every morning upon waking, the very first priority after ablutions is coffee and fiber.  My husband and I get up very early to watch the sun rise.  While enjoying coffee, we have mild conversation and I enjoy the waking up process by making something with fiber.  Sometimes it’s knitted.  Other times crochet.  I have been known to do cross stitch.  But it is always something using fiber.  I start my day in the energy where I desire most to spend my life…my partner and my fiber enthusiasm!

I designed a mod art grid of various rectangles and squares. Gave them each a target measurement and then perused the Hitomi pattern book!  I measured the wraps per inch (WPI) for each of the yarns.  They turned out to all be within the same small range except for one.  Two swatch samples were knitted for each representative WPI group.  This was an analytical nerd’s dream.  Armed with the knitting gauge from the swatches, the block and color design, the target size for each square and rectangle, I then proceeded to allocate the yarns to each color block.  I methodically analyzed the amount of yardage for each square and matched the overall pattern to the amount of yarn available which sometimes required moving blocks of colored squares around.  This was a puzzle maker’s dream!

Next came the hunting expedition to come up with a series of Hitomi patterns that I thought worked well together.  Each square was to be a different pattern.  I ended up with fourteen different knitting patterns.  Each square had to be designed separately.  Though I had an overall pattern, the specific size of the square and the pattern repeats all had to be figured out.  That was a fun exercise!  I did this as I went.  For each square, after coming up with the design, I documented the start and finish, tracked the rows, knitted and bound off, wet finished, laid each square out and pinned to size to dry.  They collected themselves in a cardboard box awaiting their next incarnation!  This whole exercise of squares, pattern design, and knitting lasted over seven glorious months.  The completion of each square intrigued my creative self.  The pattern mixed with the color and type of yarn was a fascinating experience to watch unfold.

Just about the time this was being completed it was time to move again, plus the new house needed some renovation.  Morning coffee and fiber continued but in other, more mobile projects.  The next steps in this project required longer blocks of time which meant that I needed weekends.  
During the house renovation these blocks of time were unavailable for fiber art, so this project got put on hold for about eight months from about February 2020 until October 2020.  It was at this time that the idea morphed from a pieced afghan to a quilt.  The lightness of the squares and the intended size didn’t seem like they would hold up well.  The mod look of the squares would be lost.  Applying the squares to a backing to showcase them properly seemed the way to go.  Plus I could exercise yet two more crafts: quilting and sewing!

To bring out the color of the yarn squares, I chose a gray flannel.  My husband suggested metallic thread for the quilting which I opposed at first.  However, he is an artist in his own right, so his experience is valued.  I relented and tried out the metallic thread, which turned out wonderfully to my eyes!  I ended up by using the metallic version of all the same yarn colors.  Each of the metallic threads were used in the same area as the colored squares which nicely pulled the design together.

The process of placing the squares onto a king size quilt was rather arduous!  On the cleaned wood floor my poor old knees went.  I opted to pin baste.  The target size of the squares and the end results, given the knitted aspect of the fabric, forced a few small redesigns on square placement.  Basically, I ended up with three blank squares.  In these I created quilting designs using an oak leaf, branch, and chestnut motif.

After all this pin basting, then came appliqueing the squares to the top layer of flannel fabric.  I was able to do all of that using various colored metallic threads and a new sewing machine.  Even with just one layer, it required some effort to handle and manage the amount of fabric.

After a few weeks of that fun, it was back on the wood floor, on my aching knees to pin the lower layer, the cotton batting, and the appliqued top layer together to form the quilt proper.  Carefully rolling each end to the middle, I carried this surprisingly very heavy bundle and approached the sewing machine. Uh, it was like David and Goliath meeting.  The intent was to quilt from the middle out as is customary.  Let’s just say, there was no way a rolled-up king size quilt, even just one half of it, was going to fit through that unbelievably tiny area between the sewing needle arm and the machine proper.  What to do.  Well, hand sewing it is.  I spent several weeks hand quilting and outlining each square and even within the squares to not only complete the design, but to hold the batting sandwich in place like a good quilt should!

Two more steps to go!  Next came quilting the all-over quilting around the outside edges.  All around the quilt was a space about eighteen inches that needed to be quilted.  I chose a combination of straight lines and stippling.  Stippling creates a visual affect much like wind blowing over water, except rather than circular waves, it looks more like spaghetti dropped from a height!  For those of us who like structure and order, trying to do a freeform stippling affect, while maintaining somewhat regular spacing but with irregular design, seems like a task for a superperson!  I can follow lines.  But to arbitrarily move the quilt around to create a random pattern was strenuous to say the least.  It was an exercise in letting go!  Yikes!

Each of the blank squares that I mentioned earlier that received the oak leaf pattern was done with pinning a paper pattern and machine quilting over the top of that.  I chose that over trying to transfer the design to the fabric.  But, that required a very time-consuming exercise, or should I say meditative exercise with small scissor tweezers to pull the paper pattern off the quilt, bit by miniscule bit!  I did that in between the long wait times that dyeing entails which was a process that was occurring simultaneously on another project.

We finally made it to the final step, the binding.  By comparison that was fun and easy.  It was machine sewn on one side, and then handstitched all round on the other side.  It was done in a purple that matched the purple yarns, and pulled the entire project together.

All of the above was tested first on the pillow shams which served as a sort of sampling exercise.  The only difference was that the entire pillow shams were machine quilted.  There was no issue with squeezing the shams under the sewing arm.  I didn’t discover that until I tried with the king size quilt itself.

This was a very labor-intensive experience, but one fun adventure!




Monday, February 8, 2021

Botanical Table Cloth Journey 3 of 3

This tablecloth project now sits proudly on the dining room table.  We left the 2nd installment journey with the painted warp threads hanging above the laundry room basin tub on a rigged-up trapeze swing. This 3rd and last installment of this journey takes through the weaving process through the finished product.

After carefully taking down the loose warp with reed, wrapping it in the short pieces of wood, I installed the reed, wrapped the various warp stripes across the front beam, and begin to sley the heddles.  It was a weekend project to sley the heddles.  It was really cool to see the wound-up warp tightened on the front beam.

I found online a cool technique to spread the warp.  Basically, I used some junk yarn, doubled up, and WITHOUT using the beater put four rows of tabby loosely spaced, then gently pulled the beater bar and placed the warp.  I then tabbied about an inch of the tea stained warp and hemmed stitched the beginning.  The ends were going to be hemmed later but I wanted to give myself the option of a no-sew hem.  As it turned out, I ended up hand stitching the hem later.

This was my first wide warp.  I learned that my floor loom beater was not properly adjusted.  When I first started to throw the shuttle, it went everywhere!  The floor, popped out the top, I was like a crazy person on the batting field hitting backwards flyers!  I happened to come across a picture of a LeClerc loom, looking for pictures of shuttles.  I thought the shuttle was the problem!  I noticed that the beater bar sat right at the level of the threads.  Not mine!  There was a huge space between the threads and the bottom of the beater  and heddle.  The threads were trying to take the weight of the shuttle. Combine that with the force of a throw, and you end up with a shuttle flying off the trampoline of threads!  OMG!  The beater had a height adjustment! Who knew!  The beater was never set properly!  No wonder I had so much trouble throwing my shuttle.  After correcting all of that, it was a dream!

I really really loved the tea stained weft across the various hues of the natural colored warp.  The dark brown weft does show up the pattern more, but I would not change color next time.  It wasn’t for lack of research.  Many online sources suggested a darker weft to show up a painted warp.  And, yes, lest you already think it, swatch, swatch, and swatch.  I do force myself to knit up a swatch first on a knit or crochet project.  I do a little hand-stitched swatch for weaving to test the set.  But, I haven’t been able to muster the patience of warping and doing a loom sample.  Seems like so much effort and wasted thread.  For me, the jury is still out on that one.  Perhaps next time, I’ll dye more thread, risk losing them to sampling, and actually sample first.  We’ll see…

Finished!  It took a little over a year to go from concept, plant seeds, purchase materials, finish the design, gather the dye product, wind the warp, natural dye the warp and then paint the warp, weave, wet finish, sew and press!  From seed to tablecloth with an eye towards natural products, this was an incredibly satisfying journey and project.  I look forward to pushing the bar closer to a more fully “natural” experience.  

On to the next project!

Alex LeClaire

January 25, 2021