I've spent much of the last week in my dye studio. I will likely spend another couple weeks there. I do love the dyeing and putting together colors for a new project is a whole lot of fun. And global warming has hit Colorado and it isn't even that cold for January. This particular tapestry will need about 25 pounds of yarn, but since there are so many colors and I hate running out, I always make enough extra that I won't. I suspect in the end I'll have dyed about 50 pounds. I don't like games of yarn chicken and the extra yarn is always welcome in the tapestry classes I teach or for my next piece.
I've been dyeing for a long time--over a decade. I use acid wool dyes, sabraset and lanaset dyes from Earth Guild and PRO Chemical and Dye. They are the same dyes, they just have different trade names. And of course the colors are slightly different. For some reason, the last time I did a lot of dyeing, I decided that I was going to start using just one company, PRO Chemical and Dye. I guess I thought it would be easier and a little cheaper to source my dye from one place and I was using Deb Menz's dye books and formulas for some of my experiments and she uses their dyes.
However, this led me right into this weekend's rookie mistake.
That beautiful blue yarn is made in part with Blue 2R, a dye made by Earth Guild. I have been using this lovely dye for a decade. I love it. Why would I abandon it?
I started dyeing the blues for the next tapestry late last week. As I began measuring the dyes for the first eight colors, I started to panic a little bit because the jar was almost empty. Searching through my two small boxes of dye powders, I realized there was no new jar.
No. New. Jar.
Then I remembered the aforementioned clearly delusional decision to stop using Earth Guild dyes.
I realized I had enough for the eight colors, and thought, oh great, I'm going to make it!
Only to remember that I had nine more blues to go for this piece and there was no way any other dye could be substituted.
And this was all I had left.
Thankfully Earth Guild was fast. Yesterday this little box was on my doorstep and I'm off to dye the rest of the blue.
In penance I promise to continue to use Earth Guild's Blue 2R for all eternity... or at least until another delusion steps in.
Thanks Earth Guild.
I know this because I just spent all afternoon organizing it and making dye reference cards.
Let me back up.
I finished a big piece a few weeks ago. I know there are many of you waiting to see a photo of it, but you'll have to wait a little longer. I'm still doing the finishing and then it has to take a trip to a very busy photographer.
In the meantime I'm busy dyeing samples for the next piece. I have to make room in the studio for the new set of yarn and so it was time to pack up the yarn from the Lifeline piece. It had migrated into every corner. I gathered it all together and organized it, thanking myself for taking the time to write the dye formula on every ball as I was winding them last year. This will allow me to use this yarn for another piece. There is plenty! (honestly, maybe two pieces. big ones.)
It ended up being 90 colors plus another handful of accent colors pulled off the shelf.
Ninety colors is the number I dyed for that piece.
Each color is dyed in its own pot and each pot takes several hours start to finish. As I was making the color cards I started fantasizing about how wonderful it would be to just order a truckload of yarn from Weavers Bazaar all dyed up and ready to weave. But I fear my process would be missing something vital if I didn't dye my own yarn. For whatever reason, it is what I do.
As a dyer, one of the most important resources you can create for yourself is a file of yarn samples with the dye formulas used to get them. Sometimes it can take many days of sampling in jars to come up with the colors I really want. To have to repeat that work again because I didn't take a few hours to cut pieces of the yarn and write down the formulas would be silly.
So the afternoon found me on the floor of the studio cataloging the yarn for my sample books.
I make a set of cards for each dye project which is usually for a for a tapestry, though sometimes for a workshop I'm teaching. I simply write the formula and depth of shade next to a hole punched on cardstock and put a generous piece of that yarn through the hole. These cards go in a three-ring binder. These binders along with the dye sample books of Ginny Phillips and Deb Menz/Sara Lamb are indispensable resources when planning colors for a new tapestry.
I'm in the middle of dye sampling for a new piece. Stay tuned for more photos of those gradations.
Now the question is, where am I going to store this yarn until I am ready to do a piece in these colors again? My yarn shelf is almost full. I suspect the student workshop yarn is going to get relegated to boxes. Sssshhhh, they'll never know.
Though I like to think that a new tapestry is something I can just jump into, it turns out my process is somewhat ponderous. Slow. Doesn't so much turn on a dime as pivots like an 18-wheeler. My current piece is no exception.
I wrote a bit about the design and cartoon process in THIS blog post. I had the first version of this piece ready to go when I had my studio in Santa Fe. Actually, I even started the piece last spring and had to cut it off when we moved. Then change happened and the design evolved and the new piece took awhile to arrive out of the ether or wherever new designs come from. (Hint: They come from a lot of very hard work.)
Once the design was largely finished I started the process of finding the right colors. I have quite a lot of yarn on my shelves, but it is all leftover from old pieces, dye experiments, and teaching. Most of the balls are no longer tagged and I have no idea what dye formulas I used to create them. In a large piece like this, I have to have enough yarn and I wanted to be able to replicate the colors should I run out (frankly unlikely since I dye enough to cover castle walls though I don't have a castle).
I was having so much fun dyeing, it went on and on.
Eventually I created this matrix of purples. This are three different purple formulas with two further options for each color, one toned with black and one with brown.
So today was a 12-pot day. Thirty colors, three days. Normally I wouldn't do 12 colors in a day, but I couldn't bear one more day of it. The glittery fun that is dyeing my own yarn lost its luster about 15 pots ago.
The time of year when the cars get evicted from the garage and the plants get a healthy drink of slightly acidic water (they love it--alkaline soil around here). The season of sore backs, scalded toes, and mottled surgical scrubs,
I am a dyer. I love the structured nature of dyeing with acid wool dyes, that I can replicate the colors I make (except the errors--can never get those again), that the math is simple, and that the combinations are boundless. I definitely admire the natural dyers. Their work seems much more complicated than mine. But I'm hooked on the synthetics. The color gradations are fantastic.
While dyeing the last few weeks, I took the liberty of shooting some video. It was simply meant to give you a flavor for what dyeing is all about. And if I can do it, so can you. Enjoy! (And I swear I am NOT drunk in that out-take at the very end... I just get some weird fake southern accent thing happening when I'm being a goof. My apologies Nana.)
For full screen, push the square icon in the lower right corner of the video window. Or push the YouTube button to view it there.
I vowed that this tapestry would contain no purple, but alas, after much debate, purple has crept in despite my best intentions. The palate for this one is going to look much different than my last few pieces despite the purple however. I think I am going to like it.
The warp is ready.
It is time to start.