argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)

Cochineal on wool yarn
Originally uploaded by Altivo
Set of six additional photos from last week's dyeing experiments. This one shows cochineal on wool yarn, with color variations resulting from use of four different mordants. The mordanting compounds were, from top to bottom: potassium aluminum sulfate (alum), potassium dichromate (chrome), copper sulfate (copper), and stannous chloride (tin).

For the rest of the images, click here and use the thumbnails on the right of the linked screen to scroll through the list.
argos: Myself working at the loom (weaver)
The weather today was perfect. Sunny, clear, and reasonably dry. It was a good thing, because I need more dark blue wool for a rug I'm weaving. The best way to get the shade I want is to dye it myself, starting with yarn that is already blue, but not blue enough.

I use indigo to get the color I want. It's a little tricky, but because I've done it many times, I can reproduce the color pretty much exactly. Indigo is why I was glad of the good weather, so I could work outdoors. See, indigo stinks. Or at least, it does while it is reduced to solubility in the dye pot. It smells like shit. Literally.

The wonderful thing about indigo, though, is that you oxidize it at the end by exposing it to air. The smell goes away, and the blue color appears as if by magic. The wonders of chemistry, and in this case, a reaction that was discovered long before anyone understood the chemistry involved.

But I'm getting off on a tangent here. I didn't start out to explain the details of indigo dyeing. The important thing is for you to realize that the dyebath itself is clear, or sort of pale yellow. The color only appears as the wool begins to absorb oxygen from the air, and the process is complete only when the wool is dry. So there I was, lifting skeins of yarn from the pot with a wooden spoon and carefully hanging them up to drip dry, while trying my best to avoid dyeing my own paws or chest and belly fur. It happens, of course, but I always feel so foolish and embarrassed at my own clumsiness. And believe me, it doesn't take much dye to become screamingly obvious to anyone when you've dribbled it on white fur.

Blue happens to be my favorite color. Green is second, but blue is first. It reminds me of the sky, and of open water beneath the sky. It reminds me of the deep, midnight blue of the space between the stars on the clearest nights, right after sunset. It reminds me of periwinkle blossoms, and iris, of blueberries at the height of the summer heat, and of my mother's eyes. It's one of nature's brightest and most remarkable colors, whether you see it in a bluejay feather, a piece of turquoise, or a cornflower. And of all the dye colors, it is one of the rarest and most difficult to achieve by natural means. What an irony.

Indigo and its cousin woad will do the job, of course. They fade with time, washing, and sunlight, but not too quickly. And as I watched my light blue wool turn darker, drying and deepening to a fine, purplish blue, I had to thank our mother earth for the wonderful ways in which she has provided for all our needs, even the vanity of making blue patterns on wool rugs that we will disrespectfully walk upon with our muddy paws.

When the wool was almost dry, I wet it again to rinse it in clear water and left it all hanging to dry overnight. Tomorrow, I will weave the spaces between the stars, not because I created that space or those stars, but because they were already there for me to see, and love, and remember.


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August 2012

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