Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cup o' Color

Wool rag is my favorite material to weave into rugs, runners and coverlets. Strips are narrow, about 1/2 inch wide, and cut only as I need them. Rya knots tied in wool rag weave have a shaggy texture. Rya woven boat blankets from Finland and Norway, and old rag coverlets from Finland and Russia inspire me. Rough and shaggy weaves were meant to function like animal hides, for warmth, and I like those textures. I am interested in very old Scandinavian design motifs, Tree of Life, animal and botanical stylized forms, and pre-Christian motifs. (I am a born again post pre-Christian, by way of religion). That is, I'm not a church-goer.

I use new wool blanket remnants, bought by the pound from one of the last midwestern woolen mills. This high quality fabric is one that I have learned how to dye with consistently good results.I keep dye records stapled to little manila cards, with brief notes about the dye colors I used, and very rough proportions. I'm not much of a record keeper, but this is enough to
help me.

Since I like to see a lot of subtle color variations in my rugs, especially in the same rug, this method of saving color recipes works for me. Many shades of a color are much more interesting to look at than the same shade woven all the way through. Think of the many shades of color as the light filters down through the tree leaves as you walk on a path through the woods. Many shades of color on your path! This is color that is alive. I want my weaves to look alive. If I were painting, I'd need to blend lots of colors, and use many shades. Weave rag like a painter.

Another advantage of wool dyeing is that I usually need only dye 1/2 yard pieces. I have a designated stainless steel kettle with a lid that I use for dying. It holds a 1/2 yard piece at a time, with plenty of room for slosh. The size of the piece is easy to handle.

Though there are dyes meant just for wool (for instance Lanaset) I prefer to use Procion fiber reactive dyes, heated with salt, and vinegar, per instructions, for my dye bath. Use a mask when measuring the dry dyes, and wearing rubber gloves may be a good idea, too. I simmer the wool, stirring frequently with a wooden paint stick, until nearly all the dye is absorbed. This can take 1/2 to one hour. I like to let the dye bath cool then, while occasionally stirring the wool. Since my wool rugs are washable, it's important that the dye is color fast, and fade resistant. This is especially important to me for colors which often run, like red. Procion dyes are very economical to use on wool, since a little goes a long way with most colors. They are versatile and can also be used with soda ash, and cold water to dye linen and cotton. The dye bath can be disposed of down the drain safely. It is often almost clear.

I rinse the new dyed wool in warm first, and then cool water, then line dry. It's best to do this in spring, summer and fall. But I also dye in winter. And it is dependably fun to make some new colors to weave.


Giny van t Klooster said...

Thank Susan for this tutorial. I love the colors you deyed , the pictures are beautifull. Procion dye I can buy here in the Netherlands also.I used to use it to dye cotton and silk for quilting.
Do you sew your strips together before weaving? or do you let them overlap in the loom?

Ursula said...

I like that method of stapling your samples to little cards to remember. I'm imagining a wall of color combinations in my new studio space in a sort of grid pattern.

lovely, just lovely. I don't know if/when I will ever get around to dying my own fabrics.

Susan said...

Urs, you know I never wanted to dye fabrics either, because it adds a whole new process to making a rug. And that adds to the cost of the rug. I started to dye mainly because the wool blanket remnant is a wonderful rug material, but was often drab colors.
If you weave cotton or clothing remnant rags, that you collect, you probably never will need to dye

Susan said...

Giny, I use Procion dye because I can also use it for linen and cotton. I cut my rag strips with a rotary cutter and mat, taper the ends, & overlap 4-6 in. Some people prefer to sew strips together, but I weave by eye & change colors often, so use shorter pieces. I rarely need to use a shuttle. I usually lay my rags in by hand.

Andrew Kieran said...

have you ever found yourself tight-chested after weaving a rag-rug? because i have, and i think it's maybe very bad to do it in a poorly insulated space. i'm not asthmatic, but i found myself wheezing like one after spending a day ripping and weaving rags in my front room.

like the time i borrowed the dodgy old hoover off my neighbour to do the flat over properly, and i ended up collapsing because the dust was suffocating me, but not as bad, quite.

still, my lungs did hurt very noticeably

i guess i'm wondering whether this is a common complaint or just something that's unique to me, like an allergy

Meg said...

Beautiful colors!!!

Brittany | the Home Ground said...

These are really beautiful colors! I love them in that cup, too :) Just to make sure... you handle the Procion powders outside, right? I'm really glad you wear a mask too. I don't know what the company tells you about safety, but those dyes cause cancer, so you have to be really really careful. Sounds like you are. At school, we have a dyebox that looks like something in a mad scientist's lab.

Happy dyeing and weaving!!

Susan said...

H-B, I think a lot of people may be allergic to rag dust when they weave. Some people always wear a mask, and have an open window. It doesn't bother me, but I try to keep it clean around the loom. Cotton seems to bother people more than wool, but wool makes tons of lint. That's one of the reasons I damp and dry the wool rugs in a drier after they're finished, to full them, and to delint them. Maybe you should stay away from rags.

Susan said...

Brittany, Thanks for the reminder about safe handling of dye powders. I do use a mask, and measure outside, and would advise anyone using dye to do that. Even with low level exposure.

I use Procion dyes because fiber reactive dyes have not been linked to cancer, but mainly to allergic reactions, as far as I have been able to find out when researching toxicity. Do you have information about fiber reactive dyes and cancer?

Joanne said...

After reading Angie's blog and looking at the lovely purple spring flower, viewing at your 'cup of color' was like looking a spring flowers as well.

I, too, love the way wool works, the feel of it, the way its colors are so alive, the 'life' of it. It does not seem that it is ever far from the sheep.