Monday, September 12, 2016

Fall Quilts, Wool, and Wool Dyeing In the Microwave


Summer has unofficially become fall here, though the calendar says it's still over a week away. It's 54 F this morning, and I'll have a cool studio today. I confess that sweltering heat does not bring out my creativity, and also that I've taken a little hiatus while coming to terms with my art and craft. Both points have made it more difficult to return to the studio daily, though I'm in and out. It's not an excuse, and there's no reason for me to apologize. It just is. You know, I'm finding that makes more sense to me recently. 

I have spent the summer working on hand stitching, and it continues with more than a dozen hours this past week invested in this piece. 

The fabric is Tokyo Train Ride by Sarah Watts, and I mixed it with some fun, but more traditional prints and design. I love using modern and traditional fabrics together for an up close surprise!

The center and first brown connecting border are nearly finished. I've kept the Perle cotton a low contrast with a rust color around the spiderwebs, and pale green in the brown. The dots are the same mint color so it blends rather that stands out. Hand quilting soothes my soul.

Gathering Wool

Along with stitching, I've been working with wool for most of the month now. Let me clarify a bit. Working with meaning preparing. First I've scoured the racks at second hand shops, Goodwill, Hospice, and so on. My kids are a great help, and love a scavenger hunt, too. Things go into my trunk via a garbage bag, and sit for several weeks outside in the sun to heat up nicely. (I always avoid any chance of bringing unwanted 'guests' into my house or studio!) 

At first I picked seams open, and was very careful deconstructing the suit coats, pants, and skirts. Now I work a little quicker, and most things are made usable by cutting off the seams. I don't find that I lose a great deal of valuable fabric, and it's a huge time savings. From cutting outside, the wool fabric goes straight into a warm water wash cycle, and then into the dryer. After that, it's stored until I need it.

The woolen knits stash has grown considerably, too, but this seems to be the season to find wool as people go through closets. Can you see the great variety of color someone's found for me? I love the orange! Some of these will turn into lined mittens early this winter, and others are destined for hats and purses, but I'm not ruling out a pieced blanket.

Unlike woven wool, I don't deconstruct the sweaters before washing. They go in the washer after a few weeks in the sun, and are washed and dried the same way. I do monitor the shrinkage closely, and dry them far less as I don't want boiled wool. Just a nice felting to them.

The latest wool project involves Kool-Aid, food dyes, and store bought 'wool felt'. You may know that wool and silk--animal based origins so we call them 'protein based fiber', take dye differently that plant based fibers. Plant fibers would be cotton, linen, hemp, etc. Wool and silk need to have the ph lowered while plant fibers need the ph raised. Acids lower ph therefore we use something called an acid dye. It's not a nasty dye at all, and in fact is safer than most dyes requiring a higher ph. 

My starting point for all the research I've done was at the Paula Burch site. I can't say enough what a fantastic resource this is. I popped in there intended to begin by using some Jacquard Acid Dyes I was given, but considering it was already late in the evening I tried this method instead.

This was a trial project using about 1/4 yard of wool felt. Wool felt is already fairly dense when purchased. I would tell you to imagine the density of a good wool blanket for comparison. I was paying attention to how the process would affect the density further. 

I soaked my swatches in vinegar and water. I added drops of food coloring to a bowl mixed with a tiny bit of water. I only had red, blue and green here to play with so my palette was limited. The wool swatch and dye went into a sandwich baggie, were squished around to disperse the dye, and I sealed it. I microwaved it for 20 seconds or so at a time while I stood watching. Out to the counter to cool a bit, then back in a few times for another round. The heat was required to set the dye.

I had one package of Kool Aid in a flavor that used Red #40 as the dye. That powder was mixed with water, and processed the same way.

What Happened
a.k.a. The Lab Report

*I started by making some of the colors too weak. I was adding just a few drops of food dye, and the color was quite pale. The pink is an example of 1 single drop mixed with water. One or two drops gives a nice pastel.

*A few swatches have dark spots where they absorbed more of the color. This could be to a higher concentration of vinegar there, perhaps, or that I pushed it into the bowl there with tongs. I think it could be remedied by a stronger solution with more water. Adding it to a flat pan instead of a bowl might help too.

*Many colors were made by mixing 2 or 3 dyes. While they mixed in the bowl, they separated when they hit the wool! I wasn't expecting that at all. 

The brown tone made with red, blue and green has areas of pink and violet. The grey made with red and green has areas of blue and violet. 

*When a dye came out too pale after rinsing, I just redyed it. I dipped it in the vinegar solution again, and reworked the same process. It was very forgiving.

*Kool-Aid is an awesome dye! See that vibrant red? The color was saturated and intense, and like the others had no dye wash out. I had only used a partial packet on the swatch. Prepared drink mixes contain citric or malic acid so vinegar is unnecessary. I imagine the high acid along with a lot of dye was the reason.

Are they perfect? Heck, no! Is it exciting. Heck, yeah! Anytime I make headway into a new process, and understand how things are made helps me move along in the right direction. I've had the book "Wild Blooms and Colorful Creatures" beside my chair for months, but now I have the materials to make a project using Wendy William's wool felt method. NOW, the book makes sense! I'll be working on other ways to dye and over dye wool this week, and hope you stick around.

Come on, Doxie girls.
Let's go sew.


helenjean@midgetgemquilts said...

Interesting post Julie . I admit my first reaction would be to throw the woolies straight into the washing machine . Does the heat outside sort of sterilise them?
Your paper piecing looks great too , very intricate

Vivian said...

Looks like you got a great wool knit haul. Very interesting about the dyeing process -- I didn't know about the different pH levels needed for dyeing or that you could use Kool-Aid or food coloring for fabric dye. Thanks for sharing your "lab experiments"!

evaj said...

Thank you for your inspiration and link to the Show and Tell Monday !! Bambi Hug

maggie fellow said...

I really like the results of using citric acid to set the colors in wool, and it doesn't smell vinegary

France Nadeau ❅ inspiration imagination creation said...

This post is packed with interesting projects. I really like your dyed wools, especially those for which the color has separated. They look amazing. :-)
Like you, I find that hand quilting soothes the soul...

Anja @ Anja Quilts said...

It's interesting following all your dyeing escapades. Looks like you are having fun.

Nancy said...

Beautiful quilt! I love the bright corals amongst the other colors.

I also cut away the seams in both cotton and wool garments, but like you, I don't cut apart sweaters. I haven't done any dying for a long while but I used to use natural dyes on wool. Your food color and kool-aid dyes may just be the thing to pull me back to dying.
--Nancy. (ndmessier @,

Angie in SoCal said...

You are doing so much fun. Love your hand stitching.

Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts said...

So interesting that some of the dyes separated once they hit the wool. You have a lot going on, but it all looks fun!

Stitchin At Home said...

Ahh more fun in Julie's to Dye for world.

TheEclecticAbuela said...

Kool-Aid! Now I know why the stains never came out of my kids' clothes--I should have just immersed them (the clothes, not the kids) in the Kool-aid to match the stains! :)

Kaja said...

Dyeing with food/drinks sounds fun; maybe we should just think back to all stains that wouldn't come out of kids'clothes! I have dyed wool using acid dyes but this seems much more fun somehow.

Christine Slaughter said...

I understand completely the waning of creativity over summer. I am glad you were still able to be creative. I think I've pushed through my own slump and this week feel more excited about sewing than I have in a while. Also? Love the food & Kool-Aid dye experiment! The outcome is incredibly interesting... especially those pops of pink on the brown!

Miaismine said...

I'm thrilled that you have enjoyed your hand stitching! You know, there's just something healing and soothing in slow stitching.......and it sounds like it's been good for you. I know it is such a precious, lovely, peaceful and all good things for me. You are amazing!