Alchemy

It’s that time of year again…..time to head south on Pandora.  But before I go back to living onboard there is SO much I want to do on land!

My small guild always has a natural dyeing workshop in October, and I’ve been looking forward to this all summer!  Bob and I made our plans to head south based on the date of this dyeing workshop.  My 4 lbs. of goldenrod was collected for this workshop, and I also planned to reconstitute my indigo vat.

Everything about natural dyeing seems like magic and alchemy…. The recipes are as old as civilization and some of the processes seem downright absurd!  Who figured out these strange concoctions and procedures??

I mordanted two 100 gram skeins of my handspun white alpaca with alum and cream of tartar.  I had two small hanks of fine linen (80/2) which will be for sampling bobbin lace designs (one for me and one for a friend), and I had a 100 gram skein of raw silk in the lovely natural color with black flecks.  I have not mordanted linen before, so that was my first challenge.  It requires some tannin along with alum.  Sure would have been great if I’d realized that in time to order tannic acid online.  Barring that I had to find something natural growing nearby or lying about.  My only option, since I didn’t find any oak galls on my trees, was to cut some sumac.  I’m not sure I’m ready to tell that story…. suffice it to say that henceforth, I will only cut sumac that is in flower so I can see that large red/brown flower stalk of the safe sumac. … ‘nuff said….

The dyeing workshop was fantastic!  It was held in Bozrah, Connecticut, a town I’d never even heard of before this event.  The drive there was stunning for an early October morning.  I drove along my side of the river for a bit, crossed the historic Haddam Bridge, and the drove along the east side of the river before turning northeastward toward Bozrah.  It was a beautiful morning with mist on the river burning off as the sun rose higher, and the trees almost at their most brilliant autumn color.

Our workshop was in the garden of a lovely rambling farmhouse with numerous outbuildings.  The gardens wound their way through the property giving privacy to each garden ‘room.’  The tables for the dye pots were set up on a slate terrace near the kitchen door.  The hostess uses one of the prettiest outbuildings for her weaving studio, and we all sighed and wished we could weave in such a bucolic setting!

Our dyes of the day were marigold, jewelweed, black walnut, onion skin, goldenrod, golden marguerite, indigo, and an orchil lichen.  Quite a nice selection!  I dropped one skein of alpaca into the onion skin bath and put the other one in my goldenrod.  When they were finished I had a wonderful combination of deep pumpkin from the onion and a beautiful gold from the goldenrod.  I wanted to get a green by dipping my goldenrod skein in indigo.

My indigo did not reconstitute, even with the addition of both thiourea dioxide and more dyestock.  It got the slightest bronze bloom but never turned yellow green.  It stayed blue.  When we dipped a trial piece in it the blue rinsed out completely.  Ugh.  One of the other women happened to bring a little indigo ‘kit’ and we mixed that up in an extra dyepot.  So I did get to dip my goldenrod-dyed alpaca to make a mysterious, very interesting green.  I can’t say that it coordinates as well as I’d hoped with my pumpkin colored onion dyed skein, but I love both colors!

The true excitement of the day for me was that lichen dye pot.  The woman who brought it has this particular lichen growing on rocks on her wooded property in Connecticut.  Lucky woman!  She is very careful not to take much of it, and the little she takes has lasted her for years.  I could not believe what a deep purple we got when we put in our various skeins of yarn.

 The lichen she uses is the one pictured at left on the cover of Casselman’s book.  It can be light green in wet weather or grey in dry weather, but the underside of the lichen is always a very dark almost-black.

Perhaps the lichen dyeing seemed the most like alchemy to me.  Sharon said that the fibers dyed with lichen need to stay wet for 24 hours and then dry in natural sunlight!  Doesn’t that sound magical?  Well, I certainly wasn’t going to tempt fate, so I brought my three lichen-dyed skeins with me down to the Chesapeake so they can get their sunlight under the dodger on Pandora. It’s been quite cloudy in the Chesapeake so I hope that won’t affect my color.

So… after my day of dyeing I returned home to throw some things in a bag in order to leave for Annapolis early the next morning.  I’ve been on board for a few days now, and we are heading south to Beaufort, North Carolina.  I will get off the boat there and Bob’s crew will drive my car to me so they can get onboard and I can drive home!

Annapolis is such a pretty city!…although I am reluctantly missing the beautiful fall colors of New England.  It was the last day of the boat show as we left the harbor.

We sailed to Solomon’s Island yesterday and on to a little creek just south of the Potomac River today.  We should be in Hampton, Virginia, by the weekend in order to participate in a big cruisers’ festival over the weekend.  We are already seeing many friends from our trip south last year.  It is such a small, small world….

This is the Thomas Point lighthouse that we passed on our way to Solomon’s Island.

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