This Saturday, the 18th of September is World Wide Spin in Public Day. No – this doesn’t mean you take a moment out of your busy day to spin in circles until you feel dizzy and collapse in a heap of giggles (although I encourage you to do that simply because it’s fun…and everyone’s day can always use a bit more fun). In this case, “spin” refers to spin yarn, and all around the world on Saturday spinners and weavers and fibre artists will be out in public places practicing their craft and sharing it with their communities.
And Whitehorse is one of the many places where this will take place. On Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm the Canada Games Centre lobby will have weavers and spinners plying their craft, creating beautiful yarn, and sharing their passion with the public. And I’ll be one of them, sitting there with my drop spindle (it will look pretty small compared to people with their spinning wheels set up – but it is no less mighty a tool). I probably won’t arrive until noon as I have to go to a Special Olympics coaches orientation first (I’m coaching Athletics for them again), but if you come by in the afternoon you will find me there.
In preparation for this event I spent yesterday dyeing some beautiful merino-silk blend wool top. This was my first ever experience with dying fibre and I was a bit petrified of felting it. Unlike yarn, which is pretty straight forward to dye, fibre can felt very easily (too much heat, too much agitation, too much handling, you get the idea). On top of that there was the added complication that the last time I dyed anything I was about 18 and my friend and I tried to dye a blanket to take to university – key word “tried” – technically the blanket did change colour (although not evenly), but my mother’s laundry room was never really the same.
You would think therefore that someone with my track record would want to start small – an immersion bath of one colour for example. In fact my fantastic dyeing book, Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan, suggests just that as a first step (well second step really – Callahan suggests colour theory work as a first step, but colour theory is something I already have some sense of). Callahan makes this suggestion based on the fact that many people are actually scared to dye things (they’re worried about ruining the wool apparently).
So all logical and conventional wisdom pointed to me dyeing my wool top with a simple immersion bath in a pretty colour to use for Saturday’s event, and then taking this experience to build my skills into more elaborate and exciting techniques. But let’s face it – I’m kind of a “go big or go home” type, so that’s not what I did.
Instead I jumped straight to handpainting my fibre and then using steam to heat set the dye (this technique falls somewhere near the back of Callahan’s book). I figured I’d be fine (which I was) and it looked like so much more fun, plus I could use lots of colours (in this case four – violet, blue, willow, and lily).
My learnings from this experience:
1) Go big or go home triumphs again – if you’re not scared it’s going to work out fine – and in this case allowed me to be way more creative and have way more fun.
2) Thrift stores are your friend (I already knew this, but it bears repeating) – you don’t want to use any kitchen tools you’re actually going to cook with again to dye with – so go raid the thrift store for cheap tools.
3) Set up your workspace really, really well – in a rare moment of carefully reasoned foresight I actually did this and I’m so happy I did (otherwise are kitchen might be blus and green right now) – for my set-up I put down a waterproof table cloth, covered it with newspaper, and put a plastic bag on that for my actual work space (with paper towels close by) – and I used rubber gloves.
4) Silk can be tricky – I had been warned that this was the case – silk fibre is coated with something called sericin which resists dyes – to get it off carefully wash your fibre with a neutral pH detergent (keeping in mind how quickly it can felt).
5) It’s always going to end up lighter than it starts out – by the time you rinse out the excess dye and let it dry it’s not going to look how it did when it was wet, but don’t worry, it will still look cool.
6) Heat treating dyed fibre by sticking it in a plastic bag and steaming it about a pot of boiling water actually works – who knew the book was actually telling the truth.
I’ve just checked and my fibre is now dry (I laid it out last night on a drying rack in our living room). It looks a bit more wild in texture than it did when I started (can’t avoid all felting – it catches on the strings you need to tie it with for example), but it’s still in a form that I can work with it well to spin it. I’m thinking of spinning it with some angelina fibre (you have to love sparkles) – maybe I’ll call it pixie dust…
If you’re free tomorrow afternoon and live in Whitehorse you can swing by the Canada Games Centre and check on my progress – otherwise try and find a local World Wide Spin in Public Day event near you to participate in and check the blog afterwards to see how I made out.