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Friday, 31 May 2013

TdF Preparations and Dyeing

The Tour de Fleece is looming large on the horizon again - this year it starts on June 29th.  For those who wonder what I'm talking about, the knitting/spinning website Ravelry hosts the Tour de Fleece each year to run alongside the Tour de France.  Each day the official Tour rides, we (the spinners of the world - that's fibre spinners, not the energetic kind!) spin as well.  When they have rest days, we have rest days, when they have challenging days, we have to challenge ourselves with maybe spinning something new, or learning a new technique.

Last year I was rather new to all of this, so I only joined one team (Team Hopelessly Overcommitted! - sort of describes my spinning life, I've probably got more fibre than I can spin in my lifetime!), but this year I thought I'd be more adventurous.  One of the teams that took my eye was the DIY and Dye Team.  The rules for this team are that you must prepare raw fleece - washing, dyeing, carding, and spinning - from scratch.  No commercially prepared or dyed fibres.  Well, I mostly do that anyway, so it seemed like a good team to join.  I'll probably go with Team HOC again as well, just because!

So, I thought I'd better get going with some fibre preparation.  We're allowed to do all the dyeing and preparation in advance and just spin during the Tour.  So, out came my Falkland fleece which has been languishing in a bag for quite a while.

I bought these zipped laundry bags whilst in the UK recently, specially for washing/dyeing fleece.  I wanted to keep the fleece in its lock structure so it's easier to prepare afterwards.  (Just throwing it all in the sink closely followed by the dyepot tends to mix it all up).

The clean fleece, ready for dyeing :-

I didn't really know which dyes to start with, but on one of my daily walks down the hill to feed Impala his carrots, I saw a really big clump of wild fennel growing by the side of the road.  I picked 600g and took it home.  The fleece hadn't been mordanted yet, so I thought I'd try something new.  A while ago I bought a copper pan second hand and wanted to try using that instead of a mordant.  So, in went the chopped up fennel and enough water to cover it.

This was boiled for at least an hour then allowed to cool overnight.  The next day I boiled it up again for another hour and let it cool again, just to make sure I'd got all the possible dye out of the fennel.  In went the fleece, still in its mesh bag, and I heated it to a very gentle simmer for a couple of hours.

This morning I was rather under-whelmed when I took the fleece out of the dye bath - it was a dirty off-white sludgy colour.  Not very attractive at all.  But while I was rinsing it I wondered if it would brighten up a bit with the addition of either vinegar (acid) or ammonia (alkali).  Luckily, the ammonia was the first bottle I reached for and I just put a slug of that into the rinse.  The water immediately darkened to quite a dark olive colour, so I put the fleece back in and left it for half an hour.

This is what I got when I rinsed in clear water :-

Not perfect - a bit patchy - but definitely a better colour than sludge!

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