I’ve dyed and gone to heaven

You may ask yourself: what is this luscious clothesline of feather boas? Or are those giant clown wigs?

These, friends, are giant hunks of Corriedale and Romney wool fleece dyed by me and the rest of my sheep-to-shawl class last week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. What an amazing experience that was. A whole week of bankers’ hours devoted to wool — the washing, dyeing, carding, spinning, plying, and admiring of wool.

Our wonderful instructor, Martha Owen, started us off on Sunday night with some information about various sheep breeds, and on Monday we got down to business, dumping an enormous sheared fleece (from her farm) into the washing machine to clean all the what-not out of it. (Most of the really gross what-not is “skirted” off before that, but there’s plenty of plain old dirt what-not left on the rest of the fleece.)

Then the really fun part started. Martha’s into natural dyeing, which I was interested to learn more about. Now, look again at that photo above. Can you believe those are natural dyes? I had this image in my head of natural dyes being quite muted, but Martha taught us how to get shocking, deep pinks (from mashed-up cochineal bugs, in the middle and on the cart), fluorescent yellows (from osage orange bark, on the right), and rich orangey-yellows (from onion skins, on the left). You can even get this funky, verdigris-ish blue:

…by plotzing a piece of copper pipe into a jar of ammonia and water for a couple of weeks, and then chucking in some wool. The ammonia eats away at the copper, which creates a dye. So cool!

We even collected a whole bunch of these lichens from the woods surrounding the school:

… and made a gorgeous bronze dye with them.

All right. So now you’ve got mounds of technicolor sheep fleece. Now what? Time to card and spin. This was the part I was less enthusiastic about initially. I came to the class convinced that I would find spinning frustrating and/or tedious. I mean, really, just how far can a lazy girl go down the Back-to-the-Land path?

Well, friends, apparently spinning is not my limit. I loved it. The first day was frustrating, but when you are spending six hours or more every day working at it, the learning curve tends to be a lot steeper. By the end of the week, I was spinning worsted like a champ.

OK, like a decent novice, but it’s much more than I expected.

Here are some of the skeins that we wrought. Mine’s closest to the camera. It’s enough yarn for me to knit for about 20 minutes, but I love it anyway. Can a wheel of my own be far behind?