Sunday, March 30, 2008

Documenting dye samples

My issue with dyeing is that I can't predict the color ahead of time. No matter how much I try to follow the directions I've found on the web, nothing comes out consistently the same. And that's annoying.

Recently, another dyer while demonstrating shibori dyeing showed us her dye samples. It was a large piece of fabric she "sacrificed" so that she could have a record of the dye colors at various dilutions. Suddenly, it clicked! That was what I needed!

I'm currently taking "Garment Design through Draping" class at West Valley College. Draping not only uses lots of muslin, it wastes a lot too. I have no problem with the idea of needing to sacrifice large pieces of muslin in order to get a beautiful end result; it's just that my heart can't bear to throw the large pieces away. So I've been stuffing the sizable pieces into my bag "for future use". I know, I need more crap like I need a hole in my head but there *has* to be a use for them. Right?

I pulled out 7 of the scraps for this dyeing documentation project. I may not be dyeing on cotton fabric all of the time, but it's far better than hoping the color on the bottle is accurate. And I found out some very interesting things!

For example, some of the colors will bleed out along the edges. Look at the raspberry - it is a very pretty red-purple in the center, but at the edges it turns blue. When shibori dyeing, that's a dye you'll want to use. The bright green had this absolutely lovely yellow bleed-out but it washed away - I'm not sure why but I'm quite disappointed.

Another interesting observation was how some dyes don't change their final color much even when diluted. That's good to know so you don't waste dye powder. The excess gets washed out.

I think I have 20+ colors of this Procion dye from
Dharma. I was only able to do 7 colors because I only brought 7 jars with me. Documenting all of the dyes is on my list of things to do. Warmer weather is fast approaching so I expect to be done soon.

So, exactly how did I do these samples?

First, the fabrics were soaked in 1/4c of soda ash to 2 cups of water. The fabric weighed 4 ounces. This is straight-off-the-bolt white cotton muslin; I did not pre-wash it. After soaking for 10 minutes, the fabric was dried on the handy-dandy clothesline that the previous owner left and I've now come to appreciate. (Note to self: get clothespins before the next trip up there.)

Next, the dyes were mixed. I started with 1/4 tsp of dye powder to 1/4 cup of warm water. The house has well water which is probably a tad hard. I only used warm water to facilitate the dilution. Subsequent additions of water were cold.

For each piece of fabric, I used a Sharpie and wrote the name of the color, it's number, and "1/4tsp + 1/4 c water increments". After the samples were made, I also wrote 1, 2, or 3 next to the spot for each color sample.

To apply the dyes, I poured a few drops onto the cloth and then used my finger to spread it out. Plastic gloves are a must. It would have been better to use a eye dropper if only for better control of the pouring as well as avoiding the drips along the lip of the jar.

After the first dilution is applied to the cloth, add another 1/4 c of water to all of the jars of dye. Repeat the sample application. And then do it again a third time. Be sure to keep track of which sample is which dilution - I lined them up in a row but also marked them with a sharpie.

Some of the dyes got a fourth dilution only because the jar would hold it. Note to self: make sure to use large jars - small jelly jars don't work for this.

Once the samples were done, I wrapped them up with plastic wrap and left them to cure overnight. In the morning I unwrapped them, rinsed them and tucked them away. I couldn't let them dry - we were leaving to go home. On the red wine sample, some of the blue bled onto the cloth during the transport home. It doesn't look like any of it penetrated the color sample though, so I won't redo it. Also, in the bottom corner of that one, we put a sample of what looks like a brownish eggplant color. As we were cleaning up, we dumped the teal, orange, and periwinkle dye water into one jar. We were going to pour it down the kitchen drain but it looked quite pretty so we took a sample and kept the bottle of liquid. It's waiting for my return to the house in the mountains.

It is worth noting that since this process keeps the soda ash away from the dye, the mixtures will stay quite useable for a few months. Cover them and keep them for future use.

One thing I might do differently next time is to do 2 sample sheets of the same color - one sheet would be dry and the other would be wet. I want to see if it affects the bleed-out.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Want to Start a 4H Alpaca Project but don’t know where to begin?

What is 4H?
4-H is an organization for youth, ages 5-19, that promotes hands-on learning and is based on parent and volunteer participation. 4-H welcomes all youth and adult volunteers from all backgrounds in all locales.

The United States 4-H program is run through county Cooperative Extension offices, the state universities, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and a variety of volunteer councils and foundations at the county, state, and national levels. In California, the 4H program is run through the University of California at Davis. That’s right! 4H is run by UCDavis - the same university where Calpaca has established a veterinary scholarship.

How do I get started?
To get started, find a club now and go to the next general meeting. Introduce yourself, and explain that you’re interested in starting an alpaca project next year. The CA 4H website can be found at On that page is a menu to help locate the nearest club.

For me, someone with absolutely no prior exposure to 4H, it was helpful to go to a few meetings in the Spring to become familiar with the general meeting proceedings. I chatted with other project leaders and learned what to expect while managing an animal project. Showing up at these meetings also helped put the word out that an alpaca project was being planned for the coming year. The 4H calendar runs September to August (similar to a school year).

Each 4H club has a coordinator known as the community leader. This person acts as the contact point between the county-wide coordinator and their own club. He/she handles all the registrations, the training schedule, the monthly calendar, as well as informs the club of county-wide events. Make sure the community leader knows you are interested in becoming a project leader for the coming year. They will add you to the planning meetings which typically take place over the summer.

However, if it’s Fall or Winter when you decide to start a group, you can still start one for that year. The community leader will be your best resource. If you’ve missed the one-time required training session offered in your region, you will simply pair up with a leader from another project.

Becoming a 4H leader is relatively easy. Each leader must fill out an application and get a background check done. New this year is that each project is required to have two certified adults at all project meetings. In my project, my co-leader is a parent who has run the leadership gauntlet but isn’t managing a project of her own this year. California 4H also has restrictions on the age of children joining animal projects. Alpacas are not on the pre-approved list for children younger than 9 (children 5-8 are called Clovers).

What do we do in an Alpaca Project?
The scope of any project is at the discretion of the leader. In my case, I took lead from the kids in my project. The agenda I set at the beginning included visiting one local AOBA alpaca show; explaining basic care, feeding, and anatomy; discussing fiber (attributes of each type, differences in quality, basic processing steps, finished goods, tour of a farm store); and demonstrating obstacle performance. Each meeting began with the educational lesson (maybe 30 minutes) followed by the students catching, haltering, and walking their assigned alpaca. When we began the obstacle performance demonstrations, everyone participated with their alpaca. Of all of the lessons, this was the one that my group of kids this year decided they liked best. I’ve had a few other girls approach me about offering an alpaca fiber project and may do that next year in addition to this alpaca performance project.

In conclusion…
The end of the 4H year concludes with the students filling out a "year end project report" called a Project Report. As 4H students they also have a form called a PDR (Personal Development Report) that covers their entire work with 4H. As this is my first year with 4H and we are not yet at the end of it, I can only say that I’m going to be relying a lot on the experienced leaders to help me help my students get these reports completed! I do know this: I’m very glad I just jumped in. These kids love working with the alpacas! If only we could read the animals’ minds, I’m sure they’d say they love it too!