Last week I tried two things for the very first time: drafting a bodice block and dyeing yarn. It’s safe to say I’ll be doing both again!
My not-so-new job has kept me away from posting regularly like I used to, but it’s been a crazy, eventful and educational nine months in post and I hope – HOPE – that I have enough of a grip on things to get back into a writing routine. It’s much easier to find time now that the graduate showcase is over (take a look here if you want to see the culmination of hard work by a group of talented people), and of all the things that I could have done this Monday morning, I chose to write.
The yarn dyeing came about as a consequence of similar circumstances. With all the students finished up and only Graduate Fashion Week on the horizon, a group of us came up with the idea of skill swapping as a means of enjoying each other’s relaxed company and actively appreciating our areas of expertise. My contributions were intros to hand knitted socks and domestic machine knitting. In turn, I asked how to learn how to dye yarn and draft a bodice block based on my own measurements.
I should probably be more explicit than I was at the start about having never dyed yarn: I’ve NEVER dyed ANYTHING. Very truly. Not even in the bath or washing machine at home. The last thing I ‘dyed’ prior to this was my fingertips when mashing down turmeric root in a mortar and pestle! Thank goodness that came off after a couple of days or so; I had the left hand of an 80-a-day smoker 🙁
So: I turned up last Thursday 19th with five hanks of Rowan Creative Linen in white, bouncing with excitement, a bellyful of beans. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about anything changing colour! – or nervous. Not that it wouldn’t turn out as I wanted; the nervousness that accompanies treading uncharted waters, the feeling that you get as you swell up to fill a new space in the world, a space held in trust for you until you’re strong and brave enough to understand it’s always been yours. Discovery, excitement, trepidation, awe.
These feelings fuelled my elbow grease as I scoured the yarn, removing any coatings or residues from previous unknown processes. Here’s a short video of me doing this:
The yarn was put into an acetic acid solution first, then well rinsed under running water. Somewhat embarrassingly, I can’t remember whether it was hot or cold water – only that I kept scouring until I heard my colleague (find her beautiful print work on Instagram at @printmaking_paradise, including a snap of how her machine knitting turned out), say those magic words, “That’ll do.”
Next we followed an adapted recipe for the relevant dye type (cellulosic fibres like cotton and linen are treated differently from protein based ones like wool and cashmere) and I finally chose a colour. I’d spent the day so far trying to remember what gaps were in my hand knitted wardrobe. Unsure, I settled on a sea green/marine/turquoise vibe. I later found out that I’d just got away with that guess: longline cardigan, yes; cropped wrap cardigan, still awaiting buttons, yes; summer sweater, NO. Phew! And this mental survey included the stashed yarn for incumbent projects. Gosh, I
have way too much yarn AM good! * high fives *
We threw in a wee bit of electric blue in case the colour came out a bit too green; green doesn’t love me as much as I love it. Once the water had reached the correct temperature, in went the yarn. No going back. I may have likened this to a “Loch Ness monstery pit of aqua”. Guess I can’t be articulate all the time! Good thing I don’t do podcasts 😉
Stirring and a bit of guesswork ensued: how long to keep it in and would it be the depth of colour I had in mind? I’d gone for the medium range of the spectrum to play safe, but it’s always a tricky thing as people can have interesting ideas of what ‘medium’ is. I guess that’s part of the process and the charm of textiles. Most interestingly, it was the only time the knitting, engineering area of my brain felt a bit poleaxed; it made me realise just how structured and binary knitting is or can be in comparison to other textile arts. You have knit, you have purl. You have front loops, you have back loops. You cable left or right. Textured patterns have a right side, a wrong side, or can be reversible. The creativity of knitting is borne of a profound understanding of how the structure is engineered. My brain and personal experience relate it to Lego and music. You have your bricks and your notes, your eyes and ears, your theory of how the relationships work – now go off and compose. Technicality doesn’t forego manipulation and innovation; it enriches creativity to result in masterful, original works of art.
My way of dealing with the unknown is to let it wash over me. It’s the only sensible option: how can you compare something you don’t know to something you do know? Of course your brain wants to make sense of it as it grapples with new concepts and you try to execute tasks correctly – more than once I mused about cooking and recipes as I stirred the dye pot – but you have to welcome that openness and receive it on its own terms, its own merit. This open space, this stretch of uncharted waters, can only be trodden with trust.
This is true even on the most mundane or microcosmic level, boiling right down to whether or not the yarn you’re dyeing turns out beautifully, let alone the shade you had in your mind or imagination. Trust begets synchronicity. Worry and fear can’t coexist with trust and faith. I have no real idea of what colour my yarn will be when I go to work and into the print room tomorrow, and I can’t remember whether it’ll dry darker or lighter than its shade when wet. To the left is a shot of the freshly dyed yarn on the drying rack as a sneak peek. I could’ve gone in today to find out, but I didn’t. I chose to write.