At the Still Point of the Turning World
Residency is over, NOW what? (While I'm waiting for the answer, I'll get some spinning done....)

Sunday, August 11, 2002


Thanks to everyone's encouragement on her Manos vest, my mother immediately tackled another project. This is the back of what will be a mohair "t-shirt." The yarn is Le Fibri Nobli--sorry I don't know the color #--a nylon/mohair fingering yarn. The white creature at the top left is Mo, the wonder Pekingnese. He was not feeling very warmly towards the paparazzi this afternoon, otherwise I would have gotten another photo of him. Another day....


For those of you who haven't read my long-winded posts to Spindlers, I'm a natural dyeing nut. I've successfully dyed with madder, cochineal, logwood, osage orange, kamala powder and annatto seeds, but haven't yet tackled indigo because of the challenges of using this dyestuff. Specifically, I haven't wanted to use Spectralite, the reducing agent usually used to eliminate oxygen from an indigo dyebath. Oxygen is not a welcome player in an indigo dyebath because the fiber must first be immersed in a reduced indigo solution then exposed to air, where the indigo-impregnated fiber will gradually be oxidized into the characteristic blue color. However, Spectralite is such a strong reducing agent that it will ignite if exposed to moisture, and as an apartment-dweller who does not have a protected area in which to do her dyeing, I haven't been willing to attempt to use this substance in my kitchen or near my belongings.

There are other methods of indigo dyeing, however, and this week I'm going to try the yeast vat method. I'm using the instructions given by Jenny Dean in Wild Color (available here at Amazon). In this method, you prepare the the dye solution with yeast and sugar, and let the indigo sit in solution for several days while the yeast metabolizes the oxygen in the solution. The trick is keeping the solution at a constant, lukewarm temperature. I'm going to use a crockpot to achieve this controlled environment, and I'm hoping it will work. Here are the first steps illustrated in photos (click on the thumbnails for larger images):

Here are the basic ingredients: ordinary table sugar, dry yeast, indigo powder and sodium carbonate, an alkalinzing agent needed to dissolve indigo. Of course, I use a filter mask when working with powdered dye substances or assistants, and wear my glasses while mixing everything up.

First, I measured out 1.5 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of dry yeast, and stirred these into 2.5 liters of warm water (about 105F degrees). You're supposed to wait until the solution is bubbling before adding the indigo. Unfortunately I let the solution go over 120F with the crockpot set on high. This is the temperature at which yeast begins to die. So I let the solution cool down to 105F, and added another packet of yeast and some more sugar.

While the yeast and sugar were getting busy in the crockpot, I mixed 1.5 tablespoons of indigo powder with 1 tablespoon of sodium carbonate (otherwise known as washing soda). It took some good, sturdy mixing to get all the powder dissolved in solution.

Finally--the temperature is right, the yeast and sugar are dissolved in water, and the indigo and sodium carbonate are dissolved in solution. Here's the final dyebath, after I poured the indigo into the yeasty water. Over the next few days, this dark blue color should gradually become greeny-yellow. When there is no more blue pigment in the dyebath, I'll know the dyebath is ready for my fiber.

Watch this space for further indigo updates. While I'm waiting to see if the dyebath will work, I'm going to finish spinning the Alpine Meadows fiber and wash the skeins. Hopefully I'll be swatching for the vest this weekend. Thanks for all the suggestions--and keep them coming!