Okay, this all started out so innocently. I bought six small indigo plants at the Shepherd's Harvest Lamb and Wool Show. It seemed obvious that they would join the many things I am unable to grow. Right next to the zucchini and carrots that I faithfully plant each year and never have to harvest. Because they don't grow.
But this year, the garden was growing incredibly well. Leaves galore. Giant plants. So I decided to harvest the indigo and dye some yarn. So simple.
Well, since I was unable to procure a hot plate or camp stove to dye things outside on - I had to dye things inside. Instead of everyday pots and pans, I used my large canning pot and pickle jars as a double boiler, plastic windshield washer fluid jugs as buckets and my wheelbarrow full of twigs as a drying station. (The wheelbarrow was actually outside.)
I feel like the McGuyver of knitting! The only thing better would be actually carving my knitting needles out of chair legs.
After harvesting about half of each stalk and stripping the leaves off, I actually had quite a lot of leaves crammed into three small jars for the original dye production. Luckily, the women who pushed, er, sold me indigo, gave me instructions on dyeing with them. The vaguely-edible looking mess simmered for about and hour before I strained out the leaves. I think that next time, I will run chop the leaves up first. I think there was still quite a bit of dye left in the cooked leaves. Not too pretty at this stage. They actually smelled like cooked spinach.
The second step involved adding a bit of non-sudsing ammonia and introducing oxygen into the mix. I poured the dye back and forth between my "buckets" until it began to change colors slightly. The mix became a darker, sickly green-blue. Then, the gallon pickle jars came into play. I poured one-half of the dye mix into each jar and added the final chemical step (the technical name - I can't remember), Rit Dye Remover!
Well, I have a fair amount of Bluefaced Leicester roving as well as the two-ply yarn I've spun of it. I dyed the pre-wetted yarn in one pot and some of the wet roving in the other. After a long simmer (naptime for Youngest Child was over by then), I took the dyed objects outside and hung them to dry. Surprise! A lovely blue - I was so please because the original color was a yucky blue green. I read online that they had to dry for 24 hours before rinsing and that seemed to be true because none of the colors washed out during the final rinse.
Unfortunately, the second run with the same dye pots was a dismal failure and everything turned an ugly green-grey. I think I messed up the pH values but I saved the failure skeins to try again with the next batch of indigo.
The whole point of dyeing yarns, however, is that you end up with enough yarn to actually do something with and that might be a little iffy. I could probably get enough from the yarn for a scarf and, if the color held for the roving, a matching hat when spun.
A fun experiment but a lot of work for just a hat/scarf set. Makes you admire all those pioneers! Jonesing for a little color, ready to chop up plants from the yard on the off chance that a pretty color would emerge. I might have to experiment with Rhubarb roots next. Or maybe, those zucchini vines and carrot tops. Not an edible vegetable on the whole mess!