Wool, wool, and more wool!
I spend all of my free time (read: nonexistent) knitting. I am the definition of an obsessive knitter. It brings me joy. It gives me purpose. It is my happy place! So, it was only a matter of time before fiber came to play a bigger part in this journey than simply purchasing a skein at my local yarn store (which, incidentally, is another favorite pastime of mine).
I love working with wool. It is like no other fiber! It is soft and rough all at the same time. Malleable, but also sturdy and durable. And it is oh so cozy! And for us knitters it is our watercolor and our oil paint; absolutely essential to our creativity and to our making process. So, yes, you bet that my dreams are made of wooly goodness, and they come in three installments.
Sustainably sourced and naturally hand dyed
This is the part of the project that is currently very much in the works. I am really passionate about 100% sustainably sourced natural fiber that has been treated as little as possible. I also recently discovered that I absolutely love the process of hand dyeing yarn and creating color. And so the dream was born! It only made sense that if I am so adamant about my fiber being all natural that I should also approach the dyeing process in a similar manner. To my delight, color is so abundant in nature, and it is so fun to play with!
I am currently using 100% sustainable merino wool sourced in Australia. The farms involved take care to ensure that the animals are well kept, that the grading is of the highest standard and that the land is sustained in an environmental way. All the yarn is untreated, and I use natural extracts to dye them, a long and laborious process that consists of four steps: preparation, scouring, mordanting, and dyeing.
What is the difference?
I am as guilty as anyone of buying heavily treated yarns, and I still own many superwash skeins in my stash. This is mostly due to ignorance on my part, I admit it. When I started knitting a year ago, I didn’t really know much about the superwash process, other than it made yarn be washable. Very appealing, indeed! Over the course of the year, I became much more aware and conscious of all of the ways in which our consumption impacts the environment. That included, of course, our consumption of fiber. Plain and simple, superwash yarn is wool coated in plastic. I could probably write an entire post about the natural characteristics of wool, and the harsh chemical process it has to go through to become washable, as well as what that means for the environment, but I won’t bore you. If you’d like to learn more, Ashley of Woolful wrote a great article about this!
Why natural dyes?
Similarly, the advantages of using only natural extracts are as follows:
- Fewer or no chemicals. This is both better for the environment and keeps the “wooly” characteristics of yarn intact (unless, of course, you boil the yarn!). It also means that I can dye in my tiny kitchen without worrying too much about unleashing harsh chemicals in my home (note: this does not mean that it is a completely safe process, because natural extracts can still be poisonous).
- Natural dye stuff is readily available in our homes, gardens (if you’re lucky enough to have one), the forest, and parks. You can use almost anything to make a dye bath!
- A great way to reuse and repurpose. I should know, my freezer is full of onion skins, avocado pits and citrus peel!
- Lots of room for exploring and experimenting! Of course, this can also be frustrating when you spend hours dyeing, and the dye doesn’t really “stick”.
- It is an ever evolving process. The same dye stuff may render a different color depending on where it is from, the water used in the dye bath, the season, and so on. This is really the fun part, because you never know the exact color you will get from any specific dye bath! I like to think of it as each resulting skein of yarn being absolutely unique!
Now comes the second installment of my wooly dreams! In my ideal world, I would like to source the yarn I dye from small local farms. I want to know where it came from, who tended the sheep, and where these sheep roamed. Not only for my peace of mind, but also because I want to have a personal relationship with the sheep and the farmers. I want to be able to drive up to these small farms, have a warm meal with the farmers and their families, and let my daughter pet the sheep. And, yes, also know that the fiber I am using and producing is 100% true to what I feel so passionate about and believe in. Is that too much to ask for?
Back to my roots
The third, and possibly most exciting, part of this dream takes us back to my homeland! I am currently trying to identify the breed of sheep that are raised in Armenia. There is a long tradition of spinning and naturally dyeing yarn there, as well as weaving rugs and knitting. I found out recently, only after I started dyeing yarn, that my great grandmother and her mother used to hand spin and naturally hand dye yarn. This means everything to me right here! Going back to our roots - connecting with our past, our ancestors, and our lands - is my dream of dreams! In the months to come I will be working with my family (who all live in Armenia) to learn more about the tradition of raising sheep in Armenia. Depending on what we discover, I would like to find a few reliable farmers who will supply me with fleece, which I can then mill into yarn here in the US and hand dye myself. It would be so amazing to produce all natural yarn with unique fiber content, while also supporting small farmers in Armenia!
And, who knows, maybe someday I will own my own farm, a handful of sheep, and lots of time to sit by the fireplace and knit! One can only dream, right?
What are your dreams made of?