Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Safflower and Cochineal Shibori

I may not get things done in a timely fashion, but it seems to me that I’m always juggling too many diverse things.  In the midst of my shibori ideas, I went sailing with my husband for five days over the Columbus holiday down in the Chesapeake.  I also got quite a bad cold which slowed me down…

So…back to shibori!

Oct.09Shirbori workshop 1

  My safflower dyed sock blank pleated and bound with four rubber bands, ready for the cochineal bath!



Oct.09Shibori workshop 3

The safflower dyed silk scarf ‘scrunched and wrapped around a soda bottle, ready for the cochineal bath…





Oct.09Shibori workshop 5

sock blank and wool/mohair skein after the cochineal bath.




Oct.09Shibori workshop 7

The finished items.  The silk scarf did not take the cochineal well.  It was not mordanted, which did not matter for the safflower, but certain must have for the cochineal. 

 Oct. shibori 003

Sock blank wound onto niddy-noddy, with silk scarf in background.




Oct. shibori 005

skein of doubled sock blank yarn!  I can’t wait to knit with this, but it might have to wait ‘til the near year, after all the holiday knitting is done!


Next step (someday!) will be to mordant the scarf, then stitch some designs, and re-dye it!  I don’t think I’ll hold my breath waiting to get it done!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Yesterday I went to see the woven cloth made from spider silk at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Emails about this amazing cloth have been flying around the internet for about a month, and the descriptions at the museum website are quite intriguing, including a wonderful video which I will post here.

The cloth is under plexiglas in the grand gallery.  When my friend Susan and I entered the gallery we had a hard time finding the exhibit!  The plexiglas case is tucked against the wall at one side of the gallery, with very little signage to attract attention to it.  There is one small display of photos and a brief description at the front of the case.  Clearly, if you want to know as much as possible about the whole process-- the spiders, collecting the silk, making the thread and weaving-- you have to go to the website, which seems odd to me.



Yet there is no substitute for seeing this amazing woven cloth in person.  In the late morning October light it glowed brilliantly, like a saffron dyed robe, and yet its glowing golden color is the natural color of the spider silk!  Breath-taking!

My son visited during the last hour of the museum’s day, just after 5pm, and he said the piece is not well lighted.  To him, it was a dull gold, not glowing the way I’d seen it.

This is not my first experience at learning a little about spider silk.  During my younger son’s last year at the University of Rochester, he had a job working in the laser lab, and he arranged for me and his dad to get a tour.  It happens to be the largest laser lab in the world, which must be the best kept secret! Professor Bigelow described to me that spider silk (purchased from spider nurseries) is used to hold a single atom in place in the chamber where it will be ‘shot’ with the laser.  I don’t know anything about the spider nurseries, but I found it amazing that in Madagascar, the golden orb spiders were collected from the wild, ‘milked’ for their silk, and then returned to the wild.  Amazing!

I can’t go to the Museum of Natural History without visiting all the wonderful textiles in the Central and South American exhibit!  I can’t imagine a time when these textiles won’t thrill and inspire me!

After lunch, my friend and I went to Loop of the Loom, previously in Englewood, now on 87th and 3rd Ave.  What a lovely spot this is! I wish I’d taken photos to share.  It is a basement shop, yet so filled with light!  The shop is dedicated to Saori weaving, which is not my style, but I’m always so intrigued with how personal the finished items are.  I’m always drawn to the work people do on these simple looms.  Actually, I have to say that I’m really quite moved by the strong evidence of the ‘maker’s hand,’ so prevalent in Saori weaving.  I highly recommend stopping by if you are in Manhattan!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Safflower Update

I finished the yellow dyeing of wool in the safflower bath.  Here is the sock blank and another small skein (50 gr) that I added later to hopefully use up the yellow pigment in this bath.Dyeing Safflower 10.09

Kathy asked me if, after dyeing, I would knit directly from the unraveled, ‘kinky’ yarn, or if I would re-wet the yarn to make it smooth again.  I have to admit that I hadn’t thought about this!  Now, since she’s brought it up, I believe I will try steaming the yarn after it has been skeined. Before I get to knitting, this sock blank will get folded and clamped and over-dyed for a shibori effect.

Unfortunately this photo does not do justice to the colors!  The sock blank is truly a complex blend of colors ranging from a creamy golden color, to soft oranges.  I love it!  The skein is a pale, creamy yellow, a delicate, soft color.

Today I have the silk scarf and a small piece of muslin in the bath which I’ve shifted to alkaline with the addition of soda ash.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Lesson in Viniculture

What a lucky day!  Over the weekend, at my in-laws double 80th birthday party, one of my husband’s cousins brought his homemade grenache wine share.  It was a sensational hit; everyone loved it!  He told me he would be pressing this year’s grenache grapes sometime this week, and I asked if I could watch. 

He called this morning to tell me that this evening he would be pressing.  I arrived to find the crushed grapes fermenting in a real oak barrel.  They’d been fermenting for 8 days. I learned from our cousin Paul that the first fermentation (the crushed grapes in the barrel) takes between six and ten days.  After the bubbling and rising (somewhat like bread) begins to subside, it’s time to ladle out the crushed grapes and their juices into the press, where the juices are drained off into glass carboys, where the fermentation continues without the solids of the grapes.  Paul was doing a half batch (about 15-16 gallons) of wine which took six crates of grapes which he ordered from California.  Wine making DiDario 10.09 001

The grapes in the barrel.You can see how the level of grapes has subsided.



Wine making DiDario 10.09 003

The barrel with press and glass carboys in the background.




The barrel and the press are impressive equipment, and understandably expensive!  Just like weaving, spinning and knitting, wine making is an expensive endeavor.  He spends about $10 a bottle just on materials.  The equipment was a considerable expense above and beyond materials,  so I doubt there is ever any point at which this is an economical endeavor!  (Reminds me of when people ask if I knit my own sweaters to save money!…not!)

Wine making DiDario 10.09 004

Putting the grapes through the press.  In the beginning the juices run through easily, as here.  Later it is necessary to use the threaded rod with crank to press out the last of the juices.




Wine making DiDario 10.09 005 The juice drains from the press into stainless steel pots which Paul pours into the glass carboys as the pots get full.  Tonight he got a total of 16 gallons of juice from this pressing, which was a 1/2 barrel of grapes.




Wine making DiDario 10.09 008 Father and daughter beginning to press.  This was actually quite labor intensive.  The press is wrapped in plastic film to prevent the juices from coming out the sides.  In the background you can see a full carboy with air lock stopper.  This allows fermenting gases to escape without letting any impurities get in.


Wine making DiDario 10.09 009 Hard cranking at this point.  Paul is adding some wooden blocks in order to add more pressure.





It was a beautiful evening, crisp and clear, with a 3/4 waxing gibbous moon and bright stars against the cloudless sky.   Paul always presses in the evening because at this time of year the bees would be swarming if he pressed during daylight.  The garage which serves as his barrel fermentation and pressing room smelled deliciously like wine. It seemed like we could get drunk on the scent alone.  It was hard to imagine that this wine needed any further aging since it smelled so good, yet it will not be ready until at least spring.  Again, there is a range of time needed to complete the wine, some years taking longer than others.

Paul sent me home with a bottle of his 2007 Grenache, which he said was a very good year for him.  Decisions, decisions!  Do I save it or drink it now?