Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Hempwool To Dye For!

During our three month production period in Kathmandu, many trips to Lagnakeil were made to visit a workshop run by a dyeing and weaving master. Kiran has a solid understanding of the chemical reactions required for successful natural dyeing and is always experimenting new methods. He has a small facility for dyeing at his home and just a short walk away is his hand weaving factory, which is full of Jacquard looms and more simpler hand looms. What makes our working relationship a real pleasure are his keenness to explain in detail what can be achieved with various dyestuffs and mordants and his environmental beliefs. His work requires little electricity and is therefore not at the mercy of load shedding. (Load Shedding is the name for the scheduled power cuts which are common place all year round in Nepal.) Just a few low wattage light bulbs provide ample lighting in his weaving factory and an electric iron for pressing fabrics after washing, everything else requires good old fashioned manpower.

Kiran is the man behind our naturally dyed hemp wool (and hand weaving) and this year we were welcome to oversee his work and ask as many questions as we liked.
One difference between production last year and this year is the absence of the mordant copper sulphate. This strong chemical mordant was previously used when dying with cutch wood, but we opted for a different shade with the use of alum as a mordant. Copper sulphate will no longer be used by us in the production of any natural dyes. In terms of dyestuffs, we stuck with the usual suspects listed in the table below.

Our hempwool is a mix of 50% hemp and 50% New Zealand wool, the hemp provides durability to the yarn and a slightly coarser feel which we appreciate. We provide Kiran with undyed hanks of hempwool and it remains in a hank through the whole dyeing process. Dyestuffs are steeped whilst mordanting (with either alum or iron sulphate) is carried out ready for next day dyeing. Kiran takes great care and no short cuts in his work, if he feels a yarn would benefit from double dyeing then double dyed it will be. Double dyeing involves another dip in the mordant solution before entering the dye bath for a second time.
All pots and baths are made from copper, as aluminium can have an adverse effect on the finished results. The heating of dye baths and mordant baths is usually through firewood or a kerosene stove, "Having the option is important as here in Nepal you cannot rely on regular supplies of kerosene at a reasonable price," explains Kiran.

Upon completion, the hanks are returned to our hemp wool supplier where the hanks will be converted into 100gm balls and the labels we supply will be attached to each ball.
Our 100gm hempwool balls knit and crochet beautifully. Below is a sample crochet blanket that was created by Hiromi. As you can see, all the natural colours complement each other. As the blanket was crocheted using double yarn, it was possible to experiment further by using two different colours.