Playing with Color

We're not in Kansas anymore

By: Peggy Allen

Dyed roving hanging out to dry. This went on to become JFM's Making Tracks yarn in the "Late October" colorway.

Our business is built on natural colors — greys, cream, black, taupe, brown, tawny, white. You get the picture. Gorgeous wool, but all in the neutral, natural colors that sheep produce and that sheep farmers bring to us to turn into yarn and sometimes roving (a soft wool rope ready for a home spinning wheel). So it was a little shocking when for the first time we ran some wool we’d dyed through the pindrafter. It took splotchy, chunky blocks of strong colors and gently elongated them, turning the colors mellow and yummy. With heads phones to cover the noise, Amanda and I looked up at one another and simply grinned as yard after yard of blues and purples poured from the teeth of the pindrafter. And we kept grinning as the colorways worked through the clacking machine and produced a tower of variegated wool that I just couldn’t take my eyes off. It was as though we’d been living in Kansas — a world of black and white — and suddenly we were in Oz with all it’s colors switched on.

We’re playing with color for a couple of reasons. First and foremost it has become great fun; a giant experiment of what happens when you put one color next to another knowing the machines will have their own contribution to add to the mix. We also are beginning to explore what it might look like if we could dedicate a small portion of the mill’s capacity to creating a few lines of yarn we could sell.

JFM's Making Tracks yarn in the Late October getting spun.

My first few efforts were using solid, bold pigments right from the jar. The results were fun, but we agreed we could do better. I started by stirring different powdered pigment colors in a dixie cup and then applied the mixed powder directly on to the pre-treated, soaking roving. Wearing rubber gloves, I pressed the dye into the wet wool, pushing the water and pigments around so most of the white wool was covered. Working in layers, I coiled more wool into the oversized pot, adding just enough water to make sure the wool was wet, and sprinkled on more pigment. It looked like hell. The mixed colors didn’t seem to look like anything I had in mind. I finished up the application, put the first of two pots on our enormous Bunsen Burner, and began to heat the mess up. Wool is great insulation, so getting a pot packed with wet wool up to 160 degrees is no easy feat. When I was finally done, I set the pots on the floor to cool overnight, drove home and wondered if I should tell Amanda that I likely ruined ten pounds of wool.

The next morning, I rinsed the wool roving and carefully pulled from the pile the duck taped start of the damp rope and draped yard after yard of dyed mess onto a folding metal drying rack I’d set outside in front of the mill. The colors were a muddy mix of greens and reds with something that started as black but had turned grey and brown. I left the roving dripping clear water on the sidewalk and headed inside to go back to my regular day job of processing those marvelous neutrals.

Turns out mud can turn to gold. Once dried, I ran the dyed roving through the pin drafter and those splotchy greens, reds and browns turned a yummy mellow tower of fall colors. And once I spun it into yarn, all the colors started talking to each other. With the yarn dried and stacked in a laundry basket, your eye travels around and over the colorways begging to be knit into something warm and right for a brisk fall day.

JFM's Making Tracks yarn in the Late October colorway.

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