This project has been, quite literally, YEARS in the making. So, this is a rather long post. But, hopefully interesting!
I started to spin the yarn for this shawl after my first SOAR, when I was a scholarship recipient. So, that would have been around 2008 or 2009. By the end of the weekend, I knew what I wanted to create.
Strangely enough, not long after I had decided what I was going to do for this project, the next Spin Off magazine issue arrived at my door. In it, Sara Lamb had designed, knit and dyed several leaf shawls. Which is example of the old adage that nothing is ever new, I suppose.
I wanted to spin a shimmery, luminous white yarn for a this shawl. Then, I’d knit it, also while it was still white, and then space dye it after completion. I will admit now that spinning and plying thousands of yards of white yarn, and knitting what ended up being a tad over 8 feet of white lace was pretty boring. Really, sort of a colorless marathon (which, for someone so immersed in color all the time, every day, this was one difficult marathon to complete). I hoped the final result would be worth it.
I spun two plies, one of 100% bombyx silk and the other of 50/50 merino/bombyx silk. I thought combination of these two fibers would create color nuances when I dyed it, and the high silk content would ensure the luminous, shimmery aspect I wanted.
I got tired of knitting leaf after leaf, and put it away for a couple of years at that point, still on the needles, waiting for yet more leaves. Or so I thought. And, I was undecided on what to do about a border. I had put a garter stitch edge all the way around. But did it need more? A knitted-on lace edging?
After mulling this over for a good long while, and then ignoring the whole project for quite a while longer, I finally pulled it out again about a month ago to look at it. And I realized two things:
First, it was plenty long enough already. Almost too long.
Second, I liked it just the way it was, with no additional lace edging. This would also address my question of how to handle the lace edging when I dyed it: should I dye it along with the shawl? Dye it a different color, the same color all the way around? No separate edging, no issue.
On a Monday morning a few weeks ago, after soaking it overnight, I got to work. One day for each color, to begin with. I wanted to make sure each was set before I moved onto the next, to minimize dye migration before the dyes had set.
Day One: Spring
Steamed and then left in the pot overnight to cool.
Day Two: Summer
Again, steamed and left overnight to soak.
Day Three: Autumn
AGAIN, steamed and soaked overnight.
Day Four: Winter
This fourth day, I got concerned that the shawl had basically been wet nonstop for 5 full days. So, I did what I knew I should not (especially with silk). I took it out of the pot after it had steamed, let it sit for about an hour, and then rinsed it so I could lay it out to dry.
And what happened was exactly what I thought would happen. The colors faded, as they do on silk if you don’t give it enough time after dyeing to relax and set. The first two seasons didn’t fade TOO much, since they’d had more time to sit, cool, and set. But autumn and winter? Autumn’s vibrant oranges faded to apricot, and Winter’s browns and charcoals faded to eggplant, slate blue and tans. I knew it would happen. But it still irritated me when it did.
So, I laid it out on my blocking board and towels, and dried it out for a few days. I didn’t bother pinning it, since it was going to get wet and need blocking again.
Then, I overdyed the whole thing in one fell swoop, in one day, so it could sit and percolate for a day or two after dyeing, without concern for it being wet for too long.
Throughout the whole process, I applied the colors in a relaxed, organic way. I melded colors on and across leaves, not striving to keep each leaf a separate color. I didn’t want the colors to be too regimented. What I wanted, instead, was the impression of these seasonal colors, as though you’re looking through sunlit-splashed, dappled trees, with leaves layering over, under, and around each other, mixing their colors into a tableau.
I resoaked the whole shawl overnight, and dyed it all in one fell swoop, so I could let it sit after dyeing for two full days before I rinsed it.
I dyed each section again:
This creates a depth to the colors that a single dye pass can’t produce, as they’re layered on top of each other and, when I overdyed, I didn’t use the same color as before on every leaf but dyed some lighter, so the colors underneath would show through a bit.
After it was dyed, since it had only been soaking for a day, I left it to soak for two more days to help better set the colors. Then, a rinse and blocking (thank goodness for blocking wires!)
I’ll be wearing it at least one day at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, weather permitting. Right now it’s forecast to be in the upper 60’s. Not really sweater weather. Or giant shawl weather. Phooey.