Sunday, 22 February 2015

Making Extracts and Messes

 I made this post earlier, but it's been languishing in the draft file. So I might as well post it before it gets to the point where it's been too long, like most of my unposted drafts.

While Shemar hasn't been working, I've been doing other things, most especially with my Christmas present, and trying to figure out how to make the mukluks but too scared to actually cut the material. My first project with the new burner has been a bit of a comedy of errors. Like most of my dyeing experiments.

After the last disaster mama said "you are always trying so hard on these projects and they always backfire on you". Which is true and why I'd never be able to do anything creative professionally. Accidents are really the primary part of my creative process.

I've had some cochineal for years and never used it. Since I know it can produce a lot of dye by multiple extractions, I decided I wanted to make a powder extract. I looked on the Place For All Answers, the natural dye list, but couldn't find anything much on the best process to produce a powder extract. So I thought well it would just be about extracting and then dehydrating, can't be that hard. But then I forgot this was being done by me.

The process took up most of January but I did manage to produce 30g of dye extract which should dye 300g of fabric. It's also the amount of bug I started with, so I have an extract that should be ten times more potent than the whole bug. So it's not entirely unsuccessful.

Through the errors I've figured out the best way to do this is to make small batches of dye and then bake it in a pyrex plate at about 300F and scrape out with a razor. But it took a lot of not doing that to get to that point. My basement looks like I killed someone in it, and so did my hands. Red EVERYWHERE. But got to do some cool experiments anyway. And I took pictures for mem's benefit, since he is so interested in dye process (hah). I intended to post them here but I'm lazy so it's taken me the better part of a month.
The bugs secreting their lovely red. I ground them up a little, but not overly so. Once they had been reconstituted, they really did look like bugs again. 

  first extractions, so red they were opaque. I'm pretty sure I did at least 20 extractions before the bugs stopped producing enough colour to be worth it.

At this point I decided to siphon off some of it in case I ruined it and see what I could get for colour. The first attempt precipitated, and now I have some cochineal pigment after I cooked it down. Then I got some nice pinky reds on silk and alpaca. The silk surprisingly took the best colour. This is the same silk I used for Athanasius and John Owen, and it never took ANYTHING well. Except cochineal apparently. 
As I continued to extract, I put the small extractions into my giant stock pot with a light to reduce and the plan to cook that down in the pot. But I started to notice some black sludge forming at the top. Didn't know what it was or why it was there. Was it going bad? I skimmed it off with shop towels.
black crap. 

When I dyed the yarn, I added a little vinegar to shift the colour a bit. The black sludge turned bright orange. Turns out it was dye material and I had gotten rid of it (I had reserved about a cup of it because I wondered if there was something I could do with it and there was soo much. So I only threw away some of it, but it all had to be reconsituted). Here it is on the table where I had spilled some of the black--orange in the vinegar. 
Damn it I threw away dye. I pulled out the shop towels and soaked them in vinegar to pull the dye back out. I'm not sure what kind of chemical thing was going on here, only vinegar would return it to a coloured dye material from a pure black.

   reconstituting the sludge.

 Making a mess. I looked like I slapped someone silly after this. Prolly what Nicholas of Myra looked like after the council of Nicea.

This is the sludge that was sitting at the bottom of the big stock pot when I strained it. I decided to pull that out and start drying it out on its own. 

I put the sludge on some foil and stuck it in my pyrex plate. I cooked it on broil and it worked nicely. The second time I put it on broil without foil, the plate broke when I pulled it out. So I need a new plate. Then I broke another one! Mama told me to put it on bake instead of broil and the rest of the extractions went nicely. But more dye wasted. :( 

Originally I attempted a dehydration set up with a light and aluminum foil. This actually worked pretty well, except the plastic melted and the containers were too small so it took longer for the stuff to dry out and turned out to be difficult to scrape out. I eventually started just pouring each extraction into the pyrex plate and cooked for like half an hour then scraped it out. I'd get about a gram of dye with each extraction. 

Altering the colour of the saved bit. Ammonia added to vinegar. 

After I realized that the black sludge was in fact dye and pulled out what I could from the shop towels soaked in vinegar as well as the cup I reserved, I played with the ph a little. 

This is how you get orange and scarlet with cochineal, it's an indicator dye. That is, the colour can be shifted by changing the ph and by adding different auxiliaries.  The ph on the left is about 4 with vinegar and 8 on the left with ammonia.

The final result. 30g of carmine (I got some more after this). And probably another 30g all over my basement. Some of it did wash out of my housecoat. Some of it.

I'd like to try this with my wood dyes, but they're way more temperature sensitive in my experience, especially logwood. My first logwood experiments became a very ugly brown that actually seemed to discharge the purple colour before it ever even got to the boiling point. That was an interesting, if less than cool experiment. So I guess I'd have to cook at much much lower temps. And probably dehydrate in an actual dehydrator because baking would probably destroy it.

So I have pure forms of two of the dyes for project. Murex next, right?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Finished (kind of) Projects!

A few months ago I mentioned my plan to add to the double wedding ring quilt I had made years ago. It didn't really turn out quite as well as I had hoped as a lot has changed in those years including my sewing machine and the neutral fabric I used. Also I didn't have Fergus to ruinate everything. Overall I guess it could have been worse, and I can put the new part to the bottom edge of the bed. :)

I did take pics of it's progress; this is one of the quilts in my original quilt journal, which years later I'm actually finding helpful in a few cases because I documented my process so well and it HAS been almost 20 years in some cases. So this is pretty pic heavy. Mostly phone pics, but I used my camera at the end.

Shemar crapped out in mid-December, and I finally got the time to get him out and to the repair shop, hopefully to have his hook race replaced. I pulled out the old QC to finish the edging of this quilt, as well as other projects awaiting completion since Shemar was sent on vacation while still insisting he prefers Versace. Anyway the quilt is still awaiting a binding. I fricking hate binding in case someone out there didn't know. Given my record I'll do it eventually in 10-13 years or so.

Crappy phone pic of the arc blocks with the various neutral fabrics I bought behind them.  They ended up not exactly the same colours, but I was still okay with the way the new matched the old colour wise. I did also find more of the original fabrics, and hardly had to use the jelly roll. So I still have most of a jelly roll for other things.

Unfortunately once I got the melons done, I learned why the quilt was smaller than expected all those years ago: the blocks that were meant to be 15" were all actually 14". I had to cut all the new blocks down to make them match the old ones. 

When I cut down the new blocks, it caused the four-patches to go pretty wonky. Above is an old four patch and the worst of the new ones for comparison. The patches, having been cut so much, were just not all the same size. This was really disappointing because at the time I was proud of how well the original four-patches matched up. 

Part of a completed new unit.

All units sewn together, ready to add to the quilt. Despite mangling the four patches, I was glad to see that they did in fact match up with the old piece. Alas, that was a temporary reality.

It also took some work to get Fergus the hell off of it so I could take a picture. Not the last time with this quilt, as you'll see. I threw him off, turned around to take a picture, and got this. He got kicked out and the door closed after this.

Beginning the process of ripping out the old quilt. Probably the easiest part of the whole process. I chose to hand sew a strip to the back so I wouldn't have to cut as much quilting out. I trimmed the batting to match inside. 
New and old pinned together, with the old backing and batting pinned away. Another problem is that these kind of blocks are meant to be sewn together in an "S" pattern. Because I was adding new rows, I had to add them in "C" patterns. This meant I had to hand sew the four-patch units while laying the pieces on the floor. So that was annoying.

Here it is after hand sewing, all in one piece. At this point I decided to add some paint to the four-patches to at least give the worst of them the illusion of matching better than they really did.

I didn't have my beloved spray adhesive, so I pin basted. It was challenging to lay out because of course there was a completed quilt on the end of it, so I taped the backing down and weighted the quilt so that it was still taut. I ended up with a tuck on the edge where the strip to add the two pieces was, but meh.

Pin basting in the hoop.

So once it was together I started quilting. I used the original quilting pattern as I had it in the quilt journal. As mentioned, this was the only quilt I ever completed on my hoop. Now that it is no longer in storage I pulled the hoop back out; it was far easier to use than I remember. Partly because I think I learned more about keeping tension right, and partly because I sat on my bed which is really really high. The hoop practically sat in my lap.  Here it is in the hoop, started on the rings then added the central motif.

I used a thicker thread which made me crazy and I had to use a needle slightly larger than a between, but over all it was fun to do. I tried to match but the stitches were slightly smaller than the original. And with less tension in the hoop, it was much less painful to do than the original. Helps not having an arthritic flare up too.

Fergus thought this was a "box" and tried to sit in it whenever I readjusted the quilt. He also tried to chew the thread and jump on top of the quilt while in the frame. He got kicked out and the door closed...again.

New ring above, old ring below. I had been considering getting a smaller hoop for the frame (you can get different sizes) but now I find that while the large hoop has it's challenges, it's just not that difficult to use anymore. 

Ready to cut down, and...oh look it's Fergus the king of the aholes.

....yeah. He wanted in the kitchen as soon as I had covered the doorway.

The last pic was taken after I had quilted and edged, but before washing. Glad I did it, because after washing, the new rings all shrunk considerably. They are now significantly SMALLER than the old ones. I think it's because I used kona cotton for the centres instead of broadcloth, as originally. So I didn't need to cut them down anyway, they would have shrunk down. That said, they wouldn't have matched. Still, I did a lot of extra work on them because they weren't the right size, then they SHRUNK. PHEH.

There's now a ripple in the middle of the quilt though it's more noticeable on the back, as can be seen here (note the hand-sewn strip too--been awhile since I hand sewed like that, and it wasn't the straightest, heh).  It also shrank more to one side than the other.

This is how much smaller the three new rows are. :( Mama and I did tug-of-war with it for awhile to stretch it but mostly only succeeded in almost knocking each other over a few times and lawling at each other. It really didn't stretch too much and mama once again reminded me of how often I fail at my bad ideas. Sigh.

Anyway here's some more pictures of the finished quilt. It really has turned out to be quite large and it was hard to find a wall big enough for it. The darkest rings all ended up in the last row and colourwise I think that's the only thing that looks a little weird (more noticeable in the pic with Ferghole the douchecopter). 

 The entire quilt, new part on the top so there's some rippling to the larger bottom. I had to actually Hammer push pins into this wall! This apartment has some kind of rock hard particle board that nothing sticks to or in for walls.

Look at that shrinkage. One thing I will say is that it makes the quilting look pretty nice...I mean for part of it. Really the quilting is where a difference is most apparent. 

 Quilting in the sunlight. We had a very sunny day today so I decided it'd be good for the colouring.

This picture or the one above probably show its colours best. 

I figure if I put the new part on the bottom of the bed with the smallest side against the wall, as it is here, its hardly noticeable that it's smaller. 

The DWR plus another quilt I just finished.

So though it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, they never really do. I know that it's not the best idea to pull the fork out again once you've declared something done, but I don't think it's a habit I'll ever be able to break. I do have a large and useable quilt now. And I want to hand quilt the New York Beauty even more now. Still working on the sashing!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Odds and Ends (last one)

So I personally think an art project based on the colours and white would be just about the coolest thing EVAR. Plus I could write a major best selling book documenting the process, which would also be my dissertation in being a not-pastor.  Then I could stop battleaxing and just retire to a life of self-agrandizement, which is basically what artists have to do to get noticed these days. Unfortunately the thing keeping me from it is that a murex vat would cost about 60 grand to make. Major sad.

Anyway I asked mem if I should put historic references into the post because the arguments rely on history a lot. I hate putting references into a text because they distract from the thought flow, but I did write it so that most of it could be referenced pretty easily if I had to. So these are some of the sources I used (referencing process is harder since I don't know how I know things I learned 15-17 years ago anymore). Rey asked for the references so I'm finally getting this post out.

The cool thing about the subject is that it intersects with many nerdly pursuits: theology, biblical studies, chemistry, ancient history, textiles, archaeology, zoology and so on. Which in my opinion makes it super cool and awesome, but I know from the way most people's eyes glaze over that they don't always agree. If you're not one of the normal people, here is a bit of a list to make it easier for my fellow nerdlings to research. Consider this my bibliography :).

PS I don't even know which citation style to use because there are a lot of different disciplines. And I hate that crap, having gotten a 37% in apa (mla was better). So I'm adding by author, year, article, book or journal, (publisher) for the most part. Or if Rey complains, I'll just edit and make them links.

Barber, E.W. 1995. Women's work: The first 20,000 years. Women, cloth, and society in early times (W W Norton).
This book is easy to read and discusses the development of textile processes from the most ancient times to about 500 bc.

Cardon, D. 2007. Natural dyes (Archetype books). 
This is THE BIBLE of natural dyes. Waaaannnttt 

Guckelsberger, M. 2013. Purple murex dye in antiquity. I can't understand the citation cause it's all something not English and I'm a barbarian :( It's on This one has a lot of the ancient sources mentioning dyes, Including Pliny the Elder. 

Whiston, W (translator). 2009.  The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem of Flavius Josephus (Project Gutenberg). 
He discusses the colours as symbolic of the universe in Book V chapter 5, section 4.

Koren, Z.C. 2005. The First Optimal All-Murex All-Natural Purple Dyeing in the Eastern Mediterranean in a Millennium and a Half, Dyes in History and Archaeology 20, pp. 136– 149 (Archetype Publications).
 A lot of Koren's research can be found at Definitely some cool stuff there. He seems to have done a lot of work advancing Isaac Herzog's contention that tekhelet is molluscan. Also he properly reduced the freakin murex vat unlike some others. That makes him WAY more credible.

Additionally on tekhelet there is the P'til Tekhelet foundation at (This where I got the picture of the blue murex dyed fragment and references to the Babylonian Talmud).

Orna, M. V. 2013 Chemical history of colour (Springer). 
This book discusses all the early pigments and dyes, as well as how we see colour and produce dyes. Also a discussion on the rise of the modern dye industry and its relation to medicine and industry. 

Ruscillo, D. 2002. Reconstructing Murex Royal Purple and Biblical Blue in the Aegean, Archaeomalacology: Molluscs in former environments of human behaviour pp 99-106 (Oxbow Books).
More on producing purple and blue. The repeated discussion of the stank made me lawl. Mem would probably relate this to whenever he is talking about Rey.

Also, besides the murex blue, I got the picture of the murex robe from this site.

I've had the picture of the kermes-dyed mantle for a long time because Alexander McQueen used it in one of his designs as part of his final show, and as you all know I'm waiting for God to miraculously make me that good at sewing so I can copy it. So I'm not sure where I got that particular picture from but it is a pretty famous textile.

I also used bible gateway and the blue letter bible for the references, concordance and words. Usually for things like this I look at the NASB. Heavy on the end of Exodus, also Isaiah 1 and 4 and Ezekiel 44.

One of the things I left out entirely was the contrast between clothing and nakedness in scripture. There is a link, especially in Hosea and Ezekiel, but it just didn't fit and probably would have been another thousand words long. But it is a fun study of its own. 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Light and the Absence of Colour (Part Four)

Colour theory differs in some very significant ways if one comes at it from a scientific or an artistic perspective. While white is the union all colours of light in scientific understanding, to an artist or craftsperson’s mind, colour must be removed to produce white. This interplay of colour and whiteness is utilized by the laws of the tabernacle. The previous posts discussed the sacred colours; this last post is about white and the priestly garments. But I find it requires some background information to get us there.

The Torah includes a number of laws that seem pointless to modern people. One of these is the prohibition against linsey-woolsey or “shatnez” (the prohibition isn’t against any type of blended fibre either; it's very specific that the prohibited shatnez is a blend of linen and wool). Modern people have difficulty explaining or understanding it; they’ll often point to it as an example of a law that is simply meant to differentiate the Israelites from their neighbours (it isn’t). What they usually miss is that the priest was commanded to wear linsey-woolsey, except on Yom Kippur. I guess that’s where dye history and knowledge come in.

 One of the dividing lines between Egyptians and the various Canaanite peoples of the Levant was their use of fibre; the Egyptians detested sheep and everything that came into contact with them, including shepherds and of course wool. They became the preeminent linen producers of the ancient world (it’s through linen production that we can date a likely time for the Exodus). So a prohibition of mixing linen and wool could be seen as a prohibition against syncretism in the vein of the laws against getting horses from Egypt, but it’s likely more than that.

The Egyptians note the brightly coloured clothing of the Canaanites (see the beni hasan murals depicting Canaanites or Hyksos in patterned clothing). Like Joseph’s coat, this was a distinguishing feature of the people of Palestine. It is of course because they favoured the very fibre the Egyptians detested: wool. Anyone who does natural dyeing knows that wool takes almost all colours the best (with the exception of indigo--one would assume murex being a vat dye would have similar properties). Cellulose fibres need a lot of extra processing to take most colour, and it is never as bright. So while linen was sometimes dyed, it was usually bleached. When you wanted true vibrant colour you opted for wool (see our samples from my dye trip post and how wool takes dyes compared to other fibres). Vat dyes would produce good colours on cellulose fibres, but other dyes need some chemical wizardry (in some cases, a 29 step process). The material isn't mentioned in Exodus, but since shani was not a vat dye, wool would be required to get a bright scarlet. This is later confirmed by the author of Hebrews. The coloured threads were made of wool.

Which brings us to the clothing of the priest. The garments he was to wear included an ephod and sash woven or embroidered in a pattern with both the sacred colours and linen. Meaning those items were made of linen and wool blend, as were much of the tabernacle textiles. Consider that the coloured yarn is mentioned in addition to linen. There are sometimes a lot of gymnastics done in rabbinical writings about what counts as shatnez and what doesn’t, but only a few dispute that the priestly garments and tabernacle were shatnez. Some Jews also believe the prayer shawls laymen wear were to be shatnez as well.

In other words, like the special incense, this blend was to be set aside for sacred purposes. So it wasn’t about making the Israelites peculiar. The tabernacle and the priest were being singled out from the people, the holy from the common. Mem says this is like how no one was to work on the sabbath but the priest. Just as we now do not work, and instead trust that our Lord is “always working” for us.

 A second part of the equation is that on the day of atonement, the high priest wore linen only. This not only prevented sweat (since basically any discharge was a sign of uncleanness) but also did away with the wool embroidery/weaving and colour. Ezekiel re-iterates this and says the new priesthood of his vision does not wear wool but only linen (which again implies that the daily priestly garments at the time were in fact shatnez). That the wool, with the colours of blood, judgement and death is removed when atonement is made is a powerful picture of the true work of the final high priest. shatnez for now, but finally linen pure and clean. A little bit of simil justus et peccator.

 As noted the production of these dyes is very ancient, and at various times, controlled by royalty. This has led some to think the dyes were commanded just because they were valuable, to remind people of the kind of respect God deserved. But God tells David he's not particularly interested in human displays of wealth, and the fact that all traces of the colours were removed from the sacred robes on the day of atonement as well as Ezekiel’s vision suggests that this was all very intentional. If the colours represent the work of God (both for salvation and judgement), perhaps the lack thereof represents the results. It reminds one a little of the blinding visions of God, not to mention Peter’s description of the transfiguration. White and light, all colours blurred into oblivion.

So while there is an element of royalty and status in the colours and, as YHWH himself said, “glory and beauty”, it is interesting that on the day of atonement, the priest appeared with “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him”. He arrived before God in plain white. White like the dress of the angels, and finally the dress of the martyrs, white robes given to them by the lamb and final high priest, bleached in his blood. The restored priesthood with Christ alone as their head don’t wear beautiful colours. They wear white like the high priest, like the cord on the door of the temple when atonement has been made. Like God himself as partakers in his nature.

It turns out all colour does unite to make white.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Symbolism of the Colours (Part Three)

As I mentioned in the previous post, until the 19th century all dyes were what we now call “natural dyes”--with most of these being produced from plants. Murex snails and carmine producing insects were two of the three known animal dyes (lac also is produced from the secretion of an insect). We have established that these were the most likely sources of the “sacred colours”. That is, of all the dyes out there, the ones chosen were the few animal dyes. Dyes valuable because of not only the fastness, but the work and also the death involved--murex requires the death of thousands of snails in order to produce the smallest amount of dye (at least the way the Tyrians did it).

They are also all produced by unclean animals. Jews and Muslims still tend to avoid carmine food dye as it is cochineal, another carmine producing insect. Though one could argue that one would have to ingest the colours to violate purity laws, there are plenty of examples of people being rendered unclean by simple contact with an unclean person or item. This is part of the reason I’m inclined to believe those Jews who argue tekhelet is murex; it then nests better with the other two colours on the symbolic level (though that is not necessary and really the colour IS indigo).

 I don’t think it’s accidental that animal dyes were chosen, and unclean ones at that. The work of the tabernacle was all about cleansing and death and atonement.

 Josephus mentions the colours when he describes the temple, associating tekhelet with the sky, argaman with the sea, and shani with fire. These do line up with some other things we know about the colours. As mentioned in my previous post each colour tends to be associated with different things, both in scripture and in later cultural practices of the Jews.

 A few years ago I wrote a post on abrash and trinitarianism, making the argument that natural dyes proclaim a sort of diversity like the trinity. Mem assures me this is not reaching like Origen for the crack pipe, but I do see a trinitarian structure to the colours used. Not simply by the fact that there are three colours and therefore bam it’s the trinity but in the afore mentioned symbolism.

 As I mentioned previously, tekhelet blue covered most of the holy objects of the tabernacle and is the only colour laypeople were commanded to wear.  Josephus’ comparison to the sky is most likely based on the fact that the original Sanhedrin see God standing on a “pavement of sapphire, clear as the sky”. Ezekiel and Isaiah see the glory of God the same way, enthroned in the crystalline blue of the heavens. Numbers gives the reason for the use of tekhelet tassels--to remind each individual to be holy to God.  This colour is almost always used as a reminder of God and his holiness, often emphasizing his righteousness, “otherness” and power.

The symbolism for shani ranged almost contradictorily from sin to purification. While modern people often suppose that scarlet is associated with blood rites, it’s more often associated with cleansing rites and “fire” in scripture (usually blood was included separately). Fire is actually the primary purifier in the torah, with water being used when fire couldn’t be; but the scarlet wool features in both types of rites. Isaiah, while famously saying that scarlet sins become white, also says that such blood stains are washed away by a spirit of judgement and fire. He also associates the towla or worm with the unquenchable fire of judgement, a picture Christ echos later. It calls to mind that John said Christ would baptize not with water, but with “the Holy Spirit and with fire”. Of course the Holy Spirit manifests as fire in the new testament at pentecost, as God does several times in the OT.

I'd like to wax Calvinist about the fact that the bread of the presence was covered in shani-dyed cloth, but I'll leave that for you people to decide. >:)

While Josephus associates it with the sea due to it’s source in the same, purple almost universally signified royalty. When Christ was mocked he was wrapped in a purple cloth; the soldiers were clearly mocking Christ’s claim to be king of the Jews, the anointed one. But it’s hard to think the connection of Christ being wrapped in purple just as the altar of atonement was wrapped in purple is coincidental. This action, like the prophesy of the high priest, appears to me to be an unwitting acknowledgment of what he was truly doing. Again, of all the tabernacle articles, only the bronze altar was covered in purple. The significance of a bloody altar/Christ is hard to miss. Argaman, and not shani, is the colour of blood and atonement.

With all that said the colours seem to represent the triune nature of God, but perhaps even more the roles of the person of the Godhead in the salvation of man. It wouldn’t be surprising that the colours chosen intended to represent the God who met his people in the tabernacle. Not that I’d push it, but it doesn’t seem that far out. It’s through the workings of the persons of the trinity, in the place where God meets his people, that we are finally made holy, righteous and clean. The workings of the persons in bringing us into communion with God are all there.

As the writer of the epistle of Barnabas notes, in salvation he takes broken human beings and makes them into living stones of an incorruptible temple. In so doing, he makes us “partakers of the divine nature”. With that said, there’s a final piece to this puzzle, known as “shatnez”.