There are four skeins of yarn with four distinct hues here. From left to right: Indigo over Madder, Ochre-with-Iron, Indigo over Ochre-with-Iron and Indigo over Cochineal.
The indigo overdye gives us a variability of color which is not only due to the concentration of indigo in the bath or its pH or the temperature or the amount of oxygen dissolved in the solution but it is also due to the time of immersion (from seconds to minutes) which considers the aforementioned chemical factors.
Dyeing is a craft but dyeing with natural indigo is an art, as they say.
To be successful with indigo overdyes, you must know what you're doing and how you do that is to dye indigo over and over. There are too many variables to scientifically control, you have to feel indigo and the ability to trust your feelings takes practice.
And sometimes when a color doesn't come out as planned you find yourself saying, "That blue's lovely, so unexpected...how did we get that?"
Indigo is discovery.
And we want to be part of your discovery.
Because we sell yarn in Manhattan with many 1000's of people passing by the stand in Union Square on a Saturday we have made it a rule to keep it fresh, to keep it new, to keep it exciting because many of those passers-by live in the neighborhood—or regularly travel to Greenmarket and shop there—they are friends and acquaintances we see every week.
We want you to discover the new colors we dyed last week and to discover the new yarn we just had spun and to discover the soft new sheepskins that came from the tannery...
We want to be news, to tell you what's new about us, that is good advertisement.
This is a pure madder and I dyed it slowly then rinsed it many times. It is an excellent red, not orange, not purple. Maybe the truest 100% madder red ever. It was dyed in a limited edition of 24 skeins and I have 23 still available in the Yarn Store.
I'm working on getting the right lighting when I shoot newly dyed yarn. This shot is illuminated by 2 compact flourescents that are large & bulky. If I can adjust the amount of light on three Nikon Speedlights, as I suspect I can, I'll start playing with flash units that are smaller.
Notice the new positioning of the back light, the sense of depth it gives in the photo above, seen on the top with the key light coming in from the right. What's lacking is a 3rd light, a gentle fill light from the lower left to complete triangular lighting.
The Economics of a Color
Reprinted from the Maiwa Blog
One of the advantages of being involved in the natural colour community is how quickly news travels. At the same time that our stocks of cochineal began to get low and we looked to order more, we began to get emails from people looking for a better price for this red dyestuff. It was as if cochineal red was the new ... er ... red. It turns out that cochineal is once again in the grips of an extreme fluctuation in price.
How extreme? Sixfold.
A quick carmine background. In 1976 the notorious Red Dye #2 was banned from use in foods by the FDA. The food industry uses a significant amount of red colourant in everything from meats to candy to cosmetics. Cochineal was the natural alternative. A high concentration of carminic acid may be obtained from this parasitic scale insect. Dyers have used it since pre-columbian times.
One of our suppliers was kind enough to supply us with a set of prices for the past 28 years. He also gave us some information on what is behind the price changes. Above are the prices paid for large orders (over 500kg) in US dollars.
The first spike is the result of the switch to cochineal as a food dye. The second peaked in 1996 at $142/Kg. The changes to legislation in Brazil, made carmine the only viable colour for meat preserves (sausages, hams, etc). Brazil was suddenly the biggest user of cochineal carmine in the world.
And as our supplier has told us: "Last year of 2009 there was a change: the problem came from the supply and not from the demand corner. Farmers were fed up with carmine manufacturers, they had been kept with low prices for 9 years, making the rearing of cochineal, which is labour intensive and expensive, a very poor choice as a harvest. With plentiful supply, they could not defend themselves. We understand that the supply has gone down from around 2100 Metric Tons (MT) to less than 1000MT/Year. The outcome is fairly predictable. It will take at least until 2012-2013 for production to be up again."
A sixfold increase for large orders. We are cushioned a bit from this because we already pay an extra administrative fee for our small orders (almost doubling our per kilo price) - and that fee hasn't changed. Still, the end result is our prices have gone up by at least threefold.
Cochineal is a very important dye - especially for the artisan dyer. We have elected to keep our prices as low as possible in the hopes that when we next order the price will be much less. We've received a lot of requests to sell the whole cochineal bugs for less and the simple truth is we are already selling them at a loss.
The price of cochineal has been going up and down for centuries. Jeremy Baskes in his book Indians, merchants, and markets: a reinterpretation of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian economic relations in colonial Oaxaca, 1750-1821 documents the rise and fall of cochineal prices due to wars, threatened or realized between England France and Spain, and various trade agreements and restrictions. Interestingly, cochineal was actively traded on the London Exchange.
All color is local color using natural dyes and these natural colors are temporal too changing with the seasons. The mineral content of the well water that we use in the dye bath influences the color. Water from a well further upstate would have a mineral content different from ours; but too, water from a well nearby, yet 300' deeper, may have more or less calcium, or sulfur, etc. and all wells would render unique hues specific to themselves. Local water makes local color.
The Winter red below tends toward a bluish maroon; dyed in July, using the same extracts in the same percentages, we might come up with a dark persimmon—curious how well water changes—I wonder if the soft rain water of Spring seeps underground and enters the water table diluting its mineral composition.
Madder and Cochineal
Indigo over Logwood Purple
We dye every week in Winter; here we've found a Pacific Blue that differs in temperature (it is cooler) from the Summer color using the same dyes; this difference is due to the waters of the season.
Yarn in Beijing Rouge is available from the Naturally Dyed department of the Yarn Store.
Kombu is a seaweed harvested off Hokkaido and is used in Japanese & macrobiotic cuisine as an ingredient in soups & stocks.
From my newfound passion for bicycling comes the name for this bright yellow yarn, Maillot as in maillot jaune. Lance Armstrong, the 7 time winner of the Tour de France, has worn the color well. After 2 years in retirement, he will ride the Tour once again in 2009. Je vous souhaite bonne chance, Lance.