A lovely day today - lots of sunshine, but there was a stiff breeze, making it ideal weather for drying things outside. The embroidery machine has been kept going the last couple of days embroidering a new batch of our Hebridean Hoods. These cosy Harris Tweed hooded capes have a generous hood
The range of colours of sheepskin available is rather limited, so from time to time, I dye strips in other colours so that I can have a bit more variety. Today was the day!
I have been experimenting with the process over the last 3 years and I think I have now finally got a fail-safe system where I get consistent and predictable results. Over the years I have tried various methods, some with disastrous results, others just about OK, but I am now sufficiently happy with my method that I am prepared to share it.
I am using two different makes of dyes - Kemtex acid dyes and Gaywool dyes. Sometimes I mix them together, sometimes one or the other.
The first step is to protect the skin side of the sheepskin and I have found the best way to do this is to generously brush white mineral oil all over it (the kind used for oiling the sewing machines) - being careful not to get any of the oil onto the wool. The oil soaks into the skin and this means it stays supple once it comes out of the dye bath to dry.
I have about 4 or 5 litres of water in my big stainless steel stock-pot, with a generous splash of clear vinegar and a tablespoon of urea. I use about 5g of dye per sheepskin strip (they measure 5cm x 86cm but I have no idea how much they weigh). The water is heated to about 85°C, the dye dissolved in a little boiling water and added to the pan, then put in the sheepskin strips and mash them about with a wooden spoon until they are completely wet and submerged. I keep the temperature between 80 and 90 - no more than 90 as maximum otherwise the skin starts to shrivel. I give it a stir every 5 to 10 minutes with the skins staying in the dye bath for about 40 minutes in total. Then I lift them out and rinse in cold water till the water runs clear. Outside, I whirl them around to shake off as much water as possible and then peg them up to dry. Even on a day like today, they will take a long time to dry so I had to bring them inside before I left the studio. If they are still damp tomorrow they will get hung outside again. Once dry, they get a good brushing with fine carders and then they will be ready to be sewn into the hoods.
So......... over the next couple of weeks we will be making up more hoods. As well as the colours you see here, we will have some edged with skins we have not had to dye - aubergine, teal, dark brown, natural, grey, bright blue and red - and some I have dyed previously - wine, purple.
Plenty to choose from! And I reckon there may still be winter weather to come, so you won't need to wait till next winter to benefit from having one of these wonderful garments.