The Wonder of Apples

My life is divided into 2 seasons, and if I’m going to be optimistic about it, I would title them:  Happy   Fall/Winter and Joyous-Busy Spring/Summer.  But in reality, September through February is fun.  The new school year starts and I can realistically look forward to some interesting homeschool reading with my little daughter (now in 6th grade!), a new class that I teach at church, and endless knitting.  However, March through August is TOO INTENSE!!!  No matter how I pre-plan or gain experience, I cannot seem to get through 5 birthdays, Easter, Sheep and Wool Festival, co-leading VBS, and summer vacation without feeling wiped out.  (By now you have figured out that this post is written by Mom and not Rebecca.  Sorry about that . . . I like to check in now and then.  If you fall asleep reading it, I cannot apologize.  She is a better writer than me and I can’t . . . help . . . it!!  I’m . . . just . . . the mother . . . zzsszzzsss) – Don’t be silly, Mum. You get a little excitable about punctuation, but this is a great post. Read on, all! – R.

This year in particular, many things were put on the back burner to get through all those wonderful events.  A post about apple dying is one of them.  And here it is!  Dying with apples is one of my favorite ways to dye yarn!   For starters, I have always loved trees. They GIVE so much of themselves and take almost nothing from me.  They make their food from the air, and clean it at the same time.  A miracle!  They also dye some magical yellows and greens.

It took me a year of experimenting to get the hang of exactly what to do, because reading all the material I could find did not explain much.  My dear husband bought me 8 books on natural dying two Christmases ago, and they got me started.  But in the end, one has to DO the thing oneself to “get” it.  (If one is lucky.  Things I have not managed to master even after reading about them and trying:                                                             Running on a regular basis – I always got shin splints and finally took up aerobic dancing instead; Making my mother-of-the-bride dress in a purple lace – I bought an outfit; Getting RED out of madder root – I got a lovely orange only. I could go on, but I won’t. Ick.)

Happily, I did master dyeing with apple bark!  It’s lovely stuff, and it is light-fast as well as holding well in repeated hand washing.  Once upon a time (1980-ish), my parents planted an apple tree in their yard. 15 years later, they gave us their back property and we built a house there.  Another 15 years later and I bought a puppy which I had to walk 5 times a day.  I wandered all over our property and my parents’ property and read my dye books . . . hmmm . . . dyeing with apple bark?  What does that mean?  Do I strip the bark?  How do I get the bark OFF????

I finally figured out this means you plunk branches, leaves and all, into a bucket of water to soak.  You leave them to soak for several days, then you simmer the branches in a dye pot, let it cool, strain it, then ta-daaaa:  some gorgeous yellow.  I love using it instead of turmeric or golden rod or any other yellow because I can get a LOT of it easily.  This one tree will yield all the yellow I could ever want for the rest of my dyeing days.

Now of course it’s trickier than it sounds. And mixing it with black beans to make green is another learning curve. And learning what it does on alpaca/wool compared to merino/tencil is a whole other adventure.

PLUS it turns out that if you strip the bark, you get a much brighter yellow, which is extremely helpful in some cases, but not always.  SO:  here’s what I do now:

If I want to make our “Golden Delicious” color in either yarns:

 1) Fill a bucket with branches (include leaves if it’s that time of year) to soak for at least 3 days.  No more than 6 days or it will get slimy and smelly.  This does not hurt the dye color, but it does make it nastier to work with.

2) Next, strip the bark.  (You can see from the third picture that I don’t entirely strip the bark, taking about 1/2-2/3’rds off is enough.)

3) Simmer the stripped wood in my dye pot for an hour.  Let it cool overnight.

4) Pour the liquid into a bucket, straining it through my sieve with a bit of cheese cloth I laid in there to catch the tiny bits.  Rinse the dye pot.

5) Pour the lovely dye from the bucket back into the dyepot.                                                         6) Add the yarn and let it sink into the liquid.  Simmer for an hour.  Cool it down overnight.

If I want to make “Sprout Sage”,  the next step is to let the yellow yarn dry, then put it in the black beans’ dye bath for 4 days.  Now there are ways to dye the yarn fairly solid or make it variegated, but that’s another story.

The “Groovy Green”, sold only in the Kirby Meritime, is a more forest green color, and that can only be achieved using turmeric for the yellow.  For some reason, the Merino/tencil yarn yields a completely different green in this process.  That’s why we decided to offer 2 greens in that yarn.  The green in the alpaca/wool is such a pretty color in itself, we left it as our only green.

Now to make a lighter yellow, it’s best to leave the bark ON the branches and twigs.  We did this for one customer who preferred a softer yellow.  Plus if one does not mordant the yarn, and one doubles the amount of bark, one gets our gorgeous tan which we call “Naked Apple.”

Here’s what the colors look side by side, so you can see what a difference it is to leave it ON or take it off.  This is the Merino/tensil yarn.  The one one on the right has no bark removed.  The yarn in the middle has some bark removed.  And the brightest yellow on the left is achieved by removing as much bark as I can.

If you do want to try this for yourself, another piece to the puzzle is how much to use.  I don’t weigh the bark like I do the black beans or the pokeberries.  Instead I “measure”  buckets.  One of those 5-gallon buckets full of apple pieces fits into one dye pot, if I don’t pack it too tightly.  So after they soak, I simply transfer them from my bucket to my pot.  And I know that will dye 2 hanks, each 250g.  One of the wonderful things about using apple bark is that it is available 12 months of the year!

This is the time of year to enjoy eating fresh apples!  I hope you also think of the  amazing apple tree bark as you enjoy their lovely taste.




One thought on “The Wonder of Apples

  1. Fun! It is nice to get tag-team posts. I enjoyed reading Linda or “Mom”. When I started reading, I thought, “This is a little enthusiastic, even for Rebecca,” so I’m amused that its “Mom” instead.


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