Apple & Honey Challah Cover

I was so inspired by Judy’s Crabapple Scarves that I finally took the leap into color. (I see Stephanie has been spinning with color, too – there must be something in the air!). I had been wanting to experiment with natural dyes for some time, and Judy’s scarves made me realize that color can be both straightforward and powerful. With Rosh Hashanah coming up, I decided to make a challah cover – it could be small, simple, and square and let me focus on the dyeing. It is traditional to eat apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, as a wish for a sweet new year, so from the beginning I had a direction but not a vision.

First I had to learn about dyeing. I got the Earthues Natural Dye Starter Kit (I love kits!) and spent a weekend sampling the dyes. I made 64 sample bundles, using 4 fibers, 2 mordants, and 8 colors. Since I was dyeing such a tiny amount of fiber (all of the bundles together were less than one ounce), I used a canning pot and mason jars for my dyebaths. This was the first of many shortcuts I took that would likely alter the integrity of a dye practice over time, but my goal this time around was just to get started. I was absolutely thrilled with the richness and variety of tone, and the color cards I made are a treasure in themselves.

Rather than use color in a pattern, I wanted to create my color variation through the dyeing. I puzzled over how I would dye a warp and a weft to fade between several colors. These acrobatics helped me understand the geometry of weaving a bit better – to get the same effect in weft and warp, the dye procedure would have to be different. I also learned about many of the winding tools, eventually using a swift, niddy noddy, and warping board to prepare yarn for dyeing in the effect that I wanted.

For this project, I chose Ashland Bay Windsor (worsted weight, 60% merino/40% silk, ecru). I dyed a sample warp by making a skein, which I then stretched out and tied in plastic wrap, leaving free only the section to be dyed in the first color. I used 3 different dye baths, rewrapping between each bath. The baths went from dark to light, which I think resulted in some bleeding and contamination of color. One of the colors was not concentrated enough and the yarn came out lighter than I had hoped. I also realized that dyeing a basic skein would not result in a gradated warp. The result of my sample was a perfectly serviceable skein that I will use for another project.

For the final product, I made a 2-yard warp on a warping board and dyed 2/3 of it in my honey color (a blend of osage orange and madder), and the remaining third in apple red, a blend of cutch, osage orange, madder, and cochineal. My weft was dyed a single color – a more madder-heavy blend of honey, which resulted in a nice autumn brown color. All yarns were mordanted in alum with cream of tartar.I warped a 15” Cricket Loom about 13.5” inches wide in an 8-dent reed, and wove a square. I introduced a subtle honeycomb pattern, following the instructions in the Weaver’s Idea Book, with pick-up stick A repeating *4 up, 2 down* and pick-up stick B repeating *2 up, 4 down*. For each repeat of the pattern warpwise, I decreased a repeat weftwise, to create a triangle. I wove a 6-thread plain-weave border on all sides, hemstitched the ends, and left a short fringe.

Although the end product was relatively quick and simple, there was so much opportunity to learn and adjust. Dyeing to a vision would require deep knowledge of both weaving and dyeing, and I found myself simplifying at every step; no matter, because the colors were so rich that they would speak for themselves. Still a relatively inexperienced rigid heddle weaver, I realized about halfway through that I was really beating hard – upwards of 15 picks per inch for this 8-dent project. In future projects I’ll be more mindful of this; in this project it would have yielded the pattern that I had planned, and also made visible more of the warp that I had worked so hard on. Overall, though, I’m pleased with this work, if for no other reason that I actually finished it! By going step-by-step and fine-tuning along the way, I allowed a space for my wild fabric fantasies to meet the reality of my skill and patience. The end result is simple but elegant, something I can hold in my hands and in my heart, something deserving of a place on my holiday table. L’shanah tova!
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Kate White

Kate White wears several hats here at Schacht. Some of the many roles she plays each day include computer operating system liaison, project manager, data maven, and interface between our sales and production departments.