A Refresher on Horrors in Home Dyeing (Oh no!)

In recent rug schools, Ania has had multiple students ask her for tips on how to work with dyes that are difficult to dissolve. Back in October 2017, we posted a tips and tricks blog on exactly that, so Ania decided it was time to return to that post and present a little refresher. Read on below, to revisit a great dyeing trick!

Many of us play in the dye pot for fun, out of necessity, or for some combination of the two. A lot of people find dyeing scary, but eventually pick up the basics and think “hey, this isn’t too bad.” But there always lurks the possibility of something inexplicable gone wrong. Maybe the color you want, isn’t the color you get. Maybe you get the dreaded white core. Or maybe, worst of all, you’ve experienced the horror of all horrors……flocculent percipitate.

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The cloudy substance in the dye solution are flocculent percipitate.

It goes like this: you’ve soaked your wool, your dye pots are out, your measuring cups are out, the water’s been boiled, the dye has been measured, and you’re expecting smooth sailing to your final product. You add hot water to your dye paste and you stir, stir, stir, waiting for it to dissolve into a smooth solution. But you notice something odd: the dye solution isn’t clear.

Dun, dun, dun……the dye solution has the dreaded crud. Or, if you prefer, the correct scientific term for it is a flocculent percipitate. What’s that, you ask? It’s when the solution has a billowy cloud-like substance in it. This scary happening occurs most frequently with red dyes. In my dyeing experiences, I’ve noticed cloudy solutions most often with ProChem’s Bright Red 351.

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The guilty culprit.

What do you do after discovering a cloudy dye solution? Maybe you decide to pour it into the dye pot anyways, with the optimistic hope that a lot of stirring will help dissolve it. But be warned, in my experience, that never works. Instead, the flocculent participate won’t dissolve, and smudges of dye will appear on your wool undissolved. My tip to you is: don’t torture yourself with this. What I did to find a solution, was I turned to my scientific side.

I don’t know the exact chemical equation that leads to flocculent participate appearing in dye solutions. What I do know is that it is effected by the pH. Under very acidic conditions, cloudiness can appear, and you can help dissolve it by making the solution more basic. How do you do that?

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Our Savior!

In your pantry, you will likely find a box of baking soda. Add small amounts of that baking soda to your dye cup, mixing very well. You’ll notice there will be less and less of the cloudiness in the solution. If you wait about five minutes, and the solution remains clear, then you can move onto the next step of dyeing your wool. If the solution is still cloudy, then that’s okay too. Just add a little bit more baking soda, and it will dissolve.

Take note, when it comes to adding your vinegar: add it very slowly, in small amounts, and stir it well. Baking soda is a base (sodium bicarbonate to be exact), and vinegar is an acid, so there might be some bubbling. The bubbling isn’t something to worry about (all that is happening is the release of carbon dioxide), but it’s good to know to expect it!

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Bubbles in the dye solution after vinegar is added to the solution.

Feel free to leave any comments for Ania below. If you have any other dyeing questions to ask, please leave them below too!

Rug of the Month: October 2022

For this month’s rug of the month, Ania is chatting about one of her newer rugs, an original design entitled “Polish Folk Art from the Łowicz Region,” or Wycinanka Łowicka. It was featured in Hooked on Handwork: Design a Rug Inspired by Fibers, Textiles, and Handcrafts by Kathleen Eckhaus. The dimensions of the rug are 41″ X 35″, and it was hooked in #6 and #4 strips of wool.

Read on below to learn more about this rug and the inspirations behind it:

Ania’s completed “Polish Folk Art from the Łowicz Region” rug

What inspired this pattern?

I am the daughter of Polish immigrants, and I have always lived my life surrounded by Polish culture and heritage, which has included traditional Polish folk art. My family is from the Łowicz region of Poland, and so that is most of the folk art I have seen. Some of the folk art was from the Tatry region of the Carpathian Mountains too.

Polish folk art motifs often originated from cut paper patterns. From the time I first started hooking rugs, I’ve wanted to create a pattern in this tradition. I was inspired by a pillow a friend of mine gifted to me – it is decorated with a Łowicz folk art image.

I worked on the design to ensure that it represented the regional culture. Several elements of this pattern are very traditional – the presence of flowers, the saw tooth pattern in the border, the two-fold symmetry.

Detail of the flowers included in the rug.

How did you color plan this project?

The color design was taken directly from the traditions of Łowicz’s folk art. The central motif is always very bright colors like reds, blues, greens, and yellows. The background is almost always white with a black saw tooth border. Occasionally, the background is black with a white border.

Since this pattern features five flowers in total – one central flower and two sets of two that are mirrored, I wanted to establish three set color schemes. The flowers have layers, so the decisions on how to color plan each flower flowed from how I initially decided to color the back layer. With the central flower, I decided on the red first, then the orange, and then the dark blue. You can also see the cut paper effect in the pattern with the colors – the orange of the middle layer peaks through the blue layer in the front.

The border and background were two of the most challenges parts of this rug to complete.

What was the biggest challenge with this rug?

The background and the border were both challenging. The background is white, but I wanted it to have visual interest and to look like felted wool, which is a traditional material used in folk art from the Tatry region. I hand dyed the background wool a light yellow to ensure it was reminiscent of felted wool, and then applied specific hooking techniques to continue the illusion. I used meandering hooking, avoided echoing my patterns through most of the background, and applied directional hooking techniques to combine everything to achieve the desired appearance.

Creating a saw tooth border that was crisp was very difficult. It required very deliberate technique, and I think we’ll likely create a blog post just to review that technique on its own.

If you have any questions about this project, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Rug of the Month: September 2022

For the month of September, we’re back with another rug of the month feature. Ania is discussing ring dishes that she has hooked using #3 and #4 strips of wool, velvet, and yarn, on a foundation made of both plastic canvas sheets, and plastic canvas circles. You can also incorporate beads, cabochons, and other adornments into these dishes.

Read on below to learn more about how to create your own ring dishes:

The two ring dishes that Ania created.

What was the inspiration for this project?

I noticed my youngest daughter, who frequently wears rings, would take off her rings to wash her hands or for the evening, and leave them on a counter. It seemed so inconvenient – she was constantly knocking into them, knocking them off the counter, running into issues where she couldn’t find them. I was inspired to come up with a solution – I thought it might be a fun challenge.

I saw the art store sold the plastic canvas circles, and thought they would be perfect as the foundation for such a project. Then I saw plastic canvas sheets and the idea really came together.

The foundation for the dishes are made using flexible plastic canvas.

How do you construct these dishes?

I cut a strip off of the flexible plastic canvas sheet, which would serve as the wall of the ring holder. The strip was 3/4 of an inch wide and long enough to wrap around the edge of the circle plastic canvas, and overlap by an inch. I sewed the strip into the 3 inch round, using button hole thread, and making sure that it fit around the outside of the round plastic canvas.

Now you have your ring holder foundation, and you can begin hooking. The plastic canvas is a mesh pattern, and you can simply hook in every row in a circular pattern.

Once the sides and bottom are all hooked, I sewed the side to the bottom of the round, and I used yarn to “whip” the top edge of the dish as well. You can sew button feet on with thick thread, you can super glue a cabochon into the mesh material and hook around it – you can embellish it however you would like.

You can add beads, buttons or other embellishments – here you can see fours beads that Ania used to create feet on the bottom of one of her ring dishes.

What do you use this ring holder for?

I made two dishes – one I use as decoration on a counter, and the second is used by my daughter as a ring holder, coaster, and candle holder.

What is your favorite part of this project?

This is a really fun little project to pull together. You can make them with friends and swap the final projects, you can make them as fundraisers.

You can apply the same principles to make larger versions, or even coasters without any walls.

I really enjoyed putting the ring holder together, realizing that my idea would work, and that it would be easy.

If you have any questions, you can leave them in the comments below!

The Hooker’s Book Club: Hooked on Handwork by Kathleen Eckhaus

A few years ago, Brigitte Webb reached out to me to ask if I’d be interested in contributing to a book on rug hooking inspirations, and I said yes. Kathleen Eckhaus then reached out to me with her idea: she wanted to write a book capturing the many ways that rug hookers find inspiration for designing in their own rugs. I had a few of my rugs in mind based on that prompt, and Kathleen asked me to complete a write up on all three rugs and the inspiration behind them.

Kathleen similarly collaborated with nearly thirty other rug hookers from all over the world to gather examples of the myriad creative ways rug hookers source inspiration. The end result has recently been published, in the form of the book titled Hooked on Handwork: Design a Rug Inspired by Fibers, Textiles, and Handcrafts by Kathleen Eckhaus, presented by Rug Hooking Magazine through Ampry Publishing. The book was published earlier this month, and is now available for purchase.

The front cover of Hooked on Handwork, by Kathleen Eckhaus

I’ve gotten my hands on my copy and I’m delighted by the end result. Kathleen and the other contributors have done a phenomenal job pulling this book together. The book has been broken out into chapters by form of inspiration: knitted and crocheted, pieced quilts, applique, weaving, needlework, other rugs, fabric prints, other handcrafts, and a final chapter titled “Inspiration from the Gambia”, based on a non-profit social enterprise called Rug Aide. My three rugs were included in the Needlework chapter, the Other Handcrafts chapter, and the Fabric Prints chapter. The three rugs that were included from me were my Paisley Rainforest rug, Frank Lloyd Wright Stained Glass rug, and Wycinanka Łowicka rug, which will likely be featured on this blog soon.

If you simply flip through the book to look at the photos of the rugs and the pieces that inspire them, it is incredible to compare, and very nicely done. The book is full of beautiful projects, and is a true wealth of information and inspiration. You can see the cultural influence that is permeating the rug hooking community, which I find inspiring myself. For example, Brigitte’s tartan is incredible and perfectly captures her Scottish heritage. I have loved reading the stories of what has served as inspiration to various rug hookers – from family heirlooms, to ancient traditions, to brand new purchases. How people build from these sources to create new pieces of art that are decorative and/or utilitarian has been hugely inspiring to me.

I highly recommend people read through this book and use it as inspiration for their own creative growth. It’s a job well done, and I’m honored to have been a part of this project. I would love to meet with all the other contributors in one room and talk through everything that they have written.

You can purchase the book through Rug Hooking magazine, and you might also be able to ask your local library to purchase it on behalf of you and other patrons who might enjoy it as well.

Tips and Tricks: Labeling your Artwork for the Internet

You may have noticed that the pictures of my rugs that I share on this blog have my name on them. Or, maybe you haven’t noticed – I try to add my name discretely so that it doesn’t take away from the rug itself. Recently, a fellow rug hooking teacher sent me a picture of a rug and asked me if it was mine, because it looked familiar to her. She had found it after it was posted on the internet by another person. It was my rug, and I didn’t know the person who had posted it without any reference to me. However, anyone who took a close look at the photo would have noticed my name on it.

I don’t know how this person found my rug, if it was on this blog or elsewhere, but this is a valuable thing to remember: if you post a photo on the internet, it will be there forever, even if you take down the original image. This exact issue is why I began watermarking my rugs when I post them on this blog, so that even if someone else reposts my art without attributing it to me, it’s still labeled with my name. It’s possible that most people who post someone else’s work just do so because they like it. On the other hand, there are most definitely some who try to represent another artist’s work as their own.

To watermark my images, I use Photoshop Elements, which I downloaded several years ago. You might already have access to a version of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements that you could use for watermarking your work. However, Photoshop and Photoshop Elements require paid subscriptions now, and so if you don’t have access already, there’s a variety of free photo editing software available, that you could use instead. For example, there’s Darktable, Pixlr x, GIMP, or Krita.

Once you have access to a photo editing software, watermarking your photos is very simple.

To create a watermark, I start by opening up my Photoshop Elements software. I then go to the File menu at the top of the window, select New, and then Blank File. Then, I drag the picture I want to edit into the new blank file I created.

I like to drag the photo I want to edit directly into the software page, to make it easier on myself.

The first step to working in photo editing software is always to duplicate your current “layer”, which is the photo you are editing. You do this in the panel to the right of your screen – you right click and select “duplicate layer”, as shown in the image below.

Here you can see the photo I’ve selected at the center of the screenshot. On the right, you right click the image of the photo and select “Duplicate Layer.”

Once you’ve duplicated your layer, click the little eye next to the original background layer to hide it. You will know the layer has been successfully hidden, because the eye icon will have a red line through it, as shown in the images below. Now you’ve prepped your photo and are ready to begin creating your watermark. Start by selecting your text tool – it is usually shown as a “T” in the menu on the left. Once you’ve selected the text tool you can click on your image where you’d like to begin writing your watermark.

The Text tool is the “T” in the left menu bar. Once you’ve selected your text tool you can click on your photo where you would like to begin typing, which in Photoshop Elements shows as a cursor with a check mark and red circle with a line through it.

Type out your name, company, or other text that you’d like to watermark. There are three tools that I use to change the appearance of my text to suit what I need: font size, color, and opacity.

In the screenshot above, I’ve typed out my name for the watermark, and the color, font size, and opacity options are all circled in grey (in the bottom left and top right of the image). For this photo, all I choose to do was lower the opacity of the text to 50%.

Once the text has been adjusted to suit my needs, I can further adjust where it appears on the page using the rectangle that surrounds the text to enlarge the text, make it smaller, or turn it on a diagonal.

After adjusting the opacity of the text, I choose to shift it over to the right side of the image, and shift it so that it is on a diagonal.

Once the appearance of your text is to your liking, you can click the green check to accept it, and save your photo. When saving your photo, I like to recommend renaming it so that you know it is edited, and make sure you remember to save the image as a JPEG file.

Here is the final watermarked image that was created!

If you have any questions about the steps outlined above, please let me know! I’m happy to further clarify anything that’s needed.

As a final note, if you do come across a photo of something you like, and you want to post it online, on your social media page, website, etc., post a note with the photo attributing where you found it, who created it and/or from whom you have obtained it. It will help you remember over time, it will give credit where it is due, and if someone sees it and knows the originator, they will most likely let them know that someone thinks enough of their work that they are sharing it with others. This will reflect well on the originator of the post, AND on you as the sharer.

Dynamic and Dramatic Backgrounds 102

Last month’s post was an introduction on the keys to creating a dramatic and dynamic background, through deliberate absence and use of edges. This month, we’re going to continue on the subject of backgrounds by discussing how color and color accents can complete your projects beautifully.

Ania’s “Karen” rug.

My “Karen” rug uses color as a key aspect of the background. I decided when planning the project that the main motif of the rug was going to be the peonies. Everything else, including the scrolls and other flowers were going to be in support of the peonies. Once I decided the peonies would be orange, it became easy to choose blue for the remaining elements in the rug, as that is the complementary color. The scrolls, remaining flowers, and background are all hooked with the same navy color, in various values. This creates a “navy wash” that visually pulls the scrolls and small flowers into the background, to support the peonies. The navy color is also very grounding – it sets the rug off well when placed on the floor.

There are outlines of leaves nestled into the background of the rug, as circled above.

If you read last month’s post, you might recognize that the background of this rug also uses edges in the soft echoing of the shape of leaves used elsewhere in the pattern, similar to the technique I used in my “Jack in the Green” rug.

Ania’s “H2O Lily Pad” rug

Color accents are related to the surrounding colors, but when chosen carefully, can represent different effects. Usually color accents are seen in choices like using “poison colors.” In my “H2O Lily Pad” rug, the beaded flower is the obvious focal point. The lily pad leaf, and especially, the water, are in support of the beaded element. Taken as a whole, the water in this rug looks like a pretty standard take on hooked water. However, the closer you look at the water, the more you might notice colors you would consider “unusual” in the normal context of what we think water looks like.

There are a wide range of unexpected colors used in the background of this rug, as seen in the upper left hand corner of this image.

I hooked neon green, bright purple, orange, and turquoise wools into the water as accents. That sounds crazy as a concept, but it works very well in this rug. I specifically chose to use these accent colors in the background to give the impression that the water was moving and reflecting light and other nearby items. Adding color accents to your background can be very effective in showing movement and reflected light. It causes the eye to scan and take in the entire rug.

When I approach the background of a rug, I think of it as the environment in which the motifs of my rug reside. It becomes a living space, of sorts. Bringing a thoughtful approach to your backgrounds can really enhance your entire rug. In addition to color, and color accents, I also use deliberate absence and edges when planning my backgrounds. A combination of these four aspects in the background can inspire the viewer’s eye to truly see your rug’s key motifs, to their best advantage.

Have you used any of the four key aspects that I discussed this month and last? Do you have any tips or tricks you like to use in hooking your backgrounds? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

Dynamic and Dramatic Backgrounds 101

For many rug hookers, the background is an afterthought when planning on how to hook a new piece. The focus is oftentimes on how to approach color planning and hooking techniques for the main motif featured in the pattern. However, the background can have a huge impact on the overall visual and emotional impact of your finished project. The background supports and enhances the subject of your rug.

When I hook rugs, there are four key aspects that I consider when I plan the background: edges, deliberate absence (less is more), color, and color accents. With careful consideration, your rug background can provide a beautiful frame for your central motif. There’s a lot to cover related to these four aspects, and so we’re breaking this topic out into two blog posts. This month, we’re focusing on two aspects in particular: edges and deliberate absence.  

Ania’s “Notre Dame Gargoyle” rug.

My “Notre Dame Gargoyle” rug uses both deliberate absence and edges in the background. The rug is inspired by a postcard featuring a gargoyle set among a backdrop of the buildings of Paris. When I designed the pattern, I wanted to portray the gargoyle as pondering the landscape, and I imagined him in a dense fog in the early hours of the morning. Using deliberate absence was central to creating that effect. I minimized the architecture featured in the background of the postcard, so that all that was included was a partially visible tower and a hint of the buildings below.

The postcard that served as the inspiration for “Notre Dame Gargoyle”

The fog that makes up the majority of the remainder of the background is a good example of “edges” – the edges of the partial tower are deliberately soft to create the impression that the structure is hazy in the distance. The fog is also given a 3D effect through directional hooking, both in the fog itself and in the remaining structures at the bottom of the rug. The directional hooking creates the edges needed to provide a full atmosphere and “set the scene” of the gargoyle’s home perch.

Ania’s “Jack in the Green” rug.

My “Jack in the Green” rug also combined deliberate absence and edges to create a dynamic background. I have seen images of the Green Man throughout my life, and have always imagined him set against a canopy of oak trees. When I planned this project, I decided to create that impression by continuing the motif of leaves surrounding the face in the background of the pattern. I traced oak leaves in a pattern radiating outwards, and the continuation of the pattern complements the face at the center.

A close-up of the leaves in the “Jack in the Green” rug – both in the face and in the background.

The leaves in the background are hooked with very soft edges and a deliberate lack of detail, to ensure that they do not draw the gaze away from the central focus, the face of the Green Man. The soft outline of the leaves is enough to give the viewer the impression he is surrounded by oak leaves, which is the goal. This is also use of deliberate absence – a case where less is more. You don’t need to hook every detail of the leaves to give the viewer the knowledge that they are there. You’re able to create the effect needed to add additional depth to the whole project, without taking away from what should be the central focus.   

Both of these rugs also utilize another key aspect of backgrounds, color. Achromaticity is a major part of my “Notre Dame Gargoyle” rug, and for my “Jack in the Green” rug I deliberately offset my Green Man with the complementary color red. In next month’s post, I will delve into that aspect in much closer detail, along with color accents.

If you have any questions about deliberate absence and edges in backgrounds, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Rug of the Month: January 2022

Happy New Year! We’re starting the year off with a brand new project. This month’s rug is from a pattern named “Solitude,” designed by Ania. She hooked it in #4 strips of wool, and it measures 8″ X 8″.

Read on to learn more about the project, and to see images of the completed rug:

Ania’s “Solitude” rug.

What was the inspiration behind this project?  

Last year I gave a talk on how to hook stained glass rugs in the Louis Comfort Tiffany style. After the talk, members of the guild requested that I teach a workshop on the same topic, sometime this year. This being the age of Zoom, I gave the talk online and it looks likely I will teach the workshop online as well. I have been very enthusiastic about projects inspired by stained glass, and especially Tiffany-style stained glass, for several years now.

I love the challenge of translating the glass into dyeing techniques, and then using that wool to mimic the look of stained glass in a rug. I chose to make a lily pad pattern, because they’re a common motif in Tiffany windows. I also really like lily pads, which you can tell based on how often I hook them! I thought it would be fun to design a simple pattern that could be used to teach key hooking techniques to mimic the look of confetti, favrile, or drapery glass.

The lily pad was hooked in pink spot dyed wool.

How did you approach color planning for this project?

It was very simple – I used all spot dyed wools, and used colors suitable for sky, water, the lily pad, and lead. I didn’t want to get too experimental with the colors as I plan on using this rug to help teach during a workshop.

The sky is hooked in a blue wool with a good amount of white included, to add brightness.

Is there anything else of note to you about this rug?

With stained glass rugs, I like using a technique when I dye the wool that I call stained glass spot dyeing, where I intentionally leave white spots in my wool. When you hook with it, it gives you brightness in your rug that looks like sunlight shining directly through your window.

I’m looking forward to teaching the class, whether it ends up in-person or online, and if you’re interested in doing a similar workshop, I’d be happy to work with you to pull something together. Please message me to let me know of your interest by leaving comments on this post. This piece is nice and quick – you can finish it in a day or two.

Happy Holidays!

As has become tradition on this blog in recent years, December’s blog post is showcasing one of Ania’s handmade ornaments! For 2021, Ania’s ornament is a paper poinsettia design, one of her favorite winter flowers, which is a little bit of a departure from the usual beaded ornaments she’s chosen in the past.

You can take a look at the ornament below, and read a brief message from Ania on the Holiday Season and New Year:

Ania’s paper poinsettia ornament.

I wish you a Happy Holidays, and a very healthy and Happy New Year! In 2021, I was delighted to return to in-person teaching for the first time since 2019. I also spent a lot of time this year studying the science of color, and how each of us sees color differently. In 2022, I have exciting plans to use that extra knowledge in a series of courses and in my teaching! I’ll be able to share more in the upcoming months.

In the new year, I hope you enjoy many new hooking adventures and make new friends. I look forward to spending more time with you in the new year, whether in-person, online, or somewhere in between! Merry Christmas!

Tips and Tricks: Next Dye Session Bring a Flashlight

Have you had a situation during a dye session, where: you have your solutions, they look ready to pour, but when you do you find you have clumps of wet dye that pours onto your wool? Sometimes, you can rescue it if you’re using a lot of water in your dyeing and you stir aggressively after the pour. Otherwise, you might be stuck with frustration and starting over again because the color is not what you needed or wanted. You’ve wasted time, dye, and possibly even wool! I’ve been there, and started incorporating an LED flashlight into my dye sessions as a way to resolve those clumpy dye issues.

With darker dyes, it can be difficult to confirm if the solution is fully dissolved and ready to pour.

The solution is simple: have an LED flashlight handy when you’re dyeing. Especially with darker solutions, it can be difficult to tell if the solution is fully dissolved. After you’ve made your solution and mixed it, and you’re ready to check if it’s ready to pour, that’s when it’s time to grab your flashlight. Shine your flashlight through the bottom of your container and you will see dark spots where there are still solid clumps of solution – continue to stir your solution until you see no more solid participles floating through the solution when shining that light through the bottom.

With the help of a flashlight, we can see clumps of undissolved dye remain at the bottom of this solution.

This method has worked for me in every situation I’ve had trouble with dissolving dyes, even with hot water. It’s a quick way to see if you’re dye solution is homogenous, and a great way to avoid worrying about whether the concentration of your dye solution is where you want it to be.

Here we see the solution is fully dissolved and ready to pour!

I usually use polypropylene semi-transparent plastic containers for my dyeing – this method will definitely work if you use glass or clear plastic containers. If you use containers that are more opaque, you can check if it will work for you by filling a container with clear water, and shining a flashlight through the bottom. If you can see the light, it should work.

Happy Dyeing!