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April 28, 2012 / whirlingneedles

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 6!


Day 6 of the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week. Today it’s all about improving your skill set. Even though Agent K is an expert knitter, no one can know it all, and she’s challenged today to improve and try some new things. I’m not a dyer myself, so apologies for any inaccuracies that might creep in. One day, I’ll learn to dye my own wool!

The whirlwind trip to Alaska had exhausted Agent K, but there was no time to rest. If the trip to Alaska had accomplished anything, it was to convince Agent K at the urgency of the mission. If the Agency didn’t act fast, not only would Laci be in imminent danger, but independent dyers everywhere would lose their livelihood. There was also a danger that the wide variety of colors the wool world enjoyed today would be compromised. The garishly colored sheep couldn’t be bleached or overdyed, which meant that there would be none of the subtle and beautiful shades of nature, only wild neons. No matter what her color theory teacher had said, BRIGHT colors weren’t necessarily HAPPY colors. Neither were natural colors like cream, brown, or grey unhappy colors. The possibility of losing natural colors to a neon crayola palette was unthinkable.

Agent K took the precious cargo up to the chemistry labs, where Agents waited to examine the colorful sheep and Laci’s solution. Time was of the essence, and Agent K had radioed ahead to have the lab prepped.

Normally, Agent K would let the chemists do their thing, but she had recently taken an introduction class to dyeing wool, and she was eager to watch the process and help where she could. The Agency was very keen on having its Agents learn knew skills, and the Chemistry Department was constantly holding classes to introduce Agents to the art and science of dyeing. Long counters, deep sinks, and forests of drying racks filled the room on the third floor of the Headquarters building. The floor and counters were splattered with dye of every shade and hue, and rows of liberally splattered lab coats hung along one wall. Selecting one of these, Agent K snapped a pair of protective goggles over her eyes and drew some rubber gloves over her hands. (She had learned a hard lesson after her first class when she had purple hands for two weeks.)

One of the chemists, Agent C, stumbled in under a load of brightly colored wool, freshly shorn from the sheep Agent K had brought back from Alaska. (That was the one and only time she would ever have a live sheep in a helicopter so long as she lived, Agent K vowed.) Agent C dropped the fleece into a sink full of soapy water and began cleaning it. As he cleaned, he pulled locks of wool out and placed them on a tray next to the sink. The other chemists began picking through the wool, separating it out by color. One of the chemists took a bit to test for colorfastness. After all, they only had the word IGLOO and Laci that it was impossible to overdye or bleach. If it was ordinary wool that could be bleached, drastic measures need not be taken.

However, they did not have time to wait for the results of that testing. They were running against the clock. Agent K took a batch of particularly putrid puce wool and carried it to a sink. She dried the wool with a towel as best she could, then photographed it. They needed a basis to compare the change to, if any change took place. Agent K made a note of the camera settings and light intensity, then began mixing a solution based on Laci’s recipe.

As she mixed, she wondered about Laci. According to Agency records, Laci was an independent dyer who had once worked for one of the world’s largest chemical companies. Laci had become disgusted with the corporate red tape and struck out on her own. She had been impatient with Agent K, demanding instant action on her formula. Agent K had tried her best to make Laci understand that they couldn’t just take her word that the formula worked. It needed to be tested to make sure that the cure actually worked and wasn’t more harmful than the disease the aliens had caused the sheep to have.

Agent K looked doubtfully into the dye pot. The solution was comprised of individually harmless elements, but the resulting dye bath looked like a witch’s brew. It bubbled ominously and emitted a surprising smell of butterscotch. Agent K picked up a lock of wool, dropped it into a mesh bag with a label on it, and dropped it into the dyepot. She continued to drop locks into the pot at regular intervals. These individual locks were coded so that she could tell how long they had been in the pot, and they would know if there was an ideal exposure time for the wool to be in the pot.

It wasn’t terribly challenging work, and as she waited the alloted interval time between dropping locks, she watched the other Agents working. Some were doing similar dyeing work to what she was doing, only with different color wool. Agent C was still at work washing and drying the rest of the fleece. Another Agent was preparing a set of powered drugs to be fed to the affected sheep. They would closely monitor the sheep Agent K had brought back with her to see its reactions to the drugs. If there were no issues, more drugs would be fed to the rest of the sheep in Alaska.

Agent K dropped the last lock of wool into the chemical bath. She turned off the heat under the dye pot and let the mixture cool down somewhat. Once it was cool enough, she poured the contents of the pot out over a strainer, which caught the wool but let the liquid run off down into the sink. The wool was still steaming hot, but she carefully spread it out on the counter to dry. Again she patted it dry with a towel, and was interested to see the color was gone from all but the last few locks of wool to be dropped into the pot. It seemed that Laci’s formula worked.

All around the room, pleased murmurs came from Agents bending over steaming locks of wool. Agent K set up the camera apparatus to the same conditions as before and took a set of photographs showing the change in color. Any lock of wool that had been in the dyepot for more than ten minutes was a snowy white. Agents around the room began reporting the same results. No matter what color the wool started as, the solution had removed it.

The door burst open, and the Agent who had taken a bit of the wool to try to bleach or overdye it using normal methods came into the room holding a steaming pot of brightly colored wool. Normal methods had had no effect whatsoever.

Laci’s formula worked! Now for the hard part.

To be continued…

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