Friday, 17 March 2017

Picking Daffodils to Dye With and the Effect of Alkaline pH

This is the month when daffodils are everywhere in Wales, among the woods, along the roadside and boxed in bunches on the supermarket shelves
While my companion, Elinor Gotland, and I, were strolling into town, I pointed out some particularly bright yellow ones growing on the verge.
"When those daffodil petals have drooped, I shall come back and do some dead heading. Should be plenty of colour left in them to dye a ball of wool."
"You daring devil. A midnight raid in your black balaclava, is it?"
"Oh, why you have to dramatise everything so, Elinor? I'll bring the secateurs one morning. Everyone knows picking the faded heads improves a clump of daffodils. It channels their energy back to building up the bulb, instead of into setting seeds."
"Everyone but you knows picking the town council's flowers can get you arrested. It's callled criminal damage, Beaut."
"You're having me on."
"I'm not. There was something in the newspaper about it."
"What, you mean I could get locked up for dead heading those daffodils?"
"Well, you might get off on a technicality. If not, I'll come up the prison on visiting day and you can show me your new tattoos."

I wish I could get the slugs locked up for eating my daffodils. The pickings in the garden were barely going to dye enough wool to make Elinor an Easter Bonnet, til Puffin Produce came to my rescue. Their farmers grow vegetables and daffs in Pembrokeshire, to supply supermarkets in Wales. The daffs are sold in bud and there are always some that flower too soon for the day the bud picking teams come round. Instead of allowing them to flower unseen in the fields, I was very kindly invited to drive out west and pick as many daffs as I liked, returning to Bridgend in triumph with three bags full. 

In gratitude, I shall always buy Blas Y Tir potatoes and leeks, which is no hardship at all, they are excellent. Well, ten days ago, I was thanking the team at Puffin Produce and rejoicing in this marvellous start to the March project from the Dye Calendar. Sadly, things have gone tits up since. Thinking some daffodil dyed wool yarn might tempt the shoppers to my stall at the Merlin Festival in Carmarthen next week, I bought a 1kg cone of merino double knitting yarn, skeined it up into 50g hanks and took over the bath to cold mordant the lot for 24 hours with 8% alum. For the first dye bath, I simmered a whole kilo of daffodils for an hour, left the flowers in the pot overnight and sieved them out next morning.

Now I am quite sure that alkalinising the dye bath does really strengthen the colour you get from daffodil dye. I'm just not absolutely certain that the alkaline brightness wouldn't diminish if a daffodil dyed knitted item was washed repeatedly with a wool wash, which is pH neutral. This concern grew sharper when I imagined how awful if somebody bought my daffodil dyed wool and then that happened to their knitting? Testing a sample of my first dye bath, the existing pH was actually acid. Adding dissolved soda ash to alkalinise another sample made its pale colour jump to neon yellow. Well, on balance, I thought I could legitimately bring the pH of the whole bath up to just slightly alkaline and use a high ratio of daffodils to weight of wool to get a good colour. Previously, using alkali, I have had a deep golden yellow from a ratio of twice the weight of petals to wool.

With a whole kilo of daffs in the pot, I added only 250g of yarn, simmered it for an hour, left it overnight, put it in the spindryer and hung it up for the dye to set strongly before rinsing. Even with a four to one ratio, the colour was not looking powerful. A couple more skeins dyed in the afterbath were paler still. No matter, I had masses more daffs. A second dyebath with 2kg petals was used to dye only 200g wool. The colour was stronger, but without significant alkalinisation, even this ten to one ratio didn't give half as strong a daffodil gold as I remembered. The photo shows, from the left, the four to one ratio, the afterbath of that pot, then the ten to one ratio. Wondering if I had got the mordanting wrong, I added alum to pot two and tried an all in one dye of some silk and merino roving which I planned to needlefelt into Easter chicks. Didn't make a difference, those chicks are going to look anaemic, still, at least it was reassuring to know all that mordanting had not been a waste of effort. I've put the other skeins of merino away for some dyeing later in the season, when hopefully, my weld seedlings will have flourished. 

When I was rinsing all the skeins after a week of curing, I put one to soak for an hour in a strongly alkaline solution of soda ash. Here it is while damp, next to a rinsed skein that did not have an alkali soak. To see if the brightening effect would persist, I gave the alkali skein three prolonged rinses in fresh water before drying it.
The colour has stayed perceptibly stronger, but to be confident of its permanence, I would have to knit up both skeins into two striped samples and put one through a wool wash cycle in the machine a few times. Knitting has not been on the cards this week. The sun has shone, the world has warmed up and in the mild air, some of the local daffodils are starting to fade and one of the local viruses has been proliferating wildly. Elinor Gotland came home to find me and himself in bed this afternoon. She was quite electrified and started in with some salty innuendos, til we sent her off to town to buy aspirin, lemons, honey and more tissues.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The All About Bag Knitting Pattern

Well, this is the fourth anniversary of Wool Tribulations blog. Last year, I was digging up madder roots and melancholically musing - what's this blogging game about? This year, finds me more cheerfully inclined and after all, it is March, when an old bag's mind usually turns to thoughts of felting. The basic pattern common to these two bags is given below, with the variations.

For posterity, the annual review. Shortly after posting the last anniversary's virtual existential crisis, loads of people started reading the blog, boosting the cumulative tally to an astonishing 421,000 page views. I reckon that would hearten any small time, niche blogger and it has certainly encouraged me to stick at it. As a Sole Trader, I set out the Rich & Strange Silk and Wool Work stall at five events in 2016 and while selling craft items will never keep me in cigarettes, I did better than break even, so the self-funding hobby concept can now be deemed a success. While artistic aspirations took a knock back, with flat rejections from some open exhibitions and no sales at the few that I did get a piece into, an impulse venture, The Plant Dyes for All Seasons Calendar, exceeded my wildest hopes, selling over 200 copies online. Thanks very much everybody, especially Shiela at Hand Spinning News, I am planning some lavish spending at Wonderwool Wales next month. Better still, through the calendar, I have got involved in helping with other people's interesting dye projects and have had a few invitations to speak. Off to the Women's Institute on Monday, I'll be trying to persuade them to start their own dye plant gardens this Spring.

As ever, I digress. The All About bags use the helix knitting technique to make a spiral of six colours of yarn knitted on a circular needle. The helix is an easy way to give the effect of stripes, without any carry overs of yarn and only the six beginnings and ends of yarn to sew in afterwards. 
I made the first bag with alder bark dyed yarn and took it to the Madrona Fibre Retreat, where I had lots of compliments - all about the button. This photo shows how it looks after several weeks on the road, stuffed with knitting project, book, tickets, passport and packed lunch.
The second bag was made with yarn dyed with brown onion skins and has one colour knitted in purl, to make the spiral stand out. The base of the bag shows off the construction best - this picture was taken before felting and final shaping. With a brighter colourway, a more dramatic flap and no button, this modified version is intended to be All About The Bag.


Materials

150g bulky yarn in Main Colour A (96m)
50g bulky yarn in colours B, C, D, E and F (32m of each)
If you intend to felt your bag in the washing machine, choose 100% wool of a durable type. I used two 200g hanks of Super Chunky Cheviot from World of Wool. They have Super Chunky Merino already dyed in a whole range of colours, merino should felt well, though I don't know how strongly it would withstand hard use. I quite fancy trying yarn from some of their other breeds and overdyeing the ones in natural colours. Their Super Chunky is certainly competitively priced, the yarn comes as a lightly twisted, fat single, it is loose in structure yet not elastic, which I think works fine for making felted bags.

6mm circular knitting needle
Spare yarn and crochet hook for provisional cast on
Large darning needle for sewing in ends
Stitch holder or extra 6mm needle
Snap Fastener
Decorative Button if desired

Tension Gauge
Stocking stitch - 13 stitches and 17.5 rows = 10cm square before felting.

Felted Size approximately 32cm deep, 35cm wide with a 66cm handle.


Method

Using the spare yarn, make a crochet provisional cast on of 84 stitches on your circular needle. 
Set Up Round - Using the Main Colour A yarn, knit across all the cast on stitches, place a marker and join to knit in the round.

Helix
First Round
From the stitch marker at the beginning of the round, continue knitting in Main Colour A for 14 stitches. Now use colour B to knit the next 14 stitches, colour C to knit the next 14 stitches, colour D to knit the next 14 stitches, colour E to knit the next 14 stitches and colour F to knit the last 14 stitches back to the marker.
Second Round
Continue knitting with colour F for 14 stitches.  Here, you will find the yarn from the ball of Main Colour A dangling below the 14th stitch. No twisting the yarns round each other, just drop colour F, lift up colour A and adjust the tension on the last colour A stitch so it is just the same as all the other stitches.  If you leave it too loose or pull it tight as you start to use it again, you will end up with a seam running vertically up the knitting. Knit 14 stitches with Colour A, to where you find Colour B dangling down.  As before, check the tension on the last stitch of colour B and use B to knit 14 stitches, pick up and use Colour C to knit 14 stitches, pick up and use Colour D to knit 14 stitches, pick up and use Colour E to knit 14 stitches, arriving back at the round marker.


Working with six balls of yarn, to avoid getting the dangling ends in a twist, keep them on a flat basket or tray on your lap and rotate the whole thing anticlockwise at the end of each round. For the following rounds, always continue knitting with the same colour you were using at the end of the round for another 14 stitches starting from the round marker, then pick up and use each colour in turn for 14 stitches.


After six rounds,the six different colours will all have completed one circuit. After sixty rounds, they will have made ten circuits, so it's easy to keep track of the row count. After sixty rounds, begin these reductions to form the base of the bag.

Continue to work with the six yarns in a helix throughout the base.

Reduction Rounds
From the stitch marker, knit 1, knit 2 together, continue knitting til you reach the next colour. With the next colour, knit 1, knit 2 together, continue knitting til you reach the following colour. Repeat til you get back to the stitch marker again, then continuing in the same colour as you were using for the end of the last round, knit 1, knit 2 together and knit to the next colour.

Continue with these reduction rounds.  Once the tube of knitting gets too small to work easily on the circular needle, start using magic loop or change to double pointed needles until there are only 2 stitches of each colour left on the cord - total 12 stitches. Break the working yarn leaving a 20cm tail, thread it onto a darning needle and run it through the loops of all 12 stitches, removing the round marker and the circular needle cord.  Pull tight, fasten off and sew in the loose ends of all six colours.

Handle and Front Edge
Unravel ten stitches of the crochet cast on, picking up the ten live stitches on your circular needle. Secure the loose end of the crochet cast on. Using Main Colour A, with the wrong side of the work facing you, knit across the ten stitches, turn and knit back making one garter stitch ridge. I knitted 74 ridges for my preferred handle length. While felting will shorten the handle, remember when you carry heavy things in the bag, it will stretch, becoming both longer and narrower. 
Leave the last ten stitches on a spare needle or stitch holder and cut the yarn, leaving a good long tail for grafting.
Unravel the next 42 stitches of the crochet cast on, picking up the live stitches on your circular needle. Graft the ten stitches of the handle to the first ten stitches now on your needle using Kitchener Stitch.
Working with the 32 stitches still on your needle, knit back and forth for four rows, making two ridges of garter stitch, then cast off. Cut the yarn leaving a long tail and use this to sew the cast off stitches back against the inside of the bag, two rows down the helix.

Top Flap
Unravel the remaining 32 stitches of the crochet cast on, picking up the live stitches on your circular needle. Using Main Colour A, work in stocking stitch to and fro, one row knit, the next row purl, for 20 rows, finishing on a purl row.
To shape the curved edge
Row One 
Knit 2, slip 2 stitches from the left to the right needle, then insert the left needle through the backs of the loops and knit the 2 slipped stitches together(ssk), knit to the last 4 stitches, knit 2 together(k2tog), knit 2.
Row Two
Purl all stitches.
Row Three
Knit 2, ssk, ssk, knit to the last 6 stitches, k2tog, k2tog, knit 2.
Row Four
Purl all stitches.
Repeat Rows Three and Four until only 6 stitches remain, then cast off in purl. Don't worry about the 3D dome shape, it will be flattened to a 2D semicircle by blocking after felting.

Sew in the loose ends. Put the bag in the washing machine on the hottest cycle (mine is 95 degrees centigrade) with old towels or clothes to help felt it.
While it is damp, put a large plastic bag inside and stuff it with clothes, squashing them about until you are happy with the shape. Put the bag upside down on a mat and pin out the flap so it is flat and its edges are uncurled. Leave to dry before removing the pins and stuffing. Sew on a snap fastener to secure the flap and a decorative button to finish.

Variations used for Bag Two
To make the opening of the bag narrower, I cast on 72 stitches and started the helix with 12 stitches in each colour.
To make the main colour A stand out within a garter stitch ridge, I worked colour F in purl (the yarn just dangles at the front instead of the back of the work) . On the third and fifth rounds of the helix, I increased one stitch after each colour change by knitting 2 then making one stitch left, or in the case of colour F, purling 2 and making one left in purl. From round 6 the work was back to 84 stitches and completed like the first bag, only purling 2 together in colour F on the reduction rounds. 
From the 72 stitch provisional cast on, the handle was still made ten stitches wide, leaving only 26 stitches for the front edge and 26 for the flap. To create the long narrow triangular flap shape, I knit 2 together in the middle of each knit row until only one stitch remained to fasten off. When the number of stitches remaining was even, I knitted half the stitches before knitting 2 together.


The All About Bag has a decent capacity, is strong enough to carry potatoes and has proved its worth on an epic journey.

These are the voyages of the blogship Wool Tribulations. Its four year mission so far; to explore strange new wools, to seek out new knitting and new crochet patterns, to boldly dye with plants as countless generations of women have done before.




Friday, 3 March 2017

Several Effects of Iron Solution on Onion Dyed Wool and Cotton

If you save onion skins for dyeing, it is remarkable how quickly the stock builds up. Since experimenting with onion dyes in January, my stash had re-accumulated so much as to take over a whole corner of the kitchen. Time for some large scale projects. The biggest dye pot just about held 100g brown onion skins, which I boiled up and sieved out, then used the fluid to dye 200g bulky Cheviot wool yarn a warm orange. The afterbath gave a medium shade to another 100g and then a pale shade to a final 100g.  Adding a good slug of iron dissolved in water to the dye bath, I reheated a 50g skein of each shade of orange for half an hour, finding the iron modified the strong colour to a dark khaki green and the paler skeins to soft brown and grey.


Though iron modification or 'saddening' of plant dyes usually causes an obvious colour change, I was very taken by the contrast between this bright orange and dark green. Onion dyes are substantive, which means they will dye any natural fibre without the hassle and expense of mordanting. 


Having acquired a cotton, double thickness table runner which weighed about 400g, I planned to dye that with the 120g brown onion skins still cluttering up my kitchen and then make prints of leaf shapes on it by dipping some brambles and ferns in iron water, rolling them into the cotton, tying up the tube into a firm bundle and then simmering. The first part of the plan went fine, the cotton took on a deep orange after a long simmer and soak in my fresh dye bath. The iron printing was not such a clever idea - within half an hour of simmering the rolled bundle in hot water, I could see the iron saddening had already seeped through the double layers of thick cotton in a blotchy and unappealing fashion, so I whipped it out, getting only slightly scalded in the process. 


Leaving it to steam and drip dry, I went to cheer myself up with a walk round the garden, pleased to find so many of the spring bulbs were coming into flower.

Then who should I meet, strolling down the path towards me, but my long absent companion, that star of the stage and toast of the West End, Elinor Gotland.


"Hiya Beaut, alright are you? Cup of tea would be welcome."
I was too startled by her outfit to do more than hug her and put the kettle on. Once we were settled on the patio, Elinor explained she was just up from London for a couple of days, while her theatre company guest starred in the St David's Day celebrations in Cardiff.
"Nice hat."
"I've been hounded by the paps and so pestered by fans wanting selfies with me, I decided to travel incognito." I blinked at this, but Elinor was in full flow. "Ah, home. How my soul has yearned for these tranquil hills." She noticed my eyes were now bulging from their sockets. "Anyway, quite a few of the Blewe Belles have gone off to visit relatives in South Wales, so I thought I'd pop over and see how you were getting on. Still plant dyeing, is it, Beaut? What on earth have you put in that grubby lump of cloth?"
"Onion dye with iron prints."
"Well, what are you doing still mucking about with onion skins when it's March and there's daffs galore in the Land of My Fathers? Why aren't you rejoicing in Welsh Heritage and saluting Dewi Sant with some patriotic daffodil dyeing? Oh, if you only knew the pain of hiraeth."
I ignored the hoof she had raised to her forehead.
"Well, I like to see plants flowering in the garden and the daffs aren't likely to fade til we get some warm weather, here in wonderful, wet, wintry Wales."


The iron leaf prints weren't a wild success. Indistinct splodges, more dark grey than green. What with Elinor swanning around in her Welsh Lady costume reciting bardic poetry, I felt the pressure was really on to prove the value of that leftover brown onion skin dye bath. 
Remembering an interesting effect I had from painting iron water onto a cotton vest that had dyed a disappointing beige with red onion skins, I boiled up another tired white M&S vest and it came out of the brown onion bath a rich, though uneven, russet orange. I put it in the spin dryer and set to work while it was still damp. Dissolving 10g iron sulphate in a litre of hot water, I stirred the brew and started to paint it on to this cotton vest with a finer brush than I had used on the beige one. The initial lines spread a little, then turned a good green before my very eyes. Though I had expected the pattern to disperse in the wash, the beige vest has had several runs through the 30 degrees machine wash cycle and the iron marks have stayed where they were put. Hope the same will hold true of this orange version, I was really pleased when I'd finished it.


"Come and see, Elinor, I've painted my onion dyed vest and it looks great. Look, I can be artistic, too."
"What you going to title that, then, Beaut? 'Muddy Pond with Tadpoles' perhaps?"
"Those aren't tadpoles, they're just spots and curls."
"No deeper meaning? Not as symbolic, as, let me think ... a daffodil?"
I could see where she was going with this.
"Lots of pictures don't have meanings. Think about all those still lifes of flowers in a vase or bread and cheese on the table."
Elinor just looked at me, sighed and went off to pour herself some good Welsh gin.



Friday, 24 February 2017

Dyeing Wool with Alder Bark, Cones and Twigs

Alder trees are pioneers, among the first to colonise poor soil in wet areas. This lot are less than fifteen years old, I've watched them spring up along what was a bare flood gully down from the sand dunes to the river. In between spells of heavy rain, the ditch is dry and cluttered with debris of alder twigs and cones. It took no time at all to gather up a carrier bag full and while the dog was fossicking about after a rabbit, I peeled the bark from a fallen branch. I think I had about 500g material to soak in a bucket of water for a week, only I have been away and forgotten exactly. Alder is easy to identify because the dried out female cones stay on the tree all year.
In February, the purple male catkins are formed, though no leaves yet. After fermenting for a week, the water in the bucket of alder became acidic, pH 5. Transferred to a pot and simmered for an hour, left overnight then sieved through a colander, the dye bath looked a rich red-brown. Adding iron turned the fluid black, copper made it dark brown.


I dyed 250g chunky Cheviot wool and 25g merino yarn by simmering them for an hour in the straightforward alder dye pot and leaving them to soak overnight. Here they are, while still damp. I expected the merino would take up much deeper colour and was just grateful the Cheviot went a decent fawn, as I wanted to use it for knitting a bag. Two of the 50g skeins of dyed Cheviot were modified by a short simmer, one in half the original dye bath with a slug of iron water added, the other in the remaining half with copper solution. This picture shows, from the left, the unmodified alder dye on merino and then Cheviot, iron modified Cheviot, then copper modified Cheviot wool.




Deciding the copper gave the best colour, I modified the big 100g skein of dyed Cheviot too, then dyed two fresh 50g skeins in the two afterbaths, getting pale colours which I hoped would make a good contrast for helix stripe knitting. Once the bag was finished, I felted it by washing at 95 degrees Centigrade in the washing machine. Because washing powder is alkaline, the alder dye colours shifted.


Though the colours came out of the wash stronger, alkali modification reduced the contrast between the helix bands. Overall, I am pleased to have greater depth of colour and well chuffed with the bag, which has proved sturdy and functional during a fortnight's constant use while travelling. The Cheviot has bloomed and pilled a bit since this photo was taken and among the wool yarns I have tried, it certainly doesn't take up dye brilliantly. Nonetheless, I'll be happy enough to use up my last 400g Cheviot to make another bag. Can't resist finishing with a holiday snap from Tacoma. I had the best time, great people in such a hip cool gritty city. Listen to this - Stephanie Anne Johnson, she is even better live.



Friday, 17 February 2017

Every Which Way Crochet Borders - Book Review 2

My companion, Elinor Gotland, telephoned me to express her disgust at last week's blog, a review of Edie Eckman's new book 'Every Which Way Crochet Borders'.
'Well, Beaut, that poor woman designed and charted 139 customised edgings. And what did you do? Stick one frill on a lampshade. Creating a lamp no-one in their right mind would switch on, for fear of burning the house down."
'That lampshade is perfectly safe. Wool is naturally fire retardant.'
A small snort breezed through my mobile phone.
'So, you've put that death trap back on the bedside table have you? Best of luck, Beaut. I can see the headlines now. "Blogger electrocuted by crocheted wire."
Fair play, that would be a sensational marketing strategy.'
'Don't be daft, Elinor. The power supply to the bulb is totally separate to the wire in the lampshade.'
'Then you've no chance of generating any decent publicity. Mark my words, up your game, or Storey Publishing won't be sending you any more free books.'

Actually. those lovely edging patterns in the Crochet Borders book had already got my mind whirring. As well as crocheted and knitted items, Edie Eckman explains how to put a base round for any crochet border into woven fabric. One option is to use a fine crochet hook to poke through the weave near the edge, fetching up a loop of yarn, completing each crochet stitch with a larger hook. I tried it on a tubular section of brown onion dyed silk jersey, using a 0.5mm hook to pierce the hem, then a 2mm hook to crochet one of her borders in laceweight merino, which had also been dyed with brown onion skin. Bit of a nightmare, painfully slow process and I had to borrow himself's reading glasses to manage the fine yarn.


To go round the opposite edge of my cowl, I tried Edie's other method, sewing a mattress stitch hem, then crocheting the base round into the top line of that. Still time consuming with tiny stitches and it meant one side looked different, but no-one will notice and happily, the mattress stitch did also prove elastic enough to allow the silk jersey to stretch.


With two borders completed on the brown onion cowl, I moved on to hemming another, dyed with red onion skins. The book has a section showing the elements of crochet borders, encouraging the reader to try building up their own designs. I did have a few false starts and rather a disaster on the second edge. Bloody dog chewed up my last little ball of laceweight, intended for the final round of the second border.



Nonetheless, I consider both my silk cowls very much enhanced by their crochet borders. This is a really practical book in every respect - solidly constructed, well organised, straightforward to use and it teaches a jolly useful skill.





Thinking of these things, I had stopped paying attention to Elinor bleating on at me down the phone. Eventually I cut in.
'Actually, I have used some of Edie's other border designs and I am going to post another blog about her book.'
'Oh, bore me, why don't you? Two tedious blogs about stuff you made. People might be more interested in buying their own copy if they could try out a border themselves.'
'Well, Storey Publishing did say reviewers can post one of the patterns in full.'
Here is border number 32. Click on the photo and you can read it in full screen size. 

'Why on earth didn't you do that last week? Of course, what you need to drum up trade for the book is a giveaway, a little competition, something fun. Since it's not safe to leave you to manage that by yourself, I shall have to come home on a rescue mission.'
'If you'd let me get a word in edgeways, I'd have told you. I'm not at home, I'm in America.' Silence followed. I enjoyed the moment, before continuing with my next revelation. 'I knew you'd be amazed. You'll never believe - I'm attending classes at the Madrona Fibre Retreat.'
'No .... what a nightmare!'
'How can you say that? It's my best Christmas present ever, from himself.'
'I'm thinking of my phone bill!'
The line went dead.

Anagram Competition

Rearrange these letters: 
A STITCH IN EDGEWAYS
 to make another sentence.

Doesn't matter if you have a few letters left over, the winner will be the sentence that makes me and Elinor laugh most.
To enter, email your sentence to me at tribulation2013@gmail.com before 31 March 2017
Storey Publishing will send a free copy of 'Every Which Way Crochet Borders' to the lucky winner, as long as they have an address in the UK, Europe, Canada or the USA.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Every Which Way Crochet Borders - Book Review

While I like a bit of crochet, enjoy getting a free craft book and find reviews quite fun to work on, being a woman in specific need of a good bit of crochet edging, I was particularly keen when the offer came through from Storey Publishing to take part in a blog tour, promoting of Edie Eckman's new book, 'Every Which Way Crochet Borders: 139 Patterns for Customized Edgings'. 
It comes out this month (February 2017), priced at £13.99 for the hardback.

I am still not entirely certain how a blog tour works. Edie Eckmann herself will be blogging about the book here.

For my experience trying it out, read on below.


Before Christmas, when I got the pdf copy of the book, I was wrestling with hyperbolic crochet. Truly physical combat, attempting to crochet a pseudosphere from a reel of 0.5mm stainless steel wire.


While possible, it is bloody hard on the hands and once the whole 100m was crocheted, my wire looked more like a rat's nest than a thrilling exhibition of negative curvature. Having decided a long colour change yarn edging could be just the thing to highlight its structure, I dropped a heavy festive hint by emailing one of my brothers a link to Noro Silk Garden yarn. After Christmas, I settled down at the computer to read through 'Every Which Way Crochet Borders.'
The opening chapters are about choosing well, introducing concepts such as Form Follows Function - considering whether the main role of a given edging is to frame and stabilise an item or to enhance the look. For my crocheted wire, enhancement was the key, what was needed was a decorative continuation of the existing shape. 


Now in possession of two balls of variegated and textured Noro yarn, I did cringe inwardly on reading that a multicolour may confuse and muddy the design of an edging, a point well illustrated by nice big photo examples. Now I have a physical copy, I can tell you the book is solidly constructed with a spiral binding inside the cover. This means it looks smart while still staying open hands free. Whether flicking through pages or scrolling up and down a pdf copy, the thumbnail photos that form the directory of edgings at the back of the book are really helpful, as is a Table of Attributes. Using this table makes you analyse what you want from your crochet edging. I decided this project needed a reversible border of medium width, firm rather than lacey, so it would keep its shape and look good from all sides on my three dimensional piece, plus I fancied an undulating outer edge. An apparently overwhelming choice was quickly narrowed down to ten options within the table, from which I picked border number 125.


Edie advises a base round of double crochet - well she calls it single crochet, there is a table converting US to UK crochet terminology. The book includes all the nitty gritty of working out how many stitches to crochet along the sides, diagonal edges and round the corners of crocheted and knitted items - not for nothing is the book called 'Every Which Way'. My piece had one long outer edge, essentially a straight run, though frilled into apparent loops.
I found crocheting two wool stitches into every wire stitch looked about right and did indeed show off the hyperbolic curves. Making a decorative row on top was no problem in itself. Finding the wool peaks tended to curl up rather than act as a continuation of the structure, since washing and blocking wasn't an option, I crocheted the final round in 0.3mm stainless steel wire.
I hadn't chosen a complicated border and the written pattern and chart were both clear and simple to follow. The thinner wire was also considerably easier to work with than 0.5mm, still stiff enough to hold the wool in shape and I like to think finishing with wire rounded out the overall metallic effect.  


Just possibly, you are wondering whether this hyperbolic crochet creation has a purpose. It does. The glass shade on a bedside lamp had got broken and I thought its stem and leaf base suited an organic floral shaped replacement. My new lampshade throws organic shadows too.
Every Which Way Crochet Borders is a great resource book.  It offers not just 139 options, but the confidence to make informed choices among colours, yarns and edge designs. I feel inspired to look again at enhancing some plain items and try out some interesting new crochet stitches.

ISBN 9781612127408



Friday, 3 February 2017

Dyeing Wool with Silver Birch Bark

To dye with Silver Birch tree bark, I went looking for freshly fallen timber. I think Ladka is right, last week's bark dye probably did not colour wool as strongly as expected because the crab apple had died before I peeled its branches. Searching copse after copse of silver birches, it took me ages to find any wood that had definitely come down recently.


At last, a branch with a raw torn break from the tree, unsullied young bark, perfect to harvest for dye. Which I did, feeling in full sympathy with Robert Frost. 'One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.' Not that I wished to vandalise a living tree and as the poem points out, birch trunks are incredibly flexible, so I doubt I would be strong enough to snap one. Just that I, too, would like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over. Anyway, although my tree climbing days are pretty much over, whatever else is going on, the dog still needs walking and there's always another plant dye to discover.


Once every scrap was peeled with a sharp knife, leaving only the heartwood, about 200g bark was carried home to soak in a bucket of cold water for a week. The fluid turned a pale brownish gold and its pH dropped to 5, even though the weather was freezing. When it had been simmered for an hour, left overnight and then sieved, the dye bath colour had deepened considerably.


Intending to dye yarn suitable for bags, during that week, I had been online shopping for some cheap, bulky, durable wool. Cheviot from World of Wool looked like a bargain. Once it arrived, I found the 'yarn' was a single with minimal twist, I'm sure I've seen pencil roving with more cohesive structure. Hey ho, it knits up ok. I divided a 200g skein into four parts, then soaked and simmered three of them for a hour in the birch bark dye pot. Seeing they were only pastel pink, I dropped a little piece of merino yarn in the cooling dyebath and left it overnight. The Cheviot darkened a bit, but the merino turned out much deeper pink, despite no simmering.
So, it doesn't seem that my Cheviot yarn was an ideal choice for dyeing, either. You can just see how much deeper dyed the bit of merino yarn, it's lying on top of the far left skein. Adding a teaspoon of alum to the dyebath, I simmered the fourth skein, hoping this might improve the uptake of colour. The wool came out just as pale, only more of a salmon pink.

No matter, the lighter colour might be a good foil for showing up the effect of modifiers. Pouring half the dye bath into another pot, I added a slug of iron solution to one half and copper to the other. One skein went back into each pot for half an hour's heating, before being rinsed and dried.




So, here are my silver birch bark dye results. From the left, the first skein was unmordanted and unmodified, the second had an iron afterbath, the third, copper and the last one was dyed with alum in the original dye afterbath. Pretty colours, but pale again, this time I think I'll blame the wool. I am tired of considerations and life is too much like a pathless wood. Wait for this, I bought a whole kilo of that Cheviot. Sigh