Friday, 28 March 2014

Dyeing Wool with Frozen Maroon Hollyhocks

The most complex and fascinating dye from my garden last summer was a subtle range of blues from Double Maroon hollyhocks.  There were only a few flowers at any one time, so I collected them just as they faded.  By October. forty were stored in a bag at the bottom of the freezer.  

By far the softest fleece in my stash is the Polwarth.  Being heavy with lanolin, I have found getting the grease out needs a big pot of water with lots of washing up liquid, heated to about 80 degrees.  I pour it out into the sink when it has cooled to 60 degrees, then transfer to a bowl of the hottest tap water.  With minimal handling, it doesn't felt.
My sister got a rustic wrap for her birthday last year.  For this April, an attempt at sophistication.  I carded Polwarth rolags and spun shiny singles, 2 ply came out at fingering weight, though not perfectly even.  Four 50g balls meant I had about 650m yarn, which was mordanted with 20g alum.

Trawling through the shawl patterns on Ravelry, Thinking of Waves looked perfect.  Short row knitting would be a bit of a challenge for me, the organic curves are just Pip's bag and it has sections ideal for showing off a harmonious range of blue dyes. I guesstimated the length for each part, added 25% safety margin, and measured out my yarn into nine portions.

Heated up to 80 degrees for 45 minutes, the wine red colour looked much like the original dye bath with twelve fresh flowers. The first skein out of this frozen flower bath was a much dimmer blue green than the one I got last summer.  My foreboding grew when the next couple of skeins came out equally shadowy. Heating and cooling this dye bath for the fourth time, I had the gas up a fraction too high and boiled it. Grey wool, mood Indigo.

Freezing and storing for six months failed to preserve the blue range of dye molecules I found in fresh double maroon hollyhocks.  Boiling the fourth reheated dye bath was bound to kill off any lingering blue shades.  Nonetheless, in natural light, the dried yarns A to D looked more interesting than they had seemed while damp.    

Blue would have suited Pip beautifully, but, having measured out all those skeins, I pressed on, one at a time, with the simmer and cool cycle.  Though E and F were just different greys, G, H and I surprised me by trending back to green.  It's not just the camera failing to pick up some shades of green, this yarn baffled my eyes, grey in artificial light, more green in daylight.  I put labels on the sequence before I could mix them up and started knitting. 

Thinking of Waves has small, short row starting sections.  I had to knit the first section two or three times before I understood how they should work.  Each edge definitely needs the extra yarnover mentioned in the pattern notes, to 
keep it loose enough to stretch at the end. The later sections have marathon long rows, but I find plain stocking stitch soothing. Towards the end, there are odd little bulges to knit, which keep the interest going.  When I cast off the bottom border, the shape was all humps and bumps.  After a luke warm hand wash in pH neutral silk washing liquid, I blocked it out. Squeaking with excitement - this pattern works!

All those unlikely curves fit together into an organic flow. Mesmerising movement, not just like waves, like the land, too. Here is Pip's shawl.
Thinking of Fields. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Dye Garden March 2014

The petals on this daffodil did not reach their prime and fade, ready for me to dry and keep as dye material.   This flower experienced the perfume and suppliance of a minute. No more.  Then, like Ophelia, its coherence was eaten away by one who loved it.  
The loss was a shot across the bows from my garden slugs. Rejoice in the mild spring, enjoy the sun on your back, but fear it, my dear sisters. Those ravening little fiends are frisking about early this year.

 'When the ground warms up' is a gardener's way of saying 'When you can still feel your fingers after five minutes working with the earth'.  Strictly speaking, it means the ground temperature is over 7 degrees C. Even my wet clay soil has already passed the numb fingers test. Unlike Hamlet, slugs don't seem to have a taste for the madder.  A good few shoots emerged last week and their leaves remain intact. Since the seed was only sown in 2013, I don't know when one might usually expect to see new growth, but I reckon the ground really has warmed up.  Only another year or so till I can harvest some roots.
Trays of coreopsis, marigolds and exciting new seeds, sent to me from America, have germinated and already gone out to the greenhouse.  Weld, woad and Japanese Indigo were sown earlier this week.  I have gambled long odds on a frost free March, transplanted a line of spinach seedlings and sown some lettuce outside in the veg patch.   Never accuse me of treading the primrose path of dalliance with the slugs, recking not my own rede.   The spinach and lettuce are to be tethered goats in this arena of hungry predators.  I am no puffed libertine when it comes to my dye plant seedlings.  

My cunning plan is to lure the slugs in and deal with them in advance of the main planting out.  The spinach is my chaste treasure, open to their unmastered importunity. Before they gall the infants of the spring, the slugs are to fall into my cut plastic bottle beer traps. In the morn and liquid dew of beer, contagious blastments are most imminent.  

The immediate flaw in this plan is the risk of my husband and son drinking the cheap beer bought specially for the traps.  Casual banditry.  It wouldn't surprise me to find them with their noses under the saucer.

The camelia is flowering as never before. Usually, a night frost turns each day's blossoms brown.  I had been told that red and pink camelia flowers give a purple dye. Enjoying such superabundance, I picked twenty flowers, added 100ml white vinegar to 1,400ml water and macerated for a day, as suggested.  

The fluid looked a promising pink, so I put in 20g fleece mordanted with alum.  Though I left it for the advised three days, the wool took up no colour at all.  Maybe not enough vinegar, maybe with too credent ear I list the dyers' songs.  I haven't yet found precise directions.

Last year, I germinated Dyer's Greenweed seeds.  Six little shrubs were about 20cm high by last autumn.  Weeding and clearing the borders, there is not so much as a dead twig to mark their graves.  I know they like a dry and open site. Although they got a good amount of sun, the drainage in my garden was probably not good enough. 

We had no floods locally, but it has been the most sodden winter. Even with normal rainfall, plants that do not like wet feet never do well here.  I have killed off more thyme plants than I care to recall. The fleece balls I made last spring did not retain moisture well. Most of the little plants I tried to grow in them got parched in summer. Stood in a saucer of water, saxifrages coped.  
The only ones that thrived as hanging balls were the two containing thyme.  Most pleasingly, these have survived the winter rains and the fleece layer is more or less intact.  These thymes I have, and their adoption tried, shall be grappled to fresh fleece with hoops of steel.
In the border I call the Dye Garden, an edging line of Rudbeckia has only a few of last year's leaves to show they are still living.  The Dyer's Chamomile plants have fresh growth showing. Since they proved prone to aphid attacks, I have tied together a bundle of Lycestra stems, hoping this will entice ladybirds to set up home close by. Some think this is a mad idea, but who knows? Worth a whirl, it could protect my green girls, unsifted in such perilous circumstance. When the summer air is ablaze with tiny red wings, the doubters will stop pointing and laughing and stand amazed at my foresight.  
Whatever.  This above all, to thine own self be true. Exit left, pursued by a slug.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Apple Bark Dyed Wool and Green Ginger Shopping Bag Crochet Pattern

A green fuse is running through the garden. Buds are exploding on the almond tree. Inspecting my new apple maiden whips, not much is happening yet. The wind was the force that tore down the fence, blasting the old apple tree roots.  
Safe behind the new garden wall, the young apples should sprout laterals, given time.  Apple bark can be peeled off cut timber, soaked in a bucket of cold water for a week, then simmered for a couple of hours to make a dye bath.  The wool does not need to be mordanted beforehand, because the tannins in the bark itself will make the dye bind.  I can take a pretty photo next to the daffodil shoots, but the resulting colour is undeniably beige.  Which is probably why a large quantity of durable, chunky Welsh Crossbreed wool yarn has been sitting in a basket for a very long time.
The balls are not so utterly dull.  I dyed yarn in two batches, kept one third of each the simple bark beige, gave another third half an hour simmer in an iron afterbath and the final third got half an hour in a copper afterbath. The iron takes the colour toward green, though my camera seems to miss picking out some of the green spectrum.  The copper brings up the ginger.  I already know these colours are stable, minimal fading since the day they came out of the bath.

What youth I have left is bent by the wintry fever, aching for spring.  A clear out to make space for fresh projects is the order of the season.  This yarn is hard wearing, but inelastic, heavy and harsh to handle, particularly after iron or copper afterbaths. Stiff as my sinews.  Got to transform it into something with a bit of give.

Here is the crochet pattern for a shopping bag I have called Green Ginger.  

Green Ginger Shopping Bag Crochet Pattern


Durable chunky yarn (8wpi) in three colours
Green 270m, Ginger 200m, Beige 200m 
670m total (this yarn weighed 1g/m so 670g)
7mm, 5mm and 3mm crochet hooks
Darning needle to weave in ends.

Tension and Final Size

In Three Colour Tweed Pattern, 13 stitches and 14 rows measure 10cm square
Final bag is approximately 33cm high, 28cm wide and 12cm deep when empty.

Front and Back Panels with 7mm hook

First starting row - in colour A, chain 42, turn
Second starting row - 1 dc into second chain from hook (1 chain, dc into second chain along first starting row) - repeat this to the end of the starting chain row.

From here on, use each colour yarn for a new row in turn, carrying the yarn of each colour up the sides of the work when it is needed again.

Row 1 Chain 1, 1 dc into first dc (1 dc round next chain space, 1 chain) repeat to last 2 stitches, 1 dc into final chain space, 1 dc into final dc, turn 
Row 2 Chain 1, 1 dc into first dc (1 chain, 1 dc round next chain space) repeat to last stitch and dc into last dc, turn

Work 28 rows.  On row 29, make gap for pocket by working first 7 stitches as Row 1, then chain 27, then complete last 7 stitches of Row 1.  On row 30, continue pattern across loose chain.

Work another 20 rows and fasten off yarn, weaving in the cut ends of all three colours.

To make the pocket lining, turn work upside down with the wrong side facing you.  Keeping the same colour sequence as the rest of the piece, working from the 27 chain stitch loose edge, crochet rows in the same pattern as above, until the pocket is as deep as you want.  Crochet or sew the lining to the wrong side of the work.  In the photo, my pocket lining changes colour, as I used up scraps of the same yarn from another dye bath.

Sides and Base with 7mm Hook

Take the beige yarn and make one dc through the top stitch of the left edge of one panel and make one dc round each open space, which occurs on every other row.  This will pull the edge in a little as the new row comes up shorter than the edge.  When you reach the last stitch on this side, dc into it, turn the work 90 degrees and dc into the same place.  Carry on along the bottom edge, working 1dc around each chain space, turn and come up the right side in the same way.  Flip the whole piece over and work back to the beginning of this row at the left top, making one dc into each dc.  As you work, let these new dc rows stand up at right angles to the back of the front panel. Change to the ginger yarn and make two more dc rows.  Carry the beige across the top edge of the side and make two more dc rows.  Carry the ginger yarn across and make one dc row.  Fasten off and weave in the ends.

Do the same to the other panel, but this time, do not cut the ginger yarn.  Holding the two side edges together, push the crochet hook through the middle of the first stitch on the other panel, then through the first stitch on the panel where the ginger yarn is attached and draw through a loop.  Push the hook through the next pair of matching stitches and draw up a loop of ginger yarn from the back.  Join each matching stitch in this way, so the two pieces are joined to make a bag.  

Continuing with the ginger yarn, make one dc into each chain space all around the top of the bag.  Being shorter than the tweed pattern, this row will draw the top edge in somewhat.

Handles made with 5mm hook and attached with 3mm hook.

To make a thick, dense cord that will not stretch too much, use a 5mm hook, make a loop and chain 5 stitches, joining the last to the starting loop with a slip stitch.  Chain 1. Work one dc into each of the five chain stitches then carry on working from the inside of the spiral, making one dc into the dc below.  Carry on til the cord measures 130cm and fasten off.  Make another one the same.

To attach each handle, hold one end of a cord against the middle of the bottom edge of one panel, at the line where it is joined to the base stitches.  Draw a loop of ginger yarn up from inside the bag by pushing a smaller, 3mm crochet hook through an outer thread of the cord and through a chain space on the body of the bag. Push the hook through another outer thread of the cord, through the next space 
along on the bag and draw the ginger yarn up from inside. Fasten off at the opening of the bag. Bring the other end of the cord round in a circle, to touch the fixed end. Work back in the opposite direction.  Sew the two ends together to complete the circle and neaten the join at the base. 

I took it shopping today.  I am satisfied that this yarn is robust and the crochet fabric is stretchy enough to make it capacious.  The pockets make it easy to retrieve purse and keys, no fishing around down the bottom.  They are also big enough to hold things I don't want squashed.
The sides of the bag draw in when it is empty, making it neat to have over my shoulder, but will concertina out as I hoped.  

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, hooks my Green Ginger.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Wet Felting Alpaca and other Fibres

This is a first anniversary for Wool Tribulations. Old posts are now project records that I can find without storming about the place, turning out drawers.  Publishing them has exceeded my hopes, connecting me with the crafting world.  I gave up on becoming a writer decades ago, after one too many magazine rejection slips. To my pleasure, over 30,000 page views tell me that, if not exactly an author, I have readers.  On the blog, I feel in good company.  At home, they still think I am out of my tree.   
It has been a good year, uneven handspinning and the dreaded beige dyes included.  Part of the reward of working with wool and plant dyes is meditative. At another level, it provides interconnectedness with the women of prehistory and the present life of my patch of the earth. Renate Hiller expresses beautifully deeper thoughts I struggle towards.     

So, here I am, glad to be writing about such a magnificent obsession. To mark the occasion, I return to the subject of my first ever blog, making a wet felted bag. Same as last March, I have some fleece left over from a big project.  This time, it is alpaca.  Have a look at this video on felting from raw fleece.  How encouraging is that? 

Cheryl says dirt and vegetable matter will come out during the felting process.  Her alpaca is brown and looks fluffy.  Mine only looks fawn because of the dust and some tips are welded together.  Much as I like her cheerful confidence, I'm not so sanguine this would end up clean or layer out evenly.  I am going to apply a lesson learned first time round, when a tide of filthy water squashed out as I rolled raw wool.  
First, 50g of alpaca fleece had a soak in warm water with a squirt of washing up liquid, to get the worst of the dust out and soften the grubby tips.  Once it had dried, I flicked open the locks with a stiff dog brush.  Pile of fluff, water spray and soap and bubble wrap - with the bubbles facing up. All I need now is BG.
Despite me extolling the virtues of wool work, while I can contentedly comb, card and spin for hours, rolling wet felt does not float my boat.  When we made a felt hat together, designing it was a laugh and taking turns made felting tolerable.  Here are BG's hands feeling for thin spots in our two layers of alpaca, laid out just like the video.  Once they were wetted, soaped and flattened, we added a variety of fibres dyed with woad, plus a bit of white silk.
Although Cheryl didn't fret about this for her loose design, we wanted our swirls to stay in place. Putting a piece of net over the fibres and rubbing in little circles ought to fix the pattern before rolling.  How we rolled.  And rolled.  And had a cup of tea, and rolled.

It is quite true that alpaca felts much faster than wool.  Cheryl did say her wool decorations would felt differently, adding interest.  I can now add that as you would expect, the woad dyed alpaca felts on readily, as does Polwarth fleece. Silk binds on pretty well. Dorset Poll fleece tends to stay as a fuzz on top and the Gotland curls, though they look so dramatic, are a total pain.

After nearly an hour of rubbing and rolling, we gave the fabric a hot soak and a cold rinse or two.  Lots of dirt came out, so Cheryl is probably right about not bothering to wash raw alpaca first.  Half an hour for tea and a fag break gave the fabric a chance to dry on the radiator.  Then we sat it on a foam pillow and used felting needles to stab the loose bits in better, using extra dry fibres to fasten down stray bits of Gotland and patch up some thin, weak areas.  

Not a bad evening's work, looks pretty, but the base alpaca fabric did not feel strong. Watching the video again, Cheryl actually says she would use four to six layers for a bag.  Will I ever pay proper attention to the instructions?

BG had a roll of iron on fabric bond in the cupboard.  I had a piece of cambric cotton dyed in the remnant of a woad vat a couple of years ago.  Our felt was substantial enough to make a bag once glued to this as backing. Another useful stash item was this ball of Gotland and silk blend handspinning, partially dipped in a woad vat last summer.  

I made the bag up today, tomorrow I will take its photo in natural light.  In a strip of double crochet five stitches wide on a 4mm needle, the yarn was just long enough to make sides and a handle for the bag.  I left the long edges of the felt unbonded, so as to be able to sew the crochet strip through felt and backing without jamming the needle.  Yes, I have done that before.  

Last year's felt bag was named Troglodyte, for looking like something that lived in a cave. This year's bag is more of a river creature, so I shall name it Cyane, after the nymph legend says dissolved in her own tears. The Troglodyte still lurks at home, but Cyane is off to be a twentieth birthday present.  

Happy Anniversary!