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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. 


  1. Wow, it may not have been quite how you envisaged it, but it looks stunning.

    1. Thanks - it is so nice when things come out better than I expected.

  2. The colors of your yarns are just gorgeous. I love the muted shades of gray into blue, into green...simply beautiful! And perfect in your shawl.

    1. I was really disappointed with the first few skeins, heart in boots about the whole project. Only bashed on because at least it wasn't beige ... :)

  3. Love this pattern - went straight into my Rav faves. Can't wait for my hollyhocks to flower, hopefully this year.

    1. Only a few of my autumn sown ones made it through the slugs and the wet and now I cannot remember which seeds they came from. If they flower this year, it will be fun to find out what I've got. Must do some well labelled spring sowing soon, ready for next year.