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: 
 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 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

See this post for an improved method I developed in 2018