Friday, 28 December 2018

On the Origin of Sheep Fleeces by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

My companion, Elinor Gotland, put her teacup into the sink.

"That was a good Christmas, Beaut. Now the last visitors have gone, we can spend the weekend cleaning the house and sorting out the recycling, then start on our New Year's resolutions."
Scooping up another armful of torn wrapping paper, I discovered an open box of chocolates and helped myself. 
"This is not the time for good resolutions, Elinor. When the days grow short, it's human nature to eat, drink and be merry. I'll bet cave women just sat by their fires on long, dark evenings like these, telling stories, passing round the nibbles and doing their knitting."
Squirting washing up liquid into the running water, Elinor handed me a tea towel. 
"Knitting was only invented a couple of hundred years ago and anyway, back when people lived in caves, sheep didn't grow wool. Stop eating sweets and start drying up."
I waved an empty gin bottle at her.
"You really expect me to believe prehistoric sheep were bald? What exactly do you think happened - once upon a time, in a country far, far away, the first woolly lamb was born?" 
My companion passed me a wet plate.
"Pretty much, yes. The country was Mesopotamia and the time was about 6,000 years ago, which may not be perfectly exact, but archaeologists don’t dig up many woolly jumpers for carbon dating. Judging by fragments that have survived, and ancient statues, bones, pictures and carvings in stone, it seems likely that farmers have been keeping sheep and goats for at least 10,000 years, only, 10,000 years ago, sheep had coats made up of mixed hairs, more like goats.  Some of those ancient, wool-free types still exist, you know. All year round, Ovis Musimon looks much like a sheep that has just been very neatly shorn."

By Doronenko - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

I can think of some farmers round here who'd like a flock of Ovis Musimon. That would save them the trouble of shearing, having wool sacks stuffing up the barn until the Wool Marketing Board collect them and then waiting months to be paid about £2 a fleece."

My companion brandished a well scrubbed baking tray, sprinkling me with soapy water.
"And what would happen to those poor sheep out on the mountain? A fleece offers a considerable survival advantage at night, at altitude and in winter." My companion sighed. "I can't deny that today, the financial value of wool has plummeted, but prehistoric people in Mesopotamia had the sense to realise how incredibly important that first woolly lamb was to their survival, as well as their sheep." She paused to smooth a stray lock back from her face and twirled it round her hoof. "People have been spinning for at least 26,000 years. Long before wool existed, plant fibres were being twisted together to make cord and spun into thread for weaving cloth. Six thousand years ago, somebody in Mesopotamia – probably a woman who knew all about spinning plant fibres – looked at the wool that was shed by those odd, fuzzy sheep and thought to herself, I could spin that."
"Wouldn't she have had to shear the fleece?"
"Most unlikely. Older breeds of sheep alive today still grow a mixture of wool and hair, and they moult to shed their fleece in summer.  You know about ‘the rise’ - even modern breeds get a weakening of growth in their locks during late May or June. A wise farmer only rings to book the shearers when she sees the rise on her flock, because it's so much quicker and easier to clip than trying to chop through the strong growth from winter."

I nodded. I've seen the rise myself and the thinning within the fleece is quite dramatic. In early summer, modern breeds of sheep in Wales wander about with bare patches, where clumps of their wool have got caught on brambles and broken off at the rise.
"So, you're saying, back in Mesopotamia, the first woolly sheep probably moulted all their wool in summer and some clever woman picked it up from the pastures and decided to try spinning the fibres on her spindle?"
"Seems plausible to me, Beaut. You've tried spinning flax into linen thread, didn't go well, did it? I imagine our skilled, prehistoric plant spinner would have found wool was much easier."
As I polished a bundle of damp cutlery, I gave this idea a bit of thought. 

Locks of Wool and Fibres from Nettle Stems
The surface of wool is covered with tiny scales that interlock closely when you twist the fibres - they hold together instead of slithering apart. Unlike smooth, straight plant fibres, locks of wool are wiggly, they have ‘crimp’. The crimp in wool puffs up again after spinning, giving it body. Tiny spaces in between the wiggly, twisted wool fibres trap air, making the yarn lightweight, insulating and stretchy. It’s not a lot of good having rope or sewing thread that is bulky and elastic, but it’s much more comfortable to wear socks and jumpers with a bit of give in them, much warmer to wear clothes that hug your body and still let you move freely. 

By the time all the knives and forks were put back in the drawer, I was feeling quite excited. 
"Just think how pleased that Mesopotamian woman must have been when she realised how quickly she could spin wool compared to plant fibres and what potential her wool yarn had for making a different kind of fabric."
"Wool would have been Prehistoric high tech. Super new wool survival suits for the mountaineer. Next millenium's 'must have' tribal fashion. The ancient Mesopotamians went on to breed their wooliest sheep together and developed bigger and better flocks."
"So, how and when did wool bearing sheep get to Wales?"
Elinor pulled out the plug and watched the water drain away.
"Woolly sheep probably arrived here with Bronze Age immigrants about 4,000 years ago. But their journey is an epic tale for another time. A time when this house is tidy. Get the hoover out, Beaut."

Friday, 21 December 2018

Midwinterwol - A Dutch Festival of Fibre

As BG and I approached the first stall at Midwinterwol, I wished I had made the effort to learn at least a few words of Dutch. Not that we had any blank or reproachful looks, time and again, exhibitors, traders and other visitors smiled away my apologies and greeted us in English.
Many were surprised we even knew about their fibre festival and curious as to why we had travelled all the way from Wales to the north of Holland. In truth, the trip was inspired by our friend Jill Shepherd, aka Wrigglefingers, who is the small spinning teacher pictured here attempting to hide behind a silk handkerchief. Jill has been leading workshops at Midwinterwol for some years and earlier in 2018, tried to explain to us why she keeps returning to the town of Winschoten, how lovely the Dutch people are and what great fun this national event is, though it isn't run on the epic scale of Wonderwool Wales. Recklessly abandoning our Christmas preparations, BG and I decided to pack our bags, leave home and find out for ourselves.

The journey looked daunting, but the Dutch rail system was very easy to navigate. Arriving late on Friday night, the comfortable and exceptionally friendly Hotel Royal York was immediately opposite the station with a vintage bus service laid on to take visitors to the Manege de Dollard, a complex of stables which has one big ring given over to the Midwinterwol festival. As we hovered in the entrance, though the show didn't look huge, it turned out to be packed with interest and the Saturday proved barely long enough for us to see everything.
There were raw fleeces and washed, carded batts of wool from Dutch breeds of sheep. Zwartbles and Texel were familiar, as there are flocks living in the UK, others were completely strange. Happily, the traders were small farm producers keen to share their understanding of the breeds, well informed about handspinning the fleece and generous with their knowledge.
As well as several stalls selling raw, carded, handspun and millspun Dutch alpaca yarn, I met three of the most charming and sympathetic alpacas who ever toured a showground. Despite the miserable state of sterling, prices in euros were very reasonable and it would have been rude to go home without buying some deliciously fluffy alpaca in at least a couple of natural colours.
There were weavers and felters aplenty, showing and selling looms, bags, hats and braidwork. 
I bought considerable quantities of indie dyed silk and wool tops with a view to making more wet felted soaps and needlefelted fairies. Maria was busy demonstrating weaving yet still made time in her break to explain how she had felted her fabulous boots.
It was cold enough in the stables to make her layers of woollen footwear very wise, so cold in fact, that BG and I had to pop in for regular cups of coffee by the fire. Then eat chips with mayonnaise for lunch. Back into the fray of the show ring, I shopped for three skeins of Pelsuld yarn, spun from the summer wool of lustrous Gotland sheep.
The natural, multi-toned grey Gotland base made these purple and green skeins sing out to me. Hand painted porcelain stitch markers from Spolletjes were obviously the perfect souvenir of our trip to Holland. Chatting away about life in the UK while I tried to decide whether to choose a design of windmills or tulips, the maker let me buy one packet, then gave me the other as a gift.
Such extraordinary generosity of spirit did not end with the show. On Sunday, new friends and fellow wool enthusiasts Joop and Riet drove us out to see a Dickensian Christmas Market in the nearby town of Beerte. Snow had fallen as if on cue, a choir sang carols, we ate hot apple doughnuts and shopped for round Oldampt cheeses and smoked eels.
On Monday, BG and I just about managed to drag our bulging suitcases on and off the trains back to Amsterdam Centraal Station, taking a quick look at the Christmas lights before the last leg of our journey home. I have now learned a few words of Dutch, ready for Midwinterwol 2019 - dank je veel.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Knitting the Thrumdrum Hat in Other Sizes and as a Thrumdrum Helix Hat

Last week, I posted the Thrumdrum Hat Pattern for an average-sized adult head measuring 55 to 58cm.
To fit snugly, beanie type hats need to be stretched a little, they should be made 2-5cm smaller than the wearer's head. Given these few centimetres leeway, exact sizing is not as critical as it would be for a fitted cardigan.
To make a large hat to fit head sizes up to 61cm, simply increase the needle size to 5mm and work the four rounds of pattern repeat for the body of the hat eight times instead of six times. 
This hat is knit in handspun chunky and as well as being generally larger, its fabric is slightly looser than one made on a 4.5mm needle, which makes it stretchier, though not quite as warm and windproof.
Changing the thickness of the yarn from chunky down to DROPS Alaska aran wool and knitting a hat on 5mm needles, the circumference comes out about 57cm, just barely larger than knitting the average size in chunky yarn on 4.5mm needles. However, because the aran fabric is considerably stretchier than the chunky, this hat will also fit a larger head. A DROPS Aran hat knitted on 4.5mm needles will fit a small adult or teenage head.

In order to make a child's hat, I used the same DROPS Alaska yarn on 4mm needles. It measures 52cm externally, and remembering that the inner layer of thrums reduces the internal diameter, it would fit head sizes from 52-55cm for children 5 to 10 years old. These thrums were stripped from a multicoloured braid of acid dyed wool tops that had already started to felt itself, though I did manage to tease enough fibres out of the tops to spin sufficient yarn to make a matching pompom.
'Aran' includes quite a range of absolute yarn thickness. To make a baby's hat with 3.5mm needles on a 40cm circular cord, I chose a less bulky aran than DROPS - this is World of Wool Merino/Silk Aran dyed with silver birch bark. The baby sized hat took just under 50g (80m) of yarn and measures 45cm externally.
It would be easy to change the pattern for the brim of this hat to ribbing and work in the round from the very start, simple to increase the length of the body by working extra rounds of the pattern, to add tassels or pompoms to the top or even to wear it inside out, showing off the wild flurry of thrums. I hope people will like the Thrumdrum hat enough to adapt to the pattern for their own yarns and their own preferences.
One thing you might consider is using up small balls of different coloured yarn to knit the hat in a helix. Starting with the first round of the body of the hat, you could knit twenty stitches in each of four colours and create a helix, following the instructions for the Humdrum Helix Hat as well as adding thrums as given in the Thrumdrum Hat Pattern. 
This hat was knitted as a thrummed helix in chunky yarn using eight shades of silver birch bark dye. So many colours and so many hats - no prizes for guessing what my family will be getting for Christmas this year.

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Thrumdrum Hat Pattern

This is the Thrumdrum Hat, which features on the December page of the 2019 Calendar, Twelve Months of Plant Dyes

All the wool was mordanted with alum beforehand. The yarn was first dyed yellow with ivy leaves, then modified to green with copper.
Thrumming is a method for incorporating short strips of wool 'tops' into ordinary knitted stitches.
To avoid felting the fibres, the tops were solar dyed in jars of Coreopsis and Dyers Chamomile flowers, the dye modified with iron by putting a bit of rusty metal in the bottom of one of the jars 
Tops are unspun, combed wool fibres which can be handspun or felted. Used as thrums, they add texture, pattern and contrast to the fabric surface. On the inside of the knitting, shown here, the tails of the thrums make a thick, puffy layer, forming a loose wool lining which traps air and makes this hat exceptionally warm.
Adult Size Hat Measurements

External circumference of finished hat = 56cm, though the interior circumference is made smaller by the thickness of the thrums. This size fits head circumferences of 55-58cm. 
The hat is designed to sit just over the tops of the ears, so if you prefer a hat that covers your ears, add an extra four or eight rounds of the thrum pattern repeat, remembering you will need a bit more yarn and tops. 

100m Chunky yarn (typically about 100g)
50g Wool tops
4.5mm circular needle on a 50 or 60cm cord
8 stitch markers
Large darning needle

10cm squared = 14 stitches and 22 rows in stocking stitch

Yarn suggestions - I have plant dyed and knitted this hat with 100% British Wool Chunky from Woolbothy sold on eBay (yarn described in this post) and also using World of Wool Merino Superwash/Tussah Silk Chunky Weight (yarn described in this post) as well as in handspun 2 ply chunky yarn.

k = knit
k2tog = knit two stitches together
sl1k1psso = slip 1 stitch as if to knit, knit 1 and then use the left needle to lift the slipped stitch over the knit stitch and off the needle - this occurs in the crown pattern when a reduction includes a thrummed stitch and it ensures that the thrum will end up facing the right way.
st = stitch
thr = thrum

Tops and Thrumming

Choosing Tops 
Undyed natural wool tops are cheap to buy online. You will find wool is available from many different breeds of sheep - the ubiquitous Merino is a safe bet for making thrums with soft puffiness and good felting, for those who prefer a little British character, Blue Faced Leicester is a sound choice on both counts, Shetland sheep's wool also felts well and can be lovely, but its softness may be... variable.

If the yarn you are using has colour changes or is flamboyantly variegated, plain white thrums can draw everything together without making the final effect too busy. I made this hat using remnants of indigo dyed, chunky yarn left over from knitting the Shorelines Shawl Collar Cardigan, which were all in different shades of blue.

If you don't plan to dye your own tops and you do want coloured thrums, you could choose tops from coloured sheep - varieties of rather fuzzy natural Shetland wools are shown on this hat. I love both the high quality and the dyed colour range of the tops sold by John Arbon. For a gorgeous display of thrums, treat yourself to a space dyed, multicoloured braid of tops from an Indie Dyer - my favourite supplier is HillTop Cloud
Making Thrums 
Suppose your length of tops weighing 50g was about two metres long. The individual fibres will probably be about 10cm long and the whole length can easily be pulled apart into ten sections each about 20cm long, so long as you leave a gap between your hands of more than 10cm while pulling. The idea is not to break individual fibres, but to let them slip apart against each other. What appears to be a sausage shaped section of fibres can then be teased out into a flatter sheet, which can be separated in half and then half again and so forth. Thrums are made by peeling apart a thin strip of fibres 20cm long, then bending each end to the centre and folding the whole thing in half, so the finished thrum is roughly 5cm long. The thickness of the finished, fourfold thrum should be comparable to the thickness of the yarn, but your thrums can be fatter or thinner, so long as you don't run out of tops. The whole hat will need 320 thrums and 50g should be far more than enough, so in this example of 50g tops being two metres long, you would be aiming to get a minimum of 32 strips out of each 20cm section. Making them all in advance would be a chore, I'd suggest dealing with each section of tops as and when you need more thrums.

Knitting Thrums 
When the pattern says 'thr', make a normal knit stitch with the yarn, but before pulling the new stitch through the loop and off the left needle, take a thrum, lay it on top of the working yarn and bend it round so that you can pinch the two ends together behind the left needle. Use the left needle to complete the stitch as usual, pulling both the yarn and the thrum through the loop together. The following round will be plain knitting and although the thrum and the yarn appear to sit next to each other on the needle, the twist caused by knitting through them both together from right to left in the usual way will cause the thrum to sit in front of the yarn on the right side of the fabric. Each time you come to a thrummed stitch on the left needle, put the right needle through the loop of both yarn and thrum, complete the stitch as usual, then give a little tug to the two ends of the thrum at the back, helping it to sit snugly on the front of the fabric. 

The Thrumdrum Hat Pattern

For instructions on making large and small adult, child and baby sizes, read this post.

Cast on 80 stitches - the long tail method is ideal for achieving a firm, elastic edge.
Knit 12 rows back and forth making six garter stitch ridges.
Place a stitch marker and join to work in the round. Purl two rounds. Knit one round.

Round 1 (k3, thr) repeat to end of round
Round 2 k
Round 3 k1, thr, (k3, thr) repeat to last 2 stitches, k2
Round 4 k

Repeat these four rounds a total of six times.

Round 1 (k3, thr) repeat to end of round
Round 2 k
Round 3 k5, thr, (k3, thr) repeat 3 times, *k7, thr, (k3, thr) repeat 3 times* repeat from * to * three times, k2
Round 4 (k2tog, k8, place a stitch marker) repeat to end of round [72 st]
The stitch markers are optional, if you use them, instead of having to count stitches, they will show you when you should be making a reduction in all the following alternate rounds.
Round 5 k2, thr, (k3, thr, k6, thr, k6, thr) repeat 3 times, k3, thr, k6, thr, k4
Round 6 (k2tog, k7) repeat to end of round [64 st]
Round 7 k3, thr, (k3, thr, k5, thr, k5, thr) repeat 3 times, k3, thr, k5, thr, k2
Round 8 (k2tog, k6) repeat to end of round [56 st]
Round 9 thr, (k3, thr, k4, thr, k4, thr) repeat 3 times, k3, thr, k4, thr, k4
Round 10 (sl1k1psso, k5, k2tog, k5) repeat to end of round [48 st]
Round 11 k5, thr, (k3, thr, k7, thr) repeat 3 times, k3, thr, k2
Round 12 (k2tog, k4) repeat to end of round [40 st]
Round 13 (thr, k9) repeat to end of round
Round 14 (sl1k1psso, k3, k2tog, k3) repeat to end of round [32 st]
Round 15 k3, thr, (k7, thr) repeat 3 times, k4
Round 16 (k2tog, k2) repeat to end of round [24 st]
Round 17 (k5, thr) repeat to end of round
Round 18 (k2tog, k1) repeat to end of round removing markers [16 st]

Cut the yarn to 20cm, threading the tail onto a darning needle. Thread the yarn through the remaining 16 st, remove the circular needle, pull tight and fasten off securely. Sew in loose end.
Use the cast on yarn tail to sew the short edges of the brim together to close the circle.
Turn the cast on edge up inside the hat, so that the brim encloses the tails of the lowest 2 rounds of thrums. Tack loosely into position against the inside of the fabric.
Once the hat is washed, the thrums will become felted, which fixes them securely in place.

Phew - a very long blog ends. Next week, I will post instructions for different sizes of Thrumdrum Hat using other yarns and how to make a Thrumdrum Helix Hat.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Filoplume Shawl by Bex Hopkins - A Review

A Tale of Two Filoplumes.

Hearing the hoofsteps of my companion, Elinor Gotland, I clicked off the Ravelry page and opened my email. She leaned over my shoulder.
"Can't fool me, Beaut. You've been looking at shawl patterns again, haven't you?"
I stopped pretending to renew the car insurance.
"I haven't knitted a shawl for ages and all my friends are talking about the new designs. Really, I'm just trying to use up my stash - there's a couple of variegated skeins of yarn just crying out to become something lovely."
Elinor was unmoved.
"You don't need another shawl."
"I'm thinking of Christmas presents."
A remorseless hoof prodded me toward the kitchen.
"You've already given at least one shawl to every woman you know who would wear one and several who wouldn't. Anyway, engage brain, think about your priorities for just one moment. Start doing beaded lace knitting now and it'll take you til Easter to finish. If you've got enough spare time for Christmas preparations, you can defrost this freezer." 

The worst thing about my companion is her good advice. Of course, I sneaked back to the computer later on, just to catch up with the gossip on Ravelry. When I saw that Bex had published a new shawl pattern called FiloplumeI was intrigued by its angled spine. And the name - a filoplume turns out to be kind of tufted feather, specialised for sensing a bird's flight speed and the wind direction. Donna had test knitted the shawl in a rainbow gradient as glorious as a peacock's tail display and it proved quite irresistible.  I pressed that 'Shop Now' button and Elinor arrived just in time for the printer to drop the pattern onto her head. She picked up the sheets of paper and gave me one of her 'disappointed but not surprised' looks.
"It's not lace, this one's an easy knit, Elinor, I'll have no trouble getting it done before the holidays." I sprinted upstairs to fetch my prettiest yarn.

Two false starts later, I wished I wasn't such an impulsive wool shopper.
"I might have to buy one of those cakes of gradient yarn, Elinor. This more subtly variegated skein just looks muddy in garter stitch ridges and the vibrant one I tried first was too lively all by itself. No-one could wear that much zing, I think I'll have to save it to be an accent on a solid background. Maybe I should buy some soft mid-grey."
"You are NOT buying any more yarn. What about all your handspun skeins, keeping them as a Christmas treat for the moths, are you?"
"A shawl has to be supersoft and luxurious. My spinning is mostly ... well, characterful yarn from British breeds of sheep."

"What about that cashmere you blended on a board years ago? That was lovely and soft. What became of that?"
"I spun it three ply, lace knitting is better with two ply."
"You said this wasn't a lace shawl."
"No, but I can't remember how much yardage there was in those balls of cashmere."
"That doesn't matter, look, the Filoplume pattern tells you how to weigh your yarn so you have exactly enough to finish the shape for any size of shawl."
"But it's BORING BEIGE yarn. I did start knitting with it years ago and lost the will to go on. It's all in a bag somewhere."
"Fetch it out and use it up."
"Ohhhh. This shawl will be small and dull and no fun at all. Is that ringing any bells, Elinor?"

The Filoplume pattern is well thought out and highly satisfying, as I said to my companion while showing off my progress.
"I love the nifty trick with two stitch markers that means you never have to count rows to find out when to make the increases and you can see at once where you've got to when you pick your knitting back up."
"Shame you've purled a row back there and spoiled the garter stitch."
"Oh, bugger." I stared at the flat line of the accidental stocking stitch row. "Actually, I think I'll do that again. With such a bland yarn, I can afford to vary the texture."

Even with smoother stripes, my mottled beige yarn wasn't going to highlight the construction, so I added a few garter stitch ridges in dark brown alpaca. Section one forms a symmetrically expanding arrowhead shape.

Here's where I had got to just after the weight of the yarn remaining told me I had to move on to section two of the pattern.
The finished item aka 'The Cashmaplume' had 15 increases in section one, the whole thing measures 140cm across the long side and weighs 116g. A few more stocking stitch stripes and alpaca ridges show how section two develops asymmetrically to resolve the shawl as an obtuse triangle.

"I'm so glad I decided to go with a neutral colourway."
Elinor did a double take. 
I went on. 
"You do realise I haven't knitted an undersized shawl, this is the ideal shape and length to be a rather classy, formal, cashmere men's scarf. Himself has already taken a fancy to wearing it under his coat. I think I'll knit another one for my brother. More casual, thicker and bigger, a scarf to wear with jeans and jumper. I'll use some of that double knitting merino yarn I dip dyed in an indigo vat last summer."

Here's The Indigoomaplume, modelled on the dogwalk, rather than the catwalk, knitted in dk on 4.5mm needles, 9 repeats in section one, 160cm long and weighing in at 150g.

I recommend the Filoplume pattern unreservedly, not just because I know Bex and she is lovely. Thanks to her, I have had fun knitting, got two Christmas presents sorted remarkably quickly and quite a bit of stash used up. I might even have to go wool shopping again soon. 

Friday, 23 November 2018

Liquidambar Leaf Contact Prints on Silk

For some years, I have pored over tantalising online images of fabric eco printed with Liquidambar leaves. I've never found any growing locally, and believe me, I've looked. Hard to miss, with those simple, five pointed leaf shapes and rich red autumn colours, a Liquidambar would stand out among the yellow and brown Welsh woodlands. The tree is an American native, also known as a sweetgum. In its natural habitat it can grow 50m tall. 
When I planted the one in this picture, my companion, Elinor Gotland, feared her days of sunbathing on the back lawn would soon be over.
"You want your head read, Beaut. That tree will overshadow the neighbourhood, never mind the garden."
"Chill your beans, Elinor. This variety is called Gum Ball and it won't grow more than a couple of metres high."
She gave me a sceptical look.
"That's what you said about the clematis that took over the back of the house. What's that stuff you're putting down the planting hole? Don't go feeding it too much manure."
"It's ericaceous soil. I'm digging it in to acidify our alkaline clay earth. Acid conditions will help the leaves develop a good autumn colour."
"One little bag of the ericaceous stuff will be about as much use as lace knickers on a frosty night. You'll never shift the pH of that whole border."
I stopped to lean on my spade.
"You start saving all your used tea bags and we'll have a cubic metre of acid mulch by Christmas."

The Gum Ball survived a wet and bitter cold winter and this autumn, the display of leaf colour has been a tribute to Elinor's capacity for tea drinking. I have been picking a few leaves for contact printing by rolling them up on plant dyed cloth with an iron blanket and steaming (details of method here) and found my home grown leaves do make decent iron blanket prints, clearly outlined and often filled with their own dye colour in a pink, brown or purple shade. This photo shows a couple of their five pointed leaf shapes on a silk scarf previously dyed a pale yellowy green in an ivy leaf dye bath.
Where they really stand out dramatically from the other leaves is shown in the very dark prints they leave behind on the iron blanket. As deep as oak leaves, so perhaps Liquidambar contains a lot of tannin.

I decided to have a closer look at Liquidambar leaves by dipping them in dilute iron solution and printing with them by steaming in a roll of plain white silk. At the same time, I could try to find out how much their visible autumn colour predicted their dye print colour and compare their prints with sycamore leaves, which you can see lined up on the lower row on this alum mordanted silk scarf.

The iron dip enabled both kinds of leaf to print silhouettes with patterns of veins. After washing and ironing, I'd say the iron prints look more delicate from green leaves, deeper from leaves that have changed from green to yellow and deepest from the red ones.

Of course, the darkness of the iron does obscure any dye colours. I think the Liquidambar leaves which had developed red autumn colours did leave a pinker cast within the shades of grey. I've often noticed people talking about spraying on vinegar before ecoprinting fabric. Alright, yes, I do know vinegar is not a mordant, but I did think maybe its acidity might modify and enhance red anthocyanin dye from the leaves. Here are two scarves after printing and allowing a couple of weeks to cure before washing and ironing. The one on the right was soaked in white vinegar before printing, the one on the left was just soaked in plain water.

I'd say the vinegar increased the yellow halo, which I assume comes from leaf dye tracking through the damp silk during steaming. It does look as though vinegar did slightly deepen the pinkish brown colour from the red Liquidambar leaves. All in all, not fabulous results, I think I'll overdye these scarves with some flower prints next summer. Next autumn, I'll try a similar experiment using a iron blanket instead of dipping the leaves in iron solution. As Elinor Gotland pointed out, some of the old cotton sheet I've cut up to make iron blankets this autumn looks more attractive than the silk I'd hoped to print.