Friday, 26 October 2018

More About Dye Prints from Coloured Autumn Leaves

My companion, Elinor Gotland, kicked her way through a large pile of leaves. 
"I think it's time you swept this patio, Beaut."
I squinted up at the sunlight pouring through the bare grape vines.
"Hmm, well, it does look like the leaves have nearly all fallen now." 
As I racked my brain for an excuse not to fetch the broom, autumn leaf prints came to mind.
"Ooo, Elinor, remember those scarves I printed for you last month, when these red vine leaves were fresh? Well, I kept them in a shoe box to cure, hoping four week's delay would help fix the colour, but when I washed them yesterday, the pink mostly turned to green."

"Hah, bet you used washing powder and the alkali modified the leaf dye colour."
"No, really, I used pH neutral wool wash liquid. I think the anthocyanin dyes have to have an acid environment to stay pink or purple, even plain water raises their pH too much."
Elinor studied a scarf.
"Well, the leaf prints that were darkest still have a moody purple in them and the green is quite nice anyway, but it won't match my new outfit. Sort it out, would you, I'm off to London this afternoon."
"Sorry, can't oblige. I did tell you that colour wouldn't last."
"Oh, get a grip, Beaut. Just soak the scarf in vinegar - no, make that lemon juice, I don't want to smell like a chip shop."

Rather to my surprise, the green prints shifted back toward red within seconds of soaking in a bowl of hot water with the juice of one lemon. 
I think the vine that has the black grapes and red autumn leaves is called Vitis vinifera purpurea. I may have masses of leaves to sweep up, but I don't regret not dyeing more scarves with them. The anthocyanin colours are generally too fickle, I can't tell customers always to rinse them in lemon juice. Apart from whichI shall have to wait and see if this purple has any better lightfastness than the berry dyes. Maybe dipping the leaves in iron before steaming will have helped.

All this musing on the instability of anthocyanin dyes set me off on a minor panic. In September, I also printed several scarves with smoke bush leaves (Cotinus). Once the leaves had turned from dark green to deep purple, I found they made blue prints when dipped in dilute iron solution and steamed in a bundle. Since the blue did not shift or disappear when washed in the machine at 30 degrees Centigrade with pH neutral detergent, I took a couple to sell in Crafts by the Sea. The scarves don't get full sun all day, like things in the window, but the shop is bright, as it faces straight out onto the coast and the sunset views can be spectacular. Over the years, I've found my display area has provided a fair test of lightfastness, because sales in the shop are rarely brisk. Sod's Law, a couple of the smoke bush printed scarves had already been sold, so it was with some anxiety that I took the remaining one back down from its hanger to compare it with another I'd brought from home, which had been sitting inside a shoe box.

I am pleased and relieved and maybe a bit surprised to report that although blue plant dyes (apart from indigo) are notorious for fading to grey, six weeks in a well lit room had not diminished the blue from smoke bush prints. Individual leaf prints do vary in depth of colour, but overall, there's nothing to choose between the two scarves. The one on the left has been on display, the one on the right has been in the shoe box. Looking critically at the deep blue flower prints, I do think they have faded slightly. You may not believe this, but those flower prints come from a species of coreopsis. I picked up a couple of little plants in a garden centre some time last summer, and I wish I'd kept a note of the name.
I've never had enough flowers all at once to make a dye bath, but since the plants have carried on flowering through the autumn, I've been adding a few now and then to my steamed leaf print bundles. Unlike all the other types of coreopsis I've grown, which print orange to bronze colours, this kind gives an orange centre surrounded by blue petals. It's quite a small plant, only 20cm tall at best. I must save some seeds, though probably they will have been cross pollinated with the other kinds of coreopsis in the garden. I was thinking, that'll be a bit of excitement, seeing what grows next year, only I didn't get much peace to savour the anticipation.
"Hurry up and iron that scarf, Beaut. I need to be off in five minutes or I'll miss my train." My companion tapped her hoof and strode up and down the kitchen while I set up the ironing board. "Don't stand there gawping, get on with it."
"Just look at this, Elinor!"
I was astonished once again. 

Not only had the vine leaf prints gone back to pink and purple, the acid from the lemons had turned the blue coreopsis petal prints purple too.
"Yes, yes, fair play, well done." Disdaining even to look at the green one, my companion grabbed the acid rinsed scarf and disappeared out the front door in a pink swirl of lemon scented silk satin.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Shorelines Shawl Collar Cardigan Knitting Pattern

The Shorelines Shawl Collar Cardigan was designed to make the best of a perennial problem I have with plant dyed yarn. I can never dye a big enough batch in one go to knit a sweater or cardigan in a single, even colour. If all my yarn won't fit in one dye bath, I've found that how that however careful I am with weights of plant material, temperature of simmering and time in the pot, I can never match the exact colour I got last time. Even commercial producers using synthetic dyes can't repeat colours exactly. If you accidentally bought balls of yarn labelled as coming from different dye lots, this pattern might also work for you.
I started with a 1kg cone of 1000m chunky superwash merino and tussah silk blend yarn from World of Wool. Not cheap, but it takes up plant dyes well, the silk adding lustre and drape to a round bodied yarn, constructed in three plies. Divided into ten 100g skeins, I did my best to dye eight of them the same mid blue.

After repeated dips in two Japanese Indigo leaf vats, inevitably, all eight ended up slightly different colours. The two darkest skeins were intentionally dyed deeper for the trim. For the rest, rather than have blocks of knitting jumping from one shade to the next, I started with the two mid blues that were deepest and palest and knitted this cardigan in two row stripes of each. When a ball ran out, I carried on with the next nearest shade, ending up with a gradient of diminishing mid blue contrasts. The sleeves were knitted both at the same time, working with the same yarn from either end of a centre pull ball, to keep the colour changes matching. The sleeves were knitted flat then seamed, because trying to make jogless joins for stripes knitted in the round does my head in.

Shorelines Shawl Collar Cardigan Knitting Pattern


1000m chunky yarn - 200m contrast and 800m main colour (I had 90m left over)
4.5mm and 5.5mm needles - I used a long circular cord
4 stitch markers
Darning needle for sewing up and weaving in ends
5 buttons ~ 2cm diameter


After washing and smoothing flat to dry, 10cm squared = 14.5 stitches and 18 rows in stocking stitch. Using the yarn described, washing slightly increased the size of my swatch in both length and width, rather than shrinking it a bit - I suppose that's what 'superwash' yarn treatment does.

Size of Finished Item

One size 
108cm bust
(which fits me - 102cm chest/40" bust)
45cm sleeve
(I like the option to turn up tthe cuff)

k = knit
k2tog = knit 2 stitches together
M1L = make 1 stitch angled left
M1R = make 1 stitch angled right
p = purl
PM = place marker
RS = right side
sl1, K1, psso = slip as if to purl, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over the stitch just knitted
SM slip marker
st = stitch
w&t = wrap yarn around needle and turn to work back in the other direction
WS = wrong side
yo = wrap yarn over needle before working next stitch


Using 4.5mm needle and contrast colour, cast on 143 st
(WS) Row One   P1, *P1, K1* repeat from * to * to last two st, P2
(RS) Row Two    K1, *K1, P1* repeat from * to * to last two st, K2
Work this pattern for 9 rows to make ribbed edging, ending on a WS row.

Change to 5.5mm needle and main colour and work in stocking stitch until piece measures 40cm ending on a WS row. If you are making stripes, change colour every two rows, carrying yarn up alongside fabric edge. Leave st on needle with yarn still attached.

SLEEVES (Work two)
Using 4.5mm needle and contrast colour, cast on 33 st
(WS) Row One   P1, *P1, K1* repeat to last two st, P2
(RS) Row Two    K1, *K1, P1* repeat to last two st, K2
Work this pattern for 9 rows to make ribbed cuff, ending on a WS row.

Change to 5.5mm needle and main colour and work in stocking stitch for 8 rows, ending on a WS row. If you are making stripes, change colour every two rows, carrying yarn up alongside fabric edge.
Sleeve Increase Row   K1, M1L, K to last 2 st, M1R, K1
Work increase row on ninth row and every following tenth row until you have 49 stitches on the needle. Continue working stocking stitch until sleeve measures 45cm. Place first two stitches and last two stitches on safety pins, cut yarn allowing an end for weaving in and leave remaining 45 st on needle.

Starting with a RS row on 5.5mm needles, knit 34st across body, place 4st on a safety pin and PM. Knit the 45st of one sleeve and PM. Knit 67st across body, place 4st on a safety pin and PM. Knit the 45st of the other sleeve and PM. Knit the remaining 34st of the body. (225st)
Purl back across all st, slipping markers.

Decrease Row for Neck and Yoke
K1, K2tog (neck decrease) *K to 3st before marker sl1, K1, psso, k1, SM, k2tog, K to 2 st before marker, K1, sl1, psso, SM, K1, K2tog* repeat from * to *, K to 3st before end, K1, sl1, psso (neck decrease), K1
Purl back across all st, slipping markers.
Repeat these two rows 9 times in total (135st)

Decrease Row for Yoke only
*K to 3st before marker sl1, K1, psso, k1, SM, k2tog, K to 2 st before marker, sl1, K1, psso, SM, K1, K2tog* repeat from * to *, K to end
Purl back across all st, slipping markers.
Repeat these two rows 12 times in total (39st)

Final decrease row
K1, Sl1, K1, psso, K1, remove marker, K2tog, K1, SM, K1, K2tog, K19, sl1, K1, psso, K1, remove marker, K1, sl1, K1, psso, remove marker, K1, K2tog, K1 (33st)
Purl back across all st, slipping 1 remaining marker and leave st on needle.


Using 4.5mm needle and the contrast colour yarn, with RS facing, starting at the bottom of the right front edge and working through the spaces between the first and second columns of stitches, pick up one st through the first four row interspaces, miss a space, continue picking up 4st from every 5 rows up the front, along the neck angle and up the straight edge of the neck, knit the first 5 live st from the needle, SM, K28, pick up 4st from every 5 rows of the straight edge of the neck, from the angled edge of the neck and from the left front edge.

First Row (WS) P1, *K1, P1* repeat from * to * until you reach the marker. Remove marker. If you just made a purl stitch, w&t now, if you just made a knit stitch, P1, w&t.
Second Row (RS) *K1, P1* repeat from * to * for 24 st, w&t

Short Rows for Collar
Working in the established rib pattern, when you reach the wrapped yarn, knit it together with the next stitch, P1, w&t. Repeat this for 28 short rows.

Next Row
Working in the established rib pattern, when you reach the wrapped yarn, knit it together with the next stitch, then continue P1, K1 rib to the end of the row at the bottom of the right front.

Next Row
Working in the established rib pattern, when you reach the wrapped yarn, knit it together with the next stitch, then continue P1, K1 rib to the end of the row at the bottom of the left front.

Work in rib for 3 full length rows

Buttonhole Row (RS) Work 3 st in rib, yo, sl1,K1, psso *work in rib for 12st, yo, sl1, K1, psso* repeat from * to * three more times to make 5 buttonholes, continue working in rib to end.

Change to Main Colour. Work 5 rows in rib, then cast off in rib, working more loosely around the edge of the collar to let the knitting fan out.

Graft together using Kitchener Stitch the four safety pinned stitches from the sleeve with the four stitches from the body at each underarm. Sew up the sleeve seams. Weave in all loose ends. Sew five buttons onto the left front edging in alignment with the buttonholes.

Notes to self - If I make another, think about making it sit on the hip rather than below it - maybe 10cm shorter in the body, and narrower around the hips with increases to reach this circumference above the waist, add in pockets like the ones in the Regeneration Jacket and make the shawl collar bigger by continuing with more short rows encompassing all the stitches of the neck. Would need 300g contrast and 700g main colour - hopefully ...

Friday, 12 October 2018

A Welsh Mule Fleece for Britspin

My companion, Elinor Gotland, looked up in surprise when she heard the car turn into the drive.
"That was quick. I thought you'd be bound to get lost on the mountain."

"Well, I nearly was. When the thing on my phone told me I had 'reached my destination', I just stopped in the middle of the lane to climb up for a look over the hedge and as luck would have it, the farmer came past in a four by four and told me where to find the track to the house."
Elinor looked at the mud splattered car.
"Rough going was it?"
"Not as rough as the fleeces." I shut the boot and carried a large bag into the garden. "When somebody is kind enough to ring up after shearing and offer me a gift, I know it would be too rude to say no, but going through that wool sack this morning was an odoriferous experience. Beautiful views from the shed, though."
"Let's have a look at what you picked, then."
I unrolled a coloured Welsh Mule sheep fleece onto the lawn.

"I wondered about choosing a fleece that was practically cotted solid, to try making a rug, but then, right at the bottom of the sack, I found this. There's not much debris in it and I do like the colour. Thought I might use it to make a new handbag."
"Ooo, you're so ungrateful. This is a lovely open fleece. See how it stretches into windows." Elinor pulled out a lock and twanged it. "No breaks in the staple, fine fibres, tight crimp and maybe even a bit of a lustre. I'd say this ewe inherited some great Blue Faced Leicester qualities from her dad."
I circled the fleece, pulling off the shorter, rougher locks from round the edges.
"That's a brutal skirting you're giving that fleece, Beaut. It's not so long ago you thought every lock was precious. How times have changed."
"I might just spin it in the grease, make some rustic, chunky yarn."
My companion put down her hoof.
"Now that attitude is one thing that ought to change. This is a nice fleece and you are going to do it justice and prepare it properly. It can be your Britspin project."

First, the fleece was divided into three portions, put into three large net bags and soaked for 24 hours in the suint vat. Under the watchful eye of my companion, the dirty water was spun out in the spin dryer and each bag was soaked for ten minutes in a bucket of hot soapy water and given three hot rinses.
"There, now that didn't take too long, did it?" It wasn't the washing that took the time so much as fluffing up all the locks while laying them out to dry.
"If you tweak all the tips to open the locks while they're damp, it'll be much quicker when you come to put them through the drum carder. Hurry up now, this weather is so hot the wool will be dry in no time."
I was inwardly cursing Elinor long before I'd finished, though the cloud of washed wool did have some pretty shades of grey.
No sooner had the fleece dried than my companion was hauling out the David Barnett drum carder.
"It's weeks to go til Britspin begins and I'm not sure I want to spin from batts. Anyway, I prefer doing the prep as I go along."
"Britspin is a spinning competition all about yardage. I can't have you letting the team down, spinning at a snail's pace and stopping every whipstitch to make more rolags. This is a marvellous fleece munching machine and you've barely used it since you bought it. Get on with it, card one batt every day and they'll soon pile up."
So I teased out locks, laid them out on Diligent Dave's intray and turned his handle over and over again.
For a while, it was quite interesting watching the wiggly fibres get caught by the little teeth and stretched out over the drum, and rather satisfying to peel off another puffy batt.
Then it got dull.
"I might be going off grey, after all, now, Elinor."
"Put some of the fleece in your next indigo vat. You were only saying lately how well the blue overdyes grey."
"Ooo, good plan."
"Yes, and you can put some silk in the vat too, ready for blending with the second carding."
"What? Since when was I carding this lot twice?"
"Since we decided you would do this properly."
I'm not sure how democratic that decision was, but I made a start, tearing the softest batts into strips, thinning them out and feeding them back onto Dave the Drum Carder. Adding little strips of loose silk fibres didn't go well. The straight, smooth fibres seemed to become more clumped up than blended.
"Put them underneath the wool in the tray, you numpty. That way they get pressed onto the teeth on the big drum." 

By Wednesday night, I had blended six batts of the best wool with silk and four of the roughest, shortest fibred batts with some ramie, to increase strength. The rest had only been carded once, but too late to fuss, Britspin was about to begin. Yesterday was Day One and by midnight, I had spun and plied all the silk blended batts and wound the yarn into skeins.
My companion looked impressed.
"You've spun about quarter of those batts already. Well done, you might even manage the whole fleece by Sunday night. What length did you manage?"
"Is that all? Let me see the yarn."
"It's 2 ply, so I can multiply that length by two and actually, by three, to have credit for the plying."
"Just look at this big fat yarn! No wonder you spun so much of the wool. How much does it weigh?"
"About 150g. All that work doing the prep, can't believe the entire fleece is only going to be about 500g."
"You should have spun it fingering weight and longdraw, Beaut. What ever were you thinking?" Elinor rolled her eyes. "Bet the girls won't be too thrilled with your performance."

"I haven't seen you spinning any vast mileage. What's your contribution to the glory of Team Wriggly's Twisterellas going to be?"
"I shall be taking part in the photo competition."
"'Spinning in an Unusual Place'? Are you flying off to some exotic location for a photo shoot?"
Elinor settled herself more comfortably into her armchair.
"I think I shall be entering a picture for the 'Individual Spinner Relaxing' category."

Wednesday 17 October - Results 

Here's the finished fleece
Elinor looks as if she's lost a shilling and found sixpence...

Friday, 5 October 2018

2019 Calendar - Twelve Months of Plant Dyes - Now Sold Out

The 2019 Calendar Twelve Months of Plant Dyes is now Sold Out.

One thousand copies were printed.
Thanks very much to everyone who bought one.

'Each month, this calendar shows off a natural source of plant dye, together with a method for extracting and using its colour. From March onwards, the pages also include advice on growing your own dye plants, harvesting them and saving seeds for next year. 
The calendar starts with the easiest dyes and simplest processes, building up your skills with the idea of learning by doing. Follow the monthly projects and come the end of the year, you will have practiced many of the basic methods and tried a good few of the fancier techniques of plant dyeing.'
My companion, Elinor Gotland, sat at the table reading out loud the introductory page of my new plant dye calendar. I waited while she pushed her specs back up her nose and took a sip of tea.
'Well, at least you finished writing it in time for 2019, Beaut. To be honest, I'd given up hope.'
I leaned across to flip up a proper page.
'See how nice it looks, though. I wanted the 2019 calendar to be better than the one I made for 2017. Lovelier pictures, clearer instructions in a smoother learning structure, all put together to make twelve of the finest pages anyone could have hanging on their wall.'
Elinor sniffed.
'Handsome is as handsome does. I remember you howling with your head in the wastepaper basket when you realised some of the information in your first Calendar was wrong.' She sighed and sat back. 'Maybe it's a mercy you didn't rush this one, but taking two years, for twelve pages of work? It's hardly "War and Peace."'
'Wasn't just me working on this. I owe a debt of thanks to everyone who gave me feedback on the 2017 Calendar. It did take all of 2017 to do the original growing and dyeing projects again myself and I've improved some and cut out others entirely. This year, I needed to double check other dye plants and techniques to make some fresh pages.'
'Hope you've added a bit more zing to the 2019 Calendar. Logwood and safflower?'
'Not my bag, Elinor. All the plants are still ones you can forage or grow in the UK. I've broadened the colour range though, this new version includes growing madder roots for red dye and woad or Japanese Indigo plants for blues. Plus there's ivy, tree leaf and berry dyes.' 
I tapped the calendar. 'Go on, read some more, you'll see the 2019 Calendar is streets ahead of the old one.'
Elinor flicked through the pages to December.  
'Nice hat. And fair play, the printer has done a great job. Real quality finish, much better than your home printed original.'
I lifted the calendar out of her hooves and hugged it to my chest.

'The thrummed knitting pattern for the hat will be my first blog this December. It looks great on my daughter, in fact, I'm delighted with how the whole calendar has come out. Deciding to give the job to a printing company with FSC accreditation and environmental impact certification hasn't meant sacrificing a first rate end product. Even the envelopes I've bought are 100% recycled.'

'So, how many calendars did you have printed?'
'Three hundred.'
My companion looked at me.
'You've nailed your plant dyed colours to the mast this time, then, Beaut.' 
She poured a slug of sloe gin into my tea and raised her own cup. 
'Fair play. Best of luck selling them.'