Friday, 19 April 2019

Dandelion Flower Dye - One Yellow, Three Greens

On the first of April I turned the page of my calendar to see a picture of dandelion dyes. The day was sunny and light of heart with the promise of spring, I grabbed a bag and set off for my usual hunting ground, a wide verge beside the A48. 
Sure enough, the grass was ablaze with dandelion flowers. I used to feel horribly self conscious crouching to pick them as fast as I could, imagining people driving past might consider me foolish. This year, that galvanising thought had barely occurred to me before the verge was stripped. Once I got home, I found I had only 700g of dandelions, rather less than the usual kilogramme.
I simmered the flowers for an hour and looked for some fibres to dye. This 200g of super chunky singles wool yarn from World of Wool was mordanted with alum a couple of years ago and has been lurking at the bottom of the basket because I've previously found the white Cheviot yarn didn't seem to take up much from plant dye baths.
The following day, the skeins of yarn were simmered in the dandelion dye bath for an hour and left to cool. The day after that, I hooked them out for a look at the result and my companion, Elinor Gotland, glanced up from doing her crossword.
"Of all the weeds in all of Wales, that is the most weedy yellow you've ever dyed, Beaut."
"Mmm, not enough sunshine yet, not enough dandelions and not the ideal yarn, either. Still, I've not given up hope. This dye bath has been fermenting for a couple of days, it's bound to be acidic. The colour will look better after a rinse in plain water."

Though my companion looked dubious, I wasn't wrong. The skein on the far left of this photo was simply rinsed and dried, the second was reheated in half the dye bath with a splash of iron solution before rinsing and the third was reheated with copper solution, which modifies colour best in an acidic environment. The fourth was originally the grey skein, proving once again that yellow + grey = green.
All four skeins were knitted into an entrelac bag which was felted in the washing machine with colour washing powder. I expected the alkaline powder to intensify the dandelion dye colours even further and I'd say the plain yellow, the grey base and the copper modified greens did get marginally stronger. One surprise, the iron modified skein shifted to a rather beige toned green variation, which hasn't happened before. 
I'd never claim to be astonished by beige, that just seems to be the default state for amateur natural dyers. I stared moodily at the beige sections of the bag.

My companion waved a hoof.
"Cheer up Chicken, it's Easter, the family are coming and it's time to hide chocolate in the garden."

Elinor will not be missing a trick from her eagle's nest. 
I suspect all my eggs may end up in one basket.

Friday, 12 April 2019

An Entrelac Tablet Cover

"Have you found the button to turn it on yet, Beaut?"
My companion, Elinor Gotland, always finds my technological ineptitude a source of great entertainment. I bought myself a tablet - absolute bargain - then was appalled to find there were no instructions in the box. Apparently, no-one needs such things these days, it's all 'intuitive'. Eventually, my 'intuition' had led me to search online for directions on how to charge the thing up. 
"Are you planning to write your blog on that tablet?"
"No." I blew my nose with a loud and snotty trumpeting sound. "It's first function is going to be carrying a powerpoint presentation to Gloucester. I've been invited to talk to the Guild there about dye plant gardening and I was really looking forward to it, only now I've got a filthy cold and I'm absolutely bloody dreading having to link this thing up to their projector."  
"Oh, go on with you. What could be easier? It'll be fine when you get there." Elinor positively skipped across to the kettle. "This is the perfect time for you to talk about growing dye plants. The green fuse has been lit, leaves are about to unfurl from the trees and seeds are bursting to germinate." 
I stopped tapping and swiping at the screen of the tablet and shoved it away.
"Feels to me like someone pressed 'pause' on the Spring. That cold East wind is still blowing and I've been rained and hailed on once too often this week. My throat is sore and my head's in the shed. I want to write my blog on the computer, but I've lost the bit of paper with my notes on the knitting pattern for this entrelac tablet cover. What's more, I didn't even remember to take many photos."
My companion passed me a mug of lemon and ginger tea and a box of tissues.
"See what you can remember. The pattern will have to be 'intuitive'. You can always google 'entrelac' if you want to make another."

Materials - four 50g skeins of handspun Shetland wool, high twist, chain plied somewhere between double knitting and worsted weight, dyed with madder, weld and meadowsweet.
3.5mm and 4mm circular needles with a long cord, darning needle for sewing in ends.
Fabric to line the case, needle and thread and two buttons.

Cable cast on 60 stitches loosely on 3.5mm needles. Knit six entrelac base triangles each 10 stitches wide. Changing colour for each row, knit seven rows of entrelac rectangles, then finish with a row of bind off triangles.
I-cord will shrink more in the wash than entrelac fabric. Change up to 4mm needles and pick up 11 stitches from each of the 10 stitch triangles and three extra stitches at each corner. Cable cast on three more stitches and knit an i-cord bind off to edge the entrelac. To make button hole loops, on one of the short sides, knit three added rows of free i-cord at two of the rectangle points.

To felt the fabric, put the piece through a hot cycle in the washing machine and pin it out flat to dry. Cut a piece of material 2cm wider and longer than the knitting, turn back a hem all round and sew it against the inside edge of the i-cord on the wrong side.

Fold the piece into a envelope with a flap, sew the icord edges of the pocket together and set in two buttons in line with the button loops on the flap.

"Ah, brilliant, completely brilliant."
"You've cheered up, Beaut."
"Sally rang me from the Guild. She only knows how to work their projector from her laptop and wondered if I'd mind bringing my presentation on a memory stick. I can stop fussing about with this tablet. All my worries are over."
"Not quite, Beaut. You'll be wanting to crochet a cover for the memory stick before you go."

Friday, 5 April 2019

Plant Dye Greeting Cards with Free Seeds

Delighted to introduce these dye plant cards, which come with gardening instructions and free seeds. 

Now available here if you'd like one to send to a friend who'd enjoy natural dyeing.

A sharp East wind kept me out of the garden this week. Thanks to an equally sharp prod from my companion, Elinor Gotland, I have braced myself, got to grips with html coding and set up a Dye Plant Card Shop Page. As well as the gardeners' choices, there are three cards in a 'Live Fast, Dye Young' series; simple instructions are written on the back with a view to encouraging beginners to try natural dyeing. 

Here's how the online card shop began ...

Rain poured off the greenhouse roof while inside I gently dripped water onto my dye plant seedlings. My companion,Elinor Gotland, sauntered along the workbench inspecting the trays. 
"Looking good, Beaut. What are you going to do with all the extra seeds you saved last autumn? Seems a shame they'll never have their moment in the sun. Assuming we ever get any."

"I'm giving little seed packets away free with every dye plant greetings card I sell at Crafts by the Sea. Advice on sowing, growing and harvesting the plants is written on the back of the cards and people round here seem to be taking to the idea of dye plant gardening. Even so, I've got far more seeds than will ever get planted in local gardens."
"You should try selling those cards online. Send free seeds all over the country."
That idea pleased me very much. So I've set up the online card shop and will see what happens.
Meanwhile, back in Ogmore by Sea ...

A pan of onion skin dye has taken up residence in Crafts by the Sea's kitchen and so far, no eggs have been broken by the kids who come to try their hand at printing small leaves onto eggs. My companion was impressed with the instructions on the Egg Printing card.
"Fair play, you've cornered the market for Easter Cards with this one, Beaut."
"Actually, I think fluffy chicks are still the Craft Shop's best seller."

Elinor looked up from her reading.
"Do you think silver birch bark dye is really suitable for beginners?"
"Well, it does need a dedicated pot for dyeing, but no mordant is needed and I've found I can get away without any heavy duty scouring, just soaking my fibres before dyeing . Plus it makes a lovely looking card."

"True, but Cath's art looks even more gorgeous. Her Dye Garden painting has printed out like a jewel box."
"I went to the same printer as did the Dye Plant Calendar for me last year. FSC Accredited and Environmental Impact Certified and still achieving that lustrous, glowing, quality finish."
Elinor put down the card and moved on.
"What on earth persuaded you to make these two?"
"Oh. The poetry cards. Sentimental, I know. Those are the poems that come to mind whenever I walk in those woods by Merthyr Mawr or Dunraven Walled Garden."

Elinor looked at me askance. 
"Surely I can't be the only one who likes a poetic kind of thing?"
"Mmm, well, you're going to find out the hard way." 
My companion had reached the last card.
"Speckled Face Beulah sheep? When you could have had a glamorous Gotland in your photo?" 
My blood ran cold, how to explain that away? 

"Elinor, don't you see, you are of course the 'Missing Ewe'.

To buy any of these cards, click 


to get to the Card Shop page.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Red Onion Skin Dye Colours Modified with Alkali

"The onion skin bag turned out alright, didn't it Beaut? No need for all that doom and gloom." 
drank my tea and admired its colours, all warm and autumnal in the Spring sunshine.
"Oh, I always thought I'd get there in the end." 
My companion lit her cigarette and blew smoke rings into the green air.
"You didn't look too confident to me. Only a couple of days ago, I recall you sobbing and moaning and threatening to fall upon your own knitting needles."
"Well, it was a struggle. I'm not sure I'd try this method again."
In the absence of a long colour change yarn, I had decided to knit entrelac using a load of 25g skeins I'd dyed with brown onion skins and red onion skins. My intention was to work each square to give the appearance of one colour weaving under and over the next. Which meant an awful lot of ends to sew in.
Instead of casting on for the entrelac, where I've found it hard to make the initial edge sufficiently loose, my other great idea was to knit a strip of cable to become the gusset and the handle. Then I began by picking up stitches for the entrelac from one side . First problem was over-enthusiastically making too many starting triangles and having to unpick the edges of the top ones back off the gusset.
Second problem was the lumpiness of joining entrelac cast off triangles along the bottom edge, which I did by picking up a stitch from the gusset at the end of alternate rows and purling three together, instead of two. Third problem was making the joins of each triangle along the opposite side equal in length to the cast on triangles - it should have been straightforward, picking up one stitch from every other row of the gusset, only somehow, it wasn't, and had to be frogged and reknitted, repeatedly holding the two sides together to check they were equal.
Knitting the front of the bag, it was easier to copy the spacing. I planned an i-cord edging to finish the entrelac panels and for once in my life, I did knit and edge a swatch, which was intended to become an inside pocket. In the wash, the i-cord shrunk more than entrelac, so I learnt to pick up nine stitches across each of my eight stitch triangles and add three stitches for going round corners.

A more unexpected lesson of felting the swatch was finding out how significantly the colours of the red onion dyes would shift when washed with colour washing powder. I know washing powder is alkaline, but when felting, I prefer to use it even with plant dyes because I believe the roughening caused by alkali helps wool fibres felt better than simple hot water and friction. However, I didn't anticipate much colour change. Previous experimentation with soaking brown onion dyed fibres in alkali solution hadn't modified the colours perceptibly. As you can see from the photo above, unlike the brown, the dyes from red onion skins did all shift toward yellow once the bag was exposed to alkaline washing powder.  Most obviously, the green wool, used for the i-cord edging, which had been alum mordanted before dyeing, had turned a rich orange yellow and the unmordanted, deep chocolate yarns had become more red. The various shades of ginger yarn, which had been dyed with brown onion skins, did not change nearly so much. Two kinds of onion, two kinds of dye.
"Mmm, I love the bag lining. Feels like suede."
"It's a remnant of that fabric Mum used to upholster my armchair. There's still some left. I might try another experiment with entrelac, see if I can knit a bag in a ball shape. Like that time when I accidentally joined the wrong edges of the squares together and the fabric curved round."
My companion explored the handbag, emerging from the inside pocket like a young marsupial.
"Like childbirth really, isn't it?" 
Thinking of kangaroos and joeys, I failed to make the right connection.
 Elinor waved a hoof. 
"Making up knitted bag patterns, Beaut. You forget all the pain soon as you have it on your arm."

Friday, 22 March 2019

Dyeing with Dried Madder Root

A shoe box full of dried madder has long awaited its moment of glory.
"Ooh, Elinor, it must be over a year since I dug these roots upI'm so pleased they haven't gone mouldy. Some gorgeous red yarn will really liven up my knitting."
"Fair play, Beaut, can't fault your optimism. Just bear in mind the last few madder vats. Considering your track record, I expect you'll end up moaning over balls of orangey brown wool."
Conveniently ignoring my companion and a store of less successful muddy orange fibres, I pulled out the best leftovers from my past madder dye sessions. Proof that blood red was possible, if not probable.
New shoots are already coming up from the plants in the garden, so I could as well have dug up some fresh material. I hoped my stored supplies would work better, since I've read that the dye gets stronger once roots have been dried out,. With 100g of yarn to dye, I decided 150g dried root would be a generous amount and guarantee me a strong red ... if I could get the method right.
My experience suggests that breaking down the roots at the beginning does help release their dye. Though I've spent ages slicing and macerating fresh roots, when I put these desiccated bits into a blender with the blade for chopping nuts, they buzzed down to a gritty powder within seconds. Which was great, til I remembered they hadn't been scalded yet.
Madder contains other dye colours as well as the red alizarin. Pouring boiling water on the roots and leaving them to soak for a few minutes quickly releases a considerable amount of dye. Since more of this is yellow than red, scalding can clear some of the orange tones. Sadly, if I'd decanted the fluid I'd poured over my buzzed up madder, I think I'd have lost half the powder.
I understand that alizarin red isn't easily soluble in water, so even though I hadn't managed to remove any of the yellow dye, I hoped leaving this bowlful on the underfloor heating in the bathroom for 24 hours before dyeing would at least get a better percentage of the red out of the roots and into the water. Next day, my dye bath looked dark brown.
It is said that bran will take brown dye out of a madder bath, so I put some rolled oats in a gauze bag and dropped them in the pot. Then I stirred up calcium carbonate in hot water and added that, since hard water is supposed to improve the red. Finally, I added enough soda ash to raise the pH to 8.
Alkaline conditions favour redness. The sample of the dye bath on the left is alkaline and I thought the acidic sample on the right did look less red, more scarlet. My best results so far have come from slow dyeing over five days without much heat, but I have also had disappointing results with the slow method, so heat and time aren't absolute factors. Anyway, I didn't want to hang about.
Adding warm water to the pot to float the first 50g skein of wool, I heated it on the gas to about 50 degrees Centigrade for an hour and left it to soak overnight. Next day, the pH had dropped back to neutral, probably because the roots were still fermenting in the bath. This yarn started out as a long colour change from white through grey and brown.

The white parts of the wool had become reddish, but not powerfully so. I think I actually prefer the brighter tone on the second skein, shown on the right, which was dyed in the afterbath under acidic conditions (I put a lemon in). Overdyeing madder red onto the brown and grey parts of the yarn does seem to have added interest, but the overall result is quite muted. All in all, despite my best efforts, I haven't achieved the rich blood red or bright scarlet I hoped for.

My companion joined me in the green house, where I was stolidly planting more madder seeds. She raised an eyebrow. 
"It'll be years before you get to reap what you're sowing in those pots."
"It'll be years before I've tried out all the different madder dye methods." I sighed. "Best guesses aren't getting me the best results, but there are so many variables to consider, I hardly know where to begin. Never mind when I shall reap these roots, the Grim Reaper may come for me before I manage to get all the elements just right." 
My companion chortled to herself, which I thought rather unkind.
"Talking of the Grim Reaper, this'll cheer you up, Beaut. They call my friend, Cleopatra Jones, 'The Quim Reaper'. She's a beautician, marvellous knack around the bikini area."

Friday, 15 March 2019

Spinning Shetland Wool Tops

My companion watched me stuff all my yarn back into hiding. Few balls were made of really tough, durable fibres and none of them had a long colour change. I knew that really, I'd just been checking. I sighed.
"How is it that I never own exactly the yarn I need?"
"Face it, Beaut, you're addicted to knitting those entrelac bags. No quick fix, if you want to make another one, you'll have to spin some of this wool first." 
Turning to my fleece stash, plenty of the raw wool looked hard wearing enough to become a bag, but I'd failed to get it washed while the sun shone last summer. I did find four bumps of combed Shetland wool tops in natural colours. Being coarser than I'd expected when I bought them online, these had been facing an uncertain future from under the bed.
Shetland sheep grow a wonderful range of coloured fleece and the tops were intended for making cosy thrums, only the hat I made with them turned out really itchy. On closer inspection, the white wool looked and felt considerably finer and softer than the other colours, the dark chocolate being next softest while the faun and grey felt properly hairy. OK for a bag though.

Spinning on a high ratio, I spun short forward draw with high twist, aiming for a dense, smooth yarn. After spinning a 20cm portion of one colour of tops, I tore off a short piece of another and blended it roughly with the first, just by splitting and drafting the two between my hands. The resulting single had the sort of long colour change I so enjoy knitting as entrelac.
It wasn't until I had chain plied the first bobbin that I noticed I'd also spun a long weight change. Watching the Six Nations Rugby on telly, it wasn't the exciting moments of the games that had affected my drafting, so much as the different qualities of the four Shetland tops. The coarser fibres had tended to run more thickly through my fingers and once three plied, that effect had been trebled.
The white sections of the yarn had turned out about double knitting weight, while the faun and grey were nearer aran. Even when paying greater attention while spinning the next bobbin, consciously aiming to draft all the colours equally, this intrinsic tendency of the fibres to do their own thing proved surprisingly hard to correct. After spinning four 50g skeins of irregular weight yarn, I was still fighting the tide.
"I've had it with spinning this Shetland, Elinor. I'm going to start knitting. There's enough yarn here for a small bag in sepia shades. Call it a rustic clutch."
"Which sounds like the last dance at the village hall, only less fun. You've been craving the thrill of entrelac colour play, don't give up now, mordant that yarn and make it fabulous."

I'm not sure how spectacular an uneven, natural coloured, tightly spun Shetland yarn can become, but I'm giving it my best shot. Never say dye.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Spinning a Durable, Long Colour Change Yarn from an Indie Dyed Braid

"This craft room looks like a bomb site, Beaut." 
My companion, Elinor Entrelac Gotland, stood in the doorway with a cup of tea in her outstretched hoof. Sitting back on my heels to reach for the cup, I managed to spill tea on a heap of plant dyed fleece. I winced and my companion shrugged. 
"To be honest, those colours look mouldy anyway. Tea could only improve them."
"Well, it's not the right wool to take on the Cronkhill spinning weekend. I want to spin tough yarn to make a firmly shaped bag and that Down type fleece would be too bouncy and elastic. This coreopsis-dyed Polwarth is a great colour, but much too soft." I opened another box and pulled out a handful of corkscrew locks. "If I combed some Wensleydale it would be strong and smooth, only this isn't dyed yet and I want to spin a long colour change yarn."
"How about these?" Elinor profferred two 100g braids of fibre dyed by HilltopCloud. I read the label.
"Oooh, perfect. A blend of Romney wool, silk and linen, all smooth, durable fibres and I love the colours. Is this what you'll be spinning at Cronkhill?"
"You can have it. I'm not coming, Beaut. Got a better offer."
I clutched the gorgeous braids of fibre, both delighted and baffled. What could be better than a weekend away with friends, spinning, drinking Damson Gin and nosing round Shrewsbury? Elinor started humming Calon Lan.
"Go on then, tell me."
"I've been given a ticket for the Six Nations Rugby. This Saturday, I'll be rubbing shoulders with Sam Warburton in the South Stand Lounge at the Principality Stadium, drinking champagne and watching Wales v England." 
I wasn't sure Elinor would be tall enough to rub shoulders with any of the players, but she was chuffed to bits and so was I. 

While the crowd were singing Hymns and Arias in Cardiff, I was sitting in an English farmhouse spinning short forward draw with high twist, drafting to and fro across the top of the braid to make my single transition as slowly as possible from one colour to the next. Chain plied with equally high twist, the yarn turned out smooth and as hard and inelastic as string. Although only aran weight, the grist was so high that 50g fibre made only 56m yarn. Somewhat to my chagrin, despite best efforts, the colour changes in the yarn were of only moderate length and muddier than the braid. On the upside, news of a convincing victory for Wales had me bouncing on the sofa, discommoding adjacent spinners.
It took my companion several days to recover from emotional exhaustion brought on by the rugby. Once she had her voice back, she asked to see what I'd done with her braids.
"Fair play, Beaut, that yarn is harder than JPR Williams. There'll be years of wear in that."
Knitted on 3.5mm needles to create a tight fabric, I think the six stitch squares of entrelac have given the best possible definition to the colour changes.
Using two inch jute upholstery webbing and the same construction method as for the first bag, yarn spun from the second braid was knitted into covers for the brim and the handles. I knew the bag was a success when I found Elinor packing it with her overnight things to fly up to Edinburgh. I'm led to believe that she's been invited to sing Ar Hyd Y Nos at tomorrow's game with the troubadour of Wales, Max Boyce.