Saturday, 16 February 2019

Exhausting a Silver Birch Bark Dye Bath

Though I know silver birch bark contains enough colour to dye an equal weight of fibre, I prefer to start with twice as much bark, so as to be sure of a deep pink result. After peeling 600g bark off a fallen birch branch, I planned to dye 300g yarn. 


The peelings were left to ferment for a week in a bucket of water, then simmered for an hour or so and left overnight. The process of fermentation had reduced the pH of the dye bath to a fairly acidic pH 5, so I added enough dissolved soda ash to bring it up to neutral pH 7 before simmering my scoured yarn for an hour. After soaking overnight, the yarn came out a nice deep pink and the dye bath was still so dark I could barely see the peeled bark floating around at the bottom of the pot. Retesting with indicator paper later that day, it seemed that the bark must still be fermenting despite having been simmered, as the pH had dropped again. Over the next five days, I kept adding a little more soda ash to keep the pH neutral and dyeing successive batches of scoured yarn by simmering for an hour and leaving them in the pot for an overnight soak. By the time the dye bath was giving only palest pink, the original 600g bark had dyed 1.4 kg of fibres - some of them shown in the photo above.


The fluid still looked dark. Nonetheless, I feel clear the dye bath is exhausted - or possibly, vice versa.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Red Onion Skin Dye On White, Grey and Alum Mordanted Yarn

"More onion dyes, Beaut?" My companion heaved a sigh. "Whatever could you want more ginger wool for? Thinking of knitting yourself a uniform and joining the Brownie Guides?"
"This week, I want to try dyeing white and grey wool with red onion skins. I expect red onions won't give me ginger so much as plain brown wool - which might do for a Brownie cardigan, except I'm just that little bit too old and I think my niece is in the Rainbow Guides."
"Never seen any brown on a Rainbow, Beaut. Brown is just a muddy old mixture and brown overdyed on grey wool will be as dull as ditchwater. Why don't you mordant this yarn with alum? They say alum makes red onion dye turn green."
One of the great things about onion skin dyeing is that you don't need to mordant your fibres beforehand to get strong and lightfast colour. Dye things well in the first place and I've found onion skin dyes only fade much if they have to be washed. Still, I had to agree this experiment would be more interesting if I divided my three balls of yarn into two skeins and mordanted one of each with alum, before dyeing all the skeins in the same dye pot.


To extract the dye, 80g red onion skins were boiled in water for an hour or so and left in the pot overnight. The six skeins, weighing 150g in total, were simmered in the dye bath for a couple of hours. Big disappointment when I fished them out next day.
"Overdyeing grey yarn with red onion skins may have given me dull and predictably darker browns, but I might as well not have bothered with the alum mordant. There's barely a hint of green to be seen."
"You probably did the mordanting wrong. Wouldn't be the first time, would it, Beaut?"
"I did my best. Three of those skeins had an hour simmering in a 10% alum solution and then 24 hours to soak afterwards."
"You wouldn't have reused that alum solution that's been sitting on the patio for weeks?"
"So what if I did?"
My companion wandered off sighing and tutting under her breath. I don't usually store mordant solutions for more than a few days, but I've heard people say they keep theirs indefinitely. Though perhaps not outdoors in the snow.


I did actually have some of the same white DROPS Alaska yarn that I accidentally mordanted with 15% alum, ages ago. A 50g skein went into the red onion skin afterbath for a simmer. Result next day was quite definitely green, so poor mordanting must have been the problem previously. Remind me not to bother keeping used alum solution hanging about.

Looking at my onion skin dyes of 2019, after all that experimenting, my companion pointed out that both the brown and the red onion skin colours look nicer on white than grey wool. 

"Still, the alum mordanted skein from the red onion bath makes me think green and ginger brown colours could go well together. Instead of dyeing the last few balls of this wool with bark like I planned, I might wait for the trees to come into leaf. Greenish yellow leaf dyes should come out well if I'm overdyeing grey yarns."
"Yes, Beaut. So long as you mordant them properly."

Friday, 1 February 2019

Knitting Modular by Melissa Leapman - Review

In January this year, Storey Publishing released Melissa Leapman's latest book and posted a review copy to me. 
My companion, Elinor Gotland, watched me unwrap the parcel at the kitchen table.
"What's this one about, then? Mmmm, 'Knitting Modular Shawls, Wraps and Stoles.' Not the punchiest title, Beaut." 
I grabbed the book back and read the opening pages.
"The title tells us what we're getting. Looks like a 'module' is a triangle of knitting, Part One shows how to fit the triangles together with edges and borders in order to knit all sorts of shapes of shawls, wraps and stoles."
Turning the pages, I was soon drawn in to examining the written patterns, charts and photos of knitted triangles. Sitting back with a sigh, I found my tea had gone cold.
"When you consider that there are 185 stitch patterns in here, this one book must contain an infinite number of shawl recipes. Not that I need another shawl, of course."

My companion offered me the last flapjack on the plate.
"Don't fight it, Beaut. You may not need one, but you're no more likely to resist those shawl patterns than you are this biscuit."
I tried not to get crumbs on the book as I studied the Seven Steps to Shawl Success described in Part One.
1. Choose a Silhouette 
2. Choose a Stitch Pattern 
3. Choose a Background Texture 
4. Choose an Edging 
5. Choose a Cast On Tab 
6. Choose a Border 
7. Choose a Bind Off
Part Two forms the main body of the book, expanding upon the practical construction of all seven steps, with fully illustrated instructions for knitting different edges, wedges, horizontal and vertical insertions and lower borders. It is all clearly written in an encouraging, informal style; easy reading which soon gave me confidence I'd be able to put together a whole shawl pattern myself. 
If only I could get past  Step One. 
"Truth be told, Elinor, I don't really fancy any of the shawl silhouettes. Long, narrow crescent shawl shapes appeal to me much more and you can't make one of those out of triangular modules."
My companion tapped a hoof on the description of how to sew four wedges together to make a long, paralellogram shaped wrap.
"You don't have to start knitting all your wedges at the same time with spine stitches in between. If you decide to knit them separately and then sew them together, there's nothing to stop you using a dozen little triangles to make a scarf." 
"Ooo, brilliant idea. I can try out lots of these lovely stitch patterns and it won't matter if I use different coloured yarns. I'll knit one triangle every evening." That proved a bit optimistic. It took a ridiculous amount of titting about with tabs and edgings before I realised all I needed to do to knit a single triangle was to cast on three stitches and start straight in on any of the wedge patterns.
Although all my triangles were in the same brand of double knitting yarn and all were 60 rows deep, knitted on 4mm needles, the various stitch patterns pulled in or spread out the fabric, making their finished dimensions look quite different. Happily, washing and blocking did equal them all out once I was finished.
There's a quick reference index on the right hand margin of each page, showing the number of stitches in the pattern repeat featured. I chose whichever pattern appealed most from the wide selection of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 stitch multiples. Though I struggled to keep a two stitch pattern right, it was actually easier to see where I was when knitting the higher stitch multiples.
Whether geometric, bobbled or lacey in style, once blocked, each 60 row triangle measured about 20cm deep and 35cm long. I didn't realise they would turn out quite so wide when I decided to join ten together to make a cowl. Keeping the live stitches of five triangles on each of two circular cords, I crocheted all the sloping edges together to form a continuous loop.
Although following the triangle patterns had gone smoothly, I got stuck with perpendicular border 177. I kept finishing the repeat one stitch short to start the next :( 
The deeper perpendicular border options knitted up fine, but were going to need far more yarn than the scraps I had left. In the end I gave up and borrowed a narrow perpendicular border from a free shawl pattern online.
For other technical help, the glossary at the back of the book was excellent. It's not just a list of terms, it has drawings and descriptions of each stage of each stitch. I thought I already knew the basic ssk decrease, lucky I just checked, as Melissa describes another way of doing it for a neater finish.
The Ten Triangle Cowl is long enough to loop three times around my neck and yes, it's a right hodge podge of styles, but I like it. The yarn was all plant dyed with weld or meadowsweet on white or grey wool and I think the colours are comfortable together. All in all, I'm delighted to own Melissa Leapman's book. As I remarked to my companion on our walk today, it's going to be a wonderful resource for future projects.
"I might sew four triangles together to make a cushion, or knit all 118 triangle stitch patterns and crochet them up into a big throw or a blanket."
"Easy, tiger. It's taken you all month to finish that cowl. Which is yet another ill planned item that has come out far too big."
"Perfect timing for this snow, though. And there's room for two in here, if you like."


Elinor and I continued on our way through the frosted fields.
"I think knitting modular is a brilliant concept, it's got so much potential."
"I was right about the title though, Beaut. Too short to do the book justice. Should have been 'Knitting Modular Shawls, Wraps, Stoles, Scarves, Cowls, Cushions, Throws, Blankets and Probably More.'

ISBN 9781612129969
Hardcover Price £23.99 also available as an ebook.