Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Acorn Dyeing

Some years I wouldn't bother with acorns as a dye material because the English Oaks don't always produce much of a crop.  This year has been fairly good, and the acorns have been lying thickly on the ground in places so it made sense to scoop them up into my pocket whilst walking.

We have a couple of different species of oak in the UK mainland and Northern Ireland.  The oak is our great traditional tree. Most stately homes across the British Isles and Ireland, will have a few ancient oaks.  I have seen some that are said to be 800 years old. This one below is at the back of my house, it's just a young tree and the leaves are now dropping every day.

All parts of the oak tree are useful for dyeing with. Colours from leaves and bark range from buff to a mustard- brown/greeny - brown. Colours from the galls range from light to dark grey, and from the acorns they are in the mustard brown -to grey range. Technically you don't need to pre-mordant the fibre before dyeing because of the tannin, but in this instance, I have used pre-mordanted white Shetland tops, mordant used was alum.

 I weighed out 1.7 kilos of dried acorns. That is actually more than is shown in the above picture, only my container wouldn't hold them all. I don't often follow a 'recipe' for natural plant dyeing but a rule of thumb for many dye plants is at least twice the weight of dye material to fibre. In this case I was way over that. I used 1.7 kilos to dye 200grams of fibre, so that was 8x weight of dye material to fibre.  I do this kind of ratio quite often because I like to really get bold colours. There's nothing worse than going through all this work only to end up with such a pale buff colour you are hard pressed to know if it actually is dyed or not. I would  get a good depth of colour on the first dyeing and use the waste dye bath that the fibre doesn't take up to dye a second lighter batch.

So, into my very large stainless steel pot the acorns went, and I covered with soft water for a couple of days.  Usually I would crush them with a mallet and then add them to the water, but because they were dried, they were very hard, so my crushing of them had to be done after soaking. 

After a few days soaking, and a rough crush with the mallet, I simmered this pot for about 3 hours, very slowly over a low heat. This initial boiling is only in a few inches of water. The amount of water doesn't matter too much. Then I strained off the acorns, and re-simmered them in fresh water to extract more dye. I repeated this twice more until the water was coming clear. I do this with most natural dye plants, re-simmering to extract the last drop of colour. After they were completely exhausted of colour I added them to the compost heap. 

Below is a photo of some white Shetland tops being added to the dye bath. Usually it is best to soak the fibre before adding to the bath, but in this instance it made not a scrap of difference. I planned to soak it over night before adding any heat, and the fibre took up the water very readily. Before simmering, I made sure the fibre was all evenly soaked and then I simmered it low for about an hour.

I always find the next bit a wee bit tricky because although the colour of the fibre was dyed a nice chestnut colour, I wanted more depth, and something in the greeny/greyer shades.  The recognised method of getting dark grey, is to add iron. 

I'm not wildly enthusiastic about using iron on wool because it is harsh.  Last time I dyed with acorns I added a whole teaspoon of dissolved iron to the dye bath and got a really good deep grey, but this time I decided to use less iron.

 This quarter teaspoon was exactly what I used. This is being added to about a gallon of fluid in the dye pot. It's tricky because after dissolving the iron (use gloves and mask and dispose of spent fluids responsibly) in very hot water in a jam-jar, it needs to be added to the dye bath without messing up the fibre. You don't want to dump the concentrated iron solution straight onto fibre. As fibre can easily felt in a dye bath, I don't lift the fibre out, but instead I have a large scoop that I push the fibre to one side of the dye-pot with, and then gradually add the iron, mixing all the fluid in bit by bit before releasing the fibre back onto that side of the pot.  

I've taken the pot off the stove top each time and photographed outside to show true colours. The whole dye pot turns a dramatic inky dark brown - black when the iron is added. A further simmering of no more than 7 or 8 minutes has completed the process for me.  I could have added more iron, I could simmer for longer, but I'm very cautious about damaging fibre, and I was really pleased with this colour, so I stopped there.

 Another word of caution; the dye colour in the pot when the fibre is still wet is a darker colour from when it is rinsed and dried, as the photos below demonstrate.  Bear that in mind when you make your decisions about how long to simmer and how much iron to add. If you have to lift the fibre out, and rinse, and then return it to the pot to obtain more depth of colour, the manipulation of the fibre increases the risk of felting, so it's best to make a decision and stick with it. 

Photos taken on a very dull wet November day, one against a dark background, the other against white. Not sure either of these pics truly represent the colour I obtained, but hopefully they help. 

 'Its only grey- brown' I hear someone say.  Yes, it is, but with green under-tones, and a valuable additional colour for truly authentic Shetland and Norwegian knitting. This fibre now available on Etsy

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

More Norwegian Knitting

My latest Norwegian handknit pattern is taken from the book Nordic Knitting by Susanne Pagoldh. This is a collection of over 30 patterns, from Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Faroe Islands and more. I found my copy in a library sale 15 years ago for £1, but it's getting a little harder to find now, although I see a few copies on Amazon for slightly more money!

This is my second sweater using essentially the same pattern. See my other handknit using a very similar pattern in 'Gallery of Knitwear' which was dyed with onion skin dye (also pictured below). Susanne's patterns are very easy to mix and match, as she shows how to alter, modify and assemble to an individual size. My latest blue handknit is a pull over sweater, but the one below was cut up the front to make a jacket with an added double sided border.

These are both steeked handknit, on circular needles, sized 2.75mm (ribbing) and 3.5mm for the body of the garment. Knit in one piece, and the sleeves knit onto the garment with circular needles after cutting the arm opening steek. In these garments I have added underarm and side gussets for extra space. Usually I would continue the pattern on in the gusset, but in the case of the blue one I decided on a plain gusset.

This is an extra large sweater knitted for a very tall man, so there was a lot of knitting here!!

Yarn for this garment was brown/grey Bluefaced Leicester, which I hand carded out very smooth and spun worsted as a 2 ply yarn, to a '4ply' weight (UK). Basically that's about 30 stitches to 4". BFL can be hard to card, but this was soft and silky lambswool and although it took time, the softness of the fleece is worth the effort.

I overdyed my finished yarn with navy acid reactive dyes, which resulted in what I think is a rather nice French Navy.  The contrasting white yarn is hand spun Shetland, spun to the same weight as the BFL.

The ribbed sections of Norwegian handknits were usually done in blocks, 2x2 ribbing for about half an inch, then swapping round and doing another half inch of purl where you previously did knit stitches, to make a basket weave type pattern as the above picture shows.  I chose to cast on with 2 rows of stocking stitch, which gives a slightly curled edging, which I find wears well over time as it is not 'tight', and the stitches don't pull taught when stretched.

Above is a photo of inside of the gusset that I cut into the garment. After deciding where to place the gusset (knit separately), I tacked in red wool, the area to be cut, then machine stitched a double row of stitching either side of the red tacking. After which I cut up along the red tacking with sharp scissors, and then inserted my gusset, hand stitching it in.  Many people oversew the raw cut edges, but I always bind mine with a bias cut strip of cotton. These garments undergo a lot of pulling about as they are worn and washed over the years, so I feel a biased binding strip is the only way to go for durability.

I first cut out a number of bias strips of cotton fabric (quilt makers weight) on my rotary cutting board. My strips would be abou 1.5" wide. Then I join them all and iron a crease down the centre, running the entire length. Then I fold both sides of the strip into the fold mark in the centre, to make a strip of bias binding.  You can buy bias binding already made, but then you have to take the width the mandufacturer is offering, whereas if you make your own you can use the weight, colour and width you want.  I hand stitch the binding on one side of the raw edge, along the fold line, then when it's all stitched on, I fold the top over and whip stitch the other side on, so the entire raw edge is encased. I then whip stitch the other side. Hopefully these pictures help!The one below shows the top piece of bias being whip stitched on, the bottom piece has just been tacked by hand on one side before being folded over.

When this hand stitching is finished you will have a garment with absolutely no raw edges inside and very neatly finished off. I use Gutterman's hand quilting 100% cotton thread.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Lichen Dyeing

Please check out my new tutorial video on the top tab of my blog here.  It's on dyeing wool with lichen.  This is 'Crottle' lichen, gathered in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

An ancient traditional dye, also used in years gone by, in the Scottish Islands, for dyeing yarn used in Harris tweed.

Below is a gallery of my lichen dyeing...

If you're interested in seeing more on lichen dyeing, check out BBC Coast on Youtube, where Alice Starmore, the famous Shetland knitwear designer, is demonstrating lichen dyeing.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Saori Handspun Yarns

Weaver Misao Jo, the creator of  'Saori Weaving', once said...

“All flowers are beautiful, even though each individual flower is different in form and color.  Because of this difference, “all are good”.
Because everything has the same life, life cannot be measured by a yardstick.  It is this individuality that makes everything meaningful and the uniqueness of each thread that creates the tapestry of life.”

Saori weaving is one of the most beautiful woven art forms there is. In my opinion it is in weaving, what French Impressionism was to art in Monet's day.

This article is about what I call Saori-spinning! Not too many rules, lots of colour and texture, and fun.

I have been developing Saori-yarns with Saori weaving in mind of course.  The latest is called 'Carnival'.  It incorporates every colour that is on the colour wheel, and has four parts to it. Most of it is spun from my own hand-spun yarns, but I have incorporated commercially spun cotton, and novelty yarns as well as BFL hand-dyed locks and other hand spun art-yarns in there as well. 'Carnival' differs from my previous Saori-spun in that it has little hand-felted and hand-dyed balls incorporated.

Essentially this is a core-spun yarn. Over the core are layered lots of random smaller pieces of hand-spun, locks, novelty yarn, and whatever looks good.  I then add another 'layer' of handspun merino, or commercially spun cotton in multi-colours, and in the case of 'Carnival', another 'layer' of little hand-felted, hand-dyed merio balls, and some seed beads. Theres a good bit of spinners-discussion on how to incorporate beads and other objects into yarn.  Sometimes it pays to thread some fibre through the bead or object, and spin the fibre into your spinning as you go.  That's a good method so long as the fibre is strong, and has a fairly long staple.  If it's very fine and short, as some merino wools are, then it is not adviseable because the bead can just rip out very easily.  So you would need to make a decision on that according to what you are spinning.  In the case of 'Carnival' I chose to thread the felt balls onto a strong but fine commercially spun cotton thread which 'disappears' into the yarn.  If you are doing this, when you bring up your beads or objects to be incorporated into the yarn, make sure you over-ply the area with the yarn the bead is attached to, so that it doesn't loosen and 'hang' when the yarn is finished. This can be trickier than you would imagine. So this yarn is not a 'beginners' yarn.  But we learn by doing.

I recommend that you don't try this unless you have about 4 days to spare as it is very time consuming to make. But the whole idea of Saori weaving, like Saori-spinning, is that time is not the issue. It is about the pleasure of making.

Using a similar technique, I also made another version of this yarn, which I called 'Scribbles'.

And another called 'Bazaar'... which does not have any felt balls in it, but is equally bright and colourful.
There are really no limits to what can be done. Try experimenting with different ideas. People are spinning paper and paper on wire, cloth, waste fibres and threads and doing so much more than just knitting sweaters! Try crocheting a door mat!?
In this next yarn, I've felted the core yarn which I spun from multi-coloured hand dyed merino. It's called 'Jelly Beans' and is essentially a core-coil-spun yarn that is over-plied with a single strand of the same hand-dyed merino, merino and silk and alpaca. Really soft.  I hand-felted the core yarn before plying and as wool felts it shrinks, giving it this squiggly spongy look which looks slightly plump. 

'Forest Floor' is the same technique as 'Scribbles', only I have used natural dyed wool and fibre only. I love the earthy look. 

And again, another yarn similar to that above, 'Woodland Walk'... which is the same technique only over-plied with handspun suri alpaca.  In this yarn I incorporated some locks dyed green with Chlorophyllin plant extract from Wild Colours 

Chlorophyllin, is an extract derived from spinach
So far, I have dyed these fairly bold greens with it, but I plan to dip-mordant my next batch of fibre in weak copper and iron to achieve other shades.

When dyeing with plant dyes, I soak my fibre over night before mordanting it, and try to dye it from wet, or to re-wet and soak overnight if I have pre-mordanted. I find this gives a better dye-take up.

The next gallery of hand-spun yarns below are all naturally dyed with vegetable dyes, are named after months of the year.  Starting with 'September'.  There were still plenty of blooms about in my garden, as you can see in the background! So this yarn contains those colours. The background green in the yarn is dyed with stinging nettles (see my other blog post on 'Green to Dye For') Although these are not exactly what I would call 'Saori spin' like the yarns above, they are the same idea of paint-as-you-go-with-fibre.

Then came 'October'...
Then 'November'... the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' and of frost.  Salmon red maple trees and golden beeches. At least here in Northern Ireland. This yarn would need to be a different colour way if I lived in a different part of the world!

'Lichen' (below) was a subtle blend of coreopsis flower, stinging nettle, acorn, and horsetail dyes.

The yarn above was dyed to look like lichen, but the one below was actually dyed with lichen. I have called it 'Caramel Popcorn'. The lichen dyeing process is very ancient, and was used in Harris Tweed.  'Crottle' as it is locally known, imparts a fresh heathery scent to the wool, which never leaves it. That's how you will be able to tell if you have a piece of real vintage Harris Tweed! The process is not commercially used on the Isle of Harris any more, probably in the interests of conservation.  The lichen used to dye my yarn is gathered only from wind-fallen wood that would other wise be on the fire. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

Green to Dye For - Nettles

The many shades of green in the countryside right now are sometimes breath taking. There are points along our road where I slow the car down just to take them all in.

As all natural-dyers will know, Green is a notoriously elusive colour to obtain.  The gorgeous baby-greens of these freshly opened beech leaves will dye wool from shades of yellow to golden, depending on the mordant. That could be disappointing, although I love the colours from beech leaves.

But as it is now late May, the stinging nettles are at their peak.  They are just high enough off the ground for me to pick the tender tops without endangering my arms, and they are full of dye.

Over the Winter, I used up all my stock of green dyed fleece, so I am out for a really deep shade of khaki green dye, for some of my lovely soft BFL lamb locks. This is just the first batch, but I plan to have the dye-pot on the go now over the next few weeks.

 Protective gloves on, and plastic trug in one hand, I worked my way over a large patch of nettles in the woods behind our house and just plucked the tops off.

Dye books will tell you to chop them up. But around here we are not short of nettles and a bit of rough pulling apart was all they needed as they are very tender at this time of year.  Following my usual 'method' I stuffed the dye pot with as much as it would hold, brought the soft water up to a simmer, and as they cooked down I added more until the pot was really solid with them. Leaving them to soak for a few hours I then returned to add the fibre. I left enough room at the top of the pot to contain my BFL locks, and then I simmered the nettles with the fibre really gently for about an hour on a very low heat. Some nettle dye recipes will tell you to use a 2:1 ratio of vegetable matter to wool , and I've come across others that recommend 4:1.  But when the dye-stuff is free, and growing plentifully, I go for as much as I can to get the richest shades. A rough guess is that this dye bath was around 6:1.

As it cooks with the next handful...

I usually pre-mordant my fleece in large batches in the Winter, and dry it for later use.  One of the reasons I do this is because I save on mordant as mordant baths can be reused by adding slightly more dissolved mordant for successive batches. But the other reason is because I never know when I'm going to find some plant matter that just has to be used immediately. Having a large stock of ready-to-go fleece greatly reduces the preparation time.

Having simmered my nettles, I added 250grams of pre-soaked and alum-mordanted locks to the pot, on top of, and in contact with, the nettles, and simmered very gently for an hour. I usually like to let the dye pot sit for a few hours longer, or preferably over night as it cools down, to get the best shades.

This yellow colour was not what I was after at all. I removed the fleece from the dye bath, strained off the nettles, and returned the fleece to the pot and the yellow liquid.  The reason for this is that successive mordants that I would be adding would not be good for my compost heap or the worms. So I didn't want my nettle mulch to contain those chemicals.

I was planning an after-mordant copper dip so that was the next stage. I ended up gently simmering that for 30 mins. It was a very weak copper solution, of 1 tspn to around 2 gallons of water. 

This gave me a great golden colour, very nice and a great depth of dye, but still not green.

Stage 3, a very weak iron dip. Now, I mean very weak. I don't like using iron on wool as it is harsh, so this was a quarter teaspoon, and only for 4 mins. I did not even simmer this, but just soaked the wool, the water was very hot anyway, and I could already see the lovely deep green developing.

Cooked nettles could be added straight onto the garden as a mulch, but I prefer to compost them, but that is just my preference.

Below is a picture of the rinsed wet wool. I've photographed it on an upturned laundry basket which is white, so shows the colour best. The thing I like most about this green is, it is almost identical to the colour of the cooked nettles above. Beautiful, rich, deep nettle green. 

The four pictures below are the resulting art-yarn, using this BFL above, and also some merino from 2 different nettle dye-pots. This is all core-spun onto a commercial 100% wool thread, and then plied with a green commercial cotton thread. Quite a strong yarn, and very soft. I've had trouble capturing it's true colour in these photos.  But this is truly the best green I have ever achieved with natural dyeing.

Here's a gallery of what I have done with this green fibre....

Yarn below is a mixture of all natural dyes, but predominantly green nettles. I've called it 'September'.

Below is a pic of this same nettle dye on 4 ply super-wash merino.  In my Etsy shop now!

Yarn below is latest that I've used this nettle dyed fibre on. It's up in my shop too..