Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Friday, 12 July 2019

Dyeing with Woad Seed

Woad Seed Dye

If you have ever grown Woad for dyeing blue with the leaves, you will know that there are an awful lot of seeds produced as well. In fact, far more than you will ever need or be able to give away.

Woad is a 2 year plant.  The first year it looks like a spinach plant, with a neat crown of leaves. I have actually grown it in the flower boarder as foliage because it's quite pretty at that stage.  This first year is when you harvest those leaves for the blue dye they contain.  But if it is left, it dies back in the Winter and reappears in Spring, sending up quite a tall shoot perhaps as high as four feet.  During this second year of growth there is no blue dye-value in the leaves. After the yellow flowers the seeds will appear, hanging down in clusters.

If you are after the seeds for dyeing then wait until they are fully ripe and black before harvesting. As the plant has no dye value at all at this point, I would pull it up, and hanging it in an airy place to dry.  The seeds could be stripped straight off at this point, but I prefer to make doubly sure there's no moisture in them at all, so I hang plants for a few weeks under cover. If you are going to dye with the seeds straight away then you can skip this drying out stage.  The plants are quite large, and take up a fair amount of room so maybe those with limited space will have to improvise and perhaps cut off the seed clusters and dry them in bundles.

My first experiment in Woad Seed dyeing was a flop. Basically I just got brown.  So I put the seeds into a big screw top jar, and left them there.  For five years. Yes..

Just a quick word about the seed harvest, make sure they are dark and fully ripe. You will see green and quite pale seeds. They have little value in them, so leave them on the plant to ripen up. I'm holding some unripe seeds over a dish of ripe seeds in the next pic just so you can see the difference.

Recently was having a de-clutter time and took some jars of seeds to the compost bin, and began to pour..then stopped..and thought 'why not'. So back into the dye-kitchen with them.  I wasn't sure what dye-value there would be after five years.  The dye-pot was very concentrated. I literally poured every jar of seed into the pan, and filled with water and cooked it for an hour. Then I strained the liquid off, (it was a very dark sherry colour), and repeated with fresh water. My resulting dye bath looked..brown.

I dip-dyed some sections of yarn I was working on, and got...brown. A nice brown. But, it wasn't pink as I had hoped.

I always squeeze as much dye out of one pot as possible by using up waste dye-baths, and having some handspun Clun Forest yarn to hand (which had been pre-mordanted in Alum/Cream of Tartar), I decided to dip dye part of the skein into it.

The yarn had been sitting over night unintentionally in a weak vinegar rinse. I took it straight from there to the dye-pot without thinking. Later when passing by to get something from the kitchen I stopped dead in my tracks as I could see the amazing lavendar-purply-pink creeping up the wet skein.  Really magical! As this was on previously undyed white wool, the result was, for me, quite dramatic.

It needs to be said here that this was the waste or second dye bath. Had I achieved this result with the first one, the pinks would have been even darker.

My first dye-bath was used to over dip-dye these previous dyed Teeswater locks (previously dyed with Logwood and Madder root). It gave them a deeper purple and a lovely hue on the ends.

Having a second dye-pot containing the same solution, I added a really tiny weeny (I mean less than a quarter teaspoon) bit of dissolved iron.  The pot turned quite dark, as would be expected with iron.  But when later dip-dying another part of the skein in it, I still got the pinky purple colour, only slightly darker. The other pale salmon pink in this skein is achieved with a waste Avacado pit dye solution.

So the addition of vinegar to the dye-bath is the essential part in trying to get pinks rather than browns. It pushes the whole dye-bath into a more acidic state by lowering the ph. There was very little vinegar in my dye-bath, perhaps only a spoonful.

Don't be put-off by the colour of the dye-bath.  It will be brown even if it produces pink on the wool. Also, there is a surprising amount of dye in what looks like a pot of liquid that might get thrown away, so even if you have had 2 lots of dyed wool from your dye-pot, just have another go and see if you can get something out of the third because likely there will still be something in there!

And finally, the great thing about Woad Seed is, it will keep! Woad as a blue-leaf-dye needs to be used fresh, and only during the first year, and usually during the Summer months. So the window of time for using it as a dye plant is quite small. But the seed will save for years and years. A great harvest for a rainy day! 

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Electric Brother Drum Carder Review - Video

Last year I took the plunge and bought a large electric drum carder to replace my hand-cranked Barnett carder that had served me well for years.  In researching this purchase, it became apparent that carders were cheaper and there was more selection, in America than in the UK.  So I've made this youtube video to review the electric carder I ended up purchasing.

Initially I was put off purchasing from America because of the voltage difference, so I decided to ring 'Brother' who make a selection of electric drum carders, and ask whether they manufactured a carder for the UK market.  They assured me their carders could be set up for the UK from their factory, and that I would not need a transformer.

Next hurdle was the import duty and tax. It was a little tricky working out exactly what that would be, and I have to say, it wasn't cheap to import. But, over-all I spent less and got more spec on the carder by buying from America, even with the added import costs, than if I had bought within the UK.

I chose Brother's 17" electric carder. It's hard to visualise until it's in front of you, but lets just say it's a large machine and I can get through a lot of fibre in a short space of time with it.

In my new Youtube review I've tried to cover everything I can think of about this carder. I hope it helps if you are contemplating buying one yourself.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Eco-Friendly Packaging

Have you ever wished the postman would bring you a parcel that was wrapped up like they used to be before everyone used plastic packaging? You know the kind of parcel I mean, wrapped in brown paper with string?

Well here's a new video I've just put together, showing you how I now package all my Etsy products. There's a link in the bio on the different products, and where to buy them. Hopefully this will inspire more online sellers to make eco-friendly choices!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Handmade Journals

Everyone who hand-spins and hand-dyes their own wool will know the 'itch' to want to make something with it instead of just selling it as-is!

These journal covers are in 2 sizes, small is 6"x4" (below) and the larger is 6"x8" (above). The fun thing is that there's no pattern and I just create them as I go, matching yarns, and using small 'shots' of artyarns that perhaps would be too small to go in larger projects.

I had fun making this one below, because I had hand-painted some handspun skeins of Shetland wool with cochineal, madder root and onion skins, and I desperately wanted to see at least one of them knitted up! 

Book ends are made from 100% cotton, and I try to colour-match them to the yarn somehow. Either a zanny contrast, or something that blends. Bali Batik fabric like this one just below is very suitable because it's quite 'stiff' fabric. That's because the base fabric they dye on is more closely woven than normal quilt making fabric. So it makes a really good book-end even though it's slightly more expensive to buy.

The journal below was knitted from some of my 'Sea-Breeze' artyarn which contains little wave-tumbled sea-glass beads found on Northern Ireland beaches. I had them hand-drilled and incorporated them into the yarn as I spun it, along with some BFL locks. 'Beach-hut' fabric finished this off, with a lovely smoothed sea-pottery button, from Sand Between My Toes UK

This piece of pottery was found on a County Sligo beach and drilled specially for the colour-way I was using on this particular journal cover. 

More Bali Batick fabric below, except this piece has hand-painting on it as well, which I just love.  The zig-zag edge took a long time to knit, and was a bit fiddly, but worth it. This particular journal is entirely dyed using nettles gathered behind my house. I incorporated some BFL and antique looking lace in it as well.

I prefer to source buttons that are hand-made, and that's part of the fun, to match the button to the yarn-colours.

Loads of work, but it's work I love. Probably this is not a cost effective way to run a business but it's creative and enjoyable which is all part of life.

Journal inserts are available at Eason's and WHSmiths, as replacements when these are filled. I put lined journals inside each cover, but they could be plain sketch paper, and become art-journals, or scrap-books.  I make each cover to go on a 8.25"x6" (large size) journal, but because there's a little 'stretch' in the knitting, they would accomodate a very slightly larger or smaller book.

Have a go!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Knitting Instructions and Projects

Gummy Worms Hat!

My 'Gummy Worms' hat shown above was made from Adriafil Scozia 'Lochness' (blue) for the ribbing, and my own handspun art-yarn 'Gummy Worms' for the main body, and topped with a Scozia bobble to match the ribbing.  I have a new listing in my shop for 'Gummy Worms'.  But you can use any bulky art yarn. 'Gummy Worms' is approx. 5 wraps per inch. That means it can be wrapped around 1" on a ruler, 5 times, comfortably.  Obviously that's going to vary with many art yarns, that have thick-thin areas of spinning, with texture, so it may depend where on the yarn it is wrapped, but generally speaking 5wpi is the thickness for this particular project.

This project took 1x50g ball of 'Scozia' and almost 120 grams of 'Gummy Worms'.  A smaller hat would obviously take less yarn. These directions are for a large sized hat. Measurements below....

I started by measuring round the head I was knitting for and knitting a guage swatch in the Scozia yarn on 5.5mm double pointed knitting needles. I'm not going to give that guage here because everyone's knitting is different. Basically whatever the circumference of your finished hat, count your guage stitches, and multiply until you have the right amount of stitches to go around the head you are knitting for. In this instance I needed 72 stitches for a 23" head.

Measuring: I measure around the head with a piece of string, and then measure the string. Do not pull it tightly.  Start above the eye brows and go around the head where the ribbing will sit. I think you can see that imaginary 'line' in the picture below.

Just a word of caution. Hats tend to stretch. In my experience men prefer tight fitting hats that won't come off whilst they work, and women often like a looser hat that won't squash their hair too much.If I were knitting this as a tighter fitting work type hat, I would need to decrease the amount of stitches in both ribbing and stocking stitch.

I use extra long double pointed needles as I prefer them for hats because of the amount of stitches I end up with, but you might use shorter ones or circular needle.  Extra long double pointed needles are not readily available on the high street any more, but can be purchased online. All my sets have been purchased from charity shops so keep your eyes open for them. People don't know what to do with them so they end up in the charity box! Choose the size that best feels right to you, in my case I chose 5mm for the hat ribbing.

The manufacturers of Adriafil Scozia recommend 7mm needles as it's classed as a 'chunky' yarn, and is 67 yards per 50gram (1.75oz) ball. Although 7mm would be good for most items knitted with this yarn, I decided on a much firmer ribbing.

I cast on 72 stitches on 5mm needles, using the 2 needle method 
after which, I spread the 72 stitches evenly between the 4 needles, and commenced knitting, k2, p2, for 4". 

At the end of the ribbed knitting, I broke off  'Scozia' and joined on my 'Gummy Worms' yarn, changed needle size to a set of 7mm double pointed needles, and placed a marker on the knitting to show the start point. In the next round only I knitted 2 stitches, then knitted the next 2 together, and continued on round. The reason for this is because 'Gummy Worms' is a super-chunky yarn so the knitting would balloon out if the number of stitches were not decreased. You should now have 54 stitches on your needles. 'Gummy Worms' would normally be knitted on a much larger needle, perhaps 9 or 10mm, but once again, I wanted a very firm knit.

I then continued in stocking stitch with 'Gummy Worms' for a further 6.5" before decreasing for top shaping.  I wanted this hat to be roomy, so my idea was to knit it straight until right at the top and decrease in just a few rows to bring it in quickly at the top. This creats a slightly 'bunched up' effect at the top, which was the effect I wanted. 

1st shaping row: On the next round, I knitted 2 stitches together, then knitted 2 stitches in stocking stitch, then repeated that, all the way around. Keep moving your marker up your knitting so it's easy to tell where the 'beginning' is.
2nd shaping row:  Next row, knit stocking stitch all the way around without shaping.
3rd shaping row: Next row do the same again, knit 2 stitches together, then knit 2 in stocking stitch, and continue right round like that.
4th shaping row: Then do another round in stocking stitch.
5th shaping row: knit 2 together, knit one, knit 2 together, knit one, continue right round like that.
6th shaping row: knit every 2 stitches together.

Leaving a long tail, cut the yarn, thread a darning needle onto this cut yarn end and pick up each stitch from the knitting needles onto the darning needle, and gently work each stitch onto the darning needle thread.  It takes a bit of time to do this with this yarn because it's so textured.  If pulled too hard and fast, it might snap, but with a bit of patience, all the stitches can be then drawn up tight, and the tail darned off inside and out of sight.

I made a pompom out of what remained of the Scozia yarn because 'Gummy Worms' is essentially a corespun artyarn, and would not make a good pompom as it might unravel slightly when cut.

Great for freezing cold West Coast of Ireland beach combing days!
Check out my yarn listings, and watch for some 'Gummy Worms' hats that will soon be appearing in my shop!

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