Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Friday, 26 December 2014

'Ballycastle Bay' Art-Yarn

I've broken with the norm, reached for the bottles of Kemtex Dye (that's a link to P&M Woolcraft!), and brightened up a very dull and very cold day with all the jades, greens and blues I could mix up!
This was a lot of fun I have to admit. Into the drum carder with it all, and some bits of cotton, dyed raw cotton, embroidery floss, also added silk ribbon and silk material whilst spinning, then plied with some commercial deep green cotton yarn. This yarn wasn't plied evenly, but intentionally bumpy, more like a boucle. I let plied it unevenly on purpose to give that boucle look, first the strand of cotton was round the wool single, then the wool single around the cotton.  When spinning like this it's important to anchor in the wool frequently with the cotton because otherwise the wool can just slip back and forth on the cotton, which makes knitting it up rather difficult. So to make an overall firm yarn, it takes a bit of time to play one against the other, back and forth.  Hand-spinners will know what I'm talking about.
I love this yarn knitted up as it has a 'close' look because of the lumps and bumps.
Half an 80gram skein will make this head-wrap on 7mm needles. You will find the yarn on Etsy. I've called it 'Ballycastle Bay' because all I can think about when I look at it is the clean crystal clear blue water along the North Coast of Co. Antrim. Wonderful on a sunny day with the gannets diving for their dinner.
88 grams = 87.5 yards.


This cowl took a skein and a half to knit.  It's in my Etsy shop. This was knitted in seed stitch, I cast on 15 stitches and knit straight for desired length, adding button holes. Finished with a cotton I-cord edging, and lined with soft 100% cotton flannel for added warmth.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Ivy-leaf Art-Yarn

This is what I did with the ivy-leaf dyed wool (see my other post on the dyeing proceedure).  This art-yarn also includes wool dyed with madder root, ragwort, horsetail, and onion skins. I incorporated a little suri-alpaca, and small amount of cotton for texture.... Suitable for knitting on larger needles, perhaps 6-8mm, it varies in thickness, but over-all is about 5-6 wpi. 

This is a 2-ply yarn, one single is spun intentionally thick and thin, the second spun evenly, and then they are plied irregularly. This makes a balanced yarn, but there are a lot of twists in this which give a more 'boucle' look when knitted.

Skeins weigh just over 80grams.
Approximately 97m to 88 grams.  


Button up cowl, lined with 100% cotton brushed flannel is knitted in seed stitch on 7mm needles. Edged with an I-cord of 4 stitches on 5mm needles. Up for sale on Etsy. This took one and half skeins to knit.



Thursday, 18 December 2014

Edward Bear's Clothes -cutting a steek

Cutting a Steek

This is my latest Norwegian hand-spun, hand-knit for Edward Bear. I thought this time I would write about the construction of his sweater.

Edward is a lovely old straw filled mohair bear of unknown antiquity. I'm not a bear specialist, but I do know what I like, and I like Edward.  He has an expression of quiet observation. Maybe that's the tilt of his plastic nose, or maybe the absence of a stitched mouth. Or it could just be those melting eyes.
All my teddy-bear hand-spun wool has to be super-fine because it's knitted up on 2mm needles. With this sweater, I knit it exactly as the old Shetland and Norwegian sweaters used to be constructed. In the round. This is a really fiddly job on such a small scale, but it produces the best results of an even tension over all. 
Cast on and knit on either a circular needle, or set of double pointed needles, and knit a tube (which is the body of the sweater), using the intarsia method.  I then set in the sleeves by cutting down the steek stitches which were knitted for that purpose, binding the raw edge with a double row of machine stitching, then picking up and knitting the sleeves on double pointed needles from the top down. So the end result is a seamless garment. All raw edges are over-bound with knitted binding (on the sleeve holes) and knitted lining on the front edges.
Here's the sweater with a line of black thread up through the middle where I'm going to cut the steek stitches.

This next picture shows the 2 rows of machine knitting, picture taken on the reverse side of the sweater as it wasn't easily visible on the front. Be sure to machine either side of the basting stitches before cutting.
Scissors down the middle, and cut the 2 sides apart...

Then with my 2mm needles, I picked up and knit the front ribbing and button band.

After the button band was finished, I picked up and knitted the inside collar lining (with same yarn but larger needles to make a softer finish), and front linings, in one piece, so that the front linings would cover the raw edges of the front steek cut.  Also I picked up and knit binding around the inside sleeve edges. So there are no raw edges anywhere.
Back of sweater.

Now we are getting down to the nitty gritty! And it was a cold photo-shot this morning. Bears would normally be in hibernation!  His paws and pads are intact although worn, and Edward is in good shape considering his age which is likely to be over 50. 

If we had the key, we could find out what Edward had to say for himself.  Maybe someone out there has a key... Find Edward in Etsy.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Little Bear

This is Little Bear. He's a 12", possibly 'Chad Valley' (label missing but he fits the description), wood-wool stuffed, glass-eyed, antique bear with 5 joints! In very good order for his age, which I'm guessing is around 1940's. 

He comes with a smart hand-knit, made from hand-spun, naturally dyed 2 ply wool, knit on 2mm needles.  This is an original design of my own, incorporating a couple of Nordic patterns and a row of 'teddies' (in plum).  Main body of the sweater is dyed in lichen from County Fermanagh, madder root (plum), and log-wood (black).

Little Bear is up for sale, including his sweater. You can find him on Etsy.

Knitwear Gallery

Adapted from an original Norwegian design

Adapted from 'Nigeria' found in 'Knitting out of Africa' by Marianne Isager.

Shetland, knitted seamlessly, all natural dyes, handspun.

Shetland cardigan, all natural dyes, handspun.

Pattern adapted from 'Knitting in America'. Handspun Shetland hog, angora and silk.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Autumn Shades Art-Yarn

I don't want to sound like a stuck record, but the pictures don't do this justice. As I sit here typing this, my back is wet from crouching down outside in the sleet, with the camera, trying frantically to get enough light to get the shutter to actually operate. So, you have to sort of use your imagination a bit when I tell you that I've incorporated a lot of the fleece featured here on this blog, to make this art-yarn. It contains really soft Romney hog fleece grown here in Northern Ireland, and dyed with beech leaves that I gathered in Clare Glen, madder root, and also lichen from County Fermanagh. Actually I found it in abundance on some dead wood near Drumskinny Stone Circle  That's a most interesting place if you can find it, a sort of mini-Stone Henge arrangement surrounded by what looks like peat bog-land. I stood there for ages one afternoon, in the rain, balancing an umbrella in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, peeling the stuff off and getting frozen. Also the fleece I dyed with the Coreopsis flowers growing here in my own garden which was a much more civilised affair than peat-bogs in Fermanagh. Some small bits of the bright red madder root dye that featured on the video is in this yarn also. So it's all natural, except for.....

...except for the few wee bits of peach silk ribbon , embroidery floss and metallic sparkle thrown in for good measure. 4.5 wraps per inch, and 51m to 83grams approximately.

This yarn is now in the Etsy Shop.

Hang on a min...the sun just came out for no more than 3 minutes, so I grabbed yarn, and camera and got a sunny pic. You can just see the sparkle!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Natural Dyeing, Coreopsis

Coreopsis seeds will germinate quite easily. Here they are in my garden mid-September. If you have watched the video, you will recognise this flower patch.  I planted these out rather late this year, but they still grew right on until the beginning of December and have only just been removed to the compost heap, where I notice they are still trying hard to carry on flowering.  This picture shows the plants just opening in flower.  They are about 2ft tall, maybe taller in places, and often hit by the wind where we live, (watch my short video clip on the Kidney Beans entry), but that doesn't hinder them flowering. I stake them and run (hand-spun) 'garden twine' around the plants to hold them up so they don't smother neighbouring plants.

I harvested every third day, usually when the blooms are a little past their best, and used fresh or dried for later use. Here are the blooms spread out on my dehydrator, but I have equal success spreading them out on an old screen up in the garage loft where it gets very warm.
Fresh blooms steeping overnight in soft water...

Next morning, heated gently, barely a simmer, for about 40 mins. I tend to always leave the dye pot after simmering, to sit half a day or better still, overnight. That way the rest of the colour can just gently run out and you know you are getting it all, and it helps the fix I think. 

My recipe? Well, I used here 3 litres of fresh blooms to 8oz wool. Recipes I have say anything from 4 times weight of dried blooms to 1 of wool (ie. 1lb dried blooms to 4oz wool ...that's an awful lot of flowers!!). I tend not to use that quantity.

The 8oz batch on the right was in the first dye pot, and the 8oz on the left from the waste dye from the first batch. These were dyed with about 3 litres of blooms in approx. 4 gallons of water. There was still a lot of dye value left in the dye pot after the second batch, so I dyed a third batch of wool cloth that also came out fairly well.


Adding a small amount of soda ash will bring out the reds and a small amount of lemon juice will bring out the yellows, but I liked it just this way, clear orange rusts, wonderful colour!  Bare Bear is waiting his new clothes...

By the way, the Coreopsis stalks and leaves make a good dye bath also. I had far more than I could use, but I did  make a good orange-brown dye bath from some of them.