Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ivy's Bear

Old Bear, or Ivy's Bear, is actually brand-new, well sort of. He's ''Big Dibley' on Barbara Ann's website - that link takes you there. Made for my new grand-daughter! Of course Barbara and Andy's bears look a whole lot better than mine because they are pro's, but I had fun all the same.  You can do a course with Barbara and learn all about it, but I forged ahead with youtube video's as my guide.  I bought this old merino blanket from a charity shop some time ago and got to thinking that it would make an interesting material to use for a bear. It's super-soft merino and already pre-moth proofed, and made back in those good old days when things said 'made in England' on them.

I photographed these pictures  to show the original pink colour of the blanket, and the new colour on top that I got from the coreopsis flowers. I dyed the sections of blanket I wanted to use by first pre-mordanting in alum and cream of tartar, and then a solution made from steeping and simmering the coreopsis flower heads. The blanket was simmered in that solution for another hour before rinsing, and drying out for use.  After a couple of hot/cold runs through the washing machine, and a long tumble in the drier, it was as felted up as I could get it. I chose to use only pieces from the edge of the blanket which were less worn. 
Next I took the pattern and traced them with a permenant pen onto rigid opaque plastic sheets that I had from a quilt supplier, then cut them out with scissors. So those are my permanent pattern pieces now and they are much easier to work with than paper.
Barbara Ann's Bears supplied me with some marvellous original 1930's boot button eyes! Not really suitable as a play-bear for under 3's.
Last year was a good long warm summer, and my coreopsis flowers kept going right into the beginning of December, even when I pulled the old plants and threw them on the compost heap, they kept on flowering, and I kept on cutting!
There's a powerful lot of dye in coreopsis flowers, and I have more about them elsewhere on this blog.
I dried a lot of mine for the winter, and have them stored in canning jars.
Just to show you what you get from coreopsis, the wool on the left was dyed from the waste water from the dye bath that dyed the wool on the right. I was really pleased with the depth of colour here. 

This was my first ever attempt at a traditional bear. Just a word of warning, I would not remake this again from a merino blanket.  In my opinion merino fibre is just too soft for the job, and I suspect after his head and limbs have been yanked and turned a hundred times, he will spring some holes! I would choose a more robust blanket to felt next time, or even make him in patchwork.

I'm not sure I got his nose exactly right! But my family told me I was not to change it as he looked distinguished! I think I agree. You will notice I used a slightly darker coreopsis dye on small pieces for his pads and paws, which were double fabric.  He was stuffed with cleaned carded 100% wool. I sewed on some decorative patches here and there that aren't photographed here, just to make him look more antique. Nose and mouth stitched in embroidery floss.
His vest is made from 100% hand-spun Northern Ireland grown wool and knitted on 2mm circular needles.  Dyes used for this are: horsetail (yellow), madder (red/plum/pink), acorns (grey), logwood (black) and lichen (light brown ribbing areas). The garment was knitted in the round, and steeked. Bow tie dyed in madder root dye. For more on steeking a garment, see my other posting on Edward Bear.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

'Sweet Pea' Art Yarn

Here's another art-yarn I just created. I had Sweet Pea flowers in mind. They were amazing last Summer, and I'm hoping for a good crop this year too!
Actually this is the precise spot in the garden that they were growing. That's my Woad garden just about to flower, right behind it.
I hand-dyed all the wool, incorporating merino with the lambs-wool for softness, also hand-dyed silk in 3 shades, and pre-carded bamboo - which I just love. It has a wonderful texture and is bright-white, which makes a great 'foil' against which to show off the colours.
I've tried to incorporate as many of the Sweet Pea colours as possible, magenta, lilac, pink, blue, & purple. 
Then I plied that with a yarn made from a blend of soya, silk and Northern Ireland grown lambs wool dyed with horsetail, and hand-dyed green merino, pictured here.  I had not used soya before in hand-spinning.  It's a super-fine fly-away fibre, similar to silk, but a pale cream. Very interesting and super-soft addition to an art-yarn.

Into the mix went all the novelty yarn and embroidery floss that I could find that matched well with these colours, and there we are.

3 Skeins available on Etsy, listed individually this time.

This picture above looks a little more blue on my screen than the yarn is, but it's probably the light.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Zwartble's Cherry Cola

This post is about my latest art-yarn which I've called Cherry Cola.  It's spun from a lovely soft lambs wool Zwartble's fleece, and I couldn't resist posting one of the pictures here from Zwartble's Ireland Lovely sheep aren't they? I think they have a knowing look in their eyes.

 There was an AWFUL LOT of spinning in this yarn because it's 4 ply.  I wouldn't normally spin a 4 ply yarn, because of the time it takes, but this yarn evolved that way. 
Here's the picture of the pile of fleeces Judy Maxwell brought me a few weeks ago. She said there were 16. I haven't counted! All I know is I have Zwartble's on the sun-lounge, kitchen, lounge, study and hall way radiators, drying out. I'm still not through either, and the race is on to see who gets the rest of these fleeces, me or the crows, who have been hanging about eyeing them up from the barn roof.
So here we are, the finished article.  This is a smooth spun yarn, and a heavy aran at 6 wraps per inch.  I spun 2 spools of Zwartbles blended on the drum carder with a decent hand full of super-soft jet black suri Alpaca, a dash of red silk, a decent chunk of red-dyed merino, and another chunk of Northern Ireland Romney lambs wool dyed with madder root.  Into those 2 spools I incorporated the cherry red embroidery floss here and there for a bit of sparkle.
Next I spun 2 spools of 100% suri Alpaca. Slippery stuff, and it takes ages as it was spun very finely. To start with I thought I would just incorporate 1 strand but then decided it needed more, so I plied it, and THEN that was spun with the 2 other spools, to make a 4 ply yarn. Over all, very soft indeed, and a very dark luxurious yarn, lovely to handle.

Check it out on
I've also added to this posting, the photos below of Zwartble's fibre, which I blended with bamboo, metallic silver thread and some soft Northern Ireland grown Romney fleece dyed with acorns that I gathered at Gosford Forest Park, Co. Armagh.  These are also up for sale on Etsy, where you will find more info about them.
I spun this fibre to create a 2 ply yarn, and wove at around 10 ends per inch in plain weave.

Each bow is hand-assembled, with beads.

One of a kind!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

'Delphiniums' Art Yarn

'Delphiniums' Art-Yarn
I packed this yarn with delphinium shades of blue and purple super-soft lambs wool, merino and silk.  It was a lot of fun creating this yarn and I enjoyed every minute of it. I dyed the fibre with Kemtex dyes purposely just for these skeins (260grams) of super-bulky art yarn.
It will knit up really well on 6-8mm needles, and is around 4 or 5 wpi, depending on where it's wrapped. Spun intentionally thick/thin, with a boucle look, and plenty of texture and bobbly bits. These are really big photo's so you can zoom in and see the details.

I prefer to spin this slowly on a larger whorl setting so I can get control over what I'm producing. Each textured bobble, or cocoon, is over spun with the ply yarn to secure it and prevent it slipping about. So this isn't a quick yarn to make, but that doesn't matter as it is what the name implies 'art' yarn.

Got the horse in there too.. lovely sunny day and we are all enjoying it.

As you can see I popped in wee bits of pink, green, red, and some sparkling white bamboo for texture. Also novelty yarns, embroidery floss, and hand cultivated dyed silk.  I really don't want to sell this, but that's life.