Friday, 6 April 2018

Ground Elder Cardigan part three of three

The knitting 

The next stage was knitting the tension sample, so I could  set the stitch and row figures so that my knitleader (primitive shaping device) would allow me to knit pieces exactly the size I planned. I was aware that there would be a lot of ends to finish afterwards and these would in total come to many metres of yarn, so I wanted to keep the wastage to the minimum. The tension sample was knitted, washed and rested overnight and the following day I could actually start knitting. 

Showing knitting in progress and the shaping device

Please don’t be under the misimpression that knitting with a knitting machine ‘just happens’ or is ‘cheating’. It is a very skilled operation entirely different from hand knitting. I was making it even more complex, juggling 8 yarns including changing the background colour over a pattern repeat of 54 rows. I knitted the sleeves one day, the fronts on the next day and the back another day. These were then washed and blocked to size. I have each pattern piece drawn out on a synthetic fine paper like  material so I know I will get the exact size I have set out to knit. (I had already done the planning to ensure the sleeves and backs and fronts lined up horizontally and where the sleeves were set in.) I am a lover of fitted sleeves and not the (to my mind) unflattering drop shoulder line and in a fair isle pattern this takes some planning. The neckband is done by a cut and sew technique, which I have also developed a variation of for hand knitting. The front bands also were knitted separately. I factor in spending as long in the making up as the actual knitting.  

However, the making up calculation was an underestimate for this project. I split each of the waste yarns at the edges of the knitting  and invisibly darned these in. I did a quick estimate of the time for this as I was doing them.... that came to 17 hours. In theory this is not needed when knitting with Shetland Wool as they are very unlikely to work loose. However, I wanted the inside to look as good as the outside. 

Lots of ends to hide

Ends hidden, seam basted and machine stitched

Being taught ‘whatever is worth doing is worth doing well’ has stuck since being told this as a child. Once the ends were fastened I basted  the edges together by overcasting to match each of the horizontal logwood lines exactly. As always I stitched the pieces together, stocking stitch areas only, with a slight stretch stitch on my normal sewing machine. Ribs were hand stitched  from the right side using a version of mattress stitch. Final steaming and pressing was done and voila the Ground Elder cardigan was complete. 

Image of me wearing the completed cardigan 

It had been a more challenging project than I had initially anticipated but I was pleased with it and best of all, I know I will never meet anyone wearing the same garment. 

Many Thanks  to Myra Ryan for introducing me to Natural Dyeing and to Helen Reynolds for managing to take a photo of me smiling! 

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Ground Elder Cardigan - part two of three

The natural dyeing

Now the project could start. I began with picking the Ground Elder, we had a lot in the garden so no problem with that, I used leaves and stems and would be working at 200% to dry weight of yarn. I find the dyeing is most effective if the bits of dyestuff are small and present a larger surface area, so I set about tearing up 880g of ground elder into smaller pieces. I was disappointed that I didn’t actually use much of my total crop in the garden.  I soaked the plant material for a couple of nights in rainwater. 

A neighbour had given me an old Burco boiler minus the lid. We replaced the ageing wiring and found a large dish meant for standing a large plant pot in would act as a lid. So all the soaked Ground Elder and water was added. I brought this to the boil over approximate 45 minutes  and boiled for an hour. I then left it to cool over night. 

Now all I needed was a good run of weather as I do my Natural Dyeing outside. I set about skeining the wool which was quite a job  as I needed 3 figure of 8 ties in each one. I decided to use acrylic ties in a yarn colour close to the intended version of the Ground Elder that would be their  final colour. For example I used a light and dark green as these two shades were in my plan. This turned out to be a very good idea. 

I had a lot of yarn to dye and decided to split it into two dye pots. I wanted to ensure there was free movement of the skeins to get the best possible result I could. 

Next came the scouring of the yarn (I use washing up liquid of a well known brand) and mordanting using alum and cream of tartar based on my usual recipes.

The skeining of the yarn to be dyed, the scouring and mordanting took a full day. 

I then set about dyeing all the yarn to be dyed in strained Ground Elder extract.  I had divided this between two pans to allow ample room for movement of the yarn. I heated the yarn up to boiling taking approximately 45 minutes and then left it simmering for the same time. After that I removed the yarn that was to be used as Ground Elder colour and rinsed this a couple of times.  It was hung on the line to dry with a knitting machine weight to keep it under some tension, which would keep the yarn straight. I also soaked the ground elder dyed yarn which I wished to lighten in a 4%  cold soda and exhaust ground elder solution for 20 minutes. Soda can damage wool, so I checked this every 5 minutes. 

I had two colours now:

Light yellow from the ground elder unaltered

Brighter yellow from the addition of soda 

While this was happening on dyeing day one, I scoured and mordanted the yarn that was going to be left as off-white. I did this as the yarn is quite oily and I would therefore knit with yarn that had had virtually the same treatment and would give me a better tension. 

Tomorrow I would over dye and use additives to get my other 5 colours. The weather was good and I achieved the other colours thus:

Orangey shade - 10% madder solution on to the yellowy would give me an orange shade. Remembering that when wet the yarn is a darker shade, I judged when to remove it. 

Dark greyish - 10% logwood, again I judged when to remove the yarn. 

Light green - 5% iron sulphate solution was used , this was brought to the boil for 3 minutes

Darker green -more of the 5% iron sulphate solution 

Brownish - 5% copper sulphate solution was used. 

For the above, the yarn was placed in a pan of exhaust ground elder liquid with the additive dissolved first, before adding the yarn and heating 

So including the off white yarn I now had my eight colours. The yarn needed balling ready for the knitting. 

Final colours used:

Top row: ground elder on its own, ground elder and madder, ground elder and iron 2

Middle row: ground elder and logwood, off white yarn, ground elder and soda

Bottom row: ground elder and copper, ground elder and iron 1 

The Ground Elder Cardigan - part one of three

I designed this to wear at  Shetland Wool Week in autumn 2017. It caused quite a bit of interest and I received some lovely compliments from the local knitters whose expertise I value highly. It was suggested that this would be of wider interest  and I thought I would describe the story behind it to show that making a unique item is not too difficult and is very rewarding when complete. The yarn is Shetland jumper weight 2 ply (that knits as 4ply ) and comes from Shetland. All except the off white (original colour) is naturally dyed with ground elder from my garden in Norfolk.

Some background about me

I was an avid knitter having learnt to knit (and sew) from my mother before going to school. Attending a Girls Grammar school, I was firmly told by staff that  this was the sort of thing you kept for your spare time.  I was selected to do ‘science' for GCE as it was then, and therefore went onto a career in science involving chemistry. I did  carry  on with my textile interests in my spare time. We moved to Cheshire nearly 20 years ago and I joined Clwyd Guild. I was attracted to whole day meetings and workshops on Saturdays. It was here that I was introduced to natural dyeing and my life changed. So I became a scientific natural dyer. Since then I have increasingly used local dye plants and specialised in obtaining as many colours as I wanted from the same plant . You may have seen my apple dyed skeins in the Association National exhibition in 2016.

It was whilst  preparing to lead  a  natural dye workshop using plants from the hedgerow and garden  that I decided to do a demonstration set using ground elder  (the parts that are above the ground). Ground elder is a prolific plant in the garden we moved to when we returned to live in Norfolk in 2014. So I had a sample set of 6 colours.

Image of initial ground elder dyed skeins 

From left to right: Ground Elder on its own, plus copper, plus soda, plus iron, plus madder, plus indigo 


I had already designed and knitted a black and white fair isle Cardigan that  I wore at a previous Shetland wool week. This was machine knitted as I am rather a perfectionist and like a very professional finish. At the time I told the many people who commented that this was just a practice piece. I intended to knit another using a range of natural dyes and did this to get the fit and the pattern to my liking.  The motifs  are traditional Shetland fair isle patterns -many taken from Fair Isle Knitting Patterns by Mary Macgregor  (1) but other motifs were included too, including my initials! 

Image of my black and white cardigan. 

This cardigan was the pattern that I would use for the 'Ground Elder Cardigan'. However, I did not realise at the start how complex a task l had set myself. I needed to know how much yarn of each colour way I would need to dye. All the colours would be dyed initially with  Ground Elder, and all except the main colour would then be modified to get the remaining colours. Once I had my yarn initially dyed with Ground Elder there was no room for errors.

Initially I knitted a sample in some similar colours from my vast 'stash'. I intended to miss out the horizontal lines as I assumed they would be too dominant and not use the indigo dyed ground elder as I found this did not ‘go’ as well. In designing being able to be selective can  be very important. 

However, from the first sample I discovered that the horizontal lines were necessary in the design,  so what colour would I make them? More sampling and then tweaking of aspects of the design took several days until I had colour ways I was happy with. I was going to use 3 background colours: off white, ground elder and a lightened version of ground elder. In all I would be knitting with 8 different colour yarns. 

Image of samples 

Top row: initial sample with no horizontal demarcations, draft sample in ground elder colours, two further samples testing modifications

Bottom row: tension sample of the chosen motifs 

Now I only had 2  problems left :

  • dyeing these colours from ground elder
  • calculating how much of each colour I would need

I didn’t see the knitting or getting the fit right as problems as I already had the black and white cardigan.

I decided to work on the calculation. Initially I calculated how many stitches of each colour were in the sample of one repeat of the pattern - 24 stitches and 54 rows.  I then knitted a sample in one colour and worked out how much yarn that  took. So in a sample I thought I knew how much yarn would be needed of each colour - I was working in length and weight as a double check. Then reality struck, this was a completely flawed calculation. In fair isle a lot of yarn is carried between stitches and I had to allow for that.Many of the rows were single rows and so yarn would be left at the start and end of the rows. 

So I  knitted another sample using the same yarn but in different colours and thus this was more exact. By weighing the yarn at the end for each colour I would know the mass of each colour used in the sample. I could then estimate the number of small sample sized pieces  needed for the jacket and I would be there. I also took the weight of the sample-I was weighing and measuring everything I could!

My years as a scientist were not wasted, I knew I needed a double check.  I weighed the black and white cardigan which included 10 glass buttons which were quite heavy but which did not include so many ‘ends’ as I was only dealing with two colours. I estimated the proportion of the final weight of the sample that was each colour. I decided to add 20% to all final figures as I thought that would be ample but my husband said he didn’t want any last minute panics so I added 30% and  was confident I would also have enough over to knit the tension  square which was needed to set the  sizing for my 40 year old punchcard knitting machine, the Wool Week hat (2) and some other accessories.


1.There are several sources of fair Isle motifs that can be put together to make patterns. The height of the motif and the width are important considerations in planning. 

See for example: A Shetland Knitters Notebook Mary Smith, Chris Bunyan; Fair Isle Knitting Handbook Alice Starmore; Fair Isle Knitting Patterns Mary MacGregor, A Shetlander’s Fair Isle Graph Book Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers

2. Wool Week takes place for a week at the end of September each year in Shetland. It is a wonderful collection of events and draws people from around the world. Each year the SWW Patron devises a pattern which attendees are encouraged to wear and although there might be 400-600 people there, it is rare to see two hats that are identical. Look at to see the pattern for 2018 devised by Elizabeth Johnston (the wonderful lady who taught me to spin).

Friday, 2 March 2018

Houlland Shawl

As soon as I saw this shawl in Kate Davies Book of Haps(1) I knew I wanted to knit it. 

I loved the pattern for a number of reasons. I am attracted to the tree motif and found the use of this over the whole shawl was very pleasing on the eye. The shawl was to be knitted outside in and I like this method. I had also just knitted Donna (Smith’s) pattern for the Sanik Shawl from the 2016 Shetland Wool Week Annual and do like her designs a lot.( More about this at post of 1Jan17). However, I was taken up with other knitting which included the Ground Elder cardigan project (which I will add here soon) and didn’t feel I could start this shawl until that was completely finished. 

I had some lilac 2 ply lace weight yarn which I had bought many years ago from Many a Mickle in Mytholmroyd so it is over 20 years old. I had knitted it into a shawl  but this was before I knew about Shetland Shawl construction and I didn’t like the method for adding the edge in the previous pattern so pulled it all out, skeined and washed the yarn and re-balled it. 

So I decided I would start the edging before we went Wool Week 2017 and hope to get it done before we returned. This more or less happened but mainly because we stayed for three extra days due to the gales. I attended Donna’s workshop on ‘Traditional Haps’ at  Wool Week which was a real treat. It doesn’t matter how much I read or see on you tube, there is nothing like being taught in person, and preferably by the author of the pattern or similar. I also double checked on the picking up stitches techniques (notice the ‘s’ on this word) from ‘50 tips from Shetland Knitters by Hazel Tindall and Elizabeth Johnston’ (2)

Yarns were joined by a method taught by Ann Eunson in a workshop run with her sister Kathleen Anderson on ‘The perfect finish  for lace’ also taken during Shetland Wool Week, my best description of this is a sort of splicing. This is great and gives an invisible join. If you are an avid reader of this blog you will know  that I am a big fan of being taught by Shetland experts during Wool Week, practising detailed techniques like this are just priceless to me. 

I then got distracted and knitted Elizabeth Johnston’s Shoomal Shawl (which I will write about later) and recovered an Ercol Suite in Harris Tweed....again more here later. 

The Shoormal  Shawl - the edging is naturally dyed with quince leaves from my garden

I mainly only knit in the evenings while watching/ being aware of what is on the TV and knitting the rest of the Houlland Shawl has been a real pleasure. 

I did use a number of stitch markers, I either use split rings or my own hand made yarn loops. I also use a metal board and magnetic strips (bought years ago to aid following embroidery designs) to mark rows and write on a photocopy of the pattern. These aids have been a huge help. 

This shawl was also knitted entirely by using double pointed needles and a knitting belt. This is is the only way I hand knit now. 

Awaiting blocking

I then washed the shawl in lukewarm soapy water, rinsed well and rolled in a towel. It was then pinned to my large blocking board and left to dry. 

This shawl has a wingspan of 144cm and depth of 69cm and weighs 52g. 

What a beauty it is. I really love it and thanks to Donna Smith for designing such contemporary designs with a Shetland history.

(1) The Book of Haps by Kate Davies. This like Kate’s other books is a masterpiece. Not only are there knitting patterns, but there is well researched  explanation and history, in this case about Haps. The books themselves are sheer joy to have. This book contains a large variety of glorious Haps from different designers. You can find out more about Kate’s contribution to ‘knitting’ in its widest sense at and

(2) 50 tips from Shetland Knitters is a fantastic set consisting of 2 DVDs and lasts for over 3 hours. I have discussed this before. 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Shetland Wool Week: Day 24-26: Travelling Home:/Fri- Sun: 6-8 Oct

Surprisingly  despite the movement we slept well on the ferry, in fact better than when travelling over. We had breakfast early and were ready to start driving home at 7.30. Usually it is easy for M to get the motorhome off the ferry and come back for a leisurely breakfast, today was rather different. There was a larger boat waiting for the brith and whilst you could return for breakfast you would be treated to a little trip out of the harbour for a couple of hours or so. We were quite keen to start the journey home. 

We had a good start and knew we were aiming for Glendoick garden centre. We stopped there on the way up and as we arrived they were just opening. This has a nice cafe and we enjoyed a very nice second breakfast. (We find the route to Aberdeen rather sparse in terms of good stops, so if anyone has any other good ones we will be pleased to hear about them). Lunch was at Cairn Lodge where again you can leave the road completely, although we got our own lunch. Traffic was good, we wondered how it would be on a Friday, and we aimed for Ecclesfechan where we had booked a stop for the night. This was OK, lots of static caravans and without the quality of facilities we enjoy at a Caravan and Motorhome Club  site but perfectly fine for a night. I started to loose the feeling in my left side, so took the pills and went to bed. 

Saturday was even quieter on the road and we were only driving down to Vale Royal in Cheshire. We actually enjoyed stopping at Tebay which is a great independent motorway stop on the M6. We stocked up with great food at the farm shop and were down to our home for the night  by early afternoon. We were going to be picked up by friends and would enjoy dinner at the Bells of Peover. It was lovely to catch up with them and we enjoyed the meal, another bonus for this campsite is that the gastropub is just a short drive (or could be a walk over the fields) away. 

We set out on Sunday early, even less traffic, very few lorries but the roadworks were still there in Cheshire. We arrived home at 13.10. 

What a wonderful trip we had had. We love Shetland. We plan to go back, but will we wait a whole 11 months before we set off again....maybe not. 

I can’t choose my best two images, but these two give a range.
Unst - our view, one way, from the Motorhome.

Ollaberry Exhibition, before it officially opened

Look carefully to see the number of items just in this one view and each one you can ‘get up close’ too and each one is worth of hours of study. Tremendous

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Shetland Wool Week: Day21-23: Our three bonus days: Tues-Thurs 3-5 Oct

Monday night had been very blustery, we moved the motor home to a more sheltered spot, but it still wobbled during the night. This is unsettling, but rare. We were very glad we had changed the ferry booking (although friends were on it and said it was not too bad). Even stronger gales were forecast for Tuesday so we were even more pleased we couldn’t be accommodated until Thursday. There were some knock on effects to our change of plans, we were missing a theatre trip on Friday and I was giving a talk on Tuesday so I would have to turn my mind to that as soon as I got in- how would the new laptop ‘like’ the projector? I also needed to visit the venue to check there was a suitable projecting area. However, our son and family were going to cook for us on Sunday the day we would arrive home. 
We had  a real rest day  the Tuesday. I realised that I could get in the Museum archives and not be clock watching all the time. Each year I was reading a bit more of Knitting by the Fireside and on the Hillside by Linda Fryer. (At some expense I have now managed to buy this book, so can use my archive time for other things on my list!). We also took time to look at the non textile exhibits in the museum. The Museum is excellent and we always enjoy being there. All is well displayed and labelled. 
Tuesday night was calmer for us, not sure about at sea! We decided to a drive round and thought  we would get to Scalloway Museum as we had not made it that far in Wool Week. Unfortunately we had chosen the day it was closed for a conference. We decided to drive further on and look at Hamnavoe as we had not been there before. The weather was beginning to come in and get exciting. On the way back we thought we would look at Meal beach, one of our favourites (1) and today the waves were exciting and even for Shetland it was very wet. 
A view from Meal beach car park ...including a glimpse of our ‘home from home’ 

So down to Hoswick as there was talk of another bird.  The weather was much calmer and I enjoyed looking at the beach and knitting, now up to 30 of the 60 repeats on the edging of the Houlland Shawl. 

Thursday was going to be our last day, so we treated ourselves to coffee again at Mackenzie’s and got tempted by some artwork for the lounge to remind us of the week. 
On the side of a bookcase

It was a dull day but very calm, we pottered in Lerwick and had a pleasant last day. The ferry was to leave at the normal time (always a good sign). However,  as we got on the ferry, the motor home was chained down, in all our trips this had not happened so at this point I took the travel sickness medication! Anti slip mats were everywhere in the lounge and the captain announced that we needed to use the rails and be cautious as ‘large movement’ was expected. There were still other wool weekers going home, it was nice to chat to Carol and Peter Leonard (who I bought my tiny James Bosworth spindle from many years ago) in the lounge. We still had dinner then got our heads down soon after. Local advice was to get horizontal as soon as possible on a rough crossing. 

(1) see post of Fri 2 Nov 2012 for a view from Meal beach in the summer. 

Monday, 12 February 2018

Shetland Wool Week: Day 20: A change of plan: Mon 2 Oct

I was awake early and heard the shipping forecast. This was unsettling as the gales forecast for Monday evening were even stronger than they were last night. We had friends on the boat and heard  that the ferry journey was rough. We made a fairly quick decision that we need not travel on the ferry tonight, we could stay over until Tuesday and hope the storm would have settled. I contacted the ferry team once they were available and although we could travel on Tuesday, the van could not be accommodated until Thursday. Fortunately there was also a cabin for us then so we changed the booking, hoping that by Thursday  there would not be another storm with the resultant  gale force winds. So we now had another 3 days and looked forwards to winding down as the past 24 days had been pretty intense. (Even though we had been only 20 days, the time leading up to us being away in the van for that long needed careful planning and then there is the added stuff I need /want to bring to Wool Week.)

I had arranged to see Elizabeth Johnston briefly on the Monday morning to have a detailed discussion about some machine knitting processes and I knew she had people to take to the airport. Elizabeth not only understood the questions I was asking but could also give me more than one answer. I am very grateful to her both for her expertise and willingness to see me after what must have been an exhausting week. We enjoyed the trip down to Scousburgh and reminded ourselves of how wonderful that south western coast of mainland is. 

I was rather envious as both Minnie and Elizabeth were off to the North Atlantic Native Sheep  and Wool Conference in the Isle of Man. Perhaps one year soon I will be able to attend this conference too. 
Well, it had to be Mackenzie’s for coffee as we passed by to return to Lerwick, this time I had sticky fruit cake. As expected this was delicious. Today we decided to have lunch in Mareel. Their bacon and cheese croissant was as delicious as the morning cake. 
Now a leisurely trip to Jamieson and Smith. My aim was to choose some yarn to dye and then knit the Lunklet Jacket pattern. I spotted another Christmas present - the Jamieson and Smith story, which also contained some lovely patterns and I was also tempted by some individual patterns too. 

By now the weather had turned, it was very wet and very windy and we decided to go back to the campsite and hunker down. I would have time to knit, such a treat. I decided to work on the edging for the Houlland  Shawl (Donna Smith)and noticed just how much easier lace knitting  is with a knitting belt and rapein string.