Friday, 26 August 2016

Crofthoose book cover in meadowsweet dyed yarn

Yesterday was the day for the Diss Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Challenge to be presented at the meeting. 
This year it was a lovely title - book cover! But why is it always a challenge that I complete at the last minute. Well, I did have a whole day to spare this year! 


I have been collecting ideas for the book challenge ever since the title was announced about a year ago. I decided I wanted a functional book that I would use often. I had thought about making a 'quiet' book for my 3 year old grandson. His elder brother inherited his father's ( our son) and I thought - well still think- it would be great to do a different one for Isaac. However, I didn't want to do just the cover for the challenge and haven't factored in enough time this year to do the whole book. It is still on my 'to do' list. 

This was not the only challenge I had on my mind. I need to knit this year's Shetland Wool Week hat.  Two years ago I used colours of seaweed from Skaw beach Unst (numerous  posts of Aug to Sept 2014) as inspiration to naturally dye my own Shetland  fleece (from  Jamieson and Smith) spun wool. The hat got lots of comments and in fact by sheer chance was shown on the front page of The Shetland Times newspaper! So I have something to live up to. I could not get any inspiration for an original hat. I loved this year's design - crofthouses by the patron Ella Gordon.(1) 

As I finished the Meadowsweet jumper I had inspiration for both the hat and the book. I would knit the hat and the book with meadowsweet dyed yarn, then I would have a matching jumper and hat to be worn during Shetland Wool Week and a notebook to match. These would all have their story which is what I love about the things I make. 

But this gave me a problem. I had only used  30 g of the separate colours for the yoke and although I thought it unlikely that all the remaining yarn would be used up by the hat I wasn't sure. ( More about the hat in a later post!) so I had to knit the hat first and manage to fit in making the book cover too. 

I decided I would make a knitted cover for an A6 sized notebook. This provided me with an opportunity to stretch my brain mathematically. So working from a tension square I had to work out how many crofthouses would fit across the book and how many repeats would work for the vertical. I didn't want any  crofthouses that were roofless. 

While I was waiting to finish knitting the hat I did fit in making a calico book sleeve to attach the book cover to. Fortunately a few years ago I made a cochineal book cover for an A6 book, so I had already worked out the techniques needed and the order of construction. 

The knitting was completed with the aid of a punchcard knitting machine in the same colour combinations as the hat. This piece of knitting needed blocking and drying before the next stages. These penultimate two stages, in my mind are crucial in any project - the weaving in of ends invisibly on the back and the edging details. 

It is much neater to split the yarn into the separate plies to hide in the knitting. It takes longer but the finished effect is easier. One of the yellow meadowsweet plies has been woven in here:

Both the bottom and top of the piece had 'waste knitting' to aid in picking up the stitches. I had employed the reverse garter stitch technique before and was happy with this again here. I use the term ' reverse' garter stitch because ordinary garter stitch with colour changes like this would show the colour changing row on the 'right' side of the piece. So some more planning needed to get the desired result. 

Finally the book cover was complete, with 24 hours to spare! 

I was glad I waited for inspiration for the book cover as I absolutely love the result, but I am determined to use it and enjoy it. 


One of the things I really like about MK is the uniformity of the stitches. However, MK makes knitting different and not easier! 

(1) Ella Gordon is Patron of Shetland Wool Week 2016. More about Ella and the pattern can be found on their website. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Meadowsweet Jumper - at last

It is finished ... and  more importantly I love it. 
It has taken me a year - only last week I had a reminder from Facebook with a picture of the yarn dyeing in the pan. At that stage I just loved the colour of the meadowsweet. Then I had the idea that I would see what others colours I could obtain by using additives and overdyeing. So I dyed a trial set of colours and then from that I had the thought of doing a Shetland Yoked  jumper. I adjusted the colours slightly. 
Then I had to work out how much of each yoke colour I needed. From reading several yoked patterns I made a decision and dyed the colours, these can be seen on the blog post of 3 May 2016.
The next problem was the actual yoked jumper pattern. I wanted to knit the main parts using my knitting machine and then work the yoke stitches by hand. This is the way many yoked jumpers were knitted in Shetland in the past. I decided I would pick up the stitches for the yoke rather than graft a completed yoke to the jumper. So this gave me a number of challenges - matching the machine stitch size and hand knitting needle size and also having a number of stitches from the knitting machine that would marry up with the number of stitches required for the yoke pattern repeat. As it turned out I drafted my own pattern for the shapes needed and used a traditional pattern for the yoke with some variations.  All these challenges meant I definitely needed to knit a trial  jumper. More with pictures on blogpost of 10 Jan 16.
Once the trial  jumper was complete, it fitted well. The yoke 'sat' well and all in all it couldn't have gone any better. I got lots of compliments when I wore it and tried to stop myself saying - 'it's only a practice'! Machine knitters - or is it knitters in general- seem to find it hard to accept praise for what they do. Even though I know how difficult it is to achieve what you set out to achieve by machine knitting! It is a complicated activity but when you get it right the results can be stunning. It is a pity there are still knitting machines lurking in lofts and under beds because people perceived the skill too difficult and gave up.  So I was then at the stage of having the dyed yarn and the assurance that the pattern I had devised would fit me and be suitable for the task.  
So time to start the meadowsweet jumper. Although the yarn was different from the trial jumper, having knitted tension squares I was convinced the minor differences were not substantial and hence the number of yoke stitches could be the same. Headache one over. 
My plan was to knit the back, front and sleeves before we went on holiday to the Hebrides in June, then during the holiday I would knit the yoke. Well I achieved the first aim and took the knitted and steamed pieces with me. These were joined just at the start of each sleeve back and front. However, the thought that I could knit the yoke when I was away was wrong - too much to see and do. I did pick up the stitches for the yoked and get the stitches sitting right. The centre front and back needed a motif centred there, I needed the correct number of stitches on the needle and the transition to the yoke needed to be the best I could make it. 
Knitting the yoke was very enjoyable, changing the colours and seeing the pattern build up I was really pleased with my choice of colours. I tried the jumper on and the fit over the shoulders was good, all was looking promising. 

The yoke colours
The one thing I wanted to change from the brown practice jumper was the neck. I felt it should be higher and so decided to increase the depth of the rib. This led to another problem- getting the jumper over my head. This meant I investigated a number of rib cast-offs and decided upon a very stretchy one which worked well. 
So then there was the blocking of the yoke. I did this with a combination of cold water spray, a silk organza pressing cloth and a steam iron. I then put the jumper  on my body duplicate ensuring that the damp wool was not touching the fabric of the body duplicate. The jumper dried for 24 hours, first outside on a warm summer's  day breeze, then overnight. 
Jumper drying on the body duplicate

Now it was time to join the body and sleeve seams. My first preference is to use my normal sewing machine on a small stretch stitch, but I do join the welts by hand starting in the middle of the welt and parking enough wool to use in each direction. 
Using the length of wool left from the cast off never gives such a good neat result. This can be completed so that the join is virtually invisible.

Welt joined by hand
Ends need weaving in and my aim is to have the inside as neat as the outside. Splitting the ends into their remaining plies doubles or trebles the work but is worth it in my view. 
So it was  finished, but I was not happy with the hand knitting above the yoke. The stitches were too loose and did not suit my perfectionist streak. So I took it  back to the top of the yoke and the following five attempts were made to give a better finish:
1.      Double thickness yarn – too thick
2.      Knitting two yarns separately as in fair isle – this matched the thickness of the fair isle but was untidy
3.      Use  a smaller needle size – big improvement but still not perfect
4.      Use a smaller needles size and recalculate the decreases so that they are 3 tog over a centre stitch and so much neater.
So at the fifth attempt I had the jumper I wished for. This latter ‘messing around’ could have been avoided if I had done trials before hand. It all seemed to work so well with the brown jumper. This was because the brown disguised the decreases compared to the meadowsweet colour and there were far fewer decreases as I left a wider neck. 
Yet another case of perfect planning gives the best outcome! Or ‘fail to plan means plan to fail’. This is the polite version of it….

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Dyeing with ground elder

A lot has happened since the last post! We spent most of June in The Hebrides which was glorious and I will do a textile journal here sometime soon - internet connection was very poor there and I gave up trying to keep in contact with the rest of the world.

So now it is August and some serious dyeing has taken place. Towards the end of July I ran a workshop for 12 of my local guild, Diss Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

I decided we would be very local and dye from 6 wild plants ( weeds) from my or the village where I live. I had used them all before for dyeing of some sort. So we used: Rosebay Willowherb, Ragwort ( this one I did need to get from a neighbouring village!), Nettle, Silverweed, Dock, Meadowsweet.

Probably the predominant plant in my garden, despite my efforts is ground elder. Wouldn't it be great it it was a decent dye - perhaps I would not hate it so much. So I decided I would dye 6 skeins of wool with this and use them to demonstrate with on the day during the afternoon when we were shifting the original colour obtained.

Half the plants ready for soaking

The weather was very hot indeed so I had to juggle my normal soaking times, but that all went well. Usually we have to worry about weather it would rain, this year it was could we survive being outside in the heat all day!

We had a glorious time and by lunchtime everyone had 6 dyed skeins from one of the dye plants.

But the afternoon was the exciting part, we had a range of additives and overdyes available and by the end of the day we had at least 36 different colours from the weeds! Everyone worked so hard and went home tired but happy.
Some of the skeins from the day

These are my 6 skeins from ground elder.
Left to right they are:
ground elder on its own, then plus copper, plus soda, plus iron, plus madder, plus indigo

I am going to make a knitted top from dyed ground elder. One of the good things about ground elder  ( probably the only good thing) is that it is around for a good part of the year! Not sure yet whether it will be a jumper or cardigan.

Many more photos of the day are on Diss Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Facebook page. If you are not on Facebook you can see some of the photos, if you are on Facebook you should be able to see at least 37 more.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Dyeing with madder, indigo/woad and weld

Here I am discussing it's place in history and my 'take' on this!

I am referring to dyeing wool yarn, but silk could also be dyed the same way.

 These are examples created for a dyeing workshop I led:

Dyes used are from the top: weld ; indigo ;  madder

                                          weld + indigo; initial yarn; madder + indigo

                                          weld+madder; indigo+tin; weld + copper

With these three dyes it is theoretically possible to get all the other colours of the spectrum. It is even possible to grow your own weld, madder and woad to make the process more sustainable and authentic. This is just what I love doing.

Here I will discuss the early relevance of these dyes and their link to the textile industry in Norwich. Why Norwich - well it is my town ( as far as the post office is concerned) but more importantly Norwich has a rich textile - and dyeing- history dating back over many centuries. Norwich and the surrounding area became extremely important in the Middle Ages and Medieval times - textiles being one of ( or THE main) industry leading to the city being the second city of the country.

The history of dyeing is fascinating and appeals to my scientific background. However, there are few records, textiles in general degenerate with time. Written records are also few and far between, dyers were master craftsmen and guarded their methods, often keeping the information in their heads. Also life was far from simple, there were many complications like wars that got in the way. However, I have had a good stab at verifying what follows and I hope you find it is interesting.

It is impossible to know when humans first dyed yarn. Dyeing is likely to have been discovered in different parts of the world at different times. Dyes are said to have been used in China in 6000 BC, but accounts of dyeing in Europe are found to (only!) go back to 1400BC. However, with developments in archaeological technology the dates get pushed back further.


Anyone who does any natural dyeing will know that many plants yield a yellow colour when dyeing. Many of these fade with keeping. Weld give a good yellow colour and also this is less fugitive(1) than many plants. It grows easily in sandy soils so can cope with hot dry conditions quite well and needs very little looking after. However, as with all plant dyes, the conditions it is grown in do affect the quality of the dye!
Pliny wrote about weld as a dye in AD 23 and it remains a useful yellow dye today. It is the simplest to use.
I usually boil up the plant material ( top of the plant) and strain it before adding scoured and mordanted yarn to the bath. If I am going to overdye to get orange ( with madder) or green with indigo I dye the yarn yellow with the weld first. Photo shows weld being added to madder overdye


There are records of this being known as a dye material since 1500BC and material dyed with madder was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Madder contains the dyestuff alizarin. We know it was grown in Central Asia. Recipes for using the dye have been found on a cuneiform tablet ( 1900 BC) and papyrus (about 1100BC). In Norwich, there is an area called the Maddermarket to this day implying that trade for it was important in the city. This implies that much of the madder used was imported and not grown locally. We know that Norwich had good trade links with Europe and countries bordering the North Sea up to the Baltic. In medieval times an area of Norwich was noted for Master Dyers and  is close to the River Wensum. This would have provided the necessary source of water. Red was a colour worn by the nobility, noted as the colour of power up to the middle of the 16th century and so important in cloth finishing in a wealthy city like Norwich.

Anyone who has handled madder will know it is the root that leaves a red mark on the skin! But we can only guess how it was discovered that madder works best below boiling point of the dye bath, but even early fragments of cloth dyed with madder give the impression that this was known. Besides fresh root, both chopped up root and powdered madder are available today. Using the powder, in particular, allows 'solutions' of known concentration to be made and thus the colour can be more or less repeatable. (2)

Indigo / woad

I have put these two dyes together because woad contains indigo, it is just that it is in a much less concentrated form and could be why wool dyed with woad is often shown a paler blue than that dyed with indigo. Indigo is first noted as coming from India. The leaves are used but extracting and using the dye can't be done as easily as with weld.
Again it is interesting to speculate how the method evolved, but as the materials available were plants, animals and minerals in soil it must have been chance or trial and error - early science.

Indigo is insoluble so trying to dye by boiling the leaves with water won't work! The dye needs to be dissolved in alkali and with a reducing agent this forms a colourless product which can be used to dye with - in the absence of oxygen.

Only when the wool is taken out of the dye bath and the oxygen re-enters the yarn does the indigo colour appear. By dipping the yarn back in the bath the colour can be built up in the yarn. Experienced dyers often build up the colour over many dips rather than one longer dip as it gives a more even and stable colour. Some have found that Indigo can have a tendency to leave the fibre and coat your hands, although fortunately I rarely have this problem. Again the whole process is sensitive to temperature and each dyer will develop their own variations on the method to enable them to get the shade of blue required.
It is stated that Boudicca was aware of the colouring properties of woad. She and her Iceni tribe used woad as face paint before battle ( c. AD 60-61).
So was locally grown woad the main source of indigo used for dyeing in Norwich? Or was the indigo like madder imported and traded in these times. Blue was the colour of clothes for the peasants for much of that time period. It is likely that woad was imported into Norwich. Edward 1st (1281) laid down rules for assessing the quality of woad which implies it was an important dye. Norwich being the textile centre it was, it seems likely that the dyers used this imported dye source. Disputes in the following years meant a dirth of woad imports. The situation could clearly be improved if woad was grown locally. As the dyeing of blue resulted in stronger and more even blues, blue became a more popular colour such that by late medieval times woad was the most used dyestuff particular for wool.

For these dyes to work, the yarn needs to be well scoured and mordanted first(3). When this is the case the dye takes up well and is a 'faster' (less affected by light and washing) dye. It is interesting to speculate how alum came to be used as a mordant. Early dyers would have realised that just boiling the dyestuff with water wasn't really successful so what could they try to improve it with? Anything from plants, animals or the ground would have been readily available. Alum has been found in fabrics from 2600BC and is mentioned in trade records from 1300BC. The Romans were able to purify the ore to obtain alum and we know that Bruges was the centre of a trade in textiles ( wool, dyestuffs, finished textiles) from the 9th century. East Anglia was well situated to be part of this trade and it is possible alum was involved but there were constant political interruptions in Europe. It's not certain that alum was being used by English dyers but when considering the good colours being achieved perhaps they were using alum. In 1540 an Italian metallurgist in a book (published posthumously) he  noted ' alum is no less necessary to dyers of wool and woollen cloth than bread is to human kind.' The alum used was mainly coming from Papal and Spanish mines during the 16th century and by the mid 16th century alum was one of the most precious cargoes traded across Europe. Combined with the expense any trade would prove difficult with Henry VIII in conflict with Rome. The search was on for English alum. In 1607 some was found in North Yorkshire but it was proving difficult to produce enough for the large textile industry and there were large financial losses. By 1635 1800 tons were mined and imports of alum could be banned but it wasn't until the 18th century that alum production began to be more profitable.

If you look carefully at the initial picture you will see two additional dye colours, indigo + tin (very little difference !) and weld + copper

The combinations and concentrations to try are virtually endless!

There are more pictures of dyeing with these three core dyes (and my dyeing using other dyes) on my website: under dyeing.

(1)        A fugitive dye fades- particularly in the light

(2)        If you have ever tried to dissolve madder you will know that ‘suspension’ is perhaps the more accurate term to use

(3)        This is not strictly true of woad/ indigo, but if like me, you have ready prepared scoured and mordanted yarn it is fine to use it in a woad/indigo vat.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Daffodil dyeing on a very local fleece

On a whim, as the daffodils were past their best in the garden I decided I would dye with daffodil as I had not tried this before. I knew I had a FSM - fermented suint method- (1) fleece from my neighbour. The sheep had spent some time on the field at the back of our garden so this appealed to me. The most local fleece I had and daffodils from the garden. I picked 200g of daffodil heads and put them in to soak for a week. So that 'said to me' I had 100g of wool to sort. In my head that translated into 10 skeins and 10 colours. So that became the project 10 colours from my daffodils on local wool - great. The sheep is not kept for its fleece, but for its taste! It is probably Texel!

So the rest makes sense here is the range of colours I obtained: left to right:
Daffodil: daffodil+ iron: daffodil + tin: daffodil + copper: daffodil + madder: daffodil + acid + iron 2: daffodil+ cochineal: daffodil + indigo: daffodil + alkali + logwood: daffodil + indigo 2 : yarn undyed
( if you came this way from Facebook, the colours will be slightly different as the images were taken with my iPad ( Facebook) and my 'real' camera for here)

I usually dye skeins not fleece, but this was going to be a departure for me, I was going to dye 'in the fleece'. This would mean I had to guess when dividing the wet daffodil dyed fleece into 10 lots. I decided I would do that although it offended my perfectionist tendencies.

After a week, I prepared the dye by my usual method , heating up the plant material and then leaving it to soak in the pan overnight before straining it. Next day I scoured ( washing up liquid) and mordanted the fleece (alum and cream of tartar) and then added this to the dye pan and the result was this. A very good colour to the fleece.
I divided the dyed fleece into 10 lots - didn't enjoy this much and regretted that I had not used skeins- but reminded myself it was needs must. Dye with daffodil like this or do not dye with daffodil at all. ( I do not have freezer space for large amounts of dye plants like I did before we moved back to Norfolk!)

I rinsed and dried one 10 g lot and then used additives of iron, tin and copper on three others so that by the end of the day I had 4 colours. The other 6 fleece 'lots' I kept is separate lots in plastic bags, tops folded over but not sealed.

After each dyeing session, the fleece was washed, I then hand picked it, hand carded it and then it was a session with the spinning wheel. I was really pleased with the resulting yarn. Although this didn't convince me that dyeing before spinning was my favourite method! However, it was fun to see what colour the spun up skein would be.

The next day I used acid ( white vinegar) and alkali( washing soda) as additives.
I checked that I was happy with the pH of each solution and the result was two shades of yellow that were very different from each other. However, on drying they were too close to the daffodil on its own (acid) and daffodil with tin (alkali) for my satisfaction. So thinking cap on and two different dyeing routes needed for these. (If you use washing soda as an additive do be careful, alkali is not good for wool. I rarely use acid and alkali as additives, as I have not found that either has significantly changed the original colour in all my dyeing yet and got more confirmation of this with daffodil! So still 6 more colours to find. I knew how I was getting the 4 I thought I would be left with, so just needed to decide what to do with these 2 extras.

So the following day I was going to make up a logwood bath and used that for overdyeing the daffodil+ alkali skein. I really liked the iron colour so decided to get a darker tone than I had already with the daffodil and acid skein. So this would account for the two extra colour I hoped. Yes, 2 very different colours and I was very happy with them.

For 2 of the remaining skeins I made an indigo bath and dipped the skeins for different lengths of time in total. Colours just as I hoped for.

For the remaining 2 skeins I made up a madder bath and cochineal bath and used these as an overdye. Again, all went to plan.

So 10 colours. However, I like to have a skein of the undyed yarn.

So the set of 11 skeins is shown at the start of this. This has been great fun and the colours reflect my house and garden at this time of year.

This is not quite the end of the daffodil story.
There were some daffodils that were not quite ready for de heading. I now have 40 g of these - 2 more lots of dyeing. These heads are in the freezer as I am going to experiment to see if the daffodil colour is even better from freezing. I know some people note this, so I will be doing the best controlled experiment on this that I can.

(1) FSM is my version of letting the fleece wash itself. To me, this is brilliant, no soap involved at all and just a nice amount of lanolin left in for spinning. Use the labels in the right of blog to see what I do if you are interested. I have described my method and shown pictures!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Meadowsweet dyed yarn and a yoked jumper

The yoked jumper ( post of 10 Jan 16) is very comfortable to wear. I now need to do some samples in the yarn for the meadowsweet jumper if I am to have it finished for the autumn. (Natural Dyeing life gets in the way during the summer months with me!).
I see that although I posted hanks of the yarn I dyed last summer I never posted the finished balls. So here they are.

top row:meadowsweet on its own
middle row : madder and madder overdye on meadowsweet
bottom row : meadowsweet with iron; meadowsweet with more iron: meadowsweet with tin

(If you wish to read more about these then press the label for meadowsweet on the right)

My plan is to knit the same pattern for the yoke as I did with the practice jumper if the stitch numbers work out.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Dress and Jacket Suit

Some years ago I made this jacket.
It is made from 2 skirt lengths from Linton Tweed fabrics in Carlisle. The lining is from a length of printed samples in silk from Smart's Mill in Bollington, Cheshire. I bought a large piece really for the plain silk between the swatches ( to dye with), but the colours are so great I have used several of the different colour ways.

I  like this jacket but really only had a Harris Tweed skirt that it matched nicely- I now have another skirt it will match (blog post here of 1 Feb 16) but I like to have more flexibility than that.

So I had one and a bit turquoise skirt lengths and some small prices of brown so I thought I would make a colour blocked dress. I was going to give it caps at the sleeves as there was not enough material for sleeves.

So last year I made a dress block and completed the majority of the dress. What to do at the armholes was still puzzling me so it lingered and lingered and winter came. So it went in the wardrobe.

I have just resurrected it and decided I would just use the lining of the bodice and make it sleeveless. I knew I would not be happy with cap or even short sleeves, so found an oatmeal close fitting top that looks nice under it.

But nothing is ever simple. I had a two colour bodice and the lining would show at the armholes possibly and at the next edge so I needed turquoise for the neck edge and chocolate brown at the armholes. Then I hit upon the idea of using different pieces of lining, much as I had done on the jacket to make the inside a delight to wear and to match the jacket. This seemed a good plan, but I didn't want the patterned silk to show at the neck at all, so I decided to make a neck facing instead. I just about had enough material for this.

The order of construction needed careful planning so the lining looked as good as the outside. It all worked out.
Belt loops were attached, hem completed and the dress was finally done.
and the back..
When I tried it on it felt a bit 'bare' at the neck. So a look ed through my scarf box and came up with an old favourite. This is made from fine silk with knitting yarns stitched on to it - on both sides of the silk. The yarns all tell a story, some are hand spun, some naturally dyed, some bought on Skye, some of garments no longer with me. The colour and feel was good but a long scarf was not suitable. Fortunately I had some silk left so enjoyed making another similar one which I stitched into a circular cowl.


So this is the completed dress and jacket. I feel it was worth all the effort.

Now I need a nice warm bright spring day to wear it.