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.