Thursday, 13 September 2018

Mirrie Dancers part 2

Having finished Michael’s hat I set about choosing colours for mine. I took the same photo as inspiration (see previous post) and tried to make it more pink to match a jacket I had made for Wool Week. I wanted to  incorporate the purple as I would likely be wearing not my outer Berghaus most of the time, and I would also like to include the bright lime colour as well as some of my hand dyed yarn. 

These criteria I set myself nearly became too much. I decided I would over dye some of my Ground Elder base colour from last year’s Wool Week cardigan with indigo.(1)  This was the first challenge ....eventually after several trials I got a colour I was happy with. 

Then the issue of a suitable pink nearly proved insurmountable. I had lots of pinks dyed with cochineal, but these were either too warm or too cool in undertone. I tried my stock of J and S dyed yarn and couldn’t get a combination I was happy with. I then remembered I had some stronger pink left over from a fair isle ‘chair’ mitts project and the most shocking pink of this seemed to fit the bill. 

There was lots of sampling and some is shown  here. This is the only way for me to be sure that I have the colours correct.

Some sampling - the pale cool pink is ‘wrong’, trying others on the bottom row. 

I also made the decision to do the greens and pinks in the reverse order to Michael’s hat, so then I would have pink in the crown where he had the lime green. 

All was left then was the knitting, which would probably take no longer than the deciding on colours phase. I knitted the main pattern as before using the knitting machine starting and ending with waste yarn. I used dpns for hand knitting the crown. After this I would use the same dpns for knitting the ribs downwards. 

More sampling occurred to get the colour combination I liked best. 

Wrapping to get the colours in the rib to my liking

I knitted the ribs in my ‘normal for me’ way and cast off in rib.

I love the resulting Mirrie Dancers hat and look forward to wearing it. 

  1. Photos of last years Ground Elder cardigan and details of the making of this can be found here in three posts of 4 April 18 and 6 April 18 
  2. Apologies for the less than brilliant colour in this post and the last one, I was working in my travelling ‘home’ when I took the photos. 

Mirrie Dancers Hat part 1

I absolutely love the pattern for the Shetland Wool Week hat this year. It has been designed by Elizabeth Johnston who is this year’s well deserved patron. This is special to me as it was Elizabeth that first taught me to spin in Shetland many years ago.... and in effect changed my life. 

The pattern 

I bought a postcard of Mirrie Dancers taken from Unst ...our favourite island in Shetland. (For those wondering what Mirrie Dancers are, they are what we would call ‘The Northern Lights’. ) 

As always I will knit a hat for Michael first, to judge the size and then knit mine, for my small (!?) head, with some tweaking. We chose colours for M’s hat when we had the pleasure to go to Jamieson’s Mill shop in Sandwich when we were in Shetland in June. 

The colours we bought.

So I looked at previous patterns and decided that M’s hat, if it was to go round his head comfortably needed 168 stitches, so that would mean 7 pattern repeats and further adjustment for the crown to have 6 repeats rather than 5 noted in the pattern instructions. As in previous years I punched a card to use for the main body of the hat with the knitting machine. As with other Wool Week hats I would knit the crown and rib in the round using dpns (3) and thus be able to use my knitting belt. 

I rearranged the colours from Jamieson’s and added another colour in addition to Elizabeth’s original design. In all I used 6 colours. I thought  I would knit a sample using yarns and colours from my stash that were as close as I could manage. I did not have dark grey so used black. 

I was pleased with my rearrangement compared to the pattern and knew I now needed to knit a sample in the real yarns. 

This was just not as striking, the purple was not standing out but appeared so much more muted. 

This shows the importance of : 

   Taking into account the value of all yarns

   Understanding how yarns react with adjacent yarns

   Sampling and sampling ......

So I looked further into my stash and found Shetland black jumper weight wool, left over from weaving the material for my black and red dogtooth skirt (2). 

The hat looked so much better with a black background as this restored the vibrancy of the Mirrie Dancers. The crown knitting was uneventful, I loved the effect given. I knitted the rib downwards again altering the pattern to give what I have began to call my rib. This was first used with the Croft house Wool Week hat in hand dyed meadowsweet yarns (4). Initially I cast off the rib super loosely but it turned out to be too loose so I had to carefully take that out yarn is not good for my eyes and in fact just used a plain rib cast off but on a bigger needle size. 

The completed rib

The full hat will be unveiled at the opening ceremony for Wool Week 2018 where M will wear the hat. 

.... and now for my version...... however I so love this there may just be a matching pair. 

  1. The pattern is available from Shetland Wool Week web site and is free during this year. You are welcome to knit one but not to sell. 
  2. Pictures of this are on the ‘landing page’ of my website which shows a selection of photos from sheep to skirt 
  3. Dpns - double pointed knitting needles. I prefer these to circular ones and knit in the round with 3 needles and a knitting belt. The method being perfected following classes with Hazel Tindall and also with Amanda Pottinger and Janet Irvine (from Whalsay) in classes in previous years with Shetland Wool Week. 
  4. Ella designed this hat for Wool Week 2016;the meadowsweet hat that I knitted is described including the rib here

Monday, 23 July 2018

The completed mini Taatit Rug

A Taatit Rug is a Shetland Pile Bedcover. These were made between (approximately)  the 18th and 20th centuries. 

Those of you that follow this blog will know that last year at Wool Week (2017) I chose to attend  a talk by Carol Christianson (Taat Chat at Da Bod) about the history of Taatit Rugs in Shetland. I also attended a class on making a mini Taatit Rug by Kathy Coull. The post about these is 2Jan18. 

During the year and intermittently I have made progress on the sample, but the breakthrough to its progress came when I decided to take out quite a bit of what I had done. Our lounge has one of my favourite Shetland photos (Norwick Beach, Unst) that we have had made into a canvas and I realised that if I changed what I had sewn into the rug I could:

   Use some of my hand dyed and hand spun yarn

   Coordinate it to the room

   Turn it into a wall hanging so that I could enjoy it rather than it being in my completed project  boxes, notice the ‘s’ ! 

Like most projects that linger rather there was a motivating factor. I have signed up for the Advanced Taatit Rug workshop for this year and felt I needed to finish my first project. I have also got a little list of ‘things I wish I knew more about’ ready for this year’s workshop. 

Once I got going on what was now ‘my  mini Taatit Rug’ and not just the workshop sample I found it addictive. It is great to see how the colours interact and how too much of one can swamp the effect. 

So this is it - my contemporary Taatit Rug - along with the stimulus picture. 

This is the pile side and would be the side nearest to the occupant of the bed. 

The reverse side is just as much my favourite and in fact would be the side that was on show on the bed. 

However, the houses these were used in were often small and from the number of windows quite dark too and I don’t expect many people got a tour of the sleeping area. 

After my next class I hope to be able to weave my own backing ground  too. 

This lovely Taatit Rug was made for a couples wedding (traditionally each side of the family made half the rug). The couple, along with 7 children  and the Taatit Rug emigrated to New Zealand in 1874. 

The rug was donated to the Museum in 2014 by the couple’s great granddaughter. It is a beautiful  item to see and to read the story of it. (apologies for the reflection in the picture). If you get to the Museum in Lerwick it is well worth looking for this. 


  1. If you want to buy one book about Taatit Rugs I highly recommend Taatit Rugs by Carol Christiansen. 
  2. There is a wonderful little museum guide ‘ Guide to Shetland Museum Textile Collection’ £5 (when I bought it). 36 pages of joy and temptation. The booklet has a double page spread, including pictures, about Taatit Rugs. 
  3. The Bod is a restored fishing station is at Gremista, on the outskirts of Lerwick. It houses a wonderful collection of textiles and usually has volunteers demonstrating (mainly spinning and knitting) as well as hosting special exhibitions and having a shop of tempting locally made textile items . It is a must to visit in textile terms. Do check their website for opening times and allow yourself plenty of time for the visit. The volunteers are very knowledgeable and time can ‘just fly by’. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

Black and white bag

I have been meaning to write this blog for a while now. I see that I started weaving it in Feb 2017.

Each year in Norwich, at the Forum - the public space including the marvellous library- there is ‘Maker’s Month’. This is a makers delight as all manner of voluntary organisations plus some others show the public what they do and encourage people to take part. In previous y ears the 4 Norfolk Guilds of weavers, spinners and dyers have been there for one of these weeks. It is very tiring but lovely to show others what we do. 

It was at this event last year that I took my 8 shaft Katie loom, which is portable. I very much wanted to have something interesting on it to show what can be achieved on a shaft loom, compared to a rigid heddle which I also had with me. What tempted me to Weaving was a workshop where I wove a herringbone pattern on an already set up loom. I wove about 8” and managed to turn the strip into a little evening bag. 

Image of evening bag

I thought the herringbone pattern would be a nice interesting weave for demonstrating at maker’s month. I spent long time and practice pieces to decide on the yarn to use. In the end I constructed my own multiple strands  ‘yarn’ to use as the fancy yarn. This contained thread that I bought at Linton Tweeds.(1) The base yarn was from a mixed cone which was in my stash and from which I had knitted a suit many years ago. 

I used 6 shafts, the honeycomb pattern used 4and I used the other 2 to do a plain weave selvedge which would make any stitching easier. 

Image of the weave. 

So I had a length of material that reminded me greatly of Little Moreton Hall, the National Trust  property in Cheshire. It is a very black and white building and the leaded window reminded me of the honeycomb weave. Little Moreton Hall  was our nearest and best ‘tea shop’ when we lived in Cheshire and where as a member of Alsager Guild of Weavers, Spinners And Dyers I had many pleasant memories of our exhibitions there. 

Image of honeycomb windows  

So I decided I would make a Little Moreton Hall Bag. 

Photo of Little Moreton Hall

I used linen for the sides  and base. I washed the fabric in quite hot water so as to shrink the Shetland Wool warp threads and make the honeycomb more prominent. I then backed this with interfacing to give more structure. Inspired by the lichen on the roof of the hall I decided to get yellow leather handles. I was delighted when these arrived (2)

Now for the lining. I wished to dye this and unusually for me decided to use acid dyes - so I could get a good match to the handles. So trials took place and then I dyed a length of silk from Bollington in Cheshire. When we lived there I used to visit a mill once a year - I think in November when they had an open weekend and the most glorious lengths of silk could be bought from bins and end of rolls. (see post of 1Feb12) where you can see lining in my coat from the same place). However, whilst there I always searched out lengths of samples because of the plain white / natural coloured silk between the sample prints. It was one of these I retrieved from my stash to dye yellow to provide the lining for this bag. 

So now the bag had an outer shell, handle and lining. I was very pleased with it.

But, to my perfectionist self it was not finished. It needed braid over the join of the lining and  the outer shell. I initially tried this out with some matching commercial braid, but this jarred. 

I decided I would make some on my inklette (small Inkle) loom. I needed an exact match for the colours so decided if I used some  embroidery cotton then I would get a good choice of colours. So I took the bag with its lining to a stand in the  wonderful haberdashery shop in Diss,  called Albright of Diss. I selected the exact colours I wanted. Fortunately I had worked out how much I needed as there is very little length in those skeins in terms of weaving. So the braid was woven and stitched  in place.

 I added some vintage buttons, I guessed in use it would be good  to know which I intended to be the front and which the back of the bag. 

Finished bag 

The result is a bag I absolutely love. It started with wanting to weave something that looked interesting and as each stage was completed, I decided on the next. This is so against the way I usually work, when I have a picture of the finished item or garment in my mind. So this has been a lot more organic and I liked the journey as much as the product. 

(1) Linton Tweeds have some fancy yarns, they are known as producers  of superb fabrics. They have been weaving  for over 100 years and supply many luxury brands, think Chanel etc. If you are going up the M6 by Carlisle a diversion to the retail centre is a real treat - and there is a tea room. They also supply fabrics online and yarns, such as I have used in this bag. 

(2) Bag Handles From

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Hints and Tips for Machine Knitting (and Hand Knitting) Garments

I seem to meet a lot of knitters one way or another. When I say that something I am wearing is machine knitted occasionally someone says ‘that is cheating’. I smile sweetly and just think they are either jealous or have absolutely no idea what is involved in machine knitting. I know several people that machine knit and hand knit and these ones do appreciate the skill that goes into machine knitting. 

What follows if what I have discovered to work best over many years of hand and machine knitting. It is not the only way I am sure. It is just my way. 

I have had a knitting machine since 1974. (I think, I didn’t keep such careful records then! ) I still knit on this wonderful punchcard machine and as you might guess I own others too. 

My original knitting machine (1974?), you might notice it has yarn masts to carry eight yarns for Fair Isle knitting

So why do I machine knit? The answer to that is definitely not ‘because it is quicker’. I like to design my own patterns and often use wool that I have dyed and doing this takes time. If I could only have one answer to that question it would be ‘because the finish achieved can be very professional, with even stitches’. I also like the ability to use my own pattern shapes that I know will fit me (because I made them that way) and that I can knit in any yarn I choose - within reason. 

Another reason is of course that I know I will not meet another identical garment ....but of course this could be true for hand knitting too. 

I’ll go though the stages of the cardigan I have just knitted as I believe there are some things hand knitters might like to think about. 

The tension square and piece. 

I belong to several knitting groups in Facebook and not infrequently someone posts a beautiful jumper and then say ‘but it is rather too big or it is too short for me’ etc. This can be avoided if two things are in place: 

You have a schematic of the pattern with suggested measurements on it (if a commercial pattern) and your own measurements added in in those key areas

You make a big enough tension square (and if you machine knit I would suggest a strip up to the armhole if it is a jumper/cardigan type).

Assuming you have a schematic it is a great idea to make this up in some stretch jersey fabric which I have found is a pretty good trial for knitting. I would not rush this stage. This will give you a pretty good idea what the item will look like on you. You might love the pattern and then suddenly find that the shape will not suit you when you put the garment on. I also make a paper pattern at this stage of each piece when I am happy with the trial. I use this later. 

On a knitting machine it is usual to cast on 60 stitches and knit some rows in a similar but contrast yarn and then knit 60 rows but marking  the central 40 stitch width at say 3 places in these rows. Then more contrast knitting. 

This tension piece is then treated just as you would the finished item. So I wash it at the same temperature, dry it and press it. By measuring the width in cm of 40 stitches  and the length in cm of the 60 rows it is possible to work out how many stitches there are per cm and how many rows per cm. 

If it is a commercial pattern then these numbers can be compared to that and you can see if the jumper/ cardigan or whatever will fit you as a double check. 

If you are already a machine knitter I would also knit a strip 20sts or so wide of the length of the garment up to the armhole and treat this as you would the finished garment. I would then adjust the tension from this. It takes more time and more maths but I find it invaluable. 

What is the reason for this? When knitting bigger pieces of the garment the additional weights needed on the machine do alter the tension achieved and very little weight is usually used with the tension square. This avoids every jumper you knit turning out too long. 

So before I start knitting I have:

A schematic diagram of what you I am knitting, with my size on all the important lengths and widths 

An exact pattern piece of each piece I will be knitting 

The tension square which is also labelled with the tension dial number (equivalent to the size of needles used if hand knitting) and 

My knitted strip up to the armhole. (This is to double check the tension given for the rows of the tension square and allows any fine tuning needed to get the row measurements exactly spot on.) 

My final measurements for 40 sts and hence stitches per cm and 60 rows and hence rows per cm. 

Now the knitting can start. 

I won’t describe this in detail only to say that I use:

a lot of what is called ‘waste knitting’.  So for example before casting on I knit at least 10 rows in another similar yarn - and I know someone who always knits 20 rows. I then cast on, on the machine, the edge is then much neater. 

I mark the centre of the back and front (if this is a jumper) and also centre of sleeves, top and bottom. 

I note down numbers of stitches and rows for each stage, eg width at the armhole and length to the armhole. 

After knitting- sometimes this stage takes me as long as the machine knitting. 

I wash each piece and dry as I would if it was already completed. 

I then block each piece of the knitting on top of the pattern piece I have made. So I know that my finished garment will be the size I want and will fit me not some mythical ‘other person’. 

I would join shoulder seams on the knitting machine, which would be the equivalent to three needle cast off in hand knitting. I also do neckbands by a cut and sew method. 

All other pieces I join using a normal sewing machine with a very slight zig zag stitch. For those that follow what I do, this was even the case in my Ground Elder Fair Isle Cardigan. I do pin at 90o to the seam, pins 1 cm apart with a double  push through the knitting so they won’t slide out. If it is a complicated pattern  which must match exactly I tack carefully before stitching too. I don’t start right at the edge but about a cm up and then when the seam is finished I work downwards so I can ensure the edges match exactly. I do join rib seams from the outside by hand to get an invisible join. 

Pinning pieces together before using a sewing machine to join them.

The message from this is plan to spend some considerable time in planning, preparation and finishing. It will show in the finished garment. 

I hope all knitters have  found something useful in this. 

If I am going to take the trouble to knit a garment I want it to fit me, look good and last for as long as I want. 

My latest finished jacket

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Hanse, Shetland, Norfolk and Textiles

This is likely to be part one of an ongoing investigation

My interested in the Hanse started in 2014 when we stayed on the campsite at Uyeasound in Unst, Shetland. There is a small building adjacent to this called Greenwell’s Booth. On doing some research I found it was a Hanse building. Then on visiting Whalsay we saw another Hanse building which was much bigger with two stories. One floor of the inside had lots of interpretive panels about this. 

Whalsay Hanse Building. 

So what is the Hanse? 

It is the medieval German word for ‘Convoy’. Another term that crops up a lot is ‘Hanseatic League’ which was a medieval group of towns/ regions  that stretched across Northern Europe and the Baltic region allowing ports to be connected and merchants to share economic interests. It influenced more than five centuries of trade in the Baltic and North Sea regions. This is a very simple explanation and the more I delve into this the more fascinating it becomes. Actual records from the time are few and far between but recent excavations etc and the use of more accurate analysis methods are yielding more facts. Norfolk (and the wider area of East Anglia) did a lot of trade by sea. It seems there were three Norfolk Ports with Hanseatic links - Great Yarmouth, Norwich (which had shipping up to its centre for quite a time in its past) and King’s Lynn. 

Researching the Hanse leaves me with conflicting impressions about it. At times I think it was a great early example of cross country co-operation moving goods from country to country. At others I get the idea it was quite exploitative and that local traders were ‘taken advantage of’. Perhaps it was a bit of both. The Hanseatic League in one form or another lasted for hundreds of years - from the 12 th Century to  17th Century. The discovery of America and internal conflicts seem to have led to the final break up of this complex trading network. 

Knowing that much of the export trade to the continent from Great Yarmouth and Norwich was in wool and cloth and the imports included dyes,  investigating the Hanse is fascinating to me. 

On the weekend of (18th - 20th May 2018) Kings Lynn held a three day Hanse Festival. (This is an annual event.) We were fortunate to be able to attend and do the Hanse Walk, which took in eleven, yes eleven Hanse highlights. It was so fascinating I am wanting to go back and discover more. Unfortunately we could only spend an hour or so, but it was so hot that we could not take any more. The northern part of Kings Lynn is the relevant area for all things Hanse and  although I have lived in the county for many years altogether I have never been to this before. 

This image shows the side of the only remaining Hanse warehouse in England Hanse House in Kings Lynn built in 1485. The river is in the far distance (in front  of the grass). The Georgian ‘makeover’ on the right is part of the original building. 

Note: There is a modern Hanse which King’s Lynn joined in 2005 as the first UK town. There are over 180 towns/ cities which are members and that were  part of the medieval Hanseatic League, across Northern Europe. The aim of this is to cultivate traditions and exchange between the participants. 

Sources include: 

Kings Lynn- Hanse Festival 2018 and 2 leaflets from the Tourist Information Office (Festival map and programme, Hanseatic King’s Lynn a self guided trail)

Essays in Hanseatic History  The King’s  Lynn Symposium 1998 ed. Klaus Friedland and Paul Richards. 

Uyeasound, Shetland, Hanseatic Booth: Information Board 

Whalsay, Shetland, Hanseatic Booth : Information Display 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Fair Isle Inspiration from a local Orchid

In 1759 the Royal Society of Arts encouraged the large scale mapping of the counties of England and Wales. The mapping of Norfolk was undertaken by William Faden, who was geographer to King George III and was planned at one inch per stature mile. I love this map. It shows the the lane I live on was bordered by Carleton Common and parts of it were either just enclosed or would become enclosed in the following years. The southern area was not enclosed and has remained a common until this day. It is now called New Buckenham Common as it is just outside the picturesque village of New Buckenham which has a coffee shop, general stores and great restaurant. The common is now a SSI of approximately 37ha and under the management of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. There have been commoners rights to the land since the 12th Century.

It is an area of mainly unimproved grassland with a large pond and other areas of open water. 
General view of  the common
It is one of my favourite places, not least for the rare Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio) of which there is the largest colony in Norfolk. On one of the balmy, hot sunny days last week we walked there  to see the orchids and were not disappointed. 

An orchid colony with other grassland plants

One of the orchids. 
Confusingly the flowers tend to be purple or pinky, they have 3 lobes. The sepals above the flower appear as a hood- it is this that has the green veins. 

I am deciding on a fair isle jumper or cardigan to knit. I have decided it will be my orchid jumper/cardigan. After deciding on the design the next stage will be mathematical. I will naturally dye the wool that I will use in the green winged orchid inspired design. Wearing it I will think of this beautiful place so near to my home. 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Harris Tweed and an Ercol Suite

Some time in 2016, while on a trip to our wonderful North Norfolk coast we spotted an Ercol Chair in a vintage shop in Holt. We were attracted to it  but the cushions were in the original fabric and needed recovering. 

Image of original chair 

I decided I could do that. We liked the chair and later spotted a high backed  Windsor version on eBay (the initial chair was a low  backed Windsor). However, bad luck got in the way of the first two attempted purchases but eventually we found one locally. Again this needed recovering. I have not done upholstery like this before. We decided before we went to the Outer Hebrides in 2016 that we would buy some Harris Tweed for the recovering from my favourite Harris Tweed Shop, Harris Tweed, Isle of Harris in Tabbert (1). 

Estimating the amount was difficult, but I guessed as long as I estimated over it would be fine....I could always make something with what was left. 

We went to Harris and bought the material which would co-ordinate with the lounge which we were in the middle of decorating. Life got in the way- the decorating took longer, we went to Shetland, I knitted etc so we got to 2017.

By chance I was at DesignerMakers 21(2) in Diss running some natural Dyeing Workshops at the same time as Bethany (3) had a pop up shop with some delightful artwork and some Ercol Chairs like ours that were sprayed shocking pink and white. 

One of Bethany’s chairs

When we got home we found out that both of us wondered if our chairs could be sprayed too but in colours to co-ordinate with the Harris Tweed and the redecorated lounge. Bethany was great, there was much colour matching and samples and the chairs  went to the sprayer in Bury St Edmunds. 

We had one replacement cushion made, the others were all in good condition and  I made the covers. This was a big job, we had estimated the amount of fabric needed before buying it. However we needed scale diagrams to get an accurate cutting plan. I took the covers apart to ensure that I cut out the exact size for the cushions. They needed to have no ease so they looked ‘tight’ on the cushions. Zips were purchased from Jaycott’s (3) and I learnt as I went along. Adding the buttons through the back of the upright cushion was the biggest challenge -not counting doing the construction in the correct order. I backed the seat cushions with iron on interfacing (as I do when I sew my own weaving), this came from Gill Arnold (4).

We got photos of the sprayed chairs from Bethany and I was more than pleased with the cushions, wouldn’t it be great (I thought) if we could find a sofa to match and replace our leather sofa. So time for another search on eBay and this time we found one straight away and set off to Essex in the motorhome to collect it.

We did wonder as we got close if we could get to the owner, our van is just more than 2 metres wide and we needed a large detour just as we approached the village. This sofa was in great condition, all new cushions and they had been recently recovered.  It did seem a shame to recover the suite but recovering in Harris Tweed was the plan. 

I contacted the shop in Harris, sending a sample and crossing my fingers. They had the length and even though this had got close to Christmas 2017, they were sure it would be delivered before Christmas. So a massive parcel of Harris Tweed arrived. The sprayer kept the chairs to get a good match and I came to realise I was committing myself to as much upholstery as I had already done. 

This was daunting. 

We collected the suite before Christmas and just LOVED what we had had done. 

The two chairs were upholstered for Christmas, this is a quick snap of one:

I had a break for Christmas. 

Then I set about the task of recovering 4 more cushions. Again the buttoning was the most challenging, but I had already done this twice. I was very glad I had a long weaver’s needle and enough strength in my body to squeeze the cushion whilst pulling the thread though and fastening on the back button. 

I was rewarded by their appearance and couldn’t stop looking at them. 

The completed suite 

We know that Ercol Chairs first show wear on the arm tips...this is where the ones we started with had gone. So I have knitted them fair isle mitts to match the colour scheme and actually feel they add to the look. 

Fair isle mitts detail

I have just returned to normal sewing. This time a pair of trousers for myself...which being trousers are proving a challenge of a different sort..this is another story for a later time. 

  1. Harris Tweed from Harris
  2. DesignerMakers21 in Diss, Norfolk
  3. Bethany - the designer of the chairs
  4. I find Jaycotts have a great selection of zips, in colour, size and type, all at a reasonable price and they deliver quickly
  5. I have taken several workshops with Gill Arnold over the years, focused on couture and tailoring. She sells good quality interfacing of all types.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Scouring vegetable fibres and indigo

‘Should I scour the vegetable fibres that I am going to dye with indigo?’ This was the jist of a very sensible question I was asked prior to running an indigo dyeing workshop. 

My gut reaction was to say of course it is better to scour. If the question had been asked of wool or another protein fibre such as silk I would have said ‘yes’ without really thinking about it. Lanolin remaining in wool is notorious for forming a barrier and resulting in uneven dyeing. However vegetable fibres have a different structure entirely and I decided to do a controlled experiment - or as controlled an experiment as I could manage - before I replied. I have learnt that it is best to check what you read on the internet and more surprisingly in printed books. 

So I took hemp and cotton fibres from the same sources that I had used for a the meadowsweet dyeing experiment. I was pretty sure that  the improved uptake of the meadowsweet dye was in part due to the more vigorous scouring the fibres received. 

So 2 sets of yarns (hemp and cotton) were prepared:

Set one - to be scoured with washing soda at 100% dry mass of fibre by boiling in the solution for 2 hours 

Set two - to be rubbed in a warm washing up solution for 5 minutes to ‘wet’ them.

After this treatment they were rinsed and dipped for one minute in an Indigo bath before being ‘swung’ outside in the air and rinsed as I would normally do and hung up to dry fully. 

These are the results:

Reading from the top: hemp not scoured, hemp scoured, cotton not scoured, cotton scoured 


2 hours of scouring made no difference whatsoever in the uptake or (initial fastness with indigo). 

Of course I do not know how the fibres had been treated before they got to me. But what I do know is how much better they reacted with meadowsweet dye when they had received the more vigorous scouring. 

NB Further experiments are being undertaken on the effectiveness of the scouring method with vegetable fibres and non indigo natural dyes. 

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Natural Dyeing of Vegetable Fibres


I think  of myself as a natural dyer, I do quite a bit of it with ANIMAL fibres. If I want to dye vegetable fibres like cotton or linen I have  use Procion dyes. However, during  a workshop I was running last year I got asked about natural dyeing for vegetable fibres. This was a very apt question as I now live in an area that was, historically, very important in terms of the growth and use of vegetable fibres- namely hemp and flax. I understand that the house I live in was once on land owned by Flaxlands Farm two doors away from my house and that the garden contained a retting pool. 

From this discussion I determined to research natural dyeing of vegetable fibres and try and find, or develop,  a method of dyeing them that gave the same saturated colours and fastness that I can achieve with wool. Many of the naturally dyed fibres and materials that I saw in my research were very pale and to be perfectly honest I am not interested in these. I wanted something that was vibrant, too many people seem to think that natural dyes only give washed out pastel shades. 

So I used my scientific background to take on this challenge. It was essential to consider the chemistry and structure of both the animal and plant fibres. It was here that my ‘old’ textile books came into their own. Different ‘experts’ had their own recipes for scouring and mordanting plant fibres but there was no way of knowing who was just quoting someone else’s method and no explanations of why these methods were noted as being THE way of doing it. For some of the methods I wondered if the author had ever even tried the method before quoting it in print. I have quite an extensive dye section in my textile ‘library’ and used online sources too from open access books, blogs and websites.  

The one thing I do know is that I have not discovered THE way of doing it, but I  currently have a method that works for me, that I can rationalise and partially understand and I think I can improve on still further. 

So I have tried 5 methods of preparing the fibres. I used hemp and cotton from the same sources throughout and each time used the same plant dye liquid extract at the same liquid to dry mass of fibre ratio. I have also dyed wool with the same dye liquid as my standard that I hope to reach with the vegetable fibre dyeing. 

I know that in natural dyeing with wool, the scouring of the fibre  and mordanting are key to the success of the final dyed yarn. I guessed (and found it to be true) that this is also the case with dyeing plant fibres. 

This is the undyed wool and wool dyed with Meadowsweet that I used as comparison 

I will summarise each test and show the results obtained:

For Tests 1-3 Scouring

the fibres were boiled in soft water (I used rain water) for an hour and then

the fibres were then boiled in a solution of soap (20%) and washing soda (6%) for 2 hours

The above seemed to be a standard method given by several authors. I presumed that rain water would be better than tap water. Our water is very hard and keeping tap water away from the soap seemed like a good idea. Using washing soda seemed appropriate to try and soften/ break down the cellulose plant cell walls. 

For test 1: Mordanting

Alum (25%) and  washing soda (6%) were used. I used the timings I often use for mordanting animal fibres of 45 mins to reach boiling point and 45 minutes to boil. 

For test 2: Mordanting 

Tannin (1%) dissolved in hot water and added to water, then fibres added, timing as in test 1

For test 3 Mordanting

This was time consuming as it was Method 1, followed by method 2, followed by method 1 again. 

The actual dyeing: 

Both mordanted (methods 1-3 above)  fibre types -cotton and hemp were then dyed as along with the mordanted wool. 

Meadowsweet  (gathered and dye extracted from the plant material 6 months previously) and used at 200% dye to dry fibre ratio. 

Image of tests 1-3 and Wool for comparison

I was completely underwhelmed with the plant fibres. However, these results did compare favourably with other available photographs of vegetable fibre ‘dyeing’. I was not satisfied. There had to be a better method, after all  for hundreds of years people must have dyed vegetable fibres with natural dyes. 

More research was needed. I decided I would need to try aluminium acetate as the mordant. I also intended to use soda ash instead of washing soda in the scouring. I had read that ash from a plant bonfire would be good and carefully saved this. However when added to the pan for the scouring the pH was barely alkaline so I abandoned that. 

I had read that  three times as much washing soda was needed as soda ash and having considered  the chemical formulae of each this seemed sensible as washing soda crystals contain a substantial amount of water. On taking the pH this was giving a very alkaline solution. (Note I was going to boil this liquid so I would be extremely careful that it did not splash on me, and not get near my eyes or mouth) either before, during or after the scouring. )

Test 4 and 5 : Scouring

The washing soda (105% yes a huge increase) was added to the pan of warm water and dissolved. The fibres were added. The pan was brought to the boil and boiled for 2 hours. The fibres were cooled in the pan. 

Prior to Mordanting for test 4 and 5  the fibres were soaked in boiled tap water for 2 hours before Scouring - this would soften them. 

Test 4 : Mordanting. 

Aluminium acetate (10%) was dissolved in hot water and then added to hot water in the pan. The fibres were added and left overnight. No additional heating was used.

The fibres were stirred at least every half and hour for the first three or so hours. 

This is the result after dyeing with meadowsweet:

This is much more like it. I was pleased with this result. 

Test 5: Mordanting

Tannin (10%)  was dissolved in hot water and the fibres were added and left for 2 hours. Then the fibres were mordanted as in test 4.

This is the result of test 5. I was disappointed as the dyeing is not even, but I do know some natural dyers prefer this look. 

This is an image of all the fibres together


What I have learnt: 

To obtain good results in terms of dyeing with natural dyes for animal (protein) fibres is a labour of love. It is time consuming and needs patience and, in my mind, accuracy to get good and repeatable results. For natural dyeing of plant fibres this is even more true, the added time aspect for plant fibres is significant. 

It is possible to dye vegetable  fibres with natural dyes and get even, saturated colours that are fast. My favourite method is Test  4.  However, I still have a couple of tweaks to make to this method before I am happy and of course I need to try it with more than one dyestuff. 

I would welcome comments from others dyeing plant fibres with natural dyes obtained from plants such as I used the meadowsweet here.