Thursday, 30 July 2020


2 days of chemistry, that I was very much looking forward too. I hadn’t dyed with woad for some time - actually 2005 when I looked it up. This year 3 plants germinated, low germination rate but they grew well and have grown brilliantly since being put out in the garden. 

I thought it was about time to do some dyeing with them. The first day was a long day as I needed to find some suitable yarn, make up skeins etc. I knew the method I was going to follow, having read endless books about it. I worked on one of Jill Godwin’s methods, and scaled it down to something I thought realistic as a trial. It was a long day and the skeins were very pale. Initially I was only dyeing one 5g skein so overload of the Vat was not the problem. I couldn’t see anything was amiss, I got an amazing dark ‘sherry’ colour when I had squeezed the woad out as hard as I could. 

I read the books again , Cardon (1) as usual being the best for confirming the process and explaining why each stage is needed. 

Not enough dye material I thought so I increased that the second day by about seven times! The result is better, whether it is 7 times deeper  in the scale of woad depth is questionable. 

It is incredibly hard to get the tones spot on in a photo! 

I am pleased the dyeing is so even. (2)

I can imagine any of the colours in delicate Shetland shawls but to be honest I would rather dye with indigo where I feel I am in control of the colour and spend the other day and a half knitting, working on a fine lace shawl, whether it be spinning or knitting. I am  very much a natural dyer  but, and I know this will upset some, woad is my least favourite dye. I know why it is 15 years since I nurtured the plants, extracted the dye and dyed with woad. 


  1. By ‘Cardon’ I mean Natural Dyes by Dominique Cardon. Often copied by other dye books and Natural  Dyers, not all who give credit to her! 
  2. The white flecks in some of the yarn are in a yarn labelled as 70% lambswool 20% angora 10% nylon. I think the nylon must be another man made fibre as nylon should dye as wool. It reminds me of the silk, which turned out not to be silk when I got the microscope on the fibres. (post of 1June20) Is this poor labelling (the polite way to put it) common in mixed yarns? 

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Hinnywaar Shawl and Grafting

I have been knitting the Hinnywaar Shawl, a pattern by Hazel Laurenson from Unst Heritage Centre. I bought this from the Heritage Centre  in 2018 I think. I knitted it in Jamieson and Smith Cobweb yarn using 2.5mm needles. I used 2 balls. I knitted it using a knitting belt. Blocked size is 155cm x 30 cm Mass is 43g (1.5oz). The pattern suggests Jamieson and Smith Shetland  Supreme but I used that for my last shawl and fancied a change. (Also I had this yarn already.) 

I have enjoyed knitting it a lot, especially as it reminds me of Unst and knitting and spinning with the ladies there, many of whom I have seen each year we have visited. 

I very much like how the corners ‘work’ 

It is constructed by knitting the bottom lace, picking up the stitches turning the two corners and then knitting up to the end of the first border. Each row has a different lace edging row ! This is left on a needle and then the above is repeated and the centre worked.  Then the two pieces are grafted. 

As I came towards the end thoughts turned to grafting. The middle section would be grated in garter stitch and other than doing a trial run to check I could still make a good job of this, that seemed fine. But grafting each edging was a different matter. There was the edging lace on each side and also lace faggoting with interlocking stitches. The  grafting I knew would not make these merge seamlessly and so would not be invisible. 

The graft is to go at the equivalent horizontal narrowest part of the lace shown in this image. 

The pattern just said join by grafting. 

Grafting was on my mind last Sept and I made a particular point of looking for grafting  wherever it was. I then studied the grafting of all the pieces of lace I saw during Shetland Wool Week. But the shawl I was knitting was at an early stage then and so I hadn’t really thought about grafting that. I was more interested then in the relative advantages and disadvantages of grafting mitred shawl edgings by knitting up or sewing and had discussions about this sort of grafting. 

I have become increasingly aware, having now completed the knitting of the Hinnywaar  Shawl of grafting across oblong shawls. It is good to see this in completed shawls in my different online lace knitting groups and also interesting to hear people say they are unhappy with their grafting or show their fine handiwork without the grafting showing. Clearly I am not the only fine lace knitter who would like to confidently graft a shawl that didn’t have the edging ‘interrupted ‘ by grafting and hence in my mind ‘draw my eye to it’. 

I have spent many hours/ days on this now trying to get my head round grafting this. (I am in the middle of a study of this and will post more about it as I continue to learn A LOT more! ) I changed where I ended the two pieces of the Hinnywaar Shawl and then realised as I adjusted the shawl to get the garter stitch correct for the grafting, the two edge pieces ended differently and hence I was on my own in unknown territory. 

So being a practical person I knitted two samples in similar yarn and set about doing my best with a different colour yarn to see what the grafting  looked like. I changed to the same colour for the garter stitch and then did the left hand edge in this yarn too. 

Right edge in contrasting yarn 

Left edge in identical yarn to knitting, improving 

I learnt a lot from this and worked out what I would do to work for me with this. As I learned more about grafting I realised I could have altered the pattern slightly before I started knitting any of it! (1)

I got the shawl ready for blocking and am really pleased with the whole shawl. Can you spot where I grafted it in the photo of me wearing it?I am pleased with  what I did but I know that this is not absolutely perfect. To me the join does not shout out however. 

Being very brave here and posting a close up of the actual graft

Still not perfect, but I know what the problem is with grafting the faggoting.

So I have achieved my aim but as this took me a whole day with a large magnifying lens in a stand and my strong reading glasses I cannot say I look forward to doing it again. I know it was my best effort but it is not perfect. It cannot be what other fine lace shawl knitters do! 

After I had done this I had another thought, and am surprised it didn’t occur to me before. I would look in ‘A Legacy of Shetland Lace’ by  Shetland Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers. It is a wonderful book from real experts in the field. I hope you have the book to see the variety of grafting and  non grafting methods used in those shawls. Non of them has told me exactly what I wanted to know however. 

I am still on my grafting journey, learning more each day and will post more when my brain had processed it.  I just need to find a few hours to sit down and get  to the right stage in another knitted trial and do the grafting again. I will then do another more technical post. 

What are your thoughts and experiences of this type of grafting ? 

  1. I do a lot of knitting and sewing  and my advice to myself is: ‘know how you are going to finish an item before you start’....why did I not follow that advice here! 

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Deep Coast

A couple of days ago we took ourselves to one of our (many) favourite places, a beach in Norfolk’s  Deep History coast which is a prehistory delight. 

We were there early and it wasn’t very busy! 

We were blessed with glorious weather which made the day. It is a special part of the world, ten thousand years  ago we would have been standing, not admiring the glorious blue sea and big sky but looking at land - grassland, scrub and marshland. There was no sea, but a land link with the rest of Europe. There would have been mammoth, rhino, hippos and our earliest ancestors would have used local flint, still common  today, to make tools for hunting. 

Nowadays the coast is subject to much erosion and it is this that has made the area so fascinating and so important.  

Previous sea defences I guess, such wonderful colours in the rust.

An eroding cliff, , with thousands of years of history sliced through.

In 2014  850,000 year old footprints of early man  were found, the oldest in the world out of Africa. As if that were not enough the most complete mammoth’s skeleton ever discovered was retrieved from the cliffs after a particularly bad storm. 

The footprints were found in something like this! 

These are just two of the reasons why, to me, it feels such a special place to be. I am pleased that it is now beginning to get the recognition nationally that it deserves. This is on top of having great beaches. I hope these photos give you a feel for this fascinating area. 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

My 2003 Shawl - part two

It was very difficult to photograph this shawl, subject of my last blog post.  I  realised  why! It needed re-blocking! 

The shawl now 

I washed  and re-blocked it  yesterday  to give 161 cm length  (only an increase of 1 cm ) but the width increased from 50 cm to 60 cm and it looks SO much better. 

The stitches have much better definition and the lustre shows through more. 

The cobweb border  before 

The cobweb border now re blocked 

The improved lace edging

The middle bead lozenge stitch

I was going to post the blog about the construction and finishing  of the Unst Hinnywaar shawl, this will wait a day or so now! 

Thursday, 16 July 2020

My 2003 Shawl

In one of the fb groups I belong to (1) we were asked to post something about cobweb or gossamer spinning or knitting from our past. I thought I would post about the first shawl  that I both spun the wool for and knitted.

Completed shawl taken in the Viking Longhouse  in Unst 2019

As I got it out I saw a note that says 1 hour to prepare 1g and 2 hours to knit the g! (It is interesting on the many times that I have demonstrated spinning and had some lace knitting with me, I can predict I will be asked how long does it take you to make that. I ought to do the calculation now and check how accurate it is.) 

The afternoon became  quite nostalgic and I thought it best to write a post about it. 

Before 2000 I was a lace knitter, using laceweight yarn but wanting to knit in finer yarn. We were fortunate to go to Shetland on holiday during the summer of 2000. We visited Jamieson and Smith and I bought Gladys Amdrego’s book Shetland Lace and some cobweb yarn to knit the ‘Fine Lace Stole’. This took 5 hanks of cobweb lace. From the weight of the finished stole I think a hank was half and ounce. However, looking round Unst Heritage Museum I saw shawls made of finer yarn and that was hand spun.

My husband wanted to go on a trip round Noss to see the birds and there was no way I was going in the tiny boat he was keen to jump in. I had been given a drop spindle and had brought it with me, as I could not work out how to use it. I decided I would go to Tourist information and ask if they could recommend me to someone who could teach me to spin. After much head scratching by the staff I was sent to The Spider’s Web and met Elizabeth Johnston. Much thought from her too as she had been ill but a date was fixed for when M would be enjoying his birdwatching trip. Not only did I want to learn to spin, my goal was to spin finely, as finely as the Unst  Shawls! 

Elizabeth and I met and she was clearly an expert- little did I know at that time what a great ‘first tutor’ I had met. My life changed. I had knitted since before going to school and now after all these years there was this whole new spinning life to explore. Elizabeth suggested I looked at getting a wheel and on the way back to Norfolk we stopped to see Michael’s sister in Yorkshire. She said the family had a spinning wheel in the loft that I could borrow. (2)

We got back to Norfolk and I started knitting the stole with the cobweb yarn I had purchased. No charts in the pattern then, just long lines of symbols and numbers. With the wheel I started to improve my spinning. I researched teachers  of spinning and we relocated to Cheshire in 2001 where I took on a very demanding new job. However, a good aspect of being in Cheshire was I could join 2 Guilds of Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing- one in Alsager which met on a Friday evening and one in Clywd, Wales that met for a whole day on a Saturday. 

So back to the first shawl I knitted in my own hand spun  yarn. The note with it says I started it in June 2003. To say I designed it myself would be exaggerating. I took the shape of the stole that I had knitted in the J and S cobweb yarn and choose my own motifs for the middle section and lace edging. These were chosen from Heirloom Knitting, the first edition by Sharon Miller. 

Bird’s Eye which remains one of my favourite patterns and was in the original stole. ( I had named it Ring Stitch, as does Gladys Amdrego does) 

Bead Lozenge from the middle

I knitted the shawl to the same plan as the previous stole in commercial yarn. Do the bottom lace, pick up the stitches along the long edge, turn the corners and then knit the lace edgings at the same time as the body of the piece. I do remember the lace edging repeat was different from the repeat for the border sections and the centre section so ‘maths’ was needed to get it to fit exactly.

Lace holes edging 

I had now finished spinning the yarn and plyed it. (3) To me the yarn was thinner than commercial cobweb and today given my much more experienced eye it is ‘mostly’ finer. Today I think that was quite an achievement from being non spinner for half of 2000 to starting a shawl with my hand spun yarn in 2003. I used Shetland wool from a fleece  I had sent from  J and S and once this was combed I took a handful of Angora  and combined the two. (4). It was knitted on old size 11 needles (3mm)

The shawl weighed 80g when finished and blocked was 160cm x 50cm. 

Whole shawl - very difficult to photograph! 

The note also says 80wpi, I am not sure if this was singles or plyed. (On now finding a small ball of yarn, it looks as if the 80 refers to the plied yarn. I was a novice back in those days and did not realise that wpi refers to the singles.) The shawl goes through a wedding ring. 

Today as I got the shawl  out and took a photo (after a photo shoot of my latest Unst shawl) the plyed yarn looks ‘thick’. What I do know is then I was less fierce in my blocking and will now wash it and block this again. 

I have been so fortunate from 2000 when I learnt to spin until now. I have had lessons in spinning from some extremely knowledgeable lace spinners and knitters. To me, although I have the books, watch the videos, spin and knit lots of samples and real lace items there is nothing like having a lesson with a real expert. (5)

Currently I am in the middle of a self imposed bit of research where I am spinning small sample skeins very finely ( think about 120 wpi, NM 2/30 , of the order of, that will be naturally dyed. On the lace knitting front I have just completed knitting another Unst Shawl this time in commercial cobweb yarn which has been challenging in respect of grafting, this will be the focus of my next post here. 

I look forward to reading other journeys into this obsession with cobweb and gossamer spinning and knitting. 

  1. The fb group is called cobweb and  gossamer spinning and knitting focusing on singles yarn (which can be plyed) 40wpi and above. 
  2. This was an Ashford Traditional and belonged to Michael’s Australian niece (through marriage). They had returned to live in Australia permanently and she left the wheel behind. Nearly 20 years later Jenny came to stay with us when on a visit and was able to see the wheel and we talked all things spinning and knitting.  
  3. Even in the shawls with the finest yarn, in Shetland, the yarn is likely to have been used plyed as this gives additional strength. The spun yarn was very very thin and spinning this needed much skill. 
  4. The Angora  Mohair added a lovely lustre  to my yarn. It came from Crookabeck Angoras  on the shores of Ullswater  in Cumbria and came from a flock of goats.
  5. One can feel when one is the presence of a real expert, having learned their skill over many years. There is a saying that Shetland spinners and knitters have it in the genes and there is much truth in this, but they would not call themselves experts. What does frustrate me is when people call themselves experts when they have learnt something one week and think they can teach it the following! Time put in refining skills and knowledge is so important and it shows. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Natural Dyeing from the garden

Somehow with lockdown, there were other things to do and worry about and surprisingly I did not feel like doing any natural dyeing. As I got the garden more ordered I suddenly felt like I could do some natural dyeing. I decided to try some garden plants I had not explored at all, or only used in solar dyeing. 

I found twelve 10g skeins, six in each of two different 4 ply wools, but had no idea if they were mordanted. I usually label everything I can so decided they needed to be treated as ‘just skeins’. 

I decided I would put them into four groups of three and sample the dye material on it’s own and use over dyeing or modifiers for two further skeins. In this way I would get an idea how I might treat they dye material in the future or if I would use it at all. As you can see below I aimed to match the skeins to some stimulus material. 

So this is how they were treated and what has resulted. 

All were scoured and mordanted with alum first. 

‘The barn door ‘ - Dyed with Peony heads  

Peony on its own  : plus madder : plus  copper 

Ornamental Poppy

‘ Rust at Ravenglass Beach’ -dyed with seed heads, leaves and stems 

From the dyebath : plus madder and cochineal : plus iron 


‘Sunset at a windmill in North Norfolk’ - dyed with whole plant except the roots 

From the dyebath: iron 1 : iron 2 


‘ A Shetland sunset’ - dyed with plant and buds but not roots

From the dyebath : madder 1 : madder 2 

The whole set of twelve ‘go together’ as they tend to do with natural dyeing.

Myself I prefer the Shetland Sunset batch.... now I wonder why that might be?My next favourite is the North Norfolk sunset with the toning greens. I am thinking I might try more of a range like this next time. It is ‘knowledge and experience’  judging the time to stop when a skein is in a dye bath and of course, just to add a further complication, when the skein is dry it is a lighter colour.