Natural Dyeing workshop

Yesterday was a busy day, and included a two hour workshop on very basic natural dyeing. Because I wanted to make it as accessible as possible, and keep costs low, it mainly featured ‘kitchen’ dyeing.

I’d asked people to provide thier own 100% DK wool yarn, (I even suggested a yarn brand to look for as I know this one dyes really well), and prepare it in hanks. I then mordanted it over the weekend, and took it into the workshop ready to go into the dye. Unfortunately there was some confusion (well isn’t there always), and so some brought Aran, others brought 4ply and they were all different spins and types of wool, (but luckily only wool blends, not with synthetics).  I’d written out clear instructions on how to make balls into 10g hanks on the back of a chair – but even that went a bit wrong for some, so I then had to unwind and re-hank it all. At that point I began to wonder why I was doing this for free!

So now I had a kilogram of yarn soaking ready to go into an Alum mordant. Of course the more wool, the more water, and the more likelihood that you will soak the floor – which of course I did. So by the time I got it into the mordant I was not in love with the yarn!

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My BIG pan was not big enough, so two lots were necessary, and the room was a bit steamy by the end of it all. I use a portable induction hob for dyeing – I think it is pretty energy efficient – and love it’s responsiveness.

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So on to the workshop. Our dye materials were:

  • red cabbage
  • turmeric
  • spinach
  • avocado stones (soaked in 1:6 ammonia/water solution for a week beforehand)
  • avocado skins (half soaked in 1:6 ammonia solution for a week beforehand)
  • used coffee grounds
  • onion skins

Ammonia and vinegar were the only modifiers used to change the acidity of the dye baths, as I did not want to work with copper or iron in this situation.

Firstly a concentrated dye was made by boiling up  the chopped red cabbage, onion skins, and coffee grounds in enough water to cover them. The avocado baths were brought to a high heat, but not boiled as this helps keep the colour fresh and pinker. Once the colour was really released (this took between 30-60 minutes), these concentrates were strained into larger pots, cold water was added to make them lukewarm, and salt stirred in to help fix the colours. The red cabbage was divided into three baths: one left plain, one with ammonia added and one with vinegar added. The plain dye yields a purply-blue, ammonia encourages the dye to yield blue/green and the vinegar brings out a lilac colour. This was the fun part; the students introduced their hanks of yarn to different dye baths and they were brought back up to tempature. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the lovely colours – even though I explained that they may change or wash out!

They experimented with tie-dying, dip-dyeing and rinsing and over-dye colours. Some more successful than others of course, and time (and hanks of yarn) were limited. One asked me, ‘Can I do this at home?’ , which seemed a strange question to me, but in retrospect it was a reasonable one, because it all seemed a bit to easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another day of natural dyeing

I spent a happy (ha ha) half hour picking nettles last week, and another not-so-painful time collecting laurel leaves. These were going to be my latest experiments in natural dyeing. Yes, I know everyone else has probably moved onto far more exotic materials, but I am still plodding along with what I remember to collect in the park or garden. Luckily I had a pair of gloves (it was windy and cold), and a clean dog poo-bag in which to store those nasty nettles. I didn’t think the nettles would sting through gloves, but they seemed to. My fingers were still stinging when I went to bed.

So I chopped up the nettles and laurel and boiled them in large pans, left them to steep in the cooling water and re-boiled the next day, left them to steep again.

Laurel leaves steeped for 24 hours
Nettles steeped for 24 hours

So far the liquid was looking a pretty good colour. Next I strained this off and pressed the remaining soggy leaves to remove all that precious colour. To encourage the dye bath the give up all its colour, I added some salt to the dye bath.

I had already mordanted hanks of DK wool, and some of Aran 60/40 wool acrylic in a pale tweedy beige to see what happened with this coloured blend. The mordant was 8% Alum with a teaspoon of cream of tartar added to the water. This was also boiled for an hour and left in the mordant overnight before being rinsed and used damp.

The damp hanks went into the dye baths, and simmered away for an hour or so, then I removed those and added some vinegar to the laurel bath and added some new hanks. This was supposed to make the colour a little pinker, but not sure it did.

The nettle hanks were put into a bowl of copper modifier to see if the green would intensify. It did.

Because I wanted to check out the colour saturation possible with the 60/40 blend, I had included a hank of this with each test.

Next I made a madder bath (cheating here with madder extract), and dyed two hanks – keeping the heat below boiling to try to preserve the brighter red. Not sure I managed this, but got some lovely rich reds.

Finally I made an onion skin bath and dyed a hand of 60/40 wool acrylic – bingo, this worked really well!

Out of the dyebaths and drying well

Above hanks left to right are: laurel (DK wool), Laurel (60/40), laurel +vinegar (DK wool), madder (60/40), madder (DK wool), nettle+copper modifier (DK wool), rather obscured hank is nettle (DK 50/50 wool acrylic – this slipped through when I was mordanting), nettle +vinegar (60/40), and at the top, onion skins (60/40).

And below are the small hanks wound into knitable balls.

On the left is a hank of hand spun yarn that I dyed the week before last using oyster mushrooms gathered from a tree trunk.

Oyster mushroom dye process

I dyed a couple of hanks with mushrooms, not an exciting colour, but very pretty.

Hand spun yarn dyed with oyster mushrooms. In background the yarn has been machine knitted with a silk in stripes before being dyed.

So that is that for the moment, but I am pleased with the results, and will be sharing them with students before a natural dye workshop next week. There won’t be time to stew up plants as I did for these, but we will be using red cabbage, carrots, madder extract, onion skins and turmeric with vinegar as a modifier. Plus we will be over-dying, dip dying and tie-dying for effects.

Should be fun!

Spinning days

Last week I hosted a ‘learn to spin’ afternoon. We had drop spindles and two wheels. Because no-one had spun before I started with lengths of commercial my sun yarn – about 12 metres each. These were used to learn the basics of working the spindle and twist direction.

After everyone was feeling more confident, fibre was introduced. This was lightly scoured Jacobs fleece with a little oil left to make it easier to spin.

Strengthened by team and home made oat biscuits we progressed to the wheels.

The Ashford single drive, double treadle Traveller was the most popular. But even that took some easing into.

Everyone got some yarn made.

We plan another soon.

The Multipom

The designers of the Multipom have been kind enough to send me one of these little gadgets so that I can try it out.

This is me discussing how I fared following the packet instructions and making 12 tiny pom-poms in DK yarn. I chose acrylic yarn for these test pom-poms, because I thought that would be a good test. In my experience wool yarn, or at least with some wool in it, makes the most luscious pom-poms. They must be steamed though. This opens out the fibres at the cut ends of the yarn, plumping them beautifully.

This was my method, following the instructions that came with the Multipom.

Firstly I wrapped the yarn 40 times, lengthwise around the Multipom. Doing fine so far.

Next it needed to be tied off into 12 equal lengths. Well not equal, as the end tie is closer, which was tricky. Somehow I managed to tie only 11 ties, but couldn’t work out where I had gone wrong. A ruler has been printed on the instruction sheet so it should have been easy. I put it down to me being tired!

Tied yarn on the Multipom

Tying the wrapping threads was challenging. Another pair of hands to hold the knots tight would have been helpful. The advice to use a strong thread is very sensible as you have to tug hard to make a nice ‘waist’ on each pom-pom before cutting.

Tying the knots tight enough was fiddly. Strong yarn needed, and strong fingers.

Anyway I decide to get ahead and cut them anyway. Cutting the end ones was awkward,so that pom-pom was more ragged than the others immediately after cutting.

Getting the scissors in to cut the end folded yarn was a bit awkward.

I rolled each cut pom-pom between my palms to encourage them into balls, and then started to trim them. This is where a pair of curved blade embroidery scissors would be useful.

The pom-poms after cutting but before being rolled between my palms.

Once again, a good tip is given in the instructions, ‘Don’t be afraid to cut too cut off quite a lot’, and thats what they mean Take it a little at a time and turn the pom-pom as you work; there is a lovely nugget of firm roundness inside those straggly monsters.

Trim,turn,trim,turn. And again

It took me at least 10 minutes to trim them all to my satisfaction.

Trimmed and almost done

Then I steamed them by hanging them inside an electric kettle. Do be careful if you do this. Don’t put too much water in the kettle so the pom-poms won’t get wet, and when you take them out be very very careful not to scald yourself with the boiling steam. Use an oven glove and let them cool before handing them. If they do get wet, don’t worry as this can improve their density. It just means you’ll have to wait for them to dry before working on them any further.

After steaming the outer fibres expand and fill in the shape.

So what’s my verdict on the process and result?

Is it quicker than making individual pom-poms on other gadgets?

Yes, although the trimming is a bit more arduous.

I find the yarn management much easier than when wrapping the small, individual pom-pom makers. It also avoids that situation where you are struggling to pop the two parts together, but they always spring apart again, or worse still the hinged bit pops off.

Cutting is a lot easier because you are just slicing straight across rather than inserting the blades between the plastic halves and trying to cut in a narrow space, whilst trying to hold the maker together. When using the Multipom there is the rather fiddly end cuts on the frame to deal with, but that’s only 2 per 12 pom-pom s, so pretty minimal compared to using an individual maker.

Wrapping core yarn is easier on an individual maker, as you seem to be able to get a better cinch around a circular waist, although that may improve with practise.

I haven’t tried larger pom-poms yet, but I suspect the individual pom-pom makers may give better results because trimming becomes more important to the final shape on big pom-poms.

So the Multipom gets my vote if you want to make lots of smaller or mini pom-poms, which after all is what it was designed for. However there is still space in my workshop drawer for the larger, individual pom-pom makers

Thanks once again to the Multipom team, it’s good to see innovative tools being designed to meet the diverse needs of the craft community.

‘Translating between hand and machine knitting’ is about to be published

i have just received my pre-publication copy of ‘Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting’, it was waiting here on my arrival home from holiday. It’s a great welcome home present.

Holding the book
My pre-publication copy just out of its wrapper.

Here are some sample pages.

Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting

A pre-publication glimpse of my new book, Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting.

CoverTo be published by Crowood Press in summer 2018, this book is lavishly illustrated with clear step-by-step instructions on knitting techniques, stitch structures and fabric constructions.

Unlike many other knitting books, this one explains why knit stitches behave in certain ways, and how to achieve effects using combinations of stitches. Each stitch construction is analysed and explained with diagrams and examples, for example tuck stitch (in hand knitting this is known as broiche stitch) is clearly illustrated so that the route of the yarn is tracked, and effects on vertically and horizontally adjoining stitches can be seen.  Fabrics made with this stitch in both hand and machine knitting are illustrated, explained and compared and contrasted in both methods of knitting. The most suitable method is highlighted and pros and cons of methods discussed.

diagram_stitchCopyright

The constructions of textural and colour effects are explored and described by hand and machine knitting methods. There is a whole chapter explaining how to knit a hand knitting garment pattern on a machine, or vice versa, and how to subsitute yarns between both methods. Examples and illustrations support every step, and shortcuts and hints and tips are scattered strategically throughout the text.

I am proud to say that my book has been written with the primary aim to enable the reader to take control of their knitting and create exactly what they want in both knitted textiles and knitted garment shapes.

It will take pride of place on any knitter’s book shelf, sitting next to The Knitting Book and Knit Step-by-Step.  Preorder on Amazon

Notes on spinning and plying

Spinning 

Spinning is twisting fibres together to make a single spun yarn (singles). All sorts of fibres can be spun, but generally speaking, the longer each fibre is (it’s staple length), the easier it is to spin into a yarn. Singles yarn, especially those with more twist tangle back on themselves, and do not usually make good knitting yarns. They are weaker, and will produce a knitted fabric that lies crooked (bias).

When a yarn is spun, the twist of the fibres can only go in one direction, either ‘S’ or ‘Z’ . ‘S’ is is when the yarn wraps like the central diagonal of the ‘S’ and ‘Z’ is the opposite direction, when the wrap follows the central line of the ‘Z’ opposite. On a drop spindle, ‘S’ is created by the spindle being spun anticlockwise, and ‘Z’ is produced when the spindle is spun clockwise. On a spinning wheel the direction is controlled by the direction of the wheel itself.

Plying is twisting two or more yarns together so that they make one, thicker yarn. It is done for various reasons; it will balance single spun yarns and prevent bias twist, it creates a thicker yarn, it adds strength to delicate yarns, and it combines different colours and textures for aesthetic results and can be used to produce a combination of these results.

When yarns are plyed, they should be twisted together in the opposite direction from their original direction of spin, e.g. two ‘S’ spun yarns would be plyed in the ‘Z’ direction.

You can ply your own single spun yarn or make thicker and decorative yarn by plying commercial yarns together.

Decorative effects to try: threading beads/sequins onto one strand, using a fancy and plain yarn, twisting singles and then twisting them again with commercial yarns in the opposite direction to the first twist (cable plying).

Method 1: When plying the same yarn together. Wind a centre pull ball using a ball winder and taking the yarn from both centre and outside ball, ply them together on a spindle.

Method 2: When plying the same, or two different yarns together. Wind the two ends of singles (or commercial yarn) together into a double ended ball, tie the end to the spindle and off you go.

Method 3: Andean Plying. Can be used in either of the above situations.

 Step 1: Hold your left palm facing you with the fingers splayed.

Step 2: With your right hand, take the end of the yarn, and tuck it into your watch band, sleeve, or hold it under your thumb. Do not lose this end!

Step 3: Take the yarn left around the the back of your wrist.

*Step 4: Bring it across the back of your wrist to the right side of your wrist

Step 5: Then take it left across your palm and around your middle finger from left to right.

Step 6: Next take it back around your wrist from right to left.

Step 7: Take the yarn to the right across your palm, and around your middle finger from right to left, then back to the left side of your wrist *

Repeat from * to *

Step 8: When all the yarn is wrapped around your hand, and making sure you don’t lose either end, slip the ring of yarn off your middle finger and twist the whole bracelet of yarn around your wrist so that this ring is on the back of your wrist.

If you need to take a break now, slip the main bracelet onto something like a toilet roll centre, being very careful to keep the ends visible.

Put the bracket back on your wrist. Once it is on your wrist keep your fingers splayed to prevent it slipping off whilst plying. Tie the two ends to the spindle or leader and start the spindle off. Use your fingers to feed the yarn evenly and control the amount of twist travelling up the yarns as you do when spinning.

 

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4 ends of commercial yarn being plied using the Andean method. Finally it is wound into a hank. It could just be wound onto ball for knitting, but if a bit lively it may need to be hanked, steamed and hung before making into a ball.
This is a downloadable pdf of this page. Please note that you are welcome to print this for personal use, but it must not be  reproduced or distributed. Plying  

 

Return to hand-spinning

Although I teach in knitted textiles, this is the first year I have taught spinning as part of a module, so in a fit or inspiration I asked my son to climb into the loft and retrieve my Ashford wheel that had been up there for 15-20 years. 

I used to have two wheels, and spin on both at one time. However a succession of small children  couldn’t resist fiddling with them, and. I didn’t have time to use them. First of all one went in the loft, and then I reluctantly sold the other as there wasn’t space for it and I couldn’t bear to see it being damaged. Now child-free, but sadder for it, I have resurrected the Ashford.

A year or two ago I had prematurely acquired a fleece thinking my time had come, only to myself busier than ever.  By the time I got there, apart from the smallish amount I had had time to scour I had to throw the rest away as it was infested with moth. So I am starting to spin with the small amount of Kent wool mixed with Merino tops I had bought in for felting. It’s not a problem as I need LOTS of practise, so odd colour mixes rule at the moment. 

Of course the wheel seems to have shed bits during its vacation in the loft, and a refurb was necessary. I have purchased a flexible drive belt because the one on the Kiwi wheel we have at University does seem to give a nice drive to the wheel, plus the old one is a little brittle. The tension knob and spring has disappeared, so they needed replacing, and I wanted a drop in to make the bobbin easier to swap. Finally one of the Lazy Kate spikes and a bobbin have gone walkabout, so new ones of those were required. 

This photo is of the first hand-spun yarn I have made for years, so apologies for its unevenness and it’s mish mash of colours. I just needed to celebrate my enjoyment.