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!


Why do the UK and US use different crochet terms, does the ‘murky’ history of crochet offer some clues?

This week I took part in a short radio interview with Simon May on Scala Radio. Apparently a recent question asked by a listener had caused some headaches, and they asked me if I could shed some light on the subject.

You can listen to my suggestions about the genesis of these annoyingly different terms in the interview here on the Planet Radio/Scala Radio Listen Again page. Slide the time slider to 1:40 (it only seems to go in 5 minute increments, (and won’t rewind). Then listen for a minute or two; my interview is just after the chat about Hans Zimmer – between approximately 1:42-1:47.

One point I must make, especially if you plan to listen to interview, is that I did not say that ‘crochet people hate knitting people’, what I said was that people tend to affiliate to one in particular, so there are knitters who do not crochet and crocheters who do not knit. I also pointed out that many people, like me, practise both crafts to lesser or greater extents. I do dislike the way presenters try to make an adversarial situation out of one that is not. Just wanted to clear that up!

As it was a radio interview, time was of course limited, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts that I didn’t have the opportunity to include in the interview. I will be posting some of these over the next few days.

Meanwhile, whilst I found this BBC article about crochet in Brazilian prisons

What I would have liked to have had time to say during my interview with Simon Mayo on Scala Radio. 11:45am 18th March 2019

Crochet: from the French word croc or croche (hook) which originated from the old Norse word krokr which also meant ‘hook’. Variously know as haken (Holland), haekling (Denmark), hekling (Norway) and virkning (Sweden).(1)

Question I was asked: Why are crochet terms different in the UK and US?

Well, this was a biggie, and of course those of you who have done any reading around this will know that there is not definitive answer!

I quite quickly developed a theory that the terms probably diverged around the end of the 19th century. My guess is that this was a hugely significant period – when skilled crochet practitioners took their skills with them when they emigrated from Europe to the US; four million people emigrated there from Ireland alone between 1850-1990.

I decided to begin my explanation with the history of the craft itself, to try to decipher how these might have come about. I started with a bit or reading and found that Lis Paludan, although she addressed this subject from a largely European perspective, theorised that crochet originated in either China, the Middle East or South America. Both Ann Stearns and Clinton MacKenzie discussed the connections between modern day crochet and historical textiles, but MacKenzie cited Mary Thomas as his source. Now this gives us is a pretty wide geographical ballpark, but let’s explore these theories a bit.

There were most likely some crochet and knit-like practises in China and Japan prior to the importation of Western crafts when trade began with the West in the 1800s. Paludan suggests that crochet’s roots may have stemmed from tambour work (chain stitching with a hook through tightly stretched mesh), which came via the Middle East, and Stearns shows her contemporary experiments with this technique.(p72-74) Paludan speculates that latterly the mesh was discarded, so that the chain stitches became a self-supporting fabric. Regarding the Middle Eastern theory, Stearns dedicates a chapter to the 19th century textiles of Turkey, discussing lace, purses and ‘tiğ oyasi’ (headscarf decorations) made with crochet, and from the way in which she describes these as embedded in the culture, it is clear that these practises had a long history in this arguably Middle Eastern country. (p144-153)

MacKenzie writes that Mary Thomas did not give much credence to the suggestions that crochet-type textiles, possibly descended from Pre-Columbian textile practises and used in puberty rites, existed in South America before the Spanish introduced European methods. However, we know that crochet is popular in South America today, with highly skilled practitioners producing varied types from fine white lace to chunkier colourful work.

Many claims are made that crochet was first practised in Italy and France during the 16th century, and cite ‘nun’s lace’, created in religious houses for ecclesiastical textiles, as evidence for this. Ruthie Marks, writing for the Crochet Guild of America, reports that Anne Potter agrees with this, but I sadly don’t have access to this text, so can’t verify this. What I can tell you is that Potter was as mystified as others, and had her own theories, like we all do. However according to Paludan the surviving evidence does not resemble crochet so fails to support this theory.

Like knitting, and other crafts considered ‘domestic’, crochet skills would have been taught informally by being demonstrated and explained verbally in domestic situations, (and indeed this is still often the case, but we now use written patterns as well). This was opposed to the largely male orientated formal craft apprenticeship system that continued for several centuries in which mastering craft skills led to recognition, authority and inclusion in record keeping of the craft guild system.

Knitting and crochet patterns were not written down until the mid-1800s, and even then, this may have been in a form that would be largely unrecognisable today. Many authors assumed the actual skill of making the stitches was already understood (for the reasons discussed above), so did not include the explicit instructions we are accustomed to in modern patterns.  An exception to this was Mlle Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere, who wrote over fifty books of crochet and knitting patterns, (the first one when she was only 18), and so brought crochet to a wide audience. According to Marks, Mlle Branchardiere, who had a French father and an Irish mother, claimed to have invented the form of lace-like crochet later known as ‘Irish crochet’. You can read some of her books on the University of Southampton Knitting library web resource and via the VADS website, or as eBooks via Project Gutenberg.

In Knitting, Crochet and Netting, published in 1946, Branchardiere describes working what in modern UK terms is called a slip stitch as making a ‘Shepherd or Single Crochet’. She writes, ‘Put the needle in the 1st chain, draw the wool through; there will now be 2 loops on the needle; draw the last loop through the 1st’. Although she describes drawing the new loop through the old loops one after the other, rather than both together as we would do today, this is clearly a slip stitch. (p57) She then describes making a modern UK double crochet stitch and designates it as, ‘Plain, Double or French Crochet’. (p57-58) So at this point in history, there is already some confusion; single crochet is being used to describe a slip stitch.  

It seems that Branchardiere was not the first crochet author. I happened upon which featured an article by Kathryn Senior, The History of Crochet: is it as old as the hills?. In this she writes of an early crochet bag pattern published in 1824 in Amsterdam by Penelope magazine. Sadly there is only an image and no instruction shown which might shine some more light on the terminology in use then.

Irish crochet

Crochet was particularly significant in Ireland in the mid-to late 1800s, because it could provide vital economic support for families that were starving in the terrible famine. This lasted from 1846-1852 and devastated the Irish population leading to mass immigration, and of course those who could crochet went as well, taking their skills to a new land.

Irish crochet comprises very finely worked motifs, sometimes with a relief effect, joined together by a crochet mesh. The thread used is fine cotton, and it is worked with a very small hook. Originally the hooks would have been home-made from steel wire and set into a wooden handle. To learn more about the technique and history of Irish Crochet, I recommend visiting Ann Reillet’s ‘Crochet Thread’.(2)

Nuns were partly responsible for bringing crochet to Ireland. As reported in the Kenmare Times of 2011, in the 1860s Carmelite nuns established a lace school in which they taught Irish crochet amongst other lace-making skills. Other crochet schools were established, but the Kenmare school became famous for its excellent design quality. Through collaboration with two design schools in London and Cork and the establishment of an art programme the quality of design was developed further until their clientele included royalty, which in turn influenced additional fashion interest in lace. Irish lace of various types was highly prized for both wedding dresses, veils, lingerie and ecclesiastical pieces.

Crochet lace and beyond…

The Victorian and Edwardian obsession with lace ensured the continuing popularity of fine crochet, and although this abated by the 1920s, it was replaced by using crochet to make complete garments. The new synthetic rayon yarns draped exceedingly well, and crochet worked in these made elegant, elongated shapes perfect for the ‘flapper’ look.

Through the two World Wars knitting tended to take precedence, possible because it seemed more utilitarian and practical compared to the lacey crochet look.

Come the 1950s crochet grew in popularity and re-entered the fashion scene. Magazines such as Stitchcraft featured patterns for hats and accessories made in the new synthetic yarns coming onto the market, and certainly by the 1960s, crochet was really back. In the 60s all sorts of clothing was made from crochet and in the early 70s fashion embraced the granny-square in bold colours.  The power dressing 1980s saw a slump in popularity, hand crafts were not part of the new look, being relegated to the ‘hippy’ and ‘homely’.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century that there was a resurgence of interest in both knitting and crochet, ignited partly by Debbie Stoller’s Stitch’n Bitch movement, but also inspired by a reaction to the fast pace of life. Although part of the technology that might be seen to be encouraging the fast pace, social media is still playing a significant part in maintaining and widening the impact of hand making. The latest in this is of course the popularity of the Japanese Amigurumi style of crochet, making small items from tightly packed stitches.

Now I know I have not answered the question, but the history is important when considering how the terms diverged. I still think it has to do with the influx of immigrants, taking their skills with them to a new land, and the terms drifting apart after that.  We have already seen some ambivalence in Branchardiere’s terminology, so why would this not be perpetuated and terms come to mean different movements/stitches during a century of geographical separation? After all the size designations of the hooks have evolved differently; US are alpha-numeric and old Imperial became larger the smaller the number (and where is the sense in that?), whilst modern European metric hooks work on a direct millimetre diameter measurement.  

Some theories suggest that the UK terms are based on the number of loops left on the hook after the pulling the first loop through the stitch below, whilst US terms refer to the number of movements needed to complete the stitch after the pulling the first loop through the stitch below. This comes a bit unstuck when you get to the half-treble stitches, but it seems reasonable otherwise. There are probably others, but I think we just have to accept, and translate, rather like we do with other linguistic difference such as pavement being called a ‘sidewalk’ in the US, and a car boot being a ‘trunk’.

Most modern books now make it clear which terms they are using (US or UK), but older books and patterns can be a minefield. If you want to check whether a pattern or book is US or UK, the best way is to see if there is any reference to single crochet (sc) in the instructions. If there is, it is definitely a US pattern – as there is no single crochet in UK terms. If there is no reference to single crochet, this doesn’t mean it is a UK pattern, because it may just not include single crochet! So, beware and look for other signs; the hook sizes may give you a clue, and so may the yarns listed in the pattern.

I sometimes write the pattern out again, (if its short), or use a highlighter to mark where I need to be careful. Otherwise, a drop of Tippex works well, (but not on a library book)!

I apologise in advance for any mistakes, and hope that this has been of interest.



Paludan, Lis. Crochet: History and Technique, Interweave Press, 1995

Thomas, Mary. Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book, Toggit, ??

Stearns, Ann. The Batsford Book of Crochet, Batsford, 1981

MacKenzie, Clinton. New Design in Crochet, Van Norstrand Reinhold, 1972

Lucey, Anne. Fabric of Kenmare: nuns’ role in lace industry celebrate,, 2011.

The Art of Kenmare Lace Making,, 2019.

Codiron, Roxanne. Meet Eleonore Riego de la Branchardière, the Mother of Modern Crochet

de la Branchardiere, Eleonore Riego. Knitting, Crochet and Netting, S.Knights, 1846.



Further reading:

Potter, Annie Louise. A living mystery: The international art & history of crochet, A. J. Publishing International, 1990.

 Download a pdf of this article





A Giant Sphere

I have reposted these articles by Ms Premise-Conclusion on my blog because I thought this was a wonderful piece of technical work. The formula is so useful and well explained, making the principle easy to understand.

If you visit the website you can download template patterns for ‘ideal’ crochet spheres, squares and rectangles. These don’t do all the maths for you, but give you the tools to create the shapes in your chosen yarn and hook size.

Ms Premise-Conclusion

A little while ago, I got a comment on my Ideal Crochet Sphere post, requesting a pattern for a giant crochet sphere. Too cool! It’s taken me a while to get around to calculating the number of rows required (especially since I had to extrapolate the size based on smaller spheres that I’ve made), but I think this will work.

So, here are the patterns for 60 row (~10 inch) and 85 row (~15 inch) spheres.

Since there are so many rows, I haven’t included how to space the increases nicely for each row, so I’ll leave that up to you, should you attempt it. For each row, I’ve written it as follows:

Row i: Increase by N (X stitches total)

So, for Row i, you have to work N increases as evenly as possibly into the row so that after you’ve completed the row, you will have X stitches…

View original post 62 more words

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.

About Translating between Hand and MachineKnitting…

Hi, I’m Barbara from Italy and want to thank you for writing “Translating between hand and machine knitting”. It’s just great, I can now understand the differences between silver reed and brother. I have one of both but got frustrated trying to use the silver reed, so just stopped working with both… now I have the chance

Thank you Barbara, its great to hear your feedback.

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’ – publication date is 31st August

Cover of Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting
The cover features a voluminous and irresistibly tactile 3D knitted textile by Marie-Claire Canning

Point to point linking.mp4

What is a linker?

Making up knitwear can be quite a chore, and using a linker makes it a lot quicker.  Linkers make a chain stitch, which is extensible so will not burst the seam when the fabric is stretched.

Domestic linkers can be operated by hand or have a motor. The most common make in the UK is the Hague linker, which is blue, and made in the UK by Hague. It can used on a table, or mounted on its own stand. When joining large pieces whilst working a table you have to be careful that the pieces don’t drag as the dial revolves as this is likely to effect the stitch formation and make the machine heavy to use. Using a stand means that larger pieces can hang down and revolve with the dial.

Hague type linkers make the stitch on the outside of the dial where the needle is positioned, and the chain on the inside where the looper is situated. A linker is a usually circular, and has a dial of spikes radiating outwards. These are called ‘points’ and as with a knitting machine, the number of points per inch is used to describe the gauge of the linker.

Linkers have large eyed, usually curved, needles and are designed to be used with a similar weight yarn to that in which the garment has been knitted, e.g. a linker with 5 points to the inch will take yarn of similar diameter/count to that used on a domestic knitting machine. The linker in this video has more points per inch than one intended for use with domestic machines; it is probably a 10-12 point model.

Linking different gauges of knitting

Obviously its not possible to have a linker for each of your different machines, or for hand knits, but the good news is that you can use a linker for different gauges of knitting. If the stitches are wider spaced than the points, spread them out so that not every point has a stitch; the chain will carry over the odd empty point. If the stitches are closer together than the points, it is a little more difficult as you have to double them up on the points, and to frequent doubling can lead to a gathered seam, so I wouldn’t recommend using a domestic linker for finer than 8gge knitting.

Before starting, hold the knitting up to the dial (remember that the circumference of the dial is smaller at the inner end of the points, where the stitches are made), and estimate how often you need to add a space, or double-up on a point. Make a note of this, and put the stitches up onto the points with evenly spaced gaps or double stitches.

Linking tips and troubleshooting

If the garment is knitted in a fancy of fluffy yarn, I recommend linking with a smooth, strong yarn of a suitably matching colour instead.

The tension of the chain stitch can be adjusted with a thumb screw, and it is important to use this adjustment to achieve successful linking. Put broadly, over-large and/or missing loops indicate loose tension, and skipping, dragging and stiff operation indicates too tight, but the only way to get it right is to practise on scraps of knitting prior to sewing the garment.

In very rare circumstances the timing of needle and looper can become disrupted, and it is impossible to get the linker to make stitches; the needle may break or bang into the looper, or the looper may be totally out of synch with the needle thrust. Although it is possible to adjust this yourself, unless you are very experienced with the machine and understand how the stitches are formed, I recommend sending the linker to Hague for repair.

Preparing your knitting

When preparing knitting for point-to-point linking the last row of main yarn knitting is not bound off; the stitches are left ‘live’. Before removing the knitting from the machine, 10-20 rows of ‘waste’ yarn are knitted, then the piece is knocked off the machine without binding off. When choosing ‘waste’ yarn, aim for a strong colour contrast in a yarn that is slightly thicker than the main yarn. A thicker yarn will open the last row of stitches, making it easier to insert the points, and a contrast colour helps the operator pick the correct row of stitches to catch onto the points. Try to choose smooth waste yarns; fluffy ones may leave contrast colour fibres when the waste is removed.

More detail about the video example shown above

The video above shows how to point-to-point link a double thickness, folded collar around the neckline of a garment. The collar in this example has been knitted across the needle bed of the knitting machine, with ‘live’ stitches left at both start and finish as follows:

  1. cast on with waste
  2. work 10-20 rows waste
  3. change to main yarn and knit the number of rows required for the collar outer depth e.g. 20 rows
  4. knit a loose tension fold row if you want one
  5. knit a second series of rows equal to the inner depth of the collar, e.g. 20 rows
  6. change to waste yarn
  7. knit 10-20 rows
  8. remove the knitting from the machine

See ‘Preparing your knitting’ for how to work the joining rows between main and waste yarn to facilitate easy linking.

Putting the knitting onto the linker

Before starting to put the collar and garment on the linker, check whether your linker makes the stitches inside or outside the dial, and position the piecs accordingly. In my example, the stitches are on the outside, the loops inside.

Put the open stitches of the inner edge of the collar onto the points as described in the video, (wrong side facing in this example), and then put the garment neck onto the points (right side facing the operator in this example). Finally fold the collar over the top of the garment neck edge, and catch the open stitches onto the points – make sure to align the inner and outer stitches so that the collar is not twisted.

Sew through the three layers, and pull the end back through the last chain to secure the linking. Remove the garment and unravel the waste yarn back to the main stitches. Take care on the last row, and if any stitches have been missed, catch them with a pin or a strand of waste yarn. I find those little safety-pin stitch markers very useful for this on domestic- machine knits.

Hague direct’s website