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!

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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.

Futurescan4 conference

The last two days I’ve been at the FTC Futurescan4 conference in Bolton. It was stimulating and inspirational to spend time listening to the presentations and joining in discussions with fellow fashion and textile teachers.

My paper was about using textiles as a medium to raise awareness scabies; not a catchy title, but a fun project. You can read more about this on the project blog.

Here I am wooing my audience

Using Clover Wonder Clips when dressmaking

Today I’ve been sewing a jersey dress, and the fabric is a double-sided tubular jacquard which has very fine yarn loops that are easy to pull. When I was cutting it out I found that the pins points were catching the fine knit threads, even breaking one and making a hole so I had to move the whole pattern around – not much fun! I usually weight the pattern pieces and don’t pin, but this fabric is over stretchy for this, hence the pins.

So now I’m sewing-up the dress, I’m testing out using Clover Wonder Clips rather than pins to hold the seams together. These clips have made joining the seams very easy and seem to be a really good addition to my equipment. They have a flat back and a curved jaw with a ridge at the point that grips the fabric securely. The flat side makes it very easy to slide the clip under the fabric without disturbing it. On this flat side they also have measurement lines marked out to help keep a straight seam.

I’ve already used them to hold knitted pieces together when hand sewing them and they work extremely well for this, there are no pins drop out onto the floor for the dog to tread on!

I also used the little ones to clip long yarn tails (I keep them long to use for sewing-up), to both hand and machine knitting whilst I work. Yes I could use binder clips or bulldog clips or clothes pegs for this, and I still do, but I find the Wonder Clips grip more firmly and they look a lot nicer. They’re also not as heavy as the binder clip so don’t drag the knitting down.

Overall I’m really pleased with the way they work, and now have three sizes to work with. Their bright ‘jelly’ colours cheer me up on a grey day!

Sewing towards the Wonder Clips – I’m using a walking foot in my Bernina 1030 in this photo.

Tailor tacking becomes such fun with this gadget

I found this little gadget in a market in Stoke-on-Trent. I guess it’s probably 50 years old or so it still has its instructions and even had a spool of thread in it.

It’s called the ‘Instant Tailor Marker’ and it has a hollow needle. The thread is wound onto a normal sewing machine bobbin (which sits in the round housing at the end of the tool), and is threaded through the hollow needle. To make the tailors tacks you poke the needle through the layers of fabric. The instructions say to use a piece of foam behind the fabric. You push the needle in and out of the fabric and the thread catches in the foam. When you pull the fabric away from the foam it releases the thread, and then when you open the layers of fabric you can snip the tacks between the fabric, et voila tailor tacks all done!

I don’t necessarily use a piece of foam because I don’t always have one to hand and I find if I put my hand behind the fabric and pinch the thread each time, it works just as well.

This afternoon I cut out a dress which needed quite a lot of tailor tacks, (its got a princess seamline and I find tailor tacks help get this sewn smoothly). So I used my Instant Tailor Marker – and I thought I’d share this little gadget with other sewers.

Where I would otherwise have had to hand tailor tack or use my sewing machine – which is of course another option- I could use my Instant Tailor Marker instead.

Today is beanie day …

OK, I know it’s now mid January and this is a post about a Christmas gift but I’ve only just got around to finishing it off and getting it online. This is the story of knitting the hat worn in this photo.

December 2018…

I’ve started a beanie hat as a Christmas gift. Its in yarn from my stash, a rather nice airforce blue tweed 90% wool 10% acrylic blend Aran weight yarn. I dithered about the acrylic content I have to say, as I believe one’s toil is best rewarded by natural fibres, but the the colour (and having the yarn to hand), won the day.

The brim should work out to be around 7cm (3″) deep, and I’m going to knit it in a 3 row 2×2 cabled rib, with the shaped crown in stocking stitch. The pattern has been designed for a 61cm (24′) head circumference.

Gosh that doesn’t look very blue, more grey, must be the light. The rib shows though.

The cabled rib is worked on a 3.5mm circular needle, and the crown on a 4.5mm circular needle.

I have a set of those lovely interchangeable KnitPro needles, which means the world is my oyster when using circulars, but because the yarn is quite dark I have decided to use a white Prym triangular pointed circular so its easy to see the stitches. These are also comfortable to work with, and have a strange knob on the point that I quite like.

So far I have cast on 80sts (has to be divisible by 4 for the 4 stitch rib repeat) worked 2 rows rib and 6 repeats of the cable, and then 6 rows straight rib. I used the 2×2 alternate rib cast on recommended by Woolly Wormhead. Its not as stretchy as I had hoped, but looks good. Any stretchy one will do though, don’t beat yourself up about it.

How to work the c2b cable on the rib: Either use a cable needle, or work them as follows: slip the two knit stitches one-by-one knitwise, then insert the left needle from the right into the front of these stitches and slip them back to the left needle. This twists the stitches. Knit them one by one.

How I knitted the hat:

Cast on 80sts, using a stretchy cast on.

Join the round securely in your favourite way; for example work the first stitch, and pull the yarn to tighten the join before working the next stitch, or before working the first round slip the first stitch of the cast-on onto the point of the right needle so that it will be knitted at the end of the first round.

Mark the end of the round with a stitch marker.

Round 1 and 2: (k2, p2) to end.

Round 3: (c2b, p2) to end.

Repeat round 1-3, 5 times.

Round 16-20: (k2, p2) to end.

Round 21: purl.

Move the marker up to the current row.

Now you have the option to work all the stocking stitch in purl, and replace the knit decreases with purl versions, or if like me you find knit faster than purl, this is what I did.

Slip the last stitch to the left needle, and take the yarn to the back between the stitches then slip the stitch back so that the yarn is caught around the stitch. Invert the knitting and working in the opposite direction to former rounds, work the rest of the crown as knit stitches.

Round 22: knit

Continue working as Round 22 until the work measures 20.5cm from edge of rib.

Now to do the shaping.

I worked the first and every fourth round as a decrease round as follows.

First round,: k7, k2tog (70)

Second and third round: k all.

Fourth round: k6, k2tog (60)

Fifth and sixth round: k all.

Continue in this sequence, knitting one less stitch between decreases until 50 stitches on needle. Then work decreases on every second round until 20 stitches remain, finishing with a knit round.

Break yarn leaving a 40cm tail. Thread yarn onto a darning needle and slip the open stitches onto the darning needle. Draw the stitches in and secure the yarn end.

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.

What’s inside ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’?

Lace knitting – see more about this on my Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting page, but in brief, yes this is explained in loads of detail, with helpful photos and diagrams, examples and step-by-step instructions.

The book does not include garment patterns, it explains how to knit different stitches by hand and machine, and why some stitches are more suitable for hand and others for machine knitting.

Hand and machine knitting – using a ‘lifeline’ when knitting lace

When hand knitting lace it is so easy to make a mistake or drop stitches, even on the plain rows, (I have a habit of dropping the yarnovers).

To save yourself the hassle of having to unpick and rediscover your pattern, adding a lifeline is a real life-saver; although it may seem tedious at the time.

A lifeline is a piece of thread passing through all the stitches along one row of the pattern so that if a stitch unravels some rows above it cannot drop below this retaining thread.

Decide where you want the lifeline to be, this would usually be at the end of one full vertical repeat of a lace pattern, on a non-patterning row, (usually a purl row). If it’s a short lace pattern repeat that is only two or four rows high, then you might put a lifeline in after every four or five repeats of the pattern.

To prepare and insert a lifeline:

  • Choose a contrast colour that’s no thicker and preferably thinner than your knitting yarn. On fine lace sewing thread is ideal.
  • Cut a length of yarn that is 20 cm longer than the width of your fabric.
  • Thread the yarn into a large eyed bodkin sewing needle. Avoid using a needle with a sharp point as this may split your stitches.
  • Using the sewing needle thread the yarn along the stitches on the needle, making sure the thread goes through each stitch.
  • Pull the lifeline gently so that there is an even length of thread at each side of the knitting.
  • Remove the bodkin sewing needle and knit the row as normal.
  • Once you have threaded another life line in place at your next chosen position you can remove the first one.

You can use a lifeline in exactly the same way when machine knitting, it is just a little bit more fiddly to thread the yarn through the stitches. But believe me, its worth it!

The image below shows a lifeline (yellow yarn), being inserted into lace knitting being worked flat, but using a circular needle. A circular needle has a thin wire in its centre (in this case its a red wire), and sliding the stitches onto the wire before inserting the lifeline creates more space inside each stitch, making it easier to thread the lifeline through.

A lifeline being threaded into lace knitting. Insert the lifeline after working a plain row. This gives you easily recognisable loops to work into.

‘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