Let there be string!

Making string from scrap fabric is so simple and pleasurable (and satisfies my love of using up every last scrap so well) that I’ve found myself making more string this week. I have been thinking, since Second Skin, that it is not so much that I come from the zero waste school of sewing as that I come from the austerity school of sewing.  I do draft so as to avoid creating waste, and I watched my mother dothis as a child, often starting with less fabric than her pattern called for.  Then I take all the remnant fabric from previous projects and turn it into something else, even if this requires a lot of patchwork.  Little of what is left beside my overlocker is wide enough to make string, even. When I tried carding ovwerlocker waste into batts a while back, most of it fell out because there was so much thread cut so short!


Anyway… I’ve been turning a pair of jeans and a pair of linen pants into a bag, and although that process will use almost all the fabric in each (since I’m piecing together even relatively small sections), there are some scraps left.  I cut them all to suitable widths for string making.  It began with this little pile.


By later in the week, I had three lengths of… well… cord?  Light rope?  Very shaggy string?


I’ve been creating small banners for trees in our local neighbourhood, and so string–cord–rope will come in handy.


There’s a plan for these banners… involving other people… and brought into being by the enthusiasm of my fairy godson.  I’ve made several so far from a calico sack I scored from a local business, together with recycled eco-printed fabrics and eucalyptus-dyed embroidery threads.  On the inside, the interfacing is a set of damask napkins which saw their glory days long ago and have been rendered threadbare by long use.  My mother-out-law sent them down to Adelaide last time my sweetheart visited her.  I hope she’ll approve of this way of using them!





Filed under Craftivism, Sewing

Dyeing red with dandelion… or not!

It was a day for harvesting…


…and a friend from the Guild had given me a booklet from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens which described a method for achieving magenta with dandelion (taraxacum 0fficinale).  As I’ve said before, rumours on this subject are many but claims of a result are few, and better dyers than myself have been defeated (at least temporarily) by the challenge of obtaining any shade of red from dandelion.  The booklet came from the stash of an older woman who was giving things away, and dates to the 1960s.  I have to say the method sounded improbable to me, but I love to use my weeds, and magenta is promising!  I am happy feeding weeds to my hens or my friends or even my compost, and dyeing is another good use.  I gathered up all I could find with roots attached, since the recipe called for cooking the whole plant for two hours.


Well, my friends, the mystery of how red was ever obtained from dandelion was not ended by this experiment.  It wasn’t much of a try-out for my rhubarb-leaf mordanted yarns, either!  I don’t see any change from the pre-dyeing colour of any yarn on my sample card.  Has a crucial step (like a mordant) been left out of the process?  Is this yet another case of user error on my part?  I simply don’t know.  But if any reader does know–I am all ears!





Filed under Natural dyeing

Rhubarb leaf and alum mordants, hot and cold processes

Way back in December I was thinking about hot and cold mordanting processes.  I decided on an experiment inspired by a post by Leena at Riihivilla which led in turn to a blog called From Silk Road.  There, Jarek shows experiments with solar mordanting over 28 days, and one of the mordants he is using is Himalayan Rhubarb. Mine is the good old fashioned European eating kind… but perhaps the same principles could be applied?  Jenny Dean certainly describes cold mordanting with alum and I have tried that previously with success.    I was also curious about the findings of Pia at Colour Cottage.  She has undertaken some experiments with rhubarb leaf mordant here and here and found it made no difference to dye uptake or lightfastness.  So disappointing!

I started with 1100g rhubarb leaves (and stewed the rhubarb with orange juice to go with waffles… mmmm).  Way more rhubarb leaf than necessary for the job, I think.    I have no way to know if I am even using the same rhubarb as Pia… but I decided to err on the side of plenty of rhubarb leaf and not committing a huge quantity of yarn. I created two, 25g skeins of Bendigo Woolllen Mills alpaca rich ‘magnolia’, left over from some past workshop I ran.  One was subjected to the classic heat treatment in rhubarb leaf solution (45 minutes on a bare simmer), left overnight to cool down and rinsed out.


The other went into a glass jar for a solar treatment, which was quite hot at times.  It went into the jar on 16 December and our first 40C day of the year was scheduled for the 18th. I created two more skeins and mordanted them in alum, one using the hot process and the other packed into a bucket with a lid in the sun.  Here is the solar mordant rhubarb jar (and some iron soaking in vinegar water on the left), in December.  They’re sitting on a concrete surface with a concrete wall behind them.  I’m trying for thermal mass in a sunny spot.


Things being what they are (by which I mean I have been too busy to think much about this experiment), I took the yarn out on 13 April 2014. Here it is before removal.  There was a little layer of mould stuck to the lid, for those who are wondering.  In retrospect, this would have been a great application for Stuff Steep and Store.


Here is the yarn after removal from the rhubarb leaf solution.  I’d call that a dye and not only a mordant!


Here is my solar process alum-mordanted yarn after similar neglect for the same period of time.


Finally: my full selection dry and ready for use: no mordant, alum applied with heat, alum applied through solar process, rhubarb leaf applied with heat, rhubarb leaf applied through a solar process.


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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing

Craftivist pennants and another handspun hat

There have been some small moments of crafty completion in the recent period of day job overwork. The ‘thanks for cycling!’ bunting, which had been ripped down, was replaced after mending by a group of friends one sunny afternoon.


Proper attention was paid to all its hanging particulars by willing fingers….


And there has been still another Turn A Square made from the remainder of a skein of luscious handspun yarn.  Here it is, modelled by a particularly willing bowl.


The distinctive crown shaping of this pattern is so simple, yet so effective. 


Upcoming public holidays may prove more viable crafting time than recent weeks have done… and I am looking forward to it!  I have plans!


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Filed under Book Review, Knitting, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Unloved fibres of yesteryear and some eucalyptus dyeing

Some time ago I received a lot of fibres that even the felt group at my Guild didn’t want anymore.  I think this was because I taught a class on ‘novelty yarns’, known to online spinners as ‘art yarns’ or ‘textured spinning’.  It is true, people like Pluckyfluff have been known to spin semi-felted wool and all manner of inexplicable (yet ultimately gorgeous) things–and I’ve done some fairly inexplicable, or at least hard-to-explain, spinning,  myself.  But there are limits!  It seems some people equate artyarn with awful yarns made from awful fibres.  I wasn’t about to inflict most of this fibre on beginners.  What I felt was readily useable, I carded into batts for people to experiment on some time ago,.  Some I turned into trash batts.  Some I re-washed and turned into yarn.  But just recently I found there was still some in my stash.  Some was simply suffering from poor washing.  Sticky and unpleasant to touch.  I washed it.


The amount of mohair the felting group handed over makes me think mohair isn’t favoured as a felting fibre.  So some was just mohair.  I carded it up and found it was neppy mohair, but still.


Some was extremely short and rather matted. I would rate this trash batt standard, so carded it up with some longer wool to hold it together.


Some was low quality alpaca in small quantities.  I carded that with some longer fine wool too.


I would rate almost all the resulting yarns basically suitable for yarnbombing… or perhaps I should offer them back to the felters!



Only the mohair really became a yarn of any quality… not too surprising given what went in to the others!



I also had some small amounts of fibre from an exchange.  One was some kind of ruggy (coarse) wool with lots of contrasting nepps in it, and the other a quantity of a lustre longwool, something like English Leicester.  I checked my perceptions with two spinners of much experience at the Guild and we all agreed on these conclusions, which was a happy thing, suggesting I am learning about identifying wools.  I decided on eucalypt dyes.  In each case I divided the fibre in half, and dyed one half in the first dyebath and the other half in an exhaust dyebath of the same leaves, to get two different tones.  Then I spun the fibres up to retain the colours as distinct stripes.


And now, back to spinning a large quantity of alpaca…


Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Sampling oak leaves


While I was in the Western suburbs recently, I went for a wander and saw what I thought at first glance were olive trees.  Shame on me for not looking more closely: these were oak trees, as evidenced by the acorns.


On the other hand, looking at those leaves, this is not a variety of oak I’m accustomed to.  The most common oak in my neighbourhood is the English oak (Quercus Robur), which has quite a distinctive leaf shape: nothing like this one.  The next most common is the cork oak (Quercus Suber): there are a couple in a nearby park which are a constant source of wonder to me. Perhaps I am just not paying attention.  I found this site listing quite a few oaks on a site from my own city–so many different oaks must be grown here.  While I was in Melbourne there was a leaf I could only have said was not native on the table during the Second Skin workshop.  India Flint pronounced it an oak, and that evening I saw loads of them planted down the side of a street.  With acorns–which are evidently the only mental clue I have for identifying unfamiliar oaks.  So I recently understood there must be members in the oak family I hadn’t met.  To look at this tutorial on identifying oak leaves in North America, the leaf I saw in Melbourne was a red oak and the ones I know better are white oaks.


Just to add to the mystery, where the trees had re-sprouted after being cut back, there were juvenile leaves that were positively prickly along the leaf margins.  Well–I decided to gather a few leaves and acorns and try them out.  The result was not really exciting… but then I have never seen so many acorns in one place and there are dyeing applications for acorns I’ve never tried. So perhaps the future still holds possibilities!



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Sampling eucalypts


As we drove home from exercise group last Saturday morning, it became clear that a big part of a tree had been cut down beside a warehouse-style business near home.  A big chunk of tree canopy was lying on the footpath.  I didn’t think I had sampled the tree in question, but there are several in that area that look like E Scoparia, but have been pruned to branch very high–out of reach.  There isn’t much hope of my identifying this one–it has no fruit, flowers or buds on it right now, though it does have red twigs and white-barked branches and leaves the right shape for E Scoparia.   I have had some success with leaves from the gutters on that street, but not right where these branches were lying.  I went back and applied my secateurs.


To my sadness when I actually stopped I could see that a tree had been felled and that its trunk had been taken away.  The very base of it was all that was left, and it was clear that a large section of the root mass had rotted away or become diseased.  Just the same… the continuing loss of trees around our way feels relentless. This week someone else aggrieved by the felling of three massive trees on one block which I posted about recently took a spray can to the fence of the block in question.  One fence had something I can’t fully reprint here: ‘What the f*** have you done?’, and the other fence said the neighbourhood was in mourning for the loss of the trees and that planning laws should be changed.  I thought I would take a photo but this morning there was a chap with a paintbrush taking it out less than 48 hours after it went up.

But this is no reason to allow all the leaves of this felled tree to go to commercial composting if I could dye with them and then compost them.  Needless to say, after this flame orange result, I went back and cut all I could get into a chaff bag (that’s a very big sack, in my terms). As a bonus to my visit, the tree had been felled beside an E Cinerea, so I picked up every last leaf that had fallen from the E Cinerea too.  I’ll be running a workshop at my Guild in June and I’ll need to bring a goodly amount of dye material.


This next eucalypt was standing in the parklands in North Adelaide.  I went there early one morning for an appointment so had a walk before my appointment.  I decided to sample it because India Flint suggests silver grey leaved eucalypts are promising dye plants.  The buds were so pretty!


Clearly when it flowers there are many flowers… but not yet…


The tree was an interesting shape…


There was the intriguing feature of two different coloured trunks coming from one lignotuber.


And I just can’t explain why there were so many land snails, but I love land snails.


The result in the dyebath was a pale apricot.


Then there was this tree, growing on the far outskirts of my workplace just outside a car park.  It seems like a box (one branch of the eucalypt family) to me.


It was gloriously in flower, full of bees and birds.


When I went back in the evening, I realised there were a few of these trees and there were also fallen branches.  Well worth sampling, in my view!


I loved the colour from this plant, and I used a dyeing strategy India Flint described in Melbourne.  Far less energy use and potential for fibre damage… and clearly this may become my new normal way to dye with eucalypts!



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing

Things learned 4

Second Skin offered lots of possibilities for learning-by-looking through the admiration of plant-dyed clothing.  India Flint was wearing her own creations every day and it was a delight to have that opportunity to see them in use and to think about their construction/reconstruction/dyeing. Other participants wore clothing they had dyed sometimes too–also a pleasure to admire.  And India brought along some garments to show. She gave permission for me to show images of this dress.   The upper part (bodice?) is a knit fabric–I am assuming it’s silky merino.  The neckline and armscyes have been bound with a different fabric: a sheeny silk that has taken up dye differently. There’s a lovely leafy detail heading toward one shoulder.


The skirt of the dress is asymmetrical, and composed of a variety of fabrics, some repurposed.  There is a large pocket in the skirt that might once have been the neckline and part of the front of a shirt, replete with buttons.  I found that a delectable detail.


This view shows how lush the skirt is.  I loved the generous, undulating hemline and skirt.  India gave a demonstration of how it had been created.  I loved the idea of using a variety of fabrics and textures in a single garment. I’m a plain sewer, as you may have detected, and my mind was abuzz with ideas for using some of the lovely pieces of fabric in my stash of eco-printed fabrics in this way.  Hand-stitching clearly has advantages in creating this kind of garment and coaxing all its component parts into a sweet relationship with one another.


I found it really interesting to observe this use of eco-printing as a way of creating a series of colour and texture effects, rather than the way I tend to use it, in which I am aiming for images of leaves as a predominating motif.  Here is the same dress again, drying after a dip in indigo!



Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

Things learned 3

Have I made it sound as though there was no real making at Second Skin, and it was all about the thinking?  Well, I was surprised by how pleasurable hand stitching and the odd spot of thinking were, but of course, there was making.

It began with string. This was part of an extremely cunning method of having all your measurements to hand without any numbers attached to them.  Hand twined string is further evidence of human genius, from my point of view.  I first learned how to make it from a basket weaver and was delighted and intrigued from that point forward.  Usually I make it from daylily leaves.  But this application of it struck me as further genius.  I know I always hate the part of pattern using where I have to compare my measurements to those contemplated by the pattern drafter.  Let me tell you, “The Vogue Body” and the one I am getting around in have little in common!  So many women’s feelings about clothing are really just feelings about our own bodies in the context of an environment where very few of us have the idealised shape and there is a lot of unwanted critique of female bodies.  What genius to sidestep a large part of that drama and along with it, simplify the process of design.  My string is made from tired old cotton that didn’t improve in some dye bath or other, but there were glorious examples of silk string, beautifully crafted by my fellow workshop participants.


Then there was the infinity scarf.  I made two, because when I modelled a plain cream version for my daughter she liked it so much I stitched all evening to hem hers and bundled it next day along with the frocks… and promptly forgot to take a picture.  Mine, of course, still needs one hem!  But it has been touched by indigo as well as leafy goodness of other kinds:


I like it very much!  I’d better finish the hem…

We had the good luck to be at Beautiful Silks in the aftermath of workshops on Indigo.  The bag below has also been dipped…  India said that this style of bag revels in the name tsunobukuro (I hope I have that right), which evidently translates as ‘horn bag’, because, of course, it has horns, which you tie together to create a handle.  Japanese design is so often beautifully economical–I did not fully grasp the geometry of this bag, but made it anyway and finished it a few nights ago.

I am not sure I can explain the feeling I have about ‘hornbag’ as an Australian…  and perhaps people who haven’t encountered Kath and Kim won’t be able to understand even if I try to explain this Australian phenomenon.  Those want to try could start with Wikiquote’s take on it.  I won’t trouble you with a critique of Kath and Kim right now, after all, we’re talking about things learned and things made!  Anyone in Melbourne could still take advantage of the fermentation indigo vats at afternoon sessions using them at Beautiful Silks.  The vats were set up when master indigo dyer Aboubakar Fofana was there recently.  Our getting to use them was an unexpected bonus.


And finally, there was a dress.  It features E Crenulata leaves, happily found in a park near where I was staying.  India said: ‘everything will be beautiful in the end.  And if it isn’t beautiful, it isn’t the end.’  I think this is a beautiful piece of fabric, and I learned a lot from turning it into a dress.  Partly because of my feelings on the subject of myself in a dress, and partly because of the inevitable features of a first attempt (in my case), I think this isn’t finished.  Or perhaps it is finished, but I haven’t found its true owner yet.  But I am still glad to have made it and learned from it.  That’s enough for me.


My eyes popped out when I saw the number of hits on this blog for today, (it’s usually a friendly but low traffic part of the glorious online universe) and then I realised there was a link in from India’s blog.  Thanks for stopping by if that is what brought you here.  If it wasn’t, and this workshop sounds like it’s for you, India Flint is running this workshop in Victoria later in the year, and there may still be places if that sounds like the holiday for you!


Filed under Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Things learned 2

Continuing on the theme of things learned at India Flint’s workshop recently…


I thought a good deal about the nature of knowledge.  How it is built up, a bit like sediment at the bottom of a river, microscopic layer by microscopic layer as information passes over and small deposits become part of the riverbed.  Once in a while comes a big event: a boulder of new thinking crashes in and becomes part of the muddy bottom, changing all that comes later and some of what came before.  A flood comes through, sweeping away some of the old and perhaps replacing it with new.  Some learnings feel like sludgy algae: they might be temporary and tentative and may or may not last.  Others have been there so long under so much pressure they are more like sedimentary rock and can only be eaten away by a lot of water passing by over a long period of time.  Troublesome if that ‘knowledge’ was inaccurate or those beliefs were unhelpful.


Knowledge is profoundly social.  We accumulate it consciously and unconsciously from the people around us.  Sometimes the path of acquisition is hard to trace.  In some ways, for example, I am very different from my parents.  But in other ways, I think I am very similar to them: I have taken values and inclinations from them at a very deep level but transformed them into a very different approach to the world.  There are profoundly common themes articulated in very different ways through our lives.  I just loved the learning environment of a workshop in which there was such a lovely balance of  overt instruction, observation, casual commentary, questions and answers, storytelling and demonstration.  I also loved learning from and about the other women in the workshop–sitting next to one another seeing other people’s ways, hearing people’s stories, coming across them in the street at lunchtime or turning up next to them in a cafe.


I also thought about forgetfulness and originality.  The conversation about originality in art and craft (as in other fields of life) is always interesting to me, but so often, also distressing.  The online world has created so many new ways for ideas and images and concepts and techniques to be shared, displayed, and passed around with and without agreement or awareness, that it raises new issues for originality.  But some of these issues are very old.  I found it fascinating to listen to accounts being exchanged of egregious or perhaps merely irritating uses of others’ ideas, terms, techniques or concepts.  At the same time, there were a couple of moments when I realised that something I thought I discovered for myself though years of trial and error had already been discovered (by India, for example), with the strong likelihood that I encountered it in her work and at some later point it came into my mind as a thing to try out, without any stamp attached to mark it as hers.  A bit like those moments when I struggle for the name of a person or a plant.  Sometimes, if I have time and can avoid panic, a name floats into my mind.  I haven’t invented it: I have learned it previously and retrieval from the archive is proceeding mighty slowly.  It seems like magic, but I am sure it could be explained by someone with a scientific approach to the brain. But it does open the way for making mistaken claims of originality, or just failing to acknowledge the work and ideas of others.


There’s another thing I notice about forgetfulness.  I have read Eco Colour more that once.  But I overheard a couple of questions India answered in part by saying “I wrote about that in Eco Colour in some detail” (or something like that).  In my mind, that thing just isn’t in that book.  It’s not a natural dyeing phenomenon: sometimes I start a detective novel and recognise the beginning but can’t for the life of me remember who the murderer turned out to be or what the crucial clue was.  I think it is extremely hard to remember things, even useful things, when you don’t yet have enough of a scaffolding of knowledge to fully understand them.  I am sure I have had this experience in dyeing hundreds of times already.  Perhaps more!  I notice my students having it in my classes every single day I teach.  I get something new from Jenny Dean or Ida Grae or India Flint every time I read them.   Always Coming Home by Ursula LeGuin has repaid every single reading I have given it with new treasure.  Each time I find new awareness of what is in these works, new understanding of how the parts form a whole, new insights or realisations, new inspirations.


I am not sure there is a conclusion to the question of human knowledge, forgetfulness or the matter of originality.  I don’t have one, at any rate!  Second Skin turned out to be a great opportunity to think new thoughts and hear what others are thinking on these questions, in an in-person setting and not in the online world, rich and interactive as it is.


I do like Elizabeth Zimmermann’s idea of unvention:  “ One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. … In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep.”  (Knitter’s Almanac).  It isn’t an answer to every issue of intellectual property or livelihood for craftspeople and artists.  It doesn’t resolve every ethical conundrum, or even try–and these are vital issues that can’t be skirted around.  I like unvention, though, because it offers up the possibility of humility in the face of human ingenuity and the scale of time.


Finally, a little gratuitous street art from Melbourne, and an arbutus fruit.  Dear Commenters, this one was out of season on a tree in Melbourne while all the others were tiny and green (arbutus are in flower in my own neighbourhood)–and it was delicious!  Thankyou for your tips and encouragement!



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing