Tuffsocksnaturally dyeing: betel nut and eucalypt edition

This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

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In the last weeks, I’ve turned out some skeins of three ply, high twist, 100% Suffolk sock yarn. And apart from the indigo dyed yarn, which I dyed first and spun afterward, I’ve been spinning the fleece in its natural state. Which could only lead to dyeing!

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Some time ago, one of my Guild buddies shared some betel nut with me, together with instructions on how to use it.  So I followed the instructions and got a lovely deep red colour in the vat… which just did not fix onto the fibre.  By sheer luck, I had the chance to take the advice of dyers who know better, while I still had that good looking vat–but even after trying their suggestion, the result was still pretty lacklustre (and they had suggested it might be too late–).  Here is is being hardly pink.

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Dyeing with the betel nut did constantly ear worm me with a song from South Pacific (the musical)–I was in the chorus in high school. As an adult I do wonder about having no memory of being given any historical context… and having checked Wikipedia I see I was an  incurious young person who did not ask what US military were doing in the Pacific in the musical and may or may not have noticed the progressive anti racist narrative which evidently caused scandal when the musical first made it to the stage! On the other hand, I had a namesake in this musical, played by a friend who was great in the role. We could not believe she was called Bloody Mary (how times change–in 1980 that seemed scandalous to me). As we had never met anyone who was ‘always chewing betel nut’ and for that matter, didn’t know what a betel nut was, or that its juice would run red… the reason she was called Bloody Mary was not at all obvious.  It just sounded like a slur, and of course, perhaps it was.  So I hoped for red yarn but it was not to be.

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The other skein went into a dye bath with dried, saved eucalyptus leaves, mostly E Cinerea. With time and heat, it was just the reverse of the betel nut bath.  The dye bath looked pale and the yarn gained colour.

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And now, I am ready to knit socks!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Purple socks!

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I’ve been wanting to knit socks for a friend for some time–she feels the cold and her beloved has let me know knitted gifts would be welcomed.  But to be honest, I think that I’ve been worried somehow that I wouldn’t do a good enough job.  At the same time, it’s obvious that if I said that to her she’d laugh. She has faced immense grief this year and I wanted to give her something comforting. I decided that tuffsocks would not hit that mark and one day as I was passing the Button Bar I stepped in and purchased some commercial yarn.

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I do love the old colour changing sock yarn, and with hours of meetings several days in a row, and some lengthy bus journeys, the first one grew like topsy.

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Here is the second, parked on my coat on some bus or other. Now in all honesty, I planned to finally make two socks that were alike.  But in the end, when I finished one in a meeting, I was quite prepared to graft the toe but quite unprepared to stop knitting, and it would have been super inappropriate to sit in a meeting trying to find the right stage in the colour sequence.

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So–I hope she can enjoy these quite mismatched socks.  The yarn quite frankly made me think my handspun has advantages–this yarn was splitty, contained a knot, though with the colour sequence maintained better than sometimes happens, and was tangled and messy and hard to manage for almost the entire duration.

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But the colour sure was fun.

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Indigo dyed sock spinning

Friends, I have not been keeping up with my blogging. I apologise. Life in my day job has been challenging this last year, but change is coming and perhaps we will see more of each other in the not-too-distant. This not keeping up means I have crafting projects that happened some time ago that you have never seen.  Here is one of those projects.

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This post is part of the Tuff Socks Naturally project, an open, collaborative project exploring more sustainable alternatives to superwash and nylon in sock yarn. You can join in on the discussion on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

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I am still working with Suffolk fleece, and I have been really keen to dye some with indigo.  I finally gathered up my nerve and tried refreshing my indigo vat over a long weekend.  And, success!!! In order to conserve dye and because the Suffolk is robust, full of vegetable matter, dirty even after washing, and hard to felt, I decided to flick card the locks prior to dyeing. That is what you can see in the top image. When I was able to achieve that deep blue in the picture above (the photo colour is not perfect–but this is NOT pastel blue), I felt no regrets.

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Then, to the drum carder.  No felting at all despite the challenging-to-wool alkaline environment of the vat followed by a lot of rinsing. Now the image below shows the colour most accurately. Colour me extremely happy about this yarn.

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My previous sock spinning efforts had persuaded me that I was not getting enough ply twist to create a robust sock yarn.  When I bought my spinning wheel, I decided to invest in a high speed head as well as two interchangeable whorls.  I was experiencing confidence that I would be spinning well into my future and want to use the wheel to its maximum capacity.  Since then, the place I bought that wheel, then the only spinning wheel seller in the city outside my Guild (which sells second hand) has closed. I’ve used everything that came with the wheel with only one exception, so that was a good call. Now to use the last accessory: the high speed head that would make it easier to get serious amounts of twist into my yarn even on evenings of weary spinning and distracted plying.

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Well, here is that yarn all wound up and ready to knit, waiting its turn in the knitting queue!  Just between me and you… as I write it has made it onto the needles and I’ve had the all-important conversation with a recipient who feels no reservation about this not-Merino-soft, local, plant dyed, single breed yarn.  Over a hot chocolate and chat tonight she took one look, squeezed the sock-in-progress and said YES!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Leftovers socks

IMAG6439Trying to be thoughtful about sock yarns in a period where I knit socks constantly and quite quickly has led to all manner of interesting insights.  This post introduces another.  At present it is not an option for me to leave home without a sock in progress.  I’m spending a lot of time on public transport–which is good, but requires management.  I go to a lot of meetings and presentations–which is sometimes good and sometimes challenging. Socks help me!

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The tuffsocksnaturally project has been one great outcome of trying to move in an eco-friendly direction–and I have sock yarn spinning to show! However, creating sock yarn involves slowly spinning (I can’t take that on the bus!), dyeing, washing and converting skeins to balls.  All of which is pleasurable time spent but certainly does take time. In the case of my Suffolk adventures, I also need to be confident the intended recipient will enjoy and be able to comfortably wear the resulting socks, which requires some chat.  BUT: if there is some point where I do not have a handspun sock ready to knit and I reach the end of my current pair–I need a plan!

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A while back, I went to a two day meeting in Parramatta, which is now part of greater Sydney.  The tree and the sculpture are images from my roaming around in the few daylight hours I had outside a meeting there.  As I prepared to leave for an entire two days of meeting, with airport waiting, airtrain trips, waiting in train stations, and who knows what kind of night in a hotel, I ran out of sock yarn.  So I decided to knit leftover yarns in the same colour family into socks.  Yes, dear Readers, I am blessed with friends who have said to me “just knit up whatever you’ve got!  I’m not bothered if you use up your scraps” or, when I asked another friend if he fancied socks that were knit this way, said that sounded like fun.  To me this sounded a lot more attractive as a knitting project than some of the patterns I see popping up from time to time directed at people like me who have knit a lot of socks and have leftover sock yarns (some of which go to the recipient so they can darn in the future but some of which stay with me).

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And that is how one of my friends came to get these socks, which were received with a squeak of glee!

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Plant dyed fabrics

These are the results of my last day of dyeing, dried and ironed and ready for use.  Some have already gone to new happy homes and the one at top right has become a pocket!

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Background spinning

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There has been some spinning going on in the evenings.  As I prepare Suffolk fleece for spinning, I’ve been spinning yarn for #tuffsocksnaturally.  The top image is one of the recent skeins with more ply twist than previously. However, there has also been some regular spinning.  Below, the fleece of a lawn mowing pet sheep who might be a Polwarth–the sheep belongs to a friend of a friend and the fleece is rather soft and lovely, while my preparation lacked some care and made it harder to spin than it might have been.   I find it really hard to wash very dirty, very greasy fleece effectively, always ending up with more sticky grease and filth than I can readily enjoy, or somewhat felted fleece that has been very much handled and rinsed a great deal!  I’m wondering now what it is to become.  Honour its softness and make hats?  Make cushy slippers for a friend who has requested slippers that I have not yet been able to knit?  Spoiled for choices, that’s me.

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More striped socks…

You probably remember the last pair of Kit Couture Garpen Socks–not so long ago!  There was quite a bit of wool left over.  So I decided I could surely make a second pair (and pulled out my scales just to check).  here I am at the railway station on my way to work with a cunning plan (also, a pair of socks to post, lunch and a chia pudding in a vegemite jar–I love a good plan).

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Here I am making headway on a night train.

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Then came the sudden realisation (in a day long meeting) that, in fact, these socks were not going to match at all.  I’d like to pretend this was a decision I made, but it was not.  At this point I decided it would not be OK to rip out in a meeting, and quite frankly, I didn’t fancy ripping out anyway and–I quite like them.  Though that is the self serving attitude, I admit!

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And here they are in all their glory…

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Mismatched or glorious?

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Rinse and repeat

If these socks look familiar, its because a beloved friend brought me two skeins of lovely wool naturally dyed by Aurinkokehra. I knit a pair of socks from the first skein not so long ago and in the end, could not resist knitting another.  I’ve repeated the calf shaping, reinforcing stitches,  and the cotton and silk reinforcing thread.  The result is equally delightful.  There is something about yarn that changes colour as you knit that I really enjoy.  Such a well chosen gift for me!  These socks contain no nylon and no superwash–so I guess that they might be #tuffsocksnaturally but the yarn is certainly not my handspun.

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

PS: More on mending

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Just as I felt the mending was done, I found two–two!  Holes had worn through in my pyjamas.  The fabric is so thin.  I decided a big patch and a lot of machine stitching was the solution this time.  Here it is on the inside (below).  The patch was just a scrap left over from cutting something else out and I decided it was fine as it was.  Making it a rectangle didn’t seem likely to improve it.

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Then I realised how many patches there already were. At least three–with some pictures from the inside and some from the outside below. Some of these look just like scribbling to me.

And that same day, I mended the stiffening rectangle at the bottom of a shopping bag… and my beloved handed over some ripped jeans for repair!

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Mending the mending

Recently the pile of mending on my mind reached a point where it became the weekend’s project. But–I realised that there was only one thing I was mending for the first time.  I’ve reached the mending on mending stage.  This knitting bag has been waiting for a few more stitches into the base–the fabric the base is made from has just worn through over time.  But I don’t want to let the bag go.  It was made by one dear friend and embroidered by another and it was a birthday gift from years back.  It’s a treasure.  This time I fully embraced the idea of stitching the outer and lining together because I think this bag is at a stage in life where more mending is inevitable and not too far away.

Then there was the raincoat.  This op-shop find has had years of living on my office door for emergency wear because it is shower proof and has a zip-out wool lining. It’s a high quality garment!  If I am caught by wind or rain on my way home, I can grab it and run for the bus. It had this sophisticated arrangement for hanging on a hook (and I do hang it on a hook) and it has been broken for quite a while.

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This week I was caught by sudden wind and rain and wore it home.  The hanging arrangement is now stitched back with waxed linen thread.

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And I did some mends to the wool lining.  Yes, visible mending it is. Check out the fringe on the wool liner!

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My leafy linen bag, patched together from offcuts of my earliest eco-printing experiments on recycled linen shirts had worn through in several places again. Here it is  in use in 2014 and being mended in 2014.  The fading shows. Could I bear to let it go?  Not yet.  The new patches are all from one piece of dyed cloth that took up a lot of yellows.

Then there was the mighty flourbag shirt, which was mightily mended in 2015.  The patches on the inside fronts had not been stitched to the seams in every single place, and now there are holes right where I missed that rather crucial step in mending a garment that has been worn this much.  here are some of the holes and frayed parts…

And here are the mends seen from the inside and outside:

Sometimes when I mend people post asking why I bother.  Which is a decent question.  In a case like this raggedy shirt I think the only explanation can be that I love this shirt so much I don’t want to give it up.  Even though I wear it for gardening and such (let me be clear, I love having time in the garden).  the fact that I made it is part of it, but I make other things that I don’t love this way.  I love the feel of the calico and I have come to enjoy patching it up.  There are more places that have worn through where I am not going to bother at this stage–like where some layers of the collar have worn away but there are others still holding together.

And speaking of gardening, here are my gardening jeans.  Another case of thinking you have patched out to where there is some fabric with integrity and finding that a hole wears through just beyond the patch.  Never mind, just add on!  These jeans are comfortable for grubbing around in, and although I have another pair that are beyond use in polite company, they are made from poor quality denim that won’t bear a whole lot of mending.  They had a twin pair and I tried–but sometimes I can’t mend something back to wearable.  How do you decide when to mend your mending and when to let it go?

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