Monthly Archives: June 2015

Just knit a hat!

After the chicken hat, and before the kind lesson in white balance from a knowledgeable friend and reader… I decided something simple was called for.  This is the swatchless watch cap from Knitting from the Center Out by Daniel Yuhas.  Locals may recognise that I am casting on, on the train.

2015-06-16 17.20.13

This hat went a few places, from our house…

2015-06-19 12.15.14

…to solstice dinner with a big bunch of friends large and small.

2015-06-20 18.29.42

This is a small amount (66g) of luxury handspun merino/yak/silk naturally dyed by A Verb for Keeping Warm in ‘sticks and stones’.  I bought the fibre from someone else’s destash and it struck me as a delightfully soft and understated hat for someone.  Done.

2015-06-23 15.36.58






Filed under Knitting, Neighbourhood pleasures

Indigo fructose vat

I am determined to learn to use Michel Garcia’s fructose indigo vat rather than the very simple but clearly toxic and stinky hydrosulphite vat. I am also on a mission to create handspun, plant dyed yarns for colourwork, and I have a pattern in mind which requires some greens.  Also a plan about sock yarn in which this previously undyed, now (osage orange yellow) skein of BFL/silk becomes a variegated green.

2015-06-08 15.20.47

I prepared the vat and waited for a bronze sheen and yellow-green liquid below as signs reduction (the removal of oxygen from the vat) had been achieved.  I have a Ph meter to ensure the Ph is within range.

2015-06-08 10.49.33

I had success with reducing the vat but a lot of difficulty in getting the Ph into a range suitable for wool.  In the end, I decided to make the most of it and dipped my ugly cotton bags several times.

2015-06-08 11.08.43

In all I dipped them three times and they are now an old denim colour which is a decided improvement.

2015-06-23 09.22.05

Once I had managed the Ph, next came fleece from Viola, previously dyed in coreopsis or osage orange.

2015-06-08 14.33.07

Finally, in went the gloriously yellow sock yarn.  That yellow was so awesome I was tempted to leave it as it stood.  But I was looking for yellows and various shades of green, and here they are, ready for the next stage of my cunning plan….

2015-06-16 08.56.59



Filed under Natural dyeing

More lessons from string

You don’t need as much as you think. A message that I can never hear too often as a first worlder.  Only a few leaves will make many metres of string if you twine it right!

2015-07-01 09.18.29

What you might need is all around you.  This is dianella, which we are growing, and so is the council.  Eventually dead leaves come away from the base and even these make decent string!

2015-06-24 15.00.21

If you have the right leaf, and you use a pin or needle, you can get a nice, fine strip with which to make nice, fine string.  Just insert needle into leaf and pull it toward one end of the leaf or the other! I learned this method when I did introductory basketry, but had clean forgotten until just recently.  I’ve found with cordyline that keeping everything really wet helps a good deal.  Here it is stripped into fine lengths and sitting in a container of water suitable for indoor string making.

2015-06-24 18.29.03

Tough fibres are more resilient and make a more robust string, but pliable fibres are much more pleasurable to work and not so poky to wear (if you’re wearing string this season).  Cordyline and dianella have been my more recent experiments, and they make very resilient and strong string.  But it never gets as smooth as daylily, which is lovely and pliable when damp and smooth and comfortable to wear when dry.

2015-06-24 08.43.22

Imperfection is acceptable more often than you might think.  Basketry manuals offer excellent advice about how to choose and prepare plant fibres for optimal use in basketry and cordage but you can use non optimal fibres and less than optimal preparation and still make something that will please you and that might be more than adequate for use or need.  Here you can see the cordylines I have most recently tried making string from.  They are standing in a bed alongside the footpath outside a residential facility for frail elderly folk in my suburb.  Under the live red leaves, dead brown leaves are gradually withering and eventually falling to the ground.  Taking a few of the dead leaves is unlikely to worry anyone.  In fact, I’ve collected fallen leaves for mulch from the footpath outside this place and been thanked by the residents and applauded for my public spiritedness (little do they know!)  If leaves have been out in the sun, wind and weather for too long they will become brittle and degraded, but these leaves are so tough they have been more than adequate for use, and I have made a lot more string since I realised (with some help from Roz Hawker and some experiments with leaves wet from rain in my own garden) that much less preparation and care might work fine for at least some applications.

2015-06-24 08.41.57

The structure of leaves is every bit as intricate and individual and interesting as I had always suspected from looking at leaves but not trying to work out how to use the fibres in them.

2015-06-24 08.43.28

There are companions on the road.  There are always companions.  Helle Jorgensen; Patten project; Weaving Magic and clearly many Indigenous traditions.  Thanks to kind readers who have pointed me in the direction of some of these lovely makers.

2015-07-05 11.53.23

These galahs (can you see them?) kept me company making lemongrass string and some rosellas watched over me and dropped little bits of tree on me while I made green lomandra leaf string and lemongrass string.

2015-07-05 11.46.18

There and the lessons of string for the moment!


Filed under Basketry, Neighbourhood pleasures


2015-06-05 16.12.30

I still have some dyestuffs that have been given to me… and before I dig out my home grown madder, I thought I would use the last of the dried madder root I have.

2015-06-05 16.24.51

First, the boiling water soak and pour off (saving the poured off liquid for another bath, in my case).  Jenny Dean is my guide in the case of madder though I also read Jim Liles and Rebecca Burgess…

2015-06-06 13.32.51

I decided to try to manage the madder (as opposed to having little particles distributed through my fleece and yarn) by putting it in a recycled nylon stocking–which you can see at the bottom of the picture poking out of the dyebath.  First I added alum mordanted BFL-silk sock yarn.  The first fibres to enter are those likely to be most red.

2015-06-06 13.43.27

Over time the shade really does deepen.

2015-06-07 12.14.17

Eventually I decided to add fleece, as you can see.

2015-06-06 13.43.34

I did several exhaust baths, including one or two some days later.  Then I did one a week later and still got apricot!  I also tried a different method by which Jenny Dean (in her rather lovely new book A Heritage of Colour) achieves aubergine.  I was sceptical about this method.  Not because I doubt Jenny Dean really gets purple in this way–I am sure she does!  But because it calls for using judgment in the matter of mordanting and modifier, and I know my judgment is nowhere as refined as hers.  I further prejudiced my chances by using the poured off first bath rather than using the most powerful dye bath I could.  I had, you know, only so much madder, so many plans, and only a modicum of confidence to be going on with.  I kept looking at this brownish bath and thinking it was not succeeding.  To my surprise though–once the fleece actually came out of the bath and I pulled it from the rinse bucket, it clearly was a shade of purple.

2015-06-23 09.35.37

The sock yarn–made me happy.  It came out of the dyeing process all scruffy looking, reminding me to always do my own skein ties.  But I love the colour!

2015-06-16 08.56.59



Filed under Natural dyeing

Himeji Gardens in autumn

I love the Himeji Japanese gardens, which are in the parklands that surround our city, on the southern side.

2015-05-30 09.53.35

I was passing on my way home from something, in the daytime, by myself (no passengers to convince)–so I pulled over and went in to see what I could see.

2015-05-30 09.46.11

The gingkos had turned yellow and begun to drop their leaves.

2015-05-30 09.44.29

The maples were in various stages of colouring and falling.

2015-05-30 09.49.26

The camellias had begun to flower (the same is true at home).

2015-05-30 09.50.00

The water features were as glorious as ever.  I managed to glean a few dead daylily leaves which made lovely string.

2015-05-30 16.51.16

I collected fallen leaves and the odd twig that had come down in the wind.  At home, I added prunus leaves from trees in the neighbourhood and some dried eucalyptus leaves… and rolled experimental bundles too.

2015-05-30 17.05.01

I love the maple prints on linen.

2015-06-01 08.57.23

The prunus leaves came out pretty too–and in some places I did get gingko leaf resist prints.  If you look carefully!

2015-06-01 08.58.02

This bundle was an experiment–maple/prunus/eucalypt on some gifted silk fabric.

2015-06-01 08.57.33

I tried woad leaves (and japanese indigo leaves and the odd soursob leaf for good measure) but clearly I’ll have to try that again!  The fabric is wet here and by the time it dried there was almost nothing to see.  On the other hand… the woad is leafing up, and my woad seed is germinating!

2015-06-01 08.59.31



Filed under Dye Plants, Leaf prints

For the love of chickens. And wool. And eucalypts.

In the latest issue of Knitty, there is a stranded colourwork hat featuring a Rhode Island Red chicken design by Pam Sluter. I don’t know Pam, but clearly we share a love of chickens, wool and knitting.  In short, I had one of those moments, and decided to cast on RIGHT AWAY!  Because, I have these handspun yarns.  Mmmm.  Polwarth, my friends.  Soft as anything. Perfect for a little hat.

2015-06-10 16.27.35

I had an early period of doubt, because provisional cast on, and then three circular needles in play for a while.  I held my nerve.  I consulted a  book on cast ons and bind offs.  I love a good book.

2015-06-11 16.07.43

I tried to talk myself out of taking it on the bus.  Because charted patterns are not really ideal for bus knitting and I have a perfectly charming sock on the go.  No hope of resistance.  I kept wondering if the woman on the other side of the aisle could really be staring at me as intently as she seemed to be from the corner of my eye.  How can my eye possibly be following the chart, keeping track of two yarns on the needles, and still noticing a total stranger?  Eventually as we neared our destination I looked over.  Yes!  She was utterly intent.  It appeared we didn’t share much common language so I showed her the picture. She grinned.

2015-06-12 08.36.18

Here is the finished hat, being blocked over a big jar.  But you know, not a jar as big as my head.

2015-06-16 12.28.13

I did not do a gauge swatch.  Risk taking knitting, I tell you!  I went up a needle size as even when not using two colours, I tend to be on the tight side with knitting, and stranded colourwork has a tendency to mysteriously come out smaller than planned.  Especially in the hands of a novice.  Especially with long floats.  Well.  Not truly a mystery, then!  This is the medium size and I have to say, nowhere near fitting on my head.  I didn’t swatch because I was quite prepared to give this hat to whomever might like it and fit into it… and I am thinking of starting out with one of my very small friends.  Who would look cuter than any button in this…

2015-06-19 09.15.42-2


Filed under Knitting

Saltbush in, weeds out

2015-06-18 07.54.56

The earth hours of guerilla gardening have been continuing quietly (and a but more slowly in the chilly mornings lately).  Earlier in the week I had a couple of interesting conversations with passersby who wondered if I might be responsible for certain things that had happened in the neighbourhood (sometimes but not always) and what had happened to those big trees on the nearby corner (cut down after tree protection legislation was changed to remove protection from them).  There have been some lovely recent happenings in the neighbourhood, including installation of some wooden barriers that will stop cars parking over the root zones of a group of large eucalypts we still have, and from killing smaller plants altogether.  Then, new plantings went in to replace those killed by careless parking and midsummer planting.  Wonderful.

2015-06-18 08.04.54

This morning there was a rainbow as I went out with my ten saltbush plants, my trowel and my fiendishly effective Japanese weeding tool.  And these fungi had appeared.  Some time later, I returned with a bucket full of weeds.  More mulch has been appearing at random all over the neighbourhood, and it has become apparent that smaller plants are at risk of being buried (some I planted earlier in the week were buried the same day!)  If weeds grow near little plants they are also at risk of being treated as weeds, since the poisoner doesn’t get out of his ute to check.  As if to confirm my perception that now is the season for weeding, the poisoner’s truck passed twice as I worked, drawing attention to itself with the sound of its pump, and the driver was not the reluctant poisoner I’ve spoken to recently, so there is no guarantee he will recognise small saltbush as in need of protection.

2015-06-18 08.32.27

The weeds I pulled hadn’t been poisoned (our street came later and it was shocking to see how much poison was lavished upon it). There were lots of sow thistle and lush prickly lettuce among them, so there was chicken happiness at our place, and I treated that Japanese weeding tool to a loving handle oiling while I tried to imagine what its name might be.  I failed completely to imagine what a Japanese mind might call this tool, and having bought it at the Royal Show years ago and never seen another, I don’t know its English name either, should it have one.  ‘The uprooter’? ‘Stabber, foe of weeds’? ‘Defier of nutgrass’?


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

I’m just a girl who can’t say no to knitting slippers

It is that time of year again here in Australia, when slippers are called for.  Just when I think I can’t bear to ever knit another one, I whip a few out.  I had a virus that made me so stupid I had a couple of days off work doing mindless knitting and watching appalling daytime TV.  That helped.  And, completely charming stories of people’s slipper love come my way and make me weaken.

2015-06-05 15.12.44

The red pair are for a friend who is struggling with cuts to public sector services in her workplace.  It breaks my heart to see people who want to contribute to making things better for people whose lives are very hard indeed… and who have committed their skills and passion to this task… being treated so badly.  By sheer happy coincidence, I got these to her in the week of her birthday.  I am so glad she got born and I got to know her!

2015-06-05 15.13.21

Her last pair of slippers had been worn to holes and shreds, and hopefully the sheep hide soles will help this pair go the distance.  yes, this is the left over local sheep hide in the previous post.  The green pair have gone to a wonderful organic gardener who runs a farm, and a pale blue pair that didn’t make it into the sunshine to have their photo taken have gone to her beloved co-farmer.  The two of them do an amazing job.  I handed these two pairs over at the farmer’s market where they have a stall, and right back at me came mandarins, pak tsoi, silverbeet (chard) and such. They are so generous!

2015-06-05 10.56.19

A very discouraged friend gave me a sleeveless vest a while back.  She had already knit it twice and I perhaps also partially felted it in an effort to get fit and finally given up in frustration.  The wool is handspun and hand dyed.  In all likelihood, by one of my Guild friends.  I wanted to honour all the work that went into this wool, now a little past its prime.  I tell you what, when you unravel a garment you learn a lot about the design and about the knitting skills of the maker.  My friend has a very thorough and diligent way of darning in ends!  I feel so sad that her vest didn’t work out after so much effort.  I don’t think I have developed the patience to knit the same garment twice.  Evidently, knitting the same slipper pattern dozens of times is different…

2015-06-05 11.22.08

Eventually I got the vest apart and decided I really did have to wash the wool to unwrinkle it a bit.  These photos are the ‘after’ photos.  And now, all that wool is a pair of slippers for a young father, teacher and farmer, whose sheep hide is going to be sewn onto the soles. I have one more pair on my mental queue and needles and then I can make a pair for the mother, community development worker and farmer side of their partnership… so the season of slipper knitting isn’t over yet.  I made slippers for both parties for their wedding, and I had in mind to make them fresh pairs when their second child came along recently. But my intentions didn’t get turned into actions very quickly… best keep knitting!

2015-06-16 14.07.03


Filed under Knitting, Sewing

A patch of potato sacks

2015-06-03 17.02.39

I scored more potato sacks from the organic food co-op we belong to.  It has been running for many years, mostly because of the hard work of a few trusty and amazing people–and one of my friends in particular.

2015-06-05 11.30.42

I turned these into fully lined bags.  The printing isn’t designed to last but I like to honour the humble hessian sack, while there are still some of them left to honour.

2015-06-05 11.30.58

I am planning for these to go back to the co-op where other members might like them.

2015-06-05 11.29.39

Needless to say lining them brought on a little bag breakout.  I managed to finish one more sheet offcut collection! And provide yet further evidence that there are some things about my camera I don’t understand after all this time.


Filed under Sewing


I have been so excited by my recent colour knitting success that I have been moved to dye more shades and spin with the intention of colour knitting.  Not just spinning up all kinds of stuff and then deciding to use it in stranded colourwork on a whim.  Though that turned out remarkably well, and the errant graph book with the knobby club rush design in it magically appeared on the weekend, nestled among sheet music (my filing clearly needs more work–I had been looking for it in the dyeing and knitting collections–what was I thinking)!

2015-05-30 12.01.01

I’ve been cold mordanting Viola’s fleece with alum in preparation.  She is a white/silver grey/dark grey sheep, and that will give me room for a bit of heathery loveliness, I think.  These big jars were being thrown out at the Guild and this seems a decent use for them. Some BFL/silk sock yarn has been getting the same cold mordant treatment, because why not?

2015-05-30 12.01.12

I had quite a lot of coreopsis flowers, because my mother is such a generous woman, she saves her dead flowers for me. And in case anyone ever wondered where my thrifty ways come from, these flowers were lovingly collected as they wilted and then dried–and then delivered in paper bags previously containing mushrooms and purchases from the newsagent, and in a reused cardboard box that was lined with two layers of pre-loved Christmas wrapping paper. Bless her heart, my Mum is a treasure.

2015-05-30 12.14.18

There were also osage orange shavings that had been left at the Guild.  Many years old, to judge by the packaging.  At times such as this, Jenny Dean is my trusted Guide.  So I followed her instructions from Wild Colour as best I could.  It’s an interesting thing, this dyeing with only me there in body, but with a little posse of imaginary friends about me, some of whom I’ve never met! Jenny says osage orange can give more dye on a  later extraction and India would no doubt agree on principle (I have been rereading Eco Colour)… so with the three of us in agreement on that, I planned an exhaust bath from the beginning and in due course, decided to honour Mum’s collection by tossing that in too…

2015-05-30 12.17.50

After the first stage of heating, I filtered out the dyestuffs through an old nylon stocking (also deposited at the Guild in quantity–more of my imaginary friends present on this occasion in tangible and intangible ways!)

2015-05-30 13.45.44

And in went the fibres.  They had a nice long wait in the dye baths after the heating stage was over.

2015-05-30 13.55.24

The sock yarn took the dye with alacrity–that golden yellow is rather lovely, I think–I am planning to overdye with indigo, but this yellow is glorious as it is.  I thought I remembered the coreopsis being a more golden yellow and the osage orange being a colder shade, but not this time.  They look remarkably similar.

2015-06-01 08.59.52

The exhaust bath made use of the stocking too… and out came some paler but still yellow fleece.  My fingers are itching but the day job calls… and there has been yet more knitting…

2015-05-30 17.04.42

1 Comment

Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing