Monthly Archives: June 2018

Alchemist’s Apron

Some time back, I signed up for The Alchemist’s Apron. It’s an online class taught by India Flint in which you begin with a thrifted shirt and end up with an apron.  Along the way, there is plant dyeing and mordanting, pocket creativity and embellishment, practical tips on all things textile; not to mention wisdom and wit. The class has been accompanied by a facebook group of excitable dyers, each moving at their own pace and all creating aprons, dyes and questions aplenty.

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Now it has long since been clear to me that the shortage in my life is not dyestuffs, or fabric, or ideas, but time. So, I did not do everything exactly as the course proposed.  Pretty often if  I can switch steps and get the time consuming at-home step completed over the weekend so I can dawdle through the steps I can carry, pick up and put down, or do in front of the TV during the week–I will wickedly switch steps and face the consequences.  That is, when I realise I am not following the instructions!  And, although it was studying with India that gave me, or maybe gave me back, the pleasure of hand sewing, I machine sewed some steps in this process and allocated saved time to the parts I preferred to linger over.

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India offered strategies for embellishing manageable pieces of fabric (just as portable as knitting a sock, hooray!) as well as for embellishing the final completed object.  I’m not much of a one for embellishment but it may be that I am learning what I can enjoy and appreciate ever so slowly and with help from you, lovely readers.  I started out with the customary acknowledgement of the owners of the land where the garment was made, and then a line of poetry,  and then just kept going…

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India is, famously, a lover of pockets, and I am also a lover of pockets.  So I had great fun with those and learned new techniques for having things go the way I want them to–with pockets and embellishment and all.  So I have camouflaged pockets, visible pockets and secret pockets.  Open and closed pockets, large and small.

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I tried new threads.  And some new dyeing strategies. I understood how to do things I’d only seen, previously.  I understood why some things work instead of just knowing that they work.

And, I ended up with a rather lovely apron.  Those hanging shells happen to fall right where my hand hangs on that side and they get riffled though quite a bit in passing.  So there’s a happily ever after–which has spawned any number of further apron ideas, needless to say!

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Boomerang bags

I decided to raid my stash of pockets.  They have been cut out of garments I am turning into other things (like bags!) and here they are now, stitched to the inside of Boomerang Bags.

What bags?  I hear you asking.  These bags. Historical cotton, and upholstery fabric left for me by the charming BB volunteer organiser who collected my last lot of completed bags (she apparently does not understand the supply issue at my place is oversupply).

 

Oh, and I mean these bags too.

And these! I have now reached the end of the 1980s eye-bleeding fabrics from hard rubbish and moved back to whittling away the back catalogue of fabrics I have inherited, bought, thrifted, or upcycled from garments and manchester. Scraps are getting thinner in the cupboards.  My love of tablecloths shows less. The ancient pairs of trousers and jeans ran out and I have acquired some jeans through the op shop so I have sturdy fabric for places I need it (handles, for example).  In fact, I have started reorganising the supplies in the room I use to sew, and I’ve also decided to release some fabrics into the wild.  Some were needed for a friend’s school project, and he liked some fake fur scraps so much they went home with him too. I took some more to the Guild last night because… I am reaching layers of my own stash that I cannot imagine ever using and there is no obvious reason I should keep them instead of taking them to places where other people might enjoy them! And… twelve or more fully lined Boomerang bags are under construction and moving gradually to the finish line right now.

 

 

 

 

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Tuffsocksnaturally dyeing: sanderswood *cough* edition

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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.

When last you saw this skein of yarn, dear readers, it was a sad excuse for pink after the failure of my betel nut dyeing experiment. At that point, I decided to take advantage of it having been mordanted in alum and dye it in something requiring an alum mordant. I still have a back catalogue of natural dyes left at my Guild. I picked out a small [sealed] pack of “sanderswood”.  The package showed its age–there was the address of a business in New Zealand/Aotearoa that must have closed long ago.  And we are talking a label created before the personal computer became an everyday item in the overdeveloped world.

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Jenny Dean gives alternate names as sanderswood, red sandalwood and Pyterocarpus Santalinus. The dye comes from the heartwood of the tree, so in ordinary circumstances I would not use it.  But this tree was cut down long ago and it is not in my power to bring it back.  I looked at the fine wood chips and gave them a good soaking before preparing the dye bath and throwing the fibres in.

Well.  Jenny Dean did not lead me to expect this!  Perhaps I should have weighed and measured?  Perhaps the betel nut under dye (pale as it was) or the alkalinity of the betel nut bath had something to do with it (yes, I washed and neutralised but even so)?

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On my test card, this colour came closest to alum applied hot (which is how I mordanted the sock yarn). So evidently the betel nut dye was not entirely the source of the outcome. In passing, I mention that this is one of the more interesting outcomes for the rhubarb leaf mordant I have seen. But the mystery, as it turns out, was still unfolding.  A week passed (you know, day job).  The dye bath had the slight beginnings of mould, so I heated it again, lid on, to kill the mould, removed it, and mordanted more handspun yarn.  This time a softer, greasier fleece that I’d spun quick and thick.

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In it went.  I expected the result to be uninteresting because brown.  Sorry to you lovers of brown, but this is surely what brown sheep are there for? I know.  I can’t help myself. Well, glad I bothered, because:

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Not only that, but eventually when that pot had steamed for over an hour with the yarn in it, I added another skein and it just kept giving.

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What can explain this?  Jenny Dean’s sample card shows oranges and yellow and brown for sanderswood.  I can say my pots are not clean enough to rule out modification by iron, but that does not normally create purple!  So perhaps this was really logwood?  But that doesn’t explain the deep brown.  And it is way too late to ask anyone at the Celbar gallery, Papanui Road, which sold this dyestuff, presumably by mail order.  I have found one reference to it online, in a publication dated 1978 that someone has lovingly scanned and uploaded for posterity.  Roll on, the plant dyeing mysteries! Once dried, this yarn was undeniably logwood purple–and what’s more, the tendency to give and give and give is something I have found also characterises logwood.  So on this occasion, I’m going to say this was NOT sanderswood, it was logwood. And, I see I had the same kind of result in 2013–so there may have been an entire batch mixed up somewhere in the past that came to our Guild!

 

 

 

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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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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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