Category Archives: Natural dyeing

Plant dyed silk stitching threads

A little while back, I decanted some silk stitching thread that had been steeping in dye for a year or two or three–using India Flint’s Stuff, Steep and Store preservation dyeing method.

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  1. hibiscus flowers
  2. daylilies
  3. woad seeds (mature and immature)
  4. unidentified wattle seed pods from the tram line
  5. dried coreopsis flowers, citrus peel water
  6. avocado peel (fresh), bicarbonate of soda
  7. mock orange leaves (Murraya paniculata)

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These jars have been sitting out in the rain and the sun, and I’m rather impressed by how well pencil on cardboard has lasted, never mention how the woad dyed wool, eucalyptus dyed yarn and handmade leaf string typing label to jar lasted.  I have already begun applying thread to some of those little jobs that just need doing…

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Of Aprons and Alchemy

Some years ago, I made an apron at an India Flint workshop.  It’s an ingenious design India has created which starts with a shirt with a collar and ends with a coverall with straps that cross over at the back.  This model also has some stitched-on panels creating a generous length at the back.

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I brought this garment home to dye it, and it would be fair to say that I never loved the outcome (friends who were consulted recently liked it more than I did).  And, it had some large holes for which I was responsible and which I had a lot of [bad] feelings about having created.  In short, this garment has been in the naughty corner (the place garments go to wait when I have been naughty) for some extended time.  But then, India put up an online course called The Alchemist’s Apron.   It is further supported by an online community of eager stitchers and dyers from all round the world on facebook.  I was lucky enough to be gifted an enrolment (Thank you India!)–and this turned out to be the trigger for getting the apron out of the naughty corner and into my hands again.

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First step, give it a wash and soften it up a bit (soy mordant no doubt was responsible for starching it a little).  Second step, mending. Mending is an evening occupation for me, thus the mood lighting… I have learned some things about mending since these holes appeared and decided to use several different strategies.

Some mends went over the hem (they were the most discouraging). These round-ish mends I especially like.

Once that was done, a second pass through the soy mordanting process, a wander around my neighbourhood by bicycle collecting leaves, and a bundle up with home made string (hems and seams left from cutting up and recycling clothing, in this case).

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I do love eucalyptus.

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The mends still stand out but I think that is OK, because #visiblemending!  I had chosen linen patching and cotton thread, which did rather guarantee they would stand out as the patches are mostly in the added border at the back of the apron which is cut from a recycled op shop raw silk pant suit a friend gave me.

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I like the new apron much more!

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And here is the back view… with the button placket still sporting buttons.  It’s a bit glorious now, I think. Do you have things waiting in the naughty corner?  How do they get there, and more importantly, what motivates you to get them out again?

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Dyeing weekend at home

Over a recent long weekend, I managed to do quite a lot of dyeing and some fibre processing. There was mordanting of cellulose fabrics with soybeans.

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I finally decided to stop worrying about the fact that my walnuts (gathered from under trees at my workplace) were whole and having dried, I was not going to be able to separate husk from nut (where no rat had done this for me).  I just soaked them whole and then dyed with them.

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I clamped and dyed.  This eucalyptus print + walnut bath made me happy!  Here it is still wet (you can see it still clamped above if you look closely).

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I flick carded Suffolk locks.  Some had staining–see that yellow streak?  I just decided I wasn’t prepared to waste indigo on vegetable matter and contaminate my vat.  And the Suffolk is so felting resistant I thought it would be fine flicked first and dyed after 9and it was).

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I used some of Tarla Elward’s wonderful Australian grown Indigo for the first time and used henna as the source of antioxidants, following Michel Garcia’s method.

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I’d been concerned about how to grind up the block indigo but I had found a mortar and pestle since dye camp and put it to use. So much fun, Such a great weekend.

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I am just delighted with the indigo colours on this wool, and even more delighted that I managed to revive my indigo vat, last used before dye camp a few months ago.  Clearly, I learned something from the wonderful Jenai at dye camp.  Indigo achievement unlocked!  Blue socks one step closer.

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

It seems so long since I went to Beautiful Silks in Allansford for Summer Dye Camp and yet–no post.  The tutor once again was Jenai Hooke, full of expertise and inspiration, and dye camp was wonderful!

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We dyed with fresh woad from the garden and ice.

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My fellow dyers did all kinds of amazing things with indigo and leaves. The crowd at Beautiful Silks never fails to be full of inspiring and interesting humans.

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Critters dropped in!

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This is a strategy for dyeing yarn that would never have occurred to me.  Stunning in the skein (and all multi coloured skeins have their challenges).

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I dyed with indigo and with eucalypts.

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I learned a new-to-me and very effective way of mordanting with soy, and was re-educated about the importance of scouring.

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I made indigo circles for later use, inspired by Jude Hill’s indigo moons on Spirit Cloth.

There was so much more!  Madder, cochineal, walnut, tannins, mud, indigo painting… what a fabulous way to spend a holiday, plus the glorious time spent in Warrnambool and surrounds.  Highly recommended.

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Culling the cupboards, AKA Upcycling

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As people who read this blog regularly already know, I make a lot of bags, and I almost always give them away.  So when Boomerang Bags started up in Adelaide (and it wasn’t started by me–woot!) it seemed entirely logical to join their end single use plastics interventions by making bags for them.  I made an initial 6 and gave 5 away.  This time I committed to making bags for a stall on World Environment Day and one of the sweethearts from the local group dropped 12 labels at my place.

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Some of the labels were apple green (hard to colour co-ordinate), and I’ve noticed that many of the bags the group creates are made in floral prints.  I’m going out on a limb assuming there are other folk like me who would prefer a not-so-floral bag.  So–I checked to see what relatively plain fabrics I might have and decided the time had come for some unloved trousers made by me over ten years ago.  I’ve worn them a lot over about a decade, even though I had to face the hash I made of the welt pockets every single time.  Never again! Here they are cut into their constituent parts, and below–as bags.

A pair of hemp pants that have never really fit, and are so badly made I’ve mended them several times in a life of few washes and wears.  A couple more pairs of trousers that I won’t wear again.  Two pairs of op shop jeans saved for a day I need denim, and a pair of op shop linen pants, ditto.  Orange linen picked up at the tip shop outside Hobart for a song (because who wouldn’t take their mates to the tip shop if you were passing?) Some repurposed canvas cushion backing dyed with eucalypts.

Oh, the pockets!  It’s a shame to let a well constructed pocket go, so these are now features!

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Needless to say there was constructive piecing on the outside, and where the outsides were pieced together, there are linings (often pieced too).

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So now my thirteen bags have gone to Boomerang Bags, and I have more labels.  I inherit fabric and have fabric dropped off at my place faster than I can re-home it.  I still have unloved wardrobe items and clothing past use by date.  I have clothing that is upwards of 20 years old, some parts reclaimable and op shop items salvaged for repurposing.  So, I believe I can keep at this project for the foreseeable future without concern for supplies and with benefits for my cupboards.

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Frankensocks

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, share pics and projects on this blog or the glorious Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.  If the project is interesting to you, there is some most interesting discussion going on in Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet podcast.  She has a similar though completely parallel project going on, mostly using yarns from the UK (she is in London).

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The conundrum being faced in this post: how to create socks that will work for a wearer who has delicate skin, who refuses synthetic dyes as well as superwash treatments and unnatural fibres, and who walks long distances.  A perfect recipient for the fruits of the tuffsocksnaturally project!  I came up with a new idea about how to respond–why not make the foot of the sock, the business part where most of the wear happens and where the calluses are thickest–from a different yarn than the leg–where the itch and irritation factor might be more critical?

This pair of socks began with a skein of merino and silk commercially spun yarn, dyed in a fructose indigo vat at my place. You can see it in that top picture, with a view over Hobart because I went there for a conference on climate change [the irony].  I cast on and knit through session after session.  I had never been to Tasmania before, so I admired the lichens and barks, berries and docks and buildings.

I ran all round the harbour front before sessions and eventually reached one of the places from which the forests of Tasmania are being exported to the world, something many Australians have spent time and trouble seeking to slow down or stop.  Deforestation is contributing to climate change and species extinction just for a start.

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I knit and I knit. And we did get to go see some of Tasmania’s beauty as well as its biggest city (which is lovely, as a city).

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The trip to Tasmania came just after my Kris Kringle steel lunch box arrived (‘Kris Kringle’: a Christmas gift with a limited cost, with just one gift for each person to buy and to receive, in the entire extended family).  So I had some great lunches, raising my level of lunch preparation to meet my new leak-proof lunch box–here, cold rolls in rice paper wrappers with Tasmanian blueberries! I don’t usually run to photos of food, but this lunch clearly made me proud.

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All in good time, I moved onto the feet of my socks.  Hand spun Suffolk from Malcolm’s Kangaroo Island flock.  True three ply yarn. Here I am spinning at Guild.

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I stop here to note reservations and things learned, or at least contemplated.  These yarns are entirely dissimilar.  The Merino + silk could hardly be softer.  The Suffolk  could certainly be coarser, but the contrast is considerable.  The grist is different.  The hand is different too: the Suffolk is pleasingly bouncy and springy, the Merino is quite drapey.  The gauge is different: the Suffolk is a good bit thicker than the merino.  That might help with wear–there are just more fibres to wear through!  But this does rather assume that they will get into my friend’s favourite boots.  Time will tell.  They are a bit, well, Frankensock.

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And, I thought this was a high twist yarn when I was spinning it, but last night I read a comment on Ravelry where someone had done a sock spinning workshop and the instructor made the whole class put the yarn through their wheels twice when plying.  As I knit the feet of these socks, I decided it wasn’t that tightly plied.  Next time I will either try the high speed head for my wheel for the first time, or ply twice,  because–knowing that high twist is desirable, and intending to create high ply twist, are not actually the same thing as succeeding.  No amount of theoretical knowledge or defensively thinking “I know that!” will make these socks wear better.  For that, I need actual high twist and–I am not sure I have it yet.  If I don’t have the patience to create it with the whorl I have been using, maybe it is time to try the high speed head and see what happens.   Leaving it in the cupboard probably won’t do the job.

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Second sock being knit during a workshop on Slow Fashion at Womadelaide 2018 (hilarious for me, but no one else noticed as far as I could tell).  I’d call this slow clothing more than slow fashion.

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Knitting down the foot toward the toe, at a Womadelaide concert.  I was sitting with a dear friend who sprinted off suddenly mid song.  I thought he had sighted a long lost buddy in the distance but actually he had seen the line for CD signing for a band that had made him weep the previous day dwindling to two people and had sprinted off to buy me a birthday gift!  In terms of sock engineering, I knit the foot at a firm gauge, and I ran the heel reinforcing stitch up into the blue leg of the sock for a bit of extra reinforcement.  This time I decided the feet were thick enough and did not use reinforcing thread.

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And there you have it. Frankentuffsocks!

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Dyeing and knitting Suffolk socks

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, share pics and projects on this blog or the glorious Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

Once upon a time there was some raw Suffolk fleece.  And then, it was spun into a 3 ply yarn.  And then, it met several eucalyptus dye baths… and then a nice gentle soaking rinse or three…

A series of small skeins arose.

They were weighed and wound into balls by hand and prepared for hand knitting. This picture captures the colours best, I think.

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There was knitting on public transport.

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there was knitting on the road to Warrnambool.

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There was knitting on the way back.

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And finally… on a day so overcast as to leach colour from the knitting:

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There were socks long enough to go all the way to the top of a gumboot (wellington, galosh) on a chilly morning feeding donkeys.  These socks are bound for a lovely friend who keeps a small farm with a lot of chickens and some rescue donkeys.  She had some specific requirements!  She wasn’t the least bit concerned about socks that would not be silky soft.

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On top of the 3 ply, Suffolk yarn with high twist (and on the thick side for socks), I reinforced heels and toes with silk/cotton thread.  I dyed some in eucalyptus but underestimated how much I was going to need.  When I ran out while on the road (to dye camp!) I wasn’t prepared to stop.

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I think the reality about these socks is that they have been knit at a dense gauge that will hopefully result in long wear even in a gumboot, but it is not very stretchy!

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Indigo and woad

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Over summer I worked on my indigo dyeing skills.  In case it isn’t obvious–there will be some time travelling blog posts, because there is a lot I did over December and January that we haven’t discussed, my friends.  Here is my Indigo fructose vat on day 1. The indigo vat went quite well but I felt I still didn’t manage to extract all the blue from it.  Most weekends I dream of cranking it back up, and fail to manage the time.

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This is my latest attempt at a fermentation woad vat.  It does look promising!  I used all of this summer’s  woad harvest (admittedly it was small this year) and one of the hottest weeks of summer and still failed to get the vat to reduce.  I do think constant heat is the thing I really need to sort out for this method–but Jenai Hooke gave me a gift indigo ball at summer dye camp which might kick start the process when I am ready to try again!

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I dyed washed fleece and some fabric, but the main project for the indigo vat was to dye some knitting a dear friend had done.  She describes herself as having a midlife crisis which she is managing, in part, by knitting a lot, I mean A LOT of beanies.  In the last six or twelve months she has scaled up to knitting gauntlets (arm warmers) and sharing the love of those.  She gave me natural white knits and asked if I would indigo dye them and at last I’ve done it.  They are, she said, knit from wool from sheep who grazed in the fields of France where many fascists died.  I think these are for herself.  Since I put them in the mail, I have received a great photo of her wearing them, grinning spectacularly and with a message saying she is taking them to Berlin.  Berlin!  The rest of my pile of beanies has headed out into the world too. Some to a climate activist I know who is studying in Canada and finding the snowy winter and the prospect of climate catastrophe very challenging (she can choose one and gift the others), and a big pile to my dear friends in Tasmania.  When I saw them recently, one of then was wearing a very stretched out eucalyptus dyed beanie that only I could have spun and knit, and clearly wears beanies all year round.  And, they know a lot of cash strapped people in Tassie who might feel the same need.  I figure they will know what to do with a pile of hand knit happiness.

 

 

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Possum wool beanies

Hello dear and patient readers! It’s been so long!  In short, I returned to work and ran out of scheduled posts.  I missed you, too.  So here is a little news about what I was doing in late December…

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We spent the holiday period with my beloved’s entire family, three generations of it.  I took plenty of knitting… and the beanie department of holiday knitting included a skein of handspun possum/wool blend and some eucalyptus dyed wool for contrast stripes.  The possum/wool appeared in my friend Joyce’s stash and came to my house when she was moved into a nursing home by her family.  Since last I wrote she has died, aged 92.  So there has been grieving to be done as well as the certain recognition she was living a mercifully short stage of her life that she never would have chosen for herself.

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In the top picture, casting on while enjoying sushi with one of my beloved’s nieces–that family have embraced me in a truly lovely way and it”s  privilege to be among them. Then in the second image, this is a family who love to play scrabble in a manner entirely different and far higher scoring than anything my family have ever done, and if you look closely I’ve improvised a stitch marker from the spring of a peg.  The other one might have been an elastic band.  Needs must!  The kind of distracted knitting done while playing scrabble goes well with a little nudge about when to decrease.

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In the end I had three beanies, one child size.  All based on Jared Flood’s Turn A Square, my go-to beanie pattern.  And while spinning the possum wool wasn’t all that lovely because the preparation was a bit strange and there were very many little bits of waxy cardboard carded into it… the yarn was wonderfully soft and will be very snug.  And one more part of Joyce’s fibre legacy is ready to go out into the world and keep heads warm, something she would have thoroughly approved of (though perhaps she would have asked me why no pom poms had been added to complete these hats!)

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Mending the blanket

I have this blanket.  It doesn’t have a family history of emotional attachment; I found it in an op shop.  I can’t say what made me bring it home, it’s quite a strong shade of orange which isn’t entirely lovely.  It’s not in good repair.  It has fade lines from being left out in the sun too long on a washing line.  Some of its stitching had come undone when I brought it home.  Moths (well, moth larvae) had nibbled on it before it came to my house.IMAG5839

In a way, it is even more odd that I feel driven to mend this thing.  The holes are small enough they they will not lead to unravelling or any serious consequence.  I want to mend them anyway.  My beloved offered me a robust critique of this project one night recently, and there wasn’t a thing she said, that I didn’t accept.  Yet, I started mending it in 2015.  I notice in that post I think the blanket is rather lovely! Apparently I have been less sure of its loveliness recently… but no less attached to it.

These holidays, I sat the sewing kit on my bed and mended a few more holes each day until I had a big evening session and finally mended all the little holes the moths left. Things I’ve noticed: how lovely it is working with the silk embroidery thread from Beautiful Silks, and in colours I’ve dyed with plants.   That I have settled on the number of strands I like using best.  That my sense of how to use thread, and how to work with colour,  has changed.  How comfortable I feel with these odd little grids in mismatched colours sprinkled over my blanket.  How confident I feel that this blanket and I will spend many more years together, and maybe in that time, there will be more mends, or simply more stitching.  So I guess the reality is that this blanket from the op shop now does hold emotional resonance of some kind, even if it’s hard to say exactly what or why.  It’s a blanket, after all.  I don’t really feel like there has to be an accounting for these things.  Though I like its warmth very much when the season calls for it.

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