Category Archives: Natural dyeing

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

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

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

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

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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Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

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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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing

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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Filed under Craftivism, Natural dyeing, Sewing

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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