Category Archives: Natural dyeing

Extinction Rebellion, climate change, and a beanie

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Hello dear Readers, I have designed a knitting pattern.  You can, should you wish, download it from Ravelry here. You see it here in handspun coloured merino with eucalyptus-dyed wool contrast. But allow me to explain.

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It is a big time in the life of the world, with even conservative estimates by scientists telling us that we have less than 12 years to take emergency level action that could keep global warming to below 1.5C.  Even 1.5C warming will have, and is already having, massive impacts on the earth and all who depend on the earth for life. Including you and me. It isn’t as though I’ve been sitting around. I’m doing the little things that depend on my being one straw in a very, very big haystack for impact (online petitions, postcards, letter writing, voting).

Last week I joined the thousands of Australian school children who went out on strike demanding climate action.  Their speeches showed more understanding of climate change than anything coming out of our federal government, which is still supporting coal mining and oil drilling on a massive scale.  The school students had more clarity than our state government, which has only partially, temporarily, banned fracking because it destroys farmland (and thus costs votes though these things certainly do matter in their own right)–not because of the impact of burning fossil fuels on global warming. I sing with a posse of climate singers who were out on the weekend telling the good people of our city about the issue and giving people the chance to write to the leader of the opposition about this issue.

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And yet, on this day when world leaders are meeting in Katowice, Poland, to talk about what to do about this–there is just no coverage in my country of this critically important meeting.  My government is not on track to meet the inadequate targets set in Paris.  And the high pitched screaming sound between my ears when I lie awake in the middle of the night worrying about climate change is not quietening down.

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My heart soared when I saw that a new group in the UK called Extinction Rebellion have served their demands on their government, and that they are framing the climate and ecological emergency like the existential threat that it is.  On their first Rebellion Day they blocked all the bridges across the Thames River and brought central London to a standstill. This is a strategy of escalating nonviolent civil disobedience designed to compel the governments that are failing their people and the future of our world to take emergency level action.

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It may not succeed.  But it has to be attempted, because scientists have been patiently explaining and then explaining in tones of increasing panic, and then explaining with tears as they set out the loss we already face: and governments are not listening nor acting.  Fossil fuel companies are continuing to fund political parties here and elsewhere.  The current federal government is not even close to having a rational policy on climate.  And nowhere are there signs of action being taken that comes close to responding to the grave threat every life form on earth now faces.

So, dear friends, I have decided to commit to being an organiser for Extinction Rebellion. And I also decided to design a beanie, watching all those English folk out being arrested and protesting in the chill weather of their winter as we head into the searing heat of our summer.  I knit it in the week a tornado hit a town in our state for the first time in my memory.  If you have questions about Extinction Rebellion, I hope you will roam their www site, find them on social media, and go here scroll down and watch their briefing on climate change and what we can do about it.  This is an invitation to act with courage in times that demand no less. Let’s step up, for the love of life.

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Dyeing embroidery thread

Some years ago, I bought India Flint’s little book Stuff, Steep and Store. I stuffed a lot of jars with all manner of small quantities of dyestuffs, and set them to steep.  Some have been out of doors with their cardboard labels tied on with woad dyed wool, or with string made of leaves.

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Some are still sitting on my bookshelves patiently waiting. Recently I opened several of these jars and washed off the contents.

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And here are the results.

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It’s a bit sad that this thread dyed with weld was the entirety of my weld crop! I came out one day and found that it had fainted.  Some critter or another had severed it below ground.

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On the other hand, the colour from the black hollyhock flowers is stupendous.  I will certainly save them again this summer for a future jar of dye. This method is fantastic for small quantities of plant material. But I must admit I was interested so long after the fact to see how risk averse I’d been in setting up all these jars of dye and yet dyeing so little fibre.  Maybe next time I could be just a little bolder…

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Little socks for little feet

So there’s this small person coming into our lives early next year. I think I may have mentioned this!  I haven’t felt up to anything too complicated, so I settled on some socks for a start on knitting for the babe. Cat Bordhi’s Little Sky Socks, to be exact. In fact, I had in mind also knitting another design from the same book, but we’ll get to that in good time…

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I selected some hand spun alpaca dyed with eucalyptus, and when I didn’t seem to have quite the right number of dpns, I added one that didn’t match… a slightly different size even.  As one of four, not such a big issue, I’ve found, and infinitely better than investing in a new set or waiting for it to come in at the op shop (thrift store).

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Here’s the thing.  I started these when I had recovered enough from my recent bout of illness to feel interested in knitting, but evidently I was still not the sharpest tool in the box.  I finished one sock, and felt pretty happy.  Then some time passed and I knit another and felt ready to move on to the Little Coriolis Sock. I put the two socks together, and what do you know?  Not even close to being a pair. I don’t mean they were trivially different (that would just be normal in my case).  I mean one was a centimetre or two longer than the other, and on a sock this size–that’s a big difference!

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I had to knit two more socks and try to match the mistakes made the first two times!  Attentive readers will have noticed the yarn was dyed/spun as a gradient.  So doing this guaranteed that the socks would also not come even close to matching in colour.

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It’s a lucky thing that the intended recipient won’t care at all. And that my daughter isn’t fussed either!

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And while I was sending weird gifts by mail, I sent this silk beanie.  I found this single skein among my friend Joyce’s stash after she had died, and pure silk seemed like a good choice for a baby.  Oh, my goodness, though–the colours are a bit much, and they are even more astounding knit up than in the skein.  Happily enough, I received a call when this strange set of gifts was received. The colours had been judged to be fabulous! I think Joyce would love the idea of my being a grandma and her skein of silk going to a newborn.

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Indigo dyed Frankensocks

Once upon a time there was a lovely handspun Suffolk yarn dyed in a near exhausted fructose indigo dye vat. Or perhaps it was just that the dyer had exhausted her capacity to keep the vat reduced.

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It was paired up with some indigo-dyed merino-silk commercial yarn.  Here I am knitting at the Royal show.  Watching the ponies.

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I stopped with two legs knit because the Suffolk yarn for the feet was in the royal show. I started another pair of socks and this pair of legs sat on the top of a chest of drawers for some weeks.  Once I got to the point where I started knitting the feet, they went super fast, with a few long meetings and some TV watching.

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Here I am heading for a grafting moment at a concert at the Fleurieu Folk Festival.

And here are the finished socks!

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Eucalyptus-dyed 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 on this blog or on the blog of the fabulous Rebecca at Needle and Spindle or on instagram using the hashtag #tuffsocksnaturally.

These socks may look a little familiar.  L: cast on at a train station; R: cast on, on a train, backdrop of my new jeans–post soon about making them!   I had part of a hank of commercial merino/silk yarn and the first part went on an earlier set of Frankensocks. This time I weighed out and divided the remainder with a view to knitting it all into sock legs and then added handspun Suffolk feet also dyed in eucalyptus, to a stunning shade of orange that can only mean I had cleaned my dye pot assiduously (I refer to washing soda and boiling water).

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Grafting a toe any minute, on a different train.  These socks felt like they went on forever, because I’ve had an illness that went on and on, and darlings–I didn’t feel up to knitting!  There is no point saying this at work, but seriously–no counting, no cabling and mostly just no knitting. And, they are quite large as socks go.

The legs are long, so I went with calf shaping.  Women have calf muscles, my friends!

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I began the reinforcing stitch for the heel toward the bottom of the leg.

The foot is decidedly rugged by comparison with the leg (and I do enjoy the variegation in the dye).  And there you have them, in all their glory. This morning they went to the post office and on to their new home!

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Silk cot quilt

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Back before March, maybe even last year!  I took out a silk cot quilt kit I bought from Beautiful Silks remnants section and dyed the silk cover.  I’ll be honest with you, Marian (the fabulous proprietor at Beautiful Silks) persuaded me to buy this kit and I didn’t know where it would go.  Then the moment for me to give it to one pregnant friend passed without it being finished.

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I was very happy with how the dyeing turned out.

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I was intimidated by the next steps.  It was just too beautiful.  Silk is just a bit too precious for me to relax about. In about March, still not sure where it would go, I decided to add the silk batting and stitch the quilt edges together.  Then I safety–pinned and tacked the quilt layers together before losing my nerve again.

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Then it emerged that my daughter was expecting!  She wanted to wait until after the third month before being really confident that it would, as she put it, “stick”.  And when that date passed and all was well with the foetus, I started to think about this quilt again.  I didn’t know how to quilt it, and to be honest, I like the patchwork part of making quilts but not the quilting part.  I’ve never made a whole cloth quilt. Finally I decided to stop waiting for it to be perfect and just stitch.

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Suddenly I made my peace with this cone of thread that really wasn’t what I had thought I was buying on some previous mail order, and chose a needle. I finished the stitching after we arrived to visit my daughter, now visibly pregnant and beginning to multiply plans for her life as a parent.  She did rather seem to love it, wonky stitching and all, to judge by all the stroking and patting and cheek-placing–and we’ll have to see how it stands up to the rigours of an actual baby.  Or perhaps it will end up as a new mother’s comforter!

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Handspinning

There has been a return of my Royal Show entries. I was so unwell when I spun some of them, and had no option but to submit things already dyed rather than dye to purpose, that I was surprised to win any prize at all on these grounds–and then, there are much better spinners than me!

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I applied cochineal to some of the Suffolk previously dyed with indigo in places, and to the Ryeland. The hen is a Royal Show reference–and the colour in the photo above and right is a better reflection of the cochineal than the one below…

Some time back, I decided to use up of some fibres that had been purchased years ago with specific uses in mind that no longer seem interesting to me. First, Perendale curls that I had used to create lockspun yarns.  After all the sock yarn spinning I’ve done in the last six months, this was massive!  I also spun up small quantities of commercially dyed merino roving but don’t seem to have taken pictures of it.

I found I also had some eucalyptus dyed batts and some carded local wool I’d prepared some time ago, and as serious fibre prep has felt beyond me in the last while, I spun them too.

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I progressed on through roving in the stash to some oatmeal BFL dyed by The Thylacine and acquired from a destash a few years ago.  The braids were so spectacular!  I tried to maintain some of the colour changes.  And I also discovered I had some Australian grown Cormo from the Tonne of Wool–most of mine went to a fine spinning competition at my Guild, but I found a little bag of odds and ends of Cormo roving and it was buttery, velvety, exquisitely soft.  Also, so white I didn’t get a great photo of it!

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Nishijin Textile Centre and Aizenkobo Indigo Studio

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The Lonely Planet Guide did not make the Nishijin Textile Centre sound especially alluring, and nor did some of the promotional materials.  I decided to go anyway.

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There were some amazing fabrics and garments on display. The display itself was relatively small, though lovely–but the Centre was very popular–and clearly not because of the single room of displays upstairs which I had all to myself.  The main attraction seemed to be the souvenir shop, which was full of tourists from all round the world the day I was there. It had a wide range of items made with and decorated in beautiful Japanese fabrics.  There was also a working Jacquard loom, with a weaver demonstrating its operation on the main floor of the building, and with some explanatory signage about the long history of interaction between China and Japan in the matter of weaving.

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I took just two photos inside the building before seeing the signs banning photography and desisting.

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After the Nishijin Textile Centre I went to the Archaeological Museum, just a short walk away.  It was a small but impressive place, apparently run by a small group of enthusiasts.  Signs were mostly translated into English, which was a boon to me, so I spent a long time reading all I could.  I had already been to Nijojo Mae Castle at this point, and so had questions I was trying to answer.  The translations here were informative about the archaeology of Kyoto, but they did also suggest some of the ways Japanese and English differ.  I puzzled for quite a while over a ceramic object labelled as a “pillow”, wondering how something so small could be a pillow for anyone.  Eventually I realised this might be a literal translation of what in English would be a stopper or a lid for a jar or jug.

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Next I went to the Aizenkobo Indigo Studio, where master indigo dyer Kenichi Utsuki lives and works. It turned out that I had arrived at a time when he was not dyeing.  Rather, I arrived and was the only customer in the studio. Kenichi Utsuki showed me hos beautiful dyeing and the studio, complete with high end fashion garments and special orders hanging on racks. Friends, I was overcome with shyness at having the master dyer (and his wife) attending only to me, and deeply awkward about my lack of Japanese.  I tried to explain that I understood that he was an internationally famous dyer and that his work was complex, built on an extensive Japanese tradition (using only Japanese indigo and fermentation methods)–I am not sure that I succeeded in communicating this.  But I did spend quite some time with Kenichi Utsuki listening to him about his lifetime’s work and leafing though his photo albums, looking around in awe.  Even the house itself was rather amazing and had been in his family for generations. I could not bring myself to ask if I could take photos and so I have only the front door to show you and you will have to follow the link to see more.  I came home with a beautiful furoshiki and some sashiko thread dyed virtually black-blue.

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Afterward I walked for a long distance.  In Kyoto I was forever thinking that I wouldn’t walk as far as yesterday and would just catch a bus because of the heat.  but then I was constantly overcome by wanting to see something lying ahead, or wondering what was around the corner.  I was forever passing beautiful plants and unfamiliar styles of building. So I just had to keep walking and looking!

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Box pouch workshop

I had a lot of fun preparing for the box pouch workshop. I dyed lots of fabric and made some samples.

Susan’s beautiful home and relaxed generosity made for a wonderful atmosphere.

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The company was excellent and we were able to make use of the abundance of plants nearby. There were all kinds of dyeing discoveries.

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And there was wonderful dyeing…

And the main room looked as though a balloon full of stitchery had burst in it!  People’s work was beautiful and it was such a pleasure to be in a room of people so knowledgeable about sewing, dyeing, and the environment–each of us in different measures.

The participants made beautiful work and the conversation was fabulous!

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Fabrics in Kyoto

I think regular readers will have worked out that there were some obvious reasons I saw textiles everywhere in Japan–after all, I was seeking them out! I must admit though–and I’ve already explained that my ignorance and lack of language are a limitation–that fabric in Kyoto seemed far more accessible than at home. I was really impressed by the range of scrap fabric and recycled fabric available, and the range of places it was for sale. My friend and I bought scrap packs at a high end Shibori store.  There were packs of scrap fabrics available on street stalls during the evening street parties that came with the Gion festival.  Kimono is a big business in Kyoto and no doubt especially during the Gion festival, when people clearly go out of their way to dress up and dress traditionally, and tourists often do so as well.

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This may be one reason that secondhand kimono are for sale in so many places. The amount of silk made into clothing in Japan (relative to Australia) might also account for the availability of bolt ends of kimono silk and for some of the scraps which seem to have been torn off when a hem was raised, for example. But to my ignorant eyes it also seemed there was a different kind of reverence for beautiful fabric and design. During the Gion festival when community treasures are on display, fabulous garments were among them.

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When the Gion floats were paraded through the streets, they were hung with amazing, and in some cases, ancient, tapestries and carpets, often imported (long ago and from far away).

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Here is another example.

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And another!  It was amazing! I had been watching some of the floats being assembled out on the streets (remember the temperature is 39C or above every day at this stage), visited them on display once complete and seen the Gion Bayashi musicians rehearsing in them. Then we saw them lifted, pulled or wheeled through the streets on one of the two parade days. To see them all was extraordinary–each with a complex history and a heavy freight of symbols.  How hard it must have been to be pulling them through the streets–some of them weighing tonnes and with antique wooden wheels, being kept on track by a wooden chock dextrously applied as the wheels turned, and cornering without steering by use of wet bamboo slats and brute strength.  Sweaty work even for the very committed.

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But wait, there’s more.  I’d researched some things prior to departure and understood Nomura Tailor was not to be missed. The main store was on the big shopping strip of Kyoto (the Rundle Mall of Kyoto for local-to-me readers). It looks small here but there were four, or perhaps five, floors!

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I was entirely unsure whether it was acceptable to take photographs, and found myself in someone’s way no matter where I stood on any floor with a small reprieve on the top floor where haberdashery was for sale. I was utterly embarrassed!

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Here was for sale every kind of cloth. Every colour of linen.  Lots of cute prints (I now understand a little more about the cute aesthetic in Japan, but not a whole lot)! In the image above you can see an entire display of Marimekko. I have never seen so many Liberty prints outside a Liberty store. And so on (remember, this is only what I could recognise). It was overwhelming. I try not to buy new stuff as a general rule–but I really wanted to buy here and could find no way to make a decision about where I would stop if I started. I came back on a second day to see if I had more judgment or perhaps it was less crowded.  I still could not bring myself to buy fabric, overwhelmed by how I would ask for it, not understanding how to initiate a purchase, not wanting to hold up the queue, and in general feeling all heffalump in a very organised and efficient space in which I was unable to grasp the key organisational and efficiency principles. I bought some braid, some Japanese zippers and some sashiko sampler packs. The difference between buying fixed items and negotiating yardage is profound, or at least it felt that way to me on the day!

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The sashiko samplers turned out to be cushion covers but only the shape of the fabric and the pictures with the Japanese instructions inside allowed me to work this out.  I became ill a week or so after returning and did a lot of stitching!

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None of these was the highlight for me. The highlight really was going to a shrine sale the day we left.  We went to the flea market, and it was immense.  It was not a fabric sale–pottery, tools, metal, ready to eat food, brushware, vegetables, pickles… just abut everything!  It was over 40C that day and I inhabited a fantasy that I could look around and come back to things sighted earlier.  Oops! That is one thing I do regret.  Here was every kind of fabric, new and second hand. New garments and second hand garments. Second hand sake bags.

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Sacking, advertising materials on fabric (as far as I could tell). Cheap mass produced stuff. I bought what turned out to be strips from the ends of bolts (lengths?) of white silk kimono fabric. Then there were so many second hand fabrics whose origins I could only guess.

There were plant dyed clothes, and while indigo was prominent some were dyed with nettles, cedar bark or wormwood (that is what I could understand at any rate–)

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There was vintage clothing and fabric in every stage from well preserved to utterly disintegrating and in every stage of being mended from a patch here or there to rags stitched together–the boro tradition.  There were also many stallholders converting scraps of beautiful silk or vintage indigo dyed fabric into small items of loveliness, honouring them by transforming them.

I have read about boro and seen images, and read its history.  But while some of these items spoke of thrift and long wear, some were so ragged and so much mended that I was confronted by a sense of grief and awe for the people whose suffering and resilience created these clothes and cloths. While they now sell for a good deal of money (which does not go to anyone who used them), these items speak of the sheer poverty and difficult lives as well as speaking of the diligence, skill, love and care that must have gone into them.

In the end, I felt as though the flea market was an education in the life of everyday people through textiles. The museums I visited focused on things of high quality and amazing craft and design skill (as museums often do). Yet, this means museums often tell the stories of the wealthy and powerful, even when it is their clothing that is on show. At the flea market, the incredible effort that went into staying warm and covered for so many people who made that wealth possible was on show instead.

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