I’ve had jars of dye and thread or fabric sitting about outside and on bookshelves for years here–they have been created using India Flint’s Stuff, Steep and Store method. And I’ve been interested to see that I can let them be for years! A stitching friend was keen to start a stitch journal and so I thought I might contribute and made her a parcel… beginning by opening a pile of jars. Some put by in 2014!
For once I took the effort to make sure I could line up labels with contents… and hopefully my friend’s stitch journal will bring her joy. She’s a wonderful sewer and thinker and feminist and all-round, an upwelling of glorious energy and action.
Needless to say all this dyeing excitement led to more jars…. I love this method. I don’t come across jars big enough to use it on huge quantities, but I am blessed with small batch amounts of some dyes, such as flowers, that work really well with this method and I can process seven at a time, saving energy and drama. And it’s pretty!
I had enough cochineal dyed yarn for a second pair of socks, and in a moment where I just didn’t have time to wind more balls, I cast on.
I knit quite a bit on one of our long and lovely walks. That is my beloved striding out ahead of me making the bridge undulate ever so slightly!
There was quite a game of yarn chicken going on at the end–for the non knitters, this is where the knitter messes with their own mind trying to outwit the ball of yarn in an effort to make it last to the end of the project. There are just a few metres left here. Though in all honesty, these socks are yet again not quite the same length despite my best efforts!
And now they are on their way to a friend whose last pair wore through without warning at an inconvenient moment–a report of which reached me when I was about one and a half of these socks in! Long may her feet be cosy and her legs be strong.
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. It is from Rebecca that this rather beautiful fleece came to me. She gave it to me washed, with its lock formation intact in a way that I almost never manage. I am deeply grateful for this wonderful gift!
There was a day I was so keen to get spinning, I pulled this fleece from its calico bag next to the drum carder and visualised carding it. And put it back in its bag! The care and work represented by its beautiful cleansing was just too precious. In the end I decided to flick card each lock individually and spin directly from the lock, and what a lovely experience that was.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but I think I am getting better at spinning sock yarn through practising–and with such a lovely, beautifully prepared fibre and a longer, softer lock than the Suffolk, this felt a real breeze to spin. I’m really happy with this result.
Ultimately I decided to dye it in cochineal with some vinegar in hopes of heightening the red tones. And now, my friends, it has wandered off to be exhibited in the Royal Show!
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.
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.
The springtime brings on fleece washing, carding and seed planting, apparently!
I’ve spun up all kinds of tragic fleece dyed last year, lawnmowing crossbred sheep’s wool, alpaca, blends, cochineal dyed fleece, natural fleece… there has even been some eucalypt dyeing (the orange skein in the foreground).
I’ve spun batts created from logwood exhaust and woad exhaust and where did that even come from? batts.
Anonymous roving from my friend’s stash. Alpaca gifted from another friend. Local fleece blended with dark grey alpaca with far too many burrs in it. Possum and wool blended together.
My winter of knitting was lovely indeed but I am loving being back to spinning as well, so it seems…
A while back I acquired some merino-silk 4 ply (fingering) yarn to use as a no-nylon sock yarn.
Of course, it all started out white. Over time, some was dyed in legacy logwood. Some with legacy cochineal, and some with indigo. Then I decided on overdyeing the cochineal to create stripes and spots, creating some deep pink-purple and some blue sections where I had tied resists during the first dyeing in cochineal.
There was hospital knitting, nursing home knitting, public transport knitting as ever, meeting knitting.
There was even knitting during an experimental opera!
And now there are socks. The pattern is an old favourite, Jaywalker, by Grumperina. It doesn’t stretch much but it stays up and it looks great.
They are destined to be added to India Flint’s collection… bless her creative mind and nimble fingers and keep her toes warm, I say!
Happy international women’s day, my friends! I am feeling grateful today for all the women who came before me and put in such hard work to see that future generations (me included) would have the benefit of the vote, the right to run for parliament, and something much closer to equal pay than they ever knew. And access to the professions, and to choices about marriage and family life. And education. And meaningful responses to violence in all its forms. And so much more!
These images are of two of the champions of women;’s rights in my own little part of the world, Mary Lee and Dame Roma Mitchell. I am celebrating today by going to sing I Can’t Keep Quiet in the International Women’s Day March. We did a lovely flashmob a few weeks back with MILCK’s song, so some of us have practised up! And in preparation for today, I knit some pussy hats. I began with cochineal dyed wool. I had been wondering when I would ever use it, and recognised this as the time!
Soon, I was off!
I decided to knit my pussy hats in the round, because, you know. That’s how I roll on anything that could be knit in the round, and I’m not afraid to graft (Kitchener stitch).
Knitting while blogging?
Knitting on the train, because I usually do. I just kept churning them out until I ran out of wool. Then I had some pinky purple-y handspun and it was a faster knit than the 8 ply (DK) commercial wool. Finally, I had 4 pussy hats and a lot of conversations with people about what I was knitting that led to raised eyebrows and then conversations about contemporary politics and the inappropriateness of bragging about sexual assault. I popped them in the mail to an Education Union in Victoria that was calling out for women to wear them in their IWD march. I’m a member of a different education union, so that seemed completely appropriate to me. I hope some women in Victoria will be stepping out in handmade pussy hats tonight and feeling fine!
Some time back, I started a series of posts using dyes that have been gifted to my Guild–or perhaps just abandoned there! Among the haul of amazing dyes of unknown provenance and considerable age was quite an amount of cochineal. It had so many forms of packaging and so many forms that I brought together all those with similar labels and packages… and this left small quantities of ‘opal cochineal’ (12 g) and ‘ruby cochineal’ (36 g). I was absolutely unable to figure out whether these were marketing terms or actual descriptions of the dye qualities of the dried bugs themselves, and finally I decided to find out.
Step 1: weighing the opal cochineal, consulting the dye books (I went with Rebecca Burgess on this one), and stitching my dried insects into a pouch. I abhor stockings, so they only come my way from other people’s discards. I found an antique nylon curtain in the stash and stitched up a double layer bag for the dyestuff to be sewn into.
Into the dye bath! When the mount of colour released almost immediately is so stunning, it’s easy to understand why this dye was so sought after (and of course, still is in some quarters). I added small quantities of silk embroidery thread at different stages in the process, along side several batches of fleece from ‘Viola’, a silvery-grey English Leicester Cross. The thread looks just great.
I love the colour from the first bath best, but tried to exhaust the dye, with three batches of fibre. Total dyed weight: a whopping 72g. Is it ‘opal’ in some special way??? Let me know if you have a view.
Here is my little nylon sachet after its many steepings and soakings, heatings and coolings. I had a chat with a friend at the Guild and she’s been cochineal dyeing too. Maybe all our exhausted insects will go into one final exhaust bath.
A while back I had used almost every bobbin I own, each with a different colour of thread on it.
Over time there were even more bobbins of singles than this pictures shows… finally there has been a season of plying, skeining and washing, and now I have this pile instead.
Logwood purples, purple-greys and purple-browns, a cochineal pink (and a cochineal-logwood exhaust), three indigo blues, two madder exhaust-oranges, and a coreopsis exhaust yellow. I didn’t take good enough notes of the fibres–some are on merino roving (the madder), some on polwarth, some on grey corriedale. Maybe there is a little of Malcolm the Corriedale in there too!
And there has been even more bee swarm action in the neighbourhood. These bees have taken up residence on a rainwater tank, with some support from a ladder! And… I am so over tending the silkworms 🙂
Cochineal is another of the dyes I received from the Guild and used at the workshop a while back. In fact, there was a choice of cochineals. In what I realise now was my ignorance, I chose ‘carmine cochineal’ because it was ground up and I was unsure how I could adequately grind the whole dried insects I also have. As you can see, after an initial period of being dull ornage, the dye bath was an impressively shocking pink. It turns out that ‘carmine cochineal’ is not a shade of cochineal but a preparation of cochineal boiled with ammonia or sodium carbonate. I borrowed Frederick Gerber’s Cochineal and the Insect Dyes 1978 from, the Guild and found that the deeper red colour I had in mind when I saw the term ‘carmine’ could only be obtained from this preparation with the application of a tin mordant which I am not prepared to use. the colours we achieved with alum were well within the range indicated by the included colour chart of wool samples (those were the days!)
The colour range on this card (with madder beneath for comparison) is impressive even without tin.
We dyed organic wool. I dyed silk paj and twined string (the orange string was dyed with madder).
I brought the vat home with me and dyed a lot more fibre in an attempt to exhaust it. Here is grey corriedale mordanted with alum and overdyed with carmine cochineal.
And spun–three plied. This is my first ever crocus flower, by the way!
The magenta silk embroidery thread had maximum time in the bath, since I fished it out when removing the dyestuff (in its recycled stocking) prior to disposing of the bath!