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Knitting for the beloved

My mother-out-law is a charming and delightful woman who is a fabulous seamstress.   (I say out-law because her daughter and I are not married, and not likely to be… and there is no option for our marriage in this country for us even if we were marrying types).  She clearly sewed wonderful garments her whole life and keeps telling me this latest frock will be her last and that she is giving up sewing, now, in her mid eighties.  Knitting she likes less, and has less confidence about.

So it was with some surprise that I saw her decide to knit a sleeveless vest for my father-out-law, who in the usual way of such things is a whole lot bigger than her.  All the more surprisingly, she chose 5 ply (fingering) 100% alpaca for the job, ensuring that there would be many thousands of stitches involved.  I happily cast on for her and knit the ribbing, wondering why she was doing it, especially as they live in tropical Brisbane.

I think the answer is all about love.  The love of her husband of over 50 years, and the love of the friend who can no longer knit who gave her this delectable yarn.

Over the last 3 or 4 years I have had progress updates.  At one point I turned a pesky purl that had slipped into the stocking stitch of the garment–fifty rows back–into the knit it was always destined to be.   The friend who taught me that trick has earned my undying gratitude!  At some stage I cast on the front and knit the ribbing for that.  When they visited recently it was clear that the enormity of the task was grinding her down,  with the back finished and about 1/3 of the the front done.  So I offered to finish it, with some trepidation about whether my skills would be up for the job at the level required.


I chose needles a size bigger that she had been using, because she is a loose knitter and I am a tight knitter, and hoped for the best.  I knit away for some while before I realised there was an added stitch with a companion decorative hole, beginning an additional column of stitches well below the marked line where her knitting ended and mine began.  I ripped back and started from that new point.  After a while I saw that I had made a hole and a new column of stitches exactly the same way, ripped back again and continued up.  I got to the neck with some excitement and then realised it looked wrong.  On closer inspection, and with new respect for the improvements in pattern drafting I have enjoyed having taken up knitting long after this one was printed, I realised I was trying to knit a v neck using the instructions for the crew neck.  I ripped out that side of the neck and then a good 20 cm or so to get to the point where a v neck should begin… and then went again.  I cast off the upper edges too tightly for them to match the back and had to rip that out and re-knit.  Then I soaked it overnight and set it out to dry.


After all that had gone wrong so far, I was immensely relieved to see all the puckering and the line where the baton passed from one knitter to another had vanished and the fabric looked great! Next, for the finishing parts… seaming, neckline and arm bands.  Instructions that go ‘pick up and knit 186 stitches evenly…’ always freak me out a bit!

Toward the end I was being cheer squad at the Moana Beach Triathlon and could not resist a Yarn Harlot shot of the vest at the beach.


By the time you read this, the vest will have been reunited with the first knitter and then with the intended wearer.  I hope they both love it.  I certainly love them profoundly for making me so welcome in their family.



Filed under Knitting

Dyeing experiment: Chicory ‘Red Dandelion’ root

I have seen quite a few claims that it is possible to get red dye from dandelion root in print.  But not usually with any detailed instructions.  In Craft of the Dyer Karen Casselman said she had tried numerous times without success to get red from dandelion root.  She invited readers to write in if they knew how it could be done. I don’t know how it can be done.  But when I started growing Chicory ‘Red Dandelion’ the stems and leaf ribs were such a vibrant deep red I promised myself I would try it out just in case.


Many a happy dinner has come from this plant! When I harvested the root the plants were huge, and full of blue flowers, and falling all over other vegetables, at more promising stages in their life cycles.  Out came the chicory, destined to become chicken happiness.  Here are the roots, just as unpromising looking as dandelion roots (in the matter of red dye at any rate).


Chopped and soaking:


After an hour of cooking:


Those roots had not released any colour at all.  So–one more dead end in the mystery of red dye from dandelion roots… There is a dyer on Ravelry who says she has achieved red from a specific dandelion by a cold ammonia process… but her description is not like any dandelion I have seen here so far…


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Harvest time: Eucalyptus Scoparia bark

‘Tis the season for bark collecting, again!  I’ve been out on my trusty bike visiting all the E Scoparias I know and investigating others that might prove to be (or not to be) E Scoparia. I pull my bike over to pack bark into a bag, trampling on it to crush it and make space for more, and filling again before loading my panniers.  Or, go to visit friends with my big bucket in hand and pick up whatever has fallen since my last visit.  Or, head out for a run, leaving my rolled up bag under a tree and pick it up to fill on my cool-down walk on the way back.  This E Scoparia, tucked in behind the foliage of a carob tree, is peeling lavishly.


At home, I stash the bark in a chook feed sack, offering more opportunities for trampling which let me stack a lot of bark into one bag and get it into a form that will go into the dyepot with minimal fuss.


This week, I found a new E Scoparia (at least, that was my hope).  I collected a bag full of bark and it is now soaking so I can test whether I have that right, in consultation with the dyepot. A friend who appreciates natural dyeing lives in this street–so I’ll look forward to telling her if she has a great dye tree at the end of her street! Blackett St:


I also collected bark from this enormous specimen.  Last year I collected a lot of bark from this tree and then found I had one bag of bark that gave brown and not red to orange as expected.  I suspect that means this is not an E Scoparia.  Checking it out again today it is bigger than any other tree I believe to be E Scoparia and it has many more fruits visible and clinging to the stem.  My initial sense is that the bark smells different, too. The leaves give fantastic colour (at least they did before someone took a chainsaw to all the lower branches), but I am running a trial bark pot before the tree sheds the main part of its bark.  It is soaking alongside the other one as I write. Laught Ave:


Next day, here are the dye baths, three hours in, presented in the same order as the trees from which the bark came. They look remarkably similar but smell quite different:

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Here are the (still wet) yarns that came from those dyepots, in the same order again.  Clearly, the second tree is not E Scoparia–or–for some reason its context means it doesn’t give the same colour.


As I have had great results from the leaves of that second tree, I pulled the bark out, put some fallen leaves in, and re-dyed the tan skein…!



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Eucalyptus Nicholii?

Remember this bundle of leaves and my excitement about finally meeting E Nicholii, fully grown? The straight, narrow leaves below were supposed to be E Nicholii.


Well.  E Nicholii is a well- and long-recognised dye eucalypt, described by Jean Carman and the Victorian Handspinners and Weavers Guild in their classic books, and prized by dyers I have spoken to who were using it in the 1970s and 1980s to obtain reds and oranges.  So I was rather surprised to find this result from the best of several attempts:


I did get a roughly orange smudge on some of my fabrics from the ‘E Nicholii’. In the same pot, cooked for the same length of time and on fabric mordanted in the same batch, E Cinerea produced vibrant colour:


In the past, using trees I was entirely confident were E Nicholii (albeit small specimens) I have got something more like this:


These are blocks from a quilt I have been working on…


My own E Nicholii is a tiny specimen, surrounded by a personalised fence to prevent certain marauders with a tendency to dig up anything promising with no thought for the future.


The marauders came past to check what was happening as I took a photo of the tree.


How to explain this eco-printing result?  I didn’t identify these trees myself but relied on someone else who was clearly knowledgeable, which is not to say any of us are above error.  If I had identified them myself, I would say without hesitation that the dye pot is more reliable than my identification skills.  But there are so many variables: these trees were mature while I have tried only young trees–all I have been able to find and identify with confidence.  They were in relative shade and growing in a relatively cool spot…    I just don’t know!


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints

The never-ending parade of slippers

I have been working on some slippers… with long breaks in between activity… for such a long time! They came of some polwarth fibre that was not promising enough for fine spinning and that I thought would be best rendered into felt.  This is my go-to classic felting pattern, Bev Galeskas’ Fibertrends Clog pattern.  If you’re a regular around here you know by now that I have made many dozens of them.  I still think this pattern is genius… but  I am a little bit over it just at present, personally.  Anyway… some of these pairs had already suffered the indignity of being unsuccessfully dipped into indigo.  Time to try again!  I decided to pre-wet for evenness for once in my life.


Finally, the time came for unnatural dyeing. I have two burners, and four pairs of slippers.  They’re big!  I decided to exhaust the dye and re-use the water on the second round of dyeing, which worked well.  It seemed a perfect opportunity to try this strategy out–after all, I am dyeing over chocolate brown wool for the most part.  Fine details of colour are not of real moment.


Finally, I give you purple over brown, green over brown, red-brown-black (using up the leftovers of dyeing adventures past) and blue over brown.


Sadly I’ll not be able to hand them over in person but I can’t bear to make my friends wait any longer!  We have had unseasonably cold weather here of late, and credibility on the question of whether they will ever see these slippers must be stretched to a very fine thread already!  So I am going to give them to a mutual friend who I am hoping will be happy to drop them in to warm chilly toes at the next opportunity.

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Filed under Knitting, Spinning

So much for nettle fibre processing!

Finally, I returned to the harvested and then  twice retted nettle stems. I began by rolling a pipe over them to make the stems easier to split.


I have been putting this task off because these stems looked so little promising.


The stems mostly shattered without fibre becoming evident in any significant way.


I gathered just a little fibre for a lot of effort.


After carding, I was left with this. So I cleaned my handcards on the garden, added the stems to the mulch in the garden, and now… I wait for next year!

A image

A belated postscript: there is a wonderful community flax growing project reaching the spinning stage on the other side of the planet.  So for stories of bast fibre success, please go to visit Sharon Kallis here.


Filed under Fibre preparation

Just in time for summer!

Sometimes people ask me how I manage to fit so many things in… but I am not sure they are really keeping track of how long a project might take me from start to finish!  Many craft projects at my place involve large numbers of tiny steps.  Sometimes it is the nature of the crafts involved and sometimes it’s the only way I can figure out to make things happen.  So projects progress slowly at times, as whim, interest, the right weather, or the availability of time permit.  Today I can report that a couple of items reached the out spout.

The eucalyptus dyed grey corriedale which started here and continued here has finally come to an end, with every last bit now converted to yarn.  The middle skein is chain-plied (and to be honest, I really do prefer this yarn over the one I have created for my cardigan) and the one at the bottom is a true 3 ply.  Some of this yarn is destined to become a cardigan, but it will not be for winter 2013, which is over now for us here in Australia.


I have also finally finished making a jumper for my fairy godson. He is a tall and slender individual (just in case you’re wondering if the proportions are right), and if he’s lucky there will be one or two days cold enough to wear this jumper before winter 2014.  I hope it will still fit him then!  It was slowed down by misjudgment of the amount of yarn needed, and thus several stages of dyeing and spinning as knitting progressed, breaking all the rules of good handspun-handknit practise.  It is 3 ply eucalyptus dyed alpaca in 4ply/fingering weight.


Here it is, tied up with handmade string crafted from the leaves of our daylily.  When it was raining this morning I decided to steam press it and just take it over on my way to work in hopes it might be cold enough to wear it, and was lucky enough to catch my friends at home.  It never fails to gladden my heart to give a gift that is really warmly welcomed… but it is an additional exquisite pleasure to find the handmade string to be just about as exciting as the jumper to its recipient.  It fills life with pleasure to find folk who feel just as intrigued by string from the backyard as  you do, and just as curious about how it could be made.

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Someone who works in the same hallway as me exclaimed over my looking happy at work on a Monday, just as I walked in this morning… and may not have understood if I’d said it was all about late but welcome presents and homemade string and love.  Sometimes you have to be there.


Filed under Eucalypts, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Spinning

Local windfalls 2

I went for a walk the other day after more gale force winds.  The wind had been so impressive I watched every piece of mulch in our backyard become airborne the previous evening!  I took my trusty secateurs and a calico bag with me.

My first candidate (for the dye pot) is a tree my father calls Queensland Box.  Wikipedia suggests my father is right, and also that this tree is widely cultivated outside Australia.  It is Lophestemon Confertus–and its flower is just lovely (go to Wilkipedia if you’d like to see it–they are not in flower here right now).  The trunks peel to a lovely burnt orange but at present this process has barely begun.


They are widely planted as street trees here.

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And they certainly are fruiting, with two generations of seed pods on show at present among glossy leaves.


Two generations of fruit is one thing. Dye pot candidate two had four generations on show.  This eucalypt has been pruned ruthlessly but shows mostly smooth bark with rough, peeling bark near the base.  My best guess is E Macrandra (River Yate)–but this really is a guess.


Now for the reproductive material! I think this is a ‘flattened, strap like peduncle’ as constantly referred to in my reference works. Those tiny ‘fingers’ are buds.


Here the buds are again, a lot further along, in the second generation:


Immature fruit:


Still immature but older fruit:


Finally, I came past a stand of ironbarks where I often collect after wind, and collected my third candidate.  It’s a mixed stand from which I sometimes get good colour and sometimes very little.  Three dye pots full waiting their turn on the hob…


The results were not tremendously exciting… different shades of tan and pale apricot from the eucalypts (clearly the ironbark was not E Sideroxylon). I have to confess that I forgot to photograph these unexciting outcomes before overdyeing them with E Cinerea.  The Queensland Box showed its capacity to give tan in the presence of alum, especially.  The samples are (from left to right) wool, wool+alum, silk and cotton.


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Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Neighbourhood windfalls 1

We’ve had gale force winds here lately.  One morning about a week ago, 40% of my city had no power when we woke up (we were happily still connected to the grid).  Needless to say, this has led to windfalls, and I was still collecting them yesterday as further gale force winds began a week later.

The first windfall was an ironbark.  Guessing from its location (a stand of three ironbarks) and the gumnuts still intact, I think it is E Tricarpa. Sadly, just as unremarkable as a dye plant, as the last time I tried!


I have not managed to identify this tree, partly because it branches metres above ground level.  Even with so much of its canopy on the ground, I didn’t find a single bud, flower or fruit to help me identify it.  The trunk is rough and pale. The whole tree is difficult to capture in a photo, especially on such a gloomy day.  It must be at least 20 metres tall.


It seems to be under attack from some kind of scale insect.  Every single leaf was affected. Here it is after some hours in hot water–suggestive of a beige outcome….


Compare my third windfall.  This is a tree that has been cut to accommodate cars parking beside it, in the car park of a recreation area.  I haven’t been sure whether it was E Scoparia, E Camaldulensis, or some other unknown eucalypt.  Both E Scoparia and E Camaldulensis have similar shaped and sized leaves, small fruit and both can have pale, smooth trunks (but this trunk looks more E Camaldulensis to my admittedly self-trained eye).  The branch that fell to the ground had an uncharacteristically large number of fruit on it for E Scoparia.  On the other hand, the clusters of seven fruit with 3 valves apiece made me think it might be E Scoparia after all.  So did the colour of the dye bath, though the leaves did not turn orange the way E Scoparia usually does.

In spite of the colour of that dye bath, the result says that this is not E Scoparia, and the 3 valves say that it isn’t E Camaldulensis either (4 valves).  Even with vinegar to help bring out whatever orange or red might be there to be had, and still damp from the dyebath… the 3 valved tree is at the top (brown-beige?) and the 20 metre tall tree is at the bottom (caramel-beige).


Here are the results of a bath with a fallen branch from an actual E Scoparia, downed in the same windy night.  They’re the red and orange samples, with the E Tricarpa for contrast.



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing

Hatchling silkworms and other thrills

Last year, I bought five silk worms at a school fair and raised them into moths. Later, when I was wondering what to expect next, I had quite a conversation with a delightful woman in the Button Bar in the Adelaide Arcade, as you do.  I can’t remember how we got from the tea cosy she was knitting to silk worms, but somehow we did.  She told me to expect the eggs that resulted from a dalliance between a couple of my moths to hatch in September.  I remember thinking about this on 1 September.  Then on Friday 13 September I realised I had taken no action and sprinted down the hall to check on them and lo!  There were tiny black creatures wiggling around!  I made an immediate mercy dash to the nearest mulberry tree.  Can you make the hatchlings out?


The hatchlings are the tiny black lines.  Those spots on the cardboard are eggs.  Today I conservatively estimate I have 50 silkworm hatchlings, and I have started working on finding some of them new homes.

Meanwhile, I have been on a bag jag… sewing loads more bags and taming [some of] my scrap collection.  I decided to photograph a lining in progress on the weekend, because what is more thrilling than a lining?



Well, one of our chooks seemed to think so.  She could tell whatever was happening on the table was worth looking into, so she flew up immediately to check into it.  Regrettably, this was not an edible thrill from her point of view.


Thrills come in very disparate packages, all depending on perspective… or so it seems to me!  Audrey finds earwigs a lot more thrilling than I do.

Meanwhile, I have taken the nettle stems back out of the retting bath (which this time certainly did go to the garden–) and set them out in the rain to rinse.  Since so much of my crafting takes place in crevices of time and is ordered by whim rather than a linear plan, I hope you’re managing to follow all these emerging themes …


Filed under Fibre preparation, Leaf prints, Sewing