Tag Archives: wool

Indigo and woad


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.


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!


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.




Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Finnish tough socks naturally?


It all began when I finally managed to pick up a parcel that a friend who now lives in Denmark had left for me when she had passed through our town while we were away.  The contents were truly astonishing. Better than Christmas.  She had chosen some lovely wool, a book and a chocolate treat, all wrapped up in a bag! She delivered another Danish knitting kit as well. The yarn is Finnish wool dyed with plants and cochineal.  I couldn’t wait. I’d just finished a rather plain coloured sock and I wasn’t finished preparing my next Suffolk sock yarn.  I cast on!


Here, a sock poses above Port Willunga beach on a summer outing. Is it just my imagination, or was this shot so peculiar my beloved took a snap of me taking it to preserve for posterity?


Here, it graces a completed summer holiday puzzle.  My daughter brought Christmas gifts that were all second hand, wrapped in newspaper and tied with binder twine, designed to entertain us while in Melbourne.  One of the puzzles was unpacked immediately!


Here we have the second sock with many extremely ripe strawberries after a heat wave visit to the Farmer’s market.  And, on the side of a triathlon where I was cheering on my very fit beloved.  And now we have the frivolous images out of the way, here”s the lowdown.  I loved this yarn so much I wanted to knit it right away.  It’s the right weight for socks (4 ply/fingering) but I have no reason to think it is especially sock-worthy in terms of the breed or construction of the yarn.  On the other hand, my experience is increasingly telling me that adding silk into sock yarn is not an especially winning strategy.  As a beginner spinner I was so surprised to be told that silk was strong.  I had always thought of it as a rather fragile fibre.  But here’s the thing.  It’s both.  Silk has a high tensile strength.  If you try to snap a silk thread, it is really strong.  But I don’t think that tensile strength is matched by its capacity for abrasion resistance.  I’ve tested this by mending high abrasion areas of clothing with silk thread sashiko style–with lots of running stitches across the area of the patch.  The silk thread rubbed right off, and quite quickly.  I think that the high wear areas of a sock require a lot of abrasion resistance, and perhaps silk is not the best choice.  This was an experiment with doing all the engineering I know about to strengthen this pure wool sock.

I knit these socks cuff down, and I decided not to rib the leg.  I am not sure whether this wool will be a good match with the wearer’s skin.  It isn’t merino soft or silk soft, so I decided not to add any texture that might create unwanted friction.  Instead, I created a shaped calf.  These socks are for a woman who walks a lot.  So, since I made them quite long, some room for walking muscle.  As I reached the end of the leg, I started heel reinforcing stitch above the heel.  I notice this is a place where socks can wear through and there is nothing technically difficult about reinforcing the section of the leg immediately above the heel proper, where some boots and shoes rub.

When I reached the heel, I used heel reinforcing stitch as I usually would, and added some (ecru–offwhite) cotton/silk stitching thread in for reinforcement.  You can see the stitch and colour changes in the image above. The last time I received feedback on a pair of socks for this specific person, I saw she’d worn through the sole under her heel first.  So when I got to the heel turn and began the sole, I continued the reinforcing thread, through the heel turn and then running it across the sole and snipping it off when I came to knitting across the gusset and top of the foot.

I think the idea for treating reinforcing thread in this way came from something the wonderful Elizabeth Zimmermann (wise and ingenious fairy godmother of English speaking knitters) wrote, though I think she was using woolly nylon.  She wrote in a period when nylon blend sock yarn was not available or widespread as it is today, and she was needless to say, interested in a hard wearing sock.  I think she wrote a pattern for a re-footable sock, which I read once and found beyond me.  It might be time to look it up, because perhaps by now my knitting skills will meet it.  Here is how this strategy looks on the inside of the sock. Lots oof loose ends.  But they will be barely detectable to the wearer’s heel and will not work their way out of the knitting.

I changed down a needle size for the sole to give it more durability without impinging on the wearer.  That might be one of EZ’s ideas too.  The toe also received reinforcement.

And there we are.  I purled the recipient’s initials into the back of the calf for my own amusement and hopefully hers!

And there you have it.  A sock of unknown toughness, engineered for better wear, gloriously coloured and gleefully received.  When I am listening to the former knitters I meet on public transport, in cafes, at bus stops, in meetings, I am often saddened that they know no one who would welcome a hand knit and especially not a hand knit requiring hand washing.  That is the most common reason I hear for their abandoning knitting (followed by arthritis, scourge of knitters).  My goodness!  I am blessed by many lovers of hand knits, and while for me, knitting is its own reward in some respects… it is also like cooking someone a delicious dinner.  People who enjoy and appreciate are those for whom I’d cheerfully cook or knit again given the chance.  There is nothing like being really confident that someone loves that meal or sock or slipper or jumper so much that if you made another, they’d love that too… and I am especially blessed to know folk who will happily wear experimental garments.



Filed under Knitting

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…


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.


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.


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!)


Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing, Spinning

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.


Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing


While I was on holiday, I finished sewing a batch of needle books made from scraps of blanket dyed with various plants.  Now they are waiting to become part of mending kits!


Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

More spinning


…some more fat yarns spun from the fleece of a sheep called Lentil, which have now gone to their new home with a friend who likes to knit fat yarns. Plus some yarn that had been dyed in a very weak vat of indigo or woad at some time in the past, now a soft green with some help from soursobs (oxalis), a common weed here.


Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Madder dyeing

There was a very exciting moment in the garden last week.  I was digging out madder roots hoping to create enough space to plant Japanese indigo seedlings (as you do).  I found a substantial chrysalis and moved it out of harm’s way.  Then a bit later, a movement caught my eye, and a large moth was emerging from the chrysalis right before my eyes.  What a privilege! Naturally I wasn’t going to waste the madder root.  I had some wool cold mordanting in a bucket, so I processed the roots and created a vat.  While I was at it, I did the same with the carrot tops from our farmers’ market.


I ended up with quite a red colour from the first madder bath and two orange shades from the exhaust baths, as well as a nice yellow from the carrot tops.

Plus, the joy of watching the moth emerge.  I think it might be a native hawk moth. Back in this post, I found I rather wonderful caterpillar in the madder, and I have found them several times since.  I’ve also seen similar chrysalises (?) in the garden.  Pisstkitty,  a generous and regular reader thought it might be a native hawk moth, Hippotion scrofa, the Coprosma hawk moth.  I thought she was right then, and I think this is the moth form of the same creature.  Glorious.




Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Spinning in the background

I keep forgetting, or simply not finding the time to post.  Apologies, gentle readers.  I’ve needed the making more than I’ve been inclined to post about it this last while.  But I’ve been spinning Malcolm’s Kangaroo Island “black” Merino cross (left), and leftover batts of local Finn cross (right) and clearly there was a day when they posed with leaves and flowers…

When we were at Marion Bay (cough) I carded a lot of wool, and did some blending.

But I’ve also spun up all manner of wool dyed previously, including the last of the earth palette dyed wool.  There was a request for bulky yarn from one friend in particular.  She’s managing the state of the world by knitting a lot of beanies and gauntlets.  So I sent more yarn. And there was some very pale woad dyed wool that went into a vat with soursobs I weeded at someone else’s house.

But the big excitement is the Suffolk/Silk/Kid Mohair blend for #tuffsocksnaturally. The last of which is in the dyepot with some leaves on the day I am drafting this post.  To be continued…



Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Leafy patchwork

The leafy log cabin workshop went ahead recently, and it was a lovely day of stitching, dyeing, company and cake. So much cake!  I took one photo near the start…


And one photo of a silk bag at the end.


Evidently, I didn’t take any in between!  I dyed a lot of fabric in advance of this workshop, so I’ve had a lot of fun with it already.  I had a surprise success in getting green from maple leaves. Kangaroo Paw prints was another happy surprise outcome. And I have what are sure to be the first of many more leafy log cabin blocks.  It was great fun watching what other people made with some of the fabric I’d dyed (and in some cases, fabric they had dyed), and their own big imaginations. I was very struck by how many others expressed what I often feel: reluctance to use beautiful materials.  Wanting to start with whatever is leftover or unwanted.  Patchwork is a bit of a happy place for people who have this orientation toward using things up, I think.

And as well as the pleasure of spending time with lovely women, sewing and sharing and exploring, I had the pleasure of Susan’s home and hospitality, and since we spent the night before the workshop nearby, the joy of Aldinga beach at sunset too.



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

And now for a little brioche knitting

What is it about brioche knitting?  I can honestly tell you that I do not know.  It is all over the internet of knitters.  There are designers who are all about the brioche.  And there’s more.  Like Stephen West’s videos of wildness.  Brace yourself if you’re new to Stephen West.  If someone had asked me if an over-the-top, camp, intensely colourful aesthetic could grip the imagination of thousands of knitters, I am not sure I would have seen this knitting phenomenon coming.  But I love that it is even possible. If you’re curious, follow him on Instagram! But he is not alone–there are calmer, gentler, more quietly coloured brioche patterns and books out there too.


Then brioche started appearing in patterns I was proof reading.  One of Kit Couture’s signature designs is a brioche jumper (sweater).  I like it very much though I am not convinced it is designed for a person of my shape nor climate.  But reading the instructions made me think I needed to try it out with wool to understand.  I decided to try a hat to see if I could do it, and helpfully Stephen West has created one, and as a bonus, it uses up small quantities of yarn in a weight I use and spin a lot.  I took this to Marion Bay.  Oh, Marion Bay!

I didn’t finish it there, but in the end I finished it and improved my understanding a lot.  Ta da!


Postscript: after I’d finished this hat and added it to my little stack of beanies, I had a call from a treasure who has some pet sheep.  I either spin her sheeps’ fleece, or find people who would like to spin it and gift it on.  This time she didn’t want yarn and I couldn’t figure out a return gift, until I suggested beanies.  I left the whole beanie stash for her to consider when she dropped off fleeces, and this is the one she chose!


Filed under Knitting