Tag Archives: wool

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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Leftovers socks

IMAG6439Trying to be thoughtful about sock yarns in a period where I knit socks constantly and quite quickly has led to all manner of interesting insights.  This post introduces another.  At present it is not an option for me to leave home without a sock in progress.  I’m spending a lot of time on public transport–which is good, but requires management.  I go to a lot of meetings and presentations–which is sometimes good and sometimes challenging. Socks help me!

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The tuffsocksnaturally project has been one great outcome of trying to move in an eco-friendly direction–and I have sock yarn spinning to show! However, creating sock yarn involves slowly spinning (I can’t take that on the bus!), dyeing, washing and converting skeins to balls.  All of which is pleasurable time spent but certainly does take time. In the case of my Suffolk adventures, I also need to be confident the intended recipient will enjoy and be able to comfortably wear the resulting socks, which requires some chat.  BUT: if there is some point where I do not have a handspun sock ready to knit and I reach the end of my current pair–I need a plan!

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A while back, I went to a two day meeting in Parramatta, which is now part of greater Sydney.  The tree and the sculpture are images from my roaming around in the few daylight hours I had outside a meeting there.  As I prepared to leave for an entire two days of meeting, with airport waiting, airtrain trips, waiting in train stations, and who knows what kind of night in a hotel, I ran out of sock yarn.  So I decided to knit leftover yarns in the same colour family into socks.  Yes, dear Readers, I am blessed with friends who have said to me “just knit up whatever you’ve got!  I’m not bothered if you use up your scraps” or, when I asked another friend if he fancied socks that were knit this way, said that sounded like fun.  To me this sounded a lot more attractive as a knitting project than some of the patterns I see popping up from time to time directed at people like me who have knit a lot of socks and have leftover sock yarns (some of which go to the recipient so they can darn in the future but some of which stay with me).

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And that is how one of my friends came to get these socks, which were received with a squeak of glee!

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Background spinning

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There has been some spinning going on in the evenings.  As I prepare Suffolk fleece for spinning, I’ve been spinning yarn for #tuffsocksnaturally.  The top image is one of the recent skeins with more ply twist than previously. However, there has also been some regular spinning.  Below, the fleece of a lawn mowing pet sheep who might be a Polwarth–the sheep belongs to a friend of a friend and the fleece is rather soft and lovely, while my preparation lacked some care and made it harder to spin than it might have been.   I find it really hard to wash very dirty, very greasy fleece effectively, always ending up with more sticky grease and filth than I can readily enjoy, or somewhat felted fleece that has been very much handled and rinsed a great deal!  I’m wondering now what it is to become.  Honour its softness and make hats?  Make cushy slippers for a friend who has requested slippers that I have not yet been able to knit?  Spoiled for choices, that’s me.

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More striped socks…

You probably remember the last pair of Kit Couture Garpen Socks–not so long ago!  There was quite a bit of wool left over.  So I decided I could surely make a second pair (and pulled out my scales just to check).  here I am at the railway station on my way to work with a cunning plan (also, a pair of socks to post, lunch and a chia pudding in a vegemite jar–I love a good plan).

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Here I am making headway on a night train.

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Then came the sudden realisation (in a day long meeting) that, in fact, these socks were not going to match at all.  I’d like to pretend this was a decision I made, but it was not.  At this point I decided it would not be OK to rip out in a meeting, and quite frankly, I didn’t fancy ripping out anyway and–I quite like them.  Though that is the self serving attitude, I admit!

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And here they are in all their glory…

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Mismatched or glorious?

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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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Preparing Suffolk Fibre for Tuff Sock Spinning

Dear readers, here is a trick question.  What colour is this sheep fleece?  IMAG5891

The correct answer is ‘white’! And here is one big part of the explanation for its colour in the image above: the dirt that fell out of the fleece in the time it was on this sheet being skirted.

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The really long locks in this fleece are about 9 cm long.

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Or–not a lot more than 3 inches long.  The short locks are 3 cm long.

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You can see this sheep had been living in the bush and in the world, and not in a shed or on a grassy patch of green loveliness!

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I believe this picture shows some of the fleece after washing.  I know, right?

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Next step, flicking the locks.  There was no sign of felting, but there is nothing all that romantic about vegetable matter, seeds and remaining soil.

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Flicking open the locks does help immensely with all those things, though as you can see below, all that followed by drum carding does not actually remove all the vegetable matter. This is the first pass on the drum carder, with a bit more detritus falling out on the second pass.

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Needless to say–even more falls out onto my apron as I spin this springy, bouncy fleece.

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Garpen Socks

There has been quite some sock knitting going on–with more than one pair on the needles at once.  years ago I always had one pair of 4 ply (fingering) and one pair of 8 ply (DK) socks on the needles at once.  At this stage I think teh driver has been wanting to make sure one pair is always at a stage where I can knit without looking in meetings, as my life contains many of them at present.   These are the Kit Couture Garpen socks.  The site is available in English (translation button in the top right of the screen) but so far I think this specific pattern is only available in Danish.  I decided I could probably manage without the translation!IMAG6170

Here they are in Tasmania.

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And, of course, on public transport!

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They have rather lovely details.

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I believe that after an awkward start I managed to get the colour changes for the stripes looking quite neat!

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Then right at the end I took my eye off the diagram, in which the toe would have been apricot.  I am fascinated by these moments in which I sometimes catch myself with a perception of something (here, a sock pattern) that is so convincing I assume it is correct.  But the pattern says otherwise when eventually consulted (after this pair were completed).  Never mind–I doubt the recipient minds at all and they are ready to keep her toes warm through our winter as autumn is here, at least some of the time!

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Indigo and woad

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

 

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Finnish tough socks naturally?

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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!

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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?

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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.

 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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