Category Archives: dyeing

classes, shop update and newsletter

Just a wee heads-up that I have a few classes coming up, as well as a shop update!

I’m back teaching at two of my favourite knitting shops again this month:
 
Sunday April 3: Finishing and Introduction to Lace at Ginger Twist Studio, Edinburgh
Saturday April 23: Portuguese knitting at Queen of Purls, Glasgow

I’m also really excited to start preparing for this year’s natural dye workshops at the Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanics! The first couple of classes on Sunday May 1 and June 19 will be full-day introductions to natural dyeing and will cover the essential practical and theoretical aspects of extracting colour from plants and applying it to fibres. Later in the summer, I hope to hold more advanced classes for those keen to delve deeper into the dyepots… You can find details and book through the shop.

Tweed pouch

Tweed pouch

Shetland Pine Cowl

Shetland Pine Cowl

Tweed pouch

Tweed pouch

A good handful of pouches and cowls will be up for grabs from 10am Glasgow time on Sunday April 3.

Alongside these regulars will be a small number of craft journals that were a collaborative project between Emily K. Williams of Flutterby Knits; after taking a class in bookbinding at last year’s Shetland Wool Week, my Shetland room-mate Emily approached me with the idea of combining skills and making a knit-covered journal for craft project notes and planning. An exclusive for Edinburgh Yarn Festival, these few are the last left of a lovely joint project!

Also launched at Edinburgh was a small collection of plant-dyed yarns: fine-gauge blends of beautiful, soft-handed fibres including alpaca, silk, linen and cashmere. I was thrilled with the response to them and will be adding yarns to the shop on an ongoing basis. I have a small number of skeins left and will be adding them to the next shop update in a few weeks.

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve added the option of signing up for a monthly newsletter to my sidebar, as I’ve been finding my diverse activities a bit hard to juggle here and on other social media platforms! If you’re interested, you can keep up with what I’m up to through my monthly newsletter outlining not only what I’m up to but also any related things that I think you might be interested in.

I hope you are have a lovely spring (or autumn) weekend!

spring

Without us even realising, spring has arrived! After all the preparation for Edinburgh Yarn Festival and then the joy of the actual weekend itself (more on that soon!), it feels like I’ve now stopped to look around and everything has changed… the daylight lasts two hours longer than it did a couple of months ago, we all have a spring in our step, the tiny birds are out collecting for their nests and calling at all hours and there are green shoots everywhere!

Buds

Buds

Fresh green leaves!

Fresh green leaves!

Tiny bundles of larch needles

Larix decidua: European Larch

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

Cercidophyllum magnficum: Katsura

japmaple

Acer palmatum ‘Sangu-kaku’: Coral-bark Maple

We recently moved and are lucky enough to now overlook the river Kelvin (just a ten-minute walk along the river to the Botanics!) so those shoots are whispering promises of the green cathedral that will be on our doorstep in just a few weeks… and, although we are so excited about the idea of all that green, we can’t quite believe it will actually happen! I’m wondering if that is just because we’ve only had one spring here or if it is another expression of the human capacity to forget all but the physical state we are currently in? Perhaps part of the reason that the ancients performed midwinter rituals to recall the sun back to them was because they didn’t quite believe that it would return of its own accord! We haven’t been ritualising but we certainly have been willing the sun to come… For those who’ve grown up in cold climates, te’ll me, do you begin to remember the seasons as you see years pass?

The early spring flowers are certainly nudging us to remember the colourful beauty of last year’s warmer months…

Salix sp: Willow

Salix sp: Willow

cornus

Cornus mas: Cornelian Cherry

Gold

Forsythia sp.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Narcissus pseudonarcissus: Daffodil

Flowering currant

Ribes sanguineum: Flowering Currant

We were lucky enough to head out on Good Friday with one of Scotland’s great foragers, Mark Williams, to learn about recognising and harvesting wild foods which shows that, even this early in the growing season, there is plenty of stuff out and about!

I hope you’re enjoying the swing of the seasons, wherever you live xx

faces and places: sariann and her wool project

Part of a series introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

I recently had the chance to talk to Sariann Lehrer of Chopped Ginger about a project that she’s got going over the past few months…

A chef and cookbook writer, Sariann grew up on a working New England farm and then attended the University of Vermont, where she became involved in the local food and small agriculture movements and spent time working on a dairy farm. She’s also a keen knitter who, on moving to Scotland last year, was overwhelmed at the abundance of sheep in the countryside, the native sheep breeds, and the connection to agriculture that so much of the US lacked.

After noticing that there was a lot of focus on the end product of wool farming- that is, the yarns that we all love so much- and very little on the farmers who care for the land and animals that produce them, Sariann took the plunge and contacted small flock shepherds across the UK to launch the Wool Project. In her own words, the Wool Project “focuses on connecting knitters and the recipients of knitwear with where their wool comes from, the importance of keeping traditional small farming alive, and the integral role that we as yarn consumers have in saving heritage and rare breeds here in Britain”.

Sariann has bought 20kg each of fleeces from four different growers and is producing a small batch of yarn from each of them, to highlight both the value and beauty of each breed and the work that the individual growers are doing to sustain them as wool breeds. She launched the project a couple of months ago with her Wensleydale yarn, has just released a Teeswater yarn and will bring out both Gotland and Bluefaced Leicester yarns over the coming few months.

Sariann strikes me as the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or her heart broken, a good thing for the driver of a venture that many may say is too difficult in the current market. So many UK-based mills have closed in the last 20 years that there are few medium or large yarn companies still having their yarn spun here. But it is encouraging to see that there is a growing number of small fibre growers and individuals using specialist mills to produce small-batch yarns, enough to sustain a number of specialist processors and mills, such as the Natural Fibre Company and the Border Mill, who Sariann decided to work with. Her reasoning was threefold; the Border Mill is based nearby in the beautiful Scottish Borders, owners Juliet and John are happy to work with many different types of fleece and to process any quantity, from a single fleece upwards, and they specialise in alpaca fleece, which has long, smooth fibres similar to many of the breeds she is working with.

A little about the breeds and end products of the first two batches…

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale

The Fa’side flock was started by Susan and Ian Brash, with their purchase of three Black Wensleydale foundation ewes, and has grown to include a separate flock of White Wensleydale sheep. The Rare Breed Survival Trust lists Wensleydale sheep as “at risk” on their register, meaning there are between 900 and 1,500 registered sheep in Britain. Fa’side Wensleydales are meticulously bred and registered each year, with the hope of preserving and growing the breed.

The Wensleydale breed originated in North Yorkshire in the early 19th century with the crossing of a since-extinct, local longwool ewe and a Dishley Leicester tup. Unlike most sheep breeds, the lineage can be traced directly back to one ram, Bluecap, born in East Appleton, five miles from Bedale in North Yorkshire. Developed as a dual-purpose breed, Wensleydales still carry the characteristics of the founding tup: dark skin, excellent quality of wool and large size.

A separate register was started in 1994 for black lambs, and the number of registered ewes has been quite volatile, with 88 registered in 1999, which has since declined. The black wool colour is a double recessive trait and is impossible to predict within a white herd. Historically the dark lambs were culled to avoid contaminating the valuable clip with their dark fibres. However, these unpredictable black lambs from white herds have become a valuable resource for the small number of Black Wensleydale herds, as they widen the gene pool and lessen the likelihood of inbreeding.

Wensleydale fibre is very strong but soft, lustrous and especially beautiful in its naturally coloured forms. Yarn made from it has lots of drape and silkiness and, although it develops a slight halo, shows up texture well.

Fa'side Castle and Wensleydales

Fa’side Castle and Wensleydales

Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswaters are a small but dedicated breeding farm, located in Captain Cook country, with one aim- to keep the Teeswater breed alive and to help remove them from category 3 (vulnerable) of the Rare Breeds Survival watch list. When the small flock was started a number of years ago, the breed was at category 2 (endangered) on the RBS list, so the Tunstall shepherds like to think they have gone some way towards achieving their aim. Today Tunstall-homebred lambs are located as far south as South Devon and as far north as Aberdeenshire.

The Teeswater breed is descended from longwool sheep brought over to Britain during the Roman invasion. Initially, they were used to crossbreed with the highland and hill sheep to create larger, fatter sheep suitable for lamb production on gentler, more fertile land. There are records of Teeswaters being exported to Tasmania, Australia, in the early 1800s and they were also bred into Leicester Longwool flocks to improve the breed. When Teeswater ewes were crossed with the Dishley Leicester Longwool ram named Bluecap, the offspring were the origins of the Wensleydale breed. With the rise of the Wensleydale sheep, Teeswater numbers began to decline, until the 1920s when the breed was nearly extinct. The Teeswater Sheep Breeding Association and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust have worked hard to keep the breed alive, supporting farms like Tunstall Teeswaters to ensure that Britain does not lose this historic breed.

Teeswater fibre is incredibly lustrous, strong but soft and has extremely long fibres of up to 30cm. Yarn made from it has the sheen of silk and lots of drape and shows up texture well.

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Teeswater

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

You’ll have to wait a couple of months to see the next instalment of Chopped Ginger Wool but here is a sneak preview of one of the handsome sheep contributing to the next batch…

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Sariann has been really pleased with the results of the first two batches; the lustre and smoothness of both Wensleydale and Teeswater fibres have been highlighted by the processing and spinning and the resulting yarns are smooth, strong and drapey… I’m really looking forward to seeing what projects these beautiful yarns inspire. Sariann’s aim is to eventually buy the entire clip from some of her growers, thus ensuring the continuation of their flocks and an ongoing supply of these beautiful fibres.

As for what I’m going to do with mine, I think I’ll stockpile it until all four are released and then use them together… perhaps a striped shawl?!

You can find out more about the project and buy Sariann’s beautiful yarn at Chopped Ginger and at Ginger Twist in Edinburgh.

dye workshop results

Yesterday I held a day-long workshop in dyeing with plants at the Glasgow Botanics. We worked with a single dyebath of madder, in my eyes one of the loveliest dye plants around, and explored the variety of colours you can achieve from this one bath through the use of different mordants, modifiers and fibres. Each time I teach this class, I see different results! Participants made organic merino yarn and silk fabric shade cards, whereas I dyed a few small skeins and fabrics to expand on the variety of textures and shades…

A few of my favourite results…

Madder on silk, wool and other fibres

Madder on silk, wool and other fibres

Madder on cellulose and silk fibres results in beautiful terracottas and pinks, while on protein fibres, oranges, rusts and reds. I was particularly excited to see a true red on a skein of alum-mordanted Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme- normally I’d expect to have to play around with pH to achieve a true red but this was a neutral bath so it must be the type of fibre that resulted in that fantastic shade…

Madder on cotton lace and Shetland yarns

Madder on cotton lace and Shetland yarns

Madder on Shetland (previously dyed with Prunus sp) and Falkland fibre

Madder on Shetland (previously dyed with Prunus sp) and Falkland fibre resulted in rust shade

Madder on organic merino with various pre-and-post treatments, tannin/ alum-mordanted cotton and silk velvet and yarns of various different sheep breeds

Organic merino with various pre-and-post treatments (front), tannin/ alum-mordanted cotton and silk velvet fabrics (middle) and yarns of various different sheep breeds (top)

I also added a stunning piece of embroidery to the bath, one that I’d found at my lucky charity shop where I find so many treasures. It was such an incredible piece of work that I was a bit unsure whether to do so, especially after one of the participants, an very talented embroiderer, confirmed that it was highly unusual and skilled work! But the combination of sheer silk base fabric and denser cotton shadow-work was begging for colour to highlight the embroidery so I popped it in!

Stunning thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow work

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow-work

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadowwork

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow-work

It is a little patchy so needs another dip but I’m so thrilled with how it picked up that dusty terracotta colour. Such amazing work.

As part of the day, we took a walk around the gardens in the rain, looking at some of the plants growing there that yield dyes and some of the markers that tell you that a plant might hold dye potential, and it was such a treat to have not only the bed dedicated to dye plants but the entire gardens themselves as a teaching resource. I’m planning to hold more similar workshops there in the spring, by which time I should have more burners, pots and a bounty of foraged dyestuff that participants can really get their hands wet with! A huge thanks to everyone who came yesterday and, if you’re interested in coming to another, keep an eye out here and on Instagram for announcements of dates  : )

dyeing with elderberry

The bounty of the northern autumn has meant that I’ve been able to try dyeing with berries for the first time! Although you can find sources of many common dye berries like Elder and Oregon Grape in Australia, I’ve always avoided using them because of their notoriously short-lived colour… but I figured it was crazy not to try when there have been so many around. They’re an interesting material to use because their primary dye compounds, anthocyanins, are particularly sensitive to pH and so you can really alter the colours by using pH-modifying agents after dyeing.

Here are my preliminary results with elder, the first berries I tried, using my standard method for dye tests with new species. I’m still in the process of gathering a wide range of different fibres to test on but even a small range gives a sense of the possibilities of a species:

  • I’m using an 8ply blend of Jacob, Portland and Leicester Longwool from Garthenor Organics (from Queen of Purls here in Glasgow) that dyes beautifully, I imagine because of the Leicester and Portland components… The large skeins are mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and the short lengths with iron (top) and copper (bottom). Below the short lengths are two small samples of Polwarth from Tarndie, the original flock of Polwarth sheep in my home state of Victoria, which I added to compare how a yarn that is softer and less lustrous would show the dye- the top one is a pale grey and the bottom a white.
  • I also added small samples of silk and silk velvet fabric, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.
  • All the fibres were dyed in the same bath of berries that had been crushed, covered in hot water, left to soak for 36 hours and then simmered for 1 hour. The bath was then cooled, the berries removed and then the fibres added and simmered for 45 minutes.
Sambuccus nigra: Elder

Sambuccus nigra: Elder

I then removed the fibres and checked the pH to find it was in the neutral zone so put aside one set of fibres, which became the test set for dyeing at neutral pH.

Sambuccus nigra: Elder

Sambuccus nigra: neutral

I then added enough vinegar to lower the pH to 3-4, added one of the remaining sets of fibres to the bath and kept it on a low heat for 10 minutes. I then removed and rinsed that set.

Sambuccus nigra: Elder

Sambuccus nigra: acid

And finally raised the pH to 9 by adding sodium carbonate and added the final set of fibres, again leaving them in for 10 minutes and then rinsing them.

Sambuccus nigra with alkali

Sambuccus nigra: alkali

Elderberries (and other berries) seem to have more of an affinity with silk than wool. PH definitely alters the result, with acids taking the soft mauve-purple of a neutral bath to pink, raspberry and magenta and the alkali to beautiful greys. The copper-mordanted samples are very similar to those treated with alum/ cream of tartar and the iron samples are a little duller and darker.

More berry dyes on the go- back with more soon!