Category Archives: knitting and yarn

coming home: an old maiden aunt collaboration

Last June an email from Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt dropped into my inbox about the making of a book to celebrate the tenth year of her business. I was super excited for her but, as I opened the email, wondered why she was contacting me about it… We are friends and have had some lovely chats about dyeing and running a small business but I didn’t know what I might have to offer such a project… and then she came to it- would I act as her pattern model for the book?

I have to say, my gut clenched slightly as I read this and the rest of the email! As any regular readers will know, I very rarely post photos of myself, either here on or on my Instagram feed, and get very nervous standing up in front of a group to talk or teach. I push myself on this because part of my job is teaching and I love sharing skills but it is an ongoing challenge for me! When it comes down to it, I’ve realised that it’s not that I’m particularly camera-shy but more that having everyones’s eyes on me provokes real anxiety for me… and I knew that taking this on would challenge all that. (And, let’s be honest, challenge my vanity too!)

But I really wanted to be part of such an amazing project! And to have the chance to work with not only Lilith and Jeni (who knows my deal and, over the course of photographing a few patterns for me, has worked out how to put me at ease!) but all the other amazing women who had gathered around Lilith for the project: designers Anna Maltz, Ysolda Teague, Kristen Kapur, Rachel Coopey, Lorna Reid, Felix Ford and Bristol Ivy, essayist Clara Parkes and book-makers Amelia Hodson and Nic Vowles… How often do so many talented women come together?! I feel so lucky to be able to have a small business, to be able to make my own work and shape my year as I like, but I really do miss working with other people and these kinds of collaborations are becoming more and more important to me… did I really want to let my own thoughts of whether I looked ridiculous get in the way of being part of this wonderful undertaking?!

Lilith reassured me that she was after a very relaxed look for the book and, as I thought about it, I began to trust that, if Jeni thought she could get what she needed from me, I’d take the leap and see it as a chance to explore and learn- and, after all, a weekend in a cottage in the forests of Dumfries with friends and a dog was a major enticement…

Lilith, Amelia and Jeni all did a beautiful job at putting me at ease, making me laugh in between shots and discretely looking the other way when I was trying to relax my face out of a grimace! It was a joy to work with them and I think we were all aware just how rare that kind of time is, to be working with friends and colleagues in such a beautiful setting and on such a heartfelt project.

Lilith realising I really didn’t have any idea how to put on my own makeup ; )

Amelia working her production editor magic in the Dumfries woods

Lilith giving me a lesson on how not to look ridiculous leaning against a tree

And I’m so glad I did take that leap. So often we hold back from doing things because of the anticipation of things going somehow horribly wrong and this is the perfect example of that… and yet such a huge amount of joy was had that weekend (and since) that all that anxiety has faded into the background! And look at the beautiful shots that Jeni made:

Felix’s Mountain Time mitts and flowering quinces

The perfect setting for Anna’s beautiful Bounnet

All the colours in the landscape picked up in Ysolda’s Inchgarvie shawl

Bristol Ivy’s beautiful Canadee-i-o cowl made me feel like I was on a shoot for a Rowan magazine!

Lilith is launching Coming Home at this year’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival but you can see all the designs on Ravelry and preorder your copy via Lilith’s shop. It’s a real beauty of a book and I’m so pleased to have played a small role in its making… thank you so much, Lilith, for including me in this lovely group of women (and giving me a gentle nudge to do something I never thought I could) and huge congratulations on 10 years of your business!

last shop update for the year

Just a quick heads up that I’ll be updating the shop with some pouches, cowls and plant-dyed yarns tomorrow, Sunday November 20 at 8pm Glasgow time! Below is a sneak peek but you can also preview all items in the shop now if you’d like a bit of time to have a good look.

Pouch made from dressmaking scraps

Pouch made from dressmaking scraps

Shetland Pine Cowl in Flannel/Bokhara

Shetland Pine Cowl in Flannel/Bokhara

Plant-dyed baby alpaca/ linen/ silk

Plant-dyed baby alpaca/ linen/ silk

Plant-dyed kid mohair/ silk

Plant-dyed kid mohair/ silk

I’m heading back to Australia for a fortnight on Thursday so all orders received by 9pm Wednesday will be sent before I leave, in plenty of time for Christmas post!

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to discuss yarn colours (always difficult to assess on a computer screen!), combining postage or other issues…

Huge thanks to all of you for your interest in and support of my work this year, whether dyeing and making, knitting, travelling or plant-hunting- I really appreciate it and would like to wish you a happy and peaceful end to the year xx

scalene

Lovely and patient readers, it’s been ages! I must apologise, I’ve been busy and have lots to share here but no time to sit and write an in-depth post… so instead, for now I’m just going to show you a shawl I finished a few months back, one that’s been in regular rotation both on me and as a sample at a couple of knitting events.

This is Scalene by Swiss designer Nadia Cretin-Lechenne:

Scalene

Scalene

Designed for Brooklyn Tweed in fingering-weight Loft, I wanted to knit it with two of the yarn bases I’ve been working with this year- a laceweight kid mohair and silk and light-fingering baby alpaca/ linen/ silk, dyed with madder and logwood. Held together, they form a blanket-like shawl with all the qualities of the alpaca, silk, linen and kid mohair- very warm, drapery and soft and incredibly light, given how huge it is!

Scalene

Scalene

I love holding different yarns together to create knitted fabrics and am particularly pleased with this texture- the alpaca/ linen/ silk forms a kind of base to display the garter stitch and lace, over which the mohair halo floats, and the coppery-pink and purple yarns combine to make one of those indefinable colours.

Scalene

Scalene

When I wear my Scalene, I feel wrapped in light and warmth! I’d really recommend making it- it’s a nice easy knit, mostly garter stitch with a bit of lace at the end of each right-side row and results in a lovely piece that is easy to wear. I made a couple of modifications- the two yarns held together made a heavier fabric than the Loft did so I used 4.50mm needles instead of 3.50. Asgain, because of the bigger gauge, I worked 16 repeats of the patten (instead of 18) before I started the lace edging as it was already plenty big enough! Just one thing to note- I ended up using much less meterage than the pattern called for (840m of each instead of 1200+) and I’m not sure than cutting out two repeats accounts for such a drastic difference? If you’re interested, you can find more details and pictures via my Ravelry project page

Thanks to Nadia for such a lovely design!

fisherman’s knits at wild and woolly

Hello! I’m back from an absolutely brilliant week at Shetland Wool Week (photos of that next week, I promise!) and about to head off for a weekend of working on a top secret knitting project with a couple of friends (more on that early next year!). Suffice to say, I feel very lucky to have the life I do. But I quickly want to let any southerners- that’s UK south, not Australian!-  know that I’ll be in London in a couple of weeks for two classes, the first of which is at Wild and Woolly in Clapton.

I met Anna at Edinburgh Yarn Festival earlier this year, after following her and her crew of local knitters for a while online, and was just as smitten with her IRL. Full of joy for knitting and enthusiasm for colour and community, her shop would be local if I lived in London! We talked about running a dye class together but it turned out her shop just isn’t set up for that kind of mess… so, instead, I’m teaching my day-long class on British fisherman’s knits, specifically ganseys and arans. It’s a class I’ve taught a few times and I’m always excited about it- the combination of theory and prac keeps everyone engaged for the day and there is so much inspiration to be found in these amazing garments…

Fisherman wearing a gansey, northern Scotland, early 20th century

Fisherman wearing a gansey, northern Scotland, early 20th century

We’ll begin by casting on for a shoulder bag. What, you say?! A bag? Ok, so knitted bags don’t have anything to do with fisherman’s knits but I want people to work on and take home the beginning of something useful, rather than a swatch or mini jumper… and the way I’ve designed it, this bag is a great canvas for a whole lot of patterning. Your patterning. Because the class is about absorbing the history, construction and patterning of ganseys and arans and incorporating them into a contemporary knit. That said, some people come out of this class totally inspired to make a traditional fisherman’s jumper and I love that. But I also want to show how easy it is to work the patterns into all manner of knits.

Anstruther bag

Anstruther bag

And, then, over the day, we’ll delve into the history, regional styles and construction methods of this knitter’s hallowed ground and explore the elements that make it immensely practical and very beautiful. We’ll take a look at both traditional and contemporary materials and how contemporary taste is altering the shape, fabric and aesthetic of the original jumper. After learning to work cables (both with a cable needle and without) and knit/ purl textures, we’ll explore some of the more unusual stitch patterns and tackle the issues and challenges involved in designing with a combination of stitch patterns, putting pencil to paper to come up with personals designs for a shoulder bag.

I was scheduled to teach this class twice at Shetland Wool week but only recently realised that I’d left many of my appropriate samples at home in Australia when we moved here! So I quickly knitted up a couple of jumpers to show how one contemporary designer, Michelle Wang from Brooklyn Tweed, is playing with both arans and ganseys… to reinvent them in new but equally wearable garments.

The first is Ondawa, a great favourite on Ravelry; this one is a take on the aran, with a new take on its drop-shoulder, shaping-free silhouette:

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

Ondawa by Michelle Wang

I knitted it in a John Arbon Polwarth/ alpaca/ Zwartbles blend which gives it a beautiful drape so that, despite the very boxy shape, it is quite a flattering shape!

And the second is Vanora, a beautiful light gansey that Michelle designed to be knitted flat in pieces. I subbed out Loft in favour of knitting it in Frangipani Gansey Yarn and reworked it to be knitted in the traditional seamless method and incorporated traditional elements like underarm gussets and faux seam. I’ll post photos of this one as soon as we have some sunshine- it’s a petrol blue and is impossible to photograph, even on a bright day! I’ve been wearing this quite a bit and love the warmth and drape of the gansey yarn (the gauge is 24st/ 10cm, which is spot on for the weight of the 5ply yarn but a looser gauge than most ganseys are knitted at) and the subtle patterning.

I know that there are still a few spaces available- you can find out more via Wild and Woolly. So, if you are keen to learn more, do come along- it’s a fun class!

dyeing with buddleja

Buddleja is everywhere is Glasgow! It’s a plant that I’ve done a bit of dyeing with in Australia so I thought it was time to try it here- you never know if the results are going to be the same in another place, as so many variables can influence the production of dye pigments in a plant.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Different fibres dyed with buddleja: kid mohair/ silk and alpaca/ silk/ cashmere

Buddleja davidii was introduced from China in the nineteenth century and, since then, has spread to all corners of Britain- the highly-dispersible seed of what was originally a garden plant has resulted in extensive buddleia populations in the wild, where the shrub often out-competes native vegetation and reduces biodiversity. Its huge number of tiny windborne seeds colonize bare ground, such as railway lines, amazingly quickly and can even germinate in decaying mortar, causing damage to buildings; many of Glasgow’s derelict buildings have been colonised by buddleja, which makes for an interesting sight when walking in the city!

It is recommended that gardeners and landscape managers remove the flower heads once the plant has done it’s lovely job of providing nectar for butterflies but before the plant sets seed in late summer/ autumn- so I took it upon myself to collect as much as I could from local streets and public spaces- free dye material!

Below is my standard process for dyeing with a new plant, followed by notes in brackets about anything specific to this dyebath:

  1. Prepare  dyestuff: Place 100% weight of goods (WOG) of plant material in a large pot and cover with boiling water (I used 500gm of fresh buddleja flowers to 250gm of yarn as I was not sure whether the high rainfall in Scotland would dilute the dye compounds and affect the amount of colour available). Soak overnight or longer for tough or woody material (I soaked for 36 hours, simply because I didn’t have time to dye before then!)
  2. Extract colour from dyestuff: Place on low-moderate heat and slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45 minutes. Allow the dyebath to cool and then strain out fine or soft dyestuff such as flowers or juicy leaves; you can leave large or woody materials in the bath during dyeing but, for even colour, ensure that it is not touching the yarn (I strained the bath to remove the many small florets that would otherwise get tangled in the yarn).
  3. Prepare fibres:  Place alum-mordanted fibres in a bucket of tepid water and leave to soak for at least an hour to wet the fibres through; If dyeing more than one skein in the same bath, run a long loop of string through the skeins and tie together as this will make it easier to manage them.  If your dyebath is warm or hot and your fibres are cold, place them in a bucket of warm water for 5 minutes and then into a bucket of hot water for 5 minutes to prevent shocking and felting fibres.
  4. Apply colour to fibres: Add fibres to the dyebath. Place on low-moderate heat, slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45-60 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before removing the fibres.
  5. Remove fibres from dyebath and roll in a towel or spin in a salad spinner to remove excess dyebath. Rinse all other fibres in cool water until water runs clear and then dry flat. Alternatively, dry without rinsing; some dyers find that colours intensify if the rinsing process is delayed by a week or longer (I rinsed my yarns straightaway as I was keen to see the final results!).
A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

I used a series of different fibres in the bath; from left to right above, you can see Ysolda’s Blend 1 (Merino, Polwarth and Zwartbles), two skeins of local Shetland from New Lanark, a skein of laceweight kid mohair/ silk and two skeins of alpaca/ silk/ cashmere.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the two skeins of Shetland- the difference in colour between the two is due to the fact that I popped the top skein in the dye bath when I first set the dyestuff to soak so it had a long time to interact with the dye compounds, whereas the bottom one was added to the strained dyebath with the other fibres. There is a big difference in result, a reminder that some species take up colour without any heat at all and others require long periods in the dyebath to maximise uptake.

And the two fabric samples were part of an adjunct test (in which I poured boiled water over the alum-mordanted samples of silk velvet and left for 12 hours) to see whether the colour from buddleja flowers picked and used when still purple (right) yielded a different colour to those picked when already browning (left). The answer is definitely yes but, as it was getting on in the season, the material I used to dye the yarn in this post was brown… so it’s inspiring to know that next year I can get even more colour if I start picking and dyeing early enough!

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the New Lanark Shetland (left), Ysolda’s Blend 1 and a strand of Tarndie Polwarth. It’s always interesting to see how different fibres pick up and reflect the colour- the dark fibres in Ysolda’s yarn give it a cool cast but the strand of Tarndie Polwarth is also a little cooler than the Shetland, and I often find that dyeing with fine fibres like Polwarth and Merino results in cooler, softer colours than Shetland and other medium-strength fibres…

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

And these three skeins of the same alpaca/ silk and cashmere yarn were all dyed with buddleja but in slightly different ways. The skein to the left was dyed in a bath made from only the buddleja leaves, which resulted in a cooler, slightly greener shade. The skein in the middle is my control skein- it was dyed in the above-described bath. And the skein to the left was also in the above-described bath but had been previously dyed a soft buff-tan in a dye experiment fail with woad seeds- overdyeing it with buddleja resulted in a richer gold and I think that it’s interesting to see how even a very light underbase can affect the end result!

So, my conclusions?  I have some lightfastness tests on the go at the moment (it’s looking like it’s quite fast but a bit too early to be sure) and I’d like to experiment more with modifiers to see if I can get a bigger range of shades but, at this stage, Buddleja is definitely on my list of very useful dye weeds! I love the warm gold shades it yields and the fact that it is everywhere and free to harvest, that we’re actually helping the local ecosystem by harvesting the flowers… it’s such a win for everyone. And my question about whether the colours achieved here would be the same as in Australia? I think the depth of colour is not quite as intense but the shades are very similar…

And, in case you’re keen to learn more, I have one more dye workshop scheduled for the year on Sunday October 9 at the Glasgow Botanics – it should be a lovely day with some great autumn harvesting of dye plants and a day all snugged up in the Kibble Palace with warm tea and cake!