Category Archives: knitting and yarn

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!

dyeing with avocado pips

A few years ago, after reading on Ravelry dye threads and other blogs about the dyes held in avocado pips and skins, my friend Nandi and I collected a whole lot of pips and got together for a day of dyeing. Carol Lee, one of the great American dyers, had established that the colour is best extracted slowly in an alkali environment so we’d chopped the pips up to increase the surface area as much as possible and left them to soak in a 50/50 water and ammonia solution for a few weeks. Then came the time to see the results of our patience! We heated the dye bath (leaving the dyestuff in) and yarn and waited patiently as the fibres took up the dye… but the end results were unspectacular shades of beige- after seeing and hearing all about the pinks and rusts that other people were achieving, we were more than a bit disappointed. After washing and squirrelling away the pips for months, I turned my back on avocados as a dye ; )

But, after seeing the lovely results that London-based plant dyer Rebecca Desnos achieves with both pip and skin on cellulose fibres, I recently decided to give them another try and set up a large jar on our kitchen windowsill- I half-filled it with water and enough washing soda (sodium carbonate) to take the pH to 10 and , as we finished each avocado, I chopped the pip finely and added it to the jar, ending up a few months later with a jar full of pip in a very dark rust-coloured solution. Over the period of collecting, the solution naturally began to ferment, in turn resulting in a drop in pH so I regularly tested and modified the pH to keep it up around 9-10. Other than that, I just let it do its thing.

Preparing the pips for soaking

Preparing the pips for soaking

The colour emerging on contact with oxygen

The colour emerging on contact with oxygen

A few weeks ago, it was time to try dyeing with it. I added the solution and pips to a dyepot, gradually heated it and let it sit at around 70C for an hour. I then let it cool, strained out the pips and set them aside and added yarn to the pot. Avocado pips are rich in tannins which acts as a natural mordant, however, after my last experiment dyeing with it, I really wanted to maximise the results and so used yarn mordanted in alum- two sample skeins of Shetland, one white and one grey, and two skeins of one of the yarn bases I’ve been dyeing with, a blend of alpaca, silk and cashmere. I again gradually heated the solution to 70C, held it there for around 90 minutes and then turned the heat off and let the whole lot sit overnight.

The next morning, I pulled out the yarn and was thrilled with the soft salmon colour! However, the solution was still dark in colour and the pips that I’d strained out the day before were the colour of cooked quinces- a rich red. So I added them back to the dye bath and put the pot back on the stove to resimmer and then dyed a whole lot more yarn. In the end, about 25 pips dyed over a kilo of yarn!

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere, alpaca/ linen/ silk and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ linen/ silk, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

shetland

Silk/ mohair, alpaca/ linen/ silk, alpaca/ silk/ cashmere and Shetland, all dyed with avocado pips

I modified some of the skeins with iron, which transformed the salmon-peach to soft, warm greys and complex purple-greys.

Greys from avocado and iron

Greys from avocado and iron

And, as avocados are rich in anthocyanins which are very sensitive to changes in pH, next time I’ll also try adding them to an alkali bath after dyeing to try to achieve the dark reds and purples that Carol Lee mentions. I suspect the the difference in pH (and minerals) between the water of Glasgow and that of Melbourne may be responsible for the more interesting colours achieved this second time… or perhaps it is the soils that the avocados we buy here were grown in that did it. Either way, needless to say, there is a new collection building in the jar and I’m really looking forward to using this wonderful dye again.

If you’re interested in learning more about dyeing with natural materials, I’d really recommend Rebecca Desnos’ e-book as a good basic introduction to plant dyes, especially if you’re interested in working with avocado dyes and cellulose (plant-based) fibre, and I have two upcoming classes at Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens on Sunday August 14 and October 9. And I’ll be adding these skeins to the shop as part of an update in the next couple of weeks so, in case you can’t be bothered collecting pips and dyeing your own, keep an eye out on here, Instagram or sign up for the newsletter for notifications!