Category Archives: plants

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

orchids

I just came across a series of photos I took in one of the Glasgow Botanics glasshouses early this year…

It was not long after we first arrived in Glasgow, perhaps late March, so the weather wasn’t hugely cold but the wafts of warm air that engulfed me as I wandered around the glasshouse were so heavenly and very reminiscent of home. I’ve never been into orchids (I think the frenzy of orchid collectors freaked me a bit!) but was struck by the huge variety in form, colour and origin to be seen in the house. That variety, combined with the inviting warmth, meant that I’ve been back a few times to visit the collection but it was only yesterday, in the relative cold of early winter, that I really relived that sense of ahhh on walking into the house. I think it might become a regular part of my winter walk…

A few details that captured me on my first visit:

Stems

Bamboo-like stems

Stem and growing point

Stem and growing point

Pseudobulbs

Pseudobulbs

New plant forming

Growing a whole new plant

Virus

Beautiful patterns formed by a virus

Dendrobium

Dendrobium

Pink throats

Pink throats

New flower spikes

New flower spikes

Arpophyllum or Hyacinth Orchid

Coming into flower

Arpophyllum or Hyacinth Orchid

Explosion of colour

Orange teeth

Orange teeth

Orchid

Hanging beauty

Sublime

Sublime

Sublime

Detail

Close up

No doubt there’ll be more featured here over the winter!

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!

dyeing with dyer’s coreopsis

I’ve been doing quite a bit of dyeing again over the last few months! When we first moved to Glasgow and into our flat, I really didn’t think I’d be able to do much at all as the kitchen is minuscule and there are no windows where I could put jars of dye and fibre to catch the heat of the sun… but, since we don’t currently have a garden and I’m not currently doing any hort work at all, it’s been the finding and collecting of plant material for dyeing that’s been my main interaction with plants, so I had to find a way to be able to then dye with it! So I’ve worked things so that, if I’m careful to be super clean and keep all my dyeing equipment separate, I can actually dye in the kitchen. Happy!

I recently discovered a huge patch of Dyer’s Coreopsis growing in a council bed near Glasgow University and was really keen to try dyeing with it. Despite the temperature dropping and the days shortening, a huge number of flowers have continued to appear, so I got into the habit of swinging by there every morning and picking a handful on my morning walk. Thanks, Glasgow City Council! (Normally collecting plants is a great conversation starter as people are always interested in what you’re going to do with it but, in this case, the students rushing to class were mostly oblivious to the strange woman harvesting flowers!)

So the results…

I’m using my standard method for dye tests with new species so that, though I’m still in the process of gathering a wide range of different fibres to test on, I get 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).
  • I also added small samples of silk and silk velvet fabrics, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.
  • At the top left, you can see 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.
  • And, to the left, a number of flowers showing the varying ratio of yellow to red found in the flowers…
Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis tinctoria

All of these fibres were dyed in the same bath of flowers that had been covered in hot water, left to soak for 36 hours and then simmered for 1 hour. The bath was then cooled, the flowers removed and put in the freezer for another bath (Coreopsis is meant to be very generous!) and then the fibres added and simmered for 45 minutes.

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 (including the Polwarth samples).

Coreopsis, neutral bath

Coreopsis, neutral bath

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.

Coreopsis, acid

Coreopsis, 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.

Coreopsis, alkali

Coreopsis, alkali

And so you can see that, while there is there a huge amount of lovely colour in Dyer’s Coreopsis, it seems to have more of bit more of an affinity with wool than silk. PH definitely alters the result, with acids taking the colour to yellow and alkalis to deep orange and, while the copper-mordanted samples are very similar to those treated with alum/ cream of tartar, the iron samples range from a very dark hunter green to brown.

Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis tinctoria and fibres dyed with it

I think this is my new favourite dye plant! It might have something to do with the fact that I’m still getting used to how dark and grey Glasgow is at the moment but I love its cheerful, sunshine-y colours and the way the dye just poured out of it when I prepared the dye bath! I’m going to try to get the coral-red that is apparently achievable by leaving it in an alkali bath for longer so I’ll let you know how that little experiment turns out…

And in case you’re interested in learning more about dyeing with plants, there is one place left in my workshop at the Glasgow Botanics on November 15- you can find out more via my shop!

cowl collaboration

Hello! I’m back from six weeks of travelling and all I can say this morning is phew! The last six weeks have been a whirlwind, mostly full of really wonderful stuff but also some that was challenging- I’ll share more of what I got up to as I download over the next week but I’m just so pleased to be home with Scotto… and am looking forward to a quiet late autumn and winter here, getting to know the winter face of this city, walking (and hopefully camping!) in snowy woods, making stock for some lovely spring festivals, working on a couple of knitting patterns….

But today I’m preparing for a shop update with a new cowl design inspired by conversations with Kate from A Playful Day. Kate and I met at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and immediately connected over our love for plants and adventures in nature and the conversations that stemmed from that meeting led to the idea of creating a colourwork pattern from cow parsley, a favourite spring wildflower.

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

This lovely plant is part of the Apiaceae family, a large group of plants that includes many culinary and medicinal species, such as carrot, celery, parsnip, fennel, anise, lovage, parsley, coriander, caraway, centella, angelica and hogweed, as well as the deadly hemlock. The family is characterised by umbelliferous flowers- inflorescences consisting of a series of short flower stalks- and a distinctive scent from the presence of volatile oils. And a bonus- many of them are also dye plants, including cow parsley!

Cow Parsley is traditionally found as part of roadside hedgerows and is commonly seen in large swathes, such as in this inner-Edinburgh gardens:

Meadow of cow parsley, downtown Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, downtown Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, Edinburgh

But, as always, I’m always interested in what it looks like close up…

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

So I started looking at the form of the umbel flower and wondered how to capture both its curves and geometry, something that was not immediately easy since colourwork lends itself better to linear forms. But the little clusters of flowers enabled me to get around that by using them to create a curve and, after a series of false starts, I ended up with a umbel motif in six colourways that should evoke the Scottish landscape in all its beauty…

Cow Parsley Cowl

Cow Parsley Cowl

Cow Parsley Cowl in Straw

Cow Parsley Cowl in Straw

Cow Parsley Cowl in Willow/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Willow/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Sage Blue/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Sage Blue/ Bleached White

They’ll be up for sale in my shop at 8pm Glasgow time this evening but you can see a preview of them there in the meantime, in case you’re keen to look at the colours and have a think!

And you can find out more about Kate and her ace podcast covering creativity, community and a whole lot about things happening in the British knitting scene (including an interview with me as part of her month theme of Sustain) at A Playful Day. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Kate!