Tag Archives: dyeing

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!

the craft sessions v2.0

If you’re at all into craft and interact with any social media out there, you’ve probably seen and heard the recent buzz surrounding this years Craft Sessions retreat– I’m so happy that it’s happening again (how could it not after such a wonderful response last year!) and am feeling incredibly lucky to be asked back to teach again, alongside so many talented, lovely craftspeople… In anticipation of tomorrow’s opening of registration, I just wanted to remind you that, if you are thinking of coming (and really, there are classes to accommodate pretty much any skill level in such diverse crafts that you’ll definitely find classes that will work for you!), you need to get in soon. There are limited places available and last years success means that this years event is guaranteed to fill quickly…

There are so many classes that I would love to participate in- in fact, I’d love to sit in on them all… but especially Georgie’s grading for knitwear design, Belinda’s weaving, Leslie’s tote bag and Melissa’s embroidery from the natural world. At the end of last year’s weekend (especially after arriving back from Iran a few days beforehand!), I promised myself that I’d allow myself time to do a workshop but, when it came time to put forward ideas for my classes, I had too many ideas to allow space for that ; )

This time around, I’m teaching two half-day sessions, one on stranded colourwork for beginners (based around a new hat that I’m designing especially for the class) and the other on steeking (cutting- yes, cutting!- your knitting to make knitting garments in colourwork and other complex stitch patterns easier), which will work really well together or as stand-alone classes.

Stranded colourwork

Stranded colourwork

Steeked colourwork cardigan

Steeked colourwork cardigan

And then I’ll be out with the dyepots, running a whole-day class on dyeing with natural materials… we’ll be working from a single dyepot (made from one of the exotic, ancient dyestuffs) and learning how to use the mordanting and modifiying processes to extract 25 shades of colour from that one dyeport. Exciting!

25 colours from one dyepot

25 colours from one dyepot

I’m super excited about everyone’s classes and also by the extra space that Felicia has created over the weekend to absorb what’s been shared or go for a walk or spend time with mates… and I hope that those who take part in the weekend will gain some really practical skills and feel invigorated by being surrounded by such a great, creative community…  I hope you’re inspired by what you see over at CS headquarters!

the craft sessions

There’s been some secret crafters business afoot for a while now… and it’s finally gone public!


In planning for a matter of years, this beautiful weekend is all about bringing love and joy to folk who enjoy (or want to enjoy!) making things with their hands. It’s about expanding our approach to craft, learning new skills and even trying something completely new. It’s also about having time with others who love the stuff we love and having some quiet time as well. It should be wonderful.

I’m honored and so excited to be teaching at the Craft Sessions… I’ve been teaching knitting for a while now but it was attending a big overseas knit camp that helped me really see just how much is shared, learned and built at this kind of gathering. And now we have our own! I’m extra thrilled to be amongst such talented local teachers because homegrown is good.

So. The full class descriptions will be released early next week but there will be sewing, embroidery, printing, quilting, knitting, crochet and more- and, if you know me at all, you’ll have guessed that my classes will definitely have something to do with knitting and colour!

Colour knitting

Colour knitting

You can keep up with the latest on Facebook or by joining the mailing list. You’re going to want to come along!