Tag Archives: textiles

more madder

Well, it’s been so long between posts that I’ll be thrilled if anyone at all is still reading this little blog of mine… It’s been a very busy few months- both at Sunspun and in my own work- but I’m finally getting my feet back on the ground and have emerged from winter thoroughly inspired and ready for spring!

There’s so much to share that it might require a few installments. But I’ll start with the glory that was and is the Craft Sessions

I have to admit that I was a little worried going into the second CS. It couldn’t possibly be as ace as last year. Could it? The answer to that was a deafening YES! I don’t know how Felicia did it, organizing such a amazingly successful event while traipsing around Europe in a campervan with her partner and three kids and very sporadic internet- what a champ!  As a teacher at least, it was such a happy event, with a lovely balance of challenge and enjoyment in the classes offered and, like last year, a group of people willing to be vulnerable enough to come away with a group of strangers and take on something completely new. That’s a rare thing.

My CS classes were in the same vein as last year- colourwork knitting and dyeing with plants- but with some twists. I love spreading the joys of stranded colourwork and this time, I had 12 newbies working on a 10ply hat (that will be available very soon on Ravelry) and learning to work with a yarn in each hand- fun!

New hat design coming

New hat design coming soon

I also ran a class on steeking, a technique that is so perfect for a class because it can be such a scary thing to try on your own. I think my students were blown away by how secure a steek actually is and also reassured by the fact that there is a steek for all yarns and circumstances! I’m running the very same class at Sunspun on October 8th and there is one place still available so get in quick if you’re keen to try this ace technique.

And then I spent the whole day on Sunday repeating an experiment that I’d tried a couple of years ago as the basis for a class to introduce new dyers to the processes involved in dyeing with plants and other natural materials. I really wanted participants to come away with a good understanding of the process from start to finish and how to achieve different colours using different mordants and modifiers. We used madder as the dyestuff and then alum, rhubarb leaf, copper and iron as mordants before dyeing and vinegar, washing soda, copper and iron as modifiers after dyeing. As always with dyeing, I learned a lot and found that, as opposed the last time I did this experiment where pre-treatments seemed to have more impact on colour, this time it was the post-treatments that affected the colour more. And that the pre-treatments weren’t as effective on silk fabric at the concentrations I normally use on wool yarns.

Here you can see the 5 groups of 5 pieces of silk, each piece having had a different combination of pre-and-post-treatments. Next time I’d increase the amount of mordants used when pre-mordanting the fabric to get a wider range of colours, especially copper. But the colours are lovely anyway!

Silk habutai samples

Silk habutai- from left to right: no modifer, acid modifier, alkaline modifer, copper modifier, iron modifier

No modifers

No modifers- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Acid-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Alkaline-modified

Alkaline-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Copper-modified

Copper-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

Iron-modified

Iron-modified- from front to back: no premordant, alum p/m, rhubarb p/m, copper p/m, iron p/m

After we’d dyed and then modified the skeins of yarn, we finished the day by making shade cards of both yarns- I was super excited to make my very first shade cards!

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Wool and silk/ wool shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

Silk habutai shade cards

We didn’t have time to make cards of the silk fabric so I decided to take them home and cut them up for everyone. The fabric colours were just too lovely to miss out on. I mostly dye yarn for knitting with but I was super inspired to dye more fabrics from now on…

The whole weekend was such a joyous experience and the culmination of so much planning and prep (I’m a chronic over-preparer!) that I felt quite flat after it ended. So now I’m counting down until the next one! A huge, huge thanks to Felicia, her support crew, my co-teachers and the many participants for your incredible energy and joy xx

more dyeing classes!

Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve posted here about dyeing… it’s been a really busy few months and we spent most of our end-of-year break painting our house, so neither dyeing nor writing about it have had much of a look-in… I’ve also got into the habit of posting photos on Instagram, which is so quick that I’ve realized it’s made the idea of writing an actual blog post overwhelming! Of course, it isn’t- I just need to get back into the habit ; )

I ran another class on natural dyes in December, this time for the Handmakers Factory at the lovely Ink and Spindle studio in Kensington. I think I’ve said here before that I don’t consider myself a natural teacher- I get very nervous and compensate by being way too serious ; ) But I feel really passionate about the need for good classes and skill-sharing so I push myself to get better at it. But you know, teaching this class was an absolute joy! I think perhaps that my love for plants and colour managed to override my nerves- it was great!

This time, I played around with some basic sample sheets that participants could attach their samples to- it’s always so hard to remember what they are and how they were dyed so I thought it would be useful. Each one relates to a particular dye plant that we used on the day.

The first plant we dyed with was Oxalis pes-caprae (Soursob or Sourgrass), which is a widespread weed in Melbourne. I realize I need to start taking photos of the dye plants I use as an ID tool for the blog and classes but Soursob is small herb with a clover-like leaf and bright acid-yellow bell-shaped flowers in spring. I collected about 500gm of flowers in spring and then froze them for the classes I had later in the year (and, in case you’re wondering, I find I get the same results with fresh or frozen flowers).

We poured hot water over about 2 handfuls of flowers and left them to soak for an hour while we did other things- I don’t like to apply much heat to flowers as heating them too high or for too long can destroy or alter the dye compounds. We then strained the flowers out and placed the dyebath onto the stove on low and added two sets of samples of alum-mordanted yarn (wool, wool/ silk and bamboo) and fabric (silk velvet, silk, coarse cotton and unbleached linen). We left them to heat for around 45 minutes and then took them off to cool. We then removed the fibers, put one set aside, added some washing soda to the dyebath (which changed the pH to alkaline and instantly turned from yellow to bright orange!) and replaced the other set back into the bath. You can clearly see the difference in colours achieved from the different fibre types and pHs; interestingly, this plant seems to have more of an affinity with protein fibres, like silk and wool, whereas the cellulose fibres (especially the cotton) didn’t take up as much colour.

soursob
Soursob

Next up, we used Eucalyptus cinerea (Argyle Apple), which is found though the south-east of Australia and is often used as a landscape tree in streets. It yields far better colour when heated and cooled multiple times so I took it into the studio already soaked and heated over several days to maximize the depth of dye we could achieve. We simply brought it up to about 80C, then added a set of alum-mordanted yarn and fabrics and a piece of iron-mordanted yarn and took it off the heat to sit for 2 hours. I would have liked to keep it in the heat but my second stove refused to work on the day so we had to juggle pots! The dark brown yarn at the top right was iron-mordanted and took up colour very differently to the same yarn mordanted with alum.

euc
Eucalyptus cinerea

And we used chlorophyll as our last dye, as I wanted to demonstrate dyeing with a weed (Soursob), an indigenous landscape plant (Argyle Apple) and a vegetable and I couldn’t get hold of my favourite purple carrot (more on recent experiments with that next time). I sacrificed some of the chlorophyll extract from wonderful French natural dye house Renaissance Dyeing that I’ve been hoarding since my lovely friend Mel gave me a pack of them.  It’s produced from organically grown spinach and nettles and was very simple to work with, giving us lovely, soft green, that most elusive of colours when it comes to natural dyes!

chlorophyll
Chloorophyll

As I said, it was such a joy to teach this class and I think everyone got a lot of confidence to get out and try dyeing with natural materials, which is mostly what people need, as it’s actually pretty simple! If you are keen to learn about the process in a hands-on session, I have some classes coming up at the Handmakers Factory, the first one at the beginning of February- you can find all the details here. I’m also playing with the idea of running a class on how to get 25 (or more) colours from one dyebath, so let me know if that sounds like something you’d be keen to do.

I’ll be back soon with exciting and not-so-exciting results from recent dye experiments…. And for those in Melbourne, enjoy the cool change that is just blowing in!!! Too many days above 40C this week!

iran: textiles

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

While in Tehran, we visited the national carpet museum which houses the largest collection of Persian carpets found in Iran and possibly the world. The building was designed by the last queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi, and its flanked facade not only resembles a carpet loom but also creates shade in summer, helping to regulate the internal temperature to protect the carpets.

imgp0956
Carpet museum, Tehran, designed to resemble a carpet loom

imgp0963
Carpet loom

imgp0962
Traditional dyestuffs

It was wonderful to see samples of the dyestuffs traditionally used to dye yarns used in Persian carpets. Some of them were familiar, such as indigo, madder and cochineal, although I would have given a lot to learn the secrets of the incredibly sophisticated Iranian dyers responsible for extracting such a wide range of colours and shades from them. There were others, such as black curd or mud and unripe grapes, that I’m keen to try when the opportunity presents itself…

I learned a little about the history and tradition of Persian carpets; there are two major types, the tribal carpet and the city carpet. Tribal carpets are those woven by nomads and inhabitants of small rural villages. They are made of medium-to-coarse wool on a cotton or wool base and some, such as kilims, have a flat surface, rather than a pile formed by knots. Tribal carpets are generally considered inferior in quality to the ones made in the cities, but the materials, such as the wool and dyes used, are often of excellent quality and can result in a beautiful carpet. Because they’re often made in fairly primitive conditions, tribal carpets are not always perfectly symmetrical and often display subtle colour variations that give them a wonderful depth. The dyes used in tribal rugs are still mainly natural vegetable dyes, which adds value for the producer.

City carpets are made in workshops in towns and cities across Iran and are made from fine wool and silk on a wool or cotton base. They may contain up to 160 knots per cm2, creating a super fine pile with incredible texture and luminosity. Even excellent-quality city carpets include intentional imperfections- the old Persian proverb that says “a Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise” stems from the religious belief that God is the only perfect being and that attempting absolute perfection would be claiming the position of the Almighty. These imperfections are what give these carpets their character and authenticity.

Tribal carpets tend to have geometric designs with little detail and a limited palette of a few bright colors, while city carpets usually have more detailed, curvilinear or pictorial designs and more variation and subtlety of color. Designs are very regional, so an expert can can usually determine the origin of a rug  by analyzing the design.

imgp0964
Early Tree of Life silk carpet

imgp0977
Wool floral silk city carpet from Kerman, 1792

imgp0957
Detail, pictorial carpet

imgp0959
Detail, pictorial carpet

imgp0974
Stunning city rug

imgp0969
Geometric patterning resembling the fruit from a maple

imgp0967
Detail of wool carpet with beautiful naive animals and plants

Despite the finesse and sophistication of the city carpets, my very favourite carpet in the museum was this incredible tribal carpet… it depicts the Persian pairi-daeza or garden, built around the central water channels and acting as an oasis for plants and birds, life of all kinds. The shades from madder and indigo are beautiful and the delicacy of the patternwork is completely captivating…

imgp0976
Stunning tribal rug reflecting the Persian garden or paradise

It is said that Iranians are born on carpets, live on carpets and die on carpets. I would have loved to be invited into some homes to see carpets in a domestic setting but we witnessed their central role in many other aspects of Iranian life during our travels…

imgp0943
Carpet in the Shah’s summer palace, northern Tehran

imgp0937
Tribal rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

imgp1292
A good use for a carpet!

imgp1166
Carpets left upside-down on garden seats, awaiting evening visitors

imgp1432
Carpets in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

As a knitter, I always hope to see some evidence of a local knitting culture wherever I go… on this trip, however, I wasn’t expecting to see much- and indeed I didn’t! This must have been partly to do with the time of year but really, knitting is not part of the Iranian textile culture. Communities that raise sheep and other fibre-producing animals tend to develop either weaving, knitting or felting as a way of using that fibre to keep warm, and Iran took the weaving path… However, on our last day in Iran, we visited Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan and, there, my prayers were answered! Over 150,000 Armenians fleeing persecution from the Ottoman Empire were moved here by force by Shah Abbasi in 1606; they were famous for being skillful craftsmen and it was hoped that they would further add to the beauty of the Persian empire. In the Armenian Vank cathedral, I saw this beautiful crocheted alter cloth…

imgp1929
Fine crocheted altar cloth

And then in the museum, very fine colourwork knitted socks! Just when I really needed another knitters’ arm to squeeze in excitement, I realized that Mum (who incidentally knits beautiful socks and, it turned out later, had missed these beauties!) had already left the building. So I soaked up the beauty on my own…

imgp1946_3
Fine silk knitted socks, 19th century Armenia

imgp1953
Very fine, knitted socks, Armenia

I found the museum a very moving place. It holds relics of a time past and a people hugely changed since this earlier group of Armenians fled their homelands. Amongst its treasures are a historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran, Christian vestments, prayer books, chalices and other sacramental artifacts, tapestries, embroidery and carpets and an extensive display of photographs, maps, and Turkish documents related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.

imgp19421
Fine woven silk

imgp1961
Armenian knotted wool carpet

I hoped that I’d find some fabric to bring home as a memento of our trip but it wasn’t until Esfahan, where our guide took us to a block-printing workshop, that I found my treasured piece. It is an old and very fine piece of cotton that has been block-printed and hand-painted in the kalamkari style that fused Indian and Persian techniques and design and used indigo, madder and other natural dyes.

dsc_1650
Block-printed cotton

I pored over many beautiful pieces but this one really spoke to me… it wasn’t as perfectly printed as some of the others and there’s quite a lot going on in it- almost too much… but I think that’s what I like about it. Perhaps the person who made it was still learning to balance design elements- or perhaps was just very enthusiastic! But I mostly chose it because it encompasses so many of the symbols and imagery that I saw in the Persian art that we saw (whether tilework, carpet-weaving, painting or other) and so acts as a lovely reminder of our trip.

dsc_1660
Pomegranate, representing fertility

dsc_1653
Peacock, symbolizing royalty

dsc_1658
Tiger and gazelle, perhaps symbolizing the victory of spring over winter- and look at the tigers lush eyelashes!

dsc_1655
Mountain, reminds me of our travels alongside the Zagros

dsc_1666
Twirling vines, representing nature and growth

dsc_1662
Cypress, representing immortality

It’s such a joy to look at it as I work in my room- so many happy memories!

classes at handmakers factory

I’m super excited to be running some knitting and dyeing classes for the Handmakers Factory! If you’re not familiar with Nichola and Liesl and the project they are building, you can read about it here… as well as a strong focus on making clothes and other stuff to reduce industry waste and build resourcefulness, I think what is really lovely about this project is the diversity of classes on offer in one place (already, they have sewing, machine and hand knitting, dyeing, knit-a-longs and social sewing sessions) and the way that participants can then document what they make on the Handmakers site… all these things should go a long way in helping to build the community that the project is all about.

All the classes are practical and focus on building skills from the beginning up. For example, Brianna Read of Jack of Diamonds is running a series of individual classes on machine knitting, but you can also sign up for a course of 5 classes which will take you from the first step of assembling your machine (which can be more daunting than it sounds!) all the way to finishing a pair of fingerless cabled gloves. I’ve done a couple of workshops with Bri and she is a great teacher with the rare ability to stay calm in a room full of newbie machine knitters. If you have any inkling that machine knitting is for you, you should sign up for this course- I would have killed for it when I first started working on my machine!

9665877835_3e199a2e66

Once Liesl has worked her magic teaching the basics of hand knitting, my Knitting Tips and Tricks class covers all the little details that enable a new knitter to move on from scarves to all the fun stuff… We’ll cover working accurate swatches, salvaging dropped stitches and fixing mistakes, choosing the right increases and decreases, picking up stitches to work button bands, joining in a new ball and weaving in ends neatly, working a 3-needle cast-off and more.

Finishing Knits follows on and covers the essential skills involved in putting together knitted garments in a professional way, including short-row shoulders, seaming, easing the pieces to fit, grafting, weaving in ends, blocking (when and how to do it), sewing on buttons and trim and more. Knitters of all levels often start to feel faint at this point of the knitting process, which is why so many garments lie unfinished for years- I thinks it’s important to learn how to break the process down into individual, manageable steps, so that you feel confident and inspired to get all those UFOs out of the cupboard!

And, just in time for the beginning of summer, I’m running a Basics of Natural Dyeing class to demonstrate the essentials of dyeing with natural materials. We’ll cover the main methods of extracting colour and how to apply it to fabric and yarn, fibre preparation and mordanting, equipment, safety and more. We’ll then look at the colour potential of our kitchen and medicine cupboards, garden and surrounding landscape, as well as sourcing more exotic dyestuffs and will work with several dyebaths from seasonally available materials. Participants get to take away small samples of yarn and fabric from the dyebath. Should be lots of fun!

You can find the dates and details of my classes at Classes at the top of this page; for details on the whole range of classes available, go to Handmakers!

new beginnings in work

As many of you know, for a bunch of reasons, I’ve needed to focus a lot of energy on things happening around me and to people close to me for a good year or more. It’s left me deeply exhausted with no energy to undertake anything really new or challenging, especially anything that relies on my own impetus and momentum… I just haven’t had any! I’ve struggled with that and found it really hard to find the balance between surrendering to the process (which is essential and absolutely what I have wanted and needed to do) and maintaining a sense of myself and my own purpose. I’ve also found that, when something terrible happens to someone you love, it can be hard to feel ok about putting energy into good things, about making new beginnings when they may have only endings. This is only my experience up to this point… I hope that others experience and see it differently and I am sure many of those terminally ill would tell me I am wrong in feeling the way I have. When Michelle wrote beautifully about this recently, she reminded me of the need for hope and beauty in the face of darkness. I think I still have a lot to learn about life.

And so I am making some new beginnings. Today I start at Sunspun, the best little yarn shop in town! My friend Amy recently took over this lovely old girl and, while the the best and most beautiful aspects of the shop will endure, she’s gradually making some great changes. I get to work with very beautiful yarn and great friends and to meet a whole new group of knitters- I couldn’t be more thrilled… Come and say hello to us sometime soon! This new position means that I’ll no longer be on the floor at Morris and Sons (though I’ll still be teaching there most Saturday afternoons) and I’m really quite sad to say goodbye to my community there- it’s been 4 1/2 years and everyone is like family!! However, this knit community of ours is a small one and I think we’ll be seeing each other for sure… and the change will ultimately be a good thing for me.

I’m also working towards putting out there the colourwork cowls (non-knitters: read neckwarmers!) that I’ve been making recently. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and I finally have the space and energy to set up and run a little online shop. See the shop tab on my header?! It isn’t connected to my bigcartel shop yet, but it will be very soon!

This cowl design is a simple, double-layer tube made on my hand-operated vintage knitting machine. The rectangle works really well as a canvas for colourwork patterns,  all inspired by botanical shapes, naturally! The shape and size mean that it sits comfortably around the neck and the double layer keeps the warmth in and the wind out.

Red on blue

Deco Fern in jasper: marlin colourway

Jasper on Marlin

Deco Fern in jasper: marlin colourway

Several commissions for a good friend Amanda has given me the kickstart I needed to get moving on these. Anyone who knows Amanda will immediately recognize her colour palette- grey on grey on grey! I’ll be working with a much wider range of colours in lambswool for mine but I really loved working with Amanda’s colours and luxury fibres- cashmere and mink!

Snow cowl

Snow cowl

Snow cowl: detail

Snow cowl: detail

Honeycomb cowl

Deco Fern cowl

Honeycomb cowl

Banksia cowl

Honeycomb cowl: detail

Banksia cowl: detail

So, as well as working on some new classes for the Craft Sessions, that’s a fair bit of new! Wish me luck with it all… I’m feeling super excited but a bit overwhelmed too.