Tag Archives: textiles

dyeing with soursob, argyle apple and chlorophyll

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 so I 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 but I feel really passionate about the need for good classes and skill-sharing so I push myself to get better at it. But I think perhaps that my love for plants and colour managed to override my nerves- teaching this class was an absolute joy!

This time, I included 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 (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- heating  flowers 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.


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.

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!


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.

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.

Carpet museum, Tehran, designed to resemble a carpet loom

Carpet loom

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.

Early Tree of Life silk carpet

Wool floral silk city carpet from Kerman, 1792

Detail, pictorial carpet

Detail, pictorial carpet

Stunning city rug

Geometric patterning resembling the fruit from a maple

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…

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…

Carpet in the Shah’s summer palace, northern Tehran

Tribal rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

A good use for a carpet!

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

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…

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…

Fine silk knitted socks, 19th century Armenia

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.

Fine woven silk

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.

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.

Pomegranate, representing fertility

Peacock, symbolizing royalty

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

Mountain, reminds me of our travels alongside the Zagros

Twirling vines, representing nature and growth

Cypress, representing immortality

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

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.

finished ursula, willamette and celes

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this little place has swapped from knitting blog to dye blog… not that I mean to limit it to just one topic, but it has been pretty dye-heavy recently. That’s mostly because, along with my dye sample book, it works well as a log for dyeing experiments, rather than because of a lack of knitting.

This is my version of the Ursula Cardigan from Kate Davies’ Colours of Shetland







I chose muted colours very different to Kate’s fresh, clear palette; it makes sense for hers to be worked in spring colours because it would be a spring cardigan in Scotland, whereas it’s definitely more suited to winter for me here in Melbourne. The colours make it something I can wear every day with dark jeans… but also make me want to break out of my regular uniform and make myself a grey tweed skirt to wear with it!

I can’t say enough good things about this pattern! Kate has combined traditional knitting techniques with beautiful and thoughtful details and great pattern-writing to create a beautiful and well-fitting garment. I changed mine to a v-neck and I’m really happy with the outcome- it looks nice done up and open on me. The only thing I’d  do differently next time would be to go down a needle size or two, just for the mid-torso, to add a bit of waist definition. It’s a bit blocky as is and I need all the definition I can get as any extra weight goes straight to my belly ; )

Ravelled here.

Next up is Willamette from Amy Christoffers





Amy is super cool and has a background in fine art; I think you can really see that in her designs, which merge super-wearable shapes with beautiful details and textures. This jacket is so snug and warm but also feels kinda smart in a very organic, “Japanese” way ; )  It’s getting quite a bit of wear and will definitely be keeping me warm at Bendigo this Sunday. I love that tweed stitch pattern…

Ravelled here.

And lastly, Celes from Jared Flood





Amy and I started knitting this scarf/ shawl together this time last year, just after she had her little boy Finn… needless to say, she had more important things to do and never got around to finishing it! I got all the way through the body and 3/4 of the way around the knitted-on edging and then ran out of yarn… yes, like many others commented on ravelry, the metrage listed for this pattern is short. It was the first time I’ve run out of a discontinued colourway and really not known how to proceed- distressing ; ) And so it sat unfinished until recently, when I decided to just go ahead with the closest colour I could find to this unusual, yellow-based grey. I’d much rather embrace imperfection than never finish it. You can see the different colour on the edging in the first photo… I can live with that. The pattern is inspired by traditional Shetland lace patterns and definitely lacier than what I’d normally wear but I think the grey tones that down and makes it wearable for me…

Ravelled here.

So that’s my knitting of late. Soon to come off the needles will be Scatness Tunic, another colourwork pattern from Colours of Shetland and again in very different colours to the original.

What are you knitting at the moment?

ornamental prunus

You know those purple cherry trees that used to line every street in Melbourne? This is some of the colour held in those purple-black leaves. How strange that red leaves usually yield greens… and that greens are the hardest colours to find in natural dyes!

Prunus on wool

Prunus on wool mordanted with alum and cream of tartar