Friday, 25 April 2014

Dyeing Silk Curtains with Apple Leaves, then Woad and Weld Overdyes

Winter sunshine is a cold comfort. Filtering it through silk dyed with weld made it feel like Spring in my bathroom.  I put this blind up last November.  After mordanting a metre of silk dupion with alum, it soaked up the colour from a weld dye bath and has not faded in six months of light exposure.

For years, we have had heavy brown curtains in the sitting room.  While they did exclude the draft from the French Windows, how I have regretted that choice.  After taking down Christmas decorations in January, there was nothing in that room to like.  The paintwork was knackered and a past leak from the shower had stained the ceiling and blistered a patch of the wall.  Sod's Law the curtains were still in perfectly good condition, along with their horrible, fake antique brass curtain poles.  In a fugue state, I went on eBay and ordered 10 metres of lovely silk dupion with slubs in the weave.  Then, like Hercules coming to his senses after the slaughter, I wondered oh, what have I done?

The dyeing has taken months, every step a gamble with £109 worth of material.  The dry weight of the silk was 1.7kg.  Once soaked in the bath to get rid of any dressing, the wet weight was harder to wrestle with than any Nemean lion.  In the end, I just pulled the plug out, refilled the bath with hot water, stirred in a massive dose of 170g dissolved alum and gave it a couple of days to mordant.

Last spring, I saved a load of young apple tree leaves.  Dried out, they still looked greener than autumn leaves. Simmering for an hour gave a warm gold on a test piece of silk. Good stuff.  Two buckets full spent a week soaking, then small portions were stewed in my two biggest pots before sieving out the leaves.  

The silk was cut into four lengths of 2.5m, the apple leaf dye was diluted up to 40 litres and each curtain had a very slow, gentle heating to 80 degrees and an overnight soak in 10 litres of the dye.  There wasn't nearly enough room in the either pot for the material to float freely, so I wasn't surprised to find a random pattern of darker and lighter shades.  The undeniably brown tone was a much bigger concern.

An alkaline soak would probably have brought up the gold in the apple leaf dye. Hercules persuaded Atlas to fetch the Golden Apples of the Hesperides for him, but I just felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. Not another decade of living with brown curtains.

When I overdyed some apple leaf dyed wool with woad, the yarn turned out a summery, fresh green. How much woad would add enough blue to turn this much silk green, but not turquoise?  Last February was devoted to woad trials, aiming to find the right balance with this most unpredictable dye.  In the end, my best guess was 5g woad powder per curtain.  
I made two simultaneous vats with 10g each using the chemical method.  Two curtains got the first and fourth dips, the other two had the second and third.  While my wool woad dyeing is often splotchy, it evens up with repeated dips and a long final soak.  I just hadn't taken into account how impossible it would be to keep the silk submerged. Yup, this was my Hydra, squash down one head and a dozen more would grow.  Me and Hercules, we are like twins.
I let the silk air dry and hang for a couple of days, then put each curtain through a wool wash machine cycle to get the residue out.  Not brown, soft and sheeny, but I wasn't feeling the summer glow in this green.
After mulling it over for a week, I thought sod it, in for a penny, in for a pound. Ignoring complaints from those who don't like being restricted to the shower, the curtains went back in the bath with another 170g of alum mordant while all my stock of dried weld sat in a bucket of water for ten days, slowly fermenting.

It doesn't look much, but weld is powerful stuff.  A fermented dye bath smells rather ripe, simmer it up and the pong and the dye both get stronger.  Another round of diluting the dye to 40 litres and measuring out ten litre jug fulls for each curtain to have another heating to 80 degrees centigrade.  The sun came out while the first curtain was drying and hallo Helios, shoot my arrow, that's the badger. One more rinse and the thing is done.
Only of course, it wasn't. Steve the painter had the sitting room walls made good and repainted in a couple of days flat.  My labours steam ironing, tacking in a heavy cotton lining, relearning how to work the sewing machine, remembering how dreadfully silk slips and rucks up along a seam, breaking two needles and running out of thread meant only one pair of curtains was up by the time visitors arrived for Easter.

I finished the second pair this week.  None of them match, they are all unique.  I am so glad to get back to spinning.  Off to Wonderwool for the weekend on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Sewing Pouch made with Felted Crocheted Granny Squares

Since the New Year, I have bought no fleece, though I have been given one.  The wool store cupboard has been emptying out quite nicely, especially since I used another load of the matted Zwartbles for hanging basket liners last weekend. This admirable stash busting self discipline has not stopped me booking up a couple of raw fleeces in advance of shearing, but that doesn't count.

I expect to need the storage space after Wonderwool next weekend.  Self indulgent shopping plans drive this worthy spring clear out.  Under the spare bed, I rediscovered a basket of small remnants of plant dyed skeins of Texere Wool and a little pile of crocheted Granny Squares. Mmmm, I think they were the result of a previous resolution to make use of existing stocks, only that was in New Year 2013.

The colours are less favoured outcomes from my early plant dye experiments.  The green came from a nettle dye bath, picked too late in the summer.  It gave a miserable piss yellow and got overdyed with woad, most was used for a big mesh bag.  The purple shades were the result of tiny dye baths with handfuls of St John's Wort petals and the yellows and beiges were left overs from comfrey and lemon balm trials.  I think the ginger was from onion skins.

Rather than make an oblong bag, I crocheted the squares together as diamond shapes and folded them in half across the middle. An awkward and puckered result went into a 95 degree centigrade machine wash cycle with some towels.  

The crochet did not shrink as much as a knitted piece I once made with the same wool, the crochet spaces were still too open for a secure bag and the dye colours shifted markedly.  All worth knowing, though not what I hoped for.  

During a previous project, I learned that washing powder is a powerful alkali dye modifier.The nettle yellow must have washed out or paled, leaving the woad stronger and the yarn a bluer green.  The other yellows and beiges got much brighter and the St John's Wort changed from purple pink to khaki.  Stuffed with rags while wet, the bag shape did improve.

This silk dupion was dyed with apple leaves and was part of a trial for a big project which will definitely need a sewing machine. I inherited an old Bernina when my Mum upgraded, but am far from adept. Just filling and fitting the bobbin took an hour to get right. It would have been much easier to hand sew a lining.

The final felted pouch is strong and the right shape and size for keeping notions together - scissors and tape measures and pins. 
I name it Piece Keeper.

The rest of the wool can stay under the bed.  Stash always comes in handy - eventually.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Solar Dye Jars of Wool with Tansy and Coreopsis used to Needlefelt a Celtic Knot Footstool

Tansy flowers smell awful.  I would not cook them up in a dyebath, but having plenty in the garden and being curious about their dye potential, I tried solar dyeing in a sealed jar. Last August, I used a mixture of plants in one jar.  It was only left in the greenhouse a week, but the weather was hot. 
The process was successful enough for me to set up another couple of jars in September, with a view to keeping them rather longer. This fleece was from the back end of a Dorset Poll sheep, 100g in each jar, scoured and mordanted with 10% alum.  The two litre jars were filled with layers of fleece and flowers and then topped up with with water.  A bit of rusty tin can added iron for exotic experimentation.  I thought coreopsis flowers in the other jar would surely give a strong dye, but by October, the colour was not impressive. Probably too cold in the green house, so I brought them indoors to stand above a radiator.  

Sometime last winter, the tansy jar brewed over and leaked smelly froth which made a black stain on the windowsill.  Not the result I hoped for from the iron experiment.  Both went out to the garden to be dealt with later.  I rediscovered them in March.

After six months in the jar, the coreopsis flowers had gone squishy and brown, but they separated out of the fleece quite easily with a few rinses in a bucket. Once dried, the wool was a familiar orange gold. This is a reliable dye plant, even harvested late in the season and used without heat.  The tansy jar was beyond vile.  It stank so badly the dog hurried off, anxious she would be falsely accused.   
Little flower heads were enmeshed with the wool fibre, gritty, slimey and revolting.  I very nearly binned the lot, but the colour was, well, lurid sage, definitely not beige. Six rinses and out to the greenhouse to air.  A week later, the smell had gone.  Sorting through, most locks were good enough to work with, lots of interesting shades.  Though the fleece was relatively rough, Dorset Poll is a pleasure to comb and the process got rid of all the bits of tansy.  

I found this stool in a junk shop. The sandpaper I used cost more than the stool itself, but the wood under that varnish was worth it.  
Couple of coats of beeswax brought up the grain.  A length of boiled wool army blanket was stapled on to the frame, wrapped underneath and over the top again.  Stuffing to make a cushion between the two top layers used up another 500g of a short stapled Down fleece I can't card or spin.  

The celtic knot panel design comes from George Bain's Methods of Construction.  I used white threads for the guidelines shown in his drawing.  The curved lines need to be divided into twelve equal parts, so I marked the threads with eleven dots in black marker pen.  A couple of pokes with a felting needle lightly secured the threads to the fabric.

I needlefelted lengths of handspun Hebridean fleece firmly into the seat cushion, copying the main lines of the design.

Once I no longer needed the dotted threads to find the right spacing, I pulled them off.  Next, the inner lines of the knot and finally, did the strip that weaves under and over the others to join the sections into one continuous line.  Putting the yarn on a darning needle and threading it under and over was a big help when it came to filling in the colour with graded shades of the tansy dyed roving.

Filled in the background with the coreopsis dyed wool, but of course, there was no padding to needle felt into along the sides.  

Not a problem, I combed lots of coreopsis dyed locks, spun a bit of yarn and made a double crochet piece to sew along each bar and wrap underneath to tidy up the base of the stool.  All neat and satisfying. While needlefelting is an addictively mindless/mindful task, I plan to invest in a multiheaded felting tool when I go to Wonderwool.  Only a couple of weeks to wait now.

In the meantime, I can put my feet up.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Gentle Dip Knitted Scarf Pattern

'Where the grey light meets the green air' 

This line of poetry comes to mind every spring.  The words are in a short poem called Usk, written by T S Eliot. 
Scroll down within this link to the third one in the Landscapes series.

Though it was unintentional, I suppose March was an apt time to dye yarn grey/green.  The mutable colours that came out of a frozen hollyhock dyebath proved to be pH sensitive.  Playing about with little balls of hand spun Polwarth left over from knitting a shawl, one skein soaked in vinegar and water leached out to palest grey, another soaked in water with dissolved soda ash became a more vivid green. 

The town of Usk happens to have a good garden centre.  I had read this article, which says that in the poem Usk, the line 'The white hart over the white well' actually refers to a pub with a well nearby. Driving home with the boot full of compost and potted plants, we had to wait at some roadworks right beside a White Hart.  Not in Usk, but Llangybni, a little place a couple of miles down the road.

Stopped for a pint - rude not to.  Took a walk down the lane behind the pub and there really was a well.  A moment of slippage, elision.  I have loved that poem and puzzled over it for years.  T S Eliot was here, I am here, here the well is and was, for a thousand years or two. Or maybe the Butty Bach was stronger than I thought. Probably T S Eliot sampled the local brew, certainly he saw the great yew trees round the ancient church that stands where the road rises between the well and The White Hart pub.  The Hermit's Chapel?

The well is not a bore hole, just a stone cover over a pool within a rill.  Looking inside, I saw the ladle. Gently dip, but not too deep - don't stir up the silt.  T S Eliot was inspired to write cryptic verse.  I was inspired to knit a scarf with the shallow curve of a ladle.  The pattern is simply an enlargement of one element used in far more complex forms to make the shawl Thinking of Waves.

Gentle Dip Scarf Pattern


215m fingering weight/ 4ply yarn (20m for the border)
4.5mm circular knitting needle
Darning needle for sewing in ends.

Tension and Size

After washing and blocking, 10cm squared is 16 stitches and 30 rows.
Inner border measures 150cm, deepest measurement is 17.5cm


Using border colour, cast on 234 stitches. 

Knit one row, purl one row, knit one row (makes half of inner border).

Purl 113 stitches. Change to colour for body of scarf. Continuing on from the purled stitches, knit 8 and turn.
Yarn over, purl 8 and turn.

Row A   Yarn over, knit to yarn over on previous row, knit this yarn over together with the next stitch, knit 3 and turn.
Row B  Yarn over, purl to yarn over on previous row. Pick up the yarn over onto the right needle as if to knit it, pick up the next stitch as if to knit it, then slide both back to the left needle.  Now purl them together through the back of their loops.  Purl 3 and turn.

Repeat these two rows, which will increase the length of each successive row by 4 stitches.  If you are changing colours to make stripes, instead of a yarn over at the beginning of a row A, make a starting loop on the right needle with the new colour then knit across.
When you have 5 stitches left on each end of the work which have not been brought into the body of the scarf, you are half way through.

Half way row - knit 116 stitches and turn.
Next row, yarn over, purl 8 and turn.
Repeat rows A and B as before.  

When you have 5 stitches left on each end of the work which have not been brought into the body of the scarf, complete as follows.
At the last part of the last row B, instead of purl 3 and turn, purl 2, purl 2 together, rejoin 
border colour yarn and purl 4.

To complete the second half of the border - next row, purl to yarn over, purl 2 together, purl 4.  Knit one row.  Purl one row.  Cast off in knit.

Sew in the loose ends.  Fold the scarf in half so that the right side of the piece is on the outside and the reverse stocking stitch border edges are rolling towards each other. Loosely stitch together the inner edges of the borders, then stitch back, closing the outer edges into a single neat roll.  

Wash and block out by gently stretching the border in a curve and smoothing out the stocking stitch to flare out above it.This picture shows the blocked scarf with the second half of the knitting facing - long curved stripes.

This picture shows the concentric curves formed by the first half of the knitting. The border curve sits well around the back of the neck, making the scarf inclined to wrap itself.
The well has a green plaque saying legend has it that Saint Cybi arrived at this spot in the sixth century.  I googled the name Cybi and read he was a prince who declined to become king, choosing to be a wandering priest.   'Glance aside, not for lance'. 
Another penny dropped.

Feeling I may have fathomed what was in Eliot's mind when he wrote the poem is not the same as understanding what he meant.  Good job too.  Don't want to dip too deep.