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Friday, 25 April 2014

2nd Year Blues

This week I collected all the woad leaves I could find in the garden from last year's plants, hoping to get just one more batch of blue from them.  One plant was just starting to throw up a flower spike, so I really didn't know if I was too late or not.  Woad plants give good colour in the first year, but are supposed not to give anything much in their second year.  I hoped that if I picked the leaves before the plants flowered, they may not realise it was their second year!

I washed, rinsed and then soaked some fibres ready for the dyepot :-

Top left = baby alpaca;  top right = Blue faced Leicester;  bottom right = merino;  bottom left = silk.

The leaves were washed and chopped and covered with boiling water, then left for an hour to steep.

After the leaves were strained out, the liquid was returned to the dye pot, heated to 50 deg C, and a small amount of washing soda stirred in until the liquid turned a greenish colour.  I don't have pictures of all the stages, but next the mix was whisked to incorporate oxygen until the froth on the top turned blue.

The pan was then heated back up to 50 deg C and the liquid poured into 4 separate bowls, one for each type of fibre.

On these photos you can just see the residue of blue froth on the top.  The Spectralite (Thiourea Dioxide) was then sprinkled on top and the bowls were left for 45 minutes before carefully (without introducing air into the mix) submerging the fibres.

The result wasn't bad for 2nd year leaves, although the silk did go back in for a second try.

Top = merino;  middle left = silk;  middle right = baby alpaca;  bottom = Blue faced Leicester.

I particularly like the way the alpaca took the colour, even though there are pale patches with each of them.  The colour will blend with carding to give an overall paler blue.

These instructions are from Jenny Dean's book Wild Colour, and always work well for me.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Getting Ready

Yes, I know we haven't reached the end of April yet, but lots of spinners on Ravelry are getting ready for this year's Tour de Fleece, so I thought I'd better join them and get started too.

This year, the team I'll be joining (again), Team DIY and Dye, has some very interesting challenges.  The first week is dedicated to challenging ourselves to new or different dye processes, i.e. if you normally dye with acid dyes, try natural dyes.  Well, I'm pretty much a natural dyer, but have dyed with acid dyes in the past.  What is new to me is dyeing with Kool Aid which my friend Victoria brought over from the US a little while ago, so I'll be having a go with that.  The other thing I've never done is fermented lichen dyeing, and, having plucked lots of lichen from fallen branches whilst we were in the Highlands of Scotland (very clean air there, so lots of lichens), I decided this would be a good choice.

Just look at the amount of lichen on these trees . . . most of the trees in the area we stayed were festooned like this.

So, yesterday I spent a bit of time sorting out all the different lichens - I think I have four different types:-

This one I think is Stags Horn Lichen (Evernia Prunastri) and should give red or purple when fermented with ammonia and water.

I think this is a type of Parmelia, but not sure which one.

This one is probably a relative of Evernia Prunastri.  It's smaller and greener - the one above is white underneath whereas this one is green.

This one, as far a I can tell, is Usnea Floridana, or Beard Lichen, and this one should produce interesting colours when fermented with ammonia too.

Close up of Usnea Floridana
By the way, if anyone more knowledgeable than I am is reading this, please correct me if I've identified these wrongly.  I'd love to know exactly what they are.

Anyway, I decided to start with the Evernia Prunastri as that's what I had the most of.  I put half of it into a Kilner jar with approximately half and half ammonia and water and gave it a good long shake.   This is what it looked like after half an hour :-

and, just 24 hours later, it looks like this :-

Very promising - there are definitely red tones in there already.

I'm not sure how long this will take for the colour to develop fully, so each day I'll keep stirring it throughout the day to introduce oxygen, and then giving it a good shake, and hope it's ready to dye with before the Tour de Fleece arrives on Saturday 5th July.

I'll keep you updated.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

So, what do you cook when you get home from holiday in the early hours of Sunday morning and it's Easter, which means no shops open until Tuesday?  We had a bit of a situation here, because shops and supermarkets (unlike the UK) don't open on Sunday, or Monday either if it happens to be a public holiday.  Actually, Sunday wasn't a problem because we ate out, but today some inspiration was called for.

I looked in the fridge and found some lemons, a dried chilli and a block of Parmesan.  In the (almost) empty cupboard I found some spaghetti and olive oil.  Not much in the garden just yet, but we do have herbs and young garlic.  No problem - Lemon Pasta with Fresh Baby Garlic and Oregano - we won't starve quite yet.

If you're interested in the recipe, here it is.

This amount served two of us :-

Olive Oil
2-3 fresh, young garlic, sliced
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
Small red chilli (optional)
Small handful fresh oregano (or whatever you have in the garden)
Salt and black pepper
Parmesan to serve

First, put the water on to heat and add the spaghetti when it boils.  Cook for as long as it says on the packet.

Meanwhile, cook the young garlic, gently, in the oil.  I usually pull the young garlic which hasn't grown as big as the others - probably destined to produce only one or two cloves if left to mature.  At this point I crumbled a dried red chilli into the pan, but you can leave that out if preferred.

When the garlic starts to soften, add the lemon rind and chopped oregano.  Cook only until the leaves start to wilt, you don't want it crisp and brown.

Season with salt and pepper and, when the spaghetti is ready, strain and discard the liquid, and add pasta to the oil mix.  Stir in the lemon juice and cook lightly until some of the juices are soaked up by the spaghetti.

Serve topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

Lemon Pasta with Fresh Baby Garlic and Oregano

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Summer's Looming

Spent two afternoons this week assembling my new toy :-

I've been talking about getting a loom for a long time now, but didn't actually take the plunge until recently.  Being a total beginner at weaving, I'd planned to buy quite a simple loom - a rigid heddle - which I hoped even I could understand!  That was until I was "talked into" buying something a little more complex by Eric and my friend who is a weaver.  They seem to have great faith that I will actually be able to drive this thing, so I hope I don't disappoint them.  Looks a bit scary to me.

This is a 32" Ashford 8-shaft table loom on which I look forward to making lots of gorgeous woven fabrics . . . you know, I'll just wack out the odd table cloth, set of curtains, dress fabric etc.  Ha!!  That'll be the day!  Maybe I'll just start with a table mat or dishcloth.  I'm beginning to feel a bit "in at the deep end, over my head" here.

Said friend's hubby also made me this for my birthday last month :-

Although I knew this was a warping frame, I didn't like to admit at the time that I wasn't entirely sure what it did!  I've since been surfing on youtube and found some very useful videos for both this and the loom (all Ashford videos - excellent), and finally feel like I might actually be able to get started without too much help.  So, all I need now is a bit lot of time, some yarns to practice with, and a good book at my side (which I should be picking up in a couple of days), so wish me luck, and if you're a fly on my wall - close your ears, there's bound to be a lot of swearing going on.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Blanket Delivery

Brody and his Mum with their new blanket.  He seems to like it . . .

and Mum certainly did (thankfully)!

It's nice to give a gift to someone who appreciates the time and effort that went into it, even though she doesn't spin or knit herself.  I wouldn't like to guestimate exactly how long this took, that's not the point after all.  The point is, I wanted to make something that was from me, something special, and that no-one else has.  I'd searched the internet for a ready-made pattern but just couldn't find anything that "spoke to me", so the only option left was to design my own.  I've no idea why I chose elephants for this, except that we knew the baby was going to be a boy and elephants seemed to suit a boy better than bunnies or cats.

I think Mum is a wee bit worried about spoiling this, but I'm confident that once she's washed it once or twice she's realise that wool isn't too difficult to care for.  The only rules to follow are, use warm soapy water, let the item soak without too much handling until the soiled parts are clean, lift out and allow to drain without wringing, and then repeat the process a couple of times with clean, warm water to rinse.  I usually then wrap the whole lot in a bath towel to soak up excess water, and lay it out on another towel until it's dry. Easy peasy!