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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Christmas Dyeing

As usual, I'm working almost at the last minute to get Christmas presents made.  Each year my friend in the UK and I exchange something we've made.  As the years go by it gets more and more difficult to come up with something I haven't already made for her.  But this year I had a brainwave - why not make something, if not exactly for the Christmas table, then something for the table that can be used every day of the year.  Placemats and napkins!  And what better way to add my own personal touch than dyeing them with natural dyes.

I ordered some Egyptian cotton from Empress Mills in the UK.  They were offering pieces just big enough to make one placemat and one napkin for £5 which I thought was pretty good.  So I ordered two.  The fabric when it arrived was really nice quality and I can see myself buying more next year when her birthday comes around.

Firstly, I washed the cotton in hot soapy water to make sure there were no residues or finishing substances still on there, then I soaked it overnight to make sure it was well and truly wet through.  Since I've never done any tie-dyeing before, and it didn't look too difficult, I thought I'd give it a go.  I was hoping to maybe get something resembling flower shapes, so tied little scrunched up pieces of material with elastic bands.  So far so good.

The next step was making the dyes.  I decided to make life a bit easier, since I didn't have a lot of time, and use natural dyes which didn't need a mordant for the dye to adhere to the fabric.  Onion skins are usually pretty good for that, and I had a large bag-full in my cupboard.

After boiling the skins in water for an hour or two, the dye was looking pretty impressive:-

so in went one of the sheets of fabric and I heated it for an hour before checking the colour.  After an hour, the fabric had hardly taken any colour at all!  By now I was feeling a bit despondent, thinking maybe I should have mordanted.  Anyway, I gave it another couple of hours simmering and it started to look a bit deeper.  In the end I turned off the heat, thinking that was as dark as it was going to get, and left the whole thing overnight to cool.  I was actually quite amazed the next morning to see just how much more colour the fabric had absorbed.  It's not quite the same as dyeing wool with onion skins as normally I would have got yellow or orange, but I'm still happy with the colour.

At this point, you'll notice my photography skills were slightly lacking - i.e. I didn't take any of the fabric as it came out of the dye pot.  Still, I'll show you the finished result at the end.

Next up, woad.  Woad never lets me down, never fails to amaze me, and always looks great when it's finished.  I was quite hopeful.

I picked, washed and chopped about 600g of woad leaves and poured almost boiling water over them so they were all covered.

After leaving for an hour to steep, I strained out the leaves and added some washing soda to make the solution alkaline.

Then came the aeration part.  I used an electric hand mixer to whisk the whole lot up.  I think I may have used a bit too much washing soda because the suds were spilling over the side of the bowl!  You probably can't see too well in this photo, but the foam does have a slight blueish colour.

This was then left to stand for the bubbles to dissipate, then I sprinkled the surface with Spectralite which removes oxygen from the mix.  After about half an hour the fabric was carefully added to the dye liquid.  This was particularly difficult with fabric because it holds air in the folds.  The trick with woad dye is to keep all air out of it which is quite easy with soggy wool.  I did get air in the dye, and wondered if I'd get any blue at all.  Happily, I wasn't disappointed and the fabric came out a beautiful pale to mid-blue.  How can you not love woad?

Here are the finished results, starting with the onion skin dyed set.  It's quite a lot browner than I expected, but it's actually quite a nice brown considering it's a colour I hate with a vengeance!!  I sewed the name of the dye using embroidery silks, unfortunately not dyed by me!  I didn't exactly get flowers with this either, but the shapes are quite interesting.

The woad set is my favourite, I must admit.  Again, not quite flowers, but, given that the fabric was tied in exactly the same way as the other one, the woad attached itself in quite a different way to the onion skin dye.  Hubby thought this would make a really nice dress fabric, so that's something to aspire to next year.  I think I'll need more than 600g of leaves though!

The plan is to make another four sets like these for my friend, each one using a different natural dye.* I need to start in good time though because mordanting cotton is a bit more complex than wool and I want to be sure I get it right.  I think I was lucky this time!

*The friend I made these for is a little bit unconventional when it comes to sets of things.  I think she'll quite like the idea of having, eventually, six different coloured place settings on her table.  Last year she sent me odd socks after admitting that I sometimes wore them and her admitting that so did she!! 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

2018 Harvest

Don't you just love harvest time?  Especially when it's olive harvest time.  Every year we have to cover the tree with netting because otherwise the birds eat the lot in a very short time.  I've no problem with wildlife having its share, but when they eat my olives before they're ripe, and I don't get any, then it's war!!

We bought this tree as a little sapling 15 years ago when we first moved here.  I remember being told "you'll never get fruit on that!", but I'm pleased to say they were wrong.  Each year my harvest is getting bigger.

This year I picked just over 3 kg of olives, which filled 21 small jars!

The most I've ever had previously was 12 jars, last year.  They take about 10 or 11 days to "cure" in a salt water solution that has to be changed daily, but the final result is definitely worth it.

Can't wait to start eating them.  Oh, and I did manage to leave one on the tree for the birds :-

A couple of days ago our neighbours harvested their pomegranates.  They can't normally eat them because they live in the UK and only come over here 5 or 6 times a year, so guess what they do with them?

And there was a slightly smaller box of damaged ones, which will be used for dyeing.  Pomegranates are full of tannin so don't need a mordant.  These will just be chopped up, boiled, strained and the dye liquor is ready!  The perfect fruit (above) will be squeezed and added to my morning fruit and vegetable juice for extra vitamins and nutrients, and the shell which is left can be used as a mordant for other dyes.  I may just dry them and keep them until I need some.

Now, I just need to find something to dye!!!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Baby Blues

Recently I knitted this cute little baby sweater for a friend who's having a baby soon.  I still had some Falkland super wash yarn left after finishing Mara's blanket, so put it to good use.  The pattern is Jeudi by Elisa Di Fiore and was a very easy knit.  I think the original pattern is "vendredi", but it's written in French and I still can't cope with that.

Apparently it's going to be a boy, so a visit to the woad patch seemed in order.  I now have woad growing in a few different parts of the garden so I was able to harvest quite a bit from "volunteer" plants first, meaning I still have lots to harvest here:-

Woad is considered a pernicious weed in some parts of the world, but if they're as useful as this one I don't mind if it colonises the whole garden.  The farmer who owns the land all around us might not be too pleased if it spread everywhere though!

I won't bore you with photos of the dye process - I've posted lots in the past, so if you're interested in knowing how it's done you can find out in older posts.  I'll never tire of the magical transformation from yellow, through green to this amazing blue though.  In fact, it actually turned out a bit patchy, but hubby said it made it look more like old faded denim, so I can live with that.

This is the back view, which is equally cute.

For the buttons, I searched through my late mother-in-law's button tin which I inherited.  I think they're pretty old.  They've never been used, and were still stitched to the original cardboard.  They had a sort of faded bit in the middle which matches the patchy sweater! Perfect.  And I have two spare in case they're needed.

As usual, there was still some colour in the dye pot after the sweater came out, so I found a random skein of sheep's wool to put in there.  It's not ultra soft, but I think will go well in socks.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Spinzilla 2018

Well, who would've thought a year could go so fast.  October 1st was the start of the Spinzilla marathon spinning event - a whole week of spinning as much yardage as possible.

There was a lot of controversy last year over the way this event was run and quite a lot of people vowed they wouldn't do it again.  Especially as they were paying $15 each for the privilege and there was no proof of where this money was going (it was supposed to be a charity event).  I ummed and aahed a fair bit about whether I should join in this year or not, but finally decided to sign up again.  The team I spun with (DM Fibers Old School Spinners) were putting a team together again and, to be quite honest, I didn't want to be left out!

My little Spinzilla mascot after he'd had his head in the yoghourt pot!
Last year I managed to spin just over 4 miles which was far more than I imagined I could spin in a week.  I'm not a fast spinner!  My goal this year was to at least reach that amount, but hopefully exceed it.  Then, a few weeks before the event, friends in the UK phoned to say they were going to be in France and could they visit for a few days - slap bang in the middle of Spinzilla!  Well, what can you do?  We enjoy having friends come to stay so I thought I could just work through it.  Unfortunately, when you factor in essential preparations for their visit, it didn't quite work out that way!

My first project was 500g of Falkland Super Wash from Wingham Wool Work in the UK. This is for yet another baby blanket - there's another grand-daughter arriving mid-December so I'd better get busy!

This took 4.5 days, I think, to complete, giving a total singles yardage of 4,395.

Next, I had some batts I'd made using the leftovers from a prize I made during the Tour de Fleece.

TdF prize
I didn't have all the colours to make more exactly like the ones above, but I added in a few different colours and it turned out fairly similar.  These were going to be spun as one ply and I needed to find something to complement it for the other ply.

I thought these colours would go quite well, and roughly blended them on my combs, before starting to spin.

Unfortunately, the main colour was quite a strange texture - it was a World of Wool Woolly Wednesday special offer and I have no clue what it was, except it was cheap!!

The staple length was so short that when I was spinning it I could only draft about half an inch at a time.  This was obviously no use during a speed spinning competition, so I had to abandon it and choose something else.  I had managed 29 yards though, so that counts in the final calculations.

To be honest, this felt like spinning combing waste - the short fibres that are left stuck in the tines after removing the good fibres and I do wonder if that's what it is.  Floor sweepings for sure!

So, I picked out some black and red fibres to go with the other bobbin.  I would have preferred the grey, but this actually went quite well anyway.

The finished skein was not too bad at all - `I like the pops of colour here and there.  I showed this to Eric and asked him what he thought I should call it.  "Black pudding" he immediately replied.  "But it's not black" I answered.  Final retort : "Neither is black pudding".  I couldn't argue with that, so Black Pudding it is!

By now we'd reached day 7 and I needed a quick spin to finish off the week.  About a week before Spinzilla started I cleaned out my larder - this is a small room rather than a cupboard and it had become rather "disorganised" to say the least.  When I got to one of the top shelves, there was an unidentified box sitting there, in full view, which I just hadn't noticed before.

This is what I found when I opened it.  I bought this in February 2015, so goodness knows how long it's been sitting on that shelf.  It's a Build a Batt Box from Barber Black Sheep in Wales and I'd completely forgotten I'd ordered it.  Please don't ask what it was doing on a shelf in my larder for 3 years, because I have no clue!  The embarrassing thing is, I obviously haven't spring cleaned my shelves for quite a long time!!

I picked out a 100g bag of merino dyed in a gradient, started at one end, blended the colours a bit in between, and finished with the deep pink on the left.

This was a real pleasure to spin, I enjoyed every moment.  Most of this was spun in the afternoon, then the visitors arrived back from a few days away and took us out for a meal in the evening.  We had a really nice evening with lots of nice food and wine, getting home at about 10:30 p.m.  Back to spinning!  I quickly finished the spinning and then started to ply.  All my yarns so far have been 2 ply (apart from the Floor Sweepings which were left as a single), but to keep the colour gradient, I n-plied this one (making a 3-ply).  I think this is my favourite spin of the week - the colours are yummy, and it's squishably soft.

So, here are the final skeins :-

And the final calculations?  This lot amounted to 6,208.752yards . . . 3.53 miles!  I didn't reach last year's total, but it's actually not bad considering the interruptions I had this week.

Oh, and before I go - don't forget that BritSpin starts on the 11th October.  This is a brand new 4 day event which I would dearly have loved to join in with, but unfortunately (well, fortunately for us) we're going to be away I the camper van from tomorrow on a little trip to the west (Atlantic) coast here in southern France.  

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Mara's Blanket

Early August (2nd) brought the arrival of my new step-grand daughter, Mara Valentina. She was a bit impatient to get here as she was supposed to be born two weeks later. Nevertheless, I was still way behind with this project for her.

When the two step-grandsons were born I made them both a blanket, the first one had blue elephants, and the second one had a celtic knot design, so I promised I'd make one for this wee one too.

I used super wash Falkland fibre (from Wingham Wool Work) for this so it can be washed more easily without felting, and spun it into a 2-ply.  One of the skeins was divided into three, and two of them were dyed in green and lilac.

Then came the job of devising a pattern.  The good thing with being so behind with this project is that by the time I started drawing something out, she had a name - Mara Valentina.  I decided to keep it simple and chose green for the "Mara" and lilac for the inside of the heart, which is going to be edged with bobbles.  I may add a little colour at the edge when I've finished, but not sure yet.  I avoided pink as I know that Mum doesn't like it, but she does like green so hopefully this will be OK.

I'm wondering whether to add a little accent of something in the top right hand corner.  I thought about a spider on a thread, but I don't want to give the poor girl a phobia! Thinking cap is still on for this one!

I've pinned the edge of this down to take the photograph because it's curling up otherwise. I'm hoping that if I crochet an edge all round it may lie flat.  Also, not sure whether to define the edges of the letters afterwards with a running stitch in green.  Hubby thinks I should edge it in the lilac, but I think that may be a bit too much.

We're going over to Scotland next month, October, for our first visit, so I need to get my skates on with this.  I was going to post it, but think I'd prefer to hand deliver.  I'll keep you posted on the progress.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

TdF Weeks 2 and 3

Just in case you thought I'd given up part way through, here are my final contributions to this year's Tour de Fleece.  I must admit life got very busy during the second week and I didn't get as much spinning time as I'd planned.  I only managed one skein during week 2, and one and a half in week 3.

For this week's challenge, I chose "tonal yarn" where the yarn is dyed in different shades of the same colour.  As you'll see at the end, this didn't actually work that well, but never mind, I like it as it is anyway.  I went rummaging in my fleece store and came up with some of this :-

I have no clue what this fleece is - it was stuffed in an old pillowcase and I couldn't find a label in there.  I'm pretty sure this will have been gifted to me by someone in the past, so maybe it isn't labelled because I never knew what it was in the first place!  It's pretty good fleece though, quite fine.

I carded up about 100g of it and spun it as finely as I could.  The fleece helped there because it really needed to be spun finely.

After filling the bobbin I transferred it off and made a plying ball.

By this time I was pretty tired of seeing natural coloured fleece.  I really needed some colour in my life!  So I quickly got it plied and skeined off

and probably went a bit mad with the hot pink dye I chose.  I washed and rinsed it, then lay it in a bowl and applied the dye in different strengths around the skein.  When it came out though, the stronger colour seemed to have seeped into the lighter areas!  You can just see a few lighter bits on the next photo, but it really just looked badly dyed!

So at the end of week 2, this was my "Non-Tonal Yarn" :-

As I said, it may not be tonal yarn, but it is pink!!!

For week 3's challenge I picked out some more of my lovely super-kid mohair fleece and dyed it in the team colours again (grey, teal and violet).  I used the same dye batch as I had some left from week 1, but I think I maybe put more dye on this time because it definitely looks stronger in colour.

I separated it into the three different colours again and started carding.

Finished rolags :-

The challenge I chose this week was "Accidental Boucle" which is actually an opposing ply yarn, i.e. one ply is spun clockwise, one ply anti-clockwise, and then ply anti-clockwise. So one ply loses twist (the clockwise) and one ply gains twist (the anti-clockwise).  First bobbin finished and looking good :-

Second bobbin was spun anti-clockwise.  Here it is alongside the first bobbin :-

After plying and taking it off the bobbin, I was a bit disappointed.  It was supposed to have loops and kinks, but mine just looked a bit wavy.

In the next photo I put it alongside the skein I spun during the first week, so you can see that not only is there a difference in colour, there's definitely a difference in texture.

After throwing it into hot water though, my loops and kinks suddenly arrived.  Magic!

Final photo shows it off quite well I think.  So from "Accidental Non-Boucle" before washing, I think I can now call it "Accidental Boucle" after washing!

I finished this one with 2 days left to fill before the Tour de Fleece ended so I needed a quick project to use up those 2 days.  I chose some alpaca (from Cadbury, my neighbour's animal) which was in pretty good shape and I knew it wouldn't need much preparation before I could start spinning.

For alpaca, it didn't have an awful lot of vegetable matter, but it did have a lot of dust!  I just pulled handfuls out of the bag, pulled it apart, removing vm and second cuts as I went, and literally threw it through the drum carder.  Each batt went through twice and I made little nests ready to spin from.

By the time Sunday came to an end, I'd managed to spin this much :-

but I still had more to spin.  I've since finished and plied it, but it still needs to be dyed :-

At the moment it's still on the bobbin, but I plan to dye it soon.  In fact, a couple of friends are really interested in natural dyeing so I'm hoping to invite them over for the day and we'll have a woad dyeing session.  I'll be interested to see how this colour fleece will take the dye.

Final round-up of yarns achieved during this year's TdF (except for the alpaca) :-

So, that's the end of the fun for another year.  Time for a rest?  No chance, I now have to spin and knit a baby blanket for my brand-new step-granddaughter who arrived 2 weeks early on 2nd August.  I'm going to have to be pretty quick with this one!