Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Some foraging, and the making of a slouchy hat

Autumn has come to my part of the woods. The first storms of the season are hitting our coasts, and people cuddle up in sofas and comfy chairs after their day is done. The days are drawing shorter and the evenings are darker. I love the long bright days of summer, but somehow I greet the fall with joy.

I've been to the forest to stock up on berries for the winter, it just feels good to prepare and also harvest the bounty. But now the freezer is packed, so forest wandering is purely for leisure.

These are 6 kiloes of  lingonberries.
 Lovely as jam accompaning savoury foods.

We have not yet had any frosty nights, but the mornings are getting quite nippy, so why not stock up on hats? They are quick to knit, and Ravelry are brimming with lovely patterns.

For my pattern, I chose the Fruju hat, which is free on Ravelry. It's a simple slouchy hat in feather and fan stitch pattern, that creates interest and life to a simple shape.

The yarn I used, is spun from my first self dyed wool roving. Wool roving is carded wool that is arranged in a long continous sliver. This format is great for making multicoloured effects on the spinning fibre, as you can lay it out and paint the dye directly onto the fibre "sausage". It is much fun, and of course I had to learn how to do it!
The wonder machine in question, the Ashford drum carder.
Image borrowed from the Ashford website

I was really really lucky this summer, because I stumbled upon a used drum carder for sale, and that NEVER happens! Spinners usually hold on the their carders like treasure, and now owning one myself I can see why. They are awesome, and provides so much possibility!

The process is simple, you card your wool onto the drumcarder, and when it is fully loaded (mine takes 50grams) you pull off the fibre through a tiny hole to form a long strip/sausage of wool. See a short demo video here. The wool can now be either spun, or dyed if you wish.

I used a washer to pull my fibre through.
Worked like a charm!

I love colour so I tried to dye the roving into a gradient, with a darker purple that would fade down the roving. As with so many trials, there was error, and it didn't come out as planned. There was more undyed wool than I wanted, but when I spun it, it turned out kind of gorgeous :)

And when I knit it, I liked it even more :) The pattern was great for selfstriping yarn, and it is so much fun to see ones own yarn turned into something useful.

I went up a needle size from what is suggested in the pattern, because it fit the thickness of my yarn better. I ended up with a loose fit, but it's ok. I love my Fruju hat :)

Monday, 26 September 2016

It's a kind of magic!

Earlier this year, when I first got into spinning wool (and fell down a SERIOUS rabbit hole of creative possibilities), I learnt a bit about dyeing fibres with plants, fungi and lichens.
As we all know, nature is the source of all that is wonderful and colourful, and seeing examples of what colours can be achieved from natural ingredients, made me want to have a go.

This is not my work, but lovely examples of plant dyed yarn.
Photo gracefully borrowed from photographer Ingvild Hasle.

As it was late in winter at the time (February), the most likely source of plant material would be lichens growing on trees and rocks. Besides being available all year, lichens (along with tree bark) also have the power to dye wool without mordanting. This is a preparatory process done to the wool , to make plant dyes more wash- and light fast, and is usually done with different metal sulphates (the most common of which is alum). Different mordants can also bring out different colour tones from the same plant, so they are very useful to produce a wider array of shades. Bear in mind, they are toxic and bad for the environment.

I am always happy to skip steps to get to the fun part, so lichens it was!
I had heard somewhat of an old wives tale of a special kind of lichen that would give a striking blue shade, a colour rare in the plant dye universe. (None of the more experienced dyers I talked to about this, had ever heard of it, and probably thought I was making it up. And to be honest, I thought maybe I was being fooled...)
The only hitch to prove my point, was that the lichen would need to be fermented in ammonia for a minimum of 16 weeks, the jar needed to be turned every day blah blah. A very lengthy process!
But as it so happened, I knew of a tree that was covered in the stuff, (or Xanthoria parietina as it is scientifically named) a bright orangy yellow crust (to my Norwegian readers, it's messinglav).


I picked some lichen (70grams to be specific) off the tree (do this step in wet weather, as it softens it), and prepared a solution of 3:1 water and household ammonia. Then I stuffed a big mason jar with the lichen and topped it up with the liquid.
In just a few minutes, it turned a murky dark reddish colour, much like red wine :)
So the experiment was live, and running. The first few weeks I was very diligent with turning the jar, but after a while it just sat there in the back of my kitchen cupboard.

Come dyeing day some six months later, I didn't have much information to work with in terms of instructions. But the saying was that to produce the blue colour, the wool had to be dyed and then exposed to full sun,while being kept wet (sounds like a recipe for making those bad gremlins).

Firstly, I prepared the dye bath by pouring the contents of the jar (+1pint of water) into a cooking pot and brought it to a boil. Then I left it to simmer for about an hour (DO THIS OUTSIDE!!).  I then strained it through a cloth, and threw away the lichen bits. I now had about 1 litre of very dark, smelly soup. I took half of it and diluted it with water (1:3). This because ammonia is though on fibres and can damage it if it's too strong.

Pretty hefty colour! Wee!

The wool I used was three small skeins of white handspun yarn, about 80 grams (this was just a test after all). The yarn needs to be soaked in water for at least 24 hours, and then added to the cooled down dye bath (the two should have the same temp). Bring it slowly up to no more than 90 degrees celsius, and keep it there for an hour. Do not stir or agitate.

It is very important to watch the temperature.
I used a cooking thermometer.

And now for the magic! I took one of the skeins up from the pot after 45 minutes, and it was a bright pink. Ok, at least there was colour. The other two was left in the bath to cool. The sun was out, and I placed the skein in front of a mirror so the sun would be reflected upon it. I had a spray bottle with water handy, and made sure it didn't dry. It instantly started to turn, from pink into purple, and in a few minutes the yarn was blue! During this transformation, the yarn needs to be turned, and spread to even the shade. But it was just stunning to watch. The process gradually slowed, but after 90 minutes my first sample was light blue with maybe a hint of green. I took up sample #2 and did the same. The colour shift was not as quick as with the hot yarn, but this did also turn.

Hot skein straight out of the pot!

Skein #1 mid way in the process. You can see
how the mddle bits are still pink, and the colour more purple.

The weather turned to overcast, and the sample didn't get any more sun, but the blue was lovely and a bit deeper than the first one. The third skein was taken inside, and dried without any
sunlight exposure. And here are the results!

The finished hue. 

Just to compare the difference sunlight makes.
The pink is dried away from the sun, and will not turn blue.

Who would have thought that a humble yellow crust could produce such stunning colours?
I am very happy with the experiment, and I have more planned. When it comes to light fastness, I have discovered that the pink will fade quite a bit in sunlight. The blue however, seems to be holding up really well, which is good news. Lichens are a wonderful source of colour, and there are many different species to choose from. Luckily, most of them does not require 16 weeks of fermenting (only about 4), but it was worth it :)

Have you ever tried dyeing with plants, lichens or fungi?

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Getting ready for fall

Wow. It's been so long now, I don't even know where to start.
On a positive note, I have loads to blog about. It is getting back into the habit that is hard, but here it goes!

Just to warm myself up (no pun intended) I am sharing this scarf I knit recently. Knitting hasn't really been my strong suit in summer, but I have actually knit loads the past months. Making my own yarns might have something to do with it :)

First off, the pattern I used is this lovely infinity/eternity scarf called Matanuska, free on Ravelry here. It is simple, and quick to memorize, perfect if you like to zone out in front of the tv. It is also great if you have a limited amount of yarn, or you don't know the exact yardage. It is consists of few repeats, and you just knit until you run out.

The yarn for this project is my first fractal spun yarn from 100 grams of Corriedale fibre. To read about that particular process, click here.

I was very anxious to knit with this yarn, just to see the colour effect, and it didn't disappoint. The pattern is perfect for hand spun multicoloured. Because of its simple geometric shapes (a bit like honeycombs), it does not compete with the features of the yarn, and show it off wonderfully.

The fractal spinning gives the yarn a subtle self striping effect, and the colours merge together harmoniously. I never tire of looking at this scarf, getting lost in all the pinks, purples, oranges and yellows!

(If you'd like to view this project on Ravely, here's the link.)

I am ready for the cold now, but I CAN still wait a month or two for it to arrive..
How 'bout you?