New Year, New Yarn

Happy 2017!  It’s a new year, full of new promise.  In my case, that’s knitting promise.  This is the year I’m going to finish my impossibly complex fairisle sweater, I’m going to knit with all of my cashmere this year, and mostly, I’m going to have lots of fun doing it!  And, to get things off to just the right start, I have a new Elliebelly yarn to tell you about.  I like yarns that combine silk with wool.  It has to be just the right amount of silk: shine and softness, but enough wool that the yarn is still cushy and has great stitch definition.  And, of course, it has to be the right wool.  I’ve been lucky enough to have success with some silk-involved yarns over the years.  But I’ve had difficulty finding just the right worsted weight single-ply.  That is, until now!  I’ve finally found it, tested it, and fallen in love.

Elliebelly's Pussy Willow in the Vintage Silver Colorway
Vintage SIlver

This is Pussy Willow, 273 yards a skein, worsted weight, and I’m hopelessly in love!  It’s got a nice tight twist — essential in a single ply yarn.  You’ll see it kink just a bit in places, which is exactly what you want to insure it will knit up nicely.  And color.  Wow!  Color is the real reason I like having silk content in a yarn.  Yes, it does soften the blend, but it’s real virtue is the way it makes color so intense and beautiful.  I’ve dyed it up in several colorways and it never has a bad hair day.

Elliebelly Pussy Willow in Supernatural; Worsted Weight Silk/Merino Yarn

I am really looking forward to knitting with Pussy Willow this year!  It has so much potential.  I’d like to have a basic cardigan in this yarn, but also, I’m thinking it may want to become a cabled scarf, a chic little cowl (maybe in the new Grimoire colorway), and a pair of very fun, soft mittens.  Endless possibilities with this one!  I hope you’ll fall in love with Pussy Willow too!


All of these colorways will be available in our first shop update, when Elliebelly reopens this month.  But just a word of warning, because I’m a very small, one woman dyeing operation, like all Elliebelly yarn, it will be available in limited supply.  To stay in touch and be the first to know about the details of our reopening store stockings, take a moment and sign up for our newsletter, in the box at the top of the page.

Catherine Are You Weeping on Pussy Willow
Catherine, Are You Weeping?



A Simple Knit Scarf

One of my favorite fibers to work with is the wool of Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) sheep.  It is a long fiber wool and quite light, so it produces soft yarn with the additional benefit of a pretty sheen, much like wool fiber that is blended with silk.  It produces a strong fabric that is perfect for socks and has long been a staple of British knitters, but it was relatively unknown here 16 years ago.  I first stumbled upon it on a trip (because I visit yarn shops on family vacations.  I just do) and picked some up to use for diaper covers for my daughter.  And I was instantly hooked.  It became one of my favorite fibers to knit with and later, to dye.

image from forums-d.ravelrycache.com

BFL is increasingly well-known to US knitters. Canadian and American raised BFL is spun into yarn along with its counterpart from Great Britain.  Lately, I've been testing different blends and spins of BFL yarns to try and come up with a few favorite yarns.  And, I admit, it's virtually impossible, because I like them all.  This project is the Little Plum Shawlette and it is knit in BFL Sock, a 100% fingering weight yarn, not treated with superwash, that is primarily intended for socks but is versatile enough to work for scarves and other accessories.

Over the years since I first discovered with it, I've knit frequently with Blue Faced Leicester and the results are always pleasing.

BFL Projects

A quick note about the purple scarf pattern.  It was released the month that Prince died and the designer's description of the pattern made it impossible for me to pass up, especially since I had some yarn on hand that I had dyed in my oldie but goodie Purple Rain colorway:

 I have loved Prince since the 1980s and was so sad to learn that he died suddenly. This shawlette has stitches that each commemorate a song by The Artist. I get that this is MAJORLY dorky, but when I was between designs, Michelle from Bo Peep Fine Yarns messaged me suggesting a Prince commemoration. So, when you’re a knitter, you knit, and when you’re a fan, you fangirl (yes, that’s a verb….my 12 year old daughter knows.) So, this is me fan-girling in an utterly mortifying way, no doubt!

This must be made while watching Prince videos or listening to his music. But you knew this, anyway. If there’s any desire for a KAL, let me know…although I’m probably one of only 3 Prince knitting fans!

There are 6 elements that commemorate Prince in this design, from bottom to top:

1 – Purple Rain drops
2 – Diamonds and Pearls
3 – Doves
4 – Doves again because this is my favorite song.
5 ”X’s” for “Kiss”
6 Seed stitch…it works round and round and is a a cool kitty. And I love it.
7. As an afterthought, the shawlette is skinny, just like Prince!


Dyeing Yarn with Natural Dyes. Part Two.

This is Part Two of my tutorial on dyeing yarn with black beans.  Take a look at the preceding post to see the steps involved in preparation of the dyepot and the mordanting the yarn.  

We're at the stage where we are reading to dye the yarn.  Remove the beans from the liquid and skim any foam that has accumulated of the top of the liquid, the pour it into your dyeing vat. 

Photo 12

Here is our bean bath, all ready to go.  You'll notice that it is pinkish — dripping some of the color onto paper towels gives you an even better idea of what you can expect from the dyepot.

Photo 14

Since this looked a bit on the pinkish side, and I wanted to bring out the blue-green tones in the dye, I mixed a solution of soda ash and water to use in the dyebath.

Photo 13

First, I gently immersed the yarn in the dyepot.  If you want even color, you could gently move the liquid through the skeins for even coverage.  But because I wanted some light variegation, I carefully placed the skeins in the pot and ensured they were covered, but made no effort to distribute the dye.  I've got all three skeins of yarn in this one pot.

Photo 16

In a bit of dyeing magic, I poured the soda ash solution over the top of the pot and there was an instant color transition.  That process continued as the yarn soaked over the next 12 hours.

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Here we are at the end of the dye bath, ready for removal and rinsing.

Photo 19

I very gently rinse the yarn, and then soak it in successive baths until the liquid is completely clear.  Three baths did it for this yarn, but I did a final soak in synthrapol, a dyers' soap that removes any loose dye molecules at the end of the process, before reconditioning the yarn.

Photo 23

Here are my three skeins, hanging for a final bit of sun after resekeining.  

Photo 27

The skein on the left is the Malabrigo.  It's a pale green, the yarn has more color than the photo.  The middle skein is the Panda silk/bamboo blend and the skein on the right is the Pixie superwash wool. Dyeing is always a subjective process, influenced by a lot of external conditions like temperature, water ph, and concentration of dye.  But in natural dyeing, the results seem to be even more variable and very exciting.  I can't wait to knit with these skeins!

Natural dyes are notoriously migrant, meaning that the dye can fade with exposure to light and washing over time.  These skeins were well mordanted, but I'm going to do a little bit of experimentation with their light and color-fast properties to see how they do.  I hope you'll try some natural dyeing too.  Please let me know if you try it and what your results are like.  You really can't go wrong.


Dyeing Yarn with Natural Dyes. Part One.

Photo 27

You will never guess.  What natural dyestuff do you think I dyed these yarns with?  It's definitely not an obvious choice, unless you've done this before, but all three of these skeins were dyed in a vat prepared from black beans.

Photo 2

Here they are, soaking in the kitchen.  I use a pot with a strainer so I don't have to fish all of the beans out after the "juice" is ready, and since this is nothing but black beans, I have none of the usual worries about working in the kitchen.  

I'll include tutorial notes on the steps I took, in case you want to dye along with me.  I eye-balled the amount of water I would need to cover my skeins, and after rinsing the dust off of the beans, covered them in water, stirred them up, and left them to soak. This batch soaked for about two and one-half days.

Photo 4

The day before I wanted to dye my yarn, I pulled it out to mordant.  The mordanting process makes it possible for the dye molecules to stick to the yarn molecules, much as in commercial wool dyeing where citric acid is used in the process.  There are a number of mordants available for use with natural dyes. Here, I'm using aluminum sulfate, which, although considered safe, means we're back to using designated dye pots and a mask for mixing.

Photo 5

We're using skeins of three different yarn bases here, because natural dyeing produces fascinating and often unpredictable results on different fibers.  On the left is a skein of Elliebelly Pixie Superwash Merino.  The middle skein is Elliebelly Panda, a 50/50 silk bamboo mix.  The final skein is undyed Malabrigo Mecha, which is a single-ply Merino, that is not superwash.

Photo 7

Here they are in the mordanting bath, with 5 tablespoons of Alum and a tablespoon of kitchen grade Cream of Tartar, which acts as a mordant/brightener.  I take close to an hour to bring the submerged yarn to a temperature where the yarn is not quite simmering.  Then, lid on but off the stove, the pot sits until the yarn is completely cool before going into the dyepot.  This is particularly important in this case, as dyeing with black beans is a cold process, and the colors gray out if heat is applied.

Photo 10

Remember to use your stove fan if dyeing in the kitchen. (With thanks to my husband for the lovely magnet that graces the hood of our stove).

Tomorrow, we'll walk through the dye bath and admire the finished yarn in Part Two.



An Update on Antler

I love Antler.


I am easily amused and still new enough to the sweater construction of knitting the sleeves, then knitting the body, and then knitting them together in one massive all-the-way-around row during which, magically, the sleeves align leaving you with just a few stitches in the underarm to graft together at the end of the knitting, that I find the whole process enchanting.  And I love cabling, even these simple little cables. They are delightful as they blossom in the yoke with repeats all around.

As for the nitty gritty basics of this sweater, I am surprisingly in love with the baby camel yarn, which has a hairy aura and is very soft.  I'm hoping to have enough left over to do a sweet little hat.  This is my first knit on my new Darn Pretty knitting needles.  I will rave about these needles at length, in the future.

The actual color of othe yarn is darker than in the picture above.  This one is more accurate and shows the darker accents (low lights?) in the yarn as they appear in the WIP.


I can't wait to finish it and send it on to the new mom who it is intended for, with lots of no-rinse wool wash included in the package.  This sweater is in the 1-2 year size, which is generous, and here in the south, it's heavy enough to be outerwear for at least the fall and perhaps on into winter.



Hermione Loves Ron

This might be the cleverest pattern ever for a knit hat.  It's a simple ribbed watch cap, but the knit rows are cabled and the purl rows contain a simple lace pattern.


The pattern is available as a free download on Ravelry and its called Hermione loves Ron because it was inspired by the hat Hermione wore in the Half Blood Prince movie in the Harry Potter series.

The yarn I'm using is Classic Elite's Princess, a blend of 40% Wool, 28% Rayon, 15% Nylon, 10% Cashmere and 7% Angora.  I was intrigued by that blend when I saw the yarn on sale at my LYS.  It has been really nice to knit with, although it is not as soft as I would have expected with the Cashmere and Angora content.  I'll be interested to see how it feels after it washes up.

Partway ellie

I've completed three of the four and one-half repeats the pattern calls for before going to decreases.  Although this is meant for my oldest child, it looks like he is going to have to fight off his younger sister to get it, and really, it is a bit more of a "girl pattern" than I anticipated when I began it.  I'm starting to think about a more teenage boy friendly version that omits the lace pattern on the purl portion of the rib.