Yarn Things That Are Happening In My House Today

Although I need to clean up for New Year's Eve company and make myself presentable, there is a lot of knitting/fiber related activity in my house at the moment.  It's a good summation of my knitting year, covering all of the bases.

There is blocking.  More on this one to come as soon as it's dry.  Suffice it to say, it's lovely and I'm very pleased with it, although a bit nervous about how the superwash collar seems to be growing exponentially as it blocks.


There is also (successful) swatching.  Dead on gauge.  It's a Christmas miracle.


And finally, there is dyeing.  Wow, that's very pink isn't it!  It's the first dye bath in a three step process, so look for the final result later this week.


Whatever you are up to today, I hope you have a happy yarn/knitting/fiber-ful New Year's Eve and on into the New Year!  Happy 2015.


Outlander Knitting and The Polar Vortex

With rumors of another polar vortex-like episode of cold weather headed for the deep south, I decided I needed a quick, but densely warm cowl, to get me through the next few weeks.  I've knit several cowls that mimic the look of Claire's  beautiful Sassenach cowl, as she works her way through the Scottish Highlands in the Outlander series, and I decided a modified version would be just right.


This pattern is so easy that I knit it during a drive yesterday (I was obviously a rider, not the driver), and had it ready to wear by evening.  The yarn is Bulky Blue Sky Alpaca and I held it double-stranded.  I used three skeins of yarn for this cowl, dividing the last skein into two even parts.  The pattern is very simple: Using size 35 needles, Cast on 16 stitches using your favorite provisional cast on (I like Lucy Neatby's, using a crochet hook, which you can see here).  Knit in garter stitch, i.e. knit every row, until you are almost out of yarn.  You will finish the scarf with Kitchener stitch, for a seamless join.  To do this, you need one length of yarn (no double stranding for this part), that is three times the width of your work. Even if you don't like to Kitchener, you can manage it for 16 stitches, and the result will be well-worth it.

For the larger cowl worn by claire — one that is long enough to twist around your neck a couple of times or spread out along your shoulders, you will want a longer cowl than this one.  The modification is simple — this cowl is very bulky because of the double stranding, but using the same quantity of yarn, held single, you can produce a longer cowl that is easily wrapped around your neck.  


Finally, a word about the yarn.  Recently, I overdyed a sport weight Blue Sky yarn in this same pink colorway for a friend, and got a lusterous result.  That yarn had silk in it, and I thought that might be responsible for the sheen of the yarn.  I was curious as to whether I could replicate the result in a yarn that lacked the silk content.  I tried it with this bulky yarn that is 50% Alpaca and 50% wool and you can see the result in the picture at the top — it's a deep, shimmering blue.  I'm as pleased with the cowl as I am with the yarn, and look forward to staying warm through out the coming weather event.


Sometimes, We Dye Things That Around Here That Aren’t Yarn

Photo 1 (1)

This week, I needed a quick fix of color.  But I didn't have the energy for a dyeing session.  So I did these pillow cases, in roughly half an hour, using some dye that had been sitting around in my studio for almost too long (anything over six weeks starts to show its age).

Photo 2

These pillowcases start life as a nice, undyed charmeuse silk (you can buy them here).  I dyed them using a quick version of the method outlined in more detail here to get a faux tie-dye effect.  I soaked the pillowcases in hot water with a bit of vinegar so the dye would strike immediately.  I made a weak solution of a base color and swished the cases around for it to take.  Then, after squeezing out the excess water, I scrunched them (as the linked article details) and poured the dye onto them.  Instead of a more traditional steamed dye bath, I nuked them in a microwave reserved just for dyeing for two minutes, let them cool, and repeated for two and one-half minutes.  The liquid ran clear after that, and I let them cool and gently laundered them.  You could also do them solid or in a much more muted crackle dye, but we needed a little bit of color around here, so I went bright.

This is the perfect easy pick me up or a great idea for a quick DIY holiday present.


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.



Yarn: Dyed and Overdyed

As a collage artist, I spent a lot of time layering color upon color to give a piece depth and movement.  I approach dyeing yarn the same way, and layering color upon color and glazing the finished skein produces some of my favorite yarn.  This is a great approach for a novice dyer to use.  Putting on layers of color and glazing will give you a lot of insight into how dye works on yarn.

The skein on the left is the product of several dye baths, which gave it pale undertones shining through a rich blue-puple.  The skein on the right has been glazed in a deep purple, which gives it a completely different look.  You would not likely guess that the two skeins started life looking the same.


In this next case, the skein on the left is dyed a sunny yellow-orange colorway.  Unlike our example above where the glaze was a darker color in the same family, the skein on the right was glazed in a reddish brown.  This focused on the color variation in the original skein and produced a mellowed brown skein with organic color changes.

Glazing can also be done in lighter colors, or, more sparingly in black.  The secret to glazing is to work with dye that will strike immediately and stay where it is placed.  Some dyers work with a dry skein to maximize this effect.  I typically work with a very hot dye bath and mordanted yarn, along with a damp but not wet, skein.  Whatever the method, and as with anything else to do with dyeing color and fiber there are a multitude of way to produce beautiful results, dyeing and overdyeing skeins is a great method for both beginning and more advanced dyers to use.


Baby Camel Yarn

Any yarn dyer will tell you: it's an addiction.  On a beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning, dyers will jump out of bed and get to work.


Even though dyeing yarn to sell at the moment, my desire to dye yarn has never disappeared.  And I've had a lot of freedom to experiment with yarns, colors and processes.  One of my early experiments was with some ridiculously expensive but incredibly soft and beautiful Baby Camel yarn, in an 8-ply aran weight.  I loved the yarn, which I dyed up in baby sweater skein quantities for myself.  It's delightful.

I've been happily knitting an Antler Sweater from this yarn, so I was excited last night, when I went to pull some summer clothes out of my cedar closet, and realized there was a box of yarn I had dyed for myself tucked behind them.  (I feel horrible for my children — I have more stash than I can knit with in this life, and I know that after I die, they will be stuck having one of those horrible estate sales and trying not to laugh at the huge quantity of yarn I dyed for myself but never got around to knitting).  My favorite colorway in the box is this:


The colorway is Old Brick, dyed on Baby Camel yarn.  What a fantastic surprise to rediscover it, along with all of it's other "friends" in the box.  Even if I never get around to knitting with all of them, it's nice just to fondly pet them and look them over.  Sometimes, a dyer just has to dye.  That seems to be the case for me, especially in summer, with perfect weather and lots of inspiration!


Nangou: What To Knit Next?

Before I start this post, I need to say: I have too many works in progress (WIPs).  I know this.  But it doesn't change my desire, at a certain point every summer, to start casting on new projects.  I get one started and then suddenly, like June lightening, a new pattern calls me with an irresistable pull and I'm off again.  Fortunately, I tend to have a fall spate of finishing up all those projects, but still, I view this  riotous approach to knitting as something of a character flaw and envy those who are more restrained.

That said, I have fallen in love with Nangou.

Nangou is a simple garter stitch with simple eyelet lace patterning rows scarf that was written for a fingering weight silk-merino blend yarn, so think light and delicate but gently warm.

German coffeeThis version, by German knitter Blauregan, is knit in the pattern yarn, with the clever twist of using an undyed skein for the lace eyelet rows.  It's one of my favorites.

Gold_medium2Lismete's gold on gold variation is really eye catching as well, and I like the looser gauge she used for her project.

Purple nangouAnd AniaBKnits' version in a rich purple with darker eyelets looks like something I could toss around my shoulders every day.

Since I'm trying to knit from stash these days, I took a look on Ravelry, which let me know I had a number of possibilities already in my stash.

DandelionMy Tosh Dandelion has a lot in common, color-wise, with several of the projects I like and the addition of 10% linen to the merino woud give it a nice drape.  Plus, I've been dying to find something to knit with this yarn.

Image_medium2A lot of knitters have used Tosh Merino Light, and it just so happens that I've got three skeins of Spruce tucked away.

And then, I could always dye some yarn just for this project.  I've been impressed with the BFL/Silk sock yarn I've been dyeing for the last month, so I may dye some in a brown-gray colorway just for Nangou.

Currently, Ravelry includes 333 projects and Nangou has a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5, so it looks like it has made a lot of knitters happy.  I'm looking forward to joining them!