Vindauga Baby

The design theme from my Vindauga Blanket just stayed in my brain after I knit the first one, demanding to be knit in more variations! And when that design theme met with my experiments in 2-dimensional gradients (or matrices), the result was the Vindauga Baby Blanket, which I’ve finally managed to publish the pattern for.

You can buy the Vindauga Baby Blanket pattern on Ravelry. I’ve also dyed a small number of kits, you can find them at my Etsy shop. The colorways are purple-blue (dyed with cochineal and indigo – sold out), red-blue (dyed with madder and indigo) and green-blue (dyed with weld, mugwort, and indigo).

From a set of 9 skeins of matrix-dyed yarn (on the left) to the Vindauga baby blanket.

I’ve now written the pattern, had it test knit, and corrected over and over again. It’s finished, and now published in Danish and English. I’ll be the first to admit that actually finishing a pattern is not my favorite part of the process from idea to pattern. But if I don’t pull myself together at some point, then my ideas end up as just that – ideas in my head.

But dyeing the matrix mini skeins is a lot of fun. I’ve worked with these 2-dimensional gradients for some time now, but it’s still difficult to get them just exactly right!

First, I dye gradients of red, pink, or red with madder, cochineal, weld, tansy, or mugwort. I make 3 skeins of each. Then, I overdye with an indigo gradient, giving each of the 3 identical skeins a different indigo overdye. This may not sound difficult, but both steps are hard to control.

When dyeing with cochineal and madder, I find that the first bath always gives a more intense color than the second one. But sometimes, the second and third give about the same. It’s also difficult to control the exact shade of blue with indigo dyeing. One factor is how long you dip skeins in indigo, another factor is the number of dips. But the amount of available indigo in the vat also changes over time. Even after making many sets of matrix dyed skeins, it’s still a challenge!

indigo overdye
Yellow, red, and white skeins soaking on the left. On the right, similar skeins in an indigo bath. The temperature is 52 degrees, pH is 9-10. Everything is under control!

See projects on Ravelry:

Summer Rain

This summer passed in a big cloud of rain, which has been lovely for plants and mushrooms that came out early and in huge numbers. We went on lots of day trips, for example Skovsnogen Artspace:

skovsnogen
Skovsnogen artspace, a forest full of sculptures.

My mom has managed to finish a couple of knitting projects with yarn that I’ve dyed. An Elizabeth shawl designed by Dee O’Keefe in Einband that I’ve dyed with madder. This Icelandic wool is wonderful to knit with and to wear, but it also takes color beautifully. She also knit a pair of socks, the pattern is Laurel by Wendy D. Johnson, the yarn a sock yarn I’ve dyed purplish blue with indigo and a twist of cochineal.

wendyknitting
My Mom’s knitting successes, using yarn that I dyed with madder and indigo.

We went on a day trip to the hilly landscape at Rebild. The sheep are a perfect match for this landscape, and in the end, it is their grazing that maintains the heath (blueberries though, they don’t touch). I don’t remember ever seeing such steep hills anywhere else in Denmark – it tells you about the power of the melting waters from the end of the last ice age.

rebild_bakker
The hills of Rebild.

Rold forest is close by. There, we saw the unusual old beech trees, called “purker” in Danish. They have multiple contorted growths because they were cut down repeatedly for firewood. Fallen logs are left to rot, giving mushrooms and insects a much needed habitat.

roldskov
The ancient forest of Rold.

We also encountered biodiversity on the island of Livø. We went on a guided tour of the organic test farm, where experiments are made with growth practices for organic farming, as well as testing new crops such as quinoa and buckwheat.

It’s always a good thing to see a field of crops with lots of other plants in it, such as clover and cornflower. I’ve always loved cornflowers, but I do see them in a new light after reading about their color in “Handbook of Natural Colorants” by Berchtold & Mussak. The color comes from a supramolecular, self-assembled, complex of cyanidins, flavones, and metal ions (Mg2+ and Fe3+), and that’s why it cannot be extracted for dyeing. The complex comes apart, and the individual parts are not blue. This could be the case with other pretty colors that are impossible to extract? The amethyst deceiver failure comes to mind.

livø
On the island of Livø, off the coast of mainland Denmark.

I obviously couldn’t walk outside an entire summer without looking for lichens. I’ve added two books to my lichen library, one is a small and useful Danish pamphlet, “Laver i Tisvilde Hegn” by Hørnell, Jeppesen & Søchting. The other is the elaborate, somewhat academic “Lichens, An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species” by Dobson.

I always find the most common lichens: Evernia prunastri, Ramalina fastigiataXanthoria parietina, and Hypogymnia physodes which I’ve already experimented with for for dyeing. So this summer, I’ve looked for Cladonia species.

I’ve often seen the funnel shaped lichen (top left in the image below) on the ground and on dead trees, and I believe it’s Cladonia fimbriata. I haven’t collected this lichen, since I’m not sure how to. One funnel at a time? Also, Casselman’s “Lichen Dyes, The New Source Book” does not mention this species.

Then there’s the reindeer lichens. Until recently, I thought they were mosses, but it’s never too late to learn something new. I found Cladonia portentosa (top right) in several places this summer, and my books do say that it is common, so I’ve collected a bit for dyeing.

I’ve only seen the bottom row lichens once each this summer, so I only took photos. Never pick a lichen if you don’t know if it’s rare. On the left, I believe, Cladonia rangiferina, and on the right, Cladonia coniocraea. Casselman does mention Cladonia rangiferina as a bwm (boiling water method) lichen that dyes shades of red to brown. Maybe it’s more common in other parts of the world.

cladonia
Different Cladonia lichens.

Home again, I’m beginning to prepare for the workshop on natural dyeing that I will teach the first weekend of October.

Hados for Everyone

We recently had a heatwave here in Denmark, so the need arose for a project where you don’t have a huge pile of wool on your lap. I ended up knitting Hado by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, and it was so much fun that I knit three of them. The upper one in yellow/green is wool dyed with reed flowers and velvet pax. On the lower left, one with two tones of blue from woad and ordinary tropical (bought) indigo. In the hat on the lower right, woad is accompanied by orange wool, dyed with orange mushrooms of the Cortinarius family.

hado4
If you knit enough of these hats and put them next to each other, they will look like candy.

The picture below shows the different length of the hats. The blue/orange one has 1.5 pattern repeats, the blue/blue one 2, and the yellow/green one 2.5 repeats. But the picture also shows something else, very visibly. All the hats are knit with the same white background, so you can easily tell that the orange color came off.

Last year, when my daughter found these orange mushrooms for me, I was just excited about the huge amount of dye in them. But that color turns out not to be wash fast. So I’m calling this one a failure, although I admit that I would pick these mushrooms again if I found the, so I could experiment some more.

hado_bunke
My hats have different sizes. Try not to notice how the orange mushroom color bled only the white!

The top of the hat as knit in the pattern disturbed my eye, so I had to modify it. I kept knitting the pattern to the top, but omitting the yo’s.

hado2
I modified the crown to visually fit with the main pattern.

Thinking about Woad

Woad is flowering right now, in lovely yellow abundance, and I’m hoping for a good seed harvest.

blomstrendevajd

Seeing the abundance of flowers made me want to knit with my woad dyed yarn from last year, and so, it’s become part of a whole obsessive-compulsive series of hats that I’m knitting these days, following Olga Buraya-Kefelian’s Hado pattern. So far, I’m knitting the third one, of course with a lot of mods although the pattern is a good one, and simple, too. The hat below has stripes of woad and poisonous orange mushrooms from last fall.

hado1

Vindauga Baby, the Picot Edging

I finished my Vindauga baby blanket, and it turned out just the way I’d imagined it.

VBCollage

In order to break the clean lines a bit, and make the blanket more baby-ish, I decided to use a picot cast-off  instead of the usual one. But it turned out to be a problem to find one that could be used for garter knitting. Not too many picots, and definitely not frilly.

After quite some attempts, I ended up finding a combination that is discreetly picot’ed and lets the edge lay flat. I did it by repeating these steps:

  • cast on 1 stitch using knitted cast on
  • cast off 4 stitches the usual way
  • put the last stitch back on your left needle

This may sound complicated, but it’s actually really easy to do. Here is a video showing one repeat of the picot cast off:

The advantage of the picot cast off is that it’s elastic because of the extra cast on stitches.

PS: I’m looking for test knitters for the Vindauga Baby blanket. So drop me a line or comment on this page if you’re interested!

picotedge

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Finishing and Beginning Anew

I’ve recently completed lots of projects, and begun even more new ones. Spring energy, maybe? Over Easter, I had to study for an exam. I do find it theoretically interesting that you can describe populations of animal and plants mathematically (that’s population ecology) but ultimately, I do prefer to move about freely outdoors and collect plants for my dyepots…

My level of self-pity just soared because I had to study so hard. I decided the best remedy was to give myself a gift – a recently published Danish book on natural dyeing, “En farverig verden” (A Colorful World) by Anne Støvlbæk Kjær and Louise Schelde Jensen, the women behind Uld Guld.

farverigverden

It’s a totally gorgeous book, with beautiful photographs of wool, dyestuffs, and tools. But what a shame that it contains so little information. I’ve yet to encounter anything that is not described in greater detail in my trusty companion, “Farvning med planter” (Dyeing with Plants) by Ester Nielsen.

nielsen

Having completed my exam, I did feel a surge of energy. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now published my pattern, Bilskirner. It took me much longer than anticipated to write and translate the pattern, and have it test knit. But now, it’s up.

BilskirnerCollage

I’ve made kits for the Bilskirner pattern. They contain a pdf pattern and enough yarn to complete a set of hat and mitts/mittens for a child or an adult. The yarn is 100% alpaca, Guldfaxe. The kit comes in two colorways, one where the contrast colors are dyed with cochineal

bilskirnerpink

and one where the contrast colors are dyed with madder and tansy

nyebegyndelser

although they also look quite delicious together, IMO!

kontrastfarver

Edda is a new beginning. An oversized pullover with narrow sleeves, knit in my single ply 100% wool yarn, Norne. This is the prototype, knit in yarn that was dyed in two tones of pink with cochineal. Judging by the past, a pattern is going to take a while for me to write, but it will come.

edda

Edda is knit flat and then connected by grafting down the front, leaving holes between the color blocks (on purpose, on could of course close them)

edda_foran

and the neck is knit on last.

edda_hals

One should always use caution when claiming you invented something new – some genius somewhere always thought of everything… but I haven’t seen other sweaters anywhere with the construction that I used for Edda. The shoulder is shaped using short rows, so it’s comfy and seamless. But more to come on that when work progresses on the pattern.

edda_skulder

The principle behind my Vindauga blanket is refusing to leave my brain. I’m working on a version with striped windows, knit in Fenris 100% wool (450 m/100 g) on a 3.5 mm needle.

Here’s the version in blue and green tones, using yarn from my experiments with indigo, weld, and mugwort.

babyvindauga

Finally, I’m working on an exam project for a course I’m taking on chemistry experiments for teaching purposes. My idea of using indigo dyeing was approved, so I’m beginning to work on my description of how to use indigo in the chemistry classroom. More to come on that!

Bilskirner Pattern

I designed a simple, color knit hat for children and adults, Bilskirner, a while ago. Now, I’ve finally completed the pattern with matching children’s mittens and adults’ mitts, and the pattern is up in my Ravelry store.

BilskirnerSquare

The mittens will fit a 3-4 year-old. The thumb is knit from live stitches from knitting stitches on to scrap yarn.

mittens

The adult mitts have a slightly unusual construction. You cast on at the edge closer to the fingers, then knit towards the rib cuff. That means you create the thumb gusset with decreases. I think it gives a nice fit, and decreases always look cleaner than increases, I think.

mitts

You can buy the pattern on Ravelry

Vindauga Blanket

My big blanket made of test skeins is done – I’m so happy with the way it turned out!! Here is the entire blanket. I know you can’t tell from such a photo, but it’s quite large, 96 x 150 cm (38 x 59 inches).

 

finished

And a couple of closer views. I took lots of pictures of it because I’m really very happy with it (I’m actually wrapped in it as I write these words).

finished3

folded

I knit my blanket out of all my 10 g test skeins that I use for trying out new dyestuffs and for trying out different variations. The yarn is supersoft wool (575 m/100 g) knit double on a 4.5 mm needle. The skeins were dyed with:

  • Cortinarius semisanguineus
  • Privet berries
  • Mixed Cortinarius mushrooms
  • Dyer’s polypore
  • Earthballs
  • Velvet pax
  • Ischnoderma benzoinum
  • Fern
  • Fermented avocado pits and peels
  • Tansy flowers
  • Apple leaves
  • Reed flowers
  • Coreopsis
  • Logwood
  • Madder
  • Indigo

I used about 9 grams of yarn for each window, and about 200 grams of white yarn for the window frames and edge.

Vindauga (meaning wind-eye) is the Old Norse word for window. I chose that name for my blanket because it consists of windows of different natural colors.

I knit my blanket in an incredibly complicated way, but now I’ve reduced my notes to a set of instructions that are rather simple with one exception: you need to graft rather long stretches together. Some find grafting complicated. It’s true that it seems complicated when you first learn it, but I find the technique indispensable for nice finishing.

Strips, make 8

Provisionally cast on 32 sts. Lefties can see my tutorial, right-handed people can watch this video.

Knit 19 ridges of garter stitch with one color. This will give you a rectangle that (more or less) has the golden proportion, which pleases the eye. My rectangles measure about 10 x 17 cm (4 x 6.75 inches).

Using a back join, change to white yarn and knit 3 ridges (the window frame).

Change to a new color (back join again) and knit 19 ridges.

Continue knitting 3 white and 19 color ridges until you have 8 windows of 19 ridges each, separated by 7 white window frames of 3 ridges each. Put the stitches on a piece of scrap yarn and save them for later.

onestrip

Grafting Strips Together

When you have knit 8 strips, you will graft them together (or you can begin grafting as soon as you’ve finished 2 strips). Here is how to graft one strip (A) onto a larger piece that has already been put together (B). A is on top in this picture and B on the bottom. The provisional cast on of each strip is on the left.

grafting1

Begin with strip A. Begin picking up stitches in the corner closest to the provisional cast on (yellow rectangle marked with a safety pin) and pick up one stitch in each garter bump (finishing at the blue rectangle).

Pass the last stitch you pick up over the next to last (1 stitch decreased).

Turn the work and knit all the stitches. In the last stitch, work a kfb (1 stitch increased). The reason for decreasing and increasing is to shift things slightly so the window frames line up. Cut yarn and secure the end.

Now, it’s strip B. Begin picking up stitches in the corner furthest away from the provisional cast on (yellow rectangle with safety pin). Pick up one stitch in each garter bump all the way, ending at the purple rectangle.

Knit 2 rows and cut yarn, leaving a 4 m long tail (you will use it for grafting).

grafting2

Now comes the difficult part. Here are the A and B pieces oriented in the same way as above, just seen closer. The long tail is attached to the purple rectangle (strip B).

grafting3

Turn the B piece so it has the wrong side up. Put the A piece on top, with the right side up. Now, the pieces are positioned correctly to start grafting, the bumps of the garter stitches are facing upwards on both pieces.

grafting4

First, sew purlwise into the first stitch on the top (yellow) piece. Pull yarn through, leaving the stitch on the needle.

Then, sew purlwise into the first stitch on the bottom (purple) piece. Pull yarn through, leaving the stitch on the needle.

Now, start working the two steps that you will repeat the rest of the way:

Sew knitwise into the first stitch on the top piece, letting the stitch fall off the needle. Sew purlwise into the next stitch, leaving it on the needle,

Sew knitwise into the first stitch on the bottom piece, letting the stitch fall off the needle. Sew purlwise into the next stitch, leaving it on the needle.

You can also see this picture tutorial.

I just graft loosely to begin with, focusing on passing through the stitches the right way. Then, I tighten up the stitches so this:

grafting5

becomes this:

grafting6

When you reach the end, and only have one stitch left on each needle, you just sew knitwise into each of them.

Graft all 8 strips together in the same way.

Edge

Now, it’s time to knit on the edge. It’s very long indeed, so I used my interchangeable needles with two cables put together.

Begin at a corner and pick up stitches all the way around the blanket, one stitch in each garter bump. Make increases at the corners, before and after the corner, also on the round where you pick up the stitches. So: when 1 stitch remains before a corner, m1r (increase by picking up the thread that links the stitches, from the back). Knit 2 stitches, then m1l (increase by picking up the thread that links the stitches, from the front)

Purl one round, then knit a round with increases at the corners. Continue like that until you have 4 ridges of garter, ending with a purl round.

knitedge

Cast off: I used Jeny’s stretchy bind off all the way around the blanket, and that worked nicely. I did corner increases on the bind off round, because tight corners are the worst. This way of doing them gives them a nice, relaxed appearance.

corner

That’s it! If anybody out there tries out this pattern, I’d love to see pictures of your FO.

You can obviously change the yarn and needle size, stitch count, number of strips you put together, width of the strips and of the frame….

Fructose Indigo Vat

indigo_pincushion

Quite a while ago, I knit this little pincushion, the physical evidence of my experiments with an organic indigo vat. It’s knit in Fenris 100% wool, 450 m/100 g.

The pattern is free, Peerie Pin Cushion by Ellen Kapusniak. You’re supposed to sew it together, but I, of course, grafted it closed.

I normally use a chemical vat with sodium dithionite as the reducing agent, which reliably works for me without crocking or anything of the sort. But it stinks, and I don’t like mixing the chemicals in the same house as my children.

Another problem I’ve experienced with this relatively harsh reducing agent is that the color doesn’t deepen with successive dips. This is a known problem with this type of vat. It is just as efficient at depositing indigo on your fiber as it is at stripping it back off.

And then, I was also inspired by my visit to the natural dyer Kenichi Utsuki at Aizenkobo to try the real thing myself. He holds nothing but contempt for indigo dyeing that, although it uses natural indigo, uses an artificial, chemical vat for the dyeing process. According to him, the complexity of the final result depends on the slow build-up of layer after layer of color – as does the light-fastness.

I tried using a fructose vat, using the ratio found in Maiwa’s instructions (there’s also instructions for the same type of vat here). Here, one uses the fructose as a reducing agent, since fructose is a reducing sugar. It’s not nearly as potent as the dithionite.

The instructions say 1 part indigo, 2 parts lime, 3 parts fructose. Or at least I thought I used their instructions – they say 20 g of indigo, but I decided that I would try with 5 g. That gave very little blue on my yarn, but lots of blue was left at the bottom of the vat. You can almost see how weak the color is here:

indigovat

I was later advised by the knowledgeable dyers of Ravelry that the fructose vat doesn’t scale. You have to use at least 20 g of indigo, and that should give you a living vat that you can feed more fructose and base and keep using for months.

I tried scaling it up, but the results I got were not what I had imagined. Sure, I dyed yarn blue, but the amount of color I got out of the vat still just didn’t correlate with how much indigo I put in. There was still a lot of blue sludge at the bottom of my vat.

I would love to run this vat much longer and get a continuous process going, in order to transform more of the indigo at the bottom. The vat has to become a living thing, and you have to dip and redip and so on!

I want to try this type of vat again because it is much more people and eco-friendly, and it is much closer to traditional methods of indigo dyeing than the chemical vat is.

yarn

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Madder Love & a FO

Madder red has been used by humans for millennia. Or, as someone much more eloquent that me put it: “Madder’s diary goes back as far as history’s earliest written pages” (Brian Murphy in “The Root of Wild Madder”).

Whenever I dye with madder, and stop to really think about its history, I’m quite fascinated. Yes, the colors from madder are varied and wonderful, but when you know more about its history and chemistry, then you see more than just color!

At the time of the ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean (Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians), there was an extensive trade in dyestuffs: madder, indigo, and Tyrian purple. This was taking place as early as the 12th century BC (for more details about this, see chapter 1 of “Handbook of Natural Colorants” a quite expensive book, but you can see an excerpt here which includes chapter 1).

In the context of oriental carpets, the history of madder is just as long. Classical Persian and Afghan carpets are dyed with madder (and its old friend indigo), and natural dyeing is the very reason that good carpets age gracefully, and even become more beautiful with age. In a naturally dyed carpet, the colors of wool change a bit differently with time, which adds a dimension to the pattern, called abrash. Notice the bands of lighter and darker background red in this carpet:

abrash

The main dye molecule (one out of maybe 20) in madder root, alizarin (AKA 1,2-dihydroxy anthraquinone), is a very good dye. It is one of the most light-fast natural dyes in existence, and its wash-fastness in complex with a metal ion is also very good (this is one of the reasons we use alum, which provides an aluminum ion).

The first few times I attempted dyeing with madder, I was quite disappointed because I couldn’t get the deep red. It turned out that my tap water was at fault. We Danes (at least here in the mainland) get our tap water from the underground where it rests on chalk deposits, so it is full of carbonates that interfere with the dyeing process. After switching to rainwater, I always get good results.

The first madder bath yields a deep red, and the next baths a series of progressively lighter coral shades. I’ve always loved the deep red, but the corals from the later baths have really grown on me.

And now I’ve finished a sweater for myself in such a coral shade of madder. The pattern is Folded by Veera Välimäki, and the yarn is Supersoft (575m/100g). I absolutely love the color, it really brightens the day when you are surrounded by people who mostly wear black and grey. The dye job is not very even, and that is actually what gives a nice fake abrash to my sweater. And I love how lightweight and comfy my it is, just 153 g. That’s because I knit the Supersoft quite loosely on a 3.5 mm needle

folded

The part that I’m less thrilled about is the fit of the sweater in the area around the shoulders. I followed the upper part of the pattern without modification, and the shoulders just don’t have enough fabric in them because the raglan seam is not long enough. I put the folds on the back of the sweater instead of the front, and I think that makes it much more flattering than the original.