Easy Knitting

Last week, I brought my yarn and kits to a market, and took the chance to chat with lots of people.

~

Lots of people stopped by, some drifted by on their round of the entire market, others stopped to chat.

There were two things that most people told me. The first one: they really liked my colors, and didn’t need to be told that I only use natural dyes. And I completely agree! These colors basically shout that they are natural:

My color circle – blue of course from indigo, purple from cochineal and indigo overdyeing, reds from madder, yellows from tansy, greens from indigo + plants, and dusty greens from whole leaf Japanese indigo.

The second one: people seemed to like my designs, but thought they were complicated. And well, I sort of knew that. I use techniques like provisional cast ons, grafting and so on, because it gives better results. I insist that these results are better, but I do understand that many people find such techniques difficult, or think they are.

So here’s my resolution. I will write easier knitting patterns. I’m reworking my Vindauga Baby pattern, making a version that only uses standard knitting techniques. I’m going to keep the picot edge, that one is easy, and very decorative. My plan is to release the pattern again, this time with an easy and a challenging option.

Purple, easy Vindauga Baby blanket.

Finally, I’ve deployed my secret weapon. My Mom! She dug through all my yarn, and found this:

Fenris dyed with indigo (left), with indigo and cochineal (middle), and Norne dyed with whole leaf Japanese indigo (right).

To begin with, she has her hands on the blue-green skein of Norne (that sort of had my name on it). Her plan is simple, geometric garter lace, it’ll be interesting to follow the progress.

London

This year, instead of binge-eating and wrapping a load of stuff, then unwrapping it, we decided to go to London on a Christmas trip. I have loved all the times I’ve traveled around Christmas/New Year (Paris, Chicago, New York, and New Delhi) and London was certainly no exception.

It seems that every time I hear or read an interesting story involving plants, Kew Gardens plays a role (for example, a recent radio story about conservation of a native fern on Ascension Island). So I made it a point to go there, although we clearly saw just a very small fraction of the place.

This is a bit of what we saw in the daytime:

Shapes of the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
Meat eating plant, as big as an adult’s hand. If I had wings, I’d fly in there.
The very edge of a leaf of the Victoria waterlilly. I’ve always had a soft spot for this huge plant.

So lots of amazing plants, but I didn’t see any dye plants. The closest was henna, and although it does dye wool (and hair), I don’t really consider it a dye plant.

Henna, Lawsonia inermis

Save

Museum shops are always a temptation, and I almost bought “50 Plants that Changed the Course of History” by Bill Laws when it struck me that it does not contain any dye plants. Back on the shelf it went. I may be willing to accept that madder doesn’t make top 50, but surely indigo should?

We returned in the evening for “Christmas at Kew”, a lit path through the garden. It was cold and crowded, but beautiful:

The light tunnel continuously changed color, and people were glued to the spot.
The Hive, an installation by the artist Wolfgang Buttress, seen from the outside with illuminated trees.
Inside The Hive

We obviously didn’t go all the way to London without visiting Loop. I looked for naturally dyed yarns to see if they were immensely more delicious than the yarn I dye myself – and found three delicious yarns, but I’m happy to say that the yarn I dye is just as yummy. The first one is Shilashdair Luxury DK, which has quite intense colors, some of them quite vigorously variegated.

The second one is Linen Lace by Artisan Yarns. Beautiful muted colors and shiny texture. I seem to have thought just that also last time I visited Loop, because I actually have such a skein in my stash that I haven’t knit with yet.

The third is Plant Dyed by Mehlsen. I have never come across this yarn before, although it seems to be made not far from where I live in Mainland Denmark. Remarkably, they the colors are really similar to the ones I dye! So they really spoke to me, and I was really tempted to buy some of this yarn, but an internal voice of reason talked me out of it.

In the end, I walked out of Loop with “Estonian Knitting 1, Traditions and Techniques” by Pink, Reimann, and Joeste, a big, excellent, clearly edited and well written book. Lots of interesting information and old photos, and lots of techniques.

Naturally dyed yarns at Loop: Shilashdair (left), Artisan Yarns (middle), and Plant Dyed by Mehlsen (right). Photos taken with the cell phone in artificial lighting, so yarn really looks much better

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) was the last big highlight of the trip. This giant chandelier by Chihuly hangs in the entrance hall, it’s hard to say if it’s ugly or wonderful, but it’s certainly impressive. I find his work always is impressive. It’s also oddly at ease in the natural world – I remember seeing his work at the Botanical Garden in Chicago, and the Aquarium in Monterey, California. In both cases, the glass mimicked the living things that surrounded it.

The Chihuly chandelier at V&A.

The V&A had this amazing knitted baby’s gown, which had been displayed at the 1851 World Exhibition in London. It’s hard to really see in photos, but the knitting is so, so tiny. Tiny! The museum text tells us only that “Miss Sarah Ann Cunliffe of Saffron Walden, Essex, knitted this dress” and that “It was made with 1 1/2 million stitches and approximately 5,770 metres of sewing cotton”. We aren’t told which needle size was used, but I would think 1 mm or maybe smaller.

This picture was taken in low light and without flash, and does not do the 1851 baby gown justice.

There is also many wonderful tapestries at the V&A, and since they are made long before 1856, we can be sure that all the dyes are natural. These tapestries are clearly worth studying for those worried that natural dyes won’t last.

Here are a couple of details from a Belgian tapestry from 1718-24 titled “The March”. Some of the yellows have paled (as expected) which leads to a blueing out of greens produced by yellow with indigo blue overdye, but not disturbingly so. I’d call a color that looks like this after 300 years light-fast.

Blueing out of greens in a 300-year old tapestry

The only bad thing about our trip was that my potted Japanese indigo plant died while we were away. I uprooted this plant when I harvested the last of my plants in late October and it has been growing and flowering inside ever since. I cut it down, and looked inside the dead flowers. It looks like seeds, and it will be interesting to see if they will germinate.

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:

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

Norne

Norne, our pure wool 1-ply lace yarn, is finally in the shop. I’m so excited!

I think this yarn is delightful to knit with. Its texture is just slightly crispy – enough that it’s really easy to knit with (also intricate lace) but not too much, so it isn’t scratchy.

Here’s a shawl that I knit using a skein of Norne dyed a weak madder, Fylleryd by Mia Rinde:

fyllerydmadder

I must confess that I knit this shawl pretty much just to test the yarn, since I definitely don’t need any more shawls (I have a storage box full of shawls already – madness takes many forms) but then ended up having such a good time because the pattern is good and the yarn is good!

FACTS – FYLLERYD SHAWL

Pattern Fylleryd by Mia Rinde – a free Ravelry download

Yarn Norne 640 m/100 g, 100% wool

Needle 4 mm

Color Madder afterbath

Conclusion Best knitting fun I’ve had in a long time! I expected Norne to behave well for lace knitting, and it behaved very well indeed.

After this, I actually have a couple of more Norne projects on the needles – another shawl (Filigrano by Birgit Freyer) and a vest for my daughter. More on those projects later.

Because I also want to show you some more of the wonderful Norne. I’ve been working my way across the natural rainbow with this base, and I do think the result is very pleasing

nornerainbow

Here are some lighter colored skeins (I label those “Pastel” in the shop) posing along with a page a fashion magazine (it’s Eurowoman, yep, I can be tempted when I stand in line at the grocery store)

nornepastels

From left to right, these skeins are dyed with madder (Valkyrie Pastel), indigo (Wanderer Pastel), and cochineal (Freya Pastel).

And here is a range of colors that all have madder in common

nornemadder

From front to back, it’s tansy overdyed with madder (Idun), two shades of madder exhaust (Valkyrie Pastel in two different dye lots), and all the way in the back, it’s a skein dyed with madder at full strength (1:1 madder and wool, I call that color Valkyrie).

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak at Norne, but I suppose that some readers (especially outside Scandinavia) may be scratching their heads regarding the name. Norne is named after the goddesses (plural Norns or Nornir) in Norse mythology who spin the thread of fate for each person (I always liked the spinning part!). I thought it was apt for this delicious single thread.

Save