Amazing Dyeing Failures 1

Failure in natural dyeing is commonly defined as not getting the result you expected. Beige, off white, baby yellow and other tones of grime are all examples of colors I have made no attempt to acheive, and yet, I have a big pile of skeins just like that. But there’s actually a lot to be learned from failures. Some give new ideas of what to try next. Others just tell you what not to do. Below, I’ll describe some of my failures – actually, I’ve failed so many times that this will only be the first installment, more to follow.

Alle de mislykkede og uønskede farver. Efter billedet blev taget overfarvede jeg med indigo.
Skeins of failure. They were all overdyed with indigo after taking the photo.

1: Bark Failure

Several books on dyeing will tell you that different types of barks are good dyestuffs. For example, Jenny Dean’s “Wild Color” mentions these barks and the color they should produce on alum mordanted wool: alder (brown-green), barberry (yellow), ash (bright yellow-green), apple (warm yellow), oak and willow (beige), and finally elm, birch, cherry, pear, and plum (pink).

For a while, the theme of my walks was bark; in the end, I found enough of these three to try them as dyestuffs:

  1. Birch (Betula) – I’ve used birch leaves several times for a sunny yellow, but not the bark. Some trees were cut down near our house, and I jumped at the chance. The trees had been left in a big pile, which I obviously had to climb to get to the good parts, and since I was of course wearing clogs, I fell down from that big pile in the end. With 60 g of birch bark in my pockets.
  2. Another day I hear some men working outside, shredding logs. On their day off, I casually walked by and managed to peel a good amount of bark off. The logs turned out to be alder (Alnus), the kind with the tiny cones. 70 g of bark.
  3. Last one is some bark from a forest walk. I jumped over a big, big ditch to get this. I’m pretty sure it’s beech (Fagus). My daughter jumped it too, so I had to save her afterwards. 94 g of bark.
Dagmar tæt på at falde i grøften
Dagmar, seen moping, came close to falling into a large ditch.

I used Jenny Dean’s general dyeing method for bark. She says that “barks are best soaked for several days or even weeks in cold water before processing. Then simmer them for one hour. Never boil bark, as this will release too much tannin”. So that’s what I did – left the three types of bark to soak for a couple of weeks. That was long enough that they started fermenting, and I can tell you that it didn’t smell that good.

But when I simmered 10 g test skeins of alum mordanted wools in the three bark dye baths, the color in the end was pale beige. I didn’t even bother taking pictures (because when you’ve seen one skein of pale beige wool, you really have seen them all), but you can see one sticking out between the pale pink skeins in the left side of the first picture above.

I have seen other dyers experiment with bark (for example, at my wool group’s dyeing day) and also get pale beige or off white. So right now, I’m not even convinced that it would ever work, and I probably won’t try it again unless someone can tell me what went wrong (please comment below if you know or if you’ve had good results dyeing with bark).

2: Slimy/Moldy Avocado Failures

There are established procedures for dyeing with avocados, but I’ve been experimenting with slightly different ways of doing it. I suppose to make the procedure easier and better, but of course ending up making it messy and complicated.

According to Carol Lee, avocado pits should not be allowed to dry before use because they will become so hard that they are impossible to chop. Instead, they should be frozen until use. I wanted to find a way to dry them anyway because my freezer is small.

So I chopped the pits and skins and then left them to dry. This worked well on a couple of occasions, but most times it did not because they became completely overgrown with mold before they had time to dry. Moldy materials may still work as dyes, but I think it is generally unwise to handle them repeatedly around the house, since many molds produce toxins that may be inhaled. So I went back to freezing the skins and pits.

dryavocado
Avocado pits and skin turn red as they dry, so it’s not that surprising that the dye bath they produce is also red.

Another experiment was to ferment the pits and shells for a looong time to see if they yielded more color that way. I used my dry material, soaked overnight, but I suspect the results would have been the same had I used frozen dyestuff.

I usually ferment avocado pits and skins by heating them up once in brine, then just leaving them. Normally for a few weeks or a month, this time for six months. And the dye bath did develop a deep red, but it also became extremely slimy.

Despite the sliminess, I tried dyeing a small test skein in this dye bath, but it didn’t yield good color. My guess is that the slime prevented good contact between yarn and dye. But I’m not convinced that a long fermentation couldn’t yield good color. I’ve been adviced to put avocado pits and skins in jars, close the jars, heat them up, and then ferment. Such jars should not go slimy. I’ll try that next time.

Beige med lidt rødlige striber
Beige with a red streak, that’s the look of yarn dyed with avocado slime.

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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….

Nine Daughters Socks, Done!

It’s always a good feeling to finish a knitting project, but I feel especially good about this pair of socks because they are a prototype for a pattern, and they turned out just the way I had imagined.

The only problem is that I got a little carried away when I was knitting the legs, so they are too long to fit on my leg without increases. So I had to give this pair to my mother, who is very pleased with her new pair of socks. I guess having skinny legs has advantages sometimes… trying to think of the advantages of having fat legs, but can’t think of any at the moment. Oh well! Here are the finished socks:

avocadosocks

FACTS – NINE DAUGHTERS SOCKS

Pattern Nine Daughters, a pattern that I’m currently writing

Yarn Fenris 350 m/100 g 75% superwash wool, 25% polyamide

Needle 2.5 mm

Colors Fermented avocado pits and a dash of cochineal

Conclusion I love the wave pattern on my socks and the way it transitions into rib. And I find it enjoyable as ever to knit socks 2-at-a-time toe-up

I am writing the pattern now, and it will be called Nine Daughters (see this for the story behind it). I’m planning to publish this in English and Danish (will be looking for test knitters soon).

Next pair will be just normal sock length. I’m going to keep that pair myself! If I can make them fit, that is… The yarn I’m using for my next pair is dyed with indigo only, and they have the clear blue hue I sometimes achieve with a chemical indigo vat:

indigosocks

Det er altid en god fornemmelse at gøre et strikkeprojekt færdigt, men endnu mere når det er eget design og det bliver som jeg havde forestillet mig! Sokkerne her er jeg i gang med at skrive mønsteret til – og jeg er i gang med et par til mig selv, farvet med indigo. Det første par, farvet med avocado og cochenille, endte nemlig med at passe min mor, damen med de slanke ben.

Avocado, Meet Blender

Remember these jars?

fermentation

They had been fermenting for over a week, and the color of the liquid didn’t change over the last days, so I decided it was time to try them.

The front jar contains the pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt, the other one the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. I combined the pit and peel in one dye bath because my earlier attempts didn’t yield different colors with them separated. And this time I blended the pit and peel, carefully and a bit at a time to not destroy the blender.

The much deeper red in the ammonia jar does translate into more color, a reddish brown, on the yarn (in front) than the jar without ammonia (in the back) which just gave the standard beige. Again beige.

avoskeins

No pink this time, maybe because I didn’t heat the avocado before fermentation?

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS + PITS, BLENDED

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 10 g yarn to one avocado

Conclusion Ammonia extracts more color

Possible improvements Boil before fermentation to get pink. Filter out blended avocado before dyeing

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that I have tried a lot of combinations with avocado fermentation of avocado pits, of the peels, and now blending them together and fermenting them with and without ammonia. I’ve achieved a range of colors from beige over pink into brown.

So I do think this concludes my experimentation with this for now. The only thing that remains to be seen is how light and wash fast this is over a longer time.

Dette er det – måske – sidste forsøg med avocado, for nu i hvert fald. Denne gang har jeg blendet skal og sten af avocado sammen og prøvet at fermentere dem i en uge med eller uden ammoniak. Sidstnævnte gav den kraftigste farve i glasset og også på ulden. Men ingen pink denne gang, kun beige og brun.

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Nine Daughters Socks

I want to show you a new design I’m working on! A pair of socks using a thicker sock yarn, which is 350m/100g and 75% wool/25% polyamide. This skein is dyed with fermented avocado pits and a pinch of cochineal:

avocado

The stitch pattern partially comes from a Japanese stitch library, so this time I’m not drawing on traditional Scandinavian knitwear designs. But – I’ve always found it interesting how many parallels there are between modern Japanese and Scandinavian design and taste.

So why the similarities? Looks like many people have wondered about just that! Belinda Esperson (an Australian jeweler who I just came across) guesses that it’s a connection to nature in both places. I guess I can only speak for us Danes, and I don’t think we are more connected to nature than other nations…

Here’s a discussion thread where someone guesses that that the common denominator is “respect for the rules” and that is definitely true. We don’t even cross on red on foot here! And in Japan, you often hear, they’ll rather go mental or die than break the rules. I remember hearing about a bullet train accident where hundreds died because the driver was trying to make up for 30 lost seconds – the train must be on time!

But how does respect for the rules translate into minimalism and perfection in shaping? Not sure.

My own guess is that the Scandinavian taste for simplicity somehow comes from Protestantism. During Reformation, all the colorful paintings in our churches were covered with white, and a new austerity followed. Somehow, you can train people to actually enjoy simplicity and white walls over 500 years!

But enough talking, lets get to the part with actual wool on needles:

socksprogress

I know, all this talk about simplicity and shape, and then these socks which are overall very embellished! But I do think that the total patterning combines into a simplicity where the wave pattern really is what catches the eye.

The name of the pattern, Nine Daughters, refers to the waves of the sea. In Norse mythology, Ægir and Ran are the gods of the sea, representing the positive and negative side of the sea, respectively. Ran means theft, because Ran catches the seamen in her net and takes them to the bottom of the sea. Ægir and Ran are married, and their nine daughters are the waves of the sea.

Avocado Peels

My experiments in dyeing with avocado pits were quite successful if I do say so myself (although a couple of skeins needed a little boost of cochineal).

But what about the peels? They can also be used for dyeing, and since I remembered reading that they give a slightly different shade, I kept them separate. Other than that, the procedure was the same as for the pits (fermentation in slightly salty water for about a week).

And the result:

avocadopeels

The avocado peel skein is in the front, and the 3 avocado pit skeins from earlier are in the back. So in my hands, the peels and pits gave just about the same color, but less intense from the peels.

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio Didn’t measure – but I’m guessing 1:10 or even more

Conclusion The color is pretty, but faint

Possible improvements Combine peels and pits to get more color

So that’s what I’ll do next time – and “next time” is actually underway already:

fermentation

These jars are fermenting right now. The one in the front is pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt. It started bubbling from the bottom after about 3 days, and an orange color is beginning to develop with fermentation. The other jar is the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. The color is obviously a much deeper red in the ammonia jar, which, by the way, doesn’t ferment. I suppose the ammonia is killing the bacteria that would have fermented.

Next, I’ll try dyeing with liquid from the two jars, to see if the deeper color with ammonia also means more color captured by the wool!

Jeg har afprøvet farvning med gærede avocado-skaller, som giver en fin rosa farve, der ikke er lige så kraftig som den fra stenene. Så de kan godt bare blandes sammen, og det er lige hvad jeg har gjort i de glas der gærer i vinduet.

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Solving the Problem of Beige

My recent attempt at dyeing with fermented avocado pits was only partially successful – I got three nice pink-ish test skeins out of it (on the left, dry) but two skeins of sock yarn came out a drab beige (still in the pot, so wet, which makes the color look nicer than it is)

avocadopot

So I decided to tweak the color in the pink direction, but only a very little bit.

This could be a general strategy for all those beige skeins!! Beige twisted towards pink is a very attractive color to my eye, an old dusty rose, but beige is just that – beige. My least favorite color. The color that makes even beautiful people look plain. So plain-looking people should steer way clear of it. Not to mention old wrinkled people.

I made a dye bath with 1/4 g cochineal. My ordinary kitchen scale doesn’t go that low, so I weighed off 5 g, divided them roughly in 5, and then took a quarter of that pile. We are down to individual lice, here. I used that on 300 g of sock yarn, two that were already avocado dyed and one white:

avocochineal

The avocado/cochineal skeins are the two in the back, and the middle skein is the one that went into the same dye bath, so it got 1/3 of 1/4 g of cochineal. Not much at all! The two front skeins are two more fresh 100 g skeins of sock yarn that got each 1/8 g of cochineal.

I love all of these pinks, and what is even better is the light-fastness of cochineal. In many ways, the properties of cochineal seem closer to a chemical dye, but it’s all just from a small louse.

And here is one avocado pit/cochineal skein up close

avocado

FACTS – AVOCADO PITS + COCHINEAL

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap (avocado pits) and rain (cochineal)

Yarn Sock yarn 75% wool, 25% polyamide 350m/100g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:1 for avocado pits, then 0.08:1 for cochineal

Conclusion The final color is lovely, and tweaking with cochineal could well be a general solution to the beige problem

Her er endelig standardløsningen på de evindelige beige nøgler naturfarvet garn! Jeg har overfarvet med en lille smule cochineal, og det giver en dejlig gammelrosa.

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Avocado Pits

I’ve experimented with this salvage dye in the past, but not with much luck. Now, having tried many more dyestuffs, I’m returning to it.

The idea that you can get good color out of something you would have otherwise just thrown out is appealing and worth pursuing, especially in winter, where dyestuffs are scarcer.

I’ve saved avocado pits and peels in the freezer over a good amount of time. Maybe from 20 fruits in total? I’m not sure, and I forgot to weigh them before I started. Anyway, what I did:

  • I chopped the pits with my big knife. I read somewhere to blend them to a powder, but I only have my good blender and I don’t want to destroy it
  • Heated the pits in a couple of liters of salt water (2 Tsp salt per liter)
  • Left them to ferment for about a week. It really did ferment – the smell was unmistakable and air was bubbling out. Then it started to mold very slightly and I decided it was time to dye with it

The reason for adding salt is that it should prevent the dyestuff from spoiling during the fermentation time.

I tried the dye bath with 10 g test skeins of supersoft. The first one was a quite dull beige, but the next two progressively darker and more pink in tone. It seems that more color came out of the pits with each round of heating (I’ve seen this before with other dyestuffs, that later rounds with the same color bath actually gave more intense color instead of weaker). I added some ammonia to the washing water of the third skein, and maybe that turned the color more pink.

avocadoskeins

After the 3 test skeins, I bravely threw in two 100-g skeins of sock yarn.

There was still a lot of color left in the pot, but not of the pink kind  – the two skeins came out more to the beige side, in between test skein 1 and 2 in hue. So I didn’t even let them dry, as I’m planning to immediately overdye them – more later on this – and also, more later on the avocado peels (fermenting right now).

avocadopot

FACTS – AVOCADO PITS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g. Sock yarn 75% wool, 25% polyamide 350m/100g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:20 at least for the test skeins. More like 1:1 or 1:2 for the sock yarn

Conclusion The pink shades that can be obtained are nice, but some skeins turned out a dull beige

Possible improvements Maybe I should have used rainwater? It is often said that it helps with red shades. I think that using a blender would have helped extract the color better

 Jeg har forsøgt farvning med gærede avocadosten, og de gav en dejlig gammelrosa-beige farve på nogle små nøgler. Da jeg smed en større mængde garn i blev det dog bare en kedelig beige…

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