Lille Bold

I’ve knit a handful of small balls from leftover Fenris wool, and I have to say my family has never shown more interest in my knitting! “What are you making?”, “Can I have one?”

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I’ve just finished knitting a new version of my Vindauga Baby Blanket, which is much easier to knit than the original version (and I’ll release the updated pattern on Ravelry one of these days). And I have to say it puts me in an excellent mood to look at all this garter stitch and stripes:

Vindauga Baby Blankets, top one dyed with tansy and indigo, bottom one cochineal and indigo.

Looking at the leftovers of both white background color and different blue and purple contrast colors, it dawned on me that I could make a small fun project. And here it is: Lille Bold (that’s Danish and just means small ball). Anyone knitting the Fylgje Shawl with a kit will also have plenty of leftovers.

The ball is knit in small short-row modules in garter stitch, stuffed, and then seamed.

I use a very simple – possibly the simplest – short row technique. After turning, simply slip one stitch purlwise with yarn in front. That’s it, I don’t knit stitches together later or anything of the sort.

Several examples of the Lille Bold along with some tiny leftover skeins, dyed with indigo and cochineal.

PATTERN

Yarn, Gauge, Needles, Notions

Fenris pure wool, 450 m / 100 g (492 yd / 3.53 oz) white main color and a contrast color. Each ball takes about 5 g of main color (25 yards) and 3 g of contrast color (15 yards).

A pair of 2.5 mm (US 1) double pointed needles, a tapestry needle.

My gauge was about 12 garter stitches to 5 cm (2 inches), and that gave me a ball with about 7.5 cm (3 inches) diameter.

Abbreviations

CC – contrast color, co – cast on, k – knit, MC – main color, RS – right side, sl – slip, sl1wyif – slip 1 stitch purlwise with yarn in front, st(s) – stitch(es), WS – wrong side.

Instructions

Using CC, co 24 sts. Leave a tail of at least 20 cm (8 inches) to use later. K 24.

MC Section

Change to MC – leave CC attached for later.

Row 1 (RS): sl 2 sts, k 20, turn.

Row 2 (WS): sl1wyif, k 13, turn.

Row 3: sl1wyif, k 7, turn.

Row 4: sl1wyif, k 9, turn.

Row 5: sl1wyif, k 11, turn.

Row 6: sl1wyif, k 13, turn.

Row 7: sl1wyif, k 15, turn.

Row 8: sl1wyif, k 16, turn.

You have now worked one repeat of the pattern. Now, repeats are worked by knitting 2 rows with CC, then working the 8 rows of the MC section. Work 9 repeats in this way. You now have a total of 10 repeats.

K 1 row with CC. On next row, co the 2 first and 2 last sts. Break CC yarn.

Work MC section once. Sl 2.

Use CC ends to sew the bound-off CC sts to the co. Thread yarn through all the garter bumps of the end, tighten, and weave in end.

Stuff the ball with carded wool or fiber stuffing. With MC, you can either cast off all sts and sew the ball closed. Or, you can sew the live sts to the co edge.

That’s it. Happy knitting!

Lille Bold

Dansk mønster findes her.

Easy Knitting

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

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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.

Knitting Better Stripes

Knitting stripes is so addictive. Here’s a simple technique to make the color change from one stripe to the next smoother when knitting in the round

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I’m working on the design for a girl’s dress in multicolor stripes. It has a turned picot edge and it’s knit top-down. The first prototype is knit in Fenris (100% wool, 450 m / 100 g or 492 yd / 3.53 oz) dyed with madder, indigo, woad, Japanese indigo, and a series of purples from cochineal overdyed with indigo.

Dagmar running over a harvested field on one of the last days of summer.
The dress has a round yoke and turned picot edges along neck, arm, and lower hem. Notice the cluster of trees in the left side of the photo – a burial mount from antiquity.

In order to make the color change from one stripe to the next as nice as possible (even though it’s on the back), I used this technique:

After changing to a new color, first knit an entire round, then remove the end-of-round marker.

The first stitch that was knit with the new color is now the right-most stitch on the left needle – the stitch you were just about to knit. Insert the left needle through the stitch right under it from the right side. Don’t let go of the stitch that was already on the needle. You now have two stitches instead of one, and they are not the same color:

Two stitches together, different colors because they come from two different stripes.

Now, knit the two stitches together (with a k2tog) and replace the end-of-round marker. The change of round has now moved one stitch to the left, but that is OK.

The two stitches knit together, and the marker replaced.

The result is this:

The yoke of the dress with jogless stripes.

Not perfect, but a huge improvement over just cutting the old yarn and adding the new.

Læs dette indlæg på dansk

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.

Saxon Blue

Ever since I first read about Saxon blue, produced by reaction indigo with concentrated sulfuric acid, I’ve really wanted to try it.

The lawyer Johann Christian Barth is credited with inventing the Saxon blue reaction in 1743. He treated natural indigo with sulfuric acid, then known as “oil of vitriol”. According to de Keijzer, the dye was in use in England by 1748, and Jenny Balfour-Paul writes in her book “Indigo” that the dye “can be seen in some oriental carpets, most characteristically those made in Turkey during the second half of the nineteenth century, and also in late eighteenth century Kashmir shawls”. The dye was relatively popular, even though its light- and wash-fastness is not as good as that of indigo itself.

Balfour-Paul calls the color “bright turquoisy blue” while de Kaizer mentions “bluish-green” shades.

The story about this caught my interest because it seems to be a midway point between truly natural dyes, and the synthetic dyes that came after Perkin’s discovery of mauveine in 1856. If made from natural indigo, Saxon blue is not really a synthetic dye. But it’s not fully natural, either, and the process that it was used in clearly seems to fit better into what we think of as an industrial process.

The problem for trying this at home is that you need to use concentrated sulfuric acid in order to produce Saxon blue. This is not something you can just go out and buy, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s a quite dangerous acid that reacts with carbohydrates like bread in a way that makes it look like the bread is on fire.

But now, the perfect opportunity came up, the exam project for teaching chemistry that  I’m working on right now. So here’s my little experiment with Saxon blue. I tried this in a chemistry lab, inside a fume hood, wearing lab coat and safety goggles. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!

I mixed 0.5 g of indigo powder with 5 mL of concentrated sulfuric acid, and then heated it over a simmering water bath for about 10 minutes (left photo below).

Then I diluted the indigo into water, and put in alum mordanted wool. I heated the wool in the dye bath for about 40 minutes (right photo below). Even after diluting, the solution was very acidic (pH 1).

saxonblue_lab
Dyeing in the chemistry lab.

This is how the skein of wool turned out after rinsing out the excess color (there was a lot). A very clear blue, that’s actually very similar to the shade of blue you would get with indigo used as a vat dye.

saxonbluewool
Saxon blue wool.

But the chemistry behind this blue is different from the usual indigo chemistry. The reaction between indigo and sulfuric acid produces a compound called indigo carmine (this is what is called Saxon blue). Indigo carmine is an acid dye, not a vat dye. That means that it will bond to aluminum that was attached to the wool during alum mordanting.

Notice the cotton thread tied around my Saxon blue wool skein below. It’s only slightly blue-tinged. Alum does not react well with cotton, so there were only very few sites on that thread where indigo carmine could bond.

Now compare with the blue on the pile of cotton in the back. It just happened that I used the very same cotton thread for tying around clothes that I shibori dyed with indigo using the usual method. Notice how parts of the thread in the back are quite dark blue. They were exposed to the indigo vat, and the color took well, because indigo can deposit directly on cotton (there are also white parts, but they were just not exposed).

saxonblue_cotton
Saxon blue does not dye cotton well at all – for that, you need an indigo vat.

It was fun to try dyeing with Saxon blue (indigo carmine), but I don’t really see myself repeating the experiment for the purpose of actually dyeing wool. The fact that the light-fastness is low and the process uses concentrated sulfuric acid means that the comparison with indigo itself does not fall out in Saxon blue’s favor.

But if you are wondering what Saxon blue is up to these days, check your candy wrapper. It shouldn’t be difficult at all to find yourself some candies containing FD&C Blue #2 in the US, and E132 in the EU. That’s indigo carmine, or Saxon blue. The stuff in food does not come from natural indigo, it’s synthetic.

If you have appetite for some more dyes, you can also look for natural red 4 (US) or E120 (EU). It may also be written as carmine. Around here, it’s known as cochineal. In this case, the coloring in food does actually come from the natural source. Some people find this disgusting, but having ground the lice so many times for dyeing, I actually find it quite unoffensive.

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!

The Quest for Light-Fast Purple, Part Two

A while ago, I wrote about the millennia-long quest for purple, a serious business in antiquity. Since my pocket money won’t afford me any quantity of murex purple, I decided to do a series of reds from madder and cochineal and overdye them with indigo blue.

I used 10 g test skeins of my Fenris yarn (450 m per 100 g), and made 9 test skeins for madder and 9 for cochineal. I made dye baths at the regular full strength for 30 of wool (so 30 g of madder, 3 g of cochineal) and dyed 3 skeins in those. Then 3 skeins in the second bath and 3 skeins in the third.

Then, I overdyed with 3 strengths of indigo: light, medium, and dark. I put skeins of the 3 different reds (from the 3 baths) into each round of indigo dyeing, and that gives me a color matrix where the intensity of red varies along one direction and the intensity of blue along the other. In other words, 9 different shades of purple from 2 dyes.

The results:

krap_indigo

These skeins are dyed with madder and indigo. For some reason, the indigo overdye is quite uneven. Some of the colors are a bit odd to my taste, like the top right skein, which is the weakest madder and indigo dyeing. But all together, I think they look quite good.

cochenille_indigo

These skeins are dyed with cochineal and indigo. And these are the purple colors I was dreaming of! For example the middle front skein, which is strong cochineal overdyed with medium indigo. I will clearly work with these colors again, because they are not only delicious, but I also expect them to have a very good light fastness.

The Quest for Light-Fast Purple, Part One

Purple! This color has spelled trouble for the natural dyer for centuries, millennia even…

Tyrian purple, the famous purple used in antiquity, came from Phoenicia (around present-day Lebanon) where the coastal waters were full of snails of the Murex family, from which the dye (6,6′-dibromoindigo) was extracted.

In ancient times, Tyrian purple was an immense luxury, so expensive that only the very few could afford it. I don’t know exactly how expensive it was back then, but I looked up today’s price here: 27.444 kr per gram (that’s $4120 or 3675 euros). Per gram. I don’t know how much fabric that would have dyed, I’m guessing it couldn’t possibly be more than a kg (and probably much less) so we are talking about one expensive color.

I imagine there must have been quite the excitement when logwood purple hit the stage. Logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum) is a tree that grows in Mexico and Central America, and was brought back to Europe, where it became a much used dyestuff.

The dye molecule in logwood is hematoxylin, a molecule that is used for staining in cell biology even today!

Logwood can be used to dye a very nice purple on alum mordanted wool:

logwooddyedwool

A very lovely purple indeed. But there’s just one big problem – the light-fastness is really low!

At a higher dyestuff to wool ratio, logwood and alum together give a blue color, which also has a terrible light-fastness.

My Danish book, “Farvning med planter” by Esther Nielsen, says that logwood blue was nevertheless used, and may have been OK for a while because people had little light indoors in the past. But the same book tells you that French dyers of high color were not allowed to have logwood in their workshops at all, because they also had alum, and those two together could be used to produce the inferior logwood blue which was forbidden for the dyers of high color – they had to dye blue with indigo.

Plain dyers, on the other hand, were allowed to have logwood, but they mainly used it to dye black. This is done by addition of iron, which makes the color somewhat more light-fast. The German name for plain dyer is “Schwarzfärber” which actually means dyer of black (this interesting article has more information on the dyer’s guild’s division into plain dyers and dyers of high color).

Historically, natural purple pretty much came to an end in 1856 with Perkin’s discovery of mauveine, the first synthetic dye. This discovery is often described as serendipitous, but I think that’s not so accurate. It is true that Perkins first made the molecule by happy accident, but he then noticed that the solution in his flask was purple. That was the first step. The second step was to quit his studies and turn mauveine into a successful business, something that required a lot of skill and effort over many years (this BBC program tells the interesting story, and also talks about the other top seller his company made: chemically synthesized madder red!).

But I’m not giving up on purple just yet, so I’ve decided to do a slightly systematic study of indigo overdyeing of some reds and pinks. To get an idea, I’ve played a bit with a color blending tool. Just to get an idea: this is a strong pink (cochineal) overdyed with weak blue (indigo), and  this is a weak red-orange (madder) overdyed with strong blue (indigo). Next step is to actually carry out the overdying experiment, more on those results later!

Haematoxylum_campechianum

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.

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