Amazing Dyeing Failures 2

The topic of my last post was failures in dyeing, and here’s more. First, my most serious and most annoying failure as a natural dyer.

3: Organic Indigo Failure

A while back, I experimented a bit with an indigo vat with fructose, but my results were not very convincing, in the sense that the amount of blue I got out of the vat was completely underwhelming given the amount of indigo that went in. Mona of Thread Gently on the Earth suggested trying another type of indigo vat that uses madder and bran. So, using what Mona wrote and what her source of the information, Aurora Silk wrote, I tried the madder/bran vat, since I’m still very interested in a natural fermentation vat for indigo.

In the beginning of May, I mixed 34 g of indigo, 17 g of ground madder, 17 g of wheat bran, and 116 g of sodium carbonate. I used at pot with a well-fitting lid, and filled with water so there wasn’t much air in the pot. We had a very warm early summer this year, so I just put the pot outside the house, where it was 27C during the day. But nothing happened. I had suspected that, since the pot would cool off during the night.

My next setup consisted of a simple electric hot plate for cooking. After a bit of experimentation, i figured out that on the lowest setting, and switching it on for 15 minutes out of every 2 hours with an electric timer plug, I could keep the vat around 37C. After a couple of weeks, though, I was forced to admit that nothing much was going on there.

So I started a bit of wild experimentation. Could it be lack of reducing power? I added fructose and more base, but that didn’t get the vat started. I then transferred part of the vat to a large jar, and tried warming it on a water bath. The jar was full and had a tightly closed lid, and that did improve things. The color didn’t shift to yellow-green, it was still blue with just the slightest green tinge (you can see it on the spoon, top left image above), but the jar vat developed the coppery film of a working indigo jar. I dyed small skeins, and they came out a lovely dusty blue.

indigo
Indigo dyeing with a madder/bran vat with a sprinkle of fructose along the way. The vat became slightly green-tinged (top left), but did develop the coppery film that shows it’s working (top right). Bottom, a small skein of yarn dyed dusty blue in the indigo jar.

So it’s sort of working – but not amazingly so. I can only dye very small skeins in this jar, but I did a lot of troubleshooting which may bring me closer to running a fermentation vat properly and over a long time. For now, I do consider it a failure, since I got so little blue out of my 34 g of indigo, but I’m clearly not done with this. Maybe one needs to set up a larger vat, using an amount of indigo that makes abandoning the vat unthinkable.

4: Common Broom Failure

I have tried – and failed – to grow dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria) a couple of times. The seeds need cold stratification, which I have tried to give them, but they never sprouted. Dyer’s greenweed is supposed to grow wild in my part of Denmark, and I have searched for it, but not found it.  Then in June, the landscape was dotted with yellow: it was common (or Scotch) broom (Cytisus scoparius). This plant is considered invasive in many places, but not in Denmark, where it occurs naturally. But it has been spreading in a new way for the past 30 years, so picking it is definitely fine, just keep in mind that the seeds are poisonous.

I studied my old flora a bit, and since both dyer’s greenweed and common broom belong to the legumes (family Fabaceae), I convinced myself that common broom would be worth a try in the dye pot. At that time (June), the flowers were already past their prime, but i picked some branches at the roadside.

Common broom is spreading, adding splashes of yellow to the roadside.

The result was not impressive – good old failure beige once again:

Wool dyed with common broom – hello beige…

I would have called it a failure and left it at that if I hadn’t come across an entry on common broom in John & Margaret Cannon’s excellent book “Dye Plants and Dyeing” (I recently bought a second hand copy). This book tells you that the part of the plant used for dyeing is young branches, picked in April or early May, not the flowering stalks picked in June as I did. The young branches should produce shades of yellow-green with alum and green with copper. I might try this again next year.

“Dye Plants and Dyeing” also mentions some confusion in the dye literature between common broom and dyer’s greenweed, since the latter is sometimes referred to as dyer’s broom. Not surprisingly, Cannon & Cannon (in a book published in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) recommend that the dyer relies on scientific nomenclature for dye plants. Actually the same conclusion is reached by Catharine Ellis in her run-in with “broom”.

5: Reindeer Lichen Failure

During my summer holiday, I gathered some lichen of the Cladonia family, I believe it’s reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa). In “Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book”, Casselman lists this lichen as a boiling water method lichen that should give a “leaf green” color. So into the dye pot it went, with a test skein of unmordanted wool, since lichen dyes are substantive. The result is not what I hoped. Beige, despite the fact that I used a large amount of lichen relative to yarn:

lichen
Reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa) and yarn dyed with the lichen.

6: Cold Dyeing Failure

mommywitch
Mommy is a witch. Check out my cauldron, a dye pot with mushrooms and wool.

At some point, I tried dyeing with old polypores, in the usual hot dyeing process, and that actually gave me a good yellowish brown. Recently, when cleaning up outside, a big hoard of old polypores surfaced. I don’t have enough space to store dyestuffs inside, so they were outside and were damp and looked like they would spoil.

I had a thousand other projects going, so I wasn’t really ready to dye with them – so I decided to try a very lazy experiment: cold dyeing (which I normally never do because it seems to me that it doesn’t really work). The experiment amounted to throwing the polypores into a bucket with rainwater that was just standing there, then put in a small, 12 g test skein of alum mordanted wool, and then letting it stand there for about 3 weeks. You have probably already guessed that it produced a smelly skein of beige wool, which I cannot even find now (I think I overdyed it with indigo). So all I have to show for this experiment is my 6-year old Dagmar’s drawing showing that “Mommy is a witch”. I am taking it as a compliment.

PS: Just as I wrote this, light samples of both the cold dye and hot dye with old polypores surfaced on my desk. None of them have the light-fastness achieved with fresh polypores in a hot dye bath.

Late Summer Greens

This summer, I’ve dyed a nice pile of green wool using reed flowers and velvet pax – two dyestuffs that are a highlight of the dyer’s year. Reed flowers because they give such an electric green. You have to admit it’s a bit strange that these red flowers dye wool a wild green, but only if you get them into the dye pot absolutely fresh. If the flowers have opened or are not freshly picked, they will only give yellow. Velvet pax because its dusty greens are so lightfast. The two skeins in the back are dyed with velvet pax, the three in the front with reed flowers.

grøn green
Greens from reed flowers and velvet pax, the essence of late summer dyeing.

I’m becoming better at finding velvet pax. The first couple of years, I looked for it too late in the season. This year, I’ve found it growing several places, for example this archetypical plantation, where Dagmar is picking a big one. Just the kind of place that velvet pax likes to grow.

Dagmarplukker
Dagmar picking velvet pax (with the arm that’s not broken).

Velvet pax can be found in August, and this year, everything was early, so it was there at the beginning of August. And the mushrooms were huge – I found some that were 25 cm across.

sortfiltet
Characteristic brown tops of velvet pax, captured in a typical habitat.

Big, fat spiders are another joy of late summer. This one, which is possibly the fattest spider I’ve ever seen, lives outside our house. When I was sticking my camera right in its face, the neighbor’s big dogs started barking. Immediately, the spider lifted its front legs as if to attack. I chose to run away, so I only got a good shot from underneath the spider, where its pattern looks a bit like eyes. I think it’s a very light colored cross spider, since its body is pointy at the back. After reading that they can bite if provoked, I think my decision to flee was not a bad one.

edderkop
My pet spider.

Summer is also the time of year to test light-fastness. I tested a handful of colors on the windowsill from early July to mid August, and their light-fastness was quite different.

  1. Old polypores, the two top ones warm baths and the lower one a cold bath that brewed outside for some weeks. None of these yellow browns are very light-fast.
  2. Velvet pax, the color didn’t change. I’ve seen this light-fastness in previous test, so it really is that good!
  3. Orange Cortinarius mushrooms, I don’t know which species. Not that light-fast
  4. A matrix of madder and indigo, showing that saturated colors are much more light-fast than pastels
  5. Sorrel root, not very light-fast
  6. Birch leaves. Surprisingly light-fast
  7. Weld. Surprised by the fact that it’s less light-fast than number 6…
  8. Henna on alpaca. I’d say this is a medium light-fastness
  9. Calendula flowers. Surprisingly light-fast
Light testing summer 2016.

I’ve also dyed with tansy, which doesn’t give green, but “just” yellow on alum mordanted wool (no pictures of that). But when I admired the flowers, I suddenly wanted to check if they really do stick to Fibonacci numbers.

The Fibonacci series begins with two ones, and then the next numbers are found by adding the two previous ones:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.

The last time I thought about Fibonacci numbers were for calculating the numbers of my Vindauga blanket where rectangles obey the golden ratio, approximated by the ratio between neighboring numbers in the Fibonacci series, eg. 55/34 = 1.61.

Below is a close-up of a tansy flower. And as promised, the numbers of rows of tiny buds are Fibonacci numbers – 13 clockwise rows and 21 counter-clockwise.

DSC_2985
Tansy flower obeying Fibonacci’s sequence.

Old Polypore

Dyer’s polypore is one of the very good dye mushrooms found here in Denmark (and many other places, including the rest of Europe and North America). It grows on dead wood, or parasitically on the roots of living trees. It grows in the same spot year after year, and grows a new fruiting body every year. That means you will often find dried-up mushrooms from the previous year close to the fresh growth of the year.

I’ve often found myself standing in a forest with a bunch of dry polypores from the year before, thinking that it was really too bad that they were wasted. So I decided to collect some, to test if they still contain any dye.

oldmushroom

I tried a single mushroom, weighing 24 g (it obviously would have weighed much more when it was fresh). I chopped it mushroom in small bits, and that partially powdered it.

I tried the dye bath on a 10 g test skein alum mordanted wool, and it turned a nice yellow-brown. So I used the bath a second time, and got a lighter shade. The old, dry mushroom clearly has a smaller dye potential than the fresh ones, but it does contain dye, so there’s no reason to leave it behind in the forest.

oldpolypore

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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….

Gradient Hat

I’m in hat knitting mode right now! As soon as this hat was finished, I had the next one on the needles. The pattern, a Danish one called “hue 1” (that just means hat 1, the book has more than one hat) really makes my brain go berserk with color scheme after color scheme.

hatfromside

I’ve cheated a bit since I didn’t only use naturally dyed yarns for this project: the black background consists of different commercial yarns from my stash.

FACTS – GRADIENT HAT
Pattern hat 1 by Lone Gissel and Tine Rousing, Nordiske masker
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g (plus some commercial stuff)
Needle 4.5 mm
Colors Privet berries (from our garden, winter) Indigo + tansy (bought + collected from the roadside, summer) Reed flowers on grey yarn (collected from the seaside, summer) Yarrow (collected from the roadside, summer) Mixed lichens (collected in the forest – this was bits and pieces I couldn’t type and in the end just swept into the dye pot) Parmelia sulcata (a lichen, collected in the forest) Dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) (a mushroom, collected in the forest, fall).
Conclusion Love it! The colors, the fit, the fox fur
hatalone
It’s often been said that any naturally dyed colors fit together, and I do think that is the case. I did take some care lining up colors that blended well one into the other, but they were not very hard to find in my big basket.
Another observation: I think natural dyeing is the best kind of yarn tourism. When I look at the hat and its colors, I’m immediately taken back to the places where I collected the dye stuffs.Well, not so much the privet berries from our garden, but other wonderful places we walked during the nicest months of 2014.Just one example. The reed flowers are from our august summer vacation in the southern part of Denmark, right on the border with Germany. I picked my flowers by the ocean, and I just had some fun trying to find the exact spot on the map. And I did it! The exact coordinates are 54.894576, 9.626491, and you can even see the mass of reed growing there when you use the max zoom of the map… Right next to a tiny harbor where you can stand on the planks and watch crabs hurrying around on the bottom. And when you look over the water, you can see Germany. Imagine, all that worn on a hat in the form of a stripe of yellow-green yarn!
Mønsteret til hatten er er fra Nordiske Masker af Lone Gissel og Tine Rousing, og det mønster bliver ved med at køre rundt i mit hovede i forskellige farvekombinationer! Her har jeg strikket den på en sort baggrund som er fabriksgarn, jeg havde liggende. Regnbuen fra grøn til varm gul er mine egne naturfarvede nøgler.

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