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.

Folkvang Tam

Folkvang is a classic tam with a couple of twists

Folkvang tam, here shown in indigo blue with accents from velvet pax and reed flowers.

Color knitting makes a wonderfully warm fabric, but the yarns that behave the very best in stranded knitting are not very wonderful right against the skin.

I think I’ve solved that problem with the design for the Folkvang tam. The first twist is that it begins with a turned hem, lined with laceweight silk-merino, Bestla (600 m / 100 g, or 656 yards / 3.53 oz). Then, the rest of the hem and hat is knit in Fenris, my pure wool 2-ply fingering (450 m / 100 g, or 492 yards / 3.53 oz).

So you have the warmth and strength of Fenris, but only the soft Bestla touches your forehead.

Inside the hem, there’s lovely soft Bestla silk-merino.

The other twist is the color knitting. I’ve admired Bohus knitting for a very long time, and this design draws its inspiration from the Bohus tradition.

Bohus designs are often asymmetric in the direction of knitting, so motifs don’t have a center that they repeat around. During swatching, I did away with that, settling on a simple square pattern with repeated rounds. The important thing that I kept from traditional Bohus is purl stitches in the colorwork. That is what really makes the design, and I am a bit in love with the way that purling makes the background colors mix together:

The blue Folkvang tam on the left, on the right, a version dyed only with mushrooms: the grey-green is from velvet pax, the pinks from Cortinarius species.

To celebrate the release of the pattern, is is 50% off until Sunday November 26th at my Ravelry store.

And, the first 25 to comment below get a free copy of the pattern.

Looking for Folkvang knitting kits? They’re at my Etsy store!

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.

Dyeing with Dried Japanese Indigo Leaves

The easiest way to save Japanese indigo is to dry the leaves. This is also the only option, really, when you grow a small amount of plants.

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In traditional Japanese dyeing with Japanese indigo, the harvested leaves were composted (fermented) in a very specific way, sprinkling the leaf mass with water and turning it over. The timing had to be just right, and Jenny Balfour-Paul writes in “Indigo, Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans” that the indigo farmers referred to the packing of the leaves as “putting the baby to bed”. Every time the leaf mass was turned over, sacrifices of rice wine were made to Aizen Shin, the god of indigo.

Composting Japanese indigo was serious business – a difficult and big undertaking. The composting process can only get going if the leaf mass is sufficiently large, on the order of 100’s of kilos (or several hundred pounds). The end result were composted leaves that contained a higher percentage of indigo than the fresh ones. This mass is known as sukumo.

People who only grow a few plants (like I do) have to find a different method. Having read about it on Deb McClintock’s page, I decided to dry my Japanese indigo leaves last year. And I did manage to do so after some trial and error.

The dry leaves look like this:

Dry leaves of Japanese indigo, 2016 harvest.

Some of the leaves look a bit blue, and that does make you think there’s indio. I’ve been wondering why drying the leaves would work (the must have been good reasons for the traditional sukumo method) and I’ve come up with the following story:

In living leaves there’s no indigo, only a precursor called indican. Here, the meaning of the word precursor is a molecule that can undergo some reaction(s) that produce indigo.

Indican production is thought to be a defense mechanism for the plant. In living leaves, the indican is primarily found in a compartment within the cell called the vacuole (shown by a Japanese team of researchers in this paper).

The plant cell also contains enzymes that are able to break down indican, producing indoxyl and sugar, but these enzymes are found in other compartments of the cell.

When you pick leaves and dry them, cell membranes will break because of the loss of water. So at some point, indican and enzymes from other parts of the cell will mix, and indoxyl is formed. When two molecules of indoxyl combine, blue indigo is formed.

I used Deb McClintock’s version of John Marshall’s method but I fiddled about quite a bit, finding my way to do it. The main change is that I didn’t discard the yellow dye, so I get a green-teal instead of blue.

Green-teal with dried leaves of Japanese indigo. From left to right, the skeins are 1st, 2nd and 3rd dip in a vat made from 50 g of dried leaves (3rd skein was naturally grey). The skein on the left was dipped 3 times in a vat made from 25 g of dried leaves. I’m knitting from the first skein already, the striped boy’s jacket in the background.

For my first attempt, I used 50 grams of dried leaves to dye 3 100-gram skeins of wool. The vat stopped working early on, so I added a bit of this, a bit of that. That lead to no recipe, but the result was completely fine.

My next attempt was made during an indigo workshop I taught a while ago, and I know it was hugely optimistic to bring such a difficult project. That vat only gave a slight hint of mint green, but at least we got a lot of brilliant blues from the ordinary indigo vats.

Afterwards, I started thinking that the vat may have gone wrong because the temperature was too low. This also makes sense when thinking about this failed experiment where I kept leaves lukewarm for a longish time.

High temperature during part of the vat preparation seems to be important, and that is a part of the method I ended up with for my third attempt:

First, I simmered 25 grams of dried leaves in water (enough to cover them) for 20-30 minutes. It wasn’t a rolling boil, but some bubbling going on.

To dye blue, the first water should be discarded and new water poured on the leaves. I did not do that, so I kept the yellows from the leaves.

I added 5 grams of sodium dithionite and about 1 tablespoon sodium carbonate. Check that pH is 9, and add more sodium carbonate if it isn’t.

Then, I simmered the vat for 15-20 minutes. It seems wrong to boil a vat after adding reducing agent and base, but in my attempt where I didn’t boil it at this step, it didn’t work.

I took the pot off the heat and added another 5 grams of sodium dithionite. I let it sit until the temperature was 40-50 C, then strained the leaves out. For my first attempt, I left the leaves in to get as much out of them as possible, but that is not a good idea. At this point, they are quite slimy and stick to the yarn.

When the temperature was 40-50 C, I put the pot on gentle heat to stay at that temperature. At this point, the vat is ready for use. I dipped a 100-gram skein of wool 3 times, and it turned a nice teal.

I’m impressed by the dye content of the leaves. 50 grams of dried leaves gave nice color to 300 grams of yarn, and 25 g gave a brighter color to 100 grams of yarn. My last vat was not exhausted, it had turned dark the next day because the indigo had been oxidized. I didn’t have more yarn on hand, but the vat could have given light shades on another skein.

Wool dyed teal with Japanese indigo, accompanied by fresh and partially dry leaves.

But I’ve saved the best for last: light fastness. I tested light fastness of the first skein from the 50-gram vat from July 1st to September 1st. The left side was covered and not exposed, right side was exposed to the light. I can’t really see any difference between them, and that means the light fastness rivals that of indigo blue. And that is quite impressive for a green-teal color!

Light test of Japanese indigo teal. Two months of sunlight did not affect the color.

PS: I’m growing Japanese indigo again this year. I harvested the first leaves on September 17. this year, and they are drying. They look even bluer than the ones from last year…

Læs dette indlæg på dansk

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

Green Variations

One of the great things about natural dyeing is that you can keep overdyeing until you get the color you want.

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I recently dug out some green skeins of Norne that were not exactly what I had imagined, and had been sitting in the storage basket for a while. I decided to overdye them to get as many greens as possible. So I wound skeins for dyeing and kept the last part of the skein the way it was.

One skein (skein 1 in photo below) was a medium blue from indigo overdyed with a couple of afterbaths from pomegranate and weld. They gave a rather weak yellow, too weak to match the blue tone, resulting in a quite anemic green.

Another skein (skein 12) had the same problem. Again, a medium indigo blue, this time over dried mugwort dye. I didn’t know at the time I dyed this (as I do now) that dried mugwort only gives a rater weak beige.

Then there was a skein with the opposite problem (skein 5). It’s dyed with a strong (1:1) weld and overdyed with weak indigo, giving a green/Chartreuse that’s just too intense.

Finally, there’s a skein that was actually a good color (skein 9) but I just didn’t have any plans for it. I dyed it long ago with tansy and a madder afterbath to achieve a warm yellow. I wound all the skeins into smaller ones and overdyed them with indigo, weld, and walnut hulls.

Overdyeing and then some more overdyeing, to get as many greens as possible.

Skeins 6, 7, and 8 come from skein 5 and are just overdyed with stronger and stronger indigo, and there’s no surprises there. The strong yellow base ends up as a clear forest green when the indigo component becomes large enough.

Skeins 10 and 11 are yarn from skein 9 overdyed with a bit of indigo and a bit more. Here, skein 10 was a nice surprise, a wilted green, one of my favorite shades of green. I suppose I am really revealing myself as totally ignorant of color theory, but I did not know that this type of green contains such a large proportion of red.

I made a dye bath with 12 g of weld and dyed 25 g of yarn from skein 1 in it. That turned into skein 2 – not a surprise that the forest green emerges when you lift the level of yellow to match the blue in intensity.

Then I made a dye bath with 25 g of walnut hulls. 25 g of yarn from skein 12 turned into skein 13. Again, the ignorant dyer was surprised – turns out army green is based on brown. The afterbath turned yarn from skein 1 into skein 3, another army green.

Skein 4 is yarn from skein 1, overdyed with a rather intense indigo. Here, the weak yellow base gives a really nice teal. Skein 14 is yarn from skein 12 just overdyed with a bit more indigo than it already was.

Finally, there’s skein 15. The yarn comes from skein 12, and was first dyed in the weld afterbath. It didn’t change much, so I dyed it in the walnut hull bath, which had already been used twice. Again, not much change, so I dipped it in indigo. That still didn’t change much so I left it because I ran out of ideas.

Skein 16 and 17 are both dyed with stinging nettle, said to contain a green dye. In the middle of May, I picked a big dyepot full (and they have no problem stinging through thick garden gloves) and dyed two 25-gram skeins. First skein 16, then skein 17 in the afterbath, followed by modification with a bit of iron. None of the skeins 16 and 17 are green but they work really well along all the other greens. Here they all are, along with an indigo-dyed skein, wound in cakes and ready to knit:

All the green yarn cakes, ready to knit.

I am experimenting with knitting very short scraps of all these colors together, more about that another time. So far, it looks like this:

Norne cut in short scraps and knit – color changes by doubling both the new and the old yarn.

But the search for greens doesn’t stop here. In addition to stinging nettles, May is also full of landscapes covered by wild chervil and broom.

I tried dyeing with common broom last year, but picked the plant too late in the season and got very little color out of it. In their “Dye Plants and Dyeing”, Cannon & Cannon write that flowering stems of broom should be harvested in April or early May. I managed to pick them late in May, which is probably fine since the book is English and most of England is south of Denmark.

On alum mordanted Fenris (pure wool), common broom gives me the greenish-beige that Cannon & Cannon promise. They show an almost black with copper, so I tried modifying with copper water for a few minutes. I have a jar that contains the innards from an old wire in household ammonia, and I just added a bit of it. This gave a very pretty green, which is leaning towards brown.

Wild chervil (also picked in late May) gave the expected fragile yellow with a touch of green. To some eyes nothing special, and for sure, there are many ways to get such tones. But I do find it lovely, it just captures the freshness of spring and early summer. Modified with iron, the color darkens and completely looses the freshness.

Yellow and greens dyed with common broom and wild chervil. The large skein on top is dyed with wild chervil, the one below the same but modified with iron. The third skein is dyed with common broom, the fourth common broom and copper.

Spring Cleaning

In the summer, when all the plants stand tall, I usually collect good bundles of tansy, yarrow, and other wild dye plants. And they have to go before the next harvest.

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My dyestuff stores from last year contained big bundles of mugwort and tansy, a smaller amount of yarrow, a box full of dry velvet pax, and dry pomegranate shells (among other things).

Spring has shown itself from its worst side this year, but I’ve managed to get outside with my little stove on an extension cord, working to bring down the amount of stored dyestuffs.

First, velvet pax. I found quite a nice harvest of this mushroom last year, more than half of what i found was from driving through a small forest, spotting the mushrooms, and hitting the brake!

I had 190 g of dried mushrooms. On 100 g of wool, that gave a good green (middle skein in photo below) and the afterbath a green-beige (right). I could not capture the color in the photo, but I was pleasantly surprised how well the dried mushrooms retain the color potential, including the green tones. In conclusion, velvet pax is a very good dye mushroom, fresh or dry.

There’s a beige skein on the left in the photo below. That’s 100 g of yarn, dyed with enough dried mugwort to fill a large dye pot completely. I even gave it an iron afterbath. Thinking back, this is actually the second time i get dull beige from dry mugwort, and the conclusion is that it does not dry well. The fresh plant, on the other hand, gives a nice yellow-green.

From left: dried mugwort and iron, dried velvet pax, 1. and 2. bath.

Next up, pomegranate shells. I had saved a very modest amount of shells, from just two fruits, weighing 85 g dry. I followed Jenny Dean’s “Wild Colour” and put the shells in a plastic bag and pounded them with a hammer. To test the new (to me) dyestuff, I wound two 12-gram skeins of Fenris (100% wool) and a small 5-gram skein of Bestla (silk-merino).

The pomegranate shells gave nice yellows on wool and silk. I modified one of the wool skeins with iron, and that gave a darker, greener tone, that actually looks a lot like the color from velvet pax.

Next time people eat pomegranates around here, the shells will be saved. They give a nice color, and they are available during winter, where little else is there in terms of fresh colors.

Pomegranate shells on silk-merino (back) and wool (middle), and modified with iron (front).

Several large bundles of yarrow, tansy, and mugwort turned into the yellow-beige first dye for a new round of matrix dyed yarn for Baby Vindauga kits. The second yellow os weld, and the skeins are overdyed with indigo as usual to produce the 9 different blues and greens.

Matrix dyed wool in blue and green.

And once I got started, a matrix in purple and blue, using cochineal and indigo, also appeared.

Matrix dyed wool in purple and blue.

The matrix skeins turned into contrast colors for new Baby Vindauga Kits, you can see them at my Etsy shop:

Purple-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.
Green-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.

A Herd of Hats

What’s the collective noun for hats? “Herd”? “Flock”? “Mob”? “Head”? Or, in my case, “parliament”, or even “pandemonium” may even soon be appropriate. I can’t seem to stop knitting them.

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I’ve been working on two new designs for hats, a lacy one that leapt out at me from a Japanese pattern dictionary, and one in stranded knitting that came about by swatching. Yes, swatching.

Brisingamen is inspired by a Japanese pattern, and knit in two layers all over. The entire inside is knit in Bestla, a 35/65 mix of silk and merino, the entire outside is Norne, my 1-ply pure wool lace yarn. It took a bit of hard thinking to come up with a way to line both the hem and the rest of the hat – in the end, I went with two provisional cast ons. That may sound incredibly complicated, but it’s really not. And the result really is excellent. Since the gauge is small, the double fabric is thin, but very warm, even when it’s windy.

Here’s Dagmar on a snowy day a while ago, wearing the first prototype, knit in undyed yarn. It turned out too small for me, but fits her just perfectly.

Dagmar happily wearing the Brisingamen prototype.

For the final version, I only had to do small recalculations. A triple cable replaces the single line of twisted stitches between motifs, and the rib is longer. Here it is, almost done, in yarn dyed with 1:1 madder. I’ve dyed with madder on pure wool so many times, and still love how it takes the color. Silk merino takes the same dye in a slightly different, no less delicious, way. Perhaps it is the silk sheen that alters the look just slightly.

Brisingamen hat, the outer layer is pure wool, the inner silk-merino. Both dyed with madder root.

Folkvang is a tam that was inspired by Bohus patterns. Since I first read about Bohus patterns, I’ve wanted to make something using them as a starting point.

I started swatching to try patterns out. In the beginning, I wanted an arched pattern, so that’s how the swatch starts out (right side). But the arch didn’t behave, and I realized that you would have to work 3 colors in one row to make an arch that separates areas with two different background colors. I hate knitting 3 colors at a time, so I continued the swatch with rectangular shapes.

First, a white rectangle on a blue and green background. It’s OK, but the purl stitches on the long edges don’t add anything. Next, a blue rectangle on beige background. Purl stitches inside the rectangle add texture that makes the pattern more interesting. Now, I was on to something. I changed to white background, kept the dark indigo blue as the contrast color, and added in a bright green band of background color. I was getting close, and was finally happy with the pattern when I let the white background peek into the purled inside of the rectangle, and softened the bright green with a bit of beige.

The Folkvang swatch. White background with contrast colors blue (indigo), dark green (tansy and indigo), beige (velvet pax 2. bath), and bright green (reed flowers).

The vertical lines of blue purl stitches just beg to be lined up with purl stitches of a corrugated ribbing, so that’s what I did:

The Folkvang tam, flying off the needles.

The hem is lined with silk-merino. The outer part is knit in Fenris, which is excellent for color knitting, but really not that soft.

In order not to break up the corrugated ribbing when progressing from the hem to the main body of the hat, I used a new (I think?) way of closing the hem in color knitting.

In the photo below, you see the corrugated ribbing in front. The provisional cast on is undone, and the live stitches put on a needle, sitting behind the work. Now, holding the yarns appropriately for color knitting (blue is my dominant color, so it’s towards the left because I knit continental), I purl the purl stitch with blue, then knit together 3 white stitches with white, one from the front needle and two from the back. This leaves the purl columns unbroken, very satisfying to the obsessive knitter.

Closing the hem in color knitting.

Indigo & Cotton

More and more things around here fall into my big indigo vat!

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I’ve often written about indigo, so I don’t think anybody doubts my undying love for the blue stuff. I usually dye on wool, but indigo works on all natural fibers, so here’s a bit of indigo dyeing I did on cotton.

I found this cotton blouse at the thrift shop, it’s from Thailand, and I like the neckline and the tufted fabric. But, the sleeves make it look very frumpy on me, plus it’s beige and too small.

Thrifted Thai cotton blouse – beige before indigo.

So the top obviously went into the indigo vat, several times. Even with a good strong vat, cotton comes out just medium blue, whereas dyeing wool in the same vat gives a rather dark blue. And also, I had terrible trouble dyeing an even blue even though my vat is large enough.

My finished top after many indigo dips, with new seams all over, sleeves removed and wedges inserted into the sides. The color is uneven, but this photo does exaggerate the unevenness.

Many dips did not remove the unevenness, so I am beginning to understand why the traditional use of indigo is usually for shibori and other techniques that create patterns. Yes, these patterns are beautiful, but it’s also extremely hard to make just an evenly blue fabric. Even in the modern use of indigo for jeans, the threads are dyed first and woven afterwards, and I don’t think this is any coincidence – if the threads are unevenly dyed, it will not show much after weaving, whereas if you dye the finished fabric, everything shows.

Oh well. I dipped the top until I liked the intensity of blue. I may return to it some other time, maybe I’ll overdye with dark tones from iron and tannin.

When I had the right blue, I redid all the stitches that show with thread of a matching blue color. I removed the sleeves and cut 4 wedges out of the fabric. Then, I ripped the side seams and inserted 2 wedges in each. This gave me a new side seam so I could easily redo the side slits. I’m happy with the result, and the shape is now a lot more flattering on me. No pics of me wearing it, though, I’m not really fit to appear in front of a camera today!

But in conclusion, wedges like these can rescue lots of clothing that has become too small for some reason.

Wedges to make the size larger and form a new side slit.

I had a bit of left over fabric from the Thai top, and that went into another project along with some cotton thread that I used for wrapping a shibori project  (more about that one another time). Because the thread was wrapped tightly, it did not dye uniformly, but that’s OK.

Enter pair of destroyed toddler pants. I’m not sure why an almost 3-year old crawls outside on pavement, what I do know is that it wears through the knees in no time. The crotch was also busted, so I decided to try my hand at some boro – the Japanese mending technique. This is the crotch patched. Not pretty, but very functional:

The simplest boro.

Here’s a progress photo. I’ve finished one knee, which was not worn all the way through, but had just worn very thin. I put a piece of fabric from the Thai top on the back, and seamed perpendicular lines of running stitches – sashiko. The other knee has worn through and has two holes.

Pants during boro mending. The sashiko stitching is closer where the fabric was most worn.

This is what I did with the other knee. Seamed around the edge to stop fraying, then I seamed the fabric onto the back side using circular shapes dictated by the holes. My boro stitching may not conform to very orthodox boro rules (if they exist?), but I do give myself some points for the fact that my boro is true mending, not decoration on purpose-made holes. I foresee more mending like this in my future.

Sashiko stitches around the fixed knee.

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

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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.