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….

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

Left Handed Provisional Cast-On

My blanket made out of small test skeins is progressing nicely!

blanket

For each rectangle, I start with a provisional cast-on and knit in plain garter stitch until I have a rectangle that obeys the golden ratio – in my case, 32 stitches wide and 19 garter ridges tall. I used all my different test skeins for the centers. Then, I knit on white edges, and graft the whole thing together. More on this later.

Because my real errand here today is the cast-on itself. There are several different ways to make a provisional cast-on but most of them are a bit fiddly in my opinion (especially the one where you crochet a long chain and knit into it – not my cup of tea).

I use a crocheted provisional cast-on where you crochet around the knitting needle with your scrap yarn – in the long run, it’s the simplest method, but it took me a long time to get the hang of it, even though I watched videos like this one several times. The culprit – as usual – is that I am left handed and those videos are for right handed people.

So, without further ado, here is what I do:

Using scrap yarn (here, I’m using a smooth cotton yarn) and a crochet needle with a size that’s not too far off the size of your knitting needle, make an ordinary slip-knot

lefthand1

Now bring in your knitting needle, and let the working yarn end hang down over it

lefthand2

Loop the yarn back under the knitting needle and over the crochet hook

lefthand3

Pull through the loop that was already on the crochet hook – you now have 1 stitch on the knitting needle

lefthand4

Keep going – every time you bring the yarn over the knitting needle, back under it, over the crochet hook, and pull through

lefthand5

When you have the desired number of stitches, cut the scrap yarn. The cut end is on the right in this picture

lefthand6

Bring in your real yarn (here, a lovely purple skein dyed with logwood in rainwater). I just attach it with an ordinary knot at the end where the provisional yarn was cut. Then, just knit:

lefthand7

Later, you will come back to get your live stitches. At that time, open the knot and unravel the white scrap yarn, putting the live stitches on the needle. The yarn tail I left here is just long enough to use for a Russian join, but you can also leave a longer tail and some other brilliant joining method of your choice!