Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Adventures with Natural Dye (Pompom Autumn 2016)

Have you seen the Autumn 2016 edition of Pompom Magazine?

It is the first time I have felt so excited about this magazine that I ordered a copy before it was released.
This issue has a focus on natural dyes, a topic which fascinates me.

Living "in the wilds", I have no shortage of dye sources on my doorstep and it has long been my plan to get out there with my wicker basket and start foraging.

There has been resurgence of interest in natural dye-ing recently, with the publication of The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar, of A Verb For Keeping Warm.  I love Verb yarns, but they are rather elusive in the UK:  my only skein came to me in a sock club.  I am (allegedly) using it to knit P-Rex.
Verb yarn on the right
But I digress...

Pompom Magazine arrived and I immediately cast on the Iara stole by Renee Callahan.
I am using some organic merino from Queen of Purls in Glasgow - dyed UN-naturally (tsk!) a stunning shade of violet, with contrasting natural silver grey Gotland from Guthrie the sheep, who is cared for by Hooligan yarns.
I do not have enough superlatives to describe how I feel about this yarn and this pattern.

Also in the magazine is the Thessaly cardigan by Hanna Maciejewska.
The sample copy is knit up in naturally-dyed merino DK by Anna of Gregoria Fibers, now based in Spain.

Oops - I appear to have bought the three skeins required to knit this cardigan (insert innocent face emoji here!)

There was a typo in the instructions for the mock cable, which caused me some confusion, but I contacted the designer and she was quick to help - I have added her reply to my project page on Ravelry.
So that is ongoing...

There are several other patterns in this book I intend to knit.
Seriously inspiring.

But it doesn't stop there.
I had an urge to hit the cauldron.

I consulted The Herb Book  (mine is an older edition - I didn't realise it was back in print - woo hoo!) and from all the dye-stuffs in the immediate vicinity, the one that jumped out at me was the tansy.
Shilasdair uses tansy flowers to produce a beautiful golden yellow, but she uses an aluminium sulphate mordant.

I was excited to read that you don't need a mordant when using the leaves... though rubber gloves are advised, as this is a powerful medicinal herb, not recommended for use by women in their reproductive years unless they have something they want to lose.

So off I wandered into the adjacent field, gathering the local crop.
The lushest leaves were of course deep within a nettle patch, in clear view of the neighbours.
Oh dear :)

I filled a 5 litre bag with leaves, which weighed in at one and a half pounds.

I chopped the leaves, boiled them up and brewed them for an hour.
I then strained off the leaves and added my pre-soaked yarn.
Noodle soup anyone?

I allowed it to simmer for half an hour, as the Herb Book suggested.
Next time I would probably leave it for longer, in hope of a stronger colour.
I rinsed until the water ran clear, and was delighted that the wool retained a beautiful sunny glow.

On the left:  the undyed yarn.
On the right:  my tansy-dyed version.

For my first experiment, it has turned out really well.
I intend to have another go with my second skein, brewing for longer in the hope of achieving  a deeper colour.
I would like to use both skeins together to knit an autumnal shawl.

There are instructions in Pompom to dip-dye using rhubarb - I've got some of that!
And there is a bag of black kale in the fridge (though I want to eat that).

It has reached a pretty pass when I assess the contents of my fridge for eating versus dyeing!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Amulet and Talisman: The Shawl Society

"I read in the Sunday papers what lovers’ tokens are There’s amulets and talismans Like a ring or a lucky star. It says that half a sovereign Is a thing they use a lot But sixpence is the only thing I’ve got..."

"Half a Sixpence", sung by Tommy Steele and Polly Nash in the 1967 musical film of that name.

A strange thing has happened.
I signed up to join The Shawl Society, six months and six patterns from Helen Stewart
of Curious Handmade.
Three months in, and so far I have finished the first two and cast on for the third.

This is unheard of, people!

In past subscriptions, (to sock clubs... ahem) I have kept up for one month or so and then...
Nose in the dirt.
Pattern left unprinted and yarn unloved in the darkest corner of the stash.

This time, I can't explain it - my imagination has been captured and I am merrily matching
patterns to stashed yarn like there is no tomorrow.

I think a lot of it is down to the reliability of Helen's patterns.
No typos, no head-scratching moments.
Calm knitterly bliss.
And her "percentage" system keeps me motivated when the rows get longer and the garter
section starts to drag.
5% a day? No bother! And in 20 days, I am guaranteed a finished object.
10% and I am finished in 10 days... or less, as I always speed up when I can see the finish

And so it is that I can present you with two finished shawls.


The first is Talisman, knit using the recommended yarn: Urban Hints from The Wool Kitchen.
I had this in stash, so it was an obvious choice for me.
The colourway is Indigo and I purchased it from Wild and Woolly.

I am besotted by the yarn - so soft, silky, drapey!
And the colours are stunning.

The pattern itself is simple but effective, and the medium size is designed to make the most
of the full skein.


I chose to knit Amulet in the LARGE size, using two skeins of yarn from Abstract Cat and The Knitting Goddess.

And beads.


This was a new adventure for me and I was quite frustrated by the process until I discovered towards the end that I could use a simple piece of bent wire to lever the bead over the chosen stitch.
Until then, I had been rejecting 3 out of every 4 beads as being too small to fit over the 1mm crochet hook I bought for the purpose.
The Boy's girlfriend spent a few idle hours at my kitchen table, sorting beads for me - she found it meditative.  I just found it annoying.

The finished piece is LARGE indeed!

The Abstract Cat yarn has a fair dose of alpaca in it, so those sections are really fluffy.
The Knitting Goddess yarn is on her Sparklynne base, which has a subtle silver glint.
The beads fall on the sparkly sections.


And next in the series comes Asana.

I have just cast on, using a beautiful indigo gradient set which was a gift and has no identifying features.  All I can tell you is that I have 5 skeins, totaling 270g and I am therefore going to knit the large version.

With beads?

Wait and see!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

By The Book

"These are the days of your life. And the thing to do – is live them."  Miranda Sawyer, article in the Observer, 14 August 2011

After several years of struggling to make the time to read when all I wanted to do was knit, I have discovered audio books.  Out in the fields, pottering in the kitchen sink, or sitting at my sewing machine:  I can have literature running through my head and flowing out of my fingertips, inspiring my everyday activities.

More than once, my mother has cut me off at the knees with a disparaging: "Oh, I suppose you read that in A BOOK, did you?  You can't do anything without reading a book!"  Nowadays she substitutes "the Internet" as her chosen term of abuse.

My mother has told me that she had never read a "whole book" until I was six years old, when my aunt marched us both to the local library, horrified that there were no stories in my life.  For her 91st birthday, I bought my mother a subscription to Listening Books.  Although she complains that the narrators are "too posh, with marbles in their mouths" and the stories "too modern and full of language", she is beginning to find some favourite authors (Crime Stories, without sweary words please) and certainly thinks she has a new best friend on the Listening Books helpline (to whom I can only apologise).

In my bereft state of mind, I have drawn solace from Decca Aitkenhead's All at Sea.
I have been mesmerised by memories of summer in the 1970's with The Girls by Emma Cline.
I sought light narrative, but found a poignant exploration of love and grief in The Turning Point by Freya North.
I recalled people, places and things I had forgotten with In Gratitude by Jenny Diski.
I was immersed in the social mores of 1950's Naples listening to My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

Right now, I am listening to Villette by Charlotte Bronte.  For most of my life I have professed that this is my favourite book of all time.  But it must be 30 years since I read it, and it is not at all what I remembered.
If ever there was a template for my adolescent angst, this is it. Now I am having to put the narrative on pause while I interrogate myself:  whatever made me think I could navigate my teenage years with such a melodramatic role model as my guide?

And now...?  What about now?
Here I am at another crossroads, unsure of where I am headed.  I have found a sheltered spot under a tree, spread a metaphorical rug and set out a picnic.  I have a selection of tasty treats:  knitting, books, music, spinning, cross-stitching, sewing, all to hand.  But if I shade my eyes against the sun and squint at the horizon, there are other possibilities out there - new places to explore, people to meet, things to be done.

As a lonely teenager, I used to read articles entitled "How to Make Friends", as if that was the secret to a happy adulthood.  I should join clubs, go to evening classes and get invited to parties...  but then I met FL and I didn't want Other People.  That's a hard habit to break and maybe I don't need to.

This morning I finished reading Out of Time by Miranda Sawyer.
It is a book for those of us who are seeking a jumping- off point for the rest of our lives, when we have become invisible.
When we realise we are never going to be Bowie .
And that he has gone now.
Yes, she makes that reference - she could be my friend!

Unlike other such books, it is written from the perspective of someone who did not subscribe to the mainstream ideals of white weddings and power suits, who now finds herself in mid-life, uncertain of her future direction but hanging on to the things that make her happy.
We can be the women (or men) we always were... but older.  Different.  And that's OK.
It is not a self-help book, but it is helping me address the peculiar nuances of finding myself middle-aged and alone.

Books, you see.  I can't be without them.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

FO: Roberts Collection Pinafore by Marilla Walker

Slow sewing:  a concept which I admire but rarely manage to enact.

I tend to set aside a day to sew, in the expectation of a finished object at the end of it.
However, with so many essential DIY projects underway, a whole day of stitching felt like an extravagant luxury. 

Instead, I worked on this dress over a period of several weeks.

It came together gradually, with plenty of time to make decisions about details I might otherwise have rushed.


Pattern:  The Roberts Collection Pinafore dress by Marilla Walker in size 2

About 1.8 metres of soft black denim - a sale bargain remnant from Sherwoods Fabrics for about £7.

A fat quarter of granny square crochet-print quilting cotton from the Riding Hood collection by Josephine Kimberling for Blend Fabrics to line the bib (from stash).

The inside details
Scraps of quilting cotton to line the pockets

Other:  2 wooden toggles (from stash).  2 script-painted wooden buttons (from stash).  Thread and interfacing.  Denim needles for my sewing machine.

I love the shape of the bib at the back!

Slow and steady stitching!

The only difficulty I encountered was due to the bulkiness of my straps.

Because I was using denim, I probably didn't need to interface them... but I did.  This was where I was grateful for my special Denim sewing machine needles - I only broke one :)

The resulting narrow thick straps posed a problem for the final fastening method:  I didn't fancy trying to hammer on a snap (popper) through all those layers.  I remembered seeing toggle fastenings on a beautiful Weaver's Apron at the Tall Yarns stall at Woolfest.

Detail of the Tall Yarns straps - picture from their website
My straps are not identical to the Tall Yarns version.

I made buttonholes on the bib of my pinafore (rather than on the straps), then sewed linen bias tape to the straps, threading it through the buttonholes and then the toggle-holes, tying it in a knot.

Toggle-tastic close-up

I discovered that I can get it on and off over my head without undoing  the straps, which is a relief as I think the tape would fray if I was having to undo it every time I wear my dress.
And no, my toggles don't fit through my buttonholes... because I made them too small.  Ahem.


I strongly suspect that this garment is going to become a staple in my wardrobe.

It bears all the hallmarks of a Roo Uniform: 
  •  dark denim which goes with everything
  •  hidden details that make me smile 
  • a strong shape to layer over and under according to the weather

I hesitated before wearing it in the workplace, but I think it will be fine except on days with formal Committee meetings in my diary.

Let's face it - I wear Doc Marten's almost every day, so I am unlikely to be sacked for sporting a couple of wooden toggles!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Pencil Sharpenings

Time for a catch up.
Penstemon, Curry plants and St John's Wort in the Herb Garden
I have been a whirlwind in recent weeks:  painting, decluttering, organising.
The To Do List has taken a battering and I made a new one.

I have to remind myself of how much I have achieved so as not to feel overwhelmed.

Some of the greatest achievements were the smallest:  taking FL's Sharps Bin to the local pharmacy for disposal felt like a major step forward.

The living room
A recent visitor was surprised by how much lighter and brighter and bigger the house appears.

And it is.  The simple act of cleaning and making space has transformed the place.
There are pictures in the hallway and rugs on the floor.

My bedroom - with a rug!

This week, the Council is coming to clear the garage:  it will take two trips in a flat-bed truck.
Of course, the hinges broke when I tried to open the side door: another job for the To Do List.

View from the path to the Mither Tap, Bennachie
The Girl and The Boy and His Girl were here, and we walked up Bennachie.

There was more decluttering to be done in their rooms:  more bags for the Special Rubbish Collection - hooray!

The Artist Formerly Known as The Sofa of Doom
In creative news, I sewed a pinafore and knitted some socks and a shawl.
Those probably deserve separate posts alongside planning for my next projects.

Talisman Shawl

Right now, I am heading into the final 15% of my Amulet Shawl, the second project in The Shawl Society.  I have almost caught up:  the third pattern in the series was released this weekend and I am itching to get going on it.

Amulet Shawl with Boy-ish art
It is going to take some time to get used to being completely free:  no dog means no obligation to rush straight home after work.
I could go out in the evening if I wanted to.
I could go to the gym.
I could take an art class, join a Reading Group, sing in a choir...!

Me and The Girl - spot the difference :)
But while I gather my thoughts, I will continue to roam the fields with my audiobook or a podcast for company.
It is going to be fine.