Sunday, 26 October 2008


Yesterday I finally got round to using some of the stuff we sowed and planted in spring at the allotment for me to try some natural dyeing with.

When I know something is going to take all day, I need some kind of spur to actually get on with it! In this case it was the fact that natural dyeing with plantstuff is this month's assignment for Herbology in the Harry Potter Knitting and Crochet House Cup. So I asked Dave to harvest the leaves from two of the Japanese Indigo plants while I set up the kitchen for the task ahead so that I could get the leaves into hot water as soon as he brought them in.

My sister was here and took lots of photos of the process for me to share. I followed instructions in Rita Buchanan's fantastic little dyeing book 'A Dyer's Garden':

1) I covered the leaves with hot water in Kilner jars and put them in a big pan of water, then slowly heated them up to 160 degress F over two hours.

Indigo Dyeing 001

2) I strained the liquid off, and squeezed as much as I could from the leaves:

Indigo Dyeing 002Indigo Dyeing 003

3) I added some soda ash to make the solution alkaline:

Indigo Dyeing 006

4) The mixture had to be poured back and forth between containers to aerate it - this apparently releases the pigment, and it did turn a more blue colour as I did this:

Indigo Dyeing 008

5) I added some Spectralite (a 'reducing agent'), then heated the dyebath to 120 degrees F for an hour before putting the first skein in. The dyebath had now turned a greenish yellow colour:

Indigo Dyeing 009

6) I left each skein (I did three consecutively) in the hot bath for 30 minutes. I was thoroughly excited by how the skeins changed from yellow to blue when I took them out, it took seconds rather than minutes, and they went through a marvellous turquoise moment on the way:

Indigo Dyeing 010

The same skein seconds later (though it was less bright than the picture shows):

Indigo Dyeing 011

After hanging the skeins to air for at least half an hour I washed them, then re-skeined them (they had felted a little in the process). This is how they ended up - beautiful soft tones of French blue, grey and silver. The top skein shows the bare yarn I started with - a laceweight lambswool from Texere:

Indigo Dyeing 024

An awesome experience!!

Dave is so enthused by this he has created a raised bed at the allotment just for my dyeplants!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Sheep Spotter!!

Masham Sheep Fair was fantastic!!! I went with my sister and we had lots of fun ogling the sheep and all the various stalls. Marie was so inspired by the displays in the schoolroom where Bradford and Craven Guilds have stalls that she bought some fibre from Adelaide Walker, has borrowed a spindle from me, and has now learned spindle-spinning. I'm avsolutely delighted because last year she gave up in disgust after only a few minutes with my spindle during our camping holiday. She has now spun at least 25g of her lovely mixed blue merino top.

The biggest treat for me was finding a little pocket-sized 'Know You Sheep' book - recently published. It is going everywhere in my handbag because I am indeed a sad little wool addict and really want to be able to identify every sheep that I meet. I've been this way since my teens, and do now know many brreds by sight. I struggle with Blackface and Swaledale and Lonk though - they are so similar. While the Swaledale has only a grey muzzle, the markings on a Blackface or Lonk can take that configuration anyway, and Lonks and Blackfaces of any markings seem indistinguishable. And if I ever come acvroos some 'down' sheep I'll also be in trouble because they all look virtually identical too! Ah well...!!

Marie drove, so I was able to get some knitting done on the journey, and am pleased to report that I have now finished Tom's Hogwarts Socks. I've just to finish writing up the pattern and then I'll publish. Alas, I haven't got a decent photo yet -the flash has made the purple cuff and foot look blue. The text says 'Never Tickle A Sleeping Dragon' - the Hogwarts school motto!!