This was my final dye lot for the Waysides project for the near future. Other things are brewing, but the Waysides project will continue to evolve for both Annie and I. Besides, I want to get knitting all these skeins. Being the last one for now, I wanted to make this colour really count. I wanted an absolute show stopper of a colour so I selected my dye source very carefully.
There is a very lovely winding path in our neighbourhood that we call the Crocodile Path. It ends up at a park with piece of crocodile equipment so maybe that is why we call it that or perhaps the name predates the equipment. Who knows? Anyway, the path has been built over an old creek bed that still runs during (rare) flood times right into houses and cars. The path is lined with trees and is noisy with lorikeets, wattlebirds and magpies. They fight for food in the flowers of eucalypts, blackwoods and sheoaks. They defend nesting sites and quarrel for mates. It is a path to meander down, listen and sit. It leads us to the houses of friends, to another local park and a giant remnant River Red Gum.
Amongst the eucalypts is one I was most keen to dye from after reading a Local and Bespoke post. It is called Red Ironbark, Eucalyptus sideroxylon. It is a stately tree with black fissured bark from which can ooze sap the colour of blood. It is not exactly indigenous to this area but is a common parkland planting. They flower around now, anything from a buttery yellow to hot pink. My tree had yellow flowers.
I boiled the leaves for a good few hours as I and other readers have found to be best for eucalypts to release their colour. Alum mordanted, 2 ply handspun English Leicester was then brought to a simmer for an hour, then another, then another.
Yes, my friends, I had made beige again! Did I get my identification wrong? Did I need a tree with pink flowers? Was my tree just feeling sad? I DO NOT KNOW!!!
From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. Mmm, looks a lot like the last lot only the eucalypt has coarsened the yarn. I felt so disappointed and also very angry.
So, I will turn lightly to the Buddhist causes of suffering at this point…ignorance, attachment and aversion. These are The Three Poisons.
Clearly, ignorance is at play here. I do not know for sure what that tree is, why beige keeps following me and where all the good colours are.
I was attached to a wonderful conclusion, a glory dye, a spectacular discovery.
I have a strong aversion to beige.
Ah, suffering! Apparently, I must look with a beginner’s mind, breathe and embrace the now. Oh look, how interesting, I just made beige again! How extraordinary that such a multiplicity of plants make beige! I will let the colours come, I will let the colours be, I will let the colours go.
I really do need to embrace the inner dye-buddha or I may be at risk of becoming a junked-up-dye-gambler…just one more plant, I know this one will be a winner, just one last simmer and then I will stop. Who knows where that would end?
I also spun up and dyed 100 grams of English Leicester in a 3ply DK weight for Collingwood Children’s Farm. It will be knit up by one of the farmers there into a beanie to demonstrate to the children just what fleece becomes after shearing. It is fortunate that this particular farmer favours the golden hues so prevalent in the Waysides.
Since drafting this post, Jules from Woollenflower has suggested that my beige results from this eucalypt might be because I collected during winter after a very wet autumn. Eucalyptus dye colours intensify with dryness, so a late summer harvest after a long period of dry might indeed dye the vibrant orange I was hoping for.
Due to some patchy internet we are currently experiencing, it may take me a wee while to reply to your comments. Bear with me, as I do love replying to you personally.
During the course of my Wayside dyeing wanderings, I realised that I had not included a dye plant that represented home. Home is the beginning of all journeys. What is the colour of home?
As these thoughts occurred during late autumn, I didn’t dwell over much on this question. The plant that frames our days at home, that overarches the bicycles on the back veranda is an Ornamental Grape, Vitus vinifera. It flames scarlet in late autumn. It is our delight and wonder. This is the plant that marks our seasons. This is where the colour of home resides.
I wanted that scarlet for the Waysides project. I tried solar dyeing a small amount of alum mordanted silk with some of the red leaves whilst I was finishing other dye lots. It yielded a very lovely rose.
After I had combed, spun and mordanted a batch of the English Leicester from Collingwood Children’s Farm, the yarn was immersed in a vat of red leaves. I had soaked these for a couple of weeks, very gently simmered them and the red colouring was evident in the dye water. I very gently simmered the yarn for about an hour…and made beige!
I gently simmered some more…still beige.
I left it to soak for a couple of days…still beige.
Here are the colours I made with the English Leicester 2 ply, premordanted with alum.
From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by the skeins modified with copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. That last one is the stand out for me after I stopped cursing and started noticing.
Despite the complete lack of scarlet or even pink, nevertheless, these skeins are still the colour of our home. They are the colour inside our Ornamental Grape who cools us in the summer and beguiles us in the autumn.
These skeins represent the backyard, the view from the living room, the beginning of the school journey, the end of each weekday. The hammock swings underneath branches who have witnessed countless toy picnics, tussles, tears, play houses and dolly beds. Fallen leaves accumulate against the back door and often find their way under chairs and bookcases.
Thank you dear readers for the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments to my last post. I am pondering deeply. While I am pondering, I thought I might share a recently finished knitting project.
Bohus colourwork is known for its jewel hues, subtle colour changes and knit/purl textures within a yoke structure. Bohus Stickening was a knitting enterprise that was founded in 1937 by Emma Jacobsson in Sweden. It combined the skills of local, impoverished women of Bohuslan, fine yarns and high quality design to create a luxury fashion garments. Bohus Stickening produced exquisite garments for three decades. You can read more about these beauties in Kate Davies, Yokes (2015) or Wendy Keel, Poems of Colour: Knitting in the Bohus Tradition (1995).
I just finished a yoked cardigan for a small friend. It uses the knits and purls texture of the Bohus yokes but it is not subtle or planned in the meticulous way of the Bohus designers. It is rather the Fauve in the Bohus, expressive, wild and a wee bit random. The Fauves were a group of French artists in the early twentieth century named the wild beasts by critics for their expressive, painterly reaction to realism of Impression.
The structure of this cardigan is top down. It is for a preschool child but she is big for her age and we wanted lots of growing room. The yoke will be roomy but not overly big looking and the sleeves can be lengthened as she grows. I have set aside yarn for this purpose. It was worked on two needles rather than in the round as this is knitted in worsted weight and I didn’t want a bulky steeked front. Instead, stitches were held for the button bands and knitted in a smaller needle and sewn to the body after the cardigan was knit. The yoke increases were done Elizabeth Zimmerman style, in 3 sets (a third, a third and a quarter of yoke stitches increased).
The yarns are an archeology of special yarns from my stash that I had been saving for their loveliness. The main body is worked in Rowan Aran Tweed that had been bought many years ago from Sunspun and knit into a cloche that never suited me! So I frogged and saved the yarn. The yoke contains Scappa Aran from K1 Yarns in Edinburgh, bought on holiday there. It was bought for gloves for My Man which were sadly lost in Cologne and some fingerless travelling mitts for me which were not lost.
There is also some Noro Silk Garden, that I think I bought about eight years ago. It has been a stripey scarf since then but also frogged and saved. The rest is lovely bits of Jo Sharp Silk Road Aran Tweed from a very long time ago. Some was frogged from a sweater to make a vest and other colours were used in small sweaters for my babies.
The yarns were chosen to compliment the unusual hair colour of the wee person, for she blazes like autumn with that burnished russet of Eucalyptus nicholii. And by the colours chosen, a suite of knitterly memories was recalled in a cardigan for a dear friend’s child.
All the Ravelry details are here, including stitch counts and my precise method if your interest leans that way.
This is a post full of questions. Perhaps you have some thoughts also?
Until quite recently, it was clear to me that the yarns that were local to me were from sheep grown, processed and spun in Victoria. And buying local is good right? With the decline of processing and spinning in Victoria and Australia in general, Victorian grown wool is travelling off shore for some or all of its processing. So what is local and does it really matter any more?
Bendigo Woollen Mills has been a stalwart local institution for Victorian knitters for decades. Most of the knitting I did for my children as babies was from Bendigo Woollen Mills. The wool was Australian and it was processed and spun here. Now, it is processed in China. So every ball you buy in Melbourne has travelled to China and back. This is about 18,500 km. Cleckheaton Super Fine Merino has travelled a similar distance.
Jo Sharp is another Australian yarn company that sources its wool from both Australia and New Zealand but processes it in Italy. So, if you buy a ball of Jo Sharp DK in Melbourne, it has travelled about 34, 500 km.
In contrast, organic yarn from The Green Mountain Spinnery is sourced in the neighbouring state of Maine and processed using environmentally sustainable methods in Vermont, USA. If I purchase it from Melbourne, the yarn has travelled 17, 000 km.
Similarly, Frangipani 5ply guernsey yarn is a single breed yarn, grown and processed in the UK by a tiny company in Cornwall. This yarn would travel about 17,300 km to Melbourne. This is less distance travelled than yarn from Bendigo Woollen Mills or Cleckheaton Super Fine. Are these yarns from the US and UK more local to me?
Smaller yarn producers like Fairfield Finns, Tarndie, Australian Organic Wool, Ton of Wool and White Gum Wool need to travel to New Zealand for spinning. So whilst the sheep may live less than 150 km from Melbourne, the yarn itself has travelled 5000 km. In contrast, Mithril yarn from Stansborough Woollen Mill in New Zealand has only travelled 2,500 km to me.
So what is local? Is it better to buy local? Buying local assumes smaller carbon footprint, something that has cost the earth less to provide than something from further away. But if these distances are cancelled out because the ‘local’ product has travelled for processing then what criteria should we use to assess the sustainablity of our consumption?
Assuming that all these transport miles are comparable (all air miles say) then perhaps our choices can centre around how the yarn is produced at source, how the sheep are treated, how the product is traced and accounted for, what impact the processing has on the environment and whether the workers are treated fairly? This is the kind of information I want to see when I look for yarn (for anything really). I want my purchase to count for something, to have some kind of effect greater than anonymous consumption but it seems that production, manufacturing and purchasing have become incredibly confusing arenas for the consumer. Products are made cheaper but obfuscation is the shadow side of the global economy. Can the internet be the knife that cuts through the tangle?
Please note, these are rough calculations of distance travelled. I have only considered a handful of wool yarns for the sake of contrast and discussion and for what happened to be in my shade card collection. Alpaca yarns are still grown and processed in Victoria so would constitute a truly local yarn. Of course, spinning your own locally raised fleece will still be least travelled yarn choice, the most sustainable choice for you as an individual but this post is focused on broader consumer choices of commercially spun yarn.
After reading Kate Davies Yokes (2015), I was compelled to cast on for a yoked cardigan, both to reinvigorate my knitting passion which was wallowing in the doldrums and to extend my savouring of the book itself. Yokes is a book to be relished, especially for its scholarly contribution to our knowledge of knitting as a craft. There are not that many knitting books that achieve this.
Yokes is an investigation into the origins of the yoked sweater as well as a pattern book for yoked designs. Davies traces the development of this method of knitted construction to a curious yet wonderfully modern moment: the interpretation of a traditional Greenland beaded collar worn by a Swedish actress, Mona Martenson, in a seminal Danish-Norwegian film called Eskimo (1930) by Norwegian knitwear designer Annichen Sibbern, into a knitting pattern.
This Eskimo design was interpreted and reinterpreted and became the iconic knitwear of Norway and Iceland, invested with expressing national and regional identities. As a high fashion garment, the yoked sweater reached its ascendency in the 1950s with the designs from the Swedish Bohus Stickning group being worn by socialites and movie stars. Its popularity as garment to knit and wear has experienced a renaissance in recent years. A search for yoke in Ravelry yields over 5000 designs and over 80,000 individual projects.
From all the enticing designs in the book, I chose to knit Foxglove mainly because I had the perfect yarn in my stash already…yes, destiny was calling again. Foxglove is a pretty, floral cardigan with a colourwork yoke and steeked front.
Mine does look a bit different though, doesn’t it? I replaced the foxglove flowers with sprays of wattle. Yokes is all about how the yoked sweater had its origins as a canvas for exploring national identity. So, just as Davies decided to use a local wildflower as her inspiration, I thought it would be appropriate to use a common Australian wildflower as my motif. I used the Foxglove chart, preserving all its shaping and stitch counts and worked out a design for a wattle spray.
The wattle depicted is the Golden Wattle, Acacia pycantha. It is indigenous to south eastern Australia, I can see it every day in the bushland along the creek. It is the floral emblem of Australia and was the foundation of the lucrative tanin industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Australia.
So iconic is the Golden Wattle flower for Australia, it featured in the official gown for Queen Elizabeth’s Commonwealth Tour in 1954. It is embroidered amongst lyrebird feathers on the curtains of the State Theatre in Melbourne. It is the gold, in our Green and Gold sporting colours.
Wattle fervour was at its height in early part of last century as a recently colonised country tried to find its identity. An annual Wattle Day celebration was inaugurated on September 1, 1910. The Sydney Morning Herald called on people to
Let the wattle hence forth be a sacred charge to every Australian. Let us foster and protect and cherish it. Let us plant it in all our parks and reserves and pleasure grounds, so that we may make pilgrimages to its groves in blossom time.
Wattle Day used to be a significant celebration with folks wearing sprays of wattle in their button holes, school children holding commemorations, competitions for the best blossoms and lots of wattle poetry. This one by Veronica Mason, written in 1912, was a school child staple for many decades.
The bush was grey
A week to-day
(olive-green and brown and grey);
But now its sunny all the way,
For, oh! the spring has come to stay,
With blossom for the wattle!
It is not really celebrated much now but still appears in the federal government’s calendar of gazetted dates.
Thus historically empassioned, I cast on and knit up to the yoke. I cobbled together a set of yoke colours from what I had in stash. Once I finished the yoke, I realised with horror the colours didn’t read well against the background and it didn’t look like wattle at all on the knit fabric.
This is why folks swatch and swatch and swatch. This is why swatchy folks don’t have to rip out a completed yoke.
Luckily, I was able to find a local source for Jamieson and Smith yarn at The Purl Box and replaced the background colour. I redrew the design, did a tiny swatch to check the contrast and reknit the yoke. I finished the yoke only to realise that I had two different ribbed cuffs. I had to cut the wrong one off and pick up the stitches and reknit it top down the correct way.
Then I was done! Well, almost…I also had to cut off the crochet steek edge and rebind, as it was rippling and bulging beneath the facing. I had not used a fine enough crochet hook. The only other modifications I made were for sleeve length and shaping placement.
After reading Knit to Flatter by Amy Herzog, I have been looking at sweater patterns a little differently and seeing how I can tweek the shaping to better suit my body shape. I shortened the sleeves on Foxglove to 3/4 length and changed the placement of the body shaping to the fronts and back rather than the sides to better accommodate my chesticles and narrow back.
Foxglove is an excellent design. It is well written and a sturdy canvas for personalising. The yoke construction is in the Shetland style with sets of raglan decreases before the yoke and then four sets multiple decreases in pattern within the yoke. Short rows under and above the yoke lift the back neck. The yoke is much shallower than a traditional Shetland yoke, emphasising the shoulders and minimising the chest. This is a flattering yoke style for the significant chested among us.
I will wear this cardigan often and always on Wattle Day!
Several years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to buy any new socks. I was going to knit them.
Apparently, I did not dedicate myself to that task at quite the rate required. I now find that I am the proud owner of 3 pairs of handknit socks in extremely high rotation, all now requiring darning, 2 pairs of bought sports socks and 2 pairs of bought stripey bamboo socks with no heels left but the rest still good so I can’t throw them out. This is not quite enough really. I know we can have too much of many things but less socks is just less.
So I invested in an excellent book by Lara Neel called Sock Architecture and wondered why more socks did not appear. I started darning the old ones.
Then, I cast on for my second pair of Rivercat socks. They are not in the excellent book but I did actually cast them on and then had to finish them as I needed the needles to finish the neck on a cardigan I was also knitting.
Yes, I do need to cast on probably immediately for more socks. Winter is here. Perhaps I have some kind of sock block? Do you have a favourite sock pattern recommendation for me that you swear will knit itself?
I used to wear a lot of dresses. But then I had children. My shape changed, my bust got bigger, then smaller, then bigger and then went a little further south. Clothes had to accommodate breastfeeding…for years, it seemed. Even skirts were tricky for a while, as they were lifted, hidden under and dragged on.
But there is nothing nicer in summer than a simple dress and sandals. So here are some recent additions from when the weather was a tad warmer.
This dress is made from some cheap cotton lawn from Darn Cheap Fabrics, such an inspiring name! It is one of those single role, designer excess places. I have no idea where the cotton was grown and processed but probably China. The flimsy cotton was made more substantial with a calico lining for the bodice made of old muslins. You can still see my notes from other dresses scrawled on a piece.
As part of my Costume Changes project, I am exploring fibres new to me, spreading my ecological footprint in a mix of fibres, old and new. And making mistakes. And encountering some discomforting information.
This next frock is made with viscose. For the longest time I thought viscose and rayon were synthetic fibres and steered clear. In fact, they are semi-synthetics, made from plant sources like sugar cane and bamboo but their cellulose is extracted through a chemical process and extruded into fibres. The process was invented in the late 19c as an artifical silk…silk for the masses. They are biodegrable. Sounded OK.
The pattern is the Washi dress from MadeByRae, made in the small size with the cut out. This was my first experience with viscose. It seems to stretch length ways so the neckline hangs lower than I am comfortable. I raised the shoulders but the neckline still seems to be heading down! If I was to use viscose again, I would hang the fabric first before cutting. It feels good on, breathes and has a drape and swing that it just lovely.
Then I did some more research and found out that whilst viscose/rayon is biodegradable, it contributes over half the microplastic fibres in the ocean, its manufacturing process produces significant pollutants and only one method of producing rayon (lyocell method) is considered to have any environmental benefits. So, is it really an alternative to synthetics or cotton? Possibly…but not in a way that leaves me feeling even vaguely comfortable.
My next dress was another washi dress but made in linen from Lithuania via The Drapery. This linen has been presoftened through washing to produce a very drapey handle. Linen production typically takes place on land that is unsuitable for food crops and does not require irrigation or fertiliser. It is more durable than cotton. It is a great replacement for cotton if dressmaking with new fabrics although you need to embrace that wrinkled look.
I cut out the same size as the previous dress and this one fits perfectly! The neckline is modest and has not grown during wearing.
Aside from the elastic casing for the gathered back, my only other modification was to add a Peter Pan style collar to the front neck. It is fixed into the shoulder seams. See how it lifts away from the dress? Next time I make a Peter Pan collar, I will cut the underside slightly smaller so it curves towards the dress as per this great tutorial from Sewaholic. This is a cracker of a dress and layers really well with three quarter length wide leg trousers or tights. This will take me through winter and summer in Melbourne.
In conclusion…I will give linen another go but goodness, secondhand fabrics and repurposing is just a whole lot less fraught really.
I am slowly, excruciatingly slowly, learning to recognise the different eucalypt species which have been my neighbours for almost twenty years now. It sounds shocking not to know the names of the trees that you walk or ride past everyday. Like most non-indigenous Australians, perching precariously on this ancient but recently colonised land, I know little of the flora of my homeland and refer to it amorphously as gum trees and bush.
Different eucalypts yield different colours in the dye pot and finally, for the sake of the documentary imperative for this project, I am learning recognise my neighbours. I am getting pretty good at greeting my old friend Eucalyptus nicholli but today’s post is all about Eucalyptus viminalis also known as White Gum, Ribbon Gum or Manna Gum.
This is one of the eucalypts that are indigenous to our area and were reintroduced during the revegetation programs that began in the late 1980s. It is a large, fast growing tree, growing up to 30 metres. It has a rough base with smooth pale bark rising into a spreading crown. It sheds bark in long ribbons that hang from the tree and accumulate on the ground. It flowers white in Autumn and Winter. Apparently, the first people living in this neighbourhood, the Wurundjeri, made shields with the bark of the Manna Gum. Boring insects produce an edible sugary stuff on the tree called manna. According to my books, it is a mild laxative!
One of the Manna Gums along the creek path behind the factories had a limb fall down recently. This particular species is know for dropping large branches. This is where I gathered my leaves and bark on a bike ride with a small friend to help. We collected the bark from the ground, only taking the bits that were not already homes for spiders.
The bark was crushed up small and soaked in rainwater for a couple of weeks, then simmered for an hour or so, rested overnight and simmered again. The alum mordanted fibre was added and brought to a simmer again for one hour, then left to soak overnight.
From left to right, you can see the unmodified skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, the bark and leaves, yield almost exactly the same colour range!
I needed a bit of a lift along the Waysides natural dyeing journey I have been traveling with Annie Cholewa. As many of you know, I have been dancing rather wearily with the beginner’s beige so I decided to revisit the old friend who started me on this adventure, Eucalyptus nicholii.
Commonly known as Narrow Leafed Black Peppermint and haling originally from New South Wales, there are a quite few of these handsome trees around our neighbourhood, in home gardens, in our school playground and standing sentinel in a row next to the football oval.
Last time I dyed with this, I used a 3ply hand spun of silver, grey and natural white. This time, I wanted to try my Waysides yarn, a two ply handspun yarn made from locally sourced English Leicester sheep.
I couldn’t look at it for a while. What was I doing wrong? And then I realised my mistake…young leaves. I needed older leaves. So I returned to the football oval trees and gathered more. Now look…
Oh yes, that is more like it. Glorious colour…intense and radiating energy. From left to right, you can see the unmodified, alum mordanted skein, followed by skeins modified by copper solution, iron solution, vinegar and washing soda. As you can see, there is not a lot of variation. The vinegar makes the colour a bit brighter, iron makes it a bit darker.
The following is my method for dyeing with eucalypts. I find it gives me the deepest colour but you might achieve the same using a different method.
- use older leaves and rainwater if you can
- bring to a simmer for an hour twice, resting overnight or longer in between
- leaving in the leaves, add yarn and gently simmer for an hour, leave overnight before rinsing.
Eucalyptus nicholli doesn’t need a mordant. It is a substantive dye but all my skeins are alum mordanted and came out just the same as the unmordanted original skein. The fastness may be improved by mordanting.
A curious thing about dyeing with E. nicholii that I have encountered is that all my skeins are significantly fulled. This happened to the original skein as well but I had assumed I just hadn’t been careful enough with my temperature changes. Moving from extreme heat to cold can shock wool fibres, as can excessive boiling. But these new English Leicester skeins were treated exactly the same as all my other Wayside skeins but have come out shrunken and the fibres a bit mashed. They will still wind into ball and knit up just fine, they are not felted but they have been changed by the dye process. I wonder if anyone else who has dyed with E. nicholii has found this to be the case? Perhaps it is the price of such wondrous colour?