dye | knit | spin

The Waysides Shawl

July 31, 2015

This post is part of a collaborative natural dye and mapping project with Annie Cholewa called Waysides: Local Colour from Our Home Grounds.

Dear readers, you have been with me from the beginning of this project. You have seen the fleece preparation, the spinning and the many natural dye adventures. And now, here is knitting. Here is some culmination!

IMG_1165Waysides is all about the creation of a local colour map using natural dyes sourced along our paths and journeys in our neighbourhoods. My colours are from the plants and trees gathered from within the habitual walks of our home in the inner north of Melbourne.

IMG_1118The yarn was spun from English Leicester fleece from Collingwood Children’s Farm. This wool is grown a few kilometres from our home.The fleece was washed and scoured, then divided into locks, combed and dizzed. It was spun worsted style as a two ply low twist yarn best suited for lace knitting. 20 g batches were then mordanted with alum and dyed with a variety of local flora and modified using a copper solution made of copper pipe found in the backyard and an iron solution from rusty nails in the backyard, also household vinegar and washing soda. All the water used in this project was rainwater collected from our roof into a tank.

IMG_0814I wanted to create a sampler shawl from the resulting skeins and the Shetland hap with its traditional feature of naturally dyed coloured stripes seemed an ideal inspiration. But I also wanted something that reflected my urban experience and in particular, captured something of the Waysides project itself.
IMG_1094This is Shetland lace deconstructed to the bare bones set within an asymmetrical series of spines or tangents. It steps away from the balanced symmetrical shawl to capture the sweep of the creek, the step off the path, the discovery on the nature strip.  It reveals the colours of an urban neighbourhood, the walk to the shops, the walk to the park, footpaths, gardens and renewed bushland. It captures the way our messy lives and complex history spill out of the grid, out of the planned ways. It represents the awkward tension of the planted wildspaces in our urban environment, the lived scar of a heavily modified landscape, the tended gardens and the outlawed weeds. 

IMG_1150This is the first shawl I have ever designed myself. It doesn’t burst with innovation but it was a thrilling endeavour none the less. I poured over Evelyn Clark charts trying to understand how to centre a lace a pattern and grow it at the sides as the shawl increased. I watched Stephen West’s Shawlscapes class and saw how the 90 degree spines work and how to make the 45 degree wing expand. It was laboriously plotted out and swatched and replotted.

IMG_1107All 39 skeins (remember the one I melted) had to be wound into centre pull balls and labelled. Then I organised the balls of yarn in waves of light, medium and dark values only to realise that the balls of yarn weren’t all the same length. They were roughly 20 grams each but very roughly and my inconsistency in spinning meant that some balls had more yarn in them than others. As the shawl stripes would grow significantly as the work progressed, I had to concentrate the smaller balls towards the beginning of the shawl and save the bigger balls for the end. So in many ways, the colours are sorted more by constraints than by aesthetics!

IMG_0888I got all the balls numbered and everything in a bag, just in time to go on holiday, a scant two weeks before the Woolcraft deadline. Fortunately for me, the winter water of Queensland was far too cold for me (I prefer bath temperature) so I surrendered myself to lots of pool and beach supervision with my knitting. My charts got rained on, splashed with pool water and crumpled. They looked like ancient artefacts by the time I finished. But it did get finished, a few days after we got back from holiday. The shawl told me it was finished really, as I started to run out of ball length prior to finishing the stripes.

IMG_1185In the end, it used 27 different colours. So I have some for another project. The pic below shows the colours in order from the neck (bottom left) to the shawl tip (top right):

1. Eucalyptus viminalis bark, iron
2. Acacia dealbata pods, washing soda
3. Rumex crispis flowers, washing soda
4. A. dealbata pods
5. E. sideroxylon leaves, washing soda
6. E. nicholii leaves
7. A. dealbata pods, vinegar
8. E. sideroxylon leaves
9. E. nicholii leaves, iron
10. A. dealbata pods, copper
11. Prunus cerasifera, copper
12. Vitus vinifera, iron
13. E. viminalis bark
14. E. viminalis leaves, vinegar
15. E. nicholii leaves, copper
16. A. dealbata pods, iron
17. E. viminalis leaves
18. Prunus cerasifera, iron
19. Rumex crispis flowers, vinegar
20. Vitus vinifera leaves, vinegar
21. E. nicholii leaves, vinegar
22. Prunus cerasifera leaves, vinegar
23. E. sideroxylon leaves, vinegar
24. Vitus vinifera leaves, washing soda
25. E. viminalis bark, vinegar
26. Vitus vinifera leaves
27. E. viminalis leaves, copper

IMG_1234The Waysides Shawl made it to the Wool Show and won a red ribbon, second prize in the Woolcraft Competition for an original handspun article.
IMG_1106I am thrilled with the prize and thrilled those little balls are transformed into something tangible. All those walks, all those plants, the water, the fleece, the effort, all stitched into a shawl, that wraps around me like home, that accompanies me through my neighbourhood. A shawl of the waysides with which to walk the waysides.
IMG_1215You can follow my Waysides journey here and that of Annie Cholewa, my comrade in dye-pots here.