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.

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  1. Oh, Rebecca, the shawl is absolutely stunning. I cannot believe how organized and thorough you are with your notes and data. So happy you won a ribbon. People must have loved the fact you labored so artistically with the natural colors and as much local fibers possible. Your designing days are just beginning! Joanie

  2. The Waysides Shawl and your writing about it leave me full of admiration. It is just grand in every way, deeply satisfying; I can only imagine how good it feels to wear. Congratulations, Rebecca.

  3. Well Ms Rebecca, the complete beauty of this post has brought a tear to my eye. What a project! Such vision and oh such execution. My goodness me, you really are an extraordinary one. Blowing my little mind, truly. Thank you, as ever for sharing and providing such inspiration.

  4. Oh, Rebecca, it is incredible!! Not a scrap of beige in sight. Stunning….and the story behind it, the time and love invested: priceless. You are so very talented xx

  5. Oh, Rebecca – it’s magnificent! The glorious summation of so much; your environment; your craft; the investment of time, energy, knowledge (and discovery!), and your mindfulness to name but the tip of the iceberg of things that have gone into this project.

    Kudos. I bow down in awe.

  6. You’ve done a lovely thing here, R. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your thoughtful work. 🙂 It’s wonderful to see you challenging yourself and raising the bar with each new project – very inspiring!

  7. what a beautiful shawl, it doesn’t look remotely beige in spite of all your worries. I am thrilled for you that you have won another ribbon, I do admire your methodology and attention to detail. I have recently knitted a Stephen West shawl pattern which was great fun but to design one! well I take my hat off to you. Many many congratulations on a beautiful creation.

  8. I love it! What an amazing way to remember this very special project for always…
    I love the variations in colour that appeared…not all beige like you feared! I have so enjoyed following along with your journey and I think that prize was very much deserved xxx

  9. Such beautiful colors, Rebecca! You are so meticulous in your planning and organizing. You have made really good use of your School Yard Fleece!!

  10. WOW, Rebecca, what an excellent use of your sample skeins!!! Your shawl is just beautiful and you will have it forever to look at and touch, besides taking a good place in the Wool Show. You are a great knitter too, to design your own pattern. I wonder if your colours will change with light exposure. I once saw a cap made from mushroom dyed yarns. The inside colour of the cap never changed, but the outside colours softened with years of exposure. It was nice to see the difference. CONGRATS on such a lovely project!!!

  11. Yes to what CAM wrote: “Not a scrap of beige in sight.” Ha!

    This is a wonderful ending to a story full of heart. There you are at the close with the whole journey wrapped around your shoulders. The finished shawl is a true memory palace and in it you’ve knitted a smart metaphor for life–“in many ways, the colours are sorted more by constraints than by aesthetics.” Here’s to a beautiful, true life. Congratulations, Rebecca.

  12. What a gorgeous shawl. All the colors and you kept track of all the dyeing (that may be the most amazing thing to me.) Thank you for sharing.

  13. I have thoroughly enjoyed following your Waysides journey. The amount of thought and work that has gone into this project is outstanding. You should be extremely proud of your pattern writing skills and I can see why your beautiful hap won you such a well deserved prize. Many congratulations and thanks for sharing such a personal story.

  14. I KNEW you could do IT…that is incorporate all those colours in a Fair Isle type of shawl. Absolutely amazing and I concur with kgirlknits! I hate to reinvent the wheel but you certainly did. Love the value of the colours and how they will remind you of your own waysides when you wear it. IMPRESSIVE on all sides………SO, why didn’t you win FIRST Place!!!

  15. Can I just say “WOW”? What a beautiful shawl and design. What an inspiring journey. I have no words….Congratulations!

  16. Always knew you would produce something of great beauty. Congratulations Rebecca, you should be very proud of yourself. Your abilities and designs are so very inspirational.

  17. I think your Wayside Shawl is the most lovely thing I have seen for a while… delicate, airy and echoing those unusual hues that are only to be found in the bush or when we open our eyes to what is on offer in this ancient land. Richly deserving of the prize and another delight…….

  18. Congrats to your masterpiece!
    Having followed every step through your detailed posts, I am still in awe of your finished Wayside Shawl! Absolutely stunning!!!
    Thank you so much for your generous sharing of the details!

  19. This is the most special project I have ever read about! So thoughtful and special! The prize is so well deserved! Truly admirable!

  20. What a beautiful shawl! I particularly love the pic you have of it at the top of your post with the grass greens behind it. It has been so very interesting – and exciting at times! – to hear how you worked to get those colours on your soft silky fleece. Such a richly deserved prize – but I guess the best prize of all is that you’ve got a very delightful result for all your hard work. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us.

  21. As always, Rebecca, an inspiration! That your shawl is a beautiful object seems almost tangential to the process, but also the inevitable end of that process. So much love, work, thoughtfulness and passion. I am, once again, in awe.

  22. It is like you have gum tree leaves wrapped around you, Rebecca- no wonder it won a prize- for artistry, beauty and heart. The photography is stunning too! You are so artistic and focused. Very inspiring.

  23. This amazing shawl deserves a standing ovation. It is amazing in every sense of the word. There are not enough words to cover how brilliant this journey has been.

  24. Oh. My. Word. I expected to be blown away but wow! Just wow! This has to be one of the most spectacular plant dyed knits I’ve seen.

    Others have commented on the lack of beige, but I see beige elevated to something quite other when in company with so many other natural shades. These are living colours and your beautiful design gives them the space in which to dance!

    I am so far behind you … my own skeins are still just that, skeins.

  25. Omg – It’s breathtaking! Seeing all the yarns together show how much variety in colour you acheived. A hearty big congratulations on the prize too! I hope your have the ribbons prominently displayed.

  26. How awesome is that shawl? And what a glorious map of your neighbourhood dye adventures. Glorious. I’m in awe of your capacity to design that wondrousness. And love your writing as much as ever.

  27. That is simply beautiful. I’m so pleased that you have a tangible, wearable reminder of all the work, learning, frustration and excitement involved in your dyeing projects. The skeins on their own were fascinating but a finished object that can become part of your life just like the landscape is part of your life is so fitting. It’s one of my favourite things about fibre arts. We can combine the utilitarian with the graceful and artistic all in one thing.

    I am currently working on a hap shawl out of my own handspun (not hand dyed though) and it holds within it all the memories of the fibre prep and spinning and knitting and all the fellow knitters that were involved in the KAL as well as a little bit of the history and tradition of my adopted home, Scotland. It is a part of my life made into a physical reality. I look forward to seeing what else you create. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

  28. That is a beautiful shawl, all the more so with the added stories.

    Glad to see many of your ventures into plant dyeing yielded more than beige.

  29. Fantastic. You could not have bought yarns that were so sympathetic to each other. I find a lot of knitters use color and lace together in a way that makes for a confusing muddle, but because of your restraint, yours reads clearly as stripes AND as lace, and the colors in harmony pull it all together. Well done. And congratulations on the prize! I’m going to enter my latest sweater in the state fair this year. I’ve not done something like that since I was a little girl, in Finch Hatton, in the deep north of Qld!

  30. OOOhhhh! Rebecca, Your Waysides shawl is stunningly beautiful. It is very moving to see your shawl that has been made with so much love and craftmanship, from what is local to you. The sheep from Collingwood Childrens farm would be very proud of it. Very, very inspiring. And congratulations on 2nd prize at the Bendigo show.
    I’m just wondering, is there a pattern coming for the shawl?

  31. Congratulations, this is just so inspiring. The range of colours is so beautiful, and the sheen of the wool so gorgeous. This will spur me on (I’ve been collecting dye stuffs from within walking distance of home too…). Thought it would also be fun to record the sound of the location I harvested it with a portable recorder and upload it to the site Felix aka Knitsonik uses to store site specific sounds by their coordinates. Love to know what the bluey green is. All the best for future fibery endeavours!

  32. It is beautiful. A Sheep-to-Shawl masterpiece. The colours are wonderful. I think it’s magical that everything about your shawl is locally sourced and ecologically sound. Thanks for sharing…

    1. Well, thank you very much Lise. The colours really challenged me but I am very pleased with what the story of the shawl and its process represent.

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