Where the Small Skeins Go

Whenever I test a new dyestuff, or change conditions with a known one, I use 10 g test skeins of thin supersoft wool. I always knew that they needed to become some huge knitting project all together to show off the deliciousness of the colors to their best, and now the time has come!

Checking everywhere for patterns for a blanket, I didn’t find one that was what I imagined (as is usually the case!) so I’m making it up as I go (surprise!).

cortinariussemi2

I wanted a rectangle of each color, so that the colors are not mixed more than to still be recognizable. I use my little test skeins to check back when I don’t remember which color a dyestuff gave, and I want to be able to do that still after knitting them up. I may have to stitch something on the back or come up with labels of some sort (leather? fabric?) to keep it as a dictionary of dyes in the end. I’ll solve that later.

So I provisionally cast on 32 stitches and knit in plain garter. To get a rectangle that obeys the golden ratio – assuming stitch and garter ridge gauge is the same – I need 32/1.618 = 19.77 ridges which I round down to 19 because the ridge directly is more stretchy.

So that means knitting 18.5 ridges and then leaving a tail long enough to complete number 19 with garter stitch when I join neighboring rectangles. That means the free end is at the opposite corner from where I began:

cortinariussemi1

Above is a rectangle knit with yarn dyed with Cortinarius semisanguineus that I picked last fall in a plantation in the north of Denmark – it’s called Østerild, and it’s a forest that I have walked with my parents since childhood. Some years ago, a national test center for wind mills was constructed there, it was on the news for months, and I found it very upsetting (although I love windmills as much as the next Dane). What if it destroyed the mushroom’s home? Luckily, it didn’t, and now the place, complete with windmills, is as full of mushrooms and lichens as ever.

But why the provisional cast on, why not just use a regular one? Well, if I was a less obsessive individual than I am, I might have done just that. But I want to finish all my rectangles and then shuffle them until the colors match their neighbors. And I may dye more skeins that need to join on the way.

To make the project slightly more obsessive than it already is (if that’s even possible…) I’m going to write small articles on each dye as I knit a square dyed with it. They will appear in a new section of my web page called Natural Dyes (which will be under construction from now and probably always).

FACTS – GOLDEN RATIO RECTANGLES

Pattern Again, no pattern. Making this one up as I go

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g 100% wool, held double

Needle 4.5 mm

Colors All!!!

Conclusion This is going to be a super long term project! I love having such projects in my knitting basket, as long as I can also work on other projects at the same time

Jeg er gået i gang med et mægtigt langtidsprojekt, et tæppe af lapper der er strikket af mine små 10-grams testnøgler. Jeg bruger sådan nogle nøgler når jeg tester nye farver eller eksperimenterer med farveprocessen. Farverne ser jo lækrest ud sammen allesammen, så jeg har hele tiden vidst at de skulle bruges til et samlet projekt. Jeg strikker rektangler som overholder det gyldne snit, så de er 32 masker x 19 retriller. Fordi jeg er småtosset har jeg valgt at lave en midlertidig opslagning så jeg kan lave en syet sammenføjning til allersidst. På den måde kan jeg lægge alle lapperne op til sidst og flytte rundt med dem til farverne bliver harmoniske.

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Wild Chervil and Intentionally Wild

The other day, we went for a walk along the road, and found wild chervil, also known as cow parsley, poetically as Queen Anne’s lace, and systematically as Anthriscus sylvestris. It was growing bountifully there, so it’s certainly lucky that I have such a good little helper for these tasks:

pickingwildcarrot

I picked 180 g of stalks with flowers, which I boiled immediately for an hour or so. Next day, when the extract had cooled off, I strained out all the plant material and added a 10 g test skein of alun mordanted wool. The resulting color is very pretty, more yellow than green (yarn in photo, at least on my screen, looks more yellow than it really is).

dyedwildcarrot

FACTS – WILD CHERVIL, FRESH

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:18

Conclusion Nice yellow with green tinge

Possible improvements Looks good to me! But it would be nice to see if a smaller amount of dyestuff will still give good color

So then what remains is to test the light-fastness. If that looks good, I’ll be tempted to dye larger amounts another time. Probably next summer, because by the time I can test it, the plant is gone for the season.

I’m always surprised with the treasures that the roadside has to offer. In terms of plants and the dyes in them, I mean (there’s also a lot of empty beer bottles and candy wrappers to be sure). And now we are getting to the big point that I want to hammer home in this post: roadside biodiversity, and the lack of it!

The top photo of my daughter picking wild chervil looks like it’s been taken in well, nature. In actual fact, it’s in front of a truck terminal, by the side of a busy country road where lots of big tucks pass. Not far away, you find an off ramp from major highway in this area. And just look at the place in the picture. Tall grass. I spotted more that 15 species growing, without even looking.

I am always pleasantly surprised by bits of untamed land like this. The good people in the truck terminal may think that they are just saving a bit of money, but what they are really doing is allowing biodiversity.

The other day, I heard something on the radio about a new project here in Denmark. It’s called “vild med vilje” which translates into “intentionally wild”. It’s a project that promotes urban biodiversity by – here’s the big thing – providing you with a sign that you can place on your wild land. The text reads “vild med vilje”. So now, busy neighbors and other local busybodies can see that this was on purpose, and not somebody who didn’t keep their land “nice”. They may even go check the project website. They may start thinking about biodiversity themselves. They may use less Roundup. The project is still very small, but I do hope it grows! I would love to see more wilderness. It’s good for many species, including the natural dyer.

Jeg har – med god hjælp fra min datter – plukket vild kørvel og testet det i farvegryden. Det giver en dejlig gul-grøn, som jeg vil teste lysægtheden af. Hvis den er god, så skal der helt klart samles mere næste år. Den vilde kørvel gror overalt lige nu, juni, i vejkanter, der ikke er slået. Sammen med en hel masse andre plantearter, som giver et helle for insekter og fugle. Alt det kræver er, at folk holder den store industri-græsslåmaskine og roundup’en i ro! Forleden hørte jeg om et nyt projekt, vild med vilje, som arbejder for sådan nogle naturlige ånderum i byerne. Jeg håber de får stort held med det!

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Norne

Norne, our pure wool 1-ply lace yarn, is finally in the shop. I’m so excited!

I think this yarn is delightful to knit with. Its texture is just slightly crispy – enough that it’s really easy to knit with (also intricate lace) but not too much, so it isn’t scratchy.

Here’s a shawl that I knit using a skein of Norne dyed a weak madder, Fylleryd by Mia Rinde:

fyllerydmadder

I must confess that I knit this shawl pretty much just to test the yarn, since I definitely don’t need any more shawls (I have a storage box full of shawls already – madness takes many forms) but then ended up having such a good time because the pattern is good and the yarn is good!

FACTS – FYLLERYD SHAWL

Pattern Fylleryd by Mia Rinde – a free Ravelry download

Yarn Norne 640 m/100 g, 100% wool

Needle 4 mm

Color Madder afterbath

Conclusion Best knitting fun I’ve had in a long time! I expected Norne to behave well for lace knitting, and it behaved very well indeed.

After this, I actually have a couple of more Norne projects on the needles – another shawl (Filigrano by Birgit Freyer) and a vest for my daughter. More on those projects later.

Because I also want to show you some more of the wonderful Norne. I’ve been working my way across the natural rainbow with this base, and I do think the result is very pleasing

nornerainbow

Here are some lighter colored skeins (I label those “Pastel” in the shop) posing along with a page a fashion magazine (it’s Eurowoman, yep, I can be tempted when I stand in line at the grocery store)

nornepastels

From left to right, these skeins are dyed with madder (Valkyrie Pastel), indigo (Wanderer Pastel), and cochineal (Freya Pastel).

And here is a range of colors that all have madder in common

nornemadder

From front to back, it’s tansy overdyed with madder (Idun), two shades of madder exhaust (Valkyrie Pastel in two different dye lots), and all the way in the back, it’s a skein dyed with madder at full strength (1:1 madder and wool, I call that color Valkyrie).

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this peak at Norne, but I suppose that some readers (especially outside Scandinavia) may be scratching their heads regarding the name. Norne is named after the goddesses (plural Norns or Nornir) in Norse mythology who spin the thread of fate for each person (I always liked the spinning part!). I thought it was apt for this delicious single thread.

Endelig er Norne landet i vores shop! Vores nye entrådede lace-garn er opkaldt efter nornerne i nordisk mytologi, som spinder hvert enkelte menneskes skæbnetråd. Jeg har strikket et dejligt sjal, Fylleryd af Mia Rinde, for at teste garnet. Og det gik over al forventning! Jeg elsker et garn med lidt “bid” så det ikke slasker af strikkepindene for let, og det opfylder Norne med lethed. Og så er Fylleryd et fornøjeligt sjal at strikke (og så er mønsteret endda gratis).

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Nine Daughters Socks, Done!

It’s always a good feeling to finish a knitting project, but I feel especially good about this pair of socks because they are a prototype for a pattern, and they turned out just the way I had imagined.

The only problem is that I got a little carried away when I was knitting the legs, so they are too long to fit on my leg without increases. So I had to give this pair to my mother, who is very pleased with her new pair of socks. I guess having skinny legs has advantages sometimes… trying to think of the advantages of having fat legs, but can’t think of any at the moment. Oh well! Here are the finished socks:

avocadosocks

FACTS – NINE DAUGHTERS SOCKS

Pattern Nine Daughters, a pattern that I’m currently writing

Yarn Fenris 350 m/100 g 75% superwash wool, 25% polyamide

Needle 2.5 mm

Colors Fermented avocado pits and a dash of cochineal

Conclusion I love the wave pattern on my socks and the way it transitions into rib. And I find it enjoyable as ever to knit socks 2-at-a-time toe-up

I am writing the pattern now, and it will be called Nine Daughters (see this for the story behind it). I’m planning to publish this in English and Danish (will be looking for test knitters soon).

Next pair will be just normal sock length. I’m going to keep that pair myself! If I can make them fit, that is… The yarn I’m using for my next pair is dyed with indigo only, and they have the clear blue hue I sometimes achieve with a chemical indigo vat:

indigosocks

Det er altid en god fornemmelse at gøre et strikkeprojekt færdigt, men endnu mere når det er eget design og det bliver som jeg havde forestillet mig! Sokkerne her er jeg i gang med at skrive mønsteret til – og jeg er i gang med et par til mig selv, farvet med indigo. Det første par, farvet med avocado og cochenille, endte nemlig med at passe min mor, damen med de slanke ben.

My Ancient Fashion Colors

I am knitting a very nice little shawl, Fylleryd by Mia Rinde, out of a skein of my new lace yarn, Norne (100% wool, 640m/100g). It’s dyed with a somewhat exhausted madder dyebath:

maddernorne

I like this color. I think it’s vibrant and will make a flattering shawl.

But I was surprised when, a couple of days after beginning my shawl, I went to a clothing store and saw this very color everywhere in the new arrivals.

Then some days later, I did something that I hadn’t done for at least 5 years. I bought a fashion magazine (which you don’t need when you’re anyway covered in drool, puke, breastmilk, and even worse substances). Again, “my” madder color was all over:

madderfashion

And one of the other colors the magazine informs us is fashionable right now is “aqua” or teal. I just dyed a skein the other day that looks like it was made to match this page (it wasn’t):

tealfashion

It still has some plant matter in it, but you get the idea. It’s dyed with indigo and mugwort (grå bynke in Danish) from last summer’s roadside:

FACTS – INDIGO + MUGWORT

Mordant 10% alun (after indigo dyeing)

Water Tap

Yarn Norne 640 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio Don’t know for indigo, 2:1 dry for mugwort

Conclusion Wonderful teal, to be repeated!

I have also dyed some other skeins of Norne with cochineal, and they will be in our shop when we open. An example:

nornemar1502

Jeg er i gang med at strikke et fint lille blondesjal, Fylleryd af Mia Rinde. Garnet er mit entrådede lace-garn Norne, og farven er et efterbad af krap. En farve der har været i omløb i turindvis af år, så jeg synes det er lidt sjovt at lige den farve åbenbart er så stærk i modebilledet dette forår. I det omfang man kan gå op i modefarver når man alligevel er dækket af snot, savl og gylp…

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Avocado, Meet Blender

Remember these jars?

fermentation

They had been fermenting for over a week, and the color of the liquid didn’t change over the last days, so I decided it was time to try them.

The front jar contains the pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt, the other one the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. I combined the pit and peel in one dye bath because my earlier attempts didn’t yield different colors with them separated. And this time I blended the pit and peel, carefully and a bit at a time to not destroy the blender.

The much deeper red in the ammonia jar does translate into more color, a reddish brown, on the yarn (in front) than the jar without ammonia (in the back) which just gave the standard beige. Again beige.

avoskeins

No pink this time, maybe because I didn’t heat the avocado before fermentation?

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS + PITS, BLENDED

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 10 g yarn to one avocado

Conclusion Ammonia extracts more color

Possible improvements Boil before fermentation to get pink. Filter out blended avocado before dyeing

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that I have tried a lot of combinations with avocado fermentation of avocado pits, of the peels, and now blending them together and fermenting them with and without ammonia. I’ve achieved a range of colors from beige over pink into brown.

So I do think this concludes my experimentation with this for now. The only thing that remains to be seen is how light and wash fast this is over a longer time.

Dette er det – måske – sidste forsøg med avocado, for nu i hvert fald. Denne gang har jeg blendet skal og sten af avocado sammen og prøvet at fermentere dem i en uge med eller uden ammoniak. Sidstnævnte gav den kraftigste farve i glasset og også på ulden. Men ingen pink denne gang, kun beige og brun.

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Nine Daughters Socks

I want to show you a new design I’m working on! A pair of socks using a thicker sock yarn, which is 350m/100g and 75% wool/25% polyamide. This skein is dyed with fermented avocado pits and a pinch of cochineal:

avocado

The stitch pattern partially comes from a Japanese stitch library, so this time I’m not drawing on traditional Scandinavian knitwear designs. But – I’ve always found it interesting how many parallels there are between modern Japanese and Scandinavian design and taste.

So why the similarities? Looks like many people have wondered about just that! Belinda Esperson (an Australian jeweler who I just came across) guesses that it’s a connection to nature in both places. I guess I can only speak for us Danes, and I don’t think we are more connected to nature than other nations…

Here’s a discussion thread where someone guesses that that the common denominator is “respect for the rules” and that is definitely true. We don’t even cross on red on foot here! And in Japan, you often hear, they’ll rather go mental or die than break the rules. I remember hearing about a bullet train accident where hundreds died because the driver was trying to make up for 30 lost seconds – the train must be on time!

But how does respect for the rules translate into minimalism and perfection in shaping? Not sure.

My own guess is that the Scandinavian taste for simplicity somehow comes from Protestantism. During Reformation, all the colorful paintings in our churches were covered with white, and a new austerity followed. Somehow, you can train people to actually enjoy simplicity and white walls over 500 years!

But enough talking, lets get to the part with actual wool on needles:

socksprogress

I know, all this talk about simplicity and shape, and then these socks which are overall very embellished! But I do think that the total patterning combines into a simplicity where the wave pattern really is what catches the eye.

The name of the pattern, Nine Daughters, refers to the waves of the sea. In Norse mythology, Ægir and Ran are the gods of the sea, representing the positive and negative side of the sea, respectively. Ran means theft, because Ran catches the seamen in her net and takes them to the bottom of the sea. Ægir and Ran are married, and their nine daughters are the waves of the sea.

Avocado Peels

My experiments in dyeing with avocado pits were quite successful if I do say so myself (although a couple of skeins needed a little boost of cochineal).

But what about the peels? They can also be used for dyeing, and since I remembered reading that they give a slightly different shade, I kept them separate. Other than that, the procedure was the same as for the pits (fermentation in slightly salty water for about a week).

And the result:

avocadopeels

The avocado peel skein is in the front, and the 3 avocado pit skeins from earlier are in the back. So in my hands, the peels and pits gave just about the same color, but less intense from the peels.

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio Didn’t measure – but I’m guessing 1:10 or even more

Conclusion The color is pretty, but faint

Possible improvements Combine peels and pits to get more color

So that’s what I’ll do next time – and “next time” is actually underway already:

fermentation

These jars are fermenting right now. The one in the front is pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt. It started bubbling from the bottom after about 3 days, and an orange color is beginning to develop with fermentation. The other jar is the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. The color is obviously a much deeper red in the ammonia jar, which, by the way, doesn’t ferment. I suppose the ammonia is killing the bacteria that would have fermented.

Next, I’ll try dyeing with liquid from the two jars, to see if the deeper color with ammonia also means more color captured by the wool!

Jeg har afprøvet farvning med gærede avocado-skaller, som giver en fin rosa farve, der ikke er lige så kraftig som den fra stenene. Så de kan godt bare blandes sammen, og det er lige hvad jeg har gjort i de glas der gærer i vinduet.

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An Experiment in Cold Mordanting

Recently, I have wondered how much it is really necessary to heat wool when you mordant it. To the usual 80-90C? Or would 60C be enough? (Yes I wondered about that because I ruined some yarn, and I think I overheated it!)

So I turned to the knowledgeable people on Ravelry’s natural dyeing forum for help, and was told that you can cold mordant. No heating, just steep the wool in the usual alun solution without heating it. And for how long? Sea green and sapphire writes that it is enough to leave it overnight in a cold solution, and that “dyeing results are not compromised in any way by leaving out the heat”.

So it had to be tried! I took:

  • One 10 g test skein of wool, mordanted in my usual way: prepare a solution containing 10% alun. That means if you have 100 g of wool, put 10 g of alun in the pot. Dissolve the alun, add clean and completely wet wool, and heat it to about 90C for an hour. Then, I always just let it cool off in the solution until the next day
  • One 10 g test skein of wool, mordanted by leaving it in a cold 10% solution of alun for 24 hours.

Both skeins then went into the same dye bath in order to compare them directly. The dye bath consisted of 40 g of dried heather from last fall, I had wanted to try that for the longest time, to see if heather yellow is warm or cold. And the result:

testskeins

I am not able to tell the skeins apart, so the conclusion is that cold mordanting us just as good as hot. I think this is great news, because it really saves electricity!

The heater’s yellow is a wonderful warm tone, so I will definitely collect more this fall. Next time I dye with heather, though, it should be boiled and the dye bath strained before the wool goes in. The heather twigs are very difficult to remove – they are like small hooks inserted in the yarn.

FACTS – HEATHER

Mordant 10% alun hot or cold

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio dry 1:2

Conclusion Heating is not necessary for alun mordanting! 

Heather yellow is warm and wonderful

Possible improvements Remove heather twigs before adding yarn

De to nøgler garn ovenover er begge bejset med alun, men det ene uden nogen form for opvarmning. Det ser ud til at virke fuldstændig ens – en god nyhed, for det betyder en stor energibesparelse under naturfarvning. Nøglerne er farved med lyng fra sidste sensommer.

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The Faintest Pink

Once your eye adapts to spotting lichens, there is one in particular that beckons to you from just about everywhere – bright yellow Xanthoria parietina, growing on stones, fences, and branches.

It’s even in my holiday snapshots from last year, taken at Dybbøl, where the Germans beat the Danish army back to the stone age in 1864. Xanthoria parietina is the yellow splotches on these big boulders my daughter is posing on:

dybboel

And here is a branch with the lichen up close:

xathoria

The color of the lichen can actually vary quite a bit. The Wikipedia entry says that the deep yellow color is caused by the pigment parietin, which has a biosynthesis that is light dependent because parietin is actually the lichen’s UV protection. I have indeed often seen intesting lichens growing in the shade, and stepped closer just to find that it was actually a green-grey version of Xanthoria parietina.

The yellow parietin reacts with KOH to give red, one of the standard test one can make when typing lichens. I don’t know the exact chemistry, but I am guessing the same should happen when you steep it in ammonia?

Parietin, Wikipedia informs us, is also found in the roots of curled dock (Rumex crispus, kruset skræppe in Danish). Jenny Dean lists the roots of curled dock, dock, and sorrel as sources of reddish browns, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with its parietin content.

But back to Xanthoria parietina. Irish lichens (one of my favorite web sources on lichens) tells us that it is a very pollution-resistant lichen. It seems to be spreading, and is even considered invasive by some people, so this one is fine to gather whenever you find it.

I have kept a jar of Xanthoria parietina since November 15th last year. It contained 42 g of lichen in ammonia (I buy the ordinary one at a supermarket and dilute it to 1%).

I try to remember to shake my jars of lichens. The book I read on the topic, Karen Casselman’s “Lichen Dyes, The New Source Book” returns to the point several times: “Aeration is important”, “Vats ignored […] may not develop properly” and so on.

But in real life, of course, it’s hard to remember. It only takes moments to take the lid off, replace it, and shake the jar, but like flossing and taking vitamins, initial determination can quickly wear off. Some weeks I may have shaken this jar every day, but at least half of the time, it’s just been on its own.

The dyeing process, on the other hand, is easy. Just pour the liquid into the pot and dye the yarn in it over gentle heat. My 10 g test skein came out a faint, but pretty, pink:

xanthoriaskein

and this is actually the best color that I have achieved with Xanthoria parietina. I think it’s a pretty color, although you are actually supposed to turn it blue by exposing the wet skein to sunlight. I tried that with a similar skein, but the blue tone it turned into was so faint that it was white that just felt a bit blue… My guess is that the initial pink should be very strong in order to get a good blue – this is also based on the photos that mycopigments posted here.

I suspect that the shift to faint blue will eventually happen if the yarn is exposed to sun at all (photo-oxidation). Red2white shows a series of light tests here, and in addition to color loss, there is also a change towards blue. But faint and possibly also quite fugitive – good blue can only come from indigo!

In conclusion, the dye from Xanthoria parietina is fun to play with, but not lightfast. I still find myself planning out more experiments, so next time I pass a yellow branch, something will go into my pocket (for a lovely day of acetone extraction perhaps?)

FACTS – Xanthoria parietina

Mordant 10% alun*

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:4

Conclusion The color is pretty, but faint. And it is not lightfast

Possible improvements More diligent vat-shaking – more efficient aeration should develop the dye better. And maybe ripping the lichen into smaller pieces will also help extraction? According to Casselman, lightfastness improves if the yarn is dried before the dye is rinsed out

*Alun mordanting should not be necessary when working with lichen dyes, as they are substantive = able to bond to animal fibers by themselves. But I just had some mordanted skeins on hand, and it doesn’t interfere, either.

Lav-arten Xanthoria parietina bør, efter extraction i ammoniak, give en pink farve som skifter til blå i direkte sol. Jeg har prøvet at få denne blå frem tidligere, uden held. Denne gang har jeg ladet garnet tørre uden sol og fået en svag fin lyserød farve.