News from the Workshop

Well, my workshop/studio does only exist as a plan on paper at the moment which means I spread my stuff all over the house and outside when I am working on something. Ten days ago we had a lovely sunny day and I had the house to myself, just right for a dyeing experiment with onion skins. This project has been in the pipeline for some time. My partner and I diligently collected onion skin when cooking, so that I had a substantial amount ready to use. The book on natural dyes I bought several months ago suggests to use 100% dyestuff, meaning the same weight in onion skins as the weight in yarn or fleece. Jenny Dean, the author of the book A Heritage of Colour – Natural Dyes Past and Present also writes that dyeing with onion skins doesn’t require an alum mordant to achieve colour fastness. I wanted to try that out, because I think it’s desirable to keep the dyeing process as simple and environmentally friendly as possible. For my dyeing experiment I used spun white Cheviot wool and white and grey Cheviot fleece. I used only about half the weight of onion skins in relation to wool because my two pots weren’t big enough for more skins. Because I didn’t mordant the wool first and onion skins are food safe I could use my normal kitchen equipment (colander, pots, tongs). I need to get a few second hand pots, saucepans etc. for further experiments.

2015-04-30 001 Dyeing onion skin (800x533)In the collage above you can see from left to right: White yarn soaking in water to “open up” the fibres, onion skins simmering in two pots for about 45 minutes, white and grey fleece soaking in water, centre image: the dye liquid after straining, bottom row from left to right: yarn and fleece simmering gently in the dye bath for approximately 45 minutes or longer, dyed white fleece drying, dyed grey fleece, dyed yarn drying on the washing line. Onion skin dyeing is particukarly straightforward and pleasing. The colours can range from vibrant yellows and oranges to rusty brown. In my case the result on the white yarn and fleece was a lovely mixture of yellow and orange shades. The grey Cheviot fleece turned out as a warm brownish grey with some orange tips at the staple tops. I liked the colour and blended both fleeces on the carders into rolags to spin. I am someone who has to try things in order to know whether something works.

P1560698 (800x533) P1560815 (800x533)This is what the yarns looks like. Expert spinners among you will notice that my yarn is rather chunky and uneven. I haven’t mastered spinning very fine and even yarn yet but in a strange way I like its chunkyness and texture for my projects.

The second image shows the blended yarn knitted into a rectangle. I am going to make another purse from it, this time with black cotton lining and a black zip. I will show you the finished article soon.

And what happened to the dyed white yarn?

P1560808 (800x533) I knitted it using a very simple pattern to make this small purse.

P1560809 (800x533)At the end of last year I found some lovely fabric squares in a haberdashery and quiltmaking shop in Inverness. One has a pattern with cats, the other in the same colours a pattern with paws. When I saw it, I knew it would go perfectly with onion skin dyed wool and I think it really does, doesn’t it?

P1560812 (800x533)Thanks to a generous friend who lent me her sewing machine I could sew the lining which was then handstitched into the purse. I took extra care that the stitching thread doesn’t show through the wool.

And finally, the button. The purse has a rustic look to it and I love wooden buttons. With all these storms in the winter (even today it is very windy) lots of trees had come down in our local woods which provided me with some suitable branches to make toggles from.

P1560705 (800x533)Using my Swiss Army pocket knife (a much loved and used present from my parents on my 12th birthday more than three decades ago), I made three toggles. The photo shows the very first stage. From back to front: Birch, Heather and Pine. For the purse I used the Birch toggle, thinking that the colour matches the off-white tone in the lining. I waxed it with beeswax to give it a smooth finish and because I really like the natural smell of beeswax.

One question that remains is the colour fastness with unmordanted wool. In the first wash after knitting the pieces I noticed a slight bleeding of the colour, not a lot and hopefully only happening in the initial wash. I will mordant some wool in the  near future and will do another batch with onion skins to be able to compare. If there are any dyers among my readers, what are your experiences with colour fastness and mordanting?



Phone Box After a period of dry and sunny weather, it’s been all change since Friday. On Sunday we got this and temperatures hover around 3-7 degrees celsius. Not exactly my idea of spring.

Stitch Markers

stitch markersYesterday I made some stitch markers from materials I bought in Berlin. It proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought, especially to make a loop from the headpin to fit into the hole of the bead and to ensure that the bead can’t move up. Therefore these are not as perfect as the ones you can see in Andre Sue’s Etsy shop, but they are my first ones and I like the beads.

P1560326 (800x533)In the photo they are shown on a 5mm needle, they fit on needles up to 6mm.

Shelter from the rain

I have been quiet for some time because too many things required attention in the offline world, one of which was a trip to Germany (Berlin). I am back now, busy with things around house and garden and the new seasons of Craft Markets in our village. I still haven’t done the dyeing of yarn with onion skin, but have spun up some yarn to start on that little project soon. In between there is time for short and longer walks. In an area without many trees our slightly damaged phone box could provide shelter from the rain.

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A Berry Scarf and Heather Phone Cosy

I am not the fastest when it comes to completing my little projects, therefore I can’t post my knitting results every day. Now I have finished a few things in preparation for the new craft market season which is going to start soon.

P1550558Berry Scarf

I found this lovely soft and gloriously coloured yarn in a wool shop in London. It is from a company called Shilasdair, on the Isle of Skye. Luxury 4 ply, a blend of Angora, Cashmere and Lambswool. They dye their yarns with natural materials, which makes them all the more attractive to me. The two colours I chose are called Rowan Berry and Blackberry.

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I knitted the scarf in garter rib pattern, first seen in Ingrid’s Blog Strickpraxis (click here). Strangely, the sides are turning inwards, which I found a little annoying at first. Here it is drying flat after washing. After it had dried the curl at the sides was still there, but I don’t mind, because the wrong side, which doesn’t look as attractive as the pattern does on the right side, is less visible and the scarf is a neat roll when you wrap it around your neck. The yarn gave off some colour when I knitted it, so I thought there would be a lot of dye coming out in the washing process. Luckily that was not the case at all. I am really pleased with this little scarf and will be more than happy to wear it myself if I can’t sell it.

P1550476 (533x800)Moss, Heather and Scotch Broom

Although I live in the north of Scotland, it took a visit to London to discover Jamieson’s Shetland yarns. After my return I went online and ordered their well-made shade card containing the 220 shades of dyed and natural colours. Looking through the beautiful range of blues, reds, yellows, reds, purples, browns, greens and shades in between I decided on 8 colours for a start: Moss, Heather, Seabright, Madder, Mantilla, Coffee, Scotch Broom and Shaela.

Spindrift yarn is used for Fair Isle knitting, which I haven’t attempted yet. I started rather small and made a phone cosy from it.

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We had some fierce winds here recently. Quite a few trees came down in our local woodland. All the more beautiful were these trees, almost defiant with their crowns held high in the afternoon sun.

My Spinning Wheel’s Ancestry

In early December the woman who taught me how to spin wool gave me a copied cutting from some newspaper or magazine article that featured an Irish woman sitting at her spinning wheel in front of a croft building in county Donegal. The photo was taken in the 1880s by Irish photographer Robert Welch (1859-1936) who travelled Ireland in order to capture various aspects of Irish life.

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As you can read in the text when enlarging the picture, Welch’s photographic subjects were arranged rather than showing scenes of life as they actually happened. The spinning wheel in the photo is a Dutch or low Irish wheel and resembles very much the one that I bought from my spinning teacher when I started learning how to spin about two years ago.

The low Irish or Dutch wheel was imported to Ireland from Holland in the 17th or 18th century (I found different sources saying it came to Ireland in the 1630s or in the 18th century). It was originally designed for spinning flax and later adapted for spinning wool.

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My spinning teacher bought it in the 1990s and was told it was made by one of the last makers of this type of spinning wheel in county Donegal, Ireland. Searching on the internet, I found the link to a film from 1991 about James Shiel and his son Charlie (Link to a website called Hands) and the website of Johnny Shiel, who now carries on making these wheels. I am not entirely sure whether James Shiel was the maker of my wheel but looking at the pictures of the ones he made and mine it looks very much like he was.