A good part of this month has been spent playing with my raised beds of Japanese Indigo. On a whim back in March I spread the seed heads I had collected from last years small attempt at growing and dyeing with Japanese Indigo. Much to my surprise all of them came up. I pricked some out and potted them on and eventually the crop ended up in two raised beds hastily constructed from leftover lumber and a pile of topsoil intended for bear spots in the lawn.
With such an abundance of riches I started experimenting with the indigo a the beginning of July. First up was fresh indigo dyeing which is simply leaves, cold water and ice in a blender and strained. Put your wool or fabric on and wait 20 minutes. Instant satisfaction.
This was followed by a series of experiments with a washing soda/hydrosulfite vat. We eventually had successful results but it’s clear why vat dyeing has a reputation for being tricky. The fact that we were working with fresh indigo instead of powder added to the difficulty factor I think
After several days break we when back to a somewhat unsuccessful vat and got great results after reactivating it. This time we did some shibori dyeing on muslin squares and some yardage.
We attempted a lime fructose vat that we’ve thus far been unsuccessful with. I moved on to a cooked leaf enzyme vat that isn’t really a vat at all but a variation on the fresh indigo method using cooked indigo leaves for the majority of the indigo and 10% fresh strained indigo for the enzyme to kick start the reaction. I was able to dye 376 grams of yarn with 240 grams of indigo and get the color below.
I’ve dried some indigo for use later in the year and there will be more experiments until frost shuts us down. It’s been fascinating so far. I’m very impressed by the amount of color that I’m able to get from fresh leaves. At this point the fresh methods seem easier, more ecologically sound (you only add water), and give great colors. They are fleeting and can’t be used again or saved. I want to try a fermented vat and perhaps going from leaves to powder or a sludge for future use.
The June sweaters are almost finished. This month I worked on a worsted weight yoke sweater and take two of the buckthorn sweater. I was looking to add more color, improve the fit and fabric of the buckthorn sweater in the second version. I still have the ribbing to finish but I’m generally happy with the result below. The yarn is hanspun horned dorset or crosses from Clark Farm in Carlisle making the sweater a truely locally grow (wool and dyes), washed, carded, spun and knitted.
I had to take a detour in the middle of the knitting to dye more pink with buckthorn bark. All of the colors in the sweater come from buckthorn, hence the name buckthorn sweater. The detour into buckthorn bark dyeing led me down a bit of a rathole. I always attempt to improve on what’s gone before so I looked about the internet on new ways or ways I hadn’t thought of to deepen the color of the pink. I stumbled across a blog that had great photos of wool dyed overnight, at 140 degrees F and 176 degrees F. The wool dyed at 140 degrees F had the best color. I had previously dyed at room temperature so I thought I’d try 140 degrees F. The blog also said the bark used was glossy buckthorn bark , alder buckthorn or rhamnus frangula. I am fortunate to have both rhamnus frangula and rhamnus carthartica growing near me. They are both considered invasives where I live and abundantly available. Rhamnus frangulas grows in my yard and along my fence line and I had some I needed to cut back so I did. I stripped the leaves, boiled them and dyed three skeins mordanted with alum and got.
Then I did a sample of the alkaline extraction of the bark and didn’t get the color I expected. I left it over night and got a brownish color. I heated it up to 140 degrees F and got a slightly darker shade of brown. In short there was no pink at anytime. This actually was what I had faintly recalled but thought perhaps I was mistaken. I’ve been dyeing with buckthorn for over 5 years now and done a lot of experimentation. So I did and extraction on some of the rhamnus cathartica bark that I’d saved from the previous year and got a range of lovely pinks. Below is a photo of the plant and the colors that the plant dyed.
The plant on top that dyed the pinks I would identify as Rhamnus cathartica. It has thorns, toothed leaves and is more of a small tree than shrub. The plant that I was only able to get a brownish color I would identify as Rhamnus frangula. It has no thorns, smooth leaves and forms a shrub. Buckthorn bark that is sold on the internet for dyeing and medicinal use is widely identified as Rhamnus frangula. If what is sold on the internet is indeed rhamnus frangula than what is the plant at the bottom?
This is a photo of the first three sweaters in the seasons sweater series that I’ve been working on. You can see a bit of the fourth sweater at the bottom of the photo. The middle sweater with the trees and bunnies is the winter sweater in the series and I knit it in March. The oak and acorn sweater is in test knit right now. I’m hoping to get the remaining three sweaters into test knit this month. Drop us an email if you’d be interested in test knitting. I’ve started on the first of the May sweaters yesterday.
This is the February sweater from our Estabrook yarn. I’m working on a series of four seasons sweaters. The first was the autumnal sweater with the oak leaves and acorns. This is the spring sweater with snowdrops. I’m hoping to get this into test knitting soon. I’ve been working on March sweaters instead of writing the pattern. I’m nearly finished with March’s sweaters though and hope to get both the February and March sweater patterns in the Estabrook yarn written next. If you’d be interested in test knitting send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is my hand spun sweater from February. The grey is a Romney merino cross that I purchased at the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival a few years ago. The white is a Montadale fleece I purchased a while ago. I had never spun Montadale before and enjoyed spinning it quite a bit. The pattern is mine with the yoke being knit by hand while on my travels in February to visit my brother in Napa Valley and my sister on the big Island in Hawaii and the body and sleeve knit on the machine. The resulting sweater is very comfortable and lovely to wear.
Happy Leap Day. I spent most of February traveling to visit my brother in California and then my sister in Hawaii on the big island. I brought my knitting with me. I completed or nearly completed two yokes that I’m still working on the bodies and sleeves for. One is hand spun and one is from commercial yarn and destined to become a pattern, I hope. The photo above is neither of these but a design that was finished before I left for my travels. The pattern is currently being test knit. With so many sweaters on the drawing board and under construction I’m hoping to post one each week in March.
Happy new year! I’ve been spending time converting some of our accessory patterns to commercial yarn so we are able to offer yarn that goes with out patterns. At the same time I’m still spinning. The photo above is my most recent handspun sweater. I purchased the fleece at the Fiber Festival of New England. The fleece is from the Northampton Smith vocational and agricultural school. It came with a note letting me know that the ewe’s name is Pumpkin and her lamb is Pie. Pumpkin is a Romney ewe with a pretty consistent grey fleece. I’m a sucker for a grey fleece but often the color has many shades making if difficult to spin an evenly colored yarn. Pumpkin it turns out it a pretty even grey. She’s also a pretty dark grey. I originally had planned to knit a sweater that was grey and over dyed grey with mustard but the over dyed grey with mustard didn’t create enough contrast. Even the navy over the grey is still fairly muted but I was pleased with the level of contrast with this pattern which is fairly busy. The photo shows the fleece to finished object with the washed fleece to the left, the carded fleece at the top, the handspun yarn to the right and the finished sweater. With my designing focused on commercial yarns I’ve decided I will try and spin and knit a handspun sweater a month to make use of the yarn I’m still spinning. We’ll have to see how this goes, especially when you add new design work and re-knitting. Always good to have a goal though!
It’s been forever since I’ve written a blog post. The last couple of months have been spent preparing for the fall and winter shows. I wrote and had the Stars in the Summer Sky sweater test knit and add a hat and mittens to go with it. At the Adirondack Wool Arts Festival I started on a sweater for myself from my handspun. The yarn is from a lovely almost black Romney fleece and the white is from a Montadale fleece. The first of that breed that I’ve ever spun. The wool was lovely to spin. The sweater pattern is based on a hat pattern that I designed years ago. This will hopefully be my Rhinebeck sweater for this year. We’re nearly ready. Stop by and stay Hi if you’re at Rhinebeck.
I totally missed the month of July. I was in the garden. My passion for gardening is at least as strong as my passion for spinning, knitting and designing so at this time of the year I take a break from the fiber. The clematis is Betty Anne Corning. It’s a favorite. As the weather begins to heat up it’s less fun to work in the garden and I begin to return to the fiber. I’m just up from knitting in the garden in a small shaded stone patio down the steps and and to the left. I’m working on a new sample of Hedgie’s socks in our new hand dyed commercially spun yarn. The journey from handspun yarn to commercial yarn in our samples and in the yarns we sell has been interesting and educational. I am a hand spinner. I love the process from raw fleece to finished garment. I love my handspun and that has had an effect on the commercial yarns I find acceptable. To start with as a team (Sarah and I) have agreed that we want wool that is raised in the US and spun in the US. It goes beyond that in that I prefer yarns that are two ply and not overly processed while still being soft. This means the wool is probably from a finer breed of sheep like Cormo, Merino or Rambouillet. It’s not right, wrong or the best it’s just what I like and imagine in my designs. At this point we’ve sampled a lot of yarns and settled on three that will allow us to support our current designs with yarn sourced and dyed by us. As I mentioned several posts ago the yarn so important in achieving the finished garment that you want.
March has been a quieter month. We had our last show at the Wayland Winter Farmer’s Market Fiber Days and I did a program for my spinning guild on blending for a gradient. Mostly I’ve been knitting for myself. I made the brown sweater in the photo above. The brown is a from a fleece from Black Brook Farm that I’ve had forever of unknown breeding and the white is from a Border Leicester fleece that I acquired several years ago from a horse acquaintance. I’ve had the idea of a yoked brown sweater in my head for a long time. I’m not totally sure I’m in love the the yoke pattern but the sweater fits wonderfully and will be a great addition to my wardrobe.
I made it through January. We had three shows in three weeks. It was a lot of work but fun at the same time. We met lots of wonderful people and sold lots of patterns and yarn. My job for February is to work on a magazine article and prepare for a workshop I’m doing for my spinning guild. It will be a good change from January. At the same time I’m continuing my re-knitting journey. The cross country skier mittens are some of the first mittens I designed. The original pair has actually felted and shrunk from so much use cross country skiing. They’re a nice warm pair of mittens with long cuffs to keep the snow out of your jacket. I’m knitting them in green and white instead of the original red and white and liking the way they’re coming out.
I have been re-knitting some of my patterns in commercial yarns so that we will be able offer yarn to go with our patterns. After sampling lots of yarns we’ve settled on a yarn from Cestari that’s 100% merino that’s sources in the US. It’s the closest thing to my handspun in weight and character that I’ve found. The photo above is of Annie’s mitten’s being knit in the new yarn. The plan is to have yarn to go with some of our most popular patterns at our next show this weekend. If you’re near Pawtucket RI this weekend we’ll be at Slater Mill Knitting Weekend. Hope to see you there!
After reading Kate Davies post about needle size being immaterial this week I thought I’d take another crack at my post on yarn. As a hand spinner and someone who still struggles with gauge I would agree that needle size is immaterial. Needle size is just one of three elements that effect the fabric and resulting garment when you knit something. The second is the yarn. The third is the pattern/design whether it be a pattern that someone else has written or design you have in your head. Of the three of these the yarn is the most important. You can’t make Selvoubotter mittens with chunky yarn that actually fit a human hand no matter what size needle you use. And it’s not just about the size of the yarn. If the fabric you are desiring for you project is drapey it’s going to be hard to achieve that with a bouncy elastic Merino or Targhee yarn. And finally the quality and type of yarn will effect the look and feel of the finished garment in imperceptible ways. Think about how different a fair isle garment looks when it’s knitted in Jamison and Smith as opposed to some other kind of yarn. Stay tuned for my next post on why “It’s all about the yarn”
I pulled all the flax from the flax patch yesterday. I’m kind of winging this whole flax thing. My flax patch was kind of weedy. There were a wide variety of heights of flax but I do thing I’ll have enough to process and hopefully get enough to spin. The flax is drying on my dining room table right now. And then it will be on to retting, the tricky part.
The buckthorn berries are ripe. So I’ve started experimenting with dyeing. We did some dyeing with woad earlier this spring and I thought I’d try treating the buckthorn berries like indigo. Unfortunately all I got was green. I got some lovely greens though.
Sarah has knitted the Baobabs Shawl in our hand dyed gradient purple yarn. The shawl takes two gradient yarn hanks It’s a nice lacy shawl for Spring. Its pictured in our garden under the shade phlox that are blooming now.
If you’re in the area of metro-west Boston and want to participate in our community flax to linen project stop in to the Carlisle Artisans in Carlisle, MA and pick up your free seed available for planting now. Participants will grow and harvest and dry their flax. In late summer we’ll come back together at the Carlisle Historical Society’s Heald House. During several of their open houses we’ll process the dried flax. This will include retting, braking, scutching, spinning and weaving. All are welcome.
I have been working on a sweater in exchange for the fleeces I got from the 2018 shearing at Clark Farm a local organic farm in Carlisle. The sweater is made of handspun Horned Dorset yarn from Clark Farm. I dyed the yarn with natural dyed from my yard. The grey blue is buckthorn berry skins. The yellow is buckthorn leaves and the pinky purple is pokeweed berries in a cold acetic acid dye bath that should prevent them from fading. The pattern is a highly modified version of Jen Steingass’s Telja. It doesn’t get anymore local than this. Everything from the fleece from the sheep to the dyes and the labor to create the garment came from Carlisle.
We had a great time this past Saturday at the Wayland Winter farmers market at Russells in Wayland. We’d done a bit of dyeing to fill out the empty spots in our inventory. And I’ve spent a some time updating our website so the purple and blue gradient patterns and yarn are on the website. I’ve still got the Pleiades and pink gradient patterns and yarn to add and hope to get to it this week.
Where did October go? We had a great time at Rhinebeck and the New England Fiber Festival. This is a photo from the New England Fiber Festival before we opened. Felted pillows in the middle fiber on the right and red and white yarn for to make the fingerless glove patterns that we just came out with. Red and white and blue and white. They were very popular at Rhinebeck and FFNE.
Production Knitting. After playing all summer with buckthorn and natural dyeing I’m back to work making finished goods for sale a the fiber festivals and shops we’re a part of. The mittens are handspun shetland fleeces. The dark grey and white are the natural colors of the fleece and the blue is acid dyed. The body of the mittens are knit on our “hacked” brother 910. The thumbs are knit on “sticks”.
Enter a drawing for a custom designed knitted sampler. The sampler in the photos is composed of quaker motifs but yours could be inspired be motifs and messages that are important to you. You can enter the drawing by visiting the Carlisle Artisans at 13A Lowell St., Carlisle and filling out an entry. The drawing will take place on May 15.
I have been making socks on the circular sock machine. The light grey is single ply hand spun Romney and the red heels and toes is two ply Tunis that I dyed for some sampling for a weaving of a jacket. Socks are a great way to use up small bits and pieces.
Sheep Shearing at Clark Farm. I came home with 6 lovely fleeces from the sheep shearing at Clark Farm in exchange for a new hat and scarf. I was able to give Olek the sampler I made for the birth of his daughter made from wool from his sheep and dyed with buckthorn berries.
With the new year I’ve decided to give blogging a try. Sarah’s been instagraming everyday since the beginning of the so maybe this will become and extension of that. Today she posted a photo of some of the self striping hand spun that we have available for sale and headband that Sarah knit on the 910 from the self striping handspun and some white handspun. We’ve been playing around with patterns and different yarns. It’s amazing how different the same pattern can look when it’s knitted in different kinds of yarn.