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Monday, 8 May 2017


(That's French for catastrophy, as I'm sure you know already)

Two days ago whilst surfing at the dining table after lunch on my trusty Macbook Air, disaster struck in the form of my coffee tipping itself (!) all over the table.  A tiny trail of said coffee trickled into the hinge area, and Maccie immediately turned up its toes and refused to speak to me ... Ever ... Again!  In the end we contacted an Apple helpline who said it needs to go to one of their shops for repair (hopefully).  This may take a while as the nearest agent is in Toulouse which, whilst not being too far away, we're visiting anyway next Monday to take my sister back to the airport.  Not much point in making two trips I suppose.

In the meantime, Himself has lent me this new-fangled I Pad thingy and so far we're not getting on too well.  Being trained at a young age to touch-type, this picking and poking thing is driving me to distraction.  As for updating the blog with photos, as soon as I work out how to get them on here, we might make some progress.  I have been busy, spinning, making soap and yesterday (having no computer to play with) I dug out a really old patchwork project that I haven't touched for years.  Maybe being temporarily cut off from the world isn't a bad thing after all - it means I have more time to do the things I actually blog about!

See you soon!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Dandelion Dye

April's challenge on my dye calendar is dandelion dyeing.  So, where's the March project gone?  Well, March was daffodils, so I collected all the flowers as they died back and put them in a tub in the freezer, at the end of which I didn't have a lot.  Then the dandelions happened - big time! They went in the freezer too, until the main flush of flowers was finishing, then I picked the rest and put them all in the dyepot.  I knew I had to have quite a high proportion of flowers to yarn, and when I weighed them I had at least 750g.  My skein of handspun Cotswold :- 

was 125g, so no worries hopefully.

After simmering the flowers for an hour or so, the dye didn't look as promising as I'd hoped,

but was more green than yellow, so fingers crossed it would give me a decent shade on my alum-mordanted yarn.

I strained the flowers and squeezed as much dye as I could out of them, then added the wool.  After simmering I left the skein soaking overnight.  The resulting colour (unphotographed!) was yellow, but very pale.  I tried altering it with vinegar, but that did absolutely nothing.  A dollop of ammonia in the rinsing water, however, deepened and intensified the colour to what I'd hoped I'd get.

This photo doesn't actually do it justice, the colour is much brighter.  So, roll on May when the next project is . . .

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Ditching the Chemicals 2

Another new soap to add to the collection.

This is a lemon essential oil scented soap, coloured with turmeric powder.  I actually thought it might be a bit more yellow than this, but you can never tell how the caustic soda and oils will alter the colour as they work together.

I had some castille soap hidden away in my cupboard - the only oil I used in that was olive oil, and it came out quite a nice creamy white.  I pared off curls of this soap with a potato peeler to put into the middle of my lemon soap which sounds very easy, but it was particularly difficult to get the soap to curl up.  It either wanted to stay in a straight strip, or break into numerous pieces.  Eventually though I had enough to make a statement in the soap and, after pouring about half of the soap into the mould, carefully placed the swirls on top and then filled up with the remaining soap mix.

The bits on top are grated from a bar of choc/mint soap that I made last year.  Maybe not very practical as I'm sure some will fall off when I start using the soap, but it looks pretty.

This was made almost 2 months ago and should be ready to use on 9th April so I'm looking forward to giving it a go.  In the meantime, I've got itchy fingers to make some more soap and have plans for a cocoa/lime swirl soap that I made last year.  It turned out really smooth and creamy and very nice on the skin.  Also, I want to make a dandelion and honey soap.  We're currently in dandelion season here so there are lots about.  I picked a jar of the flower heads last week and have had them soaking in olive oil.  This needs to be heated to extract some of the colour and, let's say, "essence" of the dandelions, and the olive oil will be used in the mix.  On the day I make it I need to make dandelion tea with flowers and boiling water and use that with the caustic soda.  I can't decide whether to add any fragrance or leave it natural.  I don't think there'll be much scent from the dandelions.  What do you think will go with this?  Lemon, orange?  I'm thinking citrus will be best, but not sure.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Olive Bark Dye

I'm very late at posting this.  The February project on my Plant Dyes for All Seasons Calendar was bark dyes which was very opportune (obviously planned that way!) as I was just about to prune my olive tree.  It had grown rather tall and I wanted to make it a more rounded shape, so the top branches had to go!

Once I'd finished pruning the tree I took a vegetable peeler and carefully peeled off strips of the bark.  After cutting them into smaller pieces, I put them in a large jar of water, supposedly for a week!  About 3 weeks later I remembered I hadn't done anything with them and boiled them up for at least an hour at a time over several days.  The dye liquor turned quite a nice deep colour so I put in some Cotswold locks, not much (maybe a large handful) as I only had a small amount of dye.  I weighed out 100g of bark and I wasn't convinced that would dye 100g of fleece, so I used much less.

Tree barks don't need a mordant as they contain a nice amount of tannin, which serves as a natural mordant.  So, once the fleece had soaked in the solution for a while, I heated it up and simmered for a couple of hours.  It then sat in the dye for 3 or 4 days before I remembered to rescue it!

Here's the result, quite a nice colour I think :-

Not really enough to do much with, but I'll monitor it over the next year to see if the colour is stable, and if so, the poor old olive tree might just have to have another haircut!

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Second Sock

"The second sock" - sort of implies there was a first sock, doesn't it?  Actually, there was a first sock which was given to our neighbour Rob on his birthday.  He should have had two socks for his birthday present, but I ran out of both time and yarn.  Luckily, he didn't mind and now has two socks to wear instead of hopping on one foot!

The yarn for these was made up of 3 different fibres : Jacob lamb from Rob's flock, Ambrose's baby alpaca (also from Rob's animals) and some Italian mohair I bought at the last Lot et la Laine festival here in France.  I used the opposing ply system again, as Eric's socks (The Engineer's Socks) seem to be lasting quite well apart from a couple of moth holes that have just appeared in the leg.  The opposing ply system uses three plies - two are spun in a clockwise direction, one is spun in an anti-clockwise direction, then the three are plied together in an anti-clockwise direction which adds twist to the third ply and gives a bit more strength to the yarn.

The finished yarn was flecked with white (mohair), brown (Jacob) and ginger (baby alpaca).  It's a very subtle fleck and doesn't show well on photos.  I was woefully lax at taking photos of this project, but did manage a pic of the 2nd sock :-

Thankfully, the two socks both came out the same size - I was a bit worried about that because the first one had been given away before I started the second.  By the way, you'll notice a small ribbed section in the middle of the sock, I like to do this as the rib sort of "hugs" your feet and makes them feel more cosy.

So, another test for this engineered sock yarn.  I'll be interested to see how they perform on a different pair of feet.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Olive Leaves

After trimming my olive tree recently (long overdue), I pared off the bark for the February dyeing project on my natural dye calendar and put it in a jar with water to soak for a while. Rather than throw away the leaves, I decided to make another dye with those.

It took flipping ages picking all these leaves off the branches.  When I got to 500g, I thought I'd probably got enough and put the rest on the bonfire pit.

I'd read that it can take 3-4 hours boiling to extract the colour from olive leaves, and this proved quite accurate.  I'm not sure how long they actually cooked for, because I did it over about 3 days, but it was at least 4 hours, probably more.  The resulting dye looked quite promising :-

but I realised I would probably only get a pale yellow (or the dreaded beige) from this.  I strained the leaves and added 100g of Cotswold fleece, hoping I'd get more colour if I used a smaller amount of fleece.  I didn't use a mordant (with hindsight, possibly I should have) because I thought there would be a fair amount of tannins in there.  Obviously not, as this is what came out :-

It is yellow, but very very pale.  I admit to being rather disappointed with it.  Not to be defeated, I tried dunking some of it in a vinegar/water solution, and another piece in ammonia/water.  The vinegar didn't seem to do much (left on the photo below), but the ammonia did the business (right) - I'm happy with this yellow.

I know this is still wet, but I think it will still be quite a nice colour when it dries.  The rest of the fleece was dunked into the ammonia solution, and I'm quite pleased with the outcome.  Mission accomplished!

And . . . it's not beige!

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Cotswold Dyeing

Last year I managed to get my hands on a Cotswold lamb fleece for the first time.  I've had my eye on these fleeces for a few years now, but didn't order initially because there was quite a long waiting list for them.  It's very curly and lustrous, and the (long term) plan is to make a colour-work cardigan with it.

I washed a few locks when it arrived - you can see how shiny these are :-

When I finally got around to spinning, I washed the fleece first (very carefully!).  I don't like the lock structure to be disturbed before spinning, and generally don't wash my fleeces, but this time I think it did benefit from it.  When it was dry, I fluffed it up into a cloud and spun from that.

It was lovely to spin, and wanted to be spun fine - this will be about 14 wpi I think (4 ply).

When I'd filled the first bobbin I decided to dye it.  I'm not sure what colour I'll use for the main part of the cardigan, but thought an onion skin dye would go well with whatever I choose.

There's another reason why I used onion skins.  Before Christmas, I bought a natural dye calendar from Fran at Wool - Tribulations of Hand Spinning and Herbal Dyeing - if you click on the link you can see the calendar and if you decide to buy one you can even have a message on the back from Elinor! There's a dye project for each month and January is onion skins.  There's also a Ravelry thread for the calendar here.

Anyway, I knew I had some onion skins somewhere, but wasn't sure how many I had.  I finally found 2 large bags weighing a total of 190g.  90g of them went into the dye pot and were boiled strongly for at least half an hour.  I normally simmer any dyestuffs, but Fran found out (quite by accident!) that if you boil the skins you get a much deeper colour.

The resulting colour looked very promising, but I wasn't sure 90g of skins would be enough to dye my 130g skein of yarn.

After squeezing out the skins from the dye bath, I replaced them with the remaining 100g and re-boiled for at least another half hour.  The colour had darkened quite nicely after that.

I'd had the skein of wool soaking for a couple of days, so it was nicely wetted out, ready for dyeing.

And here's the final colour after simmering :-

There's still plenty of colour in the dye bath, so I'll probably put some fleece in there to use it up.  I'm sure I'll need plenty when the Tour de Fleece turns up again this summer!

So now I'd better go and check what February's project is.  Don't want to get left behind!