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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!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Ditching the Chemicals

For the past year, after becoming increasingly concerned with the amounts of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, I've been making a few changes in our lives.  Some chemicals are difficult to avoid, especially environmental ones, but I thought I'd make a start with what we put on our skin on a daily basis.

Soaps, face creams, body creams, shampoo etc. are mostly riddled with chemicals which, on the surface, may seem not to be too hazardous to our health as we use them on the outside of our bodies.  However, the skin absorbs these things really easily through the pores.  We may apply them on the outside, but they soon end up on the inside.

For the last 12 months I've been using my own products : facial moisturizer, eye cream, body butter, hand cream, soap and, more recently, hair conditioner.  When I come to the end of my current shampoo, I'll look into making that too.

I haven't blogged about anything I've made so far, because I wanted to test them first to see which worked, which needed improvements, which aren't worth bothering with.  I don't think any of them come into the last category (not worth bothering with), but some are definitely better than others.

I think the most satisfying of these has to be the hand-made soaps.  I was rather nervous at first because you have to use caustic soda to make cold process soap, and I knew there were risks whilst handling this.  However, wearing goggles, face mask, long sleeves and rubber gloves makes this process much safer.  I now really enjoy making soap and can't wait to make the next one!

This is my latest one :-


This is a recipe I devised myself.  Here in France we live in a duck-producing area and my husband loves duck!  We normally buy locally, and one of the "waste products" (in inverted commas because, for most people who use it for preparing food, it isn't considered a waste product) is duck fat.  I don't use the fat for cooking, because I don't eat meat, and it doesn't take long for me to accumulate a fair amount in the fridge.  I don't like wasting things, so looked on the internet for a soap recipe using duck fat.  Couldn't find one, so I made my own!

This soap contains duck fat, coconut oil, olive oil and cocoa butter, plus the caustic soda and water needed to turn the fats and oils into soap, and essential oil to add perfume - for this I used Ylang Ylang.

I've experimented a bit with using natural colours too - paprika gives a nice subdued orange colour, cocoa powder quite a deep brown - but for this soap I bought a blue soap colorant.  Yep, I did say blue!  So why on earth did it turn pink?  It's a bluey-pink, but most definitely pink.  The other plan for this soap was that I would pour the white, uncoloured half into the mould, quickly add colour to the other half, pour this on top, then use a wooden skewer to partially mix the two, creating a sort of swirl effect. This soap mix had other ideas though.  By the time I'd managed to mix the colour into the second half of the mix, the first one had solidified too much to attempt to swirl it, so I had to be content with having a two-tone effect instead.  I actually quite like it, and will classify this one as a "happy accident"!


The hardest part of soap making is having to wait for the soap to "cure" and dry before it's usable.  Most recipes say to leave it for a month before using, but I prefer to leave it for two.  The "curing" part occurs quite quickly and after about 2 days the caustic soda will have disappeared.  But if you were to use the soap at this stage it would wash away very quickly.  It needs to harden up, and the longer the better, but by the time 2 months is up, I can't wait to use it.

Makes good gifts too!


Friday, 27 January 2017

Going Batty

I recently indulged myself with an afternoon of one of my favourite fibre-related pastimes - making batts.  Don't ask me why, but I just love making them.  My neighbour's birthday was looming and, because it's difficult to make her a cake or other sweet treats (she's dairy and gluten intolerant) I decided to boost her fibre intake.

This is where my World of Wool floor sweepings (Botany lap waste) come in handy.  I've collected a fair amount of different colours over the years so it's easy to go through matching up and finding contrasts.  I also included some tussah silk and mohair.  I went with blues because that's a fairly safe colour - I know Tammy likes blue.


I weighed about 220g of fibres and split them into manageable amounts that the drum carder could handle.  These were put through twice only as I like to leave them with some obvious colour changes in there.


The colours look quite muted here, but that's probably because the deeper colours are underneath.  It's only when they're taken off the carder and rolled up that the magic happens.


I called these "Mermaids Dreams" and listed the ingredients as "Sea Snail Silk, Mermaids Tresses, Iridescent Seahorse droppings, mixed with a good helping of seabed sweepings."  The sea snail silk was the tussah silk, the Mermaids tresses were mohair, and the Iridescent seahorse droppings were, I think, possibly merino mixed with iridescent fibres, probably trilobal nylon.  Hubby was rather confused when he read the label . . . "Where on earth did you buy that lot?" he asked!!  đŸ˜




Friday, 13 January 2017

Handspun Llevant

The end of October saw the arrival of a large (1kg) bag of Botany Lap Waste from World of Wool.  I treat myself to one of these every so often and in October it was on special offer.  When I opened the package I have to admit I was rather disappointed in the colours I received.  There's no choice - you get what you get!  About 60% of this package was made up of various browns.  I don't do brown, it drains all the colour from my face and makes me look as though I'm ready to snuff it any minute.

Not to be beaten, I thought I might be able to alter the colour of the fibres if I blended them with other shades.  I mixed all the browns on my drum carder and then blended the lot with various white and cream fibres I already had.  I managed to tame it to a colour that I thought I might be able to wear, but just to be sure, I then took a third of it and blended again with more whites/creams.  I ended up with 2 shades of brown, one of which was more of a grey/beige.


I spun these separately and finished up with 2 skeins of the paler colour, and 2 skeins of lightish brown, 410g, 1134 yds, all 14 wpi (4 ply, or fingering weight).

I chose a pattern, Isabell Kraemer's Llevant, but chose to knit it in graded stripes, starting with the lighter colour which would be next to my face.

I really like this pattern - fairly simple, but with a nice bit of detail at the neck, and 2 little buttons at the back.

Detail at the front of the neck
Little button band at the back
This is a top-down sweater, and I made quite good progress until I got to about waist level and realised it was just too big (yes, I did swatch before I started, but with handspun there's always a bit of variation in the yarn, and also, the sweater is an A-line and I need to have something a bit more fitted at the waist).  The bust area was OK, so I ripped back to there and then added some waist shaping.  The only other alteration I made was the hems of the sleeves and body which were rolling up more than I liked.  I changed to 5 rows of seed stitch which solved the problem nicely.

I finally finished just before Christmas, on 22nd December, so it's taken me a really long time to photograph and blog about it.  Still, better late than never.  Here's the finished item :-


I don't think this is ever going to be my favourite sweater in the world, mainly because of the colour, but it's warm and I needed a new warm sweater for winter.  Just in time too - apparently we've got snow forecast for tomorrow, first time in 2 years!