Everywhere but home

Last week was half term week here so we’ve been racing around the country.
First up was some time in Somerset where we helped my parents manage some of their land – felling diseased trees and chopping back hedgerows. I also managed to have a bit of a forage for some (potential) dye plants.
I’m interested in the possibility of using mushrooms for dyeing. The information I have (from books and the web) is mainly from USA or Scandinavia. I’d like to explore the potential of our native mushrooms. I haven’t chosen the right time of year to indulge in this new obsession: mushrooms are at their most abundant in Autumn, but there were still some specimens to gather.
I haven’t had chance yet to do anything more than photograph, pick, and take spore prints of my harvest, and I don’t think I’ve got enough of any species to do anything but the tiniest sample run, but my enthusiasm is high, and I will get onto testing my haul as soon as I can.


I’m particularly excited about this next one – it was such a surprise to find this bright cobalt blue growing on some dead wood.


think it’s pulcherricium caeruleum (now Terana caerulea) and if it is I think it’s quite rare in this country.  There wasn’t very much of it, but as I rescued it from the bonfire pile I don’t feel bad for taking a sample.

There was also masses of lichen on fallen wood.  It’s really important to gather lichen responsibly – I’d never pick it from trees or scrape it from stone.  Here, it was again going to go on the fire, and so was also fair game.  I gathered a fair quantity of Evernia prunastri which I will put to soak in a 50/50 solution of water and ammonia and try, yet again, to get some of the red dye it produces to attach to some wool.  I know it can be done, but I’ve not got more than a dirty, fleshy pink so far.


Home for an evening, then it was off to London.  We caught up with friends and family, and did a bit of shopping.  My children don’t share my aversion to shopping as a recreational activity, and there was birthday money to be spent.

I introduced my girls to the wonders of Foyles, whilst feeling a bit sad that my old stomping ground has become a shadow of its former self.


I also browsed the Liberty haberdashery department and was cheered to see a table groaning with independent sewing patterns.  I bought the tie kit by Sew Over It, which I’ve been looking at for a while.


I imagine I could probably draft a tie pattern myself, but this will answer a few pressing questions (which weight of domette should I use?, what is domette anyway?, how do I get that cute little triangle of lining to look neat?).  On reflection, those questions probably show that I couldn’t, in fact, draft a tie pattern myself!

The kit cost £15, and contains absolutely everything needed: fabric; lining fabric; domette; paper pattern; a full spool of sewing thread; instructions; and even a little sewing kit with a hand needle.


If the first tie looks good, and is not too much of a nightmare to sew, I’ve got a stash of cream silk that I could try a bit of contact printing on.  Could this be Christmas sorted in February?  Unlikely.  I can think of only 2 men on my list who would be even vaguely pleased to receive a handmade, hand printed  tie.  I live with Philistines.

For my train knitting, I took a fairisle glove for my outbound journey.  This is a fairly complex pattern, changing colours on almost every round, and consequently not ideal for knitting in a confined area.  On the way home I decided on an impulse buy at the train station.  I bought a copy of “Simply Knitting” magazine, lured by the kit on the front for a penguin soft toy.  The sealed package said “kit includes everything you need!”.


This is what it actually contained


That’s it!  4 cardboard spools of thread.  I needed to add:  needles; darning needle; stuffing and tweezers.  As luck would have it, I happened to have the correct size needles with me, and had enough knitting to be getting on with without needing the stuffing at this stage.  It was a sharp contrast though to the tie kit.  I don’t know what I’ll do with a stuffed penguin.  The back of the “kit” does warn me that there is not only a “strangulation hazard”, but also both a “choking” and an “entanglement” hazard.  It was almost worth the £4.99 magazine price for the frisson of danger that this afforded me.  Almost.

Saturday was guild day.  I’m a member of the Wiltshire Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.  We had a dyeing workshop.  The saga of my sock yarn is worthy of another post I feel.

So, the half term holiday drew to a close.  I’m back at work this week, and glad of the rest!


Talking to the Fail Whale

My kids went through a phase of saying this – the flip side being “Swimming with the Salmon of Success”.

This is a sorry tale of the tribulations of natural dyeing.

Buoyed up by my success with sage I rifled through my dried plant matter and found some foraged buddleia blooms from last summer.  I collected them from a hedgerow bush when the flowers were brown and crispy and useless to all but a middle-aged woman with slightly fringe interests.  The flowers in bloom were a mid purple.

Jenny Dean got this  from dried buddleia, but I do believe she has Magical Powers.

I followed the same method as for the sage.  The dye liquor was a golden yellow, I added alum and put 50g wetted fleece in the slow cooker, and waited for the magic to work.


No Salmon of Success swam through my dyepot this fateful day.  I got a bit of yellow – rather like I hadn’t washed the fleece properly.


Top: Buddleia dyed fleece Bottom: Undyed fleece for comparison!

 I tried reheating.  I tried leaving the fleece in the cooling dye bath overnight. Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  In fact, the photo above looks better than it actually is.

 I’ll try again another day when this years’ flowers have blossomed – I am not good at embracing failure.

 My plan for my next dye is a dead cert.  I’ll keep you posted 😉

Sage Advice

I feel like I’ve been spinning and knitting shades of brown for months.  Coupled with the bleak, cold winter weather, I’m craving a bit of colour in my life.

The depths of winter is not the ideal time to forage for natural dye material, but, in an uncharacteristically foresighted fashion, I managed to save and dry some plant matter in the summer when everything was growing rampantly, for just this eventuality.

I have a common sage bush (salvia officinalis) in my herb patch that seems to thrive on neglect (my favourite type of plant).  I hack it back several times a year in an attempt to shed some light on the weedy Rosemary that’s planted next to it.  There is a limit to how much sage anyone can incorporate into their diet, but it seems a bit of a waste just to compost these prunings.  In the autumn I bunched up a load of sage branches and hung them up to dry (people have generally stopped commenting on the nature and variety of organic matter in various states of preservation or decay in my house).  It was this dried sage that I turned to in my hour of need.  I’d had a decent result with fresh leaves in the summer, and so I was hopeful of a worthwhile result.

I weighed out 50g of the dried sage (mostly leaves, but a few stalks) and put it all into the leg of some laddered tights.  I have two teenage daughters and consequently an infinite supply of laddered tights – they’re very useful, though possibly not in the quantity that they accumulate in this house.


Sage dye bath

The tights package then went into my dyeing slow cooker, was covered with cold tap water and left on high for an hour or so, then turned to low for another couple of hours.  The water turned a brownish yellow, and after squeezing the cooked leaves out, the plant material was removed.

Natural dyes need a mordant in order to fix to the fibre.  I decided to go for “simultaneous mordanting”  by adding about a teaspoon of alum to the dye bath and giving it a stir. I would’ve added some cream of tartar too as this is supposed to help the take up of the alum, but I couldn’t locate my store of it at the crucial moment.


Dye liquor

Dye liquor

I used 50g of white Kerry Hill fleece that had been scoured and carded, and then soaked in hot tap water til it was fully wetted.  Switching the slow cooker on to high again, I gradually raised the temperature to 87°c – this isn’t a magic number – it’s just what the slow cooker seems to heat up to.  The fleece simmered at this temperature for a couple of hours and was then left to cool a bit in the pot before being rinsed, first in plain water, then in slightly soapy water.

The result?  Quite a nice greenish yellow, hard to describe and photograph accurately.  I wouldn’t want an entire jumper this colour but I think it will make a welcome addition to a fairisle project or two.  The exhaust bath yielded a paler yellow, again with undertones of green.

Sage dyed Kerry Hill primary

I spun up and Navajo plied just a single rolag of each for wash-fastness and light-fastness tests, and we must now all wait, on tenterhooks, for the results.

Bottom:  first dye bath, Top:  1st exhaust

Bottom: first dye bath, Top: 1st exhaust

Move along please – there’s nothing to see here

I am currently spinning for a secret project.

I appreciate that this is not ideal fodder for a brand new blog, but I’ll share what I can without giving the game away.
The pattern I’m knitting uses the 9 natural Shetland colours in Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme Jumper weight –


(at some point, I will work out how to insert elegant links)

Always up for a challenge, I’m using mostly fleece from my Dad’s flock of Jacobs and Jacobs X. This is augmented with a Castlemilk Moorit fleece for the reddish brown moorit colour, and a Black Welsh Mountain fleece, both picked up at my Spinner’s Guild sale. From this starting point, some colours were blended to provide the nuances of colour. I even ordered the shade card so I could get the colours exactly right – this is serious stuff!

For the white I’ve used a light Jacob’s fleece from Dad’s flock. I don’t think I’ve had a fleece from this ewe before – it’s very fine for the breed, not much crimp, but nice and soft.
The pattern calls for 344m and I’ve spun 410m. I’ll be changing the pattern a bit towards the end, so this may not be quite enough.
I also need 344m of Mooskit. To achieve this colour I’ve blended about 60% of the Jacobs white and 40% Castlemilk Moorit.  I’ve started knitting already so there’s not much left! 144m spun already, so 200m to go.
The Shaela was easy. This came from a lovely fleece, again from Dad, that I’ve used before – the ewe probably has Jacobs somewhere in her ancestry but it’s by no means a pure bred flock any more. I seperated the lightest grey locks for the Shaela, and used the darker locks for the Yuglet shade.  Stats for these (because I know you’re fascinated) are:  143 / 344 m spun of Shaela, and 113 / 421 m of Yuglet spun.
Next up is Moorit. For this I used a Castlemilk Moorit fleece. I don’t think it’s quite as reddish brown as the Shetland Moorit, but the contrast is good against the other colours. I got a bit carried away with this one – I needed 688m and have a whopping 991m! I predict some Moorit hats in my future.
The black was pretty tedious to do as the fleece required a lot of prep. I used a Black Welsh Mountain fleece, and it was a good fleece. Unfortunately, as with many of the dark hardy breeds, the fleece was quite coarse with a lot of kemp. The prep was slow with more waste than usual, but I did end up with a much softer fibre to spin. I need 688m of black, and I’ve spun 367. The modifications I’m making to the pattern mean that I should need less than the full amount – I plan to knit til I run out of this before working up the enthusiasm to prepare any more.
Gaulmogit was white Jacobs blended with a pinch of Moorit (344m needed, 174m spun)
Katmollet and Sholmit
Nearly there! The Katmollet was a mixed bag of Jacobs with browns and greys to which I added some white to lighten it up, and the Sholmit was the same without white.  Katmollet 466m spun (from a required 344m), and Sholmit 187 / 344m spun.

The savants among you will have already worked out that the pattern calls for 3861 metres of yarn in total, and that I’ve spun 2995 metres, but with my over-spinning of some colours I’ve only got 2504 metres of the colours I actually need.  I’ve got a spreadsheet 😉 – it’s a lot of spinning, and it helps me to keep faith!  I’m mentally calculating I’m 2 thirds of the way there.  To just keep running with the maths, I’m spinning a 3 ply yarn which means that by the time I’ve finished I will have spun well in excess of 11,583 metres of thread which is more than 7 miles!  No wonder I feel as though I’ve been spinning for this project forever.

Here’s a picture of all the colours together, although there’s not much left of some of them, as I’ve done a fair bit of the knitting on this project already.

L-R:  Moorit, Yuglet, Black Front: Shaela

L-R: Moorit, Yuglet, Black Front: Shaela


L to R: White, Gaulmogit, Katmollet, Mooskit, Shaela


All in all, I’m pretty chuffed with the colours that I’ve achieved through blending and extensive rifling through my fleece stash.  Some of the original Shetland colours were very similar to others, and I think I’ve maintained this subtlety of variation – of course, I could have just been staring at it all WAY too long!

I don’t know how well you’ll be able to see this, but here is the original shade card with samples of my versions above (clicking the picture should enlarge it)


L to R: Yuglet, Katmollet, Sholmit, Gaulmogit, Black, Moorit, Shaela, Mooskit, White


I’ll think I’ll tag posts about this project “secret project” for the time being, and when all finished and revealed I’ll change the tag to the something less mysterious.

Something in the way he moves….



This was the state of the gusset of my husband’s shooting trousers. The second hole was so big that my darning mushroom kept slipping through!
I’m a big fan of Tom van Deijnen  http://tomofholland.com and did wonder if this could be a bit of a visible mending project. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t really share my sartorially quirky edge, so common sense prevailed and I found some leftover sock yarn in just the right mix of colours (I’m sorry – I have no idea what this yarn is – I bought it in the US last year – it was mostly merino, 10% cashmere and some nylon).
The darning itself was quite fun despite the enormity of the holes, and when worn the darn doesn’t show.  The final day of the season was last weekend, and the report back was that it was eminently more comfortable to yomp around the fields without the icy wind whistling around his nether regions.



Job done 🙂