About this blog space

This blog space is a place for me to primarily put all my wool gatherings, adventures, experiments. I am now a mum of two astounding daughters, and I used to be a DIY musician and co-ran a tiny independent label (Slampt), so this punk can-do attitude plus feminist analysis and Art school experience somehow informs my wool work! I am also deeply moved by GREEN, trees, weather, colour combinations in nature, and texture. I aim to source wool from round the corner or at the very least UK grown and processed, and to create no toxic waste. This means I get to see sheep as often as I can, sometimes at wool fests.
I am on Ravelry and Etsy as FatHenWildWool and Facebook as Rachel Holborow.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Woad, wonderful woad... growing and dyeing

So, the harvest has yielded!
This was my first year growing woad, and look at the lovely colour I got for my urine/ woad hot box combo ( see older posts for using this method ).
As blue is such a difficult natural dye colour to get, I decided to grow some this year from seed. I also know exactly where they came from (really local!) and there were no petrol transport miles involved in this process at all! I was donated the seed via a friend's mother, but also bought some on line.
One of the wonderful things about woad, is that you can harvest it in the first year of growth, in fact you need to, to get lovely blues, so the results are as quick as they can be!
I started growing these woad plants in February, as they really seem to need some frosty cold to germinate properly. Some seeds were sown directly into the ground, some were started off in little pots in my back yard. By the time it came to harvesting them ( any time from late August ), there was no difference in the size of either group of these plants, so either method is fine, but ofcourse, planting them in the ground first means , perhaps, one less process togo through ( although maybe more weeding?). Almost all the seeds germinated (hooray!), and a few leaves were a little munched here and there. In the end I had about 35 plants to harvest. One of them flowered, although woad is generally bienial in the UK (perhaps because some ants had decided to nest under it...). This plant is yet to bear fruit, so maybe might not this season, but an older plant I was donated has done, and I've harvested the black pendulous seeds from it, so hopefully can get a crop next year too.
It is the lovely lush green leaves you harvest, at a point in the year when they've had plenty of sun! Although this summer seemed very rainy, it was also rather sunny, and the proof is in this lovely blue I've obtained.
These leaves were harvested at the beginning of September, and brewed for two weeks in the warm urine vat. My harvest from the plants at this point was 1700 grams of leaves, and I used half of them for this brew, and reserved half of the dye liquid in (hopefully) airtight containers, for later use. This amount yielded about 300 grams of dyed fibres (mostly wool), from pale sky blues  (one dip, or when the vat was running out) to a rather dark blue (from as many as 4 dips).
The green in the picture was a lovely yellow from birch leaves on a young jacobs wool fibres, that I overdyed with one dip in the woad vat.
Wenslydale locks came out a more royal blue than the blue faced leicester and shetland wool fibres. The really deep jeans blue was on soya silk fibres, but bamboo fibres came out much paler ( top left hand corner, on second photo). I also dyed some naturally grey  and moorit shetland wool fibres: the blue only started to show after 3/4 dips, but I do like the effect too ( very top L hand corner, photo 2).
A month later, and I might be able to sneak one more harvest out of these plants before the cold darkness means they won't yield any more blue. If all turns out well, that might mean about 900 grams of fibres dyed from 35 plants.. We'll see how the saved dye liquid works out...

Finally, some photos of the lovely plants prior to harvest, they are about 6 inches in diameter...
 And woad in flower, not to be harvested for blues apparently!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

what you can do with sox and chain plying

Been making socks again! "Silver Fox:20 day socks"(yes they did take 20 days to make, including  prep and spinning) for husband's birthday, and "Beltane socks" for me. Used my usual method of knitting socks: from toe up, using provisional cast on at the base of the toes, short rows/ wrapped stitches for the heels and toes. The Silver Fox's have twisted rib in the cuff (knitted and purled into the back of the stitch) with an invisible bind off, which I still have to look at the instructions for everytime I do it, until I get into the swing (about halfway around the sock cuff!)A really stretch cuff was the result. As with the Beltane's, I kept the cuffs chunky just by staying on the same size of needle. The Beltane's have just a standard k1 p1 rib with a standard cast off  too.
So both of these socks were made from a chain plied yarn. I'm so pleased I learned how to do chain plying, I use it alot. It's advantages in these socks are that you can keep different coloured areas of a many coloured singles seperate (if you are using one continuous multiple coloured braid, the colours work very similarly in the yarn to the original beauty of the fibres), and the yarn becomes a nominally 3 ply, making it harder wearing than a 2 ply. Additionally, you get a nice round yarn because of the 3 plies.
The Silver Fox socks are spun entirely from au natural UK wools. From the toe up these are: Black Jacobs, Black Hebredien, Coloured Texel, Oatmeal Blue faced Leicester. I aimed to subtley blend them to get a graduated colour change, which mostly worked ok. You actually can't do this too much! Somehow any "leap" in colour graduation becomes more pronounced when it's spun up into a yarn, so even if it's just a rolag or 2 per shade, really working on those subtle colour blends at the prep stage pays off in the end.
The Beltane socks, above, were spun mostly from 2 lengths of white shetland tops I dyed up with some artisan threads natural dyes I was given in UK Spinners secret santa. I also overdyed some moorit shetland , a tiny bit of tussah silk and some wensleydale, which take up the dye differently to the white shetland, and added these bits in, sometimes blended in, sometimes just spun in as they were. I felt these one's had a kind of Noro-ish look to them, but ofcourse they have the advantage of being 3 ply, and not singles, so they may wear better....

Monday, 9 April 2012

socks improv:spinning, knitting, dyeing : Design and recipe....

Please do forgive my pale wintery legs. Photos were taken in feb and there was snow hanging about still...
Loved dyeing, spinning and knitting these socks, it was an education and an adventure. Some of the dyeing was done by Myheartexposed (really bright green and orange) onto BFL. Some of the dyeing was done by me using the artisanthreads natural dye kit i got in the UK Spinners Secret Santa swap. Some of the dyeing is just from my stash of eco dyed fibres.

I wanted to have paler aswell as intense colours. Interestingly, although I find the intense areas of colour with blends and specks of brightness in them really beautiful, the pale areas set them off nicely.
 Most of the socks are 2 ply, but some of the more intense colours are actually two singles knitted together. I carefully chose which sections of yarn I wanted next to each other, some places fading more subtly and others suddenly leaping to darker areas. I swapped yarns often, and sometimes spun up something particular for a specific area as I went along.

Design notes: I added a bit more twist to the yarn, to help it wear better. I used mostly shetland (including some moorit) with some BFL and some random blends that had wool in. (in fact, an area of yarn across the widest part of the foot had lots of silk in, and so didn't stretch as much as the surrounding wool. It's relaxed a little now, but was a shade too tight at the start of the sock's useful career..) Some of the yarn is a variably dyed singles of shetland plied with a plain moorit. Some is various blends of colours and fibres, plied together randomly.
Sock design: Well I started with on sock in the middle of the foot! (with a provisional cast on..) Then as I liked what I was doing I added a toe and then knitted back up from where I had begun to the heel....The other sock I started with a provisional cast on at the base of the toes.(Casting on half the number of stitches that would surround the foot (swatch it ,baby! to work it out using stitch counting AND multiplication...)
 The toes and heels are wrapped short rows.
 I had some fun and designed in a vertical twist of one ssk yo every 2 rows, that moved one stitch to the left as I went along. This twist starts at the far left of each sock on the foot's bridge, and twists all the way round: accross the top of the foot, around the back of the heel up to the front of the shin.
Then I started a very stretchy twisted rib, knitting into the back of both the K1 and P1. I cast off with a very stretchy cast off, called "invisible bind off", which uses a blunt needle ( or if you are me, and can't find your bn, using a normal big needle, eye first) I had to follow the instructions for this for most of the cast off, but it works great, and makes the rib lovely and stretchy....

natural egg dyeing, daffs and lambs

Have had fun egg dyeing for Eostre with the girls, using brown and red onion skins. We laid interesting shaped leaves on the eggs, then wrapped them in water softened onion skins, tied them up well using a silk thread (which also took up the dye: a lovely orange brown..), and hard boiled them for ten mins, and resisted unwrapping the steeping eggs until the water cooled. The results were even better than eggspected. Curiously compelling... Lots of pics because you have to eat these little works of art!

Have managed to FEEL the revolve into Springtime this year, so could really get that in touch with that Eostre energy. Lambs and daffs definitely are essential for this. Husband and I spent quite sometime watching a small gang of lambs running up and down a hillock in what can only be described as gambolling glee!

Woad is also germinating nicely... hopefully will get enough to embark upon complex dye processes later in the year. Have planted about 60 seeds....

Friday, 24 February 2012

Tree of Life Eco mitts

A dream realised, and I am mostly content with the result!
The reality is that REALITY and IDEAS ABOUT REALITY are not the same thing. This is especially true in the world of arts and crafts where you can have a brilliant creative idea, and what comes out of your dyepot or off your wheel and needles is just, well, disappointing. So mostly I am of the don't plan TOO much and see what happens persuasion. This is what doing abstract art at Art School does to your creativity...
However THIS project was pretty methodical! That's a knitting thing I think, knitting can be a very left brainy thing... The "see what happens" part of it was the dyeing and allowing a little magic into the yarn by not worrying too much where the 2 plies fell next to each other.
So. I found a pattern I really liked, although the mitts were a little too pointy for my tastes. (I understand it's a traditional shape, but it wasn't exactly me.) So "Tree of  Life". What could be more perfect for my "as low as I can go" low impact mittens?
Back in the summer I was gifted two fleeces from a friend who lives just up the road.(Yay! Very little carbon footprint there!) One a black hebredean, and one an unknown shearling. Upon sampling, they were both full of double cuts, but soft and springy. The shearling a little softer, the hebredean a little longer in staple. I set about gradually dyeing up the shearling fleece, mostly solar (& eco) dyeing over the summer, although the woad urine vat (see other blog post...) was heated on the stove every night and then wrapped up in a wool hotbox to maintain the required vat temps for the dyeing magic to occur.
Come the Autumn I got a drum carder! I was thinking of mittens. I was thinking of how the sky is in Yorkshire in the winter : layers of subtle greys, blues, pale yellows, odd hints of other colours. So I rummaged through my summer dyed stash and found a range of yellow to rust to grey to green, to beautiful woad dyed blues, all from Karen's shearling...., soft and springy. So I made them up into about 100g of batts: I carefully faded the batts from yellow on one side through browns and greys then to blues (with flecks of other colours here and there). I made two batts. I spun two bobbins short draw, (madly pulling out double cuts as I went) aiming to keep the colour sequence similar in both, and then plied them together to get " Wintery sky" the yarn above. The colours came out great, some parts more solid, some more heathery, which worked great for the winter sky effect I was going for. This was to be the background to the tree silouette, which I spun longdraw from rolags in the hebredean. (When I'd sampled it, longdraw worked out nice and soft, short draw, a bit too ropey...). The WPI was very very slightly thicker on the hebredean, which didn't matter too much...
On and off between Advent Fair and first snowfall, I squeezed in knitting up the mittens ( I was also knitting 3 Christmas presents at the same time...). Why is it harder to justify knitting for yourself?! I have no Catholic ancestory (or presentory...)...
I have done very little of this kind of knitting (stranding? colourwork?) before, only really some sampling of trad fair isle patterns on a scarf. So I was pleased it went so well, although some of the tree branches are a little improvised! The leaves were very pleasing to do, especially on the thumbs. One of the mitts has slight furrowing where I LINED UP MY FLOATS instead of staggering them, as I learned was best to do AFTERWARDS. But hey! live and learn. I'm not a perfectionist, and I'm pretty proud of the whole project, not least because they are very low impact on the sourcing and dyeing fronts, and quite beautiful in the snow/ bright sunlight!

Monday, 2 January 2012

pan modifying boring tan and yellows

Getting alot of uninspiring dye results? Try "modifying" your tans and anaemic banana dyeing . An easy process really, done after you've discovered your boring colour.
Well, when I say "pan" modifying, I really mean "rusty old collander", and "small copper bowl" which I put into my stainless steel pans with dyed wool in, usually with the already used dye liquor. In the case of using  copper, it's useful to reheat the dyedwool + dye liquor + copper (swabbed with vinegar for a few days previously) for about 20 minutes on a simmering heat, and best to leave it to all steep at least overnight, or if you're me, completely forget about it for a few days until you have to clean out the guinea pig and move that very interesting looking pan off her hutch... The really bright, deep copper colour (top left) was achieved this way, from an original boring, and pale looking tan from Pear tree leaves ( the locks on the left in the bottom picture).
The locks on the right are from some rose leaves, which with alum went a lovely golden yellow, on Wensleydale wool: These locks when modified with copper bowl, became the lovely grassy green locks in the bottom middle of the top photo.
The green tops on the bottom left are from privet leaves treated similarly. The more olivey tops are from birch leaves modified with copper as well.
The silver grey locks on the bottom right are rose leaves modified with the rusty iron collander, which you don't heat up. Just leave it in the dye liquor with the wool, until it's the right shade (but check it reguarly, as it can make the wool too brittle...) This was actually more accidental than my copper modifying, as I didn't realise the collander had got so rusty underneath...But you can also get a similar effect using a solution of steeped rusty nails, with water and vinegar. I don't often want a grey wool, as there's a wonderful array of lovely, naturally occuring (on the sheep) grey wools already, but it works well on Wensleydale locks as potential Crone's hair....
You can also get a very elfin silvery green modifying with the iron solution in or over yellows if you only leave the locks in for a minute or two, carefully watching them, so they don't go all the way into grey.