Sunday, 18 September 2016

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

Hey there,

As you may have seen on my instagram, I've been experimenting with a whole new branch of yarncraft: natural dyeing! I planned to experiment with natural dying since the beginning of summer, but you know how it goes, and well I only got to it during my last week of summer break. Dying yarn is just one of those extra steps in the whole creation process that really adds to the connection to the life cycle of your clothes. There's a lot to be said in favour of natural dying: it's better for the environment, it has historical connections going back thousands of years and the challenges and restrictions posed by the materials make natural dying a wholly special art form. Well known yarns such as Shilasdair but also tons of indy-dyers use natural dyestuffs for their yarns.

When I mention historical precedents, I do mean historical. The whole image of the Bland Middle Ages is a myth, because people have been dying their clothing for millennia in all kinds of bright colours, using plants such as woad, madder and later indigo. Because of this, I've often bumped into natural dyers during re-enactment festivals and historical fairs. Such a fair is always a certain type of assault on the senses, with the roaring fires, the sounds of folk bands and fake battles, and the smells of mud, wood smoke, hot iron, charred meat, but you know you've arrived when the smell of wet sheep penetrates your nose, you turn a corner, and there it is, bubbling away in a cooking pot or hanging to dry on a ramshackle rack next to a Viking tent.

Now, on to my own experiment! Although many people like to grow their own dyestuffs, I'm very grateful for that modern equivalent of Roman roads, the internet, which allowed me to order my every need. First, I needed the canvas: an undyed yarn. The undyed shades of Istex can be a good starting point, but I bought three skeins specifically meant for dyeing. It's a sport weight made of 100% Blue Faced Leicester. A skein weighs 100 grams and has 400 mtrs of 4ply superwash wool. I had two dyes to work with: madder and chamomile. Although I drink a lot of tea, it's rarely chamomile so I had to buy a big bag of dried flowers for this dyepot, which is supposed to give off a yellow colour. The madder is supposed to give off a deep red colour, so I was very exited to get started!
The Process
I used The Modern Natural Dyer by Kirstine Vejar as my inspiration and my guide! First, I 'pre-wetted' all the skeins, which means I put them on top of a pan filled with water and let them soak up water until the skeins sink by themselves. Next I gently washed the yarn, a process called scouring. The yarn was put in a pan with water and a bit of dish washing liquid and kept at 82 degrees Celsius for about an hour. It was a real challenge to keep the pot at a constant temperature for such a long time, especially with an electric stove which just isn't as flexible as a gas furnace. The same difficulty arose in each of the next steps, but there's nothing to do but wing it, I guess!

The third step was mordanting, which is important to make sure the dye catches. I used alum, put it in water that had to be kept at 88 degrees.

I put in the still wet, scoured yarn and had to keep it at a steady temperature for an hour, all the while singing and cackling in my best impression of a Shakespearian witch over her boiling cauldron. A lot of people also add chalk at this point, because that also affects how well the dye catches. For me, this wasn't a necessity, because where I live we get very 'hard' water, i.e. water that has a lot of chalk in it. Seriously, you wouldn't believe how often I have to clean my tea kettle! The mordanted skeins can be left to dry or used immediately.

Next, I had to make the actual dye bath. For the chamomile I added chamomile to the water and let it simmer for about an hour. I strained the water and used it for my first skein. It had to be in the dye bath for another hour at just below boiling point. The whole house smelt of chamomile tea by then. I had wanted to make only one skein in this colour, as chamomile is said to produce a quite light but bright colour. However, as the first skein came out much darker and more deeply coloured than I expected, I added another skein to the same dye bath.

A week later I started on the madder. I let the madder soak in cold water overnight, and proceeded to let it simmer again, this time following a recipe with a strict instruction not to let the water go over 65 degrees. After straining, I added the third and last skein, which I had pre-wetted because it had been drying for a week. An hour later it could come out.

The Result
Now I had three skeins of handdyed yarn! They were a bit ruffled, but after a bit of re-skeining it looked sleek again. I'm really happy with the looks of the chamomile-dyed yarn. It's so much deeper and fuller than I expected. In retrospect, the difference in colour between the first dye bath and the second dye bath is much smaller than I thought, and both skeins are very rich in colour.

Initially I had the idea to put the lighter of the two yellow skeins into the madder bath to create an orange skein, so I would have a gradient running yellow, orange and red. What took me away from this path however was not only my satisfaction with the yellow, but in all honesty, also disappointment with the madder. Instead of a deep, bright red it turned out a sort of reddish-pink coral colour. I'm not sure where it went 'wrong', it is still a pretty colour, and coral tones are my favourite kinds of pink but it's not the colour I had hoped for. I have plenty of madder left so I'll just have to give it another try and experiment with different quantities of dyestuff and/or yarn.

I liked trying my hand on a bit of yarn dying. It was fun to potter around with flowers, roots, wool and such. Natural dying is  a very hands-on approach to working with wool and natural earthly materials. It added to my (already considerable) appreciation of natural yarn dyers, and indie-dyers in general! In the meantime I've been reading about different kinds of natural dye materials and am especially intrigued by dying with indigo (which is a totally different process from dying with other natural materials). I can see myself trying my hand at that in the future. I don't suspect it will become as an obsession as my other crafts, mainly because what with uni, knitting, sewing and life in general I already have quite a bit going on. But I'm having fun, and that's what counts, right?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Finally Hansel

Okay, so I may have hinted at finishing this hap a few times before, and I might have been promising to take pictures of it for over a month, but it's just very uncomfortable to take photographs of The One Shawl to Rule them All/The Mother of Shawls when the summer sun keeps your town at a steady dragon temperature. Luckily, like in any desert, the temperature on the plains of Mordor drops late in the evening, so aided by the mighty sword of ISO 3200, I finally managed to take some, slightly grainy, late-evening pictures!

So, here she is! I struggle to remember what exactly I have or haven't posted about the shawl, so I'll just give a quick recap. I started to knit this pattern in the run up to the release of Kate Davies' The Book of Haps, when the urge to cast on a Shetland hap overpowered my patience.

Pattern: Hansel Hap (Full)
Designer: Gudrun Johnson
Yarn: Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight
Colourway: 203 (MC), 87 (CC1) FC12 (CC2), FC55 (CC3), 122 (CC4)
Knitted while reading: The Truth About Stories - Thomas King

One thing about knitting this hap is that picking the colours is a lot of fun, albeit a bit of a struggle with this particular project. The design's wavy border really helps you create exciting colour gradients, and it's just a really fun exercise to create just that combination that fits your imagination. In the picture above, the colours are, from left to right starting with the main colour and ending with the orange, 203 / 87 / FC12 / FC55 /122.

The hap really is, without a shred of doubt, the biggest flat object I've ever knitted. It's knitted from the inside outwards in one piece, which I've since learnt is an atypical construction for what looks like quite a traditional hap. According to The Book of Haps, the typical Shetland construction is from the edges inwards, while most non-Shetland replica's where constructed by knitting edges and centre as separate panels. For size, check out the picture below;  the bottom edge of the shawl was resting on my feet!

 As a result of the size, I had some difficulties with finding out how to actually wear the hap. At a certain moment, I was tempted to google for youtube tutorials on how to wear haps, but just then it 'clicked'. I think it'll become very wearable during winter, as it really feels as if you're wrapped in a blanket; a fashionable and practical blanket which is acceptable to wear in public, but as cosy as any blanket.

Unless the weather really starts to change, we'll have to wait for that winter season a bit longer though.
 Until then -or sooner-,

Sunday, 24 July 2016

What's happening next?

"Never again.". A four day and 200 kilometre long walk has just finished in my home town. According to a lady on the bus, a local newspaper had polled that 70% of those who crossed the finish line of this monster marathon swore to never again put themselves through this...  yet more than half will probably return again next year, and the next, and the next. What does that have to do with knitting? Well, I just finished the longest and largest shawl I've ever made!

Before blocking
It's Gudrun Johnson's Hansel Hap, that I talked about in my previous blog post. Blocking was a challenge, and I had to create a surface to block it on that was both large enough and away from cat paws, that would make Pat & Mat weep with pride! The blocking is just finished, thanks to a heatwave it was dry within half a day or so. I still have to take better pictures to show you the end result, and a full report will follow once said heatwave has passed somewhat.

When I just finished this hap, I could have sworn that I wouldn't start another huge hap, well not never, but not soon either. So, with pride I'm ready to announce my next WIP;

Never again? Yes, again! Just like all those marchers, I can't help myself! I'm in love with Kate Davies' Book of Haps. I'm ready to cast on with yarn from a new to me indie-dyer and and I can't wait to try it out and see how it knits up! The pattern I've picked is Veera Välimäki's Theme and Variation, and I'll be casting on the largest size... obviously.

Happy summer knitting,
I'll check back with all of you soon!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Hansel and Happenings

Hi there,

So I know I haven't really been around much, here or anywhere on the net really this last month. I've been away doing things that I typically don't blog about. I've also felt the need to turn away from a bit from all the screens, news feeds and social media. I'm inclined to do this every summer, after exam rush has ended, but this year I especially felt the need to hide in my own cave of book and wool and let the world be the world. The Orlando shooting, Trump, the EU referendum. Now in the aftermath of that, I'm full of worries about what's going to happen to the EU and especially in regards to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My whole time line has been in a sad state since Friday. I had wanted the UK to stay in the EU, but at least when I woke up, I could do so with the reassurance that nobody took my rights away. I'm still a citizen of the EU, which sadly cannot be said for many people across the pond. It feels like someone opened Pandora's box and handed out the keys to anyone willing to take them.

Nevertheless, I've steadily kept on knitting. I've seen quite some people in the online knitosphere call out to say that we should keep on crafting and sharing beautiful things, if only as a therapeutic act in all these troubles. So here it goes, my attempt to join in this.

My current project is entering the final stage. It's a Shetland hap, more specifically the Full Hansel Hap designed by Gudrun Johnston. It's a giant beast of a shawl, the Mother of Shawls, The One Shawl to Rule Them All. I've had it in my queue since it was published, but finally got to it when the anticipation about Kate Davies new book The book of Haps got too much. For a few weeks, haps were absolutely everywhere I looked on the net, it got to me, so I cast this one on in hopes of finishing it before Kate's book would arrive.

I'm about to start the lace edge. About a month ago or so I would have told you the same; I was about to start the lace edge. The shell border proved to be a bit of an obstacle for me. I should have known, given I breezed surprisingly fast through the garter stitch middle. Karma strikes back! I think I must have knit some parts of the shell border about ten times or so by now. I had a lot of trouble with getting the colour combination right. I finally thought I had it, but had to rip it all again when one of my chosen colours clashed hideously with the other 3 colours when knitted up (I swear they looked good together on the skein!). But between picking new colours, waiting for yarn to arrive, knitting, and finally being happy with the colour combo, I made some knitting mistakes. What can I say, this is my knit-inbetween/while-doing-other-things, and watching penguin chicks hatch on the tv proved to be too much of a distraction. I off sided the lace on one of the four sides....which I naturally only found out when I finished the whole shell bit. So with a good glass of cider and a cat on my lap I set to work and ripped it all out (yet) again...trying not to shout at the knitting gods.

So, here I am, hoping to finally put all of that behind me (touch wood!). In the months to come I'll be able to randomly recite this lace pattern (a skill which will no doubt delight my friends). This week also saw the arrival of The Book of Haps in the Treehouse, completing the hap themed month. Unfortunately I was not able to beat the hap deadline with my shawl, but let that not spoil its glorious publication! I spend the weekend reading Kate's essay about the etymology and meaning of Hap, which as a language geek especially delighted me. My favourite designs from the book are Moder Dy, Lang Ayre, Houlland, Theme and Variation and Uncia. The last one being designed by Lucy Hague, so no surprises there. Hers and Kate's were the ones I knew, without question, I was going to like as soon as the names were announced on Kate's blog. For now, I'll just enjoy reading the essays and knitting of my monster shawl. We'll see what I feel like  making after this.

I hope everyone has a good time, I wish everyone lots of strength in keeping positive, and happy knitting,

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Skiff Hat

 I have a new knitted project to show you, a hat this time. This was my project for when I was working on my midterm papers. I wanted something that was interesting as well as small, which wouldn't be a huge commitment for me, so that when the paper writing business was over, and I had a little more head space, I could jump right into a new project.

Pattern: Skiff 
Designer:Jared Flood
Yarn used: Malabrigo Rios
Associated reading: Kiss of the Fur Queen - Tomson Highway

I went with the Skiff Hat by Jared Flood. It's been a while since I did something with cables, and I had been meaning to do something with cables again for a while. I've even been queueing some cabled jumpers and cardigans.Skiff has been on my radar for a while. I love the cable pattern on this one, especially on the slouchy version. I've seen many versions out there which I really liked so it was about time I made one myself.

I made some changes to the pattern. While browsing through the Ravelry projects, I noticed that many commented that the hat comes out quite big. Since the pattern comes in only one size,  I knew I had to tinker on it a bit myself. This was especially pressing because the yarn I used, Malabrio Rios, tends to grow quite a bit after blocking. I used smaller needles for the ribbing, but more importantly, I left out a whole pattern repeat. I did five pattern repeats, instead of six. I did this for the ribbing as well, so I cast on only 100 stitches. I shortened the brim as well, ribbing until it measured 6 inches.


I've haven't knitted any Brooklyn Tweed Patterns for a while. Partly because, while I liked  some of the designs, none of the recent publications really ticked all of my "Fantastic, lets cast this on right away" boxes, at least until the new Wool People collection they released last week. Moreover, in January Vatmoss hit the knitting world,  which meant prices for patterns rose for European knitters.  Most patterns only had a slight price increase, but Brooklyn Tweed patterns, which already was a bit on the expensive side, increased with 1 to 2 euros per pattern, and in some cases even more. I have two minds about this, because on the one hand I think designers should get a fair compensation for their hard work, on the other hand I don't think that a 2 euro tax increase is going to do that. In any case, it meant that Skiff, for a while at least, was priced at 10 euros, which I find quite a lot for a hat pattern which comes in one size. Luckily, the prices have gone back to their old prices since a while. I don't know why, but maybe the prices went back when Ravelry started handling the Vatmoss for the patterns.

I took these pictures a week or two ago, on the coldest day of April. It was a fickle day, it was cold and there were showers of rain, hail and even some snow. Just before sundown, we had a dry spell and we quickly headed out to take these photos. When I started knitting this hat, I had expected that the weather might make taking pictures a bit odd, however I expected it to be to warm, rather than a bit on the cold side. ...

Friday, 29 April 2016

Graduation Dress

Last week I had my Bachelor degree ceremony. Officially I've had my degree for a while, and I've already started my Master's level, but due to an endless stream of paperwork, and lots of stuff that needed to be organized, it took until now to have the official ceremony. Now I'm not entirely sure how this is in other countries, but getting your academic bachelor is a Big Thing over here.

The ceremony itself turned out pretty neat. There were lots of my (former) teachers, who know me quite well personally, as well as one of my closest friends at uni, who was in exactly the same boat as I. I got to talk about my research in front of an audience and a giant microphone stand which clearly was not made for people with gnome ancestry, and everything always feels a lot more official and celebrative when you get it printed on fancy paper and wrapped in a silver-coloured cylinder (I suggested a cylinder of pure wool to wrap the master's degree in, we'll see what they'll do with my advice).

I have to admit that beforehand I wasn't really feeling it, partly because in general I'm just not really into such formal things, but mostly because I guess I'm already a bit past that moment. I felt a huge burst of happiness the moment I knew that I had my degree, but because I've already moved on with other studies, a ceremony seemed slightly redundant. So to pump myself up for the event I did what I often do; making something for myself to wear.

I started brainstorming as to what I wanted a week or two before the date, so that, in true procrastination style, I started the weekend before and had to force myself to finish it in two days.  My main criterion was that I wanted the dress to reflect me; something that would be in line with the type of clothing that I wear.  I debated which pattern the use for a while, and in the end made another version of the Seda dress. I was in two minds about it at first, because there is also a part of me that just wants to try as many new patterns as I can, as I still have so much to learn in sewing. But there is also a lot to be said of the advantages about finding and subsequently sewing up many versions of dresses that tick all the boxes. Then I pictured Seda with a floral main fabric, combined with a neutral yoke. I really couldn't get the image out of my head. Another pro of this route was that, because I was pressed for time, it was a good move to go with something which I knew was going to fit me well. The Seda dress I made for Christmas fits me exceptionally well, just out of the envelope. So with that in mind I started cutting the fabric for this one. Because I had made it before the process was really speedy, and I finished it without a moment of stress.

The fabric used for this dress is cotton poplin. For my previous Seda the main fabric was heavy and thick, as I made it with winter in mind. The poplin used for this dress is a lot lighter, and transforms the feeling of the dress. I'm very chuffed about the bias tape, which I made from the neutral fabric. I'm now considering whether a bias foot is a good investment, does anyone of you have experience with one?

 I'm very happy with the finished dress. It feels very 'me', and when I finished it I basically couldn't wait to put it on, and was sad(-ish) to have to wait until the end of the week to wear it. I guess this is a pretty good indicator to whether the project is a success or not. Aside from simply how the dress looks, I think the construction of this dress is the best I've done so far, and after having to spend frustratingly long weeks on another (yet unblogged) dress, it felt really good to be able to follow that up with a speedy project. We took these photo's on the way back home from the ceremony, so that explains the somewhat jubilate mood in some of these pictures.

I cannot promise this is going to be the last Seda dress. The pattern is just so versatile, it suits me very well. I have to confess that I've already been thinking up different fabric and colour combination, but I'm first going to explore some different waters before returning to this one.

This project has really motivated me to make a list of sewing projects that I want to make soon. I felt so happy and proud when I stepped up on that platform to get my degree in my self made dress. Not pictured are the knitted cardigan and shawl I wore when I was there, so my outfit was (almost) completely handmade. This doesn't happen all to often: I mean, I wear my knitted projects all the time, but this is a whole new level for me, and it made me feel chuffed. I have a tendency to wait for special occasions as an excuse to sew something (case in point), but I'm now looking forward to start sewing more and more everyday wear clothing.

I hope my next blogpost will follow at a shorter interval. I do notice that the better weather and longer light make it easier for me to take project pictures when needed, even though we've had snow (!) and extremely low temperatures this week. Although I do worry about the climate, it was a good excuse to bring out ALL the knitwear again! I hope the weather is treating all of you well,

Happy Weekend!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Afmaeli Lopapeysa

Hello world! What can I say? I enjoy my master courses tremendously, but they do take some work.
 Lets show you the last thing I finished before mid terms: my Afmaeli sweater. After I finished my Jenny at the Fair I was a bit lost as to what to knit next. I was a bit restless in my knitting, so to speak. I started a couple of things, but nothing felt quite right and was subsequently able to keep my focus. This hardly ever happens, I have a to-make list of unspeakable length. When I'm at the tail end of a project, I start planning about what my next project is going to be. This time though, I didn't find my flow in any of the projects I decided on. I decided to turn back to an old love, one that always feels right; the lopapeysa.

Designer: Védís Jónsdóttir
Yarn used: Lett Lopi
Associated reading: Shell Shaker by LeAnne Howe

The pattern, Afmaeli, was designed by Védís Jónsdóttir in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Istex. It is one of the most popular Icelandic sweater patterns on Ravelry, probably in part because it is a free pattern, but mostly because it is just a really attractive design. For the yoke, two options are given, one with a normal uni colour background, and one with a multicoloured background. I opted for the latter, because I never say no to a good rainbow coloured yoke.

I used a black heathered Lett Lopi for the main colour. I had it in my stash for quite a while, initially for a different sweater. As any knitter with an addiction for icelandic wool, love for colourwork and a fondness for yoke sweaters will readily admit, you tend to have a stockpile of scraps and leftover balls from previous sweater. This is excellent, as this helped

I really enjoyed knitting this lopapeysa, which was a relief after my initial indecision. I loved, loved, loved working on the yoke. I mean I always love working on yokes, however this one is special. I have yet to see a colour combination in which I doesn't suit this sweater, but I especially like the yokes with the multi coloured background effect.

I did make some changes to the pattern. For one, I included shaping. This is not included in the Afmaeli pattern itself, but it is easy to add. I copied the waist shaping from the Grettir pattern, as I'm really pleased with the shaping there, and it fits really well. I did not use the short row neck shaping from Grettir's pattern. I know most people really love them, but they don't always work out for the better for me. I think this sweater fits better in the shoulders and in the back than my Grettir sweater, which makes me wonder whether I should just give up on short row neck shaping all together. Another thing I changed was make the yoke less deep. I'm quite short, so to keep the proportions and not end up with a comically deep yoke, I skipped some of the yoke rows on the chart. This was another easy change as they include quite a lot of main colour rows in the chart, before you are supposed to start the colourwork. I skipped most of these rows. Finally I changed the stitch count on the sleeves, so my sleeve would have a complete pattern repeat, instead of a miss-matched one, which the original pattern ended up with.

 Spring weather has arrived in these parts. While the pictures don't suggest it, the forest is still quite barren, but there are little signs that this is about to change soon, and the first new greens are creeping upwards. Sunny weather will soon take over. This means that this sweater won't get many outings until the colder weather returns, but when it does, I'll make sure that this one will be worn a lot. Enjoy your weekend,