Quick! To the Fibre Festival!

FOs (Finished Objects)

What’s been finished since my last post

  • Two crochet cotton collars
    I’ll be honest, I kinda worked out of my head for this.  I bought a pretty blouse in the M&S sale, and wanted to make it more ‘vintage’ with a matching collar.  Now I have two.
  • Mini Skein Jars
    Saw this idea on etsy and had half an hour to kill.  Might do a tutorial on how to make these with stuff you can buy in discount craft store ‘The Works’.

WIPs (Works in Progress)

Works actively being worked on – (not hibernating or we’d be here forever) including my PP (PSurse Project or the project that is living in my handbag)

  • Spiderweb Skirt, Hook 5mm, Knit Picks Dishie in “EggPlant”
    This is my ‘desk’ project so only gets worked on in my lunch hour at work. Only a couple of rows further on.
  • Tirrold Sweater – came out of long term hibernation to become my ‘purse project’.  Have completed the first diamond of the lace pattern of the back
  • Spectral – got another few repeats done. Having spent what seemed like a long time getting a colour change every 2 or 3 segments I’m now upto 10 or 11 segments all the same colour. Luckily it’s a beautiful purple, but still a bit odd.

Every Day’s a School Day

What I’m learning from my crafting this month..

  • There is joy in being a beginner
    It can be useful to relearn or learn something completely new to remind yourself what it’s like to feel all fingers and thumbs and get that buzz of ‘mastering’ a new skill or technique. This month I’ve been playing with really looking at how my stitches ‘sit’ on the needles in my knitting – and how that affects the stitch – and also if wrapping clockwise or anticlockwise for crochet actually matters (short answer is yes, yes it does)…

Bits of Sheep

Stash reduction or enhancement

Hmm. It started going wrong when The Works had the Caron X Pantone yarnspiration at just £5 a set.  I was good – I only bought 2, and I deliberately tried to buy colourways with at least one colour that I wouldn’t normally go for. But then Fibre East happened. Sigh.

MonthBalls/Skeins InBalls/Skeins OutNet Balance

Oh Shiny…

The source of my chronic startitis – covering everything from planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye to subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..

So I spent a little bit of time this month making some cute mini skein ornaments (and a lot less time than you would think) so I could have written about that, but I also did a little bit of dyeing with food colouring (having *so* much fun with this)  so I thought about writing about that, but then, in the midst of the hottest week of the year, there was Fibre East 2019!

My first yarn festival ever was the almost mythical Knitnation in 2010.   I was a brand new knitter and got to attend a workshop on casting on and binding off – and massive thanks to the lady who sat next to me and accidentally taught me how to read my knitting (a fundamentally essential skill in my opinion).  I was also introduced to the stampeding knitters attacking the Wollmeise stand – I still have the skein I bought to make Arlene’s World of Lace Sleeping Beauty, and I’m still amazed at how tight she manages to wind her skeins. It was also something of a baptism of fire into yarn that wasn’t 100% acrylic, how much yarn actually costs, and how to work out pence-per-yard!

After that came KnitNation 2011 (and memorable workshops with Franklin Habit and Susan Crawford), yarn-something-or-other in Brighton, three knitting and stitching shows at Alexandra Palace (just awful, I was talked into going twice more than I really wanted to) and my first attendance at Yarnporium 2018 (which is a lovely ‘little’ show run every other year in London).  There have also been four visits to Fibre East. My last visit was in 2017 as I couldn’t make it last year and this year didn’t disappoint.

I also got to take a friend (‘D’) to her second ever fibre show – and the biggest one she’s been to.  I met up with friend (and fibre east show regular) ‘R’ with her two boys, and unfortunately plans to meet up with new friend Melanie_Odell from the dyeing course (check out her beautiful work on Instagram) failed, but maybe next year!

Having had the hottest day in the UK on record (38.7C) on the Thursday, it was thankfully quite a bit cooler by Saturday (just 23C) – though I could have lived without the rain.  We arrived early (as the doors opened) and had a wander through all that was on offer. 

D tried her hand at drop spindle, I had a go at weaving on an 8 shaft loom and the boys had a blast trying out block printing.  The show was bigger again this year, and it took us nearly 4 hours to amble around and have a nosey at most things (remember we had two small children in tow).  Lots and lots (and lots) of hand dyed artisan yarns, quite a bit of felting on display and the guild’s hall showcased some very impressive work.

Changes to the catering this year meant that there were huge queues and a mediocre (at best) offering for food – I think next year will be a bring-your-own picnic – but it must be difficult to feed and water a crowd of a couple thousand people.  My one ‘beef’ was with the shoppers who felt the need to keep their new purchases ‘safe’ by putting them on chairs at their tables. I’m sorry but when you can see people standing trying to juggle a sandwich and hot drink and bags then taking up seats for your new stash is just ignorant.  Particularly during the really busy period between 12 and 2.

It was a delight to see ‘old friends’ (I’m not sure they really are friends if you see them once a year in order to buy yarn from them but I’m going with it) and to make some new ones.  Special shout outs to the lovely people who I didn’t buy anything off this time but have in the past or will in the future… Ducky Darlings where I admired their beautiful Navelli tee sweater (sorry for not linking to the project in Ravelry – I can’t find it!), Jon at EasyKnits who is always awesome and doing really creative things with sock blanks and interesting colourways and Sue at SSK (Sue Stratford Knits) with her lovely drink inspired designs and badges.

I have to say I was very reserved and only picked up a ‘couple’ of things; 

  • It started with 423gms of undyed lambswool with a tweed fleck for just £10 and a single skein of undyed mohair for £3 from AC Wood speciality fibres.
  • Followed by the Strange Brew book from TinCanKnits (I see yoked patterned sweater designs in my not-to-distant future) bought from Ewe and Ply
  • Tim and Denise at WilloFibres were happy to sell me some new acid dye colours that I am not confident making myself,
  • Sarah and Jon from Purlescence were as wonderful as always and added to my Chiaogoo interchangeable collection with some 6mm tips and yet another cable (why do we never have enough?)
  • The intriguing  Ribbonesque pattern might have fallen into my bag – thought up by the talented Tanja at The Knitting Swede
  • little tiny bee stitch markers and a lovely 1/2 sized gauge measure arrived via Emma at Yarnistry (and some distinctly not safe for work stitch markers for one of D’s crafting friends)
  • And finally after much cooing and indecision (and technically after the show had closed)  the very patient Tara and her mother at Irish Artisan Yarns (IAY) parted with the most amazing orange/blue ‘Ballyholme’ colourway (seriously check out the watercolour soft colours on her baby alpaca silk blends)

And before you think ‘gosh, that’s a lot!’ I have come back from other yarn shows with over 20 skeins of yarn plus ‘trinkets’.  3 skeins, 2 patterns, a set of stitch markers a gauge measure and some dye does not constitute ‘a lot’ in my universe at least ; -)

Another special shout out to  Alls Wool that Ends Wool.  D picked up the most amazing sparkle cosmic colourway (which isn’t currently on their Etsy shop for me to link to) from Emma & Hubby (thanks for being so patient with all the questions guys).

So a long day (I set off at 6.20am and got home just on midnight) but Fibre East is genuinely a lovely show to attend. Are you picking up the courage to attend your first show? Or are you an old hand at this and what’s your favourite show?

Finally, a little side note: if you want a giggle, apparently crochet garments are in again – Kenya Hunt of the Guardian newspaper is most taken with her £295 granny square dress and she’s managed to get an entire article about how to wear this dress with two different pairs of shoes and accessories.

I’m all for hand crafted garments (and you don’t get much more handcrafted than crochet as there is no machine that can do this) but I do wish crochet would move past the granny square! Knitting has developed so much from the monstrous clown-barf mohair stuff I was forced to wear in the 1970s and 1980s, but crochet garments really do seem to be stuck in the 70s (with the exception of the amazing avant-garde stuff that the Russian bloc and Japan seem to be producing)

Dyeing to learn..

This is a little different to my ‘usual’ posts in that not much time has passed (a little over 2 weeks) since my July post, so the regular ‘features’; Finished Objects, Works in Progress, Every Day’s a School Day and Bits of Sheep, will return in the August post.

Oh Shiny…

The source of my startitis – for example planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye or subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..

The 22nd and 29th of June were spent in a haze of chemical compounds in a garrett studio in south London.  But oh, what fun we had!

the start point of the adventure…

Ok, to be completely fair the ‘garrett’ was a bright and airy 2nd floor large studio at Morley College, the chemical haze was safely contained within the fume cupboard and ‘south’ London was within 10 minutes (brisk) walk of Waterloo station.

I was there to be inducted into the delights of hand dyeing yarn (a source of much confusion and amusement to my non-yarn friends) over two days – covering everything from making up stock dyes, working out mordants (the stuff that stops the dye from just falling off the yarn  again, mixing colours and dying a variety of fibre (lambswool and cotton provided by them for little cost, superwash, silk and fibre blends provided by ourselves)

It was a small group, just 4 for the first session and we were joined by 2 more for the second session, and Alex (our tutor) brought her wonderful calm, exploratory nature to create a class just brimming with curiosity and ‘what happens if…’

We covered so much in the two days of the class that I’m going to summarise this a bit – and possibly (probably) do companion posts in future.  The main points I learnt are:

There are different types of dye for different fibres

So the first thing we learnt is that not all dye is created equal, it depends on what type of fibre you are trying to add colour to.

  • Protein based fibres (most animal fibres such as wool, alpaca etc.. and silk) are dyed using Protein or Acid dyes (same thing, different terms).  They are called acid dyes because you use an acid (often vinegar or citric acid) and heat as a fixer.
  • Celluloid Fibres (most plant fibres such as cotton, hemp, linen…) are dyed using Protion or Alkaline dyes (again same thing, different terms).  They are fixed with an alkaline such as sodium carbonate solution and salt water.  This method doesn’t require heat to set – and entertainingly (confusingly) can be used on protein based fibres by using an acid and heat.

Note: the powders are very fine and must only be handled if you are wearing a suitable dust mask or have access to a fume cupboard.  Gloves are required or your hands will give you away as a dyer and the dyes take *ages* to fade…

You have to scour your yarn before starting

  • Scouring means to clean your yarn and remove all oils and grease as well as dirt before you start.  It is usually done by dunking the yarn into a pot of vinegar water for ½ hour, or leaving overnight in a pot with a bit of dish soap (depending on the fibre)
  • Of course rules were made to be broken and if you are working from commercially produced undyed skeins there is nothing stopping you dunking it into the dye bath dry – it’s one way of getting a specific result (see below)

There are loads of different ways of adding the colour to the fibre

Depending on the dye type, some of these methods will work better than others, but the main styles of hand dyeing seem to be:

  • Solid – put the fibre in a pot with water.  Add the dye. Bring up the heat (if needed).  Wait until all the colour is absorbed. Rinse.  Apparently this can be hard to achieve as a hand-dyer and you are more likely to end up with…
  • Tonal – adding dry yarn to a pre-warmed dye bath – or adding yarn in a big pan and then adding dye outside or inside the yarn (like a doughnut) means the dye will uptake differently giving subtle shade differences around the skein.  This can also happen with some mixed colours where different component colours attach to the yarn at different rates. An example of this would be purple made up of blue and red – the red will attach faster than the blue meaning there would be some red/purple bits and some blue/purple bits.
  • Dip Dyed – A section of yarn is dipped into several dye baths of different colours giving long(ish) sections of colour but there are multiple different colours per skein (2+)  the length of each section depends on how big your skein is!
  • Ombre – the yarn is dipped in sections into the yarn for different amounts of time – the longer the yarn is in the pot the deeper the final colour.  This can be done by putting all the yarn in and then taking bits out, or by gradually adding more yarn to the pot. Gives a single gradient shade along the skein.
  • Hand-Painting – the yarn is laid out on a flat surface and the dye is painted, pressed, dribbled, printed etc.. onto the yarn.  This gives a very high level of control over where the dye goes and which colours go where
  • Space Dyeing – can be done flat on a surface or in a low level of water in a pan.  Very similar to hand painting. Done flat it usually gives short stripes of colour across a skein (giving an almost tie-dye effect).  In a pan the extra water encourages dispersion so gives a softer marbled effect and colour mixing.
  • Tie Dye – By adding twists of string or ribbon tightly to the fibre you can make areas that are white and undyed.  These you can leave white or add other colours after the first process. For example you could make a solid or tonal yarn and then add a secondary colour by hand-painting.
  • Speckling – using a tool (brush, toothbrush, finger, fork) to spray/drop small amounts of dye (powder or fluid) across a skein laid flat on a surface or in a shallow bath.  This gives little dots or specks of colour/s throughout the yarn.
  • Overdyeing – adding a second colour over an existing colour.  For example dyeing a fibre yellow, then adding red would give an orange colour.  Often used to ‘correct’ colourways that you don’t like. You can go darker but not paler.
  • Glazing – this is a form of dyeing where the fibre is put into a second colour for a very short space of time so that only the outermost threads pick up any dye and it is only surface.  Frequently used as a form of overdyeing.

There is less maths than you think

While it is possible to get jewellers scales and weigh dye out to a fraction of a gram (and this is needed if you want exact repeatable colours) this is not necessary for dyeing at home.  Most of the course was ‘about this much’ finger in the air measurements (we were given crib sheets of the most common ratio’s) This created a wonderful exploratory, curiosity driven class which gave us the confidence to try a more scientific approach at home if you wanted to.

You need less dye than you think

We made up 5 colours of stock dye (the base solution you make everything else from).  10g of dry powder mixed with 200mg of water each was PLENTY (I have enough left over to dye another 10 or so 100g skiens to a mid depth of colour).  We used 5 colours in the acid dye (a blue/black, blue, blue/red, a greeny yellow and an orangey yellow – and by that I mean the black had blue tones, the red had blue tones…) and 4 colours in the alkaline dye (black, blue, red and red/yellow).  You can buy dyes from online suppliers in about 5grams upwards.

These five shades were all we needed to be able to make any colour you can think of by mixing different quantities of different base colour together e.g. red and blue makes purple.

Colours don’t mix in the way I think they do

And I think this is where I am going to have a lot of fun.  The most surprising was that to get grey (with the blue/black acid dye we were using) you had to add orange (to cancel out the blue) – never would have thought of that!

The Dyeing community are welcoming and very sharing with their knowledge

There is a whole heap of people who are taking the time to share quality videos that are clear and understandable on all sorts of different techniques.  Check out YouTube. Some of those I have found useful are HueLoco (lovely clear videos on dyeing techniques including how they knit up), Rebecca of ChemKnits (for a whole gamut of videos on every technique you can think of and a nice clear video on the maths of dyeing), Nicole Frost of FrostYarn (for wonderfully detailed video and handouts on ratios of dyes to get specific colours) and Wool,Needles, Hands (for a fascinating journey through dyeing skeins from inspiration photo to finished product)

In a little more detail (with photos of what I did…)

The first morning was spent getting a little bit of background about ourselves, showing samples and talking about the different types of dye.  We then made little mini skeins of lambswool and made up our protein dyes. While we were making our dyes and colours we also set our yarns to pre-soak for about 30 minutes in a water bath with our vinegar added  (not much it works out as about 1 tablespoon of vinegar per mug of water)

We made up five base colours, from which we would mix all our other colours. Then we were left to our own devices to mix colours we wanted to try.  This was done but putting a dribble in a white cup and adding other colours till you got about the colour you wanted. Then (because this class was an introduction to and not focussed on exact repeatable results) you kind of remembered that you had put in twice as much red and blue, or 3 times as much yellow/green as red and tipped about the ‘right amount’ into a pre-heated water filled pan or (in our case) tea urn.  Alex was the absolute master at getting this right, years of experience allowing her to perform what was, in our eyes, magic.

I made a stunning royal purple which I ombre dyed in a deep (tall narrow) tea urn and was surprised at the difference between superwash and pure wool uptake.  The wool below was left in the bath for about 20 minutes for the darkest shade (about 5 minutes for the lightest) and the bright purple superwash was in the dye for less than 30 seconds! Note: I demonstrated how to use a ball winder with this skein to another student and then re-skeined it so it’s not in it’s beautiful ombre gradient anymore.

I also stole some ‘aubergine’ purple and a beautiful green from my class mates and added a short splash of my purple to make what I initially called ‘middleclass breakfast’  – until somebody else pointed out that a) isn’t that avocado? (yes, yes it is), and b) those are perfect suffragette colours!

I’ve been chasing a perfect ‘sunset on sandstone’ colour for a design idea and after lots of dipping and mixing individual drips  I got what I thought was a pretty good colour – however I didn’t have the first clue as to the proportions of which dye/s I had used.  Solution? Add water to the cup, stick in a mini skein of superwash and then (and this is the clever bit) take it out, stick it in a microwave safe container and microwave it for about 2 minutes to fix the colour.  (apparently if you don’t have a microwave you can do the same thing by steaming for about 10 minutes). This was really interesting to me to be able to make very small amounts of a colour to try things out (instead of having to make a tea-urn full!)

I came home at the end of day 1 with four beautiful, slightly damp, samples that I really was genuinely proud of.

Day 2 was touted as being the hottest day of this year, with temperatures in London threatening 35 degrees.  A loft studio with a tin roof and no air conditioning wasn’t my first choice but I was genuinely excited to continue this little foray into hand dying.

Today the focus was more on cottons, so after welcoming the two new members and oohh… ing over last weeks (now dry) samples we cracked on.  Mini skeins of 100% cotton were made, and procion dyes were made up. These dyes are cold fixed so you pre soak your cotton, add them to a dye bath and after 10 minutes you add a solution of salt water.  After a further 10 minutes you add a soda solution (thats washing soda or sodium carbonate – not baking soda or caustic soda) You then leave the solution for nearly an hour for the dyes to fully absorb and set.  This gives a much paler, softer result than the acid dyes but that could have been my dye concentrations more than anything!

We did some immersion techniques (tonal and solids – ombre dying is much harder with this method because of the long soak times) and we also did some hand-painting and speckling.

Finally I wanted to overdye a skein of lace-weight alpaca/silk I had fallen out of love with.  The skein was gorgeous when I bought it, but the knit product was horrible. Because of the navy blue sections I decided to go with a very dark purple mix with LOTS of dye which resulted in the most amazing tonal purple after 20 minutes. So much dye meant a classmate did a further 100gm skein in an almost as dark purple.  By now most of the reds had struck (attached to the fibre) leaving the blues so I grabbed a dry skein and ombre dyed it to suck up the remaining dye.  This accidental skein is one of my favourites from the two day course!

Inspired I also did a little bit of space dyeing at home –  I did a mini skein of superwash wool with some of my calligraphy inks and just LOVE the result!

Definitely a new hobby and once I have acquired a suitable pan (you can’t put procion or acid dyes into pans that will be used for food ever again) I will be dying the rest of my samples and skeins.  I’m really fascinated by ratio/percentage dying and also by dyeing using food colourings (which are obviously food safe) so excited to play with this new medium which is just full of so many possibilities!