Experiments and Woolen Socks

I have been interested in the lightfastness of natural dyes for a while. I have understood that all natural dyes are somewhat fugitive but that some are more than others. And with fugitive I mean that time and light will fade the colours. I wanted to see this with my own eyes, so I did a little experiment. Now this experiment is not the most scientific and I probably should have done it in summer time when there is actually natural light in Finland. In the end of September I collected some samples of the yarns I had dyed naturally. I covered half of the yarn stripes with cardboard and left the other half bare. The samples have been facing “the sun” (there is not a lot of sun at the moment here) on our balcony for about two months now.

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And these are the results here. I’m not sure how much you will be able to tell from these photos, but basically the left side is the one that has been covered. Black beans and beet root are the ones where you can really see the difference. Lupine, birch leaves, heather, onion skins and lichen have not faded away. Surprisingly also red cabbage is pretty much the same as before after two months. I thought that it would be the first one to fade away.  Other than that the results are pretty much what I expected. I’m a little sad about the fact that the colour from the black beans fades so quickly. I should probably repeat this experiment again in summer time when the conditions are more “extreme”.

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In other news I knitted my first pair of woollen socks in over ten years. I discovered that knitting a heel is not like riding a bike. I think that the pattern I used is different from the way I learned to knit a heel in school (also I’m not very good at following instructions, I tend to do thing my way which is not always the right way.)  I had some struggles with these socks, but I feel like I have now done all the mistakes and the next pair will be  an improvement.

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I used the yarn that I dyed with lupine in the beginning of the summer to knit this pair. I really like the colour and these socks are warm and cosy just in time for winter. I went for a really simple striped pattern. For my next pair I want to do something a little bit more creative, I’m thinking of some kind of fair Isle pattern and I still need to properly tackle that that bloody heel!

(I modified the pattern a little bit but the original pattern for these socks is from a Finnish sewing/knitting magazine. Suuri Käsityö Lehti Marras-joulukuu 2004)

A Yarn Lover’s Paradise

This post is going to be something a bit different. I thought I would share with you some photos I took last weekend that I spend in the city of Jyväskylä. Jyväskylä is a university city in the middle of Finland. Last week it snowed there for the first time and I arrived to a very wintry scenery. Although during my visit the snow turned into slush and eventually melted away. Before that my aunt was kind enough to show me a really cool place.

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Toivolan vanha piha (Toivola Old Courtyard) is a complex of old preserved houses from the 19th century.  I absolutely love old houses and this milieu was just perfect. Inside the courtyard they have artisan’s workshops, boutiques, museum and really nice café. But the best thing about this place was the prettiest, coolest yarn store I have ever been to,  Titityy. Seriously this place is like a candy store for any yarn lover or knitting enthusiast.

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I was especially awed by the hand-dyed yarns from Madelinethos (above). It’s a Texas based company and they do small patches of hand-dyed yarns in gorgeous colours.  I also really liked yarns from The Uncommon Thread, they also do hand-dyed artisan yarns in UK and the yarns are produced with the minimal impact to the environment. I had never seen these yarns before but now I really want to use them for a project and I think I have a perfect one in mind. It might take a while until I get into starting it though.

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I didn’t have time to look around the museum as the place was closing down for the day, but I’m definitely going back to Toivola Old Courtyard.

Natural Dyeing: Walnut shells

This experiment has been a long one. It started a month ago when I bought these crushed walnut shells from Riihivilla Web Shop. Leena has a wonderful online shop and a very informative blog about natural dyeing (also in English). The instructions said to soak the walnuts for a month before dyeing, apparently it takes a long time for walnut shells to release colour. So I did soak them for a month and quite soon the walnuts started to ferment ( I think). I wouldn’t recommend doing what I first did; I put the walnuts into a plastic container and closed it with a lid. It’s a good thing I did check on them every once in a while because pretty soon the whole thing would have exploded. So no air-thigh containers. I learned that just in time. Also after a month the smell is pretty strong.

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After a month of soaking the shells, I sifted the walnut crust away and dyed 100 g of unmordanted labswool yarn. Apparently walnut contains tannin which is nature’s own mordant and using alum as mordant would not make the colour stronger, in fact just the opposite. I kind of forgot to boil the walnut shells before dyeing the yarn and that’s why my first try was lighter than my second try  where I added the walnut shells to the dye and boiled the dye for one hour.

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To dye the third skein (bottom right) I used the dye again and the result was the same as the first colour. I read that if you add an iron after bath you could get the colour even stronger. I have to try that sometime.

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Let it snow: crochet snowflakes

I started this project a year ago in November. I love Christmas and I usually start thinking about it during November. Last year it occurred to me that in my family we have used the same Christmas tree decorations for over 20 years. I felt that change would be good and got really excited about crocheting snowflakes. I started in November and continued crocheting until Christmas so that I would have enough of snowflakes to fill the tree. I didn’t get the white Christmas I wanted but at least there were snowflakes in our living room. I really liked the simplicity of the Christmas tree with the white snowflakes and electric candles.  Now I’m wondering if should I stick with just the snowflakes or add something else as well? I have a few ideas floating around.

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I found the process of crocheting these snowflakes really therapeutic. As a technique I actually prefer crocheting to hand knitting because of the freedom it gives you. I found the patterns online, most of them from this website. I started out with this very informative and easy tutorial on Youtube, so I could get myself acquainted with the English crocheting vocabulary and follow the patterns. I used white cotton yarn and stiffened the snowflakes with a water and glue mix.

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Pattern in Finnish. 

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Bamboo snowflake pattern.

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Snowflake for Marikamum pattern.

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Crochet snowflake tutorial on Youtube.

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Irish hearts snowflake pattern (on the right).

Natural Dyeing: Turmeric

I recently read a blog post by Mari at Gather and Grow, she had dyed with turmeric using solar dyeing and without any mordants. I had a look around in my spice rack and found a jar of turmeric powder that had expired four years ago. I decided to have a go with that. I used mordanted wool because that’s what I happened to have (alum and cream of tartar) and I also used heat. I heated the water and mixed the turmeric powder into it. When I added the wet yarn the dye immediately dyed the yarn and I only let the yarn be at the dye for 15 minutes. I used the the dye again and dyed another 100 g skein of wool and it came out exactly the same colour. Turmeric is strong stuff! I feel like a much less turmeric would have been enough and that I could still dye a lot of yarn with the dye. I have it saved it case I want more. The only downside is that the smell stays quite strong in the yarn, even though I rinsed it a lot.

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Natural Dyeing: Mushrooms (Webcaps)

There is a one area of natural dyeing that I haven’t tried yet and that is mushroom dyeing. I have never liked eating mushrooms and so I have never been really interested in mushroom picking. Also that is why I’m pretty bad at naming different types of mushrooms. Chanterelle and  fly amanita  where the ones I knew for sure before my great mushroom adventure.

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I have been reading a lot about mushroom dyeing lately and I have been especially interested in different cortinarius species (webcaps).  These mushrooms are not edible, in fact most of them are poisonous and some are even lethal but for dyeing they are excellent. In the end of September I packed my bags and traveled to my parents place where there is a lot more forest and asked my dad to show me his best mushroom places. And this is what I found:

Cortinarius semisanguineus (In Finnish: verihelttaseitikki)

This is the bad boy that I most wanted to find. In Finnish its name means “the blood gill webcap” which pretty much sums its appearance up. Wikipedia says that in English it’s called either surprise webcap or red-gilled webcap.

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At first it was very difficult to recognize it, but towards the end I got pretty good at spotting it. All webcaps have this little tip at their hat, many of them look similar from above, but when you turn them over you can check from the colour of the gills which one it is. In this case the gills are blood red although they turn more brow when older. The stem is firm and at the bottom it has a hint of red. This red-gilled webcap is an interesting dyeing mushroom because the hat contains red colour and the stem yellow. So you can have two colours from one mushroom or mix them up and make orange! In Finland these mushrooms grow in pine forests and I noticed that I could find more of them from dryer spots.

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Cortinarius cinnamomeus (In Finnish. Kanelihelttaseitikki)

I’m pretty sure these mushrooms are cinnamon webcaps. They like to hang out at the same places as the red-gilled webcaps do. They also look very similar to them except for the cinnamon brown colour. They are more common that red-gilled webcaps so I found quite a lot of them. I heard that you are supposed to get brownish colour from them, but either my source is wrong or I didn’t pick the right mushrooms, because I don’t think I got any colour from these. Now I don’t even remember where I read about these.

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Cortinarius sanguineus (In Finnish: veriseitikki)

I was so surprised to find these bloodred webcaps. They are named so because they are completely red, you can’t mistake them to anything else . I heard that this has not been a good year for them (too dry) and that they are more common in the more northern parts of Finland than here in the south. And that might be true as I only found seven of them. Mostly they were hiding under fir trees as they like to grow in old fir tree forests. This is amazing webcap, it gives out an amazingly strong colours.  Apparently only 33 g of dried bloodred webcap will dye 100 g of yarn and even 5 g will get you a pink colour. Sadly I didn’t find enough of these to have a try.

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 Cortinarius croseus (In Finnish keltahelttaseitikki)

I also found a few saffron webcaps which have yellow gills. The mushroom is yellowish overall and surprise, surprise you can also get yellow colour from them. I only found a few of these.

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I have understood that most of these species are European and some of them grown also in North-America. Correct me if I’m wrong. I mostly found cinnamon webcaps and red-gilled webcaps and I quickly realised, that you need quite a lot of mushrooms for dyeing, several kilograms. Because the mushrooms need to be dried before dyeing the weight decreases considerably. Unfortunately I wasn’t very lucky with the amount of mushrooms I found.

First I chopped the mushrooms into little pieces (the smaller the pieces the quicker they dry) and laid them on newspapers (some kind of airy net would have been better). You can use ovens or boiler rooms or even special vegetable dryers for dryeing but I used a sauna (being Finnish). Apparently you shouldn’t use too hot temperatures, I lifted the temperature to 40 °C and then let the sauna cool off.  The mushrooms dried quite quickly over night. I must say though that the smell of the drying mushrooms is not the nicest. In the end I ended up with 26 g of dried  red-gilled webcaps together with the few bloodred webcaps I found. I also got 44 g of what I though where cinnamon webcaps.

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For dyeing I used a large 10 liter pot. I put the dried webcaps on the bottom and added little water (apparently the colour will dissolve better like this then with lot of water).  I boiled the mushrooms for 30 minutes and after that I sifted the mushrooms away from the dye.  I added water to the dye so that in the end I had 5 liter of dye. I had some lambswool yarn that I had mordanted with alum and cream of tartar beforehand.  I wet that yarn and squished most of the water away and then added the yarn to the dye bath. I put the mushrooms inside old tights (pantyhose) and added them also to the dye. I used thighs so that the mushrooms would not be in direct contact with the yarn and make the colour uneven. I kept the temperature below 80 °C and kept moving the yarn every once in a while for one hour.

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This is the colour that I got from the red-gilled webcaps, 26 g of them dyed 100 g of lambswool. I really really love this colour and I think its gorgeous. Very similar to the yarn I dyed with beetroot.

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The cinnamon webcaps didn’t work so well. I did exactly the same thing with them, but I noticed that I wasn’t getting any colour out of them so I added to the dye the leftovers from the red-gilled webcap dye. I think that is where the most of the colour really came from.

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Most of the information I found about mushroom dyeing I got from a Finnish mushroom dyeing book (Sienivärjäys) written by Anna-Karoliina Tetri. She has an online shop where she sells all kinds of things you need for natural dyeing and she has written several books  on the subject (in Finnish). I met her briefly last spring before my natural dyeing adventures started and her shop is where I bought the alum and stuff to get started with all of this. Visit her web shop Tetri Design here.

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I feel like I might need to point out one thing. I know that there are people from all around the world who read my blog and I have understood that in some countries it’s illegal to do mushroom picking or it’s regulated. However in Finland and other Scandinavian countries as well as Baltic countries we have a thing called “every man’s right” or “freedom to roam”.

In Finland this means that it is every man’s (or woman’s) right to walk, ski or camp in nature as long as you don’t disturb people or destroy nature. You are also allowed to pick berries and mushrooms as long as they are not protected species. I’m now talking about both public and privet forests and also National parks with the exception or protected lands. It’s prohibited to collect moss or lichen without permission from the owner though. I mention this because I wanted to make sure my mushroom picking is all right and actually very popular hobby in Finland. The best thing about mushroom dyeing was the part were I walked in the forest, enjoyed the nature and found places I otherwise would have never found. 

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Jacquard knits

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Two years ago I was as an exchange student at the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås, Sweden. It’s a wonderful school and I learned a lot about textiles and especially about knitted textiles. I was very lucky to be able to try out the industrial jacquard knitting machine they have there. I knitted a little collection of fabrics as part of a sustainable textiles course, using materials like wool, linen and tensel. I like the fact that from the distance these fabrics look like they are printed, until you go close and you see the texture and then the feel of the fabric is very different. I was very excited about the project and  I had a vision of the kind of clothes I would like to sew from these fabrics.

Two very busy years went by and the fabrics were hidden away in my closet, until this summer I finally had time to tackle the project I had started. The clothes that I visualised in my head were very simple in style so that they would complement the patterns. Once I but my mind into it, the clothes came together quite quickly and couple of weeks ago we had really fun photo shoot. The photos were taken by my very talented friend Riikka and the lovely model Marianna did a wonderful job. Thank you girls! I’m really happy the way the photos turned out. It’s so great to see the vision I had two years ago come to life finally.

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I should also mention that the beautiful wooden necklace featured in the photos is by a British jewellery designer Kristy Frasier. I bought this honeycomb necklace when I was in Edinburgh and it’s my absolute favourite neckless at the moment. Check her website here.

Natural Dyeing: Black Beans, Part 2

You might remember that not so long ago I experimented with dyeing with black beans. My white wool yarns became violet and the grey yarn navy blue (below from left to right). I was a bit puzzled at the time why my yarn didn’t become sky blue as I expect to happen. Well, as you can see on the right, I did it! I changed quite a lot of factors, so I can’t be sure what was it that made the difference in the end.

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I bought some pH indicator paper to test our tap water’s pH-level and compere it to the bottled spring waters pH level. My idea was that our tap waters pH would be much lower and that would explain the violet colour. Well, it turned out that both water’s measured identical 6, so there goes my theory. To give some perspective number 7 is the neutral pH level, pH less than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. The last time I’ve had to think about things like this was at chemistry class in school.

I did test what would happen if I mix some vinegar to the water and that did drop the pH to 4. When I was using the black beans for the first time, I did put some vinegar to the last rinsing water so that might have something to do with the violet colour. Still I swear that the colour was already violet before that.

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The other factors I changed were:

The beans. I changed the brand of black beans I used. Although they were both imported from China and the only difference was that the new ones were organic.

The yarn. Both yarns were 100% lambswool, only difference was that the first one was a Finnish yarn (and maybe a bit greasier) and the other yarn was from Peru.

Mordanting. The first time I used only alum as mordant, but the second time I used both alum and the cream of tartar.  I  got a comment to my post about red cabbage from VerenaErin and she said that alum itself is very acidic. I tested it by mixing some alum to tap water and the pH-level dropped to 4 and after I added some cream of tartar I got 3. But that is just confusing me even more.

The time. The first time around I let the yarn soak in the dye for 24 hours and the second time 48 hours, so twice as long.

No vinegar. First time I did this I noticed that the colour kept on getting off when I was doing the rinsing afterwards. I added a pit of vinegar to the rinsing water which I also think might have highlighted the violet colour.

The last time I also notice that the colour kept on getting off even after the yarn was dry. But this time it was much easier to rinse the yarn and the colour stayed. So which one of the factors listed above is responsible for this? I’m puzzled. But anyhow, I did manage to get the blue I wanted in the end! Even though I have no clue how.

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Natural Dyeing: Beetroot in two different ways

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METHOD 1:

For my first try I used about 500 g of fresh beetroots. I peeled and chopped them and then I boiled them in water for little under two hours (I needed to keep adding water because it was drying out). After that I sifted the dye and added a 13 g skein of white wool yarn that I had pre mordanted with alum (read about it here). I boiled the yarn for 1 hour in the dye, this is basically the same method I used when I dyed with lupine. I did add a bit of vinegar to the final rinsing water to help stabilize the colour. I knew that the result would be orange and not the pink colour you would expect from beetroot. I really like this orange, it’s not the brownish orange you get from onion shells (although that’s pretty as well). I think there is still a tiny hint of that pink left in this one.

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METHOD 2:

My second try was a bit more experimental. I have been doing a lot more cold dyeing lately and I wanted to try that with beetroot as well. For this I used some pre boiled beetroots that you can buy vacuum packed. I put the beetroots (three of them) to the food processor and made mince out of them. I must say this method was much easier and much less messy then the previous one. I poured the mince in to a glass jar and filled it with water. I let the beetroot mince soak in the water for 24 hours, before sifting it from the dye.

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After sifting the amount of dye decreased considerably.  I put in 35 g of white wool yarn that I had previously mordanted with alum. I let the yarn soak in the dye for 24 hours (stirring it every once in a while) before rinsing and drying.

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The result turned out to be this baby pink colour. Has anyone got any experience with beetroot? Does the colour stay or does it fade away? I also thought it was interesting how two different methods got me completely different results.

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Knitting with the colours of nature

During the past few months I have collected quite a versatile collection of different coloured yarns, that I have dyed naturally. I find these colours very inspiring and I think they go so well together.  I think that’s part of the charm of the natural dyed yarns, the way they match so well. The autumn is here. I can’t believe September is almost gone already! The weather is getting colder here in Finland and because of that and these yarns I feel like knitting.

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I started out with this knitted beanie. This wool yarn use to be grey before I dyed it with heather. I wanted a simple cable pattern beanie with a pompom on top. This pattern is not from anywhere, I just made it up as I knitted it. It’s not perfect, but I still quite like it. These photos with the beanie were taken by a friend of mine Riikka with a lovely Marianna as model. These photos are a little sneak peek into a project that I have been working on during the past few months. This week we had a really nice photo shoot, I can’t wait to share that soon.

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