Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kitchen Dyeing

A few months ago my good friend Deb showed me a box full of yarn that she had dyed using nothing but stuff from her garden and kitchen cupboards--yarrow, tansy, purple basil, marigold, walnut, alum. She had made copious detailed notes in her lovely handwriting, and beautiful little color cards and tiny swatches, and it was all mind-bendingly pretty. Soft, variable, complex golds, greens, and lavenders that all seemed related to one another. I came straight home and denuded all the marigolds in the garden of their little orange heads, or at least I was out in the garden doing that when it began literally to snow down my neck, at which time I gave up and came inside clutching a gallon-size ziploc bag full of mariogld blossoms. I put it straight into the freezer just like that, a bag of flower heads, parked on the shelf next to the giant bag of accumulated avocado pits and skins (also for dyeing) until I was ready to get out the apron and dyepot, which, when we ran out of freezer space and the boy (home from college) had to make an effort to eat a lot of pizza rolls so we could shut the door, happened the other day.

There is so much (often contradictory) information out there about how to do this, and that's kind of what's slowed me down a little--I didn't want to make a huge disaster of it, maybe melt some nice fiber, cause an accumulation of toxic fumes in the kitchen or a small explosion, whatever. I am no chemist, and my understanding of the process is absolutely nil. These kitchen and garden dyes, though, terrify me somewhat less, so even though a pot of boiling marigold flowers mixed with alum and washing soda stinks, it doesn't seem like a dangerous or incendiary stink, if you know what I mean. It just kinda smells like something you definitely wouldn't eat, so opening a window (even though it is freeeeeezing outside) seems sufficient protection against catastrophe.

I started with the avocado pits. I had 21 of them stashed in the freezer, so I put them (still frozen) into the dye pot and covered with a little water. They bubbled for a couple minutes, which softened them enough for me to safely quarter them with a kitchen knife. Back they went into the pot, with more water--six cups total--about a tablespoon of washing soda (now it is definitely not food) a tablespoon of alum (get this in the spices section of the grocery store) and a teaspoon of cream of tartar. Adding those last two to the pot gives you a cool momentary mini explosion bubbly, foamy, cauldron effect. The boy, hovering as usual over any pot simmering on the stove, said, "It's like Potions class in here." My very rudimentary understanding of what those three additives do is this: the alum, working for some reason in tandem with cream of tartar, is the "mordant" which I think just means your results should be colorfast. (If there's more to it than that, somebody please teach me.) The mordant can be added to the dye pot itself, or you can add it to a pre-soak bath (mordanting the yarn ahead of time) but I am too lazy for that and didn't have a non-food bowl around here anywhere, so whatever. The washing soda adjusts the ph of the dye bath, which in the case of the avocado pits, was supposed to help it be pinker. I don't even know if any of this is true, but that's what I did, and you can see the results:

Lovely, lovely, soft, ballet pink.
I used pretty much the same recipe (whatever dye materials I was using--a gallon of dry flowerheads, and later the skins of 21 avocadoes--plus a couple tablespoons of washing soda, plus 1 T alum, plus 1 t cream of tartar) and simmered first the ingredients for 30 minutes to make a dye liquor, then carefully added the yarn (sometimes pre-wet, sometimes not) to the pot for another gentle 30 minute simmer. No stirring the pot, because boiling water and wool are very nervous companions already, and if you stir, there will be felting. Resist the temptation.
There are the results. I know, right???? In that picture, they are (from left): avocado skins, avocado pits (four skeins of those), marigold flowers, and the darkest pink on the right is the first skein to go in the avocado pit dye bath. Even though I simmered all five of the avocado pit skeins in together, the first one to go in soaked up the most dye. This whole process is so mysterious and so endlessly fascinating to me. Next year's garden will be far less tomato-oriented, and far more dyestuff-oriented. I can't wait.



Monday, January 19, 2015


All righty, then. I can tell you're looking at this picture and thinking it isn't that bad. That looks like something a person could wear. That looks like a garment. (Which it does, very deceptively. At moments like this I begin to distrust my dressmaker's dummy very deeply.) But it does not actually fit me, not at all. Something went wrong between the body and sleeves (well-fitting) and the yoke (a ridiculous extravagance of yarnage) and that something is GAUGE.


I know, it does look pretty. But see where the "yoke" would hit me? Kind of below the armpits? That ain't right. Friends, there's only one thing to do. Unravel.

Unraveling a mistake or a mess is hard, but really only for a minute. That moment of deciding it's either time to rip it out or to stuff the ill-shaped disaster into a bag in the bottom of a box at the back of the closet is the only rough part of things. Get past that moment, decide to rip, do some math, wind your problem back into its component parts, and get cracking again. It feels, and I mean this, really good.

We'll get there.


Thursday, January 15, 2015


O Lemongrass. How utterly you have infiltrated my life! The way you creep into everything and make yourself at home is both endearing and also a little irksome. What if I want a soft, neutral palette? Huh? I know, I hear you, that's not your problem. Your aggressively searing yellow-ness has inched its insidious way into yet another project and dominated it. There is no other word for it; you have bewitched me. I love you, I love you, I love you.
There is much more to tell, and we (Lemongrass and I) await our moment in the photographic sun. This garment (I guess you'd have to call it that) is a pretty epic fail. But I love some parts of it, so much. The sleeves and body came off the needles with lightning speed, and colorwork section was a creative, if knuckle-crushing, thrill. I want to throw seven or eight colors into some part of everything I do now. Ideas spring like dandelions in the garden path.
I did run out of yarn, halfway up the mahooooosive cowl collar. Aargh. But the doctor scoured the universe (okay, he literally stopped at a yarn shop on his way home) and found another skein. Yes, Plymouth has discontinued "Galway Highland Heather, color 745" but they totally still make the EXACT same yarn, now called "Galway Worsted, color 745." So they lost points for that move, but gained them all back again when the new skein flawlessly matched the old yarn I've had since 2005, and which has been a whole sweater once already. Bravo, Plymouth! But. The finished object, however. Fail. I promise I'll show you, but, just, ugh.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Stormy Weather Sweater

My quest to knit the stash is ongoing. I wouldn't be myself, though, if I hadn't made at least one quirky choice, and this time it's the background color (Plymouth Galway Highland Heather 745) which is a lovely purple/gray wool, recycled from a huge and cable-y self-designed sweater I knit in 2009 and then never wore, and which is, aargh, discontinued. So that's been a whole bunch of fun, trying to outrun the diminishing quantity and not really knowing how much yardage there was in the first place, and it feels ill-advised because I don't know what I'll do when it runs out, but it was there in the cupboard, and the color feels perfect for this project. I love choosing the contrast colors, though, and I made several charts and then haven't been following any of them, because I'd really rather just decide as I go, with the probable palette scattered across the coffee table. I just kind of look for value contrast and pops of color and then wing it, which is great fun. Yes, that's Paton's Lemongrass. Isn't it good against the gray? It's like the sun peeking through the clouds, like a neon sign on a stormy day. Something about that combination is delicious to me. A project like this really makes me miss my scraps, and it might be time to rebuild the color stash, which is the opposite of what I'm trying to do here. And so it goes. I'll never clear out that cupboard, and it's probably just as well.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Partridge and Pear


It’s January now and we here in the North are focused on organizing our closets and sitting under our full-spectrum SAD lamps and knitting giant scarves and cowls in a feverish attempt to keep the frostbite at bay, but I wanted to show you these holiday ornaments I made and gave away. It was easy to give them because I love my people a lot and giving handmade things is one of the ways I show them that, but it was also a little bit hard to give them away because look at them.  They are so CUTE.  I wanted to keep them ALL.  There were so many fun hours in these, and I really mean it.  From the color decisions to the stitching on of teeny seed beads, I had a blast.  They are Partridge and Pear by Larissa Holland, and I made so many of them that they didn’t even all make it into the picture.  And I wish you could see the ones (blogless) Michelle made, dang, her stitches are so immaculate, and she did one in lilac and the most indescribably awesome sage-mustard color, which almost sent me back to the store for more felt, until I remembered that I still had kilt hose to finish.  I love little projects like this.  The little packets of beads and curated skeins of floss and stacks of colorful felt; the hours concentrating on one wing.  I really love that. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

More Sleeves

When I was growing up in the 70's, everybody--including me--wanted a puffy down vest, even though they have always perplexed me. I actually find vests confusing, because my arms are the coldest thing on me, and all I've ever really wanted, apart from being one of the cool vest kids, was to have more sleeves. More sleeves, less coat. A coatless sleeve, instead of the other way around. The puffy down vest makes a regular fashion comeback, I notice, and I still don't really understand it. Aren't your arms freezing? Mine are. Thank goodness, as always, for knitting. The (so easy! So easy you won't believe it!) pattern is here. I used a precious skein of Dream in Color Smooshy in the very "Lemongrass"-ish color "Chameleon" on US 2 dpns. I put them on the minute the last end was woven in, and I haven't taken them off yet.


Monday, December 29, 2014



Around here, it is all about the tartan right now.  The doctor is these days fully embracing his ancestral heritage, and as Americans, we have a lot to choose from, but in among the mixed multitude of mostly European DNA, we are Scottish--he is clan Morrison, and I (by a sliver) am clan Murray.  Along those lines, he lately found himself in the position of needing some kilt hose.  Say no more, I thought, and spent a few sly pre-holiday hours knitting these while he was at work. 


His mother gave him her gorgeous calves, and what better to show them off?  It was this or superhero tights, I can tell you.  It’s only the elastic on the flashes (is that the right term?  Flashes?  Oy, I’m still learning) that keeps the hose up at all, and it’s a true miracle that they fit him.  Knitting a secret pair of kilt hose for someone with eccentric calves is a leap of faith, people. 


Winter is long in these parts.  The hours must be filled.  We have watched Braveheart, and discussed the historical inaccuracies therein.  There is a ceremonial dagger in progress, and a sporran.  He has, in half-seriousness, considered DIY-ing some bagpipes, which I frankly would adore, but I do have a doubt or two.  We, obviously, don’t play the pipes.  How would anybody know whether they sounded right?  I think what stops him is the poor state of his wood lathe, or else it would be happening.  He gets an idea, it happens.  Stay tuned. 


The lovely free pattern is called Toirneach and I used worsted weight KnitPicks Wool of the Andes in “Down Heather” on US 4 dpns.  I managed to finish these and block them with time to spare, whew. 


We will be at the Irish Festival this year (yes, he’s Irish, too,) kitted and fully kilted, and dreaming of the thistle and heather.