Thursday, September 30, 2010

Color Variations of Black Walnut Dyed Yarn

I've been having so much fun dyeing yarn.  There is a bit of a mad scientist feel to it.  It's almost as addicting as knitting!
As promised, I'm back to show some before and after pics.  It is amazing how much variation can come from natural dyeing.  On one hand the possibilities are exciting.  On the other hand, it can be frustrating if you are trying to repeat a previous success. 

I started off with some Rowan Pure Wool 4 ply that came out beautifully.  The shawl I knit from it is being blocked right now.  I have been trying to match the color ever since.  I keep digging into my stash and dyeing different yarns.  My husband started to tease me, asking, "How much brown yarn do you need?"
But I really do have plans for all of it (including a sweater for him).

All of my yarns were pre-mordanted with alum, and most were already dyed once before.  So, technically most of what I was doing would be considered "overdyeing".  I am including leftover base yarn in the photos, along with the dyed yarn, for comparison.

Here we go:
Here is some Lorna's Laces sock yarn that I had previously dyed with porcini mushrooms.  I kept one skein in the porcini color, and overdyed a second one with the black walnuts.  The combination gave it almost a bronze shade.   I hope to knit a two-color shawl such as Whippoorwill or Daybreak.

Here is some Rowan Pure Wool Aran.  The skein on the left is the original "Paper" color.  I was going for some variegation with this yarn, so I deliberately did not turn the yarn over occasionally as I would normally do if I wanted the dye distrubuted evenly.  I plan on knitting my own Falling Leaves Hat with it.

This walnut dyed Kathmandu Aran is destined to become a stripe on a Klaus sweater for my husband. 

This Cascade 220 was the only yarn that was completely un-dyed to start with.  It took two trips through the dye pot to achieve this shade. 

These 2 skeins of Rowan Pure Wool 4ply were originally grey.  I dyed them with lobster mushrooms last year, and then overdyed the second one with black walnuts.  I am looking forward to using my new fair isle skills to knit a Selbu Modern beret with this color combination.

I have yet to successfully repeat my first batch of walnut-dyed yarn, but I'm starting to think it doesn't matter.  The mystery and surprises are part of the fun of natural dyeing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Black Walnut Dyeing

 A giant black walnut tree graces our back yard.  I've always loved the tree for it's beauty and shade, but I haven't used the walnuts much as they are difficult to crack open.  How happy I was to learn the that the inky husks, which I had previously viewed as a nuisance, could be used to dye yarn lovely shades of brown.
I would like to share the dyeing process I have learned, for my own records, as well as for anyone else who would like to give natural dyeing a try. I am relatively new to dyeing myself, and I am just sharing what worked for me. I would also encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about dyeing with natural materials to visit the Natural Dyeing and the Plants to Dye For groups on Ravelry.

Black walnuts  (Note on amounts: I have found that a rich brown dye can be achieved using about 1 dozen black walnuts for every 100 gm skein of wool yarn.)
Yarn  (I have mainly used 100% wool so far, other protein fibers should work as well.)
Cooking pot, strainer, and tongs, all designated for dyeing only
Cooking thermometer
Gloves, to keep hands from being stained as well
Scrap cotton yarn, for tyeing skeins
Alum, and cream of tartar, for mordanting (optional)
Wool wash

Preparing the Yarn:
1. Start with yarn in skeins. Use scrap yarn to tie skeins in at least 4 places. The scrap yarn should be tied firmly enough to prevent your skein from coming loose and tangling in the dye pot, but not so tight that dye will not reach the fiber evenly.

A swift comes in handy if your yarn is not already in skeins.

A figure 8 tie keeps yarn in place.

2. Soak skeins of yarn in lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Wet yarn will absorb the dye (and mordant) evenly.

3. Optional step - Mordanting your yarn:
(Note: Mordanting is a process of using chemicals to ensure that dyed yarn will be colorfast, and/or to affect color results. I have read that it is unnecessary to use mordant when dying with black walnuts. But when I have done other natural dyeing, alum has enhanced gold colors. My first black walnut dyed yarn had been mordanted with alum, and I liked the resulting color, so I have continued to use alum. Adding 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar will help ensure even distribution of color. I like a little variegation so I just used the alum.)

Dissolve alum in a pot of lukewarm water. I used 2 tablespoons of alum for every 100gm skein. Add wet yarn to pot. Place pot over heat and bring to a simmer (180-190 deg. F) for 1 hour.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Without stirring or agitating wool, gently turn yarn over
and move it around so that it will be evenly mordanted. 

Preparing the Dyebath:
1. Using gloves, place whole walnuts (with outer husks intact) in a cooking pot. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water, and allow walnuts to soak overnight.
I got very nice caramel color using fresh green husks.

2. Preferably outside, place walnut dyebath over heat, and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid and continue to simmer the walnuts for 2 hours. I say "preferably outside" because, although the dyebath is not toxic, there will be a strong odor!

This outdoor cooker, is my designated dyepot.

3. Pour the dyebath through a strainer, and discard the walnuts. At this point you can use the dyebath immediately, or store it for future use. I have kept walnut dyebath, with a tight lid, and in a cool place, for weeks with no discernible change in quality.
Dyeing the Yarn:
(Note: Yarn that has been soaked and/or mordanted, is ready for the dyepot. Remember that although wool can be safely heated to just below the boiling point, it just does not like sudden temperature changes. So, you should have both your wet yarn and your previously made dyebath cooled off, OR it is okay to move your newly mordanted yarn, still hot, to a similarly heated dyebath.)
1. Place wet yarn into dyebath. Place dyepot back over heat, and bring back to 180-190 deg. F.
2. Maintain yarn at a low simmer for at least 40 minutes, longer for a darker color. With tongs, gently move yarn around occasionally for even saturation. Do not stir or agitate wool in the heat or it may begin to felt.

3. Remove pot from heat. At this point, you can allow the yarn to cool in the dyebath, or gently move it to a separate container. Either way, allow it to cool gradually. Discard your dyebath if is exhausted. If it is not exhausted you may reuse it if you would like to dye more yarn in an “afterbath” for a lighter color.

Exhausted dyebath is the container on the left.
Unused dyebath is in the container on the right.

4. Once the yarn is cooled off, you are ready to wash it. I usually fill a plastic tub with room temperature water and allow yarn to soak for a few minutes as a first rinse, and then repeat with a wool wash. Repeat rinses until water runs clear. I then blot the skein dry with a towel and hang it outdoors to dry. 
Step 5.  Stand back and admire your hard work!

The final color will depend on a variety of factors, including which base yarn you start with.  Tomorrow I will show some before and after pictures of different types of yarn, and on Finished Object Friday, I will post my first FO with my hand-dyed yarn!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Finished Object Friday: Augusta Cardigan

Welcome to my first installment of Finished Object Friday! 

I just finished sewing the buttons on my Augusta Cardigan, with my brand-new-first-ever-purchased pair of reading glasses.

Pattern:  Augusta Cardigan by Cecily Glowik MacDonald

Source:  New England Knits:  Timeless Knitwear with a Modern Twist, by Cecily Glowik MacDonald and Melissa LaBarre

Materials:  every last bit of yarn from 6 skeins of Quince and Co. Osprey yarn in "Storm"

My Modifications:  I reversed the cables on one side for symmetry.  As usual, I used a 3 needle bind-off on the shoulders.  I picked up stitches around the armhole and knit the sleeves top-down on circular needles.  (My friend Angie taught this technique to me after taking a class from Sarah Peasley at Stitches West.  Thank you, Angie!)

I especially like the cables on the sleeves!
I've blogged about this sweater a lot already, but now that it is done, I wanted to reiterate how much I like both the pattern book and the yarn. 
I will definitely be knitting more projects with both!

Side Note: 
This is how the conversation went while I checked my son's homework essay last night:
Me:  Is that a comma or a period?  I can hardly read this.....what size font did you use?
Him:  (teasing me)  C'mon Mom, you're getting old.
Me:  I just need reading glasses, it doesn't mean I'm ancient or anything.  I just keep forgetting to buy them when I'm out during the day.  Then I remember I need them when I'm trying to read at night.
Him:  Ummmm, you're argument is not helping your case, Mom, hee-hee.

So, I broke down and went to the drugstore today to buy a pair. 
Actually, they helped quite a bit when it was time to thread the needle and sew the buttons on my new sweater!

By the way, I hope to make FO Friday a weekly event, at least until I clear up my backlog of half-finished projects!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Casting on: Woodland Shawl

I still have some catching up to do on the blog.  I wasn't sure which project to write about next, but I saw that a couple of you asked specifically what I started to knit with my hand-dyed yarn.   I appreciate every comment and question!  So, I will answer your questions first.  Here again is the photo that both Zonda from ZKnits and Sews, and Amber from Nature-Drunk asked about:

It's the Woodland Shawl by Nikol Lohr.  I'm loving this pattern.  It is lace that is easy enough to be TV or car knitting, with an addictive 16 row repeat.  It's also one of those patterns that is highly adaptable.  As you can see on Ravelry it can be knit as a scarf or a shawl and, as a bonus, it is free over at The Thrifty Knitter

I am knitting it with my Rowan Pure Wool 4-ply that I got for free with a Rowan subscription last year. (I let my subscription lapse as I have yet to actually knit anything from the magazine, but I'm enjoying the yarn!)  At the time, I swapped my original free gift of green yarn for a light gray in a swap happening on the Rowan Love group forum.  I finally got around to dyeing it last week when the black walnuts were falling off the tree.  I'll share the dyeing process in a separate post. yarn + free pattern + free black walnut dyebath = Knitting Happiness! 

Sunday, September 19, 2010


One of the aspects of knitting I have loved from the start is the sense of connection I feel whenever I pick up my needles.  Just as the strands of yarn loop together, the act of knitting connects me to other knitters across time and over space.  Whenever I feel the excitement of casting on stitches, or the satisfaction of binding off, I know that knitters from different generations, as well as from around the world, have felt the same awe that such simple actions result in such beautiful and functional items.

I am treasuring that feeling this morning. 
As I often do on quiet Sunday mornings, I prepared to catch up on reading other knitting blogs by gathering my knitting, a laptop, and a cup of coffee to bring into the living room.  As I sipped my coffee, the alphabetical list in my Blogger dashboard sent me first to "3 Sleeves to the Wind".  I have thoroughly enjoyed this blog ever since I admired one of the author's designs on Ravelry.  Her latest post includes photos of beautiful Fall colors in the Colorado mountains.  When I saw the green pines, golden Aspen leaves, and sagebrush, I was immediately reminded of one of the finished Fair Isle totes from the our recent wonderful weekend class.  Here is the tote knit by Betsy (our friend who planned the coastal weekend knitting retreat):

  When I was first struck by the similarities between Betsy's chosen yarn colors, and the green and gold trees in the 3 Sleeves to the Wind post, I thought I would just email a link to Betsy.  However, as I read on, I followed a link to "Meg Swansen's Aspen-yoke Sweater".  One click took me to a pattern page from the Schoolhouse Press.  (The Schoolhouse Press was founded by the late Elizabeth Zimmermann, and it continues on under the guidance of her daughter Meg Swansen.)  I couldn't believe my eyes as I scrolled down the pattern page and spotted a pattern for Elizabeth Zimmerman's Green Sweater!

During our fabulous Fair Isle weekend one of our many conversations (enjoyed over our knitting, and wine or tea depending on the time of day) focused on the famous EZ.  It turns out that Crystal Dobbs, who taught our class (multi-talented woman that she is: knitter, dyer, weaver, designer, and owner of Boll Weaver Yarns) also possesses a wealth of knowledge about Elizabeth Zimmerman.  The conversation reminded me of the rediscovered Green Sweater.  It was almost exactly a year ago that the tale of the Green Sweater appeared in the Twist Collective and photos of the original green sweater appeared on the Brooklyn Tweed blog.  I lamented that none of the articles expressly mentioned if and when a pattern for the rediscovered Green Sweater would ever be published, but I renewed my resolve to find out.
  How timely and appropriate, that I just happen to stumble across exactly what I was hoping to find when reading a blog post. . . a blog post which I had already decided to show to my knitting group as it reminded me so strongly of Betsy's Fair Isle tote and our wonderful knitting weekend.   I suppose I could have just checked the Schoolhouse Press website all along, but I like it better this way!

Read more about our Fair Isle knitting weekend here.
See photos of the Green Sweater at Brooklyn Tweed.
Read "The Tale of the Green Sweater" here.
Read "Channeling Elizabeth: Recreating a Family Heirloom" here.
Find the pattern for the Green Sweater at the Schoolhouse Press (scroll down).

[Edited to add:  In the spirit of feeling connected to other knitters around the world, I've added a flag counter to my blog page.]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sorry to leave you hanging there

I can't believe it has been two weeks since my last post.  I have been knitting but my computer hasn't been cooperating.  Usually when that happens, I borrow my husband's laptop.  However, he has been using it night and day to study for a board exam.  At this very moment he is gone taking his test so I am using the time to get back to my blog,  so. . .  Hello again!

I last wrote when I was running out of yarn while finishing up the Augusta cardigan. 
Well, I made it!  But just barely.  Here is what happened in gruesome detail:
 I continued knitting the 2nd sleeve until I was out of yarn.  At that point, I had made it to the ribbed cuff of the sleeve, but it wasn't long enough.  Having come that far, I really didn't want to order more yarn to finish up.  Which meant I had to figure out how to even up the sleeves with what yarn I had left.  I only had a few rows to go.  So I undid the bound off edge on the first sleeve, and ripped back both sleeves to the stockinette portion and then took out a couple more rows of knitting.  I cut a strand of yarn from the first sleeve, and spit-spliced it to the remaining yarn on the other sleeve.  I thought I had it evened out at that point, so I re-knit one sleeve and bound off.  Then I re-knit the other sleeve, and realized I had misudged slightly, as I ended up with only @ 1 inch of yarn when I still had 5 stitches left to bind off.  Luckily, I had a strand hanging inside the sweater that was long enough to make do with.  I spliced that strand to my 1 inch tail and bound off the final stitches.  Here is the tail I have left to weave in:

This picture is also pretty accurate as far as the current sleeve length.  If I'd had more yarn, I would have made them slightly longer, but I am hoping the short length will be cured by blocking.  Even though this all happened two weeks ago, it's still not blocked, as my free time has been devoted to a couple of other yarny endeavors.  Last week my evenings were spent dyeing yarn.  Best of all, last weekend my knitting group participated in a 3 day Fair Isle Tote knitting and felting class.

Here some sneak preview pics of the fair isle tote, and of the black walnut dyed yarn.  (I'm off to block the the Augusta cardigan, but I promise not to wait so long to fill in details this time.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Augusta Cardigan is almost there...

. . . but I might be running out of yarn.  I can't stand the suspense, but I just have to keep knitting to find out if I have enough or not.  Here it is:

The pattern (for my size) calls for 8 skeins of Classic Elite Montera which would add up to 1016 yds.  I am substituting 6 skeins of Quince and Co. Osprey, which amounts to 1020 yds.  I figured I would be cutting it close but that I would make it.  Now I am starting to wonder.  When I had just the button band and sleeves left to knit, I had 2 full skeins plus 1 partial skein.  So I knit the button band first, hoping to have 1 full skein left for each sleeve.  It didn't work out though, and I had less than 1 skein left when I started the 2nd sleeve.
I am crossing my fingers and hoping that if I just use what I have left and even out the sleeves, they will be long enough.  Otherwise, I might be getting an opportunity to find out if the Quince and Co. yarn dye lots are consistent.  Will I make it?  It's high drama in the knitting world. . .

Meanwhile, I'm getting excited about delving into some Fall yarn dyeing.  After my last post, we heard from our mushroom hunting friends that they found some Hawkwing mushrooms which I had asked them to keep an eye out for.  I don't know when I will actually see them and get the mushrooms though. 
But their success got us excited about mushroom hunting, so we took a day trip to the coast in hopes of finding some ourselves.  We didn't find any yarn dyeing specimens, but I did find this great addition to my heart-shaped rock collection:

I couldn't stop thinking about dyeing yarn though.  Luckily, when we got home, I realized our black walnut tree was beginning to drop walnuts in the back yard.  I've gathered enough for a dye pot and had them soaking overnight.

I have just the yarn I want to use for a test batch, and if it works, there are plenty of walnuts for more dyeing.  I'm heading out to buy some alum to use as mordant, which I read will produce a rich mahogany brown.  I will share the results soon.