Flockfest goodies

A quick share of my Flockfest goodies.

My first purchase was a gorgeous giant skein of Corriedale chunky from Hedgeknits. My stand was next to Rita’s stand and I’d spotted this giant heap of woolly gorgeousness pretty early on, but was trying to restrain myself. But it’s naturally dyed, and I kept seeing other people pick it up and I couldn’t bear the thought of it going home with someone else AND it goes really well with the purple skein I bought when I last visited Flock on the Plain, so I caved and it has come home with me.

I also bought some funky vintage purple buttons from the lovely display by Hailstone Heritage which will go brilliantly as decoration on the garment I intend to make from the Hedgeknits yarn.

My next purchase was from Mahoodly and I just love the depth of Becca’s colours. I bought a gorgeous deep dark blue 4 ply and a brighter blue mini Skein which will become rib socks with contrasting heel and toe.

I spent a long time mesmerised by Girl’s Own Store’s sock knitting machine. It was a wonder to beyond and I would really love one. But alas, the budget won’t stretch that far and so, instead, I bought a pair of her super cosy socks dyed with onion skins.

From Woolaroo, I bought some lovely balls of Shetland wool which are from a flock near her home and hand spun by a lady living in the village. Such precious wool. I don’t have a project in mind but I think Knit British is going to have a Natural Shades KAL later this year so I’ll save these balls up for that.

I also swopped a skein of my Radical 4ply for this lovely Bonnie Prince Charlie yarn from Somerset Soda. Just look at those colours! I don’t have a project for this yet. I might pair it up with other skeins in my stash and make one of Boyland Knitworks gorgeous sweaters.

So, quite a modest haul by my standards. Did you make any purchases on Yarn Shop Day?

Flockfest, here I come!

So, it’s Yarn Shop Day tomorrow (Saturday 12th May) and I’m exhibiting, along with lots of other dyers and purveyors of buttons etc, at Flockfest at Flock on the Plain in Woodbury in Wiltshire. To say I’m excited, is to significantly understate how I’m feeling.

I thought I’d give you all a preview of some of the hand dye British wool I’m taking with me.

I have totally fallen I love with these Blue Faced Leicester sock weight mini skeins. They are such a lovely pop of colour. They are 80 meters/20g each and are sold in sets of five. They are spun with a high twist so are perfect for socks.

I’m also taking a Blue Faced Leicester/Nylon Sock weight mix with me. Basically this is for the Nervous Nellies who don’t believe a yarn is strong enough for socks without nylon (although I do love it too and am making socks from it at the moment). This is also spun with a high twist and is sold in 100g hanks.

I’m also taking my Audacious base in DK and 4ply weights. This Wensleydale yarn has such a lovely lustre and I particularly love the ply on the 4ply weight. It will be lovely made into shawls. Both the DK and the 4ply are sold in 100g hanks.

Lastly, this is my Saucy DK base. This yarn come from Dorset Horn sheep, a breed listed as threatened on the Livestock Conservancy watchlist, so I’m particularly excited to be showing this. I just can’t describe how well this yarn takes a dye. Look at the pics to see what I mean. I’ve just dyed up a few skeins of this yarn currently but I plan to dye up a some sweater quantities as I think it will make lovely garments.

So, if you are local to Woodborough in Wiltshire do come and squish the yarn. It will be lovely to see you.

March and April makes

Eep! How can it be the second week of May and I still haven’t shown you my March and April makes? To be fair to myself, I’ve had a lot to process emotionally. I’ll tell you all about it in time, I’m just not ready to share it quite yet.

But I will share my makes. First up was my Siri Cardigan. I just adore this. Knitting the textured yoke was hard on the hands but once that was done, it was a speedy knit. I love the patten so much, I’m planning a Siri sweater for next year. The yarn was from Skein Queen but, alas, has been discontinued.

Next to be finished were some socks in my Dad’s team colours (Brentford F.C. Go Bees!) in a fun self striping merino/nylon mix from Devon Sun Yarn. My Dad’s circulation isn’t great due to a long term disability so he was delighted with hand knit socks.

Also finished in March was a hat of my own design for my brother in Ryeland wool. I knew as soon as I cast on with this yarn, that it wanted to be a hat. It’s such a naturally stretchy wool that it’s great for things that need some negative ease. I dyed the hat, after I knitted it and the one consolation to a late Spring was that my brother was able to get some wear out of his hat straight away. He has declared it very warm which is another plus for Ryeland.

I knitted the first of what has now become several Sweater Bunts for my hand dyed yarn business. They are so cute, I love knitting them. This one is in my Brazen DK base which is British Jacob Wool and would make a great full size sweater. You can visit my shop here.

My final finished item in April was my Stronachlachar sleeveless sweater by Kate Davies Designs knitted in Brune by Daughter of a Shepherd. This was the first garment I’d knitted in naturally dark coloured wool and it is lovely; properly sheepy. However, the combination of darker yarn and a pattern that required concentration right to the end meant it wasn’t a particularly easy evening knit.

In April I also cast on a Flukra hap by Gudrun Johnston. In a burst of madness that I can only blame on my overly emotional state, I decided to make the hap square instead of triangular, as in the pattern. Being a novice hap maker, this has meant lots of head scratching and frogging but I’m onto the lace now so I’m hoping it will be relatively straightforward from here on in. I’m knitting it in a Teeswater lace weight yarn. It’s the first thing I have ever knit in lace weight yarn, so on reflection my pattern choice and it’s subsequent adaption now seems even more crazy. It’s slow progress but it’s mindful process knitting (I’m averaging 2 to 3 rows each evening) rather than speedy product knitting. Although I’d be fibbing if I denied doing the mental maths to see how long I will be knitting this for. I’m guessing it will take me until at least the end of May. But the Teeswater is gorgeous with a lovely lustre so it is hardly a chore!

I also don’t have a travel project on the go at the moment so must remedy that by casting on soon. I’m thinking socks. But am in a quandary over which pattern to choose. There are just so many beautiful ones. I have a high twist beautiful Blue Faced Leicester/Nylon mix in a peach shade already balled up. Which sock pattern is your go to favourite for an easy knit?

The Siri Cardigan pattern can be found here

Devon Sun Yarns is here

The hat pattern is available on Ravelry

Sweater Bunts pattern is here

Click here for Kate Davies Designs

Daughter of a Shepherd is here

Gudrun Johnston’s Flukra pattern is on Ravelry

Flockfest

Next Saturday is Yarn Shop Day and I would urge you to visit your local yarn shop and show them some love.

I live in the countryside and, it really does have moments of pure perfection; the annual village fair on a beautiful sunny bank holiday; stopping stock still on a quiet lane while swifts dart all around you; watching the bats swooping over the mill pond on a warm summer evening; seeing the mayflies dancing above the water of the river, and seeing the trout jumping to catch them; children running free across the fields and through the woods.

But, before I make this sound too idyllic, there are, inevitably, downsides including over flowing septic tanks; freezing temperatures but no heating because the oil ran out and it’s going to be a week until the next delivery; squirrels chewing though the pipes to the calor gas tanks at 4pm on Christmas Eve, meaning you can’t cook a Christmas dinner; mud, lots and lots of mud, so your boots, the dog, the kids, your floors and the car are disgustingly dirty for at least 9 months every year; and, a lack of local shops.

It was this lack of shopping alternatives which was the biggest shock when we moved out from London, 8 years ago. For years, I’d worked a stones throw from Selfridges, with Marylebone High Street only a few minutes walk away. And suddenly we couldn’t even pick up milk on the way home from work; our local (community run) shop isn’t open in the evening or on weekend afternoons and popping to the supermarket now involves a 15 mile round trip.

In the past, every village would have had its own shop. I actually live in the building that used to fulfil this role – it was originally a bread and beer shop, then a general store and cafe, for at least a century until it finally closed in 1984. At one time the village also had a pub, a tannery, a mill, a blacksmith and a school. Now, that’s all gone. Even the church is closed. I’m not able to say with absolute certainty, but it not too much to suggest that each and everyone of these enterprises closed because they didn’t make enough money to provide an income (even the weekly church collection didn’t cover the cost of the heating oil for the Sunday service through the winter). Trade dwindled for village and local shops, countrywide, because rather than shopping frequently for the things they needed, in the 1980s, people started doing a big weekly shop in the new and shiny supermarkets. So village and local shops closed, and once closed, the properties were sold and almost, invariably, the amenity was lost for ever.

So, use it or loose it. Which is why I shop small and local as much as I can. And this applies to yarn shops as much as it applies to grocery shops and bakeries. It might be cheaper to buy your yarn online, and the online store might have a better range, but nothing beats going into a store, breathing in the yarn fumes and having a squish, talking to the wise and learned staff, seeing the inspiring samples, and even honing your skills by taking a class or two. And if your local yarn store doesn’t stock the sort of yarn you want to buy, tell the staff what you’d like to buy, and then if they start to stock it, make sure you buy lots of it. Do it next Saturday!

And if you are near Woodborough in Wiltshire, you can come and see me, because I’ll be showing my hand dyed British wool for the first time ever at Flockfest at Flock on the Plain. To say I am totally excited is an understatement! Details can be found here.

So, come and say hi, breath some yarn fumes and squish some delicious wooliness. It’s going to be super fun.

New year, new… concept of completed?

I spent most of 2016 feeling that things were out of control. Primarily this was down to events in the wider world; the political shocks in the UK and the US, terrorism, war and the desperate situation of millions of refugees. None of these are things I have any real ability to influence so in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, I’ve been seeking the grace to accept with serenity these things that cannot be changed (while continuing to shout at the news and rant at my husband each and every time I read a newspaper). But in the same vein, I have been looking for the courage to change the things which should be changed. And for this, I have to address the  mess and chaos at home. 

Since their birth in 2010, I have used my twins as a convenient excuse to explain away the general untidiness of my home. I am too busy looking after them to tidy and children are mostly mess makers. This was very much true when they were babies, and mess and chaos of the toddler years nearly finished me off, but it’s not so much the case now. Even so,  the house remains a mess. Kinder visitors to my home have described it as “lived in”. Even as I type these words I am cringing in the knowledge I’ve generally spent at least an entire day clearing up before their visit, and that “lived in” is the best I can hope for even after pulling out all the stops.


The untidiness at home is not helped by my personality – I have long known that I am a serial starter of new things and not a completer finisher. It’s like a switch goes off in my head when I’ve 80% completed a project and suddenly it’s lying unfinished and forgotten, and I’m off onto the next thing. Sometimes this is circumstantial, like when I think I’ve got enough time to finish something before the start of the school holiday and a child gets ill and the school holidays start in a rush several days earlier than expected. But mostly I just do it to myself; by simply getting bored and starting something new or generally getting distracted. How often have I thought “ooh I’ll just cast on to see how the yarn works in the pattern” only to find myself several inches down the leg of the second sock, trying not to dwell on the wip I abandoned for this one, but also thinking “I wonder if that poncho pattern would work in that new yarn I bought last week”, before caving and casting on the poncho.

But I’ve been finding this behaviour increasingly frustrating. There have been plenty of occasions this year when I’ve wanted to get involved in a KAL but have taken a look at the wip pile and realised I just can’t justify it. Then when I see all the finished pieces others have produced, I feel sad because, now the KAL is finished there is virtual chance I’ll ever get to make the item.


Also, this behaviour means a lot of unfinished stuff lying around cluttering up the place. This never used to bother me, but earlier this year, tiring of the mess, I resolved to Konmari my house (this is a way of tidying that asks you to consider every item in your house and ask yourself whether it sparks joy). This started straightforwardly enough. I deposited car loads of clothes, shoes, ornaments, toys, baby equipment and books at our local charity shops and donated still more to the jumble. I dragged long forgotten boxes from cupboards and threw out endless phone charges and other electrical paraphernalia. I Ebayed chairs and tables and cupboards and decided that the country cottage look we had going on just wasn’t for me, and I was going to go where my heart lead towards the simplicity of scandi living with a mid century twist, irrespective of the fact we actually live in a country cottage. 

But none of this made any real difference to the levels of clutter in my home. In fact, and it seems ridiculous to say it, but all this tidying actually made things worse as I often neglected the day to day stuff (like filing the enormous amounts of paperwork we continuously accumulate). And so, I’ve been forced to confront the true reason for our perpetually messy home. And it’s me. Or more specifically my inability to finish anything. I can’t even finish the tidying!


So I’ve been analysing this aspect of my craziness and I’ve come to the conclusion that I usually think I’ve finished a task several steps before it is actually complete. The laundry is a good example of this. It should be obvious when the laundry is complete – when the dry clothes are folded and neatly put away in the drawer. However, sometimes my head will tick off this item on my mental to do list, when I’ve merely folded the clothes but not yet put them away, so they languish for ages, usually in a basket on the stairs or the spare room. Sometimes my head does this at the point where I drag the clothes out of the tumble dryer and put them in a basket. When this happens the basket usually ends up in the living room, and often, I’ll need the basket to gather more dirty laundry so I will empty the clean (still unfolded) laundry onto the couch where the children will spend a couple of days sitting on it, and using it as cushions and blankets, before it occurs to me I’ll need to fold it (and, by now, iron it or sometimes even wash it again) and get it upstairs into the drawers. If it were just the laundry, I could probably live with it. But it manifests itself in the way I’ll cast off and block a shawl but won’t ever get around to sewing the two ends of yarn in. Or that I’ll vacuum but not put the vacuum cleaner away afterwards. Or that I’ll load the dishwasher but take days to get around to the handwash items. And, in countless other ways.  I’m not proud of this behaviour. I’m just putting it out there, (partly in the hope that I’m not the only one. Please tell me I’m not the only one!?).

So for 2017, I’m resolving to fully finish tasks. All tasks. This might take a while as there are almost 46 years worth of unfinished tasks to get too. But, specifically, I’m going to finish all my yarny projects, and then I’m going to use up my stash. Yes, you heard me say it, I’m going to USE UP MY STASH. I may also be opening an Etsy shop to sell some of the yarn I’ve dyed myself but which I’ll never get around to using. The using up of my stash also means not adding to it, so I’m cancelling my yarn clubs (sob!) and will not be buying new yarn at yarn shops or shows (how? how?). In tandem, with this I’m going to do the same thing with my fabric stash. 


I’m also only going to work on one wip at a time, and am not going to start the next thing until I have finished the first, and that includes sewing in the ends. This will be quite a challenge for me as I do always flit from one thing to another. But earlier this month, I gave myself a test. I knitted a pair of mittens from start to finish without picking up another project. They were an easy knit, just stocking stitch, in DK yarn so they didn’t take forever, but I enjoyed the focus and felt huge satisfaction in completing a project, so hopefully more of that feeling will spur me on.

So, here’s to a tidy (tidier?) house and mind, in 2017.

Eep!

Bridport Yarn

We had such a great summer holiday this year. Two lovely long weeks of sun, fun on the beach, playing in the park, cousins, scooting, chips, ice cream, sea glass, ammonites and dinosaurs (well, actually icthosaurs and plesiosaurs but my children are a bit to young to know the difference) with the bonuses of a big dollop of knitting and a unexpected trip to Bridport Yarn.


I’m always on the look out for a yarn shop. I rarely go anywhere without checking out the surrounding area (and if it’s a long way, the route too) for yarn. We’ve been known to detour for miles, with the kids bleating “are we nearly there yet?” on a 10 second loop all the way interspersed with “I’m bored”, screaming in frustration and beating each other, in search of an elusive yarn shop. There is a direct correlation between the length of time since I was last in a yarn shop and the time and distance over which I am prepared to endure this torment (and the amount of £££ I spend but let’s not dwell on that). 

But in the chaos of term ending and packing for the holiday, I never quite got around to it. And it must have been the blissful feeling of finally being back in my beloved Lyme Regis that soothed by yarnoscope, because it took me a few days to come around to musing that the one tiny imperfection with the town was a lack of a yarn shop. And then I remembered in a light bulb type scrabbling for phone and wifi signal moment that I hadn’t done my research. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered that Bridport Yarn was just up the road. So a trip was hastily arranged. My sister in law came along for the ride. She not a yarnie – I think she came for amateur anthropological research reasons aka why is my brother’s wife so nuts about yarn?, that and the fact that it was a chance to get a quick coffee and a couple of hours off from the children, who went with my husband to the park.

So, Bridport Yarn! The website (here) looked encouraging. I like any shop that has ethical principles and their ethos of trying to offer yarn which is “British, local and fairly traded – sometimes all three!” speaks to my soul. And, the shop itself did not disappoint. It was nestled amongst a nice assortment of independent stops in the way you only find in places where you are far enough from big urban centres to make rents reasonable, or where the majority of the town is owned by some large landowning estate who doesn’t necessarily need to squeeze every penny from the property to pay interest on his over leveraged assets. Already soothed by the lack of thrusting chain stores (there are some on around the corner on the main road but only a scattering)  we gazed at the splendid window display and entered.


And, joy of joys, we had stumbled upon a knit and natter session. It was so nice to hear the relaxed conversation of the ladies while they knitted, had my sister in law not been with me (and had I not been conscious of the fact my husband was left entertaining 4 children aged under 6), I may have drawn up a chair and joined them. However, I settled for a quick chat with the lovely ladies and together we all cooed over their current projects including a very special first ever project of a hot water bottle cover, in a gorgeous pale blue yarn, which was particularly charming as the newbie knitter had make some mistakes but rather than frog several rows of hard fought stitches, she had merely deliberately repeated the mistake at intervals such that it looked like it was intentional. Genius! Here are the lovely ladies.

The shop stocked a nice mix of hand dyed and commercial yarns in a variety of fibres and an array of pretty colours, all prettily displayed, as well as the most gorgeous buttons (which I didn’t buy but I have been itching for them ever since). Alas the owner wasn’t there but the shop assistant was friendly and helpful. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I’ve included several of the shop and it’s goodies here.





I bought two balls of lovely Juniper Moon Farm lace weight yarn, even though lace is just not my thing at all, because, that colour! It just needed to be in my stash. I also bought a couple of long circular needles which were a totally legitimate necessary purchase as I needed them for the hat project – see more on this here

Bridport Yarn is situated on South Street in Bridport, Dorset, a few minutes drive from the A35. If you are passing on the A35 on your way further east or west or if you are holidaying near by, I would heartily recommend it as a great place to get a yarnie fix. I wish I lived closer. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

It’s been a while

Hello. I’m tentatively waving because I’m not sure if anyone is still out there. I’ve been a bit quiet of late because, well, truth be told, I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but life just kind of got in the way. 

Mainly, I’ve been working on a group of hat patterns that will be published in the autumn. It’s fair to say when I took three of my hats along on a retreat with Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns earlier this year, I was just looking for a bit of love and validation, so I was surprised when she asked if I would write some patterns for her yarn. I agreed pretty readily, not realising what an undertaking it was to become. It’s not that the hats themselves were difficult for me to create and the ideas came readily – so many ideas; I knitted so many samples before deciding they aren’t right for the yarn and ripping them back to try something else, finally settling on the six that will become the collection. But, I’ve never written a pattern before and it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s quite a journey from writing some jottings in a note book and knitting a quick sample, to writing a pattern that will work over six sizes of head from baby to large adult and have each size look like the same pattern. 


Pattern writing has also had to be fitted in around family life and you would think (or at least, I thought), given that my children are now at school, I would have oodles of time. Certainly in my big-career-pre-child life, I am now ashamed to admit, I did wonder what stay at home mum’s, with school age children, did all day; although in my defence, I was never judgemental, just mildly curious. But the school day is strangely short and by the time I’ve worked for a couple of hours in my job at the local florist Green Parlour , walked the dog and had some lunch, there are only a couple of hours left to run errands, prep dinner, batch cook for the freezer, Kon Mari the house, and do all the household chores (and, for me, the volume of chores expands exponentially in the summer due to my love for my garden – more of this in a future post), before its time to leave for pick up. By the time you add in the coffee mornings, watching PE and swimming lessons, assemblies and sports days, the time available shrinks further. 


And before you know it, it’s the summer holidays and you are trying to grab moments while the children are engrossed in some play. And pattern writing, at least for me, requires a level of concentration I just cannot muster when my children are not deeply engrossed in something. The inevitable cry of “Mummy?!” and you know you’ve been rumbled. So I’ve had to grab my opportunities when they come and here is the nub; it’s really hard to do something when you aren’t in the mood, when you are tired or when you just fancy reading a book in a deck chair. What ever the billing, being a pattern designer is a very different life to that of a hobby knitter or crocheter.


The patterns are currently with Daisy’s tech editor and are being tested knitted by a lovely group of Devon Sun Yarn fans, so my work, at least for now, is mostly done (although I might just squeeze in one more hat sample). Now there is the launch to look forward to. We are doing it this autumn at Yarndale, where I’ll also be Daisy’s stand helper. It will be an interesting experience to see a yarn show from the other side, and I’m so looking forward to meeting lots of other fellow yarnie enthusiasts.


So, I hope you can forgive my absence. I have some other pattern ideas percolating in the back of my mind and I’ll start work on those once my children have gone back to school, and I will keep you posted on these as they develop. I also have lots of projects to finish as I’ve been a serial starter of new projects over the spring and summer – I am not one of life’s complete finishers; more of this in later posts too. And I’ve tried some new crafts, done some dyeing and visited some yarn shops that I’m keen to tell you all about, so I promise to be more present from here on in.  


But for now, I’m off to enjoy the glorious summer weather with a long dog walk this morning whilst the children are at tennis tots, watching the Olympics (knitting in hand), with the children while we avoid the heat of the day this afternoon (although they’ll probably petition for some Octonauts or Peter Rabbit or Dragons:Riders of Berk). Then it’ll be about time for us all to dip our toes in the paddling pool before I get busy with their tea. 

With love

Ali x

Crafting on the move

I was caught out by a flat tyre late one evening last week, and to my horror I discovered I did not have any yarn craft with me. My crafting is usually fairly portable. It’s quick and easy to pop needles or hook and yarn in a bag and, with all my patterns stored on my iPad, I’m off! In fact I almost always have a small portable project in my bag just in case I find myself unexpectedly waiting somewhere. But not this evening. I had to endure a wait for rescue without the calming comfort of yarn and needles or hook. 

For the last year or so, my portable project has been my Cuddlebums Yarn shades blanket. Each month I would receive four balls of lovely colour from Jodi and would pop one ball at a time in my bag until I found odd scraps of time to crocheted it into squares, and then I replace the completed squares with the next ball and so the project continues. Because of this I’ve been quite relaxed about delays and inconvenience, as I know I can just whip out my crochet to pass the time. Making squares is a brilliant portable project because they take up so little space, and require very little concentration. You just have to remember to stop when you get to the requisite size of square (in the early days of this blanket, I frequently overshot and had to frog back but, the longer the project has gone on, the better I have got at paying attention just enough to stop at the right point). And because you are making the squares in time which would otherwise be wasted, you can, over some months, produce a blanket without it feeling like a huge and daunting undertaking.


In this case, I’m making two blankets, one for each of my children; they will be almost the same but will also be subtly different. A couple of weeks ago,  I finished crocheting the last of the balls of colour (a gorgeous purple), which is why I didnt have anything to do when I got the flat tyre. So now,  I will need to start on the blanket assembly. As you join the squares together, this naturally makes the project much less portable so it will become a stay at home project to be worked week on in my evenings. 


I’m sad to see the end of these squares and, for the sake of my sanity should I get another puncture, I will need to seriously think about what my next portable project will be as I don’t have one ready and waiting. Everything in my yarny pipeline is either too complex or too bulky to make an ideal portable project.


In the meantime, I’m turning my attention to sewing in all the ends on the crocheted squares (and wondering quietly to myself the entire time, why I didn’t sew them in as I went along. There are approximately 800, give or take). I also need to decide on a joining method and an edging and this will necessitate a trawl through Ravelry and my various books and pamphlets so it is a subject I will need to come back to another day. Right now my focus needs to be Project Portable!

Dyeing: things I learned

In my last post I told you all about how I dyed yarn in my kitchen, and because so many of you have said you were inspired to do the same, I thought I should probably follow up with some “things I learned” from the experience. Now, I’m not a big one for lists and this will all be basic and obvious stuff to experienced dyers, but to a newbie like myself, I was in uncharted territory, so, here goes. Things I learned:

  • Like most things, preparation is important. You need to thoroughly soak your yarn and get set up before you start. 
  • It’s really quite stingy when you splash the citric acid soak in your eye, so you will probably want to avoid doing this by either being careful when you get your yarn out of the bucket or if, like me, you are prone to clumsiness, by wearing goggles (I have onion peeling goggles which would have been excellent for this, had I been forewarned).
  • A little bit of dye goes a loooonnnnng way. All over spoons, jars, tables, clothes, small children. You need to be prepared to make a mess, so take precautions. I wore old clothes and an apron, and I had plenty of kitchen towel on hand to mop up spills and wipe up between different colours. And if you are hand painting on super wash yarn, boy, does a lot of water go everywhere. I’m thinking old towels would have also be useful if I’d had some.
  • Wear gloves. And don’t get distracted by small children (“Mummy, I did a poo poo”), remove your gloves to attend to them, and then forget to put then back on again. Unless you want to walk around with multicoloured hands and nails for the next several days.
  • If you are at all worried about your yarn felting then cold dip dye or hand paint your yarn (this is what I did), rather than kettle dye. Having super wash in your yarn will help but remember you need heat AND agitation to felt yarn so, as long as you don’t fuss about with it too much when it’s hot (you won’t be able to touch it for ages anyway after it comes out of the microwave), you’ll be fine. 
  • It will seem like the skeins take a small eternity to dry. It rained both days I did my dyeing and waiting for skeins to dry indoors is just so dull, so, if you can, dye on a dry day and hang them outside on the line, they’ll dry in no time. 
  • Try not to have too many preconceived ideas about what you want the yarn to look like at the end. I just went with the flow with the tone of my first few skeins. It turns out that I’m pretty heavy handed with the dye so get strong colours, but, because I’m using them together, I wanted my skeins to tone which meant the same strength of colour throughout, so, I had to work harder with the last few to make sure I was getting that right. That’s ok because I mostly enjoy a challenge but if you aren’t so keen, go easy on yourself and don’t stress about it. Like any new craft it takes plenty of practice to learn how to produce the effect you want. Whatever you make, it will be fabulous. 
  • Your skein will probably appear to get in a hideous tangle but do NOT be tempted to untie the ties to sort it out. That way lies madness and many hours of (not so) patient untangling. Once it is dry, just go around each of the ties in turn and check that there are no threads lying over the tie. Once you are satisfied that’s the case, pop your hands in either end of the skein and give it some sharp tugs as if you were trying to stretch it out. Then you should be good to pop it on a swift or a handy pair of outstretched arms, cut your ties and ball away without tangles.  
  • Be prepared to dye more yarn than you actually need. You will love your creations so much it will be hard to ball them up and use them. You will want to keep them as yarn pets for ever, just for squishing.
  • It’s worth getting a note book and writing down what colours you mixed. You think you’ll remember because you had such a fun time but, in reality, busy lives crowd in and you won’t. I’m only a few days away from having finished dyeing the yarn for my blanket and I’m already starting to forget. Besides, its always good to have an excuse for a new note book.
  • As soon as you finish, you will want to dye more, and it will be a fidgety torture waiting for the postie to deliver more yarn. So get in more undyed yarn than you think you are going to use. I guarantee you will use it all.
  • It is great fun but don’t even think about trying it unless you are prepared to become totally addicted. And have your whole house smell of damp sheep (but there are worse smells, right?)

Happy dyeing xxxx

Dye Day

So, the long awaited dye has actually arrived, and I have been busy in my kitchen. 

Last year I went on a yarny retreat in Lyme Regis, run and hosted by the very lovely Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns (if you need reminding, I wrote about it here) and, over that weekend, I learnt to dye yarn. I’ve had a couple more tries since then on other retreats and workshops, all under Daisy’s supervision. But I hadn’t actually done any yarn dyeing on my own, so when the idea for a temperature blanket required justification, dyeing my own colours for it seemed the way to go.

Daisy supplies excellent yarn dyeing kits (with detailed instructions for those who haven’t had the benefit of her presence) with no nasty chemicals so they are safe to use in your kitchen. But, sensing I probably needed a bit more of a challenge, and because I wanted to dye a blanket’s worth of yarn, Daisy supplied the undyed yarn and pointed me towards procian dyes.

  

The process for dyeing with procian dyes is exactly the same as dyeing with the dyes in Daisy’s kits, but with procian you need separate pots, pans, spoons etc as they aren’t food safe so you can’t use the pans etc in your cooking afterwards.

This type of dyeing is known as acid dyeing, which, when I first heard the term, brought to my mind memories of lab coats, goggles and bubbling beakers of hydrochloride acid and those cupboards with the big extractors in the chemistry lab at school. But we aren’t talking about scary acidic, just a bit of an gentle acidic soak for the yarn before applying the dye. 

Because I was dyeing a animal fibre yarn, I made my acidic solution by adding citric acid to some water in a bucket. Luckily I had some citric acid in the cupboard, left over from some random long forgotten cooking experiment. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend you get some just for the comedy value of the faces your children will make after slyly eating some thinking it is sugar. Alas this isn’t something that is going to happen much longer as they are now learning to read and the jar has a big label so I don’t get confused (I have previously tried to make marzipan from cornflour rather than icing sugar so all my jars now have big labels). So, citric acid for animal fibre. If you wanted to dye plant fibre (like cotton), you’ll need soda ash in your soak.

I left my yarn to soak overnight but I’m suspecting that just a 30 minute soak would do it. You want to make sure the acid solution properly gets right into the fibre, so squeeze out the big air bubbles when you put your yarn into soak.

  
I’d already decided which colours I wanted (see the post here) so I got to mixing the dye. I decided to start with my orange, yellow and greens, because, well, you have to start somewhere. The dye comes in powder form and you just mix it with tap water adding more water or more dye, mixing until you achieve the colour you want. I made one colour at a time and put away the dye in between so as to avoid accidents (I am outrageously clumsy).

I wanted a fairly solid colour for my blanket and the obvious way to achieve this is kettle dyeing. But, despite scouring local charity shops I couldn’t get hold of an old saucepan (unless they are in mint condition, the charity shops just bin them). Ideally I’d use a maslin pan but didn’t want to use the perfectly good one I have in the cupboard as (because I am using procian) I wouldn’t be able to use it afterwards to make strawberry jam, and strawberry season will soon be upon us. 

  
So I went with hand painting. To protect my kitchen table oilcloth I put down one of those toddler dry nites sheet things you use to save the mattress from nighttime accidents, when potty training children. Then I put down a couple of sheets of cling film, wrung out and laid on the skein of yarn, spreading it out well. Then I added my colour. I used a paint brush (the sort you use on walls) to paint on the colour and a spoon to dribble it on. It was fascinating to see how the yarn sucked up the colour leaving just a little water behind. 

  

Then once I’d put on all the colour I wanted (and I deliberately left some parts lighter so it would look unmistakably hand dyed), I wrapped up the skein in the cling film, laid it in a glass dish and popped it in the microwave and fixed the dye by cooking it for 3 minutes, then resting for 3 minutes, then cooking again for 3 minutes. This was probably overkill but I didn’t want all my dye to run out, given it was my first time. 

Once the yarn had finally cooled down (and it does come out of the microwave at approximately the same temperature as lava) I gave it a quick rinse and hung it up to dry.

  
It really was as simple as that. And highly addictive. I dyed four skeins the first afternoon, and another four the following morning, and will definitely do more. Now, I have to decide on whether to knit or crochet the blanket and which stitch I’m going to use…