Sunday, May 03, 2015

Natural Dyeing Project #1: Red Cabbage

I've been wanting to try natural dyeing, with things I have to hand, for a while and a couple of weeks ago I discovered a rather manky red cabbage lurking in the back of the fridge. We love cabbage so it usually gets eaten quite quickly, but we'd been away and it had been pushed behind some other items on the back shelf. I did a quick survey of my facebook friends to help me decide whether to try making sauerkraut or dyeing with it and the results were pretty overwhelmingly "make dye". (I still want to try my hand at sauerkraut and the crock I just found at the fleamarket is going to come in very handy later in the summer.)

I've collected a number of old canning pots from local thrift stores to use for crafting, so I chopped up my cabbage, covered it with water and simmered it for an hour.
In the meantime, I soaked two skeins of Filatura Lanarota Natural sock yarn (90% superwash merino wool/10% nylon) in tepid water for about 20 minutes and then simmered it for an hour in 3 tsp each of alum and cream of tartar as a mordant. This is supposed to help the dye bind with the wool.
When the cabbage was done I strained the very purple water and the now much paler cabbage went into the compost.
 I ended up with four quarts of dye, which I divided in half.

I had read someone else's blog about dyeing with red cabbage and she changed the pH of the dye by adding baking soda and vinegar to get two totally different colours and I really wanted to try that. She didn't give measurements so I randomly added 2 tsp of baking soda to one half of my dye, and 3 Tbsp of vinegar to the other. The first instantly turned a lovely teal green and the other a fuchsia pink.

I added one skein of the mordanted yarn to each and simmered for 20 minutes.

They looked gorgeous soaking in the dye
Unfortunately, when I rinsed them a lot of the colour came out, particularly of the pink one.
The green one is still quite colourful but the other one has gone to a pale grey with a slight tinge of purple. Still pretty, but not quite what I was aiming for.

Mulling it over, I think there were a couple of things I did that may have affected the uptake of dye (although I'm not sure why the green stuck and the pink didn't - maybe the vinegar affected it?).

  1. Although I soaked the yarn before I mordanted it, I didn't actually wash it. I noticed when I rinsed it after dyeing that it felt kind of "soapy" so it may have had something on it that interfered with the dye absorption.
  2. I took both skeins out when they looked the colour I wanted and then chucked the dye before I rinsed them. There was quite a bit of colour left in the dye baths so I should have kept it anyway and tried dyeing something else, but I certainly should have kept them until I was sure the colour was going to stick. If I had, I could have put the pink back in to simmer longer or even sit in the dye pot overnight. Well, live and learn.
Now that I've given natural dyeing a try I have a list of other things I want to experiment with. I have a skein I dyed this weekend with loquat leaves I scavenged from my parents' yard drying now (more on that later), and I'd like to try black beans (blue) and avocado pits (pale pink) next.


Thursday, April 16, 2015


David asked me why, if I loathe handwashing so much, I keep knitting him socks that he wears once and then sit on the top of the washer for six months. It is a very, very, good question.

I've decided that unless I find a luxury sock yarn that absolutely MUST be made into a pair of socks, all my socks from now on will be made of superwash wool.

When I planned to knit all my California family socks for Christmas last year I determined to make it as easy as possible on them, so all my Christmas knitting was superwash. Knit Picks is my friend - all these socks were knitted with Stroll I ordered online and had delivered to my door.

From top to bottom these socks were for Lauren, Dad and Mom - Lauren's and Mom's I heavily adapted existing patterns and Dad's I kind of made up as I went along.

Fin's were my favourites. I'd been wanting to try doing something with Latvian braid and I found this pattern just about the time I was planning my Christmas presents. All the trim was done using bits from the other socks.
 I knit Ally's and Madie's socks using a basic sock pattern but added an eyelet cuff (cause I love eyelet) and did duplicate stitch on the heels for their initials. I couldn't get the colours to come out quite right in the photos - Ally's are a little more purple and Madie's are a really vibrant hot pink.
 By the time I got to Cedric's socks I was running late so didn't initial his heel. However, I don't think anyone's going to be confused about whose socks these are.

Over the winter I did manage to coordinate our church's Homeless knitting project and we ended up with over 200 donated items (some handmade, some bought) - here are a few of them.

One lady brought all hers in individual ziplocs with hand-written notes inside, which I thought was a nice touch.

 For the rest I printed little labels and attached them with a bit of scrap yarn.

 Since Christmas I've only knit one pair of socks for David (no pictures yet) and one sock out of a pair for me. I loved Fin's so much I found another pattern with Latvian braid and am doing myself a pair in purples.

I have a long-ish list of requests, including a knitted viking helmet/beard from Lauren which I was hoping to have done for his birthday, but I'm so far behind it may have to be a Christmas present. I'm also commissioned to knit Evie's young man, Greg, a Jayne Hat but his birthday's in October so I have time to get to that one (this request deeply satisfies the geek in me).

So, that's my knitting for the last few months. I'll try and get pictures of David's new socks (superwash for the win). I have a flight to California coming up next week so hopefully I can get the second sock of my Latvian pair done then and pictures up soon.


Monday, April 13, 2015

After a Long and Painful Absence

This winter was long, cold and very painful. I have rheumatoid arthritis and until last fall the medications I was on were keeping it under pretty good control. I'd have the odd flare that would last a day or two and then I'd be OK for a while. But in September the flares starting coming more often and lasting longer and in November my whole body seemed to flare up - I was having pain in every joint. A couple courses of steroids helped settle that down, but my hands just hurt all the time. My rheumatologist has been trying to find a new combination of drugs to control the flares but we are still tweaking it. I'm on a longer course of steroids right now so I'm pain-free for the moment and after nearly six months of constant pain it's such a relief!

I found that when the pain and fatigue are unrelenting, not only can I not make much physical effort, I can't even think about making physical effort. Now I love planning, sometimes even more than the actual doing! I love looking at knitting patterns, browsing yarn websites, poring over seed catalogs, reading about travel, watching youtube videos refinishing furniture. But chronic pain narrows your focus down to just getting through the day, and anything else just sucks away the little energy you have. Even blogging and posting on Facebook seem like too much of an effort.

Also, I found that it's downright depressing thinking about all the things I can't do. At the worst of it I was missing a lot of work and I kept thinking "if this doesn't get better I'm going to have to quit work, and then we won't be able to afford house payments, and then we'll have to move, and how am I going to move house if I can't even move my hands, and I like my house, I don't want to leave it". Getting back on my antidepressants helped a lot with the anxiety, but it's still an issue I may have to deal with.

However, at the moment, while I'm pain-free, I'm taking advantage of the reprieve and in the last couple of weeks have had a little flurry of baking, knitting and gardening that I really missed during the winter.

I realized I never posted pictures of my Christmas knitting so I'll work on a post to show those, and one to show the beginnings of my veggie patch this year.

Here's to warmer weather and feeling better.



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