I am trying my hand this spring with a Dye Garden. So far only four different plants which have been selected for; color (yellow, blue and red which can all be blended to create other colors), ease of growing, and suitability for my Zone here in Portland, and also because I like the names. I have always wanted a garden with Woad and Weld. And I love the name Lady's Bedstraw. Dyer's Woodruff is chosen more for the color, a very intense red, then the name.
This one is Lady's Bedstraw. It is a wild flower in Britain and so it should do well here. In the past the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses. It smells like sweet hay and is supposed to encourage sleep and deter fleas.The flowers were also used to coagulate milk in cheese manufacture and, in Gloucestershire, to color the cheese Double Gloucester. The leaves and roots are used to make yellow (leaves) and red (roots) dyes. It is tall and beautiful as a plant, and multi use as a dye stuff so it made the cut.
And this is Dyer's Woodruff. It is a hardy perennial that thrives up to zone 4 so will work in my Portland garden. It is also low maintenance, which is an absolute requirement for a gardener like me -- I like to garden but I don't LOVE to garden. The roots provide a madder like red.
This is woad. Think Braveheart. It gives an intense indigo colored blue with occasional hints of turquoise. As you can see from the picture it is an umimpressive looking plant with wooly leaves but if youlook at the tips you can see the bluish tint. It can be harvested 3 or 4 times in a good year. Next spring it will shoot and the blue pigment in the leaves will disappear and by early summer a multitude of tiny yellow flowers appear followed by purple teardrop shaped seeds. The first year’s leaves are harvested by hand, washed, chopped finely and placed in a bucket, covered with boiling water and left to stand for about an hour while the pigment leaches out. The resulting liquid is strained, whisked, made alkali with washing soda and then the air is eliminated from the vat. It will dye almost anything blue; all fibers, wood, bone, leather and especially hands.
And this is Weld which gives a brilliant yellow. If you have dyed wool with Woad and then overdye with Weld you will get Lincoln Green. It's the color that Robin Hood's Merry Men wore so that they could blend into the forest. Although it is my guess that there were some merry women on board somewhere doing the spinning, weaving, sewing and dyeing for the merry men.
Are there other plants that you would particularly recommend? For either interesting names, good colors, or ease of growth in Maine's short summers? Also if any of my reader's have experience with natural dyeing and want to chip in with some wise advice please do so. I think I'm going to be able to use all the help I can get.
I have to confess that a certain amount of pressure had to be applied by my Studio Manager (Martha Mai) in order to get me to post these three 2 oz, 200 yard skeins of hand dyed alpaca yarn. I have been saving (hoarding) these to make the Handkerchief Scarf but, as has been pointed out to me, I already have two handkerchief scarves along with numerous other shawls and drapey things. And it's not like I don't have plenty of knitting going on. So I decided to give the world a chance at these and I posted them today on Etsy. Just so you know...I can't make any promises about how long they'll be available. They might get sold, or they might get hidden in the studio. I'm not above that sort of thing.
Day April 20 (which is a Saturday)
Time 9:00-4:00 with Soup Day Lunch
Cost $45.00 with materials included
Facts of the Class:
You will get a pattern for Latvian Mittens, Latvian Socks, a fringe cast on and a ripple cast on, the Latvian Braid, plus directions for scaling up the pattern for adult women's size. This directions will be written and there will be graphs. You can always contact me for help at the time of the class or anytime in the future. I fully support my patterns no matter what, forever or at least until my inevitable demise.
I will provide yarn for the class to make it easier to give directions. For example I am thinking of using black/white and red from my stash. That way when I give directions for the decrease at the top of the mitten I can say Black Yarn, White Yarn which helps with the confusing semantics, (background color??? main color??? secondary color???). The class will never be more than 8 people. If it gets to 9 or more I will split the class and offer it on the next Saturday (April 27) as well. It's just too difficult to be helpful to more than 8 people at a time.
You can pay me the day of the class (if the class isn't overbooked) or in advance (to hold your place). I take checks, credit cards, cash money, and have even been known to do swaps. Talk to me if you have questions -- we can work it out.
Class will be held at the Threads of Meaning Studio -- most of you have been here but I will provide directions. If you have never been to the studio or taken a studio class from Threads of Meaning please convo me and I'll give you the particulars in an e-mail.
Here is a Photo of my Great-Niece Phoebe enjoying her mittens. It was her idea to offer the socks and she presented her idea to me by putting the mittens on her feet and giving me a delighted look of discovery.
I like to make socks as a wedding gift for my nieces and nephews. It's an intimate gift, but not too intimate, and hand knit socks have that lovely combination of everyday utility and specialness, and to therefore symbolize what early marriages should have. I also like to knit them with my Great-great grandmother Adeline's knitting needles. My great-grandmother (her daughter) gave them to me and they are about 11 inches long, steel, and of slightly varying diameters but roughly a size 2 - 2.5. These are very experienced needles; over 100 years old and owned by women with large, northern Maine farming families.
I like to think of Adeline while I work, and to think about the children, her great-great-great grandchildren, who will be wearing the socks. It's a way of linking up the generations going backward and forward in time and, at least in my own mind, introducing them to each other. And it is also a way of knitting the new marriage partner, in this case my nephew Scott's winsome bride Elizabeth, into the family. The pattern for these particular socks can be found on Ravelry
or Etsy, or by going to the Pattern Page on my website.
This is the Spring Green Roving. It was sitting innocently enough in the Big Tub of Fuzzy Delicious Roving with its compatriots. And I was sitting in the studio looking out the window at YET ANOTHER SNOWSTORM. And I was overcome, overcome I tell you, by the intense longing to handle something green.... So I dipped into the tub, grabbed the aptly titled Spring Green Roving, and spun it up. I didn't need Spring Green handspun for any project in particular so once I finished it up I posted it once again onto my Etsy site in its new manifestation as Spring Green Handspun Yarn. You can see a photo of the finished yarn below along with an apple to help you judge the color accuracy. And you can see it on Etsy by clicking here
And here is a glamour shot of some of my latest studio finished objects. The socks will be appearing in a pattern soon, along with a male version that is not quite so lacy and much, much bigger. And the toe of the sock is pointing to a braided rug that I just finished up for a friend. She needed a small braided rug for her kitchen in front of her sink. This one is made from recycled T-shirts and laced with nylon cord which makes it not only reversible but also machine washable -- both of these things are excellent qualities in a kitchen rug. I tend to prefer wool braided rugs myself because the wool takes the dye more intensely and so the colors tend to be richer. But the colors on this one are not at all bad. I'll be posting more on both the socks and the rug -- this is a bit of a teaser for my regular readers.
As the Maine winter goes on, and on, and on I find myself longing for spring. The fact that I have been working up Hawaiian Applique designs for my upcoming OLLI class has intensified the longing. These images are not, strictly speaking, Hawaiian Applique but rather a use of some of the techniques to work up a Maine crocus. The title of this screen is Merrymeeting Spring and was co-created with my father 12 years ago. He designed and built the frame in Maine while I made the panels in Arizona. They came together for a show at Scott Potter's gallery in Portland Maine.
These crocus flowers are the first green things to poke their heads up through the snow at this time of year and I lived, for several years, in a house that my father built on Merrymeeting Bay in Topsham. I was thinking about those years when I made the panels. And now, when I look at the screen in my studio I think of my father. Having a piece like this that we created together is almost like having him in my studio. I remember his hands and how they looked working with his tools. The work that his hands did, that my hands do, the work that any of us create contains a whisper of who we are and can hold and pass on that whisper indefinitely.
Here is a close up photo of my big washtub full of delicious color and softness. Most of these hand dyed and hand carded rovings are 2 oz or perhaps a bit more in weight. They are the perfect antidote if you have been spinning up your large natural color roving all winter and you are getting weird mid-February longings for color -- any color -- as long as it is not white, grey or brown. There is enough fiber here to spin up the necessary to make up the Steam Punk Mitts, which would give you a color break from spinning, a quick knitting project, and some nice warm mitts in a bright color to get you through until spring. The Roving and the pattern can be found on Etsy.
These socks, which I made for my sister Peg for Christmas, are the Mamluke Socks from Nancy Bush's excellent book Folk Socks
. If you click it you will go to the Ravelry site for the book, and there you will be able to see what a dramatic difference yarn choice can make with this particular sock pattern. If you make it up in blue and white, for example, it will look quite a bit different than this version which is made up of five different colors of my hand dyed sock yarn. I like to use up odds and ends in these Fair Isle type projects which makes for a lot of variety and, in my case, requires me to knit socks two at a time so that they will match without any needless anxiety of the "do I have enough of this color" sort.
These are my Stained Glass Mitts, the pattern for which will be available as soon as I figure out how to use my color graphing software. I like to use the sock yarns for socks, obviously, but I also like them for gloves, mitts, and mittens because what you wear on your hands tends to get grubby and the sock yarns are washable and abrasion resistant because of the addition of a little bit of nylon to the mix. I also like to use the Hand Dyes for baby clothes. There are several of reasons for this. One, the superwash merino is smoother than non-superwash and this makes for a more baby skin friendly garment. Also the washability is a boon to mothers. And I also like the colors. Most babies, I find, seem to call for stronger, bolder colors than the traditional pastels. As you can see in the picture below, baby Nico is a take charge kind of guy with strong opinions of his own and a soft baby blue just wouldn't express his inner Nico-ness like these rich bold colors do. If you would like to acquire some of these hand dyed sock yarns to enliven your own stash hie yourself over to my Etsy
site and take a look.
I was thinking about Valentine's Day and came up with these three pretty things. They are made from the bottomless pile of rug wool, some of which has been overdyed, stuffed with wool and a little lavender packet, and finished off with a little embroidery and a loop for hanging in your window, from your cup hooks in the kitchen, or in your closet where the lavender will make things smell lovely.
I also want to talk a little bit about the way I work and how I source my supplies. The red rug wool was given to me by someone cleaning out their aunt's barn, the embroidery floss came from my big box of embroidery materials that I periodically replenish although I often get given things there as well. The wool for stuffing came from Bella the lovely sheep who has now passed on to that lovely meadow in the sky. The lavender was purchased in Virginia from a friend who had a lavender business and I made the little sachets from some of the many, many gauze curtains that were in the house when we bought it 4 years ago.
So I would like to express my gratitude for the materials that people have given me. I'm sure they were thinking something like, "Good heavens, here is this big bag of (xxx) that I have to do something with.....who would want this, who???" And then they go, "Oh, Martha, she'll think of something to do with it!" And they hop in the car, or truck, depending on how big the bag of something is. I greet them with smiles and gratitude and coffee and I carry the big bag down to the dye kitchen, or into the loom room to sort and put into the cubbies. And quite often I'll have something for many years (like the lavender) before I find a real use for it. The nice thing is that when I do use it I always remember where I got it, the person who thought of me, the day when I overdyed it.
In short, most of my materials are permeated with gratitude, fond memories and creative inspiration. Which is why they are Threads of Meaning.
I have just finished up with my latest batch dyeing of the sock yarns. All of my colors are OAK (One of A Kind) because I have a tendency to overdye colors that I think need improvement rather than starting with a white base yarn like most hand dyers do. It's a kind of upcycling for me. Consequently the colors tend to be created according to whim rather than carefully measured and reproducible formulae. These gloves and mitts that you see below are knit up from some of the hand dyes and the pattern is available for purchase here
. The yarns are for sale as well and you can find them on my Etsy
I also like to use the hand dyed sock yarns for baby things. The superwash merino is very soft and it's also washable which is a nice thing for the baby's mother. I also like to knit baby things in not so baby colors. The prototype for this little sweater and bonnet were made for the baby of my niece and she was pretty opposed to pink. She was delighted with this color combination and the baby was beautiful in it. I don't have a photograph of the baby, though, so you have to be satisfied to imagine the baby's head in place of the purple ball. The pattern for this sweater, which is quite a relaxing knit being mostly garter stitch, is available here