I’ve had this yarn in my stash forever – in fact it’s the remnants of the first jumper I ever tried (and failed) to knit. It’s 100% merino wool by Rowan and is now on it’s way to being a cosy ribbed hat for Orla! I’m using size 5 needles and a 1×1 rib – I swatched a 2×2 rib originally (inspired by the work of one of my favourite Instagrammers at the moment) but the scale looked so wrong against Orla’s tiny head!
I’m aiming for a thick cuff in the hope that it will last through next winter as well (who am I kidding though because nursery is a black hole for hats) and might add a pom pom if I feel the vibe. I’m freestyling the pattern for now and will share once it’s finished – which will hopefully be very soon as, goodness isn’t it getting cold now? Knitting for small people is very satisfying for someone used to jumpers that take years of my life – I’m already planning a few more pint sized projects in the run up to Christmas!
Easy to learn, difficult to master.
A couple of weeks back my good friend Anna and I spent a fun (if somewhat chilly) day at The Handmade Fair where we learned how to block print with The Arty Crafty Place! I found the process so satisfying and instantly rewarding – it’s more difficult than it looks though. I treated myself to a few gorgeous Indian wooden printing blocks afterwards and have been enjoying experimenting at home. I started by using poster paint and paper to get a feel for the blocks – it’s amazing to see how the vibe of the pattern changes depending on how the prints are stacked.
I spent a happy evening making this tea towel but quickly realised that the Indian paisley print looks better a little more spaced out – I think I was trying to go for a 60’s swirly paisley vibe!
I’m looking forward to sharing some more of my block printing experiments soon!
A few weeks ago my Aunty (the very creative and inspiring hand weaver, spinner and textile designer Madeleine Jude) very kindly spent the day giving me a little glimpse into the alchemy of indigo dying. Working with natural dyes is quite daunting – I’m so glad I had someone to show me rather than trying to figure it out for myself from a book. Today I’m sharing some photos of the dye making process along with the recipe we used for our indigo vat. Next time, I’ll be taking a closer look at my finished shibori dyed muslin squares and the folding techniques I used so don’t forget to pop back next week!
We based our dye vat on a recipe from Colours from Nature – A Dyer’s Handbook by Jenny Dean. The original recipe calls for ‘colour run remover’ to eliminate oxygen from the water but modern colour run removers don’t work in the same way so we used sodium hydrosulphite (hydros) instead. The quantities below made enough dye to handle 8 muslin squares, a length of cotton that had been knocking about in my stash for years and about 40g of yarn with plenty left to spare.
Before we delve into the dye recipe, here are a few interesting things about indigo!
- Indigo is the only source of true blue dye in nature but lots of different plants produce indigo.
- In order for the dye to adhere to the fibre it needs to be in a form called ‘indigo white’ (which is actually a greenish yellow colour) rather than the thick, gloopy blue liquid that you imagine. Indigo can only exist in the form of indigo white when no oxygen is present (hence the hydros). This means that when the fabric or yarn first emerges from the dye vat it will be a funny colour but as the oxygen gets to it it will transform before your eyes into deep and delicious indigo blue.
- Once you have finished dying your fabric, allow it to dry naturally for a couple of days before washing gently. After this your dye should be all set.
- You’ll need to make sure all fabric or yarn has been washed thoroughly to remove any natural oils that might interfere with the fibre’s ability to absorb the dye. You’ll also need to make sure the fabric or yarn has been soaked in water before dipping it into the dye – but squeeze it out well to make sure it doesn’t dilute the dye vat or drip into it (introducing dreaded oxygen).
Materials and equipment:
- Ideally, a large electric water heating canister (something along these lines). Failing that, a very large pan and a stove top.
- Indigo powder (Madeleine buys her’s from P&M Woolcraft which you can order online).
- Sodium Hydrosulphite
- Washing soda
- Litmus test strips
- Measuring spoons
- Kilner jar (or similar) to mix up the indigo powder
- Rubber gloves
- Wooden spoon with a long handle
- Fabric or yarn to dye
- Bucket of clean, cold water ready to dunk your fabric or yarn in after it comes out of the dye vat.
- A washing line to hang it all out to dry.
- Dissolve 4.5 tsp washing soda in 3-6 tbsp boiling water and allow to cool slightly. Then add 6 level tsp indigo powder to this solution and mix very well into a smooth paste (this could take up to 10 minutes) adding more water if necessary. We used a Kilner jar which I would recommend as you can seal it up tightly and give it a good shake. Make sure no gritty particles remain then leave to stand until you’re ready to use it (or at least 15 minutes).
- Put enough water to make the vat into a stainless steel dye pot (we used around 12 litres) and heat to 50C/120F. This is about as hot as your hand can take. Make sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 60C/140F.
- Add approximately 25 to 30g/1oz of hydros and stir very gently. Leave for a minute or two, then very slowly and carefully stir in the indigo paste solution, making sure not to create any air bubbles as you do so. Remember, the hydros is there to remove the oxygen from the water so from this point on it’s all about not agitating the liquid or letting anything drip into it that could re-introduce oxygen and stop the dye working.
- Put the lid on the pot and, keeping the temperature constant, leave the vat to stand for 30-45 minutes or until the liquid below the surface has changed from blue to greenish yellow in colour. (The surface may still appear blue because it is in contact with the oxygen). If after 45 minutes the liquid still appears blue, add a little more hydros and leave for a further 5 – 10 minutes. We added an additional 3 tsp of hydros before the dye was ready, using litmus test strips to check when the dye was sufficiently alkali (it should be somewhere between 9 and 10). You can immediately tell once the dye is ready as it suddenly clings to the wooden spoon, coating it in thick, deep colour (and ruining it forever).
- Gently add the wetted yarn or fabric, remembering to squeeze out any excess water first. Do not put more material into the vat than will lie easily below the surface, as any sections above the surface will become blotchy. Each vat will be different and require a different amount of time – we found that 10 seconds was perfect but some recipes suggest submerging the fibres for up to 20 minutes! I recommend starting with a shorter dip and re-dipping if necessary.
- Remove the materials very gently, making sure they do not drip into the vat, then immerse them in a bucket of cold water. This is particularly important if there are any grainy particles of indigo dye powder still undissolved as these can cause blotches in your finished fabric but the bucket of water should lift them off before they have the chance to do any damage.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post! Indigo dying feels really ritualistic and special – definitely not something I’ll be doing every weekend. I liked how it took all of my concentration and nearly the whole day to make and handle the dye – dipping the fabric was the easy part! I’m really pleased that I chose muslin squares to dye as not only will I use them so often with the new bambino but it gave me a chance to try out a few different shibori techniques whilst recycling fabric I already own. I’m looking forward to showing off the finished muslins next time!
Do you use indigo dye? I would love to see your work – leave me a comment!
My very creative and talented Auntie Madeleine taught me how to make indigo dye last weekend! I’ve never worked with a natural dye like this and had no idea what is involved – it’s a delicate balancing act between all the ingredients, the temperature, even the humidity and the air. I’m looking forward to sharing more of the process next week, and showing off my new Shibori dyed muslin squares! In the meantime you can hop over to Madeleine’s website here and see some of her amazing handmade textiles.
…is on it’s way! I can’t quite believe how quickly this pregnancy is going – this picture was taken on Friday at a lovely friend’s wedding when I was 22 weeks exactly.
This amazing panda print jersey fabric popped up for sale on one my Facebook sewing groups a few months back and I couldn’t resist! I’m on a quest for the perfect toddler leggings pattern – this pair have a centre front seam and I also added ankle cuffs and a jersey waist band (rather than elastic which I always think looks uncomfortable). I also widened the leg at the top, tapering down to the ankle. They’re still a pretty slim fit (even though Orla is usually a little behind size-wise) so I think I’ll widen them a bit more next time – I’m looking for something between a legging and a harem – back to the drawing board!
We had such a good time visiting the Carl Larsson Garden in Sweden! The family home (‘Garden’ means house in Swedish) where Carl lived with his talented wife Karin is still privately owned by the Larsson family but you can have a guided tour which I highly recommend! I love Carl’s fairytale like paintings but enjoyed learning about Karin’s work the most. She was an incredible interdisciplinary designer / maker and the house is full of her weavings and embroideries as well as furniture that she designed. The way the family lived in their house is so inspiring – painting portraits on the walls and doors, a family workshop for crafts and everything designed to make the perfect use of space.
There’s a great piece of writing about Karin on the Carl Larsson Garden website which I love, taken from a 1997 exhibition at the V&A Museum:
“Karin’s textiles were absolutely original. Pre-modern in character they introduced a new abstract style in tapestry. Her bold compositions were executed in vibrant colours; her embroidery frequently used stylised plants. In black and white linen she reinterpreted Japanese motifs. Technically adventurous, she explored folk techniques and experimented with others. A good example of her bold weaving is the tapestry ”The Four Elements” that she composed in 1903 to be hung above the new sofa in the dining room.
At Sundborn the Larssons developed an aesthetic partnership. He was effusive, covering the walls with foliage and flowers, she arranged the living flowers, but in her designs austere and often abstract. The colours of the interior seem to have been jointly decided. Their combined contributions created a perfect whole”
The pictures at the top of the post were taken in the garden outside the house where they had set up lots of easels for kiddos to paint and had the sweetest little artists robes for them to wear! Orla is pulling a totally fake sad face that she experiments with sometimes. She held it like that for me until I had captured it from every angle! The other photos are from the Carl Larsson Garden website which is full of information – go and have a peek! The Carl Larsson gift shop was on a whole other level – they had the most beautiful aprons which they had copied from photos and paintings of the family along with craft kits to re-create some of Karin’s textiles as well as things from Carl’s paintings. I hope we’ll be back one day!
We had a dreamy time in Sweden a couple of weeks back – how I wish I was back in our log cabin by the lake! We fell in love with the landscape and countryside – I don’t think I saw a single normal building on the three and a half hour drive from Stockholm up to Dalarna, just identical red and white cottages. At this time of year the sun only goes down for a couple of hours from about midnight which was surreal and beautiful at the same time. When Orla woke me up the first morning, the sun was blazing and the whole house was glowing with all that woodwork! I sprang out of bed, started chatting about getting milk and books, switched on the radio then checked my phone… 4.00am.
Walking from our cottage to the lake each morning I found the traditional wooden buildings fascinating! Each little plot of land seemed to have one main house followed by a guest house and then a series of smaller ones which looked like sheds (though a couple turned out to be saunas – much more fun). Maybe people just buy a plot of land and then keep adding buildings as the family grows? They were all built and decorated in exactly the same style right down to the red paint (‘Falu Red’ originating from the nearby copper mines, so Google tells me) and hanging baskets filled with geraniums. Our house was very traditional with wood panelled walls, a tall, pitched roof, floral curtains, log burner and sauna. It would be fun to go back during the winter! The Darla horses pictured above are hand carved and originally came from this part of Sweden. I kind of regret not buying one to take home with us but since we live in such a tiny flat I’m trying hard to be a minimalist. This photo will just have to do for now!
I’m used to swimming in the freezing cold Atlantic coast of North Cornwall so the warm, fresh water lakes were a dream. Each night after Orla was tucked up in bed Ciaran and I cooked our dinner over the BBQ and sat out on the decking in the twilight under blankets. On our last night we heard a noise in the grass next to the house and a deer and her foal casually wondered across our lawn. That’s what I love about Sweden – it’s wild but friendly at the same time. We promised ourselves we would be back one day!