Aug 31, 2008

Knitpicks Sock Blank and Dye Plants

After following the Knitpicks sock blank knit-alongs and dye-alongs  I decided to try one myself using dye plants. 


Knitpicks sock blank. Starting with an overnight soak and standard Alum bath.


Start with Oxylas. The sock blank soaked up the dye incredibly well. I underestimated the wicking effect and lost the white spots.  For the next one it mgiht be interesting to try with some dry areas.


Overdye with Maddar.


Some ‘saddening’ with Iron and Copper to tone down the yellow.


Last the Indigo overdye.



I am a total convert to the Magic Loop method of sock knitting but have never tried two at once or toe up. The pattern is good but I was somewhat confused at the beginning. Once over that hurddle I think the rest will be fairly straight forward.



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Jul 26, 2008

Woad: woad and 'volunteer' basil

The woad continues growing out and now up. In one of the pots some volunteer basil appeard, which means Pesto sauce as well as blue dye.











I wasn’t sure how the particular plant would manage in a hot, dry (Southern California) climate. It seemed to start out slow last fall and really took off around the beginning of summer.

Should anyone else be interested, here are a couple of Woad sites:
Woad Inc
Rowan's Woad Page
Yahoo Group: woadgrowers

Jul 3, 2008

Loom upgrade continued (fixing the floating harness problem)

Since the “loom upgrade” or adding the 4 extra harnesses to my LeClerc Minerva I’ve run into what I’ve seen described as a common problem with jack looms and 6+ harnesses - the floating harnesses. The LeClerc site suggested adding weights. Wandering around my local hardware store I found something that seems to work. I’m not sure what they are or are actually for but now are loom harness weights.


So far this seems to be solving the problem. I don’t know if anyone else has had any experience with this? Solved in any other manner?

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Jul 2, 2008

woad and fennel

Yard fennel, summer 2008Yard fennel close-up, summer 2008

Around the time that the Oxalis was dying off the Fennel seemed to take off. It looks like I won’t be scavenging the Smart-&-Final parking lot or sides of freeways for Fennel this year. The backyard stand - now too large to be called a shrub - is producing enough to keep me in dye and local insects in food.

Woad early June 2008Woad early June, 2008Woad late June, 2008Woad late June, 2008

Also here, my first attempt at growing Woad. There are 2 plants, still in pots. One seems to have some Sweet Basil growing along side – probably from some other planting. They are about 6” across right now. I’m not sure how fast these grow but it is unlikely there will be blue dye until next season.

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Mar 16, 2008

Loom Upgrade: 4 to 8

My floor loom is a LeClerc ‘Minerva’, 23” weaving width, folding jack loom. It’s a ‘4–now-4–later’ model that allows you to add an additional 4 harnesses.


Because I’m interested in doubleweave I had always planned to add the extra set. Last summer I finally ordered the upgrade kit. (I guess you’d call this an upgrade kit, weaving being the ansestor of computers and all that…)

harnesses before: 4treadles before: 6

Before and after pics. 4 to 8 harnesses, 6 to 10 treddles.

harnesses after: 8treadles after: 10

Early on I found that with the extra harnesses (this is specific to jack looms as I understand the issue) – 6 or more, there is sometimes a problem with floating harnesses. Fortunately the LeClerc site describes the problem and makes helpful suggestions. Rummaging around at the local hardware store turned up something that I could use to add weight to the harnesses. So far this seems to be solving the problem.


Here’s my first attempt with an 8–harness twill. Pattern: Reversing Point Twill by Kris Bruland,
downloaded from the Weaving Draft Archive at (, Draft #102
for 8 Shafts, 8 Treadles. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t shafts and harnesses interchangeable terms?)


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Jan 26, 2008

Dried Oxalis, tare function and other good things

OxylasDyedYarn02I tend to work with dried dye plant material rather than fresh.  My gardening space is on the small side. Even with ‘weeds’ I rarely have enough fresh material so I’ve been concentrating on plants I can dry and save up over time.

Red and blue aren’t a problem because I can purchase Madder and Indigo already dried. Onion peels (yellow to orange and rust) are dry and easy to store. Usually its the yellows that need some planning. Fennel is my local dryable yellow for wool and Oxalis for cotton (although it works on wool too). The dye books I’ve been reading tend to discuss the plant to dye stuff radio in terms of fresh dye material, often 1:1 (dye material:fiber) or in the case of cotton as much as 2:1 (dye material:fiber). The weight drops quite a bit in the drying so I did some before and after weighing to get a better idea of how much to use.

The dried Oxalis seems to be about 12% of the fresh. Which means 1:1, 2:1 or anything like that is way too much dye material.

OxalisFresh   Fresh material weighed .9 oz or 25 g

Oxalis Dried   Dried material weighed .1 oz or 3 gm.

For a long time I’ve used my trusty triple beam scale for measuring dye material. This had been given to me by my father. He always used a triple beam scale for measuring ceramic glaze chemicals and it was one of those things he thought I should know how to use correctly, along with tire changing and other useful stuff. 

Recently I got my first digital scale. Obviously it must take very little to make me happy. I love the push-button tare function. (Way easier than zeroing out my old standard.) Also being able to switch between metric and that other thing by pushing a button. Even the cats like it.


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Jan 18, 2008

Oxalis and (mostly cotton) dye test


(before and after)


Cotton samples, 50% and 25% DRIED plant to fiber, and then on the far right extra samples tossed into the 50% and 25% dye soup to exhaust the dye. The extra samples (in order) were wool, soy silk and cotton.

So far my most successful cotton processing has been derived from Jill Goodwin’s “A Dyer’s Manual” – a book both beautiful and useful.

Jill Goodwin method: soak the cotton at least an hour (overnight in this case); “mordant 8 oz of cotton, dissolve 2 oz of alum (60 grams) and half an oz (4 tsp or 20 ml) of washing soda in a pot of boiling water” – ok ounces make my head ache, I use metric for dye work so I calculated this to alum 25% (.25 x weight of fiber) and washing soda 6% (.06 x weight of fiber); boil cotton in alum and washing soda for half an hour, stir occasionally.  

I simmered the dried oxalis (contained in a pantyhose foot) and the cotton for about an hour and cooled overnight, around 24 hours.

Goodwin suggests that you use 2x the weight of the material to be dyed. however I have found that dried dye material is quite a bit stronger (concentrated?) then fresh.  The color on the photo I have posted here is definately not perfect but gives a general idea of the color. The fiber is darker in the dye liquid but even after the washout I had a decent medium and deep yellow. I plan to try a 10% for a lighter yellow.

The surprise was the amount of color left in the dye liquid that was picked up by the wool, soy silk and 2nd cotton samples. The light yellow samples I will probably over dye with indigo.

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Jan 3, 2008

Oxalis and bees

In the area of Southern California where I live, Oxalis is one of those frighteningly hearty and unstoppable plants that appear wanted or not. On the positive side, this is one of the few local plants I've found that works well on cotton and produces a nice bright yellow. (Samples on the way). And the bees really seem to enjoy it.

The Oxalis reappeared this year around late November. Generally as soon as it shows up I start picking and drying it (paper bag hanging in the hall near our floor heater vent) so there is enough on hand for a decent dye bath.

Oxalis fresh, and dried.

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Dec 5, 2007

Dye plant collection and gathering

Since all the books I have that relate to dye plants cover guidelines for gathering I should probably mention the subject here.

From Dyeing with natural materials (Los Ara
vas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Inc):

When gathering dye plant materials, please remember the importance of seeking permission when gathering on other than your own property. Sources for plant material other than from garden or field might include nursery beds, botanical gardens for the really unusual, or the grocery store. It is always wise to think about the environment when collecting material for your dye pot. Some of the Southwests ecology zones are very fragile and need a long recovery period. We all need to help ensure that local plant populations do not become extinct due to over collection. The recipes we have included here do not utilize any plants that are listed as sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service. p.6

Ive concentrated on plants that are often considered weeds, are in my backyard, and ones that are going to be mowed down or tossed out. Roadside Fennel (by the freeway, along the road in Topanga Canyon), Oxalis, etc are extremely hardy although I do think it is a good habit to cultivate of leaving enough for the plant to recover and reseed itself. Ironically Ive noticed the best patches of Fennel are often on the most pedestrian inaccessible sides of the Pacific Coast Highway and reaching them would require sprinting across multiple lanes of traffic. Don't do that either.

So with this in mind, one should avoid trespassing, being mowed down by oncoming traffic (while trying to get to the perfect stand of what-ever, picking anything endangered and over picking in general. Since most dye plants involve a significant ratio of plant to fiber it doesn't hurt to use stuff that will be tossed out, among my favorites are onion peels (yellow to orange), eucalyptus leaves piling up on the car (sort of red), lawn grass (yellow to green), etc.

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Dec 1, 2007

Beginners Luck and Fennel

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

(Note: for the best search results use 'foeniculum vulgare'.)

Part of the plant used for dye: flower heads

fiber: wool (It could be me but I can’t get this to work on cotton)

Proportions: 1:4 (fiber:plant)

The first dye plant that I ever tried working with was Fennel. A lucky choice since Fennel (unlike the Avocado pits from hell) has always given me a fairly consistent yellow and provided a pretty good first-time experience with plant/vegetable dyes.

Fennel is one of those wonderful multi-use herbal/dye plants that are often bad-rapped as noxious weeds prone to taking over a garden, city block, etc. In my tiny corner of Southern California (Los Angeles) this doesn’t seem to be the case and my own transplanted fennel plants are quite well-behaved.

I have gathered from the local Smart-and-Final parking lot, Topanga canyon, and patches next to the freeways (public areas) and eventually transfered some smaller plants to my garden.

Nature's Colors (Ida Grae) describes using Fennel fresh, 4:1. It also appears to work dried.
That is another thing I've found about working with dye plants vs synthetic dye. You work on the plant's schedule not your own. When its ready you had better be there with properly soaked fiber and not the next day at which point it may be past the point of giving up good dye, have been stepped on or eaten. The only way around this is to try drying and saving. Fennel
seems to work.

The amount of mordant to use is calculated by the weight of the fiber. A wonderful booklet published by Las Aranas Spinners and Weavers Guild, Dyeing with natural materials has an excellent chart and information about safety (the poisonous stuff) and disposal.

My other standard reference is always Nature's Colors by Ida Grae. (<- I believe this one is out-of-print but findable places like abebooks or amazon used.)

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Two Basils short of a border

The ubiquitous baby blankets have been completed up to the borders and may even be finished before a) the twins go off to college or b) by their first birthday. I’m aiming for the latter with a couple of weeks to go.

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May 13, 2007

more Basil (blanket #1 of 2)

The first blanket is up to 109 stitches per section. At 113 stitches (plus, I believe, 3 rows of pearl) I switch to the color for the border. I actually reached 109 stitches a couple of times because I had to un-knit a couple of rows and pick up a dropped stitch.

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Nov 22, 2006

Basil for twins (the blanket not the plant)

Recently I began the first of two baby blankets for my twin nieces (4 months old). The pattern, "Basil", is a baby blanket wonderfully designed by Courtney Kelley of the Pattern Factory.

starting Basil pattern, on double pointsBasil is square blanket, knit from the center out until each of the four sides equal 113 stitches.

The pattern suggests Dale Baby Ull, washable wool, 3 skeins for the blanket body and 2 for the contrast or border color.

One might question the wisdom of mixing infants and white blankets but Dale Baby Ull is described washable. And, I've been throwing the test swatch in with my regular wash and it seems to be holding up quite well through repeated machine wash and line drying.

starting Basil pattern, on double pointsThe Pattern Factory site also describes this as a good first lace project. For me it's also been a great project to get accustomed to knitting from a chart.

I've been carting it around with me, knitting at bus stops and on the bus, space permitting. So far I've gotten the pattern pretty much memorized and managed not to get too lost or mixed up even with the usual bus changes and other interruptions. In the beginning just-in-case I used a "life-line" in case I had to back off a few rows.

Off the double points, on the circular needlesOnce you run out of space on the double points the work is placed on a circular - with markers between each section. (The pattern directions describe this in detail.)

Basil about 80% completedThis is probably 90% of the blanket, minus the border. So far I'm up to 100 stitches per section for the first blanket.

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