Friday 31 December 2010


I'm hoping that everyone had a happy and peaceful, Christmas, ours was lovely spent with friends in Brussels. I have to say to residents of the UK if you think that the British way of dealing with snow is bad - try going to Brussels, they do NOTHING that I could see! No snow ploughs, no gritters, not a thing done to clear away the snow, it was left to the individuals to clear the path in front of their house and that was it! The roads were solid ice or snow and treacherous - no one was actually having problems though, buses were running but not brilliant, all the trams were running and cars were getting about (well maybe I should say sliding.....)

One of the things I am really aware of is that I never do anything with my yarns - I hate knitting, love crochetting, but haven't a clue how to write a pattern. How do you sell the yarns if there is nothing there for people to see? So I decided when I got back that I would do some designing!

A pair of mittens in Delice - the new 50% silk and 50% baby alpaca yarn, (dyed in pomegranate, cutch and madder extract exhausts, the colour is far more yellow than you would imagine from these dyes, but that's what went into the pan!) it's so lush and warm, these are perfect to keep your hands warm and not a bit "scratchy"!

 I have obviously made them to fit me - fairly large hands but particularly long! Both mittens can be made from 1 50g hank of yarn. Of course the biggest challenge is yet to come - how do I write up the pattern?

If anyone would be prepared to be a tester for me please email and I'll send it out with a hank of the yarn -so far I have made "long hand" notes to tell myself what to do, but putting that into a readable pattern you can follow will be interesting!

Wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year, speak to you all in 2011!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Winter draw results

The winner of the Winter draw is Ladka who follows this blog - if you would like to send me an email with your snail address, please, I will get your parcel in the post to you next week. Congratulations and thanks to everyone for joining in!

We are going to Brussels tomorrow for Christmas, back on the 27th. I'm hoping that it will have thawed out enough to get back into the dyehouse next week - I have lots I need to be getting on with! I also want to do some more walnut experiments as I have had some husks soaking since about September!

To pur you in the right frame of mind for the weekend here's what the walnut trees have been looking like all week - the squirrels have been thoroughly enjoying gambolling in the snow and hunting for missed fallen nuts!

Merry Christmas to everyone, hope it's good for you - wherever you are!

Tuesday 7 December 2010

December Draw - Alpaca Silk Lace.

Last month I had a phone call totally out of the blue from Yarn Forward Magazine. One of the patterns that they had received was using my alpaca silk lace yarn - could I let them have a hank to photograph. That was all I knew really. Whilst in Harrogate in the bleak snow we popped into W H Smith and found a copy of December's magazine - and look!

Here's the yarn looking stunningly beautiful as a scarf designed by Ruth Garcia - Alcantrud also known as Rock and Purl. It is gorgeous! Thank you Ruth very much for showing off the yarn like this! The first time that this has ever happened! I can't tell you what a thrill it was seeing the pages in the magazine!

In deference to this pattern the December givaway will be 2 hanks of alpaca silk lace in indigo "Cracked Ice" along with a copy of the magazine! The yarn is 80% superfine alpaca and 20% silk laceweight in 25g hanks. 350m per hank. The yarn is dyed in indigo - but I use a scrunching technique when the yarn is in the bath to get the multi shading of blues. As most of you know I like my colours to be very even normally, but after trying this technique on cloth to get a sample piece of multi colours I now use it quite often on the hanks so that the colour goes from small areas of very pale blue through to very dark.

If you already have a copy of the magazine and would like to knit the scarf in our yarn then please go to our etsy shop to find which colours are currently available.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

New Yarns, New Show

We are off to a new show this weekend in Harrogate - have no idea what it will be like as it clashes with the Knitting and Stitching Show, so most textiley people will probably go there - but maybe if they're doing a couple of days they'll consider coming to the showground for this one - Living North The essence of Christmas. We are going along with WiRE a networking and business support group for women. I have been a member for many years and I really appreciate the work they put in to get information and support for small businesses - I highly recommend membership and getting involved, they are always on the lookout for new events and lobbying MP's etc on women's behalf!

I LOVE silk - I started out spinning and dyeing silk to make embroidery threads, then I started buying in machine spun silk (and dyeing it!) in various thicknesses to suppliment my embroidery yarns. It didn't take me long to realize that the 20/2 mulberry silk that I was buying was perfect as a lace knitting yarn - so I started producing my Gunnister Style Purse Kits, (believe it or not this was at the end of the '90's!) so soon this yarn will be available to buy in lace weight hanks! I am adding to the silk knitting range with a beautiful boucle and also a multiple ply thread which is almost aran thickness - and very lush!

The other very special newbie yarn is a 50% baby alpaca and 50% silk DK weight yarn that is so delicious I've christened it Delice! A good friend and knitting designer is currently at work creating a pattern for the yarn but I'm sure when you've seen and squished it you'll be inspired to produce something yourself!

Thursday 4 November 2010

A Bit more and KHF

Thanks very much for all the lovely comments - can't wait to get started and invite you all to come and run workshops etc!!! It's looking stunning here at the moment with all the autumn colours and is still OK temperature wise! (Not even had enough rain to fill my containers so I can try to do colour matching!)

I have the Mairie looking into the local "gites" and "chambres d'hotes" (sorry need a hat on the o but can't find one at the moment!!) so we know what the facilities are like and all being well there should be some accommodation available on site too!

Last year some very dear friends spent the winter in Portugal looking to buy some land and put log cabins there - they knew we had one already so the brought us back a present of these tiles - aren't they beautiful? We just have to use them as a logo for the workshops and courses I think!

They look fabulous in situ too!

On Saturday I am having an exciting and scary day! I am going to London on the Eurostar - day return from Calais, to attend the Knitting History Forum AGM and Conference. For my sins I am on the committee and also one of the speakers. That is the really scary bit - the other speakers are real heroes of mine - Susan North from the V and A, Philip Sykas from MMU and Dr Carol Christainssen from Shetland. Quite where I fit in I'm not sure, but if you're likely to be attending I think I would appreciate some moral support!!!!

The Knitting History Forum was set up to continue the work started by Montse Stanley and Kirstie Buckland in promoting the history and research into early knitting, we have had fabulous trips to the back rooms of the Museum of London and Ruddington Museum, if you do have any interest in knitting it's well worth joining!

Hope to see some friends there!

Monday 25 October 2010

Mulberry Lodge

When we were looking for a house in the UK we realized that having enough outbuildings could be an issue. So one January sale time we saw a sort of 2 story log cabin special offer and bought it thinking it could become an emergency dyehouse!

In January we started chopping down the pine trees in the courtyard, they were HUGE,  frighteningly so, it was safest to remove them before there was a serious problem! It didn't take long to realize there was a perfect space for the log cabin - and it could have a special use of its own - for running workshops here!

So a few weeks ago with the aid of a friend John started building the cabin! It fills in a gap between the end of the house and the dyehouse, with space by the side to park the van, keeping the courtyard nice and tidy! (Wonder how long that will last?!) I even think I might put nice planters all round and grow some dye plants!

So here it is -  Mulberry Lodge -  all finished and awaiting water (hence the ditch), electricity is already installed and I have started moving in!

The plan is to run 2 workshops a year - one in May and one in October. What do you think? Will you come? We also hope to be able to get guest artists to come and run woerkshops for us too - but that takes time to sort out!

Saturday 9 October 2010

A lovely parcel

A few weeks ago we went over to the Haute Marne to visit some friends who live there. We set off really early in the morning and drove down via the N roads rather than the peages, the scenery was breathtaking and we really enjoyed the drive (just wish we could have had Vixy!!)

About 5 miles from where our friends lived we saw a Troubadour! I didn't know they still exist but sure enough he arrived in the village the next morning playing a tune and walking with his donkey and caravan. I have never seen such a well cared for and gleaming donkey (or caravan for that matter)  It was so timeless! (His name by the way is Olivier d'Icarie)

Sue and Pete moved over about 5 years ago and have bought a lake (with another friend) that they have spent much time and effort in making into a holiday destination - with an eco slant - take a look at their site to see what I mean! It's beautiful and tranquil, we went up there for a picnic lunch and could have stayed all day!

 Sue has been casting pewter for years and trades as Casts from the Past but she has now discovered something new to occupy her time - making glass beads. They are really beautiful - I had a go, but it's such a skilled thing to do and flames and me don't together either, scary burny stuff!!!
It occured to me that the beads would make fabulous stitch markers - really unique, so I asked if Sue would like to have a go at making some!  She said she's think about it and see how it went, I've heard nothing..............

But - just look what arrived in the post today -
 and there are lots more in all sorts of different colours and shades!

Friday 8 October 2010

Quick update

Tinsel has now been in touch and the Organic Merino will be winging its way to her home on Monday! Goody I'm glad that's worked out!

October already?

We went to the UK at the end of September and it very quickly became not just October, but into the month - where does time go? I can't keep up! At least we are now here until the 5th November!!! So much to do though, you wouldn't believe the number of walnuts we have - before we went away I had a big box full and gave some away to a neighbour, I have already filled the wheelbarrow since we got home and there are as many again still on the ground! We missed lots of the husks - well they have gone brown already and I wanted to try out the green husks. Have to see what I can still rescue!

So what's news? We did some filming for a new BBC programme last week, can't say much about it at the moment - but I was very ill (have the photos to prove it!) my compliments to the make up artists!

On the 5th October we were working at the Clothmakers Hall in London - running a workshop for the students who were finalists in the SDC/Clariant International Design Competition and CSI Colour Award 2010. They came from all parts of the globe - South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Singapore, Ireland even the UK! All were incredibly talented and it was a priviledge to teach them something new! I am hoping that they are going away inspired to work with natural dyes in their future careers, I know 2 at least were keen!
I have had no contact at all from Tinsel - the Autumn giveaway winner, we are thinking that if there has been no contact by the 15th of this month I will draw again - the wool is sitting on my table neatly wrapped and waiting to be posted out, it's crying out for a new home!!!

On the subject of new I have a fabulous new yarn, can't wait to show it to you - so watch this space!

Wednesday 22 September 2010

It's Autumn!

A little later than I intended - should have been last night, but I had to go out to collect a friend from the TGV station in Calais.

Yesterday was the official first day of Autumn, a stunningly beautiful day here in France - and the day of our next giveaway! So once we got our friend home I made him put his hand in the hat and draw a name!

This month's hat (modelled here by doorstop Tigger) is a beautiful Tudor statute cap handfelted by a good friend called Rachel who trades as Crafty Beggars the fibre was dyed in madder by Helen Melvin and I love wearing it! (Most statute caps were knitted and had to be worn on Sundays by statute!)

There were lots more names in the hat this month, we included followers of the blog as well as facebook (some were folowing both, I think I spotted the doubling up, but some may have got away with it and had 2 entries!!)

So to the draw - Haydn was more than happy to oblige in pulling the name out of the hat

and the winner is:

TINSEL who follows the blog. 

Many congratulations - I shall be in touch for your address shortly!

The next draw will be on the 21st December!

Sunday 19 September 2010

testing the water

We were back in the UK again last weekend working so I decided to let the water try and clear itself (some hope!) The obvious thing to start doing is testing the water we have available. We already know that we have hard water so have jug carbon filters in the house, for our drinking water, there's one option to try, we collect rain water in butts, there's another and then we can spend lots of money buying de mineralised from the supermarket. I have always used the demineralised for extracting the colour, but there are too many parts to the dyeing process to buy it all, we need a viable solution!

Although I think there may come a time where I have to have the water analysed properly, over the last couple of days I've done the following tests.
I had a 100g hank of merino lace that I mordanted before I left North Wales (lovely soft water), so I split it down into small hanks of the same size and soaked them out in de mineralised water. (We had an analysis of the water from Dwr Cymru quite a while ago so that was the most neutral I could think of in a hurry!) I put 10g ground cochineal into 500ml demineralised water and left it to soak overnight. Next day I heated to boiling and simmered for half an hour then left it to cool. There was some evaporation so I split off 4 x 50ml liquid into separate tubs.

Into a stainless steel pan I put the first 50ml and added 1/2 pt demineralised water, added 1 small hank wool and heated to boiling, held there for 5 mins then allowed to cool enough to handle. Removed hank and poured the liquid back into its tub. The pan and jug were washed out with demineralised water between each sample and the same method was used for each type of water. I tried filtered tap water, tap water and rain water that I passed through a filter paper to remove any solid particles.(this picture is the tap water sample)


Demineralised water stayed a beautiful clear red all through the experiment as did the rain water.

The tap water and carbon filtered tap water immediately went "gloupy" as soon as they were added to the cochineal liquid in the pan - you can see the "sludge" in the tub at the bottom.

filtered water went gloupy in the same way as tap water

Rain water was clear and red, although slightly brighter than the distilled, I would say that the colour shows that the water is slightly acidic (I tested with litmus afterwards)

Looking at the samples you can see that the tap water and filtered water are "patchy" with dull bits and OK bits, this would imply that there is some iron contamination there, the rainwater and de mineralised water are both good clear reds. It;s not very obvious but the rain water is slightly brighter - more scarlet (think that's my lack of photography knowledge!)

Clearly a carbon filter is not going to be solution enough! I need to find out what has been added to the water and then see if there is a filter that can clear it, what I really want to do (and have for quite a while) is rainwater harvesting for which we will need to get HUGE storage tanks to be able to store enough!

I mordanted 3kg of the merino whilst the water was really bad, so now I need to know whether I've ruined it or it can be salvedged with other dyes. The next tests are going to be with weld and the mordanted yarn to see if I get my normal yellows, and I'd better do some lightfastness testing too, to see how that's affected.

I know I want to spend more time in the dyehouse - but I didn't think it would be like this!

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Problem Water

I have a commission I'm working on at the moment - I was hoping to be putting a lovely report here about it, however instead I am reporting a problem that at the moment I haven't a clue how to deal with!

I need to use cochineal to get the shade of red I'm looking for, I know it doesn't like hard water - but even with soft water in N Wales I had got into the habit of starting with de - ionised water, then adding that to the main bath.

I started sampling for this commission when I was still in Wales, so the colour I have to match was dyed there - I have already done some cochineal dyeing with the hard water we have here - so know I can get good red! The photo shows some wool I dyed just a few weeks ago, although I wasn't trying to colour match with this particular hank!

So to my problem! Last week the water went off - the whole village  was turned off and no one had any water coming into their house for about an hour. After it had been turned back on a note came round from the Commune to say that we must not drink the water, couldn't even use it to clean our teeth. It must be treated with "Javel" (bleach) at a certain percentage before consumption. This state lasted for a few days and then a couple of days ago we got the all clear. I have been doing my preparation work over the past few days - the scouring, mordanting and rinsing. Now I'm not sure if even the mordanting has worked properly. 

 The cochineal itself I did my usual method of soaking out in de ionised water, heated to boiling and then allowed to cool, I wanted as much colour as possible from this dyebath! The colour at this point looks rich and red, seems a good colour to me!

Yesterday I filled the big dyebath with tap water and then added in the cochineal. Horror - the bath went black! Then the cochineal precipitated out, I've never seen anything like it! It's horrid! It smells like a cochineal bath, but there the similarity ends!

This morning it looked gloupy and thick and black! I took a small amount out into a pan and added a small hank of wool and a small piece of cotton ribbon, heated them to boiling to see if there was any "dyeing" power in the bath at all - this is the result. A bit of "purple" maybe but I'm not a happy bunny! I wonder if they could have added more bleach - in the form of ammonia,  rather than chlorine but I really have no idea what they have done to my water!!!

I have now made lots of small hanks of the same wool but from some I had mordanted before, so I can do some experimenting! I will wet out in de - ionised water and then try making a small dyebath with filtered water, try other dyestuffs with the tap water - try anything to make it work!

 It's not good for a dyer to have problems with the water like this!

Sunday 5 September 2010

Being Silly!

I am currently working on a commission - which I will tell you about soon, but as we're home and the weather is good we have also been trying to get some work done in the courtyard. We had very large pine trees growing just by the side of the house - quite scary really, they were HUGE as you can see from this picture!

When we started moving over in January a tree surgeon  cut down several of them, but there was one left. John has been wanting to get rid since January and finally took the plunge - set up the scafolding tower and started with the chain saw! 
Not only did it have to come down - but of course we had to clear up as well so the chain saw had lots of work for  several days - we now have a good stack of firewood drying for the winter and had the compulsory conflagration to get rid of all the small bits.

Whilst doing all the clearing up John managed to create a stunning sculpture for us, I hope you all think it's as good as I do - maybe we should get it entered in the Tate Modern?!

He's called it Bramble!

Monday 30 August 2010

Autumn Giveaway

Organic Merino Aran
Goodness the summer has vanished - and it feels like it too from the drop in temperature and amount of rain that is falling (well here in Northern France at least!).

a closer view - isn't it soft and squidgy looking?
We started the giveaway in June with the Summer Organic Cotton Boucle (colour still to be chosen - Sarah!). For the Autumn we though we'd offer something warm and comforting! Our choice this time is 3 x 100g hanks of Organic Merino Aran weight yarn. The Merino is not a British yarn, but is pure Merino and beautifully soft and warm. Organically certified and processed the dyer still refuses to go through the hoops!!! We are offereing 300g of the yarn which should be plenty for a hat and scarf to keep the Autumn winds at bay - try looking at Woolly Wormhead's site for some fab hat patterns, I have a scarf pattern that I will include with the yarn! The recommended needle size for the yarn is 4mm and the approximate hank length is 150m.

We have decided that as not everyone wants to join facebook we will also include followers of this blog, if you do NOT wish to be included in the draw please drop me an email and I will miss your name out!

Hope you like our choice of colour - it is Logwood and Lac, the yarn is handpainted and there is our usual guarrantee that if you find any problem with the dye in terms of rub off whilst knitting up then you are entitled to a replacement yarn.

Good luck to all!

Thursday 26 August 2010

Home Sweet Home!

We got back home at 9.30 on Tuesday morning - we set off at 9am on Monday morning from Lanark in Scotland.

The day was very loooooooooooong! We included a trip to New Lanark Mill to buy some wool (which I will be dyeing in the near future!) The place is fascinating and they had mules for spinning the wool, they even knew what the difference was with Asa Lees's mule (something important to me as my Grandfather used to lecture on the subject of Asa Lees's Mule!!!) Then a stop to see my sons' near Haydock Park, then called on John's Dad who's just back from hospital, then down to the port. The ferry was at 5am so we had to check in at 4am then sit on the ferry and hve a snooze, add an hour for the fact we are now in France drive for 1 and a half hours and here we are at home!!! It has taken me 2 days to catch up on my sleep and clean up the house a bit - as we are away so much over the summer it is impossible to keep on top of everything! (That's my usual excuse!!)

You didn't really need to know all that - but I will write a proper post later, I have lots of things to tell!

Thursday 5 August 2010

Alpaca Sock yarn

Today has been quite efficient - well for me! I mastered getting my flickr account linked to my Ravelry profile, which seemed quite a challenge at the time, but ended up being quite simple (one day I guess it will all seem less frightening!)

I also managed to get some alpaca sock yarn hanked up ready for the Knit Camp next week - still lots to do, but I thought I'd let you have a preview of the colours now!
The names of the yarns will as usual be the dyes that have coloured them and I can assure you that any that include indigo will have no rub off, I offer an immediate exchange if there is any problem with yarns that have been dyed with indigo and leave blue on your hands when knitting (or crocheting or..) and of course if you want to pre-order............!
I have an exclusive pattern for this yarn designed by Cecilia Hewett who is a member of the Woolclip and also one of the organisers of Woolfest, the pattern is fab and I'm told it's quite simple to do (no I haven't tried it yet, I have a thing about knitting!)

What I can tell you is that it is lovely to crochet with - I have dseigned a cover for my iPhone, very simple, but works a treat! The back has a pouch to hold the cable or earphones and the phone fits snugly inside! The yarn is so soft and non scratchy it even cleans the face of the phone getting it in and out!

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Embroidery Silks

A couple of years ago I had a commission from the National Museum of Wales to dye embroidery silks suitable for reproducing an altar frontal. After much sampling and deliberation we came to the conclusion that our 3 ply filament silk in single ply would be ideal.

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the altar frontal, but at the International Medieval Congress a friend and fellow trader brought the purse she had embroidered to show me! Tanya's work is stunning as you can see, the pictures show the 2 sides of the purse.

Tanya is a storyteller and textile worker, her table braid is famous in re enactment circles and she has started producing complete cushion kits to embroider for the "modern" world!

Monday 26 July 2010

Bradford Workshop and Fun Day

I have dicovered just how difficult a month away working can be without a base! It has been very hard to keep up with everything we needed to do with nothing other than a van and the generosity of friends! I have really missed writing here and keeping things up to date!

The time, to be fair, has flown by - mainly because we have had so many events to attend. Two that really stood out were spent at the Cartwright Hall Museum and Art Gallery in Bradford.
As part of the 2012 fund raising initiative they had an exhibition titled "Precious Cargoes" which inspired much interest in "Turkey Red" the special technique for dyeing a madder red onto cotton cloth. Within the exhibition were several sample books showing off the colour in various patterns and some beautiful finished articles.

Our first day there was to run a workshop. Taking Turkey Red as a theme we decided to try an experiment with some cotton cloth. I mordanted 1 piece with aluminium acetate and another piece (of the same cloth) had the complete preparation including sheep pooh, oiling, drying, alum, tannin, etc, leaving the madder dyebath for the students to carry out. (A 1 day workshop really doesn't allow for the 6 weeks preparation time!)

The cloth goes into "room temperature" dye for half an hour and has to be continuously moved in the liquid for the whole time - we got a volounteer to start us off, amazing how the colour is obvious right from the start even "cold"! The temperature was then raised, but no higher than 70 degrees - both pieces of cloth went in together, but the colour difference was obvious straight away!

This photo shows the cloth after it has been dried - what really stands out to me is not just the difference in the colour , but how even the "Turkey Red" looks in comparison to the other. You really would not believe these 2 pieces of cloth have been dyed in the same bath!

(I should point out that there is 1 process missing on this cloth - the brightening - we didn't have the time or facilities to do that at the workshop, so I really need to do that at home when I get chance)

Continuing with the theme of "Precious Cargoes" we also used logwood, indigo and fustic, so an interesting range of colours was obtained overall - the madder was used for other yarns after the cotton came out too! We even managed a modification or two!

The second day was a drop in "Fun Day" for all the family with children young and old coming in and playing with natural dyes (We normally say from toddler to 80 everyone is welcome to play!) They all got to take home a picture they had painted with extract dyes, we had a microwave with us to help set them but the key thing was to see the dyes in use and enjoy yourself!

Hopefully a new generation will be inspired to go into the dye house when they grow up!

(Please excuse my not giving a full breakdown of the Turkey Red process I used, I am currently doing research on the subject and ultimately hope to publish my results as an article)

My thanks to Janet Simmonds from Bradford Museums and Galleries and Joan Russell Photography for allowing me to use their photographs.