Monday, November 27, 2006


Last Saturday, I revelled in the primitive-romanticism of open air natural dyeing: Dyepots simmering over an open fire. Blustery, November weather. The pungent aroma of black walnuts and marigolds. The magical transformation of petals, husks, and white wool into richly-colored skeins. Since the final simmering was done at night, it had a very dramatic, witchly feel -- stirring pots, prodding fires, while looking at the stars!

I followed the mordanting instructions from A Dyer's Garden. The dyeing itself, though, was done free-spirit-style, only roughly following the book's recipes (they didn't precisely fit to the state of my ingredients). I made up four dyebaths: black walnut, semi-fresh marigolds flowers, dried marigold petals, and dried calendula petals.

The latter two were smaller baths done in glass jars, while the former two were done in enamel pots. They simmered over the fire, between 180 and 220 degrees F, for a little over an hour. I tossed in the yarn, which is Knitpicks Bare, merino DK (unmordanted yarn for black walnut, mordanted for others). I simmered it for another hour at about 160, since the fire was dying down.

The next morning, I was quite eager to see what had developed, since I couldn't really see the colors the night before. I pulled out the yarns, squeezed out the excess dye, rinsed them in a little Eucalyn, and then dried them by the woodstove. Here's the results....

Left to right: black walnut, fresh marigold flowers, dried marigold petals, calendula, and undyed wool.

I didn't get nearly as dark a color from the black walnuts as I'd expected, especially given that that the dyebath was like the thicket, blackest ink imaginable. Perhaps it reached too high a temperature on the initial simmer? And the calendula turned out to have no dye at all - the dye in the pot looked pink because the liquid was deep red, but the final yarn is just dirty looking. On the whole, though I'm super happy - I like the light caramel color of the black walnut dye is lovely and warm, and the two marigolds are delightfully complex. I can't wait to start planning a garden full of dyeplants for next year...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

blue socks, gray day

Nova Scotian Seascape Socks
Fleece Artist Merino Sock

Elizabeth Zimmerman's sock pattern with conventional heel from Knitting Without Tears

Sock is 2x2 ribbing, with stockinette sole. Started with 52 stitches.

Needles: Brittany 5 in birch dps, size 1.5 (US)

Nothing like some electric blue socks to brighten up a gray day!!

(Not that you can tell just how electric these are, but I promise that I did my best to capture all available natural light on this November morning. I'm sure my neighbors enjoyed the show of my feet out the window).

These socks make me HAPPY! They're beautiful and memory-evoking. The lovely, lovely yarn is shown off to its advantage with simple stitchwork, with the garter stitch details on the heel adding a bit of zip. My understanding is that this garter stitch heel border is unique to Zimmerman's sock patterns.
It's been a learning experience for me, since I know woefully little about knititng socks. There is, however, a bit of irony here: my only previous socks were a pair of Jaywalkers, which fit like a dream without any swatching, sizing, or cognition on my part. These socks, for which I carefully swatched and thought hard, are a little off. The leg is too short (I was trying to be conservative to avoid running out of yarn); heel a little too tight, toes a little constricting.

But please don't take this for complaining - I'm genuinely happy with these socks and just trying to lay the groundwork for figuring out what I learned from them. I will surely try this pattern again, and I now know that I should: 1. cast on a few more stitches, 2. anticipate that the top will shorten once they socks are on and the fabric is stretched out, 3. turn the heel with the method from the Jaywalker socks, and 4. maybe - just maybe - increase a stitch or two when it gets to the widest part of my toes (seen below).

I do need advice on one thing, though. For those of you with greater sock knitting experience, what would you recommend for lengthening the leg of the sock once they're finished? Would crochet be elastic enough? How weird would it look to pick up the cast-on and then knit upwards? Can I unpick the cast-on edge?

I can already feel myself being pulled into the gravity of sock knitting....

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bad Kitty

Ah, Monday mornings. Gray skies, jarring alarms, anxiety about work. Pull myself out of bed and am confronted with this!! (and this is just a small piece of it all)
So THAT'S what the cat was doing at 4 am, when she was making a tremendous racket and disturbing my sleep. I gape at the tangle of mohair then turn around to look back at Leila, still curled up on in bed.
Bad Kitty! And she doesn't look the least bit remorseful.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

discouragement and recovery

Discouragement comes easily to me. This post isn't about the discouragement, though, so much as about the renewal of hope and patience.

This week I'd been discouraged about the community spirit of modern America, largely for reasons that I won't go into here. But the final straw was that someone stole the big terracotta pot of mint that I had growing on my front stoop (here's the summer savory that survived and is now inside). This was truly disturbing. Stealing herbs on a lark exhibits terrible insensitivity and pettiness; in some ways this mode of stealing because it's convenient or fun or 'there' is even more morally disturbing than stealing for economic reasons. I'm especially upset because the herbs that I grow in Cambridge are my tangible, everyday reminder of my garden in Vermont and my 'real life' there.*

But my sense of patient hopefulness was renewed last night with the election. Democracy in action can be an exciting experience. Still waiting for the results, but I'm feeling optimistic.

Anyways, that's really what was on my mind last night and this morning. But I do have a little knitting content too. As with other projects in life, I get easily discouraged when my knitting isn't going well. It's one reason why I often have half a dozen projects going at once and why I still haven't gotten up the nerve to graft the toes on those socks. This weekend, I was getting discouraged about my lace. I made a subtle enough mistake that I didn't notice it until I'd finished an entire repeat, which had to be gingerly ripped out. Yet somehow I'm keeping myself focused on this one project, and I've fixed the mistakes and am moving forward. Hope and patience.

*For those new to this blog, my main home is with my husband (Mountain Man) in Vermont, but as a grad student I have to be in Cambridge, Massachusetts during the week. That's also why my photos alternate between lovely, landscape-rich outdoor photos and cramped, indoor close-ups.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ends and Beginnings

Beautiful morning sunlight again. Seen basking in it are the Fleece Artist socks that I'd meant to finish for Socktoberfest (I wasn't officially a part of it, but it's like running unregistered in a marathon). The knitting was finished by Monday, so I could've grafted the toes and worn them for Halloween. But, oh, the mental block that goes with grafting for me. Also, I made them a wee bit too small, and once I finish them and try to wear them, I'll have to own up to my mistake. Hopefully they'll be done by next Monday:
But my new project has me in tingles. It's a "Flared Lace Smoke Ring" in handpaintedyarn laceweight, colorway "Pagoda." Initially started for my sister last winter. But I wasn't fond of the lace pattern, so I ripped it out and put it away. Last week I swatched several alternative lace patterns for it. The tricky thing, though, is to find a lace pattern that looks good even when it can't be blocked well. Back to the original it was, and I'm enjoying it this time with just a few modifications. Look at that lovely shadow halo!
The motivation to restart this is that I'm headed to DC to visit my sister this weekend. Hope you all have a delightful weekend too!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


My knitpicks order arrived last week -- marvelous! Yarnwise, there's 'bare' DK merino for experimentation with natural dyes and 'burgundy' gloss for socks. The merino was much softer than I'd expected. And the color of the Gloss is sensational, shifting from a mauve to a brick red depending on the light.

Along with the yarn came some needles, which were promptly put to swatching use. These are for Mountain Man's sweater. Naturally, his favorite is the stockinette, but I refuse to knit a sweater that could just as well be purchased at J.Crew. It'll still be raglan-sleeve, roll-neck, and mostly stockinette, but it'll be spruced up with a stripe of the branched travelling stitch pattern along each sleeve.

The gloss swatch was even yummier. The idea is to have a 2x2 ribbed sock with the four-stitch aran braid down the instep. You may notice some strange black blobs in the photos above. Leila, as usual, insisted on getting herself in the middle of things. There was just a sliver of morning sunshine, and I could hardly move the whole operation.