Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rain and wet wool

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain. We haven't had rain in Phoenix for months, so this was a blissful music to hear.

Only thing was, I had pounds of mordanted yarn and a dozen crocheted ornaments drying in the backyard!

I dashed out of bed, pulled in the yarn that wasn't yet dripping, and curled back up under the covers until it got light.

This rain, while rare and lovely, isn't particularly well timed. You see, I'm taking part in a small holiday art party this weekend. I'm not bringing much -- naturally dyed yarn, felted bangles, Christmas ornaments, maybe some hats or bags -- but it still feels like a lot of wet wool hanging about that needs to dry.

My nervousness about drying aside, I've really enjoyed putting together this collection of items. The dyeing has been a blast. I've probably worked up 40+ natural dye samples in the past two weeks, using everything from plants collected in my neighborhood (rosemary, hibiscus, juniper, eucalyptus) to the classic exotic dyes (cochineal, indigo, madder) to items from the grocery store (black rice, annatto, chamomile).

It has also been interesting for me to think about my craft in a different way, in more of a production mode. But I think I'll write more about that after the fair, when the process and my thoughts on it have gone full circle.

Anyways, enjoy the colors, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Colorful Collar at Devil's Canyon

Mountain Man and I headed into the depths of Devil's Canyon yesterday for a day of climbing. It was gorgeous, with these amazing spires spiking up into the bluest of Southwestern skies.

That's Mountain Man rappelling off of one of the climbs, to give you a sense of scale. It was such a dramatic landscape.

My attention was definitely tuning into color yesterday. Partly it was the natural colors: deep blue of the sky, bright green of desert broom, and yellow of turning willow leaves.

And partly it was the amazingly colorful climbing gear: turquoise harness, blue shoes, yellow slings, red carabiners. I loved this image of everything tumbling out of the backpack at the start of the day ...

The insanely colorful knitted thing in the front is what I really want to talk about in this post. It's a Woodland Collar in Noro Kureyon, color 139. This was really an adventure to knit; I'd won the yarn in a contest on Knitting Nonstop (thank you!), and I had no idea what color was going to emerge next.

I had my doubts about how well all these colors would work together. But, in a fortuitous surprise, it turns out to match the wool shirt and vest that I often wear for climbing and camping. Now I can be all matchy-matchy in the great outdoors!

Of course, there's a limit to how much of this coordination I can take. I had some of the Kureyon left over after the collar (the collar took about 1.5 balls, so I had 1.5 balls of yarn left). I decided to make a hat.

It cooled down enough in the early evening that I could wear the hat and collar while we hiked out. But, I must say, I won't do that again! I'm only smiling because I hadn't yet seen the photos of myself in color overload.

Anyways, onto more fun. I was trying to figure out how to pick the winners from my Woodland Collar pattern contest - names in a hat? random number generator? - and decided that in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd send a pattern to everyone who entered the contest. It meant the world to me that you took the time to leave me such kind comments on it. Thank you.

I'll be getting in touch today with everyone who entered. If you don't hear from me today, it means I'm having trouble figuring out how to contact you, and you can help me out by sending me an email ( or Ravelry message (evergreenknits). Thanks again to everyone who played along!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Prickly Pear Dye Experiments

Prickly pear fruits yield the most gorgeous, luscious, magenta juice that you can imagine. Naturally, when I'd juiced a batch for jam-making, I wondered about dyeing with them!

The pigment in prickly pear is betalain, which is the same pigment that gives beets and bougainvillea their lovely, deep, purplish reds. Betalain turns out to be a rather unstable dye-source, as its sensitive to both light and heat.

But the juice color was too deep and seductive to pass up! And anyways, I thought prickly pears might still be a good candidate for dyeing, since you don't have to heat them to get juice.

I soaked alum-mordanted alpaca/wool yarn in straight juice overnight, and I got this enchantingly deep magenta yarn. The picture doesn't begin to capture the richness and saturation of the color. Truly one of the most beautiful colors I've ever gotten with my natural dyeing.

And then (sigh) I went and tested it for lightfastness. I started with samples of three naturally-dyed yarns -- (1) a light lilac from local cochineal on alum-mordanted yarn, (2) a medium magenta from prickly pear on unmordanted yarn, and (3) a dark magenta from prickly pear on alum-mordanted yarn -- and hung them, half-enclosed in cardboard, on a south-facing fence. There they got a three-weeks' dose of good, strong Arizona sun.

And here's the big reveal - such drama and disappointment! The prickly pear dye disappeared from the unmordanted yarn and faded to a dull peachy tone on the alum-mordanted yarn. Interestingly, the cochineal faded more than expected, too, although it's to be noted that I used strange little cochineal scraped from neighbors' cacti rather than cochineal that was specifically prepared for dyeing.

After this debacle, I found some terrific old books on Native American dyeing at a used bookstore. The prickly pear recipes in those books had the yarn fermenting in prickly pear juice for several days; perhaps it is worth trying this experiment again with that method. I think, though, that from now on I will enjoy my betalain in the bougainvillea....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Woodland Collar (and a contest)

For quite some time I've been thinking about writing a series of patterns that are inspired by textures in nature and that highlight unusual and eco-friendly yarns.

This pattern -- the Woodland Collar -- is the first. The seeds of this project were planted nearly a year ago, and I'm happy to finally present it to the world.

It is inspired by the deeply etched textures of certain tree barks: oak, elm, white pine. I wanted to evoke those textures in a small garment, as if it were a strip of bark to wrap around oneself.

I tried to give the construction an organic feel, with deep vertical cables and a subtle flare at the base. Probably my favorite element is that it uses the gaps created by the cable crossings as buttonholes, so you can change the way it fits and drapes by buttoning at different places.

I spent a long time searching for a yarn that would make for an interesting riff on tree bark. The yarn that I finally chose is a handspun camel yarn from Mongolia. It is produced through The Snow Leopard Trust, which is an NGO that partners with communities in Central Asia to protect snow leopard habitat.

The yarn is soft, but it's definitely a rustic, handspun yarn with a few guard hairs scattered throughout. It was that rough edge that I thought would properly evoke tree bark.

I knit a second version using a beautiful blue-purple yarn from Nanney Kennedy's Seacolors Yarn. I fell in love with her philosophy and her yarn -- Maine wool, minimally processed, solar dyed -- when I visited her farm back in August. The Seacolors yarn has a lot of spring to it, and it makes for a livelier, snugger collar compared to the drapey camel version.

The pattern is a great way to try out single skeins (100g, of course) of worsted weight yarn. I'm knitting up a cool one in Noro Kureyon. And one of the women in my knitting group has made a gorgeous version in Malabrigo.

If you're interested, there are three ways to get this pattern. You can purchase and download it from Ravelry. You can email to buy it straight from me. Or you can try to win it by leaving me a comment on this post by 11/21/08 (next Friday). I'll draw a winner for every ten comments. And if you win and have already bought the pattern, I'll send you a refund and an extra little prize!!

Monday, November 03, 2008


Can you tell that I'm happy with my fresh-off-the-needles top?

Yay! Love it. It's a simple tube knit out of Rowan purelife organic cotton in a naturally-dyed gray, with ribbing at the top and bottom and straps of gray satin. Simple. Clean. Elemental.

You may recall that the original plan for this garment was considerably busier and cutsier. I planned to stripe the gray with a light pink and make straps out of a ribbon with gray and pink daisies. ICK. I think I was so taken with the coincidence of matching colors that I was blinded to the preciousness of it all.

What saved me from my own plan was the difficulty of making tidy stripes in this yarn. It's a very unforgiving yarn to knit with. Splitty. Dense. No give. No bloom. Matte texture where mistakes are readily apparent. All this means that it was very, very difficult to sew in the ends invisibly, even without dealing with color changes. So, in the end I kept it simple.