Tuesday, November 18, 2014

summer sprout

Until a few weeks ago it still felt like summer to me— since, heck, it was 90 degrees in Phoenix — but the turning chill in the air reminds me that time is moving on. So before it gets any later in the year, it’s time to look back and catch up on a few remaining summer stories.

Since I was back in Vermont, one of the themes for my summer knitting was to revisit the patterns I wrote when I lived and breathed this landscape. One was the madder-dyed Vermont Shawl that I gushed about last time; the other was a rich green Sprout Blanket (details here).

Sprout was one of the first patterns I wrote, actually, and it’s still one of my favorites. I love the yarn. I love how the leaves pop out of the fabric in lush three-dimensionality.  And I love the deep textures on the back of the blanket.

It was interesting, though, to knit it again, because it had been so long that it was like knitting a new pattern. I used to know the chart well enough that I scarcely needed to glance at it — but this time I really felt how challenging it is, how much attention it demands, when you come to this pattern for the first time. It was a good experience of the teacher feeling like a beginner again.

And it was just as well, since one of my goals was to issue a new version of the pattern with line-by-line instructions. Phew! It’s all up on Ravelry now (click here) so head on over there if you’d like to download the updated version or buy it for the first time.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Shawl from a Vermont summer

When we decided to head back to Vermont for the summer, it made the decision for me about my knitting. For months -- nay, the past year even -- I'd been coveting a skein of madder-dyed lace yarn from A Verb for Keeping Warm.  And now I had my reason to get it: I'd bring this Oakland yarn across the country for a shawl in Vermont, knitting together my different geographic footholds.

For the record: yarn is VFKW Floating in color 'Transnational Fury,' pattern is my own Vermont Shawl, knit on size 5s instead of the usual 6s to ensure that I could make the whole pattern in one skein.

I had an interesting experience knitting this one.  There was a time when I'd knit this so many times (one, two, three) that it was second nature. But it's been a few years now.  To tell you the truth, this time I mucked up the complicated maple leaf lace pattern and had to rip out inches of knitting. Painful! I tell you what, though, it made me appreciate my own designing work. This is one complex piece of lace!  And most of the time it was a pleasure to knit, curled up on the porch with my cat.

I finished it on one of our last mornings in Vermont. Sitting outside with my morning coffee, just as the sun started to break through the morning mist and give everything a soft glow. Here's the shawl all scrunched up on the little circular needle just before the bind off ...

And here it is just after the bind off, spread out on the table and encroaching on Mountain Man's journaling. Knitting these shawls is not for the faint of heart, because after all this work it still looks blobby and small until the blocking ... 

But once the blocking is done, you realize you've made magic.  I unpinned it, tossed it over my shoulders, and took it for a walk in the forest.  Winding through the trees ...

to the waterfall. It was a moment of pure delight. Mossy aromas. Spray of fresh water. Cool air.  And a lovely new shawl! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

there and back again: a summer story

Well. It's autumn now, far past the time when I should be telling my summer stories. But I've clearly gotten off the blogging wagon these days -- so I guess it's better late than never.  And what a summer it was, criss-crossing the country!

We started off in Santa Fe ...

 Magical Santa Fe, where we picked bundles of sagebrush and headed east. 

Through the Oklahoma panhandle, with big horizons and a stunning sunset. 

Into the green fields of corn country

And finally up the Northeast corridor 

To the Green Mountains of Vermont. Our happy place. 

Actually, Isis's happy place! 
Nothing she likes better than to cruise around the lake in the evening

It was a working vacation -- lots of writing during the day. 
But punctuated by hiking and wild blueberries

Turtle-catching in the canoe

Excursions up to the beaver pond (can you spot the little critter?)

And, yes, there was knitting
(I think I'll leave the story of that for another post, though)

But all too soon, there was a chill in the air 
telling us that summer was turning into fall.

So it was time to head home.
First down to DC, to visit family and stretch our legs at Great Falls.

Southward through the rolling hills of Virginia and Tennessee

Out through the small towns of Arkansas, 
on the hunt for legendary pie

And then, just like the like, the green hills gave way to rangeland
Big skies, dry fields, train tracks. 

(And a night in a haunted hotel in New Mexico!)

 On the last day, we made one last stop -- again for pie. 
Pie Town, NM

And then we were home in the desert.

So there you have it -- the last few months laid out in photos. I've got projects to share.  Knitting, whittling, mending, kombucha-brewing. Hopefully I'll get to them in the coming weeks. I do miss blogging in some ways, miss the connection with the community here. It's just that I've so much to do with work these days that taking the time to reflect with photos and words ends up feeling like another item on the to-do list sometimes. Will try to get the spirit back! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

roots, leaves, and shawl

a.k.a. madder status! I've got a jarful of dried madder roots, tucked away on a shelf for the season ...

... and a barrel-ful of madder plants, which regrew so fast after the harvest that it's overtaken this corner of the garden once again ...

... and a madder-dyed shawl on my knitting needles. Not from my own madder, since this spring got away from me and I never managed to haul out the ol' dye kettle. But honestly this is even better: a vibrant semi-solid yarn from A Verb for Keeping Warm.

I'm using it to knit yet another Vermont Shawl.  And the most fabulous news of all is that I'll have a chance to finish it when I'm back in my beloved Vermont for the summer! Road trip to come ... 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Madder Part 2: root size experiment

My oh my, has it really been three months since I posted about digging up madder roots?   I had a whole series of blog posts planned where I'd test how different dyeing procedures affected the colors from the madder roots.  I haven't got to that yet, but what I did manage was a wee test of how root diameter affected the dye colors from fresh madder roots.  Here's where we left off ....

fresh madder roots, dug and washed

After digging up the roots and scrubbing off the soil, I let them dry overnight. The next morning, I went out to the shed and got out my dyeing equipment. I haven't touched it in a couple of years now, but it was wonderful to pull out the familiar gear and remember the good ol' glory days of dyeing.

dyeing thermometer, stained over the years by madder and cochineal

Next, I prepped yarn samples.  I have a cone of organic wool from Zen Sheep Farm that dyes beautifully, from which I cut a dozen lengths that were 10g in weight.  I mordanted these with alum and cream of tartar while I was getting the roots ready.

Step 1: cutting lengths of yarn to mordant

What I wanted to find out in this round of experimentation was how much of a difference the age/size of the roots makes in the dye color.  I sorted all the roots out into three categories: the largest roots were 3-4 years old, the medium roots were probably 2 years old (and a little thinner than a pencil), and the small roots were probably 1 year old.

Step 2: sorting root sizes

Then I chopped them up with a kitchen cleaver. The size differential is even clearer when the roots are sliced. The shadows in this snapshot make it hard to see, but hopefully it still gives you a sense of how much thicker and woodier the old roots are compared to the new roots. And also what rich, red colors came out of these roots!!  (FYI:  I haven't adjusted the color tone or saturation, so this is really what it looked like)

Step 3: slicing up the roots

For each category of roots, I measured out an even 350 g of the fresh madder roots. I read somewhere that the fresh weight is about 7 times the dry weight. So this would be equivalent to 50 g of dry roots, which would make for an incredibly saturated color on the 10 g yarn lengths. The whole point was to push the color to its max.

Step 4: weighing out the roots

Then it was time for dyeing!  For color tests, I use large mason jars in one pot of simmering water (see a photo from a few years ago here).  That way they all get the same temperature and timing.  In this case, I set up a jar for each root size category. I slowly brought them up to temperature (keeping it below 180 degrees so that the madder pigment doesn't turn brown). I plunked in the wet, mordanted yarn samples. I kept it at that slow simmer for an hour or two, then turned off the heat and let it soak overnight. Here's what I had the next morning:

Step 5: dyeing in mason jars

Ready to see the results? Drumroll please ...  and the result is that there was virtually no difference across the three root sizes. All of them turned this insane carrot color.

Step 6: shock and awe

If it looks like there's color variation in this photo it's just because the little yarn lumps have different angles that catch the sun a little differently.  In real life they're indistinguishable.

So there you have it: all my dye books said that madder roots must be at least 3 years old to get good color, but I didn't find a difference between the 1 year old roots and the 3-4 year old roots. I thought this was actually an interesting finding.

The only disappointment is that I'm really not into this crazy orange.  At least one of my dye books (can't remember which one now -- probably A Dyer's Garden) said that letting the roots age for at least a month will shift the colors, so I'm just letting the the roots dry and hang out for now.  Hopefully the next installment of this experiment won't take so long!