Progress on Experiments and Play

My experiments in natural dyes and inks are progressing slower than I expected. It’s ok, I’m learning at every step. There have been a few unexpected yet welcome turns as I play with the entire process. The lessons have slowly helped me figure out how to approach these two projects using the same materials: cause fibers to change color and create ink.

Initial Spinning

closeup of a spindle with chain ply on the fly and some single. there is some fuzz around the yarn.

After creating the first batch of natural dye in mid-June, I scrambled to finish spinning some silk samples. I ended up with three finely spun micro skeins, the first two were chain-plied and the third is a simple 2-ply. The 2-ply ended up the largest with 41 meters. The silk is a joy to spin in this manner, but it’s impractical for me to think these skeins will be for anyone other than myself. I switched to a different spindle, which has helped reduce my fear that I’ll shatter the shaft if I’m spinning above a hard surface. I still take a very long time to spin with spindles.

I’m much faster on my wheel. I spun the churro with the intent to divide it into different mini skeins to experiment with. In the interest of yardage, I went with a simple 2-ply. The final result was 343.5 meters and I’m pleased that it’s somewhat-consistent throughout. It was a very good way to return to sitting with intent at my wheel for the first time in years.

Other Skeins to Play With

cone of yarn and small amigurumi penguin

Many years ago, I was gifted a cone of … something. She wasn’t sure since the label disappeared; maybe it’s cashmere? I’ve been intimidated by it. Yarn should be enjoyed, so I wound it off into several 75-meter skeins. I also went through my stash and skeined up anything that was as close to a natural/undyed state that I could find.

After this first batch, I recognized at this stage of my experiments I needed consistency in the fiber to evaluate the colors. After factoring how much time it took me to skein the yarn, I broke down and bought a pack of 25 mini skeins (20g each) of a fingering weight non-superwash wool. They are definitely making this part of the project much easier!

First Batch

After preparing the fiber (scour & mordant) I tossed it all in the jars. Yes, even the silk went in with the wool.

My biggest challenge was the size of my jars — at 4oz in size they threatened to overflow once they were full. It was at this point I realized my notes from various e-books weren’t complete. There was a moment of “now what?!” panic and I scrambled to download the e-books again so I could fill in what I missed.

It reminded me that theory is not the same as experience!

yarn drying on a rack with a plush rabbit looking on. two small handwoved mats are also drying. Lids from small mason jars have labels and rest on top of the skeins for identification
My very first batch of naturally dyed yarn drying.

Next Batches

I went and bought quart jars which lead to a different issue, I can only fit four into the slow cooker at once. That’s ok, lessons in patience are good for me.

At this point my yarn order arrived and I now had consistent skeins available use to test color shifts. These first experiments are with an iron wash.

I also began to better understand colorfastness. The dye bath looked beautiful and rich, however when the yarn did not take to the dye. I’m not sure if it’s the mordant I used or the material. I’ll keep experimenting.

First Inks

swatch of acron ink on a small card
acorn ink swatches

In my initial excitement at causing fibers to become different colors, I forgot that I also intended to create ink. I lost some interesting colors that weren’t color-fast on fiber but may have been beautiful as an ink. It was a lesson that I won’t soon forget!

It’s now acorn season and I’ve been collecting them off my deck. I’ve been both dyeing wool and working on an acorn ink.

I’m curious if the colors change as the acorns mature throughout the season.

Results & Next Steps

I’m having fun and don’t see myself stopping soon. I checked out several more books from the library in order to make my experiments more efficient. I found Vegetable Dyeing: 151 Color Recipes for Dyeing Yarns and Fabrics with Natural Materials by Alma Lesch, Watson-Guptill Publications, 1970 (worldcat link) to be one of the most informative volumes I’ve found in my library system.

I’m still foraging in my yard and the kitchen. This part excites me as I love taking something that I once dumped into the compost pile and turning it into something new. I look forward to discovering what various scraps will become.

My plans for what I’ve dyed to-date are a small project or two. I think the churro will became a hat, I’m not sure about the other yarns. I’ve always intended the silk for embroidery embellishment, of something.

I’ll continue to refine my acorn ink. I need to find the logo stamp a friend carved for me years ago. I also need to dust off my own carving tools and work on a woodblock for larger printing.

an array of natural dyed yarns in various shades
selection of naturally dyed yarns

In Progress (02 July 2021)

Since May we’ve been dealing with several family medical issues behind the scenes. Yesterday, Shadow’s surgery for sarcoma was successful. He’s now home and resting, when he’s not removing his cone and trying to escape from his recovery space. It’s been a lot at once and impacted my progress on everything. Please be patient!

New Pattern Release – Northern Lights Wrap

Yesterday saw the release of my newest crochet design with the Artyarns Inspiration Club. The northern lights inspired colorway influenced my design as well.

It starts with the center motif and is worked in the round for a bit then opens to the mesh pattern. Each side is worked side to side. I hope you can see the influence in the swirls of the aurora borealis.

Fun fact about the photoshoot. I had super bad luck trying to photograph this shawl. We took these on Wednesday when the heat index was about 100°F. It was a few degrees cooler in the trails, but not by much.

Spinning & Play

I’m still spinning the silk hankies. Each one is easier, and I can see improvement. When I have a few more small skeins they’ll meet the natural dyes I prepared. I’m also working on some other fibers at my wheel. I have to find a good chair to use outside when the weather is nice.

Next Designs

I have several patterns I need to finish writing and editing. To help, I’m taking Edie Eckman’s course, Crochet Pattern Writing Workshop (or via this affiliate link if you’re inclined). Edie’s a great teacher and also an amazing (patient) tech editor. This self-paced course is helping me think more clearly about not only about how I write my crochet and knit patterns, but how I communicate in general.

There are two designs where I want the patterns to be as size-inclusive as possible while keeping what makes them a fun knit. One is the shawl-poncho design in Oink Pigments I’ve been working on for over a year. I finally figured out how to fix my grading issue in theory but haven’t had time to work out the math. The other is the Transposon vest in LGF Suris. I knew when I first designed it, I was in a bit over my head in the pattern writing department. I’ve figured it out and I hope to work on editing the pattern soon.

There are always more swatches, and a few have already grown into shawls. Hopefully getting those written up will happen soon, they’re fun quick projects I want to share with you.

But right now, I need to snuggle my cat.

Experiments and Play

Play is one way we learn, yes even as adults. While I love structure, I also find it fun to simply see what will happen. A few months ago, when I wrote about Journeys in Natural Dyeing, I also shared my plans for experiments and play.

It took longer than I expected to gather materials and then find the time and head space I needed to begin. I filled a bunch of 4 oz jars with items I’d foraged from my yard as well as a few spices. Then I placed them in our “NO FOOD” slow cooker (it’s great at stripping paint off hardware), added water, and waited. After a few hours I shut it off and let everything cool.

8 jars of foraged plant material in a water filled slow cooker
The first 8 jars of (mostly) foraged plant material from my yard.

The very first batch included the following: turmeric I ground from dried pieces, chopped avocado pits (I’ve been collecting them for months), chamomile tea I purchased at a store, chopped sage from the garden (it’s one thing I seem able to grow consistently), chopped marjoram from the garden (it’s abundant too), last year’s wild raspberry cane chopped up, overwintered rosemary, and in the center some ornamental grass I snipped up.

After it cooled, I realized I didn’t have a good method for straining the liquid. I also kept finding more things I wanted to try, so I kept going until there were no more jars I could fill!

Earlier this week I finally picked up a strainer and I now have 11 jars of different materials from wild raspberry cane to a jar crammed with rhododendron blossoms waiting for me to take the next step.

straining the dye liquids into new jars on a messy workbench.

Next Phase

The next step of my experiments and play is to convert some of the liquid concentrate to inks/washes and to dye some hand spun threads and yarn. While I wait for this year’s wild raspberries, I’ve been collecting things which would otherwise end up in my compost bin. There are also intense negotiations with my cats for some of their wheat grass.

Yes, I can refer to books that tell me how different materials will result in a natural dye (or not). I’m curious to learn what will happen and make my own discoveries. My notebook is filling with the observations I’ve made so far. Most entries are about how I want to do things differently next time.

So far, I have only spindle spun and chain-plied about 16 yards of mulberry silk. This morning I gave my wheel some quick TLC and began to spin some churro. There’s some mystery fiber I might work up too.

Long term goal

What is the long-term goal of this project? I want to have fun and try something different.

Will it lead to drastic changes here? Probably not. This sort of preparation is conducive to very small batch work.

Will it influence all my work? Definitely! I’m curious to see where this project takes me.


When was the last time you played?

In Progress (09 April 2021)

Glory-of-the-snow flowers
glory-of-the-snow

As Spring emerges and warmer weather begins to slowly become the norm, I find I’m trying to work on everything at once. This happens to me every spring. I wake up with ideas in my head and I have to force myself to put away my work and stop creating so I can sleep each night.

Swatches to Solve Problems

Since the pattern has yet to be released, it should come as no surprise I’ve struggled to finalize the Oink Pigments pattern. I knit the sample this time last year, wrote the pattern about 6 months ago, and have been editing ever since. The issue is that I knit it first for me and my body; my proportions are different than for many so I’ve been working to find a solution that stays true to how it is knit and also is as size-inclusive as possible.

two completed swatches and another in progress shown on a wooden surface. Most of the image is in black and white with the exception of the project bag which is a wasabi green.

The solution was of course swatching!

After working up many swatches, two showed me that I’m finally on the right track. So I pulled out some LGF Suris to work up a bigger swatch. This took on a life of its own and has become a likely sample for another design in a similar yet different permutation of knits and purls!

Spinning S/Z and Silk

I’m slowly working on my S/Z spinning project. I find I’m more interested in spinning some mulberry silk hankies that will plan to take a bath with a few things from my garden. I’m excited about both of these projects, it feels very good to have spinning focus again. The studio is impatiently waiting for Ikea to have a new loveseat in stock so I can use the wheel more easily. I’ve been spindling everything, something I haven’t done in many years!

Golding spindle with chain plied silk laying on a fabric project bag (gold with white blossoms). there are several silk hankies in the corner.

Gift projects and my scrap blankets are very slowly being worked up. They go in fits and starts around swatching, working on samples, and kitten snuggles. Dot loves to spend some time after lunch with me and the hexagon blanket.

Black and white cat snuggling her person who has a wool blanket of crocheted hexagons on her lap. The cat is allowing her person to rest her arm and her back and gently pet her.

There’s also frantic progress on a design commissioned for release in June. It’s been over a year since I last worked to this sort of deadline and I’m both excited and nervous.

covid-19 vaccination record card with 1st dose filled out placed on a lap with a sock toe in progress.

I received my first jab of the vaccine last week and I encourage you to sign up as soon as you are eligible. I spent my 15 minutes wait working on a sock toe. You can search for a vaccine appointment at vaccinefinder.org. Every state is different, NYers can also sign up ny.gov/vaccine. We opted to go through the pharmacy network as our closest state run vaccine site is booked through late May. Please continue to mask up, maintain social distancing, and wash your hands.

focus on finishing

At the first hints of spring, I struggle to focus on my knitting and crochet projects. It’s not that I want to abandon my needles and hooks, no — I want to work on everything! The desire is to begin new projects and finish everything that I’ve been working on over the long winter nights.

I know I can’t do everything at once. There are several existing projects I’d like to finish sooner rather than later. To do that, I need a plan.

There are two ways I could approach this; on Monday I could pile up all the projects and figure out what is needed, or I could pick a project a day and evaluate it while I work on it.

In the past I’ve used the first method. It allows me to block out time and evaluate everything in one session. However, it can be overwhelming and lead to decision paralysis. I tend to start a new project because I can’t decide what to work on first.

This week I chose instead to work on one project a day and evaluate it as I worked. This allowed me to see not only how far along I am on the project, but also remember why I may have set it aside. Do I need to figure out some math? Do I have to look for more yarn? Is the project one that requires focus or is one that isn’t cat snuggle friendly because it’s large or delicate?

While I worked, I scribbled about each project in my notebook. Today during my weekly review session, I began organizing my notes. My goal is to develop a plan to complete these projects.

Here are my notes for the week at my desk earlier today:

messy desk with several notebooks: attention is on the open dot grid notebook that shows open projects and the planning grid.

I know my scribbles are difficult to read. This post looks weird if I only show cropped photos, so I began by showing the spread at my desk. Here’s a closeup of the notebook page with my messy handwriting:

open page of dot grid notebook, the beginning of the text is given in the post content.

The notebook begins with a header, “Open Projects week of 2021-02-22”.
I list 10 projects that I’m working on (there are more). The first four have a day of week initialed next to them because I scheduled them this week.
After this list, my notes begin. I’m including those along with some minor editing to improve readability:

  • DEG Socks – on first sock. 1 inch past cuff. (started 2021-02-03)
    Work on during L+O episodes (Mondays)
    Reward for finish = more sock yarn.
  • TTD cowl – on stripes (started 2020-05-19)
    Finished stripes! Need to review decrease section. Size ok for Shadow.
  • Swirl blanket – denim repeat (started 2020-04-24)
    mental guilt – child is a year already!
    Too big for Shadow
    on last round with denim — find peony
  • M kerchief pay attention to cable! (started 2021-02-13)
    need to do math for end
    @55sts

On Mondays we’ve been watching vintage Law and Order episodes on BBC America. I can watch about two before I need a mental break, so we often continue to watch them from the DVR throughout the week. It’s now going to be easy to work on this project, E loves the show, and this is a good way to trigger my working on his socks.

Overall, my notes aren’t organized beyond grouping everything by project. I want to create a schedule so I can make steady progress on them. To tidy up my notes, I fill out a project planning grid. I created a more legible example of it below. I’ve been printing on random paper, the gold is nice to look at but very difficult to photograph.

example of project planning grid

This very simple grid is based on one I created several years ago at PSG Studio, with adjustments based on customer feedback. There’s now a specific area for the title of the chart and a date. I also increased the size of the label area and shrunk each box. If I need to write more, I create a digital spreadsheet.

Each column is for a specific project, the rows are for what I want to know at a glance: schedule, focus, percentage complete, todo (to finish), and find (materials). I keep it brief with abbreviations and doodles.

The first project for example, is the swirl blanket. It’s scheduled for Wednesdays because making progress on it midweek will help me end the day on a positive note. I’m closer to finishing a long-slog project! I like to know what doesn’t need much focus — it’s possible to crochet this project while watching TV as the repeats are long at this stage, however it’s large and I have to negotiate with my cat who likes to spend the evening on my lap. The blanket is about 90% complete as of this week. I don’t have anything specific I need to do to finish this project other than to find the final ball of yarn, the color is named peony.

Next week I’ll continue taking notes on the other projects and then figure out a schedule. I may work on some projects every week, others may rotate depending on the amount of focus they require. It’s also possible I’ll begin something new and add it to the rotation.


I hope this post, the planning grid, and a notebook can help you organize and complete your projects.

Black cat sitting on person's lap on a grey fleece blanket. On the cat's back is a crochet project in progress.
Shadow sitting on my lap while I work on a Through the Darkness Cowl
by Rachy Newin Designs. The colors & yarn (Oink Pigments) are more vibrant in real life!

in progress (15 January 2021)

It’s been a while since my last update about the projects I’m working on. I’m trying to process the events of the past several … are they only days? I have a few additional curve balls to juggle so today’s post will be rely more on pictures than words.

First — Finished!

I completed the LGF Suris sample of Romi’s (Rosemary Hill) High Sierra Shawl. It’s lovely and the greens make me happy. If you’d like to order the yarn to make your own, sets are available!

High Sierra Shawl sample.

In Progress Design: Oink Pigments

It’s still in progress. I have a few more edits to complete before it’s polished and ready. It’s definitely closer! On one of the last nice days before winter set in, we took photos in a local nature preserve and this gorgeous hawk made sure everyone was wearing masks and social distancing.

Hawk enjoying a beautiful autumn afternoon in the nature preserve.

Here’s a quick peek of the design, the yarn is Oink Pigments Dapper (100% Superwash Merino) 205 yd (187 m) 4 oz (113 g) in the “Random Carp” colorway.

Person wearing a mask & a handknit poncho, about 3 inches of yoke is seen (photo is cropped). They are standing in front of a concrete embankment that is covered in moss and graffiti.

In progress

I’ll be honest — I’m ignoring most everything. Since last Wednesday I’ve worked on simple projects that may never be more than something I knit for myself. Unfortunately, they’re not photogenic right now.

I’ve (gasp) not swatched anything!

There are two WIPs that require my complete and utter focus, which means I’ve not worked them on them at all since early January. I’m knitting Fox Paws by Xandy Peters in silk as a gift for a good friend. I set it aside a year ago and to remind myself how to work the stacked stitches, I started a second in wool. I hope to get back to working on them soon. It’s a lovely design and once the first repeat is complete it’s much easier to read and work on.

I am knitting with a modified k5tog because I found in the silk it’s too painful for me to work successfully. I’m doing sl2 kwise, k3tog tbl, psso.

The studio reorganization after last year’s renovation of my space is still ongoing. It may look tidy, but it’s disorganized! Many things got jumbled together so I could move them and still haven’t been found. I know my seam ripper is somewhere.

sewing table with lots of stuff neatly piled and stacked.

During the last week of December most of the yarn finally got sorted, but there’s quite a bit still to go. I’d like to sit at the sewing table without having to move all of those tote bags of files and mending.

Desk with dual monitor setup. It looks neat and tidy, but it's still not organized.

My desk area is the most organized but there are little items I’ve been unable to find. They’re not critical for my daily work and I know they’ll turn up eventually.