The Garden and Dyeing

I got back from all the time away in August to find the neglected garden was doing very well with brambles, that had acquired triffid like proportions, creeping, crawling and scrambling over and through everything.  One bramble had sent a branch soaring upwards, through the crab apple tree (at about 8ft high) and was just touching the ground on the other side.  The lawn had almost totally disappeared.  So, I’ve been hacking (loppers are a girl’s best friend), shredding and mowing to slowly return order to a large proportion of the garden.  There is still much to be done, but today I bought a wide variety of spring bulbs and some winter violas to plant in the recently cleared herb bed.  I’m looking forward to the garden being a real treat in the spring.

About half of the garden has been neglected for a much longer time and is under a frightening scramble of brambles.  I’ve been ignoring this and will continue to do so until I have the rest under control.  I then have plans to work on it over the autumn and winter and eventually to plant a range of fruit trees to make a tiny orchard.

Despite all the gardening I managed to do some dyeing one evening last week.  I dyed up some BFL tops and BFL, kid mohair and Wensleydale fleece.  I did all the dyeing in the oven in some large roasting pans.  The pans fit (just) two at a time in the oven and mean that I can dye four batches of fibre in one session.


The fleece, despite the warm weather, took two whole days to dry on the line.  I hang the fleece in net laundry bags, but I shall have to find a much better way to dry it in the future.  The BFL top was completely dry, fluffy and airy after just a day.


I’ve started using the mohair, and it’s the first time I’ve used this fibre.  Initially I thought I’d felted it, as it was very difficult to tease apart the locks, but, I think it had compacted during the dyeing.  The mohair doesn’t have the elasticity or bounce of wool and I hadn’t understood how it would behave.


I’m currently teasing the mohair apart and carding it with hand-cards to get fluffy coloured clouds.  I have a plan, but that shall be in my next post…

The winter blahs!

Winter is, I think, getting to me.  Earlier this week there were signs of spring, and I managed a walk with my daughter, taking some pictures of lovely spring flowers.


Since then the weather has been cold and grey, and then the snow arrived. 

I’ve been feeling the need to counteract the colourlessness of the continued winter.  At this point if someone handed me a pot of multi-coloured paint and a brush I’d go round the house frantically painting blocks of colour onto plain walls.  Instead I’ve been grabbing lengths of tops from my supply, pots of food colour and large bottles of vinegar and been combining them with abandon.

A couple of weeks ago a friend suggested dyeing in the oven as a way to prevent the tops felting/compacting too much.  So these were dyed in my largest Pyrex dishes with foil on the top.  I found 150 degrees centigrade to be a good temperature, putting the prepared tops in to the cold oven, turning it on (it’s a fan oven), then turning off after an hour and leaving the wool in the oven for about an hour – or overnight in one instance – while it cooled a bit.  The first batch was very successful, the second I didn’t manage to work the colour into the wool enough.

The first batch is on natural white Shetland:




Overdyed fawn Shetland:


Overdyed humbug blended Shetland (the humbug blended tops are looser than the single colour tops, which I find makes them harder to dye):


Leicester Longwool rainbow dyed in two batches on a stove-top:


I have plans for the longwool.  I need a new handbag and think a woven bag with a mass of locks near the top would be totally impractical and completely mad (and a good test of light-fastness of food-colour dyed wool).  I need to finish a few more projects off though before I start on that one!

Lovely time spinning

Today I had a lovely time spinning at my local craft group.  I took my wheel, spindles and my weaving but in the end I sat down and started to spin up the newly dyed blue BFL tops.

I’m spinning this short backward draw (fairly worsted style but I’m not being too precise about this).  I’ve not split the top lengthways and I’ve tried to minimise the amount of pre-drafting I do.  I’m hoping that this keeps the colours clear and elongates the area of each shade.

Of course I was reminded how slow worsted style spinning is compared with long draw when I got home and photographed progress.  Still my back is much happier for the better spinning position Smile


The colour shift is really nice – so do I spin two singles and make a two ply (good for lace – if my spinning is even enough!) but that’ll have lots of barber pole effects when the light and dark blue mix or Navaho ply to make a three ply that’ll retain the colour shifts, but make them shorter?  Decisions, decisions!  For the moment I’ll keep my options open and spin two bobbins of singles.

Finishing yarn

Saturday was spent in good creative company, where I treadled and counted and plied up all of this:


The orange is spindle spun and is noticeably finer than the pink and purple which was spun longdraw on my Ashford traditional.  These yarns were from Shetland tops dyed by me using food colour.

I love the transformation process from fibre to finished yarn.  My singles had been sitting for a long time before being plied, which meant that the twist had “set”.  This means that the singles were not too active (uncontrollably twisty) when plying.  However, if you want to test the freshly plied yarn is balanced, then it’ll kink back on itself even if it’s perfect!

The trick is to either make a sample at the time of spinning the singles, or take a length of the set singles, fold it back, tie a knot then soak the sample in water to reset the twist.  Usually, however, I’m afraid I just look at the plying and guess.  If I’ve guessed incorrectly, I can always put the yarn through the wheel again, either adding or subtracting twist as necessary.

After winding the yarn into skeins and adding ties, the skeins scrunched up into an uncontrollable mess!  Fear not.  A soak in cool water to thoroughly wet the yarn, remove from the water and squeeze out the excess, and there you have it – a beautifully balanced skein (or three)!

For my fellow crafters, who saw my innovative Lazy Kate from knitting needles, for the spindle cobs:  In future I will be adding a wrap of paper round the spindle before I start spinning.  This will aid the sliding of yarn from the spindle to the knitting needle and prevent the catching of yarn on the wrong side of the needle which does make unwinding the wraps near the centre more tricky!

Slow but Sure

Progress on all my various projects has been slow.  However, this weekend I grabbed my trusty Ashford Traditional spinning wheel and an assortment of other paraphernalia, and went spinning with a group of other crafty people in a local village hall.

It’s the first time I’ve done any spinning in three months!

I continued working on turning my sugarflair dyed Shetland tops into singles, then I started plying.  I didn’t quite manage to finish plying the first two bobbins while I was at the group (I had the challenging task of getting the wheel and the lazy kate home with all the yarn still connected).  However, in the evening I finished those bobbins off.

Today was the first decent day since the weekend, so I skeinned the yarn, washed it to set the twist and hung it on the line to dry.  And while the sun thought about shining, I took some pictures.

My Shetland tops have progressed from these:


To the singles:


To the finished yarn (picture carefully cropped to hide the fact that I’ve spent even less time in the garden than I’ve spent spinning):

skeinned yarn

I have two more bobbins of singles to ply into a second skein.  I’m hoping it’s not another three months before I sit at my wheel again!