Adventures in Dyeing

On Saturday I spent the day learning how to dye yarn from Lola of Third Vault Yarns.  When Lola took her new studio, she offered a small number of dyeing classes to help cover some of the fixed costs of expanding into a studio.

Of course I was going to snap one up.

This was a brilliant day playing with colour, learning a new skill and seeing how the magic of hand-dyed yarn comes together.  I’ve left with a new respect for Lola and every single yarnie out there.  This is one of those bits of craft that is the perfect mix of technical skill and creativity.

We started with a health and safety briefing (very important!) before Lola ran through the different kinds of dyes and how they work on different kinds of fibres.

The first exercise was applying the same dyes to three different fibre blends to see the differences in how they turn out.  The centre mini-skein here is a pure, superwash merino, where there is good colour definition and crispness.  On the right, a merino/cashmere/nylon blend gives a softer result, with more blending of the colours.  On the left, a 50/50 silk/merino blend has a lighter colour pick up, but the silk makes the colour glow.

We then explored three different dyeing techniqes, and I got to have a go at all of them.

First up was handpainting.

This was definitely the messiest of the three, with the need for clingfilm on the table surface to capture the excess dye and water.  But it has the scope for greater control about the overall result, even if as the dye sets you get to see the colours blend and play together.

Here I aimed for subtlety.  On the left is the test skein, with the final result on the right (with a lower concentration of dye than the test skein giving a paler result).  I was trying to see how subtle you could get, with this mix of sand, baby blue, shell pink, silver grey and brown.

If I’m honest, this was the most labour intensive of the three techniques, and probably my least favourite.  Though I do like this skein – even if it’s less bold than the other two that followed.

Next up was low-water immersion dyeing, where I went for the exact opposite – bold, bright contrasting colours.

Here you lay the skein of yarn out, apply dye powder to the surface, and then add water.  The effect you get depends on how you arrange the yarn and where you apply the dye.  There is much more scope for the colours to break, bleed into one another and generally play around.

This is definitely the way to go if you like bold, variegated yarns with lots of contrast.  It was insanely satisfying to do – from sprinkling the dye powder onto the yarn to poking and prodding it to get the dye into the right nooks and crannies of the skein.  But it takes a lot more dye than the other methods did.

Finally, we did kettle-dyeing, with resist techniques.

This was probably my favourite of the three skeins, both for the end result and for the technique.  This used some resist techniques (twisting the yarn with varying degress of tightness, and then immersing it in successive dye baths.  This colour was built up with a base of sand, followed by blue and then two shades of turquoise on top.  Each colour shows through to varying extents by itself, as well as blending with the other colours.

I had an amazing day, and learned loads.  I loved playing with the dyes and yarns, and it’s definitely something I’d like to do again in the future.  But Lola and fellow yarnies need not fear – I don’t think I will be setting up in competition any time soon.

Fibre East 2016

After a gruelling few weeks, what could be better than a trip to a yarn show?  I took myself off to Fibre East with a couple of friends for the day about a week or so ago, to soak up the atmosphere.

Fibre East was a new show to me, but it’s become a regular fixture in the calendar.  It has a real focus on spinning and weaving, with some people from one of the local spinning guilds taking part in a ‘sheep to shawl’ challenge over the course of the weekend, scouring, carding, spinning and weaving freshly sheared fleece.

The Sheer Sheep Experience was there, exploring some of the UK’s native sheep breeds and the different characteristics of their coats.  (Though spot the Antipodean interloper on the far right!)

img_2406There was a shearing demonstration, using both electric clippers and traditional hand shears.  The lucky owner of the fleece, which had been auctioned earlier in the weekend, was also in the audience.

img_2396John Arbon had this beautiful antique on his stand.  It’s gloriously steampunk in design.

And there were lots of ways to indulge in some retail therapy.  I’ve noticed that the tougher the time I’ve had recently, the more outlandish my purchases are.  At Fibre East I kept being drawn to 80s style neon colours, in bright highlighter pen shades.  I mostly escaped unscathed, but there were a few I just couldn’t resist.

img_2439This pink, called Pink!, from WooSheeps, called to me from across the hall.  Paired with a more subdued charcoal grey, it will make a fantastic colourwork shawl.  And it comes in generous 150g skeins too.

img_2443I loved the neon spatter dye of For The Love Of Yarn‘s Speckled Lagoon, and picked up a couple of skeins in more muted shades.  They have some fantastic dyeing, and some beautiful shades.  I will definitely keep an eye out for them at future yarn shows.

img_2440As always, I had to pay a trip to see Lola at Third Vault Yarns.  Lola joked that I probably have most of her colourways in one base or another, but I still picked up these two beauties.  The top one (Bad Apples) will be perfect for a pair of socks I have in mind.

img_2448And I paid a trip to Sparkleduck as well.  If you like purple (and who doesn’t?!) Sparkleduck is the place to go.  These are all beautiful laceweights.

But these were probably the most unexpected purchases of my trip, and probably a measure of just how tired and run down I am.

img_2446I’ve never spun in my life.  But I came home with a sparkly top-whorl drop spindle from Spin City, and two lots of fluff.  I nearly succumbed to the one with candy-coloured unicorns, but went for the slightly subtler one with the iridescent heart-shaped confetti and glitter.

So, I guess I need to learn to spin.  Does anyone have any good resources they can point me to?

Love Your Yarn Shop Day 2016

Last Saturday was Love Your Yarn Shop day.  Last year I was away on holiday, and visited a shop in Co Sligo, Ireland.  This year, I thought I’d stay a little closer to home and visit two of my closest yarn shops, on a bit of a mini yarn crawl.

My first stop was Sharp Works in Herne Hill.  It’s a shop I go past every day on my way to work, but I’d never been inside.

It’s certainly worth stopping for a visit if you are passing – it’s exactly the kind of yarn shop I’d like to own myself.  It has an interesting mix of brand and more unusual yarns, including some things (like Navia) that are a little bit rarer in the UK. There was a whole cabinet full of commercial sock yarn and a few more unusual things.

It’s a busy little shop too – in the short time I was there lots of people popped in and out, many of them looking for help and advice with their WIPs or new projects.

When I’m visiting a yarn shop I normally like to buy something a little unusual that I haven’t been before.  As you can see here, I binged a bit on Juniper Moon Findley.  It’s a laceweight mix of merino and silk that I’ve not seen before in real life.  It has a lovely handle, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works up.

I also bought this pure silk laceweight from SilkIndian, in some pretty pink and blue shades.  I have  no idea what it will be, but it demanded to be tried.

I went straight from Sharp Works to lunch with a friend in the centre of London.  From there, I walked down to the South Bank and popped into I Knit London.  Nestled in the community of small traders on Lower Marsh, in the shadow of Waterloo Station, IKL has become a bit of a London institution.  It’s founded on the idea of community and has an alcohol licence, so it’s open late into the evening and always has a crowd of knitters hanging out on the sofas and working on their projects.

One of the best things about IKL is the huge collection of pattern books that it stocks, including a lot of US imports and rarer titles.  It’s one of the few places in London where one can be sure to pick up a copy of Vogue/Designer Knitting.  (The other, strangely, is the branch of W H Smith in Victoria Station.)

So while I was in IKL I picked up two issues of Jane Austen Knits.  It’s always an interesting collection of Regency-style pieces, inspired by the works of Jane Austen.

On the yarn side, yes that is a skein of Wollmeise on the right.  IKL is one of the few stores to stock it, and they have a pretty good selection at the moment.  I fell in love with these bright purples. On the left is a skein of Fyberspates Gleem Lace in a some slightly autumnal variegated shades.  The two in the centre are a pair of IKL’s own sea silk/silk blend in some cheerful colours.  They will become a two-coloured shawl at some point.

FO: Don’t Drink The Water

I’ve posted before about Third Vault Yarns.  Lola is fast becoming one of my favourite indie dyers, both for her amazing eye for colour and her playful geekiness.

Earlier in the year Lola decided to commemorate the discovery of water on the planet Mars with a cheeky Doctor Who inspired colourway called Waters of Mars.  She test-dyed some skeins of yarn and put the samples up on Facebook for us to comment on.  I’m not normally a fan of greens, but I instantly fell in love with this skein and Lola kindly sold me her sample.

The yarn is Lola’s Echo DK base.  It’s a squooshy, bouncy, pure merino that’s a joy to work with.

It’s the mark of a fantastic dyer that not only did I fall in love with a colour scheme I wouldn’t normally go for, but pretty much as soon as it arrived with me I had a pattern picked out, had wound the yarn and cast on.  Rarely has it been plainer to me what a skein of yarn wants to be: Don’t Drink The Water.

The pattern for these fingerless mitts is Magnolia, by Susan Pandorf.  I love the lace detailing and the picot edging, and the way it shows off the beautiful dyeing.  I’m pretty fussy about the thumbs on mitts, and these are perfect.  The pattern has separate instructions for both right and left hands, with proper gusseted thumbs.

These will be perfect for the colder weather coming.


Yesterday a friend and I went to Festiwool in Hitchin.  It’s not a yarn show I’d heard of before (it doesn’t seem to get much publicity) but it was a really interesting mix of dyers and producers, many of whom I hadn’t seen or heard of before.  There was a really nice balance in the show between indie dyers and commercial yarns, as well as tools and accessories.  There were also quite a few people selling fluff and spinning tools (note to self: tempting though it looks, I do not need a new hobby).

It’s always interesting to look around a yarn show and see the trends in dyeing.  There were a lot of really bright neon shades on show, reminding me of 1980s fashion.  There were also quite a few sugared pastels, some spatter-dyeing and gradient dyed yarn (though less than I’ve seen at some previous shows).

And of course I made some purchases while I was there.  I didn’t make it to Ally Pally this year, so I had a yarn-buying itch to scratch.

Festiwool 002First up is this lovely laceweight from Native Yarns.  It’s 100% Bluefaced Leicester.  It has a lovely crisp handle and knits up into a beautifully sheepy fabric.  The shade is called Boudicca, and it’s dyed with indigo to give a rich, blue shade.  The dyer has warned me that the indigo will bleed when I knit with it and wash it for the first time, so this will definitely be yarn to use at home rather than a project to take out and about with me.

Festiwool 004Next up is this beautiful yarn from Sparkleduck.  It’s their Solo yarn – a single ply superwash merino.  I fell in love with this vibrant colourway, which is called Here Be Dragons.  The mix of rich colours was irresistible, even though I normally prefer semi-solids to variegated yarns.  I’m not completely sure yet what these two skeins will become, but I think there should be enough for a hat, scarf and fingerless mittens set.

Festiwool 007I also bought this pair of silk and merino mix skeins from a new-to-me dyer called Travelknitter, who is based in Walthamstow in East London.  The colours are a little more purple than they appear on screen (not the washed out steel and charcoal you see here).  I think these are destined to be used together in a two-colour lace shawl, probably something like Travelling Companion.

Festiwool 024I also popped by the stand of Third Vault Yarns (who I’ve written about before).  As I’ve said, I love Lola’s dyeing so I couldn’t resist treating myself.  On top is a skein of Nightcrawler that she has been teasing me with for weeks.  And I loved the subtle variegations in her Naiad yarn, slightly bluer than Waters of Mars.  I also picked up (not shown) one of her Jayne-in-a-ball gradient dyed skeins.  It comes with a pattern to knit your very own Jayne hat.

Festiwool 014And finally, I couldn’t resist this utterly bonkers skein of Sokkuso O from Whimzy.  The vibrant neon green and purple caught my eye, but what sold me on it was the name of the shade: To Infinity & Beyond.  It is gloriously mad.  I have no idea what it will become.  But I knew it had to come home with me.


NaKniSweMo 2015

For some intrepid people, November is the month when they take part in NaNoWriMo.  Not me.  (Though one year I might give it a go.)

Instead, I take part in something called NaNoSweMo.  Instead of trying to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, some of us try to knit a 50,000 stitch sweater instead. There’s a group on Ravelry specially set up for NaKniSweMo, with prizes available for those who achieve the feat of completing their project in the month of November.

I’ve done it in several previous years, making my Petals In Ice, an O w l s and a Braid Hills.  (Though I didn’t try to formally enter the O w l s as it’s nowhere near the 50k stitch count.)  The observant amongst you will have noticed that three of those patterns are written by the wonderful Kate Davies, who is one of my favourite designers.  She creates some wonderfully wearable designs, that are steeped in textile history and her native Scotland.

This year’s NaKniSweMo will be another of her gorgeous patterns.

Epistrophy is a fitted cardigan with a colourwork yoke.  It’s knitted in the round and steeked, in the traditional manner.  For those of you who don’t know, steeking involves cutting your knitting (after reinforcing the area you’re intending to cut, of course).  It enables you to knit colourwork designs such as fair isle in the round.  This is normally easier, as it means you can work colourwork on knit rounds, rather than having to do it while purling back across a flat row.  But colourwork and steeking is going to be quite a challenge to complete in just a single month.

The yarn I’m using is Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool DK.  The main colour will be the purple shown in the picture, with the colourwork yoke in white.  Ravelry tells me that I bought the purple yarn over five years ago in Abakhan during a weekend away on Chester.  So it’s about time I got round to using it!

After day 1, I’ve finished the rib on the body, and I’ve started the stocking stitch section.  I’ve nearly finished the first 50g ball of yarn, so I’m well ahead of schedule.  I’ll post a few updates on progress as I go.

Wish me luck!

New Lanark

I was in Glasgow for the weekend a couple of weeks ago.  One of the highlights of the visit was a trip to New Lanark.  As probably the first model village in the UK, it’s now one of Scotland’s six world heritage sites, owned by a preservation trust who manage the site.

The mill is located in a beautiful and sheltered valley south of Glasgow.  It has its own mill-race or ‘lade’ (the Scots word), which is a diverted branch of the Clyde.  There are spectacular waterfalls and scenery.

Glasgow 014

New Lanark was built as a cotton mill, and the most interesting stages of its development occurred under the stewardship of one of its owners, Robert Owen.  Unusally for social reformers of the period, Owen was an atheist, and New Lanark was built and run on strict Benthamite principles.  Owen’s workers were able to access good food, education and healthcare, but were subject to very strict routines and oversight.  New Lanark has some fascinating exhibitions showing preserved living accommodation and working conditions, as well as the history of the mill.

But one of the chief attractions for me was that New Lanark is still a working mill.  The trustees have switched production from cotton to wool, producing a highly-regarded (by those in the know) range of hard-wearing and tweedy yarns in a wide range of colours.

Glasgow 003

Their spinning is still powered by the river, except with a modern turbine instead of water wheels.  The Mill is entirely energy self-sufficient, its turbines providing power to the whole site (including a hotel and spa) as well as returning power to the National Grid.

Photo by Bronagh Miskelly

Part of the tour includes a walk through their working mill, using a lot of the existing belt-driven machinery, with the main turbine-powered spindle running the length of the room at ceiling height and always turning.

And at the end of the room was a basket full of finished yarn.  Big squishy hanks of it, rather like those body pillows that you see sometimes.  It was very tempting to try to stuff one into my bag and take it away with me, but I’m not sure they would have let me.  I think it would have been a little obvious if I’d tried to sneak it out with me, sadly.

And a working mill that produces its own yarn means a factory shop, hopefully full of bargains.  New Lanark yarn is tremendous value anyway, but buying straight from the manufacturer offers the prospect of unusual items not normally sold retail.  The shop had a bulging remnants basket, which was very tempting, but what I came home with was coned yarn.  It’s fantasically good value, at just under £23 for 570g of yarn.  Though it comes with the spinning oil still in it.  I’ve never worked with oiled yarn before, so I’ll have to do some research about how to use it.

IMG_1998I bought two shades, both in their wool/silk DK tweed.  Firstly, I bought two cones in a lovely warm brown shade.  The colour has a slight purple shade running through it, and some pretty white tweed neps.  I’m planning this will become a Rhinecliff cardigan, but I’ll probably lengthen the pattern quite a bit to mid-thigh rather than have it sit on the hip.  That should give me a lovely, hard-wearing cardigan I can wear with jeans or with a dress.  And you’ll see that I had the same problem taking this picture that I did with my Missy yarn!

IMG_2002I also bought a single cone of the same yarn in this beautiful, bright peacock blue.  I have no idea what it will become, but I just couldn’t resist the colour – it’s so vibrant.

I managed to restrain myself pretty well, I think.  I could have bought an awful lot of yarn there.  They had some lovely 1kg cones of aran weight tweed that were calling to me as well.  I suppose I’ll just have to go back another time.

New Lanark is a great place for a day out, particularly if you’re interested in industrial and social history, and textiles.  I’d strongly recommend a visit.

And did I mention they make their own ice cream?  It’s fabulous.



Missy Yarn

I’m feeling a little sad that I’m not at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally this year.  I keep seeing photos from friends showing all the beautiful yarn and amazing creations, and it’s making me a bit jealous.  I would say that my bank balance is thanking me, but one of the reasons I’m not going this year is that I’ve spent my money on rugby tickets, and I’m not exactly stinting on the yarn front either.

You might remember that I found a new indie yarn dyer while I was at Nine Worlds this year.  Third Vault Yarns specialise in geeky-inspired colourways.  Lola has a fantastic eye for colour and is producing some beautiful dying with a witty SF touch.  (Please, somebody buy the Nightcrawler and Vortex yarns before my hand slips.)

Last week she was polling views on which of three test dyes should be her new Waters Of Mars colourway, commemorating the discovery of water on Mars with a Who-inspired colourway.  I fell instantly in love with one of her test skeins and bought it.  More on that in a later post.

But while we were talking on Facebook, she spotted my Missy cosplay profile picture.  And this happened.   I ended up entirely accidentally commissioning Lola to custom dye me some Missy inspired yarn.  I’ve never commissioned a custom dye before, so it was really exciting.  Naturally, the yarn is purple and red.  I asked for two skeins, on her pure merino Companion 4 ply, to give me some options about what to make.  I’d really welcome ideas, actually, about what this could become.

It took me a few goes to get that picture, by the way.  The first few looked a bit like this.  

What a helpful cat!

Wool Week 2015

Here in the UK it’s Wool Week, a festival organised by the Campaign for Wool to highlight the beauty and versatility of wool as a fibre.  There are lots of things going on around the country to help celebrate it.

It’s also National Knitting Week.  The UK Handknitting Association are encouraging us all to get involved by doing one of the following things:


  • Commit to Knit – a campaign to get 1,000 knitters and crocheters to sign up to make at least one item for charity this autumn.  My own favourite knitting charity is p/hop, a fundraiser for Medecins Sans Frontieres (known as Doctors Without Borders in the USA).  They run an honesty box system, seeking donations in exchange for patterns kindly donated by designers.  You make a donation based on the estimated enjoyment you’ve had making the item.  Hence p/hop: pennies per hour of pleasure.  They have an active group on Ravelry, which engages in all sorts of fundraising fun, and you will see the p/hop stand raising money at many UK yarn festivals.
  • This Friday is the Campaign for Wool Woolly Hat Day, in aid of the Mission to Seafarers.  Knit or make a hat to raise funds for them.
  • Knitting groups are a great way to meet new people, learn new techniques or to just have an excuse to knit without interruption for a while. My craft group at work are going to have a special extra session for National Knitting Week, with an extra push to encourage new people – including learners – to come along.
  • And if you don’t fancy being quite that organised, why not knit on the bus or in a public place and chat to the people who ask you about your knitting.  Or just wear your best hand knits all week.

Me, I’m going to try to up the knitting content on this blog during Wool Week/Knitting Week.  I started last night with a post about a recent FO, but expect lots of yarny content this week from me.


Third Vault Yarns

There’s a big cross-over between geeks and craft.  Cosplay is the most obvious link, where people put hours and hours into making themselves the perfect costume, but it goes far wider than that.  You only had to look at any panel at Nine Worlds last weekend to see people knitting, crocheting and embroidering while they listened.

So I was delighted to meet a new indie yarn dyer last weekend.  Lola Johnson runs Third Vault Yarns.  She dyes and sells yarns in geek-inspired colourways.  Lola normally sells through Etsy, but the pop up market at Nine Worlds was her first in-person event.  And she was very popular!  By the time I got there at about lunchtime, she’d sold a lot of her yarn and was regretting not having brought more with her.

Mind you, the diminished choice was probably a good thing.  As it was, I ended up buying three skeins.  Apologies for the slightly washed-out pictures – I ended up taking these on my phone rather than busting out the good camera.


First up, in Lola’s Companion 4-ply (a pure merino sock yarn) is this colourway known as Gallifreyan Sunset.  I don’t normally buy orangey-coloured yarns as they don’t suit my skin-tone, but I loved the subtle variagations in this one so much that I just couldn’t resist it.


Also in Companion 4-ply is this luscious purple called Inara.  I really can’t resist a good purple.

IMG_1893Finally, is a gorgeous alpaca-silk laceweight called Utral Aymokriyä, named after the Tree of Voices in Avatar (shamefully, I had to look that one up …).  Mine is mislabelled, so I can’t give you the yarn base name or exact composition, but it has that beautiful alpaca halo as well as lovely pink and purple tones.

I’m going to be really interested to see what Lola comes up with next.  New dyers are always exciting.  Her Etsy page is a little bare at the moment after selling so much last weekend, but hopefully she’ll restock it soon.