New colors

My boyfriend’s been locked away in his office drawing the special holiday issue of El Gorgo! so I had time to do some dyeing before Last Minute Market this weekend (conveniently held in the same building as Knitgrrl Studio! hurrah, no stuff to move!)

I’m calling it the “Snow On…” series — Snow on Cedars, Snow on the Beach, Snow on a Douglas Fir, etc… heavy use of white throughout, with really strong colors. If it doesn’t sell well, I can always overdye the white bits, but I have to say I’m kind of intrigued by how they’ll knit up. Anything left after the weekend will go up on Etsy or the Knitgrrl Studio shop.

I also dyed a bunch of white Corriedale, natural brown Shetland and tussah silk, and have batt-making plans on my new Strauch. Mmm. Suspect from the way the colors came up that the blends will be very ombré/Pebble Beach-y in particular).

Cool dyeing technique

Tara at Blonde Chicken Boutique posted the coolest link to Twitter just now: Experimental Recycled Sleeve Dyeing with Food Dyes. Love this! love the end results.

Also on the knitting tip — I bought the greatest hat from Cosy this weekend. I will have to get a shot of me wearing it, it is brilliant! And watching her spin with the spindle all weekend made me bring my knitting to the second day of the show, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Love to dye? You need one of these!

Nikol Lohr of Yarn and Felt School fame and Cathy McQuitty-Dreiling have created two FANTASTIC new products for those of you who like to dye fiber with Jacquard acid dyes. There’s the Acid Dye Quick Reference, a portable swatch book featuring actual hand-dyed examples of all 40 Jacquard acid dye colors ($35) and the Acid Dye Pocket Record, a booklet containing 20 blank pages with plenty of room for color/mixing formulas, a fiber or yarn sample, plus fiber and process notes ($12). I saw the Quick References at Felt School and fell in LOVE. They are not only practical and useful, but just plain adorable.

All wool yarn samples are kettle-dyed with identical ratios and methods to give consistent examples of typical saturation and performance of each color. Each hand-assembled swatch includes color name and Jacquard number, with hand-dyed wool yarn sample mounted on strong doubled cardstock with a reinforced hole. Front and back covers are laminated, and all swatches are ring-bound for easy removal for color planning.

You can get a sense of it from the photo above, but it’s tough to express just how delightful these are. The illustrations by McQuitty-Dreiling — you can see some of them on the webpage — are great.

Coming in November from the amazing dyeing duo:

The Acid Dye Color Source Book, a comprehensive reference for tints, shades & blends using Jacquard Acid Dyes. Featuring attached wool samples of all 40 Jacquard colors with a range of tint and shade gradations for each color, along with primary color mixing samples. A fantastic tool for colorway planning, dye mixing, and general acid dye reference. An amazing must-have for any serious acid dyer.

Wow. Makes me want to switch dye brands, or get off my lazy butt and make one of these for the dye brand I usually use! Love, love, love.

Cupcakes and book reviews and yarn (oh my!)

Crafty Dabbler asked (in comments on this post) for my Earl Grey cupcake recipe. Admittedly, I took the cheater way out, but you can adapt my methods for any vanilla/plain cupcake recipe. I used Trader Joe’s vanilla bean cake mix, and for the milk/liquid portion of the recipe, I scalded it with Earl Grey tea bags — go heavy on the bags, I think I used 4-5 of them. After all, you’re going for the flavor, not drinking it!

Let it cool before you begin mixing everything together, unless you think potentially scrambled eggs in your cupcakes = yummy. For the frosting, I made a standard butter/powdered sugar concoction flavored with double strength vanilla from Christina’s in Boston and a little orange/lemon flavor oil. Earl Grey is flavored with bergamot, which is a rather sour variety of orange, so I think the lemon gives an extra kick. Voila! Not as amazing as Life is Sweet’s cupcakes, but good.

Before I get down to my rather substantial list of book reviews, I want to show you some supremely gorgeous yarn. I told Abby that the lilac yarn she’d spun (as seen in this post) was absolutely killing me. So what does she do? Send it to ME! Thank you, Abby! I’m dreaming up something excellent to show it off, and I’ve got something in the solar dyer out back that I think has her name on it…

Yesterday I trained my mom to dye so she can help me out this summer. My mom’s a painter, and dyes are basically watercolor-like, when it comes down to it, so it wasn’t too tough for her to figure out. She was on a yellow and purple kick, though, we’ll see how they come out. Yes, I know purple and yellow together sound weird but it actually makes a very cool brown/ombre effect if you blend it the right way.

Righto — books! I haven’t done a review in a while and they’ve been piling up. Literally. Before we got down to dyeing yesterday, I was cleaning our dining room (aka “the spot with the big table where everything ends up”) and sorting out the to-reviews into a stack.

Uncommon Crochet, by Julie Armstrong Holetz (Ten Speed Press) — buy now

Ten Speed’s website has it right: “When granny squares and crocheted doilies are made from black leather twine and organic hemp, they have an unexpectedly modern cachet.” Boy, do they. Why, just read the quote from me on the back of the book:

Uncommon Crochet is the ultimate resource for fiber crafters who enjoy a challenge. Julie Armstrong Holetz brings her unique design principles to life, encouraging the reader to experiment with unusual materials and techniques to create functional, fabulous pieces that are as useful as they are beautiful.

I wrote that after reviewing a PDF of the book several months ago, and I stand by my overall assessment, but with a few caveats. The book is way better than the PDF. It’s big — over 160 pages! It’s got a great reference section, and I’m a sucker for those. The photography is excellent, the how-to material outside of the patterns at the front of the book is varied and reliable — everything from how to crochet and felt to finding unconventional materials for your projects.

There are 20 patterns for boxes, bowls, purses, baskets, totes, and bags. Julie uses recycled materials along with wire, hemp, leather, jute, twine, and sisal. If you like unusual fibers and “fibers” (well, if it looks like wire but you’re not using it as wire, what would you call it?), you will love this book. Many of the projects have that modern/retro vibe a la Amy Butler. It’s a brilliant book — congrats, Julie! For more on the talented Madame Holetz, check out her author spotlight on Ten Speed’s site.

Start Spinning, by Maggie Casey (Interweave Press) — buy now

Maggie Casey is co-owner of Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins, a yarn shop in Boulder, Colorado. She is also a veteran spinning teacher, and apparently a Goddess (more on this in a bit). You can preview the book at Interweave’s website here, which is a very nifty little feature.

I have only ever heard fabulous things about Maggie Casey. Alas, I haven’t been lucky enough to take classes with her myself, so I am relying on secondhand information…I think the blog I’m about to quote belongs to the almighty Jillian‘s friend Carla:

This is Maggie Casey and she’s a Goddess. It’s plying, how hard can it be? Well, it’s not hard to do, but it is kind of hard to do well. [read more of this post here]

Listen, the basics are what you need to get you to that I-can-do-anything stage, and Casey’s got you covered in Start Spinning. In the intro, she says “all it takes is fluff, a spindle or wheel, and patience.” Uh-huh. Especially the last part. I’ve found that beginning spinners fall into two categories: easily frustrated and not-so-easily frustrated. The latter are much, much easier to teach, because they realize they’re not going to be perfect immediately, but they’re willing to be patient and try.

So if you’re a beginning spinner, and you don’t have anyone local to teach you, I think Start Spinning plus my book Spin to Knit are the way to go. (Not to mention two books = cheaper than a spinning class most anywhere you go these days). Casey fills in the gaps from Spin to Knit (which was intended to teach you the most basic principles of spinning and then how to apply those principles to using handspun yarn in various patterns) and goes beyond — there’s info on using your handspun for weaving, lots more photos of spindle spinning, great plying tips (including flowerpot plying — cool!), and troubleshooting. Plenty of very useful troubleshooting. I love this book and consider it a valuable addition to my own reference library as well as something I can recommend to new spinners who are learning in my shop.

The one thing Start Spinning doesn’t have that Spin to Knit does is patterns, but you can find great patterns for handspun in Spin to Knit, Homespun, Handknit and Lynne Vogel’s books The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook and The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters. Let Casey teach you “everything you need to know to make great yarn” (the book’s subtitle) and get spinning!

Knitting New Mittens and Gloves, by Robin Melanson (STC) — buy now

Background, from her publisher’s website says: “Growing up in Cape Breton, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, knitwear designer Robin Melanson learned early on the importance of gloves and mittens in a harsh winter climate. Now this self-described “mitten and glove aficionado” shares her enthusiasm for these ordinary items by presenting 28 extraordinary ways to make them for year-round style.”

Gloves, mittens, arm warmers, mitts, and fingerless gloves — if you’re a Sock Person (you know who you are, all you SPs stick together), you will love love love this book. If you’re not, you’ll probably still adore it, but the Sock People need to find new places to deploy their sockweight yarn stashes, and expand upon them. Not to say that everything is knit in teensy yarns — in fact, there are quite a few worsted+ patterns. I’m coveting a pair of halvvanter med tunge (page 91), a Norwegian glove with negative space in which the top part of the hand is covered, but the bottom is not, so your hands are still free to do stuff. Think the text-messaging mittens from Knitgrrl, but in a much more sophisticated shape.

What’s really cool about this book are the various details on the pieces — everything from buckles to a fluffy yarn trim. And seriously — I don’t often say this, but there isn’t a single pattern in here I wouldn’t knit. Now, let me amend that slightly: one pattern, I’m not so hot on the yarn color. But just about everything else? I’d happily knit them as seen in the photo. And I NEVER do that! This should give you an idea of just how lovely the book is. Tired of knitting socks in the summer because it’s too hot to knit anything bigger? Clothe your upper limbs as beautifully as your feet with this book.

Knit Couture, by Gail Downey and Henry Conway (St. Martin’s Press) — buy now

Gail Downey (one half of the popular London label Weardowney) and Henry Conway have quite a lollapalooza of stuff going on in Knit Couture. From the Weardowney site:

Knit Couture explores where the knit is today, with profiles on who has made the most impact. From the design houses to boutique labels, the book charts the movement of hand-kitting through innovations and practice now. Gaultier, Galliano, Kenzo, Rykiel and Westwood are all looked at in detail. Weardowney and its boutique approach to hand knit in fashion are explained.

The history of hand knitting and knitwear is explored, from the origins of knitting in Damascus, through to the first machine knit, hand knitting in the industrial age and into the 20th century. Knit Couture tells the story of how hand knitting transformed itself from utility clothing to high fashion, especially by fashion genius of Schiaparelli and Chanel.

The future of knitwear is an area that is rarely given much substance, but Knit Couture gives insight to exciting developments in technology and knit that will change our world, from the synthetic knit that could save the lives of heart patients, to the techno-knit that forms the basis of modern aviation textiles (flying in a knitted plane sounds unsettling, but the technique actually creates the safest and most advanced technical textile available).

High fashion? History? Knitted aviation? Is there anything this book doesn’t cover? (I say, incredulously). There’s a lot of good stuff packed into a small space. Downey, who designed knitwear for John Galliano in the 80s (and if you know fashion, that should give you an idea of where she’s coming from) teamed up with a former catwalk model to create Weardowney, which is not just a fashion label but an entire umbrella of related cool stuff under one roof — fashion boutique, knitting shop, a magazine. Wow. What I really loved in this book were the see-through pages with sketches and scribbles over top of a knitwear photo. Sometimes I wish all books had these kinds of intimate notes from the designers themselves…

The historical portion of the book, as well as the info on knitwear’s movers and shakers in the couture world, is fantastic and photo-filled. In that respect, it’s a bit more interesting than the other handknitting histories such as Rutt’s History of Hand Knitting (Interweave Press). Other online reviews have panned the patterns at the back, saying they’re repetitive, but you know what? I think they’re quite good, and give you the foundation to start working on your own designs. After reading this book and getting inspired by both thousands of years of knit history and what’s going on in the modern world, how could you not? I’d compare this book to Sabrina Gschwandtner’s KnitKnit book — if you liked that, I think you’ll love Knit Couture.

A Fine Fleece, by Lisa Lloyd (Potter Craft) — buy now

Lisa Lloyd, online at and here, has made a lovely, lovely book full of very classic designs that use handspun yarn. So, add this to the list I wrote down earlier in the reviews — here’s another book with lots of handspun patterns. Like so many Potter Craft books, this is coffee table book yarn porn. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. But also really useful — from full-on Bradford count and other info on the sheep breeds used in the book to info on “crafting a color story,’ dyeing and blending fiber colors, spinning the right yarn for your chosen pattern… it’s all here. But wait — it gets better. All the patterns are knit not only in handspun, but in a commercial yarn as well. No patience? Not a spinner? Want to knit now now now? It’s cool! You can! Lots of cabley goodness in the sweater department, which I always adore. (I am adding the sweater Staghorn to my endless knit-someday list, it’s seriously yummy, and Harriet, too. Whoops. Two more on the list. I’ll live forever at this rate, since I can’t die until I get through my to-knit list).

Twenty-six patterns. Pretty much all of them must-knits (I had to restrain myself in only adding two patterns to the must-knit pile). If you spin, or if you think you might want to, or if you love great patterns, go buy this book.

Shear Spirit, by Joan Tapper (Potter Craft) — buy now

Aha! Potter admits they make coffee-table books! From their website:

Part coffee-table book, part inspirational work, and part pattern guide, Shear Spirit connects knitters to the yarn-producing community in a new and intimate way. Filled with stunning photographs, fascinating essays, and heartwarming profiles, this book follows the writer and photographer to 10 fiber farms and ranches across America-from the Willamette Valley of Oregon to the coast of Maine-capturing the essence of the people, places, and animals that, together, create yarn. Twenty projects featuring yarns from the farms surveyed will inspire knitters everywhere.

Now if they’d only be honest and say they produce “yarn porn.” “Coffee-table book” isn’t nearly as descriptive.

This is another gorgeous book, nicely laid out, filled with wonderful photos (the border collie sitting in a mini-bathtub on page 21 is worth the price of admission alone). Although I liked many of the patterns, I didn’t like them nearly as much as I did the patterns in A Fine Fleece. This is more a book for ogling, a book for envying (when you are a City Girl Who Yearns For Her Own Sheep, like me) and a book for leaving out on the coffee table when you are trying to convince your boyfriend that moving to the middle of the woods is a great idea. In short: the writing is thoughtful, the profiles of the fiber farms fascinating, but don’t buy it for patterns alone. In fact, I think the book is very much targeted at city girls — with chapter subheadings including “Realizing a Vision, Acting on a Dream” and “From Hobby to Business to Lifestyle,” how could you think otherwise? Gale Zucker’s photography is the clincher if you’re on the undecided side of the fence. This book is really beautiful!

More dyeing with food coloring

There is a great new article in winter Knitty on dyeing with food colors other than Kool-Aid — although the big K is well-represented, too. Being a rather unscientific dyer (or, more to the point, a lazy one), I am always wicked impressed with people who can keep track of their color mixing so precisely. Allena Jackson shows how to get some colors I really like from the Wilton and Kool-Aid spectrum by clever mixing. You should check it out.

Speaking of color, in fabulous news, I found my wee video camera hiding at the bottom of my Lexie Barnes knitting bag, cleverly camouflaged against the black lining in its velvety black bag. To prevent this from happening again, I bought the camera its own Lexie bag — a Gem in her new superbright Diablo fabric, which reminds me of Indonesian batik.

So. Much. Going. On.

That’s the news here from Knitgrrl HQ. My latest book came out yesterday (AlterNation, written with my dear friend Xan — she’s in the Netherlands doing costumes for various dance troupes right now, so I had to jump up and down alone at the full-page ad the publisher took out in Adorn magazine).

One of our NaKniSweMo comrades has fallen in the line of duty and broken her arm. Get better soon, Kristy!

I dyed over 40 skeins of yarn this weekend and have more waiting, except the latter ones are going in another book and won’t be for sale. Dyeing with plant-based dyes is fun, but a heck of a lot more work than the acid dyes I usually use. Good thing my boyfriend doesn’t pay much attention to anything in the kitchen other than the coffeemaker, or else he’d wonder what the chunky red roots soaking in the blender are (madder).

Speaking of which, I just told him to leave it alone when I go to the shop. “Well, I’m not going to drink it,” says he. And then we got into a conversation about all the other things he wasn’t going to do to it in my absence, among them pee in the container.

Me: “Well, you could if it was indigo, but it’s not.”
Him: (?)
Me: (explains use of urine in traditional indigo dyeing)
Him: Ewww. History is gross.

Tomorrow, I’ll get to see two of my friends for the first time since their wedding, which is an embarrassingly long time, come to think of it. And I can egg her on to get more wheels. (Once you start, you can’t stop).

Then it’s the holiday, and trying desperately to get my knitting done on time… oh yes, this is going to be a fun week. Happy knitting and turkey to all!

Felt School Dye Lab add-on

Felt School has a very cool add-on which should convince you to come hang out with us if you weren’t already:

If you’d like to stay on and dye up a fiber stash to spin, knit or felt, Monday and Tuesday have slots available to reserve the Dye Lab. The rate is $120/day and includes your guest room, meals, a four-hour block in the the Dye Lab (materials and equipment include pre-mixed acid dyes, microwaves, crock pots, roasters, mixing containers, towels, plastic wrap, baggies, gloves, etc.), your choice of 2# of undyed fiber, 1# undyed yarn, or a 1.5# mix, plus unlimited use of drum carders.

Now, let me tell you, it would be a bargain for just the room & food, but all the dyes are premixed? And you get to use a supercool former home ec lab that’s considerably easier to clean up than your average kitchen? Wow, too bad my flight’s already booked or I’d stay even longer!

I’ll see you later this week and weekend in Chicago for the Expo and YarnCon!

Patterns for semisolid hand-dyed yarns

The current issue of Knitter’s Review has an article on knitting with semisolid hand-dyed yarns. Notes editor Clara Parkes:

Colorful hand-dyed yarns are fabulous to look at on the skein, but sometimes they can be a little tricky to knit. The more striking the color combinations, the more they tend to obscure any stitch patterning you wanted to use. Lace, ribbing, openwork, it all gets hidden behind the swirling flashes of color.

If you’re looking for something that meets the semisolid criteria in my most recent hand-dye batch, Harlot, Jillian and Heidi are most likely to fit the bill. I also have a denim-y blues one that’s not currently listed, if that’s a color you like. I’m planning some single-color/different shade skeins for the next batch, so if you have a particular color request, feel free to ask!

Let me go on…

(Finish the post title, if you like the Violent Femmes, to get the joke)

I am Swedish, Irish, German and English, or as I refer to them collectively: “the pale peoples of Europe.” I should not go near windows in the summertime. And yet I thought it would be a good idea to dye yarn outside on an overcast day.


Eliza dared me to name one “Blister.” There she is. There’s two named after Eliza as well. I’m busily uploading them to the Stitch Cleveland Etsy shop. (Soon, we’ll have an online shop proper at the Stitch Cleveland domain but it’s not quite ready for prime time yet, since yours truly is the one coding it). There will soon be 25+ skeins uploaded, so keep your eyes peeled.

My problem? Sometimes there are skeins that turn out so perfectly, I cannot bear to sell them. Here’s three. Left to right: being knitted into socks, becoming a sweater, on its way to being a shawl.

Hey shawl knitters — anyone have time to get one done for me pre-Rhinebeck? Email admin [at] this domain if you want to knit with this lovely stuff — superwash merino all — and get credit / paid for it.

I lichen tweed a lot!

After a weekend spent devouring Seasons on Harris: A Year in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, I was compelled to order some insanely beautiful tweed and matching knitting yarn from Harris Tweed and Knitwear, along with the biography of traditional weaver Marion Campbell, a member of the family who runs the site.

In Seasons on Harris, the author describes how the Campbells used lichen (more specifically members of the Parmelia genus, known as “crotal” by Scottish dyers and weavers) to achieve traditional wool colors. If you’ve got my book Spin to Knit, turn to page 90. See that orchid purple? That was dyed with a New England lichen that grow on granite. But the Scottish dyers have us beat: check out this Wikipedia entry on traditional dyes of the Scottish Highlands, this site on Scottish lichens or this page of Scottish plant bibliographical references, which is a lot more interesting than it sounds. For example:

Clothing dyed with crottle lichen dyes (those that yield red-browns in boiling water) has some interesting traditions attached to it. It seems that, as the lichen is associated with the earth, it was considered a good idea to wear socks dyed with crottle if undertaking a long journey on foot. However, if crottle dyed garments were worn by sailors, it was thought that they might bring bad luck, or if the sailor / fisherman drowned, his body would never be recovered — anyone wearing crottle dyed garment sinks like a stone and “What comes from the rocks returns to the rocks.”

The quote above is from one D. MacIntyre’s 1999 University of Edinburgh master’s thesis, “The role of Scottish native plants in natural dyeing and textiles.” Wow.

When I was in Toronto last fall, Kim and I visited the Textile Museum of Canada, where I purchased a copy of Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet but now I am itching to run out into the forest and look for lichens, then follow Abby’s tweed directions for blending the resulting fiber colors.

And while we’re at it, when am I just going to break down and buy Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland? For those of you who didn’t know this, I was once a grad student who specialized in medieval history, so it’s very easy for me to geek out on this stuff. Once a grad student, always a grad student.

But on to the yarn! the glorious yarn! This is what I ordered — tweed at left, matching yarn at right — look at the yummy blue flecks!

I have serious fiber excitement going on here, making plans for a classic-yet-kicky tweed skirt and a heavily-cabled cardigan on top. I had to restrain myself on the handknit kilt hose. Seriously. Sitting on my coffee table right now is the catalog of another Scottish yarn-and-fabric manufacturer that puts chills down my spine, because I’ve got plans for kits. (Then you all can geek out tweedily with me and I won’t feel so alone).