Another Month; Another Post

It’s actually starting to feel like autumn is coming. My garden (such as it is) is winding down and I’ve been clearing beds and planting cover crops. This year I’m trying crimson clover in some of the beds as well as the usual fall rye/field pea/hairy vetch blend. Unfortunately the compost we put on one of the beds before planting the crimson clover had a ridiculous number of bronze fennel seeds still viable from last year’s plant! So now I have a crimson clover/fennel blend. We’ll see how that fares over winter and how easy it is to turn under in spring. The big compost bin was obviously not hot enough to break down the hard fennel seed and I’ve had it popping up everywhere in my veggie garden, including in the greenhouse with the tomatoes. I would have hoped that it would at least be helpful but it sadly didn’t prevent the flea beetles from having a field day in there this summer. Okay, I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. This year I got smart and chopped the tops off my one big fennel plant well before the seeds matured!

I guess I left you last with my broken foot not quite healed yet. To update, I got a good checkup at the foot clinic and finally got to see my x-rays where the bone is completely fused back together. Yay! I still occasionally have a little pain probably from stressed tendons but I’m up to 8 kilometre walks now so it’s improving. I haven’t given up my walking poles however. I like them a lot and will continue to use them for balance and exercise on my longer walks. Oh and you’ll be happy to know I found a new home for Harley the knee scooter, Francine the boot and the crutches (that I barely used awkwardly for 10 minutes)! I was contacted by an Instagram friend whose cousin was getting foot surgery. She lives only a few blocks from here so was able to pick them up easily. I didn’t ask her for any compensation because I was just happy to get them adopted by someone who could use them. (I didn’t turn down the bottle of nice wine though. Heh.) I didn’t want them back either because I don’t plan on falling down again any time soon! I hope she will pass them on yet again when she is finished with them. Their value when new totals about $500 and not everyone has that to spend especially after an injury. The equipment doesn’t usually get used for very long anyway and the wear and tear on them is minimal.

So what else is new? I still haven’t found out where my sewing and knitting desires are hiding. Not to mention the spinning and weaving ones which are completely MIA. I mentioned the tiny punch needle in my last post but haven’t really gotten much farther with that. I went bigger!

Hooked rug in progress

Yes, I dug out all my old rug hooking supplies including my big quilting hoop, cutter, wool flannels, hook and linen backing. I was really glad that Past Me was smart enough to hang on to all this stuff, probably knowing I’d want to do it again some day. The wee little Bliss cutter especially is now very difficult to find, at least in Canada, and a lot more expensive than it was 20 years ago. There are spiffy new cutter types out there but they cost over $1,000 and there’s no way I could justify that for a few rug experiments. I did splurge on two new cutter heads for Bliss though (from a very nice Etsy seller CaptainYarn in Quebec) so now I have a set of 5 sizes from #4 (1/8″) to #8 (1/4″). The latter is what I use most since I like the funky blocky effect of a wide cut. Also faster to hook!

Bliss Model A at work

I also bought another piece of gripper strip from Legacy Studio in Alberta (along with a few other tidbits to be discussed in a future post) and Thom finally made me a new hooking frame. It’s fantastic!

My new mahogany gripper frame

Gripper strips usually come in 40″ (approximately 1 metre) lengths and in two gauges, coarser for burlap and linen and finer for linen and cotton monks cloth. I went with fine and it holds my primitive linen well. The lighter coloured strip is the one I’ve had for years but realised it wasn’t long enough to make a frame as large as I wanted so the darker one is the new one, bought from the same source but probably a different manufacturer. The frame is 16″ x 12″ inside measurements and has a nice slope so I can see what I’m doing. I’ve been working on my cutting table but it also fits nicely on the TV tray table. I wish I had this type of frame years ago and maybe I wouldn’t have given up rug hooking for so long. It’s so much nicer to work on than the hoop!

Lamb’s Tongue border

The design is from my own head (of course!) and consists of a centre section of overlapping scrappy squares with end borders of the shapes often called “lamb’s tongues”. I think the tongues were a popular fringe embellishment on penny rugs (appliqued felt rugs) that wandered over to primitive style hooked rugs. The name cracks me up! I always think of the way sheep stick out their tongues when they vocalize. (Yes, I speak Sheep. Can’t you hear me? LOL!!) Anyhow I thought the curved shapes would be a nice contrast to all the squares but ended up hooking the first tongue about 3 times before I was happy about the colours. My first effort was attractive but I realised that I didn’t have enough of that particular variegated wool to do both ends of the rug so back to the drawing board. Or the dye pots.

In my stash I had lots of remnants and already dyed pieces of the expensive 100% wool flannel that makes great long-lasting rugs plus at least 5 yards of it in its natural undyed state. So I went to town making some new colours to go with the old ones.

Dyed wool flannel

It takes a lot of wool strips to make a rug! I needed a few lighter values which I find hard to do since I always seem to add more dye than necessary. I was using up some of my old acid dye stock from the cupboard as well as some newer acid dye powders. Wool is the easiest fibre to dye in my opinion. Even old dead Procion MX dyes which are used for cellulose fibres like cotton, rayon and linen can be used with acid (vinegar, acetic acid or citric acid crystals) to dye wool. I experimented with some vintage (possibly upwards of 40 years old!) acid dyes that had been lurking in my cupboard just to see if they still worked okay.

Acid dyes on plaid wool fabric

As you can see (L-R) gold, red, magenta, violet, blue and black all still dyed the wool just fine. Unfortunately this fabric is too lightweight to use in my rug but it was good to know that the dyes are still viable. Who knew? I was reluctant to use them before not knowing if they would wash right out but now I’m more sure of their efficacy. I have had issues with occasional dyes in the past especially ones that were donated to me from who-knows-what source.

So now that I have a design for my rug and a proper frame to work on I’m going great guns on it!

Border number two in progress

You can just get a peek at the finished first border and now I’m working on the other end. I want to finish these up so that I can make sure I have enough of each colour and also bring any remnants of them into the centre squares, particularly the red. And while I’m hooking away I’m pondering design ideas for a second rug. They will both be for the bedroom to replace my handspun hand-dyed handwoven rugs that are wearing out so badly that I can’t stand to look at them anymore. The wool is fine but the linen fringes wore right off and the wool slid out of shape when it didn’t have any linen border to hold it back. I know I didn’t beat the weft in nearly hard enough either but I’m not happy with fringes that always wear out first! Boo. Obviously hooked rugs are durable because the one in the living room is still going strong after nearly as long (completed in 2002) and it’s only on Scottish burlap which is not recommended as long-wearing. The current one is for Thom’s side of the bed so is slightly narrower than the one that will be at the foot of our bed. On my side I already have an old latch-hook rug we made eons ago which is still in good shape. Gee. So many ways to make a rug! I’ll have to do a post on them all one day. Promise.

In other news, we had our 14-year-old grandson, aka The Man-Child, here for a week. It was lovely to reconnect with him after having not seen him in person for over a year and a half! He’s grown so tall and the voice has gone down to a much lower register. Also very long hair! He’s still a sweet goof but he was game to try different foods (roasted ratatouille, peach/cherry/strawberry clafoutis, naan-za (pizza made with naan bread), gluten-free pancakes with strawberries and yogurt) and to come walking with us and to have lunch with Thom’s mom, his great-nana. Lots of conversations, both serious and silly. Lots of playing his ubiquitous video games and trying to teach a card game to his grandpa without much success. I always feel it’s wonderful to borrow a grandchild every now and then but I’m also happy when they go home again! Does that mean I’m old and set in my ways? Probably. Heh.

Making While the Sun Shines

A whole month whipped past me when I wasn’t looking! How does that happen? The weather was mostly quite lovely but not exceptionally warm especially at night. I’ve been slaving away either in the garden or in the studio and reading books when I get too tired to work any more. I haven’t been especially active online and am falling way behind on social media. Oh well! This is usually the busiest time of year for me anyhow because the garden needs lots of work after the winter to get it ready for the growing season. Thom is having trouble with his elbow (possibly tennis elbow due to injury, not playing tennis!) so his level of assistance is reduced from the usual. At least my back and wrists are holding out pretty well and I’m being very careful not to overtax anything. Exercise is great but we have to be aware of doing damage to our aging bodies. It takes a lot longer to heal after 70! It used to be me with all the ouchies but recently I’ve been fine and Thom has not. It’s a tough job but somebody has got to keep things going around here.

My dye garden is all planted now.

Damselfly’s Dye Garden

From the foreground and following along the narrow curving bed there’s dyer’s coreopsis, marigolds, perennial coreopsis, madder, dyer’s chamomile, more madder, Japanese indigo and a couple of weld plants I left in from last year. Here’s a better look at the baby indigo.

Japanese Indigo & Some Weld

So hopefully there will be some dyeing going on later this summer when these guys grow up. Although last week I already enjoyed a day of dyeing some fabric that I wanted to sew, but with Procion MX dyes this time instead of botanical ones.

Freshly Dyed Fabrics

The colours are a little off: the blue hemp canvas is a deeper teal and the murky brown rayon/linen is more saturated too. The dyes “broke” on the latter fabric for some reason. I know that I did stir it as much as I could manage with so much heavy fabric. At least I was wise enough to divide the 6 yards into 2 three-yard lengths and used two buckets but I think the plum dye has a tendency of splitting up into its component pure dye colours so the fabric came out a plummy brown patterned with bluish-grey. It’s reasonably consistent though and I quite like the effect. The hemp canvas was also 3 yards and it was heavier weight too but it dyed exceptionally evenly, but perhaps lighter than I expected. Dyeing is always an adventure and you can never really predict how it will go. All of these pieces are already cut out for garments and I’ve started to sew the teal canvas into Muna and Broad’s Willandra Pants. The rayon/linen will become a Sew Liberated Lichen Duster for me and yet another Elbe Textiles Sanders Button-Up shirt for Thom. These fabrics have been lurking about in my stash for at least 15 years and I even have enough thread, interfacing and buttons (recycled from an old shirt) for everything. So nice to use stuff up. I’m very grateful for my copious stash because I’m still trying to avoid shopping as much as possible. Even though we finally got our first Covid jabs a couple of weeks ago the local situation with the more virulent variants is quite dire. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

So I guess I never posted the last Sanders Button-Up I made, did I?

Sanders Button-Up Shirt #2

It was hard to get a perfect photo because Thom put it on right away and wore it every day for the better part of a week! Guess that means it’s a keeper, huh? The fabric is a cross-weave linen in navy and natural tan. This time I increased some of the seam allowances so I could make flat-fell seams instead of relying on serging to finish them. It worked out very well so I’ll probably be modifying the pattern accordingly. I’ve already downsized the cuffs and took off half of the 2″ that I originally lengthened the sleeves. He loves the pockets on this shirt a lot because they are nice and deep and his glasses don’t fall out. The back has a little shaping and the cute little hanging loop.

Sanders Back View

I also cut out a cropped Helen’s Closet Pona Jacket in another dyed fabric, linen canvas dyed in madder and cutch several years ago. It’s thick but drapier than the plaid denim I made my first Pona out of. Instead of the cropped sleeves I went with the longer version. I figure I can always roll them up if I want them shorter but you can’t add length that doesn’t exist. So I have a bunch of garments all cut out now and waiting for their turn at the machines.

Dyed Linen Canvas

Do you like my new orange-on-brown tags from the Dutch Label Shop? They’re very similar to my old lime-green-on-black ones but I think they will blend better with warmer coloured garments like my soon-to-be Pona jacket. I still have lots of the first ones left but it’s nice to have a new option to play with.

I’ve also finished knitting another pair of socks for Thom but they’re currently drying from their post-needle bath so you’ll have to wait for the scoop. I haven’t really had any knitting mojo lately so it’s nice to actually finish a project. They are just plain so I can read while I knit which is obviously the secret to getting it done! However, I’m becoming interested again in knitting a cowl from a really pretty skein of merino and silk from Seawall Fibres (Nova Scotia) that I bought in 2018 at Knit City.

Silk & Wool Yarn

It’s not exactly the right time of year for a cowl but who cares? It’ll probably take me until it gets cold again to finish it anyhow. More on this project when (or if) it becomes an actual project.

I will leave you with this glorious bit of hanami, aka cherry blossom appreciating, from our neighbourhood. The blossoms of the plums and cherries were very intense this year, maybe because it was still pretty cold at night. Petals are falling like pink snow now though!

Sakura

For such as these I make an exception to my aversion to the colour pink!

Dye!

Summer has finally smacked us upside the head! Happily it’s still cool enough at night to enable us to sleep well but the days are quite hot, at least for here in Vancouver. Obviously this is a lesson in “be careful what you wish for”, right? I’m alternating my time picking produce, watering everything in sight and working up in the Sweat Shop (aka my upstairs studio). Oh, and dyeing fabrics on the deck with dyeplants from my garden and older dyes, mordants and assists from the dye studio. It’s been an adventure!

I started by chopping off my Japanese indigo plants.

Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria aka Polygonum tinctorium)

I decided to try a new-to-me technique for dyeing with some of this bounty as explained in John Marshall’s “Singing the Blues” book (p.29), dyeing cellulose fibres with fresh indigo. I had a 2-metre length of a lightweight hemp fabric, scoured in Synthrapol and soda ash. After stripping the leaves carefully from the stems I weighed them so they were pretty much equal to the wof. I dissolved thiourea dioxide in hot water and left it to cool. In the craft blender I lightly packed leaves and covered them in ice water and blended them into slurry which went into a stainless steel pan. Repeated until all the leaves are blended and added calx and the thiox to the last blending. The results looked pretty weird, all curdled and frothy, but it properly turned green in about 10 minutes.

Fresh indigo bath

Then I added the damp fabric and carefully squooshed it around in the vat for about 10 minutes. The fabric turned blue when I pulled it out, rinsed in clear water and hung it up for awhile but I didn’t think it was very dark so I repeated the whole procedure since I had plenty of indigo leaves. I know that it gets a lot lighter after the fabric is finally finished. Also this year’s indigo isn’t very intense with the indigo precursors because it was such a cloudy/rainy spring and early summer. Less sun means less blue!

Final results, fresh Japanese indigo on hemp

The blue is quite light and blotchy (and nearly impossible to photograph accurately!) but I think the fresh process has possibilities. I had lots of leaves left over afterward so I dried them. One day I’ll combine several years’ worth of dried leaves and see what I can get from them. There should also be at least one or two more harvests before cold weather kills the plants.

There was still plenty more plants in the dye garden to play with so I chopped down the weld plant that was more than 2 metres tall and Thom buzzed it through his chipper/shredder for me. I decided to dye a second 2 metre piece of the hemp fabric and mordanted it in tannin and then alum/soda ash using instructions from “The Art and Science of Natural Dyes” by Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis. The weld was simmered for an hour and the plant matter sieved out before adding the fabric and a small amount of chalk (calcium carbonate) since our water is very soft. Again the fabric didn’t turn out as dark as I expected but it’s quite a pretty soft yellow. I’m beginning to think it’s the hemp which was unbleached that didn’t take a strong dye colour even though it was well scoured at a simmer.

Weld on natural speckled hemp

Of course I couldn’t quit there! I’d been saving up the marigolds that I had deadheaded off the plants for about a week but even after stealing a bunch of fresher blossoms didn’t have quite enough for a couple of yards of heavy cotton doubleknit that was next on the list. So I added some spent heads of the dyers’ chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) to make up the weight of flowers. My plants are not yellow as is the usual variety but white with yellow centres like regular chamomile. Even so they still dye quite well.

Dyer’s chamomile (var. Sauce Hollandaise)

I wasn’t picky and left in the stems and the sepals and likely a few aphids and ants as well! I simmered the lot for at least an hour. Meanwhile the cotton knit was mordanted in myrobalan and alum acetate (in separate steps) and then into the pot after the flower heads had been sieved out. Now I got a really strong colour of slightly greenish yellow even though I hadn’t heavily scoured this fabric but just ran it through a couple of laundry loads because it was a freebie from a neighbour and slightly grubby.

Marigold and dyer’s chamomile on cotton knit

Lastly instead of using dye plants from the garden I decided to use up as much of a jar of lac extract as I could. Even though this insect dye gives great colours of raspberry reds to purples, it absolutely stinks! I can’t dye it indoors at all or it gives me a sore throat. It’s that bad. It also is a PITA to wash out because it stains everything: rubber gloves, pails, washpan, sink, and even my best stainless steel dyepot is currently pink. Hopefully it will lose that eventually because I hesitate to dye anything that will pick up the colour from the pot. Anyway, I used most of it up and dyed 3 metres of a natural linen/rayon blend which was first mordanted in gallnut and alum acetate. This fabric (of which I have quite a lot left from a 50 yard bolt) dyes beautifully.

Lac dye on linen/rayon blend fabric

I left it for a day or so after dyeing before rinsing it in cold water over and over and over (8 times!) outdoors in the gravel driveway before running it through a machine wash with Synthrapol and then dried in the dryer. I’m still planning to be careful when I wash any garment I sew out of this in case it still has the power to stain anything. I don’t trust it! But isn’t it gorgeous? And no longer stinky. Yay.

I haven’t exactly decided what I’m going to make out of these fabrics yet, apart from the indigo one which will be a shirt for Thom, but they certainly coordinate nicely together.

Naturally dyed fabrics

Wait! That’s not all. I finished sewing a tester version of Closet Core Patterns Kalle Shirt that became an actual wearable garment. I used a bleached muslin from deepest stash and sewed the cropped version with cotton thread on purpose so it could be dyed. I have more to say about this pattern but I think I’ll leave it until I make the actual tunic version that I originally had in mind. But here’s the wearable muslin before I scrunched it up.

Kalle shirt before dyeing, minus buttons
Prepared for dyeing

I had saved my myrobalan mordant bath so I heated it up and used that to soak the scrunched shirt. Then I squeezed it out and put it into an iron modifier bath (2% WOF dissolved in hot tap water). It immediately turned grey but not as dark a colour as I had hoped. Perhaps there wasn’t enough myro in the pot or it didn’t stay in long enough since it was probably a lot more diluted than I needed. Or the muslin wasn’t scoured well enough? I quite like the results though.

Kalle crop front
Kalle crop back

At least it’s not white. Heh. Yes, I know it needs ironing but it still smells like rusty nails so needs another wash before I’m going to wear it. I’m a bit hesitant about this style on me and how to incorporate it into my wardrobe but we shall see. It only cost me some time and I learned a lot. It’s not a bad fit I think but I’ll be making a few fit adjustments anyway before making the tunic. More on that when I get to it.

Stay well and stay cool (or warm depending on where you live)! And WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK!!!

Looking A Little Brighter

I was going to wait until I’d finished the second project with this snow-dyed cotton knit fabric but what the heck! This one is done and I might as well get on with blogging about it, right?

Snow-dyed hooded tunic

The pattern is Love Notions La Bella Donna. This was actually a test sew for my fitting changes and I’m not totally pleased with how loose the sleeves are. I didn’t do my usual adjustment of raising the underarm and I think this needs at least an inch plus the sleeve bands adjusted to match. Otherwise grading from a size M at the top through to an XL below the bust worked okay. The neckline is a bit wide for me however, especially if I didn’t have the hood to fill in the extra space. I would bring it in if I was making a plain neck top.

Back of my hoodie

The fabric is kind of fun and I had a good time cutting the garment pieces to take advantage of the dye patterning. I also had enough to cut another Lane Raglan T-shirt too which is my next project. I did have trouble sewing this tunic neatly for some reason. The stitching lines which are in white thread show every wobble and there are a lot of them including top-stitching the single-layer pocket bags onto the front. These sit nicer than regular in-seam pockets but they aren’t invisible. I somehow managed the twin-needle stitching better. Besides the hem I went around the neckline to hold the hood’s seam down and also around the sleeves to match.

Wonky stitching aside, I quite like the results and will be using this pattern again for more versions. I’m already wearing my new hoodie a lot. There are some things I love about Love Notions patterns. Tami has made the PDFs layered so you can choose your size/sizes to print and there’s also no need to trim. That makes them especially easy to assemble. This pattern also has the front and back pieces, which are the same except for the neckline, combined into one pattern which saves paper and ink. (Although it does make it a little more difficult to arrange pattern pieces on your fabric.) There is a cool way to keep them connected but still make it easy to cut out which I should show you in another post.

What I’m not so enamoured of with Love Notions patterns (and this could just be me) is that the instructions are meant for digital use on a phone or tablet rather than printed. They flip around with hyperlinks to hop from one section to another and aren’t presented in a linear fashion. Not super-critical since the designs are pretty simple to sew but I don’t like to have to turn on my iPad every time I want to check something. I printed the instructions out for myself with Adobe Reader in booklet format and it’s okay but not wonderful. It also seems as if some information is missing that I would like to have. Like finished measurements. Illustrations are pretty basic. And even though it’s included on nearly every page it took me awhile to find out how much seam allowance has been allowed for! It’s in a tiny shaded box which is hard to read on the printout. On the other hand, there’s lots of info on printing and preparing the pattern, an “inspiration” section and a glossary. If you need all that.

In gardening news, I’m really very disappointed this year. The bug and slug damage is the worst I’ve seen in forever. Somebody keeps ringing the stems of my plants, including the Japanese indigo, and I find them one at a time with the tops severed and wilted. There are holes in absolutely every leaf. And I can’t seem to catch the culprits at work. Probably because they’re out there in the dark doing their dastardly deeds when I’m sleeping! The usual remedies aren’t working either. I’m really trying to be philosophical about it. After all, we aren’t dependant on my produce to live. There are perfectly good vegetables in the market, right? And they probably cost less if you include all the work I put into my garden.

A least the weather has improved finally. We’ve had some cool nights and quite a lot of rain this month which slowed things down and probably contributed to the happy bugs and slugs. Of course along with sunshine and more warmth comes the fact that all my early greens are immediately starting to bolt! At least the ones that survived. I could plant more but they don’t usually do very well until fall. And the lettuce should be edible for awhile longer. Meanwhile there’s quite enough to eat saved in the fridge. The peas are just starting to flower and the beans are coming up. It’s starting to feel almost like summer. The hammock stand is out and just waiting for one of us to take advantage!