Monday, April 25, 2011

Dyeing yarn with stuff I found in the woods

I'm back from a midwestern adventure, one that involved many more tornado sirens than I care to hear--the preferred number is zero, in case you were wondering. Still, I had a blast. I also delivered the crocheted quilt I finished a couple of months ago. Here it is in situ, at long last!

That matches that bedroom uncannily, you might be thinking. Uncanny it is not. That was Ryan (midwest-dwelling old friend and recipient of the quilt) and me going to the visit The Loopy Ewe's impressive wall of Cascade 220 like maniacs with the duvet, a throw pillow, and paint chips.

At the Missouri Botanical Garden Ryan bought this book about natural dyeing. It's really great because it's organized by seasons and is more focused on what you can harvest in the wild than what you'd cultivate in a garden (with the exception of a few biggie non-US native dyes like indigo and madder.)

We decided to try harvesting some dyestuffs, and pretty quickly gave up on the idea of finding plants given our location and season. Instead we gathered a bunch of fungi, lichens, and some old walnuts from last year.

We went to Knitorious, a fabulous yarn store in St. Louis, to buy some Cascade Eco Wool and one skein of Lopi on deep discount. Searching for alum as a mordant led us to Penzey's Spices, a completely lovely spice store that did not have alum but did have some other dyestuffs, namely turmeric and dried sumac berries. We bought some of those for good measure, naturally. Alum was later located at a supermarket.

I made mini skeins out of the Eco Wool. Here they are alongside some delicious pies Ryan made while I was skeining.

We first tried our hand with the turmeric, since it was pretty much a sure thing. Just look at the dye bath!

Indeed, it makes yellow yarn. The lopi was in this batch too.

Next, we decided to try the lichens and shelf fungi together, for funsies. Ryan, a true scientist, figured we needed to maximize surface area by blending the goods.

We cooked that up for a while, strained it, and added one test skein.

Ryan was afraid what we had made was just "dinge," but we soldiered on with the cooking of the yarn. Ryan added vinegar, you know, for science. Between the turmeric and the vinegar, it was smelling pretty pickly up in his kitchen.

We let the yarn soak overnight, and in the morning I was quite convinced the yarn was a color other than dingy. Yellowish even. Hard to tell in this iPhone photo, though.

I left Ryan with more skeins, plus the sumac and walnuts. I hope he tries them! In any case, I think we had enough fun that I've won him over on the idea of hosting my dye garden and perhaps even some livestock...

One last photo of skeins drying in the basement. Ryan sent this to me today; could that fungus-dyed yarn really be greenish or is there just a ghoulish pallor in his basement? Who knows?

Monday, April 18, 2011


Here's the outcome of the Lavender Honey blending project, embodied for you in this gratuitously springtimey mugshot:

I've posted this hat on Ravelry as my Chapeau de Slump. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. My mom was visiting, and she convinced me to spin up part of the yarn as knot yarn, so this hat has two or three rounds of knots every few inches.

I made the hat with no pattern. To get the ultra-slouchy effect, I increased aggressively in the first round after the ribbing, working (k1, kfb) around. Then I knit straight for about six inches, and then decreased for the crown in a hexagon. The unblocked hat is basically a sphere. It's quite floppy and fun to wear, although my ambition to make a less-loud hat seems to have fallen by the wayside. Enjoy some photos!

Yellow rolags (where have you seen these before?)

A purple rolag, freshly carded.


Yarn! I don't do much woolen spinning, so it came out rather textured.

The fabric. I floated the knots on the right side (by slipping stitches) rather than knitting them in.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Llamas and our first challenge!

Our first-ever blog challenge comes in two levels!  

Level 1:  what are these llamas (courtesy of ) trying to tell you? 

Level 2:  Can you give them what they're asking for?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Musings on Stripes

I've been working on a blanket for a friend's impending baby, and I wanted to write a little bit about how I went about doing the yarn/pattern tango that is probably my favorite part of knitting/crocheting. I chose my pattern, Starghan, for a few reasons:
1. It's crocheted. I decided after I knit Sleepy Monkey that I wasn't too excited about knitting baby blankets for a while.
2. It's simple and meditative. I like that in a crochet pattern.
3. It's free! Always a plus.
4. A friend of mine was working on one and she was making it with bold stripes of color. I loved how that looked and decided to take it a little further by playing with color a little bit more.

I took inspiration from this crocheted baby blanket that's a sample at Purl Soho, one of my LYSes. I wasn't going to replicate this exactly, because I didn't want to buy quite that many colors, I didn't want to do a granny square, and I wanted to investigate other parts of the spectrum.

Anyway, here's the inspiration, from

Now, onto choosing the yarn:
Does it have a large palette?
Is the price reasonable?
Is it easy to care for?
Will I enjoy working with it?

For me, the answer to these questions is Cascade 220 Superwash, a fantastic workhorse yarn. I chose my colors inspired by the Purl Soho sample blanket. I wanted to get a whole bunch of colors, all in one section of the spectrum, in a variety of values (value being what shade of white-grey-black it would be if you too a black and white photo of the yarn), plus some neutrals. So I chose some greens, tealy blue-greens, purples, and neutrals. I generally went with the idea that I should like any two of the colors sitting next to each other, and I wanted the palette to be fairly gender neutral, but colorful and robust. I ordered the yarn from Webs--at quite a discount I might add!-- so I ended up falling prey to the colors-on-screen vs. colors-in-real-life debacle and two of my neutrals turned out to be nearly identical shades of light brown. Alas.

Now to choose an ordering! I liked the idea of a gradient-esque progression, but I didn't want it to be perfectly symmetrical, so I skipped colors along the way. I referred back to my inspirational baby blanket here and there, but it was also fairly improvisational. Here's a rumply cellphone photo that isn't as true to the colors as I would like it to be. But I like it so far!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sea Urchins and Space Unicorns

Space unicorn, n:  An aesthetic movement popularized in the 1980s by the covers of science fiction/fantasy books for young adults …

and Lisa Frank trapper keepers.

It experienced a revival on geocities pages circa 1999 and lives on in our hearts.  And, sometimes, our stashes.

My latest creation is half space unicorn, half cosmic sea urchin:

Though, to be a true space unicorn project, it should have some pink in it.   And it very nearly did!  There's a bit of a story behind this.  At a knitting circle in Portsmouth last year, I won a free skein of yarn:

Actually, I guess that's the whole story.  Free yarn.  In the end, though, I just couldn't deal with the pink-and-olive-green extras tied on to the black base yarn;  I untied them.  I'm so proud of myself for having found a use for this yarn, but now I have a ziploc baggie full of 6-inch-long pink and green bits of fluff and I have to find a use for those ...

I won't lie to you -- the pompom was super fun to make, and the hat itself only took an hour or two.  This was a great project.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lavender Honey

As a dyeing novice, I don't always get the results I want. I recently dyed eight ounces of polwarth top in shades of purple and yellow. My plan was to dye each two-ounce strip of fiber in a long gentle gradient from a deep to a pale shade. I would then spin each strip into a singles, and ply together the two different purples into one yarn and the two subtly different yellows into another. Then I was going to make a bright and springtimey colorwork scarf.

After carefully measuring out ten different strengths of each dye and painting them onto the fiber, here's what I got:

Dyed Polwarth

Not quite what I was looking for! Not only is one of the "yellows" a very bright orange, but the long and gentle gradients I had in mind did not work out. Dismayed, I let the project lie dormant for a while until I hit upon the idea of blending the colors on handcards. After a little carding, spinning, and knitting, I came up with a fancy little swatch.

I love this tweedy blend of purple and yellow. It makes me think of Proven├žal pottery at my favorite breakfast place in Berkeley. I've started blending up the rolags, and will update as the project goes on.

Saturday, April 2, 2011



Is this thing on?

Great!  Thanks for coming, folks, and welcome to the Elegant Yarniverse.  Please show yourselves around and make yourselves at home -- there's not much up yet, but we hope to have some groovy projects, cool patterns, deep thoughts, tutorials, string puns, and space unicorns in the coming months.  So stay tuned!

Let me introduce ourselves:  (that can't be grammatical ... )  I'm Emily, and these are my friends Malia and Jenny Jo.  We're knitters and nerds.  We also share a love of bright colors, fluffy animals, science, science fiction/fantasy, San Francisco, puzzles and puns.  Some of us also spin, crochet, weave, and dye yarn, though I'm not sure if any one of does all of those.

Want to know more about us