Dyeing with locally foraged pine cones

During a recent local walk, I came across a lot of pine cones on the floor that had fallen from a big tree. I decided to pick up several of them and experiment dyeing with them at home.

I had read that tree bark and cones are rich in tannins which means the dyed item should hopefully be more colourfast so I thought these cones would be great to dye with.

The pine cones were quite hard so I ended up pouring boiling water over them in a bowl and soaking them for approximately 2 weeks, stirring occasionally. My aim by soaking them was to soften them enough so that dye would be extracted.

I didn’t find that much dye had been extracted in the bowl after 2 weeks, so I decided to add the water and pine cones to an aluminium pot and added more water to fully cover the pine cones. I heated them on a fairly high heat for approximately an hour and a half.

Once cooled, I sieved the pine cone dye though some cheese cloth into a bowl. I then added the concentrated dye back to the dye pot and heated again for approximately an hour and a half.

I left the dye in the pot for a couple of days before adding some wool and an organic cotton t-shirt and heated the pot up again on a gentle simmer:

When I added the wool and t-shirt, I found there was insufficient water for the t-shirt to float around in so I added some more water to hopefully get an even colour and avoid any spot staining in case it fell to the bottom of the dye pot.

After a couple of days I hung the t-shirt and wool to dry outside in the shade and here are the results:

The pine cone dye had produced a type of oat colour and I really liked the shade.

Initially I was surprised at the colour since I had read that some pines and bark produce deep browns, which these pine cones clearly didn’t do.

I also wonder if it depends on how you pre-mordant your fabric/wool. I didn’t use any mordants as such. I just pre-treated my t-shirt and wool in a soya milk/water solution several weeks before dyeing them.

I will now leave the wool and t-shirt to rest in a cupboard for at least a week before rinsing to hopefully keep the dye as colour fast as possible.

My first experiments at dyeing with Pomegranate Skins

From my natural dyeing research, I had learnt that pomegranate skins make a great, long lasting dye because they are rich in tannins.

Thankfully, I love eating pomegranate so I was really pleased that I could find a resourceful way to use the left over skins instead of just discarding them.

I decided the best thing to do would be to dry out the skins first before using them for a dye bath so I got as much of the left over pith off as best I could and left them near a window in the sunshine to dry out.

My first mistake was that I didn’t use them immediately after drying them and stored them in a plastic bag in the cupboard. A couple of weeks later when I went to use them for dyeing, I found them all soggy and covered in mould which I think resulted from not cleaning the skins properly and also storing them in a plastic bag rather than a paper one.

I now store all my natural dye materials such as onion skins, in paper bags since they take a while to collect. However, with the pomegranate skins, I’ve now decided that I will only use the skins when I know I’m going to dye with them straight away after drying them.

On my second attempt, I used them straight away (after drying them near a window in the sunshine). I used left over skins of 2 x pomegranates which equated to approximately 100g. I highly recommend a set of electronic scales for weighing your dye ingredients.

I covered the skins in an aluminium dye pot with enough water to float about and heated up the skins to a simmer for approximately an hour and a half. You’ll see from the photo below that a nice golden colour was being extracted from the skins:

Once the pot had cooled, I mashed up the skins with my hands (in rubber gloves, to prevent getting the dye all over me) and heated the pot again to try and extract some further dye. I then sieved the dye through some cheesecloth into a bowl so the skins could be discarded and heated the concentrated dye again in the pot.

I decided the first thing I wanted to dye in the pot was a 100g skein of Dorset Horn British Wool which had been pre-treated with Soya Milk rather than a traditional mordant:

I heated the wool to a simmer in the dye pot then left it to rest once the pot had cooled:

I then hung the yarn out to dry in the shade and here is the end result:

I was really happy with the golden colour the pomegranate had produced and I really look forward to knitting something with this wool once I let it rest to let the dye bond further before rinsing.

I decided that there was potentially enough dye left in my pot to enable me to dye something further.

I had never tried dyeing something further after using the dye pot for the first time in previous dyeing experiments so thought it would be great to see the results.

I decided to dye a white organic cotton t-shirt and also some mulberry silk embroidery thread which had both been pre-treated with soya milk rather than a traditional mordant.

I again heated the dye pot to a simmer and left them to rest in the pot once cooled to give further opportunity for the dye to bond with the t-shirt and thread:

The colour of the dye pot didn’t seem much different to when I had the wool in there and I was surprised as I thought it would be lighter after using for the second time. Here are the results of the t-shirt and thread after I dried them:

The colours were very similar to the wool I had dyed so I was really happy with the results!

I will definitely be using pomegranate skins again in my future dyes since I think it makes a great golden colour.

My only slight disappointment was with the mulberry silk embroidery thread which had lost it’s sheen when I had pre-treated it with soya milk. The initial sheen to the thread pre-treating unfortunately hasn’t come back after the dye process so I think I will try dyeing a further thread at some point with a tannin rich dye without the soya milk treatment first. I will report the results of this method in a future blog.

New Pattern Release – Lacy Tank Top

I’m excited to announce a new knitting pattern release today which is available to purchase in PDF format.

This lacy top which I originally designed for Knitting Magazine has been revamped for 2020!

Unfortunately the yarn I originally designed the top in has since been discontinued and I love wearing this top in the summer months so decided to create another one in a yarn which can still be purchased which knits up to the same tension as the previous yarn and has the same yarn qualities and feel.

This is a beautiful soft and delicate lace top.

I love the fact that the top only requires 1 skein for the first three sizes and 2 skeins for the last 3 sizes which means it can be made in a luxurious yarn.

The top is knitted in the round up until the armhole shaping where it is divided for the back and front.

The only sewing required is on the shoulders.

The lace pattern finishes so beautifully around the armholes and neckline that the top doesn’t require any additional edge finishing.

The knitting pattern can now be purchased direct from my shop.

My first attempt at dyeing wool using Rosemary

I recently foraged some rosemary that I found during a walk around my local area.

It was really nice to find some rosemary growing locally and something that I hadn’t noticed in my walk before until I started delving into the world of natural dyeing.

It was growing in abundance so I felt it was ok to pick some since it was less than 10% of what was there as I don’t want to disturb the balance of nature too much.

I decided I was going to dye some Southdown Aran weight wool with the rosemary. I was very keen to use the Southdown wool since it is a breed of sheep associated with Sussex, where I live.

I have purchased and used this wool before from Southdown Yarns and Louise who owns this yarn company in Sussex also dyes her yarns naturally. I highly recommend checking out her website where you can find more information if you’d like to purchase some Southdown wool that she has in some beautiful shades from her natural dyes:

https://www.southdownsyarn.co.uk

I used approximately 300g of Rosemary with a 100g skein of Southdown wool.

Rosemary contains tannins so I’m hoping it will be colour fast after dyeing the wool.

I didn’t strip the rosemary from the leaves and decided in the end to put the whole rosemary with the stems into the dye pot.

I heated them in an aluminium dye pot on quite a high heat since I felt there wasn’t much colour being extracted when I initially heated the rosemary on a low heat.

After heating, the dye was initially a green colour.

I then sieved the dye into a bowl through a cheesecloth to catch all the leaves and stems so that I was left with a concentrated dye. I decided to heat it up again in the dye pot and this time the colour turned a very dark brown.

I added the wool to the dye pot and heated again and this was the colour the dye pot showed after heating:

I left the wool in the dye pot for approximately three days to allow for the dye particles to bond with the wool.

After removing the wool from the dye pot and drying it, I was left with this colour:

I was really happy with the colour that was produced from the Rosemary. It’s a really nice tan / light brown shade. The wool also currently has a very fragrant rosemary smell which is quite nice.

I think the reason the dye changed colour from initially green to this brown was to do with the aluminium pot I used. I have read that different metal pots can give different results from the colour.

I also think the colour of the rosemary depends on the time of year it is used. The batch of rosemary I used was fresh from spring and not dried out so it would be interesting to see if I’m able to forage this rosemary again in winter time to see if that makes a different colour.

I’m going to let the wool rest for a couple of weeks before rinsing and knitting with it so hopefully it remains more colour fast.

My first couple of experiments at dyeing with Avocado Stones

From my initial natural dyeing research, I had read that dyeing with avocado skins and stones are one of the easiest things to try to dye with as a beginner, plus I really liked the peachy/pink shades that they seem to produce.

I love avocado and often eat them for lunch so thought this would be a great starting point for me.

I decided that trying to clean the avocado skins would be too messy and I was concerned about them going mouldy if I didn’t use them in time so for now, I thought I would just experiment with the stones.

At this point, I would like to highly recommend two books on natural dyeing which really helped me to try out this process.

The first one is‘ Botanical Colour at your Fingertips’ by Rebecca Desnos and the second one is ‘Dyeing with Avocado’ by Alicia Hall of Botanical Threads.

They are available digitally and you can currently buy a paper copy of the Botanical Colour at your Fingertips book directly on Rebecca Desnos’s website.

Both books describe slightly different dyeing processes and I ended up doing a bit of a combination of the two for my own experiments.

All the fabric/yarn I used was pre-treated in soya milk then left for a least a week before I attempted dyeing them.

In the first dye batch I did, I used around 6 avocado stones. I used an aluminium pot as that is meant to help the mordanting process if using soya milk.

When extracting the dye after heating it in the pot, I made my first beginners mistake of not using a large enough bowl to sieve the liquid into and because I was sieving it through cheesecloth, I didn’t notice and a lot of the dye went down the sink!

I decided not to give up and work with the dye I had managed to get into the bowl.

I dyed some Fine Loomstate Organic Cotton Muslin that I had purchased from Greenfibres and the end result was this very light peach colour:

First of all, I was happy that a colour had managed to come out on it at all considering my mistake. I was also really happy that it had dyed evenly all over so I think I had used the right size pot for a metre of fabric. The pot size I used was 36cm (14″) and had a capacity of 16L.

Here is a link to the pot I purchased for my dyeing – https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Kitchen-King-Stock-Pots-Cooking-Boiling-Pans-Deep-Catering-Stockpots-Casserole/272486475074?hash=item3f7175a542:m:m1Ce-JXOLJPGLgPurRKIK_g

I also think doing the soya milk process first to the fabric helped with the even dyeing of the fabric.

I was very excited by the whole dyeing process and was keen to try out dyeing with avocado stones again.

Next I wanted to dye with both fabric and some yarn. I had managed to save 8 avocado stones for my next dye pot. I also had a larger bowl prepared for extracting the dye so didn’t lose any of it this time.

When I had extracted the dye, I noticed that there was still some colour left to extract from the mushed stones which were left, so I re-heated all the dye with the mushed stones and repeated the whole process again.

Once I had done that, I was happy with the colour of the dye and ready to add my fabric and yarn:

After initially heating the fabric and yarn in the dye for approximately an hour and a half, I then left them in the pot for around three days.

Here is the fabric after I removed it from the dye pot and hung it outside to dry in the shade:

Here is what the fabric and yarn looked like once dry:

The yarn is 4ply Organic Lleyn Wool and the fabric is Bamboo Silk.

I was really pleased with the darker colour I managed to get on this occasion.

I’m now going to leave the yarn/fabric for a minimum of one week (to allow the dye to bond to the fabric and yarn further) before I make anything with them.

As you have probably guessed from reading this blog, you do need a lot of patience if you want to dye yarn and fabric naturally since the dyeing process can take several weeks in total from prepping the fabric to dye and the time required to dye the materials then let them rest before creating anything with them.

Since I’m a hand knitter, I feel I do have a great deal of patience when it comes to the creative process.

What I love about natural dyeing (apart from the fact it’s 100% natural without any nasty chemicals and experimenting and seeing the final colour results) is the fact I can do bits of it around other things I’m doing on a daily basis.

I can spend some time in the morning, prepping the fabric in soya milk and leaving it for a few days. I can simmer a dye pot for an hour in the evening after dinner and let it cool overnight before starting the next process.

Once you start, you’ll find there are always different parts of the process that can be done throughout the day/week that don’t actually take up a lot time.

I’m looking forward to blogging about what I will be dyeing with next.

If you would like to be updated with what I’m doing with natural dyes, please subscribe to my blog and you’ll receive notifications when I’ve uploaded a new blog.

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From Design to Reality

As a Knitwear Designer, one of the main things I love about my job is how I can create an idea in my head to a physical item.

My design process does vary for each knitting pattern I produce. Sometimes I can be inspired by a particular yarn, a photo, a stitch pattern I saw in a book or a need for a knitted item for my own personal wardrobe which I’m able to grade into various sizes and ultimately release it as a knitting pattern.

One thing I love the most in the early stages of the design is creating a design board where I place a sketch of the ideal finished item I would like to make, some yarn wrappings of what I’m going to knit with and finally, a knitted swatch of the actual design.

Today I wanted to focus on my inspiration for my Malachite Cardigan design. I think the clue is in the name of the pattern.

This pattern actually came about from initial inspiration from the yarn I had purchased from John Arbon Textiles.

They had recently released a new line of yarns called Yarnadelic, which were inspired by John Arbon’s record collection.

What is great about this yarn company (apart from the fact the yarns are produced in England) is that you’re able to purchase shade cards before buying any of the yarns. As a knitwear designer, this is great for me in helping to decide on a design and what colour palette I shall use.

I really fell in love with the shades of teal/blues in the colour range, especially the indigo dust.

The particular shades of blue I wanted to use in my design reminded me of the Malachite crystal. I’m a big lover of crystals, how they look and their healing properties.

I then expanded on the crystal properties further. You’ll see from the following photo that Malachite has a series of different shades of lines running through it:

I also have to bear in mind the construction that I would like in my design and I knew that for my cardigan design, I wanted the main body to be in stocking stitch and the cuffs, hem and neckline to be ribbed as this yarn has a tendency to curl just with stocking stitch so the rib prevented this from happening.

Here is photo of me knitting a sleeve of the sample garment using the magic loop method for the circular knitting:

I knew I wanted to somehow feature the line inspiration from the crystal into my design and eventually settled on a line pattern with the different shades of blue around the yoke:

I really liked the pop of colour that the cardigan has with this feature.

Here is the finished design:

The Malachite Cardigan Knitting Pattern can be purchased on my Ravelry page https://www.ravelry.com/designers/natalie-smart and in my Etsy https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/NatalieSmartDesigns and Folksy https://folksy.com/shops/NatalieSmartDesigns Shops.

Delving into dyeing yarns and fabrics naturally

I’ve recently taken an interest in the process of naturally dyeing yarn and fabric.

I always loved the thought of dyeing some yarns using botanical matter but the mordants used still felt a little too toxic to me for using in my kitchen. Whilst I appreciate that Alum is not the most toxic, it still wasn’t a mordant that appealed to me.

I then considered just dyeing with plants with strong tannins but feared the colour would fade quickly without mordanting it first so didn’t even experiment with that option. It also meant that I would be limited with botanical matters I could use.

After further research online, I recently discovered two amazing Natural Dye Books (Seasonal Plant Dyes by Alicia Hall and Botanical Colour At Your Fingertips by Rebecca Desnos). They both discuss using Soya Milk as a natural mordant.

The thought of using Soya Milk really appeals to me since it is completely non-toxic so I can safely use it in my kitchen.

In view of this, I now feel ready to delve into the world of natural dyeing and am very excited to see what I learn from this process.

Since I’m a complete beginner to botanical dyeing, I thought I would regularly blog about my experiments and what I’m learning through this process.

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What I’ve learnt about taking photos for my Knitting Patterns

When you’re a knitwear designer, it’s really important to try and get good photos of the knitted sample that you’ve written a knitting pattern for.

After all the hard work that goes into designing and writing the pattern, it would be such a shame if the photos let the pattern down.

Since I’ve been designing for several years, I’ve been able to review my pattern photos and assess what I’ve liked/not liked about them and where I could improve.

I find this is an ongoing process, and I can still produce photos I’m not entirely happy with, but l always hope that I can learn how to improve on taking the photos in the future with practice.

For me, one of the key things to a successful knitting pattern photo is location.

There are also other things that need to be taken into account, such as finding the right model for the item (if a garment or knitwear accessory) and also weather conditions and lighting.

As much as I wouldn’t want to have the photos taken on a rainy day, I also learnt over the years that a bright sunny day isn’t always great either so it’s getting a balance to get the best possible photo you can.

I’ve always tended to model for the photos of my knitting patterns. This was mainly because the sample garment for the patterns are normally in my size, plus I save on the cost of hiring a model for the day so it just made sense for me to do it that way.

Whilst in an ideal world you could dream of having your perfect model, a picture perfect location and an amazing, top of the range digital camera with a professional photographer, the reality is that all of this would potentially cost a small fortune before you’ve even started listing the patterns for sale.

When you’re a small business, such as mine, you need to be realistic about costs of a photo shoot and ideally try and save money where you can, since you don’t know whether the pattern you’ve designed will be popular or not.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with trying different locations and once, I even hired a professional photographer, like on this particular photo shoot for my Stem Leaf Lacey Dress pattern:

Stem Leaf Lacey Dress

Whilst I was impressed with the results of the photo shoot, I found that I didn’t sell anymore patterns than others where I hadn’t used a professional photographer.

This was an important lesson for me to learn where my business is right now. It isn’t necessarily important about the type of camera or photographer I need to use for the photo shoot.

I am quite fortunate to live near Brighton Beach, so I have a great location for taking a lot of my pattern photos. However, I do worry about my photos becoming boring if all of my photos were taken at this location (especially as the same model is normally used which is myself) and sometimes, the particular item I’ve designed doesn’t always suit the beach location.

I therefore have had to get creative over the years to find other locations to take photos of my knitwear.

For most photo shoots I tend to only need five things for the photos:

  • The knitted sample (that the knitting pattern is for)
  • Me (since I normally model most of the items)
  • A digital camera (or phone with a built in camera)
  • Somebody to take the photos
  • The right weather conditions

With regard to the camera, I did have a digital point and shoot camera, but in recent years, the camera phones have become so good, they tend to be all I need for my particular photos.

I normally get my husband to take the photos, using his latest iPhone camera.

Some good locations over the years that I’ve found for taking photos is when I’m abroad on holiday. A few years ago, I visited an Ice Hotel in North Sweden which provided an amazing back drop for taking photos of the sample garment for my Textured Yoke Top knitting pattern:

Textured Yoke Top

This photo was taken by my husband using the camera on his mobile phone.

In Autumn last year, I had re-knitted a sample garment for my Cable Dress knitting pattern since this is a pattern that has always proved quite popular. The yarn I originally designed it in was unfortunately discontinued. I had also loved the original sample garment so much that I wore it until it practically fell apart so wanted to knit another one to be able to wear. I therefore knew it would be a perfect time to re-knit and re-write the pattern with a current yarn that is still for sale.

Also, I was really keen on re-doing the photos since the original photos were taken a few years ago when I was new to knitwear designing and pretty clueless about how to take photos. I think what made the pattern really popular was that my husband had taken a photo of a close up of the cable pattern detail on the front chest area which was quite striking:

Cable Dress Version 1

However, I didn’t feel the rest of the photos taken were particularly great like these ones, as we had just taken them against a white wall in my living room:

I knew for the updated pattern, that I wanted the photos to be taken outdoors on a fairly sunny day.

This brings me to the next important lesson I’ve learnt on taken pattern photos which is PATIENCE.

When I’ve knitted a sample garment, I’m always really excited by the finished product and am keen to get the photos taken and the pattern listed asap!

However, in the past when I’ve rushed this process, I’ve ended up with poor photos that I’ve either had to discard and retake them or had to accept them for what they are and edit them the best I can.

Once I had finished the Cable Dress sample garment in Autumn, I had to be ‘patient’ and carefully plan where I was going to have the photos taken for this truly amazing dress. I wanted to do it justice!

I knew in December, I would be flying somewhere warm for some winter sun just before Christmas so decided this may be the perfect opportunity to take photos of the dress.

I also think it’s better for my husband (who takes the majority of the photos) as he is more relaxed on holiday and not frantically rushing around his really busy job to take time out to take photos for me.

We went away to Tenerife for a week and it was a really nice temperature at that time of year for wearing a knitted dress as it wasn’t too hot.

Here are some of the photos taken in Tenerife:

I was really happy with these photos and was thankful that I had waited for the right location rather than just rush about taking the photos anywhere since I don’t think they would have turned out as nice.

I liked the rockery area in Tenerife where we took a majority of the photos. There was some cloud in the sky so the photos weren’t too bright. This means I got the knitted detail I wanted to show in the dress.

Recently, I decided to take some photos myself of a free knitting pattern I listed called the Ribbed Scarf.

Since it was a knitted accessory, this was an easier photo to take by myself rather than a garment I would have had to model.

I initially took a photo of the scarf which I laid out nicely on the beach where I live:

Ribbed Scarf

I don’t normally do ‘selfies’ but I decided to do one for this scarf pattern:

Ribbed Scarf

I thought these photos were good enough for the pattern so used them.

I’m currently working on some new designs that I’ll be releasing this year which is very exciting!

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Getting creative with left over yarn

When I purchase yarn for a new design I’m working on, I always tend to buy a couple of balls more than what I need for the actual sample garment.

There are several reasons for this. Sometimes it’s because I require the additional yarn to swatch the stitch patterns I want to use in the design. Another reason is that I may decide midway through the design that I want to change it slightly, such as making the sleeves longer which will require more yarn.

Another reason is making sure I have enough yarn in the same dye lot in case I find I run out near the end of making the sample pattern, where I may not be able to obtain the same dye lot again and I therefore risk a variation of colour in the finished garment.

I was recently working on a sweater design and on completion of the sample garment, I had 2 x 50g balls left over in two colours (the sweater was a coloured striped pattern). Part of the garment being knitted, is featured in the cover photo of this blog post.

This yarn by CaMaRose is so soft and scrumptious that I didn’t want to see those left over balls of merino yarn go to waste.

I therefore got creative and worked out that there was enough in the meterage of these left over balls to knit a scarf.

I absolutely love wearing scarfs throughout the winter and sometimes I also make them for other people as gifts.

I decided to keep this scarf for myself as I really love the colours which will go with a lot of my clothes and it is so soft against my skin.

I decided to do a rib design and created wide coloured stripes instead of the thinner stripes that I had created in the original sweater this yarn had been used for.

Here is the finished scarf:

I made this scarf design into a free pattern which can be downloaded on the ‘Free Patterns’ section of my website so check it out.

Happy knitting everyone x

Free Knitting Patterns

I have another exciting update to my website where I’ll be listing some of my knitting patterns for free.

My aim is to regularly design some free knitting patterns alongside the ones I currently sell in my shop.

Please follow me on instagram, facebook or subscribe to receive updates on when I’ve listed new patterns.