Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Monday, September 24, 2012

Three months to go

Have you seen the date?

So now, it’s all about the Christmas knitting; in the midst of my stashdowning attempts, I got inspired to knit cowls for some of my cousins, amigurumi critters for the kids in the family, socks for my dad and a scarf or shawl for my mum, hats, ...
And then there’s the regular autumn knitting: socks, gloves, scarves, hats for the boys & myself.
Oh, and this morning I happened upon a ‘what are you knitting?’- thread on the aplayfulday podcast group on Ravelry – and I had to look, and now I have to cast on a Georgia cardigan. And a Fuse. And there’s still the Owls sweater lurking – everybody else is making it, so I’m feeling a bit left out. A bit.
I didn’t spend much more than about an hour, though – did I? – browsing through cardigan patterns and my stash to try to combine elements from the two ... finally, it hit me that I have quite a bit of Arwetta in the Perfect Storm colourway that I used for the Bigger on the Inside shawl and that I was halfway planning to use for socks and gloves – I don’t have enough for the Georgia, but I can get some more. And the colours in it – ‘serious and kinda spooky’ – go well with the darker-than-planned blue I’m using for the Carnaby skirt. So, a matching skirt and cardigan ...

Okay, deep breaths.
A list or two might help.

Finished objects:
  • I did finish my Bibliophile socks, and I like them, and they’ll keep my feet nice & warm.
  • The second Fibonacci scarf for Thomas is done and about to be blocked.

Works in progress:
  • I picked up the Regrowth shawl that had snoozed for two months, ever since I realised that I couldn’t finish it in time for the wedding in July. I’m almost done tinking the rows in blue, so that I can do all of the edge (again) in purple; it will be my Christmas shawl.
  • A Carnaby skirt: I dyed a bunch of aran weight wool with a gold thread in it for a dark blue skirt; the yarn was left in the dye pot a bit too long and came out somewhat darker than I had planned for. But hey, it’s a design feature :o) And a skirt can be dark. It’s slimming, right?
  • Still working on the Hitchhiker: it’s my knitting for reading right now.

Soon to be cast on:
  • Cowls for cousins for Christmas: four cowls for the female ones (how does English manage with a genderless word?!) and a hat, I think, for the boy/young man. I have my eye on the Windschief by Stephen West.
  • Watson socks for Victor, as soon as the newly dyed sock yarn is quite dry.
  • A shawl for my mum for Christmas, again as soon as the yarn is dry. This warrants a comment: having a 100 gram / 420 meter skein, I looked for a pattern in Sock Yarn One Skein Wonders and found the Celeste shawl. Pretty. I then looked it up on Ravelry to put it in my queue; browsing through the project gallery, I soon found that a lot of knitters had run out of yarn, omitted sections, or used more yarn than called for. Problem. Since my yarn is hand-dyed specifically for this purpose, I can’t just get more – and anyway, I shouldn’t have to. One Skein Wonders, people. So I found another shawl in the same book, the Wisteria Arbor, and checked to make sure that it can actually be done with one skein. Thank the stars for Ravelry!
  • The Georgia cardigan ... my fingers are itching for this one.

I have more knitting plans, of course, but I’ll save those for next time, otherwise I’ll be mentioning the same projects week after week after week :o)

So now you’ll have to excuse me, I’m going to go knit.
Happy knitting!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Colours from Nature

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket. This time, it’s all about colour and dyeing and really not much else; I’m trying out a new format with shorter, more to-the-point posts. So, get your hot drink – at least if you’re anywhere near here – put up your feet, and let’s talk about colour!

These past couple of weeks, I’ve been dyeing. I work with natural colours, dyestuffs from plants. I enjoy the rather laborious process of soaking, mordanting, and dyeing, the gradual revealing of the colours lurking inside and the way they connect with the fibres.
Cooking up a pot of copper mordant ...

I am still quite a newbie: I tried some dyestuffs out last autumn, and then the weather turned cold, and I injured my shoulder, which took the fun out of lugging big pots of water and long, wet skeins of wool around. And my dye studio (heh) is in the bike shed, which makes for a very nicely ventilated work space – very important – but also not a warm place to hang out in winter. So, anyway, I came back to it all recently: I’m rediscovering things I learnt last year and learning new things, too.

Most of the dyestuffs I use come from far away, and I get them over the internet: logwood and fustic from American trees, madder root from Turkey, I think, indigo powder (which I haven’t tried yet).
Walnut husks on the boil
But I have also this time worked with walnut husks, saved from the nut orgies of last Christmas; oak leaves from the trees surrounding our little garden; and I’m saving up onion skins. I even chose St. John’s Wort for the flower bed – but it will be a while before they grow flowers enough to be useful in any way. I have seeds for woad that I had planned to grow and use this summer (stupid shoulder); maybe next year.

Dyeing with plant dyes is a days-long process; the fibres usually need to be prepared to better soak up the dye, and the plant bits themselves need soaking or steeping to draw out the dye. So day 1 is putting the say, skeins of yarn in water to soak overnight. Day 2 is mordanting the yarn and soaking the dye materials. Day 3 is finally dyeing – and depending on what you’re using, day 4 (or even day 5) may be taking the yarn out of the dye pot after steeping overnight.
Logwood on alum

Logwood on copper
Some dyestuffs yield deep, saturated colours with very little prompting: logwood is one of my favourites, also because I get lovely purples and blues from it. And I looove purple ... and blue.

Other materials, like oak leaves, need soaking, boiling, and steeping and then boiling and steeping of the fibres in the dye solution. But the end result is very satisfying: I got a rich, light brown colour on wool yarn from leaves that I had picked myself. Very nice.
Oak leaves on alum
And you get the distinct aromas from cooking wood chips or leaves: oak leaves give off that rich tannin scent that reminds me of strong black tea, while fustic smells a bit like liquorice root; it makes the whole process resemble cooking even more :o)

Cool mordanting with alum

Mordanting with copper

Mordanting is soaking or simmering the fibres in a solution of a metal salt, often alum or copper sulfate. You can use iron or tin or chrome; I avoid the heavy metals for health and environmental reasons, and iron is better used as a modifier after dyeing, since it can weaken wool fibres. 
Your choice of mordant affects the colour you get; using logwood, I get purple with alum and navy blue with copper. Madder produces a red-orange on alum and brown on copper. The brown colours from walnut or oak tend to be darker on copper.

Madder dyed yarn, partially overdyed
with walnut
About 20 kilometres from here lies Hvolris, an Iron Age dwelling site. Three houses have been constructed, a smithy, sheep in the hills, and a museum shop. Several times a year they have activities, open weekends, markets and fairs, with re-enacting people in Iron Age, Viking or Medieval garments staying at the site. The first weekend in September is such a re-enactment weekend; the site is divided into areas according to time period, and everybody there live in their tents, cook – and dye – over open fires, and sell their wares.
Being a historical re-enacter means that there are dyestuffs you are not ‘allowed’ to use, at least if you belong to the earlier ages. The Mediaeval people sometimes choose to be late Mediaeval to get to use logwood and cochenille imported from the Americas :o)
I go round to chat to some of the dyers, look at the colours and gather tips. Most people are very helpful and do not mind divulging their ‘trade secrets’; after all, it’s not like me knowing which dyes someone has used means that I can go home and exactly replicate their yarn.
One lady I talked to this time had produced a stunning green on wool. Now, you may think that green is easy – I mean, look around, green is everywhere, right? Not so. The green leaves on trees and bushes will produce colour – yellows and browns. I have seen an eye-wateringly bright yellow made with birch leaves (gotta try that next spring!), and my own oak leaves gave me brown, as mentioned. Usually, you have to first do the yellow and then overdye with indigo to get a proper green; which, incidentally, is why the Robin Hood stories keep talking about the Lincoln green garments of the Merry Men. The concept of camouflage clothing: green in the forest, was not invented. The complicated dye process as well as the expensive blue ingredient meant that only the rich could afford to wear green; so we are reminded that Robin of Locksley comes from the upper echelons of society.
But I digress: this lady had produced her lovely green from reed flowers, on alum-mordanted wool. So, it can be done. At least in the part of the country where she has her summer house: the quality of the water influences the colour results, as well. Levels of acidity or alkalinity, mineral content, etc. all play their part in the process. I have talked with Iron Age re-enacters who get better or at least different colours in Hvolris and at home. Some prefer rain water to tap water – which reminds me, I did think about getting a rain watergathering thingy. Hmm, I could have gotten a lot of water with this rain we’re having ... but, well, it might rain again.

As always, I turn to the books to learn about something new; these are my go-to books for dyeing, as well as a couple of more essayistic works on colour:

Dean, Jenny Colours from Nature Search Press 2011
Dean, Jenny Wild Colour Octopus 2010
Dean, Jenny Craft of Natural Dyeing Search Press 2011
Lambert, Eva & Tracy Kendall Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing Search Press 2011

Balfour-Paul, Jenny Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans The British Museum Press 2011
Finlay, Victoria Colour. Travels through the Paintbox Hodder & Stoughton 2002

That’s it for this time – I will be back with more, including updates on my knitting. For now: thank you for stopping by, have a great weekend, and
Happy knitting!

Monday, September 17, 2012


Hello, everybody, and welcome once again! If you’re a new reader: come on in, pull up a chair and relax for a bit. If you’ve been reading this for a while: I am so sorry for my silence; I have a cold that doesn’t really want to let go. And of course it started right when I was embarking on one of those crazy weeks where everything happens all at the same time.
So, I have so much to tell you about just to catch up!
I’m writing this on Saturday morning; the boys won’t be up for a while, probably, so I have a bit of time to myself.

In late August and early September, the weather turns slightly; there is a new crispness in the air, a first hint of autumn. You feel invigorated, ready to think and work again after the warm laziness of summer. I really love this period, which, let’s face it, is usually rather short, before the real autumn weather sets in.
There is a beautiful song written about exactly this crisp September weather: Septembers himmel er så blå or Blue is the September sky. The song has a lot of colour imagery, from the blue sky with its shining white clouds, over yellow corn fields, red apples and other fruits: ‘the rowan stands red and the sloe is blue, and purple-black stands the elder’. We have a celebration of all the richness of autumn, in colour and in the products of nature; and a premonition of the deep autumn and winter to come. Of course there is an allegory to life, in which you need to not just be a summer flower that withers away, but to mature and bear fruit, the red heart of the rosehip.
The poet who wrote this lovely song was Alex Garff (1904-1977), who was also a translator and a teacher; he taught my mother at her gymnasium (Aurehøj) and at Randers Statsskole, where I used to teach. Small world, this country.

Well, we did have some of this glorious September weather, and then it decided to skip straight to October. So no more white clouds on a blue sky, now it’s all grey and raining and windy and ... sorry, I’ll stop here. I’m feeling a bit under the weather, so to speak, my throat is sore, and – oh, a ray of sunlight! Literally. And, of course, it helps mood-wise, too. Though my big plans for today are still knitting and watching X-Files. Again. But, hey, Mulder – need I say more?

Anyway, catching up: what have I been up to these past two weeks?
Well, I did go to the craft exhibition on Saturday 1st, as announced. Hmm, not really my thing. There were lots of ceramics, some jewellery, a bit of felting and watercolour, some rather odd-looking clothes, more ceramics and some knitting. All done by local female crafters and artists. But again, not really my style; and I wasn’t out to buy ceramic cats or knitted items or jewellery, although I did see a couple of silver pieces that I liked. And again, there is the issue of pricing on handcrafted items. I am the last person to question prices on handknits, I know how many hours go into them; but I did see a row of scarves in different colours, made from what looked like a skein or two each of loopy mohair. Price: 600 DKK. That’s about 80 Euros. For a scarf that’s probably soft and warm, but looks like a newbie knitter took over halfway through to give it that unintentional-yarnover-holes look.
Of course, as a knitter I can be all haughty and think ‘I could make that, and much nicer, too.’ And I did think that it looks like an easy way to make money. Except I know I would go nuts knitting the same project over and over again – and it would feel like prostitution.

So all in all, I didn’t spend much time, or any money, at this sales exhibition. I’ll have to find another way to help. It wasn’t a complete waste, though: it is a distance of about 4 kilometres each way, on my bike, in the lovely crisp September sunshine.

And on the same day, I actually went to see a movie. I don’t go to the cinema that often, usually only the boys and I need to go see something that cannot wait, like Harry Potter or James Bond, or when there are free tickets involved ...
So, one day I came across a quiz in a history magazine newsletter, entering to win two movie tickets. I’m not one of those people who win stuff, but I thought I might as well try it; at least I could spend a few minutes exercising my brain. And then, all of a sudden, an envelope arrived with two free tickets for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So, an outing was planned. Andreas didn’t want to go – he doesn’t really do cinemas, though he did say he may want to go to the new James Bond. Well, he does have Asperger’s, so it can’t be a surprise to anybody that he prefers to watch movies by himself on his humongous computer screen rather than going out among a lot of strangers.
And watching dvd’s does have its advantages: you can keep on some light to knit, so you aren’t limited to vanilla socks, there are fewer people chatting away around you – and you can opt out of subtitles. Victor usually likes having English subtitles on, and so we do that at home; but at the cinema, everybody is stuck with Danish subtitles that are at best a distraction, but way too often riddled with mistakes. An example: in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in the tale of the three brothers, Death cuts off a branch of an elder tree to fashion a wand. This is translated correctly – elder is ‘hyld’ in Danish – fine. In literally the next frame, the Elder Wand is translated as ‘Ældrestaven’, as if elder is the same as older. See what I mean?

Anyway, enough with the ranting. Thomas, Victor and I drove to Aalborg, because that was the nearest cinema still showing this film. We had the GPS on for the last bit of driving into the city and set it to be ‘Werner’. So we had a male voice telling us (me, of course) what to do in the next Kreisverkehr: roundabouts a quite the fashion in Danish traffic planning, I have no idea why.
The film operates on the premise that the beloved American president Abraham Lincoln spent his youth, before he went into politics, hunting vampires – with an axe. Of course, he has to get his axe back out later in life, during the Civil War, and there is a tie-in with the Abolition, as well. I’ll say no more, no spoilers here. As an example of the history-cum-monsters genre, I think it works quite well; the additions to the ‘real’ history make sense in their own way, and as far as I could tell, they haven’t butchered the facts too much. Apart from ignoring all of Lincoln’s children but one, that is.
And the ageing makeup is brilliantly done. We follow Lincoln and his wife and closest friends from their youth until 1865, and they age gradually and convincingly. At first I found Benjamin Walker an odd choice, but he comes to really look the part. At some point I thought ‘Lincoln’ resembles Liam Neeson – who was actually considered for the role in the ‘proper’ Lincoln film with Daniel Day-Lewis.
Several days in advance, I started considering what knitting to bring: I had my vanilla sock project, but they were supposed to be knitting for reading, not for watching movies. On the other hand, I do want to get them done. I brought them anyway after having quickly finished the heel on the first one, and did most of the leg during the movie. And I didn’t even drop a stitch, though it was a close call the first time a vampire jumped out of the dark :o)

So, that was pretty much the weekend; I woke up on Sunday with a cold. Great.
And then the week jumped me: two meetings on Tuesday; on Wednesday, I went to see my physiotherapist to watch the tape (file) of me running on a treadmill that he had made the week before (the recording, not the treadmill). I have struggled somewhat with peroneal tendonitis and achilles tendonitis, both on the right side, so we needed to find out if my running style is wonky and puts undue strain on my right leg. It isn’t, luckily. He told me that my running looks good; and while it’s always nice to get a compliment, it’s even better to get a positive professional evaluation.

Wednesday evening, my sister held a Tupperware party. No, please don’t facepalm, I’ve already had to endure the ridicule from three teenage boys! Victor promptly went to Wikipedia and found a picture of 60’s ladies with the upswept hair and the skirt suits, pearls and high heels. Yeah, that’s likely to be me anytime soon!


Picking up again Sunday morning; my brain refused to make more words at some point, and it all dissolved into X-Files. And brainless knitting.

Anyway, Tupperware: this was my first such event, my sister’s first as the hostess; so now, we are truly grown up :o)
I drove up there with my mother, who has done these things before; in fact, all of the Tupperware that I have, I have from her. Luckily, it was a small party, just the three of us, the Tupperware lady, and – surprise – our cousin and her ... step-sister-in-law? The wife of the son of the widow of my uncle. Never mind, it was a nice little gathering, I got to chat with people I don’t see all that often – and I made my very first Tupperware shopping.

This had to be the week, of course, when Thomas’ laptop turned pink. Or at least, the screen did, with the picture scrolling and bouncing – quite Hello Kitty on acid. Not very useful for school work. Not surprisingly, he could get a new and better laptop for the price of a repair or replacement of the screen on the ‘old’ one (he’s had it for more than three years); so after borrowing a notebook from my dad for a couple of days while waiting, he got the new one.

It makes me feel quite old sometimes, realising how dependent kids are on these devices. I don’t mean this in any disparaging way, it’s only a matter of how things change. When I finished school in 1990, you could apply to use one of the school’s few electric typewriters for the written exams. The normal thing was writing by hand. IT was an elective subject; I took it in 9th grade, all the way back in 1987. We learned to make simple programs in DOS. Really.
Now, you cannot get through school without a computer; IT is by law integrated into every aspect of education – and entertainment, and social life, and ...

Don’t get me wrong, I love my laptop and use it every day – when it got water spilled on it and went black, I was teetering on the edge of despair for the couple of days it was drying out, even though Andreas assured me that the hard drive was dry, and my data thus would be intact.

On Friday, I went with Andreas to get a new passport; he needs it for our trip to Nottingham in November (more about that another time), and I need his passport number to book plane tickets; and since he’s away at school all day except every other Friday, we had to go that day. Luckily, that all went very fast; everything is digitalised, even the photo: you go to the photographer, have a picture taken, and they send it directly to the passport office. No waiting around for developing, no cutting out from paper. All they need is your cpr-number; in Denmark, everybody is issued at birth with a number in the Central Person Register, your date of birth in six digits and four personal digits that end with an even number for females and an uneven for males. At first, this number was supposed to be more or less secret, used only by government offices and such; nowadays, you need it everywhere: in every form of health facility, in employment and financial matters, banking and tax-paying. All of your personal information is stored using that number – and in theory, or maybe only in science fiction, accessible to cross-referencing between separate registers.

Sorry, this is turning into a quite an orwellian digression. What I wanted to say was that the speed of the whole operation was essential because this was also the weekend of the big craft exhibition, and I was meeting my sister there on the Friday.
My mum came along, too, and they made a first round of the whole thing while I was doing the official business; after that, she went home, and my sister and I looked at the knitting and other stuff ...

This is the largest craft exhibition in the country; people come in tour buses to visit the 140 or so stalls showing yarn & fleece, knitting & crocheting, felting, spinning, sewing, quilting, embroidery, beads & jewellery making, paper cutting & stationery, wood work, dolls from dried apples (don’t ask me why), knives, honey, Christmas stuff, glass work, ...

The gender profile of the event is dominantly female; the age profile leans towards the elderly. You could probably count on one hand the number of men under the age of sixty to set foot in those two halls the whole weekend.

We did some shopping: honey, mustard, mead, tea, all yummy treats; I bought some lovely beads for stitch markers. My sister bought some yarn. 
I was all the time thinking that I have quite a stash and that if I was going to buy yarn, it would have to be for dyeing. So, no yarn shopping for me. Shocking, isn’t it?


Last instalment Monday morning: the boys are all at school, I’m feeling better today, so let’s get this show on the road.

I do want to tell you about the dyeing I have been doing, and an outing last Saturday during the crazy week – but I’ll write a post more or less devoted to that; this is getting long enough already, and I don’t want you to get all cross-eyed from staring at the screen for too long :o)
So, later this week there will be colours from nature ...

The Knitting:
Since I haven’t posted for so long, I have several finished projects: the Damson for my cousin’s wife, and the Creekbed for him. I still need to block the Creekbed, and then I can send off some woolly hugs.

The TARDIS mitts to go with the cowl are done, as well, and the pattern posted on Ravelry. Another free download :o)

And I made a scarf for Victor. He had a cold, and I realised his only scarf was a store bought acrylic one. How shameful! Something had to be done. The lovely soft Angora Silk Tweed in denim blue that I still had loads of would come in handy here.
Now, how to choose a scarf pattern for a 14-yr old boy? I did a search on Ravelry, obviously (heh), and got the reply: ‘Not one of the silly ones.’ Sorry about that, Stephen West – I still like your things! He settled on the Fibonacci scarf by Rachel Tatman, a free Ravelry download, which is always a good thing. The scarf is knitted in a simple rib with a bit of geekery, in one colour. The ribbing goes like a Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, ... so k1, p1, k2, p3, k5, p8, k5, p3, k2, p1, k1. A quick & easy knit, aka mind-numbingly monotonous, which suited my febrile brain just fine. I cast on Friday around midday and cast off Saturday evening. Done, as Gordon Ramsay would say.

During the endless repeats of the same two rows I thought about doing a similar sequence in the other direction, casting on something like 300 stitches and knitting the scarf lengthwise, like the Creekbed. Hmm, there may be another scarf coming up ...

And speaking of easy knits: the blue scarf had pushed in front of it another project that I’ve been wanting to cast on – a Hitchhiker. Yes, I’m going with the crowd. That’s okay sometimes. The Hitchhiker is a triangular, rather elongated scarf with a saw tooth edge on one leg; if you make it with a 150 gram skein of sock yarn, you get – yes, you got it right first time: 42 teeth. It has 6937 projects on Ravelry, which makes it no. 25 on the ‘most projects’ list.

A couple of weeks ago I was out walking in the evening, feeling a bit cold, and listening to the Twinneedle podcast. Tini was talking about knitting a Hitchhiker, so of course I imagined myself wearing one; I even knew which yarn I wanted to use for it. The multi-coloured Bibliophile sock project has been lying around next to or on top of purple things and sometimes in a purple project bag – so I have noticed that the colours in the yarn go well with purple. Both my summer jacket and my winter coat are purple ... see where I’m going with this? I have five balls of the yarn in the same colourway, bought on a whim and a bargain, and the socks will use up less than a ball and a half. I can easily use three balls for a scarf, and maybe even have enough left for a pair of gloves. We’ll see. So, Saturday evening I cast on a Hitchhiker; I did the first two teeth 4 times before I was satisfied with both the increases and the edges: the kfb’s in the pattern made for a very knotty edge, and doing yo’s instead made it all way too slouchy. It didn’t help, either, that I misunderstood the instructions for the tooth cast-off. I’m blaming the fever for that. And maybe the gin. Anyway, after consulting the German version of the pattern and deciding to do pick-up increases just inside the edge stitch and twisted slips of the edge stitches themselves, I got it right; and all of a sudden I had ten teeth done.

So, instead of finishing my socks, that I really want to be finished, I made a scarf for Victor and cast on for another one for me. And I did cast on for a lengthways Fibonacci scarf for Thomas, and I’m considering entering the Shinybees KAL for squares for African AIDS orphans ...

It’s all simple knitting right now; my plans for a top down cardigan are simmering, but that is going to need more brainpower than I have available at the moment.

That’s all for now – I hope you have a very good week with just the right amount of knitting and not too awful weather :o)
I will be back with colourful updates, till then:
Happy knitting!