Monday, 17 July 2017

Solar Dying with kids in the British Summer Holidays

We just got back from the Wild Weekend at Avon Heath country park, where I spent two busy days teaching knitting, spinning and chatting with visitors. I mentioned to numerous interested parents that Solar Dying was a safe option for kids. SO I thought I had better write a post on it!

Equipment You will need

  1. A glass jar with a lid (coffee jars are perfect for this)
  2. Dye plants (see list of suggestions further down)
  3. A rusty nail
  4. Vinegar
  5. Water
  6. A loose skein of wool or some roving or fleece (must be a plant or animal fibre)
 Once you have collected some dye plants, smush them with a spoon or break them into pieces. Add about 4 tablespoons of vinegar (this doesn't have to be too precise) and fill the jar about 3/4 s full of water, drop in your rusty nail. Add half your dye plant stir and pop your wool in on top then add the other half of your dye plant. You can even layer different dye plants and your skein of wool to create multicoloured yarns (although results for this can be variable as the colours will leach into each other with time) Put the lid on and find a sunny spot to place your jar in the garden, windowsill or if you have one the greenhouse. let the sun work its magic for as long as you can but at least 2 weeks, you can check on the progress of your jar to see how strong the dye is. This is a great project for over the summer holidays. The hotter the sun and the longer you leave it the stronger the dye. Once you are happy remove your wool and place it on a clean surface like a plant tray to dry out over night (if left a long time these can get smelly so its probably best to do this outside on a good day. The next day give it a rinse in some cool water to remove any debris or pieces of dye plant stuck to the wool! hang it up to dry and and enjoy your solar dyed yarn, perhaps have a go at weaving it between some sticks or for older kids knitting, crochet or braiding. You could even make a pin loom from an old small wooden picture frame and more nails and weave some squares.
Blackberry dye results from the dye jar

Ideas for dye plants that are easy to find (although it is fun to encourage the kids to choose plants based on what they know stains and what colour they think it will make) :
Onion skins
Marigold flowers
Avacado seeds
Red cabbage
Oak bark

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Real Wool Vs Acrylic yarn

You might be a lover of acrylic or a lover of wool, wool lovers often get labelled 'Yarn Snobs' So I want to outline some of the reasons it pays to be a yarn snob!

  1. Wool is better for the environment in so many ways you could almost write a university thesis on it.... there's the impact of acrylic fibres on our oceans (in a scandle so huge it makes microbeads seem insignificant!). There is also the impact of the sheep on land management, they promote biodiversity through selective grazing and plant fertilisation. No grown crop even hemp can boast that!
  2. Wool is an excellent moisture regulator, it helps keep the moisture levels of the skin just right pure merino underwear is now often recommended for eczma sufferers as it helps maintain a healthy skin balance Determining Effects of Superfine Sheep wool in Infantile Eczema
  3. Wool is an excellent thermoregulator, (thanks to the structure of the hair!) those phosphor bonds work just the same as the phosphor bonds in our own hair. The only thing different between wool and our own hair (which are both made from keratin and contain disulphide bonds which control the level of curl) is the thickness of each strand the smoothness of the keratin scales, the level of curl and the length of the fibres and also the amount produced.
    A Human hair

    Different fibres commonly used for knitting
  4. Wool is good for so many crafts those disulphide bonds I mentioned mean with heat (like when you curl or straighten your hair) you can change the shape of the fibre, and as long as the heat is below a certain temperature it will spring back to its original shape! Or you can deliberately felt the wool using friction with some heat to help it on its way (a bit like when creating dreadlocks in hair)
  5. Cost... but real wool is more expensive I hear you cry! When you look at the cost of purchasing an acrylic sweater in a high street sweater (or in my case charity shop) vs the cost of buying a few balls of acrylic yarn, knitting the sweater yourself doesn't give much of a saving compared to the length of time you put in. But when you look at the cost of buying some real wool and knitting a sweater compared to the cost of buying a pure wool sweater from the high street (or even from a charity shop) you will often find you make a saving. Both sweaters will take you the same length of time but one will give you more of a saving over buying than the other.
  6. But what about washing..... many pure wools can go in the washing machine on a gentle 30c wool wash without shrinking  or felting, not all sheep breeds felt as easily. Or soaked in a no rinse wool wash for 15 minutes rolled in a towel and laid out to dry they will dry quite quickly. Acrylic also really benefits from the same treatment as plastic melts and stretches at high temperatures, leaving your beautifully knit sweater stringy and out of shape, not to mention shedding huge amounts of fibre into the wash. You can also iron a wool jumper, an acrylic one is more likely to melt

Thursday, 27 April 2017

How not to become a moth or dust mite farmer!

Whether you have wool sweaters, balls of wool, roving or fleece its important to store and protect it properly. The two biggest enemies of wool in the UK are moths and dust mites. While moths damage the wool a dust mite infestation will lead you sniffing and sneezing and worse. So here are my top tips for protecting and storing your wool


Tineola bisselliella the wool moth or carpet moth larvae will feed on anything from wool, silk, and sometimes cotton. The adults lay the eggs the larvae hatch and they will nibble holes in your yarn, and clothes or feed on your fleece and roving.

Lavender is a great moth deterrent use lavender bags in drawers, wash clothes to remove the tiny eggs and try not leave your wool in storage. My own recipe no rinse wool wash available in my etsy shop RockfordRose  Aunty Emmas no rinse wool wash  also contains lavender and eucalyptus which helps deter moths (and smells rather lovely!)

Cedar blocks can help or for your yarn, fleece and roving you could keep it in a cedar chest, or you could just endeavour to knit it all before  you get a problem. I also use my wool wash when preparing my roving and find this a big help.

Dust mites

Dust mites feed on skin cells partially broken down by mold.... yes its a lovely thought! It is the dust mite poop that causes allergic reactions runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing. Dust mites need humidity and warm temperatures to survive ( carpets on concrete flooring are the perfect place).

For clothing regular washing and drying on the line will help reduce the amount of skin on the clothing for them to feed on. UV from the sun also kills dust mites helping control their population (although it does not remove the dust mite poop). Make sure the clothes are bone dry before putting them away, warm humid airing cupboards are perfect for dust mites.

To avoid turning your fleece and roving into a dust mite farm, there are a few simple rules you can follow, buy fresh fleece, wash it and prepare it immediately (I recommend soaking in ecover as a great fleece wash for raw fleece) , this helps reduce the amount of dust mould etc for the mites to feed on. Always dry your fresh washed wool fleece in the sun. Buy your fleece as fresh as possible many farms in the UK start shearing in May so this is the perfect time to buy fleece. Another option if you cant prepare your wool immediately is to freeze it, although unless you want to run a chest freezer just to keep your sheep fleece fresh this is not an option for most!). 

Never store fleece or roving in plastic as this will increase the humidity and be perfect for dust mites, store it in pillow cases or small amounts in paper bags and cardboard boxes. When preparing your fleece make sure it has dried thoroughly in the sun (the sun also does a wonderful job of killing some bacteria and mould spores) before putting it into storage. My last piece of advice is to get on and use the fleece and roving once you have prepared it, don't keep it hanging around, it will only gather dust!