La chanson du hérisson / The hedgehog song

La chanson du hérisson takes me right back to my childhood, it’s a sweet song from a French children musical: Emilie Jolie (1979)… It tells the story of a little hedgehog who’s really sad because no-one wants to stroke him because he is too prickly… until Emily comes around and saves him. I quite like this sweet cover version:

But beyond the fondness for the prickly beasty and the song, I have a good reason for mentioning hedgehogs here. A little while back, I took part in a contest on Ysolda Teague‘s blog and went on a hunt for hedgehogs in her photos. I counted all her little hedgehogs and for the first time ever, I won a prize: Yipppeee!

It was not only the Smith pattern, which produces the cutest little hedgehog, but also the wee mushrooms one, to create a small habitat for Smith… I was wondering what yarns I’d use, but then remembered that one of my aims for this year was to knit more with my own handspun. And the small amounts of yarn required for these two patterns are ideal for using some of those sample skeins I keep doing to try out different methods of drafting or plying…

White merino and Brown Blue-Faced Leicester, navajo plied on the fly.

I have been trying to practice spinning consistently thickish lately and I still have quite a bit of Bluefaced Leicester in a yummy humbuggy brown, which is slightly felted (shouldn’t have carried it around in a plastic bag for ages). I was finding it a bit easier to spin the BFL thick than the merino, I spun a few yards of each and turned them into a cute practice mushroom.

The pattern is really clever and uses a completely flat cast-on to provide a good base, and you then stack pennies at the bottom of the stalk before stuffing it so it can stand on its own: genius!

As soon as I was done I realised I couldn’t really just stop there… Navajo ply on the fly on the spindle is like magic: you have fibre in one hand and finished 3 ply yarn in the other. Before I knew it (and before the yarn had even been finished) I had started knitting a Smith in the same combination of yarns. Here he was in Paris discovering the world before I gave it to a friend for her baby son…

Since I’d forgotten my wee mushroom in my English home, Smith and the wee mushroom never actually met… I still have a very dark brown in unprepped Black Welsh Mountain which would make lovely hedgehog spikes… This mushroom definitely needs a hedgehog to go with it… can you see where this is going?

Oh and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but as soon as I wrote the title of this post it struck me how the two languages yield two very different sets of associations. The Hedgehog song might be familiar to Terry Pratchett fans: it is the mysterious rude song which Nanny Ogg seems to regularly break into singing when drunk. Its lyrics are never disclosed, to my knowledge at least, but it never fails to offend the people around her at the time.

I like the contrast between the sweet children song La chanson du hérisson, and a good bout of sweariness…

PS: I’m not done with the natural dyeing posts yet, just need to finish writing up the last two types of natural dyeing we did…


Natural Dyeing Take 3: Black Beans

Having seen some pretty amazing pictures on Ravelry, where a whole thread is devoted to the colour variations obtained with black beans, I have wanted to experiment with those for a few months now. So I was particularly eager to try them out in our dyeing experiments in France.

Unsure about how difficult they would be to find in France, we bought our black beans in Britain before travelling over. I bought a pack in Waitrose which were called black turle beans instead of just black beans, but they were the only ones I could find. Eddie later went into an international food shop and found some labelled simply black beans. We decided to try both out at the same time, but in separate containers in case they didn’t yield the same results…

And fast enough it became clear that the two different packs of beans were giving soaking water of very different colors, despite the beans themselves looking very similar. The Turtle beans’ water was definitely looking more purple while the Thailand Black beans water was a relatively orangey brown.

Two different types of beans, two dye solutions

We were originally planning to use some of the beans for cooking afterwards but forgot that in order to do so the been should not really soak for more than 24 hours… After that the fermentation process starts, and on the second day, we could see some mold on the surface of the water…. probably not safe to eat anymore… I started with the beans in buckets which they only filled to about 1/4 when dry, but even then, after 24 hours they had swollen to about two thirds and I felt I wanted more water to dye with so I moved each of the bean lots to a bigger container, and filled it up with water. Throughout the 48 hours of soaking I would give the beans a stir whenever I walked by them.

Black Turtle bean yarn soup

After about 2 days of soaking and stirring the beans I made sure that they were undisturbed for at least a couple of hours before I took the bean water, so the proteins could settle at the bottom with the beans. Apparently these can ruin the dye. I laddled the water above the beans into buckets. Since we wanted to try small sample skeins and get the same results if we liked them, we used jars for our small skeins, taking enough liquid each time to cover the skein comfortably. I left the skeins soak for 48 hours before taking them out and rinsing them.

For that first try with fresh bean water, the alum mordanted skeins in the turtle bean water gave us a slightly more purpley blue, while the black beans had a slight green hue to the blue. The heuchera mordanted skein gave us a lovely grey but no blue, although I should note here that when I prepped those I hadn’t yet realised the mistake I’d made in measuring the heuchera. This Heuchera mordanted yarn was therefore mordanted only with 1/5 of the strength of the later heuchera mordanting.

copyright Eddieduckling

1. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

2. Turtle beans fresh bath, heuchera mordanted yarn (1/5)

3. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted bath, vinegar afterdip

4. Black beans fresh bath, alum mordanted bath

When we later tried dyeing some more sample skeins in the rest of the dye solution it became clear that the strength of the solution was diminishing as days passed and it was getting less fresh.

copyright Eddieduckling

1. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

2. Turtle beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn, vinegar afterdip

3. Black beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

4. Black beans 3 days old bath, alum mordanted yarn

5. Black beans 3 days old bath, alum mordanted yarn, vinegar afterdip

I also decided to try dyeing combed top samples which contained some nylon, as I was curious to see how these would take the dye. We placed them in the turtle bean water at the same time as the second round of sample skeins (about 3 days after collecting the water from the soaking beans), but they reacted very differently from the yarn. Although the alum mordanted BFL and nylon mix I tried only yielded a dull grey, the alpaca, wool and nylon mix took on beautiful shades of blues ranging between the tones of the turtle beans and those of the black beans fresh bath.

Once spun up, it turned out a slightly more teal shade of blue, a much more saturated colour than the one obtained on the skeins soaking at the same time.

1. Black beans fresh bath, alum mordanted yarn

2. Black beans later bath, alum mordanted top

3. Black beans later bath, alum mordanted yarn

I always struggle to show the proper colours in photos but do hope that these give a good idea of the colours obtained.

Black bean dyed Alpaca/wool/nylon combed top

I am very partial to blues in general, but I think the colours we obtained from the black beans were my favourite. I always thought blue were quite complicated to obtain from natural dyes, requiring indigo or woad and their long and complex fermentation process. Black beans offer a much easier alternative and I can’t wait to try more different types. I have picked up in a French supermarket some black beans from the US and will be testing those at some point against the ones from Thailand which we used in this experiment.

And of course, the flickr group still holds more photos if you’re interested.

Natural Dyeing Take 2: Onion skins

The onion colour wheel

Eddie and I have both been collecting onion skins for a while for dyeing purposes, and my mother added to our collection. We separated our bounty in three groups,  one with only yellow skins, one with only red skins, and one with yellow onion and garlic skins (at some point Eddie was keeping both and it was a bit too complicated to separate those). We therefore did three main baths first, all using the same technique. Although onion skins do not require mordanting, in each of the dye pot we used one skein of alum mordanted yarn, one skein which had been heuchera mordanted and one unmordanted one (or in most of them anyway).

Eddie's onion tights

Eddie first put the onion skins in a pair of old tights so as to make them easier to take in and out of baths. Think teabag technique, we also did that with our dye pack, cutting up the tights to create small bags. For the onions, though, we had enough to fill the whole of the tights. We put those in plenty of water and brought them to the boil, left them simmering for about half an hour, as it seemed to yield enough color. Taking the pan off the hob, we then let it cool down with the onion tights still in. I’m saying we… but really Eddie did most of the work on those, as I was dealing with the black beans…

Once it had cooled down we lifted the tights off the pan and squeezed the water out of it, leaving the pot ready to dye with. Since we were trying different dye solutions at the same time, we put our pre-mordanted and pre-soaked skeins in jars, covered them in dye solution  and set it to simmer for about half an hour. The skeins were then taken out, rinsed, and dried.

Separating the skeins into jars is not necessary, and if you have only one batch of onion skins you are using, they could certainly be thrown in the dye solution in the pot which was used to make it. Separating the skein into jars can be an interesting alternative if you want to try only very small amounts of yarn and several types of dye solution and save on time and energy by heating the dyeing pot only once for dyeing the samples. The only problem is making sure you can recognise which jars were which dye solution. To do this, we used elastic bands of different colours around our jars, and wrote down what each of the colours meant.

We got quite a range of colours:

  1. Yellow Onion skins on alum mordanted wool
  2. Yellow Onion skins on heuchera mordanted wool
  3. Yellow Onion skins and garlic skins on unmordanted wool
  4. Yellow Onion skins and garlic skins on alum mordanted wool
  5. Red Onion skins on unmordanted wool
  6. Red Onion skins on alum mordanted wool
  7. Red Onion skins on heuchera mordanted wool

As for the rest of our dyeing experiments from that week, you can see more pictures in the flickr group

We were quite amazed especially at the variations in the red onion skins depending on the mordant, that’s quite a colour range from a single dye solution.

And in the next episode, our heroins will be dyeing with black beans… Blues ahoy!

Natural Dyeing Take One: Alum Mordanting with Heuchera Plants

I read in the Ravelry forums that the root of the Heuchera plant was rich in alum and could be used as an alum mordant. Since my mum had quite a few heucheras in her garden that she was going to relocate, I cunningly convinced her to part with a few of the roots. Well, actually it wasn’t all that hard since heucheras are quite willing to grow and spread and you don’t need much of the root for the plant to happily be relocated. They’re usually multiplied by cutting up the roots.

So my mum and I went down to her heucheras for a bit of a cull. She’s not exactly sure of the variety but it is the most common one in France apparently. She also has a few more of fancy varieties, but wasn’t quite so willing to uproot those quite yet…

Heuchera plants (specific variety unknown) before we uprooted them

So I took some of the roots, washed peeled and got a whopping 230g of prepped roots:

Heuchera roots at different stages of stripping

The Ravelry discussion was quoting Nature’s Colors – Dye from Plants by Ida Grae which suggested that ‘two finger-lengths of alum root will mordant about one-half pound of yarn’ (Grae 1979: 53). I measured two finger-lengths and took it to weigh about 15g. What I didn’t realise at the time (and which only occurred to me quite a while after I’d done the whole process of mordanting a couple of mini skeins) was that I’d taken two finger-widths rather than two finger-lengths… mmm… yes, I can be that dumb quite easily… I then recalculated that two finger-lengths should represent about 60g of roots. Of course since no two roots are the same and different people have fingers of varying lengths, this is all an approximation and this is where the experiment begins. I’m taking my stupid error as another point of comparison with only 1/4 of the recommended amount for alum root mordanting. My second batch of heuchera mordanted yarn rectified this mistake. If 60g was enough for half a pound, then 200g of roots could mordant 750g of fibre.

I chopped my roots up and decided to freeze 30g to experiment with later, since the maths would be simpler with exactly 200g of roots left to boil. I wasn’t entirely sure what Ida Grae meant by ‘pre-cook alum root’ so here is what I did: I simmered my prepped roots in a litre of water for about an hour (no, it wasn’t that I didn’t quite realise how long it had been…), then let it soak overnight. Since it had boiled down quite a bit I added another litre of water, and simmered it again the next day for another hour. The liquid was clear to start with, translucent red after the first round of cooking and quite a muddy pink on the second round.

Cooking the roots, before, after first round, after second round and strained

The liquid had reduced quite a bit and once the roots had been strained out, weighed 300g. These 300g contained the alum of 200g of roots, so enough to mordant 750g of fibres. We therefore calculated that 4g of the concentrate would be necessary to mordant 10g of fibre.  To make calculations easier and to be on the safe side we decided on 5g per 10g of fibre. Halving the amount of weight of dry fibres we wanted to mordant was therefore giving us the amount of Heuchera concentrate we needed to use.

France 2011

Unmordanted vs. heuchera mordanted yarn, copyright Eddieduckling

We then proceeded to dilute in cold water enough of our concentrate to mordant our sample skeins. We soaked our sample skeins in water first to get them thoroughly wet, then squeezing excess water out we put them in the pot with the mordant, and set it to simmer for an hour. We then let the wool cool down in the mordant and rinsed it once cool. There was a clear difference in colour between the wool which had not been mordanted and the one which was heuchera mordanted, even with the lot which was only 1/4 of the recommended amount. The heuchera mordant certainly added a dusty pink hue to the fibre.

We still have to test our skeins for ligtht and wash fastness obviously, but the heuchera mordanting definitely reacted differently with the colours from the alum mordanting, as you’ll see in the coming posts.

Photos of our dyeing experiments are being collected in a Flickr group come and take a peek.


Grae, Ida (1979) Nature’s Colors – Dye from Plants. MacMillan Publishers.

Natural Dyeing on Holiday

It’s been pretty quiet here in the past couple of weeks, and you’re about to see just how busy I’ve been of late.

Apart from a quick experiment with acid dyes, which didn’t require any mordanting, I’ve hardly dyed any of my yarns. But the lack of solid colour rovings at Unravel a few weeks back strengthened my resolve to try some more dyeing of my own, and natural dyeing was high on my list.

I am currently visiting my parents in France and Eddie came along to visit a country she had yet to set foot in. My parents live in the countryside and there is a vast garden which my mother populates with a good variety of plants. So, although spring has only just started and there aren’t yet many flowers out, we have quite a range of plants we could use. We therefore decided to try and experiment with a  few of the things we found, as well as with the natural dye pack which I bought at Unravel.

So far, so much fun...

First up we mordanted some of the yarn. We had some alum, which we used the most.  We forgot to pack Cream of Tartar in our bags and unfortunately, it does not seem to be as readily available in France. So we decided to go without. But we have also decided to try a natural source of alum and use Heuchera roots to mordant some of our sample skeins, so we could compare how the two different types of mordants fare.

We’re limited in time but here are some of the things that we have done and some that we will try dyeing with: Blackbeans (strong blues to grey), red and yellow onion skins (greeny browns and oranges), young birch leaves (green hopefully), Ivy leaves (green), my dye pack stuff: Logwood (purples and blues), Brazilwood (reds) and Fustic chips (yellows), some Chamomile and Golden Rod (both yellows) and some Madder root (reds). Some of the other things which are abundantly available and that we could try but I’m not so sure if we’ll manage to are ivy berries, nettles, oak sawdust (for tannin mordanting), sumac flowers… I might try to see if some of these can be preserved for a future visit to my parents…

Our first dyed skeins should be dry tomorrow and I will report here on everything we attempted, the good, the bad and the ugly, because that is the whole point of experimenting and blogging about it, so others might also learn from our mistakes…

How about you? Have you done any natural dyeing? I’d love to hear about any successes or mishaps you want to share…


Remember the whorls I showed you in the last post and which were about to be drilled… well, they have now been mounted on shafts and properly finished.

I thought I’d show off the resulting spindles:

The largest and also the heaviest of the series, at 49g for a diametre of 7cm

It is much heavier than the spindles I usually go for, but it is also wider and would make a good plying spindle I think. It certainly spins for a while…

A slightly smaller version of the same design, on a 6cm whorl for a weight of 38g

A two magpie design, 6cm whorl, 35g

I’m loving them, they’re all slightly heavier than my usual ones, because I was making those on request, but I actually like that they spin for that much longer…

I usually aim around the 25g mark, but I think I’ll make some heavier ones on a more regular basis… How about you? What kind of weight are your favourite spindles? Do you use some of your spindles specifically for plying? I’m just curious…

Behind the scenes

Lately, I’ve had many things on the go and they’ve all been taking longer than planned to complete. Rather than rushing them to finish them off to show them here, I’ve decided to show you some photos of the work in progress.

First, some resin casting, with some birdy whorls soon to be drilled on my brand new press drill to become top whorl spindles:

Magpie whorls in 6 and 7 cm diametres, weight ranging from 27g to 38g.

In terms of spinning, I’ve been spinning tussah silk on my Russian spindle Annia for the last couple of months, and loving it. I’m aiming for a 2-ply laceweigt, which I’ll probably leave undyed and plan to knit into a stole. I didn’t do a sample and I’ve just been spinning without much control, as I was still getting to know Annia, so I’ve no idea of the yardage I’m going to have when I’m done:

Tussah silk: Fibers, one cop spun, another in progress on my Russian spindle Annia.

Also on the spindles: I’ve got quite a bit of Blue Faced Leicester in yummy browns spun on my little Grace and on Jarod, destined to be a 4-ply. I’ve done one Turkishful and almost twice as much on Jarod, which I’m going to make into an Andean bracelet to ply once it’s exactly double the weight of the first cop. For the last of the singles for the 4-ply, I’m currently spinning a second Turkishful:

Blue Faced Leicester, including knit swatch.

On the knitting side of things, I was waiting on some T-pins I ordered to get the Echo Flower shawl a second blocking. They finally arrived this morning, so I gave my shawl a soak of Eucalyptus Eucalan bought at Unravel, and it is now blocking again.

I suddenly realised last night that I needed an instant gratification project. So I decided to take some merino I spun a little while back as an attempt to spin thickish, and I cast on an improvised cafetiere cosy. When Eddie comes round and the expresso machine is just not right for the amount of coffee we drink, but the cafetiere always goes cold before we’ve had the time to drink it all… This, I hope, will be of help. And in the meantime I’m having fun with braids and making things up… Here is last night’s progress, I think it’s already half way there:

There are always a few more projects on the needles and the spindles in the background, but those are my main points of focus at the moment.

How about you? Are you quite monogamous in your projects or a bit of a philanderer like me?