Plants for Dyeing: Wild Aster

Here in Connecticut, asters in several pale colors  grow wild in just about any uncultivated space, blooming in late summer and early fall. Its name comes from the Greek word meaning “star”. Another of its names is starwort. An amazing number varieties have developed, but where I live, the New England Aster, with small light lavender flowers, is probably the most prevalent. Collecting enough for dyeing small amounts of wool is no problem. Its stems, flowers, and leaves will provide a range of yellow based shades, depending upon mordant:

Alum – Yellow-green

Chrome – Gold, brass

Tin – Yellow-gold

Iron – Grayish green, muted

No mordant – yellow-green, pale

The color of the flower is immaterial for dyeing purposes, so don’t hold out hope for lavender! Aster is poisonous in large doses, but was used in the past for bleeding, lung disorders, dysentery, and malaria. Some Native American tribes smoked the dried root, ate the cooked plant and also brewed a tea from the leaves. Take care not to confuse asters with daisy fleabane, which blossoms earlier. Also beware of bees – the pink New England asters in my garden are abuzz with them. They tend to settle for a while in the yellow center.

This is the treacherous month when autumn days

With summer’s voice come bearing summer’s gifts.

Beguiled, the down-trodden aster lifts

Her head and blooms again.

Helen Hunt Jackson, Autumn Sonnet

Plants for dyeing: Pokeweed

Originally posted on You're History!:

pokeweed Pokeweed is shrub that commonly grows in dry, neglected areas. In New England, it generally blossoms in mid-summer and sets fruit in September. Throughout history, pokeweed has had several uses. One of the first plants to show itself in spring, young shoots were gathered, boiled and eaten as a tonic after the long, cold winter. As the plant matures, however, parts of it become poisonous.

The Algonquins called this plant puccoon, which means “plant used for stains or dyes.” An English name for the same plant is “inkberry”, and in my museum classes I sometimes have kids pick, mash, and write with pokeberry. Though technically a berry, which provides a stain rather than a dye, pokeweed can be used to color wool a rich shade of magenta. Unfortunately, stains fade a discolor rather quickly, and are definitely not as colorfast as true dyes. (Think of what happens on that white…

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My Favorite Felted Mittens Pattern

photo: LGP

This past winter, I knitted, felted and sold about 20 pairs of felted mittens at pre-holiday craft fairs. I don’t mind making socks on circular needles, but not mittens – guess the hole for the thumb bothers me, I dunno. Anyway, I use the 2-needle pattern below, but I make the mittens much larger than if they weren’t about to be felted. That means, for a child, I make a small adult size. For men, the bigger medium or largest  size. You have to use your judgement and know your yarn. Use your judgment for women.  For felting, I’ve found that Paton’s 100% wool worsted weight gives me predictable results. It is readily available, inexpensive, knits up beautifully, and comes in many lovely solids and blends. Yarns made specifically for felting shrink too much for this application.

Traditional two needle mittens work up quickly, and suit everyone from child to adult. Use up your yarn stash and knit a pair of mittens in a different color for everyone in the family.
Sizes: small child, medium child, large child, adult

# Materials: #5 and #7 needles
# 200 yards of worsted weight yarn
# 1 stitch holder
# 2 stitch markers
# tapestry needle

Gauge: 5 sts = 1″ on #7 needles

Cuff: With smaller needles, loosely cast on 24(28-32-36)sts. Work *K1, P1,* ribbing until piece measures 2 1/2 (3 1/2, 4, 4 1/2)”. Change to larger needle.

Hand: Row 1 (right side): K2, inc in next st, K to last 3 sts inc in next st, K1. Row 2 Purl. Continue working in SS until piece measures 1″ (1 1/4, 1 1/2, 2″) from end of ribbing, ending with a P row. For the last 3 sizes only Work 2 more rows. (SS)

Thumb Gusset: Row 1: K12 (12-14-16-18), place marker on needle; inc in each of next 2 sts, place marker on needle: K12 (14-16-18) sts. Row 2: and all even rows Purl. Row 3: K to marker, sl marker, inc in next st; K to st before next marker, inc in next st, sl marker, K to end. Repeat Rows2 and 3 until there are 8 (10-12-14) sts between the markers; end by working Row 2.

Divide for Thumb: K12 (14-16-18), drop marker; K8 (10-12-14)sts for thumb, and then place thumb sts on holder; K 12 (14-16-18) Work even in SS until work measures 4″ (5 1/2 -6-7″) from start of Hand, ending by working a purl row.

Top Shaping: Row 1: *K2, K2tog; rep from* across. Row 2: Purl. Row 3: *K1, K2tog, rep from * Row 4: Purl. Row 5: K2tog across; break yarn, leaving 18″ end. Thread yarn into tapestry

needle, run needle through remaining sts. Slip sts off needle, pull yarn up tightly and fasten securely. leave yarn for sewing.

Thumb: Sl sts from holder to needle, purl one row. Work even in SS until thumb measures 1 1/4 ( 1 3/4-2-2 1/4″) ending with a purl row. Next Row: K2 tog, rep across row cut yarn leaving 12″ end finished the same as above. Fold mitten and sew seams.

Your mittens will be comically large and floppy. That’s OK, that’s what you want. Follow your best felting instructions until they shrink to size. I’ve been known to throw wet mittens in the dryer, medium setting, to get to where I want them.

Good luck, happy knitting , let me know how you do!

(updated 2/2/11)

One Cable Hand Warmers

imageToday I discovered my next ” muffatees” project. At the Connecticut  Works festival this afternoon, which was held on the beautiful grounds of the Avery-Copp house museum in Groton,  I sold a pair of cabled arm warmers that were cabled from fingers to elbow. They were very pretty, but felt too bulky for my own use and I never wore them or made any others. When I arrived home,  I found that a very similar design for shorter mitts had  magically appeared in my email,  from the Blue Sky Alpacas newsletter.

The pattern is free, but you do have to create a free account to access the download, which you can get here . The beautiful worsted hand dyed yarn shown is named “Petunia”, and should work up quickly on the recommended size 9 (US) needles.

Fall Knits: Katia Poncho

imageI don’t generally go in for ponchos, so was surprised when this pattern caught my eye. I love the cables, drapy-ness, and color, and it looks like the back and front can be sewn part way up to make a sort of loose pullover. Onto the TBK list it goes!

The recommended yarn is Katia Merino Baby, which is sport weight and comes in truly lovely colors. Oh, I see that the beautiful mulberry shade is out of stock on the web site. Will either have to wait or find it somewhere else.  The cost is $6.50 a ball. Size medium requires 9 to 10 balls. Needle size 6 (US). The pattern can be downloaded here .