Plants for Dyeing: Comfrey

I’ve been doing natural dyeing for a long time, and was always exasperated about the absence of a good plant source for the color green. Paradoxical, isn’t it? But the green coloration in plants is due to the presence of chlorophyll. In fall, the chlorophyll ceases production and gradually disappears, leaving the leaf’s true color to show. Once, while making a dye with fern fiddleheads, the only plant material available that early spring day, I discovered to my dismay that I’d left my brass kettle at home. Had to make do with the iron one, and had a pleasant surprise. The result was a lovely, soft gray-green.

But fiddleheads are around for just a short time every year. I needed a source available in the summer. Comfrey to the rescue. This plant has many advantages, the primary one being the size and abundance of its leaves. Making comfrey dye is easy: Simmer the leaves, about a grocery bag full, in about a gallon of water for about 1/2 hour, then remove the plant material. Submerge wet, alum mordanted wool into the bath and simmer in an iron container for another 1/2 hour or so. Olive green should be the result.

Using brass, glass, stainless steel containers will not yield the same results; probably a watery yellow will emerge, but who knows? Natural dyeing is more art than science.

Comfrey in New England is a perennial known for its abundant proliferation. Its tiny flowers start to blossom in  June, but the flowers aren’t used for dyeing. Medicinally, comfrey has been used to treat bruises, sores, broken bones, hemorrhoids ( there they are again), gout and joint pain. It used to be eaten in salads and tonics but has been found to cause liver damage.

Knitting Tips: Sizing Socks for Adults and Children

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These charts can be used to determine the length of knitted/crocheted socks for particular sizes. You might want to increase the foot length by 1/2 inch or so to accommodate shrinking, growth, or snugness.

Men’s Sizes

Shoe size / Foot length

Women’s Sizes

Shoe Size / Foot length

US
6
6.5
7
7.5
8
8.5
9
9.5
10
10.5
11
11.5
12
13
14
15
16
Inches
9.25″
9.5″
9.7″
9.75″
9.9″
10.1″
10.25″
10.4″
10.6″
10.75″
10.9″
11.”
11.25″
11.6″
11/9″
12.2″
12.5″

US
4
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
7
7.5
8
8.5
9
9.5
10
10.5
11
11.5
12
Inches
8.2″
8.4″
8.5″
8.75″
8.8″
9.0″
9.25″
9.4″
9.5″
9.7″
9.8″
10″
10.2″
10.3″
10.5″
10.7″
10.9″

Kid’s Sizes

Shoe size ——————— Foot length

0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
3.25″
3.5″
3.6″
3.75″
4″
4.1″
4.25″
4.5″
4.6″
4.75″
Approximate Age Infant
(0 – 12 months)
5.5
6
6.5
7
7.5
8
8.5
9
9.5
10
10.5
11
11.5
12
5″
5.1″
5.25″
5.5″
5.6″
5.75″
6″
6.1″
6.25″
6.5″
6.6″
6.75″
7″
7.1″
Children
(1 – 5 years)

12.5
13
13.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
4
4.5
5
5.5
6
6.5
7
7.25″
7.5″
7.6″
7.75″
8″
8.1″
8.25″
8.5″
8.6″
8.75″
9″
9.1″
9.25″
9.5″
9.6″
9.75″
Youth
(6 – 10 years)

Knitting Tips: How to make a twisted fringe

To add a neat twisted fringe to the edge of  a scarf, blanket, or other object, use an appropriate size crochet hook and your chosen yarn.

Sl st in first st, ch 1, *pull up a loop 12″ long, turn your hook 18 times, sl st into next st letting the loop just formed fold in half and twist around itself, ch 1 * repeat across.

Before and After Felting -When Size Does Matter

felted-purse.jpg

I’ve been doing different kinds of felting for several years now, and people sometimes ask how I know how big to knit something when I want it to be a specific size after it’s felted. The simple answer: it depends. You have to know your wool. Some yarns, like Paton’s merino, shrinks for me by about 1/3, so I always knit things made with that yarn about 1/3 larger. Other yarns, like those specially designed for felting, I’ve found shrink far more, at least by half and sometimes more. The only way to relative certainty is to knit a swatch, measure it, felt it, then measure it again and calculate the difference. I know this is heresy in the eyes of some felters, but I’ve been known to spin wet knits in the dryer set on medium, let it tumble for about 2 minutes, take it out and check the size, and repeat as necessary. Works for me.

This bag was knitted with Lion Brand Monet yarn, which unfortunately has been discontinued.

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

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)