Pivot Cowl

img_0985Some knitters find garter stitch to be tedious, and avoid it whenever possible. But as this cowl shows, garter doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it lends itself quite nicely to shaping, in a neat, tailored sort of way that stockinette or fancier stitches can’t quite match. This design combines short row triangles with rectangles, and one of the things that appealed to me when it caught my eye on the Purl Soho site this afternoon is the way it drapes without bunching up around the neck the way many cowls do. I also like the stitch definition that the yarn, Cashmere Merino Bloom, produces. Having now knitted several garments from Purl Soho kits, I can testify to the excellent quality of their yarns. Pivot is made on size 5 US straight or circular needles.

As soon as I finish the Purl Soho Drachenfels shawl that currently occupies my needles, the Pivot Cowl may just be my next project.


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.

Broken Garter Scarf

Ohhh. I’m in trouble…. Purl Soho keeps posting beautiful free patterns made with their exquisite yarns. Broken Garter Scarf is the latest, posted just today. Just got through ordering the yarn to knit one up for my beautiful daughter, who truly appreciates my work (not everyone loves hand knits, I’m afraid. )


This is lovely in the shell pink, but not a good shade for Erica. She chose a beautiful pale blue, which, oh happy day, is on sale!

You can access this pattern right over here.

Textile Tools: Medieval Images of the Distaff

The Gospelles of Dystaues (or The Distaff Gospels), 1470

Luttrell Psalter 1320-1340

This woman is shown beating her husband with her distaff!

Family Scene, Wife With Spinning Distaff, Bourdichon, French, 15th c.

Eve spinning, from the Hunterian Psalter , English, ca 1170

Woman unwinding thread from a spindle into a skein MS Fr. 599, f. 48, Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris French, c. 15th Century

Historia Alexandri Magni. Flemish. 1470-1480

Fresco, 1304-06 Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua. Giotto.

Woman feeding a hen and chicks. Luttrell Salter 1325-1335.

Three queens. France, probably Paris, mid 14th cent. Pierpont Morgan Library. Manuscript. M.456.

Stone Age Spinning

Just read a fascinating article describing the discovery of ancient, twisted, wild flax fibers, embedded in soil samples taken from the Dzudzuana Cave in the Republic of Georgia.

Carbon dating places the habitation of the cave to the Upper Paleolithic period (32,000 to 11,000 years ago). The evidence, microscopic though it may be, suggests that the invention of twisted fiber cordage or twine dates from this early era. Cord remnants dating from 19,000 to  17,000 years ago were previously discovered  in Lascaux, France, and at the Ohalo site in Israel, but the fibers used to make the twine are still unidentified. The Dzudzuana flax fibers also contain knots and traces of color, suggesting that dyeing might also have been practiced, though it is equally possible that the color was absorbed simply from contact with mineral sources.  Representations of woven cloth appear on figurines of the time.

It’s intriguing to picture Stone Age people wearing turquoise and pink linen! But whatever the truth of that matter, the craft that we now refer to as spinning appears to have developed long before anyone thought.

Photos of the flax fibers
and the full article.