Sea Green and Sapphire

A blog about a love of colour, addiction to fabrics and joy of crafting…


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More Purple Basil Surprises

Some time ago I showed you the results of my purple basil experiments this summer. Well, that dye bath went quite a bit further and I was able to have several other experiments with it, all of which threw quite a few surprises into the process.

Given that purple basil seems to be better suited to dyeing silk than wool (wool just doesn’t seem to absorb much colour) I decided I won’t waste the dye on wool but try more experiments with silk instead. I had a dig around in my cupboards and found a cream coloured Thai silk scarf, a souvenir from a lovely holiday a long time ago. So in it went (after scouring and mordanting with alum), and after an hour of simmering, out it came very dark, almost black. As my hope had been a nice slate grey, a medium tone rather than a very dark shade, at first I kicked myself for not paying attention to dye rations and therefore for using way too much dye. Considering the scarf weighs only 45g one could have anticipated that not much dye is needed. A good lesson to learn, especially when dyeing finished items, rather than random amounts of economy wool…

But as I removed the scarf from the pot and the excess dye drained away, I realised the colour I had accidentally achieved was in fact truly beautiful, a sort of raven black: a very dark grey with a strong blue sheen or undercurrent to it.

And there were more surprises in store: as I washed the scarf, the alkalinity of the wash turned the colour into something else entirely: it was now a very dark jewel-like green, a regal green as my husband observed. It was a fantastic colour, but I wanted that raven blackish blue back so I soaked the scarf a vinegary water for a few hours.  I played around with different levels of acidity just to see how it affected the colour, and eventually, settled with a medium grey tone.

And once it dried, the grey in fact had a beautiful midnight-blue undertone and  a wonderful depth to it. The colour seems to change depending on the light, and it was very hard to capture the colour correctly on my camera, in the picture below it looks perhaps a bit lighter and bluer than it is in real life.

A Thai silk scarf, dyed midnight blue with purple basil

A Thai silk scarf, mordanted with alum and dyed mid-night blue with purple basil

Next I wanted to find out what would happen if I used the exhaust bath to dye some wool-silk blend yarn. After all, if wool gives you pale greyish green, and you get darker greys with silk, surely the result would be a nice heathery mixture of darker and lighter shades? Well, it didn’t quite work that way.

The skein I used was a mixture of 55% Blue Faced Leicester wool and 45% silk (undyed Decadence Heavy Lace yarn from the Stash Fine yarns). Unfortunately, the bit I didn’t really think through properly in advance was that the BFL wool was superwash, which absorbs colour differently compared to non-treated wool. So in the end both types of fibres absorbed the colour very strongly and I ended up with quite a darkish shade of medium grey.

As I thought this colour was a bit dull, I washed the skein and hoped it would turn a nice dark greeny grey, but no, it was still just a dull grey colour, just a little undercurrent of greenness in it. Then I tried a soak in vinegary water to try to turn it purple, but again, it wasn’t really co-operating, there was a slight change, but when dried, the colour had reverted to medium grey. And when, some time later, I photographed the skein, I noticed that in the outdoor light there was a distinct green tinge to it again, so I am now wondering if the colour shifts slightly even when dry. Obviously this is the colour it wants to be, so I left it for a moment (although I am still not too keen on it – it looks better on the picture than in real life – so I may give the skein a dip in an indigo vat next).

Another surprise dyeing result from purple basil

Another surprise dyeing result from purple basil

Even after all these experiments there was still quite a bit of dye in the bath left, so I decided to throw a bit more wool into the pot, but again there was a surprise in store. Rather than getting greenish grey, I just got plain straight-forward fawn, never the most exciting colour to get, but at least in this case there was the surprise factor, as I really don’t know why I suddenly started getting an entirely different colour compared to what had happened before. I even threw a few bits of silk fabric into the bath and they too came out more fawn than before, although it was more like a greyish fawn mixture, a bit like the colour of wood smoke. I’d love to know why this happened: was it that a particular pigment was now used up, or was it just the age of the dye bath, after all it had been stored, and occasionally simmered, for several weeks now?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I suppose it is just another reason why natural dyeing is such an endlessly fascinating subject.

fawn: a surprise result when dyeing alum-mordanted wool with purple basil

I certainly wasn’t expecting fawn…


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Crocus Bud Shawl, second time

Crocus Bud shawl in silkMy second version of the Crocus Bud shawl is finally ready (the pattern can be found here). I made it quite long so that there would be enough of it to wrap around my shoulders, and in the end it took about 1200m of yarn, that’s one and half skeins of Natural Dye Company’s 100% silk lace weight yarn.

Crocus Bud shawl, detailAlthough it has taken me quite a while to crochet it, it’s funny that I almost don’t remember doing it. That’s because the pattern is so simple I always crochet’ed it while watching tv, and I’ve obviously been so absorbed by whatever I was watching that I hardly noticed I was crocheting too. I am all for mindful crafting, and really focusing on what you are doing, for example when I am spinning, but I must admit this project definitely wasn’t an example of such mindful and meditative concentration.

The yarn being 100% silk the character of the shawl is very different from the woolly version which was soft and airy, and slightly fluffy. This time, with such a crisp yarn you obviously get excellent stitch definition, and the silky yarn is very drapey too.


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A Knitting Retreat in My Garden

3S Scarf in Fyberspates Scrumptious Lace Yarn in TealLast week my little sister visited me from Finland. One of my secret knitting projects of recent weeks was this 3S scarf which I knitted for her birthday. She really liked it, which of course made me very happy. And the teal colour suited her perfectly.

The scarf was originally going to be an Ishbel, the pattern that topped the popularity charts in Ravelry some time ago. It’s a pattern that hundreds, if not thousands of people have managed to knit, but not me. I just kept making mistakes and constantly had to unravel my work. Most of the time I’m just too absent minded to knit lace. With hindsight it wasn’t a good idea to try to change the size, so it’s quite possible my maths just wasn’t right when I started the lace bit. The pattern gives you two sizes, with not much help for trying to knit it in a different size. I just kept having extra stitches I didn’t know what to do with.

Well whatever the reason, I just wasn’t getting anywhere. My sister’s birthday was back in February and still she hadn’t received her present. So I decided to find an easier pattern, and 3S seemed perfect because it’s super-easy and can be knit in any size you want. Knitting was fun again rather than a frustrating chore.

Although last month was the wettest June for 100 years, during her visit the sun shone pretty much all the time. We ended up spending three days sitting in the garden, just knitting, with a cup of coffee in the mornings and a glass of wine in the afternoon. I did ask her to tell me if she actually wanted to do something, but she had been bitten by the knitting bug (it does happen in my house…) and seemed perfectly content just to sit, enjoy the sun and knit. And very pleasant it was indeed.


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Crocus Bud Shawl, v 2.0

Crocus Bud Shawl in Natural Dye Company's silk lace yarn

Some of you may remember the Crocus Bud shawl I crocheted last summer from Malabrigo’s Lace yarn. At the time, I really liked the yarn- after all who wouldn’t like baby merino wool for its lovely soft feel? The shawl was great as it went with most of my summer clothes, but after a lot of wear, unfortunately the shawl started to felt.  It has shrank quite a bit, it is now a lot narrower than it used to be and the lace work is no longer very open.

So for this summer I thought I’ll have another go at Crocus Bud, but this time I decided to pick a yarn that is guaranteed not to felt. In the Unravel knitting fair I found Natural Dye Company’s lace weight yarn that is 100% silk and therefore perfect for my purpose.

I chose pink although it can be bit of a hit-and-miss colour – I don’t like very girlie pinks as they can be very twee or overly feminine. Pink nevertheless is a colour that happens to suit my pale North European complexion (I’m sure it was my mum who described the colour of my face as “pale gray”, not to insult me of course, I think it was just a plain observation to encourage me to buy a nice pretty red top instead of the usual black I was so into as a teenager. Anyway, I digress….). The pink of  my silk yarn has a cool undertone I particularly like. It makes it a rather sophisticated grown-up kind of pink rather than a baby girl pink so it’s a good colour from that point of view too.

In its simplicity the Crocus Bud is a great shawl pattern because for very little mental effort you get a nice and interesting texture which nevertheless allows the yarn and the colour to take a centre stage. It’s not a pattern for those enviable knitters and crocheters who want a complex lace design to challenge them, rather it is an incredibly easy, repetitive pattern which makes it ideal for evenings when you’re too tired to think or want something to work on while watching the telly.


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Parasol Stole, finally ready

Parasol StoleMy Parasol stole, which I started last summer, has finally been finished and blocked. I had intended to wear it at a wedding which I went to back in August but as I started it two weeks before the event, I just couldn’t finish it on time. And then soon after that I had to abandon it and start knitting various birthday gifts and Christmas presents. I only got back to it after the Christmas rush and now it is finally done. But after all that, I am really pleased with it.

I knitted it quite a bit longer than the instructions recommended, mainly because I wanted to be able to wrap it around my shoulders. Nevertheless, it only took two skeins of Alice sock yarn by Juno (the colour is French Gray). It’s a lovely yarn with all sorts of gorgeous luxury fibers in it. I think it’s far too delicate for socks, but it’s ideal for shawls and scarves. I chose sock yarn weight rather than lace weight yarn because I wanted to make sure I would be warm enough in a sleeveless dress (I hate having cold shoulders!).

I thought the pattern was great and I can see myself using it again (find it on Ravelry here). It’s lacy and feminine but not too frilly because of the ribbing in the middle. And the ribbing made it faster and easier to knit – I don’t have the brain power and concentration to knit lace while watching tv or listening to something but the ribbing meant that the main part was not too complicated. It also helps the drape, the stole stays on the shoulders really well and doesn’t slide off. So all in all, it’s a really useful shawl to have, and an ideal one to go with party dresses.


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The Fir Tree Scarf

Fir Tree Scarf

While we’re still on the subject of what I knitted for Christmas; here’s a scarf I knitted for my sister-in-law, the one who received the Bramble beret for her birthday in November. The scarf is knitted using the same yarn as the beret, Misti Alpaca’s Best of Nature Worsted, which is a truly gorgeous yarn, incredibly soft in an alpaca-sort of way, a real pleasure to knit with.

The Bramble beret pattern unfortunately did not come with a matching scarf. I could have taken the pattern and adapted it, but in the end I decided if I did that the scarf would not have been ready for Christmas so I just went with a lace pattern I found in one of my knitting books. The Fir Tree pattern is a simple enough lace pattern that worked pretty well on a long scarf, giving it a nice texture and bringing out the different colour tones in the yarn.

My sister-in-law really loved her present, she sent me a lovely thank you note for it. It’s always great to knit things for such appreciative people, isn’t it?