Sea Green and Sapphire

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


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Please excuse me while I hibernate…

Blanket knitting

Because of my illness (ME/CFS), my life is quiet and slow at the best of times, but this winter is has pretty much ground to a halt. During these last few months most of my energy has gone into the boring stuff of everyday living – making sure there’s dinner at the table and clean clothes in the cupboard – leaving very little leftover energy for anything else. It’s been like trying to crawl through a desert, hoping that I manage to drag  myself into an oasis soon…

But I’m not saying this to complain, I’m just saying it because I feel a bit guilty about the very sluggish pace of this blog.  It’s definitely not that I’ve gone off blogging, or have nothing to write about. I just haven’t had the stamina to spend much time on the computer, either writing or even reading other people’s blogs.

But in the last few weeks I’ve felt a tiny tiny bit better, an improvement that may not be radical but feels very precious nevertheless, just enough to feel that I can start catching up with things again. And on this blog there’s certainly lots I need to catch up with: all those dyeing experiments in the autumn that I never got a chance to write about, stuff going on in the knitting and spinning fronts, all those hundreds of thoughts in my head that I keep thinking I must write about.

I know I should learn to write quick updates: a few thoughts, a few pictures – quick and easy – done. I’m afraid I’m not very good at it, once I start writing the flood gates open and before I know it, 1000 words later, I’ve managed to flatten myself completely and then need days to recover again.

But enough of that, I’m sure you’re here really to read about what’s been happening on the crafting front…

Well one thing I have managed to keep doing even during the last few months is knitting. It’s the one fun thing I manage to do on most days even if I have had to drop everything else that is not absolutely crucial. Complex projects have gone out of the window, but easy simple knitting I can do. Hence it’s been a good time to knit jumpers, ones that involve lots of stockinette stitch, you know going round and round, not having the think what needs to be done next.

One of my simple knitting projects is a patchwork style blanket. It was started in the autumn, when I got the usual autumnal urge for comfort knitting.

knitted patchwork blanket

I’m using some multi-coloured skeins from Araucania which I have had in my stash for a few years. They are a result of a moment of madness in a yarn sale (yes I’m sure you know how easily it happens…).  When I saw the colours I instantly thought they would make a great blanket, as many of the colours individually were not necessarily that great (I suspect that’s why there were on sale) but together form quite a nice autumnal and homely colour palette.

I’m using the sock yarn blanket method that I’ve used before. And like my sock yarn blanket (which currently is stuck in my UFO box, waiting for inspiration to strike) I suspect this too will be a multi-year project…

Knitted patchwork blanket in Araucania yarns

Then, as I already said, a lot of jumper knitting has been going on. I knitted myself a jumper from Knit By Numbers merino yarn in DK weight (from John Arbon Textiles) in a muted greeny grey colour.

Modified Mandel jumper

I had high hopes for the yarn – it’s beautifully soft, a real pleasure to knit with, and it comes in lots and lots of colours. I particularly like the fact that the colours are organised in hue families, in colour groups that contain several different values of the same colour, ranging from light to dark. For this reason the yarns makes an excellent candidate for all sorts of colour work.

However, as I have been wearing it, unfortunately it started pilling very badly almost instantly. Merino always seems to do that, but the best merino yarns (like Madelinetosh Vintage) actually stop pilling after a month or so, so it’s not necessarily a long term problem. As yet I don’t know if this one does so too, at the moment I’m not very optimistic.

For the pattern I  used a top-down saddle shoulder one called Mandel. Or more accurately, I started using this pattern but I ended up abandoning it after the yoke – the rest of the jumper I just made up as I went along.

Modified Mandel jumper

The problem I had with the pattern was that I really struggled with the fit: the shoulders ended up being too wide for me (although I used a size in the pattern that corresponded to my measurements exactly). I also found it very difficult to get the arm hole size right, the pattern instructions somehow just did not work for me. I knitted the arm hole/chest area a few times, but what I should have done is to unravel it completely and start from scratch. I didn’t do because I thought it would work out ok if I just modified the fit a little bit (yes I have learned my lesson now).  I also suspected that the side pleats that are part of the design would not suit me, so I abandoned them too.

Well, once I started wearing the jumper and it stretched a little bit, I soon discovered that a saddle shoulder pattern is very unflattering if the shoulder fit is not exactly spot on. That’s why no amount of modifications after the shoulder fit had been finalised was enough to rescue the project – the shoulders just look huge and boxy on me. I suspect I will end up frogging this one and re-knitting it using some other pattern.

Husband also wanted a jumper, a really warm and chunky one, and as it is not easy to find good really chunky jumpers in shops, I decided to be a good wife and knit one for him. But as this is still work in progress, I’ll write more about it in some future post…

Red Tweed jumper


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New Ideas

Home spun embroidery wool

I’m sure my reason for learning how to spin and dye my own wool was a very common one. I really wanted  to be in a position to be able to have any yarn in any colour, whenever I want it (I’m sure everyone reading this blog understands what a luxury this is!), without constantly having to buy new yarn just because I don’t have exactly the right combination of colours in the right yarn type and weight (despite having boxes and boxes of yarns already…)

And now, after about a year of learning experiments, I am finally getting to that stage. Having practised dyeing with both natural and acid dyes, I finally have a nice collection of wool in various colours, and with my drum carder I now know how to mix many more. So what to do with all this beautiful wool?

In recent weeks I have been thinking about what the next phase should be. I think it will involve some kind of picture and/or pattern making. I have been spending a lot of time taking photographs of plants and trees that I see in the garden and the woodland next to our house (you can see some of these pictures in my other blog). And although photography is a very satisfying activity in itself, I am beginning to think it would be nice to be able to interpret some of these images in a textile format, as I wrote a few weeks ago. This is a completely new area for me, so it feels pretty inspiring and exciting.

I am definitely thinking I will have a go at tapestry making, but I haven’t got round to making a tapestry frame yet, so as a first, easy and instantly accessible step I have decided to try a bit of embroidery next. I don’t need to buy anything for it, I can start straight away.

So this week I have been spinning some embroidery thread which has been great fun. You get to mix lots of lovely colours, and you don’t need to spin too much of any given colour, just a few grams is quite enough. I have been using Finnsheep top, as that’s pretty much my default wool for dyeing so I have it in lots of different colours. And it’s got a nice silky sheen to it, so although I originally intended to use it as knitting wool it will work perfectly well for embroidery too.

There are of course lots of other types of wool that would be great for making embroidery yarn (I am thinking all those long lustre wools) as well as silk. So as ever, the possibilities are endless, but for now I am planning to stick to materials I already have.

Although for knitting I always ply my yarn, when making my embroidery thread I decided not to. Strength and durability are not essential for my purposes so I don’t think plying is not necessary. And not plying means I don’t have to try to spin such incredibly fine thread, all I need to do is to spin my singles yarn the right thickness. And the lazy part of my is happy to save time by not having to ply (it’s never my favourite part of spinning).

I put quite a lot of twist into these yarns to make them stronger. I tame the twist by finishing the yarn fairly vigorously, agitating it in hot water and then putting it straight into cold water, felting the wool slightly. By the end of this rough treatment the yarn will have quite a furry halo, but that’s OK for my purposes.  If I wanted really silky smooth yarn then no doubt I’d have to treat it more gently.

To save a bit of time, I spun all my colours into a single bobbin, joining them one after another, making just one skein with all the different colours in it. I only separated the colours once I wound the wool into little balls.

Today I have been trying my yarn and it works very well (it never ceases to amaze me that I can actually spin something that can be used!). Any extra twist just falls off the yarn when I cut it into the right length for sewing, so having twisty yarn is not a problem at all. It is a bit thick and thin in places, as my spinning is still not that good, and it does show in the sewing, but I’m not too worried about that, it just makes the line more interesting.

When I first started sewing with my own home made yarn, I got that “wow, did I really make this all by myself!” -moment. It might have taken me a year, with all that learning and practising, but it was definitely worth the effort!


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Busy Times

It is a busy time of the year and there’s a lot of competition for my spare time in the garden and the greenhouse. It’s a time of gluts, and so I’ve been picking runner beans, apples and blackberries, pickling chillies, drying flowers for dyeing with later,and roasting tomatoes with garlic, olive oil and thyme before freezing them (my favourite way to deal with a tomato glut). Making apple and blackberry jam will be my next mission.

It’s all good fun being a domestic goddess every now and then (and it’s an ideal season for it), but as a result my woad experiments haven’t progressed at all. Having boiled the leftover woad leaves, I dumped some mordanted skeins in the pots thinking I’ll come and simmer them later, and now, well over a week later, they are still there. Well, looks like they are now being cold-dyed instead.

But when there’s no time for big dyeing sessions, spinning is always a good activity that  you can do even if you only have a spare 10 minutes available. For the last month or so I have been spinning a hand-dyed combed top that I bought at the Fiber East festival in July. It’s a lovely top, 75% merino and 25% seacell, it feels very soft and silky and it has been a pleasure to spin.

It has been dyed with a mixture of magenta and dark blood red, with large gaps between the colour stripes, so there’s a fair amount of pink in it too. I could be wrong but it looks like the Seacell part of the fiber hasn’t picked up the dye at all which probably explains why there are narrow white vertical stripes in the top.

Given the lovely soft feel, I thought I’d spin a lace yarn from it (just in case I ever manage to overcome my absent-mindedness and tendency to make knitting mistakes and so be able to make some progress with lace knitting). I decided to spin it worsted style, with a short forward draw, as I thought it would give a nice stitch definition to the knitted lace (and this style spinning has the advantage that it is easy and relaxing, not requiring too much concentration, so making it ideal for spinning in the evening) .

I wanted the colours to change slowly, so I did not pre-draft it in any way, just spun straight from the edge of the top. Although the top itself looks quite stripy, the yarn looks nice and tonal, more semi-solid rather than variegated.

I’m not a big fan of knitting with singles yarn, the garments never seem to last that well,  so I made mine a 2-ply yarn. The top was quite generous at 120g, and I managed to spin nearly 470 meters from it. That makes 381m/100g, so it is quite a bit thicker than “real” lace yarn, but I wasn’t really trying to spin it as thin as possible, I just spun the way that came naturally. In any case there should be plenty there to make a scarf or a small shawl out of it.


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Inspiration

You never know where you will find inspiration

Inspiration is such a curious thing. You can go looking for it but you can’t ever force it. The best sort just suddenly strikes you.

I’d love to be able to understand the brain process behind it. It seems very simple: you see or hear or read about something that really appeals to you, and suddenly you feel compelled to do something about it, create an art work of some sort or whatever it happens to be. Artists and craftspeople spend a fair amount of time looking for that elusive source of inspiration, visiting museums, art exhibitions, gardens, inspiring landscapes or whatever works for them. Yet you cannot command inspiration, it has a will of its own.

To me at least the most fun and pleasing sort of inspiration happens when you least expected it. This happened to me the other day when I happened to see a little heap of scrap yarn on the coffee table. It was a result of my carding and spinning experiments of recent weeks, when I had been creating various green and teal blue blends on my drum carder (as you see, it pays not to be too tidy…). It suddenly struck me that it was a rather nice combination of colours, and that it might be fun to try to create a multi-coloured yarn from them.

I have taken a rather scenic route with my spinning, as I did all my initial practise with natural coloured wool. As I also wanted to learn to dye my own wool, it took me several months before I could progress to spinning with colour. And now, several months later, I have a nice stash of basic colours that I can play with. So finally, I’ve got to a point when I could make my very own multi-coloured yarn. It has been a slow process, but all the better for it, as I have truly enjoyed all the different stages.

So here are all the ingredients that went into my yarn: Finnsheep combed top dyed with Sabraset acid dyes, in navy, turquoise, sun yellow, mustard yellow, pale gray and black.

The colours that went into my green and teal yarn

The colours that went into my green and teal yarn

I then spend many hours on my drumcarder, creating batts in the colours matching the little scraps of wool. Luckily, for once, I had kept notes of my earlier experiments so I had a rough idea of what had gone into each colour.

I just loved these batts, not only were they so soft and airy, but they were in my favourite colours (I still can’t get over the fact that I can now have ANY fiber in ANY COLOUR I WANT!).

Batts of colour

I blended the colours to produce these batts

Next I had to decide how to combine the batts. As it was my first attempt to create variegated yarn, I thought I’d try a couple of different methods.

Multi-coloured batts pre-drafted into roving

First attempt at combining the colours: two groups of four colours each. Once carded into batts and pulled into roving, one ended up being a bit lighter than the other.

First I split my eight colours into two groups, and created two batts containing four colours in each of them. In these batts the colours appeared in four even layers, so when I pre-drafted the batts into roving, the colours appeared in long stripes.  When spinning, all four colours were always present in the drafting zone, so the yarn itself does not seem that variegated as the colour is evenly mixed throughout (you will see a picture of this shortly).

Because the colours in this first method were quite thoroughly blended by the time they ended up as yarn, I thought I’d also try another approach that would give me more bold colours. I created one big stack from all the batts, and then started carefully pulling this stack to produce spinnable roving (you can find a good description of this method in Deb Menz’s book Color in Spinning).

The roving produced this way was still stripy, but the stripes themselves were much thicker.

A stack of batts pulled into roving with thick stripes

A stack of batts pulled into roving with thick stripes

A Stack of Batts, pulled into roving

The second stack of batts was pre-drafted much less, producing even thicker sections of individual colour

And finally, I created one of more stack of batts, but I didn’t pull it into such thin roving, but rather left is as a pretty thick lump of wool. This way, when spinning, each colour (or colour combination) lasted quite a while before transforming into another colour, so the singles yarn had long sections of that would only contain one or two of the colours.

The singles yarn

The thick stripes produced a lovely singles with longish sections of individual colour combinations

Singles yarn just before plying

The first two bobbins at the front were produced from the 4-colour batts, the two bobbins at the back were produced from the stack of batts pulled into roving.

Although I really liked to look of the singles yarn, I wanted to see what would happen to the colours when they were plied.

I first plied the two singles from the four-colour batts. Although clearly multi-coloured, the overall colour effect on this yarn was pretty even as all of the colours are present most of the time in the yarn.

I then plied the singles produced from the batt-stacking method. This yarn is more strongly variegated, as you’d expect. In particularly the yellow colour pops out a lot more in this yarn.

Finally, my green and teal skeins

The skein at the front is a two ply produced from the 4-colour batts, the one at the back is a two-ply produced from the batt stacking method.

The difference between the two skeins does not seem that huge, but I would imagine once knitted up you’d see a clear difference. Unfortunately I haven’t quite got to that stage just yet, so I can’t show you any pictures.

As I have been looking at these skeins in different light over the last week or so, I’ve noticed that the colour really looks very different at different time of the day. At clear daylight, the skeins look cheerfully green, but in the low levels of light in the evening the green seems to go into hiding and the teal comes out.

It’s so exciting to be finally able to produce exactly the kinds of yarn I want, in any colour I want. And I am so looking forward to seeing what these yarns will look like as knitted fabric. Who knows, I might not even like them as I often find variegated yarns look a bit too busy for me. But whether or not I will like the final results almost doesn’t matter since I have had such fun during the process. It’s been great to be able to move from inspiration all the way to the final yarn.


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Colour Alchemy: Green

Green yarns

If I said that the yarns in this picture actually do not contain a single hair of green fiber, it would be hard to believe, wouldn’t it?

That’s why optical colour mixing is so fascinating. Seurat of course famously used the principle in his pointillist paintings, but it works just as well in textiles. You take wool in various colours and blend it thoroughly to make a completely new colour. In my case, for the last couple of days I have been blending bright sunshine yellow and navy blue in various proportions on my drumcarder, and so made lots of different shades of green.

Acid dyed Finnsheep wool in Sunshine Yellow and Navy

I started with fiber dyed in Sunshine Yellow and Navy

Green created from sunshine yellow and navy

I blended the yellow and navy fiber on my drumcarder (clockwise from top: 90% yellow/10% navy, 80% yellow/20% navy, 70%/30%, 60%/40% and 50/50% mix)

I spun the fiber and ended up with these lovely green skeins (from left 90% yellow/10% navy, 80%/20%, 70%/30%, 60%/40%, 50%/50%, 40%yellow/60% navy, 30%yellow/70% navy).

I learned a couple of interesting things from this exercise. Firstly, the mixes the contained a majority of yellow blended very well and the results were clearly green. But once I had gone over the 50% navy mark, and most of the fiber was blue, the results didn’t appear quite as blended and bluey green as I had expected. They just looked like navy with yellow fibers in them (although all of the blends had been carded the same number of times(4)  in the drumcarder).

It was also interesting to note that the greens were remarkably different from the equivalent mix created by mixing the colour in the dyeing stage. Perhaps this is not that surprising really, but it was interesting observation nevertheless. You’ll see the comparison in the picture below.

A comparison of different methods of colour mixing. The small skeins on the left were a result of mixing navy and yellow in various proportions in the dyeing stage. The large skeins were done by carding the same proportion of yellow and navy fiber together.

You can see that in the small skeins, the ones where the colours were mixed in the dyeing stage, the blue dye begins to dominate in much smaller proportions and the results are thus much bluer compared to the yarns where the colours were mixed in the carding stage.

Green is one of my favourite colours and now that I have so many lovely shades to choose from, I think I will have to make a lovely frog-green pair of socks for myself. I have just bought some nylon fiber so learning to make a good sock yarn blend will be the next step. More of that soon….


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The Clearwing Jumper

Clearwing Jumper from Rowan Revive yarnIt’s always a delight to find a knitting pattern that is both simple and clever, one that is easy to knit but educational at the same time. This happened to me recently when I was browsing Ravelry, looking for a pattern for a summer jumper. The yarn I had chosen, Rowan Revive in col0urway Firestone, was a reasonably busy one, so I wanted a pattern that is a simple and plain as possible.

Simple patterns often get lost in the crowd in Ravelry, your eye naturally gets drawn to all those elaborate design elements that make a pattern unique. But when I saw the Clearwing pattern I thought it would work well with the yarn. And as soon as I started knitting the pattern I realised that it had several clever construction techniques that will definitely come in handy in future projects too.

The jumper is knitted top down and it comes with a V-neck and raglan sleeves,  a classic style that is always useful to know how to knit. The neckline was constructed by first knitting a narrow band that goes around the neck, and it was from the side of this band that you pick up the stitches for the main part of the jumper – very clever indeed, particularly as the band keeps the neck from stretching and there’s no need for a ribbing. The edge of the sleeves and the hem were finished with an i-cord bind-off, something that I hadn’t done before but again a really useful technique to know about as it gives a nice and neat finish to the garment.

Once you’ve knitted the pattern once to get familiar with the techniques, it would be easy to adjust to different sizes and gauges so I will definitely use this one again, probably very soon as I’ve just bought some linen yarn that I want to knit a short sleeved top from.

Rowan Revive YarnThe Rowan Revive yarn is made from recycled cotton, silk and polyester fibers. I am all for recycling fibers, but it’s definitely a nice enough yarn to use even if recycling itself is not your thing. I normally try to avoid artificial fibers in jumpers, but in this case I decided to make an exception, just to support the idea of recycling fibers and creating beautiful new yarns from them.

As the yarn gives quite a busy surface pattern, with hindsight I probably should have left out the neck embellishment in the Clearwing pattern, it did not need it. But by the time I realised this I was too lazy to undo what I had just knitted. I like the end result neverthless, it’s a nice and useful everyday jumper that goes well with blue jeans.

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PS.

Here in the UK last weekend the whole country was celebrating the Diamond Jubilee (Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne). We even got an extra day off for it. Even in our little village there were several days’ worth of special events, including a street party on Sunday afternoon. I know that at least my mum and dad in Finland would like to see a few photos from the party so here they are – I hope others enjoy them too!

Diamond Jubilee Party Food

Diamond Jubilee village party

Diamond Jubilee Party Dog


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Drifter Jumper

a cable detail in the Drifter jumper

Here’s a project I finished ages ago, but never got round to showing the photos on this blog. This was one of my pre-Christmas secret knitting projects as it was a combined birthday and Christmas present for my brother. So here you are, finally, the “Drifter” jumper knitted from Rowan Cocoon yarn (colourway Crag).  The pattern is published in the Rowan magazine number 48.

Drifter jumperApologies for a not-so-great photograph – I would have preferred to photograph the jumper being worn by my brother as it looks really good on him, but unfortunately I forgot to do it when the jumper and my brother were here in the UK. My brother and his wife (who live in Finland) have recently had a new baby boy and since they are now parents to two little boys under 3 they are rather busy as you can imagine. That’s why I did not want to hassle him about photographing the jumper and emailing the photos to me, I’m sure you understand!

I’ve used Rowan Cocoon yarn before, when I knitted the Hiker jumper from the same magazine for my husband. Although I really enjoyed knitting this yarn – it is very soft and fluffy after all – I was quite disappointed about how it performed in use. It is piling very badly and the jumper itself almost instantly stretched so that it’s nearly double the size now. It stretched even more when I hand washed it so it is pretty much unusable now. A real shame, after all that effort! I am debating now whether to unravel it or felt it, either way the only option is to make something else out of it, it’s no use as a jumper any more.

So needless to say I was very disappointed with Cocoon, but I had already bought the yarn for the Drifter jumper so I had no choice but to use it again. This time I changed the needle size to a smaller one to make the structure tighter and this seems to have done the trick as my brother’s jumper hasn’t stretched so much. The pattern itself probably helped as it has large-scale ribs as well as cables which help to keep it pulled in sideways. But nevertheless, despite all the lovely jumper patterns Rowan has designed for this yarn, I would not recommend Cocoon for large and heavy items, it’s probably more suitable for things like hats and scarves.