Exploring Plant Dyes

It always amazes me what range of colours you can get from plants and plant material. Not only can they be subtle and delicate, they can be strong, punchy and vibrant. Plant dyes offer us a natural alternative to industrially used dyes. Often coming directly from the plant itself or from plant extracts. This can cut down on the harsher chemicals used in the process of industrial dying. Synthetic chemicals used in a majority of large scale commercial dyeing processes can pose hazards to the people working with them and the environment they may come into contact with. Plant dyes and the mordants used to treat the yarn in the smaller scale hand dying process, if handled properly, are often (depending on the material) less of a risk to the dyer and the environment. Plus plants offer us a renewable source of dyeing material and if farmed or gathered responsibly are much more sustainable and have less environmental impact.

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At Knit With Attitude we stock a range of plant dyed yarns and I will take a little look at them below. I shall be focusing on Hey Mama Wolf and G-uld. Both Small scale producers, dyeing yarns with plant and natural dye stuffs. Both Hey Mama Wolf and G-uld focus on the craft skills involved, with a respect for the environment and the process of creating beautiful yarns. Both learning form nature and how the change of seasons brings different qualities to dyeing. Respecting old traditions, while also bringing them into the present.

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G-uld labels showing the combination of materials used to generate different colours.

What I love about natural dyes is the combination of natural materials that go into creating a range of colours. This is shown most with G-uld and in some Hey Mama Wolf skeins. G-uld have labeled the combinations that go to creating each colour. Different amounts of each dyestuff creating different saturations of colour.

Let’s look at these yarns in more detail and check out some project inspiration.

Hey Mama Wolf

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Hey Mama Wolf is the creation of Jule. Based in Germany, she dyes her yarns naturally and also most of the yarns themselves are, sourced and processed locally to her. She works from her home which is an old watermill in Prignitz. To read our interview with Jule, check out our earlier Blog Post.

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First up we have Sockyarn #04. A sturdy 4ply sock yarn which is a blend of Merino, Corriedale and Ramie Fibre. Ramie is a plastic free alternative to nylon and is a member of the nettle family. Sockyarn #04 is soft but crisp, will give you good definition and great for textural stitches. Not just for socks, it would be great for any garment.

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Here’s a groovy sock pattern that highlights this yarns crisp definition. The Practice Theory Socks by Roos Vlaskamp. Great for a quick one skein project.

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Next up is Schafwolle #03. A 100 % Organic wool from small farms in North and East Germany. A blend of Merino and Black Face sheep processed and spun in Germany and the Czech Republic. A worsted weight yarn perfect for colour work or textured jumper projects. Will give great definition and hold pattern well.

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Who could forget Moonbow by Jule herself. A great relaxed jumper from Pom Pom 26 – The Moon Issue. Perfect for showing off your favourite colour. Plus you even get the opportunity to use some Sockyarn #04.

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Lastly but definitely not least from Hey Mama Wolf is the Ahimsa No.10. So much luxury in these 50g Skeins. Ahimsa is a 100% Organic Peace Silk. Ahimsa means non-violent in sanskrit and the production of this Indian yarn allows the silk moths to hatch from the cocoons. It’s lace weight with a slightly matte feel, but still the sheen you expect from silk. Perfect held double with another yarn or on its own for a wonderful heirloom piece.

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Create something of beauty with this yarn, knit lacey! The stunning Fylleryd by Mia Rinde would be ideal. Lace pattern repeats will give you an elegant shawl you will treasure and can be knit in one or two skeins.

G-uld

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G-uld are based in Bredsten, Denmark and dye and teach all things natural dyeing. G-uld is based on solid craftsmanship, with an understanding and respect for material, quality and nature. Their colouring and choice of products are rooted in old traditions, and with a great desire for where the past meets the present. To read more about them see out earlier Blog Post.

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We stock their dreamy Alpaca yarn which we have in 20 dyed colours and 2 natural shades. Dyed on the white and grey bases with various combinations of natural dyes to give a great range of colour. This yarn has lovely drape and ideal

for anything from accessories to jumpers and cardigans.

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What better way to explore these colours than with a dreamy fade project. The Dip Dye Kids Beanie by Camilla Vad uses three shades to create the most sumptuously soft and cosy little hat.

I hope this post has encouraged you to look at plant dyes and made you think. They are not just washed out and insipid, but fun, bright and inspiring!

Of course if you want to have a go at plant dying yourself we have the natural dying kits from Hey Mama Wolf. Including Yarn Dying kits and Eco Print Fabric kits.

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What do you get the knitter that has everything… part 2 – that special skein.

Following on from my earlier blog post I have been thinking over what makes a good gift for a knitter. There are a lot of different choices for yarn so I have decided to focus on that special skein. These special skeins make the perfect knitters treat. They might not be something that a knitter would buy for themselves but they are always welcome presents.

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So here’s a little break down of some special skeins that would make a great gift, I have focused on our range of amazing hand dyed yarns from a selection of talented hand dyers,  just one or two of these would be enough to make something special.

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Miniskeins! I think have to be every knitters weakness. What better way to sample the delights of a hand dyer than with these little gorgeous bite size skeins. These mini’s from Black Elephant are 20g of a 4ply Superwash Merino Single. Try one or two to add little colour pops to projects or crocheting little granny squares to start a blanket. Try four or five for a little striped hat or fingerless gloves. You can also embrace the fading possibilities on a much smaller scale. Like this cute little combo I have picked out featuring: Cornfields, Pineapple Express, Nostalgia, Mudbound and Daryl.

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What about socks! Here are some special skeins that would give the sock knitter endless joy. Sock Yarn is not only for socks either and can be used for any project. Here we have the popular Hedgehog Fibres Twist Sock in Beach Bunny. This sturdy 4ply sock yarn of Bluefaced Leicester and Nylon is strong and gives good stitch definition. The Garnsurr Søkke Merino is a a hand dyed Merino Nylon blend, super soft and luxurious. Garnsurr is a Norwegian company that not only produces gorgeous yarn but also employs refugee women. They are giving a skill and are helped to settle and learn Norwegian. This is a great yarn to give as a gift as it introduces people to the great work that Garnsurr do. For more information on Garnsurr check out our interview with Ann Helen, Garnsurr’s founder. Looking for a hand dye that has an interesting dyeing background then try Hey Mama Wolf’s Sockyarn #04. These skeins are dyed completely with natural dye by the talented Jule. She uses a mixture of plant based dye stuffs that will have you amazed at the range of colours. For a pair of socks just one of these 100g skeins will have you sorted.

specialskein-02Want to amaze someone with a spectacular special skein that they are unlikely to find in many places try the Pan by Garnsurr. The great people at Garnsurr have applied their dyeing magic to this DK weight blend of Buck Mohair and Dalasheep. This is one for the knitter that gets geeky about their breeds. This slightly coarser hand dye takes the colour amazingly and they are all deep and rich. One of these would be perfect for a hat or a pair of gloves, or even a little snood. (I just released a design using this yarn, and you can find my Pan Snood on my Ravelry page).

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Looking for a two skein combo try Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles. HHF’s vibrant dyes are bound to get the knitter in your life excited! With a huge selection of semi-solids, speckled and poppy shades, finding a colour combo is easy peasy making you the most popular gift buyer this year!

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Another firm favourite for the knitters that prefer a heavier knit – or just need top get that last minute knitted gift sorted. With one of these Hedgehog Fibres Merino DKs you can whip up a hat or a pair of wrist warmers in no time! And again – we have plenty of colours to choose from.

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This one is for all the experimental knitters that love a good fibre combo. There is such a craze in the knitting world these days combining a single soft strand of fluffy yarn with a sturdier one, no surprise really, because this creates the most stunning and wearable of textures. As we see one designer after the other releasing gorgeous projects using HHF Kidsilk Lace in this way, you can’t go wrong gifting a hank or two to someone who really deserves it!

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Finally, we have to talk about Linda! Did you know that Kettle Yarn Co. is the handdyer that has been with Knit with attitude the longest? Not only is Linda our dear friend, she makes some amazing colours on equally amazing yarns! For discerning makers looking for the most precious materials, all yarns are extensively wear tested and only the highest quality, scrumptiously soft but rugged blends make the grade for the Kettle Yarn Co yarns. Pictured above is Islington DK – a high twist BFL and silk blend, and below is Beyul 4Ply that combines the best of 3 fibres – the gentle halo of high quality Yak down, a subtle shimmer from silk, and the bouncy goodness of the softest superwash Merino.

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The ideas I’ve gathered here are some of our most striking hand dyes which would be on every knitter’s wish list, however our shop is filled with woolly gems and special skeins from all over the world for you to fall in love with. Why not grab a cuppa and go for a proper browse through – there is still time before Christmas and you do deserve a colourful and inspirational break!

Interview with Jule from
Hey Mama Wolf

In our effort to create a full range of ethical and environmentally sourced yarns, we have spent a long time searching for a company making yarn dyed with plants, or naturally dyed yarn. This is an inherently niche idea, so while there are people out there naturally dying yarn, it was difficult to find someone dying that could also handle the larger scales required to supply orders from yarn shops. We were so excited to meet Jule who came to visit the shop while she was in London attending Pomfest this summer and discover her yarn company, Hey Mama Wolf. Not only does Jule dye all of her yarns naturally, the yarns themselves are also sourced and processed locally to her in Germany, greatly reducing the carbon footprint of the yarn. We have started off with the Sockyarn #04 and kits to do your own natural dying at home.

With all this to consider, we were excited to ask Jule a few questions about Hey Mama Wolf and learn about what goes on behind the scenes.

jule hmwHow long have you been knitting?
When I was about 10 years old we visited my great aunt Agnes and she told me that I needed to learn how to knit. Without further ado she just taught me. I don’t think I had a choice but I enjoyed it very much. First things I knitted were teeny tiny things for my Barbies – scarfs, hats and even mittens. Aunt Agnes was also the one who taught me mending and gave me my first sewing machine.

kupfer mordantWhat inspired you to get into dying and specifically natural dying?
Again I will start with my aunts and my grandma. Aunt Agnes was a garden architect, my grandma has a huge garden and another aunt is a herbalist. My mother often took me for long walks in the woods and the botanical gardens. They all planted the love for plants in me. I was always especially interested in healing plants. I became a textile and surface designer, and when I graduated from art school, I was a freelance knitwear designer. After having our first daughter I started looking for sustainable local yarns. I love natural wool colours very much but what would knitting be without colourful yarns? Two very good friends of mine asked me why don’t I do plant dyeing. I love to explore and I love plants. So these friends were absolutely right. I find great joy in dyeing with plants.

farbkarte birkeWhere and how do you source the dyes that you work with? Can you tell us more about the plant origins?
I started with using only hand gathered plants from walks in Berlin and Brandenburg, leftovers from friends (flowers, onion skins, avocado pits…) and what I got from the local organic market – turmeric, carrot greens, whatever wasn’t suitable for selling anymore. But I knew that I wouldn’t get far with that if HMW wanted to grow. Right now I’m using plant dye extracts that are made by a company nearby in Magdeburg. I was so thrilled when I found out that there is actually a company in Germany who does that. They come as an easy to use powder. The difference between these and chemical dyes is that they are still a natural product and are much more influenced by other parameters – water, weather, mordants, the yarn itself. Every dyer will get different results.

Some colours I prefer to dye with plant matter itself. I try to buy them organically and preferably local grown. I still get stuff from the local market and of course I’m still exploring the colours that surround me, my local dye plants. We live in an old water mill surrounded by nature, so when a tree falls down in a storm I gather the bark and leaves. When tansy and St. John’s Wort are flowering in abundance I will go and gather. Right now I’m very interested in using mushrooms as a dye material. It is a whole different story to plants though, I’ll have to get acquainted to the fungi world.

johannis etsyDo you have a favourite plant to dye with? 
Oh yes, many. The first that comes to my mind is birch bark. It smells so good when you cook it and most of the time it makes the most beautiful dusty pinks or golden browns. Then fresh St. John’s Wort flowers. You can dye at least four different colours with it, bright green, golden yellow, orange and maroon. I also find many oak galls on my walks and I love the greys that I can achieve with them.

birkenrinde topfThe fibre for your yarns are all sourced locally to you in northern Germany, can you tell us more about where they come from and how they are made?
Yes, the wool comes from small organic farms in northern and eastern Germany. The farms sometimes only have some sheep to mow the lawn, while others have as many as 200- 300 sheep to produce cheese and meat. I don’t know many of the farmers personally. The wool mill gathers the wool. They sort and scour it (just with plant based soap) and it is then spun. The natural brown wool is from the Frisian milk sheep of my neighbour Anna. She has about 150 sheep and makes the best cheese. Anna is a very inspiring person. She makes everything from the wool of her sheep. Carpets, woven fabric, mattresses and pillows, wall hangings and of course she spins and knits. It is lovely to stand next to her watching the sheep. She can tell a story of every single one of them.

faerberknoeterichHow do you develop a new colour way? Do you start with a specific combination in mind, or is it a happy accident? 
In the beginning there was exploring and many happy accidents. Now I can predict the outcome much better. Still natural dyes are always surprising. Some weeks ago I dyed a colour that I often dye, a best seller, a golden yellow with St. John’s Wort. I made two batches at the same time, doing everything absolutely exact according to my recipe. One batch was golden yellow, and one was green. A beautiful green and I would love to dye it again, but I don’t have a clue what went wrong. I can’t even blame the stars, because I made them at the same time. As a textile designer I work pretty much according to the books when developing a shade card. I make a mood board, then think about which plant can give me which colour.

muehle herbst 1What’s currently on your needles?
Too much. I have the Whinfell sweater of Jenn Steingass from Woods on my needles with my own hand dyed and hand spun yarns. There are mittens for our children with my Rauwerk wool. I’m working on a striped pullover with my #02 yarn. A pair of socks with the Mistletoe pattern by Verena Cohrs. A vest from my #03 yarn. But my favourite project these days is not knitting related. We’re currently renovating our old house and I’m trying to make plant pigments to use in my own wall paint.