playing with blue: Petrie Shell and indigo plant

With Trees Cowl and sock cuffs done I was in need of a new mindless knitting project. The other projects all require my brain: there are sleeves to be started. Short rows. Gauge. Attention needed.

But not good old Petrie Shell in linen that I had swatched for. Just cast on and follow the pattern:

This is where I started to have doubts. This felt pretty tight. 40 cm? That’s 80 cm in the round. I’m more of a 90 cm hip kinda girl.
The little swatch from my little video-blog had shown it would grow smaller even, from 17 st/10 cm to 20 st/10 cm. But then, linen stretches with wear so perhaps I’d be alright anyway…
After worrying and knitting and worrying and knitting for a while I put this part on a life line and washed it, to see what would happen. Gauge was already 21 st/10 cm unblocked!

As it turned out, nothing happend with the gauge after blocking. It stayed at 21 st/10 cm, which is about the gauge of the pattern.
So I’m happy knitting along until this tube hits my widest part (hint: “my eyes are up here”) and then I’ll put in that distinctive shaping that’s part of this pattern.

In the mean time I’m tinkering about in the garden, helped by a couple of friends. We’ve cleared some brambles and unruly raspberries (who fruits raspberries in November?! Unruly!) and I finally have one of my favourite flowers growing right outside my window, the daisy. This is the Cow’s Eye Daisy I think? We call it Farmers’ Margareta (“boerenmargriet”). I love all species of Daisies with simple white petals and a yellow heart. I’m very happy.
And I’ve got six indigo plants:

They’re not very big yet, after all they do grow in the middle of the forest, but they have responded nicely to my planting skills, manure and encouragement.
Indigo is a special dye for both animal fibre (wool, silk) and plant fibre (cotton, linen). It does not require a mordant to attach to the fibres and it is light fast. This is unlike the majority of the plants for dyeing. You always hear people talking about alum and cream of tartar (CoT) and cooking times and how the colours fade.
Not for indigo.

Indigo has its own challenges though. It will not release it’s dye like most plants (just chop ’em and cook ’em). And once you get it to release its dye it won’t attach to fibre. If you do manage to get the colour to attach to the fibre your fibre will be green, not blue.
Then you have to expose it to oxygen and only then will the green turn blue, the magical indigo blue.

You need special skills and stuffs to make this work. High temperature and quick cooling but not too cool. Stale urine. Fermentation. Under water acrobatics. Hydrosyphilis Chemicalicus. Special gloves. Outdoor cooking gear. Japanese skills.

That’s too much for me. My brain is already occupied with knitting sleeves. I need easy dyeing.
There is an easy way of indigo dyeing. You can release its dye by chopping the leaves in a blender filled with icewater. Then you use vinegar to attach it to fibre (best results with silk) but you only get a (pale) turkoize. (I don’t like turkoize much)

There most be another way. If it’s a question of breaking the plant cells to get the chlorofyl out then brute force would release the dye, I’d think. Brute force would also drive the dye into fibres. I’d think.
Have hammer, will pound.

I took a leaf and folded it into a piece of paper and took a hammer to it.
It was bright green! lighter than this. Then I put it in the sun and you could see it turn darker, bluer. Magic!

With a sturdy fabric you could leaf print indigo leafs, I’d think. Linen, hemp, canvas. I wonder if it’s light fast. If it’d turn more blue. If it’s attached to the fabric properly.
I feel very much like experimenting. But I think I’ll leave the indigo plants to mature a little while more, I feel they don’t have seen the sun enough yet to have made indigo dye in abundance.

I’m waiting patiently, knitting with dark blue linen and enjoying daisies:


Knitting with linen: technicalities.

In preparation for my Summer top I want to list some characteristics of linen yarn and what they entice for a knitter.

Linen is made from flax which is a flower on a high stem. The plant grows its high stem by twisting it around, this gives more strength.
This means the fibres from it has a tendency to bias. Which I discovered two years ago.

This year I’m knitting with plied yarn. Although the bias is controlled by the plying the resulting fabric will still have a tendency to sway this way or that. That’s why a casual shaped garment is better then one that is close fitting or depends on rigid shapes to be beautiful.

Other solutions are to reduce stockinette stitch panes to a minimum. Work with garter stitch, cables or lace.
For my Summer top I will not, I want a loosely draped garment and I don’t mind if it biases a bit.

Because plant based yarns don’t have the elasticity that wool has linen is stiffer than wool, just like cotton is. This makes it harder on the hands to knit with, if you decide to knit as tight as you would with wool.
Many people complain of sore hands when knitting with cotton or flax.
My solution is to knit at a looser gauge. By knitting in a less tense way, not by going up a needle size.

Katia recommends needle size 5 – 5,5 mm (=US 8 or 9) for this yarn.
Being a loose knitter I would take up a size 4 mm.
But my swatch said I would like to knit this on size 2,25 mm.
I still get gauge for the needles recommended on the ball band: 17 st in 10 cm (= 4 inch). That’s how loose I knit. Not just per usual but per conscious effort.

One linen yarn producer, Euroflax, has some usefull tips on their website.
They recommend handling the yarn before you knit with it, to soften it up a bit. I’ll be juggling with my balls a bit before I cast on. Use them as anti-stress balls.

 pic by Milda K.

Linen truly comes into its own with wear. Then the fabric softens up beautiful while still keeping sturdy and it acquires a gleam. Heirloom linens, decades or even centuries old, are testament to this.
To speed up this process you abuse the finished object: put it in the washer with jeans; put it in the dryer; wack it around on stones.

But don’t leave it in the sun because it will bleach the colours. Which ties us to history in various ways. Traditional linen is used to weave cloth with. Which is why we call bed- and table coverings “linens” even when they’re no longer made from flax. In Holland and Belgium we also use the word “laken” for these types of coverings. You have a table laken and various beddelakens. No matter what material it is.

Some centuries ago, when Belgium and also Holland, soared in producing excellent woven linen cloth this cloth was known as “laken”. Perhaps because excellent weavers lived in the town Laken? It’s where the King and Queen of Belgium live.
Although “laken” in the Dutch republic can also refer to a specific wool cloth, woven and then felted, known as “Leids Laken”. I think this type of laken is called “lakense stof” (“stof” = cloth). Just to muddle things up a bit. I’m probably telling porkies here. Beware.

After each washing bed- and table linens were spread out on communal fields, to dry and bleach in the sun. These fields were called “lakenvelden”.
When linen weaving became big business linen factories had these fields close by. For laying out the freshly woven cloth:

pictures from the Dutch flax museum:
Their wonderful historic pictures of flax and linen industry here.

The Lowlands were prosperous. And prosperous people delight in funny looking pets. Meet the Lakenvelders:

This type of marking is called “Dutch Belted” in English.
Nowadays it’s a rare breed of cattle but back then much appreciated. And just because we had too much money and too much time on our hands we bred this Lakenvelder markings into all kinds of animals:

Lakenvelder markings are officially recognized in these species. In rabbits and guinneapigs it’s even known as “Hollander marking”. The Dutch sure are a funny bunch and have been for centuries…

From experienced people on Ravelry I understand that woven in ends tend to escape with wear. Again because of the non-elasticity thing.
The tip is to leave a long tail and weave it in and changing directions a few times.

 pic by Claudia Meyer

People who’ve knit with Katia Lino 100% say it leaves a lot of lint behind, even after multiple washings.
I did notice my little swatch leaving a blue halo on my skirt…
One raveler has this tip: “My best hint for softening the finished project is to place it dry into the dryer and run it on air/cool for an hour or more. That treatment left it very soft, and removed lint as well (be sure to check your lint trap frequently).”

pic by Hervé de Brabandère

Linen needs to be swatched and blocked before you can say anything about the gauge.
Indeed my swatch went every which way. Before wetting it knit up to 16-17 st per 10 cm. And 7 to 8 rows in 3 cm.
After blocking it was 20-22 st in 10 cm and definitely 8 rows in 3 cm.

I’ve also heard how garments tend to widen and shorten in length with wear. People find themselves pulling at their hems a lot.
I’m pondering what processes are involved here…

Don’t use wool wash detergent. It will take out the colours.
Dryer is fine. Washing machine is fine. Ironing is fine. They all affect the fabric (make it stiff, softer or shinier) so try out on a small piece (swatch) first.

Here’s a whole Ravelry group on working with linen and hemp.
They have dedicated threads on biaising; how to wash a linen cardi and Joining linen – photo montage.

I’m off to read some more in that group. In the mean time, don’t let the Dutch get their hands on your wildlife! Or you may end up with a Lakenvelder tapir:

Weird Wool Wednesday: needed the needle

I quickly finished a Softspoken Skew sock:

because I needed the needle to knit a swatch with:

because I bought balls of linen yesterday:

to knit a lovely Summer top in dark blue linen. A top for which I’ve been aching for exactly two years now. To the day! How’s that for Weird Wool Wednesday, 2 years ago 10th of June was a Wednesday too. And linen trumped me.

A Summer top. Yes. Even though it’s already Summer. Even though I have 3 cardigans on the needles already. On small needles, all of them. Summer is forever, right?