October Highlights

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

So the election happened.  

This morning I find that I need to concentrate on all the positive things that happened in my creative world while I was home.  (On Monday I met the boat in Alameda, California, for our annual shipyard period; currently she is in dry dock).

As I mentioned in a previous post, the gansey yarn spun from the 2016 Coopworth fleeces from Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Wiscasset, Maine was there to great me when I arrived home, and the yarn is lovely.

Many people on the 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn wait list were entranced by the yarn in its two undyed colors, but I did get to do some very satisfying dyeing:

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

I am still working through the wait list, but I ran out of time at home.  If you are still on the wait list and you haven't heard from me to talk about your yarn needs, fear not, I still have 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn, I am just out of time at home.  I will be back in my yarn room in early January, and will be in touch to discuss individual orders. 


One of the highlights of my time home was getting to vend at the Highlands on the Fly knitting retreat at the New England Outdoor Center near Millinocket, Maine.  I had a lovely time catching up with knitters I met there in years past (I missed last year because of my boat schedule) and meeting new knitters. 

 This year the great Mary Jane Mucklestone spoke about her travels and interest in the Shetland Islands, Ellen Mason of Doc Mason Yarn gave a class in Mason Jar dyeing, and I finally got to meet Michelle Bye of ByeBrook Farm (we've been Instagram acquaintances for a while - she has lovely sheep).  Other venders included Jani Estelle of Starcroft Fiber Mill, Casey ff Port Fiber, and Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts.  Mary Jane brought her knit swatches from her recent books:  150 Scandinavian Motifs and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (link takes you to a page about Mary Jane's books on her website, scroll down a bit for the titles). I have spent many an hour pouring over the photos in those books, so it was actually a bit surreal to see them in person.  The photos do manage to capture the spirit of the swatches, but seeing the swatches in person I found that some motifs and color combinations possessed an extra dimension of energy that just didn't quite come across in the photos, while other samples that were stunning in the book, though still lovely in person, didn't quite draw my eye the same way they had in two dimensions.  It was an interesting reminder that knitting is not a static medium, and that different light, different pairings of swatches, and just getting a change to pick up a piece, can completely change how one feels about the same piece of knitting.  (I was too sidetracked by getting to actually look at them to remember to photograph them for a later blog post - for which I appologize).

(I also felt immense admiration for the photographer - yarn is maddeningly difficult to photograph accurately, or even consistently).


Time was my biggest challenge when I was home.  I lost two of my six weeks of time home to classes necessary to maintain my boat life, and while both were worthwhile, and the fire fighting class was downright fun at times, I resented the intrusion of my boat life into my yarn life.


But I have now officially fought fire (under controlled conditions) wearing my At Sea Gansey (pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel).  The increased range of motion and ease of wear that make ganseys so lovey to wear when working on a tall ship are equally lovely while moving a fire hose.

And Now for a Bit of Catching Up (or, another round up) - Also, Coopworth Gansey Yarn Update.

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

FIrstly; because I have been arguing with my newsletter software, for those of you who expressed interest in the 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn, I am pleased to report that it is back from the mill and sitting in my yarn room waiting for me to come home (which I shall do at the end of September).  I will be sending out individual emails to people on the Coopworth Gansey yarn wait list before I start dyeing to clarify orders and etc, so start thinking about yardage.  Hopefully I will eventually managed to send out a newsletter to folks on the wait list.


I have been back on the Sea Lion for two weeks now, which means it is just about time to write the round-up of what I got up to whilst on my last rotation home.  But first, while my internet remains somewhat limited, I have been doing my best to regularly post to Instagram, where I go by @uptonyarns.  My photos from my time on the boat are generally travel related more than yarn related, but I will admit that I've become a bit addicted to the ease of Instagram, and have taken to using it to showcase that one new dyelot of yarn that I dyed just before I left for the boat that doesn't warrant a whole newsletter (for instance).


While I was home this time I had the good fortune to be invited to vend at the the second session of the Tidal Tours Retreat in Machaisport Maine hosted by Jodi of One Lupine Fiber Arts and Sarah of the FiberTrek podcast.  The retreat was based out of a house with one of the loveliest views I have seen in a while, and I admit that I got a bit sidetracked (and then totally failed to photograph it, because yarn-ish things were also happening). 


I am looking forward to vending at the Highlands on the Fly retreat at the New England Outdoor Center in October. 


After the Tidal Tours Retreat I followed Sarah back up to her lovely cottage on the pond in for a long weekend of catching up and making things.  Sarah mainly sewed, and I took over part of her kitchen and yard to dye indigo. 




She also filmed a segment with me for a further episode of her podcast, but I am much happier behind the camera and I fear I may have rambled unto incoherence.  Hopefully she got something useable, but I may ask for a second try.


From there it was back to Worcester, where it was so hot that even the candle in candle holder above our mantle seemed to give up.




But I braved the warm temperatures and kept my dye pot anyway, dyeing quite a bit of my 3 Ply Cotswold fingering weight (suitable for Sanquhar) for Beth Brown Reinsel. 




I believe that she is turning some of it into kits, so, if you are interested, please get in touch with her.  You will also be able to find her this winter at the Spa yarn retreat in Freeport, Maine.  I hope to have Cotswold back in stock for my own purposes sometime this winter.


And without triggering my superstitions by saying too much, I am very excited about a couple of things happening this fall.  Very excited.  Fingers crossed.


Color: A mini-rant there-on (and possibly the beginning of a series).

by Sarah Lake Upton in

I am taking advantage of my mornings on the boat to read my favorite natural dying text book, Natural Dyes; Sources, Tradition, Technology, and Science by Dominique Cardon.  As always, reading about the history and chemistry of natural dyes has me pondering how much we take colorful garments for granted today, so much so that we seem to have collectively forgotten that dye stuffs were ever even a consideration or that color itself was valuable.  Most potted history of the middle ages will at least mention how expensive spices were, pepper in particular (and the naming of whole island groups still reflects this) but no one seems to remember that dyestuffs were an equal or greater driver of commerce.  When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, in addition to requiring an annual supply of gold, the Aztecs were also required to supply large amounts of cochineal (an insect that lives on cactus and creates a very bright red dyed) which was considered second only to ships full of gold in terms of value.   We remember and romanticize the pirates that hunted the Caribbean attacking ships full of gold bound for Europe, but just as often those pirates were after ships full of logwood (which produces a deep purple dye, or black when used with tannin and iron) cut from the forests of Central and South America. 

The need for mordants (mental salts that help the colorants in dye plants “stick” to the dyed fibers, and which greatly affect the color and color-fastness of the finished product) shaped history too.  In her encylopedic textbook on natural dyes, Cardon compares the importance of alum (the most commonly used mordant)  and alum producing areas in fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe to our modern need for oil.  

I majored in archaeology (or as close as I could come - there was no “archaeology” major offered at my school at the time I graduated - it’s a long story) and sat through endless hours about ceramics and flaked stone tools and food procurement/production and post-hole remnants and hearth remains and metal production and etc.  and quite a lot of that is preservation bias (ceramics and stone tools are often all that remain) and quite a lot of that is male European archaeology bias (in which high status tools and weapons and status symbols play a very strong role - in some ways archaeology is still very much stuck in the Victorian era - hopefully that has changed a bit in the last fifteen years) and some of that may very well just have been the interests of the professors who taught the classes, but in all of that, even when the topic was pollen analysis or analysis of residues scraped from inside all that ceramic, no one mentioned dyes, dye plants, or mordants.   Looking at the many photos of the archaeological traces of dye works in Dominique Cardon’s book it makes me want to bang my head against the wall in frustration that I twice got to help excavate at a major Andean temple complex and no one mentioned dye plants or fiber production, even though we know from skeletal remains that when the site was in use there were very, very large llamas living there (though we don’t know what the site residents were doing with those very large llamas).

I have long wanted to include more information on the history and chemistry of the dyes I regularly use on my website.  I may finally be getting around to it.  Stay tuned.

Yarn! Lots of New Yarn (and now I am back on a boat).

by upton in , ,

My time at home was lovely and cold and way too short.  It was also very productive (on the yarn front, though not on the blogging front…). I returned home to find the fleeces I sent off to the mill in the fall returned to me in the form of lovely yarn on cones.  A storm of dyeing ensued.  Yarn took over every available surface in the house, the bathtub was pressed into service for drip-drying, and a giant drying rack took up the prime space in front of the woodstove (much to Nell’s annoyance).

I experimented with new colors and dyed new lots of older colors (which sometimes resulted in new colors).

Pinks and Reds

Sky Blue, Medium Blue, and Indigo



Above, “Light Butternut”, “Rosewood”, and “70% Cacao”.   70% Cacao is actually a fleece from one of Liberty Wool Farm’s Romney rams (he is or will be responsible for the “Romney” portion of the “Cotswold x Romney” yarn).  I had his fleece spun to the same weight as my other 3-Ply fingering weight yarn.

This is “Aspen”, a lovely, lively green, but not quite the “Cress” that I was aiming for. (Natural Dyeing is not an exact science).


I am back at my “day job” on the boat.  Last night we finished our transit of the Panama Canal and currently we are bound for Isla Iguana for a bit of snorkeling.  As my very slow internet connection allows I will be updating the “yarn” section of this site to reflect the work of the last few weeks.  In the meantime, if you would like to order any yarn, please email me at uptonyarns (at) gmail.com.  My internet connection is sometimes a bit spotty on the boat, but I can usually check it at least once a day.  Yarn is being shipped out in my absence.