A new use for sheep, and I'm knitting socks!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

I am usually the last person to hear about things, so I suspect that the entire sheep-interested world has already heard about this, but I just found about it and I am ridiculously excited.

According to this article in the Washington Post (to name one, a quick Google search shows that many other news organizations also ran the story) the topography and lack of roads in the Faroe Islands make it impossible to photograph the islands for Google Street View using the normal cameras mounted on cars.  The folks at Google were just willing to let it go, but the Faroe Island tourism board very much wanted to add their islands to Google Street View, and so they strapped solar powered cameras to sheep. Which is honestly just the coolest solution.   (Although it actually turns out that sheep are generally too focussed on grazing and therefore move across a space too slowly to be much good at photographing an area - so most of the footage of the Faroes that is currently on Google Street View was actually taken by human hikers).

The Sheep View footage is available on the tourism board website, and a lot of it made it onto youtube.

On a more knitting related note, I have been longing to knit Kanoko Socks by Mary Jane Mucklestone, published in Making Magazine No. 3,  ever since I saw her wear them during the Wool Scout Retreat at Bradford Camp this August.   As usual, I got a little sidetracked and my knitting queue got in the way, but when MJ’s Instragram post came across my feed announcing that the pattern was being released for individual sale on Ravelry they immediately jumped to the head of the line.  I started knitting them a few days ago (using my Straw’s Farm Island Sheep fingering weight) and am thoroughly enjoying them.  The four rows of dots are charming in cream, but they would also be charming in different colors.  Yup, I’m plotting kits….

kanoko no 1 in progress.jpg

Bousta Beanie Kit

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,

I'm not really a hat knitter normally, but at the good natured prodding of my friend Sarah Hunt (@fibertrek) I finally caved and knit a Bousta Beanie. (For those who, like me, have been living under a rock all summer, Bousta Beanie is a free pattern designed by Gundrun Johnston to promote the 2017 Shetland Wool Week. Apparently everyone is knitting them, and I can see why). As she usually is when it comes to all matters knitting, Sarah is absolutely right and I loved knitting my Bousta Beanie so much that I further caved to Sarah's prodding and put together a kit.

I got so excited about making the kit that I haven't actually finished mine yet - appologies for the lack of blocking, end tucking, or pom pom) .

I got so excited about making the kit that I haven't actually finished mine yet - appologies for the lack of blocking, end tucking, or pom pom) .


The kit contains two, 110 yard skeins of 3-Ply Romney fingering weight, and one, 110 skein each of 3-Ply Straw's Farm Island Sheep fingering weight dyed with natural indigo in a light blue gradient and a more solid dark indigo colorway.





There is, of course, a kit bag.


The product link will go live this evening (Wednesday, September 13) at 5:00 PM.  I'm stuck traveling for my "day job" again next week, though thankfully only for a few days this time.  All orders placed by noon on Friday, September 15 will go out that day.  All order placed after that will have to wait until Friday September 21.

What I Got Up To Whilst Home Part I

by Sarah Lake Upton

As usual, despite my firm resolve to do better this time, I failed to keep up with blogging while I was home, so here are a few catch up posts, and then (fingers crossed) I resolve to continue with my series about natural dyes and history (thank you for the encouragement on that front M.)

I spent my entire rotation home working with indigo to fill an order for the Netloft in Cordova, Alaska.  More on that next post, but for those wanting a preview, the yarn in question is in honor on the Netloft Fiber&Friends: Fisherfolk gathering this summer. 

On the personal knitting front, I was inspired by Kay Gardiner’s Instagram #bangoutasweater knit-along to knit another Icelandic sweater.  The knit-along focused on Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Stop Over, which I love (especially seeing so many of the completed sweaters in so many different color combinations) but I have long been looking for an excuse to knit Ysolda Teague’s Strokkur, so I seized this as my excuse and ran with it.  

In catching up with the Fridge Association blog during my last rotation on the boat I found myself agreeing with Karen’s love of dark icelandic sweaters with light yokes.    And then I took this photo of a sunset off the coast of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica and thought about what a lovely dramatic sweater those colors would make. 

The yoke Ysolda devised for Strokkur already captured some of the feeling of light on the ocean, so all I needed to do was chose a darker yarn for the main color. 


I love everything about this sweater.  On the creative front I feel like it translated the color and texture of the sunset on water, and more importantly I love everything about how the sweater itself fits.  Ysolda is the queen of sneaky waist shaping and short rows to make finished garment fit the contours of the wearer in a way that is flattering but more importantly, more comfortable.   I could not be more pleased with the resulting sweater (though reading about everyone’s Stop Overs and the beauty that is Lettlopi yarn knit on size US 10s I may have to knit myself one next time I’m home).

The #bangoutasweater along was a wonderful and much needed pallet cleanser after the fine color work of Kate Davies Machrihanish, .  A ridiculously over the top Fair Isle vest has been on my dream to-knit list for years but for one reason or another I always found myself working on something else instead. But something about the Machrihanish pattern struck me and I felt the immediate “must knit” response drives us all to feats of knitterly exuberance. Luckily Sam and I share a similar taste, and he was equally struck by the need to wear such a gem.   I chose to knit the vest in exactly the same colors and yarn that Kate designed it with, because it was the colors and texture that drew me to the vest in the first place, and also because part of the beauty of Fair Isle vests (I have discovered) is the way the colors play against each other when the same motif is knit using different color combinations.   (There is a musical allusion to be made here, but the correct words are escaping me at the moment - please insert the obvious clever allusion here). 

When Sam was a sailor and sailmaker ganseys were obviously the necessary thing to keep him supplied with, but now that he is a grad student, a smart Fair Isle vest is clearly required.  We’re both quite pleased with the result.  And now having tackled one, I am very much itching to knit another for myself. 

While home I also managed to steek my Epistrophy, knit in my DK Weight Bluefaced Leicester, but I chose the wrong ribbon to sew over the steeked edges (not quite enough body) and ended up being too busy (and at one point too sick - wretched colds) to make the much discussed foray into Boston in search of good fabric (for different projects) and ribbon, and so the whole project has been sent to the time out corner until I get home.  Sigh.  I’m looking forward to picking it up again.

A Longer Note About Indigo

by Sarah Lake Upton in

My Short Note About Indigo leaves a lot of questions unanswered: what is “crocking”?  how will it affect the finished piece? is there anything one can do to reduce it? why does it happen in the first place? and etc.  This will hopefully answer some of those questions, but I suspect there will be a follow up piece to this piece at some point because I can be a wicked over-explainer. Also because indigo is honestly magic. 

To understand crocking it helps to understand the basics of dyeing with natural indigo. 

To use most natural dyes one basically makes a broth using plants or plant extracts.  The process of dyeing with natural dyes, after scouring and mordanting the yarn, is not actually that much more complicated than the process of making good soup, though it is more time consuming.  (I dye in stock pots and canning pots on my kitchen stove, so the comparisons to cooking may come more easily than they otherwise should).  There are certain variables that need to be kept track of (pH, heat, time, pre-mordants or after-baths) but they are no more complicated that making sure that the soup is seasoned correctly and has enough rosemary.  The yarn will dry a few shades lighter than whatever color it achieves in the dyepot, but like soup making, one can easily “taste” it along the way, and with experience be able to modify it to achieve a desired result.  

Natural indigo is not at all like that. 

Natural indigo is a vat dye, an un-helpful descriptor (can’t vats be used in most dyeing?) that to a dyer means that a complicated chemical reaction must first take place in order to achieve the desired result.  

The colorant in natural indigo, indigotin,  is not water soluble and will not stick to fiber.  To make natural indigo work as a dye, one must first make it change into a slightly different chemical by making the dye bath very alkali and then removing oxygen from the bath.  Doing this will change the dye bath into a form generally referred to as “indigo white” (even through the bath itself is actually a sickly yellow/green when properly reduced).  Once the bath is the proper pH and weird yellow/green color, the fiber may be added and allowed to sit for a short period of time.  When the fiber is removed from the dye and exposed to air it will be that same weird yellow as the dye bath but then as the dye reacts with oxygen and transforms back to indigotin (now stuck to fibers) it magically becomes blue again.  

Photo credit Deb Cunningham - this is the same skein of indigo over the course of about ten seconds as the reduced indigo reacts to the presence of oxygen and turns blue again. 

Photo credit Deb Cunningham - this is the same skein of indigo over the course of about ten seconds as the reduced indigo reacts to the presence of oxygen and turns blue again. 

Depth of color is developed through multiple dips in the indigo vat. 

Sometimes the indigo doesn’t fully adhere to the fiber.  Because indigo isn’t water soluble, washing and rinsing will only convince the most unadhered indigo particles to wash out of the fiber, which leave the particles that are hanging on but just a little.  These are the particles that can break free and stain you hands and needles when the yarn is subjected to the mechanical action of knitting.  But, because these are particles of indigo, not indigo white, they still don’t really want to stick to anything.  I tend to think of indigo particles in this form as being more like chalk dust than dye.  It will stick to your hands and needles and if you are doing color work it may temporarily discolor the other yarns you are working with, but because you haven’t gone through the process of transforming indigotin into indigo white, you are basically dealing with very fine colorful dust.  Once the particles have broken free enough to discolor things, they are usually easily washed away.  The only exception to this is the fine pores of bamboo needles, which tend to trap indigo particles.  

Some of you may have come across photos of natural indigo dyers with very blue hands

Indigo dyes fingernails especially well.

Indigo dyes fingernails especially well.

For instance, this is my hand after a round of indigo dyeing before I found a pair of gloves that I liked.  In this case the indigo in the dyepot is treating the proteins in my skin the same way it treats the proteins in wool, and sticking accordingly.  As noted, this is very different from crocking.  When I knit with crocking yarn I will often get a blue ring around the back of my middle finger where I tension the yarn, and the palms of may hands will become a little blue from where they come in contact with my knitting. 

Some batches of indigo dyed yarn do not crock at all.  Some batches of yarn crock quite a bit.  Sometimes one or two skeins in a dye lot will crock but the others won't.  I do everything I can to reduce crocking, but there is no way for me to eliminate it completely, or predict with batches will and won’t crock.   Generally the mechanical action of knitting knocks the last few clinging particles free, and then with a final soak and rinse during blocking it will be done.