Dyeing Fiber by The Arkansas River


Some fiber friends and I headed west over a couple mountain passes to spend the day in the Arkansas valley attending a natural dye workshop.   Jane, our enthusiastic hostess and instructor, has eleven acres of beautiful property located alongside the Arkansas River set up with everything a fiber enthusiast dreams of.  A physician for twenty five years, she retired to this lovely valley to pursue her passion of fiber.  Her massive studio complete with a dyer’s garden full of color waiting to be harvested, llamas, a variety of sheep and a beautiful patio overlooking the river where one can gather and talk of fiber – the setting was perfect for a day nestled alongside the Collegiate Peaks.



Jane’s philosophy is simple.  Working with fibers and dyes is a lot of fun. You can follow a lot of rules or you can experiment and see what the results turn out to be. Either way, you end up with something that is more personal that you will treasure.


The kettles were brewing – weld, logwood, indigo and cochnial and cota.


Weld produced a knockout yellow color.  It was used by ancient tapestry weavers in Central Asia, Turkey and Europe.  I believe Jane said it is the brightest and clearest yellow flower dye.  We noticed a distinct green cast as the water temperature increased.

Logwood was a seductive, brilliant purple.  It originated from the Americas and to the Aztec Indians it was known as the ‘spiny tree’ because it had a thorny, contorted trunk.  They used it as a weapon.


Indigo, traditional and most technical of the dyes and, I might add, the stinkiest.  This natural blue dye is affected by oxygen so we had to be careful dipping our fiber in and out of the pot so that the color would not be affected.  As our fiber dried and more oxygen interacted with it the color changed.  I thought it was a bit tricky and only played with it as an overdye.

Cota, or Navajo Tea, produced a beautiful yellow.

My favorite was cochnial with its deep shades ranging from fuchsia to raspberry.  Cochnial is an insect found in South America.  Our instructor imported hers from Peru and ground them to a fine powder to be used in dyeing.  Interestingly enough, it is the only natural red colorant approved by our FDA for food, drugs and cosmetics.


Most everyone dyed their fiber in variegated tones but I, having knit with variegated yarns that pooled horribly, decided to stick to  semi-solid saturated colors.  After seeing the end results hanging to dry I decided I will be braver next time.  My fiber looks rather plain down there on the bottom rack.


We had a lesson on how to blend fiber on a hackle.  I’ve only played with blending boards so this was a new technique for me and I had never heard of a hackle before this.


Fiber animals are always fun getting to know although I mistook one of the alpaca’s intentions and ended up with a wet face.  I thought he was being amorous and leaning in for a kiss for, after all, he was puckering his lips and making smacking noises.  But much to my surprise, before I knew it, he landed a spit storm on me.  He then followed me everywhere I went but I gave him the cold shoulder and told him he blew it and would get no more loving.



Our day was so delightful that we have already planned another excursion in October.  Guess I better get busy and spin up some fiber!  Meanwhile, I’m off to look at patterns that will incorporate all the yarn I dyed today.  Any suggestions?


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Yarn Along in August

My daughter recommended All the Light We Cannot See and, enjoying WW2 novels as I do, I downloaded it to listen to while I play with needles and yarn.  The novel is set in two places – Paris and a mining town in Germany.  The story is about a blind girl in Paris whose father is a master locksmith in a museum of natural history  and, an orphan boy skilled in building and fixing radios.  The girl and her father flee Paris when the Germans invade.  The orphan boy wins a place in the brutal academy for Hitler Youth.  Their stories are told in tandem and give glimpses of war time living from a very unique perspective.  I have a sneaking suspicion the author is deftly interweaving these two lives.  I’ll find out soon!


Fresh off the needles is one Vanilla Latte Sock.  One down, one more to go.  On a recent trip I wanted to pack as light as possible and restricted myself to a little knitting bag with some Kaffe Fassett yarn in it to knit a pair of mindless socks.  Amazingly enough, I finished the sock and cast on for its mate.  I guess that is what happens when you limit yourself to one project at a time. ;)

Yarn Along on a sunny day in August with Ginny and others……….

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Anticipating a Day By the River

The invitation to spend a day alongside the Arkansas River dyeing fiber was more than tantalizing.  I’m easily allured, playing with enticing colors drawn from plants in this montane zone is just too irresistible.

Hi Dyers,

Looking forward to seeing you all on Wednesday. I’ll have 4 colors ready, and you are welcome to bring mordanted yarn. We can do various dips, and replenish the blue and yellow pots. The red and purple will be more limited. You can each bring up to 10 ounces. We can also play with some blending techniques. I have hackles, and a friend is bringing her drum carder. If anyone has a blending board to demonstrate, bring that.

Please bring a lunch. I’ll have some muffins, coffee and tea. My well water is very good.

Attached are directions.



The wildflowers have been stunning this year so I can’t wait to see the colors that come from the dye pots.  My eight ounces of fiber is skeined and presently soaking in water to get it ready to be mordanted.

Stay tuned….. I’ll post pictures later this week.

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Cable Flare – A Discovery

One of the things I like most about the TKGA Master Knitting program is researching and learning new things.  I’ve spent the last three weeks researching what causes cable flare and must admit that, in all my knitting adventures with the twists and turns of cables I had never heard of ‘cable flare.’  Nor had I really wondered why, when transitioning from the ribbing in an Aran sweater to the cable portion one increased stitch count.  I had a vague awareness from knitting socks that patterns which contained cables had more stitches cast on than other socks patterns but had never questioned why.IMG_1669

The non-knitters may want to pass on reading this post and those of you who don’t knit cables may follow suit.  On the other hand, those of you who are process (or curious) knitters may want to hang around a bit while I share what I found quite interesting.  Who knows?  YOU may be a future designer of intricate Aran sweaters!

When knitting cables all that twisting and turning results in the fabric ‘pulling’ in somewhat.  I the swatch below I was instructed to knit a seed stitch border above and below (and on the sides) of a cable pattern of my choice.  As you can see, despite my best efforts in blocking, there is a slight puckering (or flaring) above and below each cable.  Ikes!  My next task, after writing a pattern for this puckering swatch, was to find why it puckered like that and figure out how to compensate for that puckering so it wouldn’t flare out.

So why, dear knitter, do you think there was puckering?  If your answer has to do with GAUGE then you are exactly right.  The seed stitch border and the cable portion have very different gauges!  I know, I know……that word – GAUGE …..makes us all groan.

So off I went to find the gauge in the seed stitch border.  Then I picked another cable (below) and knit a swatch of the cable to take it’s gauge.  I did some calculations and discovered that there is a good 4 stitch difference between the two.  Wowsers!  That is definitely enough to cause a pucker under that cable.


I learned that the way to compensate is to increase those number of stitches right after the last border row but they just can’t be increased anywhere, they need to be increased right over the cable.

So that is what I did and since I had two cables, I increased 8 stitches – 4 for each cable.  I worked the cable portion with those additional stitches and when I finished the cable portion I decreased back down to my original cast on to work the other seed stitch border. And guess what?  Voila!  No cable flare!


Tuck this knitting tidbit into your knitting knowledge hat and the next time you knit a pair of cabled socks you will know why you have to cast on more stitches (because cables pull in) or you are knitting a cabled sweater and see increases at the bottom of the cables and decreases up at the top of the shoulder you will know why!

Full disclosure to inquiring minds – I have not yet submitted these swatches to the Master Knitting Committee so when I do they may tell me I’m bonkers and I need to do more research and resubmit them….actually, they would tell me in a very gentle way.  If my research has been wrong then I will come back here and let you know that you have been steered wrong by someone who is still aspiring to become a Master Knitter and is taking the scenic route ;)

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Sue the Ewe takes a Walk

I had a lot of fun this afternoon walking around the yard with Sue the Ewe, my miniature wooly friend.

Day Fourteen: Scale & Observation was the task at hand and I was to experiment with scale.

Sue nibbled away at every green blade she encountered.  She looks right at home, doesn’t she, in this lush environment.

Sue the Ewe nibbles away

Sue the Ewe nibbles away

But in the following photo she is dwarfed by the wild daisies in my yard that are, at most, six inches tall.

Sue and the Daisies

It’s time to go in and stop playing with Sue.  I just felt a raindrop and you know what?  A raindrop will make little Sue fall over because she is just two inches less a quarter.

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Rained Out on the Shootin’ Star

Hubby and I purchased our annual Florissant Fossil Beds pass this morning and then headed off to hike the Shootin’ Star Trail.


The sky looked a little threatening but our weather app on the phone said no rain for another hour so we thought we would still give it a try since we had our hiking boots on.


The trail crossed a verdant meadow abundant with wildflowers.







And then the trail climbed into the ponderosa pine forest covering the neighboring hills.


More wildflowers….



And then right when we dipped down into another meadow we felt raindrops.  Hubby thought it best to turn around and I thought not …. but nonetheless complied with his wishes…



I lingered behind to take one last photograph of wildflowers that always grow along streams –

IMG_1553I took one last glimpse of the beautiful meadow with Wilkerson Pass in the distant haze –


I made it to the car seconds before a torrential downpour and then enjoyed a lunch of apples with Dubliner Cheese as great thunder reverberated through the meadows.


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Rocky Mountain Pop of Color

There is a special time in early evening when the light is soft and magical.  It was very breezy tonight as I walked around my yard.  The wildflowers are vibrant this year and just starting to come up.


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Tour de Fleece 2015

It’s right around the corner, spinning friends – Tour de Fleece 2015. I am pulling out the spindles and finishing up things on my wheel so I will be all set and ready to spin!  My spindles will be spinning some Hedgehog Fibre I got in Ireland a couple years ago.


The fibre is from Corriedale sheep and this is the first time I’ve spun Corriedale.  It’s a little    fuzzy but running it through the diz a couple times has tamed it some.


What are you planning on spinning?

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One aspect of knitting I find intriguing is how different pattern combinations give the overall appearance of connection.


I’ve just started a scarf for my husband to wear come autumn.  This twelve row pattern is very, very simple with a cable twist on only one of the twelve rows yet the overall appearance is one of a little more complexity.  I really like how each repeat connects to the one above and below it.

When I was in London a few years ago I was tickled pink to see one of the earliest pieces of knitting that has survived in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Displayed in a temperature controlled case was a pair of Egyptian hand-knit sandal socks and I immediately connected with that sock and the person who knit that sock.  I admired the person who knit those red socks at such a teensy gauge and I had lots of questions I longed to ask.  I wanted to talk to that knitter.  A connection was made, across the centuries.

With each passing year I realize that the world of knitters is also one big connection.  All I have to do to prove this theory is to take my knitting into public places.  Strangers make their way across the room to tell me they once knit a pair of argyle socks or their grandmother used to knit thus and so for them.  Children in particular always want to know what I am doing and are not the least bit shy asking me.

The connection seems to be even more evident in times of war.  I’m reading a fascinating book called Knitting for Tommy (more about that book on another day) chronicling the knitting craze that swept across Britain as men, women and children knit  for their ‘Tommies’ to keep them warm in the trenches.  The following illustration was in a 1915 newspaper showing an army of women in silhouette sharing one huge ball of wool connecting not only to their ‘Tommies’ but to each other as well.


Once again – connections!  

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As my world spins faster and faster—or maybe it just seems that way when a text message can travel from Italy to Colorado in fractions of a second— I have looked for ways to cope with the resulting pressures.  This last year I have found it more than necessary to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that I am the one steering the ship of how my time is spent.

I had begun to feel overloaded, overreacting to minor annoyances and feeling like I could never catch up. One of the best ways I found to cope was by seeking, and enjoying, solitude.

a lonely, uninhabited place

a lonely, uninhabited place

There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness.  They sometimes look a lot alike because both are characterized by solitariness but the appearance is only on a surface level.

Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. One feels that something is missing. I remember a friend once telling me that you could be in a room full of people and still feel lonely.  On the other hand, solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely.  In this state you provide yourself with wonderful and sufficient company and you don’t desire to be with others, you simply desire to be alone with yourself.

In my moments of solitude I have spent time reflecting on whether I use time efficiently for the projects and activities I engage in. I’ve searched within myself to determine if I do these activities because I want to do them or if, instead,  I have been heavily influenced by someone else often resulting in an end project or outcome that isn’t even ‘me‘.

In solitude, when we are least alone. ~ Lord Byron

In solitude, when we are least alone. ~ Lord Byron

In moments of solitude I’ve had time to experience the beauty of nature.  I’ve had more time for deep theological reading, meditating, memorizing and prayer because these are the backbone of my life and gives me great joy.

“Solitude suggests peacefulness stemming from a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying and from which we draw sustenance. It is something we cultivate. Solitude is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves. In other words, it replenishes us.”

In my solitude I have concluded to buy the best quality yarn that I can afford.  Why?  Because there are just as many stitches in an article knit with poor quality yarn as there is with good quality yarn.  The article knit with poor quality yarn will not last through half a dozen wearings whereas the other will be an heirloom quality creation.

Solitude brought me to realize that there will always be more new and exciting things to knit, spin or quilt around the corner, never-ending in fact.  It helped me realize that there is great value in finishing the TKGA Master Knitting Courses and I need to beware of  projects that distract from staying the course for they will always be there.  The time is now.

This is to be alone; this, this is solitude.  ~ Lord Byron

This is to be alone; this, this is solitude.
~ Lord Byron

In my solitude I remembered what my mother taught me about choosing friends. She told me that if a ‘friend’ tore other people down behind their backs then that friend most likely was doing the same about me when she spoke to others and I shouldn’t trust that ‘friend’.  And, in my solitude I remembered the proverbs which tell us not to associate with those who have hot tempers lest we learn their ways nor with those who betray the confidence of others.  I was betrayed this year. But no ill usage has branded its record on my feelings.  Life is too short for nursing animosity or registering wrongs.

We all need those periods of solitude, although our different personalities will differ in the amount of solitude we need.  I have a friend who loves being with people and her worst nightmare is to be stranded on a desert island.  Solitude looks different for her than it does for me.  For me, solitude is essential so that I can regain perspective and see what I should prioritize in my life.   It renews me for the challenges of life. It shows me when the schedules and demands start running my life and it allows me, once again, to become the Mistress of My Domain.

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