Archive for January, 2013

For the past two weekends, I’ve been experimenting with dyeing with used coffee grounds. I first read the idea in the Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes book, and since did a bit of research online and on ravelry. I’ve begun to notice, that with natural dye recipes, much as there is in cooking, there are many recipes for the same thing that vary slightly. I’m beginning to be more flexible with my interpretation of these recipes, and still achieve results!


I wanted to see what difference there might be between mordanted fibers with alum and without. I began last Friday with mordanting the fibers with alum. First, I weighed the fibers. Lesley added in some roving to spin to the mix, and I added some cotton to see if it might take up the color, in addition to some wool yarn for knitting.

IMG_4913Next, I calculated 10% of the fiber weight, and measured out my mordant, alum. Bringing a pot of water to boil, I added the alum until it was completely dissolved, then added in the fibers, and simmered for an hour.

IMG_4915After rinsing the mordanted fibers, I hung to dry. I’ve read that mordanting up to one day ahead of dyeing helps the fibers retain the color brighter.

IMG_4918On Saturday, I boiled used coffee grounds and water for half an hour, then let sit overnight. I found Starbucks was great for getting the grounds. They have whole bag fulls for free ready to go behind the counter if you ask (most folks use them for garden compost). In my pot, I had 1/3 coffee grounds to 2/3 water.

IMG_5013After letting the coffee brew sit overnight (and did our house smell lovely all night long!), Lesley and I strained out the water from the grounds. The grounds did seem to settle toward the bottom, and it was easy enough just to pour off the top.

IMG_5019We brought the coffee brew up to a boil again, and added our fibers, mordanted and unmordanted alike. After reaching a boil, we simmered for thirty minutes, then let sit overnight.

IMG_5030On Monday, we rinsed, and were quite pleased with the results. The yarn took up the color well. The mordant (surprisingly) gave the fiber a lighter color, in the picture above, with the golden brown. The cotton (not surprisingly) didn’t take up much of the color at all.


Being so pleased with the results, I went ahead and did one more batch this weekend. It doesn’t take much time if blended with other household activities. The pots of water take time to get up to a boil, and the rinsing takes a few minutes, but other than that it comes together quickly.


This second time, I did one skein mordanted with alum and one without. I used more coffee:fiber ratio, hoping for a darker color. I did not let the coffee brew sit overnight, or the fiber in the dye sit overnight. I went ahead and did all the dyeing and rinsing in one day. Other than that, I followed the same steps as above.

photoOne surprising discovery for me is that coffee is quite oily. My pots, buckets and measuring cups all were left with an oily residue which took hot water and soap to get clean. The yarn does have a little bit of coffee grounds still stuck to it. As I wound the skeins into balls, I was left with a dusting of coffee grounds on the table. I’ve starting knitting a shawl with the yarn, and find I need to wash my hands after knitting as there’s a bit of oily residue left on the yarn. Lesley suggests once the shawl is complete, washing it in a wool soap bath.

IMG_5052All in all, a very successful experiment. I’m pleased with the results, and enjoying already using the yarn to knit. Of course, getting cotton to absorb color will remain a challenge.

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{This post is part of a series. To see additional posts on the same topic, click here.}

I am going to be unable to attend next week’s Monday art quilt work group meeting, and so with a few free days, I jumped right in to Chapter Three on my own.

image, n. A reproduction of the form of a person or object (from Latin imago, from the root of imitari: to imitate).

Chapter Three: Inspiration from Images chatted about the use of photography in quilt design, going into computer manipulation, using images as an inspiration, and how to draw/quilt from a photograph.


The book walked through the steps to sketch a photograph, paying attention to value. Then, the exercise at the end was assembling a pear from different values. Catching on to the idea, I went searching for an image in my photo library to use as my mosaic block for the month.

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I chose a photo of a California poppy, that I took while an AmeriCorps intern at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Here, I deviated from the Art Quilt Workbook. I remembered an article in the Quilting Arts magazine, a year or so ago, on Portrait Quilts, from photo to fabric, by Lea McComas. I looked through my magazines and soon found the article I was looking for. Here, Lea talks about using photoshop to posterize the photo to group similar values, instead of hand sketching like the Art Quilt Workbook suggests.

poppy posterized

Printing out my posterized image, I traced around the major shapes of color in the poppy. I ended up with five values: dark orange, medium orange, orange, golden orange, and yellow. Taking fusible webbing, I traced each shape from the poppy to the fusible webbing, leaving space between each to cut out.


I gave each shape a letter to mark which color it should be, and a number so I wouldn’t get shapes mixed up. Note: since I was intending this for a mosaic, each shape was independent. If I had wanted a more realistic shape like the pear, I would have had to allow for space for overlapping.


I selected five fabrics to represent each value from my stash of dyed fabrics. I ironed the pieces of fusible webbing onto the fabrics, and then cut out each shape.


This winter is particularly cold, and I reveled in the warm colors of the poppy. Then, following my original pattern, I started to lay out the pieces on a green background fabric.


One interesting challenge I ran into was translating the layout of the shapes to a mosaic. I didn’t think of it to start with, but once I started laying out the pieces, the dilemma became clear. In a mosaic, there is space between each shape. My pieces of fabric were cut in shapes that were meant to be touching each other, as in the original photograph. As I lay out the mosaic, sections became larger and suddenly pieces didn’t fit. Some needed to be longer, some shorter. I fudged it and made it work by trimming pieces as needed. If I did another, I’d want to think about how to plan for this from the beginning. One idea would be to make the image larger than intended, then when tracing the shapes, making them smaller, to allow for the space in between.


After I liked the layout of the poppy, I fused it in place, and then started on the background. In the original photo, all I saw was a jumble of green shapes and colors, and I wanted to imitate that in my mosaic. I selected a smattering of green scraps, trying to replicate the range of colors in the photo from light to dark.


It is such a joy creating these mosaic tiles, I can hardly wait for next month to come around!

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A shout out to a few (not all) of the Cape Ivy ladies: Vanessa, me, Tanya, Melissa, and Catherine. Looking back, how lucky we were to spend our days outdoors, rain or shine, in the beauty of the coast.

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A few months ago, my good friend Lesley, an avid knitter, started a Thursday night knitting group amongst our bevy of ladies. Always being one to love a crafty get together with friends, and having never tried knitting before, I was up for the adventure.


Of course, the instant I decided to start a knitting project, I wanted to dye the yarn. Lesley suggested this wool from Flint Knits as one she liked. I purchased six skeins and dyed them yellow with rabbit brush flowers. You can read more about that and see lovely pictures here.


Many of us were interested in knitting a sweater, and Lesley suggested the February Lady Sweater as a good beginning sweater to knit. At the first Thursday Night Knitting get together, I wound my skeins into balls.


Then, we learned to cast on.


And then we learned to knit. And then pearl.


The February Lady Sweater is knit from the top down, so here’s the beginning stitches, which would be the neck on the finished product. Sweaters have such humbling beginnings, don’t they?


The garter stitch went quickly, and soon it was time for the button holes. Yikes! Three of them. Soon, the top shoulder piece was done.


Then began the body of the sweater, learning yarn overs, knit two togethers, and the like to make the lacy pattern. I enjoyed the challenge of following a pattern and the look of the lace as it emerged.


Soon, the lace body was getting long enough I needed to try it on for size. Looking good!


The knitting nights continued, and soon I was on to the sleeves. There were a plethora of knitting projects being made, from little knit animals to scarves, hats, and quite a few February Lady Sweaters. Through it all, Lesley tirelessly troubleshot our mistakes, fixed dropped stitches, helped interpret patterns, and encouraged us to continue on despite the odds.


And just in time for Christmas gifts, the sweater was finished. Last step, blocking. I’d never heard of this step before. We got the sweater wet, lay it out on soft tiles, then pinned and stretched it into shape, leaving it for a few days to dry.

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For the last piece, I sewed on big wooden buttons, wrapped it up, and presented it to my sister for Christmas.

IMG_0039What’s next? I’ve been knitting a scarf over the holidays with the remaining rabbit brush yarn. Another challenging and complicated lacy pattern. More on that when it is complete!

What have you knit recently?

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