Sunday, June 28, 2015


I bought two skeins of indigo-dyed yarn when I was at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival earlier this year. It's fingering weight blue faced leicester yarn that's been dyed by Border Tart. One of the skeins I purchased was a deep navy blue with white flecks that reminded me of old Japanese warp-dyed textiles where some of the undyed sections of warp threads show though the textiles. The second skein was a clear mid-blue.

I decided to knit the Magrathea scarf/shawl designed by Martina Behm - a slightly asymmetrical shape that's a lacy variation of her very popular 'Hitchhiker' design.

Indigo scarf 3

I began with the deep navy but didn't have quite enough yarn for the length and scarf shape I wanted, so I decided to add the final lacy edge in the mid-blue. One of the lovely things about using indigo-dyed yarns or fabrics is that you can be sure that all the variations of hue will match perfectly with each other. I'm very happy with the outcome:

Indigo scarf 2

Indigo scarf

This project has set me wondering about what I find so satisfying about working with indigo dyed yarn. Of course it's beautiful with the subtle variations of blue that merge into one another. And in our modern world where we have instituted so many controls to standardise products there's something satisfying about the random and organic nature of indigo dying. You can never be quite sure what the outcome will be. I also find pleasure in knowing that indigo dying is a process with a long history spread across textile traditions in many countries. Among my rather random memory associations for indigo is a visit in the 1970s to Vigan, an old Spanish city in the northern Philippines, where I was shown huge chest-high pottery vats (bangay) that had been used for dying indigo fabrics that were exported to China in the eighteenth century as part of the Spanish galleon trade. Years later, maybe around 2000, I visited Sapa in the northern mountainous region of Vietnam. Here I saw women of the Black Hmong group using similar pottery jars, but also plastic garbage bins, to dye indigo fabrics from locally grown plants. Some of the fabrics were used to produce the fine indigo background of the women's traditional embroidered dress,

Black Hmong fabric

but much of it was quite roughly dyed for the tourist trade. On the overnight train returning from Sapa we shared our sleeping compartment with a young French couple. In the morning, the young man, who was wearing an indigo shirt he'd purchased in Sapa, was dyed blue from neck to hip!

To get back to my knitting... when I'd finished my Magrathea scarf I still had most of my skein of mid-indigo yarn left, so I decided to make some fingerless mitts for a neighbour who'd been complaining of her cold hands. I chose a pattern I'd long admired, probably jane's Glasgow School Mitts - so named because of its echoes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's lovely early 20th century designs. This yarn has quite a tight twist and is ideal for displaying the small but intricate cables of this pattern.

Glasgow School Mitts 3

I still have 49 grams of the mid-indigo yarn left. I'd love to use it all up, so I'm interested in ideas for another small indigo project.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Posting again...on socks

It's almost three months since I last posted on my blog. I'm not sure why I stopped writing posts. It wasn't really intentional. Over time, one of the things I have most valued about blogging is the record I have of my trips and travels, so it's quite odd that I stopped writing just as I began my recent trip to the UK. Now I really regret that I didn't keep a record of what I saw and what I thought at the time of seeing. Somewhere I read recently a comment of novelist Zadie Smith that 'The very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life'. Writing is not such a central part of my identity as it is for a talented novelist like Zadie Smith, but even writing my blog certainly moves me to observations, comparisons and reflections that fix experiences in my memory.

I've recently been reading Wallace Stegner's 'Crossing to Safety' (which, by the way, is one of the best novels I've read in a long time) where one of his characters observes 'Henry James says somewhere that if you have to make notes on how a thing has struck you, it probably hasn't struck you'. Much as I admire Henry James, I'm not sure I agree with him - or maybe he just had a much better memory than I have. As I get older I panic that if I don't make a note on how a thing has struck me it will simply drop off the edge of my mind.

So to get back into the swing of blogging I'm going to write a simple post about socks. I seem to have spent a lot of time knitting lately, but have very little to show for my activity. This is partly because I've been trying to master new knitting techniques and I've spent just as much time unravelling as I have knitting; I think it will take me the rest of my life to master brioche stitch! But I have been doing some sock knitting. Socks are great to knit when you don't really want to commit to a major project and you want something small enough to carry with you when travelling.

I've knitted two pairs of socks over the last few months - both of them patterns from Nancy Bush's 'Knitting Vintage Socks', my favourite knitting book ever. First there was Nancy's 'Yarrow Ribbed Sock', made from ever-reliable Regia sock yarn in shades of blue and grey :

blue striped socks 3

blue striped socks 2

These became a gift for my friend and ex-colleague Maja who generously hosted me for a couple of days during my trip to the UK. By the way, Maja took me on a visit to the intimate Framework Knitting Museum in Nottingham, but maybe that's the subject for another post.

While in the UK I bought some very British sock yarn - West Yorkshire Spinners 4 ply purchased at baa ram ewe in Leeds (that's another story) - and embarked on what must be one of the plainest sock patterns ever, Nancy Bush's 'Gentleman's Plain Winter Sock'. I was still finishing off my first sock when I arrived back in Sydney and was so bored by my knitting (yes, even Nancy can occasionally be boring) I knitted a red toe with some very Australian Patonyl sock yarn donated by my friend Margarita. It then seemed inevitable to add some red stripes to the second sock to speed my knitting to completion.

Anzac socks

Anzac socks 2

In my head I now ironically label these my Anzac socks. I was happily beginning to knit with what I thought was chartreuse yarn when someone casually asked if I was knitting khaki socks in honour of the centenary of Anzac Day. It hadn't occurred to me that the colour was actually khaki! And then knitting with contrasting poppy red only seems to have heightened the Anzac connection. Hmmm... Not really what I had intended.