Wednesday, January 28, 2009

“Hand-Knits for Service Women” should arrive today, special delivery, which means an anxious morning listening for the doorbell.

Not much sweater progress. I had to rip out my first attempt at a neck placket because I had plunged in with no thought at all. If I had 12 live stitches at the bottom, it was going to take 12 rows of horizontal knitting to get rid of them. Once I had grasped that, and ripped out my first attempt, all went well.

The buttonhole band is done, and attached to the bottom of the placket-space. The knit-up stitches look neater on the inside than the out, but that’s life. I should be able to finish the button band today – at least I had the wit to realise that the buttonhole one had to pick up the live stitches, whereas the button band will be sewn underneath. And then I can proceed to more interesting activities – joining the shoulders, and knitting a collar.

Natural dyes

I’ve been reading the Wikipedia entry on woad; not without interest. Apparently the idea that ancient Britons went into battle painted blue and wearing nothing else, is a myth. Alas. Woad was the only source of blue dye in Europe, it says, until indigo began to be imported from the East rather late in the story.

I think you can get blue from woad by using the leaves – it doesn’t have to be reduced to a powder as in yesterday’s farm-story. Maybe I should try growing it. That’s an interesting idea, Tamar, that it can also be combined with yellow to produce green. Oddly, given that Nature Herself wears it all the time, green is extremely difficult to achieve with natural dyes.

Angel, I’d get to work on that grant application (comment yesterday). Clearly what might be called the urge towards art is a pretty fundamental human instinct. All cultures seem to have gone to a lot of trouble to find colouring material, for dying textiles as well as for painting things. Surely you can imagine some connection with religion, and then apply for a grant to test your hypothesis.

Virgil in his “messianic eclogue” – I’ve forgotten which one it is – supposes that in the great days to come, sheep will wander about the fields already coloured red and gold and purple. The lines are irresistibly comic, but I noticed, once I got into dying myself, that the colour-words he uses are the names of expensive imported materials. In the Golden Age, those colours will be available for all. Rather sweet idea, but still funny.


  1. Anonymous11:02 AM

    Of course, that Virgil quote brings to mind Franklin's cartoon (in his little book) about the sheep belonging to Mr Fassett...My husband is quite chuffed that he understood that one with no help!

  2. I found "Color: A Natural History of the Palette", by Victoria Finlay, to be a different way to look at the use of colour through history. Each colour of the rainbow has a separate section. It is a bit of a personal journey book, not a dry history, so may not be to all tastes.
    Her Indigo section did deal with woad, as I recall. The book may be at your local library.

  3. Woad? Would you like some woad seeds? The plant looks pretty uninspiring and it will take till 2010 before it bulks up into a plant big enough to think of harvesting...and you'd need ten or twenty plants, which is why I lost interest in trying woad dying, have to say. But I still have some woad seeds in the box if you'd like to try it.

  4. Dyeing, not dying!!! I am literate, really!

  5. I have been thinking of starting a dye garden but can't imagine where on earth I am supposed to get woad and madder plants...I'd try seeds but I am not at all adept at growing from seed.

    So I'll watch with interest to see if you do it!

  6. Anonymous9:10 PM

    Here in Colorado dyers woad is considered a noxious weed, that is, it is not native and thus has no natural predators. We are encouraged not to grow it.

  7. Anonymous1:21 PM

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