The last time I machine-knitted a scarf, then dyed and felted it, what I learned from the experience was what I wanted to do differently the next time using different dyeing methods and better-honed techniques using the knitting machine and its tools. As a permanent beginner in my machine-knitting skills, that earlier scarf taught me ways to use the transfer tools and the positioning of the needles to make holes in the fabric of different sizes and shapes and how to make the lines of dropped stitches go in different directions. This time I wanted to use the dropped-stitch look to make curving lines and holes that increase then decrease to make vines and leaves.
As before, I used coned single-ply feltable wool yarn from a UK company, Yeoman Yarns. This yarn is absolutely perfect for these felted scarves, soft, lightweight, and thermal. I shaped a pair of vines and leaves that mirrored each other in size and direction of the line, making it up as I went along. Every row was a new design decision, so it took a while to do each row. Eventually I got more sure-footed about lifting stitches onto the transfer tool and moving each stitch over to the neighboring stitch, and reaching down with the transfer tool to make a twisted loop that I put onto a needle in a way that moved the line in one direction or another or expanded or shrank the size of the leaves. I had problems with tension that I probably didn’t have the right tools to correct. I never really found the right way to use my claw weights to distribute the tension so that the carriage would engage the yarn through the needles with the twisted stitches or the needles with stitches that I’d moved one on top of the other. A Ravelry friend showed me a picture of a particular kind of weight that might have worked, but I didn’t know how to google it because I didn’t know what it was called. So I spent a lot of time fixing stitches that didn’t knit properly, but I didn’t mind. I’m a hand knitter. I’m used to doing things by hand. It was a very hand-manipulated process with lots of moments for creative decision-making, which is what makes me happy. Seven hundred and fifty rows later, I had a lacy white diaphanous piece of knitted fabric with a pair of mirrored leaves and vines winding over and around each other.
Now it was time to dye it, and here I went from having a pretty good idea what I was doing to having pretty much no idea at all. I knew I didn’t want to do it the way I had done it before, when I had soaked my knitted feltable fabric in a solution of citric acid, and laid the sodden fabric on top of plastic-coated disposable tablecloths on the ledge of my front porch. It was so wet that the dye I put on the fabric blurred and separated into its component colors. It created an interesting and even attractive effect, but I wanted to have more control over the dyeing. My council of wise ones on my Ravelry group, The Interior of My Brain, advised me to find a way to apply the citric acid and the dye without making the fabric so wet. I went to the pharmacy and searched around the medical supplies and travel sections for small vessels from which I could apply dyestuffs in drips, streams, and mists, and bought a selection of medicine droppers, sprayers, and squeeze bottles.
I put a tablespoon of citric acid into a bottle with several cups of water and put a few ounces of the solution into one of the sprayers. The knitted fabric, which I had placed on the ledge of my front porch on top of a disposable tablecloth, wanted to roll up into a tube, so I sprayed the solution onto the fabric to weigh it down and enable it to lie flatter. My idea was to mix up a gray-green dye mixture, spray it lightly over the entire fabric, and dot the rest of the dye on either side of the lines of the vines and leaves to delineate the shapes I had knitted into the fabric. I thought it might be nice to put some berry-like dots of muted purples and oranges onto the plain parts of the fabric, but I decided to wait to mix up those colors. My dyes were a four-color starter kit of Jacquard acid dyes, in black, turquoise, yellow, and red. As for the gray-green mixture, I put a couple of ounces of citric acid into a jar and started the mixture with a bit of black dye, maybe an eighth of a teaspoon or less, then scraped off the turquoise dye that was stuck to the top of its jar and added it to the black, then added yellow until the dark blue mixture changed to teal and then to a blackish green.
I sprayed my fabric with dye, and it was a light gray-green. I didn’t want the color to look too even, so I let my sprayer linger at different places in the fabric to get some desired mottling, spraying merrily until I ran out of dye. I mixed up another batch of dye of the same general color and dropped dots of dye along the lines of the vines and leaves in a henna-like configuration, using a medicine dropper. I wanted to make sure both sides of the scarf were dyed, so I was heavy-handed in applying the dye, and I liked the color and didn’t want to waste a nice mixture. Then I took a closer look and saw that I had beads of dye accumulating underneath the fabric on the plastic-coated tablecloth that was protecting the ledge, and that my dots were starting to get smeared. I decided that if I added berry-like dots in orange and purple, it would be an incoherent mess. Also it was cold and getting dark outside on my front porch. Time to wrap up, literally. I cut pieces of plastic wrap and folded my fabric, now very wet with dye and citric acid, over the pieces of plastic so that I could set the color in the microwave. For the first time during this project, I invoked the Fiber Goddess: Please be kind, I begged.
While I was conceiving this project, I thought that I might be in enough control of each step in the process that the results might align to some degree with my vision of the shaping of the vines and leaves, the color and patterning of the dyeing, and the density of the felting. The machine-knitting had gone according to plan, and I had a good feel for how my gossamer-weight yarn would felt after knitting it on a tension of 8, but now I had this very damp, dye-soaked fabric, and a cold foreboding crept over me. I was at the Fiber Goddess’s mercy, and she could take revenge on me for my hubris in thinking that I could manage without her this time. Gods and goddesses really don’t like human hubris.
I set the microwave to cook my plastic-wrapped package for a minute, then burrowed my way into it with a paper towel to see if the wetness would come out clear when I poked the paper towel into the fabric. After four 1-minute rounds, the fabric stopped bleeding green, and I let the package cool. My henna drops had disappeared, and the fabric, still in its plastic package, looked like dark blotches of green against lighter blotches of green. I prepared myself for a blotchy mess, but at least it was a pretty green.
With rock-bottom expectations, I ripped the plastic wrap away from the fabric, and as I unfurled the scarf for the first time, my jaw dropped and my heart swelled with gratitude to the Fiber Goddess, who once again had my back. It was a living green, dark green outlining the openwork of the vines and leaves, and dappled shades of green in the background. It was so much better than my original idea! Lines from a Leonard Cohen song came into my head and stayed there:
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
They will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.
Then I felted the scarf in hot water and liquid dish detergent, and rinsed it in cold water until the fabric was opaque but still lightweight. When it dried, I put it on and haven’t really taken it off because it is the most functional scarf I have. It’s light but very thermal, and its texture and substance enable it to stay in place without falling off from the way I’ve arranged it, and it fits into the gaps of the neck of my poncho and fills in the drafty places.
Experience is the other important gift the Fiber Goddess gives me. Every time she gives me something lovely that is completely different from what I had in mind, I learn both how to do what I did and what to change in order to get some different result. Now I know that spraying my feltable fabric with citric acid solution is a good way to prep the fabric for acid dyes without over-saturating it. I also know that I can get good background effects by spraying dye onto my fabric in greater or smaller concentrations to obtain varying intensities of dye on my very open, unfelted fabric. Medicine droppers are effective tools for concentrating dye in specific areas. What I don’t yet know is how much the dye will be dispersed in the fabric when it is microwaved to set the color, and the degree to which felting it will concentrate the color. I’m imagining projects that will help me learn these things. How about an abstract representation of kites and balloons flying in the sky? Or slices of red cabbage? Or bare branches against a snowy background? Or stones on the sand? So many machine-knitted felted scarves.
I have had conversations previously with the Fiber Goddess when she has bestowed her blessings on me, and she can be kind of snarky. This time she didn’t present herself before me, and we didn’t speak, although I did catch a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye, smirking. But actions speak louder than words. And smirks.
The Fiber Goddess loves me.