Seasonally inspired things to Learn, Make and Do


Dyeing socks with acorns

pile of plant dyed socks

Dyeing wool socks is one of the easiest plant dye experiments you can do. The wool is a protein fibre so the dye sticks to it more easily than it would a cellulose plant fibre, the socks are a manageable size, you don't need a massive pan and they don't get tangled up like skeins of wool.

I dye alpaca socks - soft and fluffy house socks - because I love the way that the soft colours of plant dyes look on the slightly fluffy wool. They are also the cosiest socks I know. You can buy the natural alpaca UK made socks here, but if you have any natural coloured 100% wool socks they will work fine.

You need.

  • Pair of 100% wool socks (a little bit of elastane in the cuffs won't matter)
  • Alum sulphate mordant - 10% of the weight of the dry socks
  • Plant material (I'm using acorns here) - as much as you can get your hands on that will fit in the pan, the more you have the stronger your colour will be.
  • Large stainless steel pan.

Wash your socks in eco detergent - preferably by hand, but a low temperature wool wash in a machine is fine - rinse well.

Boil a kettle and dissolve your alum sulphate in a cup full of boiling water, then add to a bowl of tepid water.

Add the socks to the bowl and leave to soak overnight.

Meanwhile make your dye pot. To make an acorn dye I hammered the acorns to split them and then simmered them for an hour in a stainless steel pan. I left them to steep overnight which is when the colour seems to come out. The water in the pan should be dark and full of pigment - ideally so full of pigment that you can't see a spoon under the water. You can leave the acorns steeping for a few days and the colour will darken and grey slightly.

Strain the dye into another pan and put the plant matter on the compost heap.

Add the wet socks to the pan and gently and slowly bring it to a point just before simmering. You don't want the socks to get a temperature shock or they can felt up.

With dyes made from collected plants the colour goes into the wool gradually. You might have seen dye pots on Instagram or Pinterest where the colour change is immediate, this is because the dyeing is being done with bought dye extracts, still plants but ones which have been made into a concentrated form which can be added straight to the pan just before you add your wool, very much like a conventional dye. So don't be worried when that doesn't happen - instead take it as slowly as possible and you will see the colour gradually develop.

Hold the dye pot at a point less than a simmer for an hour and then let it cool naturally. For browns and olively greens I let the socks stay in the pan overnight as I like the dulled colours that creates, if I want a pale yellow from gorse I would let the pan cool and then take the socks out immediately.

Rinse the socks until the water is clear and then dry.

Ideally leave the socks somewhere dark for a few weeks for the colour to firmly attach to the fibres - I have mine in a cardboard box - before washing with an eco detergent.

This is the socks and mordant that I use

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When I was at University it was the time of the Poll Tax, an unpopular tax made even more unpopular by being implemented in Scotland a year before the rest of the UK - 'Thatcher's guinea pigs'.⁠⠀
It was a time of demonstration and violence with 50,000 marching in Glasgow, 1 million Scots refusing to pay. ⁠⠀
It was a time Sheriff's Officers and poind sales of possessions. ⁠⠀
Coalition student groups were formed - Socialist and Feminist and Anarchist and so on - there were big meetings in the Union, debates about a name and a logo and a manifesto. I remember lots of young, middle class, white men talked at length.  I remember that very, very little got done - a bus was organised to take students to Glasgow for the protests. ⁠⠀
In the meantime, up the hill from the campus, three women (I thought of them as old at the time but I'm sure they were the age I am now) simply stood outside the auctions and asked nobody to attend.  They stood by the front doors, they explained their reasons, they prevailed.  They possibly looked randomly menacing in that way middle aged women can.⁠⠀
People calmly bought back their possessions for 50p and their debts were squared. Action, meaningful results, a recognition that the personal is political - all while the student groups still debated their slogans.⁠⠀
I've been thinking about those women a lot recently. If they were the age I think they were, they will be queuing up for their vaccines this month.
In my happy place.⁠⠀
In the winter months The Studio is the centre of my working life. ⁠⠀
This was yesterday.  Trimming pieces of vintage velvet fabric for the Studio Club shop; alpaca socks drying in the dispatch room behind me (we now have size 8-10 in stock too); a roll @scottishlinen seconds to experiment with hogging the cutting table.⁠⠀
Bright and light and inspiring.
Starting the week with a photo from last year (simply because I lost a lot of this weekend to fatigue, so didn't take a new photo.)⁠⠀
Budgie, my beautiful and psychotic cat, with a windowsill of white amaryllis. ⁠⠀
Worth a second outing.
The proposed airstream conversion is in for planning permission approval at the moment, so that we change change its use from (neglected) artist's workshop into beautiful holiday accommodation.⁠⠀
In my vision for this we get to use the paid holidaymaking element to subsidise some artist's residencies - painters, writers, musicians, makers coming here to soak up the landscape and be inspired.⁠⠀
At the moment though I'm still at the stage of answering environmental health questions about quite how loud I am in my Studio and how we will light the path to the compost loo.
Yesterday my elder daughter, who lives in London, messaged me to say that our local DPD driver Slav was being given an award by for his outstanding service. 

It was because of the hundreds of messages that they had been sent commenting on his helpfulness, incredible good cheer, and parcel based problem solving.⁠⠀

Slav has been an important part of my lockdown life here. ⁠⠀
When roads look like this, good delivery drivers are a vital (and hopefully appreciated) part of life.⁠⠀
As my younger daughter chimed in “Go Slav!
This photo is from last week - but I see through the gloom that it has snowed overnight .⁠⠀
This part of the garden is outside our bedroom, the beech hedge borders the road, it used to be a drive when our bedroom was a garage.⁠⠀
Now it has a birch tree (symbolic for me of my miscarried babies, as I had to leave their actual birch trees behind when we moved here) surrounded by lots of box grown from small plants and cuttings.⁠⠀
We buried Jasmine, my scruffy miniature schnauzer, here in the summer, so in some ways it is becoming a garden for sitting on the bench and remembering and watching the birds.  I shall ask my ever generous  friend Nadja for some snowdrops to plant in the grass.⁠⠀
In my mind, eventually, the box balls will become like the ones on the front of @arnemaynardgardendesign book Garden Design Details - but this year they remain unclipped. ⁠⠀
I suspect box blight in the back garden and @jekkamcvicar points out that unclipped box does not get blight.⁠⠀
I love old gates - particularly old gates that stand in the middle of old unused spaces, leading to nowhere, keeping nothing in.⁠⠀
A memory of another time.
Last year - while I was dyeing socks out on my Studio deck, I was also dyeing wool yarn. ⁠⠀
Wool dyed with docks and nettle, gorse and meadowsweet, onions and plum bark all from the garden and lane.⁠⠀
Over the winter I gathered the wool skeins together - all the soft bright colours - and knitted myself an oversized stripy jumper. ⁠⠀
@rhiannonconnelly described it as wearing 'a hug from my garden' and I think she was spot on. ⁠⠀
The pattern is the 'After the Rain' sweater by @heidikdesigns but with random stripes as I wasn't sure how much of each colour I had. #aftertherainsweater

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