Thursday, 16 April 2015

It's amazing what you can do...

... with food colouring!!

For several months now I've been wanting to have a go at dyeing my own yarn. I've been reading up on it online, watching videos on YouTube and I even joined a yarn dyeing group on Facebook. None of this makes me an expert, obviously, but I finally reached a point where I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to do.

I've been gradually acquiring the things I would need - I bought 5 skeins of superwash wool/nylon blend double knit from ebay. I thought I'd start off using food colouring, rather than diving in and buying expensive dyes, so I bought some Dr Oetker gel colours in the supermarket. I'd read that our (UK) food colouring isn't as effective as American brands, like Wilton or Kool-Aid, but I thought I'd give them a try anyway. I got a few other things from ebay, Amazon and the supermarket - syringes, plastic cups and spoons, latex gloves...

There are various methods for dyeing yarn, but the one I had in mind to try was to hand paint it; it then goes in the microwave to make the dye 'fast'. This was the video I watched which made me want to try this method.

So, I assembled my bits and bobs:

I chose four colours that I liked - pink, purple, blue and green. I didn't attempt to do any mixing, I thought I'd keep things simple to begin with. I dissolved the gel in hot water, giving it a good stir. The purple one went really grainy for reasons I don't understand, but the other three were fine. In the above video, she dabs a bit of her dye solution onto white kitchen paper to see the colour - when I tried it, there was no colour there at all, even though the water had clearly changed colour! That threw me a bit, but in the end I just thought I'll have a go and see what happens.

You need to pre-soak your yarn in water, with some kind of acid. White vinegar is a popular choice, but I couldn't seem to find it anywhere, unless I was looking for the wrong thing. So in the end I bought some citric acid powder from Amazon. I didn't really know how much to use, so I put 2 tbsp of powder into one litre of water. I then gently laid my undyed yarn in the bowl. This was a tip I picked up on another video - rather than squashing the yarn down into the water straight away, gently lay it in and let it sink down itself, as it absorbs the water. I left it in the bowl for 20 minutes, and it had mostly sunk down, there was just a little bit not under the water so I did give that a gentle push.


 I took it out of the bowl and squeezed as much of the water out of it as I could by hand, but you still need it to be fairly wet, just not sodden. Then I laid it out in an oval shape on the cling film, which I had spread on the worktop while the yarn was pre-soaking. You will eventually wrap your yarn in the cling-film, like a sausage, so you need enough to go around, but you don't want it to overlap in the middle.

Now, in my excited and focused state, I stupidly forgot to take a photo of when I was actually dyeing the yarn! Basically, I used the syringes you can see in the top photo (bought from ebay) to squirt each dye in sections on the yarn. The pink, green and blue worked well, but the grainy purple was a very washed-out pinky colour. I didn't know what to do about it though, so I was just going to leave it. When I was happy that I'd dyed all the yarn, I actually had some pink and blue left, so I mixed them together. It looked like it'd made a nice deep purple colour, so I decided to overdye the wishy-washy purple. It didn't quite work, because I didn't have enough to completely cover it, and to be honest I couldn't be bothered making any more. So it ended up a bit of a mottled pale bluey-purple colour. Oh well.

The next step is to roll/wrap your yarn up in the cling film. The long bits are fairly easy, the ends are a bit more fiddly. Then, put it on a microwaveable plate, and cook it. This was the bit I was really nervous about, because I wasn't sure how long to do it for. I've seen "two minutes cook, two minutes rest, then repeat"; "three minutes non-stop"; "keep going till the yarn is steaming" etc. Our microwave is 1000watt, which is pretty powerful, so I played it safe and did two 30 second bursts. Let it sit for a bit, then did another minute in 20 and 10 second bursts. Then my mum rang, so I was talking to her for about 20 minutes, while the yarn cooled down, and when I got off the phone I did another two 30 second bursts. The yarn was hot to touch, so I took it out and let it rest on the plate.

Once it'd cooled down enough to be able to handle, I removed the cling film, filled a bowl with warm water and gently dipped the yarn into the water. I didn't rub or squish it about too much, just kind of lifted it out and dunked it back in a couple of times. The water changed colour slightly, so I poured it out and refilled it, and then repeated the process, adding a tiny bit of washing up liquid. This time the water stayed clear, which I hope means that the dye is now 'fast' and won't run, if this yarn was ever to get wet again.

I gently squeezed most of the water out of it, and then rolled it in a towel to try and soak up a bit more. Here it is after being rolled in the towel:

As you can see, the pink, green and blue don't look too bad, but the bluey-pink section is a bit of a let-down, although to be fair, I think it looks worse in this photo than in real life.

I hung it over a coathanger to begin with, but then draped it over the top of a clothes airer overnight, and all day today.

By this evening it was completely dry, so I thought I'd have a go at skeining it. I didn't really know how to do this, and I struggled to find any demonstrations on the internet. I found one eventually though, that said you basically twist and twist the yarn, until it twists back on itself, and then you tuck one end into the other. I tried it this evening, and I succeeded on my first attempt!

I couldn't even wait to take a better photo, this is just on the kitchen worktop!

Overall, I'm really pleased with this. It looks exactly like what it is - a first attempt; the colours are basic, and it's far from perfect. There are a few patchy areas where I didn't get as much dye as I could've, although I made a conscious decision when I started, not to worry too much about a few white bits, as sometimes I think that can look quite effective.

There is 100g of DK here, so I'm not sure what I'll be able to make with it, it's not going to go very far. I have four more skeins of undyed wool to practice on, so maybe I could repeat the colours (although I'm not sure I'd want to repeat the dodgy purple) and give myself another 100g of the same colour scheme. I'm also thinking about doing some 'boyish' colours, and maybe making a hat for Junior, or something like that.

If I learned one thing from my first experience of hand-dyeing yarn... it's that I can't wait to do it again!!

Saturday, 4 April 2015


We had another 'first' a couple of weeks ago, when we went on our first family holiday. We weren't sure how Junior would cope with a long car journey, so we didn't want to travel too far. Initially, we were looking at the lower end of Scotland (on the west side), but we couldn't find anywhere we liked, so I suggested the Lake District. We still had no luck finding somewhere that suited us, so I asked Chris if he'd consider going in the opposite direction, to the Northumberland area. He was fine with that, so I started looking for properties in that region.

In the end, I actually found a cottage just in the Scottish Borders, about 6 miles from Coldstream. It was actually advertised as being wheelchair accessible, but that appealed to me because it meant it was all on one level (having a very active toddler means that quaint little cottages with staircases suddenly become a bit of a no-no!). Chris was very happy to find that it was only about a 3 hour drive up the A1, too.

The day that we set off didn't really feel like a 'first-day-of-our-holiday' kind of day. My car was booked into a panel-beaters to fix a dent in the front wing, and we had to pick it up that morning. My mum and auntie came over to babysit Junior while Chris and I collected it. We'd borrowed a roofbox and roofbars from Chris' sister, but the bars didn't fit my car (which we didn't find out until we'd got it back from the panel-beaters, because we'd left everything till the last minute!), so Chris finished up going to Halfords to buy some roofbars which did fit, and which were compatible with the box.

My mum and auntie left, we got the car packed up, and eventually set off at about 1.30pm, arriving at the cottage just before 5pm.

The cottage, taken from across the lane
Junior was fantastic all the way there, he loves being in the car and just babbles away to himself happily. He's still in a rear-facing car seat, but we've got a mirror on the headrest behind him, so we can still see him and make eye contact, or see when he's nodded off. He had lunch at home before we set off, and when we arrived at the cottage I got straight on with making tea. A high chair was provided, so I sat him in there with a biscuit and a drink, and he was very happy, just looking around. Chris unpacked the car, then took over making tea while I got the cats settled into their new room for the week. Mischief soon made himself at home, exploring the whole cottage, but Millie is so timid, she mostly just stayed in that room all week. We brought her into the living room on an evening, but she didn't stay long before scurrying back to the bedroom. It's such a shame that she's like that, but we think it's best to let her stay there if that's where she feels safest.

Junior, on the other hand, loved the cottage! There was so much space for him to run around, and he loved opening and closing all the doors (amazingly, there were no trapped fingers!). The owner provided a travel cot, and he slept right through the night, every night, no issues.

Anyway, this will turn into a really long post if I talk about everything that we did and everywhere we went, so I'll just mention one or two highlights.*

We visited a place called Eshott Heugh Animal Park which you can read about if you click on the link. They have loads of chickens, horses, sheep, cows etc as well as some slightly more exotic animals. We had the place almost to ourselves when we visited, and it was a lovely walk around. We're gradually introducing Junior to animals other than cats and dogs - he's a bit wary sometimes, but he's getting better.




Peacock with tail feathers on display

peacock (and hen?)

I'm a bit obsessed with peacocks

Ok, a lot obsessed...

Felt sorry for the turkey who was strutting up and down while I was obsessing over the peacock, so I took his photo too

Obligatory meerkat photo


One at the back, one at the front
Big pig

Alright, I'll seek help...

In Coldstream you can visit the Hirsel Estate - we popped in one morning and just had a wander around the gift shops and then, following a suggestion from a shop owner, we had a walk to see the Highland cattle who had recently had some calves. She said they'd been quite close to the edge of the field that they were in, but when we got there they were quite a way off and I was only using the camera on my phone so I didn't get great photos of them.

On the Wednesday of our week, we'd planned to go for an evening drive. Junior never has any trouble going to sleep at night (he sleeps brilliantly, right through the night - we're so lucky!) so it's not as though we need to drive around to make him fall asleep, but we just thought we'd do it for a change. We put him into his pyjamas and a warm coat and socks, and opened the front door, at which point I said "has my car got a flat tyre?". Sure enough, there was a huge nail sticking out of it. So, back inside, no evening drive. Chris got on the internet (the cottage had wifi, and we took our laptops, don't judge us) and found a mobile tyre fitter in Coldstream. He apparently finished at 6pm, but Chris rang at 6.05 and he answered the phone and said he'd come out the next morning between 9 and 10.00. He turned up at 9.10 and fitted a brand new tyre (for about £65), in the pouring rain too, and was gone by 9.50. What a lifesaver! So we still managed a day out on Thursday.

The offending tyre

Going back to Wednesday, after we'd been to the Hirsel estate we had a drive to a place of my choice - Whistlebare Yarns. I didn't take any photos, but you can have a good look around their website. I bought 3 100g skeins of 4ply in the Willow the Wisp colourway - it's 60% mohair/40% wool - not sure what I'm going to make with it, possibly a shawl or summery poncho, might even get a cardigan out of it. It was a very nice place, and the yarn is gorgeous - it felt good to buy 'local' too. Having said that, I also bought 5 100g balls of Rico Baby Soft Print DK in a wool shop in Alnwick, with a view to making a blanket for Junior. I've already started that, I'm sure I'll blog about it at some point. I found a couple of other nice wool shops but I resisted buying any more yarn - I'd already taken loads of cotton with me and I think I only made one facecloth all week, which Chris snapped up for himself.

On Thursday, after the tyre was sorted, we headed up to Eyemouth. It was still raining and cold, so I don't think we saw it at it's best. We did watch a seal being fed in the harbour though, although I've now decided that I'm scared of harbours. It's the big drop into deep water, and that for most of it there is no barrier to stop you going over the edge. My stupid brain imagines all sorts of scenarios involving falling over the side, or even worse now, Junior falling over the side. I wish the thoughts didn't pop into my head, but I can't seem to stop them. I suppose all parents have thoughts like that though, to a greater or lesser degree.

From Eyemouth, we went to a place called Coldingham Bay, where Junior got his first taste of walking on the beach. Much splashing ensued in the puddles left by the receding tide, and there was the inevitable fall into wet sand. He loved it!

Daddy footprints on the left, toddler footprints on the right, reflection of dad's orange jacket in the middle
On Friday, we went to Bamburgh. We didn't visit the castle, but you can't exactly miss it.

We made our way to the beach again, and what a beach it was

looking back to the castle

looking to the right

looking to the left
And here's Junior, doing a 'Reginald Perrin' and just heading for the sea

Don't worry, dad is next to him, just out of shot
Back home on Saturday - we left the cottage at 8.45am and arrived home at 11.55! Really weird to think we'd been in Scotland just three hours earlier!

I thought I'd done a great job with packing for home, I hadn't forgotten anything... until we put Junior to bed and realised we'd left half of the baby monitor (the transmitter bit that goes in his bedroom) back in the cottage!! Oh no!! I emailed the owner who very kindly offered to post it back to us, at no cost, which was so good of her. But it meant that we had to go a few nights without using the monitor, which felt a bit strange, especially for me because I'm a bit of a stickler for having it switched on.

So that was our first family holiday, and it was brilliant! We've already decided that we'd like to go back to the same area, and we'd even book the same cottage, because it was lovely, very spacious but cosy too. The three-hour drive made a nice change too, compared to some of our previous holidays to Scotland which have been around 9 and 10 hour drives.

Roll on the next holiday!

*It was still a really long post, wasn't it?

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