Mood Indigo-part 3

Note from Steph: No baby yet, though it is getting harder to remember that a watched uterus never contracts. The baby will come when it is finished and there is nothing we can do to rush it. Go on about your business. (Buy that? Oh. Teresa didn’t either.)

We did get the cover of the book shot yesterday, though who knows what they will use or do. The suspense is killing me (but I didn’t kill Adam.)

The That Laurie Guest Blog continues….

Mood Indigo

“The vat must be reduced (the air removed) and turned to “indigo white” which is actually a sort of chartreuse green. To do this, add Sodium Hydrosulfite (buy Rit Color Remover from the grocery store or a craft store — it has a definite shelf life so look for the expiration date) at the rate of 1/2 teaspoon/gallon of dye liquid. Stir gently (remember not to get more air in the vat at this point). It might take another hour, you will see the vat change color.”

Well, we added the requisite amount of RIT dye remover and it took about 2 seconds for the vat to change color. I would not have called it chartreuse green, but then I have never been 100% sure what color “chartreuse” was. My guess is that the most important thing is that the color of the vat change. The first time, the change was dramatic and the liquid really did turn a much lighter green.

When I did my second indigo vat more recently with the leaves that had grown back from the first harvest, both the vat itself was much darker and the “transformed” vat, though definitely changed in color, was much darker.

In any case, we were very excited when we carefully put our pre-soaked yarn into the vat now perched permanently above the hot water in the dye pot because the heat must stay in the 110 to 130 range.


We also inverted another plastic tub on TOP of the indigo vat to keep the heat from escaping. After all it was getting a bit late in the evening by then, and Maine gets cool of an evening, even during the summer.

When we unveiled the pot, we had very positive indications that the process had worked:


See the blue tinting the top? We tried to dye too much wool, and some of it did NOT stay under the surface of the liquid. Supposedly, the yarn stays below, and you can swoosh it around. But, having spent all almost all day wrestling the vat into submission, we wanted to dye a LOT. In terms of the weight, we should have been fine – 28 ounces of leaves for 2 100-gram skeins of dye-your-own sock merino from KnitPicks. I am convinced it was volume of the liquid, not the vat itself that lead to somewhat mottled skeins.

Anyway, we got the Indigo magic!! Just watch:


See the color spread up the skein as it hits the air? And it gets darker! Like this:


Now one skein was considerably darker than the other. The one I kept was less dark then the skein above and had number white splotches, both where the ties on the yarn blocked the dye and the absorption of the vat was not as good. Mine was the skein on top, and I knew I could overdye it with the next indigo vat. Which is exactly what I did.

In the next vat, I also did a very small skein of bright white polwarth handspun all by itself first. It FULLY submerged and changed color even faster and more fully than the skeins above:


Tomorrow – results and lessons learned!

Laurie subs in(digo), part 2

Note from Steph: Still no baby. I am beginning to think that Teresa is holding me personally responsible for it’s failure to appear.

In other news, this is Adam.


He is the photographer sent to take my picture for bookbookbook 3, and I haven’t made up my mind if I like him. On the one hand, he seems like a nice guy, polite, funny, competent and with my best interests at heart. On the other hand, he keeps taking my picture, which makes me self conscious, nervous and hostile. Today, assuming Teresa doesn’t free me by producing a child, Adam will photograph me and my knitting friends and comrades and we will likely scare the crap out of him while I hold the following against him.

1. He asked me to buy wool “another time” when he was trying to take my picture yesterday in the yarn shop. (he knows nothing of our ways.)

2. He is interfering (however sweetly) with book writing time.

3. He wishes that I had (get this) “bigger knitting”.

Dude. I have so much to teach him.

Over to That Laurie….

Indigo (Not-So) Blues

“Strain out and compost the leaves, pour the brown liquid into a bucket or other large non-reactive container. Add ammonia (buy the NON-sudsing kind) at the rate of 1 fluid oz/gallon of dye liquid to make the vat alkaline. . . . Now pour this liquid back and forth between 2 buckets for 5 minutes to get as much air into the vat as possible. The liquid will turn blue and a bit foamy.”

We left our intrepid heroines with their carefully shorn indigo leaves immersed and SLOWLY rising in temperature within the makeshift doubleboiler (well-used dye pot + circular cake-cooling rack + three gallon jars and there you are!). And we are very carefully using an old meat thermometer to make sure that the temperature in the jars reaches only 150-160 degrees F. Lots of patience for this step. We let it “steep” in this fashion for about an hour and a half, with the reward that the leaves became leached of their color and the water in which they were steeping achieved a vague blue tint when observed at an angle. By the time the water became a kind of dull brown, we figured that we had reached the proper point.

I will say, however, that I steeped the leaves a LOT longer for the second batch of leaves I did recently and got an awful lot darker indigo color from my “indigo vat.” Of course, the recent success may have something to do with the various problems we encountered the first time in trying to follow the instructions.

We discovered the following:

1) Two PhDs in Humanities type topics can have an unusual amount of trouble translating fluid ounces into the more easily measured tablespoons. 1 fluid ounce equals two tablespoons, so we put in three tablespoons for our gallon and a half of due liquid. Observe:


2) You can pour your fluid back and forth for an hour and it will NOT turn blue. Later we consulted with Rita Buchanan’s instructions in Spin-Off directly (“Grow your own colors: Plant a dye garden” SP87:35-40), and she indicates the color WOULD change, but the liquid might more likely be a dark blue-green. On BOTH dyeing occasions, I would say that the liquid was much more dark green than blue, and the foam was not blue AT ALL. This particular picture reveals the dark-greenness of things and explains the various contortions Kristen and I went through thereafter:


And here is a great picture of the more recent indigo dyeing session in which you will note that the liquid being poured is a nice dark green.


Kristen and I developed various theories – we are not scientists but we HAD done research. We thought one of two things might be wrong: 1) wrong PH or 2) heat too low since we had been pouring for about an hour rather than five minutes. The one possibility that did NOT occur to us was that we had, in fact, mixed enough air into the vat and the green liquid WAS the right color and was ready to go on to the next stage. There were hints that we should have thought of that possibility – after all, the plastic bucket was turning blue


However, we expected BLUE. So, we thought we had better check the temperature (it was low so we put the vat over a hotter water bath) and the PH. So off I go to the local pool store to buy PH strips, and I return –


Let the measuring begin:


Those PH strips are not as accurate as you would like. By now, it occurs to both of us that the original dyers who used this plant probably had no local pool store and must have been able to achieve their goal without all these machinations.

In short, we gave up and decided to try with the decidedly uninspiring vat we had achieved. What can I say? It was getting late, and we were getting tired.

Tomorrow – Mood Indigo

Indigo Adventure: Part One

Note from Steph: There is no baby yet, but there are signs that it won’t be long. (Teresa is well, though extraordinarily pissed off, and the babe, while static, is doing very nicely.) In the meantime, I continue to sit in the dungeon, finishing book 3 (it’s going fine thanks. Yesterday I got a whole five hours of sleep, finished an entire chapter and only cried once. I’m not even sure why I cried. Too much coffee maybe. Is nineteen cups too much?) and Laurie (That Laurie) steps up to the guest blogger plate. Make her feel at home will ya? (And don’t get used to this level of professionalism. It’s back to me soon.)

L.I.D — Laurie’s Indigo Dyeing: Part One

Or rather Laurie TRIES to do indigo dyeing, with the valuable help of her assistant Kristen. We prepared for adventure months before by buying indigo plants at the Maine Fiber Frolic. We will draw a discrete veil over attempt one in which we clipped the tips of the plants in the two flats of six I brought back and planted in my garden. Trying to dye using too few indigo leaves that are themselves too young does not work. Let us leave it at that. However, by mid-July, we had enough indigo (note to self: do not plant the indigo so close to the basil plants next time. See the basil in the lower corner of the picture? Fortunately Indigo leaves are a lot flatter than this species of basil!):


Even more important, telltale water droplets had marred a few leaves revealing this:


See the blue?? Definite blue. There was lots of indigo; the plants were mature enough; we were ready to go! We used the information from this site , but we also discovered some things on our own. Kristin and I settled in for LONG day of dyeing. Little did we know HOW long!

We picked about 28 ounces of indigo leaves – observe the harvest. The leaves are in the jars to be heated and the remainder stems are in one of our many bowls:


Just following instructions: “Strip the leaves from stalks and cram them into a gallon glass jar (or a plastic bucket or a stainless steel or enamel pot — any non-reactive container). Fill the jar with water and place it in another pot on a trivet or some jar lids (you are creating a double boiler).” Here are the jars in their double boiler:


So far so good, right? Just you wait!!

Randomly (again)

1. Teresa is still pregnant. (She is delighted, let me tell you.) Since finishing the knitting didn’t work instantly, I’m hoping to make the baby jealous by beginning to knit for another baby.


This is my swatch, a sleeve for the Voss Dale of Norway baby sweater. I’m using Baby Ull and it’s knit on 2.5mm needles. (There’s a picture of the sweater here, but mine’s the baby version and this shows the kid one. Close though.)

I’m upholding my personal swatch philosophy here. The sleeve of a baby sweater IS a swatch. I mean, what would you knit to test gauge that would be smaller? The sleeve is in the round so the swatch will be accurate, and if the goddess smiles on me then I have a sleeve. If not, well….I have a swatch. Really, the only thing wrong with this system is how long it took me to learn to cast on the sleeve instead of the body. Chronically slow learner here.

2. The TSF pins. All talk of the TSF pins and what will be done with them in on hold for two weeks. If you sent me an email offering help or suggesting something…don’t worry. I have it, and when I am ready, I’ll email you.

3. My manuscript (bookbookbook3) has to be on my editors desk in it’s entirety, in two weeks. Until then you will have to forgive me spotty blogging, poor grammar (more than usual), blatantly ripping off other blog formats (thanks again for the random thing Mamacate) and the occasional sobbing jag, sleep deprived rant or apparent lack of will to live.

(Sounds like it’s going to be a funny book eh?)

4. When Sam was Trick or Treating, she went up to one house and when she came back to the curb we had the following conversation:

Sam: That house was really scary.

Me: Really? Inside or Outside? (Since the house was not decorated on the outside, I assumed that they must have gone to town in their foyer or something.)

Sam: Inside.

Me: Lots of Hallowe’en decorations eh?

Sam: I don’t think they had decorated.

5. I will now distract you from the lack of coherency with presents.

Karlie has this beautiful bracelet she made


and it will be making it’s way to Mary B. (Don’t you sort of want to know how she made that? I say “sort of” because I think that if you knew how to do it, you might spend your whole day messing with beads, and that would cut into the knitting time.)

Sandra D. (I love typing that. I bet Sandra got sick of that song from Grease a long, long time ago…but I think it’s still funny.) has all of this for TSF’ers.


The Green Mountain Spinner Knitting book, which is wonderful…I have a copy upstairs and I love the “Easy Raglan” with the cabled edges. Sandra’s mailing it to Anj – aka Purlewe.


Sandra’s sending this copy of Alice Starmore’s Celtic Collection to

Teresa. (Not my pregnant one, but the one I emailed.)


and Jean Moss Designer Knits to Kelli Ann F.


Cervinia sock yarn (I haven’t used this one…) to Shelby M.

(Let me know what you think of it)


Regia sock yarn to Vicky (The one I emailed)


Lang Jawoll sock yarn to Rachel T. (am I the only one sort of coming to the conclusion that Sandra may have a pretty big stash of sock yarns?)


and last, but certainly not least, this lovely Louet Gems Pearl is going to live with Marian C.

I’ve emailed all the lucky picks, so if you’re wondering if it’s you, check your inbox.

6. Laurie (That Laurie) has taken the time to write us a spectacular guest blog series on the joys of dyeing with Indigo. (It’s really good.) I’ll be posting it here over the next two weeks as I need a little room to focus on the last bit of the book-in-progress. Her last tutorial was so good to I know you’re going to love this. Once again, I’d like to thank That Laurie for giving me the gift of time and sanity.

7. I forget what 7 was. I’m going to go write a book now.

Dear Teresa,

Yesterday I knit like a fiend, after I suddenly realized that really, it’s not a joke. Your baby will not be born until his/her shawl is finished. I know that it might sound funny to you, my belief that babies don’t come until their knitting is done, but I have a lot of babies to judge by and a perfect track record. The girls were each born (one two weeks late, one two weeks early and one right on her due date) all on the day that their blankets were finished, Hank was born on the day I finished his blanket, Snowdrop didn’t come until I finished her shawl, Sam arrived in 49 minutes once I was done with that boring baby blanket (though I feel bad that he was a week late. It was a pretty big blanket though.) …..I don’t know why I was worried. Clearly, the baby comes when I finish.

This got me to thinking, since truly my next thought was “why rush?” (Yes. That does make me rather cruel. I’d rather not discuss it. I’m still reeling from the realization that I’ve been artificially inflating birth weights in the Province of Ontario for my entire career.) if it is finishing the blanket that triggers labour, and you will definitely be pregnant for as long as I decide you will, until the time is right, then perhaps I should get a move on. (I promise that the way you wake up every morning, realize you are still pregnant and then call me absolutely furious about it had nothing to do with my decision to get a move on. I would feel sort of guilty if you exploded because I got distracted by a fair isle hat though…so I stuck to it with some focus.)

I took the shawl with me to the S&B at Lettuce knit last night. Right, sorry. I didn’t have any fun though. I bet you had more fun than me, just sitting around watching your feet swell. I definitely didn’t have fun while I was taking this picture, which I have entitled…

“Emma may have miscalculated her gauge.”


Emma (the one in the back) knit this on the fly, and since denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, it was only when she cast off and had the zipper mostly in that she could no longer deny the truth. (I’m sure you will be laughing as hard as I as that she said this sweater only had an extra “16 inches” in it)

We ripped it back last night. I tried not to think of the irony that I was delaying knitting your shawl while ripping back the only item in the world that is going to fit you if I don’t finish the shawl.

Wracked by guilt, I knit on the streetcar, on the bus and until 1:30AM, when…I finished the knitting.

I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “It’s 10:30AM Steph. It’s been (*&^%$#!!!! nine hours since you finished! Why the (*&^%$!!! am I still *&^%$#ing pregnant?” Firstly, don’t talk like that, the baby can hear you, and secondly…because lace isn’t done until it’s blocked. The knitting was finished, the shawl was not.

Knitting done, I folded the shawl, relieved that I would be blocking it today and turned in. Lying there, my dear friend. I started to think about you. I though about how you were trying to sleep while someone jumped on your spleen, kicked you in the diaphragm and played rousing games of “I’m sure that’s her bladder” so you had to get up to pee 57 times while I was lying there. I felt sort of bad.

So I got back up.

The shawl, blocking at 2:30am. (Never say I do not love you.)


(By the way, statistically speaking? What do you think the odds are that this totally innocent looking black cat is not going to lie on the blocking white shawl the minute I go up to bed?”)


By the time I got up this morning the shawl was dry. (I woke up twice last night imagining you calling me in a rush, and me staggering around the living room with my coat half on, cab at the door, kicking pins out of the thing at 5:55am ..but no.) I unpinned it and lo.


It is finished.


It is knit. It is blocked. It is dry. It is ready.

Specs for my knitter friends: My own pattern, with the final snowflake pattern and border boosted from this book (which is a fine book.) It took 2 full balls and a little bit of a third one of Misti Alpaca Lace. (437 yards/ball) on 3.75mm needles.

Teresa, please forgive me for not knitting as quickly as I could, and accept my deepest apologies for that last stretch mark that was probably completely preventable. Mea culpa.

Know that despite my regrettable lack of speed, I will point out that I am actually done on your due date, that this is one of the best and most beautiful things I have ever knit, and that I couldn’t possibly be more excited about being at this birth, touching the third of your babies (you do such nice work) …and finding out exactly who is in there.

In short, my dear friend….Bring it on.



Cross your legs

Teresa’s baby is due tomorrow.


This is the snowflake shawl. I need two days. Today to finish the lace edge, then tomorrow to block it. While I can’t bring myself to ask Teresa to wait, I really hope that she does. May the force be with us.

A changed man.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you fond birthday wishes for Joe.


Dude, seen here being so hip it hurts, celebrates an undisclosed number of years on the planet today and I, in usual harlot form, will tell you why I’m going to get him a present, some cake and maybe something else he will like.

Joe changed. All the time everyone says you can’t change people and you need to just look at your spouse and say “Ok. This is it. This is who he is and I can’t change him.” This is absolutely true, very good advice to give people who are engaged and I’ve always completely accepted that you can’t change anyone, not even a little.

Imagine my surprise then, that it turns out that if the man in question really loves you, and really respects your goals and your happiness…then they will change themselves. (This was not a possibility that my mother explained to me.) This time last year was a mother, wife, writer and doula working from home. This had the benefit of providing our family with an almost seamless supply of warm dinners on the table and clean laundry that appeared suddenly in drawers. Joe did his stuff around the house (though I can’t remember right now what that was, only that I told him on more than one occasion that “No man has ever been shot while doing the dishes” and by way of encouragement, that I find men sorting laundry “really hot”.) but mostly it was my domain.

Then, encouraged by Joe, my first book was published and everything changed. I was gone a lot. When I wasn’t gone I was working. I had another book coming out and a third one to write and there were all of these planes and meetings and millions of knitters and yarn and…..I must have looked like I was having the time of my life this year. (Mostly because I was.) It was a lot of work, but when it’s the work you have always dreamed of doing, then writing until 4am has it’s rewards, you know what I mean?

The laundry stopped. I left on trips. The house exploded, the kids got disorganized. I came home from yarn crawls the book tour to discover not just that things were sticky, but that things were falling apart. I remembered that people don’t change…and I spent quite a lot of time wondering if this was too much for my family. I would come back and there would be no food, no clean dishes, homework abandoned…people wearing really strange outfits because they were at the bottom of the clean clothes supply…and on one historic occasion, a large hairball greeted me at the front door because there had been an executive decision by “Team Lord Of The Flies” to let it dry (!!!??!!) before making an attempt to clean it up. (It had dried. They had forgotten.) I admit that I wept as I pried it off the carpet. That night I lay in bed wondering if I could have this career, or if I needed to wait until the kids were older. It wasn’t just the hairball…it was the chaos.

Then it happened. Joe changed. Not all at once, and I admit that the change was subtle at times…but it was there. He started to understand how much toilet paper three teenaged girls need and that there’s nothing he can do about that. He started wiping things. He washed the kitchen floor and did a load or two of laundry when people had no underwear. (I’ll admit that the first time he did it, he was the one out of underwear, but change is a process.) He admitted that he could see how it might be upsetting to me to return from 8 days away and find the living room was not only trashed, but now contained a “patch bay” two “console channels” and a large editing system. (He didn’t move it, but he admitted that he could see why I might not like it.) He started making the bed. He did homework with the girls. He kept up with their activities…He bought fruit….and more than all of this..

He never, ever…not once, not for a second, no matter how much I was gone, no matter how much slack he had to pick up, even though he was doing a lot of work and a lot of change and lots of men would be bitter about their underwear-washing, dinner cooking, schedule coordinating mate just packing up and leaving all the time…(especially leaving them with three high-drama teenagers with advanced certificates in hostile behavior and guilt-trips) not once has he ever said anything to me except for “What’s the stuff you use to get gum off the bathtub?” “How many carrots can they eat in a day?” and …”I’m really so proud of you Steph.”

The wonder doesn’t end here. As if it were not enough that Joe has demonstrated that he can learn and change to support his family in their endeavors, better than that…he did something remarkable.

He didn’t change the stuff I already liked. He’s still funny, and charming and sweet and mourned a hamster. He’s also still late, sometimes annoying and not yet someone who can own a cell-phone, and I don’t want to pretend that he is now some sort of tidy, Vim-loving clean-freak … but these are the spices in his personality. The things that keep him from being milk-toast bland, the things that tell me that he’s never going to get boring, or mundane or ordinary. A year after his last birthday, I have a changed man, and a better one.

Happy Birthday Joe.

(I’ll do the groceries today.)