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35 The Colour Collaborative: March: Bird

Starlings, Gertrude Hermes, woodcut, 1965*

Talk to me of common starlings, the colour of oil on water, iridescent, and I will talk to you of black ...
filling the sky, falling ...
... at dusk, when they
gathered from the north, they were all blackbirds ...

Stanley Plumly, Against Starlings

Black birds with feather structures that selectively reflect light and - when those structures are ordered and stacked just so and the reflected light is thus amplified - bejewelled birds, emerald and purple, turquoise, aquamarine and bronze.
... with stars in their black feathers
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind ...

Mary Oliver, Starlings in Winter

A mature starling's plumage changes colour with the seasons. In a breeding pair he will be the glossier, with a blue blush at the base of his yellow beak where hers blushes pink**. In winter they will both be duller, a tad browner, with darker beaks and more obviously knit stitched with white, she more than he. But always, always, they are black against the sky.
...this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again
full of gorgeous life ...

Mary Oliver, Starlings in Winter

In the north east of England starlings are sometimes 'gippies' or 'gyps', words long associated with all things black. And in Wales the bird's ancient status as a winter only visitor is recorded in one of its Welsh language names, aderyn du yr eira, black bird of the snow***.
I saw them cover the sky ...

Stanley Plumly, Against Starlings

* This Gertrude Hermes print has long been a favourite of mine.

** Starlings can also be sexed by the colour of their iris, his a rich brown, hers a mousy brown grey.

*** The Welsh Mabinogion tells the tale of Branwen, who tamed a starling and "taught it words" so it might act as a messenger between her and her brothers.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below ...

Sandra at Cherry Heart       Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

CJ at Above the River       Jennifer at Thistlebear     

What is The Colour Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.


73 Waysides: a few refinements

Seven mini skeins of alpaca/silk laceweight yarn in a bowl, all mordanted with alum, two dyed with gorse flowers, two with oak leaves, one with walnut hulls, and two with alder cones (from left to right, approximately). The oak leaves were last years, still on the tree but so dry they crumbled as I picked them, and the walnut hulls had been lying in the grass for months. The gorse flower dye had been previously used to colour a 100g hank of wool buttercup yellow.

In no sense is what you see above definitive. The colours would be slightly deeper on some wools, and paler on linen or cotton. They would be yellower in tone if modified with an acid, pinker if modified with an alkali. And these are just the dye stuffs I've found time to collect while out walking this month. Even in March there are plenty more close at hand ... eucalyptus leaves (rusty reds), ivy leaves and berries (greeny yellows/sometimes grey), berberis bark, stripped from prunings (yellow), and daffodils (yellow again) could all be harvested from my garden on my way to the washing line*. Although that said it is the native and naturalised wild plants that I'm most interested in working with for Waysides.

With so many possibilities** our declaration when we began Waysides that we were focussed on process and open minded about outcome begins to seem, in some respects, rash. Unless my goal is to tie up time and money in yarn I may never use I seriously need to consider what I will do with what I dye before I dye much more of it.

Knitted colour work is clearly a possibility, but if that's the plan I won't be using acids or alkalis to modify colours as Rebecca, who has a different focus, is ... changes to the dye chemistry achieved by changing the pH can be susceptible to reversal when clothes are laundered, even when using pH neutral detergents, and if some hues shift and others don't a well balanced colour palette can quickly become a duff one. Only when I dye enough yarn in one colour to knit a whole garment do I deploy the lemon juice or the washing soda! Instead I plan to exploit overdyeing as a means of extending my Waysides colour palette, and to keep my eyes peeled for unusual plants that might yield hard to obtain shades (with the caveat that I always forage in an ethical and sustainable way).

Of course, given that I'm not supposed to be knitting at all just now, dyeing any yarn might seem a tad daft, but my mini skeins are also suited to tapestry weaving and can be used for embroidery too. I was contemplating shibori dyeing some patchwork cotton, but I'm thinking a very little knitting - a tiny hat for a new born is hopefully in the offing - plus some weaving, some stitching, and learning to crochet - if crochet doesn't defeat me again - will be quite enough to keep me busy when I'm not up to my elbows in dye!

* You can never have too many yellows, overdye them with indigo or woad for greens and turquoise.

** Not visible in the pic above are the tiny parcel tags attached to each mini skein. Something else I've had to reconsider as the number of Waysides samples rises is exactly how I record what's what. To keep it simple written on each tag is the month and year of dyeing, the dye stuff (Gorse for example, or in this case Gorse2D, for 'second dip', meaning the dye bath had been used once previously), and a string of five letters. The letters denote the mordant used, if any, the part of the plant used, whether fresh picked or dried/stored, the modifier used, if any, and the yarn base. Thus the label on the gorse flower dyed skeins reads "03.15 Gorse2D A-F-F-N-M", with the A representing 'alum', the first F 'flowers', the second F 'fresh picked', the N 'no modifier used', and the M the alpaca/silk laceweight yarn. And the label on the walnut hull dyed skeins reads "03.15 Walnut A-C-O-N-M", with the C representing 'cones/nuts/hulls' and the O 'dried/stored dyestuff' aka 'old'. I've a crib sheet for the code in my dye notebook, you'll not be surprised to hear.

To catch up with Rebecca's progress or to see all my Waysides posts just follow the links.


78 Lately ...

A knitted cord fashioned from silk thread. A first foray into knitting in the Portuguese style, with the working yarn tensioned around my neck. When I was done I unearthed a crochet hook and tried something similar with that. The crochet needs more practice, a lot more practice. If you've any suggestions as to the best crochet books or websites to learn from they'd be most welcome.

Waysides, my natural dyeing collaboration with Rebecca, is beginning to generate lots of little hanks of plant dyed lace weight yarn and a few of plant dyed silk thread. The colours are quite delicate and tonally they're quite similar so they're not a shoo-in for knitted colourwork. Instead I'm playing with ... other possibilities. There's a Waysides update pending - I'm waiting for the best light in which to take photographs of the results so far - maybe I'll tell you more then. No promises though. For me the process of developing new ideas is a fragile one and sharing things too soon can derail me.

This week has been all about family and my attention has been needed elsewhere. So my humble apologies if you've been waiting for an email or a reply to a comment or some such ... normal service will be resumed soon.

And twenty minutes this morning was all about the partial solar eclipse. The sun popped out from behind the clouds just in time so we were able to witness first hand the quality of both sunlight and shadows alter and become quite alien. Did you see it too? I've been pondering things cosmic since. When an eclipse coincides with both the spring equinox and a 'supermoon' (in the UK and elsewhere but not everywhere I know) one has cause to wonder at the effect on nature's rhythms, surely?

Also seen recently ... lenticular clouds high above the moor (quite rare in the UK), a (red listed) lesser spotted woodpecker, some spectacular moulds atop a long forgotten solar dye jar, and an abundance of frogspawn and wild cherry blossom. What's been catching your eye?

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