Fern Lace Shawl with Naturally Dyed, Hand-spun (not by me) Wool

Fern-lace Shawl

So, this is normally my mom’s territory.  This summer my job at Lang Pioneer Village I was given instruction on dying wool using plant-derived dyes.  Ladies (why no men?  Maybe there were some) from local weavers and spinners groups spun a whole bunch of wool this spring and I was allowed to run free experimenting with these natural dyes.  My mom has (Lynn) been into this for a long time and I have been on several excursions with her to collect Black Walnuts, Queen-Ann’s Lace, or whatever else we can identify that has dyeing properties, but this summer I actually got involved in the dyeing process.  Also, as I used up lots of the spun wool, I figured that I needed to learn to spin some as well.

I’m not going to go into the processes for this post (plus you can find all of this stuff online), but here are some pictures of all that.

My trusty work spinning wheel


Winding wool that I’d spun. In the background, mordanting over the fire.
Preparing a dye bath over the fire. This was full of Staghorn Sumac berries. It produced my greatest dye failure; a smoker’s-hair yellow-grey.


An array of colours produced by plants, some grown for their dyeing properties in the Fitzpatric garden at Lang Pioneer Village, others collected on the grounds.

The true intent of this post is my Fern-lace shawl.   After getting a sweet electric-yellow out of a bunch of goldenrod (Canada Goldenrod, Solidago altissima ?) I figured that I really needed to knit something from these cool colours we were coming up with.  Pauline Gillespie, the volunteer teaching us dyeing, had already instructed dying with apple bark and Marguerite.  One day she came by with knit shawls as gifts for me and my co-worker, Tara, and I told her that I wanted to knit with the dyed wool.   She said “Go for it!” and ran off to get the pattern for me.Fern Lace Shawl

The pattern seemed to indicate that it was something you worked on only when you had cabin fever, and although I’m pretty sure that knitting is one of the activities that gives you cabin fever (no, I’m not the knitter in the family), I began.  I wanted to start with my favorite goldenrod yellow, then I thought I’d finish with a heavily overspun apple bark, so as not to use up all the really nice wool. The pattern starts nice and simple, cast on five, then add at the beginning and end of of each row with some yarn-over action (YOLO!) in the centre.  The rows get longer and longer and then you (I) realise that the little ugly apple bark ball will not be enough.  I ended up pillaging another skein of really nice apple bark, so you can see a slight change in tone on the trim.  I don’t mind.

Fern Lace Shawl I wanted the shawl to be a little longer in the back than the pattern called for so I added more rows.  Of course when you do this, you have to make sure that the lacy trim at the end makes sense.  I tried a few times.  The first was totally off, so on the second attempt, which was closer, I made it fit.  I’m quite happy with the result.  Now I just have to find those times which require a shawl and then remember to wear it.  I think it will come in handy for coolish Autumn walks in the natural areas around my home.

Fern Lace Shawl