The color outside my door

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Green and brown leaves.

Turkey Tail (back), lichen (front) and leaves found on a fallen tree limb.

I always enjoy exploring the process behind the yarns featured on Indie Untangled. Caroline of The Noble Thread, based in North Carolina, has provided a fascinating walk through the world of naturally-dyed yarn.

I would like you to do something for me. Put a sweater on, open your front or back door, and take a walk in your yard, or around your neighborhood. Look around you. There are leaves at your feet, acorns crackling underfoot, mushrooms, a few last minute blooms if you live in warmer climates, fallen branches covered with lichen and maybe even walnuts still in their green husks… This is the world of color that awaits you!

For thousands of years, people have used what was around them — minerals, insects and plants — to color yarns that would become textiles, reeds that would be woven into baskets.

Certain colors even became a status symbol like the Tyrian purple, a color extracted from snails, which was reserved for royalty. But the color that I find most amazing is the color that everyday people created with what was available to them.

Green, lacy leaves.

Resurrection fern on live oak.

When we look at the embroideries of early American settlers, though their designs were originally inspired by Jacobean crewelwork, it is the world around them that made their work uniquely theirs. Their designs were grounded in the scenes they saw every day, and their colors were the ones that surrounded them.

Fall is a wonderful time to harvest local dyestuff. When I go harvesting, I always do so with moderation. The squirrels need acorns, the birds need berries and the bumble bees, flowers! I only harvest lichen that has fallen from a tree because lichen grows so slowly.

A bee on white flowers.

Pollinators on Loquat blossoms.

People have recorded recipes. I have my own, and maybe after you read this article, you will start your own recipe book!

Natural dyeing is very different from chemical dyeing. For one thing, there is no label on the dyestuff, but more seriously, the color you see may not be the color you get! When you dye with natural dyes, there is always an element of surprise.

If you look at gloriously red amaryllis blooms, which grow year after year in my yard, you could think you would be getting red dye. Instead, you would get a pale yellow! Experimentation is key, and so is the recipe book!

Green, yellow and brown leaves.

Grape leaves.

The colors that are most readily created with natural dyes are yellows and tans. Green cannot be extracted from the greenest leaves or the greenest grass. Your first experiments will most likely result in shades of yellow and tan, but your heart will beat faster when you identify the plants that can give you reds and purples!

Once you start experimenting and dyeing with natural dyes, you will never look at a leaf, a flower, a berry or a mushroom in the same way!

Plant pieces scattered on a table.

From left to right. Top: oak leaves, grape leaves, oak leaf. Center: turkey tail, ganoderma, chestnuts husks, and chestnut. Bottom: acorns, juniper berries, pecans, lichen.

So let me share the fruits of my harvests with you! I live in Wilmington, a coastal North Carolina town. Our summers are tropical and our winters mild. Deciduous and non-deciduous trees make for an amazing landscape. Glorious camellias bloom in December! Fall comes late here, but it does bring beautiful changes to nature. Every morning, for the last few weeks, accompanied by my faithful dog, Brioche, I have gone foraging.

I have found walnuts, pecans, acorns, bits of fallen lichen, loquat leaves, pokeberries, goldenrod and mushrooms… Together, these natural treasures form my unique fall palette.

With the use of alum and iron, I not only fix the colors, but I can also change them. Yellows become khaki greens, pinks become purples, and tans become greys from the lightest pearly greys to the darkest charcoals. If I add a bit of indigo, I can create luminous greens and aquas. With indigo and walnut, I make antique black. By varying the fibers, at times dyeing on a natural cream, a natural grey or a tan, I can create an endless range of colors from the most luminous, sun-infused colors, to the warmest tones of fall.

Bright hanks of yarn arranged in a circle.

A rainbow of naturally-dyed yarns.

Now, look outside your door again, grab a basket, and go foraging! Get a book on natural dyeing from the library, so you can dye safely. Pick an old stainless steel pot and some wooden spoons that you will use only for dyeing, gloves, a few rusty nails, alum from the grocery store, a mask and of course, yarn. Simmer away, and take lots of notes in your recipe book. You will create your own unique palette, one that connects you to your region, to your neighborhood, to the land, and in some ways to the millions of people who throughout the ages have created magical colors with natural dyes.

Knitting Olympic National Park: From a crafty park ranger’s view

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A beach alongside mountains on a clear day.

Second Beach at La Push, Washington, Olympic National Park

[Ed.’s note: This post coincides with the release of the Knitting Our National Parks colorway from McMullin Fiber Co., inspired by Olympic National Park. It’s available to preorder through May 1, 2020.]

There’s nothing quite like knitting in peace and quiet. And it’s a tough thing to find in our bustling world. But at Olympic National Park, it exists. And it’s not just any peace and quiet.

It’s complete silence.

In fact, some would argue the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park takes the cake as the quietest place in the United States — in one square inch of rainforest.

The summer I worked as a park ranger, I was told about this One Square Inch (and instructed to warn people to stay on trail if they were headed to find it). So naturally, I sought it out as a prime knitting spot.

The park is, without a doubt, the epitome of peace. Walking through the Hall of Mosses feels like sneaking through an empty home. And yet, there’s a buzz around you. A feeling of abundant life just beyond the boundaries of your senses.

And it’s a gorgeous destination for knitting. Later, I’ll list my favorite knitting spots around the park. But the one I visited most was just alongside the Hoh River. This was my chosen sanctuary for elk-watching, solitude, simply being — and of course, sneaking in a little crafting.

A tree arches over a forest trail.

Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park. Photo by Amira Umphres

Living and Working as a Crafty Park Ranger

Working as a ranger came with feelings of great responsibility, pride and passion for untamed wilderness. It also came with a lot of time alone in a very small entrance booth facing the same two trees for hours at a time.

Eventually, I got to know and love those two trees (which turned out to be red alders). I started to notice little details, like their adorably tiny pine cones. Soon, I was reading about them. Apparently, after a wildfire, red alder trees are among the first to courageously repopulate the area, making way for new life. And the knitter in me was excited to learn that their bark could be used to create a natural, rusty red dye.

Suddenly, my nameless tree companions became a life form I was emotionally invested in.

This mirrored my experience as I got to know the park. Every lichen, wasp, bird and stone became a source of fascination until this place I called my “office” took root inside of me. And though I no longer work and live on the Olympic Peninsula, it’s part of who I am.

And it continues to inspire the patterns, colors and textures I choose for knitting.

A green handknit sweater and hat.

I often choose deep greens as I did for this Tin Can Knits Flax Sweater (left), or forest motifs like this Boyland Knitworks’ Faller’s Cap (right). Photos by Amira Umphres

The first time I saw Olympic National Park was the summer of 2013. It got under my skin and never left. Its enchanting landscape has a habit of taking hold of your heart. I dreamed of being a part of it.

I’d volunteered for the San Antonio Missions National Park, majored in anthropology as an undergraduate and worked for UT Austin’s computed-tomography lab in the Geosciences school. You could say I was a little obsessed with science, history and natural heritage.

But it wasn’t until I saw a documentary on national parks where an African American park ranger was interviewed that I actually felt I could take the leap. Seeing someone who looked like me in a ranger uniform somehow melted away a lot of the doubts I’d had about becoming a ranger myself.

With this thought floating in the back of my head, and some helpful tips from a friend who’d worked as a park ranger, in the spring of 2015, I sent out applications to almost every national park in the U.S.

I only got one reply.

It was from Olympic. They had a spot for me at the Hoh Rainforest.

I said yes immediately and drove 1,900 miles from my home in Iowa with my family in tow. We rented a one-bedroom house connected to an old surf shop in Forks (the town of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books fame) and settled in for the summer.

Snow-covered mountains, an African American woman in a park ranger uniform holds a baby, purple flowers by a body of water.

From left to right: Hurricane Ridge, My daughter, Nora and I, Flowers in the park. Photos by Amira Umphres

Olympic National Park is an unparalleled protected wilderness. Not a single road crosses through the park. To get from one end of the peninsula to the other, you have to go the long way around (or, I suppose, you could hike!).

The peninsula has a population of around 378,000, spread out over 3,600 square miles. My fellow rangers were a tight-knit bunch. There’s not much choice when you’re living in such a remote place.

Though I was stationed at the Hoh, part of my job was to explore the rest of the park. We had work days dedicated to getting up close and personal with as many areas of the park as we could. It’s a very, very big park.

Life on the Olympic Peninsula

Not only is the park large in size, it’s large in biodiversity.

Olympic shelters an impressive range of flora and fauna. There’s a swift elevation change between the snowy mountain peaks and the sweeping coastal forests and beaches. These changes create precious and varied habitats. Olympic also houses the last stand of old growth temperate rainforest in the lower 48 states.

Like the landscape, the weather varies wildly. Olympic’s intense beauty is carved out by landslides, floods, wind storms, avalanches, heavy snows and wildfires.

Black bears, beaver, salmon, cougars, mink, whales, deer, marmots and otters (among many others) call the park home. And so does the largest herd of wild Roosevelt elk in the country.

Actually, the Roosevelt elk were the first to greet me on my first day at work. The Upper Hoh Road stretches roughly 18 miles from the main highway to the park entrance. It curves and bumps through towering hemlock, spruce and cedar trees, taking you around blind corners and sharp curves.

It was around one of these corners that I was welcomed — and stopped — by a herd of elk that had chosen the road as a spot for a nap.

I honked my horn. Nothing. Honked again. Got a few stares.

So I waited. No one was coming or going on the road that time of morning. I had no cell service.

After a couple of lazy minutes, they decided to move on. Slowly. I was late to work. And I learned to live a little more slowly in this place. Slowly, and far more connected to (and at the mercy of) nature than I’d ever been.

A Place of Connection

Knitting so often comes from a place of love and connection to the things we deeply care for. And Olympic is a living, breathing reminder of connection. I’ll share just one, small piece of that connection here.

Large tree roots.

A fallen tree showing its roots, Olympic National Park. Photo by Amira Umphres.

During one of those quiet times working the entrance booth, I came across a brief paragraph in a book. It was about the shallow roots of the rainforest’s trees.

With approximately 140 inches of annual rainfall, they have no reason to go far, which made sense to me. But I hadn’t thought about how these shallow roots played a role in the grand scheme of things.

Washington’s wind storms are notorious for blowing down massive trees, and the trees fall easily because of their shallow roots. And when they fall across a river, they create shelters — shelters where salmon can safely spawn, and where their tiny fry can grow and flourish. Once they’re old enough, after living in the safety of the fallen tree, they swim downriver, following it to the distant ocean, where they remain for several years.

But once they’re ready, they remember. They find their river. And not just any river — their home river. They swim with all their strength to get back. They jump as they go, fighting against the currents.

They don’t just return to the same river — they return to the exact place, the shelter, where they were born. And there they spawn… and die.

Their bodies become part of the soil, bringing rich nutrients from the ocean. Nutrients needed by — you guessed it — the trees that helped bring them safely into the world. They give back to the trees with their lives.

I’d sit alongside these rivers, watching the trees and, later in the fall, watching the salmon return. It was my favorite place to knit, because knitting for me is a way to connect, to make something I could use to give back to those who nurtured me with their love and kindness. Like trees and salmon.

A beach and a lake in clouds and fog.

Second Beach on a cloudy day (left) and Lake Crescent in fog (right). Photos by Amira Umphres

5 favorite knitting spots in Olympic

Second Beach at La Push: Second Beach doesn’t require a ton of hiking to get to the coast — which meant I could haul plenty of yarn. The beach is breathtaking and rarely overwhelmed with people. Driftwood from massive trees make perfect natural seating for crafting.

Lake Crescent: Lake Crescent is downright dreamy with crystal waters encased by mountains. One of my favorite knitting moments on Lake Crescent was watching a bald eagle float through the sky, then dive for fish.

Hoh River: It’s no surprise that the Hoh River was one of my favorite knitting spots. There was silence, beauty and serenity beyond compare.

Kalaloch Lodge: Kalaloch’s Creekside Restaurant — there’s no better place to catch a sunset. And no place better for public knitting than while watching the Pacific do its thing from an elegant dining room.

Ruby Beach: Low tide at Ruby Beach is an absolute must-see. And tide pools were the perfect place to have my kiddo entertained, searching for starfish and sea urchins while I kicked back on a beach blanket with my latest WIP.

~~~

Olympic National Park is a stunning palette of colors — from pristine snow to blue glaciers, brilliant emeralds and deep mossy greens, dusky sand beaches and steely ocean skies, purple starfish and white foamy waves, slick black sea stacks and peach sunsets. I can’t think of a better place to knit — and to reflect on the people, places and moments that inspire us to keep creating.

Knitting in the time of COVID-19

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A rust and cream colorwork sweater.

Amira’s latest WIP is Ghost Horses by Caitlin Hunter, using Malabrigo Worsted.

Ed.’s note: I’m excited to welcome a new contributor to Indie Untangled, Amira Umphres! Amira’s first blog post was set to debut next month as part of another project, but I thought in this period of social distancing, there was an opportunity to “widen the circle” and introduce a new perspective to our virtual community.

It’s no secret that our worlds were turned upside down seemingly overnight. Lives have been disrupted, some of us working from home, working overtime — or out of work entirely.

My partner works at a grocery store and we’re never quite sure when he’ll be going to work or coming home now. His shifts have gone from eight hours to anywhere between 10 and 12.

Like so many others, I suddenly live in a world where my kids are no longer in school. And I’m faced with the reality of attempting to provide childcare and at-home schooling, all while still trying to generate an income.

With so little in the scope of our control, I’ve been searching in and out for things I can do to cope.

It might feel a bit ludicrous, but one small thing I’ve decided to do for myself? Keep knitting (and crocheting).

There are several reasons why. And I’ve got a few tips and ideas for staying crafty if you’ve also found yourself suddenly in the company of kids who are normally in school during the day.

Purple, aqua and orange crocheted squares.

One of Amira’s latest WIPs. “I’ve been crocheting more, which is a brand new skill for me.”

The Importance of Knitting for Well-Being

Anxiety skyrocketed for me this week. Facing a global pandemic has left me feeling entirely out of control.

Luckily, knitting can function as a coping mechanism while adjusting to the temporary “new normal.” Not only has research shown that knitting contributes to stress relief and feelings of calm, knitting also fuels our sense of community.

And if knitting is a part of your routine and something you look forward to, don’t let it go.

Participate in virtual knitting groups if you can. My favorite LYS, West 7th Wool in Fort Worth, Texas, is closed to the public until further notice, but they’ve shifted their weekly Thursday knit nights to a virtual meeting room in Zoom. The first one is tonight, and I’ll be attending like always.

Knitting with Little Ones Around

Many of us are perfectly aware of the benefits of knitting (and definitely want to keep doing it while we’re navigating tough feelings and disrupted lifestyles). But… once I got word that my kids would be home for the foreseeable future, I found myself in a bit of a pickle.

How can I possibly keep knitting with kids at home, and little to no help or childcare?

I homeschooled my daughters for a few years and routine was the one thing that kept us sane. Building predictability into my day not only helps my kids feel less anxious about the state of things, it also gives me the opportunity to carve out some time for self-care and crafting.

I tend to knit while my kids play in the yard, watch a movie, or play a video game. And I accept that when they’re awake, I won’t get as much knitting done as I’d like. I might be able to do a few rows, but interruptions are inevitable. I really dig into a project, and save things that take more focus, for when they’re asleep.

I’ve also started to learn to finger knit alongside my oldest daughter, who’s 8. I’ve made good use out of my scrap yarn this way. And it’s an activity that holds her attention for 10 to 15 minutes. I’ve been surprised by how many projects we’ve made: bracelets, flowers, and headbands, to name a few.

A girl holds a felted duck in green, blue and red.

My kids and I also enjoy wet felting together. It’s warm here in Texas, so we do this outdoors with wool roving and a bucket of soapy water. You can collect rocks to cover with felt, make felt eggs, felt bowls, and felt balls to turn into jewelry or anything you can dream up.

And since hand washing is at the top of everyone’s minds, one of my favorite felting projects to do with my kids is to make felted soap. It’s super fun — and a simple way I’ve been able to get my girls to wash their hands regularly.

Stay safe everyone, and happy knitting!

Fiber festival flavor: Barcelona Knits 2019 and Stitches West 2020

Crowds at fiber festivals.

One of the things I love most about traveling to fiber festivals around the world — and I’m privileged to consider this part of my work — is getting to experience joining the local fiber community, if only for a few days. I’m very lucky to be part of an active and vibrant knitting community in New York City, and while many events have become destinations in and of themselves (the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, the New York Sheep & Wool Festival and even Vogue Knitting Live NYC), they each have a feel that’s all their own.

Posing with Bellota magazine.

At Barcelona Knits this past November, many of the vendors were from Spain or elsewhere in Europe. Some of my favorite finds were El Robledal de la Santa, run by Jackson and David, who breed Angora goats in Extremadura, in Southwest Spain, Lanivendole, run by Stefania and Giula, who hand dye Italian fibers, and the Spain-based knitting magazine Bellota.

Rosa Pomar in the booth for Retrosaria Rosa Pomar.

I also finally got to meet Rosa Pomar of Lisbon, Portugal LYS Retrosaria Rosa Pomar and designer of several patterns, including the Arbusto sweater from Issue 6 of Laine magazine, and project bag maker and designer Sara Maternini La Cave à Laine.

Bright speckled yarn.

The venue, the WTC in Barcelona, was at the end of the famous Ramblas, a pedestrian mall lined with outdoor cafes and street performers. The night before the show, wristbands for attendees who had already bought tickets were handed out at Barcelona LYS Lalanalú, with another gathering at a nearby LYS, Miss Kits, which provided a window into the local yarn community. Miss Kits was jam packed with indie-dyed yarn, including local brands that were also at the show, such as Catalonia-based Sóc una troca (and it was a short tip to the most delicious ham at Reserva Ibérica).

Sparkly letters spell out Makery.

Stitches West, which I attended last week in Santa Clara, California, is a massive show spanning a huge convention floor, but still manages to retain that local flavor. This is most apparent in the {Among Friends} Neighborhood, which for the last few years has been comprised of vendors who have gotten to know each other at shows. This year, that included Indie Untangled vendors Sarah of The Dye Project, which specializes in non-Superwash yarns, and Thao of Nerd Bird Makery, which creates enamel pins, T-shirts and other accessories that represents our diverse crafting community.

Gold jewelry.

Although I would have traveled “off campus” if I’d had a car, I didn’t even have to leave the convention center to visit Northern California LYSes like Firebird Yarns, which brought a large selection of yarn from Virginia-based IU vendor Brooke of Fully Spun as well as new indie yarn discoveries. I also found beautiful jewelry from a Vallejo maker named Casey of Aquacherry.

And though the show was huge — I’ve told friends it was like Rhinebeck and VKL NYC rolled into one — you were still able to feel a sense of community by sitting in the bar of the Hilton attached to the convention center, which we yarn folks of course took over (plus, it’s down the street from the most incredible ramen). I also was excited to finally meet Jasmin and Gigi from the Knitmore Girls podcast, which was one of the first knitting podcasts I started listening to years ago!

Of course, the knitting community feels like “home” no matter where you are.

A true yarn diet, plus a review of ‘A Stash of One’s Own’

My Rhinebeck 2017 haul.

I often think of my relationship with yarn as similar to my relationship with food. Obviously this isn’t a huge stretch with the phrases most of us throw around regularly — “yarn diet” and “cold sheeping” — heck, even the term “stash” likens yarn collecting to an addiction.

While I don’t literally need yarn to live, I know I do need it around me to make me happy and keep me sane. But I also know that having so much of it surrounding me, unknit, or going to a place where I’m surrounded by skeins just begging me to buy them, makes me as anxious as being at a buffet and knowing I don’t have room in my stomach (or room in my apartment, enough in my bank account) for everything.

Just like I can be a snob about food, I’m definitely a proud yarn snob. I often recall a passage in the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter in which chef Gabrielle Hamilton writes about an afternoon spent frantically driving around Brooklyn with her husband and two children, starving, but not wanting to stop just anywhere to eat because she had a specific craving that none of the all-you-can-drink brunch places that were open could sate. When I’m looking for yarn for a particular project, I generally don’t head to a big box craft store and just pick up the first skein of a certain color that I see. I’m going to pore over websites and destashes, see if one of my LYSs has something I can’t resist, or wait for a dyer to update her shop with the perfect color that would make this one project exactly what I’m envisioning.

Of course, I’m also going to wait on line for an hour for the apple cider donuts at the Maple Sugar Shack at Rhinebeck, even though I know I can just go to the farmer’s market the next weekend and buy some. It’s not the same.

Yarn on the brain.

When I go away on a trip, I make sure to indulge in the local cuisine. Sure, I can get a basket of bread or a plate of pasta anywhere, but it’s not going to be as memorable as the one I ate while sitting beside a Venice canal on a chilly early spring evening. Sure, those skeins of Portuguese Merino haven’t become a colorwork hat yet, but I enjoy taking them out of the plastic bin from time to time and thinking about how, on my first day in Lisbon, I set off on my own, determined to navigate myself to the city’s best yarn shop, and how I had a wonderful conversation with the woman behind the register about U.S. politics and the allure of knitting around the globe. And, yes, I bought more than one skein, just as I had a second custard tart the next afternoon at Pastéis de Belém, despite one of the women in my tour group commenting on my “hearty appetite,” because when was I going to get the opportunity to have the best pastel de nata again?

To me, Rhinebeck is like Thanksgiving, the one time of year when I feel obligated, like it is my duty as a knitter, to indulge in the special colorways and the sweater quantity of the yarn I see in that amazing sample hanging in a booth. Sure, I may feel like I need to pop a Tums when it comes time to squeeze my newly-acquired lovelies into the four… wait, make that five plastic bins I swore I’d keep my stash relegated to, but that’s what working out/listing yarn in your destash is for.

And it’s definitely hard not to feel guilty about the stash that is overrunning those bins, just like it’s hard not to shame myself when my jeans are not fitting like they did a few years ago, before one too many times giving in to a craving for a plate of sour-cream laden nachos. But, it is because of this that I know yarn is the best indulgence — I can easily re-experience the joy that comes with looking at a beautiful speckled skein or soft hank of Cormo, which gets even better when it’s finally set free to become the hat, cowl, shawl or sweater it was meant to be.

A stash of one’s own

My review of the Clara Parkes-edited A Stash of One’s Own is a little late, because the book came out when I was preparing for the Indie Untangled Rhinebeck Trunk Show, I didn’t get my review copy until the week the book came out and I decided that instead of rushing to devour it so I could write something, I would keep it on my nightstand and nibble on it, savoring each morsel before I went to bed each night.

Before Clara’s appearance at Knitty City in September, I did jump in and read some of it. I was touched by the essay written by Aimée Osbourne-Gille, the talented dyer behind La Bien Aimée, about learning to knit as an American expat in Paris and keeping the spirit of her mother, who passed away shortly after Aimée moved overseas, close via the stash she left behind. And the piece on stashing as a form of feminism by Debbie Stoller made me feel even prouder of one of my main indulgences.

Since I don’t think there is anything to critique here, I would just say if you are a knitter who likes to read, you need this book on your shelf, just like you need that particular skein in your stash.

And I’ll leave you with a one of the quotes from the book that stood out to me, from the incomparable Stephanie Pearl McPhee:

Most of my yarn is for knitting, but some of it has a more complicated destiny as support staff: It is there to make me want to knit. It’s absolutely possible that I need the green Merino to inform how I’ll use the blue alpaca, and that ball of gorgeous variegated yarn? You bet I’ve had it for ten years, and I completely admit that it’s a yarn pet. I have no intention of ever knitting it, but it’s earning the real estate it takes up with how it makes me feel about knitting. It is the textile artist’s equivalent of a painting hung on the wall. It’s there to be beautiful and to help me dream of possibility.