Felt painting

Moy Mackay creates beautiful works of art using fleece, fiber and threads in her book “Art in Felt & Stitch”. It is filled with colorful felt paintings of still-life, animals and landscapes inspired by her home in the Scottish Borders. See how she uses various felt techniques to achieve her paintings.

Felt is one of the earliest fabrics and is older than weaving, spinning and knitting. The book itself is a work of art with the fiber colors jumping off the page in the numerous photographs. Four step by step projects are included with instructional pictures that are clear, detailed and inspiring and numerous. Also included are many examples of her finished pieces.

Read on



Dyeing for dinner

Fiber in Black bean dyebath

The oval cooking pot (Mom's from the 40's

I just finished making my Taco Black bean soup. It called for black beans, can crushed tomatoes, can corn, taco seasoning, ground beef (substituted shredded chicken), sour cream and chips, DINNER!
The most fun of all is that I used the bean “soak water” to dye wool, silk and bamboo fiber that I will spin into yarn. I will let the fibers soak in the dye bath for 48 hours. I expect to get  purple/sliver/blue color. Each fiber will take the dye differently.

Flowers in the dyebath

Dye for wool, silk and bamboo

I also gathered Goldenrod (only the flowers) and will dye fiber with that. A am expecting a yellow/orange, but who knows. When it comes to dyeing it isn’t an exact science…too many variables.

More about fiber

Spanish moss

Spanish moss goes by many names. Florida moss, long moss and greybeard.  It is an airfern, Making its own food. This type of plant is an epiphyte.

I was just in South Carolina and had to take some home with me for dyeing. The color is supposed to be a golden tan. I have it soaking until I start the cooking process. I already have the yarn I plan to dye.  It is a basic recipe using alum and cream of tartar as the mordants (French for bite). 

Will show you when it’s done.

Check out my dyeing with dandelions.

FYI: Spanish moss is used as stuffing for very expensive furniture.

Cotton and the processes that change the properties.

Cotton: mercerized, waxed  Not all cottons are equal. The process that cotton can go through may change the properties.

Mercerized cotton was discovered in 1851 by John Mercer. The cotton was treated with sodium hydroxide. The result was  stronger, smoother and shinier than regular cotton. Mercerized cotton also dyes easier. In 1890 Horace Lowe made the process popular by putting the fiber under tension while submersing it in the caustic bath, resulting in a more luxurious thread.

Pima, Egyptian, and Sea Island cotton are usually used in mercerization as a result of their long fibers. Mercerized cotton is also known as pearl cotton and is pre-shrunk.

Waxed cotton can be purchased on cones. Their ability to shed water is what makes this unique.

Originally sails, for early clipper ships, were made from flax fiber. The  flax plant not only produced the fiber but also linseed oil. The linseed oil is extracted from the seeds of the flax plant. The oil was used as a waterproof for the sails and seamen’s clothing. The problem was the material became heavy and stiff in cold weather and with time turned yellow.

As faster ships were needed the change for a lighter, stronger sail was developed. During the mid 19 century, cotton sails made from 2 ply yarns began being used. The cotton was treated with the linseed oil for waterproofing.

Waxed cotton can be used for crochet/knitting with beadwork. It can be used for weaving. After completing the weaving project, it can be washed and dried in a dryer. The wax is removed and the cotton will plump up. 

Cotton will shrink if not pre-shrunk. It will also pill if the fibers used are very short. Cotton does not have a memory like wool.

Know the parameters of the cotton you are using. Some may be better for a specific project than others.

Knitting examiner

Flax fiber found from 32,000 years ago

Late this summer in a cave in the Republic of Georgia flax fibers were found that had been spun and dyed. Radiocarbon dating puts this fiber around 30,000 BCE, representing one of the earliest findings of humans using plant fibers. 

The thread was spun from wild flax. Threads found in the cave had been dyed violet, red, black and turquoise. From my little experience with dying fiber…these are not your everyday colors. Judging by the colors that are made from the majority of plant dyes , they are more in the autumn tones. Usually the results are gold, browns, greens and yellows. True black and real red are not easy to come by. I would love to hear from dyers and their opinions.

The cave was used on and off over various time periods. Due to the constant level of humidity in the cave it preserved the fibers. Fungus spores that were found in the cave are of the kinds that live off cloth. This leads the scientist to believe textiles were made from this fiber. 

The people of the time were considered early modern humans in a hunter-gatherer society. An out of date term you may know these humans by is Cro-magnon man.

I gave a timeline to give a broader picture of the time and what was happening.


38,000BCE – 33,000 BCE earliest example of figurines

35,000BCE oldest known mathematical artifact

33,000BCE earliest musical instrument 

30,000BCE cave paintings 

10,000 BCE last ice age

While doing this article I came across that Neanderthals…prior to this timeline, buried their dead with items. Cro-magnon men shaved. I also need to read “Clan of the Cave Bear”. That story of a Cro-magnon girl and the Neanderthals. It is a historical fiction novel. Love those. Love to hear your opinions or outlook on this subject.

Z and S Twist in the Garden

I was in my garden this past week noticing the growth, the plants, put on this summer. What put a smile on my face was nature’s own way of spinning and weaving. Also known as twining. These are vines that encircle vertical supports.

5 Leaf Akebia quinata vine

'Z' and 'S' Twisting Plants

'Z' and 'S' Twisting Plants

A Z or S twist can sometimes help determine the type of plant you have. For instance Chinese wisteria vines (Wisteria sinensis) versus Japanese wisteria vines (Wisteria floribunda). These vines are beautiful, fragrant and the potential to be very invasive. So a word of caution here: if you decide to grow them you will need to be a hands on gardener. Be ruthless about keeping their growth checked. Prune often. You have a Chinese Wisteria if it is growing in a counterclockwise direction  and Japanese Wisteria if it is growing in a clockwise direction . These do well in zones 4 – 9.

What’s twisting in your garden?

Milkweed for Fiber




This flower is from the milkweed plant.  There are over 1000 different types, this is known as Common Milkweed. They grow to about 5′ tall. They contain a milky substance giving them their name. It is a poisonous substance that makes birds detest eating Monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of their leaves. When the caterpillars emerge they feast on the leaves. It has been two years since I have seen Monarchs and the caterpillars in my Maine garden. Their population is in jeopardy as a result of severe climate changes and logging in Mexico. I found it fascinating to watch these eating machines devour the leaves, and move through the life cycle.  When the new butterflies are ready they then make their way down to Mexico. I would like to find out what GPS they use. My GPS sends me down one way streets.
 If you have never taken the time to smell these flowers…..you are passing up a gift for the senses. I think it smells like the most intense Lilacs you have ever inhaled.  Bees love them. The scent attracts them but the nectar is what keeps them coming back.bee

So what does this have to do with fiber….after the flower has run its course a pod develops. In this pod are short shiny fibers that are fire resistant. Since the fibers are short, it is best to spin with a fiber of longer length. Unfortunately it does not have good dyeing capabilities. If you want to give this a spin, collect the pods while they are still green. Inside the pod you will see seeds amongst the fiber, pick out the seeds, card up the fiber and spin.

At the beginning of the blog I had in mind to just put it out there and not to try it myself, but now I am looking forward to giving it a try. Another month and I can start gathering seed pods. I will keep you posted. Let me know if you have tried it and/ or you plan to. I would love to see pictures.

milkweed pod

Now go out and smell a milkweed.