I’ve been mulling over a sock design for some weeks, and just took the first step to making it a reality. I’ll post here as it moves forward, but be warned, this will be about as fast-paced as watching oil dry up!

First: the inspiration. I pass by a grove of birch trees at least twice a day on school days. I’ve always loved birch trees, so graceful, and the white bark with black streaks so interesting, and fun to peel off. The trunks of this grove were the main show all winter, but now the new green leaves are coming out, delicate and dainty.

The lovely birch grove

The lovely birch grove

I kept thinking, “Wouldn’t knitted birch trunks look cool?” and finally had an idea of a simple way to give that effect, maybe. Take white yarn, dye small sections of black and knit a sock that will have mostly white with black streaks. But then, even better how about purling just the black sections so they’ll stand out more?

Dyeing small sections of black onto white yarn has its problems. Dye moves on yarn, and can separate into its component colors on the edges. With the black I use, it separates into brown and tan, which is not what I want. But, there’s a product that thickens dye, so that may do the trick. I’ve now got my hands on some, and can give it a try.

Take some Sturdy Sheep base yarn

Virgin skein

wind off a small amount, and give it a bath

Time for your bath

in warm soapy water to remove the spinning oils. Note the high tech yarn bathing tub. The Super Clear is the dye thickener, and by the way? If you need any dye supplies, or undyed fabric or garments, Dharma Trading Company is fabulous. Great service, amazing selection, cannot recommend them too highly.

This skein was washed and had somewhat thickened dye applied to damp yarn.

Wet wool

The dye really traveled, so the black areas are considerably larger than I made them, but the dye didn’t separate as much as it would have without the thickener.

I had some dye leftover, so I added more thickener and quickly wound off some dry, unwashed yarn.

Dry wool

The dye stayed put much better, but still separated at the edges some. I can live with this, but on both skeins, the white yarn picked up more stray molecules of dye than I would have liked, so it is distinctly beige. I think what I need to do is be vigilant like a hawk during the rinsing/soaking process, because it seemed to me the white was whiter when I pulled the yarn out of its little plastic cocoons after steaming. So, a quick soak in Synthrapol laden water, a rinse under plentiful water, maybe another plain Synthrapol soak, another rinse, the ammonia bath with more Synthrapol, another rinse, then the final vinegar pH reset… . maybe with a bit more Synthrapol. No lolling around watching Carrier while the dye molecules frolic and find new homes.

Next I’ll try the thicker dye solution on washed and dried yarn, as well as washed and damp yarn again, but planning for the extended travel of the dye.

But first, I knitted up the better of the first skeinlettes

and put it in my birch tree. It’s a Whitebarked Himalayan birch (Betula jacquemontii) so it doesn’t have much in the way of black areas like the European birch trees in the pictures above.’

Still, I think there is maybe a bit too much black in the yarn. It’s a tough call, though, because I do want some areas to pool into larger black sections like you see there. And if there isn’t enough black, then those areas won’t end up being in line with each other every now and then. More sampling is is clearly called for.