Cochineal Insect Dyeing

 Cochineal wax secretions on cactus host

Cochineal wax secretions on cactus host

For those of you, like me, unfamiliar with cochineal insects, here is the scoop. Cochineal are scale insects that invade the prickly pear cactus. They secrete the fluffy white wax seen in the photo. One cactus at best can produce 20 lbs. of scale insects. When ground-up, they produce a deep maroon, highly prized natural dye that was used and revered by the Aztec Indians before the Spanish Conquest. The Spanish introduced the Cochineal bug with its host to the Canary Islands where a dye industry flourished until the advent of synthetic dyes in the late nineteenth century that saw the downfall of commercial natural dye production. Other than the prized color, cochineal dye is one of the few water-soluble dyes that does not fade. Cochineal bugs produce the only natural red color approved by the FDA for FOOD AND COSMETIC USE. The FDA does require labeling with cochineal as some individuals are allergic to them.

Today, the insects are shipped dried and need extraction with cream of tartar. The darkest color in my MCN Crescendo mini set took four extractions of ground bugs boiled in water with cream of tartar then strained. Unlike professional acid dyes used with citric acid, the dye bath does not exhaust well. To quote my fellow hand dying friend Linda, who has dyed with cochineal insects: “I wear out sooner than a cochineal dye bath!” I agree with her that cochineal dyeing is a small batch operation!

I recently had a dye studio demonstration for my local friends and I discussed that I was going to try dying with cochineal insects. One of the friends asked what I would be using for a mordant. A mordant is a substance that prepares the fiber to accept dye. Most commonly with protein-based fibers, aluminum sulfate is used. I did not use alum in dying my mini skeins, just cream of tartar. This likely resulted in a more purplish color scheme as pointed out by friend Julie. Perhaps next year I will repeat the February cochineal project and use alum to see the variation in color! 

Happy Knitting!  Bonnie

Crosstie Release

I released my pattern Crosstie today on Ravelry and! Crosstie is a cabled and welted capelet, worked sideways. The grafting is easy to understand with Sharon Levering's method, supported by a You Tube tutorial and written directions. Enjoy! 

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Announcing my Online Store...

Hello friends! For Mother's Day, I received a nice surprise! My son Gavin, software and website developer, wrote the code for a pattern store on my website! This is important for TWO reasons:
1. Only around 50% of my customers are Ravelry users. My store allows direct pattern pdf sales without the hassle of logging in to Ravelry!
2. I plan to launch a hand-dyed yarn line (wholesale and retail) this fall! My online shop for retail sales is ready to go!

I successfully transferred my store’s pdfs to my tablet today. Using an i-Pad:

1.     Click on the pdf link in your e-mail.

2.     Click on OPEN WITH I-BOOKS and your pdf will be saved to your device.

3.     Click on OPEN WITH… and you can choose your Knit Companion app to open and save your pdf to Knit Companion if you wish. I use all the free features of Knit Companion on a daily basis (moveable place marker with memory, free counters, notes).

Please let me know any issues with other tablet brands!

Happy knitting!

For Your Perfect Hand-Knit Set-In Sleeve...

If you are casting-on for your Chaset or other top-down set-in sleeve sweater, please do the following:

1.       With BLOCKED gauge swatch sufficiently wide, swatch gauge per 4”/10 cm must equal pattern gauge exactly. For Chaset, the BLOCKED gauge is 22 sts per 4”/10 cm. Check gauge at several levels on the swatch and average.

2.       Have another person measure your cross-back (back) while you wear a thin camisole or other top so landmarks can be seen and felt. Thin black strips of sport tape illustrate placement. Stand relaxed with arms at your sides. The back is measured from shoulder tip to shoulder tip by feeling for the indentation at the top of the arm where it meets the shoulder. A finger at the correct spot does not move with the arm when the arm is raised.

This photo illustrates correct placement of the strips. The cross-back is the distance between the strips.

 Correct Measurement (I recommend negative ease of 0.5"/1.5 cm for your back measurement for Chaset pattern)

Correct Measurement (I recommend negative ease of 0.5"/1.5 cm for your back measurement for Chaset pattern)

These photos illustrate incorrect placement (too wide) as strip moves when arm raises.

 Too wide

Too wide

 Strip moves with arm when arm elevated (poor placement)

Strip moves with arm when arm elevated (poor placement)

            3.       The cross-front is measured half way between top of shoulder and underarm where arm meets body, as shown below.

 Correct cross-front width

Correct cross-front width


4.      Measure biceps at level of armhole. In set-in sleeves, finished sleeve circumference at level of the armhole usually looks best without ease.

5.     For armhole depth, stand up and have someone measure. Armhole depth is outer shoulder tip (see top photo) to floor MINUS armhole to floor. The end of the tape should be as high in the armhole as it will go (and lay flat). I recommend for your Chaset pattern, add 1"/2.5 cm positive ease to your armhole depth measurement described here.

In summary:

1. For almost everyone, the cross-front is smaller than the cross-back, making the couture option in Chaset front shoulder shaping a reasonable option.  

2. I RECOMMEND PICKING A BACK (CROSS-BACK) MEASUREMENT FOR YOUR CO STS WITH 0.5"/1.5 cm NEGATIVE EASE COMPARED TO THE CROSS-BACK MEASUREMENT ABOVE. With a bit of negative ease, the back still fits and the cross-front fits better, also.

3. The best fitting set-in sleeve will have no ease at underarm (biceps circumference).

4. The best fitting set-in sleeve will have 1"/2.5 cm positive ease for armhole depth as measured above.

5. If you cannot find a size that has back, biceps as described above with your chest, I recommend the Custom Pattern Fitting Program for you (see on my home page on this site).

Happy knitting!  Bonnie

No more of your dye lot?

Distress hits when knitting a project and running out of the same dye lot in midstream!  Knowing ahead of time that your perfect yarn is short on yardage also challenges knitters.

There are two major ways to use a different dye lot without creating an obvious line. In the first, alternate the skeins with different lots every few rows rather than knitting with one skein then the other. This avoids two large blocks of differing color. This technique also works when blending hand-dyed yarns from the same dye lot, which often have a great deal of color variation. A variation of this approach uses a skein until about 50 yards remain, then alternating every few rows to minimize the color join.

The other major method is to use different dye lot skeins strategically. In this method, when knitting a large item such as a sweater, one knits the front of the sweater with one dye lot and the back with another. Utilize the dye lot with the least number of yards for smaller features like cuffs, neck trim or collar. Utilize different dye lots in different stripes also.

Happy knitting!

If "AT SAME TIME" makes YOU cringe...

“AT SAME TIME” in knitting means to work the instructions that immediately follow this phrase simultaneously with instructions immediately preceding the phrase. This often strikes fear in the hearts of knitters. At same time directions often occur with necklines plus armhole increases or decreases in sweaters, and in gusset increases with some other pattern such as a cable in a mitten glove or mitt.

To demonstrate ways to complete the project without mistakes, Braided Hand is useful. The right mitt is the example. The back of hand cable is 23 rounds, repeated once. Two gussets stitches are added at the beginning of the round for the right mitt every fourth round for a total of six times, STARTING ON RND 14.



The paper and pencil way to accomplish the gusset increases is to use a counting-style EOR marker, write down, then cross off each of the chart rows where the two gussets stitches are added, as follows:




26/3*    *3rd rnd on 2nd Chart repeat

30/7*    *7th rnd on 2nd Chart repeat

34/11    *11th rnd on 2nd Chart repeat


Second, one of my favorite tools in the Sirka counter. The Grellow and Gray Sirka counter is set for one possible reminder system for the increases, starting at the beginning of rounds 14, 18, 22, then rounds 3, 7 and 11 of the second chart repeat. With 6 moving parts on this counter, Sirka is quite versatile in counting different things.


Finally, kC Designs (set-up patterns on the Knit Companion app) offers a sophisticated, digital method of keeping track of at the same time directions. View the  screenshot of this pattern.  Built-in reminders must be clicked at completion before proceeding. kC Designs functionality shines with patterns with at the same time directions and complex lace.


Happy knitting!