Slow fashion DIY tutorial: Turmeric-dyed Easy Hand Knit Cowl
I am so pleased to bring you this tutorial for this super-easy hand-knit cowl. The piece is especially designed to encourage readers to take up knitting for the first time, it really is an absolute beginner project, but the final result is quite striking. It is also a follow up to last week’s post on the environmental impact of dying. The striking colour of the scarf has been achieved using only foodstuffs, so it is proof that you can achieve beautiful colour at home without the need harmful chemical dyes.
The knitting pattern uses large needles, which enables you to knit the cowl up fairly quickly, meaning that you’ll have a finished product much sooner. I knitted this up in 4 days, just whilst watching TV or waiting for my son to fall asleep. If you have never knitted before, I have included comprehensive links to video tutorials to teach you each step of the way. I hope that this simple project demonstrates that anyone can make their own clothes. It is just a matter of finding an easy project to give you the confidence to get started on your slow fashion journey. I hope that this mustard hand knit cowl is that project for you!
STAGE 1 Knitting
For this stage you will need:
- 2-3 x 50g balls of 8 ply (DK weight) white wool (preferably organic wool, eco wool, or unbleached wool)*
- A pair of 8mm (UK size 0 or US size 11) knitting needles (for the most sustainable option, choose knitting needles made from bamboo)
- Yarn needle
*vegans can substitute wool for organic cotton, which will work just as well for this project. The final hue of the dyed project will vary slightly, but you will still get a good result.
With the first ball of wool, cast on 25 stitches. If you have never cast on stitches before, ask a friend to show you how, or watch short clip on how to cast on knitting stitches.
Row 1: Knit all of the stitches across the row. Again, if you are a complete beginner, you can find guidance on how to make a knit stitch at this excellent short video by Expert Village. Or if you want to see it in a little more detail, watch Knitting 101: How to knit the knit stitch for beginners.
Row 2 onwards: Knit across the row. Continue to knit every row until you achieve your desired length. For my cowl, I used 2.5 balls of wool, but I found that it stretched quite a bit after it was washed/dyed. You could easily knit only 2 balls of wool and still have a good length to the cowl. When you have knitted a whole ball of yarn, you will need to join the new ball of yarn so that you can continue knitting. To see how to do this, watch how to join your new ball of yarn for guidance on the simple technique.
Final row: Once you have reached a length that you are happy with (about 2 to 2.5 balls of wool will be knitted) you need to cast off your stitches to end off the knitting. For guidance on how to do this, watch Knitting for beginners: how to cast off.
Now that you have completed the knitting for the project, you will notice that you have a few loose ends of yarn at the start and end of your project, as well as where you’ve joined the new ball of yarn. You will need to use a yarn needle to weave these ends through the knitting so that you can’t see them. You can watch how to do this here.
Once you have woven all of the loose ends of yarn you are ready to sew the scarf into a cowl. Take the length and fold it in half. You should have the two short ends lined up together. Using the yarn needle, and a length of yarn, sew a seam across the two ends to join the ends together. This will mean that the long length of scarf will now form a complete circle. This completes the cowl.
STAGE 2: Dying
For this stage you will need:
- Your knitted cowl
- 100 grams turmeric (fresh root or dried powder will both work)
- 10-12 used tea bags (I store my used tea bags in the freezer until I have enough for my eco-dying projects)
- 2 large saucepans
- 1 mesh strainer
- Plastic/wooden spoon and tongs for stirring
- An old or dark coloured towel
Strictly speaking, dying should not be done using equipment that you use for food. This is the case even with eco-dying, as many natural dye-stuffs are also poisonous. However, as both of the dye materials that are used in the project are food, you can safely use your normal kitchen utensils to develop your dye. A word of warning though- turmeric is a very powerful dye material, and you may find that even after scrubbing, your pots do stay yellow for a few more uses. This won’t be harmful to your cooking, so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.
To create your dye, you will need to add your dye-stuffs- the turmeric and tea- to a saucepan along with 2 litres of water. If you are using fresh turmeric root, this is best grated, but could be finely chopped if you don’t have a grater on hand. Bring the water to boil, and gently simmer the dye pot for 1 hour. Whilst your dye is brewing, thoroughly wet your cowl with tap water. This will help the fiber take up the dye once it is in the pot.
After the dye has simmered for an hour, place the mesh strainer over the second saucepan and strain the dye mixture into the second saucepan. You should capture the tea bags and grated turmeric in the strainer. Any small loose tea-leaves or turmeric powder (if that is what you are using) will flow though, but these won’t adversely affect your final product. Place the second saucepan (with the strained dye) on low heat. It only need to maintain a high temperature, but shouldn’t be simmering throughout the dye process. Thoroughly squeeze any excess water out of your cowl, and then place it in the dye-pot. Turn it over a couple of times to ensure that it has been thoroughly wet by the dye.
You will need to leave the cowl to dye for about 1 hour. If the water level becomes a little low, simply top it up so that there is about two litres of water there- enough to just cover the cowl with dye. You turn the cowl over every 5-10 minutes to help ensure a more even colour. Be careful not to agitate the fiber too much- just turn it over carefully, rather than stir vigorously. Felt is made by agitating wool in heated water, and you don’t want to felt your cowl! After an hour, remove your cowl from the dye pot and rinse thoroughly with cold water until the water runs clear. You should have a lovely bright mustard-coloured scarf. If you are unhappy with hue- if you would like it be be brighter/stronger- return the scarf to the dye pot and repeat the process for another hour.
Once your scarf has been rinsed clean, squeeze out the excess water, and then place on the towel which has been laid out flat on a table or bench-top. Roll up the towel with the wet cowl in the middle, and use this to squeeze out any more excess water. Lay the towel flat and leave the cowl to dry flat on the towel. If the weather is cold and wet, it may take several days for your cowl to dry properly.
Once dry, your cowl is ready to wear. To ensure the colour holds it’s brightness, it is best that you leave the cowl as long as possible before it’s first wash. You should always hand wash your cowl using wool soap to ensure that the garment is properly cared for. A beautiful garment like this will last a lifetime, if properly cared for. If your cowl ever becomes snared or suffers a moth hole or two, you can unravel the wool, and knit it up again. Such is the beauty of using high quality materials. If the colour fades too much for your liking, you can also repeat the dye process to renew the colour.
At the end of your dying process, you will have some left over dye bath (the dye liquid). If you think you might like to dye something else with this, you can store the left over dye bath in a glass jar until you need to use it. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. The dye bath will usually keep just fine in this manner, but if it happens to grow some mold, simply place the jar in the freezer before use to kill off the mold spores. The dye bath will not be affected by the mold and is still usable. If you used fresh turmeric for the dye bath, you can also save the grated turmeric in the freezer for future use. This will still have dye potential as well. In this way we can ensure that nothing goes to waste. If you don’t think you will use the dye bath again, you can simply pour it down the sink. It is completely natural and won’t harm the environment, unlike chemical dyes.
Knitting and eco-dying and both lovely processes that enable you to slow down and connect with the clothes that you wear. By making your own clothing, you gain a new insight in the work that goes into garment creation, and gives you a new appreciation for the level exploitation that underpins cheap clothing manufacture. I hope this simple project gives you the confidence to take your wardrobe into your own hands. Anyone is capable of creating their own wardrobe, as long as they start simple and grow their confidence with projects such as this one. Let me know if you give it a go. I would love to hear how it turns out. And if you have any questions about the project, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment.
If you would like to delve a bit further into knitting or dying, here are some resources that I find useful:
- Eco Colour: Botanic Dyes for Beautiful Textiles for guidance on natural dying processes
- The Knitting and Crochet Bible for guidance on knitting techniques
- Second Skin for an exploration of slow fashion techniques
- Knit Lab for an excellent video course to teach all the basic knitting skills you need to start knitting your own clothes