Wednesday, December 13, 2017

And there were bunnies, too!

Last Saturday I attended a workshop on how to spin angora. For those of you who don't know, angora does NOT come from angora goats - that's mohair. Angora fiber comes from angora rabbits. According to the instructor, Peggy Coffey, angora is nine times warmer than wool, which is one reason few garments are made exclusively from angora.

Another reason not to use 100% angora is the fiber does not have scales like wool. It is slippery and needs a LOT of twist to hold together. Mixing angora with wool helps alleviate both the issue of the fiber being too warm and too slick.

Some breeds of angora rabbits are sheared or clipped, but the ones Peggy brought are plucked. Several times a year, they "blow" their coats, which means they start to shed heavily. That is when it is time to harvest the fur.

We sampled fur from different breeds of angora rabbits and in different blends. I'm not sure yet how I feel about spinning angora. The tight twist gets kinky very easily. Also, the yarn has a "halo" - hairs that stick out. Although very soft, this halo can also tickle.

My primary reason for attending this workshop was to learn what to do with the sheddings from Hip Hop, an angora-minilop mix rabbit I owned many years ago. Peggy suggested I sandwich the angora between layers of mohair on my blending board since my angora has a rather short staple.

The workshop was held at MoonTree Studios. This was my first visit to this venue, which is a bit off the beaten track. While I was there, about six inches of snow fell, with more coming down as I was leaving. Fortunately, I was able to make it to US30 without trouble and eastward there was less snow even though driving conditions deteriorated periodically. There was so much slush on the front of my car, some of the driver assist technology didn't work. So much for self-driving cars in an Indiana winter!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

One pair of xmas socks

In (some) previous years, I have knit xmas socks for those near and dear to me. Not this year, as I find myself distracted by multiple fiber projects - dyeing, weaving, spinning, etc. However, my son relayed a request from his SO for a pair. I complied.

Pattern: Sock Recipe by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, short-row heel courtesy of Short-Row Toe and Heel Basic Socks by Wendy D. Johnson
Yarn: Austermann Step, colorway 23, Simply Sock Yarn in black for toes, heels, and cuffs
Needles: US1
Modifications: Besides the short-row heel (to maintain the striping), I rounded the toe by decreasing every other round until 40 stitches remained, then decreased every round until 28 stitches remained

This colorway looked better in the skein than it does knitted, IMO. It's also not very festive. The wide stripes worked out for the length, though.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Still a little tight

As a palate cleanser, I decided to spin the alpaca/merino blend I purchased from the Natural Fiber and Yarn Co. Mindful of the shorter staple, I carefully used the inch-worm method of spinning in hopes of improving the consistency of my spinning. Still not there, but getting closer.

After a previous episode of plying, where I tried to ply from a too large center-pull ball, I had the sense to divide this roving into two parts by weight and to spin each on a separate bobbin. But then I tried to ply it all onto one bobbin. It didn't quite work out.

I told myself I could use the mini skein for swatching, but it is pretty messed up. There is always something new to learn, but sometimes I get tired of these learning experiences.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Angry yarn

I specifically purchased some Cormo top with a plan to spin it worsted, to see how it compared with roving spun worsted. This was the yarn on my wheel when I went to a spin-in. Someone at the spin-in took it upon themselves to tell me what I was doing wrong. And then this person commandeered my wheel to show me the right way to do it. The problem was, she was spinning woolen instead of worsted.

I said something to that affect, but it fell on deaf ears. Which resulted on her advice falling on my deaf ears. Later, when I thought about what she said, I actually found it helpful. However, it took a while for me to not get angry all over again every time I sat down at the wheel because my inner child was whining, She ruined my experiment! Consequently, I spun the Cormo too tightly, then plied it too tightly.

One may not be able to tell from this photo the result of this tight spinning, but one can feel it when one touches the yarn. It feels textured. Nubby. Tense.

My first inclination is to swear to NEVER, EVER spin in public again. At least, not until I am a better spinner. But my better self knows a more mature reaction is to remain open to learning from others, regardless of the situation and the outcome. Besides learning what to do, sometimes one learns what NOT to do.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


I started watching Shetland, a British TV series that takes place in the Shetland Islands (duh). I'm not sure which I like better, the accents or the knitwear.

Classic ribbed turtleneck pullover.

Shawl collar, drop sleeve cardigan.

Crew neck, raglan sleeve pullover. With cables!

I'm a little confused about what may be called a "jumper" or "Gansey" or "Guernsey" in the UK. No matter, I like all these sweaters. The show is pretty good, too.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Absorba the Great (sort of)

I got this idea to weave a bathroom rug out of super bulky yarn from here. JoAnn had some super bulky yarn on clearance, so it seemed ordained that I would try this out. Well, after warping, I was not excited by the weaving.

I also wanted thicker material than this was turning out to be. Mason Dixon Knitting to the rescue! Unfortunately, this is one rug that looks better in real life than it does in a photo.

Pattern: Absorba, the Great Bathmat
Yarn: Big Twist Yarns Natural Blend Ombres, colorway 11001 (black and white and grays)
Needles: US17
Final size: 31" x 22"
Modifications: Different yarn, different needles, held two strands instead of three, fewer "logs", picked up more stitches

Knitting super bulky yarn doubled was really hard on my hands (and arms and shoulders), but thankfully it didn't take long. The rug is about a half inch thick and squooshy under foot. Mostly acrylic with some wool, we shall see how absorbent the yarn is.

Now I'm wondering what to do with the warped bit. Maybe unweave the weft and replace it with a contrasting color, like pink or yellow? Stick with super bulky or try something thinner? Hmmm.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Where do you keep your hand knits?

Besides the fiber arts studio conundrum, I also have an issue with managing all my hand knits. A friend suggested rugged antique-ish ladders for blankets. I found some at a new local consignment shop, Rekindle.

I don't like to hang scarves because they tend to stretch. But folded and hung, again on an old ladder, works just fine. (Hats and handwear go into some baskets.)

My wool socks get washed but once a year, just before I put them away for the season. The rest of the time they air out on a drying rack in my bedroom. This takes up a bit of room, but is doable.

But SWEATERS. My hand knit sweaters are too bulky for drawers and too heavy for hangers. During the off season, they rest in a big plastic tub in my closet. But I can't figure out how to manage them during sweater-wearing season besides draping them over a rocking chair in my bedroom.

How do you manage your hand knits?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Make no mistake - I still knit

Most of my recent posts have not been about knitting. Should I change the name of the blog? Or does the banner picture say it all?

After a summer (and part of autumn) hiatus, I am knitting again, this time with my own homespun. I knit something up with my first ever homespun, but it was basically what we politely refer to as "art yarn" - big and fat but not on purpose (sort of like my body). Now my homespun is more like worsted, but not consistently so.

Since the diameter of the singles was so erratic, determining WPI (wraps per inch) seemed useless. So I knit up a couple of swatches, one on US7 and one on US8 needles. (And just for fun, I threw them into the walnut husk dye bath.)

Yep, I would call this worsted, or close enough. And I think the Lincoln wool took the dye well. But not as well as what I think is Cascade 220, which I finished the bind off with on one swatch.

Then, since my oatmeal scarf disappeared one day last winter, I decided to knit myself another oatmeal scarf.

Pattern: Easy Mistake-Rib Scarf in Three Weights, more or less
Yarn: homespun Lincoln 2-ply, undyed
Needles: US8
Modifications: not really, other than I slip the first stitch knitwise on each row

The uneven spinning gives this scarf a "rustic" look. For length, I aim for a scarf that is as long as the wearer is tall. Even though the yarn was a bit coarse, the scarf did stretch a bit when soaked and blocked.

Besides this scarf, I have a hat in the same homespun in progress, plus a pair of socks to gift (currently turning heels), and a rug on US17 needles, for my bathroom. So, yes, I still knit.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Do you have a fiber arts studio?

While I was dyeing with walnut husks last week, I found myself wishing I had a second kitchen. My microwave is over the stove, so the tall dye pots get in the way of my nuking a cup of coffee. I don't cover all surfaces with plastic wrap like some dye books recommend, but I do try to keep food prep and dye prep separate. Then there are the multiple trips to the utility sink in the laundry room and to the dye cupboards in the garage. It's just annoying.

I decided what I needed to do was SELL my house and BUY a duplex. I could live in one unit while the second one became a multi-room FIBER ARTS STUDIO. Oh, I had it all planned out in my head. Reality is most of the duplexes in this city are in sketchy neighborhoods and/or are smack dab up against their neighbors and/or if in decent shape and in a decent neighborhood and have a bit of yard, get snatched up immediately. I found one I considered move-in ready, and within one day it was off the market.

Other than that SECOND KITCHEN, my house actually has as much square footage as that duplex I coveted. I just need to rearrange and reorganize. Using one of the spare bedrooms as a fiber arts studio has not been working out. It is just too small. And yarn keeps tumbling out of the closet. And roving has to be stored in the closet of the other spare bedroom, where the dresser and the bookcase hold more fiber stuff. Even my diningroom has become unusable as a place to dine because of the inkle loom and sewing machine. Using my entire house as a fiber arts studio is not working out.

With the help of my SO, some rearranging and reorganizing went on the other day, in an attempt to turn the spare bedrooms back into bedrooms and to make the den into a studio. Or at least half of the den, as that is also where the TV is. There is still fiber in the bedroom closets and dresser and bookcase, but much of the rest of my accouterments are now in the den. And there is room to spare, even enough floor space for yoga.

I did winnow out some books. And it would be best if I let a few pieces of furniture find their way to new owners. And the inkle loom is still on the diningroom table. I have yet to actually do any fiber arting in the studio, to see how functional it is. But as long as Beau the Feline Destroyer of All Things Nice doesn't wreak havoc out there, I think this may work out. Fingers crossed.

SO my question to you is, Do you have a fiber arts studio? How do you keep your fiber things organized? Do tell!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Walnut husk dyeing

I think my eyes must be missing some rods and cones, as most of this yarn just looks BROWN to me. My artistic daughter, on the other hand, picks out yellows and greens as well as various shades of brown. She obviously does not get her talent from me!

Walnut husk dye bath

Creating a dye bath from walnut husks is relatively easy. First, soak a bunch of unhulled walnuts in water, for as long as you like. Some sources say an hour, some say a day, some say a week, some say until you get around to dyeing with them. The longer they set, the funkier the smell, but it, and the mold, do not matter.

Initial dip

When you are ready to dye, simmer the nuts for an hour. Then add yarn, mordanted or unmordanted, and simmer for an hour. Then let sit overnight.


If you want, repeat the dye process. Apply modifiers. Rinse. Hang to dry.

First samples

I worked with 16 one-ounce yarn samples of Lambs Price worsted. Each one was treated differently. Half were mordanted with alum and cream of tartar, half were not. Half the mordanted and half the unmordanted went through the dye bath once, the rest went twice. Some were not modified, some were modified in vinegar, some in an iron afterbath, some in liquid from wood ash.

Litmus paper test

Because previous attempts to modify dyed yarn did not seem to do anything, I tested the pH of the modifiers with litmus, to make sure they were really acid, neutral, and alkaline. (My dad was a chemist - can you tell?)

Dyed yarn does not match colors in book

The yarn colors are supposed to match those four on the left in the picture above. To my untrained eye, they are not even close. Am I doing something wrong? Or is the book (Wild Colors) lying or are its examples supposed to be for illustrative purposes only?

Alum & cream of tartar mordant
One dye bath
Modifiers: none, acid, iron, alkaline

No mordant
Two dye baths
Modifiers: none, acid, iron, alkaline

Alum & cream of tartar mordant
Two dye baths
Modifiers: none, acid, iron, alkaline

No mordant
One dye bath
Modifiers: none, acid, iron, alkaline

One dye bath

Two dye baths

Altogether now

Even though I enjoy the process, it is a lot of work to go through to get such similar shades of brown, me thinks. What think you?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pickup sampler

I am trying to teach myself pickup weaving on the inkle loom. My technique is not kosher but it works for me and my old eyes. As one of my computer profs used to say about programming: There is more than one way to skin a cat.

I've been relying primarily on Anne Dixon's The Weaver's Inkle Pattern Directory for instructions. Watching a couple of YouTube videos did not help much, so I came up with a technique of my own, using a US1 double-pointed knitting needle to pick up threads. Also, I pick them up in the just-beaten row, as otherwise I wind up making a LOT of mistakes.

Unweaving pickup is NOT an easy task, as you need to pickup as you unweave as well, and pickup however you picked up wrong in the first place, if that makes any sense. After cursing, the phrase most often muttered by me was "HOW did I do this?!?" But once I developed my picking technique, the mistakes grew fewer.

Initially, I tried to just wing it. But after struggling to the point of tears, I realized I learned to knit by slavishly following patterns; I can learn pickup the same way. Once I started working from inkle patterns, things went much smoother.

You can pick up heddled threads and/or unheddled threads. Doing both together is challenging, but that is how you get the most interesting results. Pickup is a lot slower than plain weave, but not that bad (she said optimistically).

Saturday, October 28, 2017

I'm going!!!

I just signed up for PlyAway!!! I have attended fiber classes at local fiber fests, but this will be my first experience with a MAJOR fiber event. I'm excited and nervous. But I'm also old enough not to be afraid of making a fool of myself. Also, there will be vendors I have never heard of before. $$$

Many people travel when they retire, but I am not much for traveling just for traveling's sake. And for many, MANY years, most of my traveling involved heading east to visit my dad (may he rest in peace). Traveling for fiber arts is an animal of a different color, plus we will be heading WEST for a change.

If you are interested in PlyAway, better get signed up sooner rather than later. Today was the first day to register and already one class I planned to take was full, probably because it meets on Friday. I thought we might head home a day early, until I learned about the Yarn Barn in Lawrence. $$$

So much for my children's inheritance.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Not Rhinebeck but...

Saturday I met up with a friend in Grand Rapids OH. I've been there before so I knew there would be fiber to buy, at the Natural Fiber and Yarn Co. I am proud of my restraint.

First up, two small balls of dyed merino roving. I saw this color combination elsewhere and decided I would like to invite it home to play. I've expressed lesser excuses for buying fiber.

Next, a larger amount of roving, 80% alpaca and 20% merino. I'm assuming the alpaca comes from the store owner's herd, although they have scaled back their farm since they can source fiber elsewhere. Plus, caring for animals is a lot of work. I love the softness of alpaca but sometimes the resulting yarn is too stretchy for my tastes. I'm hoping the merino mitigates that somewhat.

Finally, some rug yarn. This has a cotton core which is wrapped in 98% alpaca and 2% merino, which is wrapped in nylon or cotton thread. This should be enough to make a rug for one of my bathrooms.

Of course, this wasn't all I bought in Grand Rapids. The downtown is lined with those specialty shops that are taking over small town America, full of everything from antiques to "flea market" deals. My friend even bought a dresser. We ate char-broiled bologna sandwiches and homemade pie, too. A fun getaway for a day.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I sewed something!

I left the dogs at the kennel for a couple of nights, along with their dog beds for comfort. Although they have been there before, Clio must have been bored or antsy or something, as she managed to tear open her bed. I need to board them again this weekend, so I decided to try fixing the damage. I forgot to take pix, but still wanted to document my efforts.

The dog bed has a polysester outer shell that can be removed for washing. It has an inner shell of polyester that can also be removed. Inside is a bunch of woolly looking polyester. Clio damaged the outer shell zipper a bit and ripped it partially off, then tore right through the inner shell. I replaced the inner shell with an old beach towel, sewed into a bag to hold the stuffing (not removable). Then I found the zipper foot for my sewing machine and repaired the zipper in the outer shell. It's not pretty but it should hold unless a certain dog decides to chew through the bed again.

I am the first to admit I am no seamstress. Most of the members of the weaving guild not only create lovely cloth with their harness looms, they transform the cloth into even lovelier items of clothing. No matter how simple one's weaving is, in order to use it for something other than filler for a drawer or closet, sewing is required. While I am not happy about the destruction of the dog bed, I am glad I had something inconsequential to practice my sewing skills on.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Peach? Apricot? Untanned white lady?

Recently, while mowing, the seat of my pants felt wet. When I finally got off the riding mower to check, I discovered some pokeberries had loosened themselves from their stems, rolled down my back, and got squished under my backside. I treated my shorts and rinsed my underwear, but not before noticing what a lovely color the berry juice produces.

Even though pokeberry dye is known to be fugitive (fades fast, washes out), I decided to give it a try anyway. I relied on Harvesting Color, by Rebecca Burgess, which includes instructions for dyeing with pokeberries so that the color lasts. Basically you mordant the fiber in a vinegar bath, but also add vinegar to the dye bath, and hope for the best. The author uses wool, but since I had so few berries, I chose to dye a silk scarf.

The dye bath looked almost black, but the initial dunking of the scarf didn't look too promising. Keeping temps between 160 and 180 degrees, I mordanted the scarf for an hour, cooked the berries for an hour, and simmered the scarf in the dye bath for TWO hours. I then left the scarf in the dye bath overnight AND let the scarf dry for two hours before rinsing, yet the color seems rather pallid.

What would you call this color? Peach? Apricot? Pale white lady? My gardening tan is darker but the scarf just about matches my untanned belly skin. I think I'll wear it around and if someone comments on it and indicates they really like the color, it may become theirs.

I'm not giving up on pokeberries, though. Next time I will use wool for the fiber and gather many, many more berries, to see if that makes a difference. The recommended ratio of berries to fiber is 25:1, and while technically that is what I had, I think one cannot err by increasing the berry amount.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Three bags full

A few posts ago I mentioned volunteer work I did at Salomon Farm. Serendipity struck recently when I ran into the event coordinator, and she mentioned some wool that was just sitting around in an out building. I offered to take it off her hands and now I have three bags of raw fiber.

Two of the bags are labeled as "Butterball" so I know it is Lincoln. The other is from "Lazarus". But to my knowledge, there was no sheep there named Lazarus. It looks similar to Butterball's, though, so I'm hoping for more Lincoln. The only thing better would be to get some of the other colors of sheep.

I haven't pulled the fleeces from the bags yet, to see if they are skirted. I did order some Unicorn Power Scour to clean the wool, although many use Dawn. This will be a new adventure in fiber arts - I'm excited!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dye with tomato vines? Had to try it

One advantage of having several sources of information on fiber arts is exposure to a variety of techniques. I picked up a copy of Vegetable Dyeing, by Alma Lesch (out of print) because it includes a recipe for dyeing with tomato vines. While I didn't follow her methods, preferring the ones described in Wild Color, I had to give tomato vines a try.

With no tomatoes in my garden this year, I obtained some from my neighbor once he was done with catsup-making; we are still waiting on a killing frost, so the vines were still green. All five 1-ounce skeins were treated with alum and cream of tartar as a mordant. Then I tried four different afterbath modifiers, from none to iron. In the photo above, the leftmost skein is Lambs Pride and received no modifier. The other skeins are Cascade 220 and, in order from left to right, received no modifier, vinegar, ammonia, and iron. The differences are modest, to say the least.

The author of Wild Color makes it sound like one needs only a few teaspoons of vinegar or ammonia to create an afterbath, but next time I am going to up that to at least a quarter cup, as recommended elsewhere, as so far they haven't really affected the color. I'm also going to test with litmus strips, to make sure the afterbaths are truly different in pH.

To create my mini skeins, I wind yarn onto a niddy noddy, counting the number of rounds to come up with the yardage. Then I weigh to result. One side of the label contains this information.

The other side of the label holds the dye information. I am getting better at making AND attaching labels to my fiber products. The story behind the yarn used to knit or weave something is as important to me as the end product itself.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Spun out for a while

Salomon Farm is a city park that simulates a working farm from the 1930's. During the summer, they host a variety of farm animals, from chickens to heritage breed hogs. I volunteered there for two years and as a side benefit received some roving from one of the sheep. Poor Butterball was literally on her last legs, requiring medication and special handling to keep her weight up. Finally, they put her down. Happily, I received some of her roving, which I recently spun into yarn.

I am not an expert spinner by any means. If you are a beginning spinner, too, I highly recommend you start with Lincoln roving. It has a long staple, so the "inch worm" technique is very forgiving.

I filled up four bobbins before beginning to ply, and was hoping for the amounts on each bobbin to be rather even. The mini-skein at the top of the photo represents the bit that was left over and was plied from a small center-pull ball.

I ended up with over 400g of two-ply yarn. The twists from the spinning and the plying came out looking balanced, although I think the finished product looks rather loose. I'm anxious to knit up a sample.

One area of spinning where it is easy for me to fall down is labeling the product. Ideally, the above tag should also include wraps-per-inch (wpi) and whether it was processed and spun worsted or woolen. If I dye any of this yarn, the other side of the tag would include dye information.