Saturday, December 29, 2018

A trick I learned at PlyAway

Last spring I attended PlyAway. I learned a lot but wasn't sure much of it stuck in this sieve-like brain of mine. One idea I did retain was plying with silk to create a stronger yarn for weaving. I finally actually tried this out - well, the plying part, not the weaving part, yet.

This is a 3-ply yarn. Two plies I spun from some unknown roving, the third is commercial silk. I'm pleased with the results. (For the record, I spun this on my Ashford Joy 2 wheel, one notch down, then plied it on the same wheel but an additional notch down.) The silk adds a bit of sheen to the yarn, which I hope you can see in the photo below. If I were spinning a thicker yarn, the silk would probably disappear into the wool.

The logistics of adding the silk ply were surprisingly difficult because the silk was on a cone. I tried to simply put the cone on my 3-bobbin lazy kate, but the brake wouldn't keep the silk from spooling off too fast. I eventually unspooled some silk onto a swift but I had to put a rubber band around the shaft to keep it from spooling off too fast. If I decided to do more of this, I will just put the silk onto a bobbin of its own so I can put it on the lazy kate with the others.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Another plying experiment

A while back, I blogged about plying commercial yarn to create a bulkier end product. While my efforts worked, I wasn't that thrilled with the outcome. Recently it occurred to me that maybe I would like the results better if I first un-plied the commercial yarn, then plied more of it together. It couldn't hurt to try.

What I did was take samples of worsted weight yarn - Patons 100% wool, which is a 3-ply - and unplied each sample onto a separate bobbin. In other words, each bobbin contained all three plies but untwisted. Initially, I plied the yarn from two bobbins, creating a 6-ply yarn. Then I tested plying three samples together, from three bobbins, for a 9-ply. For each result, I set the twist using my usual method: soak yarn in warm water for 20 minutes, press out the moisture, then swing the skein around and around, finishing with a few snaps before hanging it in the shower to dry.

From left, 3-ply, 6-ply, 9-ply

I like the resulting yarn better than plying together plied yarn. The wraps-per-inch (wpi) were not as differentiated as I thought they would be, but do indicate I now have fatter yarn. The 9-ply would be good for weaving tapestries.




For comparison purposes, here is a pic of commercial 3-ply rug yarn. If I wanted to create a yarn fat enough for rugs, I would have to start with fatter yarn, maybe bulky or even super bulky. Perhaps I will try that next.

3-ply rug yarn

Do you know of anyone else experimenting with yarn like this? I'd like to compare notes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tightly plied

The frustrations I outlined in my previous posts got the better of me and I took a holiday from fiber for a while. That means a holiday from blogging as well. But recently I have at least picked up the baby cable socks - and am finally past the toes! - and am spinning again.

Much as I enjoy spinning, I hate, hate, hate plying. That is because I find it awkward, plus I am never very satisfied with the result. In October, I went to a spin-in at my enabler's shop and brought along some yarn I had spun from BFL top to be critiqued. Betty confirmed that the ply could be tighter, but otherwise thought it was a fine skein of yarn.

At this same spin-in, I was spinning a fine thread of some unknown roving. Another spinner commented on the fineness and suggested I move the drive belt on my wheel a notch, to achieve a tighter twist. This made a big difference! About a week later (I'm a little slow), it occurred to me that I could do the same when plying - move the belt a notch to put more twist into the yarn when plying without having to change my already awkward technique.

Since I had more BFL singles, I tested this idea. And it worked! Previously, I was getting 3.5 to 4 twists per inch, now it is more like 5 to 6. That doesn't sound like a big difference, but I could see right away that the yarn looked "smarter" (if that makes any sense).

I still have a ways to go before I achieve better consistency in both spinning and plying, but I feel like I am finally making some progress.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


No pictures to show you, just a laundry list of complaints, about me mostly. I have several projects in the works, but can't seem to make any progress on them. Or when I do manage one step forward, I end up two steps back.

First complaint goes to the pair of baby cable socks I am trying to knit for my SO, but I can't seem to get past the toe. I like to knit both socks at the same time, trading off between them, to avoid the dreaded Second Sock Syndrome. Since these are in a solid color, I am working from both ends of the skein. This has bitten me in the butt, as I found an error in sock #2, but later when I tried to fix it, the error was gone... because I was looking at sock #1. I only discovered this problem because I had been working the cable stitch all the way around the TOE UP sock, which meant there were cables on the sole of the sock. Ripping back is what revealed the sock #1 and sock #2 confusion. Now I feel like starting over from scratch, just for the psychological relief of feeling like it's a new project, not a bunged up old one.

Second complaint is for the windowpane dishtowels I decided to weave on my 24" rigid heddle. Half the warp is not tight enough, for one thing. For another, I can't seem to beat the cotton/linen blend yarn hard enough to get squares instead of rectangles. Fortunately, I stopped after about two inches of weaving, so I can unweave, then retie the warp better. I just don't want to.

Clamped to my diningroom table is my inkle loom. I warped it quite a while ago, to practice some techniques, but can't seem to get going on them. I whipped out several inkle projects when I first started weaving on this loom, but now that I am trying something new, it feels awkward and is not going well. Also, pick up - my eyes may be too old for this skill.

Also squatting on the diningroom table is my SampleIt loom. I have been practicing some tapestry techniques on it, things I need to know before I start the next tapestry weaving project I have halfway designed (mostly in my head). The SampleIt is not the best loom for this task, so I am struggling a bit, especially (AND AGAIN) with the warp tension. More awkwardness.

One big and long overdue knitting project is a poncho I started several years ago. I think my notes are good enough that I can pick up where I left off, but I never do. If I don't get going, poncho season will be over.

At least the spinning is going okay. I took some handspun to a recent spin-in to be evaluated by the woman who serves as my spinning enabler. I feel better about my skill level (good but not perfect). I also received a good tip from another spinner, which immediately improved the yarn I was working on there.

Winter is coming, gardening season is drawing to a close, so I must, must, MUST put aside resistance and fear of failure, and forge ahead with needles and looms. Any advice?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Chocolate and Vanilla sampler

The actual names for the colors in the tapestry sampler are 'Sable' and 'Creme', but they look like chocolate and vanilla to me, albeit fuzzy chocolate and vanilla. Lambs Pride yarn includes mohair, which creates a bit of a halo effect.

Source: Tapestry Weaving: a comprehensive study guide, by Nancy Harvey
Yarn: Lambs Pride Bulky, in 'Sable' and 'Creme'
Loom: a frame loom I purchased on our trip to Nashville, built by Bob Gustin, husband of the Homestead Weaver.
EPI/PPI: 6 EPI and I don't know PPI

I really had no idea of where to begin, so the book I used was instrumental. It included instructions for a variety of looms, including a frame loom. Otherwise, I would not have known to use dowel rods at the bottom to beat against. I was able to do some weaving with shuttles, but most of the time I had to create butterflies of yarn.

The previous tapestry I wove used a cartoon for one section, but this author's instructions included a cartoon for the whole project. I had to use three separate pieces of graph paper, so implemented the patterns a section at a time.

Note the use of Clover Wonder Clips to hold the cartoon to the tapestry. They are like little binder clips for sewers and other crafters. One of the best purchases I ever made.

One disadvantage to using a cartoon is, if it is not exactly the right size, designs that should be symmetrical may not be. I wish I had counted warp threads to make the shapes match better.

Tapestry weaving is weft faced, which means the weaver hides the warp threads by beating the weft. I tried to use a tapestry sword to beat the weft, but that did not work well with this loom because, without heddles, there was no way to prop the shed open. The tapestry beater worked fine, though.

The resulting fabric was rather dense, like a rug. I wonder if I needed to beat quite as hard as I did. One drawback of being basically self-taught is there is no one looking over my shoulder saying, Do this, don't do that.

I sent the following pic to Chris Gustin (the Homestead Weaver), so she could see I was actually using the loom. She posted it on the Homestead Weaver FB page, and it received some nice comments.

To finish the piece, I added wood beads top and bottom. At first, I mixed three shades of beads, which I liked, but not with the two-color tapestry. I replaced them with all dark beads. The supporting stick is from one of my apple trees.

The pics of the finished project make the top and bottom look narrower than the middle, which is not the case. The tapestry lays nicely on the floor, but when hanging, curls a bit at one corner. I may steam it so the yarn will full a bit and I can flatten and shape the fabric. Then the question will be, Where to display it?

Monday, October 01, 2018

Psychedelic tapestry

We are very fortunate to have the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in this town. I am fortunate that my SO purchased a dual membership so we can go whenever and see whatever, then leave the rest for another day. For example, a week or so ago, we stopped by to view a quilt show. There was also a Chuck Sperry show of psychedelic art, but we didn't spend much time with that. However, my SO returned later and discovered that three of the pieces in the show were tapestry weaving! We went back yesterday so I could check those out.


There were three HUGE tapestries, each about 14' x 7', facing a freestanding wall that made it difficult to photograph them; that's why I shot just one. We spent a fair amount of time up close and personal, to the point a guard seemed to be hovering nearby, poised to keep me from getting too close and personal. I'm not a fan of psychedelic art, but the workmanship was just exquisite. Usually, when we visit museums and art shows, my SO is the expert, but with fiber arts, I get to do the explaining.

When we turned around, we discovered that the tapestries had originally been poster-sized silkscreen prints.


Fiber artwork simply MUST be seen in person, especially if the pieces are of any size. This one was woven with something sparkly intermingled with some of the wool. I would love to see these works in progress - did they use metallic thread? was there a cartoon behind the work? how do four people work on a tapestry at one time? - just to get a better idea of the process involved.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Plying experiment, part deux

A couple of posts back, I discussed plying commercial worsted yarn to create a (super)bulky yarn for tapestry weaving. I decided to weave up a sample, on my 3-in-1 Swatch Maker. That makes this a double experiment, as I was not sure how the Swatch Maker would work for a tapestry sample.

For this experiment, I warped every other slot, creating 4 EPIs instead of 8. This was because of the thickness of the weft yarn; still, it was difficult to beat the yarn hard enough to hide the 8/4 cotton warp. I meant to take a photo of the work in progress, to illustrate how I used bamboo US9 DPNs to open the shed on the Swatch Maker. The DPNs also helped keep the fabric from sliding down the warp threads when I beat, but just barely.

The finished swatch measures 5.25" x 2.75", and is rather thick, more like a rug than a tapestry. I like the effect of the three colors plied, then woven; I could see plying yellow, orange, and red, for weaving a sunset. One negative was the yarn becoming untwisted as I worked with it. Next time, I will try shocking the yarn more when setting the twist.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Another Pine Forest baby blanket

I finished a baby blanket just like this one in January, for a soon-to-be-adopted baby boy. Alas, the adoption fell through (which is one reason I eschewed blue). Happily, another adoption was arranged, this time for twin girls. I am thrilled for the new parents (and a little sad for the bio parents). I also felt compelled to knit another blanket.

Pattern: Pine Forest Baby Blanket, by Ingrid Aartun Bøe
Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash, in colorway 905 ('Celery')
Needles: US8 (cast on and bound off with US9)
Modifications: None except to slip the first stitch of each row knitwise

I have to admit that I feel a little estranged from knitting these days, as I am focused more on weaving. If there is another baby blanket in my future, I might try weaving it. Or not. Baby blankets are very portable projects, almost as portable as socks.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A plying experiment

I like tapestry weaving. I have woven samplers with both worsted and bulky yarn. They each have their pros and cons.

I have a TON of worsted weight yarn. I don't want to buy any new yarn until I've used up more of what I already have. But what if I want to use a bulky yarn?

I have two spinning wheels. I know how to spin and ply yarn. It occurred to me that I could ply the worsted yarn to create a bulky yarn. Apparently, not too many people have tried playing commercial yarn (or else Google is bad at locating them despite a variety of search criteria). So I decided to give it a try.

What little information I was able to glean about plying commercial yarn indicated that it is important to reverse the twist, which meant Z-twist for these samples. Chain plying was also recommended. Chain plying creates a three-ply yarn from one ply. For comparison purposes, I not only chain plied one yarn, I three-plied some as well.

I was a little concerned the plies would not "stick" together, so I left the samples on the spool for a few days before setting the twist by soaking the skeins for 20 minutes in warm water, then swinging them around before hanging them to air dry. Except for the ends, the plies adhered reasonably well.

Above is the three ply: blue is Lambs Pride, gray is Cascade 220, pink is Manos del Uruguay Maxima. Below is the Lambs Pride chain plied. The three-ply feels loftier than the chain-ply, yet came out a bit ahead on wraps per inch (6-7 vs. 5-6); they both are closer to super bulky than bulky. The twist is tighter with the chain ply.

The next step is to actually weave a swatch or two with these samples. I may also try a two-ply, to see if I get closer to bulky instead of super bulky. This experiment is to be continued....

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It was a good weekend to dye

I try to be careful when labeling skeins of yarn I dye, but these results were startling enough that I would like to repeat the procedure to make sure I did not screw up.

The dye bath source was black hollyhock blossoms (dried). Hollyhocks are biennial, which means they bloom the second year after planting. Half my plants did not make it through the winter, so there weren't many blossoms to work with.

They produced a lovely purple dye bath, but as we know from the dahlia dye experience, that does not mean one will get purple yarn. This time I *did* get purple (or lilac) yarn, but also a deep blue green. Wha'?

According to my labeling, the skeins in the above pic are (from the left): no mordant, no modifier; alum mordant, no modifier; alum mordant, acid modifier; alum mordant, alkaline modifier; alum mordant, iron modifier; rhubarb leaf mordant, no modifier. The only one I am 100% sure of is the rhubarb leaf mordant one.

Above, from left, no mordant, alum mordant, rhubarb leaf mordant, but no modifier on any of these.

Above, all alum mordant; from left, acid modifier, alkaline modifier, iron modifier.

Above, three shades of green; below, three shades of purple.

I planted more hollyhock this year, so hopefully I will be able to try this again. And I also hope I have more blossoms to work with. Fingers crossed!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Unscientific experiments

The thing about natural dyeing - that is, dyeing with harvested plant materials - is you never know what you are going to get. I rely heavily on the Jenny Dean book, Wild Color, but frequently my results do not match hers. I'm sure my "technique" is partially to blame - I am not very exact in measurements, for example - but the plant materials I gather do no necessarily match what she is using.

Last summer I grew dahlias, a first for me. I chose a dark, dark, almost-black red dahlia, hoping for a striking color from it. While the dye bath looked purple, the results were far from that color range.

Dried dahlia blossoms

Purple dye bath

Not purple first dip

Post dyeing

Day 1, I dyed with alum-mordanted yarn. For post-dye modifiers, I left one unmodified, then used the usual alkaline, iron, and acid modifiers. One difference from previous attempts is I applied heat while modifying with acid. Also, I used citric acid crystals instead of vinegar, but the pH seemed to be about the same.

From left, no modifier, alkaline modifier, iron modifier, acid modifier (with heat)

The results were satisfying if unexpected. Since the dye bath still looked pretty intense, on day 2 I dyed some more, this time four unmordanted bits plus one mordanted with rhubarb leaves.

Far left, rhubarb leaf mordant, no modifier. The rest, no mordant. Left four, no modifier, acid modifier (with heat), alkaline modifier, iron modifier

But no purple! I threw a silk scarf into the exhausted dye bath, thinking maybe it was the yarn, and even it came out non-purple. While I am pleased with the range of shades, I am mystified that a purple dye bath does not produce purple dyed yarn.

Here are more compare-and-contrast photos, primarily for documentation purposes.

From left, no mordant, alum mordant, rhubarb leaf mordant; no modifier

From left, no mordant, alum mordant; acid modifier (with heat)

From left, no mordant, alum mordant; alkaline modifier

From left, no mordant, alum mordant; iron modifier

Nine distinct shades of color (rhubarb leaf on far right)

A couple of lessons learned: applying heat to the acid modifier makes a difference, and the dye from some plant materials reacts more with modifiers than the dye from other plant materials (which Dean does point out in her book).

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

A good day to dye

I read somewhere online that one could dye with sycamore bark to achieve a red color. I couldn't find any more specific information, though, and now I know why. There are several majestic sycamores in my neighborhood, so gathering fallen bark was not an issue. Getting red dye from it was.

No mordant; from left, no modifier, acid modifier, alkaline modifier

I followed the general instructions for dyeing with bark from Jenny Dean's Wild Color. The bark (over a pound of it) soaked for about two weeks, then I simmered it for an hour. After the dye bath cooled a bit, I strained out the bark, added the yarn (Cascade 220), and simmered that for an hour. I left the yarn in the dye bath overnight, then applied modifiers. After a good rinse, I hung it over the tub to dry.

Alum mordant; from left, no modifier, acid modifier, alkaline modifier

In my past dyeing attempts, the colors are never as differentiated as in the book. I wondered if maybe the mordanted yarn was "contaminating" the unmordanted yarn, so this time I kept the alum-mordanted yarn separate from the unmordanted yarn by dividing the dye bath into two pots. It didn't seem to make much difference.

Iron modifier; from left, alum mordant, no mordant

An acid modifier is supposed to make the tone more yellow; an alkaline modifier is supposed to make the tone more rosy. I never have much luck with these modifiers, however. I even check the pH of the afterbaths with litmus paper. Since the differences are so subtle, I may just abandon that effort. Iron as a modifier is another matter; it always produces a dramatic effect.

Eight distinct (if subtle) shades

I was disappointed that the color was more of a soft tangerine than a red. Dyeing with natural materials almost always results in tans, yellows, and greens. I don't wear these colors, but since I started weaving, I can see using them on my loom for items of home decor.