Thursday, September 19, 2019

Do you fiber every day?

A while back I wasn't spinning yarn because I had some very nice roving but didn't want to spin it until I became a better spinner. Then two things occurred to me:
  1. I wouldn't become a better spinner unless I actually did some spinning
  2. It is easier to learn to spin using good roving than bad roving

So I pulled out a big ball of luscious Lincoln top and spun away. The more I spun, the better I got. I also lost my dread of plying because I had to ply those singles to free up bobbins. I am not the best spinner in the world, but I feel much more comfortable at the wheel now.

When I first returned to knitting oh-so-many years ago, I would knit about anything, just to be knitting. I knit at work during meetings, I knit in the car (while a passenger), I knit on planes, in hotel rooms, at home in front of the TV. Then I just sort of stopped. Learning to weave might have had something to do with it, but I think it more likely was the realization I had knit a lot of stuff that not only did I not want to wear, but nobody else did either.

I faced the same dilemma with weaving as I did with spinning: it was hard to just be willing to DO IT and SUCK AT IT for a while. I am still a long way from feeling at ease at a loom, as every project is a learning experience, but it's getting better.

Being retired has provided me with enough time to practice fiber arts every day. It is not unusual for me to at least spin a bit in the morning and knit a bit in the afternoon. Now I would like to weave a bit every day as well, plus process the multiple fleeces. Sometimes it feels like I never finish anything, but bit by bit, I will get there.

So I'm contemplating somehow reporting on this blog what I work on each day. It will have to be a brief summary, perhaps in a sidebar, or it won't happen. My goal is twofold: to have a record of sorts of my daily fiber output and to demonstrate that slow and steady completes the project.

When I mentioned to my fiber friends that I try to spin for 30 minutes a day and knit for 30 minutes a day, I get what are surprising-to-me negative reactions, like I'm turning a joy into a duty. But the more I spin, knit, weave, etc., the more joy I get from fiber. Writers write every day (at least, the successful ones do). I think fiber artists could take the same approach.

Does this resonate with you? Or am I being insufferable?

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Spinning gray scale gradient yarn

A while back, I was playing around with some tapestry techniques. There are several ways to introduce gradient effects to a tapestry, but the book's method was a big fail for me: separate plies from (commercial) yarn and combine the plies of different tones to create gradients. The yarn I was working with snarled and snapped at me when I tried this. Then it occurred to me that, since I'm a spinner, I can create my own gradient yarns. Taking a workshop on spinning gradient yarns didn't hurt, either.

Starting with a range of roving, from black to white, I 3-plied a bunch of combinations:
  • black-black-black
  • black-black-dark gray
  • black-dark gray-dark gray
  • dark gray-dark gray-dark gray
  • dark gray-dark gray-medium gray
  • dark gray-medium gray-medium gray
  • medium gray-medium gray-medium gray
  • medium gray-medium gray-light gray
  • medium gray-light gray-light gray
  • light gray-light gray-light gray
  • light gray-light gray-white
  • light gray-white-white
  • white-white-white
Yes, this was a bit tedious, but I am very pleased with the results. The plan is to weave a tapestry using these yarns. But first, I have to show them off a bit.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Dye test with blue false indigo, part 1

I like indigo as a color, but I am not thrilled with the process for dyeing yarn with it. I've experienced it only in dye workshops (described here and here), never tried it myself at home. It requires several steps and a certain amount of care or you can easily ruin the dye bath.

However, I do have blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) growing (and growing and GROWING - it spreads by rhizomes) in my yard. Even though false indigo is not related to any of the true indigo producing plants, I figured it would not hurt to test it.

But first, I did a search online to see if anyone else had tried this experiment. I can find references about using false indigo for dyeing (and references that say it is NOT a dye source), but I did not notice anything specific. Please correct me if I am wrong.

I am not quite done with this experiment, but I decided to show you what I have so far. I didn't do anything too fancy, just in case my tests were a total bust. I used alum mordanted Cascade 220 in dye baths containing the blossoms, leaves, stems, pods, or seeds. For each plant part, I poured boiling water over about 12g the plant part, let it set overnight, strained the dye bath, added about 2 yards of yarn, popped it in the microwave for a minute, again let it set overnight, and then rinsed the yarn. The results were a bit surprising.

From left, blossoms, leaves, stems, pods, seeds

No blue, but several shades of green and yellow. The only plant part remaining to test is the root. I'm waiting for the plant to die back this fall before digging up some samples.

Now my interest is piqued. What if I used no mordant or a different mordant? Modified the results post dyeing using an acid or alkaline bath? Used tap water, distilled water, well water, rain water? How light fast are the results? Stayed tooned!

Monday, September 02, 2019

Fresh spun yarn - alpaca

Even though I don't post here very often, I do some kind of fiber art activity everyday. It just takes me a while to get to the point of showing you something. Today is the result of days of spinning and plying some alpaca.

In 2009, I purchased about 8oz of alpaca at our local Johnny Appleseed Festival. It came from an animal named Spartacus who lives on the Michel Century Farm in Huntington, IN. Alpaca fleece has no lanolin, is smoother than sheep wool, and is very warm. Spartacus was a rose gray huacaya. Since the fiber felt finer than wool, I spun it worsted at a ratio of 8:1 on my Joy2 Ashford wheel. The result is 330 yards of 3-ply. (I haven't measured the WPI yet.)

Alpaca fiber supposedly does not need to be cleaned before spinning, BUT. The roving felt dirty, and my spinning fingers attest to the fact that is was dirty. Yet, when I soaked the yarn to set the twist, the water remained clear. I am making a mental note, however, to wash the yarn before I dye, knit, or weave with it. Even if I forget my mental note, the feel of the yarn should remind me.

In general, I am not a fan of alpaca. However, it's durable, resists pilling (VERY IMPORTANT TO ME!), blends well with other fibers, and dyes well. I may have to reconsider my bias.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Michigan Fiber Festival first timer

My SO and I traveled to Allegan MI for the Michigan Fiber Festival a week or so ago. We drove up on Monday and stayed until Friday (at the Hotel Allegan). I took two classes and he took one. No, he is not a fiber person; he is a photographer and took the cyanotype class. Enough fiber knowledge has rubbed off me onto him, though, so he was comfortable with the chitchat.

The workshops did not start until Wednesday, so we took advantage of the lovely weather to explore the environs. One thing the state of Michigan could use is more road signs. On Tuesday we tried to find Oval Beach but never figured out where to turn. We did manage to find the beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, but that involved a 3/4 mile hike from the parking lot to the water. Of course, we could have done a bit of research ahead of time, but we were trying to make do with maps and directions instead of GPS or Google Maps.

The beach itself was very narrow, looked like it had been carved out the dunes. My son told me the water level has been rising in Lake Michigan in recent years. We still enjoyed a nice swim, though. No toxic sludge.

A few places we ate: Root Cafe, Grill House (where you can grill your own steak but we did not - I fail to see the lure of that), and Mug Shots Coffeehouse.

Enough tourist stuff. Onto the festival!

FB posts on the Michigan Fiber Festival's page warned of many improvements, but since we were newbies, they were mostly lost on us. I didn't know where we would eat lunch, but there was a band-fund-raising snack bar on site with perfectly adequate breakfast and lunch items, although by the end of our stay, I was getting tired of chips. If I go again, I will probably bring my own food at least part of the time, using my brand new swag gift of an insulated bag.

My first class was "Scour like a Boss" with teacher Mary Egbert. I attended one of her classes at PlyAway last year, so I knew she would be a good instructor. For some reason, I neglected to take any photos (boo), but the class was very helpful. I have scoured a fleece before, found it quite the ordeal, but this class provided some good information, expert tips and tricks, and got me excited to scour some more fleece. (There are three in the garage, just waiting for my attention.) Not only did Mary do an excellent job, the others in the class had helpful hints, too.

The second class, Tapestry Weaving, taught by Rosemary Morningstar, was a disappointment. The folder included some graph paper, but we did no design. There was a list of basic techniques, but the instructor did not go over them. I was hoping for expert tips and tricks to add to my book learning, but that didn't happen. HOWEVER, we each received a nifty PVC pipe loom and some weaving tools. Also, the teacher did give us each individual attention.

The instructor had a bunch of books for us to peruse. My local library system has several, which I just picked up the other day. Also, she recommended Rebecca Mezoff's blog, which I already follow. In fact, I am planning to treat myself to one (or more) of Rebecca's online classes this fall/winter while I recover from hip replacement surgery.

I utilized my exposure to color theory to come up with this color scheme and had plans to continue with the weaving, but a few problems cropped up after I got home, so I just cut it off the loom. My frustrations with this class got me thinking about how I would teach tapestry weaving to beginners. Someone in my weaving guild suggested I do that for one of our Super Saturdays, and now I think I just might try that.

No fiber festival is complete without the opportunity to visit vendors and spend money. I was very good, didn't buy any yarn or roving or fleece, but did pick up a few items. These 14" birch DPNs are for trying with my knitting belt. I had not been able to find any longish needles for it above size US6, so I grabbed up a set of US7s and US8s. They are made by Twin Birch Products.

I swore I was not going to take up needle felting, BUT... after unsuccessfully trying to interest my granddaughter in a variety of crafts (she finds them too tedious), I hit the jackpot with needle felting (stab, stab, stab). Many years ago, I purchased some needle felting paraphernalia that I never used, but you know how it is with a new hobby - one never has enough tools or materials. I picked up a little needle felting kit for her (assembled by Phoenix Fiber Mill).

The felting needles I have are a six-pointer, a four-pointer, and a two-pointer, so I picked up several singles. (I don't know this vendor's name.) I also promised my granddaughter I would sign up for a class and transfer the knowledge to her. (The things we do for grandkids.)

Not so long ago, I read a post by Jillian Moreno (I think) that was on the Schacht web site (I think) about using storage spools - and I can't find that post. Anyway, I got it into my head that I needed not just storage spools but a spool winder. They seemed pricey enough that I assumed they came with a mechanism for distributing the yarn across the spool. While in Allegan for the festival, we stopped at the Baker Allegan Studios (a Schacht dealer) to find out more. Alas, there is not a mechanism for distributing the yarn, so I left empty handed (in part because I was so tired and hungry that I could not make a decision but also because they were having a giant yarn sale and I didn't want to get sucked in). At the festival, I did buy some wooden spools from A Wee Bit Warped. After arriving home, I realized I already have a set of spools like these but plastic, from when I purchased a boat shuttle that doesn't work with my loom. Oh, well. Now I have lots of spools.

Our plan for next summer is to visit the Handweavers Guild of America Convergence in Knoxville, TN. That's assuming there are classes/workshops I want to attend. If not, I would definitely go back to Allegan. So many classes, so little time! I think we missed a lot by skipping the weekend activities, too.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Jenny Dean and Wild Color - behind the scenes

I rely heavily on Jenny Dean's book Wild Color for natural dyeing, but my results rarely match what is in the book. Now I know why: the colors shown in the book are not from actual dye samples but from swatches matched to a Pantone chart. Dean had only so much control over what went into the book, as revealed in her recent blog post (which you can find HERE).

Dean claims the second revised edition of her self-published book “Colours from Nature” more closely matches how she currently dyes, so I guess I will have to get a copy of that and see what the differences are. Also, I would like her to know that while she was not able to get purples from hollyhock blossoms, I did using black hollyhocks.

I am really glad to have come across Dean's blog post because I am supposed to make a presentation about natural dyeing to my local weavers guild next March. Now I can point my fiber friends in the right direction. Serendipity, baby!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Famous last words

Sometimes I come back from a fiber festival with some luscious roving that is not labeled. If I'm lucky, there is a written receipt that describes what I purchased. Frequently, though, I just tell myself, I'll remember what this roving is. HA!

So today, having recently made a major purchase in roving from the under-new-ownership Little Shop of Spinning, I did a little housekeeping and tagged each ball of roving with the facts: breed and colorway. Well, some got facts on their tags. A few balls I purchased during the grand opening were not tagged, nor did the receipt specify what I had purchased, just what I paid. Those were labeled with guesses.

What, you may ask, do I plan to do with all those primary colors? Well, mix them, of course. Last year, at Ply Away, I took a class in what was supposed to be fiber prep but turned out to be an exercise in blending. That got me started down the path of why-look-for-the-perfect-color-of-roving-when-I-can-blend-my-own.

Back to those famous last words I'll remember. Before I learned to spin on a wheel, I made a genuine effort to spindle. Eventually, those spindles became part of my decor. I decided to try selling the spindles, but first had to remove the long-forgotten-where-it-came-from fiber from the spindles. And while I was at it, I decided to finish spinning the Shetland and ply it all off the bobbins (before I forget what is there).

From the left, white spindled yarn, gray spindled yarn, 2-ply Shetland, 3-ply Shetland, and a 3-ply skein of what I thought was carbonized bamboo. The reason I know it is not carbonized bamboo is because I came across the carbonized bamboo today, in a zip lock bag that included a LABEL. Meanwhile, the ball I spun that last skein from is probably 'Licorice' Corriedale that I thought I remembered I had but could not find, so I bought some more. This is one way that stashes grow.

Meanwhile, I am experimenting with gradient yarns for tapestry. One book I work from suggested taking the 3-ply commercial yarn one is working with and divide the plies, then combine them with other nearby colors of singles. Well, the commercial yarn I happened to be using at the time does not take kindly to being unplied and replied. Then I realized that I can create my own mixed color plies.

I have been spinning up white, three shades of gray, and black into singles, with a plan on combining the singles into a series of gradients. For the record, the white and black are Corriedale, the light and medium grays are Romney/Wesleydale, and the dark gray Wesleydale.

While looking up the links for this post, I found some photos that indicate the spindled yarn may be what came in the spindle kit from Louet. Some of that turned into a cowl that I used A LOT during the polar vortex. And I also see that the rose gray alpaca I thought I bought in Ohio actually found me here in the Fort during the Johnny Appleseed Festival. Maybe I should read my own blog to find out what's what in my stash.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Dumb luck rainbow shawl

After completing the floor runner which was mostly brown, brown, brown, I needed some color. So I took the Kauni yarn I had purchased many years ago for scarves and wove a wrap with it. I wanted something warm but light weight, and this fit the bill.

Weave structure: plain weave with twisted fringe
Loom: Ashford 24" rigid heddle
Yarn: Kauni Wool 8/2 Effektgarn EQ (rainbow), for both warp and weft
EPI/PPI: 10 and 10
Finished size: 21" x 60" plus fringe (210g total weight)

Before starting, I took a gander at Ravelry to see other woven projects using this yarn. Thus, I was forewarned that the yarn is sticky plus there was a likelihood that the colorway was not consistent. I contemplated deconstructing the skein, but decided to just chance it.

The warp wasn't quite centered on the loom, but I managed to get two complete sets of the 12 colors, plus a third pass of violet. I wasn't quite so lucky on the weft, managing one pass of 11 colors before I ran out of shed. Close enough!

I used an overcast stitch to secure each end of the shawl. I can't emphasize enough just how helpful the book Finishing Touches for the Handweaver, by Virginia M. West, has been. If you weave, find yourself a copy. I'm fortunate in that my weaving guild library has one, as does the local public library.

Another handy tool is a fringe twister. After a couple of false starts, I used this gadget to twist four strands per alligator clip, then reverse twisted each pair, again using the fringe twister. It looks like I S-twisted first, then Z-twisted. No matter. I do count the number of twists to keep each piece of fringe consistent. I also use a ruler when knotting the ends, to keep them (relatively) even.

Once the fringe was trimmed (using yet MORE useful tools, a rotary cutter and self-healing cutting board), I soaked it in my washer. No, I didn't agitate, but I did add some Eucalan, as the yarn is rather coarse. I did not rinse, but I did spin the shawl. Drying under a ceiling fan was very quick.

We are currently having a heat wave, but I may just wear this baby around my air conditioned house, to gauge its warmth and just because I love it.

I still struggle with my weaving, especially the warping of the loom and keeping selvages clean, but only by weaving will I improve. There are a few floats, but otherwise a successful project.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A super Saturday indeed!

My weaving guild conducts what they call "super Saturdays" several times a year. These daylong events give us the opportunity to go beyond what can be done in a two-hour meeting. I haven't been to very many of them due to scheduling issues, but I did manage to get to one last Saturday. WARNING: This is a very long post, but hopefully interesting enough to read to the very end.)

(Even though I have been to Peggy's house before, Google Maps managed to lead me astray. After I crossed a river I knew I shouldn't have, I stopped and ask directions from a nice man in a mini backhoe. I followed his instructions while Google Maps barked the exact opposite. That got me in the general area - well, actually to the exactly right spot, but I drove right past Peggy's house without realizing it. When I reached a describable location, I called for help.)

Being a scientist, Peggy is on a "journey of discovery" which in recent years has included growing, processing, and spinning flax. Her husband is a handy guy and helps by creating whatever tools she needs to get the job done - a true enabler. I neglected to take many photos while at her place, as I was a bit discombobulated (see above paragraph). Here are a few from the flax demonstration.

The flax fiber needs to be separated from the rest of the plant, which is accomplished through retting (a good crossword puzzle word) whereby the stalks are soaked for a week or so, to get the stem to rot. An alternative method is dewing - leaving the flax out in the weather where the daily cycle of dew and sunshine do the same job, but over the course of about six weeks. The dewed flax comes out gray in color, while the retted flax is, well, flaxen.

An interesting tidbit is the fact that flax is highly flammable, while the chaff is just the opposite. Flax came in handy when starting a fire with flint.

Peggy also raises sheep, which she keeps jacketed to protect the wool from the usual detritus of country living. She demonstrated fiber prep of wool, from fleece to wheel. Since I'm familiar with these steps, I took no pix, but I did pick up some tips like turn up the hot water heater the night before scouring and put the locks in mesh bags (like oranges come in) so you don't have one big clump of wet wool to deal with. I also learned that finding what is now considered an old fashioned washer - a top loader with a manual timer - may be hard to do. I hope my Maytag lives a long time.

For the second part of our super Saturday, we drove over to the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time business Wabash Woollen Works. Lisa and Michael saved a former hatchery from demolition and are in the process of turning it into a fiber mill/workshop classroom/event center, preserving the stone walls and utilizing windows and doors scavenged from local schools. Lisa is one of those go-getters who rarely sits still so she appears blurry in many of these photos. After we ate our sack lunches, she lead us on a tour of the new facility, which contrasted nicely with all the hand labor we witnessed at Peggy's.

I really wish I had been more with-it that day, wish I had not only taken photos but kept written notes as well. Since I didn't (and I have slept since then), some of the ensuing information may not be exactly correct. So don't quote me on any of this.

WWW purchases fleece and sells it as roving or yarn. The likelihood of the sheep being jacketed is nil, so the fleece must be cleaned. Above, a tumbler breaks up the dirt and vegetative matter and manure so that it separates from the fleece and falls out of the device. Below, the automatic washer runs the fleece through as many as five wash cycles, to remove the remaining dirt and lanolin. (Lanolin gums up the machinery.)

Now I'm a bit vague on how the fleece gets dried. Maybe in the same machine? Or the next? I think this machine's job is to "pick" the fleece - fluff it up so that it is ready to be carded. For the hand spinner, this is akin to using a flicker on the wool locks.

The next step is running the wool through the carder. Here fibers may be blended - in this shot, we have silk and cashmere on top of merino, I believe. The merino is green, so there obvious must be an opportunity to dye the fiber before this point in the process.

The output of the carder looks like roving ready to spin, but not quite. The fibers run every which way and don't spin up well, which brings us to the next machine.

Here, the carder results are attenuated - the fibers are aligned in one direction. I guess this would be like semi-worsted fiber.

Finally, we are ready to spin. Just like my spinning wheel has a leader to start the process, this machine has leaders for each spool of yarn being created. The machine is designed to automatically distribute the singles evenly on the spool, whereas on my wheel I have to move the flyer hooks manually. Very slick.

And of course, the singles need to be plied. Again, this machine evenly distributes the plied yarn on each cone.

At home, I set the twist of my yarn by soaking it in hot water for about 20 minutes, then swinging it around a bit and/or snapping it before hanging it over the tub to dry, which takes a day or three. A business can't wait that long, so they use steam. The yarn here gets steamed by traveling through those insulated pipes.

The yarn is transported through the steamer by this machine pulling it across the room. The yarn is dry by the time it is spooled, a distance of about 20 feet.

Now the yarn is ready to be wound into skeins, which is how it is sold. The finished product is priced by the ounce, and most skeins contain about 200 yards of yarn, but results vary.

Now, as if that weren't enough, there is also a needle felting machine. Roving is fed in from one side...

... and felt comes out the other.

But wait! There's more! There is also a wet felting machine which uses friction to create area rugs of thick felt. (That's a loom in the background, not the machine itself.)

I believe all the yarn is dyed using natural materials, many of which WWW grows, including some in the raised bed garden out front. They also offer natural dye workshops.

I was surprised to discover one may dye with daisy flea bane, which grows wild in my yard, and teasel, which grows almost everywhere around here.

The tags on each skein note the mordant (M) and modifier and sometimes even the water used. I think every dye book I own recommends using water with a neutral pH. But the outdoor spigots at my house are on a well - the water is very iron rich - and I know even the tap water has a certain amount of minerals in it. So now my next experiment with dyes may be to use different water sources, including distilled water and rain water and maybe snow melt.

There were questions about the rug yarn for sale, some of which appeared to be wrapped in a contrasting thread. So back to the carder(?) we went.

These photos do not show it very well, but the rug yarn has a cotton core. The roving is wrapped around the cotton core. To get the contrasting thread wrap, a different color wool is lined up along the rest of the wool on the conveyor belt feeding the machine.

It's like magic!

I have been to the Green Mountain Spinnery, in Vermont, where the machinery is very old and geared for a higher level of production than WWW. The spinning guild I belong to had a dye workshop scheduled at another local fiber mill this coming weekend, but due to the oppressive heat expected (the dyeing occurs outside), that event has been postponed. Like Peggy, I experiment with fiber (although I doubt I will ever grow flax), but I enjoy seeing how my handwork is achieved using machinery. Fun stuff!