Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Rainbow's End: What Becomes of It All?

At the end of a successful dye run, you'll be left with a pile of lovely fluff waiting to be transformed into yarn and fabric.  When I'm working with a familiar wool breed-Romney is one of my favourite wools-I take a good look at the raw fleece and imagine my options, before I start to play.  This fleece has medium crimp, a nice lustre and a medium hand, which, by my standards, means it's suitable for rugs, bags, outerwear, socks and perhaps mittens or a hat, if you're not particularly sensitive to wool.  I'm not, but I wouldn't knit scarves from this fleece because it's probably too coarse to wear around my neck.

Then again, a lot depends on what happens next.  There are many options when working with fleece, so I decided to test a few of them.  All yarns were made using my Lendrum Single Treadle wheel.  All were Z spun/S plied.  I swapped out flyers between yarns, using the medium speed flyer for the first sample and the slowest flyer for the other samples.  The twists per inch, angle of twist, etc. were calculated using the iSpinToolkit,  iPod app which my friend and Master Spinner, Coleen N. recommended.  (The app is available on iTunes for $4.99.  Go buy it.)

As the app instructions note, the calculators have their limitations.  They're based on using balanced yarns, which isn't always the spinner's choice-my second sample was very softly spun, more tightly plied.  They might leave the impression that yarns with a similar angle of twist are similar; however, although the samples here use the same fleece and have similar angles of twist, they are very different yarns in terms of hand and end purpose.  This is the case with any method for measuring yarn; nothing substitutes for sampling and experimentation.

My first yarn was spun directly from the teased fibre (the first yarn at the top), using what I describe as a "fluffy cloud" draw, in which I use both hands, pulling back with the hand holding the fibres and pulling forward to coax out stubborn bits of locks.  Because I hold the fibres for a relatively long time, compared to my other drafting techniques, this method tends to give me a highly twisted singles.  Working with teased fleece guarantees a textured yarn.  Using the Andean Plying technique, I plied this yarn back on itself.  The 2 ply yarn was over plied, but balanced after a hot bath wash and rinse and a good whacking. It has an approximate angle of twist of 30 degrees, 10 wpi, 6 to 8 tpi in the plied yarn and would be considered "Fancy Twist" on the Mabel Ross "TPI for Desired Firmness in Final Yarn" on this app.  (Really, go buy it. Now.) As always, you can click on the photos for a closer view:

The sample is tough, suitable for bags or mittens with a lining.  I wouldn't use this yarn for hats or socks:

Next up is the green fabric.  The yarn was spun from hand carded rolags, using an unsupported long draw and then plied back on itself.  It was fulled severely, in hot and cold wash water and rinses with agitation, then whacked on my outside metal railing and hung to dry.  Although the yardage is similar to the first yarn (14 yards for the green, 15 for the orange), this is a much loftier, softer yarn, good for woven blankets, warm mittens, hats and outerwear. It had 5 tpi in the ply, from a very lightly spun singles (perhaps 2 tpi), a 27 degree angle of twist and 9 wpi for a Soft Knitting Yarn.

Hand carding is very slow.  If I decide to use this wool in this way, I will card batches on my drum carder and spin from those.  I would probably knit this yarn a little more tightly than I knit my sample:

The third sample was from the second dyed batch of fleece, combed on my single pitch Louet mini-combs.  The resulting tops were lovely, but could have been more refined, had I used my 2 pitch Forsythe mini-combs.  I spun this yarn using a short, forward draw, then plied it back on itself. This yarn was the most pleasant to spin; the remaining lanolin acted as a lubricant and the fibres flowed through my fingers.  This preparation and spinning style emphasized the lustre of the wool. I washed this yarn in hot water using dish washing liquid, rinsed it well and gave it a light snap between my hands before I hung it to dry.  By the way, those spots aren't holes in the knitting (although I would knit this yarn more tightly in a project); they're reflections bouncing off from the camera flash:

Of the three samples, I enjoyed spinning the long draw (woollen) and the forward draw (worsted) style yarns the most.  The yarn from the combed top was the prettiest and it would work well in socks or for lace knitting.  If I used this fleece for sock yarn, I'd add more twist in both the spinning and plying for durability. The sample is 10 tpi in the ply, 15 tpi in the singles, 23 wpi, with a 30 degree angle of twist (Fancy Twist).

Working with raw fleece gives the spinner many choices, only a few of which I've discussed here.  I could choose to sort out intact locks, spin directly from them or flick card them and then spin. I could chain ply singles. I could spin lofty or medium twist singles, which would be the best way to highlight all the colours in this rainbow, which is what I've used in this detail from one of my tapestries:

I could spin highly energized singles for deeply textured effects in knitted fabric, as in the bag I made for my iPod:

Then, there is colour to consider-if that rich red I love lined up with the fluorescent green Romney, the effect would be startling, a psychedelic holiday nightmare, although, as you can see from the bag, there are ways to use a range of saturated colours effectively.

The possibilities are open for each spinner to discover.  I hope this series on rainbow dyeing and its end uses help send you on your own adventures.

Now, if I can just decide what to do with that washed out natural dye pot fleece. . . .


Friday, 24 August 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Part 3: Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Lose

I'm happy with the second rainbow dye pot; the colours are richer and more to my liking. The Greener Shades acid dyes work well, both for conventional, controlled dyeing and random pots.

The weather turned to cloudy and cool, so this pot went on the stove.  I brought the water to a full simmer, then turned off the heat and allowed the fleece to cool before rinsing.  There was a lot of red dye run-off in this bath.  Even with repeated rinsing, the final rinse water had a tinge of red to it; however, there is no crocking or bleeding of the dyes.

Here is the second pot soaking:

The final results are rich and vibrant:

Yesterday was sunny and hot again, so I put all my dyed fleece on the front step to dry, teased and sorted it into colour batches, while Mickey stood guard:

The small skein on top of the fleece is my first sample of yarn from this Romney.  I spun the yarn on my Lendrum wheel, directly from teased fibre and plied the singles back on itself.  I then fulled the skein in a hot, soapy bath and hot rinses, and finished the skein by whacking it across the metal railing on my front step.  The skein is quite coarse and textured.  I'll knit a sample later, but it appears that yarn made this way will be suitable for bags or outerwear. The colours are much more lively than they would have been had I dyed them with a single, controlled dyeing technique.

Buoyed by my successes, I decided to experiment with some natural dye liquids I'd just purchased.  I mordanted 100 grams of Romney fleece with 30 ml. pickling alum (aluminum potassium sulphate), added a dash of dish washing detergent to a bucket of hot water, packed in the fleece and gently poured the dyes (indigo, carmine and fustic) over the batch. The pot looked lovely:

As it sat, things changed, and not in a good way.  Instead of setting, the colours appeared to fade.  After a day in a covered pot set in the sun, I decided to heat up the dye bath on the stove, as directed in the instructions.  The whole bath turned to a muddy red.  When I rinsed the fleece, this was the result:

All the dye washed away, leaving only faint tints of yellow and a hint of pink on the wool. On the bright side, I now have a batch of premordanted Romney fleece waiting for my next (traditional) natural dyeing session.

I'm not naming the natural dye extracts, because the problem may not have been with the dyes themselves, but with how I used them.  While the final dye pot was a big disappointment, it was also a good lesson-I won't use these dyes in this way again.  I'm happy with the first results of my dyeing and I now have a large batch of fleece with which to play.  I'll keep you posted on the fabric that comes out of my rainbow pots.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Part 2

I let my rainbow dye pot sit in the sun for 4 hours yesterday.  Here's a photograph of the Romney fleece and the dye water before I rinsed the fleece.  That's dirt and grease in the water, but there was no dye colour in the bath:

Here's the fibre after I washed and rinsed it in hot water, until the water ran clear:

It's now drying on a rack in the shade.  Here's a close up.  The colours are more accurate in the previous pictures:

What I can't show you about this fleece is how it feels.  Meagan's Romney fleeces are lovely, with little to no vegetable matter in them.  They have long, crimpy locks and are wonderful to spin in the grease.  This dyeing method leaves just a touch of lanolin in the wool, which enhances its hand.

I've been asked why I dye this way, as the technique is unpredictable, uses more dye and more vinegar.  Here are several reasons to try a rainbow pot or two:

  • It's an easy introduction to dyeing.  You don't have to measure, mix or pour.  
  • Rainbow dyeing gives you different colours than does conventional dyeing.  The dyes mix in unusual ways, giving you everything from vibrant colours to pastels. Because each colour contains a bit of each dye, all the colours blend well together.
  • Rainbow dyeing works well with acid dyes, drink mix powders or vegetable/animal dyes.  As it does with traditional dyeing methods, rainbow dyeing works on white or coloured fleeces.
  • If you dye on hot days, you don't need any source of energy rather than the sun.
  • The technique uses less water than conventional dyeing.  If you're using only acid dyes and vinegar or drink mix powders and you exhaust your dye bath, you can use the dirty water in your flower bed.
  • Rainbow dyeing in the grease leaves the wool with a softer, more pleasant hand than using scoured fibres.
  • It's fun to go with the unpredictable once in a while.
This pot had roughly equal amounts of blue, red and green dye.  The resulting green wool is a nice, acid colour, but green isn't my favourite colour.  I'd prefer more purples and reds, so I've set up a second dye pot  using mostly red and blue with just a spot of the yellow dye.

A note to dyers in other countries:  if you use food colouring or drink mix powders as your dye (and I'm not a fan of those dye sources, unless I'm dyeing with children), be sure to use something which contains an acid dye.  Some foodstuffs rely on fugitive agents for colours; they're much safer for you, but won't colour your fibres.

In the mean time, the temperatures hit 30C and Morris really, really wanted a drink (and a bucket of cold water poured over him):

He got both.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Rainbow Dyeing

A question on Ravelry about dyeing yarn spun in the grease reminded me of how much fun it is to rainbow dye grease fleece. Rainbow dyeing breaks the rules about dyeing--you use unscoured fleece, raw dye powder, a minimum of hot water; then you leave the fleece, water, dyes and heat to do their work.  Rainbow dyeing requires using more dyestuff and more mordant. (That is, if vinegar is your mordant; natural dyeing works a bit differently.)  It's not an efficient production method and you can't duplicate results, but you can get interesting results from playing with the colours.

I use a very precise, scientific approach to this type of dyeing: I grabbed handfuls of raw, white Romney fleece (from Meagan Linklater), my dye pot, and my Greener Shades acid dyes.  I filled the pot about one third full of hot, hot tap water to which I added several glugs of white vinegar and a squirt of Sunlight dish washing soap.  I then stuffed the raw fleece into the solution, and sprinkled a bit of dye powder on the fleece, poking the wool into the water, but not stirring or mixing the dyes.  (I used River Blue, Flame Red and Sunshine Yellow.)  The colours in the pot should be quite intense, if you want bright colours.  Areas with heavy grease will not take up dye as well as drier sections and your colours will be paler than if you had started with scoured fleece (which, of course, you may prefer to do).  I don't use fleece with a heavy lanolin content (such as Merino) because it takes too much dye to get reasonable results.

The usual dye safety rules apply: your pots and other equipment should be used for dyeing only; wear rubber gloves and a mask, especially when working with powdered dyes.  If you can do so, dye outdoors or in a properly ventilated area.  Your kitchen isn't the best place to be dyeing (unless you're using powdered drink mixes), but if you kitchen dye, put away all food and kitchen equipment, cover your work area with plastic or newspaper and clean up thoroughly when you're done.  Keep the stove fan on when your pot is simmering.  Small and medium sized children and pets do not belong around dye pots. (Morris notwithstanding; I chased him away after the photo below and, no, he did not manage to stick his beak into the pot.)

Morris is very helpful, especially when it comes to inspecting raw fleece:

This is the first layer:

I then layered the remaining fleece over the first, again, just gently poking the fleece into the water.  I poured about 250 ml. of hot, soapy water over this final layer:

The covered pot is now sitting in full sunlight atop out barbeque.  Temperatures are expected to rise above the 30C mark today; with these dyes, that may be all the heat required to set the colours.  If not, I'll bring the pot up to a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes and then allow the bath to cool. When the water is clear, I'll rinse the fibres, either later today or tomorrow morning.

The most important things to remember when rainbow dyeing are to use just enough water to barely cover the fibres and to not stir the dye pot, no matter how much you are tempted!  Stirring things up will mix the dyes and your resulting colours will be muddy.  If you don't like what you get, you can over dye any or all of the fleece, but, for now, leave things alone.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Sanctuary: What a Trip! August 18, 2012

What's this?:

Yes, they're exactly what they look like-goats:

A trip of goats, to be precise, in a section of grassland in our local park:

And, why are these lovely creatures, all 40 of them, all female, roaming about in the city?

Because of this brilliant idea:

This bit of grassland became public property fifty years ago.  When it was private land, carragana bushes were planted to divide the area.  Carragana was commonly used as a decorative hedge around here; unfortunately, it grows well, like a weed, and unless vigorously controlled, quickly takes over natural habitats:

A Single Carragana "Bush"
The goats were brought in as pesticide-free, natural weed control.  They loved the vegetation, including the thistles, and were happy to visit with people who came to observe:

The girls don't leave much on the carragana bushes; they'll stand on their hind legs to munch on vegetation up to 5 feet off the ground.

This is a pilot project; the park authority will be looking into bringing goats in for the next few summers in an attempt to control what is fast becoming a massive weed infestation.  (That's all gone-to-seed thistle on the hillside; all faces of the hill are covered with the stuff.)

I didn't bring a spindle with me.  I wish I had-one of the goat herders was telling the children that cashmere came from goats.  These goats had lost their undercoats for the summer, so I couldn't tell if they'd ever shed spinning fibre, but it would have been fun to give a quick demonstration of yarn making from goats.  Lesson learned: never go anywhere without a spindle and fibre in your bag!


Monday, 13 August 2012

Cotton Fields Back Home: The Journey Continues

My little cotton shawl is coming along nicely, although more slowly than I would have hoped.  I'm knitting it on 1.5 mm needles--my record as the world's loosest knitter still stands--so I don't have point protectors small enough to fit the needles and I'm afraid to take the project out of the house.  (I know that rubber bands would do the trick.  For some odd reason, there isn't one to be found around here.)

Next up in my cotton spinning studies, is a bag of combed cotton top, a combination of organic white, mocha and green cotton.  It's not the Easy to Spin brand I've been using, so it drafts quite differently.  

Each colour pulls out from the top in its own fashion.  To accommodate this, I'm using an odd drafting style. I have no idea what to call it, but it's rather like a "push me/pull you" motion; I'm pulling forward with my lead hand, away from the orifice with my back hand, all the while allowing twist to flow into the fibre while I feed the yarn continuously onto the bobbin.  (I would love to show you a video, but although Morris loves to assist with spinning projects, he's no good at drafting or camera work and Mickey refuses to acknowledge wheel or camera.  He once had an unfortunate accident involving his tail and my Ashford Traveller; camera flashes annoy him to no end.) The resulting singles is thicker and more textured than the yarn in my shawl, but it's attractive and the fibres are soft, wonderful to spin.

My Victoria wheel spins cotton efficiently and quickly.  I'm using the highest ratio (12:1) and a light take up, with an easy, steady treadling pace.  (I'm in no rush.)

If you want to see some expert cotton spinners at work, watch these videos:

This one is short, but impressive:

This one, showing a woman from Ecuador, is my favourite:

This last photograph isn't connected to cotton spinning, but does relate to my last post on inexpensive spinning tools.  I found stacks of file cards at Peavey Mart this morning.  They're crude, need some sanding and some oiling and aren't as efficient as actual flick cards, but they do the job and cost 48 cents each (50 cents tax in).  I flicked a few BFL locks, shown below with the cards:


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Few of My Favourite Things: Inexpensive, Portable Spinning Tools

A thread on Ravelry asked about tools a beginner spinner could make or buy without having to go to a lot of expense.  I've collected several go-to tools over the years; they cost next to nothing, work well for workshops and do their jobs efficiently.  Here's a look at my favourite, low tech tools.

A drawstring nylon screw storage bag from Princess Auto (cost $6CDN).  This bag will hold all the tools shown here and more:

The bag also makes a great caddy for my plying jars:

The plying jars once held non-toxic deodorizer, from Canadian Tire (about $5CDN).  Once the deodorizer was gone - it works well around the cat litter box, by the way - I washed out the jars, which are perfect for plying.  They have screw top lids and smooth slots through which to thread your yarn.  That's a PVC niddy noddy behind the jar.  It comes apart for easy storage, can be made to wind skeins of different lengths and does a great job of wet blocking hand spun singles for tapestry weaving:

When I don't want to carry combs, I use a dog stripper tool, a double-sided dog comb and a spice jar lid for a diz.  If I need a flicker or a set of carders for sampling, a pair of cat brushes works in a pinch:

This tiny scale is something I was given in a goodie bag at a conference.  It's my favourite tool; I clip my skein  on one end, suspend the scale from its ring and it weighs up to 100 grams/4 ounces of yarn or fibre.  It's accurate, too, corresponding with the weights I get when I use my triple beam balance scale.  You can buy the scales on line for about ($10CDN).  The protractor, used for measuring angle of twist, came from an old math set. It's a little hard to see, but there's a piece of plastic tubing in front of it, which slides over the hooks of my Tabachek spindles.  Edward provides the tubing with all his spindles to prevent damage, but a variety of tube sizes are available which will fit almost any spindle hook:

One of the best ideas ever for unwinding yarns from your spindles - a clamp with holes in the ends of the arms through which you thread a fishing snap pin.  Thread a swivel hook through the snap, hook the end of your spindle through the swivel and wind away.  The total cost for a set of 3 clamps, the snap pin and the swivel hook was around $5CDN at Canadian Tire.  This tip is courtesy of Edward and Jo-Anne Tabachek (so is the spindle shown here):

Embroidery floss holders, ($1CDN for a package of 25 cards) which I use as wraps per inch cards and as sample cards for my yarns.  I use paper holders, because I can write information on the cards:

Finally, a laminated yarn weight card our LYS used for calculating yardage. (I don't know the original source of the information.)  I don't use the card much to calculate  yarn weight.  For the most part, I use it to demonstrate the ranges of yardage possible when someone speaks of "worsted, lace weight," etc. yarn and why it's important to use more accurate measures when planning a project:

So, there you have it; a few inexpensive items which work well for a wide range of spinning needs.  They may not be as attractive or accurate as professionally made tools, but you can put a kit together for about $30 - $35CDN (less if you have things such as the dog combs and cat brushes on hand) and you won't cry if something breaks or gets lost. (Actually, I would cry if I lost that scale.  I've become rather attached to it.)