Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Spinning on a wheel

You all know I'm a spindle person, so if left to myself I might never have gotten a wheel.  But when a friend of mine offered me a spinning wheel she had inherited and couldn't use, I decided to accept.  After all, it doesn't mean I'll abandon my spindle -- it means I'll be able to do twice as much spinning!  

And so far it's definitely adding to my spinning game.  I can spin till I'm tired on the spindle, working on one project, and then move to the spinning wheel and another project, because each uses different muscles.  The spindle is definitely a lot more adaptable to different postures and activities -- I can take it with me; I can spin sitting, standing, or walking; and I can use it when my leg joints hurt.  But the wheel goes a whole lot faster -- I spun about 400 yards in a couple of days, while with the spindle it always seems to take forever to spin for much smaller projects.

The big thing I've found it's useful for is chunkier yarn.  Maybe it's the size of my spindle or my own muscle memory, but I can't for the life of me do chunky yarn on my spindle.  Even if I could, I couldn't hold very much on the spindle at a time, so it would be tedious spinning little balls of it.  With the spinning wheel, my instinct leads me to make a fatter yarn, so it's easier to keep my yarn consistently chunky if that's what I'm going for.

It took a couple days for me to figure out how to make yarn on it at all.  I don't have a manual, so I've had to read a lot of websites and try to guess what sort of tensioning system it has.  (Honestly, I ... still don't know what it's called.  But I've figured out how it works, anyway.)  The trick, which I'm sure any wheel spinner could have told me, is that you control the twistiness of the thread by how fast you let it go onto the bobbin.  You don't have to follow the speed the wheel tries to wind it on -- you can hold the yarn back and let more twist go into it before you let it on.  I had thought the twist was pretty much set and you couldn't change it without messing with the brake or something, but it turns out I have a lot more control than I thought.  I just have to be very conscious of how fast I'm drafting and pedaling, because if I get distracted I either start pedaling way too fast, or I slow down on drafting and the yarn starts to get all kinky.

The other challenge for me is that it goes by so fast.  You need to have the wool really fully prepped, because you don't have time to fuss with it before the spinning wheel gets to it.  I'm used to using rather sticky or messy wool on my spindle, because at any time I can just pause a moment and pick a piece of hay out of it or untangle something, and with the wheel you can't easily do that.  It takes a moment to slow and stop on the pedals and by then you've got all this extra twist built up waiting for you.  So for the wheel it's really better to have a nice smooth roving, even if it takes extra time prepping it.

My friend handed down, along with the wheel, a number of bags of really gorgeous roving.  Some was a bit compacted (apparently it had sat in her grandma's craft room for years!) but a little pre-drafting made it cooperate.  It was like Christmas unpacking what she'd given me!  Normally I measure wool by the ounce, and the prep work takes me ages, but this came in pounds and was already combed, so I could get right to spinning.

My favorite was a bag containing dark green and dark reddish-purple Corriedale, plus some white Wensleydale.  Both the colored wools were mixed with small amounts of other colors, making a nice deep interesting color in each, and all three went together well, so I did a couple projects incorporating all of them.  I spun them at a light worsted weight -- very chunky for me!

I made one garter-knit scarf and one woven scarf. The woven scarf was a sudden inspiration that got me very excited, because three coordinating colors means plaid and I love plaid.  I used an online program to try to help me plan the pattern, but I found that difficult to use, so in the end I just used colored pencils to draw out what I wanted.

The only unexpected problem was that the Wensleydale didn't react at all like the Corriedale -- it spun a bit thinner and didn't draw in as much, so the white stripes have little loops hanging out on the sides.  I'm sure no one notices this but me, though. Next time I'll probably try to use all the same kind of wool for a weaving project.  The knit scarf didn't have the same problem, because I was able to correct it in blocking.  But for next time, I definitely will keep the Wensleydale separate -- it is a beautiful, luminous wool but it has almost no spring to it.  It was like spinning llama!  I'd love to spin the rest of it pretty fine and make something lacy out of it -- possibly a shawl.  It naturally made very open loops when knitted, so it's sure to show off a fancy pattern really well.

Next adventure planned with the wheel: trying some of the fancy plying methods (boucle, spiral) that seemed so difficult to even try on a spindle.  We'll see what I manage to accomplish!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Every baby a knitted-for baby

It's been a long time since I've posted here, I admit.  Life gets away from you.  This past year has brought me a pregnancy that couldn't have been more unplanned or unwished-for, as well as a number of other distractions from crafting.

I have heard the slogan that every baby should be a wanted and chosen baby, and I think that would be pretty nice.  On the other hand, half of babies aren't planned, and that doesn't necessarily make them less loved or appreciated once they arrive.  Even when the choice wasn't yours at the beginning, you can make the choice to accept and make the best of it.

One way I tried to deal with this was by knitting.  I think every baby should have something handmade -- it's a way of saying "I loved you enough to work for you before you were even born."  My first two kids had this done for them by other people, because I didn't do much crafting at the time, but my third got quite a few pretty things I made for her.  Many of these have since been passed on (because the gift of handmade baby clothes should be shared!) so this new baby needed some original knitting done.

It's hard to get yourself geared up to knit for a baby you have never met and still feel iffy about having.  But I found that as the knitting went on, I started to feel more positive about it.  This stranger -- this baby currently sucking up my body's resources and making me worry -- would soon be wearing little baby leggings on its tiny little legs.  I didn't know anything else about it -- I still don't know the sex -- but I can picture little legs wearing little leggings, and that worked for me.

After I finished that, I made a hat for a friend's baby, got some Christmas knitting done, and have now cast on a diaper cover.  Diaper covers are one of my favorite things to knit because they're easy, practical, and use small amounts of wool yarn -- something which, as a spinner, I always have lots of.

Diaper Cover Pattern

You can use any weight of yarn for this pattern, but it has to be wool, and it should be as soft as possible.  Choose a size needle that gives you pretty dense stitches -- if there are gaps and holes, it won't be waterproof.  Do a swatch to test your gauge, and then cast on enough stitches to make 12 inches.

First, do k1 p1 ribbing for one inch.  Then follow this pattern: on right-side rows, k5, s1k1psso, knit till seven stitches from end, k2tog, k5. On wrong side rows, k5, purl till five stitches from end, k5.  This will give you a nice garter-stitch edging so the sides won't curl in.

Continue this pattern for about five inches.  Then stop the decreases, so you're just knitting all the right-side rows, and k5, purl, k5 on the wrong-side rows.  After five inches of that, finish with one more inch of k1, p1 rib. That's it!

You can add snaps to hold it together, or adjust the pattern to add buttons and buttonholes, but I just use a Snappi.  To use it, lay a prefold diaper on top, folded to fit inside, bring up the front, and fasten with the Snappi (or whatever).

(This is my third baby, with the cover I made for her)

If your wool is clean (as opposed to raw from the sheep -- which you can use if you have it!), it won't be as waterproof unless you lanolize it -- basically replacing the natural lanolin that made the wool so waterproof while it was on the sheep.  Here are some instructions for lanolizing -- you'll want to repeat the steps any time the cover starts to get leaky.  For basic cleaning, which you do if the cover gets soiled or stinky, you can hand wash in cold water with wool detergent or plain dish soap.

Happy baby knitting!  If you know any babies on the way, go ahead and knit them something.  It's our way of saying "welcome to the world!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

St. Distaff's Day

Today is St. Distaff's Day, or Roc Day, official holiday of spinning.  In the Middle Ages, this was the day that women got back to spinning after the twelve days of Christmas.

There's a joy to getting back to work.  On my way back from a visit to our family at Christmastime, I remarked to my husband, "I can't wait for Monday."

"When I'm back at work?" he asked.

"No," I said, "I just want to get back to my routine."  But it's more than just routine; a routine of sitting around all day would be boring.  A routine of work is what I craved -- the daily pressure of work to be done, resolved by the joy of work completed.  The pride in yourself that comes from knowing you're good at your job.

This last can be hard to come by as a housewife.  There's no boss to give you performance reviews; you don't get a raise if you're better at it.  No one ever is impressed by hearing you are a housewife. You have to develop the ability to judge yourself honestly, to be your own standard, so that you know when you're slacking off and when you can be honestly proud of the good day's work you put in.  But it's freeing, too, not to depend on society or money to validate what you do all day.

Someone asked on Facebook the other day if Adam and Eve would have worked in the garden of Eden.  I say, absolutely.  What would you do if you had all the money you needed?  Watch TV for sixty years?  Or would you take all that wonderful free time and invest it in finally perfecting your hobbies?  I imagine Adam and Eve took delight every day in tending the garden just so, just like hobby gardeners do now -- perhaps meeting at the evening of every day full of the story of the fig tree they'd planted on this hill and the weeds they'd pulled out of that flower bed.  Without work, what would we have to be proud of?  How could we measure our own improvement?  How would we imitate God?

Our creative power is one of the greatest ways we imitate God the creator.  God set the stars in the heavens, spun the earth on its axis, drew out the blue threads of the rivers.  We set our distaff beneath our arm, spin the spindle, draw out the thread -- and when we do so, we learn what it means to love our creation.  What is the most beautiful thing you've ever made, the thing whose flaws couldn't lessen your love for it, because you made it?  Surely God loves you more than you could ever love that thing.

And that's why it's Saint Distaff's Day, even though there's no person named St. Distaff.  Saint means holy -- and our work is holy.  It makes us like God.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sock yarn

I got it in my head awhile back to make sock yarn, just to see if I could.

There's a lot of details you want to get right about sock yarn.  It has to be strong, if you don't want your socks to wear out, but it should also be somewhat elastic.  For this reason, semiworsted spinning is often preferred.  Blue-faced Lancaster is one popular wool for sock yarn; others prefer superwash or one of the felt-resistant down breeds like Devon.  I only had Rambouillet, so that's what I used.

I used the wool I had dyed previously with black walnuts, coffee, and food coloring.

 I spun it pretty much as fine as I could, which wound up being about 60 wpi in the singles.

I aimed for about 400 yards, which apparently is what you need for an average pair of socks.  You should be able to get that out of 4 oz. of wool, but I have no idea what weight I used -- I don't have a scale.

Then I three-plied the yarn, for extra strength.  Three-ply is a big hassle compared to two-ply -- half again as much spinning to do, and then three balls of singles trying to get away from you as you ply -- but the results are definitely more durable.

 The final thickness of the yarn was 22 wpi -- good for knitting on size 1 or 2 sock needles.

I was really happy with the way the colors blended and interacted in this yarn.  The color changes happen every 30 yards or so, shifting from green with bits of yellow to brown with bits of green.  If I knit it up, I'd find subtle bands of colors interacting.

I had a goal in my mind while I spun this yarn -- to get it done before my daughter was born in late August.  I had my doubts that I'd make it, considering what slow going it was and my history of going into labor early.  But in the end, I did get it finished with several days to spare.

My intention was to sell this yarn.  And it's certainly good enough -- it is truly fabulous yarn, strong, soft, springy, and just beautiful.  Not a lot of flaws in it anywhere.  However, considering it took me a month to make, I'm not sure how I'd price it.  Most spinners agree that charging less than ten cents per yard per ply is undercutting those who spin professionally, making it impossible for them to make a living.  So that would give me .... 400 yd x 3 plies is 1200 ply yds; 1200 x 10 cents is $120.  As a minimum, not counting the high quality of the wool or the natural dyeing.

Do you know anyone who would pay $120 for socks, even the world's most gorgeous socks (as these certainly would be)?  I have my doubts.  So perhaps someone I know will have to get a truly princely gift.  You see why handspun available online is often in small hanks -- 100 yd of singles, for instance.  Spinners can make more, but not many can afford to buy it.

More pictures of my absolutely gorgeous yarn:

So far it's the spinning project I'm proudest of!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Color blending

Once you have wool in the colors you want, then you have a vast array of choices when it comes to blending it.

If you want, you can actually just spin the wool white and dye it after.  You can do it a solid color or make stripes by handpainting it.  This produces fine results, but it seems to spoil some of the point of spinning it myself -- that is, the much wider variety of color effects you can do when you're spinning, and also the sheer joy of watching pretty-colored yarn wind onto your spindle.

The next simplest thing is to make a roving or rolag and handpaint that.  That is to say, that's what a lot of people seem to be doing.  You can spin it all as it comes in the roving, or you can split the roving lengthwise and use a piece for each ply so that the color shifts in the different plies match up.  Or you can split it some other way and deliberately have the color shifts not match up.  If all the colors go together well, it's actually a neat effect -- like one set of stripes overlaying another set of stripes.  Where your two plies are different colors, the colors seem to blend, producing a heathery orange effect even though you know you are seeing red and yellow.

Because I like to start from the very beginning, what I wanted to do was to dye the wool in different batches and then blend it myself as I was processing it.  There's a lot of ways to do this too.  People who have a blending hackle can put all the different colors on there and then pull it off with a diz into a nice little roving -- like a handpainted roving, except that the different colors will shift into one another a bit more gradually, and you have more control.  I don't have that kind of equipment though, just handcards.

I discovered, while trying to make a blue and green yarn and winding up with turquoise, that if you take two colors and card them together, you can mix them together completely.  Sure, if you get close, you can see the hairs are different colors, but from even a foot away, it looks like a complete blend, as if you'd blended paint.

Why would you do this instead of just dyeing the wool the color you wanted?  Well, some people like the greater depth of color in blended wool.  Another factor is that dyeing can be iffy business, especially if you're using natural dye, and it's nice to know that the not-quite-right yellow you accidentally got can be mixed with some blue and give you a nice green.

I found that if I wanted clearly visible variegation, I could only card once or twice.  So it worked best to card the different colors separately until they were smooth and even, and then blend them together on the carder into striped rolags.

Kind of hard to tell in the picture, but this is the brown, green, and yellow wool from last post.  Each rolag has visible bands of the different colors, and those show up in the yarn.  If I were making a chunky yarn, I'd probably have a couple of feet (translating into a small group of stitches, if you knitted it) of each color.  Since the yarn is very thin, each band of color gives me several yards.

Then, of course, I'm going to ply it.  Since the rolags are pretty random and don't match each other, the plies won't match up.  (I could make them match by Navajo plying, which is a neat little technique that lets you keep the color changes together.)  So the resulting yarn, when it's knitted up into socks, will look heathered, but with changes from row to row -- a row or part of a row that's yellow and green, and then a bit that's green and brown.

This yarn, which is Icelandic dyed with red, orange, and yellow food coloring, is another example.  This one, I experimented a lot with blending methods, but overall the color changes are much longer than the green yarn.  There are 10-30 yards of one color at a time in each ply.  The result will be much bigger stripes and blocks of color -- but still heathered within each stripe, because the three plies of the yarn don't match up.  So there might be an inch in the finished item that's red and yellow, and then an inch that's orange and yellow, giving an impression of a lighter orange.  However, it's deliberately pretty random, so there won't be consistent stripes.

In this yarn, I thought that the green I started with was too bright, so I blended in some llama fiber.  That dark forest green?  That is bright green plus brown, very thoroughly blended.  I made a whole new color, and though you can tell it's not a completely solid color, it doesn't look like bright green and brown anymore.

Here, I blended green and blue in a gradient -- first, just green, then green with a little blue blended in, then a lot of blue, and finally all blue.  The rolags aren't so throroughly carded as to make one color; there were chunks of blue and of green in the rolag and you can see them in the yarn.  Since I didn't want a heathered effect with the different plies, I Navajo plied the yarn.

Color blending is a little intimidating.  It's hard to get the results you want in the roving, rolag, or batt; then it's hard to imagine what the yarn you get might look like.  At every stage you have control and can do a number of different things with the same materials, but it requires a good bit of imagination to picture what might give you the results you want.  All I can say is, it's been nice making a wild guess and seeing what I end up with.  The more I do it, the more clearly I can predict what it might take to get a certain kind of finished project.

Fun with dyeing

Part of the fun of spinning is picking the color combos.  Some people get this joy just by browsing colored rovings on Etsy and buying the colorways they want.  For me, addicted as I am to doing every part of any craft I do, that's not good enough.  I want to select the actual colors I imagine and do the dyeing myself.

The trouble is that of the three kinds of dye -- food coloring, plant dye, and chemical dye -- nothing quite suits.  Chemicals don't suit my aesthetic, which prefers the natural and safe.  They also have to be specially purchased, and I am always on a budget.  Food coloring at least is safe, so I don't need to use special separate pots to do it in, but it takes a lot to get a deep color.  I always wind up with pastels, and even if you use a ton, you usually get bright candy colors.  Sometimes I like that, but sometimes I want deep rich colors, and that's hard to get with food coloring.

But natural dyeing is a whole different ball of yarn.  Each dyestuff you might want to use has its own rules.  Indigo dyeing is completely different from safflower dyeing which is completely different from lichen dyeing.  Some colors, like blue, are notoriously hard to get, and most everything you can find will give you shades of yellow or brown.  Bright colors of any kind are very hard to manage.  The really nice natural dyes -- indigo, cochineal, logwood, fustic -- are almost certainly not available growing wild near you.  You have to order them online, and they're pricey.

Here, for instance, is my experiment with black beans.  Black beans are readily available, which is a big plus, and they make blue shades, which is even better.  But because the color is destroyed by heat, you have to do all the dyeing completely cold.  That seems to result in the dye not taking as well as it otherwise would, and a lot of people report it fades in the sun.  (Superwash yarn seems to take the dye best, but I don't have that.)

So this blue-gray was the best I got, from four ounces of wool and two pounds of beans:

But it occurred to me lately that I could compromise by combining natural dye, those ones I could easily get, with food coloring.  That way I could get some depth and murkiness from the natural dye and add on some bright, clear color with the food coloring.

So far I've only tried this approach once, for a colorway I've been dreaming of which is inspired by the colors of the forest floor.  Forest green, olive green, brown, and a little yellow for the sunshine.

I did two different kinds of wool in this colorway -- unprocessed Rambouillet (this stuff is CRAZY soft, I may never use anything else, even if it is very greasy and hard to clean) and Icelandic roving.  First, I dyed one batch with black walnuts.  This is very simple -- first you boil the black walnuts in water, then you strain them out and simmer the wool in the water.  Simmering unspun wool is risky business because you can felt it if you're not careful, but by not touching or agitating it at all until it was cool, I didn't have any felting.

It wasn't as deep brown as I had hoped -- even an equal weight of black walnuts and wool apparently is not enough for a really dark brown -- but it looked pretty nice.  For the next batch, I used the same black walnut dyebath and added half a container of instant coffee.  This made a slightly redder brown than the first brown, but the difference wasn't very noticeable.

Then I took the two batches of brown wool, plus some white wool, and overdyed it all with food coloring -- a mix of green and a bit of red and yellow to make a somewhat olivey green.  This produced different shades of green and browny-green on each batch.  Last of all I did a little yellow, just in food coloring.

This is how it turned out on the Icelandic, which, because it was cleaner and already carded, took the color pretty evenly.

And this is how it turned out on the Rambouillet.  Like always happens with raw wool, for whatever reason, the tips took the color much more deeply than the rest, but this difference disappears when you card it.  A little lingering grease (despite so many washings!) also kept the dye from taking quite as well as it should have.

Next time I'll talk about how I blended and spun this gorgeous stuff.

Pulling out (my) hair: lots of llama

I had a little phase awhile back where I was completely out of anything spinnable.  Once you've gotten addicted to spinning, that's a terrible place to be.  You read spinning blogs and start eyeing the dryer lint.

But a friend of mine helped me out of this rut by giving me about three pounds of llama fiber.  Three pounds!  It was from three different animals -- one white with fawn bits, one light brown, and one chocolatey dark brown.

Llama is very easy to wash, unlike wool, because it has no lanolin.  So a swish or two in soapy warm water is fine -- no need to make it particularly hot and risk felting it, the way you do with wool.  But -- I discovered by trying it -- washing is actually not the first step.

Before washing, if possible, is when you should de-hair the llama.  Yes, llama has two coats -- a soft, spinnable undercoat, and an outer coat of coarse guard hairs which absolutely will not blend in with the undercoat and have to be removed.  There is no cool doodad for this that I know of -- you basically just have to pick it out by hand.  Some people use cards or combs, but it doesn't really speed up the process so far as I can see.

The good news is, it's not terribly difficult to do, if the lock structure is intact (i.e., you haven't tried washing it or otherwise messing with it too much) and it's a basically good batch.  The light brown was in this condition, so I just turned on a good bright light, grabbed the long hairs sticking out of the end of each lock, and yanked them out.  It helped that on this animal, the guard hairs were noticeably darker in color than the rest as well as being longer and more wiry.  Once the guard hair was out, the fiber changed from "hm, kinda scratchy" to "I want to snuggle with this all night" soft.

The staple length was quite short (like two inches tops) so it was a bit fiddly to spin.  Of course I made it harder on myself by spinning worsted (which is easier with longer fibers, I think) and going for laceweight.  It took forever, but hey -- I had no other fiber and a desperate need to be spinning, so it worked.

When I finished that, I wanted to do the chocolate brown, chunky and woolen this time -- only to hit an awful snag.  Either because of bad handling previously, or because the animal itself didn't have as nice a coat, it was basically impossible to dehair.  The hairs were completely blended into the rest of the fiber and virtually indistinguishable.  Then, even when I thought I'd gotten them all, they'd appear while I was spinning, refusing to lie flat and prickling out.  So much for my dream of soft fluffy yarn -- it wound up scratchy as heck.

Lesson learned: llama is more work than wool, because of the dehairing; it can be wonderfully soft; and sometimes you just get a bad batch and there's not much you can do about it.

Anyway, I made a hat out of it.  It wasn't soft enough to be a scarf, I thought, and it was rather hairy, but it was still a lovely color and made a good hat.

The white looks to be in good shape, so I think I've got a plan for it -- a shawl.  Since llama is not at all stretchy -- no good for socks, for instance, not by itself -- it works well in weaving.  I'd like to do a big rectangular shawl that shades between the white and the fawn colors of that fiber.  But I'll have to wait till I have a bigger loom, because I want a BIG shawl, something I can wear to nice occasions over a sleeveless dress.