Wednesday, 23 April 2014

grand opening - solar dying

Today I opened the first batch of fiber from my solar dying experiment. The results weren't quite as dramatic as I would have liked, but they were certainly educational.

This first offering comes from the turmeric jar. It did exactly what you would expect. Mostly. Mustard yellow in varying shades. I hadn't expected wee patches of that slightly peachy shade you can see in the middle. This will be interesting to spin up.

The fiber from the parsley jar has been a real challenge to photograph. It's actually a pale greeny yellow colour. This was a bit disappointing. The jar has been a lovely bright green all month, and I'd hoped the fiber would suck up more of the colour. Instead it looks like the fiber you find that's been attached to the fence for months where the sheep go for a scratch.

The red onion jar as a complete surprise. Last week I learned it's the skins only that make a reddy browny colour. I'd assumed this meant that the flesh wouldn't do anything at all. When this came out of the jar, those smudges of pink on the right were much darker. The yellow section had been right next to the flesh, and came out of the jar looking slime green. It was all very exciting.

Apparently I need to be adding alum and creme of tartar for more saturated colours. This batch had a 50/50 fiber to plant matter ratio. A greater volume of plant matter might work better. I think I probably need to layer the plant matter in with the fiber so the colour distributes more evenly. It may also be that the results improve as the days get warmer and the jars start to reach higher temperatures.

I am going to get these wee samples on the spinning wheel. And start hunting round for different plants to restock the dying jars. Any suggestions?


Sunday, 20 April 2014

3 ply

Last month one my new chums from Guild suggested I try spinning a consistent thick yarn. Maintaining gauge in a fatter single is more difficult than making a consistently thinnish yarn. The idea was that this exercise would help me learn to make consistent yarn regardless of guage. This would also be a good opportunity to have another go at making a 3 ply. That same Chum also gave me two tips that really helped things along.

(Jacob Chunky 3 ply)

TIP ONE: I've tried writing this tip about three times, and I'm not quite sure how to word it. You're making a single right. And using a short draw, so you have a hand in front stopping twist zooming up into the drafting zone. As you let the twist into the drafting zone, you unroll the single just a fraction. The action reminds me a little of my Dad rolling a cigarette, but that's certainly not the sort of activity you want to perfect in order to improve your spinning. This little twisting action is hard to describe, but it really evens out the yarn. I don't know why, it's like spinning magic. Jessica from Expertly Dyed does something similar in her lace spinning video, so I'd suggest you take a look there to see what I mean.

TIP TWO: When I've made a three ply, I hold the singles the way Judith MacKenzie suggests in The Intentional Spinner. The problem is that the singles get all twisted together behind the hand nearest the Kate. This is a two for one tip. First, keep the bobbins further apart. They don't need to be miles apart. I had a bobbin at each end of the Kate, and the third in a bowl beside the Kate. The bowl worked well, as the bobbin weighted itself and kept tension on the single. Then, keep the line between the bobbins and the oriface as straight as possible. My bobbins were behind and to the left of my chair. The singles still twisted about, however they were easier to manage.

I still micro managed the plying process as I described yesterday. The yarn is a huge improvement on my last three ply effort. I'm really chuffed, although all this plying has shown up the weaknesses in the joins in my singles, and when I join singles in the plyed yarn. If you've found any useful videos on this, let me know.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

2 ply

This month I wanted to take the bull by the horns and discover my plying mojo. I've been spinning singles like a woman possessed, and surfing round t'nterwebs looking at stuff about plying, and spinning in general. This last week has been a plying extravaganza, so I thought I would pop by to show you the results and share the resources I found most useful.

(Massam and Merino rolags)

The most obvious addition to my spinning process is the control card. This idea came from the current issue of Knittyspin about measuring your yarn. So far I'm finding the most useful thing about this card are the yarn samples. I compare my spinning to the single sample on the card to make sure I'm consistent from day to day.

(Holly Berry sample)

There is all manner of advice around about plying, and counting, and determining if you have a balanced yarn. The Gentle Art of Plying is probably the best place to start on the topic, but it was this video from Expertly Dyed that really helped me refine a process that worked for me. I know, I know, Jessica is using a drop spindle not a wheel. There were two things that really sank in for me after I watched this series of videos. Firstly, if you want consistently plyed yarn you make a twisty, and match your plyed yarn to the twisty. If you're using a wheel you need to be looking at the yarn on the bobbin, when it is not under tension, and comparing that to your twisty. This means that the singles will need to look slightly over plyed when you feed them into the oriface. I just did this by eye, and stopped occasionally to make sure that the yarn on the bobbin still matched the twisty.

Secondly, I realised that the reason I can ply successfully on a spindle is because I can slow down and micro manage the whole process. I used the slowest ratio on my wheel to ply the yarn you see here, checking each length of yarn before feeding it on to the bobbin. At first this was onerous, but eventually it all fell into a rythme. I'd use a faster pulley for a two ply in future, but that's just a matter of confidence and experience.

Micro managing your plying process might sound luborious. Okay, it is laborious. If that's what it takes to get a yarn I want to knit with, so be it.

What are you doing to perfect your plyed yarn?


Sunday, 30 March 2014

finishing glory for the winter that never happened

I've just finished the Urban Necessity flip top mittens, and Structured Alpaca Cowl. These are both great patterns for accessories with some really practical design features. If you happen to have started on your Christmas knitting already (!?!), these would make a great set for a cyclist or enthusiastic walker.

The cowl pattern is just beautifully thought through. The twisted ribbing gives the it quite a lot of structure up the back of the neck helping it to stand up and meet your hairline. And the front flap to tuck into your neckline and eliminate air gaps makes this a winner in my book. Until I tried on the finished cowl I hadn't realised the genius of the stocking stitch section. It basically creates a nice gentle edge that shapes under your chin. The whole thing is just winter-tight.

I was quite bummed though that my cowl came up short. There are only eight repeats of the decrease pattern instead of ten. I was just about to have a whine and a moan about the yardage requirements on the pattern, until I realised I've had two moments of stupid. The first moment occurred when I ignored the gauge information. My gauge is about three stitches to the inch, not four and a half. Secondly, the pattern calls for 170 meters of yarn. I had 170 yards left over from the mittens. Bring on the metric revolution, or at least a revolution where we all use one decimalised system of measurement.

The yardage requirements for the Urban Necessity mittens goes completely in the over zealous direction. The patterns tells you you need 400 meters of yarn. That seemed a lot, even if you are the sort of person who disregards gauge and such. Most Ravelryers (Is there a collective noun for folk who use Ravelry?) said they'd used about 200 meters. I used much less then this. My gauge was about right for this one. I made the smallest size, added almost 5cm extra in length, and only used about 150 meters of yarn. Sure, you might need 200 meters if you were making a man sized pair, but I can't imagine too many folk would need more than that. Perhaps I should try making a pair for Bob. I might eat my words. That's actually on the cards. This pattern goes so quickly it's slightly addictive. Only Bob wants his pair to have flip top thumbs so he can still fly his remote controlled aeroplanes.

If you're going to try either of these patterns, then check out Woolly Wormheads Alternative Cable Cast On. It's such and easy technique, and makes a beautiful edge for your 1x1 rib. I also used a tubular cast off for the cowl. I've used a tubular cast off for 2x2 rib before, and find it takes a bit of concentration. The version for 1x1 rib is so much simpler, and well worth the effort for that beautiful invisible edge.

Now I feel like a co-ordinating hat would just tie together my winter dog walking outfit...


Saturday, 29 March 2014

spinning wheel vibrations

Sometimes, while I'm spinning, my wheel vibrates. It's very minor, and doesn't effect the yarn; but I wanted to know why it wasn't making this shudder every time I spin.

At first I thought the floor might be a bit uneven, as the problem seemed to occur more when the wheel was stoud on the rug rather than the hard floor. Having confirmed that all the feet were firmly planted on the floor, I ran out of ideas. This is where is becomes handy to be living with an engineer who knows a lot about things that spin at speed. It took Bob about a minute of watching me spin, and putting his fingers in annoying places, to determine that my flyer was unbalanced.

The problem is the little wire hook that you move back and forth along the flyer to guide the yarn evenly on to the bobbin. This wee wire thingamy weighs about three grams. Ideally there would be one of these on both sides of the flyer so that it would be evenly weighted on both sides. If you don't have an extra wire thingamy, you can add a three gram rubber band to the opposite side of your flyer as a counter balance.

Easy peasy lemon squeasy. And no more vibration.


Friday, 28 March 2014

natural solar dying - dandelion

This is my first foraged jar. Well, that is if digging up a rogue dandelion on the allotment counts as foraging. Dandelion root is supposed to dye things purple. At this point I'm finding that difficult to believe. There is nothing about Dandelion, it's root, or this concoction that indicates purple.

The most interesting batch so far is the red onion jar. At the moment the fiber is looking dusky pink. The colour is changing every day, so we can but wait.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

solar dying

A few years ago I participated in Dye-o-rama. It took three goes before I had a hank of yarn fit to send to my swap buddy. In the process something in the dye chamicals reacted with the coating on my spectacles, turning them rainbow coloured. And I managed to leave a small but permanent spot on my housemates new kitchen. Since then I've restricted my attempts at permanent colour changes to prepackaged kits that do the job in the washing machine.

Last week I stumbled across a couple of solar dying kits. These sound great. You basically stand a sealed jar outside for a month, and let the sun do the work. No fear of turning the kitchen a different colour, ruining my glasses, or poisoning anybody. Helen Melvin's article made the process sound relatively straight forward without going to the expense of buying a kit. I've decided to see what colours could be gleaned from my immediate environment over the next few months.

We had a few jars laying about already. I bought half a kilo of white shetland top, and a package of Alum. I'm going to make up jars as the vessels and plants become available, and leave them to stand for thirty days. The recipe calls for equal weights of vegetable matter and fiber. I've added 4g of alum as this should be plenty to mordant fiber weighing less than 25g. For now the jars will stand in our super warm sunny kitchen, but I'll move them outside when Summer kicks in.

I've not even left the kitchen to start these first jars using turmeric, parsley, and red onion. Stop by next month to see how we get on.