Saturday, June 26, 2010

An Experiment in Overdyeing

Silk Overdye
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
I've spent the past week or so trying to find the perfect silk yarn to knit a shawl for my grandmother. So far, most things have either been not-quite-the-right-color, or extremely expensive.

Then on Monday night, a friend pulled out a ball of gorgeous silver-grey silk yarn. She said she had picked it up from our local Ben Franklin craft store on an incredible clearance sale. But they didn't have much left. Since it was exactly the right weight for what I wanted to knit, and because "golden" was the color my friend said was left, I went immediately to check it out. One of our local dyers (Janis) has often advised me that yellow is a great color to over-dye. And at the sale price offered, this yarn seemed an excellent candidate.

When I got there, I was able to find the last five balls of the yarn. Normally selling for $17, it was marked down to $4. I bought all five. I had hoped for six, but I'm pretty sure five will have enough yardage for what I want to do. Then I went home and cut myself 2-inch samples and tossed them in my dyestock to test it out. I did a second set where I dumped out much of the dye and attempted a less concentrated batch.

I think the full concentration came out best. All four are lovely, but the turquoise and purple (first and third strands) looked like the best combination. Then I had to plan how to dye this stuff up.

Silk Overdye
First, I skeined the balls. This involved winding them onto my niddy-noddy so that the dye would be able to get to all the yarn more easily. I found that after fifty "wraps" on the niddy-noddy, I had to stop and unwind the last of the ball from the inside before wrapping the rest, or I'd end up with a hopeless tangle. That finished, I tossed the lot of them into a bucket of warm water with a little soap to start wetting. Silk takes a notoriously long time to get wet all the way through, and you need that for good dye penetration.

Next was how to dye it without getting dye in my pots. I didn't want to use the microwave method I've used in the past. Heating silk too much can destroy its beautiful sheen. I wanted to keep it around 180 degrees. I figured I could double-bag it in some extra plastic storage bags I had on hand. I put it in and dumped in the rest of my stock dye solution. I punched both through with a long-handled spoon to keep the top above the water in my big boiling pot and made myself a quick double-boiler. I even tied the spoons together and lifted the whole ensemble so that it wouldn't melt to the bottom of the pot while heating. And that worked great!
Silk OverdyeSilk Overdye

I cooked it for a good part of the day and then put the spoons over the side and tossed on the lid. I let it cool overnight and came back the next morning to check on things. Fishing the bags out of the pot, everything looked good. The dye stock had clearly exhausted, or nearly so. Turquoise is well known for never quite coming completely clear. The purple, tho, was obviously all in the silk. I dumped them all out and took a good look--and I was quite disappointed. Both yarns were clearly still very golden under the dye, and the ties had acted as a resist (I thought they were loose enough) and so there were spots with no dye at all. I threw everything back into bags and reheated with more dye solution in each.
Silk OverdyeSilk Overdye

Silk OverdyeSilk Overdye

Silk Overdye
After re-dying both skeins twice, and spot-applying more dye to the resisted areas, I finally had really solid coverage. I'm not sure it's quite as intense as the original test pieces, but they look really good! The skeins aren't quite dry and I think the color will pop even more once they are no longer water-logged. I'm looking forward to winding them all back up into balls and starting to knit tomorrow night!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I've been looking at wheels for at least a year now. I've been looking seriously for the last six months, budgeting and saving every penny I could. The wheel that caught my attention (the Schacht Matchless) felt like it would be forever out of reach. It has a weighty price tag (around $1000 for the Double Treadle model) and all its upgrades and extras are proportionately priced. As I felt more and more pinched by watching each penny (resisting those gorgeous yarns and fibers I saw on a daily basis), it felt like owning a wheel would be well out of reach for another year or two.

My husband has been watching me, listening as I gathered information and prepared spreadsheets of pros and cons, looked at relative prices and features, and generally analyzed everything. When I agonized whether to save for the Schacht Ladybug or the Matchless, he stated, "You shouldn't short yourself on this. It should be like a piece of furniture: really nice and expected to last twenty years or more." He argued for the Matchless. I waffled, knowing the difference in price was another year of saving.

I was also waiting for the Black Sheep Gathering. We have wonderful yarn stores in town. There is a wide range of wheels available, but it isn't everything. Ashford is very well represented, and you can easily find Schacht and Kromski as well. But that leaves out Majacraft, Lendrum, Fricke, and a host of other wheels. All of which you can find at the Black Sheep Gathering.

Saturday was my day at the gathering and I spent it well, spinning on every single wheel there at least once. After trying the Lendrum DT at Carolina Homespun I returned to try it three more times. Saturday night I discussed it with my husband and he finally said, "You should go get it." I'm sure I looked a bit stunned and argued a bit, but in the end he reassured me, "You've done due diligence on this. Buy it. Work out the budgeting over time."

So, now, I can introduce Mabel.. my wheel! Mabel is a Lendrum spinning wheel with a double treadle (two pedals). I bought the "full kit", which includes four regular bobbins, the medium and fast flyers, a bulky flyer/head/bobbin, and a tensioned lazy kate.

She earned her name in part from my daughter, who was much taken with the Ladybug. When she spotted the "Made in Canada" sticker on the Lendrum, she immediately asked, "Is this a 'Maple'?" But I think she is a Mabel (start at 4:15), singing sweetly while she spins.

Handspun 3-ply Worsted
I broke Mabel in on some brown wool I've had for over a year and a half now. This was the last of eight ounces I bought for improving my spindle-spinning skills in January of 2009. It seemed right to have it be the first thing to go on the wheel as well. I also spun the same amount on two more bobbins using the white Polwarth wool that Morgaine included in my purchase. The three together yielded a super-squishy and springy yarn with a lot of character!

ITW Scrappies
Attempt number two involved using up the remaining scraps I bought in a grab-bag from Cris at Into the Whirled. Merino is really lovely in your hands as you spin. It's so very soft and drafts beautifully. I found myself able to move into a very fast drafting pattern and loosen up enough to do a full long-draw (something that is extremely difficult to learn to do on a drop spindle). Since I wasn't particularly consistent, this yarn is thick in some spots and thin in others without any real logic. But that's fine. It's enough to make a Quant (Ravelry link), I think.

Now I'm working on some white "Romney" I had processed last year. I'm still just playing, but I'd like to settle down and spin enough of this for a sweater. I'm not sure if I'll work on it during the Tour de Fleece or not. The kids have just gotten to a stage where they seem to really enjoy playing out in the back yard with the hose and water toys and I can watch them from inside while spinning and working on the laundry. Otherwise, Mabel will only be out at night, well after most of the house is asleep.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Welcome to the Black Sheep Gathering

BSG - Sheep Show
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
This past weekend was the Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene. I have to say that BSG is one of the reasons I really love that I started knitting.

I find it extremely amusing that I've managed to take up hobbies in just the right place and time. When we moved to North Carolina, I took up wheel pottery--and it turns out to be one of the best places in the country for it. Now that I've gotten seriously into knitting and spinning, I find out that Eugene is a more than excellent location for the fiber arts.

The picture above is a sheep-showing. A large part of the BSG is the animals. There are sheep and goats of every kind! I made an extra effort to snap pictures of some of the animals from which I've spun (by breed, not personally). Below are Wensleydale, Jacob and pygora goats.

BSG - Wensledale BSG - Jacob Sheep BSG - Pygora

The show opens Friday. This year I didn't plan on going on Friday, but our morning started early and the kids and I made a super-fast jaunt down to the Fairgrounds. DD was a bit put off by the smell again, but DS was ecstatic to see the animals. It was pretty difficult to keep him reined in, so we didn't stay long. We did make an extra-special side trip into the back of the barn to find "The Billy Goats Gruff" like we do every year.

BSG - "Billy Goats Gruff" BSG - "Billy Goats Gruff" BSG - "Billy Goats Gruff"

This was a special year for me. It's the first year since we had kids that I arranged to have almost an entire day for myself. We went to our gymnastics class in the morning (without Daddy, so he'd have a little break) and then I left the family behind to enjoy a whole afternoon of fibery overload.

BSG - Fogwash Soap
I spent the first part of the afternoon snapping my sheepy pictures, hoping to run into some people I knew (which I eventually did) and playing Black Sheep Bingo by accosting anyone wearing the appropriate name-tag. I also started my Spinning Wheel Testing Tour. This began with playing with a lot of the independent wheel-maker's fare and moved on to just about every single commercial model of wheel available. I had particular fun sitting down to spin with Carl Fricke (of Fricke spinning wheels and tools), and chatting it up with a number of other vendors. I also made my two planned stops--Fogwash Soaps (where I intended to buy some soap) and BMFA (where I intended to merely browse).

Alas, the best laid plans often go awry and while I didn't really want to buy a lot at this year's show, I did make my one yarn/fiber purchase of the day at BMFA when I ran across a Rare Gems Mill End I simply could not resist.
BSG - Rare Gems Mill Ends
I do think that one skein of yarn to take the edge off is not too much to hope for in a huge market like this one!

I sat down to try a few SpinOlution Wheels, but didn't find their toe-operated treadle very comfortable. They are quite interesting wheels, tho. I also didn't like that the booth selling them had alpaca as their test fiber. It may be luxurious, but it is also extremely slippery and difficult to work with on an unfamiliar wheel. I'd rather focus on the wheel and not on fighting my fiber. Apparently the SpinOlution wheels were sharing the booth with people selling alpaca, because as soon as I got up from my wheel I was practically tackled into coming over and viewing the fiber samples. I found the vendor's insistence annoying, and so I did my best to extricate myself quickly and politely. I never went back.

Instead I visited the spinner's circle and Carolina Homespun. Carolina Homespun had a lovely selection of wheels and really helpful people working the booth. The owner, Morgaine, is a fixture and impossible to miss. I should have gotten a picture because her silk coat was impressive (and I found out later she has several in different colors to wear to various shows!).

BSG - Knitmore Girls Podcast bag
After that, the Ravelry meet-up was announced. I wandered over and had a goody bag dropped in my lap by The Knitmore Girls Podcast. It proved to have a skein of Cascade 128 (bright blue with tweedy bits), some Abstract Fiber silk/merino top, a tape measure (can't have too many of those!), a sample of citrus Soak, a button, and two patterns in it. I think that's everything! It was a nice surprise, and it will serve it's purpose since I've blogged about it here and I'll most likely try out the podcast as well. There was some lag time to go around and meet-and-greet and to further fill out my Black Sheep Bingo card.

BSG - Celestial Fiber Arts "Pop Up" bag
I suppose I should pause for a minute and explain Black Sheep Bingo. It's basically an "ice breaker" for BSG. You sign up ahead of time as a player or a square, or both, and then the women that run it send out Bingo cards and tags you can wear to declare yourself a player. I did several circuits of the buildings where I was looking more for players than yarn or fiber! At the end, everyone's name is put into a hat (whether you have Bingo or not) and donated prizes are dispersed. We had a particularly amusing moment when a lovely project bag was displayed as the next prize and I announced to my friends nearby, "That's mine!" and not two seconds later but they read my name! Ha! So now I'm the proud owner of a gorgeous project bag from Celestial Fiber Arts.

BSG - Fiber Swap
When that was winding down I slipped out to my last "event" of the day. A couple of Ravelry people had arranged to do a fiber swap. Bring your extras, get something new. I decided that the five pounds of Romney I had from last year's fleece was more than enough. I took a pound of it and traded it in. I took out of the pile a pound of black alpaca/silk that was just lovely, and a small bag of Wensleydale locks dyed rosy pink, suitable for needle felting.

BSG - Fiber Swap
All in all I think it was a wonderful Black Sheep Gathering this year. I didn't get into every single amazing thing I saw. There were glass knitting needles and spindles, Spindlewood and Ken Ledbetter, and more types of wool than you could shake a stick at. I had an awesome Saturday, and to be honest, I'm not done. There's still Sunday to blog about. But I think I'll save that for another post.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Into the Whirled - SAL "Just Figs"

April's offering for the Spin-a-Long fiber was "56s Falkland" wool, which translates into a lovely, soft braid of fiber that is a bit more durable than Merino. Falkland wool comes from an area, rather than a breed, and so this is "probably Corriedale" wool. The colorway for this braid is "Just Figs" and I just love it. I wasn't so sure about the yellow/green portions, but they blend in with the red and purple so well, I just fell in love!

ITW - Just Figs SAL
After getting this gorgeous braid, I pondered exactly how I wanted to spin it. I'm a fan of three-ply fingering weight. It's so versatile. I like to knit socks, mittens, gloves, scarves and hats. Four ounces of fingering weight will do all of these (and in most cases there will be plenty left over)! And the colors were so lovely, I didn't want them to get jumbled up. So rather than just spinning the whole thing and seeing how the colors fell out, I decided to "Navajo ply" my yarn. First I did my best to split the long braid right down the middle. In theory, this would get me two identical skeins with the same striping of colors.

Then I did my best to spin them both the same thickness throughout. Spinners will know that the skill of spinning both halves exactly the same is a challenge you can work on your entire life and not achieve mastery. That's okay. I came out with two "pretty close" skeins!

Just Figs - ITW SAL
Now I want to take a moment here to discuss Navajo plying . This is a method that stirs up a fair amount of controversy in the spinning world (or at least in my little corner of it). Some argue it is not a "true 3-ply yarn" because it is made with a brilliant little trick. You pull one single into long crochet loops and then spin the resulting length. This doubling-back turns one strand into three, and on top of that, because you can judge exactly how long to make each loop, you can keep sections of color together with no mixing at all! The other side of this technique is that because you are pulling the single into loops, there are points where it doubles back on itself as if it were a "knot" in the yarn. These points can be weaker than the rest. In theory they are weaker than three separate side-by-side strands plied together. But no-one seems to have tested it to failure, and I'm too busy spinning and knitting to do it. So I guess for me the question will remain up in the air.

Now, I wanted two striping skeins of yarn because I had this brilliant idea in the back of my head to do matching Fair Isle socks with the resulting yarn. The next challenge was what to use as the contrasting color.

Laughing Rat Studio
I happen to have some brown Falkland in my stash already and my first thought was to pair the two. So I began spinning it. This time it was going to be a true three-ply yarn because I had no desire to preserve any striping in it, but rather I wanted to even out the color through the whole braid.

Laughing Rat - Falkland in Harvest
This came out to be a really lovely yarn, as well. But tonally it is just too close to the purple and red. Both fade into it rather than pop out. While it is a wonderful skein of yarn, I think it is destined to be a fingering-weight shawl (using the Brandywine pattern).

Happily, I wasn't totally out of luck. Cris (the dyer) also creates "coordinating braids". These are semi-solid braids in the same fiber as the SAL braid and are intended to be spun with (or separately from) the SAL fiber. I questioned her about one she had up called "Tea" and her fabulous response was, "I'm not sure.. how about I send you a sample!".

ITW Just Figs and Tea
And she did.

What do you think? I think this one is a winner. I've already spun up the sample yarn and it evens out to a lovely green that makes me want to brew Japanese green tea and have plum sweets with it.

I bought a braid of "Tea" (along with something else I'll probably be sharing in weeks to come) and I'll be spinning that up, next. Hopefully it will pair well and the two yarns will yield some stunning socks!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One of those "Secret Things"

One of my many secret projects lately was testing a pattern for a local knitter. Recently Janel Laidman (author of The Eclectic Sole and The Enchanted Sole) moved to town. When she sent up the flare looking for test-knitters for her sock club, I offered to help out.

Kells - Janel Laidman
I learned a lot of things knitting this pattern. I learned that Merino/cashmere/nylon sock yarn is like knitting with a dream. I learned that cables on reverse stockinette are totally worth the pain it is to knit them. And I learned that while I can certainly do it, knitting on a deadline is not my favorite thing to do.

I was really worried the whole time my gauge would end up being tighter than I thought. I knit like a madwoman all week. I knit at every opportunity. I gave up my usual evening pass-times to knit. I knit frenetically, with single-minded focus to get to the point where I could say, "Why, yes, Janel. These will fit!" And I got there! Whew.

And then it took another three weeks to knit the second sock! HA!

Kells - Janel Laidman
They are totally worth it. These socks are GORGEOUS. Named "Kells" for the knotwork that inspired them, they have luscious cables down both the front and back of the leg. Ribbing in between makes for a comfortable fit. The MCN yarn from Anzula is beautiful and knits up into a very squishy fabric. These socks look rich, and feel rich on your feet. My only problem is owning a pair of shoes that will show off the amazing cable on the heel and not cover up the cabling on the front as well.

I played around a little with the toe. I knit it as directed, but at the very end rather than just grafting the stitches shut, I knit across the tip of the toe perpendicular to the rest of the knitting. It makes for a funny little four-stitch band that starts from the toe-decreases and in the end closes the tip. In the end I did graft the last eight stitches together. I'm not sure it's any better than any other way to end the toe, but it does have a very nice, seamless appearance.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bad Blogger Gets Distracted

I think a lot of us could title posts this way with the start of Summer! So much to do, so much to see, so many new projects...

So many "secret" projects for me. I have lots of knitting and not much I can share. So here's our new garden, instead!

I'm not much of a plant person. I manage to kill off the hardiest things, and the only reason my violets survive in the kitchen is perfect lighting, and self-watering pots.

This year, tho, we're trying a garden. My husband and I put together an 8'x14' raised bed. He dug out the sod, and then we both put in retaining wall bricks and a couple of units of dirt. It looked pretty good. And then we let our daughter go crazy on the seed rack that held plants that were supposed to be happy in Oregon soil.

Our garden is a little haphazard. It is largely picked out by a five-year-old with a couple of additions suggested by both Mommy and Daddy to go in the corners.

For instance: from the daughter side of the equation we have sunflowers, nasturtium, watermelon, and strawberries. She also wanted tomatoes again, and we put two plants in our rolling, self-watering planter because they grow like crazy in there. I suggested bush beans, basil and oregano. Daddy tossed in that some hot peppers might be pretty.

New Garden - First plants and sprouts New Garden - First plants and sprouts New Garden - First plants and sprouts New Garden - First plants and sprouts

They have all grown a bit since these pictures were taken, and I'll have to do a "garden update" very soon!