small

2

Start small. Start with a scrap of cloth, a drop spindle, a silk cocoon, a few yards of yarn or grams of wool. See what you can make.

Start compact, like a seed, and grow into something bigger. Maybe your project is a seed intended to be a dye garden.

Think small environmental impact. Take something worn and repurpose it. Make rag rugs or an upcycled yoga mat. Get inspired to mend in the Japanese boro style.

weaving on cardboard

Use small tools– a felting needle, a drop spindle or a postcard-sized piece of cardboard repurposed as a loom.

Silk cocoon ornaments, Kyoto

Unravel a silk cocoon. Knit a fair isle square and then another. Crochet a toy for your child. Knit a sweater for your favourite teddy bear. Make a pompom. A tassel.

We’ve started a pinterest board with ideas for small projects. Throughout 2018 we’ll be developing this idea and seeing how big it can get.

Super slow yarn: adventures with a wool picker

2

Classic Carder Wool Picker

When Sal and I first started spinning and using raw fleece we spent a lot of time–and I mean a lot–talking about fiber prep. A lot of this conversation revolved around la technique and getting the best results we could with the tools we had.

Recently I had the privilege to borrow my guild’s brand new wool picker. I was excited to use the picker and once I got going with it, I started thinking on the whole process of prepping fiber at home.

The wool picker is a new tool to me. It has big sharp spikes which tease apart the fiber. Push in a little bit of washed fleece in at the front and then push away the boat (that big swinging part with spikes on it). In a few seconds light bits of fluff comes out the other side.

Sometimes fleece can be quite tough to open up after its been washed. The picker gets out a lot of the dirt and VM and pries apart the locks making it ready to card. If  you get a chance to use a picker, do it. The effect is truly incredible. If you’re used to prising locks apart with combs or hand cards the wool picker is faster, easier and doesn’t leave you with sore wrists.

Caution: Big sharp spikes

Pick, comb, card

I put through a shetland fleece and the picker did a great job opening up the fleece and releasing dirt. Seriously this was one dirty fleece! It is also a quite fine fleece and once the picker did its stuff there were tons of nepps.

combed Shetland fleece

At first glance getting out the nepps (unless you want them) looks a daunting task. Out came my wool combs which helped me get out most of the nepps, but not all. I put the combed fleece through the drum carder. There were still nepps, but my light and fluffy batts were lovely to spin.

I also put some Suri alpaca fleece through the picker and the results were great. Suri is tough to process by hand and the picker made easy work of it. I can’t wait to spin a test skein.

suri fleece before

suri fleece after picking

fluffy batts

Slow yarn

Processing raw fleece by hand is time consuming. I haven’t done a lot of big batches of fleece in awhile and had forgotten exactly how long it takes. It also can be a little intimidating when you see a massive pile of fluff that you then may need to go through several times–depending on how fine you want your yarn.

Bear in mind you are not a robot (obviously). Your two hands and some tools are not going to be able to replicate mill-made roving. There will be nepps. There will be a little VM. That’s all fine.

I carded some of the picked fleece into rolags, picked out some of the nepps and it spun nicely into a fat, fluffy yarn. You don’t need go crazy with fiber prep to get a nice, slow yarn.

fluffy shetland yarn

Weave to wear: Make a dressy jacket (part one)

2

 

Finished cloth

Finished cloth

Sal tells me I need to take more notes while I work. It’s because when she asks me for measurements and quantities I used for a project I usually don’t have a good answer.

Recently I finished weaving a length of fabric to make a dressy jacket and although I didn’t make any notes I’m going to put down some thoughts, tips and tricks here. This way Sal will have no excuse not to get started on her Chanel-style jacket. She’s going to weave and sew it for her next guild challenge which is all about tweed. It needs to be done by February. No pressure Sal!! 😉

Pick a commercial sewing pattern: If you are new to sewing or simply new to sewing with handwoven, don’t pick a pattern that’s overly complicated. Keep it simple. I picked NewLook 6351. The jacket is comprised of two sleeves, four front pieces, two back pieces and a facing piece. If you are using a thick piece of cloth, you need to think about how your seams are going to work and whether you will need a lining. That could be tricky to do with a thick piece of cloth.

Jacket Pattern by New Look

Jacket Pattern by New Look

Make a muslin: A muslin is a trial run of your garment that can be adjusted for fit. I use muslin cloth–a creamy coloured cotton–when I’m making dresses or trousers, because when you spend a lot of time making your own garments, you want it to fit. Check out the Tilly & the Buttons site for everything you need to know about muslin (toile) making.

I’ve never had a garment that I haven’t had to adjust. There is some great information about adjusting patterns on the Colette blog and Sewalongs. You don’t want to spend time weaving cloth and then sewing it only to have something that doesn’t fit. If you need help making alterations on the muslin, I would ask an experienced sewist for help.

Once you have your muslin completed and fitted, hold onto it. This is now your pattern.

You might want to try a sample garment in fabric in a similar in weight to your handwoven. Make your mistakes on the sample, not on your handwoven.

Direct warp

Direct warp

Do the math: The New Look jacket pattern calls for about 1.3 meters of 150cm wide fabric. I have a 80 cm (32 inch) loom and therefore I decided to weave 3 meters of cloth. I put a 4 meter warp (I wanted about 60cm extra warp for wastage) on the loom using a 50/10cm dent reed (12.5 dents per inch). I used almost the entire width –400 dents. Four meters multiplied by 400 dents equals 1600 meters of warp yarn.

I was far less precise with the warp meterage. My idea was to use stash yarn and luckily I had plenty.

I’d estimate I used 700 meters of yarn in the warp (3 picks per cm x 300cm x 80 cm/100). I used different yarn weights and even some roving in there, plus a bunch of my handspun bouclé, so that’s very much a ballpark figure.

How does your planned warp look?

How does your planned warp look?

Sample and warp: Before I dressed the loom, I made some cardboard squares to test out colour combinations. This was a quick and easy way to see how the colours and yarns I picked out looked together. I wanted to see the warp colour sequence and get a feel for how the yarns worked together.

The next step was to dress the loom (i.e. warp it) which I did using the direct warping method.

Once thing I wish I hadn’t done was use boucle in the warp. BAD IDEA. It stuck and snapped and was a total nightmare. Avoid!

Weave: Weave, weave and weave. I didn’t follow a pattern and just went with by colour and texture. I used this project to do some stash busting. Very gratifying.

add some weft

add some weft

Finish your cloth: Once you’ve woven your little heart out, remove the cloth from the loom. Give it a gentle wash in some hand hot water and a small amount of gentle soap. Rinse then carefully squeeze out the water. Do not wring your fabric. Remove excess water by rolling your cloth in a towel. Hang out on the line to dry.

Part two: Cutting your cloth. Coming soon. Once I do it.

Carding by hand–la technique

3
Millet's Woman Carding Wool

Millet’s Woman Carding Wool

“The purpose of the carding process is to align, thoroughly, all the fibres and to spread them evenly across the carders. This process is essential for the production of a woollen thread and is often employed in preparation for a semi-woollen and semi-worsted yarn.”

—Eileen Chadwick, The Craft of Handspinning

Why use handcards when you can use a drumcarder? Handcards are easily portable and great for blending colours. They are also perfect to make rolags, which are, I believe, the best preparation for longdraw woollen spinning.

Gradient of natural colours. Carded by hand

Gradient of natural colours. Carded by hand

I like my handcards, especially for making rolags. Yes I could use my drumcarder, but for a recent project where I wanted to achieve a gradient effect for a woollen yarn, I stuck with my handcards. Rolags seemed like the way to go for a nice woollen yarn. Carding up rolags is not particularly time consuming once you get the hang of it. You will quickly get a feel for how many rolags you need to spin a bobbin of singles.

Here’s a short video of me demonstrating how I card.

I’m not saying this is the way. It’s the way I was taught by an experienced guild member and reflects the technique Chadwick described in her book.

A couple of tips for handcarding success:

  • Don’t overload your cards with fiber. Handcards aren’t designed to take big quantities. Go for 5-10 grams at a time.
  • Easy does it, don’t grind your cards together.
  • Don’t worry that all the fiber doesn’t transfer from one card to another. It’s not supposed to.
  • If your forearms get sore, you’re doing it wrong. Stroke one card gently over the other.
  • Check out Eileen Chadwick’s carding how to: pages 33-37 of The Craft of Handspinning.

    finished project!

    finished project!

More hot tips for scouring fleece–without soap

2
Soap nuts!

Soap nuts!

Have you heard of soap nuts? They’re the little glossy shells from the fruits of trees and shrubs of the Sapindus genus. They can be boiled in water to make a liquid soap or popped into a muslin bag and added to laundry. Even though they’re called soap nuts they’re not soap as is commonly known (lye plus fat). Soap nuts are lauded as a non-toxic and sustainable laundry alternative. Oh, and they’re a lot less expensive than commercial detergents.

So what does this have to do with scouring fleece? I started using soap nuts for my family’s laundry mainly because of their eco credentials, but also because they lack the heavy perfumes present in so many commercial detergents. Smelly detergents! Yuck! They worked incredibly well.

I also struggled to find an unscented, eco-friendly detergent to use on fleece and thought the fleece scouring solutions (like Power Scour) on the market to be on the expensive side. When it came to getting ready for a big fleece scouring session I thought, hey, why don’t I try the soap nut liquid on the fleece?

How did it go? Well, it worked.

I made up the soap nut solution–boil 50 grams of soap nuts in 2 litres of water for 10 minutes. Cool. Strain. (50g of soap nuts can make 12 litres soap.)

Bowmont fleece soaking in soap nut solution and hot water

Bowmont fleece soaking in soap nut solution and hot water

I filled a bucket with very hot water, gently added about 250 ml (roughly 1 cup) soap nut solution and then added my fleece. Immediately I could see the water turing that milky brown colour you get when washing fleece. I let it sit for awhile before draining it and spinning it out in the washing machine.

Yes, I put wet fleece in my washing machine on the spin cycle. It’s the same technique Sally mentioned in her post on scouring fleece. Your fleece won’t felt. If you’re worried about smell you can clean your machine with white vinegar and baking soda. I didn’t have a smell problem.

The next step was to rinse the fleece in hot water. I had a very greasy fleece (Bowmont) and it felt sticky when I took it out of the washing machine. To address this stickiness I added a good dose of white vinegar to the hot water rinse. I figured hey, it won’t hurt the fleece, right? My theory was the acidic vinegar would help reduce the stickiness.

Bowmont fleece drying

Bowmont fleece drying

When I added the vinegar the fleece fizzed and bloomed, opening up nicely. I let it sit for awhile before spinning it out in the washing machine and spreading it out on a sheet in the garden to dry. There’s no vinegary smell on the fleece either.

It occurred to me that I’d run this experiment on a relatively clean fleece–no muck, negligible VM. What about a muckier one? I found some fleece that needed a little more work, picked out the really gross stuff and soaked it in the soap nut solution and ran it through the same process in the washing machine and vinegar rinse.

Muckier fleece

Muckier fleece

This fleece is a 3/4 Southdown lamb and not nearly as greasy as the Bowmont. The soap nut and vinegar treatment worked really well.

Getting the dirt out! (3/4 Southdown fleece)

Getting the dirt out! (3/4 Southdown fleece)

You get through a lot of water when washing fleece. I didn’t want to pour it down the drain and instead used it to water the garden. That’s another benefit of using soap nuts. Yes the water is a bit greasy and mucky, but there isn’t anything harmful to plants or the wider environment in it.

There is another way to wash a fleece without soap–the fermented suint method. Basically the method is: soak your fleece in rainwater until the suint (sheep sweat) ferments creating a kind of soap. I have not tried this method, but I’ve spoken to a few people who swear by it. Although apparently it’s better for low-lanolin fleeces and it’s even smellier than scouring fleece with soap.

 

 

Last of the summer dyes

2
Marigolds

Marigolds

Autumn has been a mellow affair. Trees are only starting to turn colour and drop leaves. Flowers continue to bloom and there is plenty of natural dye stuff still to be gathered. It’s time to get a basket and take a walk to find some dye stuff to try out now or over the winter.

Coreopsis

Coreopsis

I’m drying dahlias, marigolds, calendula and coreopsis from my garden. Acorns and walnuts are both good for dyeing as are sumac leaves, rhubarb roots, carrot tops, willow leaves and bark, chrysanthemums and pine cones. Not all plants will give you color and some that do–especially berries–are not colourfast. Don’t waste your time dyeing with blackberries or beets, for example, because the colour will fade quickly.

Dahlias

Dahlias

Lichen is also an option, but not all lichens give a dye. Sally is planning an in depth post on lichen dyeing so I will just give a few pointers on lichen gathering and preparation. Do your homework before you go out to identify lichens that give a dye. If you’re not sure there is the bleach test. If the lichen turns red when treated with a drop of bleach it should give colour for dyeing. Here is a helpful link on lichen dyeing.

Personally I’ve had no luck with lichen. Any pointers are appreciated!

As Autumn becomes winter there won’t be as much dye stuff around. However ivy berries and leaves might be worth a try along with mahonia berries. And there is always the humble onion skin. It gives a beautiful golden color and is simple to find and use. Other household items that give color include pomegranates and avocados.

For those of you who need help identifying plants I suggest a book that has pictures and descriptions of plants local to you. As Sally found out it’s properly identifying plants and trees is pretty important.

I use River Cottage’s Hedgerow book for identification. Books like the Ashford Book of Dyeing and Jill Goodwin’s A Dyers’ Manual give a lot of information on what colors certain plants give and whether they are color fast.

One other project for the budding natural dyer is to grow your own dye plants. I’ve started madder this year, which I need to re-pot into a larger container. Other flowers like dahlias, marigolds and coreopsis have all given loads of lovely yellows and gold colors this year. They’re all easy to grow and inexpensive. If you have space you might also try woad, indigo, St John’s Wort and safflower. It’s easy to find seeds online or from another natural dyer.

 

But is it yarn?

2
Art yarn?

Art yarn?

Ah the allure of Art Yarn. Behold its super-chunky sparkle, its beads, its coils and luscious locks. Resistance is futile. Or is it?

When I started to spin I announced to Sal that all I wanted to make was art yarn. I probably told her I wanted to explore colour and texture. I was making it up.

Sal told me something like this: If you’re ever planning to make anything like a sweater or a wearable garment you should think about making less-arty yarn.

She had a point.

These days I think about hand spun yarn completely differently. What I used to consider art yarn, I now classify as novelty yarn.

Most of the time I’m experimenting with new materials and techniques. I’m spinning to weave or to knit. My use of art yarn is sparse. That’s partly thanks to my fairly boring sartorial habits. Sal tells me that’s a trend now! Yay!

So what about art yarn?

Last month Alison Daykin gave my guild a talk on art yarn (see below). Beforehand I was curious what she would have to say and it got me thinking. What is art yarn? Is it yarn for yarn’s sake? Is it a novelty item? Does anyone actually use it?

I still make a lot of art yarn, but I call it handspun. Like most spinners I’m experimenting with colour, texture and gauge. Most of it isn’t sparkly or bejeweled. The excitement is in the color or the materials.

Here’s some sport weight yarn I made for a weaving project.

Blue yarn

Blue yarn

The blue colorway is a combination of natural coloured and dyed fleece.

The red is a blend of acid and natural-dyed fleece as well as natural coloured. To me these are rich in colour and texture. I’ve made little aesthetic decisions throughout the making process.

Red yarn

Red yarn

Is it art or is it yarn?

These are some examples of what are more commonly considered to be art yarn. There are the dyed locks, the thick/thin look and some bouclé-like yarn.

Bouclé, sort of

Bouclé, sort of

P

Thick thin

Yarn or art? Both?

Lexi Boeger sees it this way: “I believe the onus is on the buyer to look at the yarn and be able to determine an appropriate project to use it for. This puts more work on the buyer, but ultimately it will make that person also more creative..” (See Spinartiste)

Boeger goes on to say that art yarn can help the knitter (or weaver for that matter) think beyond the pattern and become a designer. My reading of that is: art yarn can be a starting point. It asks the question: what can you make with me?

It’s worth pointing out that Lexi Boeger isn’t making art yarn anymore.

Locks

Locks

JazzTurtle has a long list of patterns that can use art yarn. But to me art yarn is perfect for weaving–especially saori weaving, which is all about experimentation and personal expression. It’s not really concerned with pattern or convention.

This saori-inspired piece uses some art yarn. For me this piece was a big departure from the norm. Here are colours and textures far from my comfort zone. It marks a step in a creative journey, but I’m not sure the path ends at art yarn.

Weaving with art yarn

Weaving with art yarn

[Sal here. I’m going to horn in on your post for a minute]

I would argue that handspinning is technology, and as such there is an intrinsically practical component to the resulting product. Some yarns take a good deal of skill to make well (bouclé for example), or have aesthetic consideration in their colors or textures (as yours do above), and this intersection of technical skill and aesthetic consideration I would call “craft”. Calling something “art yarn” is almost oxymoronic. Yarn for yarn’s sake, as you say, really makes no sense— like building a chair that you can’t sit on. But I know plenty of people who spin and never do anything with the yarn because they don’t knit or crochet or weave, and are perfectly happy that way. I suppose there is a Venn diagram we could make that shows the people who like to build chairs, but don’t actually sit down. I think one could certainly make yarn that’s an end in and of itself, and it could be considered art instead of artisanal, but I think the intention behind it is key, because it would be subverting the concept of yarn. The rest, as you say, is novelty yarn. I’m curious what your guild speaker had to say on the subject. And if they have any good patterns.

[Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post ;)]

Fancy Yarn and permission to spin

When Alison Daykin came down from Derbyshire to talk to the Mid-Essex Guild about art yarn, like Sal I was curious what she had to say about art yarn. One reason for that curiosity was I suspected [knew] many guild members were dubious of art yarn. Many–not all–take the view that art yarn is what you make when first learning to spin. “Don’t worry,” they tell new spinners. “You’ve just made art yarn!” And then everyone laughs.

Alison Daykin described what she makes as fancy yarn, not art yarn. Fancy yarn, Alison explained was any kind of yarn you made that’s non-standard–core spun, bouclé, crepe, thick/thin–that has some irregularity in the making. That irregularity could be introduced in any or all of the steps for making yarn: prepping fiber, color blending, spinning and finishing.

According to Alison, fancy yarn isn’t anything new,  in fact Mabel Ross, author of The Encyclopedia of Handspinning, was an early advocate of fancy yarn.  However, when Alison started spinning in the late 80s/early 90s she felt spinning non-standard or fancy yarn was discouraged. She was taught that the point of spinning was to churn out yards and yards of yarn that looked like it had been made in a mill.

“I wanted to make different yarn and I felt inferior, because I didn’t want to spin plain yarn,” she said. But after taking a course on spinning and dyeing for tapestry weaving from Bobbie Cox, Alison felt she had, “Permission to spin whatever I wanted. Once you know the rules, you can break them.”

Art yarn, Alison said, is a term that grew out of a trend of making yarn out of recycled materials like plastic bags and cassette tape. She did not see the point in putting yarn in a bowl or hanging it up to admire.

“If I can’t use the yarn, then I’ve wasted my time. Use it to make a garment look different. If you use a little yarn in a piece, it can look lovely. Art yarn has got to be practical as well as beautiful,” she added.

 

 

Hot Tips for Scouring Fleece

5

Our last Guild meeting was all about scouring fleeces, presented by Cydne Pidgeon.

Tip #1: If  you’re going to be scouring a whole fleece, place the fleece in a grocery basket that fits inside a large rectangular storage tub. You can fill your storage tub with hot soapy water and then lower the fleece in the basket. This way the fleece is always supported, even when lifting it back out to drain. You can have a second storage tub with hot rinse water at the ready. As a bonus, you can use your storage tubs for actually storing things when not in use.

Tip #2: Don’t rinse it yet! Spin all that hot soapy water out before you rinse it. Cydne was doing this demonstration outdoors, and she had one of these devices:

image

 

This is an electric spinner. The advantage over your top load washer’s spin cycle is that it can go up to 1800 rpm, so it can get all the water out very quickly. It also runs on 110V instead of household appliance 220V, so it’s easy to plug in outside with an extension cord. It has a drain spout on the bottom so you can catch the rinse water, which is advantageous if you have a septic system like I do, so you can divert that grey water out of the sewer and onto your flower beds instead. This nifty device can be purchased here.

Cydne passed around a lock of scoured, spun-out Rambouillet, and it was very clean and almost dry. Since all the soapy water has been removed, there’s only need for one rinse. She spun the fleece in the spinner again after the rinse water, and it was clean, unmatted in any way, and again, almost dry. Fabulous!

Tip#3: If you’re only scouring some locks inside a mesh bag in a smaller bucket, you can still spin between the wash and the rinse…just use a salad spinner. These are readily available at second hand stores, so you don’t have to share with your lettuces.

Tip #4: If you are scouring very fine fiber (like angora), mesh lingerie bags are usually not small enough mesh to keep the fiber in. Bridal veil material is very fine mesh, and you can easily sew up your own bag with a zipper on top.

It’s hot outside. Those fleeces will be cleaned and dried in no time.

Turning handwoven fabric into a garment

9
Handwoven awaiting transformation

Handwoven awaiting transformation

Rigid heddle looms may not be fancy or complicated, but do not be deceived. You’re not going to weave acres of jacquard, but don’t think placemats, table runners, scarves and hand towels are your only options on a rigid heddle loom.

Two years ago when I bought my little loom I had no idea that with some experimentation, practice and patience I’d be able to make a garment from fabric I’d created. For one thing, the idea of cutting my handwoven cloth terrified me. Also as relatively inexperienced seamstress, I wasn’t confident I could create a wearable garment.

I took the small amount of fabric I’d woven on a 20″ (50 cm) Ashford Knitter’s Loom up to Clacton-on-Sea for a lesson in sewing with handwoven with Sarah Howard. Sarah, along with Elisabeth Kendrick, is the author of Get Weaving, which I blogged about earlier this year.

Sarah helped me find a pattern that would work with the 175cm of fabric I had. We used a commercial paper pattern to get an idea of size and shape and then made some modifications for fit and the fabric.

The next step was to make a paper pattern to use to then sew up a calico to see how the garment looked. I used some denim for the calico. It allowed me to see where changes were required (in the armpits!). Once that was done, I went a way with instructions to test out the pattern on store-bought fabric. Sarah says it’s important to do a trial run before diving into your handwoven. Lots of issues can be sorted out on the sample piece. For example, I found I needed to change the shape of the side pieces slightly. Making a sample made me think about bias binding and lining too.

sample garment

sample garment

My sample looked pretty good, but I realised I would have to do the pockets a bit differently on the final piece–ie with biased binding and the fabric backed by iron-on woven interfacing. I also decided that gold/black lining would not look good with the handwoven and went for a solid blue silk.

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind when you’re placing your pattern on your handwoven:

– Make sure all the pieces fit. Measure the length of fabric without the fringe.

– Think about the best use of your fabric’s selvedges and hemmed ends to reduce the potential for fraying and binding.

– Make a note of the direction of warp and weft in your fabric. How does that influence how you place your pattern on your fabric? You probably want all your pieces going with the warp.

My layout looked like this:

layout

layout

I was careful to place the pockets to match up with the stripes on the two front pieces.

The next step was to cut out the pieces.Once I did, I carefully applied strips of iron-on woven interfacing to the fabric to prevent fraying. Then I zig-zag stitched over that.

I sewed together the fabric pieces as well as the lining. I didn’t sew in the lining, but bound the piece together all at once with bias-binding tape. I made it myself, which wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming. However, store-bought bias tape is pretty poor so I do recommend taking the time to make it yourself.

Et voila! Garment!

finished garment!

finished garment!

A few things to keep in mind when sewing with handwoven.

– Remember your woven fabric may be quite thick. How is that going to impact your seams? Will your garment work well with chunky seams?

– Use iron-on woven interface to prevent fraying. It also makes it easier to sew.

– Go slow! Once you machine sew handwoven fabric, it’s really hard if not impossible to pick out without destroying the fabric.

– Handwoven is stretchy. Think about how that might cause difficulties when sewing up or when putting in a lining.

applying iron-on woven interface

applying iron-on woven interface

Guild Challenge: The Electric Kool-aid Fiber Test Results

2

The test results are in! At our February Guild meeting, everyone brought their projects from the Kool-aid dye challenge.

Here are the winners, as voted by the Guild members:

Leaf shawl, from different strengths of yellow #6, then overdyed to mitigate the obvious stripes. Lovely.

Leaf shawl, from different strengths of orange, then overdyed to mitigate the obvious stripes. Lovely.

Saori scarf woven on rigid heddle loom, using blue and red dyes for a purple effect.

Saori scarf woven on rigid heddle loom, using blue and red dyes for a purple effect.

Grand prize winner. All colors used. Too adorable!

Grand prize winner. All colors used. Too adorable!

Here are some examples from people who have dyed with Kool-aid before, and know that it takes a lot of dye to get a lot of color:

Child's jacket made from mitered squares. Love the intense colors.

Child’s jacket made from mitered squares. Love the intense colors.

"Sunset Colors" yarn. The turquoise shade is great.

“Sunset Colors” yarn. The turquoise shade is great.

Knit cowl. The charcoal grey tones down the vibrant colors.

Knit cowl. The charcoal grey tones down the vibrant colors.

Sophisticated roving with color blending.

Sophisticated roving with color blending.

A pair of green and blue hats.

A pair of green and blue hats.

Here are some examples of using less dye to nice effect:

Knit cowl with pastel colors and grey alpaca for a tweedy look.

Knit cowl with pastel colors and grey alpaca for a tweedy look.

Nuño felted sky blue cloth with lavender undertones.

Nuño felted sky blue cloth with lavender undertones.

Tea cozy topped with knit flowers, which were hand painted with Kool-aid, just as one would marzipan.

Tea cozy topped with knit flowers, which were hand painted with Kool-aid, just as one would marzipan.

Some excellent examples of blending with neutrals:

The same hat-and-mitt set, two ways.

The same hat-and-mitt set, two ways.

Knit socks, blue and orange. The heathered blue tones down the orange.

Knit socks, blue and orange. The heathered blue tones down the orange.

Felted bag with sheep. Lined and reversible!

Felted bag with sheep. Lined and reversible!

What did I end up doing? My initial attempt at using Kool-aid ended with yarn that I hated. I went off on a tangent and dyed a lot of fiber with candy. I made this project bag. I got Spinner’s Block. I got over it. And in the 11th hour, I spun and dyed this:

Targhee two-ply, dyed with a jawbreaker, tic-tacs and sprinkles, then gradient dyed with red-to-blue Kool-aid.

Targhee two-ply, dyed with a jawbreaker, tic-tacs and sprinkles, then gradient dyed with red-to-blue Kool-aid.

I didn’t win, but I learned a lot, including an appreciation for dying spun yarn, not just wool. Up next: bring on the natural dyes!

Spinning in the grease

3

Sally and I talk about fiber preparation a lot. Conversations usually start off with a confession.

Rachel: “Um I just bought more fleeces.”

OMG! Where did these come from???

OMG! Where did these come from???

Sal: [laughs] “What are you going to do with them?”

Rachel: “Well right now, they’re in my closet.”

Then we discuss all the processes we could use to turn the raw fleece into The Ultimate Yarn. There’s scouring, combing, carding, dyeing and blending. Then there are infinite techniques–have you heard of the Fermented Suint Method for scouring fleece? Do you card your fleece or comb it? Do you put your fiber into the drumcarder sideways?

Last fall, after buying a few more Shetland fleeces I was so excited to try them out on the wheel that I pulled off some locks and started spinning. No fiber prep at all.

Spinning in the grease isn’t something I usually do, but a lot of spinners do. These are the people who look at you funny when you start talking about scouring fleece and the other fifteen steps you’re going to take before you spin any yarn.

What I learned was spinners who advocate spinning in the grease have a point. One is, if you have a beautiful fleece with nice crimpy locks, it’s a shame to process that out. It’s fine just to tease the locks out a little with your fingers and start to spin. I would recommend, however, picking through the fleece first and removing the dags (poo) and larger bits of vegetable matter. You don’t want that.

Here’s some Shetland spun in the grease. The yarn plumped up nicely after washing.

Shetland spun in the grease

Shetland spun in the grease

 

Shetland after washing

Shetland after washing

Here’s some Zwartables I spun in the same way.

Zwartables spun in the grease

Zwartables spun in the grease

Zwartables fleece

Zwartables fleece

Yes it is a bit smelly and you should clean your wheel afterwards. Really the final result is the same as if you’d spent days scouring and carding and combing and all the rest.

Safety Note. You do need to be careful handling raw fleece. Pregnant women should not handle raw fleece. Be aware that raw fleece is likely to have sheep excrement on it–so avoid handling that with bare hands. Choose from the sections of the fleece that’s not near the animal’s rear end. Give your hands a thorough scrub when you’re finished. Then wash them again!