Monday, January 21, 2019

Processing fleece & learning along the way



I have not been spinning all that long and so far have only used commercially prepared fibre. When you are just starting out learning a new art, I believe using the best supplies  you can afford will help set you up for success. Using good quality, well prepared fibre allowed me to quickly learn the mechanics of spinning so that I could produce fairly consistently spun yarns.
I am still spinning simply, I do not have a wheel, not even sure I will ever want one as I really enjoy using the spindles. It is amazingly meditative.

Having said all that, commercially prepared fibre can get a little pricey especially if you don't have a local source....when you have to factor in exchange rates, shipping and import/custom fees.

commercially dyed and processed South African Top
A friend who raises sheep has often offered to give me a fleece. Up until now I had been very reluctant to accept the offer, the thought of cleaning the fleece seemed quite unappealing to me, but curiosity got the better of me and one day while visiting the ranch I told him that I would take a “bit” to see if processing it was something that I thought I would want to do after all. He stuffed a couple of large freezer bags with generous handfuls of wool for me.....grinning the whole time....he knew what I was in for.
So, I brought it home, watched a number of YouTube videos to learn what to do and more importantly what NOT to do.


The first task was to sort what I had, remove as much vegetable matter as possible and wash a batch. I was surprised to find this was not near as objectionable as I had anticipated.


The trick is to clean the fibre without felting it, which means careful handling and attention to the water temperature. Quick temperature changes and agitation will lead to a felted, matted mess that will render the fibre unusable. I made a bath of very hot water with a bit of Dawn dish soap added to help break down the lanolin and remove the dirt.....soaked the locks for 30 min, rinsed and repeated, each batch took about 3 wash/rinses before the excess water was squeezed out and the fibre left to dry.
I approached this cautiously and tried a couple of different methods...batch 1, was placed in a plastic basket (holes in the basket would allow the water to circulate through the fleece as it was put into the hot water) with as little handling as possible....it worked, but not as well as I had hoped because the bottom of the basket doesnot have holes and so much of the "dirt" collected there.


Batch 2, I tried placing the fibre into mesh bags and washed that way...again, it worked okay but still did not seem to be getting thoroughly cleaned.
By the 3rd batch I was more at ease wth the process and just placed the loose fibre directly into the hot bath and continued with several wash rinse cycles.
Ultimately, a large old salad spinner works great. I can keep the fleece in the “basket” of the spinner...lift it in and out of the wash or rinse water....and then just squish out the most of the water and use the spinner's centrifugal action to force the last of the water out all with out having to touch/move the wet fibre.


I don’t have a drying rack, for that, I stretched some mesh fabric over a large Rubbermaid bin.....pulled taught it gave me a surface to lay the fleece on allowing good air flow all around.
Once dried, the cleaned fibre still looked a little iffy, but I quickly found that carding (using hand carders to pull apart the fibres and realign them) opened up the matted bits and removed any more lingering unwanted material...the fibre was indeed clean and spin ready.


I carded and spun some of the plain fibre, then I played with some dyeing, mixing and blending. Clearly, I was not thinking when I dyed the first batch of locks.  I dyed them so that there was a lovely colour gradation....not thinking about the fact that when I began to card the fibre it would simply become a blend...red, yellow and orange.....made orange  duh!


then I smartened up and did 3 separate dye pots. I carded the colours both separately as well as some blending



It really is an interesting process going from the animal to the finished yarn.





Monday, December 31, 2018

DIY Support Spindle

I first began spinning in July of 2017. (that post can be found here) I began with a homemade drop spindle and while I have tried a variety of fibres, I had not yet explored a different type of spindle. I was curious about the difference between spinning with a drop spindle (where the spindle is spinning suspended in the air) and spinning supported. ( a support spindle, is as its name implies, spins "supported" generally in some type of bowl)
why had I not tried one? well I did not have one. There are many gorgeous spindles available online, but of course, by the time one adds shipping and currency exchange they can get a little pricey....what if I find I don't like spinning this way.....would be a bit of a waste. So I decided to try making my own.

I gathered a few things from the hardware store and because I wanted a tapered shaft I used an old paintbrush instead of a dowel.


I chose this finial because it had a very nice point that I thought would "spin" well.  I cut the ferrule/brush part away leaving just the wooden handle. My plan was for the wooden bead and wood glue to allow the finial and shaft to connect and bond together. I also made some with extra weight by adding a washer. and of course, played with adding colour to the wood as well.


To make the support bowl, I picked up a Danish drawer pull that has a very nice concave form. I wanted the "bowl" to have a flat base so a couple of small wooden toy wheels completed the assembly.


I gave everything several coats of varnish with some sanding in between to give the spindle a lovely sheen and very smooth feel.


These may not spin as long as some of the professionally wood turned beauties, but they work quite well and are allowing me to learn how to spin supported.


I am really enjoying spinning this way as it is even more portable than a drop spindle. Rather than having my arm up and out as I need to with the drop spindle, I can spin seated with the bowl in my lap.....everything is close to the body.....meaning I can spin for longer periods of time and just about anywhere I like.


Friday, December 14, 2018

Dyeing Fibre

Over the years I have experimented quite a bit with dyeing and painting fabrics and threads as well as a variety of surface design techniques but up until now I had not tried to dye wool fibre. Since I have become interested in spinning yarn, it naturally follows that I might want to dye the fibre I spin.

To get started, I took a couple of excellent classes offered on BluPrint, and watched a great many You Tube tutorials. Wool ( a protein fibre ) needs both acid and heat to activate and set (exhaust) the dye.  I began gathering the supplies I would need. I did not want to be doing this in my kitchen so I purchased a single burner unit expressly for the task. I already had an enamel kettle from our camping days but it did not have a lid....no worries, found one at the thrift store ( a glass lid which is perfect as I can monitor the process without removing the lid.) I was also able to find a large stainless steel colander. I found the small glass measuring cups and steamer basket at the dollar store.....along with a few other little things that will be dedicated to working with dyes.


here is the set up, dyes have been mixed, fibre has been soaking the citric acid solution ready to accept the dye and have the heat turned on.


I began adding different dye colours allowing them to move and mix.....it was looking pretty good in the pot


I wanted to leave some white bits but as it turned out that I had apparently left too much white, I guess it was hiding on the underside so when it was fully dried I was disappointed with the result......but hey, that simply turned into an opportunity to use another technique to resolve the problem.


I once again soaked the fibre, the same fibre...I was basically going to overdye it now.... but this time I placed the fibre on plastic wrap and carefully applied dye to the spots that were calling for it. The next step was to wrap up the plastic encapsulating the fibre and put it on the steamer basket back in the pot (there was a few inches of water in there) and turned on the heat bringing it to a simmer.


that worked like a charm


I spun this on my drop spindle and wound it onto bobbins to make it easy to ply them together.
I found this lazy Kate at an antique/vintage/junk store, took a little digging to unearth it but it will come in very handy....the bobbins that came on it are quite small but the vintage bobbins I already have fit on it nicely  (gotta admit it is kinda fun searching for these things)



I wrapped strips of wool fabric around the rod to help keep the bobbins from spinning quicker than I could ply.

The trick with spinning on spindles and then creating a two ply yarn is to not end up with too much waste. I don't think I could have gotten much closer than this.....there was probably not much more that a yard difference on the spools.


and here is my finished hand dyed, hand spun yarn



I see a LOT more experimenting in my future.





Thursday, December 6, 2018

Dryer Balls

I have been hearing about the use of dryer balls more and more lately and decided to try making a few to see how well they actually work.
If for some unknown reason you have not heard of these, they are suppose to replace the use of dryer sheets, reduce static cling, provide more airflow around your garments in the dryer which should result in less drying time.  Clearly lots of benefits
Of course, a quick Google or You Tube search will yield many tutorials on how to make them. I tried a couple of things, this is what worked best for me.

I started gathering up my supplies, I had a large 100% wool thrift store sweater that was destined to be ripped apart (that would be my core) note...it MUST be wool....it needs to "felt" so acrylic will not work. I pulled together random bits of wool fibre (batt and rovings) that would become the outer crust. In addition, I dug out my rarely used needle felting tool, a pair of pantyhose and I was ready to go. (the needle felting tool is not essential, but since I already had one, it did make the process very easy

First, I began deconstructing the sweater and created tightly wound, firm, tennis sized balls.


next I began layering fiber over the wound yarn and used my needle felting tool to help secure it in place, I encased the wound balls with several layers.....then I started to play.


Because...who wants plain old boring balls? I used some contrasting fibre to add interesting pattern


once I was satisfied with the size and density of each ball they were placed into one leg of some pantyhose.....it was stretched and tightly tied between each of them as they were added, if you look close you can see the knots.


then it was  a trip to the washer with HOT water and soap. They all felted well and were able to then head for a spin in the dryer to finish the process after which they were released from the pantyhose, ready for regular use.


I have done several loads of laundry since making these and am finding that they do in fact work very well.     If you are wondering, I have been using 3 - 4 at a time per load




Saturday, November 17, 2018

Knitting and Math

I recently ordered a sweater kit from Craftsy, I have in the past, purchased several classes and was curious about the physical products they offer. There was a promotion that gave 50% off some of the kits so it was an excellent time to give it a try.




Part of that promotion provided a 1 month free trial of Bluprint..... now I must admit that having the month long access to all classes with Bluprint I am taking advantage by checking out classes I may have not done otherwise.

In one of the classes, Wear What You Knit, Perfect Sweater Fit & Style with instructor Sally Melville, I learned a nifty trick for re-gauging a knitting pattern. If you are like me, you often see a sweater pattern that you would like to knit but either don't have ( or don't like) the size of yarn called for. A simple math formula can be used to "regauge" the pattern so that you can knit it using the yarn you want..... how excellent is that?!!....I mean....Whoa! you can do this? I could not wait to test this out, I needed  to see if the math would actually work for me.

I chose to use the math from the Sally Melville class to try knitting a sweater from the class Choose Your Own Sweater Adventure with Eunny Jang. The sweaters in this class called for a chunky yarn with a gauge of 12 stitches over 4". Personally, I do not like to wear or work with heavier yarns, I much prefer to knit with finer yarns.  The yarn I wanted to use is giving me 22 stitches over 4" and even with a lace pattern the math is working and the sweater is coming along great. I love that in this class you can knit so many variations of the pattern(s) provided




trouble is I now have 2 sweaters on the go  :-)

in addition to those classes I have also taken a number of classes about spinning and dyeing yarn and while I do not have a wheel, I find that I am able to apply much of what I am learning to the spinning I am doing on my drop spindles....as for the dyeing, well I am wanting to venture into dyeing my own fibre so you will likely see future posts on those experiments.

Here is a look at the fibre I have been spinning, the spindle on the left holds my spun singles, the spindle on the right contains the yarn as it has been chained plied (also referred to as Navajo plying)


and finally the finished yarn


here is a quick clip of me using my drop spindle


I have a few other things on the go as well so I hope to be back before too, too, long with another post


Saturday, October 20, 2018

10 years

Yes, it was 10 years ago today that I began this blog. I had no idea what I would be posting when I started, what I did know was that at the time I was finding that there were many generous people who were happily sharing ideas and inspiring others through blogs and I wanted to become a part of that.
For a great many of those years I posted on a regular basis ( usually at least once a week) but lately I seem to have drifted away from here and have not posted with much frequency. Perhaps I will regain my enthusiasm soon, or perhaps it has run its course. I guess only time will tell.

It is not that I have been idle, I have simply been lax in documenting the things that have taken up my creative time. But, while I am here I may as well show you what I have been up to lately. I seem to be drawn more to spinning and knitting these days.  I recently finished this sweater, it is cotton. I did not have a "sweater's worth" of the grey so I used some reclaimed yarn I had (in a post some time ago I showed how I had taken apart a sweater and dyed the resulting yarn) the blue denim-ish looking colour you see is that yarn....I kinda made it work, so the sleeves are a little different. I am actually quite happy with the way it turned out and more importantly it fits great.


I am still in the process of learning about spinning, while I have spun some fibre and am gaining confidence, my goal is to begin spinning yarns that I can actually knit with and like in the days when I began quilting, I am experimenting and finding out what works and what doesn't.

So far I have found that many of the tools associated with spinning can be rather expensive. A case in point is a Hackle. I wanted to experiment with blending fibre and creating the combed top I would spin into yarn, but soon discovered that a Hackle would run me $200 or more. What is a hackle? it is essentially a piece of wood with strong metal tines that you can use to separate and blend fibre. how hard could it be to make? I decided to give it a try.

I started with a discarded piece of wood (looks to be from a frame maybe) I went to the hardware store and bought the longest finishing nails I could get. ( 4" ) In order to get my spacing fairly even, I  first marked the increments on a piece of masking tape. I laid the tape in place and began drilling smalls holes at each point.
note the block of wood, it was there to prevent me from drilling into my desk



then it was just a matter of hammering the nails through each drilled hole


I will likely try making another, this time placing the "tines" a little closer and see if I can find a thinner nail, BUT this actually works pretty good. (oh...and it cost me $1.43 to make) I tried blending some white and red merino.


I did not have a proper "Diz" to pull the fibre through, but that plastic knitting gauge worked just fine


now to give it a test spin.




Friday, August 17, 2018

Emmaline Double Flip Shoulder Bag

This post is all about the new bag I have just completed.


While looking for some ideas for a bag that was roomy without being oversized, one that I could wear cross-body, that would easily hold my iPad mini along with essentials, I came across the  Emmaline Bags website where I found the perfect pattern for what I had in mind. I love the convenience of being able to make a purchase and get the pattern by instant download.....and I gotta say it is a well presented, extremely well thought out pattern design with lots of illustrations and excellent written instructions. having said that, you will want to read the instructions carefully and follow the steps in order as presented.


Instead of going out and buying fabric specifically for this project, I decided to see if I could put it together using what I had on hand. In the end, the only item I had to purchase was the magnetic clasp.
The rest of the hardware and zippers were harvested from a purse obtained at the thrift shop (for a $1.50)


I began by piecing together strips to create the fabric I wanted to use for the front and back (main body) of the bag. I then choose bits and pieces of fabrics that I thought would coordinate well.


there are a lot of pieces....here you can see the pile ready to begin assembly ....and this is after all the interfacing and fusible fleece was applied.

below is a look how some of the steps progressed


lining for main part of the bag


these are full length exterior pockets that form the flaps...at this point it may look a little confusing but it is very cool how it all comes together in the end.

this is the main part of the exterior


and here things are staring to be stitched together


of course I could not resist adding a few little extras to customize this bag for myself
I like to have extra spots for clipping things, So I added this to the interior


and a extra little dangling D ring on the exterior


I also added the slip pockets to my exterior pocket flaps as well as an extra slim one to hold my pen


I skipped making the strap according to the instructions and instead choose to use cotton webbing. Because the cotton webbing frays AND I did not want a lot of bulk that comes with a double fold method, I made little bias bands to slip over the folded raw edge to cover, stitch and secure in place


you can see it in a couple of spots in these photos. The bands snugly cover the raw edges while adding a bit of contrast to the plain strap.




I am quite pleased with the finished bag.




Copyright Jill Buckley