Category Archives: Fibre preparation

Fleece processing, dyeing and spinning

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Over the holiday, more local fleeces arrived.  This is the view down into a chicken feed sack full of greasy fleece.  I washed, I dried wet fleece in summer heat, I even managed to do some carding. I now have various wools dyed with woad or indigo exhausts as well as good old naturally brown or grey wool. I have taught a few beginners to dye at our evening spinning group at the Guild in the last while (or at least, I’ve been one of the people helping them to learn) and sometimes people are just so overcome at being given wool.  In the future they will know that the real gift is time and effort. But I do try to let them know that I have a lot of wool and that I am happy to share.

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People were generous to me as a beginner spinner, and I love to share spinning (as well as wool).  I finally spun some llama fleece a friend at the Guild gave me in the spirit of adventure.  It came out OK but it did have a lot of guard hair in it, so I’ll have to give thought to what it might become.

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Here’s a another skein–woad on grey, I believe.

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And here are indigo and indigo dyed over yellows. I realise it is better practise to dye blue first and yellow after, but, well, I didn’t like the yellows too much and just decided to dye and see!  I love these colours. But my thoughts are beginning to turn toward eucalypts and their oranges and reds again…

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

41C in Adelaide

It’s 41C in my town the day I am writing. Things are much worse in other parts of Australia–where it has already been above 40C for over a week. And here’s what I did to prepare for 41C.

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Step 1: recommit to action on climate change.  This country (among others, some already going under the sea) will not be habitable for future life unless we succeed, and there are some rather specific signs of inadequate action both here and in other first world nations right now.  If in doubt, ask the Climate Council.  You know: scientists who know their stuff and know how to communicate.

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Step 2: water plants deeply.  Freeze water for the worm farms.  Ensure ample water and shade for the chooks (hens).  Put water in the fridge.  Make sure cool air can get into the house, if there is any, during the night. Invite friends who can’t cool their homes to come over.

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Step 3: wash fleece, because wool drying weather this good should be taken advantage of.  Dye fleece with heat-activated “cold pad batch” dyes and place in the right spot to maximise the heat it will get on the big hot days.  I have mixed up the last of these dyes I own and given away my fixative.  It’s been fun but I’m committing to plant dyes and just seeing out the chemical dyes I already have.

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Step 4: harvest woad.  Could you tell that was woad steeping in hot water in the first picture?  Extract pigment.  That second image of the blue froth with a coppery blue swirl in the middle? The most exciting thing that has happened when I’ve tried to extract pigment from woad to date.  I’ve read high summer is the best time to get blue from woad, and–this is high summer.  Add woad to indigo vat.  Rebalance Ph.  Do your best to create conditions for reduction. Stir carefully. That’s where things are at in image 3. Image 4 is some hours later. Keep warm overnight.  Place vat in a sunny spot first thing.

And on the day… stay inside except when tending living things and hanging loads of washing.  Check as the temp of the indigo/woad vat rises to 35 and then 45C.  Enjoy the sound of the inverter for the solar panels as it cranks out power from the sun.

 

 

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Carrot tops and carding

When a moment arises and there is an opportunity for dyeing, I dye, my friends, I dye.  One such moment came a little while back when we had lovely organic carrots from our friends’ farm… and they came with lovely organic carrot tops, of course.

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Fixing carrot top dye requires alum, but I am well prepared.  I have sheep fleece sitting in cold alum solution in buckets in my driveway.

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Into the dye pot they went!  This went so well that I am doing it again as I write.

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In the mean time, undyed fleece from the same sheep, Viola the pale grey crossbred, is also being prepared for spinning, because… I have an ambitious plan that will require some more undyed yarn…

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A quick spin…

A friend came around for an exchange of books and thoughts on dyeing and, as it turned out, an exchange of gifts! She had some naturally brown and lovely greasy sheep fleece of unknown breed that she will not be able to take on her next big adventure.  That was a gift to me!  For some reason, a day or two later I felt the urge to wash it. Who can explain this? But–washing fleece is one of those jobs where I have made an in-principle decision.  If I ever feel like doing it, and I can do it, I just leap in and do it.  The urge doesn’t come upon me very often.

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The fleece was lovely actually, long locks, little chaff and rather soft.  It reminds me of the Finn X that is sold at my Guild by a local grower. It carded up beautifully. Apparently the manageable quantity was irresistible… as I have entire fleeces awaiting me….

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Here is the finished yarn, which I intend to give back so my friend can enjoy knitting it.

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And here is  a yarn created from carding and combing waste over the last while… I am not sure what its final use might be, but here it is in all its neppy glory!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Spinning

Let the sock yarn spinning begin!

Classically, a hand spun sock yarn is made with a combed, rather than carded, preparation of fibres. I started out with my kilogram of Suffolk fleece, and divided it up.  Some has been dyed with legacy unnatural dyes and some with plant dyes.  I started in on combing some wool dyed in shades of blue and green.  I dyed some tussah silk along with the wool (the silk did not take the dye well at all), and have local kid mohair that is plain natural white, and some that has been dyed with dyers’ chamomile, and some I bought dyed by the seller in shades of blue and purple.  I am blending in the silk and mohair for strength and durability.

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I have ‘English’ combs.  I am not sure what makes them English (they were made here in Australia)–I am sure there is a historical reason for the name.  But they are vicious looking things.  When I take them to Guild, there are always onlookers commenting on the fiendish tines.  Unfortunately, I am yet to find a Guildie who can offer me advice on better use.  This seems to be a minority preoccupation at my Guild, or perhaps I’ve just been unlucky.  So.  Step 1 is ‘lashing on’, loading the stationary comb with fibres.

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Step 2 involves combing the fibres off that comb and onto the other.  Done!

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Now, transferring the fibres back to the stationary comb.  It could go on… but this is the extent of my patience at this point.

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Then, pulling off ‘top’ through a diz.  I do love spinning terminology!  This produces a preparation in which the fibres are in alignment, ready to be spun into a dense, hard wearing yarn.

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Some of my top shows that I tried to blend fibres of different lengths.  This is a vice to be avoided in combing.  Combing does a great job of removing short fibres (and burrs and grass seeds…) but if the fibres are of differing lengths, the top will have (in my case) all mohair–the longest fibre–at one end and wool predominating in the middle, with the shortest silk fibres predominating at the other end.  I cut some of the kid mohair locks in half (another spinning crime!) to resolve this issue in some cases, and in others, spun top from both ends to blend the fibres as I spun them up.

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And here is the finished skein.  It is abut 5 ply (fingering), a little thicker than many sock yarns–but after my last effort, where I produced something thinner than sock yarn and have been too overcome to knit it up–I think that is OK.  I have chain plied it, which is not strictly speaking recommended for durability–but this seems to be a much debated point and I chose colour happiness over potentially reduced durability on this occasion. So–I am not quite ready for the knitting to begin, but I am getting closer.  One sock down to the toe on the current pair in progress…

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Sewing

Suffolk for socks

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Speaking of spinning my own sock yarn, let me introduce my wool.  While I was at the Show last year, I checked in with the Suffolks.  They were the featured breed for 2015.

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As it happens, I bought a kilo of suffolk at the Guild when there was an opportunity a while ago.  I came home keen to wash fleece somehow.  I try not to resist that inclination no matter how daft, because it doesn’t happen often.  This time it was pretty daft–I finished after dark and could only hope the fibre would be clean in the morning.

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I don’t think the fleece was skirted… so there was some serious loss, not to mention burrs, wattle seed (that is a new one!) and feathers (that was new too).

Meanwhile, I had a helper.  She has since left us for a new life in Tasmania, but she was so interested in knitting!  A shame really.  I cut out a pattern and she chewed on the paper.  Ooops.  And here she is sorting out an apron string!

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You just can’t be too careful with an apron string when it is hanging provocatively off the side of a chair.

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Unnatural dyeing

I think it is Grackle and Sun who put this expression into my vocabulary.  I have been looking at the chemical dyes I still have in my possession and wondering about them.  I think it’s best I don’t make any commitments for all future time… but it seems right that I try not to acquire any more.  It also seems right that I use up those I already own, given that nothing I do with them will mean that they were never made.

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Finally, I had a thought.  The thing I love most about the Earth Palette cold pad batch dyes (locally made and allegedly low toxic)–is that you can dye greasy wool with them, rather than washing first and dyeing later.  A friend from my guild called to ask for advice about these dyes (she is an acid dyer usually) and I suddenly saw it: I could dye these amazing greasy English Leicester cross locks from a local grower.  Without prior washing.  I still have a lot of this dye mixed up and ready to use (in fact, this is almost my entire stash: just one bag of sky blue dye left unmixed). The weather was perfect: hot days expected.

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It doesn’t look good when applied to greasy, dirty wool.  Two days in the hot sun and the bag smelled of ammonia from that raw fleece being in the heat.

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The mud that ran out of it when I rinsed was unbelievable.  And then out came clean dyed fleece. Yes, these are before and after pictures of the same locks! I made three different ‘dyelots’ in all.

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The lustre of this longwool is amazing!  Now all I have to do is figure out what to make with it.  I believe I acquired it thinking about dyed English Leicester locks I had incorporated into art yarn batts.  I don’t currently feel motivated to do that kind of spinning–but could make batts and gift them to the Guild.  Or spin EL yarn.  Or let them sit quietly until the perfect idea comes to mind. What do you think?

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Preparing for the Royal Show

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I have decided to enter the Royal Show this year.  I decided to enter last year but missed a step and prepared (several) entries that I couldn’t enter in the end.  Oh well.  It isn’t as if I baked a cake and it ended in mould. I am not all that interested in the competition part, although of course it is flattering to get a ribbon, if I get a ribbon.  But really, I like to be part of showing the crowds that come along that spinning and dyeing are still alive and happening nearby, that these crafts are creative as well as traditional and I like to give my friends at the Guild someone to compete with.

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The hardest category for me to prepare is the ‘spinning perfection’ category.  There are much better spinners than me at the Guild, and some of them are sure to enter.  I count it a privilege to be beaten by people with such fine skills (and I hope it makes winning sweeter for them, that there is someone else entering).  But this is an opportunity to build my skills and spin intentionally–because sometimes often I just spin for serendipity, which is a different kind of pleasure.  Even when I spin intentionally, I sometimes get surprises. Spinning is like a lot of crafts–it is simple enough to learn the basics, but you could spend an entire lifetime acquiring skill and still run out of time! This category requires three skeins of 50 g each, one fine, one medium and one bulky.  Traditionally, it is presented in natural wool, even though this is not a requirement of the category.  I have never seen a dyed skein in this category.  This is fleece from ‘Viola’ –a gift from a friend of a friend.  Viola’s breed was unknown to the giver but the consensus at the Guild (whew!  there was consensus!)  is that she must have parentage that is English Leicester and some other kind of heritage too.

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Once of the previously mentioned Guildies of extreme spinning skill washed this fleece for me, which was such a generous and kind thing.  It is beautifully clean and did not take me hours of backbreaking effort.  She has a simpler method than the one I use, but I lack the equipment to do it.  I carded up batts for the medium and bulky skeins and weighed out sections of the batts for each skein–2 ply for the medium skein and three ply for the bulky one.

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Then I lashed on some locks and combed top for the fine skein.  I am still pretty inexperienced at combing, but I am definitely improving, and top is a gorgeous preparation to spin.  I have to say, the long locks on this fleece and the not-so-fine character of the fleece makes preparation a breeze.

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No blood was lost!  Two passes of the combs and I had lovely looking fibre ready to draw off into top…

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Through a diz.  I tell you, a person could take up spinning just to have tools with such wonderful names.  It has helped me at Scrabble and Bananagrams no end!  I do not bother with the list of two letter words with no discernible meanings but I pull out spinning and dyeing terms whenever possible.  I pre-drafted the batts in their weighed-out sections and had a day of spinning and a second day when I did all the plying.  It was quite a contrast to the last time I entered this category, when I seem to remember I was spinning for months.  Perhaps I didn’t weigh out just enough for the entries.  I seem to recall spinning an entire bobbin of each single last time, which is a significant amount of spinning.

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Well, three months have passed since I was carding and combing Viola’s fleece for those ‘spinning perfection’ entries.  There they are on the left.  Then there is a skein of merino with dyed silkworm cocoons gifted to me by a friend (novelty category).  Then an entire issue of The Guardian cut into strips and spun slowly on my wheel (novelty category).  That’s right, since you’re asking, without glue.  Then two skeins of Viola’s fleece which I’ll tell you more about in posts to come.  Those who have been around a while will recognise some of those colours. Finally, two skeins of Malcolm the Corriedale dyed and spun a while back.  These sets of two skeins are my two dyeing and spinning category entries.  The entire pile of woolly goodness is sitting on top of a quilt I am entering.

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I finished this a little while ago and it has a set of blocks on the front, each with a print of a species of Eucalypt, with its name embroidered in eucalyptus dyed silk thread.  The back is a patchwork of pieces of eucalyptus-dyed cottons.  It is machine quilted over an old flannelette sheet well past its heyday and ripe for a new life out of sight.

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So–my entries are finished.  They have their little labels attached.  The quilt has a hanging sleeve hand sewn onto it!  Most of the entries have the additional things required (accounts of dyes and breeds, samples of fibres) and a few do not. I’m just not well enough organised, and in the end decided to submit the skeins I want to show and not worry about their compliance with rules.  I won’t be crushed if they don’t get a ribbon because I didn’t do all that was required.  All I have to do now is take them in on the right day, and all should be well!

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It isn’t a really wonderful example of quilting.  I’m quite dedicated to patchwork and loved the dyeing and stitching, but I am less enthusiastic about quilting.  Perhaps that is yet to grow on me!  This quilt marked the beginning of embroidery growing on me for the first time since chiildhood, so it’s possible.  I decided to enter partly to honour the admiration of a friend who thinks this is the best quilt ever. And partly just to speak back a little to all the floral frou-frou that dominates quilting exhibits I have seen with a little leafy goodness.  And there you have my entries.  Local wool, mostly local dyestuffs, local spinning and stitching–with some cotton and silk and indigo and osage orange from far away, grown and processed and woven by the hands of other people unknown to me.  Showtime!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing, Spinning

Yellow!

I have been so excited by my recent colour knitting success that I have been moved to dye more shades and spin with the intention of colour knitting.  Not just spinning up all kinds of stuff and then deciding to use it in stranded colourwork on a whim.  Though that turned out remarkably well, and the errant graph book with the knobby club rush design in it magically appeared on the weekend, nestled among sheet music (my filing clearly needs more work–I had been looking for it in the dyeing and knitting collections–what was I thinking)!

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I’ve been cold mordanting Viola’s fleece with alum in preparation.  She is a white/silver grey/dark grey sheep, and that will give me room for a bit of heathery loveliness, I think.  These big jars were being thrown out at the Guild and this seems a decent use for them. Some BFL/silk sock yarn has been getting the same cold mordant treatment, because why not?

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I had quite a lot of coreopsis flowers, because my mother is such a generous woman, she saves her dead flowers for me. And in case anyone ever wondered where my thrifty ways come from, these flowers were lovingly collected as they wilted and then dried–and then delivered in paper bags previously containing mushrooms and purchases from the newsagent, and in a reused cardboard box that was lined with two layers of pre-loved Christmas wrapping paper. Bless her heart, my Mum is a treasure.

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There were also osage orange shavings that had been left at the Guild.  Many years old, to judge by the packaging.  At times such as this, Jenny Dean is my trusted Guide.  So I followed her instructions from Wild Colour as best I could.  It’s an interesting thing, this dyeing with only me there in body, but with a little posse of imaginary friends about me, some of whom I’ve never met! Jenny says osage orange can give more dye on a  later extraction and India would no doubt agree on principle (I have been rereading Eco Colour)… so with the three of us in agreement on that, I planned an exhaust bath from the beginning and in due course, decided to honour Mum’s collection by tossing that in too…

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After the first stage of heating, I filtered out the dyestuffs through an old nylon stocking (also deposited at the Guild in quantity–more of my imaginary friends present on this occasion in tangible and intangible ways!)

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And in went the fibres.  They had a nice long wait in the dye baths after the heating stage was over.

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The sock yarn took the dye with alacrity–that golden yellow is rather lovely, I think–I am planning to overdye with indigo, but this yellow is glorious as it is.  I thought I remembered the coreopsis being a more golden yellow and the osage orange being a colder shade, but not this time.  They look remarkably similar.

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The exhaust bath made use of the stocking too… and out came some paler but still yellow fleece.  My fingers are itching but the day job calls… and there has been yet more knitting…

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Winter dyeing

I had some rather pallid silk embroidery thread. That bag it is sitting on came from an op shop and has been through eucalyptus dye pots so many times it is a very deep shade now!

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I had some white and tan polwarth fleece.

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Eucalyptus cinerea leaves… I have sacks of them and decided it was time to get them moving!

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With wool going in a bit later…

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Then a gift of E Nicholii leavea arrived from a fried whose keen eye and quick wits diverted council prunings from going directly to mulch.  Thanks!

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Here they are after some serious cooking.

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My tour of the dye stash also uncovered these, sitting in a bag I used to use for gleaning the neighbourhood.  Perhaps I could use it again if it wasn’t storing these leaves…

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I thought I remembered them being unexciting.  They are clearly ironbark leaves, but presumably I confused my ironbarks.  I wasn’t sure and decided to try them out.

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There has also been E Scoparia bark dyeing.

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And here we have, fresh from the dye bath (a day later): E Nicholii at the top left; the unexciting ironbark, and E Scoparia bark at the bottom.

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Later still, some of that polwarth fleece sitting on the piano like a fluffy flame…

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First pass through the carder…

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Second pass… ready to spin!

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And now I have some thread with a bit more colour in it, too!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing