Category Archives: Fibre preparation

Dyeing weekend at home

Over a recent long weekend, I managed to do quite a lot of dyeing and some fibre processing. There was mordanting of cellulose fabrics with soybeans.

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I finally decided to stop worrying about the fact that my walnuts (gathered from under trees at my workplace) were whole and having dried, I was not going to be able to separate husk from nut (where no rat had done this for me).  I just soaked them whole and then dyed with them.

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I clamped and dyed.  This eucalyptus print + walnut bath made me happy!  Here it is still wet (you can see it still clamped above if you look closely).

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I flick carded Suffolk locks.  Some had staining–see that yellow streak?  I just decided I wasn’t prepared to waste indigo on vegetable matter and contaminate my vat.  And the Suffolk is so felting resistant I thought it would be fine flicked first and dyed after 9and it was).

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I used some of Tarla Elward’s wonderful Australian grown Indigo for the first time and used henna as the source of antioxidants, following Michel Garcia’s method.

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I’d been concerned about how to grind up the block indigo but I had found a mortar and pestle since dye camp and put it to use. So much fun, Such a great weekend.

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I am just delighted with the indigo colours on this wool, and even more delighted that I managed to revive my indigo vat, last used before dye camp a few months ago.  Clearly, I learned something from the wonderful Jenai at dye camp.  Indigo achievement unlocked!  Blue socks one step closer.

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Preparing Suffolk Fibre for Tuff Sock Spinning

Dear readers, here is a trick question.  What colour is this sheep fleece?  IMAG5891

The correct answer is ‘white’! And here is one big part of the explanation for its colour in the image above: the dirt that fell out of the fleece in the time it was on this sheet being skirted.

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The really long locks in this fleece are about 9 cm long.

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Or–not a lot more than 3 inches long.  The short locks are 3 cm long.

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You can see this sheep had been living in the bush and in the world, and not in a shed or on a grassy patch of green loveliness!

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I believe this picture shows some of the fleece after washing.  I know, right?

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Next step, flicking the locks.  There was no sign of felting, but there is nothing all that romantic about vegetable matter, seeds and remaining soil.

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Flicking open the locks does help immensely with all those things, though as you can see below, all that followed by drum carding does not actually remove all the vegetable matter. This is the first pass on the drum carder, with a bit more detritus falling out on the second pass.

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Needless to say–even more falls out onto my apron as I spin this springy, bouncy fleece.

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Spinning in the background

I keep forgetting, or simply not finding the time to post.  Apologies, gentle readers.  I’ve needed the making more than I’ve been inclined to post about it this last while.  But I’ve been spinning Malcolm’s Kangaroo Island “black” Merino cross (left), and leftover batts of local Finn cross (right) and clearly there was a day when they posed with leaves and flowers…

When we were at Marion Bay (cough) I carded a lot of wool, and did some blending.

But I’ve also spun up all manner of wool dyed previously, including the last of the earth palette dyed wool.  There was a request for bulky yarn from one friend in particular.  She’s managing the state of the world by knitting a lot of beanies and gauntlets.  So I sent more yarn. And there was some very pale woad dyed wool that went into a vat with soursobs I weeded at someone else’s house.

But the big excitement is the Suffolk/Silk/Kid Mohair blend for #tuffsocksnaturally. The last of which is in the dyepot with some leaves on the day I am drafting this post.  To be continued…

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Spinning tuff socks

The #tuffsocksnaturally project has begun at my place!

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This HUGE bag of Suffolk fleece arrived some weeks ago, and I have begun to wash it.  Like other local Suffolk I’ve spun in years past, the staple is short.

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This fleece is filthy. Fair enough. It has been worn in actual life by an actual sheep roaming around freely like a sheep should.  It is also full of seeds and other vegetable matter.  Again, that’s what happens when sheep freely graze.  But it does make the task of creating a yarn that is finely spun and free of little scritchy pieces of chaff or prickles that much more difficult.

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Step one is washing.  I’ll spare you.  It’s really hard to make muddy water interesting. Then drying.  I think drying fleece is more exciting than paint drying, but even so.  Then preparation for spinning. There are choices to be made here.  Combing is the classic preparation for a worsted sock yarn, but I decided against it.  I have decided to try a blend of Suffolk, silk and kid mohair.

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I have found that blending these fibres really well is difficult if I comb them, because they are different lengths (especially because the Suffolk is so short stapled).  And, the last time I made sock yarn by hand I combed all the fibres and was not convinced it made such a difference compared to carding that it was worth the extra effort, which is considerable. So this time, I drum carded to blend more evenly.

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I did a lot of passes with the wool alone, picking out more vegetable matter each time, before adding the silk and kid mohair. And then… to the wheel!

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Now I’ll spare you progress images of three singles being spun.  Only people who are involved in the Tour de Fleece get excited by the sight of a bobbin filling up ever so slowly!  Have you decided to be part of the project? How have you started?

 

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Spinning up a storm

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The springtime brings on fleece washing, carding and seed planting, apparently!

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I’ve spun up all kinds of tragic fleece dyed last year, lawnmowing crossbred sheep’s wool, alpaca, blends, cochineal dyed fleece, natural fleece… there has even been some eucalypt dyeing (the orange skein in the foreground).

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I’ve spun batts created from logwood exhaust and woad exhaust and where did that even come from? batts.

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Anonymous roving from my friend’s stash.  Alpaca gifted from another friend.  Local fleece blended with dark grey alpaca with far too many burrs in it.  Possum and wool blended together.

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My winter of knitting was lovely indeed but I am loving being back to spinning as well, so it seems…

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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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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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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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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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