Friday, 28 October 2005

Project: white merino jumper

I bought some merino that was a bit coarser than I expected a while ago - it was superfine (18.5 microns) instead of ultrafine (17 microns). That's not a lot of difference, but it had a different feel to the ultrafine merino and spun silk cap laceweight fibre (topic for another post) I had been making. So I spun that stuff up quite thickly - roughly the weight of an 8-10-ply (Australian weight) wool.

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This looked so nice, and I know it's going to be hard to buy merino in the UK as Uk wool is coarser than what you can get in Australia, so last night I bought myself another kilo of 18.5 micron wool.

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Yes, it's on a real dining chair. This is now stashed in one of my bags to fly out with me and give me something to do for the first little while in Cambridge. What do I plan to do with it? Take it with me on the ship to Antarctica, so I can knit this:

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It will make for a beautifully soft casual jumper. You'll see more of this as it progresses.


Last night was my last night of spinning class, and I made gorilla.

Yes, you read that right. That's what it's called.

Gorilla is a blend of five different types of fibres:
- silk noil (which is basically the sweepings from the silk room floor, complete with twigs and all sorts of stuff - that's right, I was spinning dust-bunnies!),
- natural green cotton, unginned
- some form of coloured merino top, and it's best for this to be an in-your face colour,
- glitz (we used a blue-and-silver glitz)
- and tencel, which gives some spots of lovely sheen.

You place all of this on hand-carders and run it through the carders a few times, making sure it's not too well blended, then spin it with a long draw. The idea is to have discrete lumps of stuff. I made two batches, the first with a brown merino (this gave a quite neutral result); the second with both red and brown merino and a lot more tencel. This was the more sucessful. Here, the first is on the left, the second on the right:

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It looks like nothing on its own - in fact it still looks like spun-up dust-bunnies, but I'm told that it makes a lovely cool summer top that goes well with brown linen pants. I can see that, and the silk noil would make for a very comfortable wear as it's a very absorbent fibre that never feels cold or hot. And it's beautifully soft. I think this is an experiment that's worth doing again sometime.

Hand-painted dying silk caps

As another part of the hand-dying class, I bought a silk cap and simply sploshed it with some left-over dyes that had been mixed for other projects: in this case, brown, blue and yellow.

In case you have no idea what a silk cap is, this is several silk cocoons, which have been stretched out to form a hat-like shape. Typically there are 5 or more silk cocoons, all stretched one over the other:

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During the microwave part of the dying process, some of the colours mixed and blended, giving some paler blues, greens and a more rusty brown.

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To spin silk caps, you split them apart by gently removing the top one from the others:

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Then you place both hands inside the silk cap and pull them apart, stretching the cap out until it breaks and becomes a long, stretched piece of silk. This is call pre-drafting. At this stage you can just roll them into a call and set them aside.

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The best way to spin these is quite finely, holding the silk in your right hand to it forms a right-angle around the left hand, which is feeding the silk into the wheel. This helps with pulling the silk apart, as it is very strong. I usually do these in the natural white, but the result of the dyed one gave some unexpected jewel-like tones:

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I'm still not sure what to do with this. I tried plying it with different colours of wool, but the wool simply overtook the delicateness of the silk. I'll probably end up using this with some sea-green rayon as the weft of a very delicate scarf, but for the meantime it goes into storage until I can weave again.

Hand-dying: the multi-coloured scarf

As part of a hand-painted dying class, I bought a skein of NZ artisan lace-weight merino wool, and made a warp for a scarf. Then I hand-painted it a number of jewel colours.

I painted the blocks of colour yellow-orange-green-brown-green-orange-yellow, and so on, down the length of the 2.5 metre warp. I had wanted to make this a "fire" scarf, in yellows, oranges and reds, but there wasn't a red available that I was happy with. The blocks were painted on the digaonal rather than straight across; something that others considered to be a bold experiment as I had paid $22 for the wool! However the picture was clear in my head, so I ended up with this...

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Still having half of the lace-weight skein left, once I had it home I dyed it black to use as the weft, and chose a warp-faced pattern to show off the colours. With all the handling the warp got with dying and washing, when I went to put it on the loom I ended up opening the diagonals part of the way through, which gace the colour change a chevron pattern. It looked good on the loom:

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...and even better, once off and fringed:

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Overall, I'm really happy with the result. Spending the money on the nice lace-weight wool really paid off, as I now have a unique scarf for less than $25. And it is unbelievably light, warm and soft. I'm definitely happy enough to want to repeat the experiment another time, using the fire colours of red, orange and yellow. Perhaps before next winter.

Friday, 21 October 2005

Lace-weight alpaca and more beanies (June 14, 2005)

First, the spinning:

This is my cosy little spinning corner, in front of the TV:

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The mess on the chair is knitting. I'm trying (without a pattern) to replicate this cardigan using a thick, soft cotton on 15mm needles:

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It's almost done; I should be able to block it, sew it and hopefully dye it black this weekend. My latest spinning project has been to spin some roan alpaca. That resulted in my spinning corner gathering enough dirt and grass seeds to resemble a field! But it's done now, and I have in excess of 500 m of lace-weight alpaca. I don't know what this is going to be yet. I might let it sit until I've spun some caramel alpaca I have, and see whether they'd make a nice contrasting pair.

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I've also been having a lot of fun with dyeing. I recently dyed a couple of hundred metres of homespun in three colours - red, a splash of fuchsia and black. This was to match some Lion Brand wool. The result was a bit darker than I had aimed for, but still quite attractive, especially knitted up:

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I've also been knitting a couple of beanies. These are his and hers beanies, as gifts. The his is the same navy merino-flax blend I used for H's beanie (without the silk strand, as there wasn't enough left), hers is from the recently dyed red homespun sliver.

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I've also been playing with dyeing cotton for weaving. I tried dyeing some rose wine cotton black, and ended up with a deep purple. That's quite attractive done up as a plaid, but I'm about to change the threading on this project to play with a double-weave.This is the first time I've woven with all 8/2 cotton, and it makes me keen to play with finer stuff. Front and back:

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My most recent project to come off the loom is a navy and white scarf sampler, which I made to experiment with open weave. It's also to match a long, navy and white floral skirt which I've long wanted a scarf to go with. It's roughly 14 inches wide and 2 metres long, and has a fine rayon flake thread warp (the blue), with a white 8/2 cotton weft. No homespun was harmed in the making of this project.

The scarf on the floor in a photo which unfortunately doesn't bring out the subtle patterning:

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And taken this morning, on me. This isn't the best shot and I didn't bother washing my hair this morning so had to pull the knots out of my hair resulting in it being quite straight and frizzy, but this is what I look like today:

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So, the current projects are:

Spinning: I'm working with silk caps again. I'm spinning them very finely and will ply them with 17-micron white merino wool. I don't know what I'm going to make with it, but I'm sure something will come to me.

Knitting: hoping to finish the cardigan this week and that ought to be the last for a while EDIT: This cardigan was decreed a failure.).

Dyeing: Will dye the cardigan black, and will be playing with hand-painting a warp later next month.

Weaving: playing with double-weave in the cotton at the moment. After that I'll be making the soft cotton baby's blankets for my cousin's twins.

The silk/merino baby's beanie (June 6, 2005)

I finished the baby's beanie on the weekend, made from the silk/merino blend.

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It's SO small, it's going to fit in the envelope with the card - it's about the size of my very small hands! That's the envelope it's on.

Fortunately, it has a lot of stretch. While I was making it, H told me it was waaay to big for a baby.

This post is guaranteed invisible to the person getting the item.

The beanie project (May 6, 2005)

As a memory refresher, the fibre and the wool blend (this was only 70% merino in the end, with 20% flax (the white and black in the first photo), and 10% silk (the white plied in in the second photo):

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H fell in love with the wool and asked for a beanie, so I taught myself how to knit so I could make it for him. It took maybe 15-20 hours to make, and doesn't suck anywhere near as much as I expected it would. I'm quite pleased with the results.

H, wearing the beanie. You can't really see the detail in this, it's clear that the shot was taken from too low down...

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So then we put it on me and took an urky photo so you could see the pom pom. The pom pom is only a temporary feature, H is going to a rugby game tonight and he realised that the light blue would make the beanie match his team's colours. So he's taking the beanie with him to the game. :-)

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This shot is much cuter, although unplanned. I can't believe how long my hair looks in this shot!

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Finally, the unplanned arty shot - H moved the camera while it was taking a slow exposure. The result was actually pretty good!

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There's actually 100m or so of the wool left, so there is enough to make another project from it. I haven't decided what that will be yet. I may make H a matching scarf, although he's not really a scarf kind of person.

The weaving studio (May 26, 2005)

While I was taking the other shots this morning, I took one of the weaving studio. I have a few cones of stuff out while I decide which is best for a project.

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So much for having a dining room!

Spun silk caps and the result (May 26, 2005)

I need to make myself an icon for the textile stuff.
Thanks to 's research, that problem is now solved!

What the silk caps looked like spun as singles and dyed. You've seen this before.

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Then I bought some olive-green merino, spun it finely and plied it with the silk.

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I found I had quite a bit left over so I then spun the rest of the wool and plied it together. I ended up with 4 skeins - two just wool, a thicker, looser silk/wool skein (on the left) and a finer silk/wool skein (on the right). They're all somewhere between a 2-ply and a 4-ply in weight. I haven't actually measured how long these are, but there's somthing like 90 m in each skein.

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Although I think this looks nice, it didn't turn out quite the way I'd pictured so I'd shelved my plans for the scarf I was going to make from it, and it's been sitting on the table beside the loom, while I waited for it to tell me what it wanted to be. Yesterday the idea was put in my head that because this is lovely and soft, it would make a good beanie for a baby (using the pattern I used for H, which is nice and stretchy and would fit a baby for a while), or a baby's blanket.

Yes, you read that. Me, Geo, just said she's planning to make baby's things. I never thought I'd say that. But a friend's wife gave birth to a baby last week, and I want to make some things for my cousin before she gives birth in December, so this appears to be the time!

, this is a better shot than the moblog one. What do you think?

The twill scarf, olive silk/merino and navy merino/flax/silk (April 12, 2005)

Still felt a bit off yesterday, so went home and tried to get to bed early. That didn't stop me from getting a lot of work done during the day though - all in all, it was quite a productive day.

Project 1: the twill scarf

The old, small loom that I am renting, with the fancy twill scarf on it.

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The draft I used to make the scarf

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Detail of the scarf, from front and from the side. The scarf is made with a commercial, 8-ply pure wool warp, and a handspun, approximately 5-ply wool sliver weft. You don't really want to use handspun for the warp, partly because it takes and wastes so much, and partly because it may not be strong enough. I'm realy pleased with the way the pattern's coming out, though - from a distance it looks like a normal twill. It's only when you look more closely that the intricacy of the pattern comes out.

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Project 2: Beanie and scarf for H.

A reminder of what the blue merino/flax blend looked like unspun:

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Four skeins of the spun wool, resulting from 200g of fibre. The four are all slightly different: the one on the left (roughly 60m) is plied with itself. There was a touch of white silk I'd used on the end of the wool to attach it to the bobbin and that looked really good, so I plied the two middle skeins with two strands of the blue merino/flax, incorporating a thin strand of white spun silk cap with one of the singles. That's given the white flecks. Gives a nice effect. The two middle skeins are roughly 45 m each. The fourth skein on the right is just the ends of the three bobbins, about 8 m. All of the wool came out at about a 10-ply except for the small skein, which is more like 12-ply. I've made a sample swatch of knitting to teach myself to knit but I'm not really happy with the results, so I'm going to get the girls to double-check what I'm doing on Thursday night before I start the beanie proper.

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Project 3: Silk and merino scarf for myself

I have bought some olive merino top to match the silk caps I spun and dyed, and plan to spin that up and ply it with the silk. Haven't started that yet. I'm playing with the caramel suri alpaca at the moment, but that's not really a lot of fun (it's breaking a lot and won't twist on well), so it may take a back burner so I can make this and move on with weaving. I'm probably going to weave it up with a khaki rayon yarn I've bought (on the right), unless I find a more suitable colour.

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I also have a roan alpaca fibre, about 200g worth, which is much nicer to spin than the suri. I may also play with that.

The disaster that was the suri (April 1, 2005)

Damn, my hair looks short in that icon now. Anyway...

I started spinning my Suri alpaca fleece last night. It's a gorgeous, silky fleece - almost like my hair when it's brushed, but the tips break really easily so when I tried to spin it, it lost its lustre and came out looking like string. Not the effect I was after! In the end we had four of us, all trying different methods on the alpaca to see whether we could figure out the best way to draft this stuff to make it look good. An interesting challenge. Anyway, in the end we did get a decent looking thread out of it, although I think I'm going to have to experiment a bit more to get it right. It was a bit of a culture shock, going straight from the industrially-combed, civilised merino directly to a raw unprocessed alpaca fleece. Must take intermediate steps next time, I think.

I also managed to buy a book of knitting and crochet patterns for homespun wool, which has just been reprinted. It's been out of print for a while and is apparently as rare as hens teeth and extremely sought after. There are some gorgeous shawl patterns in there, and no less than six patterns for beanies - so now when I want to start a the beanie for H I have a pattern and all I need are needles now. Score! (On top of that, I think there's enough wool there to make H a scarf as well as a beanie so he'll have a matching set).

I also bought 100g of a lovely olive green combed merino tip. It matches the yellow/green/brown silk caps I died a couple of weeks ago, and I think I'll spin the wool up finely and ply it with the silk, to make myself a scarf and perhaps a little beanie as well.

Dressing a fleece (March 18 2005)

I got to dress a fleece last night. It wasn't a great fleece (which was why we were playing with it) - it was from a very old merino sheep that had been shorn less than 10 months after the last shearing. The sheep is one of two very elderly sheep that were missed in the round-up when the farm was bought and converted to an alpaca farm. The owners decided to have the sheep shorn when the alpacas were, despite the fact that their fleeces were too short to be any use. And dirty. really dirty, the tips of the wool were really tarry.

But the wool is also 18 micron merino - delightful. So we washed a little bit up. It was amazing how quickly the lanolin, dirt and grease came out with just a tiny bit of soap and hot water. My main job last night was to dye the silk thread I had spun out of caps and I had no spinning project on my wheel at the time, so J gave me a tiny pouf of the cleaned wool and I started to spin it - it takes an amazing amount of spin, especially after having played with silk for a few weeks!

I am a naturally fine spinner - I really have to force myself to thicken my draft if I want anything thicker than lace-weight yarn. After spinning a bit she told me to go finer, so I did, and I was getting a single a fraction of a millimetre across. But because the kinks were so close together, the fibers were grabbing each other anyway, resulting in a very strong, thin thread. I was amazed at just how much thread I was getting out of that tiny pouf of wool. I didn't do too much, because with less than 2" of staple it was very fiddly to play with, but J told me that she thought that as I spin so finely, I should enter a fine-thread competition. In that you choose 10g of thread, and spin as long a plied piece of yarn out of it as you can. That actually sounds like something I'd be good at. I don't think that merino would have coped well with spinning to even 8 ply very well at all.

We also pulled out a Romney fleece - this was totally different. It had much less kinkiness to the fibre, and a much longer staple - 6" or so. We washed the lanolin out of a bit of that as well and flicked it a bit, and voila! It was ready to spin. It required a totally different spinning technique. I did a sample run of making if very fine, and instead of ending up with a luscious, fine, strong thread I got something equally strong, but which felt like string instead. So I did a few more runs of spinning, increasing the thickness and decreasing the spin with each run. By the time I had got to a bulky 20-ply or so, I had a luscious, soft, dreamy yarn that would make you just want to drown in it, if it were made into a sweater or a throw.

Lesson learned last night - don't fight the fibre. It tells you what it wants to be.

I came away with a beautiful yellow/moss green/pinkish brown, tri-dyed spun silk thread, and 200 g of a commercially-dyed navy and lighter blue, 85% merino, 15% flax mix, which I'll spin up this week and later weave into a scarf. Photos will follow. I love this hobby.

Busy day at work today. Expect me to be somewhat quiet.

Silk caps and navy blue

Silk thread, spun from two silk caps (about 50g total), then trio-dyed using primrose yellow, a mossy green and a pinky-brown. I used commercial dyes. Silk caps were really fun, I'd absolutely play with them again. I think I'll weave this into a scarf for myself.

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This is what I'm spinning at the moment. It's an 85% merino, 15% flax blend. The merino varies in colour from royal, almost navy, blue, to the occasional bit of turquoise. The flax is both white and black.

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Singles, spun on the bobbin. Spun broader than I normally would, this has the most lovely candy-cane effect. This requires a totally different technique to what I am used to - the striped nature of the combed fibre requires thin sections to be pre-drafted to the required thickness, because the flax won't take any stretching of the sliver - it just breaks. I have filled two bobbins now, so I'll ply tonight - once I've found the #$&@ end which I've lost on the second bobbin! H has fallen in love with this, and has asked to have a beanie made from it. If there's enough I may try to make him a matching scarf as well, but it's not a priority because he's not a scarf wearer. I have 200g of this.

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My next weaving project will be a twill scarf for myself, made with a cotton warp and a brown/grey homespun sliver for myself. I'll start this on Thursday. When that's done, I might play with the silk scarf, with a cotton warp.

The next spinning project will be to spin this Suri Alpaca:

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It's the most beautiful colour, and I have 500g of it, so I might get a decent project out of it.

Catching up

I have transferred a lot of spinning and weaving posts I have made over here, so there will be a bit of a backlog.

The first:

When you're falling asleep at the desk, go home a little early and cook pizza - that's what I say. Or at least what I did yesterday. I made pizza dough from scratch and then made caramelised onion and fig pizza and oregano pizza for dinner. They were yum - dellicious enough that I had to restrain myself from overeating because my tastebuds still wanted more after my stomach had had enough. Photos reside on the camera but not on my computer, so recipes and photos will appear soonish (or when I get unlazy enough to do something about it, whichever comes first). A really nice Cabernet Merlot from the Barossa rounded out the meal. After all that pizza, dinner tonight has to be pasta, I think.

After dinner I made a start on my next weaving project. This was supposed to be a twill scarf of soft grey/taupe wool and grey/brown homespun, but I felt that might be a bit boring. So I went searching and found a more interesting twill-based draft on the net.

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What I love about it is that the pattern changes, depending on how close you are to it - H said it was like a 3D puzzle. The two similar wool colours should make it an interesting, subtle result. I started warping this up last night but I made a fundamental tactical error in transferring the warp from the warping frame to the loom which resulted in my spending quite some time eliminating knots from the warp and actually getting the warp on the frame. Not a fatal error, but one that took a while to clean up. I've learned my lesson and won't make that mistake again. The delay meant I only got as far as winding the warp on the frame and through the reed before bedtime. I'll hook this up to the shafts in the correct configuration and start weaving it tonight. I'm excited.