Thursday, December 22, 2016

Envelope Bag

Inspired by the colors and forms of Banjara textiles, I knitted an envelope bag out of handspun, hand dyed yarn and lined it with reproduction Turkey Red fabric.



The red yarn is dyed with madder, the blue with indigo.  I used the same "expanding square" knitting method that I used to form the back of my sontag (shawl).  Starting out with 12 cast-on stitches, I increased at the end of each row every other row.  I changed colors but wanted it to be mostly red, red, red.  The fastener is an old leather button from my stash which includes buttons from my mother and grandmother.  I gifted this piece so I need to make another one!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wooden Spools

After admiring the clever and decorative use of wooden spools at Threads of the Past living history center in San Diego Old Town State Historic Park, I decided to gather up my empty (and almost empty) wooden spools with the idea of doing something creative.  I have been collecting them for some time, putting them aside for a future use.  Thread has not come on wooden spools for quite a while; they were styrofoam briefly and now are plastic of various shapes and sizes.

After locating my spools, I decided to look in my mother's thread box to see what she might have.  After she passed away in 2012, I organized her sewing supplies a little but have not really incorporated them into my own supplies.  Somehow, hers need to stay separate for a while longer.

She kept her thread in an old fruit cake tin.  I loved looking through her sewing things as a child.  I opened the tin, and indeed she had many wooden spools of thread.  Some of them only had a small amount of thread, and I wound it off.  Most of this was polyester and I did not regret throwing it away.  Several of her spools still had plenty of cotton thread, and I left these alone.

A few of the spools had thread on them that was obviously re-wound by hand.  In fact, a couple had one color wound on one end of the spool, and one color on the other end.  There was also a folded piece of cardboard that was wound with thread.  Thrifty.

I came across her cloth tape measure, which I used to chew on as a child.  I chewed on it so much that the marked measurements are barely visible in some places.  I have a vague memory of stuffing this entire object into my mouth, the cloth crisp and cottony to the taste.

I also found a token at the bottom of the thread box.  After a little online research, I found that it dates to the 1940s.  Someone punched a hole in it and probably wore it; the Lord's Prayer is on the other side.


I don't know the story behind this item.  My mother lived in New Jersey during the 1940s, before my parents were married.  Of all the times I have rooted around in this thread box over my lifetime, I never noticed this object.   I think this shows a jalopy driving off a pier, with the surf shown below it.

Here is the collection of wooden spools that I accumulated.  Notice that one is green.  One, the most spool-looking one of all, is actually for dental floss.  I guess you cut a length of it with scissors.  The small, flat ones held silk buttonhole thread.


The ones that still have a lot of thread on them went on display in the living room with some industrial thread bobbins.  I could comment on how the price of thread has increased over time; some of the large spools are marked 39 cents (my computer keyboard doesn't even have a "cents" symbol).

I don't know what I will do with these, but I had fun looking for them and revisiting my mother's sewing box.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cotton Harvest

I have been harvesting cotton for a couple of months now, but with the shorter days the bolls have been ripening more slowly.  This tells me that day length is more important to cotton formation than temperature, since here in San Diego we are still having daytime highs into the 80s.  I have not picked anything for about a month, but there are plenty of bolls still on my plants.


This is my harvest so far, with the standard sized coffee mug for scale.  The cotton is Acala with smooth black seeds.  It will be white after I scour and wash it.  I have not ginned any yet, but I have fluffed it up a little to make sure there is no moisture.  I have about 12 - 14 of these plants.  I cut them back in the winter to encourage branching and new growth.  They are in a raised bed. 

Brown Cotton Boll


I only have one brown cotton plant, but it produces well.  The fiber is relatively short, and it has fuzzy seeds.  This plant is in a large pot set apart from the white cotton.

People ask what I do with the cotton.  I spin it, then weave and knit with it.  Sometimes I dye the yarn with indigo.


This is a small shawl that I knit in a lace pattern with some of my cotton.  The nice thing about a piece dyed with indigo is that when it starts to fade a bit from wearing outside you can just re-dip it in the next indigo vat.  


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Spinning and Dyeing Churro Wool

I spent a lot of time this summer spinning and dyeing Churro wool singles.  The singles will be used by the Colcha Embroidery Guild to create textiles for Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Before I could start to spin for this project, I had to learn as much as I could about colcha embroidery because I wanted my yarn to be the best it could be.  This led to research on textile production and use in early historic San Diego, both at Mission San Diego de Alcala and in Old Town.

Finally I was ready to start spinning, starting with white Churro roving from Desert Churros which is located north of Los Angeles.  Churro roving is great for spinning singles because of the strength, long staple, and ability to hold a twist.  Desert Churros was kind enough to also send me a batch of rabbitbrush to use as a dye plant.  This plant was used traditionally in the American Southwest.

Churro singles dyed with rabbitbrush, madder, and undyed brown

 I then moved on to trying other natural plant dyes.  I wanted to add blue and green.

Undyed brown, madder, indigo over rabbitbrush, marigold, medium indigo, dark indigo
Many of the earliest colcha embroidery pieces used only the natural colors of the Churro sheep.  Then, dyed fibers were added as the dye materials were available.  Right now I only have white and the dark brown, but I hope to add light brown and black this winter.  And of course continue spinning and dyeing with plant dyes.

The Colcha Embroidery Guild is practicing with commercial yarn at this time, but as soon as they learn the stitch and work on designs they will be using the yarn that I have prepared for them.  What was interesting to me was that the white twine that I used to tie the skein for marigold dyeing ended up being dyed yellow.  I expected the twine on the indigo skeins to be dyed blue, but I did not think the marigold would dye the cotton twine.  It was mordanted with the skein in alum but I am still surprised.

I am spinning most of the Churro wool at home, but I also started spinning it in Old Town.  Last Saturday, as part of the Fiestas Patrias celebration, I used the Spanish Colonial spinning wheel that we had made for Casa de Estudillo.  This is a replica of the type of spinning wheel that would have been made for and used at the mission in the early 1800s.  It is very likely that those wheels ended up in Old Town as well.

Replica of a Spanish Colonial Spinning Wheel at Casa de Estudillo
The wheel was made by Case-It and is based on plans made from original period wheels.  Funding for construction of the wheel was made possible by donations.  I look forward to spinning on this wheel during future living history programs.

In the dye garden, the madder is almost ready to harvest.  I am planting more madder, and have harvested a box full of cotton so far.  I planted some Japanese indigo, and will expand this part of the garden in the spring.  I will also be getting more marigold after Dia de los Muertos.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Return of the Blog

Changing over from a PC to a Mac last year did a major number on this blog.  I have only now been able to repair it and continue.  Apple does not necessarily play nicely with Google.

I attempted a madder dye vat about a month ago, hoping a spell of warm weather would result in a good day for dyeing.  The madder root went into warm water to soak about five days ahead of dye day.  I mordanted the wool in preparation.  A couple of fiber friends wanted to watch the process and we made arrangements. Alas, when the dye day arrived (a Sunday morning) a cool wind had arrived also.  The madder did not come out as dark as I would like, although the fiber is easy to draft and spin.  Depending on the plied result, I may re-dye the yarn skeins this summer.

In the meantime, I decided to organize and label my handspun and hand dyed yarn stash.  It was spilling out into my studio work area.  I have gifted some of the skeins in the past, but only selected ones that I thought someone might particularly like.  So, I pulled everything off the shelves and out of the cabinet onto the floor.

I have some jewel colors.  I have some bright colors.







I have big skeins and small sample skeins.  I have over 50, probably close to 60, skeins.  Mostly wool, but some silk blends and some super wash with nylon.  In all, representing a lot of spinning and dyeing. With a deep sigh, I plunged in to sort, measure, weigh, and label.  The singles skein on the top left of the left photo was dyed with Kool-Aid.  That was a fun project although it was difficult to find the unsweetened Kool-Aid mix.

These skeins do not include the fiber that I have dyed with natural plant dyes in the past few years.  I have used up most of that on projects, with the exception of some really nice indigo yarn that I am saving for….something.  I also have been dyeing a lot of green lately.  More about that in the next blog post.  Now that I have fixed the transition problem I am back to blogging here regularly.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Almost Summer

It is almost summer here in San Diego.  However, I just spent the past few months spinning and knitting a very warm kimono-style jacket.  I've worn it a couple of times in the evening, but now I think I will have to put it away for several months. 

It's an oversized garter stitch jacket, made in pieces but I picked up the stitches as I went, so it only has one cast-on edge: the back piece.  The gray is CVM from Windy Hill Farm and it was a pleasure to spin and knit.  The red accents are various batches of madder-dyed Corriedale that I have been experimenting with. 



I intentionally changed the widths and colors of the stripes to include samples of all the madder batches that I dyed.  This used up all the madder fiber that I have dyed since last summer, so I dyed another batch last week. 

I have also been spinning the wonderful indigo fiber that I dyed at the end of 2014. I am almost done with it, so I am planning another vat that will be mostly handspun cotton yarn.  I have 6 spools of my handspun cotton yarn - mostly white but also some light brown that should be interesting.  The dyeing will begin as soon as the semester is over and I turn in grades!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Indigo for the Holidays

During a very brief warm spell early this week, I decided to do a little more indigo dyeing.  I put some cotton fabric, wool top, wool roving, and handspun cotton yarn in to soak on the first warm day. 

Early on the second warm day, just before Christmas, I got the dye vat going.  Ah, the smell!  After letting the vat ripen for a few hours, I dyed the cotton first.  I had not dyed any of my handspun cotton yet with indigo, and I was thrilled with how rich the color came out.  This was Sally Fox's creamy-pink colored cotton which I purchased from her earlier this year (or was it last year?).  I dyed three one-yard pieces of fine cotton muslin fabric. 

Then I moved on to the wool.  I had 2 pounds of top and about 8 ounces of roving to dye. 


I experimented with some patterning on the cotton fabric; you can see some of the results on the fabric piece to the far left.  Funky!  The cotton yarn skeins are hanging at the edge of the photo.  One is brown; that is the natural colored buffalo cotton I also processed but did not dye (I scoured the cotton yarn first, of course).  I try to process handspun cotton yarn in batches of 3 to 5 bobbins at a time. 

I have started knitting a scarf for my husband with the spun Corriedale wool from the first dye last month.  I spun this in Old Town over the past few weeks.  I am very happy with how soft and easy to spin this fiber came out.