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. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Indigo Dyeing - Yarn, Fabric, and Roving

After many weeks of preparation and gathering materials, I spent yesterday dyeing in my first solo indigo vat.  I decided to use pre-reduced indigo for this effort.  I wanted to try handspun yarn (including a beautiful skein given to me by a close friend), roving, top, and cotton fabric.  It was a nice warm day here in America's Finest City, perfect for indigo dyeing.

Two days before dye day, I put everything in to soak and get thoroughly wetted, in plain water.  I first dyed the cotton fabric, since the vat needs a lower temperature for cellulose fibers.  I had 2 yards of unbleached muslin on hand so into the bath it went.

My stainless steel dye pot is small (4 gallons) so the fabric was a little bit crowded.  But I actually like the semi-batik appearance this provided.  I am planning an apron for this fabric.

Next went the handspun skeins, after warming the vat up to 120 degrees.  The BFL roving dyed beautifully to a dark blue.  My friend's skein was not quite as dark; I thought it was BFL but I know she was working with top and not roving.  Maybe that made a difference.  Wonderful color anyhow.

Then the big moment, the roving and top.  I had some very thin Corriedale roving so I made little bundles and put them in a mesh bag to soak.  They dyed very nicely.  I also had 2 bundles, each 4 oz, of Montana Debouillet roving that I bought at Convergence.  So far, so good.  I got brave and tossed in my last 4 oz of Corriedale top.  I treated all these fibers very gently, and held them in my hands while swooshing slowly in the vat.  Everything was dipped 3 - 5 times, for a duration of 30 to 60 seconds. 

This photo was taken before I had dyed all the roving and top, but you can see the result.  The Debouillet roving is on the right.  The shorter skeins are the BFL that I spun on a handspindle.  My friend's roving is on the far left. 

So far, the roving and top does not seem to be felted or matted.  In particular, to my surprise, the small bundles of very thin Corriedale roving came out great!  I will definitely make those to dye again.  On to Old Town. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Linen Lace Day Cap

While I am knitting my madder-dyed and hand spun jacket, I decided to take a little break and knit a linen lace day cap to wear in Old Town.  I looked online and at a lot of modern patterns, but saw nothing like what I wanted.  So, I decided to invent my own pattern.

I started with a circular cast-on as if I was going to knit a beret.  I increased in a star pattern.  Then knit a few straight rows around, added an eyelet row, and cast off in a lace edging.  I put a matching ribbon through the eyelets, and it was done.  Only took me a couple of days to knit in the evenings.  The linen yarn, while not hand spun, was very nice to work with; I did not knit it in a tight gauge except around the lace edging, where I switched to a smaller needle.  I am very happy with this cap. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Marigold Dyeing - Two Batches

After I used the large orange Old Town Dia de los Muertos marigolds for the first batch, I decided to try the much smaller, variegated color marigolds that we have been growing in our garden.  The smaller flowers ranged in color from light yellow, to single flowers with brown and yellow, to bright gold flowers.  I have been harvesting them for a couple of months, and freezing the flowers.  So, on to the results.

These are four ounce balls of Corriedale top.  The one on the left is from the Old Town orange marigolds.  The one on the right is from my garden marigolds.  As Rita Buchanan pointed out in her book, A Weaver's Garden, it does not seem to matter what color the marigold flowers are: the dyed color will be yellow.  This is interesting, because the dye extract that I obtained from my variegated color flowers was brown.  Yet I obtained this lemon yellow dye. 

The marigold genus Tagetes contains species that are highly aromatic.  These scented marigolds have been regarded as medicinal plants in Mexico since the times of the Aztec and Mayan people.  The leaves and flowers are used in a tea, and the flowers are used to decorate alters and graves during religious events associated with All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2).  Marigolds are also used in India during harvest festivals. 

I will start spinning this fiber soon. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Madder and Marigold, part 2

I was very pleased with how the marigold fiber came out.  This photo was taken while the roving was still wet; it developed a little more as it dried and is now a gold color - like the color we obtained at the Estes Park Wool Market class (see previous posts).


I am also attaching a photo of the madder-dyed fiber after I spun it into 2-ply yarn.  The two on the left are the same batch, and the one on the right is slightly more brick-red color.  They are posing on the P.WOOD spinning wheel. 

I plan to dye more marigold this weekend.  The flowers that I used for the batch pictured above were large, pom-pom type orange flowers.  I have some smaller flowers, mixed colors but mostly bright yellow and rust.  I am very curious to see how there would turn out, in contrast to the orange ones which produced a rich gold color. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Madder and Marigold Dyeing

I have spent the last four months experimenting with madder dyeing.  I was able to produce colors that range from burnt orange to bright red to brick red.  It took me four batches to perfect the process for dyeing wool top.  Although it is said by those in the know that you cannot dye roving or top, I was able to do so with extra care and attention. 

This is a super color, and no run off from the dye process.  I opening it up as it dried and was able to spin a fine, smooth yarn using long draw on my Ashford Elizabeth.  I have now dyed and spun about 1.5 pounds of wool roving and top, and have been very pleased with the product. 

I decided that I wanted to knit a sontag with the yarn.  The sontag is very period-appropriate for Old Town San Diego, and one made out of madder-dyed yarn would be useful.  I got the back of the garment knitted, up to the shoulders.  Then I had second thoughts.  Should I really be knitting another wool garment to wear in Old Town?  I have two shawls made from my hand spun yarn.  And honestly, it does not get that cold there.  So I am rethinking the sontag plan.  Instead, I am considering knitting a garment that I could wear to other places this winter; like in my home office when it is 55 degrees.  More later plus photos of the dye colors.

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) was celebrated in Old Town this past weekend.  The many alters were decorated with bright orange marigolds.  We were spinning at Casa Estudillo on Nov. 1 and I mentioned that I would love to have the marigolds after the event was over.  I have been saving my own garden marigolds all summer to use as dye.  Imagine how thrilled I was to receive a large bag of marigolds on Nov. 3 - over 3 pounds of flowers!  I divided them into half-pound groups and popped them into the freezer. 

Yesterday I took out a bag and started extracting dye.  What an interesting smell - kind of like chamomile tea.   I mordanted 4 oz of Corriedale top with alum, and left it to sit overnight.  This morning I started the dye process. 

I also obtained a great wheel this summer.  Long story which I will write up for Spinning Wheel Sleuth this winter, but the P. WOOD  wheel I obtained is beautiful and spins nicely. 

Although I won't spin much on the wheel (since it is 200 years old), it is a pleasure to have and enjoy. 

I will post photos of the marigold and madder yarn as it is spun. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Natural Dyes

I attended the Estes Park Wool Market event a couple of weeks ago, and took a class on using Natural Dyes from Stefania Isaacson.  It was an amazing day; five groups of students dyed skeins of yarn a total of 18 different colorways using madder, indigo, and five plants that produce yellow dyes.  My group used marigold.

Bright, isn't it?  We then overdyed the various yellow yarns with madder and indigo to produce oranges, greens, and browns.  Everyone went home with samples.  I learned so much about creating colors and controlling temperature, additives, and timing.  I will be doing more natural dyeing in the near future. 

I took a couple of sock knitting projects with me on the trip, finished one pair and one sock of a second pair.  I decided against taking my large red shawl project but I have been working on it since returning home.  Another class that I took at Estes Park was a Russian lace knitting class taught by Galina Khmeleva.  My interest was in learning and using various lace patterns to design knitted projects; I am under no illusion that I will ever knit a "gossamer web" shawl like Galina.  I used size 0 needles and fine yarn to make samples of different Russian shawl patterns, and Galina taught us how to make a knitted lace border.  I had never made a lace border like this before, and it gave me some ideas for the red shawl project: how I could add a Shetland or Russian style lace border on to the triangular shawl. 

The days in Estes Park were part of a long road trip that included time in the Santa Fe area.  One of my favorite places to visit is the Ortega family's weaving studio. 

Using looms traditional to the area, the studio produces many different kinds of woven goods.  It's always fun to see the looms, the work in progress, and the shop where rugs, clothing, bags, and other useful and beautiful objects are displayed. 

In addition to working on my red shawl, I am still spinning lots of cotton.  I bought more Sea Island cotton at Grandma's Spinning Wheel in Tucson, near the end of our road trip.  This wonderful store also has Churro and Shetland roving.  Speaking of Churro, thanks to La Plata ranch, which supplied us with samples of Churro fleece locks to use in our interpretive program in Old Town; we will be there several days in July and the natural dyed yarns will also be part of our presentation to the public. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hemp Knitting Underway

After much research, I decided on a knitted lace pattern that I thought would allow my handspun hemp yarn to drape comfortably as a scarf.  I prefer garter stitch lace since it is reversible and does not curl.  So, I have used both Shetland and Russian garter stitch lace patterns for scarves.  After some swatching and ripping, I selected the New Shell pattern in Elizabeth Lovick's book The Magic of Shetland Lace.  I modified the pattern a bit so that I could get three scallops and a garter stitch edge on a scarf that is about 5 1/2 inches wide.  Lovick commented in her notes on the pattern that it does well with color changes, which worked for me since I have two 2 ounce skeins of hemp in different colors.  Here is how I have done so far:

I am using size 3 needles to enhance the drape of the fabric.  The size 2 needles produced a fabric that was too firm.  It is knitting up fast and the pattern is easy to memorize.  I am carrying the unused color up the right edge and it is barely visible between the slipped edge stitch and the next stitch.  It looks pretty good now but I will steam finish it when it's done.  I hope to finish in time for our trip to the southwest in June.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cotton Plying

I am in the middle of plying all the cotton singles that I have spun over the past couple of months.  The singles were spun using akha and top whorl handspindles, depending on the staple length.  For the dark brown cotton, I did not allow the akha to leave my hand.  The staple of the peach/white colored Sally Fox cotton was long enough for me to use a light-weight top whorl handspindle and let it leave my hand to add twist. 

I made plying balls using two singles wrapped together around the ball.  Plying cotton is easier for me using this method because the thin yarn does not tangle when taken from the balls.  I am using a heavier top whorl handspindle to ply.  Soon I will have six bobbins full of cotton, ready to process. 

Unfortunately the true colors are not showing up well in this photograph.  I have two light brown balls, one dark brown ball, one medium brown ball, and two peach/white balls (one is still on the spindle in progress as shown here). 

I have greatly enjoyed spinning and plying cotton using the methods described above.  I can spin quite a bit while waiting for dinner to cook and relaxing in the evening.  Working with the different cotton staples on the spindles has been a great practice for me. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Spinning Hemp Again

I got a new computer and now everything is a do-over.  I hope this posts correctly.  Sigh.

I had previously spun some Rust hemp from Opulent Fibers (posted in this blog).  The yarn turned out nice but my drafting hand was sore for days. Lesson learned:  I need to spin hemp without hurting my hand.  Because I wanted to spin more beautiful hemp fiber from this source, I ordered 2 ounce bundles of a variety of colors.  In the meantime, I purchased Stephenie Gaustad's book on spinning cotton, hemp, and flax.  I read the section on hemp several times, took my Matchless wheel outside, and gave it a go with the color Soft Fruit.  Definitely an improvement but still needed work. 

Note: In her book, Stephenie issues a warning about spinning dyed hemp. But I am stubborn.

I searched the web for suggestions on spinning dyed hemp fiber.  Not much out there, but some information that proved useful.  I determined to use some of my Spring Break from teaching
to get my dyed hemp spinning under control.  Here is what I learned:

1.  Set the pulley on your wheel to an appropriate size for spinning yarn the size of a paper clip.
2.  Adjust tension for light take-up; I had my Matchless on Scotch tension and a tiny bit was enough. As the bobbin filled, I increased it very slightly.
3.  Divide the hank of hemp fiber carefully in half but do not mess with it, pre-draft it, or shuffle it around. I had to divide it because I found the whole hank was too unwieldy to spin from. Make sure you find the correct end to spin from - it really makes a difference.
4.  Treadle slowly and draft quickly. Let the wheel take the yarn as soon as it is sound enough.
5.  Too much twist will snap the yarn.
6.  These fibers are relatively short; some are very short.  I used a short forward draw but I let a tiny bit of twist enter the fiber mass to help pull out the wiry, short fibers.  Otherwise I found the yarn drifted apart. 
7.  I moved my fiber hand across the tip of the fiber mass somewhat like drafting cotton sliver.  I opened up the fiber slightly as I moved across the mass since the dyeing had compressed it. 
8.  As with cotton, hold the fiber mass gently - do not mash it.
9.  Don't let the yarn hump up on the bobbin - move it frequently.
10.  Let the singles sit on the bobbin for at least a day to get used to the twist.
11.  As with all my singles, I rewound onto a plying bobbin to distribute the twist, remove slubs, and let larger pieces of woody hemp fall out.  You see one ounce of rewound singles yarn on my plying bobbin above.

I actually started out moving the wheel by hand, a bit at a time.  Then one treadle, then both but slowly.  After I had one ounce spun, which took me an hour, I was able to speed things up a bit.  The other ounce went in less than half an hour.

I am going to ply today.  My plan is to combine this color with the Rust I spun previously for a woven scarf.  Yes I do think it will be soft enough to wear! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I want to knit a Shetland style shawl and have been collecting patterns and designs for a few months.  The color will be madder red.  It took me three tries but I finally dyed 2 pounds of Corriedale roving the right colors of red/brown that I wanted.  I have been spinning the red roving in Old Town, and it makes a striking presentation.  Piles and piles of bright red roving, turning into fine yarn.   Having filled up all my spare bobbins, it was time to ply this weekend. 

I keep my Ashford Traveller set up for plying.  You will note that I moved the spring to the right side of the wheel for plying.  This is easy to do and makes a big difference.  You might have to open up the screw eye a little to remove the spring from its normal position on the left side of the wheel, but then you can simply drape the brake band across to the other side.  In this position the spring is able to provide resistance behind the flyer, which is moving counterclockwise (to the left) for plying. 

I used several different colors of Cushing dyes to get the red and warm brown tones I wanted, but I have planted some madder for future projects.  I ordered seeds and had good luck getting two out of three to sprout.  The plants are vigorous and I anticipate harvesting the roots in 2-3 years.  Since they are invasive, I put a barrier in the garden to confine the growth of the plants.  I also added agricultural lime to the garden soil as well as some compost.  Thank you Rita Buchanan for the information on growing and using madder (A Weaver's Garden, Interweave Press).

The first Blue Moon Sock Club project for 2014 is a really great pattern called Lantern Luck.  The yarn is spectacular and the pattern is very interesting to knit, but also easy to memorize.  I quickly finished the pair of socks.

No my feet are not super tiny.  The sock fabric is very stretchy and they fit perfectly on my size 9 feet.  There was an error in the foot chart as originally sent out by Blue Moon - they sent out a revised pattern immediately although it was an easy error to spot and fix.
The previous photo is a little too blue; there is a lot of aqua green in the sock yarn.  The colors in the second photo are better, I think.  Frida decided she had to have her tail and rear end in the picture. 
I am still spinning a lot of cotton.  I bought pounds of dark brown and peachy white cotton from Sally Fox.  This fiber is easy to spin and rich in color and texture.  I had been using a very light weight top whorl spindle for my cotton.  I now have two ultra light Akha spindles which I find delightful to use.  I am using the top whorl to ply the cotton singles from a plying ball.