Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yarn gnomes. It's the only reasonable explanation.

This craptacular pile of yarn barf represents my Saturday and Sunday evenings' fibre-related work, and has absolutely nothing to do with weaving. Whoops. I pulled out a brand new ball of Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece to swatch something, and hilarity ensued.

DH congratulated me on my debacle (pronounced "de-ball-cle". HAH.)

I have continued to work on the group-project woven pillow with the hand-dyed, hand-spun weft. For all my time, I haven't made a lot of forward progress, and not just because of the above distraction. At one point, I had about two feet of the pillow woven (2/3 of the first half, 1/3 of the whole thing), but then I realized that I hadn't staggered rows of the new skein with the previous one when I started the second skein of weft. The point where the second skein started was an obvious shade change. So a couple weeks ago I ripped out over a good foot of weaving.

When I started again last week, this time staggering the two skeins in alternating rows, I had some problems with the edges. On one side, the final warp thread wasn't being caught by the weft. I ripped out about 6-8 inches again, and figured out that on the right side I needed to run one shuttle of warp thread under the other before throwing it, so that it would bind the right edge. I still don't really understand how warp edges behave in weaving. I want to go back after this and really figure out double weaves on my rigid heddle, beyond just reading a pattern draft. I'm pretty sure that will help me to understand this problem.

Very late Thursday night, while at a friend's place for our weekly Thursday Night Crafts, I figured out the edge thing and wove 8-9 inches again. I need to get the front side of this pillow, three feet of weaving, off my loom some time Monday, so that it can go to the embroiderer, who will most likely be visiting that evening.

I also continue to work on the Double-knit Hat from Hades. I haven't ripped out anything on it recently. Keeping my fingers crossed on that one. It's amazing, though - I sit down to do a single row, and I'm asleep before I'm half-way through. Who needs a sleep aid? I have the double-knit hat.

Finally, I've started a few new super-secret knitting conspiracies.

More details eventually. Mwa Ha Ha. Just as soon as I finish untangling the rest of that skein.

Seriously, how does that happen? I have no good explanation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One of those rare memes worth posting

Because the world needs more voluntary goodness. From elisem:

Reply to this post (even just a "hey" will do), and I'll tell you one reason why I like you. Then put this in your own journal, and spread the love.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Magpie Telegraph System Active

Elisem is having another sale.

And she has hairsticks.

And oh, these hairsticks. Did I mention they can double as shawl pins? I'm also awfully fond of these necklaces.

Given how crazy that double-knit hat is still driving me (let's not talk about the 6-7 rows I had to rip out again yesterday), this is necessary shopping therapy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hat... boring... losing... consciousness...

I've been trying to finish the double-knit hat that I started for DH here, then ripped out and started again here. Yes, that's right, I've been working on this damn thing since March. We're into the cold weather now, so I've been thinking he could probably use it before, say, next spring.

I feel like, for a "simple" hat, I'm not getting very far. I was trying to turn it into my "subway project" at first, but with my transit ride into downtown only about 15 minutes, I could barely get around two rounds, which on this hat, being 2-layer double-knit, is really a single row. Every time I try to sit down and knit on it in the evening while we watch TV, I doze off. Not even a steady stream of old X-Files episodes (we're on Season 4 now, working through the series) can keep me awake while I knit this hat. So I haven't been progressing very quickly.

I have no idea how close this is to being done.

Last week, I had him try it on, and thinking that it looked to be about the right time, I spent a day or so on decreases. When I had him try it on again, it was pretty clear that the hat wasn't actually deep enough (by at least a couple inches), so I ripped out the decrease rows. But at least now I know how to do them.

Faced with the prospect of more tedious solid-colour double-knit stockinette, I became a little crazed. For yuks, I tried putting in some simple colour work, thinking maybe that would spruce it up enough to keep me interested. It kept me interested all right - and frustrated enough with how it was turning out to rip it out after five rows of hell. I was trying to do it without charting it out, and I had what barely passed for my "pattern" thoroughly screwed up. And to be honest, the two colours don't have enough contrast to make a pattern worthwhile anyhow. So this will be a 2-solid colour hat, despite my best efforts.

Now, I'm working out various ways of doing rounds that will allow me to keep the two sides separate, yet not have to knit each round twice to finish a single row. It's not crucial that the two pieces remain separate, it's not like it will matter for this hat, but I feel like I have to find some challenge to keep me interested here. Since I moved it over to a long cable in order to magic loop the decreases earlier, I've left it on the long cable and will just continue to magic loop it the rest of the way.

For a while I was doing a half-round of one colour (i.e. knit or purl one colour, slip the other colour the whole length), then I would transfer all the stitches back onto the left needle and do the other colour before moving the cables around to do the other half of the round. Then - and this was very exciting, to be sure - I figured out how to hold and carry both colours of yarn and work with them together without twisting them so that I can alternately purl with the one, then knit the other. That way I can do a single round of both colours in one pass, but the sides remain separate. This trick is not letting the threads twist.

Yes, I know, it's amazing. I've re-invented the wheel.

And then... then? Wait for it... I figured out how to do it while riding the subway and bus!!

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Tomorrow, I need to put up the Hell Hat and do some swatches for a new super-seekrit joint project. In other words, I might get the hat done by spring.

If I don't light it on fire first.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I swear I'm not really a dyer, Part 4: The second annual dye madness day (BYOP), and "black enough"

The final installment of this year's dye adventures, at long last. It occurs to me that we have officially been in our house for a year: we closed on Black Friday 2007 (an accident of Realty and Lawyers over which we had little control), and then we spent the next week and a bit moving, a van-load at a time. We had to be out of our old apartment on Dec. 4, 2007. That makes this post appropriate - I guarantee I would never have undertaken most of this year's the dye adventures if we hadn't acquired a basement, a working kitchen, and a backyard!

Audrey the Indigo Vat had a magnificent final outing of the season over the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend (mid-October), when she was very carefully packed up and transported across town to my friend Helena's house a few days ahead of our annual* Dye Madness day at her house. Helena cared for her and kept her warm, feeding her some de-thawed, mushed up, organic bananas - after the traumatic ride, Audrey was a little gassy and needed to settle down, eat, ferment and reduce for a couple days.

Why not have the dye day at my house? You see, Helena has a magnificent dye garden, and Audrey was more portable than the garden. I requested that folks BYOP**, if they could, so that we would be sure to have enough to pre-soak things. One can only generate so much urine on one's own. In the end, with the help of the others (and also my reluctant but patient husband, who eventually learns to accept the Crazy), we had plenty.

Last year we did cochineal, weld, and madder berries. This year, though, the main plan was to dig up some of Helena's now 3-year-old madder and work with it fresh. The weather was perfect, and nearly room temperature outside - on the second weekend of October! We actually worked up a sweat, attacking the raised beds with gloves, shovel, spade and much glee. We hosed down some huge balls of bright-carrot-orange roots that looked for all the world like strange sea creatures, chopped it up and into the pot it went. We only dug up a little corner of her madder - and there was still plenty for each of us to take some home, and she still has 3/4 of her madder plants growing:

Freshly killed madder roots, drying in my basement

We weren't sure how the madder would go - the one experienced madder dyer in the group had never used it fresh from the ground and chopped roughly. She suspected it wouldn't give us anything too far into the reds or too dark. She was right - we got a nice salmon - but towards the end of the dyebath we did start seeing the reds come out a little. It will be interesting to see what we get later with the roots that we're drying, as those will be ground up more finely.

We also found a bush of Dyer's Broom growing in her garden, so we pruned it back a little and made a small pot of that with alum. We poked it dubiously throughout the afternoon, as the water didn't seem to be getting much colour into it. But after a good 90 minutes of cooking, it finally started to suck colour out of the leaves. We ended up with a nice light greeny-yellow.

Audrey was in fine form for the day, thanks to Helena's kind care and feeding after her rough ride. She performed well, and gave us everything from a medium blue fleece (a 5-hour soak) to some lovely light blues on roving that was only left in an hour or so, to a nice overdye of some patterned tan fabric.

As we were packing up our wet samples, we suddenly realized that we had, without really planning it that way, done the a primary colour set that day:

L - R: Indigo blue, fresh-killed dyer's broom yellow, and fresh-killed madder salmon

And then there was the added bonus: as we were standing around surveying the wonder that is Helena's dye garden, one of the ladies noticed that right next to us, very near the house and suspiciously close to where we had been chopping up weld plants the previous year, were three tall stalks of weld. It appears the seeds took root between cracks in the concrete. Nature is nothing if not persistent. Helena was happy for us to pull it and make it go away, so the lady and I split it.

Surprise weld, the best kind!

All the participants in the festivities agreed that our second annual (BYOP) dye day was a great success, and we all look forward to next year. And if Sharon Ann is reading this, your half of that weld has been packed up and will be in the mail to you soon, I hope (as soon as my mother comes up for a visit, which should be in the next couple weeks, before Christmas).

In other dyeing adventures, I continued my quest for black by once again trying to overdye this unfortunate colour, which I achieved by way of the weld on the left overdyed with Indigo to make the teal in the middle,, then overdyed in a cochineal exhaust bath. I had originally just tried this in a walnut bath with no additive, but there was no noticeable colour change, since the walnut bath would only add a nice brown to it.

This time, I bit the bullet and added a touch of iron powder to the dyebath. The smell was not as horrifically rotten-egg-like as I anticipated, but it certainly wasn't great. This time, though, I was very careful not to inhale deeply while standing over the pot, and often held a wet towel over my face when I was near it.

Liles (1990: 184-5) recommends an oxalic acid mordanting prior to the walnut-iron dyebath for a good black, but I didn't have a ready source of oxalic acid unless I wanted to buy over a pound of it, so I just went with the iron. I spun up a couple yards of it for my friend to finish the embroidery project that we needed it for:


So there we have it. Bridget's 2008 adventures in dying.

And just in case you forgot: I'm not really a dyer. We swears, precious. We swears.

* Two years in a row makes it annual, right?

** P = Pee

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Born to work with fibre, I guess: An excavation of love

When Grandma Helen passed away over five years ago, my mother and uncle faced the herculean task of cleaning out her house and selling it. They could have called in help, boxed things up, sold things off and gotten it done and over with quickly, but they didn't. They decided to take their time. Gram was a firebrand, creative, a collector of quite a few things, and sorely missed by a lot of people. All the grandkids were allowed to come to the house when we wanted and set aside things we would like to have. Those things would be okayed by mom and uncle, and given to us. Mom gave away pieces of the glass collection to friends, anyone touched by Helen who wanted a keepsake. She still does it. It took them over a year to clean out the house and sell it, but it was worth it.

Early on, I offered to deal with all the fabric and fibre-related things. Gram was mostly a crocheter, but she also did a good amount of knitting and sewing (clothes for us, then later doll and puppet clothes). I asked Mom to check with uncle, his daughters and my sister (the other three grandkids) and see if anyone else wanted to join me while I sorted through the boxes, or split stuff with me. No one did. So one day four or so years ago, Mom and I spent the day at the house. We cried. We laughed. I swore at Gram when I was stabbed by rusty pins that she left in pieced-together pieces of fabric. Gram had far more WIPs and UFOs than I do, which is somehow reassuring. Take, for instance, this blue cardigan, found in a bag with a plenty more yarn, 80% finished and still on a circular needle:

I plan to finish it and give it to my older sister, who was very close to Gram and misses her terribly.

Most of the acrylic yarn (bags and bags of Red Heart) was given to a ladies' church auxiliary for making blankets. For the last five or so years of her life, Gram was far less mobile and spent a lot of time watching TV and making granny square afghans. Mom would buy 1 lb. balls of Red Heart by the bagful every so often and drop them off. Mom still has dozens of these afghans, which she occasionally gives away, and I have a couple:

The rust/mustard/white afghan is also crocheted by hand - by my great-grandmother K., Grandma Helen's mom. I've had it since my pre-teens and use it every day.

I also brought a big bag of acrylic home with me and sent most of it to my husband's home-bound grandmother. Most of the fabric stash, once I had removed all the rusty pins and updated my tetanus shot *rollseyes*, went to a family friend who is an avid quilter. I kept a few things, including all of Gram's knitting needles and crochet hooks. While I usually use my Denise interchangables for knitting, once in a while I use a set of her straight needles. I definitely use the crochet hooks.

She kept all her crochet hooks in that old alka-seltzer bottle for as long as Mom can remember.

Now that we're mostly settled into the house (it's been a year), I'm starting to delve into the boxes that were not meant to be unpacked for a while. One of those was the auxiliary knitting box: the sub-prime yarn stash, UFOs and things I don't use regularly but want to keep. And mementos. Here are a few tidbits, and their stories.

Several two-sided crochet samples, and a selection of crochet flowers.

The blue and white two-sided crochet sample in the picture above is special - Mom says this piece is exactly the same as a baby blanket that Gram made for me when I was born. Mom has the blanket. The crochet flowers are something that always make me think of Gram. In my teens, she began decorating sweatshirts with these in various colour combinations, also embroidering leaves and stems, and adding a crochet bit around the neckline. They became very popular at our church, and she made them for a lot of people. I think I still have a couple, but they don't fit any more. Mom definitely has some. I now have several bags of these flowers, apparently waiting for decades for their own sweatshirts.

The ladybug dress, with matching bag. All together now: "Aaaaaaaaw!"

This was also made for me as a child. I don't remember wearing it, but boy do I hope I did. That matching baggy is awesome. I think I need to make a bigger version, like, now.

As I said before, going through those boxes was a whirlwind of emotion. We laughed, we cried, I swore, we laughed some more. And then there were the things that stopped me dead in me tracks. Take, for example, the following:

An odd colour combination for granny squares.

Mom pulled out the bag with this yarn and four sample granny squares. It was all packed away together. I can think of only one good reason Gram would try fighting with fuzzy yarn to make matching orange and blue granny squares. I did my undergraduate at Syracuse University. It was my first time living away from home, and Gram was probably more worried about me than my mother. I would get cards and letters from her regularly, usually with a $20 bill tucked inside and a post-it note that said, "Get yourself a pizza. I love you, honey." But what does this have to do with the granny squares and yarn above?

The colours of Syracuse University - and a considerable amount of my wardrobe at that time, since I was in the marching and pep bands, were, and are, orange and blue.

We could be wrong - we're guessing about her intentions, of course. That yarn is pretty old (see label), but then, she was a frequent thrift store and yard sale shopper. But other things don't require conjecture:

Handwritten notes, and monogram initials.

There are hundreds of little pieces of paper just like this one, with notes scribbled on them - colour combinations, bits of patterns, sometimes mixed with bits of scripture. Tangible reminders, as if I need more, of her creativity, energy and faith. And the occasional tangible reminders of her love. Those monogram initials? They're mine, for my maiden name. Hard to say what project she bought them for specifically. It's probably in a note somewhere.

I come from a long line of women who worked with fibre. Even today, their work continues to add colour and warmth to the lives of many, not just mine. I know, without a doubt, with the assured knowledge of one who has experienced it, that with each stitch, they were thinking of the intended recipient of their work - very often me - and of those who came before them, those who taught them. Every night that I pull out that alka-seltzer bottle of crochet hooks, I honour her memory. Every time I cover myself or my husband with one of those blankets, I am wrapping myself in the love of my grandmothers.

Cheesy? Sappy? Youbetcha. But I will never go cold, and I will always feel their love.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Whoever coined the phrase "warp speed" apparently didn't have cats

So. I warped the loom. Again. After the unfortunate incident with the red warp yarn that we dyed, I picked up five balls of lovely, red, strong DK-weight alpaca.*

I warped this up the weekend before last onto a 10 dpi heddle and wove a few inches, only to realize that the loom was assembled wrong. This bugged me something fierce, so I took the warp off, fixed the loom, re-tied it and wove about five inches that Sunday night.

Monday I looked at the resulting fabric with a critical eye. The fabric was coming out a little too airy, and was not going to be as weft-faced as we want it. Since the weft yarn is our group's cochineal hand-dyed handspun from raw fleece, we want it to be prominent.

So, I took the whole warp off last Tuesday, and Wednesday night I re-warped it onto an 8 dpi heddle. I was all set to have DH help me wind it onto the loom that night, but that was not to be:

The union stages a sit-in.

Negotiations commence: Whose need is greater?

Negotiations are concluded for the evening.

In the interest of not interrupting an obviously necessary nap time, we wound it on early the next morning, before he left for work (DH is a very good assistant warp-winder-oner, no matter how much he doth protest), and I tied it up Thursday afternoon. I spent much of last Saturday sitting behind a table collecting entrance fees from people for an SCA event.

A knitted SCA combined Arts & Sciences badge. Made quickly a couple weeks ago at the request of the event head cook, to her specifications, to be used as part of a serving presentation during the feast.

During the afternoon dead time at the event, after everyone who was coming had shown up but before we could officially close down the gate, I got in some good weaving time, and had help from at least three others. In the spirit of a truly group project, I'd like anyone who wants to weave a few rows to get a chance, so I taught a few new weavers as well, and Sunday I did some more at home.

Who's happy? That would be me.

It's coming out beautifully. The natural variegation of our handspun wool shows well, and the little bit of warp that shows adds just enough red to brighten it up.


From the first 79 foot skein of weft yarn, we have well over a foot of fabric, 18.5" wide. We're getting 9.5 rows of weft to the inch. We need a little over six feet of fabric - two 3-foot pieces - and then it goes off to others for embroidery and finishing.

And as I finally finish this post and check the date, I realize that it is officially our 14th wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, love.

* Which begs the question, from a historical re-enactment standpoint, can alpaca yarn be considered within the SCA period we're aiming for, i.e. loosely pre-1600 (1650-at-the-latest) Europe? The answer is, maybe. Alpacas are a South American animal, domesticated there for thousands of years. The Spanish were slaughtering conquering the Incas in the 1500s, meaning they would certainly have had access to alpaca. But did the European conquerers actually use alpaca? Um, probably not. Rather, the Spanish brought in their own herd animals, and it's possible that nearly 90% of alpacas were wiped out during the Conquest, the rest being saved by the natives who took them up into the inhospitable higher altitudes. All modern alpacas come from these surviving herds. Alpaca wool was not really used in Europe until the 19th century. (Note: please don't use me or these random web pages as a reliable scholarly source!)**

** All of which begs the further question - Do I care?***

*** Which brings us to the answer: Nope. I have warp yarn of the right weight and colour that will not break on me. It is not synthetic, and is in fact from an animal that was domesticated well before 1600 and known by Europeans at that time, even if they were too dense to bother using alpaca for fibre. Blows raspberry in the general direction of any authenticity police.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shiny sale, and four random facts about me

Elisem is having a sale again. Look at what I bought! I really hope someone buys those necklaces that I keep looking at, because I don't know if I have the willpower, but I do know I don't have the budget. Especially since my horn is going into the shop tomorrow!

And now, to get my mind off Elise's shiny things, here are four random facts about me that not everyone knows:

1 - I have been able to recite the poem "Jabberwocky" from memory since I was eleven years old. I played the Cheshire Cat in a fifth grade production of Alice in Wonderland, and following that made it my mission to learn the whole poem. Of all the multitude of useless trivia I've committed to memory over the years, this is one I'm still inordinately proud of, even though I'm still not certain that I'm pronouncing everything the way it should be. Sometimes I recite it to fall asleep. It's better than counting sheep.

2 - I was a clown for two years, around age 10-11, or 11-12. The memory of the smell of greasepaint makeup and baby oil (used to take it off) still makes me a little ill. My clown name was (in the category of OMG-I-can't-believe-I'm-admitting-this-publicly) B-Sharp.

3 - Only a couple people who knew me in high school or earlier call me by the nickname "Bird." Only my parents and siblings use the nickname "Twiz," though they also occasionally use Bird. Even my husband doesn't use either of these nicknames. I like them both, and even in my mid-thirties I wouldn't mind a bit if people used them.

4 - I wish I were a better piano player, yet I know I'll never be as good as my mother because I lack the discipline. But here's the thing: I don't want to be as good or better than her. The fact that she is a far better pianist than I will ever be is an integral part of my image of her, and it is something special about her. I like it that way, and I like her that way. I do musical things that she doesn't do. We compliment each other.

Mother's hands

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The version of "The red warp story" with at least 85% less cussing

I originally posted this story on Ravelry the other day, in a forum where my occasional extreme potty mouth is not only accepted but expected. I think I'm now sufficiently calmed down enough to post it here with significantly fewer strings of naughty words.*

The background: I’m working on a project with a group of friends that started out a secret, but now is not. I've been babbling on about different parts of it for months. We’re weaving a pillow on my loom, which will be embroidered, finished and presented to some fine folks by the group. Since this is for an SCA (historical re-enactment) thing, we’ve made the weft yarn and the embroidery thread from sheep to finish - some members of the group attended the shearing, we all dealt with the raw wool, some dyed it, some spun it. It looks great and is working out just fine.

Since the weaving will be done on my loom, I made the call several months ago that we should go with a commercial yarn for the warp. It will be under tension on the loom and we didn’t know until recently how the lady-with-the-wheel’s handspun would hold up. To be a little more authentic, we bought a cone of white 2-ply commercial Shetland wool and dyed it red ourselves with cochineal.

Last Saturday, I started measuring it out on the warping board. By Sunday evening, I had it 3/4 measured.

At that point, I hit a snag in the yarn, so I sat down to pick it apart. I absent-mindedly gave it a good tug.

The yarn snapped apart in my hands.

Surprised, I pulled out another bit of yarn and did a tug test. It snapped like candy. No kidding. Wanna see?

I twisted two pieces together, tightly, hoping that if I doubled it up it would be OK. Nope. Snapped like a dry twig. This is bad. It can’t possibly stand up to the tension on the loom. I have 900 yards of red warp thread that I don’t dare waste my time threading onto my loom - it will break the minute I put any tension on it at all.

Here is where the strings of cussing came in. I have edited it down to a single word that sucinctly expresses my feelings:


This yarn? Is crap. It is weaker than my own handspun singles. Alas, the label neglected to mention that. I thought I gave it the old tug test when I first looked at it, but maybe not. It was sold as weaving yarn, from a weaving shop, so I just trusted that it was fine. I don't blame the shop, though.** It's also entirely possible that when I bought it, I neglected to mention that I was planning to use it for warp, and they assumed I wanted it for weft. I’ve been handling it for months and never noticed, never thought to check - and since we dyed it all, I can't be totally sure if it was this weak when I bought it, or if we ruined it in the cochineal/tin dyebath or subsequent hand washings.***

Total cost? Not much. $13 for the cone and about $8 for the dye materials. And several days of mine and a couple others’ time and sweat - mostly mine. I have no idea how I didn’t notice this before now. I honestly don’t know if this yarn is useable for anything.

As I was sitting there stewing and cursing under my breath, DH, who was quietly typing and observing the whole scene from a safe distance of a few feet away, asked if there was anything I needed. “Red yarn,” I said testily and with probably not a little sarcasm. “Wool, about this weight, that won’t fucking snap when I look at it funny.”

“Anything I actually have?” he asked, with infinite patience.

Pause. A few seconds passed. “A big fucking glass of port. This seriously requires alcohol.”

I rarely drink. I’m no tea-totaler, but booze gives me heartburn, one standard glass is enough that I can’t operate machinery, and my usual reaction to being even mildly drunk is to fall asleep. But DH didn’t even blink. He pulled out the bottle of port and emptied it into my glass.

Yesterday, I made an emergency yarn run and found some useable warp yarn. It’s not really a big deal. I am moving on. But sometimes you just have to say, "Screw it. Bottom’s up."

* Yes, I know anyone could look me up and find the original post on Ravelry. That's fine. Go for it. I am not embarrassed by it, nor is all the language edited out here, obviously. I'm simply providing a buffer between my in-person full-on rants and any readers with potentially more sensitive ears. Er, eyes. Whatever. It's just a courtesy.

** I will, however, be making a trip up there next week with a friend to check the cones on their shelves and see if I'm imagining it or if it really was this weak when I bought it, and to let them know, if they don't already, that it is absolutely, positively not suitable for warp.

*** ETA: I have since found two samples that the shop sent to me before I bought the cone. They are the same yarn, in red. We decided after getting them that we would use that yarn, only dye it ourselves. I tested one of the samples and it, too, snapped with little trouble. So I'm now pretty certain it's the yarn, not our cochineal/tin dyebath.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I swear I'm not really a dyer, Part 3: Onion skins, and What the heck has she been doing all this for, anyhow?

Apparently, 'tis the season to wind yarn off the spindles, ply and make skeins. Over the last several weeks I've skeined a surprising amount of yarn.

For a friend who is doing a special cross-stitch project using only my naturally-dyed handspun:
- 10 yards single-ply of the green I made by overdyeing some (purchased) onion skin/tin yellow roving in the indigo vat.
- 25 yards single-ply of weld-dyed yellow.
- 20-25? yards of single-ply white (undyed) DorsetX.
- 20-25? yards of single-ply deep blue indigo-dyed DorsetX.

She is still using the white and blue, but will give me back what she doesn't use

This weld yellow was too light for the piece - it looked nearly white next to the dark blue - so I combed out some white DorsetX rovings and did a small onion skin with alum+tin dyepot last weekend in order to try and replicate that deep orangey-yellow of the roving I bought from Brush Creek Wool Works in August. In a fit of impatient insanity, I cooked it on my kitchen stove without a face mask, inhaling a little too much heavy metal tin fumes, so I had a sore throat the next day. This is the project that I also need to make black for. I'm still working on that, but it will require cooking wool in iron sulfate. That is definitely an outside project. Just say no to heavy metal poisoning.

But Holy Crap, did I ever get yellow. It is sunglasses-worthy yellow. I left some in the tin afterbath a little longer (like, 20 minutes instead of 10) and also got some that's slightly oranger:

Someone suggested I name it "I lost years of my life so you can have this Yellow." Done.

Also, for yuks, I took some of the accidental teal that I made when I put the light weld-yellow into the indigo vat for too long, and threw it into the onion skin/alum+tin exhaust bath to see if I could bring it back down to green and replicate what I made with the purchased bright yellow roving:


Also, I andean-plied a whack of 2-ply yarn to go to another friend for a different (but not unrelated) special embroidery project:

- 28 yards (56 single-ply) of the overdyed green.
- 8 yards (16 single-ply) of the deep blue indigo DorsetX.
- 48 yards (96 single-ply) of white (undyed) DorsetX.

And then there are the other things I've taken off the spindles, all in the last couple weeks:

- 103 yards more of the black superwash merino/tussah silk blend that I want to make into a lace shrug. Total so far: 461 yards. I'll definitely have 600 yards of singles once I finish this last batt.
- 148 yards of a light blue merino that I bought ages ago from Lettuce Knit - I think it was leftovers from one of their spinning classes, so it was probably dyed by Laura (Cosmic Pluto). I bought at least 200 grams, and have not even spun a quarter of it. I'm going to have several large skeins of this stuff. No plans for it yet, though.
- 18 yards of raspberry/pinkish cochineal, the resulting rolag of an early carding test on the first two batches of cochineal-dyed wool. This is all I have of this, it will probably remain a keepsake skein.
-163 yards of light green probably-merino (Eucalyptus/tin) bought at Pennsic in '06. Also no plans yet.

Yikes! That's a lot of spinning, plying and skeins for someone who doesn't have a wheel. And now I have a whole bunch of empty spindles. Whatever will I do?

Oh, I'll think of something.

A bouquet of spindles in their natural habitat

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

OK, so I had a spinning geek moment

Last month, I skipped band practice one week* and and went to my first ever Wednesday night meeting of the Downtown Knit Collctive. The speaker was Richard Ashford,of Ashford Handicrafts (i.e. the spinning wheel people) in New Zealand. There's a picture of him addressing the DKC on the Ashford homepage - click on "our people" and scroll down a little. Or go here.

The talk was fun, and I got to see enough of the Ashford (rigid heddle) Knitter's Loom to decide that while the ability to fold up a loom with the warp on it is nice, I like my Beka's ability to handle multiple heddles a little more right now. Also, when it comes time for a wheel in my life, the Ashford Joy is right up there on my shortlist.

Oh, and I had a geek moment:

He was a little surprised by the request, but also very gracious

I assured him that a blue Sharpie marker wouldn't hurt the spindle. Also, the bit of roving on there was spun by him - he borrowed my spindle briefly to demonstrate to someone. Very nice man.

Remember this scarf? I talked about its acquisition here, when I bought it over two years ago. Shortly after that picture was taken, I attempted to set the unknown blue dye, which the person I bought it from warned me was absolutely, positively not colourfast. Boy was she not kidding. By the time I was done Raycafixing and rinsing, it was a little lighter than this roving. Two years later, without any washing, one end was almost white again.

Missing the awesomeness that was the original, I introduced the scarf to Audrey the Indigo Vat in September. The result:

A lot of indigo came out in the rinse, and it's a little blotchy, probably because 1) Audrey had been used heavily the week before and was in need of some fermentation in order to re-reduce, and 2) when I tried to set the original dye job a couple years ago, I used Raycafix, so the fabric has already been chemically treated. The colour is lovely, though, and not exactly what I expected, probably because of the residue of the previous dye.

I wanted to give the scarf one more indigo dip before I officially pack up Audrey for the season, but then we had our first light snow flurries of the season today. I am not impressed, and neither is Audrey. She has been moved inside to her winter digs in the basement as of this evening. We're going to seal her up and try to overwinter her, as long as the smell doesn't start escaping into the rest of the house.

Goodnight, girl, sleep tight! Really, extremely tight. Thanks.

Next post, hopefully, the recounting of our mid-October dye madness day!**


**Oh, what the heck, here's a preview!

L to R: Indigo, Dyer's Broom, Madder

Monday, October 06, 2008

The garbage has been upgraded

DH got home from work at the usual time today.

D: Come for a short walk with me. Just down the street, a couple houses south of the service station.

Me: Huh? I'm making a latte. Need coffee.

D: Is it iced? It'll keep. Grab your camera. Really, I want to know if I'm imagining this.

Me: But... coffee. It's after 5, and I haven't had coffee today. Need coffee.

I hit the button, and the espresso machine begins to cheerily grind beans.

D: C'mon, it'll only take a couple minutes. Indulge me.

When he says these words, I know he usually has a good reason, darnit. The magical machine purrs happily, pouring two shots over ice. I sigh wistfully in its direction.

Me: (slipping on sandals and jacket) *grumblegrumblecoffeegrumble*

Here's what he wanted to show me, and he was right. It made me laugh like crazy:

Okay, now I really need that latte.

DH points out that it's interesting how easily these things slip by us. You're used to all sorts of crap stenciled on these bins, so you barely notice. The only reason he noticed was because seeing the bin reminded him that garbage day was coming up, and then he looked at it a second time. I had walked by that very place twice today on the way to and from the grocery store not an hour before, and I didn't notice it. Even staring right at it from across the street this evening, it didn't clue in right away.

Apparently, we were a few months late to the party. Here's someone who beat us to it. We're pretty sure this is the same location.

I really love my neighbourhood.

Perhaps I should also keep an eye on the garbage men?

Friday, October 03, 2008

I swear I'm not really a dyer, Part 2: Walnuts and Cochineal

September through November is absolutely my favourite season of the year. The weather is comfy, light jacket weather - not too hot and not too cold. The air smells fresh and crisp, not filled with the pollen of spring or thick humidity of summer. The apple trees are loaded down. The leaves are starting to fall, and they smell divine as they make that crunching noise under my feet.

My neighbour's late summer-early fall flowers are incidious, the morning glories particularly so. While the yellow daisy-like things are perfectly happy spreading their sunny goodness into my yard just enough but not too much, the morning glories have long since scaled the fence and are now happily wrapping themselves around my pine trees, air conditioner, the yellow flowers, the drains... whatever they can reach. They're so lovely, I don't have the heart to evict them.

Last Monday, I think I finally figured out cochineal. We dyed the warp for the not-so-super-secret project using Lilies (1990: 132-33) modern cochineal scarlet recipe, and got the red we've been looking for all summer. Holy Crap, is it ever stunning. We got close to this with the last batch a few months ago, but that was using washed-but-otherwise-unprepped wool. There was undoubtably still some lanolin in it, which explains why sections of it came out very light, where the dye barely penetrated. This warp yarn is a commercially-prepared Shetland, probably chemically scoured and bleached. It sucked up the dye like a vampire.

In the meantime, another lady has been spinning up the weft yarn from the three batches we did over the last year, while still others keep her supplied with rolags. She gave me the first couple skeins, freshly plied. So here is our warp (bottom) and weft (top) for the not-so-super-secret-project (a pillow, 18" x 3ft):

Once I get the lozenge twill samples off my loom (need to finish weaving those! ack! only a couple more...), I can start doing tests with this. The final fabric will be weft-faced, since the weft is spinning up nearly twice as thick as the warp. That's fine with me - I have to wonder if the lighter, bluer-red colour of our weft yarn isn't close to what a pre-1600's European dyer would have gotten with cochineal, using alum or light acid solutions (vinegar, fruit juices), before the mid-1600's discovery of using tin to produce a brilliant red.

So the short story: if you're dying fleece with cochineal and you want that amazing scarlet, make sure there is not a trace of lanolin in the fleece. Wash it like you have never washed a fleece before. If you don't want to dye spun yarn, at least prep it into rovings, and dye those.

I tried a black walnut dyebath last night. I need a tiny bit of black for The Project, no more than a few yards. I took a handful of the teal, which was originally white Dorset dyed with weld, then put into the indigo vat for six hours. We put some of this into the last cochineal exhaust bath and got the following, which I guess I can say with authority is a colour found in nature:

Honestly, what colour is that?

I then put that into a "tea" of crushed black walnut husks that have been sitting in water for a week.

Not for drinking

I also added a couple locks of the dark blue. Lilies (1990: 184-85, 29) recommends mordanting with oxalic acid and ferrous (iron) sulfate to get a good black overdye with black walnuts. I do have powdered iron sulfate here, but neither DH or I relished the idea of the house smelling like rotten eggs last night, and I don't have oxalic acid.

After an hour in the dyebath, neither batch of wool was an acceptable black. I'm going to let them soak in the pot for a couple days, but I suspect the iron-oxalic acid thing is in my future. Examples that I've seen of unmordanted, black walnut-dyed wool are usually lovely golden browns, so I'm not surprised that we're not there yet. I have lots of black walnut soup, though, no worries.

The indigo vat, whose name is officially Audrey (as in, "Feed me, Seymour!"), has been fed several mushed-up bananas and a fresh dose of stale urine, and the heating pad is now on, since our night-time temps are going down to single digits. I'll add 1/4 oz. more indigo tomorrow, and hopefully a few days with the heating pad will get the fermentation going again for reducing more indigo. Audrey has a date with some friends of mine in a little over a week.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I swear I'm not really a dyer, Part 1: Indigo, and Battling the Squirrels for Walnuts

Here is what the indigo vat looks like with things soaking in it. It is still going, with the aid of the heating pad and not-yet-freezing temps. I will feed it next week (probably some store-bought plums - our tree is finished for the season, but my vat really liked the plums), and then pack it off to a brave friend's house where it will sit and be cared for until our mid-October BYOP* Dye Madness Day.

I'll have to get a picture of the scarf once I've washed it out. It came out stunning.

In the meantime, I've been spinning some of my indigo-dyed fleece into a weight hopefully appropriate for cross-stitch in single ply, and satin-stitch embroidery in two-ply.

Indigo blue with a creamy white Dorset filling!

I've picked up some walnuts from the ground, but it looks like I missed most of them when they first fell. They're no longer green and ripe, but black. I certainly wouldn't eat the nuts from these - they sat on the ground in the rain for days and started to go a little moldy - but I've been told I can still use the husks for dying, so I picked them up anyhow.

The squirrels got all the good ones, believe me. If it's green and still lying on the ground and the squirrels haven't taken it, it's bad and already has bugs in it. They know these things. They've been kind enough to leave small piles of walnut husks on the stones and chair, so I've collected some of that, too. It's all currently soaking in water to make a brown "tea" for dyeing. I need a little bit of black, so I plan to overdye a handful of the teal.

Every time I go near the walnut tree, a voice above my head starts chattering and cursing at me in ... squirrel. Of course, I could probably score half a ton of good walnuts if I broke into their stash inside my front awning. They should admire my restraint.

Coming in Part 2 this weekend: Walnut experiments and the last cochineal dyebath.

*Bring Your Own Pee

Friday, September 12, 2008

The frog has a point

Since I got a medium blue colour on white wool after a single six-hour dip in the indigo vat, I put in half of the weld-dyed yellow from last September. Six hours later, I had a lovely deep teal. I let the vat rest for a couple days to re-ferment and reduce some more, then I tried a little more of the weld yellow, this time only dipping it for a minute or so. Again, no luck, it came out a light blue. Not even teal, that time.

Left: Weld yellow before going in the vat.
Centre: Weld yellow after six hours in the vat.
Weld yellow after a minute in the vat.
Obviously, not the greens we're looking for.

Between attempts with the weld, I also tried a different approach, carding together some of the dark blue with a tuft of a friend's yellow roving (I think that was also weld), and spinning it. The result was... greenish? Maybe if I squint, it will look more green. Nope, not going to work.


Not the best video quality, but my favourite performance.

It's become clear that it doesn't take much time in the indigo vat to overwhelm my weld-dyed yellow. Re-reading Lilies, he recommends that greens using indigo+yellow be dyed by doing the indigo first, then mordanting the wool and overdyeing with a good yellow dye. I was beginning to fear that I would have to make time for a yellow dyebath before the weather turns, in addition to the final cochineal batch that I need to do sometime this coming week. But did I mention we have to card out all that cochineal red so that another lady can spin it later this month? And once it's spun, it goes on my loom to make a pillow, hopefully woven by November, so that someone else will have time to sew it together and embroider it in December using the blue, green and white that I'm spinning by hand? And everything has to be done in early January?

And, um, let's not forget that I have real work that I'm supposed to eventually be getting back to. Soon.

Right then. I don't exactly have tons of time here to experiment with with yellow overdyes on my blues to get a nice leafy green. A friend has a bagful of onion skins for me, but I've never dyed with them, and if there's one thing about my dye experiments that I do know, it's that they never, ever come out exactly right the first time, especially when I really need it. I expect I'll end up with orange on my first onion skin dyebath.

In a last-minute desperate move, I pulled off a little piece of that stunningly bright (almost heading toward orange) tin-mordanted onion-skin yellow that I bought from Brush Creek Wool Works at Pennsic. Four quick dips, each less than a minute, gently swish it around a little, air it out for 5-10 minutes in between. Quick vinegar rinse. Wash in warm soapy water. And suddenly...

What I started with, and what I ended with.

...the goal no longer seems quite so far away. I separated out half of the roving and went to town. It's now drying in the basement. If I have time later this month in between everything else, I'll try the onion skins with tin myself. I might even get a chance at another weld dyebath in early October, but what I dyed today will be more than enough green. And even though I didn't do the yellow, I know who did and how, and I can live with that.

As a wise frog reminded me today:
I'm green, and it'll do fine. It's beautiful. And I think it's what I want to be.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Never saw the sun shining so bright...

...never saw things going so right.

In front, single dip, six hours in the indigo vat. Behind it, three minute-long dips.

And this is the rest of the six hour batch after 12 more hours in the vat

The vat is now resting in order to ferment a little more and re-reduce, in preparation for its weekend date with some weld-dyed yellow.

On to the green.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Partaking of the Bruised Plums of Paradise*

This is a special bulletin of the Magpie Telegraph Alert System.

Elisem, who is not only a jewelry maker and artist of immense talent but who also shares my birthday, is having a birthday sale. Not only that, but she's once again offering a draw for a gift certificate to those who spread the word and let her know about it (see that post for the details).

This time around, my pocketbook and I would like to thank the person with exceptional taste who bought Going Under the Hill. My credit card company and bank, on the other hand, are surely disappointed that I won't be going into further debt with them.

A few other things I'm coveting to an almost alarming level: Knock Three Times and Say Athena Sent You, Rose of the Vineyards, and (a little smaller, but shockingly adorable) Treasure Box.

Someday, I will end up with one of her very long linked necklaces, and a necklace-crown. Not today, though.

Another person whose jewelry I like very much, and who would probably appreciate the traffic, is Katie, aka Dragon's Den Jewelry.

Go on. Covet. Buy if you are so inclined and can. Elise's sale goes until September 1.

This has been a special bulletin of the Magpie Telegraph Alert System.


In other news, we definitely have a plum tree.

This is after Saturday's good-sized harvest

A very full plum tree.


We harvested three bags of mostly-ripe plums on Saturday and dropped them off with my mother-in-law to take along for her Sunday family visits. I'll get more today. They're a little tart, and absolutely yummy.

The over-growing nature and layout of the backyard - in particular the outrageous recent growth of the magnolia - means that our plum tree, unlike our neighbour's, is mostly in shade. Thanks to this year's record-breaking rainfalls**, we have an amazing bounty of plums, and thanks to the shade, ours aren't ripening quickly on the branch, while the neighbour's are very ripe. She doesn't seem to be interested in picking them, which means the local critters aren't eating ours.

That, and the squirrels are far more enamored with the black walnut tree (aka "The Stinky Nut Tree") hanging over the back of the yard from another neighbour. If I get it together enough, I'll collect some black walnut shells for dyeing.

Low-hanging black walnuts. They smell. The less ripe they are, the more potent the smell. Also, they are sticky.

But the moral here is: the more plums I pick now, the fewer will be squished into the ground in a couple weeks.

I took the loppers to the plum and magnolia on Saturday and almost immediately regretted it. I only took off a branch or two on each, and only new growth branches that I felt were seriously heading in the wrong direction, but I seem to have re-emphasized the lopsided nature of both trees. Both have already been pruned heavily in certain areas, and I think I just added to the weirdness. I'm hoping they both figure it out and send out slightly more well-behaved branches back into those areas next year, but somehow I doubt I'll be that lucky. Nature is nothing if not persistent, but it also never quite does what I want or expect.

*Title from "The Bruised Plums of Paradise," earrings by Elise Matthesen, currently living with me. The earrings, not Elise.

**Seriously, five times more rain than Vancouver? Hell's bells, man, that's just wrong.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I love it when a plan comes together

The super-secret joint knitting project that I last blogged about here was finished and delivered shortly before I went on vacation. All parties involved are (pick one or more:) pleased, surprised, happy, relieved, in recovery, totally into the bright colours.

A group of four knitters (me, Sarah, Lydia, Tanya) and a crocheter (Liisa) in my graduate department pooled our collective string-wrangling prowess together and made an afghan for another grad student (Christine), herself a knitter, who was having a baby. Er, make that had a baby, a few months ago, and a very cute one at that. I don't make a habit of putting pictures of other people's kids up on my blog, especially without explicit permission, so you'll just have to trust me.

I can, however, post some pictures of the finished blanket. Well, mostly finished. I think this was before the crochet ends were woven in. The "finished" pictures all feature a very cute infant, whose mother I will have to speak to in-person before I go posting his adorable mug willy-nilly all over the innernets.

Yarn: New Bernat Satin. Very light and soft, 100% Acrylic, 100% (the most important thing!) puke-washable

Each colour of square contains a different pattern. The patterns for the squares are from this book of knitted baby washcloths. We used six red rocking horses, ten orange butterflies, eight yellow duckies, six green bunnies, four blue sailboats, and two purple baby carriages.

Each of the knitters took a colour and pattern, according to how fast we thought we could knit and how much time we had over the next several weeks. I'm always looking for a good cause for procrastination, so I jumped on the ten orange butterflies that evening, while Lydia took the yellow duckies. Tanya took the red (and eventually also the blue), and Sarah took the green. I finished relatively quickly (yay, procrastination!) so later on I also did the 2 purple squares. For those who are interested in such things, we got almost exactly four squares out of a ball of yarn.

For yuks, here is the "napkin layout": After Liisa proposed the project and we all signed on, Lydia, Liisa and I made the initial covert field trip to Mary Maxim in late February to pick out yarn, look for some patterns, and then sit down somewhere with food and figure out the logistics. Finding the washcloth pattern book* was an inspirational lucky turn, and "somewhere with food" ended up being the foodcourt of the mall, so between bites of my A&W rootbeer and burger, I sketched out the general game plan and layout on a food court napkin.

All the best plans are drawn on a napkin.

We were, of course, hoping the squares would all turn out the same size... but realistically, four different knitters all getting exactly the same size squares? Not likely. Lydia did some blocking, which helped, but Liisa was the star who took all the squares and made them fit together using the wonderous power of crochet. She even managed to do it while keeping our original layout intact. Here's a closeup of her excellent crochet border.

All hail the magic of crochet!

*I'm not usually one for the simple washcloth patterns, but I think I might have to get this other booklet by the same designer.