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Saturday, 3 March 2018

Silk Challenge

February 1st saw the start of DIY and Dye's silk prep along and spin along where we were encouraged to spin from silk - either pre-prepared, or prepared by ourselves.  That included reeling silk from whole cocoons, making silk hankies, dyeing them and spinning from them, or (one of my favourites because it's easy!) degum cocoons and then pull them into a cloud and spin from that.  Commercially prepped silk top or silk hankies was allowed.

Not to be left out on this one, I ordered some cut silk cocoons (these are cocoons which have been cut at one end and the pupa removed) on Etsy in January.  These were being sent from Thailand so I knew they wouldn't be here in time for February 1st, but I did hope they would be here soon after.  When the acknowledgement of my order came through they gave a delivery date of between 1 and 5 weeks!  At the end of the first week of February I caved in and ordered some more cocoons (whole ones this time - they still contain the pupa and the skin from its last skin shedding) from the UK with the intention of trying my hand at reeling the silk off the cocoons.  Each one consists of about a mile in length of one single strand of silk, very very fine.  It's pretty difficult to see just one strand, it's so thin.

100g of cocoons gives quite a lot - I think at least 150, so there's a bit of room for error!

I put about 40 pre-soaked cocoons (I soaked them overnight) into a pan of water and heated them slowly.  I then spent at least two hours trying to find "the one true end", not an easy task!  Each cocoon is surrounded by separate strands which were the framework that held the cocoon in place.  The silkworm then spins inside of that, gradually surrounding itself in silk.  The "framework" silk has to be removed before the "one true end" can be found!

To cut a very long story short, I really wasn't very good at this but did manage to reel off some of the silk.  Unfortunately, I lost the end on the skein winder that I was reeling it onto, and ended up having to cut the silk off the winder.  The following weekend I wasted spent another whole afternoon repeating the exercise which ultimately resulted in me cutting the silk off the skein winder again!  Here's what I achieved in about 7 or 8 hours, pathetic I know :-

The reason it looks a bit "stiff" is that it still contains the sericin (gum) which the silkworm used to bind all the strands together.  That's what makes the cocoon a stiff, solid lump.  It also looks quite coarse, but that's because I reeled off several strands of silk together and they've stuck into what looks like one strand.

I was so disenchanted with my efforts, I decided my silk reeling days are over, and I'll use the remaining silk cocoons to make silk hankies* - another first for me as I've never tried making them before.  Let's see what sort of a mess I can make of that!

*If you don't know what silk hankies are, each hankie is actually one cocoon which has been degummed and then stretched over a square frame.  One hankie is put over the last one until there's a nice thickness there.  These can then be washed and dyed.

In the meantime, I'd also ordered 100g of silk hankies and thought I might do a bit better with those!  Again, I've never spun with silk hankies, so it was another first for me.  I split the pile into two and soaked them in water for 2-3 days so I could dye them.  Silk doesn't absorb water very easily and I wanted them really wet through before I started to dye them.

The dyed hankies looked rather gaudy when I'd finished and I was a bit worried that I'd overdone it!  I'd used some of my favourite colours though so the worst that could happen would be I'd created clown barf!

When they were dry, I peeled off one or two hankies at a time, made a hole in the centre and pulled into an oval shape, a bit like a skein of yarn.  You then pull that apart at one point so you have a long piece of silk ready to spin.  I drafted some of these out before starting and wound them onto an empty toilet roll inner ready to spin.  The colours all mixed together and lost their brightness.  At this point I worried that the resulting yarn would be a bit wishy-washy.

Not a chance!  The spun yarn was beautiful (in my eyes anyway) and all the brightness came back.

For the second ply, I dyed the rest of the silk hankies in violet, leaving some areas undyed.  This is not a very good photo as it was taken at night, and the violet came out blue on my camera.  I've fiddled around with it on I-Photo to make it violet again, but still, not the best photo I've ever taken.

This one shows the colour a bit better :-

and here they are plied together.

I just love the way this silk yarn has turned out.  This is the first 100% silk yarn I've ever spun, so yet another first for me!

The skein hasn't been washed and measured yet, but I'm hoping I'll have at least 400 yards here so I can make something decent.

Congratulations if you managed to read all the way to here, but if not, I hope you enjoyed looking at the pictures!

By the way, look what turned up in the post the day after I'd ordered the whole cocoons :-

Another incidence of "sod's law"!!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Pickwick Cotswold Stephina

A fleece looks pretty much like most other fleeces, wouldn't you say?  It's just a mass of fluff, locks and curly, dirty tips . . .

until you get closer, and see how much crimp it has . . .

and then closer still, where you can almost feel the softness through the screen . . .

but it's only when it's washed and flick carded that you can really see that magnificent sheen.

The last time I bought one of these fleeces was in November 2016 and, not knowing what to expect, I just ordered a basic quality fleece.  I think it must have been the cleanest, least vegetable matter infested fleece I've ever worked on.  I found out later that the guy who owns the sheep, Rob Long of Pickwick Cotswold sheep fame, spends quite a while with each fleece before sending it to its new owner, picking out as much of the grass, weed, seeds, etc as he can (apparently he enjoys it!!).  The experience I had with that fleece was enough to make me wonder what a higher quality fleece would be like.  A year later I couldn't resist the temptation any longer and ordered another.  This time I bought his second-best quality (he has four grades), and I really think it shows.  This was Pickwick Stephina's first shearing - gorgeous!

Hubby thinks these sheep must have a bath every night to be this clean!  When I mentioned that to Rob, he just winked!!

I had to try spinning some, even though I had lots of other things to be getting on with in the meantime.  Then, of course, I had to knit a little sample to see how it would be when finished.

OK, so it's not the neatest knitted sample I've ever done, and it wasn't washed and blocked afterwards, but I think this is going to make a very nice cardigan (woad blue probably) - when I get the time to spin it.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"Ruska" Hand Spun Gradient

My spinning wheels have been a bit quiet for a while.  Before Christmas I was busy making presents, and afterwards I was busy making the baby blanket I showed you recently.  But over the Christmas and New Year period I was determined to find some "me" time!

Back in 2014 I bought a "Build a Batt Box" from Barber Black Sheep in Wales.  I'm pretty sure it was called "Ruska".

I love the way these look when you open them - they're all packed so beautifully and there's usually a little "treat" in there somewhere (small bar of chocolate, mini soap or something).  She still does these occasionally, but I think it's a while since the last one.  Shame!

I'd already used parts of this box in other projects, but put together what was left (some merino, some silk, a mixed batt with sparkly bits etc.) to make a gradient.

I love these colours, but I'm not sure if they're right for me.  We'll see.  I spun fairly thinly from the left hand side to the batt on the right and then Navajo plied it to keep the colours true, making a 3-ply.  Surprisingly, the finished result was between 13 and 14 wraps per inch (which is approximately 4-ply in old money!), which is my normal spinning thickness if I'm doing a 2-ply, so I must have spun particularly finely this time.

You can see the gradient a bit better in this next shot, and I really think this may be gifted or made into something and gifted.  I'm pretty sure I won't be able to wear these colours.

Anyway, 115g gave me 239 yards/221m so I'm sure there's enough for something nice.  I'll be interested to see how well I did my change overs from colour to colour when I finally knit it up.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Pink Elephants

Don't know if you remember, but in October of last year I took part in Spinzilla, an annual spinning event where you spin as much yardage in a week as you can.  My first spin was this super wash Falkland which was destined for a blanket for our friend's first baby, due in March.

I'm normally pretty last minute with these things so am quite impressed that I've managed to get it finished six weeks early!

I split the two larger skeins into two and then dyed one ball pink (the baby's going to be a girl!).  I hope she doesn't mind that I didn't have any baby pink dye - this is hot pink!!

I still had the scribblings of the pattern I used 4 years ago for my step-grandson, plus the pencilled charts for the elephants, so off I went.

I only had one false start - after knitting a couple of inches I realised it was turning out a bit too small, so I unravelled and used slightly bigger needles (obviously I didn't write down which size needles I used last time, that would've been too easy!)

I realised part way through that I hadn't been as accurate as I thought when I first wrote the pattern.  That set me back a day or two while I corrected that and the charts.  I've been wanting the opportunity for a while to re-knit this so I could check the pattern, so at least I now know it's correct.

Love this elephant in the middle of the blanket!

It was finally finished at the end of January, washed, and laid out to dry, which took 3 days in a cold bedroom.

I worried all the way through whether I'd have enough yarn to finish - thought I might have to order some more fleece - but here's what was left :-

85g in total.  I started with 520g.  And from a starting point of 1,420 yards, I have 220 yards left.  I'm sure it'll come in for something.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Gift Bags

First of all, Happy New Year to you all, and I hope Santa was good to you!

With the aim of using up some of my hand spun stash, a few more crocheted bags happened recently.

One of my friends in the UK usually sends me something that she's hand made, so she was the first one to cater for.  I used the same pattern as I used previously for my sister - the English Garden Reversible Tote - a lovely, easy, crocheted bag which I suspect will be used a lot in the future.

The first was made from hand-spun and mostly hand-dyed yarn.  The brown is the only natural colour  - this is a blend of Jorrocks' baby alpaca and some charcoal bamboo.  The pink was raspberry acid dyed Falkland/Silk, the orangey one was all naturally dyed Falkland and the blue actually wasn't dyed or prepped by me - it was an unknown blend that I bought here in France.  The bobbles were made using a bobble making frame sent by my friend last year (the same one who'll receive the bag).

I've not been very organised about taking photos recently, so this (plus the next one, shown inside out) is it!

Incidentally, the fabric used for the inside of the bag was a hand-made dress I made years ago.  It was never worn because I realised after I'd cut it out and started to sew it, that the pattern was turning out a really peculiar shape.  I don't think it would have fit anyone!  I put it in a box with other fabrics and left it there to fester in disgrace.

The second one (same pattern) is for my next door neighbour, Tammy, who's birthday in on Saturday 6th January.  I finished this one this morning so for once, I'm not chasing my tail trying to finish something in time.

Again, I forgot to take photos of the yarns before I started, but this is what was left after I'd finished it:-

The main colour is a real mix - merino, alpaca, silk, soy, silk oil, nettle and a bit of sparkle plied with black alpaca.  The one at the bottom left was, I think, mixed fibres from a World of Wool Botany Lap Waste bag with some merino and Falkland mixed in, the top left was the remains of the pink from the other two bags - Falkland/Silk, and the blue was left over from the first bag I made.  Bit by bit I'm ending up with quite a little stash of small balls of yarn, which I have no clue what to do with (except there is that bobble making frame sent by my friend - maybe they'll all become bobbles)

Anyway, here's the finished bag :-

I think, out of all of them, this one is my favourite, but then they're all my favourites while I'm making them!  I don't know what I'll do when that raspberry pink Falkland/Silk runs out - I've used it on all of them so far.

Here's the bag showing the inside :-

The fabric was reclaimed again from a hand made item which was never worn - can't remember why!  A skirt this time.  

I'm looking forward to making one for me before too long, but I've a few more projects to do first, so, as usual, I'll have to wait.  I'm currently working on a baby blanket for a friend's impending arrival, so hopefully I'll be able to show you that soon.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Grand Kitty Fluff

This is one of my grand kitties, Maks :-

Love that bright orange nose!
Maks is an 18-month old Maine Coon, and is seriously fluffy and soft.  Our daughter-in-law has been saving his fur for a while.  Recently she sent me a large box, full of his brushings.  I've spun his brother, Hugo, before, but this was the first time Maks had been spun.

This is what came out of the box :-

There's nearly enough here to make another cat!  I couldn't wait to get started so began by carding and making rolags.  I had to wear a mask while I was carding because this fluff is so light it becomes airborne and lodges in nose and throat!

This spins really easily and soon I had almost a bobbin-full.  Unfortunately I didn't take any more photos until I'd finished, so here's the final ball :-

60g of 12 wraps per inch (which equals somewhere between double knitting and 4-ply).  I'm sure Maks' Mum will make good use of this (she's a brilliant knitter!).  It's going in the post, back to Scotland, tomorrow.

Nice one Maks!!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Onion Skin Dyeing

The merino/silk skein I spun during Spinzilla and then dyed with mushrooms from the garden, blogged about here, was crying out to be over-dyed.  During the month of October, we're having a dye-along using onion skins in our Ravelry group DIY and Dye and this seemed the perfect subject.

I gathered up all the onion skins I'd been saving for the occasion (just over 100g) and boiled them up for about an hour, then sieved out the skins once it had cooled.

I put the skein (previously tin-mordanted, because I'd read that the mushrooms I dyed with first gave a good orange when mordanted with tin - must have mis-identified the mushrooms!) into the dye bath, which was quite dark and promised some good colour.

This was after about 20 minutes of being in the dye bath and was looking quite good, so I put it back in and heated for maybe another 30 or 40 minutes.

After removing that skein, there was still lots of colour in the dye bath, so I quickly spun some more merino/silk (unmordanted this time) and dyed that.  A bit paler, but still pretty good.  I spun another skein and tried that, which gave a slightly paler result again.

Anyway, here are the 3 skeins with the tin-mordanted one on the left.

There's still colour in the dye, but I don't think I'll manage another skein before it starts to go off.  We're going on holiday on Thursday (Switzerland and Germany to visit family and friends) and I have quite a lot to do before then.  The dye might end up on the compost heap.  No worries - there are always more onion skins!!