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Thursday, 10 May 2018

2018 Flax Project

Thought you might like to join me on my new flax project this year.  I've grown flax before, and it grew well, but my attempts at turning it into yarn weren't too successful (in fact, I failed miserably)!  This year is going to be different.  This year I plan on trying different techniques to harvest the fibres from the stems and hopefully succeed in producing some useable fibres to spin into linen yarn.  I hope to try retting some of them in water, grass retting (although at the time the plants are ready to harvest, our grass is usually non-existent because of drought) and I also may try harvesting the fibres from fresh plants.  I've tried it recently with nettles and it seems to work OK, so why not with flax?

The seeds went in on April 20th, and took less than a week to germinate.  I'd pre-prepared the soil by digging in some well-rotted compost from my heap in the garden and then sprinkled the seeds in rows in a block of about 1.5 x 1 metre.  I kept the cat out of the patch by positioning glass cloches on end all over the site.  The birds didn't seem interested, so I have a good crop of seedlings.  Three weeks after sowing the seed, this is what they look like :-


You can see the cloches at the outside of the patch - I'd removed the ones from the middle to take the photo.

Plus a little close-up of the plantlets :-


I think I read somewhere that it's best to grow them in a block, rather than a long row - they do seem to hold each other up anyway!

So, I'll keep you posted on how they're growing and hope you'll stay with me until I get to the end - the spinning of the fibres!


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Flowering Woad Blue

You may remember, four years ago, I blogged about my dyeing attempts with second year woad here.  At the time, the plants had not started putting up flowering spikes (except for one plant) so I was reasonably sure I would get some blue from the leaves.  Well this year, by the time I got around to dyeing again, ALL the plants had put up flowering spikes albeit they were only about 3 inches high, and the flowers hadn't opened.

All the dye books I have say it's not possible to get blue from 2nd year leaves, but I just wonder how far into the 2nd year you can go before the plant gives up the ghost.

Not one to waste resources, or opportunities to prove myself wrong (you really can't get blue from flowering woad plants, can you?) I harvested about 4 or 5 plants - i.e. pulled them up! - and took off all the original base leaves, leaving the flower spikes for the compost heap.  I must admit I wasn't very optimistic at this stage.

I had about 700g of leaves, so I was fairly certain it would cope with 80g of merino :-



and 65g of mohair :-




As you can see, the merino took the colour really well.  Maybe a bit too well really because the mohair didn't get as much blue at all.  It's possible that merino takes up the dye more quickly than mohair, so by the time the mohair was ready for a bit of blue, there wasn't much left.  This will be going back into my next woad dye pot, but next time it'll go in alone.

In the meantime, this is what my woad plants look like now :-


It's a little bit difficult to see, but the flower stalks are quite tall and will probably burst into flower very soon.  So, what do you think?  Would I still get blue if I used these plants?  I won't be able to try until next week now, but maybe I'll have a go - nothing ventured, nothing gained.  And I've never been one to accept "you can't do that!"  So, is it possible to dye from 2nd year, fully flowering woad plants?  Watch this space!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Eeeeeek!!! A Steek!

A number of weeks ago, I found an abandoned project bag in my cupboard which contained the body of a v-neck sweater, but no sleeves.  I honestly don't remember when I started this, but I thought it was time to finish it.  I had no clue which pattern I was following at the time, so a bit of research was needed.  Turns out it was the Simple Summer Tweed Top Down V-Neck by Heidi Kirrmaier.

I'd chosen three yarns that really went together quite well.  The first was a World of Wool Botany Lap Waste mix which I spun in March 2015, and if I'd had enough, I would just have used this, but there wasn't quite enough so I found another to complement it.

Botany Lap Waste Mix

The second was spun in January 2016.  This was made up of 1 ply pure Cashmere (from Hilltop Cloud in the UK), and 1 ply "Extasy" by Faerie Fibre here in France (Merino, Tussah Silk, Bamboo and Stellina).

Faerie Cashmere

Last but not least, I chose this boucle which was spun during the Tour de Fleece in July 2015.  This is my first (and so far only) attempt at boucle.  It's made up of mohair, alpaca and tussah silk.


TDF Boucle

It didn't take long to knit up the sleeves, but then I decided to put a rib on the bottom and round the neck.  You can maybe see the boucle in between the bands of colour, I just knit one row to separate them as I knew I didn't have much of it.


Finished Sweater

When I'd finished, and tried this on, I really wasn't happy with it.  It just didn't do me any favours at all - the colours were fine, it was maybe just the shape (or, more to the point, mine!!)

I plucked up all my courage, and did something I swore I'd never try (scaredy cat!) . . . a steek . . . eeeeek!!!!

On to the internet I went and looked up "how to do a steek".  There were a few different methods but I liked the crochet one best.  This is where you find the centre stitch and crochet the right side of it with the left side of the next stitch, all the way down the sweater. Then you start at the bottom and crochet together the left side of the centre stitch and the right side of the next stitch, all the way back up to the top.  You then have two lines of crochet which lean outwards away from each other.  There will be a "ladder" of yarn in between them, and this is where it has to be cut.

I have to confess that I didn't really have enough confidence in my crochet, mainly because of the boucle rows - I couldn't see exactly what I was doing when I picked up the loops from the two stitches and realised if I hadn't got it right, I was going to be in trouble. So I cheated!  I ran a sewing machined stitch down each outside edge of the crochet so that if the boucle failed, it would be held by the machine stitching.

Steek in Progress!

I didn't get a photo of the cutting part!  I was so nervous, I just wanted to get it done in one, and once it was cut, I just wanted to get the stitches picked up so I could finish the thing off!  Anyway, it actually worked pretty well and I had no disasters, thank goodness.



The finished cardigan (unblocked as yet - apparently we're getting a few days of rain, so I'll do it when that's passed over) adorned with 2nd use buttons from my late mother-in-law's button tin, which I inherited.  She was the type who, if she bought something she really liked, she'd buy some more in different colours.  I have to say, I'm glad she did, because I really like the mix of different colours and I think they go perfectly with the cardigan.

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.