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Friday, 31 May 2013

TdF Preparations and Dyeing

The Tour de Fleece is looming large on the horizon again - this year it starts on June 29th.  For those who wonder what I'm talking about, the knitting/spinning website Ravelry hosts the Tour de Fleece each year to run alongside the Tour de France.  Each day the official Tour rides, we (the spinners of the world - that's fibre spinners, not the energetic kind!) spin as well.  When they have rest days, we have rest days, when they have challenging days, we have to challenge ourselves with maybe spinning something new, or learning a new technique.

Last year I was rather new to all of this, so I only joined one team (Team Hopelessly Overcommitted! - sort of describes my spinning life, I've probably got more fibre than I can spin in my lifetime!), but this year I thought I'd be more adventurous.  One of the teams that took my eye was the DIY and Dye Team.  The rules for this team are that you must prepare raw fleece - washing, dyeing, carding, and spinning - from scratch.  No commercially prepared or dyed fibres.  Well, I mostly do that anyway, so it seemed like a good team to join.  I'll probably go with Team HOC again as well, just because!

So, I thought I'd better get going with some fibre preparation.  We're allowed to do all the dyeing and preparation in advance and just spin during the Tour.  So, out came my Falkland fleece which has been languishing in a bag for quite a while.

I bought these zipped laundry bags whilst in the UK recently, specially for washing/dyeing fleece.  I wanted to keep the fleece in its lock structure so it's easier to prepare afterwards.  (Just throwing it all in the sink closely followed by the dyepot tends to mix it all up).

The clean fleece, ready for dyeing :-

I didn't really know which dyes to start with, but on one of my daily walks down the hill to feed Impala his carrots, I saw a really big clump of wild fennel growing by the side of the road.  I picked 600g and took it home.  The fleece hadn't been mordanted yet, so I thought I'd try something new.  A while ago I bought a copper pan second hand and wanted to try using that instead of a mordant.  So, in went the chopped up fennel and enough water to cover it.

This was boiled for at least an hour then allowed to cool overnight.  The next day I boiled it up again for another hour and let it cool again, just to make sure I'd got all the possible dye out of the fennel.  In went the fleece, still in its mesh bag, and I heated it to a very gentle simmer for a couple of hours.

This morning I was rather under-whelmed when I took the fleece out of the dye bath - it was a dirty off-white sludgy colour.  Not very attractive at all.  But while I was rinsing it I wondered if it would brighten up a bit with the addition of either vinegar (acid) or ammonia (alkali).  Luckily, the ammonia was the first bottle I reached for and I just put a slug of that into the rinse.  The water immediately darkened to quite a dark olive colour, so I put the fleece back in and left it for half an hour.

This is what I got when I rinsed in clear water :-

Not perfect - a bit patchy - but definitely a better colour than sludge!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Elderflower Time

I think the elderflowers are a little bit later than normal this year, but then what isn't?  This weather we're having is really quite depressing - lots of rain, rain and more rain, and we even had hailstones two days ago.  Just remind me . . . it is almost June isn't it? Anyway, managed to pick enough flowers at the weekend (and in the sun too!) to make my first batch of cordial.  I've included the recipe below in case you're tempted to make it. It's very easy!

First, pick your elderflowers - you need 35 large flower heads, picked in the sun, insects allowed to escape!

Elderflower Cordial

1 kg sugar
1.5 litres boiling water
4 med. lemons, washed
35 large elderflower heads
2 oz citric acid

Place sugar in a large saucepan and pour over boiling water.  Stir until sugar dissolves, then leave to cool.

Grate lemon rind, add to sugar water.  Slice lemons into thick slices and add to water. Add citric acid and stir, then add elderflowers and stir again.

Cover with a clean cloth and steep for 48 hours.  Strain through clean muslin into a clean bowl.  Using a funnel, fill sterilised bottles, seal and store in a cool dark place (not the fridge).

Use diluted (it's quite strong so you don't need a lot), and once opened, store in refrigerator.

Lovely with ice and sparkling water!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Three Down, One to Go

We just got back late Sunday night from a long weekend in Edinburgh.  Nic (Wicked Stepson No. 3) married Viktorija (Vika) on the one gloriously sunny day of the trip. Thankfully, they chose Friday 17th to get wed and not the Saturday.  Saturday it poured with rain all day.

Father of the Groom

Nic had the brilliant idea of renting a house for the 3-day weekend so we could all assemble there before and after the wedding.

The garden was lovely that day and kept the sun until evening, so warm too.

Wicked Step-Mother

A quick sandwich to calm his nerves

Sorry Nic, not the best photo!!

The ceremony took place in a register office in the centre of Edinburgh, next to St Giles' Cathedral at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Helena, Dan (W. Stepson No. 2) and Liz (boys' Mum)
Vika's Mum and Grandmother
Vika's family (her Mum, Grandmother and Brother) had come over from Latvia for the wedding - Dimitri gave Vika away and had to wear a kilt!!!!!  He was a good sport and seemed to enjoy his wedding outfit (no photos yet - need to glean some from Facebook) even to the point where Ben goaded him into removing his nether garments, because a real Scot doesn't wear any!

The deed is done!

Emerging into the sunshine and confetti.

Nic was like a dog with two tails - didn't know which to wag first!

The New Mr and Mrs Saunders

Then it was back to the house to celebrate.

The garden was the perfect place for photos and champagne on such a brilliant day.

Rona's shoes deserved a pic!!

As did the throwing of the bouquet (caught by Helena)

Vika and "The Boys"

Inside, the food awaited us.

So, many more photos to come - I'll be boring you again in a day or two.  Just need everyone to start haemorrhaging photos on Facebook so I can steal some!

LOVE this photo!

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Little Cheese

Well, two weeks after making the Caerphily cheese, we caved!  The cheese had been maturing nicely in a cool, darkened room, and I was turning it daily.  Then it started to get mouldy on the outside.  No problem, I read, just wipe the mould off with a brine solution and it'll be fine.  But when it was getting mouldy every one or two days, I started to panic that it might actually be coming from the inside of the cheese and not the outside.  We really didn't want our first cheese to go off.  AND, we're going away on Thursday to Edinburgh for Wicked Stepson No. 3's wedding.  I didn't feel happy leaving it unattended while we were away.  I could just imagine us coming back to a blue, hairy inedible blob. So we ate it!  Well, not all of it, just some.

It smelled good, just like cheese in fact.

The texture was good - a little on the dryish side with some tiny bubbles, and there was no sign of any mould on the inside.

The taste was GOOD!!!  It was a slightly dry texture, but that's OK, and the taste was amazing - mild but with a tang, just like you'd expect a good Caerphily to taste.

Mission accomplished.  Now, what are we going to make next?  Maybe another Caerphily to keep us going, and then a Cheddar which has to mature for longer.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Gorgeous Green

Today the baby alpaca came out of the dyepot - and I was a bit surprised to see how different it was to the wool sample I dyed yesterday :-

That one is a really bright, vibrant green (in fact, it looks like I've photo-shopped it, but it's the original photo taken in exactly the same light as the top photo) and I couldn't understand why the baby alpaca was duller.  I love both colours, but the ratios of wool to flowers were almost the same in each case.  Then I realised what I'd done.

When I dyed the small sample, I used an aluminium or stainless steel pan, I'm not sure just what it is.  But when I did the second batch I needed a much bigger pan so used my large enamel one.  Enamel is usually good for dyeing because it won't change the colour of the dye.  Unfortunately, it's getting a bit old and there are some "dinks" in the enamel where bits are missing.  Underneath these patches it's probably a bit rusty, and rust = iron oxide.  Iron is a mordant and is often used as an after-bath to alter the colour of dyes.  Iron "saddens" the colour, and I think that's what's happened here.

I think I'll have to spray the pan with some enamel paint so it doesn't happen again.

I was just about to throw the rest of the contents of the dyepot onto the compost heap this morning when I realised there was actually quite a lot of colour left in there.  I strained the dead flowers out (which were getting a bit pongy) and put some of the liquid into a large plastic bowl.  I still had one more skein of baby alpaca which I'd mordanted, so that has gone into the bowl.  I'll leave it in there for a few days and see what comes out.  If it's a brighter colour it'll just reinforce my theory of the pan being to blame.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Iris Dyeing

So, today I took my wool out of the mordant and gave it a rinse.  Overnight I'd decided that before I dared commit my baby alpaca to the depths, I'd do a sample with another skein of wool first.  I had a small 20g skein of white wool which I'd mordanted, so weighed out 50g of flowers as I thought that would be plenty to dye this small amount.

I put the frozen flowers in the pan with some warm water and squeezed all the juice from them. The wool went into the water with the flowers and I started to heat it up slowly.

At this point the water was a dark, inky purple and it was hard to believe I'd get any other colour than lilac or blue.  After about 15 minutes, I checked the pan and noticed that most of the colour from the flowers had disappeared, presumably into the wool.  But the wool just looked a dirty, murky off-white colour.  I took another 50g of flowers from the freezer and dumped them into the dyepot having squeezed them first.

I then let the pot sit at a very low simmer (i.e. the water wasn't moving at all, but was very close) for about 45 minutes and then checked the wool.  A lot of the colour had disappeared again, it had to be going somewhere.  I lifted the dirty-looking wool out of the pan and look what I got :-


I've tried so hard in the past to get green from plants, especially those I'd read about which were supposed to give green, but without success.  I really didn't quite believe I'd get such a pretty green from purple flowers - amazing eh?

Well, with that success under my belt I thought I'd better get going with the main dye bath and put in some of my baby alpaca.  When I weighed all the flowers that were left in the freezer and found I had 1400g, I put three skeins in there amounting to 260g.  That's almost the same ratio as I used in the sample so it should come out a similar colour.

The wool is still resting in the dye bath and I'll leave it there until morning.  Fingers crossed everyone!  I'll be a bit gutted if it doesn't work.  More photos tomorrow if you can bear looking at more green wool!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Last Iris

After boring you for the last few weeks with photos of alpacas, peacocks, dead flowers, cheese-making (well, OK, that may have been a bit more interesting) and old men in deck chairs, you're probably wondering when I'm going to get around to showing you something productive.  This is supposed to be a spinning, dyeing and knitting influenced blog after all.  Well, you'll have to wait another day at least I'm afraid.

Here's a little hint though,

a pan of baby alpaca (alpacas again! and no, not from mine) yarn that I've been spinning recently.  This is in a mordant bath (alum) and will stay there cooling until tomorrow when it'll be ready for the dyepot.

This is the last iris.  No, I'm not going to be using just one iris to dye 350 grams of wool - I've got a freezer-ful of the dead ones (oh no, not dead flowers again!).  Each day for the last couple of weeks I've been collecting the flowers as they started to wilt and saving them for dyeing.

So, what colour do you think I'll get from these?  Ha, well I do wonder myself.  We'll all find out tomorrow won't we?

A little eye-candy from Rob and Tammy's horse-chestnut tree, just because I can!

Speaking of Tammy, she's been very busy picking straw and seeds out of some fleece (dare I mention that it's alpaca) so she can felt it into a rug.

Got the patience of a saint that girl :-

This is more of the dreaded alpaca - it's actually all the short bits from shearing, which aren't long enough too to spin.  Nice colours, should make a lovely rug.

The cat found it all too stressful and went to sleep.

One final photo for today :-

. . . OK, I'll get my coat!!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

My Little Champ

Did I tell you my alpaca won a competition last year, before I got him?  I'm sure I must have done - I've told everyone else!  Well, look what I've been given :-

Impala's rosette.  He got champion fawn male.  Rob went up to visit the breeder we bought the alpacas from on Monday and the guy gave him this to give to me.  They were shearing all their alpacas and invited Rob to go watch and learn.  He also brought back two large sacks of fleece - not the main "blanket" which is the prime spinning fibre, this is from the neck and upper legs, but still very soft.  The shorter bits will probably be made into felt, but there were some very spinnable lengths in there too and lots of different colours.  Tammy and I will have to have a drum-carding session soon.

This photo amuses me - where did his body go?  Looks like I chopped his head off :-

Ah, there it is!

He's still a skinny little malink.  He's put quite a lot of growth into his legs recently though so no doubt he'll start to fill out soon.