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Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Demise of the Silkworms

Well, I've been planning to write this post for a little while.  This year's silkworm experience has been disappointing to say the least.  From between 600 and 800 baby silkworms, I have about 20 cocoons!!  I've been battling with various disease issues I think for quite a while.

In an ideal situation, the journey from baby silkworms hatching to cocooning should take a month or maybe a little more.  Mine hung around for well over two months, a lot of the time eating their heads off.  My mulberry tree was absolutely ravaged in the process (it's recovering now) and my neighbour offered his tree should I need it (and I did!).

Gradually, they all died : either just died, or started to make cocoons and then died.  So imagine my surprise yesterday to find these two hardy souls in the box where I kept the cocoons :-

Not only was I amazed that any moths emerged from the cocoons, but also that the two who did make it were a male and female.

Whenever there has been disease in a batch of silkworms, the advice is not to breed from them as sometimes the disease can be carried through the eggs.  What the heck - these two have survived against all the odds and seem strong enough to mate and lay eggs. Maybe I'll keep the eggs and try some of them next year, just a small amount as a trial.  I do like a challenge!!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Core Spinning Experiment

Week 3 of the Tour de Fleece.  The theme for this week in our team (DIY and Dye) is art yarn - thick and thin, coils, core spun, whatever we want to challenge ourselves with.

I decided on core spinning and checked my stash to see what I had for the core.  Found this bobbin of singles which I didn't love and would probably not use for anything :-

I realised that this was not the ideal core to choose, mainly because when you spin a singles thread which is going to be plyed, you add more twist than you need as some of the twist will be removed whilst plying.  Therefore, I had to get rid of some of the twist before I could use it.  Why not just use the single as it is and core spin in the opposite direction?  Because, basically, that would remove too much twist and the yarn would fall apart.  So, I spun the contents of this bobbin quickly back through the wheel and removed some (not too much) of the twist.

Now, what to use for the top layer . . . well, I have lots of baby alpaca, so why not use that.  This is what I chose (after washing and dyeing with acid dyes) :-

After a bit of teasing apart, the fleece was ready (no lengthy carding - this fibre just doesn't need it)

If you've never heard of core spinning, it's literally spinning fibre onto a pre-spun core thread sideways - i.e. the fibres wrap around the core at an angle of a bit less than 90 degrees.

I soon realised that the finished yarn was going to be rather over-spun - a bit energetic to say the least!

Started off a bit fluffy and bumpy, but I think I gradually improved as I went along.  I really didn't help myself with this core, it fought me every step of the way.  Finally filled the bobbin though :-

and this is what I mean when I say it's a bit "energetic" :-

After washing and giving it a good thwack it calmed down a bit, but it's still very elastic. If I hold the skein at each end and pull it grows about 3 inches!  Not the best knitting yarn in the world eh?

I've decided the best use for this is to make hair scrunchies for my plait.  A bit of twist here and there would be quite beneficial for those!

Next project : coreless core spinning!  Watch this space!!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Challenge Day

Saturday was Challenge Day for the participants of the Tour de Fleece - that's the day that the Tour de France riders face a particularly gruelling ride (there are normally mountains involved).  Last week our intrepid Team Leader issued us with an (optional) impromptu challenge - spin for 5-10 minutes with a bag on your head, then remove the bag and ply what you've spun!  Challenge Day seemed the perfect time to have a go.

Eric very helpfully offered to take the photos, so I set up my work station, with rolags close at hand, and off we went.

Thankfully, it was a slightly cloudy morning and not too hot - otherwise I think I'd have suffocated in there!

It seemed a good opportunity to advertise our team, too.

Believe it or not, there's 10 minutes of spinning on the bobbin above - I think I must be a slow spinner.  Once it was plied it looked even less :-

The finished mini skein :-

So, what did I learn from this little experience?  First, if you're going to regularly spin with a bag on your head - cut some air holes for breathing.  Second, if I ever go blind, I'll still be able to spin.  Third, on those nights when I'm wide awake in the middle of the night and putting on the bedside light is not an option (for fear of waking the grumpy old man), I can still spin.  Oh, and fourth, my sister thought I was very brave for allowing myself to be photographed wearing a bag on my head and then publishing said photo on Facebook! Ha ha!

My cat found the whole process fascinating too :-

Jak showing his "bikini"

Saturday, 19 July 2014

TdF Week 2

For our second week challenge I decided to stay with alpaca.  On the left is some baby alpaca I dyed with woad a while ago, and on the right some of Hope's (my neighbours' alpaca) fibre dyed with fermented Xanthoria Parientina.  In the centre, I added some leftover merino from last year's TdF dyed with madder (top) and Brazilwood (bottom).

This week's challenge was to Navajo ply some yarn, or, if you are already able to do that, add some beads as you ply.  As n-plying is one of my usual methods, I went with the beads.

This is a selection of beads I thought might look good with the fibre, but I finally discarded the seed pearls because the holes were too small to thread onto the spun yarn.

I whizzed the fibre through the drum carder to make the batts

and started spinning.  The fibres were not processed beforehand apart from mixing on the carder.  I simply teased them apart a bit first.  The result was that they were full of nepps (little balls of rolled up fibre) which I usually remove, but this time I wanted to leave them in to create a more textured yarn.

Once the spinning was done, I got down to some serious plying.  To begin with, I'd threaded the beads onto dental Superfloss, then, when plying, I slid a bead onto the loops occasionally, then carried on plying.  Now, how do I describe this?  Basically, I threaded the end of the floss through the loop formed by chain plying, folded it over onto itself, slid a bead over both strands of floss and then up onto the yarn.  Worked perfectly, but boy did it take some time!

The finished yarn, washed and made into a yarn cake.

I think I need more practice with this method (and I will be doing more) as I managed to over-ply this a bit whilst fussing with the beads.  Need to be more laid-back next time! Maybe some soothing music would help - not that we get much any of that in our house!!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

TdF Week One

Now that week one is over, I can show you the results of my challenge with Team DIY and Dye on Ravelry.  I finished spinning the filthy, ash-ridden alpaca and two-plied it from each end of a centre-pull ball.  That way there's no waste.  With normal two-ply, from two bobbins, there's always a bit left on one when you've finished.

Saturday was dye-day.  I'd washed the skein the day before and left it soaking in clean water overnight.    Here's the yarn waiting to be dyed :-

I'd decided to use Kool Aid to dye this and, also the day before, made up five different packets (Tropical Punch, Grape, Orange, Pink Lemonade and Lemonade) and froze them in ice cube trays.  Saturday I placed the different colours randomly on top of the yarn and blitzed them in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  Note the Christmas trees, snowmen, tree and snowflakes - I ran out of normal ice cube trays so had to use a Christmas one as well!

Hmmm, not much colour there :-

Put some more cubes on top and blitzed it again, each time leaving it to cool afterwards.

A bit better, but not what I wanted it to look like.  In all I put 4 lots of ice cubes in with the yarn and finally came out with this :-

This is still damp, so not a true representation of the colours.  The lemonade (yellow) did absolutely nothing at all, and the pink lemonade seemed to get swallowed up by the other colours - lesson learned.

Here's the final skein, dried and made into a centre-pull ball :-

 The colours seem a bit brighter now it's dry.

I think I'm rather pleased with the way this has turned out.  I did have my doubts as I was dyeing it!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Tour de Fleece is Here Again

Can you believe it's a year since the Tours de France/Fleece?  This year we started pedaling on Saturday the 5th and have some interesting challenges in the Team I'm involved with - Team DIY and Dye on Ravelry.

The first week we are trying different dye methods, i.e. something we haven't done before.  I've been wanting to try fermented lichen dyeing so in April I started off some jars with an ammonia and water mix.  These have been sitting on the kitchen windowsill ever since and  have been stirred/shaken every day (more or less).

On Thursday I carefully (or so I thought!) washed some alpaca provided by Hope who lives with my neighbours Rob and Tammy.  The female alpacas were sheared recently (the day after we did the boys) - they must have known something was happening because the day before they found an old bonfire pit and all had a good roll in the ashes! So, as I said, I carefully washed 100g of the fleece, which I placed in a mesh laundry bag.  The water was warm not hot, there was no excessive handling, just placed in the bowl of water and left to soak then lifted out into the sink to drain, repeated to rinse.  So why did I manage to felt it?  I put it in the dye anyway, hoping I'd still be able to do something with it.

The next day, after soaking for 24 hours, I gently heated the jars in the microwave and then let them rest and cool.  Here's the result of the first one, Xanthoria Parietina, which looked the most promising dye :-

This came out of the dye bath pink but changed to blue when I put it in the sun to dry. Didn't think to take a photo of the fibre when it came out of the dye bath, but this will give you an idea of the original colour :-

This was the side facing down on the table which hadn't been exposed to the sun.  I hoped it would stay pink if I didn't turn it over, but the sun must have got through anyway as it all changed to blue.  Next time I'll keep some separate to dry inside so I get both colours.

The second dye bath was Stags Horn lichen which looked very promising until about a week ago when it changed from reddish-pink to brown.  I have no idea why.  Anyway, in went the fleece and out came . . . yes, you've guessed - beige!  I haven't even bothered to take a photo of this as it's been set aside to be over-dyed with something else.

The good news is that the blue fleece is only lightly felted and I should be able to pull it apart and spin it.  However, I didn't have time to do that before the TdF started, so I'm spinning another 100g of Hope's fleece straight from the bag - unwashed, and uncarded. So far, it's going well.

This shows how fluffy the fleece is, even the blue which was a bit felted.

By the end of the second day, the bobbin is filling nicely considering I haven't had a lot of time to spin :-

You wouldn't believe the colour of my hands after spinning this, it's absolutely filthy!  I'll dye this when I've finished the spinning and plying - this time with some packets of Kool Aid my friend Victoria brought back from the U.S. for me.  Then I'll spin the blue lichen dyed fleece separately.  I'll be back in a day or two to report on progress, but won't bore you with endless photos of a gradually filling bobbin of dirty fawn fleece.  Have fun!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Sad News

My neighbours, who have the alpacas, had a bit of bad luck today.  You know I told you that the next male cria born was to be mine?  Well, this morning when Rob went to feed the females, he found the first baby dead next to a very puzzled and disoriented mother. He thinks it was probably born very early in the morning, possibly about 4 a.m. Apparently it was a boy, pure white and beautiful (aren't they all?)

The other two females are due to give birth in about 4-6 weeks so we're all keeping our fingers crossed that they're OK.