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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Cotton Prize

My prize for winning the cotton spinning competition arrived just before Christmas - perfect!

This is what spilled out of the box when I opened it :-

In more detail, I asked Joan for a copy of her book on cotton spinning on a wheel, and also her dvd "Cotton Spinning Made Easy".  I'm really looking forward to getting into these, hopefully to improve my rather strange (I think!) method of spinning cotton.  It works, but there's probably a better way.

Also, I couldn't resist this rather handy looking bobbin winder.  The bobbins can be used to ply from as they fit most lazy kates, and, as an added bonus, the bobbins can be inserted into a weaving shuttle to use with a loom (if I ever get that far!)  The little green ruler at the bottom was an extra.

There was also lots of cotton to spin, some of it ready to go, and some to play with whilst carding.

Another extra was this cute little bag, perfect for carrying/storing my current cotton spinning project and accessories!

And, last but not least, even the packaging material is spinnable (I had to ask her that, because I wasn't sure).  This is Acala cotton lint from her neighbour's fields.

A fabulous prize and I can't wait to get started after Christmas and New Year.  Thank you so much Joan for organizing the competition, and especially for donating such a brilliant selection of goodies!

If you would like to see the other entries, you can view them here.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

2016 Cotton Harvest Photo Contest

Earlier in November I entered a cotton harvest photo contest run by Joan S Ruane of  Joan has been teaching spinning for almost 30 years and now lives in Arizona.

2016 is the second year this contest has taken place, and this year was judged by Cary Ann Ely who works for the US Department of Agriculture in Wilcox, Arizona, assisting cotton farmers to improve their crops through soil management practices.

I trawled through all of my photos of the cotton I've grown over the past few years, but finally decided on one from this year's harvest :-

I called it "Stranger in the Crowd".  The sienna coloured boll was grown from some seed cotton I bought earlier in the year from Sally Fox.

There were some really good photos entered into the competition and, to be quite honest, I really didn't think I had much chance of winning.  Imagine how surprised I was, therefore, to return home from holiday (just had 2 weeks in the UK visiting family and friends) to an e-mail from Joan saying my photo had won $75 to spend on anything I like from her shop!!!

A couple of hours later I'm still feeling pretty gob-smacked.  Very flattered also that Cary Ann would like to enlarge the photo to put on the wall in her office.

Saturday, 12 November 2016


This is Hugo (hello Hugo!).  Hugo is a Maine Coon who belongs to my wicked stepson, Nic, and his wife, Vika.  Hugo is very very fluffy!!  and just look at those ears!

For quite some time, Vika has been saving the fluff she brushes from him every day, and a while ago gave me a bag to spin.  The spinning was amazing - like spinning clouds.  It was so soft, soft, soft.  But I have to admit, the preparation was a bit of a labour of love!

The problem was, each individual brushing had been made into a neat little parcel (see above) - great idea because they fit in the bag better.  When it came to teasing them out though, lots of them proved to be difficult, and some impossible.  I think in the process of making them into these nice little packages, the heat from her hands (and maybe slight natural moisture in the skin) has felted them.  These fibres are very fine and I think are quite prone to felting.  Lesson learned.  I'm hoping the next lot will be just as the fibres came off the cat brush as that would make my job a whole lot easier.

Anyway, the ones I managed to pull apart (sadly there are some that I've had to discard) were carded on my fine cotton carders and made into punis (thin rolags) and spun quite finely on my Ashford Traveller.

I had hoped to get a full bobbin of this, but maybe next time!

This yarn has a fabulous halo, but I haven't managed to capture it on my photos.  Maybe I needed the sun behind it.

The finished product - 35g of fingering/4-ply weight, and 106yds/98m.  Not really enough to make much except maybe some leg warmers for Hugo!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Step-by-Step Cotton Picking Blues

Ever wondered what 83 cotton bolls look like?  No?  Well I'll show you anyway!

These were the first bolls to open on my white cotton this year, so when I had a significant amount I started to process them ready for spinning.  Whole bolls take up quite a bit of space, so first step is to remove all the fluff from them.

I try to remove bits of dried leaf as I go so I end up with nice clean clumps of cotton. These clumps are then separated into individual seeds, i.e. each seed is attached to its own surrounding bundle of fluff (technical term!).  So far, these two processes are relatively easy and non-time consuming.

Ha ha - then comes the dreaded ginning!  Each little parcel of fluff has to be separated from the seed that it is clinging to.  I've tried a few methods of doing this - initially when I first spun some cotton I fluffed out the cotton on each seed (a bit like a halo) and spun directly from the seed.  Then I read that a pasta maker would remove them effectively if the cotton was run through the rollers with a piece of denim, and in theory (in practice too - I've seen videos of other people doing this) the seeds are left on top of the rollers after the cotton has departed through them.  Hhhmm, it doesn't work for me.

I finally found that the best (but very time consuming) way for me was to roll the seed out of the cotton using a wooden dowel on a non-slip tile.  I can show a photo of this in progress, but only with green cotton (my latest project).

The seed is the bit at the top of the dowel, about to be released, and the newly-ginned cotton is the pile at the top left of the tile.

One day, if I keep growing this amount of cotton, I would like to invest in a miniature cotton gin, but at the moment I feel I need to be sure I'll have enough cotton in the future to warrant it.  They're quite expensive.

The next step is the carding.  When I first started carding cotton earlier this year, I thought it was going to take quite a bit of effort to get the cotton nicely aligned and rolled up ready to spin, but actually this happened pretty easily.  Each carder-full was brushed three times from one card to the other and then rolled around the wooden dowel to make punis (the smaller, cotton variety of a rolag).  Easy peasy.  Green cotton again here as I forgot to take photos of the white.

Then came the interesting part - the spinning.  This has been done on my Louet Victoria because we were about to go off camping when I started and I wanted to take some spinning with me.  Also, cotton needs lots of twist and the best way of spinning it is by using the smallest whorl - the black drive band on the left has been moved to the smallest one; normally for spinning wool I have it on the largest, i.e. right next to the wooden upright.

Note : Apologies to any other spinners reading this for all the obvious explanations, but I do have non-spinners who read my blog and they probably wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about otherwise!

So, this is what 83 cotton bolls look like once they're spun.  When I started, I thought I would need the best part of two bobbins for the amount of cotton I had, but obviously it's quite deceiving.

Although I've dabbled a bit with spinning cotton, this was my first full bobbin, ever.  I started off a bit shaky, trying to work out a system of drafting that worked for me.  Long draw is supposed to be the optimal method, and I did try that, but basically I'm not very good at it.  I think I need to practice with wool.  In the end I came up with a method that I found easiest - my forward hand was about 8 inches in front of the other hand which was basically allowing a little bit of twist to enter the cotton at a time.  I got on quite quickly after that.

Even though I've been spinning for more than 26 years, spinning cotton was like starting to learn all over again, and I'm sure I've still got a lot more to learn.  One big mistake I made was taking the single thread off the bobbin, making it into a centre-pull ball on my wool winder, and plying from the two ends.  Absolute nightmare!  I had various episodes of complex knots forming because of the amount of twist in the cotton.  The first of these was impossible to untangle and I ended up cutting it out!

The offending article - it looks quite professional like this doesn't it?  No sign of the horrors lurking within.  Eventually though it was all plied up and ready for scouring.  At this point I weighed it - 130g before scouring.

This was dunked in a pan of water with some washing-up liquid and boiled for a couple of hours.  Then I rinsed it and repeated the boiling.  There was surprisingly little came out into the water, maybe because it was home-grown, not treated or sprayed with anything, and hadn't gone through commercial processing which apparently adds quite a bit of dirt. No idea really, but the water turned slightly yellow and that was it.

The final bit of processing for this hank of cotton was dyeing it.  I have lots of woad growing in the garden this year, some of which I planted, and lots which have self-seeded.  For this dye batch I used some of the self-seeded plants.

300g of washed, chopped woad leaves ready for their journey into the blue :-

Boiling water was poured over the leaves and left to sit for an hour, after which the leaves are strained out.  Then comes the chemistry!  After re-heating to 50 deg. I sprinkled in washing soda until the colour of the water changed to a greeny-brown, then whisked for about five minutes until the resulting froth on top turned blue . . . and what a blue!

I then let this sit while the froth subsided, then re-heated to 50 deg and sprinkled Spectralite on top to remove oxygen from the solution.  This then turns a yellowy colour and after about 45 minutes is ready to go.

The cotton skein was then carefully lowered into the water (don't want to risk getting any air bubbles in there) and left to soak overnight.  This is not strictly necessary - I've had good blues develop from a 15-30 minute immersion - but by the time I got to this stage it was getting pretty late.

The next morning I (carefully again - this dye bath probably still has some colour so I didn't want to introduce air) removed the skein and hung it up in the fresh air for the blue to develop.

It comes out of the dye bath yellow, then turns green, then blue.  I did have to re-plunge this because I had light coloured marks where I'd tied the skein.  You can just see this on the top right.

Finally, the finished woad blue cotton.  From seed to skein :-

Quite a journey!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Sienna Cotton Flower

Just because . . .

The saying is, "First day white, second day red, third day dead" - this one looks like it's on the journey to day 2.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

This Year's Cotton

I'm hoping to have a bumper crop of cotton this year, especially the white.  This was new seed that I grew this year which was donated by a Rav/Facebook friend in Italy (thank you Elisa).  Look how perfect these bolls are :-

Most of the white ones are like this.  My previous white cotton was a bit messy and disorganised, but these are just perfect.

The green has done well too, although there won't be quite as much.  I grew quite a lot of cotton this year and by the time I came to repotting the green (and some of the white) I'd run out of large pots.  All of the green ended up in much smaller pots than I would like, but they're still producing 5 o 6 bolls per plant.  When it came to repotting the sienna plants, I had a brainwave - plant them in used compost bags with their tops rolled down - worked a treat.

The green colour is quite subtle because the sun fades the outside fluff, but in the centres they're greener. A promise of things to come!

The star of the show for me this year (and there won't be an awful lot of these as they were planted later than the others, and I only have six plants) has to be the sienna.

Perhaps not the best-looking boll in the world, but look at that colour!  I must admit to being rather disappointed when this boll first opened as it was rather pale and didn't look much like the seed cotton I bought from Sally Fox earlier in the year.  I left it on the plant for a while though and it's gradually darkened to the colour I remember.

This morning I picked all the bolls from the plants that have finished producing (mainly the ones in the smaller pots) but there are lots more to come.

Note to Self : buy more large pots for next year!

The question is, as these were all grown in fairly close proximity to each other, will they have crossed? Exciting times ahead (maybe)!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Tour de Fleece Finale

My last post for this year's TdF.  This was my final skein of the Falkland for the Tour :-

I spun this straight from the carded fleece (unwashed, undyed) because I've had an awful lot of waste when I've dyed the fleece first.  This turned out to be much quicker and far less bother - must try and remember this in the future - dye after spinning.  I mordanted it and then dyed with logwood chips which gave a really dark purple.  In fact, it looks more navy blue than purple.

My final photo of my achievements during this year's Tour :-

It looks quite a lot, but these are all relatively small amounts - 515g in total.  All the Falkland was made into centre-pull balls; back left are the three dyed with madder, then two dyed with St John's Wort flowers, then two dyed with grape vine trimmings*, and the final 3 are dyed with different lichens.  In front of the lichen is the logwood dyed ball. Then at the front, the top skein is the result of our 10-minute challenge, the middle one was the 10g challenge, and then the cotton at the front dyed with weld.

* I realise I haven't posted about the dye session with grape vine trimmings, basically because it was rather insignificant.  I crammed my large dye pan as full as I could with grape vine leaves and cooked it.  I removed the spent leaves and crammed it full again with fresh leaves and cooked it.  After all that there was just a pale yellow colour in the dye which gave beige (!) on the fleece.  An experiment I probably won't repeat!

Onto a brighter note, I won a prize!!!  This was donated by a fellow team member and came all the way from America (thank you Meagan).  My prize was a hand-turned cedar nostepinne, which smelled amazing by the way, and she also included lots of little extras (tea bags to consume whilst spinning, a sample of spun yarn, a cute little pin, and a button on a hair grip).

If you don't know what a nostepinne is for, this might give you a clue :-

I couldn't wait to try it out!  I already have a ball winder but tend not to take it with me when we go away in the camper van as it's a bit bulky.  I've quite often been stuck without it and have had to leave off spinning because my bobbin was full.  This will fit nicely in my spinning wheel bag and will come in very handy!

Friday, 5 August 2016

Dyeing Cotton

This year during the Tour de Fleece I decided to spin some of my home grown cotton. As our team demands that we dye our fibres/yarns as well, I chose the white.  I really don't want to overdye the green as I like the colour as it is.  I carded up a batch of punis and got to work.

I won't bore you with lots of photos of the bobbin filling, but this is where I decided I didn't have time to spin any more and still get it dyed.  So I skeined it and threw it in a pan of soapy water to clean it.

Cotton normally contains a lot of dirt (I know, it looks pretty clean in the photo above) and wax.  I'm not sure if the wax is a result of commercial growing, or if it's produced naturally, but my cotton needed to be clean before I could dye it.  I boiled it for a couple of hours, then changed the water and repeated the whole process 3 times - 4 boilings in all.  This is what my pan looked like after the first boil :-

It took a lot of scrubbing to get that clean.  Then after the subsequent boilings it looked just as bad!  The water was just a dirty yellow colour, nothing dramatic.  Anyway, I ended up with a fairly clean (I hope!) skein.

Next step was mordanting.  Cotton and other cellulose fibres need a different approach from wool and protein fibres when it comes to mordanting.  I found instructions on the internet which used alum, tannic acid, and soda ash.  Previously I'd read that these had to be applied in separate stages, but the instructions I decided to follow did it all in one pot.  All went well with heating the skein in the mordant bath, but the next morning when I opened the pan after it had cooled, I was rather shocked to find this :-

Not a very good photo, but basically all the powders (which dissolved nicely when I put them in the pan of water) had settled on top of the skein of cotton.  The black bits are holes in the powdery scum.  I was a bit worried that it wouldn't rinse off, but thankfully the skein came out nice and clean and ready for the dye pot.

I decided on yellow for the colour and picked quite a lot (300g) of weld that had self-seeded in the garden.

I chopped it all up and cooked it in hot water.  I kept this at a simmering level (not boiling) because I'm always afraid that boiling will spoil the colour.  I left the dye stuff in the water when I added the skein of cotton hoping to get a bit more colour that way.  The result was a pale yellow - interesting, but pale.  I can only surmise that cotton doesn't take colour quite as well as wool and protein fibres because when I've dyed with weld in the past it's been a much deeper and more vibrant yellow.

I wasn't sure whether to ply this or not, so at the moment it's still a single.  I think I may eventually ply it  as, although it relaxed quite a bit during mordanting and dyeing, it still has quite a lot of twist.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Dyeing with Lichen

This is a little experiment I did for TdF with some bags of lichen I've had sitting around for a while  (I always lay my lichens out to dry before storing them, otherwise they can go mouldy).  I used the boiling water method for these because I didn't have enough time to ferment them. 

This one grows quite flat on wooden branches and is sometimes difficult to remove without taking a bit of wood with it.  I try to avoid getting wood in my lichen dyes because it can dull the colours.  I think this is a Parmelia type, but no idea which.

The fleece came out quite pale, sort of a mix of beige and yellow, but was quite nice once spun.

The second batch was from a bag of mixed lichens :-

There's all sorts in here.

These gave a pretty pale yellow

which actually doesn't show up that well in the skein :-

Finally, I had a bag of this lichen.  I think it may be Usnea, but again, I'm not sure which one.

This one looked by far the deepest of the three

and much brighter when the locks were picked out and fluffed.

Not a bad colour :-

All of the skeins I've shown you were awaiting their final wash.  I was quite amazed to see them change and brighten as soon as they hit the soapy water.  Here they are finished :-

As you can see, there's not much difference between any of them.  Next time, I'll just put them all in together!