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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Gradient Spinning

Hi everyone, well, I'm back on line again with my super-duper brand new MacBook Air (RIP old MBA) and ready to deluge you with all the things I've been doing since then.  I was about 6 weeks without a computer, so it's really nice to be back.

A while ago we had a little holiday just north of Bordeaux staying in a chateau with lots of old friends, some of whom we hadn't seen for over 20 years.  Realising that I might just have a bit of spare time here and there, I took my Louet Victoria and some fleece to spin.  I'd been hoarding some really nice merino in various contrasting colours from Barber Black Sheep (it was actually from a "Build a Batt" box that I'd bought and hadn't gotten around to using) so I grabbed that and teamed it with some other fleece that matched quite well from a World of Wool Botany Lap Waste bag.  I like to have an "easy to spin" project when we're travelling so I don't need to take a lot of other equipment with me for preparing it.

I managed to spin every day we were there, but still didn't manage to finish this until about a week after we'd returned home.

This next shot shows how well the colours go together, I really love the deep pink.

Because I wanted to keep the colours true when I plied it, I had to n-ply it and it turned out a bit thicker than I normally spin - probably about double knitting thickness - and consequently I didn't get as much yardage as I would have liked.  However, I think this will go really nicely in a project I started in the winter.  I think it was probably about November/December I went through all my handspun stash and picked out all the skeins of double knitting to make a lap blanket.

Not a very good photo as it's being knit on a circular needle, but I started by knitting a large rectangle in seed stitch with some art yarn I made a while ago, which included lots of yummy colors and . . . feathers!

I love to put feathers into my handspan, but I'm always a bit concerned they might be scratchy.  That's why I thought of using this for a lap blanket because it won't be used next-to-skin.  I still have a nice selection to choose from, but I'm not sure I'll use them all.

Hopefully the new yarn will finish it off nicely :-

but I can't decide which end to start knitting with.  I think it might be best to start on the outside of the one on the left and then start the second one on the outside too.  Of course, that will probably change multiple times before I actually knit with it.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Computer Demise

Well, after various visits to Toulouse with my Macbook Air, it has been declared officially dead!  When they took the back off the computer, they said only a small amount of coffee had penetrated and it was only the mother board that had been affected.  However, when we received the estimate for repairing it, they quoted for replacing practically the whole thing!  The cost of repair was over 900 euros!  This may have been influenced by the fact that it's over five years old and, as such, not worth repairing.

After a lot of thinking, we finally decided to order a new one, which isn't costing much more than repairing the old one, especially as we get 100 euros knocked off the bill if we hand in the old computer, and our Apple account is credited with 50 euros to spend later.

The estimated delivery time was 10 to 15 days, mainly I think because I need an English keyboard rather than the French one.  So, after sitting waiting patiently (!) for the last 9 or 10 days, today I received a phone call from the shop . . . who said the machine I was going to be receiving had been replaced by a newer model with a faster processor.  Nice, I thought, especially as there would be no extra charge.  Then the guy said that Apple had cancelled my original order and placed another order for the new one which will be delivered in . . . yes, you've guessed - another 10 to 15 days.  Aaarrghhh!

This evening I've spent quite a lot of time trying to upload photos onto my blog using Hubby's old I-Pad.  I was getting nowhere so he was drafted in to help.  We managed to get some photos on here, but in a not very useful format.  If I don't manage to sort them out, I'll see you in 10 to 15 days when my new computer arrives!   

Monday, 8 May 2017


Two days ago whilst surfing at the dining table after lunch on my trusty Macbook Air, disaster struck in the form of my coffee tipping itself (!) all over the table.  A tiny trail of said coffee trickled into the hinge area, and Maccie immediately turned up its toes and refused to speak to me ... Ever ... Again!  In the end we contacted an Apple helpline who said it needs to go to one of their shops for repair (hopefully).  This may take a while as the nearest agent is in Toulouse which, whilst not being too far away, we're visiting anyway next Monday to take my sister back to the airport.  Not much point in making two trips I suppose.

In the meantime, Himself has lent me this new-fangled I Pad thingy and so far we're not getting on too well.  Being trained at a young age to touch-type, this picking and poking thing is driving me to distraction.  As for updating the blog with photos, as soon as I work out how to get them on here, we might make some progress.  I have been busy, spinning, making soap and yesterday (having no computer to play with) I dug out a really old patchwork project that I haven't touched for years.  Maybe being temporarily cut off from the world isn't a bad thing after all - it means I have more time to do the things I actually blog about!

See you soon!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Dandelion Dye

April's challenge on my dye calendar is dandelion dyeing.  So, where's the March project gone?  Well, March was daffodils, so I collected all the flowers as they died back and put them in a tub in the freezer, at the end of which I didn't have a lot.  Then the dandelions happened - big time! They went in the freezer too, until the main flush of flowers was finishing, then I picked the rest and put them all in the dyepot.  I knew I had to have quite a high proportion of flowers to yarn, and when I weighed them I had at least 750g.  My skein of handspun Cotswold :- 

was 125g, so no worries hopefully.

After simmering the flowers for an hour or so, the dye didn't look as promising as I'd hoped,

but was more green than yellow, so fingers crossed it would give me a decent shade on my alum-mordanted yarn.

I strained the flowers and squeezed as much dye as I could out of them, then added the wool.  After simmering I left the skein soaking overnight.  The resulting colour (unphotographed!) was yellow, but very pale.  I tried altering it with vinegar, but that did absolutely nothing.  A dollop of ammonia in the rinsing water, however, deepened and intensified the colour to what I'd hoped I'd get.

This photo doesn't actually do it justice, the colour is much brighter.  So, roll on May when the next project is . . .

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Ditching the Chemicals 2

Another new soap to add to the collection.

This is a lemon essential oil scented soap, coloured with turmeric powder.  I actually thought it might be a bit more yellow than this, but you can never tell how the caustic soda and oils will alter the colour as they work together.

I had some castille soap hidden away in my cupboard - the only oil I used in that was olive oil, and it came out quite a nice creamy white.  I pared off curls of this soap with a potato peeler to put into the middle of my lemon soap which sounds very easy, but it was particularly difficult to get the soap to curl up.  It either wanted to stay in a straight strip, or break into numerous pieces.  Eventually though I had enough to make a statement in the soap and, after pouring about half of the soap into the mould, carefully placed the swirls on top and then filled up with the remaining soap mix.

The bits on top are grated from a bar of choc/mint soap that I made last year.  Maybe not very practical as I'm sure some will fall off when I start using the soap, but it looks pretty.

This was made almost 2 months ago and should be ready to use on 9th April so I'm looking forward to giving it a go.  In the meantime, I've got itchy fingers to make some more soap and have plans for a cocoa/lime swirl soap that I made last year.  It turned out really smooth and creamy and very nice on the skin.  Also, I want to make a dandelion and honey soap.  We're currently in dandelion season here so there are lots about.  I picked a jar of the flower heads last week and have had them soaking in olive oil.  This needs to be heated to extract some of the colour and, let's say, "essence" of the dandelions, and the olive oil will be used in the mix.  On the day I make it I need to make dandelion tea with flowers and boiling water and use that with the caustic soda.  I can't decide whether to add any fragrance or leave it natural.  I don't think there'll be much scent from the dandelions.  What do you think will go with this?  Lemon, orange?  I'm thinking citrus will be best, but not sure.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Olive Bark Dye

I'm very late at posting this.  The February project on my Plant Dyes for All Seasons Calendar was bark dyes which was very opportune (obviously planned that way!) as I was just about to prune my olive tree.  It had grown rather tall and I wanted to make it a more rounded shape, so the top branches had to go!

Once I'd finished pruning the tree I took a vegetable peeler and carefully peeled off strips of the bark.  After cutting them into smaller pieces, I put them in a large jar of water, supposedly for a week!  About 3 weeks later I remembered I hadn't done anything with them and boiled them up for at least an hour at a time over several days.  The dye liquor turned quite a nice deep colour so I put in some Cotswold locks, not much (maybe a large handful) as I only had a small amount of dye.  I weighed out 100g of bark and I wasn't convinced that would dye 100g of fleece, so I used much less.

Tree barks don't need a mordant as they contain a nice amount of tannin, which serves as a natural mordant.  So, once the fleece had soaked in the solution for a while, I heated it up and simmered for a couple of hours.  It then sat in the dye for 3 or 4 days before I remembered to rescue it!

Here's the result, quite a nice colour I think :-

Not really enough to do much with, but I'll monitor it over the next year to see if the colour is stable, and if so, the poor old olive tree might just have to have another haircut!

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Second Sock

"The second sock" - sort of implies there was a first sock, doesn't it?  Actually, there was a first sock which was given to our neighbour Rob on his birthday.  He should have had two socks for his birthday present, but I ran out of both time and yarn.  Luckily, he didn't mind and now has two socks to wear instead of hopping on one foot!

The yarn for these was made up of 3 different fibres : Jacob lamb from Rob's flock, Ambrose's baby alpaca (also from Rob's animals) and some Italian mohair I bought at the last Lot et la Laine festival here in France.  I used the opposing ply system again, as Eric's socks (The Engineer's Socks) seem to be lasting quite well apart from a couple of moth holes that have just appeared in the leg.  The opposing ply system uses three plies - two are spun in a clockwise direction, one is spun in an anti-clockwise direction, then the three are plied together in an anti-clockwise direction which adds twist to the third ply and gives a bit more strength to the yarn.

The finished yarn was flecked with white (mohair), brown (Jacob) and ginger (baby alpaca).  It's a very subtle fleck and doesn't show well on photos.  I was woefully lax at taking photos of this project, but did manage a pic of the 2nd sock :-

Thankfully, the two socks both came out the same size - I was a bit worried about that because the first one had been given away before I started the second.  By the way, you'll notice a small ribbed section in the middle of the sock, I like to do this as the rib sort of "hugs" your feet and makes them feel more cosy.

So, another test for this engineered sock yarn.  I'll be interested to see how they perform on a different pair of feet.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Olive Leaves

After trimming my olive tree recently (long overdue), I pared off the bark for the February dyeing project on my natural dye calendar and put it in a jar with water to soak for a while. Rather than throw away the leaves, I decided to make another dye with those.

It took flipping ages picking all these leaves off the branches.  When I got to 500g, I thought I'd probably got enough and put the rest on the bonfire pit.

I'd read that it can take 3-4 hours boiling to extract the colour from olive leaves, and this proved quite accurate.  I'm not sure how long they actually cooked for, because I did it over about 3 days, but it was at least 4 hours, probably more.  The resulting dye looked quite promising :-

but I realised I would probably only get a pale yellow (or the dreaded beige) from this.  I strained the leaves and added 100g of Cotswold fleece, hoping I'd get more colour if I used a smaller amount of fleece.  I didn't use a mordant (with hindsight, possibly I should have) because I thought there would be a fair amount of tannins in there.  Obviously not, as this is what came out :-

It is yellow, but very very pale.  I admit to being rather disappointed with it.  Not to be defeated, I tried dunking some of it in a vinegar/water solution, and another piece in ammonia/water.  The vinegar didn't seem to do much (left on the photo below), but the ammonia did the business (right) - I'm happy with this yellow.

I know this is still wet, but I think it will still be quite a nice colour when it dries.  The rest of the fleece was dunked into the ammonia solution, and I'm quite pleased with the outcome.  Mission accomplished!

And . . . it's not beige!

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Cotswold Dyeing

Last year I managed to get my hands on a Cotswold lamb fleece for the first time.  I've had my eye on these fleeces for a few years now, but didn't order initially because there was quite a long waiting list for them.  It's very curly and lustrous, and the (long term) plan is to make a colour-work cardigan with it.

I washed a few locks when it arrived - you can see how shiny these are :-

When I finally got around to spinning, I washed the fleece first (very carefully!).  I don't like the lock structure to be disturbed before spinning, and generally don't wash my fleeces, but this time I think it did benefit from it.  When it was dry, I fluffed it up into a cloud and spun from that.

It was lovely to spin, and wanted to be spun fine - this will be about 14 wpi I think (4 ply).

When I'd filled the first bobbin I decided to dye it.  I'm not sure what colour I'll use for the main part of the cardigan, but thought an onion skin dye would go well with whatever I choose.

There's another reason why I used onion skins.  Before Christmas, I bought a natural dye calendar from Fran at Wool - Tribulations of Hand Spinning and Herbal Dyeing - if you click on the link you can see the calendar and if you decide to buy one you can even have a message on the back from Elinor! There's a dye project for each month and January is onion skins.  There's also a Ravelry thread for the calendar here.

Anyway, I knew I had some onion skins somewhere, but wasn't sure how many I had.  I finally found 2 large bags weighing a total of 190g.  90g of them went into the dye pot and were boiled strongly for at least half an hour.  I normally simmer any dyestuffs, but Fran found out (quite by accident!) that if you boil the skins you get a much deeper colour.

The resulting colour looked very promising, but I wasn't sure 90g of skins would be enough to dye my 130g skein of yarn.

After squeezing out the skins from the dye bath, I replaced them with the remaining 100g and re-boiled for at least another half hour.  The colour had darkened quite nicely after that.

I'd had the skein of wool soaking for a couple of days, so it was nicely wetted out, ready for dyeing.

And here's the final colour after simmering :-

There's still plenty of colour in the dye bath, so I'll probably put some fleece in there to use it up.  I'm sure I'll need plenty when the Tour de Fleece turns up again this summer!

So now I'd better go and check what February's project is.  Don't want to get left behind!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Ditching the Chemicals

For the past year, after becoming increasingly concerned with the amounts of chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis, I've been making a few changes in our lives.  Some chemicals are difficult to avoid, especially environmental ones, but I thought I'd make a start with what we put on our skin on a daily basis.

Soaps, face creams, body creams, shampoo etc. are mostly riddled with chemicals which, on the surface, may seem not to be too hazardous to our health as we use them on the outside of our bodies.  However, the skin absorbs these things really easily through the pores.  We may apply them on the outside, but they soon end up on the inside.

For the last 12 months I've been using my own products : facial moisturizer, eye cream, body butter, hand cream, soap and, more recently, hair conditioner.  When I come to the end of my current shampoo, I'll look into making that too.

I haven't blogged about anything I've made so far, because I wanted to test them first to see which worked, which needed improvements, which aren't worth bothering with.  I don't think any of them come into the last category (not worth bothering with), but some are definitely better than others.

I think the most satisfying of these has to be the hand-made soaps.  I was rather nervous at first because you have to use caustic soda to make cold process soap, and I knew there were risks whilst handling this.  However, wearing goggles, face mask, long sleeves and rubber gloves makes this process much safer.  I now really enjoy making soap and can't wait to make the next one!

This is my latest one :-

This is a recipe I devised myself.  Here in France we live in a duck-producing area and my husband loves duck!  We normally buy locally, and one of the "waste products" (in inverted commas because, for most people who use it for preparing food, it isn't considered a waste product) is duck fat.  I don't use the fat for cooking, because I don't eat meat, and it doesn't take long for me to accumulate a fair amount in the fridge.  I don't like wasting things, so looked on the internet for a soap recipe using duck fat.  Couldn't find one, so I made my own!

This soap contains duck fat, coconut oil, olive oil and cocoa butter, plus the caustic soda and water needed to turn the fats and oils into soap, and essential oil to add perfume - for this I used Ylang Ylang.

I've experimented a bit with using natural colours too - paprika gives a nice subdued orange colour, cocoa powder quite a deep brown - but for this soap I bought a blue soap colorant.  Yep, I did say blue!  So why on earth did it turn pink?  It's a bluey-pink, but most definitely pink.  The other plan for this soap was that I would pour the white, uncoloured half into the mould, quickly add colour to the other half, pour this on top, then use a wooden skewer to partially mix the two, creating a sort of swirl effect. This soap mix had other ideas though.  By the time I'd managed to mix the colour into the second half of the mix, the first one had solidified too much to attempt to swirl it, so I had to be content with having a two-tone effect instead.  I actually quite like it, and will classify this one as a "happy accident"!

The hardest part of soap making is having to wait for the soap to "cure" and dry before it's usable.  Most recipes say to leave it for a month before using, but I prefer to leave it for two.  The "curing" part occurs quite quickly and after about 2 days the caustic soda will have disappeared.  But if you were to use the soap at this stage it would wash away very quickly.  It needs to harden up, and the longer the better, but by the time 2 months is up, I can't wait to use it.

Makes good gifts too!

Friday, 27 January 2017

Going Batty

I recently indulged myself with an afternoon of one of my favourite fibre-related pastimes - making batts.  Don't ask me why, but I just love making them.  My neighbour's birthday was looming and, because it's difficult to make her a cake or other sweet treats (she's dairy and gluten intolerant) I decided to boost her fibre intake.

This is where my World of Wool floor sweepings (Botany lap waste) come in handy.  I've collected a fair amount of different colours over the years so it's easy to go through matching up and finding contrasts.  I also included some tussah silk and mohair.  I went with blues because that's a fairly safe colour - I know Tammy likes blue.

I weighed about 220g of fibres and split them into manageable amounts that the drum carder could handle.  These were put through twice only as I like to leave them with some obvious colour changes in there.

The colours look quite muted here, but that's probably because the deeper colours are underneath.  It's only when they're taken off the carder and rolled up that the magic happens.

I called these "Mermaids Dreams" and listed the ingredients as "Sea Snail Silk, Mermaids Tresses, Iridescent Seahorse droppings, mixed with a good helping of seabed sweepings."  The sea snail silk was the tussah silk, the Mermaids tresses were mohair, and the Iridescent seahorse droppings were, I think, possibly merino mixed with iridescent fibres, probably trilobal nylon.  Hubby was rather confused when he read the label . . . "Where on earth did you buy that lot?" he asked!!  ūüėĀ

Friday, 13 January 2017

Handspun Llevant

The end of October saw the arrival of a large (1kg) bag of Botany Lap Waste from World of Wool.  I treat myself to one of these every so often and in October it was on special offer.  When I opened the package I have to admit I was rather disappointed in the colours I received.  There's no choice - you get what you get!  About 60% of this package was made up of various browns.  I don't do brown, it drains all the colour from my face and makes me look as though I'm ready to snuff it any minute.

Not to be beaten, I thought I might be able to alter the colour of the fibres if I blended them with other shades.  I mixed all the browns on my drum carder and then blended the lot with various white and cream fibres I already had.  I managed to tame it to a colour that I thought I might be able to wear, but just to be sure, I then took a third of it and blended again with more whites/creams.  I ended up with 2 shades of brown, one of which was more of a grey/beige.

I spun these separately and finished up with 2 skeins of the paler colour, and 2 skeins of lightish brown, 410g, 1134 yds, all 14 wpi (4 ply, or fingering weight).

I chose a pattern, Isabell Kraemer's Llevant, but chose to knit it in graded stripes, starting with the lighter colour which would be next to my face.

I really like this pattern - fairly simple, but with a nice bit of detail at the neck, and 2 little buttons at the back.

Detail at the front of the neck
Little button band at the back
This is a top-down sweater, and I made quite good progress until I got to about waist level and realised it was just too big (yes, I did swatch before I started, but with handspun there's always a bit of variation in the yarn, and also, the sweater is an A-line and I need to have something a bit more fitted at the waist).  The bust area was OK, so I ripped back to there and then added some waist shaping.  The only other alteration I made was the hems of the sleeves and body which were rolling up more than I liked.  I changed to 5 rows of seed stitch which solved the problem nicely.

I finally finished just before Christmas, on 22nd December, so it's taken me a really long time to photograph and blog about it.  Still, better late than never.  Here's the finished item :-

I don't think this is ever going to be my favourite sweater in the world, mainly because of the colour, but it's warm and I needed a new warm sweater for winter.  Just in time too - apparently we've got snow forecast for tomorrow, first time in 2 years!