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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!!  đŸ˜

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!