Friday, 26 July 2013

Crocheted Felted Beach Pebble Bag Pattern

I joined the Ravelry spinners' Tour de Fleece with high hopes of mastering worsted and longdraw spinning.  For the first nine days, I bashed away at carding my Gotland fleece, spinning worsted as best I could.  Still love the silver and grey curls, but I never did do them justice.  If you would like to try spinning this lustrous fleece, I think Hilltopkatie may be selling some at Fibre East this weekend.

At bedtime, I would go on line to admire hundreds of yards of other people's smooth and colourful singles and skeins. Posting a soft focus photo of my own work, I hoped to conceal the horrid truth - hairy grey string. Definitely arriere du peleton.  

Not the Gotland's fault.  There were plenty of examples of others spinning beautifully with just the same wool.  It was me. Practice did not seem to be making perfect.  Or even perceptibly better. By the first rest day, I had seven 50g balls of 2 ply rolled up. Then I had to drop out of the Tour.  No broken bones, just work taking me away from home and spinning wheel. Crochet takes up less elbow room than knitting, when you wish to be discrete.  I had in mind a felted beach bag, shaped like a pebble with a fossil in it. Working out a three dimensional pattern was a complete bugger, the main piece had to be unravelled over and over again.  Still, the process kept me absorbed through transport delays and evenings alone.  Once I got home, I treated myself to the thrill of spinning Gotland carded together with white silk, for the 'ammonite fossil' decoration.  Look at the sunshine on the lustre of Gotland wool and silk. OK, the felt is fuzzy, but not in a bad way.
The final result is nicely rounded in the body, though the top opening could do with a bit of modifying.  I also wish I had made the handle a bit longer. That's the problem with felting, hard to be sure how much the original dimensions will shrink and no chance to unravel afterwards. 


350m Gotland about worsted weight 10ply = 9wpi
10m gotland/silk blend to decorate
6mm crochet hook
Tension gauge - rounds 1 - 5 measure 9.5cm before felting, bit hard to measure afterwards.  The whole width was 42 cm before felting and still 39cm afterwards, though the fabric was much denser.
ch = chain  htr = half treble crochet  (US half double)  ss= slip stitch  st = stitch  
dc = double crochet (US single crochet)
The number of stitches at the end of the round is shown in brackets.

Front and Back - make two

Note that each piece is supposed to have depth, forming the base and sides of the bag, as well as the face, so it won't lay flat.
1. Make a magic ring, ch 2, 8htr into loop, ss behind the first 2 ch and pull the loose end tight to close the ring (8)
2. Turn, ch 1, *1 htr into next st and 2 htr into following st* repeat to end, ss behind first ch (12)
3. As row 2 (18)
4. As row 3 (27)
5. Turn, ch 1, *1 htr into next 2 st and 2 htr into third st* repeat to end, ss (36)
6. Turn, ch 1, *1 htr into next 3 st and 2 htr into fourth st* repeat to end, ss (45)
7. As row 6 with one extra htr at the end (56)
8. Turn, ch 1, *1 htr into next 4 st and 2 htr into fifth st* repeat, 1 htr, ss (68)
9. Turn, ch 1, 1 htr every st, ss (68)
10. Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 5 st and 2 htr into sixth st* repeat, 1 htr into last 2 st, ss (79)
11. Turn, ch 1, 1 htr into every st, ss (79)
12 Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 6 st and 2 htr into seventh st* repeat 10 times, dc last 3 st and ss into base of chain which began this round (90)
13. Turn, ss back along 3 dc st, then dc next 3 st, then htr every st to end of round (87)
14. Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 7 st and 2 htr into eighth st* 9 times, htr next 4 st, dc next 3 st and ss to nearest dc of preceding round
15.  As row 13
16. Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 8 st and 2 htr into ninth st* 8 times, htr next 5 st, dc next 3 st and ss to nearest dc of preceding round
17. As row 13
18. Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 9 st and 2 htr into tenth st* 7 times, htr next 5 st, dc next 3 st and ss to nearest dc of preceding round
19. As row 13
20. Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 10 st and 2 htr into eleventh st* 6 times, htr next 8 st, dc next 3 st and ss to nearest dc of preceding round
21. as row 13
22. Turn, ch 1 *1 htr into next 11 st and 2 htr into twelfth st* 6 times, dc next 3 st and ss to nearest dc of preceding round. Fasten off at the end of the first piece.

At the end of the second piece, lay both pieces together so they match.  At the fastening off point, where the yarn is still attached to the second piece, push the crochet hook through the front of the same ss on the other piece and draw up a loop of yarn. Continue along the base curve, pushing the hook through matching stitches on the two pieces and crocheting them together.

Inside Pocket

Rounds 1 - 10 same as main pattern. Fasten off, leaving a length of yarn for sewing it on inside one of the main pieces in the matching place on the pattern of rounds, leaving the top third of the circle open.


Rejoin yarn to the first stitch before the flared straight edge of the opening.  
1. Make 1 htr around the post of each stitch until you reach the corresponding point on the other side (22)
2. Turn, ch 1, htr every st
3. as row 2
4. Turn, ch 1, 1 htr, htr 2 tog, htr every stitch until 3 remain, htr 2 tog, 1 htr (20)
5. as row 2
6. as row 2
7. as row 2
8. Turn, ch 1, 1 htr, htr 2 tog, htr every stitch until 3 remain, htr 2 tog, 1 htr (18)
Repeat rows 5 - 8 until 8 st remain.
Continue rows of htr every st until the handle is as long as you want it.  I made it complete the circle of the bag, which is fine for a bag slung over your arm, but a bit short over the shoulder.
To reduce down to a point to sew in to the main body, htr 2tog in a centre stitch on every row until 1 st remains and fasten off. Crochet this point into the V shaped space just above the join of the two main pieces.  Finish off by working from the inside of the bag, making one dc into each stitch of the top edge and one dc into each post along the handle until you get right round.  Repeat on the other side. 

I used coloured pins to mark out an increasingly open spiral and chain stitched Gotland/Silk blend yarn.  Came out a tad wonky.  To felt it, I put it through a 95 degree Centigrade machine wash with some old towels. Gotland makes a very dense felt, so I stuffed it tightly with a dry towel to shape it while it dried.

Finally a test run to the beach. Size is good, enough room for a large towel, bathers and water bottle with keys and mobile secure in the inside pocket. The Gotland colours are very like the rocks and pebbles.  Sudden thought, what if the bag were so well camouflaged that I couldn't see where I had put it when the tide came in?  Reality check - not likely. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Making Coreopsis Dye from the Plant to the Wool

'Likes full sun' appears on lots of seed packets.  In January, when my grip on normal summer in Wales has slipped, I may buy them anyway. Finally, the triumph of hope over experience has paid off. Coreopsis tinctoria seeds germinated well enough indoors in March and survived potting on in freezing April conditions, with only a tiny frost watch heater in the greenhouse.  

In mid May, the plants took their chances in a newly dug over patch I fondly call 'The Dye Garden'.  It is now sheltered by a low wall, which replaces a high wooden fence that used to block much of the morning sun, with a railing facing East North East. The glorious July heat wave is really suiting my dye plants.  Below, in the foreground, the yellow flowers are Dyer's Chamomile and along the path, some transplanted and divided Rudbeckia Goldsturm have made promising clumps of leaves.  The pink cosmos were supposed to be a dye plant called Cosmos Sulphureus. Evidently, I was sold a pup there.  Still, every couple of days, I snip off all the other flower heads for drying, so at least the pink keeps a bit of colour going, along with the white lychnis that I hadn't the heart to weed out.  

In the middle ranks, some of the Coreopsis flowers are all maroon red, others red and yellow.  Lately, the dye garden has been getting a good soak with garden sprinkler every few days.  I also have some coreopsis in pots and have noticed that they are the first to wilt.  A terracotta heat wave early warning call to water the patio plants now.

Anything with tinctoria in its name will be a traditional dye plant. Woad is officially called Isatis tinctoria.  Coreopsis' common name is tickseed, there are many species apart from tinctoria.  I have read that several others will also give dye colours and all of them are native to the Americas. Word of orange in its potential colourway prompted my gamble on getting it to flower in a garden better suited to ferns.   OOOooo, fancy, a plant dye neither beige nor yellow, not even merely a greenish version of either. 
I am prepared to wait three years before the madder has grown enough roots to give me a scarlet dye, but a woman does need something to tide her over. A colour to celebrate summer heat. Coreopsis flowers are quite papery, even when fresh.  Picked on Sunday, I gave them Monday to soak in cold water. Some recipes say you can just boil them up straightaway, but I wanted maximum redness from this 30g test run.  No sign of any dye by Tuesday evening, so time to apply the heat.

These flowers got a full hour at 95 degrees Centigrade and woo, just look at the rich red in that dye bath.  As soon as it had cooled down to 40 degrees, I ladled out the flowers and put them in a cloth bag, which I returned to the pot in the interests of getting the strongest colour.  A soaked skein of wool, weighing 30g, mordanted with Alum and Cream of Tartar, was brought it slowly back up to 80 degrees over the course of an hour.  

Late at night, the bath had cooled back down and I was too impatient to leave the wool to soak overnight.  There was going to be orange!  Alkali is supposed to bring up the red in coreopsis, so the skein was dangled half way into a pan with dissolved soda ash for 20 minutes before rinsing.

Wednesday, the wool was dry and ready to be admired. The alkali end was a markedly richer colour.  Dried and wound on a niddy noddy to make a new skein, the mixed shades have all the glow of a valedictory sun, dropping to the western horizon. Embers of a long hot day.
Since the afterbath still looked reddish, I put in a whole 40g skein and simmered again.  
Not nearly so dramatic a colour, but the wet wool had a definite yellowy brown, as seen in the mid section.  Acid is supposed to bring out the yellow in coreopsis, so this skein had the left hand end dipped for 20 minutes in cold water with a large slug of white vinegar.  The brightening effect was weak.  I wondered if this might be because of too little dye per gram of wool.  Dipped the right hand end in alkali and almost instantly, the red jumped up.

By Thursday, the wool was all dried and wound ready for a final assessment.  Oh yes, Coreopsis likes full sun, soaks it up and gives it back.  

Every couple of evenings, I am picking all the flowers that have opened fully.  Though I could wait for them to fade, by next morning, plenty of new buds will already have opened, so the border is never bare for long.  Hopefully, leaving none to go to seed should prompt the plants to keep flowering for a long while, just like sweet peas.  They are so delicate, poised on their thin stalks, I fear one day of rain and wind would have them down.
The current dry heat dessicates and shrivels the picked flowerheads in no time.  Little is left of their sunray petals.  Storage space will not be an issue, no matter how many weeks of flowers are still to come.  Just got to trust that the orange will still be there, when they get soaked and simmered for dye projects next winter.  

Maybe I'll celebrate Sol Invictus with this souvenir of high summer.  It would certainly be more fun than the usual panic shopping of 20th December.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Skirting and Sorting a Sheep Fleece

I understand the theory of sorting a sheep fleece.  I have read books and looked at diagrams.  I also understand the theory of gravity, but I still don't really get why it doesn't make the moon plummet to earth. Both the subtle curvature of space/time and differentiation of one part of a fleece from another require considerable study.  On the fleece front, these are the basic 'apple falling' ideas.  Locks from the centre line (spine) tend to be longer and more weathered, coarser further back. The locks round the edges, which were on the legs and tail and belly, tend to be short and grubby.  The best quality wool feels softer and just looks better. 

Above is my latest acquisition, a Lleyn hogg.  On the left, the coarse wool from the rump, on the right, a softer, finer section.

Skirting means pulling the most matted and short locks from round the edges. Experienced spinners might then discard another third, dividing the remaining wool according to its quality and thus suitability for for different purposes. Considering all the time invested in the preparation and spinning of a single ball of wool, this is entirely logical.  However, I have yet to muster the mental toughness to part with much of any fleece.  Ah, the heart has its reasons.  Newton ended up a lonely old sod. 

I spun my first two fleeces into uneven, thick wool, with immense enthusiasm, but no patience or skill to do more than grab the nearest locks to card.  The Lleyn has been properly shaken then picked over, to get the grass out.  Second cuts are clumps of loose wool a few millimetres long.  They result from the shearer running the clippers back over part of the sheep in a second pass, to cut closer.  These are no good for spinning and have also been shaken or picked off.  I even brutally abandoned some skirted wool on the compost heap, before putting the fleece in the suint vat.  It is rinsing presently and should give me a fairly clean, tidy bundle to store away for winter. 

My third fleece was a big Zwartbles, gorgeous chocolate brown with golden tips. Unrolled on the floor, I stared at it, groped it, pulled a bale of hay out of it, but ye Gods and little fishes, could not make out which end had been on the head or tail.  All of it seemed thick, matted and 'sprongy'.  I selected what seemed the softest bits and had a bash at carding, which was bloody hard on the wrists.  The yarn I managed to spin had me stomping off to walk the dog and kick stones.  A bit of private primal screaming into the March wind proved cathartic.  No chance of creating  that brown jumper I wanted to make for my daughter, for going to University in September.  In the end, there turned out to be so many other uses for this wool that I have become a Zwartbles fan.

My fourth fleece was in much better condition.  A lovely soft Jacob, with very little grass, no matted or felted bits, hooray, hooray, now I shall spin fine yarn, well aran rather than chunky, and make a stylish jumper. Determined to get this one right, I spent hours and hours inspecting and sorting each lock for quality and colour.  Hell on the knees, it entailed staggering upright with pins and needles in my feet several evenings in a row. Eventually I had the best wool sorted into three bags full.  Brown, white and neither, a colour called 'lilac'.  Look how beautifully I spun it (compared to previous projects).

First, I spun all the white wool and dyed it with daffodils, ready to do the pattern.  Half way through the bag of brown, I realised there was definitely not going to be enough for the main colour for a whole jumper.  When I mentioned that the sleeves would be done in variable tones of lilac, my daughter said anxiously 'It's not going to look like poo, is it Mum?'  

Evidently, the rustic look is not retro, not chic or 'sick' or even 'groovy, baby'.  Fair enough.  In the seventies, purple hotpants were my favorite clothes.  Totes amazeballs, babes.  

Who would love and use my handmade offerings, no matter what? Someone who still has a penguin I carved in school, even though the beak has fallen off.  That Jacob fleece became a birthday cardigan for my Mum.   

Friday, 5 July 2013

Cleaning Raw Fleece in a Fermented Suint Vat

Fermented sheep sweat sure shifts sheep shit.  This is a scatological post that could make those of a delicate disposition lose their lunch.  Scroll down and read on at your own risk.

Straight off the sheep, fleece smells, well, sheepy, plus.  The back end is generally matted with months of crap splatter, the rest of the wool may hide a cornucopia of grass seeds, twigs and insects.  Sheep have glands that produce waterproofing substances for their wool, and of course, when charging up hills on a warm day, they sweat.  All of this history will be lurking on and in a shorn raw fleece.
It seems ages ago that I blogged about spinning in the grease.  I thought at the time that this meant just carding out the debris and spinning the wool, before washing the spun yarn.  If the starting material is a pretty clean fleece that has been 'skirted', which means it has had all the truly matted and filthy bits pulled off, then I would still say this option is fine by me.  However, I now know that this is not exactly 'spinning in the grease'.

There are often sheep in a field I sometimes walk through with the dog.  I have been eyeing them up all spring, wondering what their wool might be like to spin.  A few weeks ago, I saw they were shorn.  Now or never.  I steeled my nerve and knocked on the farmhouse door to ask if I could buy a fleece.  The farmer was mildly amused.  Very kindly, he bundled one into a sack and just gave it to me, saying 'You sure you want this?'  While I was thrilled to bits, when I laid it out on the lawn, I realised that even a dung beetle would not give it houseroom.
My wonderful  gift of a local Suffolk fleece badly needed cleaning.  Endless series of hot detergent washes and rinses of small portions, was an horrendous prospect.  Now nobody spins to save time, but preparing the fleece is not my absolute favorite bit.  I am sure I am not alone, because loads of people buy batts and roving that are just about ready to spin straight away.  
I was half tempted to quietly bin the whole thing, til I read this excellent blog by Moz.  In it, she explains fermented suint.  The salts in the sheep sweat plus the grease on the wool can combine to make a natural soap. This cleans the worst of the dirt off a fleece, while leaving enough lanolin on to make handling the spinning easier.  No effort or heat required.  The result is a fleece that is truly prepared to spin in the grease, but not in the grub.
Would you believe it, pretty much all you need to begin is a really honking sheep fleece and a huge bucket of water.  I beetled off pronto to buy a 90 litre plastic storage box with a fitted lid, as recommended.  An old net curtain lines the box, to help lift the fleece out again.  You are supposed to use rainwater, but our local supply is soft - there is never any scale in the kettle - and the pH is very slightly alkaline.  I tested it with litmus paper and it came up exactly the same as the rain.  So in went the garden hose, filled it up - what had I got to lose?

A few days later, not much seemed to have happened.  I gave it the full week, then pulled the fleece out and let the water drain back into the box.  The strong farmyard smell was encouraging. Something was certainly festering, if not fermenting in there.  
I bought a second storage box for the rinse phase.  Following the instructions, I left the fleece in cold water to soak for a day, then changed the water and repeated this twice. Hauled it out to drain on the lawn, then left it in the greenhouse to dry.  Moz is absolutely right, there is no smell at all when the wool has dried.  There is still a bit of dust on the tips, but the fleece has been transmogrified.

Spot the difference?
Following Moz's instructions, the object of the process so far is just to make the suint vat.  She does say there is no reason not to use the original fleece, and this wool is special, because the sheep is practically a neighbour.  Suint cleaned Suffolk spins up a dream with its light lanolin content - I actually managed longdraw spinning which feels magic, when it goes well.  Having created the fermenting suint, the vat is intended for cleaning less grubby, greasy fleeces with only a couple of days soak.  
Before I got the Suffolk dried, I had committed my lovely Gotland locks to the stinky brown depths.  Although they were pretty clear of debris, these sheep are heavy with grease and as I have blogged on endlessly, very inclined to felt.  Since this method involves no agitation and no heat, suint had to be right - but was it all too easy?

Watching Elinor the Gotland sink into the mire still seemed an awful gamble.  Waiting a couple of days for the suint to act, then waiting for the rinses to complete was a right worry.  Of course, it worked a treat.  Elinor the Gotland was clean and dry in good time for the Tour de Fleece.  The rinse water (dilute sheep fertiliser) has also cheered up my tomatoes no end.  Thanks a million Moz!