Friday, 29 April 2016

Contact Dyeing with Dried Madder Stems

Hardy geraniums start to come out of hibernation in April.  I've accumulated quite a few varieties in the garden, over the years since I found out how well the leaves pick up iron from a dye bath, printing a tracery of their shape on the silk they are pressed against.  As it happens, the ones that were growing originally are the best and most reliable type, though I don't know their name.  
In spring and early summer, these leaves also have the added extra of releasing some green and yellow dye of their own.  Trouble is, there's nowhere near enough to colour a whole piece of fabric and this time of year, few other fresh materials are growing freely enough to make the main dye bath.  I picked a load of dandelions to simmer in one pot and put a heap of dried up daffodil heads in another, alkalinised both baths
with a teaspoon of soda ash and gave them an hour to simmer. Having laid out two pieces of silk mordanted with alum, one chiffon, the other medium weight habotai, scattered with geranium leaves, I went fossicking about in paper bags, realising most of my dried dye plant flower stores would make pretty inconspicuous prints, only slightly different shades of yellow.  Coreopsis ought to add a bit of bronze, onion skins are
relatively powerful and I've previously made a pink dye bath from dried out madder stems, so this seemed a good opportunity to find out if stems had enough dye in them to make a contact print.  Folding the chiffon in half, I piled some on to the second layer to be folded and tucked a piece of madder root that the dog had dug up into the end of the silk.  Rolled around a plastic drain pipe and tied up with string soaked in a jar of rusty nails in water, the bundles stayed in the dye bath for five days, being gently heated on three occasions, as madder root dyes need a long, slow dye process and I guessed the stems might do best treated in the same way. Once the bundles had dried out, the first thing I learned was that the tiny thorns on madder
stems play havoc with chiffon.  Bit late in the day to remember how closely related madder is to common goose grass.  The stems themselves had changed from looking dry fawn to deep pinky red.  Once disentangled, I was most pleased to see they had made red lines on the silk. 
"Just as well, isn't it, Beaut?  I can't see any sign of those hardy geranium leaf prints you were going on about."  
My companion, Elinor Gotland, is always quick to spot the flaws in my dyed silk, she has an eye both covetous and unforgiving.  I pondered the problem.  Could the plant have changed?  Surely not.
"Actually,  I did suspect at the end of last season that my jam jar full of nails in water and vinegar was running out of oomph, only I'd have thought a winter of festering some extra nails in there would have beefed the iron back up."
Elinor sighed.
"Time you used the proper stuff, no more messing about with dodgy home brew.  Good job I bought some iron for you at Wonderwool.  Can't have you messing up any more silk for the want of a horseshoe nail."
"Well a rusty one might have done, but thanks very much. Ooo, speaking of home brew, is that a bottle of wine in with your shopping?  The show may cater for a spinner's every need, but I
never guessed Wonderwool had an alcohol license."
"Oh, this?  Just a gift from some of my adoring fans.  The dear things get terribly star struck."
"Gosh.  Heaven knows how they got any shopping done after the thrill of meeting you."
Elinor gave me a sharp look.
"Enough with the irony and get on with mixing up that iron."
I painted some ferrous sulphate splodges over the leaves I could
see near the surface of the second silk bundle and gave it a final simmer in the daffodil dye bath.  I was a bit heavy handed with the iron solution, overall, maybe not the best iron leaf prints ever, but it did the trick. Post Wonderwool downer much alleviated by finding there is nothing wrong with my geranium plants and Elinor's wine was absolutely lovely.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Madder Silk and Wool Work

If there is anyone reading who fancies a go at metalwork jewellery, contact Mike at Tangled Web.  My sister and I went on a day course last year and during the morning, we both learned to make a silver ring .  Mike is a relaxed expert, a thoughtful teacher and a thoroughly nice bloke.  After chatting about my spinning, he twisted up a bit of copper wire into a new orifice hook for me in less than a minute, then helped me spend my afternoon making a copper diz.

We went again this year and while BG and Pip created silver accessories, I spent the day sawing out a circle of copper sheet and hammering it into a gong, while Mike brazed cross struts and fixed driftwood onto a frame of copper piping I just happened to have brought along. He is a total star and the jewellery he makes has a wonderful flow, I've been a customer on and off for years.
Back home, I draped the frame with some silk chiffon contact dyed with geraniums and had a go a spinning silk fibres dyed in a madder root afterbath.  Just as well the effect didn't work out right, because neither did the yarn. Threading up the frame with some common or garden grey wool, handspun from a sheep of unknown breed, might be less of a statement, but in this instance, less proved to be more, as
the whole lot was solely intended as a backdrop to fibres dyed with fresh madder.  A batt of mixed shades got tweaked about and fixed on with a combination of needlefelting, weaving and sewing.  Dissatisfied with any of my other dyed silk fabrics to cover the bottom of the frame, it occurred to me to keep that part simple too, knitting some heavyweight, felted Zwartbles single yarn, using short rows to
shape the piece to fit the space.
After I had hung it on the wall and stood back to consider the effect, my companion, Elinor Gotland, wandered in, .
"Calling that art, are you, Beaut? "
"I'm calling it a Silk and Wool Work.  Knitwear and fairies are not my only fruit.  Actually, Elinor, I think I will call this one 'Rose'."

Elinor peered at it from a safe distance.  She still hasn't quite got over meeting Belle Dame 2.
"You've put a fairy in that fire.  Who's she - Vesta, goddess of the hearth?  Looks like she's burning down the house." 
"Well, that's good, I wasn't aiming for cosy domesticity.  More Ceres without her Proserpine."
Elinor went a step closer.
"Assuming this Rose is another of your 'Belles Dames sans Merci', where's her bell?"
"That round thing.  It's a gong.  And the midwinter spring sun.  The fire and the rose are one, if you catch my drift."
Elinor set her hooves on her hips.
"You need a nice lie down with a wet flannel, Beaut.  T S Eliot's rose is too heavy for a scrap of wool.  Still, All manner of thing shall indeed be well, soon as we've got the kettle on."

Friday, 15 April 2016

Spinning and Felting Singles Yarn from Raw Zwartbles Fleece

While my friend Wrigglefingers was showing me how to spin coreless corespun yarn from a batt, she told me about Wolf Yarn. Much taken with the whole idea, I went googling about and read some contradictory stories. Though the details differ, it seems that Judith McKenzie invented it when she found herself in a tight spot and needed to spin fast, to keep the wolf from the door
She spun Wolf Yarn straight from washed locks of wool, churning out sufficient quantities of conspicuously handspun single yarn to make unique blankets and jumpers which brought in enough cash to keep her going.  Here is the woman herself, spinning and talking, you have to listen closely.  Though it's not a slick, promotional video, there's enough there to make me long to go to one of her classes.  She describes her yarn as a fluffy boucle, coreless corespun from a lustre longwool type fleece.

I think she says any locks over three and a half inches long with low crimp could be spun this way. Nothing lustrous in my fleece stash, but I have long owned a large Zwartbles off a farm in Swansea, proudly presented to me by my friend BG.  Having struggled with a Zwartbles early in my spinning career, gratitude hid a shameful thought - Come friendly moths, fall on this wool!  (It isn't nice and my cupboards are full.)
Though the staples are over 10cm long, the locks are rather more full bodied and bouncy than a longwool.  I suppose there is plenty of disorganised crimp in a Zwartbles and that is my excuse for totally failing to get a boucle effect.  I don't know how the twist in Wolf Yarn singles gets balanced.  Maybe it doesn't need to be.   I've heard you can weave with singles and I know that knitting garter stitch with a fresh single will share out the energy, so that the knitwear does not angle off sideways on the bias.  Despite using a 5 to 1 ratio on the wheel, pedalling slowly and keeping the tension high to draw the single onto the bobbin fast, once taken off the niddy noddy, my skeins of singles just twisted themselves into a twirl.  In the video, Judith specifically says her yarn is not felted, but mine got plenty of agitiation in two hot detergent washes and rinses, then several hot to cold plunges.  
Felted single yarn doesn't spiral, mine hung thick, straight and stiff as old rope, utterly inelastic.  What the hell, the plan for this deep brown stuff was to provide a dark foil for my colour fest singles, which I wanted to use in a rug.  I intended to knit a semi-circle, constructed along the lines of a pi shawl, then add short row waves of colour, inspired by this shawl pattern.  On the third attempt, after changing needle size and reducing to three increase stitches on alternate rows, I gave up trying to make the rug semi-circular and didn't bother to do any more stitch counting.  Four garter stitch rows in brown separate short row sections of entirely random construction, turning when the colours in the mad skein shifted, attempting to pool some 
shades and stretch out others while building shapes that seemed likely to interlock.  Once I had used up one of the mad skeins and maybe half the Zwartbles, I cast off, stuck the whole thing through a wool wash cycle in the washing machine and gave thanks for the amazing plasticity of knitted fabric as I blocked the rug flat.  I call this the Wriggle Rug.  Loved it, knits up fast, I'll definitely do another.

"Don't you think that was daring of me, freestyle knitting with no pattern?"

My companion, Elinor Gotland, has made friends with the puppy and now considers herself the Crocodile Dundee of Bridgend.
"Daring?  Hardly.  You are talking to an actress who has never relied on a stunt double."
Mental fuses blew, merely imagining a stunt ewe, never mind one with Elinor's unique physique. I started putting on my coat to go out for some fresh air.
"Wish I could get hold of Judith MacKenzie's book, The Intentional Spinner."
 "You should write a book yourself, Beaut. Call it The Unintentional Knitter."
The dog noticed me picking up her lead and dashed in.  Elinor fell off the doorstep, leaping for safety.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Spinning and Felting Coreless Corespun Single Yarn

"Look, Elinor, I would never have blended the lime green with blue green in this batt, but don't you love the yarn it spins up to be?"
"I could fancy some of this to complement my new Spring season wardrobe.  Not your usual dull and overcast plant dye colours at all, Beaut.  Easy to tell you didn't put these lovely fibres together, never mind your lack of flair and colour expertise."
"The whole batt is one of Wrigglefingers' amazing creations.  She's off to the Maryland Show in America soon, to demonstrate using Classic Carders.  I did spin it though."
"Yes, I can tell, there's too much twist.  Fair play though, it is chic - compared to your other lumpy 'art yarn' efforts. "
"Wriggly's a good teacher, as well as a very kind woman.  I was watching her spinning coreless corespun late on our last night at camp and she just gave me the batt and showed me how.  Good job I didn't realise that was what it was, because the name sounds terribly technical."
"How ever did you manage?"
"Wriggly got me started and it seemed quite easy."
Set the spinning wheel on the  
lowest ratio, 5 to 1, pedal slowly and pull up some fibres from the flat of the batt.  Make a big, wide drafting triangle, let the twist run down its left side while holding the fibres on the right out to the side, so they can wrap round as you go.  No need to fret if you spin an ordinary plain twist intermittently, doesn't matter if the single gets thin, Wriggly said keep throwing the batt into the orifice with the tension high enough to keep the single drawing in.  Once the bobbin is full, skein the single off onto a niddy noddy, tie with cotton in four places and felt the lot by plunging from hot to cold water.  Standing there by the sink in the Youth Hostel, I was amazed how all the mad unbalanced twist relaxed while the single soaked in hot
water, then I could really feel the wool firm up immediately it hit the cold.  Wriggly's generosity did not end there.  She gave me a huge bag of leftover fibres from her carding demonstrations.  As luck would have it, soon after, I was visiting a friend whose home is an absolute spinners' paradise and joined the queue taking liberties with her marvellous electric drum carder.

No pretense at any considered colour blending choices, with help from yet another friend fluffing up the bits, I carded the whole bagful into two huge mad batts and spun it straight up in the same way.  With less skilled preparation and unsupervised spinning, it has come out not so much coreless corespun as careless mayhem.  Look away if you prefer a sensitive colour palette and a beautifully even, well balanced yarn.  This was fast and furious fun.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Knitting a Bento Bag

This year, I thought I'd knit my sister a bag for her birthday.  In my stash, there were still a couple of hundred grams of Texere wool, aran weight, dyed two shades of greenish brown with larch bark a few winters ago.  This previously knitted up good and durable and I pondered on knitting it double with a colour change, dk weight single yarn in a silk/wool mix which I bought in an online sale.  Of course, the price was too good to
be true.  Heaven knows what was done to that silk before it got spun, but it has no shine and comes apart with the slightest tug. Fancied a slipped stitch pattern, which ought to spread the load of a bag between rows, allowing me to knit the weak yarn alone, but adapting a bag pattern to take account of slip stitch repeats 
would involve more knitting maths than I really fancied. Browsing about online, the Tolt Folded Bag looked a brilliant concept, based on the Japanese Bento Bag, which has a tied top.  Any piece of fabric or knitting which is three times as long as it is wide can be folded to make a curious and  
pleasingly shaped bag with the absolute minimum of seams. Hard to get my head around, so I made one with a piece of paper and when the origami worked, I made a hippy beach bag out of a big scarf which happened to be three times as long as it was wide.  The third fold is a diagonal down across the centre square left to right.  The big scarf made a huge bag, hanging off the shoulder to below the hip.

Three folds do interesting things to stripes.  I knitted Triple L Tweed slip stitch, casting on 49 stitches and knitting two shades of the aran and the colour change wool/silk blend in turn, til the length looked about right.  I left it live on the needle cord while I folded the bottom and crocheted the first seam, finding the
Triple L pattern made it easy to match the edges correctly and also, that I would need a few more rows than I thought to make the other side match.  Having cast off, I put a line of double crochet round the whole of the open top, to firm and even up the exposed selvedge to match the length of the cast on and cast off edges. 
I rather like the Bento shape.  My companion, Elinor Gotland, had her doubts.
"Funny looking bag, Beaut.  You won't tie handles in that thick knitting."
"What do you think I am, daft? The Tolt Folded Bag pattern has a knitted handle and I am going to crochet one for mine."
"Bit low in the middle though.  Your sister won't thank you when all her stuff falls out."
"Luckily, the 28cm starting row width made a 37 x 37cm bag that fits an A4 file rather neatly, which is just the sort of thing Pip needs to carry about.  See how well it hangs up on the back of the door."
Which I then shut, firmly and ran downstairs, whistling loudly.