Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reflections on the month of July

I love the month of July.

It is a month of celebrating - starting with Canada Day on the first, then a nod to my roots - Independence Day on the fourth. A little over a week later, it's my birthday and after that my wedding anniversary. In the middle of that is the charming Aldergrove Fair. And to top it all off, July is when I usually manage to organize my summer holidays and get a few weeks off work. Delicious.

Fibre-wise it's been a good month. I've got a good start on spinning and plying the July Fibre Club. I've reclaimed some local Cormo and am in the process of cleaning it, again. That will be a separate blog post. But the biggest accomplishment for me this month is that I have changed the way I knit.

I learned to knit when I was 10 and since my mid-teens I've been a steady knitter. So why would I change now?

I love making yarn almost more than anything. I mostly knit when I am tired of spinning or when I am commuting. I am amazed at the production of some knitters and when I get to the roots of their speed, one common factor is the way they throw their yarn. They are knitting Continental - throwing with their left and picking the yarn to make the loop. I knit English style which is to throw with the right hand and wrap the yarn around the needle before you pull it through. It isn't efficient at all.

I learned how to knit Continental style at the insistence of Lucy Neadby. At a knitting workshop she showed us some of the best ways to get a smooth and consistent fabric when making intarsia or knitting fair isle. That was to hold one colour in one hand and the other colour in the other. Thus the need to be able to throw with what ever hand/colour was needed at the time.

So I know how to do it, but I only did it when I did colour work. But suddenly I wanted to see if I could knit faster so I could get through more yarn. That's when I decided to knit Continental, and Continental only beginning with a lovely little project - baby socks.

The pattern is by Kate Atherley and it's free on Ravelry. It was a quick easy project and one that I could focus my new knitting skills upon. You start with a 2 x 2 rib stitch so it was good to get practice with knitting and purling right from the start. But it was frustrating at the beginning. On my commute to the city, knitting my usual way I could easily have finished the cuff/leg and even had a good start on the heel flap. But not this time. I barely had one inch of knitting to show. Nonetheless, I didn't give up. Ever time I reached for my knitting, my hands would go into the English throw position, and I had to readjust. By the time I was onto my second sock I was getting a bit faster, at least more comfortable with it.

I finished those socks and quickly moved onto another pair. That pair went much faster than the first, but still it didn't seem as fast as my other knitting. Now I am onto a third pair and I am happy to report that I can now do the knit stitch without looking. It's just coming quite naturally. And the purl stitch is actually fun, and easier to do than the English style.

Lesson learned:  You really can teach an old dog new tricks.

I wanted to change the way I knit and so I focused exclusively on changing the way I knit. When it got tough I either put it down for a spell, or just persevered. The change didn't come over night. It took a while for my hands and my brain to get used to it. I noticed that every morning when I picked up my knitting, it was just was wee bit easier than it was the time before.

Here's the first pair I knit next to the parent pair that used the bulk of the yarn. Aren't they the sweetest things?

And here's a photo of the second pair of socks I knit from leftover handspun. Great pattern - these are the newborn size and used 20 grams of yarn.

That's it for July. Welcome August and all the new fibre adventures it will hold.

Strawberry Season yarn - mostly done

Here's the Strawberry Season braid, mostly spun up and Navajo plied. I divided the braid into three strips. What you see here is two-thirds of the braid - two out of the three strips. I still have one more strip to spin - and since I like the result of this - 206 yards/190 m of yarn, I'll be doing the same drill - spinning it fine, and putting a lot of twist into the ply.

In this photo below, it hasn't been washed yet.

And here it is after it's been washed, bashed, thwacked and dried and plumped up a bit. It is a lovely yarn and I can't wait to knit with it. But for the sake of "project completion" I will finish spinning the rest of the braid first.

That's what I will do today so I can start knitting up some socks.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Strawberry Season - July Fibre Club 2014

The July Fibre Club is a 4oz braid of 85% Superwash Merino wool and  15% nylon. The colours are intense and yet there is a lot of white in between the colours. For me, this is great because the red doesn't move into the green, it has a space of white, so you get a lovely pink, then white, then light green and then the intense green. It also means that you don't have complementary colours like red and green blending. It is an interesting result, but not for something that is to remind you of strawberry fields and freshly picked berries.

I am spinning it fine on my Ashford Joy and putting a lot of twist into it. The plan is to chain ply it so I can maintain the colour stretches. The final project goal is a pair of socks.

It's easy to spin a fine singles with Superwash Merino blended with Nylon. Part of the reason for that is that it isn't crazy slippery, nor is it sticky. It's just perfect. The twist doesn't run away on you and yet you can easily hang on to it long enough to give the amount of twist needed to give the chain ply character.

I'm on holidays this week and the following two, so I am planning on getting this spun up in my spare time.

Will post in progress.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Indigo Dyeing Workshop

Last month I spent an entire Saturday at Ann's place learning how to make indigo dye vats. Our guild (like many others) has a wonderful scholarship program. If you want to take a fibre arts workshop or class, you can apply to the scholarship fund and get a portion of your tuition covered by the guild. In exchange you are required to give back to the guild in some manner. Ann attended a couple of workshops at Maiwa and her "pay-back" to the guild was to offer an indigo dyeing workshop - sharing some of the key things she learned.

From the Maiwa website: Natural indigo is an extract prepared from cultivated plants of Indigofera Tinctoria. Indigo is the only source of blue in the plant world. Its ability to produce a wide range of blues has made it the most successful dye plant ever known.

What you see below is a fruit vat. This one is made with bananas, but you could make it with mangoes instead. To make a litre of dye you take one very ripe banana, mash it up and add 1/4 c water. Keep mixing this and then add 1 TBS of indigo dye powder. Add a bit more water and then add 2TBS hydrated lime. Keep mixing and add enough water to make one litre. The pot you see below is 10 litres. . . . so it started with 10 mushy bananas.

These are cotton and rayon samples dyed in the fruit vat.

These are  wool, silk and mohair samples that were dyed in another vat made with ferrous sulfate. The green skein is an overdye from a skein dyed with turmeric.

Then of course we had to play with silk and cotton scarves to see how quickly the dye sinks into those fibres. And nothing like a good gate to hang the skeins and scarves as they oxidize.

And here is the total collection of samples I did. Each one had a couple of dippings as I tried to get more intense colour. They continue to oxidize and deepen in colour.

I won't even pretend to understand the chemistry of indigo, yet. It is something of a mystery, but hopefully not for long.

Ann has graciously offered to put up more dye vats and we can continue to play and learn.