Plying Yarn: Mixing Alpaca and Merino Singles

I’ve been plying yarn with a spinning wheel for 12+ years, and have mixed and matched fiber types before. But I was curious: What happens when you mix 10+ year old alpaca singles with a (fairly) newly spun Merino singles? Will I actaully achieve a balanced yarn or just a hot mess?

Wow—what a transformation! When I started spinning—and more specifically, plying yarn—I would have assumed there was no hope for this twisted mess. Plying yarn with even these two different singles shows that you can successfully create a beautiful and usable yarn.

A Small Plying Experiment

I consider plying yarn not just a skill but an art form, so I’ve played around with different forms of plying many times in the past. Plying a balanced yarn, or chain plying yarn is up there among the techniques that spinners want to master. Have you ever wondered what happens if you mix two different fibers in the same yarn? I don’t mean blending before spinning, I mean one singles is one kind of fiber, plied to another singles of another type of fiber.

This past winter, I decided to spin this little skein of yarn to see what would happen. I have several storage bobbins with leftovers from past spinning projects. The leftover alpaca was a gorgeous natural black color that I obtained from the New Hampshire Sheep & Wool Festival circa 2013 (!!) and spun in 2013-2014. Yep, it’s a 10-year-old singles! Talk about resting!

As the color was a near-perfect match to some dyed Merino top that I had spun recently, I decided to ply them together to see the end result.

Unsurprisingly, it was a whirly, curly mess when I took it off the niddy noddy! But I had faith. It was nothing water, and a good thwack wouldn’t fix. The outcome was gorgeous, and I wish I had more.

What is a Storage Bobbin?

a hand holding a plastic storage bobbin used before plying yarn
Storage bobbins, like the one shown, are used for winding off newly spun singles to even out the twist and for storage until ready to be plied into finished yarn. It is not advisable to store singles for extended periods, though it certainly isn’t the end of the world if you do

Storage bobbins are empty spools that store rewound singles after spinning. It helps even out the twist and gives them a place to rest before plying yarn. It is NOT advisable to leave your singles resting on bobbins for extended periods of time, especially not ten years! The longer your singles rest on the bobbin, the more relaxed the twist is, only to have that twist spring to life once wet. If you don’t consider this, you probably will not like the end result of your yarn.

It’s also important to wet set your yarn once spun. Imagine knitting with yarn made with well-rested singles and washing it for the first time. You’ll probably be dealing with quite a bit of shrinkage.

Believe it or not, I add more twist when plying well-rested (i.e., practically dead!) singles. Then, a wetting and thwack help redistribute that twist throughout the yarn, compensating for any unevenness.

Disclaimer: I am a self-taught spinner, I am not a technical spinner nor has anyone taught me the “proper” techniques. I prefer to learn by trial and error, and this is the method that works for me. Someone else will most likely tell you differently. I spin for enjoyment and find my own way in my craft. Now, with that out of the way…

Do I need Storage Bobbins?

Not necessarily. If you are only going to do small batch spinning, the three bobbins that came with your wheel may suffice. I usually have more than one project on the go, so I need storage bobbins. Mine are LeClerc brand, and they are larger bobbins used for weaving. I got them at a now-closed fiber store here in Canada and purchased a manual bobbin winder from LeClerc directly. I also found just the right size chuck for my drill to do it battery-powered.

I used to be adamant about re-winding my singles before plying. But between the time, the extra wear and tear on my shoulder, and the fact that my singles are always well rested before I get around to plying anyway, I only wind my singles onto storage bobbins if I am doing a large project or I have leftovers. If you are doing a lot of spinning, you may want to consider investing in storage bobbins. If you are using them solely for evening out and resting your singles, I find that as your skill grows and you become a better spinner, this step is not necessary. Just let it rest for 24 hours or so, and get plying. 🙂

How will I know my Yarn Has Enough Twist?

After you’ve been plying yarn for a while, you get more of a feel for how much twist, when, and where to add more. This is not a skill that anyone can teach you. Sure, someone can give you instruction, but from my experience, plying yarn successfully is something that you must feel.

My motto is: When in doubt, add more twist, then wet and thwack. 🙂 I know this will sound intimidating if you are starting to spin and have areas severely overtwisted. You know what? Give your singles a quick run through your wheel in the opposite direction before plying, minding those heavily twisted sections. I did this many times when I started spinning.

a person holding a bundle of black yarn
Plying Yarn Success! One singles Merino, one singles Alpaca = deliciously soft 2-ply yarn, even after one singles resting for 10 years!

I am so pleased with this yarn; I wish I had more of it! I love to experiment because it’s in those times that I end up with these little gems and gain knowledge. Spinning alpaca and merino separately and ply together: check! Success! I wish you could touch it through the internet. It’s a really nice, soft, bouncy yarn with a delicious twist!

If you want to read more of my posts about fiber arts topics, see this blog’s fiber arts/dyeing/spinning category. You can also access all the videos as I make them on my new YouTube channel, which will have links to the posts they were made for.

Thanks so much for checking out my little plying experiment. 🙂

Until Next time…

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Wet-Setting Wool Yarn: Step-by-Step Guide for Balanced Handspun

One Method: Start to Finish with an Overspun Example

This month, I am continuing with my Fiber Arts Video series, this time about wet-setting handspun yarn. Last month, I gave an example of steam setting handspun yarn. However, wet setting is how I set most of my handspun. This example is for wool yarn.

Here are my steps for Setting Wool Handspun Yarn:

  • Prep yarn for its soak by tying off the skein in additional places to avoid tangling. I use ribbon or highway tape. If you choose to use yarn, be sure to use something that won’t felt to the skein, such as cotton
  • If you are dyeing more than one skein you can tie them together using the method above. Just make sure your sink is big enough to accommodate the amount of yarn for soaking
  • fill your sink (or tub, or basin) with hot tap water and add soap, such as Synthropol or blue Dawn dish detergent
  • Gently press the yarn into the hot water, and let soak for 20 or so minutes
  • Check the water. If it is clear from dye runoff and dirt, drain the water and rinse with the same temperature water
  • gently press and squeeze the water out of the skein(s) careful to not twist or tug
  • Take it outside for a good thwacking (optional)
  • Hang up to dry where there is good airflow

The Yarn

freshly spun yarn with extra twist before wet setting

I spun a 2-ply merino roving top that I hand-dyed. There was a bit left over, so I decided to spin it with a grey singles I had spun quite awhile ago. I thought this would be a good example of an unbalanced yarn with extra twist, and how important wet setting is.

A Trial and Error Process

When I first started spinning, I would get dejected because the yarn would always have extra twist. So, I would ply looser, which doesn’t make for good yarn construction. Perplexed, I continued on, determined to get a properly balanced spun yarn. Two things I didn’t realize when I first started spinning:

  • Letting yarn rest on the bobbin for an extended period of time relaxes the twist
  • Wet-setting yarn will return that twist/energy into the singles

I’m self-taught, so no one told me this. Thus, I discovered all about twist and resting singles on my own! I’ve learned now to spin and ply much tighter than I thought necessary and to always set my yarn.

Soaking the Yarn

a sink of soapy water soaking handspun yarn

As I discussed in a previous blog post, you can steam-set yarn, and sometimes I do, but I always recommend wet-setting handspun for best results. It is an absolute must for unbalanced yarn/extra twist.

Here is the two skeins tied together and having a soak in soapy water for approximately 20 minutes.

Rinsing the Yarn

rinsing soap suds off soaked yarn

As there was no dye runoff in the water, I went ahead and rinsed the yarn carefully—no wringing or tugging/pulling. It’s not just about felting but about not overstretching the fibers. If you’ve ever hand-washed and dried a wool sweater, you get what I mean.

Thwacking

What is thwacking – and why do it?

thwacking yarn on the side of the house :)

I probably wouldn’t have bothered thwacking this yarn if it was just the main skein since it was pretty balanced to begin with. Maybe just a quick snap between my hands, if that.

But I wanted to give an example of thwacking in the video, and since the small skein warrants a good thwack and is tied to the big one, I went ahead and gave it a good crack on the side of the house. My goodness. It’s so satisfying!

To Thwack or Not to Thwack

There are many opinions on why and when to thwack yarn, and even if you should. I started out making chunky textured art yarns, so thwacking was pretty much a given with those. It helps open the fibers and gives the yarn strength.

Since I started with thwacking as my foundation, I continued to do so, learning that some handspun yarns don’t take to it well. Take silk, for instance. It’s a sleek yarn that looks best when laid flat, and whacking it only makes the fibers go willy-nilly, leaving the yarn looking dull and less lustrous. So, I steam my silk handspun now.

I still like how my handspun wool yarns look after a good whacking. The plies seem to line up, and the yarn itself drapes nicely.

I usually opt not to thwack a wool yarn to save time when it is already pretty balanced.

Drying the Yarn

hanging yarn to dry

It’s June, and I have some roving outside drying in the sunshine as I type this. But this yarn was set in the winter, so I hung it up to dry inside. My studio is equipped with a heat pump, so hanging it here is the best option for me. Bathrooms never have enough airflow, from my experience, but if you need to use your shower to dry your yarn, be sure to run the fan to get some air circulating.

The yarn looks nice and balanced now, but it’s weighted down with water. Did I achieve balance on that extra skein?

The Final Product

the now dry yarn

Here’s the finished product. There is still a very slight twist in the unbalanced bonus skein, but this is miles better than what it started out as. I wouldn’t hesitate to use this yarn.

This is why it’s important to set your handspun. Don’t judge it until you do. I don’t find the feeling of satisfaction or the beauty in the yarn is revealed until it’s set and dry!

Thanks for Watching/Reading

leilani holding the final product

I hope this quick video and post helps if you have any questions about wet setting yarn. I’m committed to making short videos that would be of interest to up-and-coming fiber artists.

Why I’m Sharing My Experience

I’m a self-taught spinner, so what I know is trial and error. I’m sure there are others out there who have a more scientific explanation for it all, but my goal in sharing my experiences is to encourage others to experiment and figure out what works for them.

I prefer to figure things out on my own rather than be told the “proper” way to do things. This is the only way that I have found my way in my craft, and made me passionate to keep learning.

Happy soaking/thwacking/experimenting! 😉

Until next time…

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Setting Handspun Yarn With Steam

Have you ever wondered if there is a quicker or easier way to set yarn after spinning? I usually get on a spinning tangent and will have several skeins of yarn hanging in my studio before I get around to setting—and then I have several to do at once, which can be time-consuming.

There is a much quicker way, though my preference will always be wet setting for most of my handspun yarn.

Best Choices for Steam Setting

Once in a while, I will have a skein that is a good candidate for setting with steam. Silk is one example of handspun yarn I like to steam set. Art yarn that isn’t going to be used in a garment that would be concerning for shrinking would be another.

Wool is especially prone to shrinking or springing up once the twist is set. The more springy the finished yarn, the more the skein shrank up in the setting process.

In the following short video, I show just how quickly a freshly spun spiral-ply yarn transforms into a beautiful finished product in a matter of minutes. I’ve subtitled the video to make it easier to understand.

If you’d rather read than watch, skip below. I promise the video is not very long. I know I am stretched for time, and I’m sure you are, too. 🙂

In the video, I demonstrate the process using freshly spun Targhee wool and silk spiral-ply yarn. The technique is particularly effective for yarns with extra twist. You’ll see just how quickly the yarn relaxes once exposed to steam.

Setting Yarn with a Garment Steamer

I happen to have a garment steamer, but you could also use an iron on the steam setting. I also use my garment steamer to block my knitting. I normally wet-set my yarn but occasionally use steam to set the twist.

spiral ply yarn screenshot 1

You Should Wet Set Your Yarn

I know this is a post about steam-setting yarn, but I still encourage you to wet-set your yarn. If you soak your handspun with a bit of dish soap or Sythrapol, you’ll be sure to release any excess dirt or oils from the fiber or simply from your hands spinning it. If there is any residual dye, it will also come out in this process.

This also will deal with any shrinkage before you start your knitting project, as some wools will spring up significantly when the twist is set.

I’ll have to make a video on how I wet set my yarn, but for now, back to the steam setting….

spiral ply yarn screenshot 2
these kinks and extra twists will soon fall away once steamed

This particular yarn is a textured art yarn, so I won’t be using it for a piece of clothing where shrinking would be an issue. Right now, I’m thinking of using it as the weft of a woven scarf, but I may change my mind once I sit down to use it.

Image3

You can see how the extra twists and kinks disappear almost instantly with the steam. I’ll flip the skein so the inside is out and continue steaming.

The Final Product

I’ve thoroughly steamed this yarn inside and out and repeated this process twice just to be sure. Now, here is a closeup of the now-dry yarn. The other bonus of steaming is that it dries much quicker than wet setting. Look at those spirals!

spiral ply yarn screenshot 6
I adore these spirals

Spiral plying is one of my favorite ways to spin when I want to relax and do something fun (spinning-wise, anyway!). I wasn’t going for an actual thick and thin yarn; I was just letting the fiber do as it pleased while I watched TV.

The thicker ply is a Targhee sheep wool top that started out bright yellow, and I over-dyed grey. I dyed it initially bright yellow for a spinning project, then changed my mind at the last minute and used another roving in my stash instead (this happens a lot, haha!).

I love how the grey toned down the color, making a golden-green color similar to golden pear. Moments like these remind me why I love spinning & dyeing fiber.

Image7

I’ll chat about the construction and inspiration for this yarn in another video. Hopefully, I’ll have decided what to make with it by then. I’m notorious for making yarn but having it sit around due to my indecision on what to make. It’s so soft and squishy that I keep it around to admire for far too long.

Image13

Will you give setting yarn with steam a try? Have you tried it? I love the instant gratification, but for the most part, the best way is not to take shortcuts and wet set handspun yarn.

Until next time,

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Dyeing Wool Yarn Solid Black

My Method for Successful Dyeing with little to no fuss

When dyeing wool yarn or fiber, some colors can be more difficult than others. Two colors that can be challenging to fully exhaust are red and turquoise. The other that took me a while to dye successfully is black.

leilani with black yarn

When dyeing basic black, we can erroneously end up with a shade of grey, possibly because not enough dye was used or all the dye wasn’t exhausted into the yarn or fiber. Black is a spectrum of all shades, so sometimes the dominant colors will exhaust fully but leave other hues behind. For me, the best way to dye a color like black is low and slow. My slow dye method uses a crockpot. It works well for me every single time. Like most things in life, all good things come to those who wait.

I like this method because it’s easy for even new dyers to achieve successfully the first time. Plus, there’s no pre-mixing or need for pre-measuring ingredients ahead of time—just time and patience.

New to Making Videos

I’ve been trying my hand at making little instructional videos for the fiber and spinning community, and here’s another installment all about dyeing natural yarn black. In this case, I use a handspun Corriedale that was not set beforehand. I like to save time whenever possible, and the dyeing process will set the yarn since I must soak it anyway.

My fiber arts experience spans 12+ years, and being self-taught I feel the need to pass along my knowledge to support others in their fiber arts journey.

This particular video I decided to do without narrating, but added text on the screen to explain what I am doing. I’m trying out different styles of videos, and I liked leaving in the sounds involved with dyeing and just letting the video speak for itself.

Slow Dyeing

My preferred style of dyeing yarn and fiber in my home studio is “Slow Dyeing.” It involves a crockpot and time. This method works for me because I can pretty much set it and forget it. Instead of fussing over a dye pot, I can set the yarn in the dye and check on it whenever possible. For a busy maker mom like me, this method is great.

The only downside is you can’t be in a hurry. With patience, however, you get a perfectly dyed, fully exhausted dye pot with little to no setup. No (gasp!) math required. Just some basic knowledge of how much dye you should use for the size of skein/fiber dyed, the addition of citric acid, and even heat throughout.

The good news is that you can adjust as you go, so as long as you are patient, you should have perfectly dyed yarn.

In the video, I added the weight and size of the yarn I am dyeing basic black. Every brand of dye will differ, but this should give you a good idea of how much dye to use for 3.7oz of yarn or fiber.

What is your favorite method for dyeing basic black on wool yarn? Do you use a crockpot, steam in the oven or microwave, or a traditional dye pot? Maybe you find my method totally ridiculous, and that’s okay! Everyone needs to find the best way of honing their craft. I hope you enjoy the video, whether it inspires you or not. 🙂

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Scouring Sheep Fleece: A Revisit

Leilanifleece

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post on scouring a raw sheep fleece step by step. The videos for the post were shot on my cell phone and posted in sections with explanations in between. I decided to combine all these small videos for those who want to run through them quickly. I also added a little update to the end.

Come with Me as I Scour Sheep Fleece

Scouring sheep fleece can be backbreaking or easy peasy if you are willing to wait. I have a bad shoulder from years of crafting, including skirting and washing sheep fleece. I swore I wouldn’t ever scour wool again, until I saw this half- fleece at a local fiber festival. It was local, pretty much clear of VM (vegetable matter) and delightfully curly. I couldn’t say no! This is my lazy scouring method over several days.

If you want to see the original blog post, with more detail, you can find it here.

Happy to answer any questions or connect with other fiber artists and enthusiasts. 🙂

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Dyeing Yarn at home: With a Crockpot

an end of yarn dipped in a black and white crockpot into golden color dye
leilani cleveland deveau a woman with dark hair and glasses, sitting at a desk with one hand resting on her face

If you’re new here, let me introduce myself. Hi! I’m Leilani. I am a wife, mother, autodidact, and jewelry and fiber artist. I’ve been creating jewelry since the late 90s/early 2000s and started spinning and dyeing fiber 12+ years ago. I love to express myself through color and share my creations with others who will hopefully feel the love and attention put into every handmade item.

My learning style is to – jump in there and figure it out – most of the time with limited knowledge. I like to have some personal experience with a skill before honing it or learning to do it “the proper” way.

This post is an example of one way you can easily start dyeing yarn at home with little experience. To see a tour of the items I have in my studio for dyeing yarn and fiber (most picked up on sale or second-hand/repurposed), check out my Dye Studio Tour post/video.

Sharing My Experience

The following footage was filmed to (hopefully) inspire others to take the leap and try a skill like dyeing yarn. I wanted to show how easy it is without fuss, pre-mixing/measuring (math!), or expectations. For me, the magic happens just by trying things out for size, and I want to encourage others to do the same because the intimidation of failure often gets in the way.

Hopefully, in all its imperfection, you will get something out of it or at least know more about me as a maker. 🙂

Below is the video transcript and some extra notes in case you’d rather read than watch.

Dyeing Commercial Yarn

I dyed this superwash Merino yarn at home with a crockpot in stages over several days. It’s my easy, fuss-free method of dyeing. Here’s a quick run-through of how, step-by-step.

Pre-Dyeing Prep

a rack of natural colored commercial yarn with yellow ties

First off, prep your yarn for dyeing. I usually dye two skeins at a time and loosely tie them together. Even if you are dyeing just one skein, it is recommended that you tie it off in at least two additional places to keep the yarn from tangling.

Additional notes: What I use to add ties to my skeins is a product called highway tape, or as we call it, marker tape. It’s used to mark a path through the woods or to mark trees to be removed (among other uses). I bought mine at a local farm feed store. You could also use ribbon. I advise against using pieces of scrap yarn since you’ll want something that will be easy to find and remove later and also won’t felt or tangle with your skein. Be sure to tie it loosely so that the dye can flow behind.

a skein of natural colored yarn with a small round tag with its length and type of yarn

I also label my yarn by type, size, and length with fade-resistant jewelry repair cleaning tags. As I also make jewelry, these were a no-brainer to use.

Additional notes: these tags can be found at any jewelry supply store or online. They are made of tough material, almost like woven fabric, so they don’t disintegrate in hot water or with a cleaning solution. Therefore, they also work well in the dye pot. I use a fine-tip Sharpie marker to write the info. If you are doing one skein at a time, a notebook where you write the details of each skein would suffice. Do take notes. Don’t rely on remembering; believe me, you won’t. 😉

Various yarn hung up, one has areas dyed while the rest is left white

Another thing I have on hand is a skein of yarn ready to absorb any extra dye from the dye pot, should there be any. I don’t like to waste any product, and I’ve created new color combos this way, as the dye added is usually from more than one project.

Additional notes: I use a cheaper commercial yarn or my own 2 and 3-ply handspun yarn that I’ve spun natural color, undyed. I like to re-tie these skeins longer to get more color on each. This is also how you get a self-striping yarn pattern. You can use two chairs, spread the desired distance apart, and wrap the yarn around both. Don’t forget to re-tie it off at both ends. I rinse every section after soaking up any unexhausted dye and then hang it up to dry/continue dyeing the next project where there is too much dye in the dye pot.

Superwash Merino is a wonderful choice for yarn dyeing since it doesn’t felt. My equipment of choice for this process is a crockpot – dedicated for dyeing only, of course. I’ve already added hot water to the crockpot, and I’ll go ahead and add the dye next.

Dyeing the Yarn Section by Section: Section One

After mixing in half a tbsp of powdered dye, I dipped a section of the yarn into the crockpot. I’m using Country Classics in the color gold, which does not need the addition of citric acid or vinegar. I also didn’t pre-soak this yarn, as I will probably have to dye it in stages over the next couple of days.

Additional notes: I don’t always have the dedicated time to dye, or something will come up and interrupt my project. For that reason, I normally choose not to pre-soak the yarn so that I can simply rinse the dyed section and set it aside until the next day. There are pros and cons to not pre-soaking. The pros are obviously convenience and speed. The downside is that the color may not distribute evenly, though this is design feature that I like.

an end of yarn dipped in a black and white crockpot into golden color dye

Dyeing Section Two

The gold section is done, and now I have added approx. 2 tbsp of citric acid and ¼ tsp jacquard teal to the crockpot and dipped in another section. As you can see, the water is clear, which means the dye has fully exhausted and the color has completely transferred to the yarn.

Additional notes: I add powdered citric acid and powdered dye straight to the hot water of the crockpot without pre-mixing. I stir both until dissolved, then add my yarn.

the opposite end of yarn dipped into a crockpot with teal colored dye

Grabbing some rubber gloves to protect my hands, I cautiously remove the yarn from the crockpot and gently squeeze out the water. Teal is one of my favorite colors. Remember, this is two skeins of yarn tied together, so I will have two practically identically dyed skeins when this is done.

Here’s a closer look at the two sections dyed:

an open rectagular crockpot displaying 2 skeins of yarn tied together with two ends dyed. One end golden, the other end teal

Dyeing the final Section

Alright, let’s do this final section of color. I’ve already added approximately 2 tbsp citric acid and ¼ tsp of G&S dye in the color burgundy to a bit of warm water in the crockpot while the bulk of the water boils. After adding the boiled water to the crockpot, I stir the mixture to dissolve the powdered dye and citric acid. I make sure to be careful not to splash hot dye water on me and not breathe in the powdered dye while stirring. Protecting your skin and clothes with gloves, goggles, a mask, and an apron whenever possible is always a good idea. I make sure to be really careful if I am not donning the full protective gear.

Now to dip the final section of bare yarn into the crockpot, and we’ll let it soak for a few minutes. I hang the two other sections already dyed to the side of the crockpot and move my rectangular crockpot closer to catch any drips.

hands dipping a section of yarn into a black and white crockpot while holding up the teal and golden sections

After a few minutes, I check on how the color is developing. Using a spoon, I’ll gently press the yarn into the dye and shift it around in the pot to distribute the color more evenly.

Additional notes: I don’t keep track of the amount of time each section is in the crockpot. Usually, I do other tasks and check on it when it is convenient for me to do so. If I’m impatient, I check it every 10-15 minutes. But in reality, a good 30 to 40 minutes is usually needed for the color to develop, if not longer. Some colors, such as black, need hours in the crockpot to properly exhaust. This is an easy method, not a fast one. But it suits me because I can finish other tasks while waiting. Note that every crockpot (slow cooker) is different. Therefore, times will vary.

a section of teal colored yarn hanging outside a crockpot while a hand works a spoon into the liquid in the corckpot, the other hand holding up the golden section of yarn

Shortcuts in Dyeing

You’ve probably heard that you need to pre-mix your dye into a liquid concentrate and pre-soak your yarn in a soap like synthrapol to open up the fibers and get it prepped for dyeing. Although this is advisable, I prefer to take a LOT of shortcuts when dyeing yarn. It’s partially due to saving time but mostly because it’s part of my creative process to let things roll and see what happens. I take detailed notes as I go, just in case I want to replicate the outcome.

Also, I find that once the dyed yarn is dry, if I don’t like the color then there is an opportunity to over dye to intensify the color or change the hue. You can come up with some unique colors this way.  But more about that later.

I mainly dye fibers for spinning, but once in a while, I like to dye commercial yarn. Although I knit, crochet, and do some simple weaving, I prefer dyeing or spinning. When I get on a dyeing or spinning tangent, I end up with a backlog of yarn. So, I list those for sale on my website.

Final removal from Crockpot and Rinsing

Let’s remove this section now and see how it looks. Once again, I gently squeeze out the water with my rubber gloves. You don’t have to remove all the hot water, just enough that it doesn’t drip and scald you while getting it over to the sink for the final rinse.

a yellow rubber glove squeezes dye water out of a burgundy section of yarn above a crockpot

Time to fill the sink to rinse our newly dyed yarn. This small bar sink came equipped in this space that I now call my studio. It’s a working sink that has seen a lot of art over the years – hence all the splattered paint. Don’t worry; it won’t come off on the yarn.

I’ll let this sit for a few minutes, then come back and check if any dye has been released from the fiber. I’ll add Synthrapol in a second rinse if the water is not clear after this soak. Synthrapol is a type of soap used for prepping fibers for dyeing or removing dye particles afterward. If you don’t have Synthrapol, you can use Blue Dawn dish soap.

newly dyed yarn in the colors gold, teal and burgundy, rests in a sink filled with water

The water appears to remain clear, so I think it’s safe to get this drained and hung outside to dry. Freshly dyed yarn will be the most vibrant, and the color will mute once dry. This color looks great and the dye has exhausted fully, but I can’t be so sure I’ll be happy with the results until I see the skeins completely dry.

After draining the water, I give it a gentle squeeze, careful not to over-agitate. Superwash yarns do not felt. But I still like to be careful so they don’t get tangled. I have managed to tangle yarn, even when tied off carefully.

Further Drying: Going for a Spin

Now for the spin cycle. A salad spinner has been an incredibly useful tool in the studio; who knew? Think of it as a mini-washing machine, spinning out the excess water. I tend to pump my yarn and fiber through the salad spinner 3 times. By the third time there is significantly less water and it then can be hung up to dry. I bought this spinner 40% off after Christmas online several years ago. You can see the huge crack in it from being pumped one too many times.

hands rest over a moving salad spinner with yarn inside

The Final Product

So I have a secret: these are not the original colors! Once dry I found the color to be a bit too dull for my liking, so I over-dyed each area. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the process on camera, but the original gold section got over-dyed with 1 tbsp of grasshopper, the teal section with ¼ tsp more teal, and the burgundy overdyed with 1 tsp. magenta. Now, this yarn is vibrant and saturated with color, and most importantly, I’m happy with it.

Additional notes: It’s worsted weight, so this set has many knitting and crochet possibilities. I decided to list these on the website if you are interested in giving them a new home. I don’t seem to have enough time to keep up with all the yarn I make/dye. 🙂

Here I am with the finished product:

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You may notice, especially in the teal section, that the color is of an uneven saturation.

I intentionally dye my yarn this way because I like how it knits up with darker and lighter variations within the same color. I think it looks more interesting than the usual even saturation you see with commercial yarn.

If you wanted a more solid color, you would need to soak your yarn beforehand, preferably with a product like Synthropol to open up the fibers, and then add salt to the dye bath. This will even out the distribution of the color to your yarn and not give so much of a mottled, uneven effect. You may also have to use more dye.

Your Turn to Play

I hope this inspires you to experiment with dyeing wool yarn with a crockpot. Remember, you don’t have to get it right the first time; tweaks can always be made.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or suggestions for future videos.

More info about me, my creative process, and the products I have for sale can be found at leilanihandmade.com.

Thanks for watching! Until next time…

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Come with me as I scour Sheep Fleece

The fantastic transformation: clean vs. dirty sheep wool. This is my process for scouring sheep fleece if you’ve ever wanted to give it a try

An Unexpected Project

A few weeks ago, I attended the 100 Mile Food & Fibre Festival in Billtown, Nova Scotia. I swore I would not buy any more raw fleece. I have so much unspun fiber.

But, after checking out the different vendors, I could not resist a half fleece from Ambleside Farm in Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia. Besides gorgeous fleece, it was nice to make acquaintance with someone who also has attended wool shows in the US (like Rhinebeck…oh, how I miss you, Rhinebeck!).

Why Process Raw Fleece

There is something lovely and reverent about taking a raw fleece and turning it into a wearable garment. Initially, I bought raw fleece for the sheer economic benefit: I get all that wool at a discounted price, and all I have to do is throw some elbow grease into it!

Sometimes a little elbow grease turns into a lot. Processing fleece by hand can feel like a back-breaking endeavor. I’ve learned my own do’s and don’ts over the years of trial and error fleece scouring. It will vary from person to person, but here is my process, step by step.

I decided to film my process of scouring. It’s easier to show than describe, and I’m a visual person who appreciates seeing things happen in real time.

This is crudely filmed with my cell phone for educational purposes. Please excuse my mumbling/fast-talking… I’m not comfortable talking to myself out loud – HA! I did not edit these videos but subtitled them, so you can understand me better.

Step 1: First Soak

Sheep fleece must be scoured to remove dirt and lanolin, AKA wool wax. The sebaceous glands secrete lanolin and helps waterproof the fleece for the sheep. Raw wool has a delightful pungent “barn-y” smell which I like…and my cats adore! It tends to keep this smell mildly even after washing, but I don’t find that it lingers after being transformed into yarn.

In Summary:

  • Fill plastic bins with hot water to soak the wool
  • add a de-greaser. The most popular cost-effective product for scouring fleece is blue Dawn (I kick it up a notch by adding Simple Green)
  • start adding the unwashed wool, careful not to over fill the bins
  • gently press down on the fiber to encourage the release of dirt.
  • don’t overly manipulate the wool so not to encourage felting
  • let soak 24 hours

How Much Soap?

I don’t measure the amount of soap degreaser I add. It depends on how dirty the fleece is. In this instance, the wool wasn’t too dirty so I squirted in some Dawn and added a splash of Simple Green. I wish I could be more specific, but it’s really by feel. If your fiber is not getting clean, add more soap in the next water change.

Why I chose this Fleece

This particular bag of fleece was super clean. It also had a uniform crimp, a nice feel in hand, and a combo I had never spun before: Romney, Corriedale, and BFL (Blue-faced Leicester). I figured it would be a breeze to scour.

As mentioned in the video, Simple Green and Blue Dawn are my fave products for scouring. It’s cost-effective and readily available. There are some amazing scouring products out there specifically for wool, and they work well, but they are on the pricey side (yes, I’m cheap). Plus I have to order it rather than pick it up at the local hardware or grocery store.

Step 2: Rinse and Repeat

In Summary:

  • 24 hours later
  • You see oily lanolin residue floating at the top of the water
  • Drain & refill bins (away from septic whenever possible)

I’m Cautious With Septic Systems

When I lived in town, I never gave much thought to dumping the dirty water down the drain. Then we moved to the country and I started to question whether I should be dumping this greasy water down the drain. I’m unsure if lanolin would build up in your pipes over time like cooking grease, but I’d rather not take the chance. I empty the bins in a discreet area on our property away from the house, just in case.

In Summary:

  • The fleece is back in for a soak and already you’ll notice the water has become clearer compared to the first soak
  • It’s not necessary to leave the fleece to soak for 24-hour periods
  • You could change the water more frequently, but this is what works best for my time schedule

How Many Soaks?

Your fleece will get cleaner with each water change. How many times will depend on how dirty the wool is.

In Summary:

  • The fleece soaked for 48 hours and then drained
  • I placed it on a clean part of the lawn and rinsed it with the hose
  • A slight bit of oily residue floating on top in the water this time
  • Feel very little oil when touched
  • Will attempt a final soak
  • Can repeat if needed

When the water looks relatively clean and the wool feels fairly clean you can prepare your fleece for its final soak.

In Summary:

  • I spread the fleece out on the deck for inspection
  • It feels pretty much clean at this point
  • I contemplated what I should make with it
  • Currently thinking I should spin it into an art yarn, to preserve the gorgeous crimp
  • Will make an upcoming video on the process of making yarn with this fleece
  • For the final soak, I added a bit of vinegar to the hot water to remove any soap residue
  • Fleece will feel gummy (sticky) if the soap residue is not removed
  • Gummy wool is hard to work with
  • I don’t mind a bit of lanolin in my fleece before spinning

Don’t forget the Vinegar

Adding a bit of vinegar to the water for the final soak is important to make sure all the soap residue is removed. Just like adding the Dawn and Simple Green, I don’t measure. A splash of vinegar will do. Remember you can always repeat this step if you still notice any soapy residue in your fiber.

In Summary:

  • After the final soak, I laid the fleece out on the lawn to dry a bit in the sunshine
Moki checking out the newly washed sheep fleece

Time for Drying

After the sun disappeared for the day, I brought the fleece inside to prep for the drying racks. I ran small amounts at a time through the salad spinner to remove excess water. A salad spinner is a dedicated tool in my studio. I use it a lot: even for freshly dyed yarn to spin out extra water before hanging it up to dry. I purchased mine after Christmas a few years back for 40% off, so keep watching for those sales!

In Summary:

  • I placed the fleece on the drying racks set up in my basement
  • these racks are repurposed merchandise racks obtained for free
  • Will leave for a few days flipping ever so often
  • could run a dehumidifier or add a heat dish if need be

Clever and Free Drying racks

If you are Canadian, you will remember the popular department store chain, Zellers. When it closed several years ago, we snagged these merchandise racks for free. Our basement has pegboard already installed so they hang off pegs (also from Zellers). These racks have gotten a lot of use over the years. I’ve even used them outside for drying fiber in the summer months. They will rust over time if left outside, however. It’s always great to find inexpensive tools and you can’t beat free!

My washed fleece from a sheep named Lucy. Look at that crimp & curl! Thank you, Lucy

Do’s and Don’ts when purchasing a raw fleece

  • DO decide what you would like to do with the fleece once cleaned, what breeds you would like to check out, and your budget. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t have a plan, esp at a large wool show or fiber festival.
  • DO be adventurous and try new fiber breeds. If you are like me and want to work with as many breeds as possible, then the budget is all that needs considering before shopping
  • DO ask questions. You can usually tell how the animals are treated by getting to know the producer. Some farms breed sheep for both meat and fiber, so keep that in mind if you don’t agree with meat eating
  • DON’T buy a fleece that is not well-skirted. If there is a ton of VM (vegetable matter), dirt/mud, or poo, it’s best to skip this bag. The more dirty a fleece is, the cheaper it tends to be, but remember this means more work for you (and a lot more discarded unusable fiber)
  • DO take a look at the crimp: are they even in size/length? Is the crimp appealing to you?
  • DON’T buy a fleece where there are broken locks – and/or evidence of lice
  • DO check for the bag over for second cuts, which happens when the shearer goes over an area more than once.
  • DON’T buy a bag of fleece with too many second cuts. Those shorter cuts are a pain to pick out and not good for spinning.
  • DON’T buy fleece that appears to be matted or otherwise unhealthy
  • DO purchase a fleece that you like the color, crimp, feel, and price of!

A Note on Free Fleece

I’ve been given free raw wool in the past. But now that I’ve picked and scoured many a fleece I would probably say no to any incredibly dirty ones. For the reasons stated above, it is a tedious job. Also to keep in mind, hobby farmers don’t always produce a healthy fleece, and meat breeders are not concerned with the quality of fiber. So you may end up with a lot of discarded, unusable wool. Not a great return for all that work.

Keep in mind alpaca does not contain lanolin in their fiber so that’s usually an easy one to work with. I’ll do a separate post about alpaca fiber in the future.

If someone asks for a product in return for the free raw fleece (eg. just make me a sweater), I would caution against this. It really depends on how much usable wool you get and people are often unaware of how much yarn is needed for such a product.

Browse for yarn inspiration

Looking for some handspun yarn inspiration? You can check out my handspun yarn section to see some of the skeins I’ve made in the past. I’ll be blogging about the progression of processing this fleece in the future.

Scouring fleece does not have to be a daunting task. Know what to look for, and trust your gut. Be sure to have fun, and I’m happy to answer questions or hear your comments. 🙂

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Tips and Tricks for Dyeing Cotton Yarn

My latest hand dyed cotton yarns drying in the autumn air

Last week I was dyeing commercial (aka store bought) cotton yarn in the studio, to add to my existing stash. It occurred to me that I have not seen many blog posts on the topic of dyeing cotton yarn, especially if you want to achieve vibrant, rich colors.

I’m a self taught (indie) dyer so I thought my trial and error experiences would benefit others. The following info is from my own personal experience with dyeing cotton, and should only be taken as opinion. Someone else may have success with other methods, or disagree with my methodology.

Over the years I have come across many posts and videos on dyeing wool yarn, but not so much with cotton yarn. If I do find a post or video, the colors achieved tend to be very muted or wash out quickly, which was my experience early on. This is a compilation of tips that I found helped me get vibrant, lasting color.

Currently I am going through mill ends of cotton, because you can buy these relatively cheap, and the odd knot in the hank doesn’t bother me. You can often get cotton yarn on sale at the local arts and craft store, as well. I re-skein them into smaller yardage as I don’t need large amounts of one color for dishcloths.

I have done a bit of cotton spinning. It’s challenging for me since it is such a short stapled fiber, but I do love the softness of the finished product. We’ll leave spinning and dyeing cotton fiber for another day.

Type of Dye Used

I am currently using MX dyes, which is a fiber reactive dye for cotton or cellulose fibers. At first I used packets of Dylon dye from the fabric store as I didn’t expect to get into dyeing cotton as much as I do. I found they worked just fine. The larger containers of MX Dye is more cost effective for me now. I purchase MX dyes from G&S Dye in Toronto.

Another learning curve I hope to tackle in the future is dyeing cotton yarn with natural dyes, but for now the synthetic stuff will do. If you have dyed cotton or plant fiber with natural dyes I’d love to hear about your experience! 🙂

Dyeing Plant fibers vs Animal Fibers

Here are the 4 main points to keep in mind when dyeing plant fibers such as cotton or bamboo yarn, especially if you come from a animal fiber dyeing background (like me):

No Heat Required

Unlike dyeing animal fibers, you do not need to apply heat in order for the dye to take. You also will not have to add a product like citric acid or vinegar like you do with acid dyes. Instead you should pre-soak your yarn or fiber in a soda ash and water solution prior to dyeing for maximum dye absorption/color brightness.

The most important element to successful cotton yarn dyeing is time, not heat

Set aside at least 24 hours for your yarn to soak in the dye, overnight at the very least. I leave my cotton yarn in the dye solution for up to 2 days. If you are opting to sprinkle on dye for the speckled effect, wring it out thoroughly from the soda ash water, sprinkle on your dye, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside at least overnight. Your yarns will always appear darker when wet, so expect the color to dull by a fair bit once dry.

MX Dyes will not exhaust like Acid Dyes

The first time I dyed cotton yarn I was horrified because the dye would not exhaust, and so much of the dye ran out at rinsing. I thought it was an epic fail. But it turns out, these particular types of dyes do not exhaust, and you can expect a great deal of color to wash out when rinsing. This is why it’s very important not to…

Do not Skimp on Dye when Dyeing Cotton Yarn

It’s important to read the instructions and follow the amount of dye required per yardage as suggested by the manufacturer. YEAH RIGHT! Who has time for that?? I am really impatient, and notorious for not reading instructions (or even taking the time to understand them). Like I have time to weigh and measure every skein before dyeing, then work out the proper amount of dye by using (gasp!) math.

A few years ago, I paid for an online video course for dyeing with acid dyes, and I swore I would stick to using a very precise scientific method. But let’s face it: WHERE’S THE FUN IN THAT?? I prefer to find out via trial and error and learn to feel out how much dye I should use. It feels more artistic and expressive that way. I can always over dye it, if it doesn’t achieve the color I wanted originally.

This yarn was dyed brick red the first time and while wet the hue was nice and dark. But after it dried, it was too muted. So back into the dye with 1/3 tsp of brick red and 1/3 tsp of scarlet

My Method of Dyeing Cotton Yarn Step by step

1. Soak yarn in a solution of water & soda ash for at least 20 min for best dye absorbency. Soda Ash, also known as calcium carbonate or washing soda, helps keep colors bright when dyeing with fiber reactive dyes. It is supposed to keep your yarn colorfast, though I haven’t found this to be the case (more on using a dye fixative, below).

I use approx. 1 tbsp, and fill my crockpot with water, leaving space for the yarn so it doesn’t overflow. The crockpot is not on, I just use it as a container for the soda ash water. Give it a stir, and the soda ash should easily dissolve in the water.

I have found if I use too much soda ash it won’t dissolve completely, but you want to use a decent amount as this is what keeps the color bright in your yarn. Less dye seems to run out at rinsing when I use the right amount of soda ash.

I love having a dedicated crockpot in the studio. It’s my prefered way to dye wool rovings and yarn since it keeps an even heat and I don’t have to worry about catching the studio on fire. 😉 It’s a bonus that I can use it for pre-soaking my cotton yarns. The flatter version on the right is great for low water immersion dyeing.

The Yarn is soaking in Soda Ash and water, what’s next?

2. While the cotton is soaking, make your dye solution. I have 2 ways that I like to dye cotton yarn. The first is mixing the dye with tap water in a plastic container. It’s very convenient, and since you don’t need heat, you just add the yarn, put the lid on it and let the magic happen. Usually I use stacking containers to minimize space used on the counter.

The second way is sprinkling the dye unmixed over top the soaked yarn and wrapping it in plastic wrap. Then set it aside at least overnight.

How Much dye should be used when dyeing cotton yarn?

I don’t have a specific formula for how much dye should be used at a time. Roughly, for a 80 to 100 yard skein, I will put two 1/3 tsp of dye into cold water, mixed directly in the plastic container the yarn will soak in. EXCEPT for black: I always use a ton of dye in order to get nice, true black. I’ll use 1 tbsp of dye for the same amount of yarn, and then dye more skeins in the leftover dye solution into shades of grey. I adore back and grey yarns for contrast in projects.

After dyeing cotton yarn black, I use the leftover dye to get a few small skeins shades of grey. Here I am adding a new skein into the dye solution, taking my time to make sure all the yarn gets soaked up with dye.

I have tried re-using the dye solution with other colors, but I find the color is so washed out and light it isn’t worth it. At first, it looks like you’ll get nice, rich color, only to have it mostly wash out when rinsing. The amount I use seems to be just right for one skein, and I can’t push it to get more like I do with acid dyes.

This is the final red yarn from above, once dry

Finishing Your Dyed Cotton Yarn

3. After your yarn soaks for a good bit of time, rinse the yarn thoroughly in cold water. Remember, time is your friend when dyeing cotton, so try to leave it in the dye solution at least overnight. With this last dye run I got the urge to do this pretty late at night. I removed it from the dye bath the following afternoon. You will find a fair bit of dye will run out when you rinse, you may prefer to soak several times until the water becomes clear.

4. Here is the controversial part: to finish your yarn at this point by hanging it up to dry, or soaking it in a fixative such as Raycafix. The first time I dyed cotton yarns the color faded very fast in my dishcloths. Like, almost back to its original color. Mind you, my first dishcloths were a very light color. Little did I know that I did not use enough dye, so maybe the remedy is to simply use more dye. Since that first run I discovered Raycafix and I have not had any issue with color fading or bleeding.

To Soak or Not to Soak in a Dye Fixative

I say it’s controversial because these types of products assumingly contain some harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde. I don’t know this for certain but I do take precautions when using. Let’s face it: if you buy conventional clothing or furniture, you are already exposed to these toxins.

I am pretty sensitive to toxins, and have detox protocols for many synthetic products I come in contact with, even for certain food additives. I’ve never had any known health issues with using this product. From time to time I use a variety of noxious materials, from synthetic dyes for fibers, to patinas for metals or polishing compounds for gold and silver. It’s up to you to decide what you are comfortable with.

I take my yarns outside to soak in their Raycafix bath. I pour a small amount into some hot tap water, swirl around with a gloved hand then allow the yarn to soak for 5 min. We have septic, so I have a dedicated place away from the house to pour out the water. Again, I have no idea if that is even necessary but these precautions are easy for me to do.

My latest yarns taking a bath in Raycafix Color Fixative

If you don’t feel comfortable using a dye fixative, I’m confident you will be just fine using soda ash and a fiber reactive dye.

If you do use a fixative, soak the yarn afterwards in cold water before wringing out and hanging to dry.

I’d love to hear about your experience dyeing cotton yarn! If you have any tips and tricks for me, I’d love to hear them.

My next post will be about knitting with cotton yarn, including my fave (easy) dishcloth patterns….

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learn more about me

Destash Handspun Yarn Bundles are now available

It’s a miracle, I got all the destash yarns from my personal stash listed! They are grouped in bundles. A couple of these are new product, I figured I might as well list them all and clean the slate entirely.

Be sure to read the descriptions on each so you are confident on what you are getting. You will notice a slightly higher price on etsy to cover fees. If you are buying one bundle you’ll probably find etsy cheaper as each listing is free shipping. If you are spending more than $45 CAD (approx $36 USD currently) it’s cheaper to buy here on the website. Don’t forget to apply the BULKSAVE100 code to save 15% if you are spending $100 CAD (approx $79 USD currently).

Thanks for looking!

The Ugly Dye Experiment: Is there truly a fail when dyeing roving for spinning? Adventures in Indie Dyeing

Ugly dye? That doesn’t sound appealing at all! I’ve had many hits and misses over the years in my indie-dye journey. When I started spinning 9 years ago, I swore I would never get into dyeing: another learning curve. But then I started processing fleece from raw and the appeal was there to learn. Soon I learned it was easy to fix mistakes by over-dyeing, salvaging over heated/manipulated fiber by re-combing or picking it, and by spinning the fiber in a more methodical way so to get the color to flow more beautifully together.

All four of these rovings were dyed using similar colors (the middle roving has purple omitted). Amazing to see the dramatic difference in the final project depending on the technique and amount of each color used

I decided to document this mini-experiment for myself to refer back to, as well as for encouragement for those who are interested in dyeing, who feel they are failing at dyeing or are feeling stuck in their indie dye journey. Let my curiosity be your inspiration!

This post will not be helpful if you don’t have some basic knowledge of dyeing fiber. There are many ways to dye and this should not be taken as the best way or the only way.

It all started with this roving I dyed several months ago. I called it my ugly roving:

My ugly roving turned out to be nothing like I envisioned/sketched out. With disappointment, it sat on the shelf for several months. I had absolutely no idea how I would spin this, nor any desire to do so

As people on Instagram pointed out, it’s not really that ugly. I think it had too much going on, and it went back in the dye pot (in this instance a rectangular crockpot with low water submersion) a total of 3 times while I tried to “salvage” it. The second time I added more dye to areas in order to intensify the color. There were these muddy areas where the colors ran together that I simply hated! The third trip to the pot was to add those blobs of purple that I was convinced was the nail in the coffin for this ugly roving. I had officially gone too far, done too much. After drying, I braided it and socked it away. Since it is merino top (good quality fiber) I knew I had to use it at some point.

Recently, it emerged from its ugly slumber due to boredom. I was in between spinning projects with no good ideas. Upon examining it, I decided to strip the roving before spinning it (the action of pulling apart roving into thinner pieces for spinning). Breaking up the color more, instead of spinning the intact roving from top to bottom, would hopefully give me the best chance of harmonizing all that color.

I was really pleased with how it started to look:

I was having such a good time spinning this “ugly” roving, that I decided to spin up all 4oz and ply it to another roving to give me maximum yardage. Not all 4oz fit on my bobbin. I am still deciding what I will ply this to. It may not even exist yet! The beauty of dyeing, is that you can have whatever color scheme you want at any time

My hate-turned-to-love for this roving intrigued me enough to try experimenting some other variations. Again using 4oz of merino top, this “ugly dye” consists of:

  • Gold ochre
  • Deep orange
  • Kelly green
  • Turquoise
  • New fuchsia (not to be mistaken for fuchsia)
  • Amethyst
My dye notebook. This is the start of my notes on the final dye, a dip dye of all these bright colors. I tried to keep the ratio of each color similar to that in the original ugly roving (thus less fuchsia and amethyst). Each roving gets assigned a number so that I know what to reference in the future.

For the second experiment, I decided to lightly soak the roving in water with dissolved citric acid. The bottom was well saturated, but the top was not. It was then arranged it into a rectangular crockpot. Dyeing fiber and yarn in a crockpot is super simple, and I love that I can set it and forget it while I work on other things.

In the first ugly dye, the roving went into the crockpot dry with a little water and citric acid in the bottom of the crock. I also added the original color in sections rather than at random. This time I sprinkled all the colors all over.

I let that sit for awhile, before spritzing it a over with water and citric acid:

After spraying down the top, I walked away for awhile. Probably about 15 minutes. Then I pressed the color into the roving with the back of a spoon:

I know what some of you are thinking. It looks so pretty, why press the color in?? Remember, we are going for UGLY roving… 😉

Like the first ugly roving, there is a lot going on. Nonetheless, I love the “mood” of this dye combo, and there is several interesting patterns and striations of color that does not come through in the photos.

For the 3rd ugly dye experiment, I decided to soak the roving entirely with a water/citric acid solution. Then into the rectangle crock. I erred on the side of caution and omitted the purple as I knew the dye would travel around more on a thoroughly wet roving, and it may cause too much muddy color:

I forgot to get a pic of the dye after I pressed it into the roving with a spoon – but see below for round 2

After pressing in the dye, I left it in the crockpot for approximately 1 hour. After rinsing, I was dissatisfied with the result. The color was very muted, I assume because the roving was fully wet, allowing the color to spread a larger distance. Sooooo…back for round 2 it went.

Here’s the end result after rinsing for a second time, then drying:

The results of a fully soaked roving before adding dye is fascinating: “muter” in some elements, and brighter in others

This may be a good contender for plying to the original ugly roving:

Maybe ugly dye number 3 will be plied to ugly dye number 1? I won’t know for sure until I spin it

The final roving in this project was a dip dye of these colors for comparison. What a dramatic difference:

All 6 colors neatly arranged
Only six different dye shades to make 4 completely different rovings for spinning

Now that you’ve seen what can be done with just 6 shades of acid dyes, I hope this is inspiration for your next dye project. If you are new to dyeing, I hope this encourages you to simply invest in a handful of colors to get started. I am far from an expert in this topic (obviously!). I’m simply willing to try and share. I hope to do more posts like this in the future, and if I can assist you in any way on your indie dye journey, please do not hesitate to contact me! 😊

Hackles – Another Funny Named Fiber Processing tool

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What in the world is blending hackles? Read on to find out...
What in the world is blending hackles? Read on to find out…

In late January I ordered another cool fiber processing tool but it arrived around the time my baby cat passed away, so it took me awhile to get around to use it. I’ve always seen hackles as a tool for blending fleece & fiber, and since I own a drum carder, poo-poo’d investing in one.

Then it occured to me one day that hackles could make my life so much easier when it comes to combing fleece top. A drum carder is great for blending and making your fleece & fiber somewhat smooth, but it won’t remove all the noils or tiny gnarly bits nor is the fleece/fiber guaranteed to be lined completely straight like it would be if combed. This texture has merit for spinning, particularly chunky or woolen yarn. Of course I do like to spin a textured art yarn as well. For certain fleece that I hand process I prefer them to be smooth – like merino for instance. I love a nice, smooth, merino top. Plus I get the added bonus of felting with the leftovers. I love my St. Blaise combs, but there is only so much you can comb at once. With hackles, I can load a larger amount of fleece, then comb it out with my combs.

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I’m still working out my process with the hackles, but what I find is that I can load the uncombed merino onto the hackles, then comb with just one comb: added bonus is this is so much easier on my neck/shoulders/back. The hackles are clamped to the table, so instead of motion with two of my arms, I only need to used one arm.

This merino is pretty rough so I will comb as much will fit onto the comb, then finish it by hand combing with both combs, then pulling a small top. After the top is pulled the process repeats: back for more fleece from the hackles, combing out, and so on. This makes the process so much easier! I was amazed how fast I went through the fleece – it cuts the time in half, at least, not to mention it really saves my body from the wear and tear which is the biggest advantage. I love to work with my hands, whether it be jewelry making, paper crafting, fiber washing, dyeing, combing or spinning, but it does wreak havoc on my muscles and tendons so any tool which makes it go easier is worth it to invest in.

Hackles is mostly used for blending and I have yet to try that. You can pull a nice long roving off of it rather than the little top I pull from my combs and coil into a nest. I purchased my hackles from Gemini Fibers here in Canada, and I appreciate that they are handcrafted in Ontario.

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Is Wool Yarn Ethical? A reason why I started spinning

Sheep

There is a disturbing video making its rounds on Social Media, of workers brutally beating sheep as they are being sheared of their fleece for the wool industry. I won’t link to the video here because it is truly upsetting. Seeing this video auto-play time & time again reminded me of one of the main reasons why I started spinning yarn.

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One of the larger skeins of yarn I spun early on in my spinning journey. It’s a mixture of fiber from two alpacas: Rita von Teese and Bennie

When I was teaching myself to knit and finally became comfortable with it, I started asking knitting friends and acquaintances what yarn brands they recommended as far as quality goes. Often the brands that came up were 100% wool – often merino. So off to the (craft) big box store to investigate. I was surprised at the lack of information on the label about the wool itself. In fact, there simply is no information past the weight and fiber type – normally just 100% wool. Well, what kind of wool? From where? I couldn’t help but ask myself the question, “Is wool yarn ethical?” Looking up the websites for these brands provided no information as well. What I did uncover, is accusations of abuse and mistreatment of the animals bred for this industry. I was left concluding I simply could not continue on with a hobby knowing animals were potentially abused just so I could knit a hat. At the time, spinning seemed way out of my wheelhouse. But the more I wanted a greater understanding of how yarn is constructed so that I could understand knitting better, the more spinning became appealing.

My family frequently attended wool shows and fiber festivals, in the beginning because I

Making friends at a New England Wool Show
Making friends at a New England Wool Show

wanted to do more natural crafts with my children & this route was suggested to me. They proved to be a great family activity. I grew up in a rural area and sometimes it was nice to get away from urban life. It soon became apparent that I could buy fiber from small producers and hobby farmers. I have even at times met the animals the fleece came from, and bought their fleece fresh shorn – on the spot. This is how I know sheep do not have to be abused to be shorn. Sure, some are very stubborn, but a skilled and compassionate hand can get the job done quickly without punching and kicking and strangleholds with minimal discomfort to the sheep (shearing in and of itself is a craft and I’d even say an art form – it is very fascinating to learn about & watch).  In my observation they are also pretty darn happy to have all that heavy fleece off in the hot summer months. Much like buying local & direct to know where your food comes from, the same could be said about the fiber that is to be spun into yarn. I could connect with the producers and breeders, & I could feel confident in the product I was using. This connection lead me to learn how to process fiber by hand. At first, I couldn’t imagine handling a dirty fleece! Now I will skirt them if need be, hand pick then wash it – often soaking for hours on repeat – then card, dye and comb it (if creating top). My yarns really are from the ground up – and it is absolutely satisfying to me to see this product, a gift from the animal turned into something so lovely and appealing. This way I can really honor the animal that was so generous to share their fiber with me. Without these animals, I could never grow as an artist.

I know there will be people that will disagree with me that I cannot know know for absolute sure the animals are happy and well treated in captivity. And to some people’s horror, these same farmers also offer lamb meat (I personally do not eat lamb). I am a believer that every little bit of conscience effort is valid. We cannot do it all. I am also well aware of the large amount of greenwashing – and as I call it – “guilt-washing” out there. So I hope that is not how this reads. I am not here to convince you to buy my yarns. Honestly I am happy to keep them all to myself *evil laugh*. 😉 I am here to give thought to alternatives so that we do not have to always live in such extremes.

photo included in one of my bags of raw wool from a small New England producer
photo included in one of my bags of raw wool from a small New England producer

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Washing Merino Fleece: Before & After

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washing merino fleece: before (right) and after (left)

 

I have talked at length about the fact that most of my yarn is made from the ground up. The only thing I do not own (yet anyway) is the sheep, rabbits, goats or alpaca the fiber comes from. That’s not to say that I can pass up a nice looking roving at the Fiber festival – but I do spend the majority of my time at the Fleece sale. My main motivation in the beginning was to save money. Now, it’s mainly because I enjoy it. I love taking dirty fleece, washing it (sometimes even skirting it before hand to get rid of the poo!), carding/combing it – then dyeing it into gorgeous colors to then be blended into batts to be spun into yarn. I also enjoy meeting small producers and getting to know them, their flock, and where my fiber is coming from: something you can’t do at the yarn or craft store.

This past month I have been washing some merino fleece – from Maine – from Rivercroft farm in Starks. If you are an Easterner & spin you may know Joe & Judy Miller: I love chatting with them at the New Hampshire show, which I sadly missed this year due to a relocation. This lot was from last year’s show. I am embarrassed to say it sat around that long and some of that time in storage in fact. But that is what happens when you embark on home renos and then a move. Last year was a dud for me, as far as fleece prep is concerned.

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Thankfully, these bags were already skirted – so no poo for me to remove. 🙂 I am a fleece rescuer – I drift towards the more inexpensive bags of fleece that most hand processors pass up. I see the potential in every bag. Unless it is totally full of VM (vegetable matter) or has signs of lice or fleece rot, I’m in (and I have bought duds of fleece before – live and learn). It just takes a little more elbow grease, and a little more patience.

For fleece this dirty I just reach for my bottle of Dawn dish detergent. If we were talking good quality locks or award winning fleece, I would reach for the Unicorn Power Scour or Namaste Farms Wash & Dye Bastard. But for this quality, I find Dawn works just fine. I start to fill the sink up with hot water, and while it’s filling I will place pieces of fleece to float on top. Once the top is covered, I squeeze on a bit of Dawn in a zig-zag pattern, then add another layer of fleece. Squeeze on the Dawn, and so on – until I have enough in the sink that I feel is comfortable to clean – usually about half the size of the sink. It’s fleece & soap lasagna! At this point I gently start pressing the fleece down into the water, and let soak for approximately 3 hours. This soak happens 3 times, only on the third time, I do not add soap but about a quarter of a cup of vinegar to the hot water to remove the soap residue. I usually will flip the fleece between on the 2nd and 3rd soak. If it mildly felts I don’t worry about it too much as it will be carded and then combed.

washed merino vs. unwashed
washed merino vs. unwashed

The difference in color is quite dramatic. I didn’t even realize just how yellow the unwashed fleece was until I saw it washed. Gets pretty darn white, if I don’t say so myself!

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The washed fleece is run through a salad spinner to get out the excess water, then out to my deck to dry in the North Mountain air. It can get very windy here, and after chasing drying fleece all over the lawn, I have learned to put a cover on it. These racks are from a store that closed a few years ago (Zellers – for all the Canadians reading along). I would eventually like a set up so that the air can circulate both top and bottom, but for now I just flip the fleece after drying on one side for awhile – and this has worked well.

I’ve already started carding this into batts to then be dyed – and then combed into top. This is by no means a quick process but it certainly is satisfying, especially when a one of a kind skein of yarn is created.

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Spinning Accessories: Ashford Niddy Noddy Jumbo

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Ashford Niddy Noddy Jumbo vs. standard Lendrum Niddy Noddy

I love that spinning accessories are relatively inexpensive – and are often times handcrafted. You can easily purchase a drop spindle and get started spinning without the investment in a spinning wheel (I know this will mortify spinning purists, but I hate the drop spindle. I broke the cardinal rule of spinning & bought a spinning wheel before ever mastering the spindle).

A niddy noddy is one of those inexpensive but must-have tools. It has a very amusing name. I picture someone a few hundred years ago, designed a skein wrapping tool and when asked what it was called, “niddy noddy” was what they came up with while put on the spot. Perhaps this nonsensical name has a clear meaning and if so, do tell! 😉

If you are still wondering what a niddy noddy is, it is a wrapping tool used to make skeins of yarn after spinning. They are traditionally made of wood, but I have seen homemade varieties made out of PVC pipe, and even metal/wood hybrids. There is one central bar where you hold it, and crossbars at each end that are offset from each other by 90 degrees. Here in North America, niddy noddies are most known to come in 1 yard and 2 yard lengths. I prefer to use the 2 yard length on my Lendrum niddy noddy. Before removing the skein I count the wraps & multiply by 2 to give me the length in yards.

Making more and more funky art yarn on my Spinolution wheel these days, I was finding the Lendrum niddy noddy to be too small to fit some of my skeins. I would make them fit, but it was not easy. I was excited to find that Ashford had a jumbo Niddy Noddy. I purchased mine from Gemini Fibres for $39.

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a side by side comparison of a standard size niddy noddy (Lendrum) vs. Ashford niddy noddy jumbo

I’ve put in a lot of hours with my Lendrum and can pretty much wrap without thinking (it takes a bit to get the right rhythm the first few times). Due to the larger size of the niddy noddy jumbo it took a bit of getting used to all over again. The pro is that I don’t have to worry about running out of space when skeining my bulky art yarns. It holds over 1 kg (2.2lbs) of yarn. The cons are that it is heavier and more cumbersome to use compared to my standard Lendrum. I also like that my Lendrum has notches on the cross bars so that if I need to squeeze the wraps together more tightly they are not overlapping the wraps on the other side which can get confusing when you pull off the yarn or tie it off.

Another quirk is that, coming from New Zealand I have to remember that this niddy noddy measures in metres and not yards. So when counting wraps if I forget and calculate yardage rather than converting the meter length to yards (1 metre = approx. 1.09 yards) I will end up with more yarn per skein. This is not a bad problem to have of course, but I like to try to be exact so that I can keep track of my materials & how long it takes me to spin it.

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jumbo coil plied yarn vs. bouclé

Despite its nuances I am really happy to add this tool to my studio and suspect I will use it very often in the coming months.

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Current Yarn Stash – handspinning overflow

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This is the culmination of 4 years of hand spinning. All the experiments with both dyeing and spinning: locks, roving, all of it. All the hours put in to hone this skill. Some were hits, some were misses. I would say the majority are acceptable, if not pretty darn good for a gal who hated the drop spindle but decided to just to throw caution to the wind and buy her first wheel in 2012. I adore spinning. To hell with knitting. I will sit and spin all day any day. 😉

Now with two wheels (first my Lendrum and then my Spinolution wheel) I can work much more efficiently and that means the yarn stash has the potential to grow even bigger, faster. I didn’t do a lot of processing (skirting, washing, or dyeing) fleece last year. We seemed to be in a perpetual state of renovation. But that didn’t seem to stop me from combing, carding and spinning.

I laid all this out on the table the other day, and I was a bit disturbed at how big the yarn stash has grown. With all that time sitting and spinning I haven’t had, well, any time to knit or crochet or weave. It feels a bit stagnant to me, in the sense that – as much as I feel you can never have too much yarn, having these around is stunting my creativity and zest to try something new. There is literally too much choice right now.

One reason why I find it hard to let go is because spinning is such a cathartic process for me. It really is therapy – if not a spiritual experience. So the finished yarn carries a lot of those emotional qualities for me.

The other reason is that I look too critically at my work, and assume it is not good enough for anyone else to enjoy.

Excuses aside, it’s time to get these ready for listing and hopefully into some new homes (my handspun is probably the only thing I sell that I am not unhappy about if it doesn’t sell ;)). I have a few skeins drying now – some of these have been in storage so have become compacted and needed to be fluffed up and looking their best again. 🙂 I also have my pricing spreadsheets set up and shipping rates worked out. I just need to get photographing and listing. I’m not sure if that is all going to gel together by the end of this month – which is fast approaching. I was hoping to get a least a skein or two up this week but I guess you just can’t rush a good thing.

You will find the prices will be affordable if not downright rock bottom. These yarns have served their purpose as a teaching tool to hone my skills and I am happy to give away the time and possibly even partial cost of materials in order to make way for new skill building. The hardest ones to price will be my merino and alpaca yarns, since they were the most expensive of my fleeces to obtain. They are so soft and fluffy and – the hardest ones to part with. But I am all about intention and energy and my hope is that these yarns will make it into the hands of people who can appreciate all these qualities that come with them.

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Then when I am done with all that, you see these two containers in my closet? The label on the top bin says: wholesale overflow. And that is exactly what this is. 13+ years of wholesale, clearance and closeout jewelry supplies. In my lifetime, I will never use all of this. So these materials will have to find a new home as well. Now, to clone myself several times in order to get all this done… 😉

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Free Alpaca Fleece – Pt. 1

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a trunk full of alpaca fleece – all for free

Last month (and on my birthday no less) I picked up over a dozen bags of alpaca fleece – and I didn’t pay a cent for them. Above you see my trunk – filled to the brim.

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the contents of just one bag

Mother’s Day is a holiday I don’t care much for, but for the majority of the afternoon the weather was nice to sit out on the deck off my studio and do some picking. I have been (im)patiently waiting for a day to go through some of this, not really knowing what condition the fleece would be in. It had been stored for sometime, in a shed – so somewhat exposed to the elements and critters.

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Wonderfully shorn with not many second cuts

I only got through one bag before the fog rolled in, but boy, did I ever pick a great bag to start with! The fleece came out in all one piece – and you could picture how this laid on the animal. It is a beautiful butterscotch/cream color -probably my fave alpaca color. It’s shorn nicely with very few second cuts – and a low to moderate amount of VM (vegetable matter). Pretty much not at all dusty. It is also quite long stapled as shown in the picture below.

staple of the alpaca fleece
staple of the alpaca fleece

I separated this into two bags: one with the fleece with very little VM, and then a bag of seconds that has a ton of VM and is stained/discolored. The seconds batch I will do first: comb and card out the Vm and then most likely dye since  the color is uneven. I will store the bag of “firsts” for now. i like to experiment with the lower quality first before diving into the good stuff. 🙂

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I’m ready to start my second bag and it’s not so great as it has a ton of VM – but, it will still be nice fleece to work with, it just needs more elbow grease to remove the unwanted bits. I will chronicle the processing of this fleece as I go. BTW – this is the view from my studio – isn’t it breath taking? When the fog doesn’t roll in, that is…

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Picking vs. Throwing: Continental Knitting in my Jammies

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Since teaching myself to knit I have been a thrower – formally known as English style knitting. This is the way that made the most sense to me when learning and I have been content to do so – until now. I really like to knit (or crochet) in bed. It is definitely not the most ergonomic way to knit, but I am too fidgety to sit and knit. Let’s face it, if I’m sitting in a chair I am pulling one of my spinning wheels up. Yup. I’d literally rather sit and spin. 😉

All this obsess – er- excessive spinning really puts tension on my right arm, around the elbow area. I’m finding my preferred way of knitting puts more strain on the right arm. Strain means I slow down, slowing down means the projects don’t work up as fast as I would like and then I lose interest. It was time to look at an alternate way to knit so that I could give the right arm a rest.

I’ve never really tried continental knitting (aka picking). I’ve seen videos of the technique but since I was comfortable with the English style I never saw a reason to really give it a go. But I am left handed (left dominant mostly with ambidextrous tendencies) and it seems that the speed knitters out there use this style. I also hear that pickers find their knitting works up looser. I do tend to have tight stitches as a thrower. Since I knit a lot with handspun bulky art yarns a looser stitch is definitely appealing.

Earlier this month I found myself laid up in bed feeling under the weather so since I wasn’t feeling well enough to sit up and spin, a little personal knitting workshop was in order. Off to YouTube I went to see different styles of Continental knitting. After trying different people’s styles below is what has worked well for me thus far. I was amazed that not long after I was continental knitting in my jammies. 🙂

beginning to wrap the yarn around my pinkie finger for tensioning
beginning to wrap the yarn around my pinkie finger for tensioning

In the videos I watched, many people liked to simply let their yarn hang between their fingers. I definitely prefer to have the yarn tensioned. The best technique was wrapping the working yarn around my pinkie twice then laying it across my fingers towards the index finger.

twice wrapped around pinkie
twice wrapped around pinkie

laying yarn across all 3 fingers toward the index finger
laying yarn across all 3 fingers toward the index finger

So once I found a comfortable way to hold the yarn in my left hand – which by the way – felt so awkward at first since I am so used to using my right hand – I found that my knitting for the first few rounds resembled crocheting with my index finger held up in the air. The problem being that my index finger would get tired really quickly, and I definitely could not get the rhythm for purling with my finger so far away. In another video, I found my answer: rest my index finger against the needle. It was all starting to make sense now.

holding my finger too high and too far away from my work
holding my finger too high and too far away from my work

this made it much easier
this made it much easier

tada!
tada!

The outcome is I really like Continental knitting. I started by knitting in the round with a bulky reclaimed yarn that already had stitches done in the English style. There was a definite difference in the tensioning of my stitches. I found with continental my stitches were looser and thus looked/felt much better with the bulky yarn. I also found my knitting worked up much faster with the picking method, although I’m not sure if it is because I am quick at it yet or simply because I don’t get fatigued as quickly and can sit for more rounds before stopping. I’ve also practiced ribbing since then and I do like the closer change up between the knit and purl stitch. I’m finding my ribbing maybe a little too loose for my liking, but I think that will change with practice. All and all, I am so stoked to have another way to knit, so when I get tired (or injured!) on one side I can switch it up and keep knitting. 🙂

Are you a picker or a thrower? Have any tips for me? Drop me a line, I’d love to heard from you!

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P.S. I didn’t keep a list of the videos I watched on YouTube, but if you search for “continental knitting”, “continental vs. english knitting” and even “speed knitting” you should get a good amount of examples to help you.

Deconstructed: Unravelling Thrift Store Finds for Yarn

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I have read a few articles with great fascination about buying wool sweaters from thrift stores with the sole purpose of unravelling them to reuse the yarn. It seemed like a lot of work to me, but I loved the idea nonetheless. I am surrounded by fleece and my own handspun, but what a great idea to a) reuse and b) obtain wool yarn without breaking the budget. If you have the time you can get a nice stash of yarn for just a few dollars.

P1020856Although the idea of unravelling sweaters sounded daunting to me, I am a picker and puller – I love to undo things. I find great satisfaction peeling paint and glue, dismantling jewelry that was not quite right (or to reuse components), or unravelling my own knit/crochet to make something bigger/better (in my mind, anyway). I have even been known to unravel my own handspun yarn – which is no easy feat but very satisfying when I can use the plies again.

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I haven’t had any luck finding suitable sweaters, but I did find these 2 scarves, one with the tags still on. Although this is synthetic yarn they were super long, soft and bulky. Lots of yarn to be had here not to mention easy to unravel (in theory). I figured it was a great place to start – for practice anyway.

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I vegged in front of the tv one night and gave it a go. The tags and tassels came off easily, and the end was petty obvious – just a loose knot so they unraveled like magic! Of course the unworn one unravelled the easiest. What to make? Definitely not more scarves. I have many of those with my handspun already. Slippers? I am thinking maybe chunky mittens/arm warmers or even some quick hats for my kids. They are always losing their hats/mitts so it would not be a shame if they lost ones made out of old scarves from the Thrift store. 🙂

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Experimental Crazy Handmade Yarn Creation

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scarf; shrug; accent piece: I am not sure exactly what I would call this but I am quite satisfied with how it turned out.
scarf; shrug; accent piece: I am not sure exactly what I would call this but I am quite satisfied with how it turned out.

I made this yarn out of…frustration? Boredom?

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I was really dissatisfied with the original yarn. So I decided to go for broke, and see what would happen if I boucléd it around some commercial cotton. This crazy handmade yarn is the result.

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The outcome is certainly interesting to say the least! So what to do with it? I now have a bulky, buckled spiral yarn made of wool, banana fibers and beads (now, cotton yarn added to that mix). What in the world to make with this hot mess & a half?

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When in doubt with a funky bulky handspun, I always turn to the elongated knit stitch. There are many different variations but one that I love to do is really simple. Cast on the number of stitches you want, insert needle to knit one, but bring yarn around both needles before looping around the inserted needle like a regular knit stitch. This extra bit of wrapping will elongate that stitch nicely.

Here is a video by Ashley Martineau of Neauveau Fiber Arts demonstrating the stitch. I love Ashley’s videos and her spinning style! I probably learned this stitch from her originally, a video tute on a pillow cover comes to mind. 🙂

So back to this funky creation I made with this yarn-I-was-so-fed-up-with and a simple knit stitch. I was shocked by the result. I didn’t expect much from this so I didn’t keep any notes. But I cast on approx. 80 stitches on large circular needles (17 comes to mind, possibly bigger). Then it was elongated knit stitch until I had just enough to bind off. That was it. Total TV watching knitting.

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My intention was to make a cowl or infinity scarf, but I guess you could call this what – like a shurg or a shawl too? And once I started to tug it out/form it it was screaming for this chain detail.

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These are the things I love to make. Happy accidents. Throw all the rules out the window and just go! I get so caught up in perfecting technique sometimes it’s nice to forget it all; not have a plan and see what comes. This may still be a total hot mess, but I know one thing. I throw this on with a nice jacket, and I have a conversation piece. And that is true artistry to me.

The moral of this story is: don’t be shy to go there and totally own the result. 🙂

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Upcycled Handspun Yarn – Vegan Friendly – and The Scarf it Made

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core wrapped banana fiber yarn still on the bobbin
core wrapped banana fiber yarn still on the bobbin

I made this yarn this past winter & it occurred to me that this upcycled handspun yarn is vegan friendly. Most of the yarns I spin are with animal fibers, but this was made using sari silk remnants (banana fibers that are similar to rayon – so not exactly “natural” as the name would suggest). I can’t always get these from the company in Vermont but when I see them I nab them. They are colorful and silky & usually I add them to my batts. This is my first time making a complete yarn out of them. I love the idea of up-cycling a discarded product.

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big honkin’ spool of dacron

After thinking it over, I decided the best way to showcase these fibers as well as keep it an even diameter was to core wrap spin it. Core wrapping is a technique where you wrap fibers – usually from a batt – around a finished yarn, the core. Many people use commercial yarns for the core. The banana fibers come in a bag in one big mass, so I found it easy to tease out a bit at a time and let it wrap around the core. I used this dacron yarn (polyester) as the core. I found this huge cone of it at a second-hand store for only $3.50! Score!

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To add a little more glitz, I added a commercial sequined thread at the same time I was wrapping the fibers. Another bargain find from the clearance section of the craft store. I am a bit of a magpie (or squirrel? Mouse?) when it comes to shiny and cheap things. 🙂

I made a really cool scarf with this yarn, I really wish the pictures would capture the texture better. It’s very organic in feel yet glitzy all at the same time, and naturally 100% unique. I love rocking this!

upcycled sari silk banana fiber yarn made into a continuous scarf - doubled over
upcycled sari silk banana fiber yarn made into a continuous scarf – doubled over

This is a continuous scarf knitted in the round using an elongated stitch. I made it really long (it’s approximately 36″ from top to bottom) because I wanted to be able to fold it over more than once for different looks.

lopped once at same length
lopped once at same length

I used size 11 circular needles. As I harp and preach about handspun yarn: go big or go home! 😉 Always go with a larger needle to allow the fibers to open up and have room for any larger sections.

twice folded over and fanned out - cowl like
twice folded over and fanned out – cowl like

I love elongated stitches and use several methods when knitting my handspun. I love that airy, webby effect and I think it showcases the handspun so well. Not to mention it’s super simple and works up fast. I’ll have instructions for this stitch at the bottom of this post…

cowl-style not fanned out
cowl-style not fanned out

Because of the ease with these kind of stitches, I threw this project in my bag and worked on it when I had a passing minute while out on errands. You never have to remember where you left off because it’s all the same until binding off.

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Elongated Stitch for continuous scarf

CO desired number of stitches (I CO 110 with size 11 circular needles)
Be sure all stitches are facing the same way, and are not twisted then:
K1;
Insert your left needle into the front of the ST you just created and make a stitch within this stitch: just like a continental purl stitch only using your left needle instead of your right.

Insert left needle into the front of the knit stitch you just created, and essentially purl into this stitch
Insert left needle into the front of the knit stitch you just created, and essentially purl into this stitch

the elongated stitch
the elongated stitch

Continue until scarf is desired length & CO. It doesn’t get more easy than that!

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2015 New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival

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Posing with the adorable babies from Skyeview Alpacas
Posing with the adorable babies from Skyeview Alpacas

We had yet another wonderful Mother’s Day weekend attending the 2015 New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival. The show has become a yearly family tradition of ours. One of our favorite stops is the Alpaca barn which was showcasing many babies & adolescents this year. I swear I dropped an ovary or two looking at these cuties! Special shout out to Skyeview Alpacas. Always a pleasure stopping by their booth.

this year's haul: sadly (accidentally) in monochrome.
this year’s haul: sadly (accidentally) in monochrome.

I didn’t take near enough pictures, of course. How could I when there was always a bag of something in my hands?? I took a pic of this year’s take in the back of our Jeep but the camera setting was bumped to monochrome & I didn’t realize it. I guess it doesn’t matter too much since the theme this year was definitely white. Besides the angora rabbit fur and white alpaca fleece from Skyeview, I also came away with 2 bags of merino wool from Joe & Judy Miller to process; 1 lb. of to DIE for (or should I say, to DYE for – har har) white BFL top  – I just couldn’t say no; and 3 4oz balls of coopworth top. The only thing of color was 3 hand-dyed 4oz balls of a wool/silk blend to play around with. I normally don’t buy roving anymore. But sometimes it just calls my name. I look forward to doing some experimental dyeing this season. I definitely had some restraint this year, but my studio is over flowing. I really could use a bigger space for processing fleece. I would probably get through it faster if I did. Someday…

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Finding Inspiration: What to Make With Handspun Yarn

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funky handspun becoming an infinity scarf in the wee hours (my fave time to knit)…

If you are like me, you like to comb the internet for inspiration. I consider myself a spinner, but not so much a knitter or crocheter. My knowledge of knitting and crochet is actually pretty basic. People tend to be quite surprised by this because the assumption is one starts spinning after mastering the needles.

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core-wrapped up-cycled banana fibers and sequins

I taught myself to spin just few months into teaching myself to knit and crochet (the beginning stages, anyway). The story as to how I got started would suit a post on its own, but the fact that I learned about making a textile from the ground up made me appreciate the basics of knit and crochet. Handspun yarn literally has a life of its own. Rather than you making it into what you want it to be, it tells you what it will be.  Thus, you gain a respect and appreciation for handspun that you realize is best left to speak for itself.

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jumbo colorful yarn chain (aka Navajo) plied from fleece seconds

Because of this, we are often left scratching our heads as to what to do with gorgeous artful textured handspun. I say “we” because I know I am not alone in this. Many of us have that stash of pretty yarns. Because of its unusualness (or its mind-blowing prettiness) it becomes a permanent fixture in the yarn bin like the wall-flower never picked to dance (and we know it really should be the belle of the ball!). Whether it is handspun or an artful commercial yarn, I know many knitters know exactly what I mean. When I started spinning the goal was to make the most even, symmetrical yarn possible. But soon I really wanted to push the boundaries of what yarn is. The problem was I wondered what I could make with such unusual and small amounts of it. I have a growing collection of yarn that I spun that I feel is “too pretty” to use.

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core-wrapped handspun with handmade flower inclusions

So even as a spinner, I find myself taking to the internet to find inspiration. Not patterns. Patterns are no good with such a unique medium. More of a reassurance that others truly are making items out of handspun and it’s not just a pretty yarn to be hung in the studio. I also have this bad habit of over critiquing my yarns and again, a post for another day… I found this wonderful article on craftsy that really sums up what to make with handspun yarn.

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crochet handspun jumbo yarn infinity scarf worn as a shrug with handmade flower and button detail

Since it is recommended to use larger needles with handspun and to keep the stitches simple, I believe handspun is a great textile for the novice knitter or crocheter, or, if you are like me – those who do not possess the time or patience for a long term project. I want to get back to the wheel, afterall. 😉  It may look intimidating at first. It can be comprised of many bumps, thick and thin sections and even over twisted sections, but when you realize a basic knit or crochet stitch will give you a stunning one of a kind scarf for example, one quickly realizes how how satisfying it is to use. The projects are not only simple, but since they are worked up with large needles, they make the perfect afternoon project.

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free form crochet left-over handspun neck warmer washing machine felted

Don’t be afraid to mix your handspun with commercial yarns. I love to make the ribbing of my hats with commercial yarn and then let the handspun be the personality of the rest of the hat. What about a scarf in elogated knit stitch switching back and forth between handspun and commercial? The possibilities can truly be endless, and it is freeing to not have to follow a pattern. Free form crochet is your friend with the leftovers! I’ll be starting a series here on the blog showcasing what I have knit with my handspun. Some will be hits, and some will be misses I am sure. Many of the examples posted here are from my spun seconds pile. I really need to have the courage to tackle that pretty yarn stash. My goal is to share the journey with you so that we can grow together. The yarn is piling up here and I need a butt kick to come up with some projects with it. I do not feel comfortable selling my handspun when I myself do not know what to do with it! With that, I am off to play with that jumbo rainbow yarn pictured above. signature

Tabletop Fleece Picker

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picked fiber (left) and wool that has been washed & dyed but not picked (right)
picked fiber (left) and wool that has been washed & dyed but not picked (right)

I have been combing and carding a lot of fleece this month. I’m actually squirreling away my pulled top. It’s the “premium” stuff so I am not sure whether I will make yarn with it, or sell them in batches eventually so others can spin/felt with it. I’ve actually been been enjoying spinning the “waste” product from pulling top – the lumpy bumpy stuff. Such interesting yarns! That’s a textured yarn addict for you. 😉 But that is a post for another day…

I realized I never blogged about my tabletop fleece picker I acquired last fall. I have written before how I like to hand pick fleece, but I finally conceded that I needed something that would get the job done quicker. I did not have the funds for what I’d really like (a triple picker!) nor the time/inclination to build my own so I found this inexpensive one. Above you can see the difference in fleece before and after it is picked with said picker. Note: the wool on the right is not the same color as the wool on the left. It is from the same batch, however.

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note all the dirt/dust that comes off when the fleece is picked

The picker has heavy sharp teeth on the bottom as well as the top piece, that slides back and forth, teasing the fleece apart; opening up those fibers so that they are easier to comb or card. I really like that this one locks in place when not in use particularly since there are many curious little hands in my house. You could even add a pad locks to it, if you wanted to.

close up to see how the top locks down when not in use.
close up to see how the top locks down when not in use.

How well does it work? You ask. It is adequate. For the price I had really low expectations so I was pleasantly surprised at how well it works. It still requires a bit of elbow grease and it’s no triple picker, but it certainly aids me into getting fleece picked faster than I could do it by hand. But someday, triple picker – you will be mine! 🙂

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Introducing: My New Mach III Spinning Wheel by SpinOlution

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close up of the front of my new Mach III
close up of the front of my new Mach III

The best gift ever. DH got me a Mach III Spinning Wheel – by got me, I mean, he said “go ahead and order that spinning wheel you want”. Ha ha! So I ordered it in the New Year, and 3 weeks later, my Mach III by SpinOlution was shipped from California and on its way to my dealer in Vermont.

lendrum (left) and Mach III by SpinOlution (right)
lendrum (left) and Mach III by SpinOlution (right)

We drove down to Burlington to pick it up, and after arriving home and removing all the pieces from the box, the initial overwhelming feeling of “how am I going to put these pieces together?” was short lived. It was actually really easy to assemble! With the exception of attaching the strap to the front (which helps you move the 35lb studio wheel from one end of the room to another) – it was in a new, but totally obvious place. Thanks to Leah for helping me out with that! Putting it beside my Lendrum was almost comical – the difference in size. This Mach III is a beast and I mean that in the most affectionate way!

largest bobbin on the lendrum
largest bobbin on the lendrum

I got all the bells and whistles with my Mach III, including the largest bobbin/flyer – 32oz – you can make up to 2 lbs of yarn with it!

the largest bobbin on the Mach III
the largest bobbin on the Mach III

Take a peek at some of the other accessories:

Mach III lazy kate (left) vs. lendrum lazy kate (right)
Mach III lazy kate (left) vs. lendrum lazy kate (right)

The lazy kate is genius as it attaches to the wheel as well as free standing.

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skein winder attachment

This is a pretty nifty attachment. You simply treadle and the yarn winds. I need a lower chair though as I find it does brush my thighs while rotating. And, I really like my 2 yard skeins, so I still use my niddy noddy more than this. I do find with yarns with large inclusions this is a really handy tool to have.

and here's what approx. 2lbs of handspun yarn looks like!
and here’s what approx. 2lbs of handspun yarn looks like!

For the first few days I had the wheel I simply played around with it. Like buying a brand new car I really like to sit and get acquainted with a new piece of equipment. I tried out different tensions (settings) and fibers before settling on a kid mohair to make into my first skein of yarn (the orange you see above). The first skein took me only an evening to make – approx. 4 hours in total. The large 2lb skein took me 2 evenings – about 3 hours each night. I was determined to fill that large bobbin and I was surprised at just how quickly it took. This is an easy wheel to use and the biggest hurdle was to get used to the bigger rotation of such a large bobbin as well as treadling much slower. This wheel is very smooth and will get going quite fast much more quickly than I am used to.

I’m currently working on a core wrapped yarn with large flower inclusions. I put the flowers together with left over handspun, felted in place and tied with a pearl bead. Very fun and so easy to do with the hook attachment & open pegs SpinOlution is known for. I really want to try the many different techniques of textured art yarns I have grown to love so that I become comfortable with the Mach III. Thus far it has been an easy wheel to fall in love with.

If you are looking for a dealer for any of SpinOlution’s products on the east coast/New England, I highly recommend Leah Rosenthal!  She was on top of things giving me updates by mail and she really knows her stuff. You can find out her details on the SpinOlution website under Vermont, and be sure to checkout her blog.

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Adventures in Yarn Dyeing: Low Water Immersion Technique

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acid dye applied in stripes to dye mohair handspun yarn
acid dye applied in stripes to dye mohair handspun yarn

Here’s a closer look at the dyeing process from the post Handspun Bouclé: A Closer Look. This is only one technique I use for dyeing animal fibers. This one is super easy/quick with minimal set up or equipment required.

color applied in stripes except for the black with was dotted on randomly
color applied in stripes except for the black with was dotted on randomly

This is my technique for dyeing small amounts of fiber, & it worked well for one skein of yarn. I use an old glass corningware – dedicated to dyeing only, not food – that fits my smallish studio microwave. This microwave is dedicated to crafting only – never used for food. In fact, we don’t even own a microwave for food!

color applied in a swirl (spiral) pattern working from the outside - in.
color applied in a swirl (spiral) pattern working from the outside – in.

The term “acid dye” sounds really toxic and menacing. But it actually refers to the product used to bond the dye to the fiber. A mild acidic agent is used, normally citric acid or good ol’ kitchen vinegar. Acid dyes are non-caustic and very safe to use. You can even buy dyes such as “Greener Shades” that guarantees no heavy metals, although I have heard criticism that that is a rather trumped up claim since acid dyes normally don’t contain heavy metals. Either way, the piece of mind is there and I have used Greener Shades in the past and enjoy their color palette.

thick and thin swirls
color applied all over then thin turquoise in a spiral pattern. Fuschia is randomly dotted on

I prefer using citric acid over vinegar. I have found that the color seems to absorb and adhere better to the fiber than vinegar. Which means more vibrant colors and less dye down the sink during the rinsing process. Although admittedly I am getting a better feel for vinegar, due to the fact I had run out one day. It is more readily available in large quantities – you can buy it in bulk at Costco. My citric acid I order online in bulk for the best price.

random but even patches of color
random but even patches of color

For this particular technique I use low-water immersion. Meaning, there is just enough water to barely cover the yarn. I add either diluted/dissolved citric acid in water or add vinegar to the water. The skein of yarn is carefully placed in the glass bowl, either in a spiral or accordion fashion. I already tied off the yarn in 4 places with ribbon to discourage tangling. Then, I apply the dye via salad dressing bottles bought from the dollar store. The dye comes in powder and I mix it with water ahead of time. I literally squirt on the color!

stripes with small bands of turquoise
stripes with small bands of turquoise

The yarn was soaked ahead of time in warm water with a little synthropol, which is a liquid soap that helps open up the yarn fibers to receive the dye. I then cover with saran wrap and will microwave on high at 5- 7 minute intervals (I’ve gone up to 10 – 12 minute intervals for bulkier amounts of fiber).

swirls, stripes and tiny dots of turquoise
swirls, stripes and tiny dots of turquoise

If by 10 minutes the color is not entering into the fiber I will add a little more vinegar or citric acid to the water. Then microwave again. It depends on how many times this happens. The goal is for all the color to be absorbed into the fiber leaving behind clear water.

stripes in varying thicknesses
stripes in varying thicknesses

Upon doing this several dozen times, I noticed something interesting. When the water was clear the saran wrap was sucked down into the bowl like an air tight vacuum. The first time I witnessed this I had a heart attack thinking the plastic had melted all over my fleece. But instead it was a perfect dye – water was clear in bowl and no dye escaped when I rinsed it under hot water with a little Dawn dish detergent. Now I continue to microwave in intervals until I see this phenomenon. Then, I let it rest for another 5 minutes before taking it to the sink to rinse.

drying in the sink after dyeing
drying in the sink after dyeing

Dyeing seems like an incredibly daunting task until you do it. Then you are amazed at how incredibly simple and satisfying it is. Still, I have a lot to learn with just one year of dyeing fiber under my belt. I need to work on knowing the best combination of colors so not to create a “muddy” color, which I dislike (see the pic above – brilliant oranges and reds, but I was not happy with the turquoise/greens – very dull/muddy. I did remedy this somewhat with a quick overdye to the darker areas. Perhaps another blog post on that technique is warranted). The good news is it is a terribly satisfying practice where the possibilities are as endless as your imagination. And if you don’t like the results, you can always over dye – which gives you a whole new set of results and colors that could blow you away.
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