Sunday, April 27, 2008

Less is More

It worked! I am very happy to report my experiments yesterday with Wilton's black icing dye yielded me 6 oz of very pretty roving. I found the key to the whole thing was dye quantity. This time I used about 4 toothpicks of dye to a big pot of water. When I dropped in my roving the red struck in places but not the entire piece of wool. Everything separated beautifully. I ended up leaving the entire roving in the pot set on low (4 on my stove) for 30 minutes. At that time all the color was absorbed.  Right now everything is hanging to dry. I should have pictures of some pretty fluff later today!

In the meantime I am continuing to spin up my latest Kool Aid creation which I am continuing to think of as Fruit Salad. It is green (berry blue and lemonade), red (Strawberry Kiwi and Pink Lemonade) and Yellow (2 packs lemonade). I am cycling through each color which I have predrafted to the finest I can get before it splits, which is nice because it is spinning up quickly. I am trying to see what will happen when I ply it. Since I am keeping approximately the same amount of fiber and both skeins will have come from the same roving I am hoping to keep the color changes approximately together in the ply. Its hard to explain. Once I am done I will post pictures. 

Yesterday I also ventured up to the LYS and finally bought "big girl" dye. After locating some used crock pots at yard sales I am ready for my first foray into dying outside the kitchen. I have all the supplies and may throw 4 oz in today if I can just decide on what color. Of course, soon this will all catch up as I have all kinds of dyed roving just waiting to be spun, which I then need to knit. Sigh. So many projects, so little time. 

Yesterday was beautiful here in New England. It was coolish - only in the low 50s - but the sun was out which made for good outside weather. The young one spent the day playing with his neighborhood friend and got in some serious sprinkler action. We had two very soaked boys with big happy grins. They followed it up with a change of clothes and some ice cream. Is that not an ideal Spring day? 

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lessons Learned

I have good news in that I successfully finished my second skein of my sherbet yarn. It turned out just as yummy as the first and I appear to have a fairly strong match in both color and texture. I am thrilled. So now I have over 500 yards to play with which should be enough to make the Forest Canopy shawl that my spinning teacher speaks so highly of in her blog. I guess mine will be a tropical forest with it's bright colors.

Bolstered by my success with repeating my yarn I decided to get adventurous and play with more dye. I came across a post on Ravelry in which the poster used Wilton's Black icing dye and ended up with this amazing blend of pinks, greens, blues and purples. The final project was amazing. So much so I have set out on an adventure to replicate the colorway. Oh boy - talk about lessons learned.

My first attempt ended very badly by completely ruining 4 oz of roving. Fortunately, this was the 4 oz I got free with the purchase of my wheel so I don't feel too bad. I think I erred on many levels with this batch. First, I used the entire bottle of color. The key to black is that it separates so you get different colors. By using the entire bottle I never really made it past the red. It seemed to overwhelm the roving. I ended up pulling the roving out in progressive increments but by the end I had black. No blues ever made it. So, come to think of it, I do know how to achieve black now. Ok - that's a positive. After I finally gave up and accepted that I had a progression from red to black I pulled out the roving and gave it a good rinse. Then I decided to try a tip from my spinning teacher to throw it in the spin cycle for a few minutes to remove some of the water. Well, my new fancy front loader does not seem to allow you to just spin. It only has a rinse/spin option. You got it. I tried it. What could be the harm? Sigh. So after 20 minutes I had 4 oz of progressive red-black felt. I tried to save it. I was able to pull it apart into strips and ended up with a huge pile of red-black dredlocks. If you ever need to make a dredlock wig I know have a sure fire technique. I did try to spin it up but gave up after I realized it would be a painful effort of pulling. So not worth it. It is currently sitting on my floor looking like a pile of pink/red/black dredlocks. 

So, after accepting that I needed to let go of the first batch I decided to try it again with my final oz of roving in my stash. This time I used much less dye and did not put the entire roving into the pot. I went from vinegar soak to pot to collander in a sequence so that I would have the roving draped in the dye only in the part I wanted to dye. I ended up with a progression from red to green. I never made it to blue. I ran out of roving. Again, I think I used too much dye. But I did not make the same mistake of using the washing machine so at least I have some usable roving this time. It did felt some from the handling though so it is key to handle as little as possible. I think this may end up becoming Christmas ornaments. 

Today I am going to try it again only I am going to work on technique with test samples. I got a new stash of roving (thank you Copper Moose - I cannot say enough good things about this store in that the prices are reasonable and the shipping is fast) to play with so I can experiment some. This time I pulled out about 3/4 oz and I divided it into three strips. I am soaking it in Vinegar right this minute. Next I am going to try a couple different tests. The first I am going to use the progressive technique where I only put in part of the roving at a time but with less dye and I am also going to add a hank of my undyed first spinning attempts to absorb some of the red and green without overdoing it on my roving. My hope is that I will be able to get to the blue and purple. My second will be to use a small amount of dye and drop in the whole roving but up the acid with a splash of lemon juice after I pull the first end out of the batch. Apparently there is a difference in the way the red in the Wiltons reacts with acid so upping the acid may cause the red to stop dying. I am not a chemist so please don't ask me to explain further. If you really want to understand better, find a chemist. Or search the web for info on Wiltons.  I am not sure yet what I will do with the third hank but I am sure I will get inspiration. Its all about learning today. I am also going to minimize my handling of the roving to see if I can avoid felting. 

Well, I hear the giggles of a little boy coming from the bedroom so I know I am soon to be joined by the resident four year old. He is cute, cuddly and snuggle but also he is learning to use my computer. He loves to play Word World on pbskids so often I end up losing my machine to him. Here he is - gotta go.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yes, but can I repeat it?

Over the years I have learned at the heart of quality is repeatability. Once you get something down the key is to learn how to do it again in the same way to get the same results. Then you work on improving things. A fabulous end product is wonderful but has a limited market. In the world of fiber I am finding there is a fine balance to be obtained in the world of repeatability. A beautiful skein of handspun dyed creatively is a piece of art but begs the question "What can I knit with this 100/200/300 yards of luscious yarn?" Hmmmm, another scarf? Another hat? Another sock? But I want more!!!!So I am off to explore the world of repeatability in my handspun. 

I finished my yummy sherbet yarn. I ended up with 255 yards at about fingering/sport weight. I still havent checked the WPI on the plied yarn. I have enough to make a scarf but I really want to go bigger. The color really lends itself to a dreamy summer shawl. For that I need to double my yardage. So I am going to go for it and try to repeat myself and make a second skein using the same steps. Fortunately I took good notes and actually weighed the amount of fiber I dyed in each packet of Kool Aid. I did have to experiment a little in that I could not find Watermelon Cherry Kool Aid so I tested out Pink Lemonade on batch of my undyed first spinning attempts and determined it makes a similar pink. Since I am blending I believe it is close enough in color. I have dyed up the three colors using similar weights of my roving, drafted the colors together and Voila! I once again have sherbet fluff! Now it is all in the muscle memory to try and spin the same weight singles to obtain a similar second skein. I am taking my time spinning this skein so stay tuned. Hopefully by next week it will be done. 

In the meantime here are some promised pictures.

Here is the first sherbet fluff! I took the three rovings and drafted them together by hand. They are still a bit stripey. I blended further as I spun the yarn. 

And here is the finished product! Yeah, it actually looks like something I would buy in a local yarn shop.  

Finally, here is a promised look at my very first handspun. Believe it or not, this mess actually is a hank of something that came off a spinning wheel. I think it looks like something that came out of the trash bag we have hanging next to the dryer for the dryer lint. 

When I say I have come a long way, this is proof. Mostly I look at this and go "Ugh" but we all have to start somewhere. At the very least, this is a reminder that I am improving. It is also a good hand rub as it is still pretty full of lanolin. What is impressive is that I spun this on February 2, 2008. I spun the pretty sherbet yarn on April 12 & 13, 2008. That is just over two months. Of course, during that time I took a second class with another teacher and I bought a new user friendly wheel but ultimately it all comes down to practice, practice, practice. 

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sherbet and Baby Goats - Summer is coming

Ok - what do sherbet and baby goats have in common? Well, aside from heralding the coming summer this is how I spent my weekend. 

First, the baby goats. I happened across the Martha's Vineyard Fiber Farm CSA a week or so ago and purchased my share yesterday. This is a wonderful opportunity to get fiber to support my growing fiber addiction while supporting local farming. This is pretty exciting for me as I live in a definite "non-farming" neighborhood and quite honestly I am not the type to raised goats and sheep on my own. Don't get me wrong, there is a romantic side of me that can dream of watching the baby goats frolic in a field while their mothers graze but the realist also knows that someone needs to feed and care for those cute lil buggers round the clock and I know that won't be me. I have enough on my hands with the young one and our canine four legged children. So this was one heck of an opportunity. I get the benefits of the sheep and goats (fiber!) and supporting a local farm without having the 24/7 responsibility. Check out the MV blog to see the wonderful pictures of the babies! Or if you are interested in supporting the farm, visit the etsy store for the CSA or other fiber goodies. 

One thing I am finding interesting about the world of fiber and spinning is that it is not a huge corporate thing. The businesses I am finding myself working with are small and local for the most part. There are exceptions, such as the major spinning wheel makers, but most of what I am buying is from independents. On the one hand, I kind of hope spinning stays on the fringes of popularity so that we can continue to operate working with small businesses. 

I am also finding that spinning fiber into yarn allows for the creativity of making do with what is at hand. I found a store in Vermont (the Copper Moose) that sells roving at reasonable prices and bought a few pounds of Corriedale to play with on my wheel. Now that I have successfully come up with spinning my wool into something that resembles yarn I have decided to add color to my life. Since I am still working on getting the right equipment and dyes for full out dying, I am making do with kitchen dying for now. Kool-Aid is the best method for kitchen dying as it is safe to use with my cookware and young one can even help with the process. The only drawback is you are limited in color choices. Just google Kool-Aid dye and you can get endless pages discussing the merits, how-to's and colors. For now it is a fun experiment. 

So that is where the Sherbet comes in to the picture. I found myself with some free time the other morning (yeah, I know - that was a shock in and of itself but I had to say home with young one while husband went to the dentist) and young one was happily entertaining himself playing pbs games on the computer (the kid is starting to scare me - four years old and can navigate my mac better than I can) so I decided to check my kool aid stash and try my hand at dying roving for the first time. I only had a few flavors my choices were limited. I decided to do three equal hanks (each about 3/4 oz) in three colors. Watermelon Cherry, Grape Illusion and Orange. I also only had one pack of each so the saturation level would be limited. I have learned that I prefer to add more Kool-Aid so I get really bright color but this was an experimental kind of day. Well, I ended up with pink (Watermelon Cherry), red (Grape Illusion) and orange (well, you can probably guess which flavor on this one). But they weren't real bold but not too pastel either. In the middle of the saturation range. At any rate, when I dried the roving and twisted them together I ended up with what looked like a big bowl of sherbet - you know the kind we used to get off the ice cream truck as kids. The pinkish/orangish oh so yummy summer time treat that was even better when floated in a bowl of punch at a birthday party. Well, it is gorgeous. I will post pics as soon as I take some. :) 

I spun up half of the sherbet fluff yesterday and I must say I am very proud of how far I have come with my spinning. While I have the camera out I will have to take a picture of my first attempts and my latest yarn. Big difference. Its amazing what practice and patience will do. My sherbet is a nice, fine single ply probably somewhere in the fingering to sportweight category. I need to measure it out of curiosity. I will spin up the second half today and then ply the two together. I am hoping to get enough to make a lacy scarf. This is the first time I have been so excited about creating something that I will want to wear! Hopefully the second half will spin up as nicely. That is on my agenda for today so maybe by tomorrow I will be posting a picture of the finished yarn (but I will take pictures of the fluff first because it does look pretty cool on its own).  At the very least I am very pleased that I have finally mastered the fine art of drafting my fiber while spinning and controlling my speed so that I am no longer getting an overspun mess of lumps and bumps. 

On a side note, we were supposed to be 45 and rainy all weekend long - ideal for sitting inside and spinning. Somehow we ended up with 70 and sunny yesterday instead. What a gift! I took my wheel outside instead. I love my Babe! I can take it anywhere and not worry. I got to sit in the sunshine and spin while young one created a big mud puddle in the back yard to run his card through. Hey, gotta love the imagination of a four year old. Well, spring is here and summer is soon to come. Yeah!