Monday, October 18, 2021

Inkle time

As I suspected, my interest in band weaving continued to rise as a result of the last Yarnworker WAL. I finished my colorwork band key fobs, and immediately threw more yarn on the Cricket to make another set. You can see that some progress was made in terms of technique - the teal/yellow-green ones were woven first, and the blue/silver came next:

My biggest takeaway here is that I get better results when I ease up on warp tension a bit, but concentrate on getting really good weft tension. Believe it or not, those bands are all made with the same weight yarn - 3/2 mercerized cotton. 

I turned them all into key fobs using hardware and a special pliers that came with it.

These fobs are laid out in the order I wove them. Sharon chose one and, perhaps because I have trained her so well, she picked the one on the right, which is the last one I made and definitely the best of the batch. 

After a lively discussion at my knitting group one evening, I was offered an inkle loom that was sitting unused on someone else's shelf! It is an Ashford Inklette, and I happily accepted. I warped it up right away, using the same yarn and pattern. Through the process of weaving this band, I learned a couple of things to improve upon. Look at the arrows:

The left arrow shows that the heddled and unheddled threads don't meet on the same plane - the heddled threads are higher than the unheddled ones. This means that the down shed is nice and big, but the up shed is smaller and more difficult to get a shuttle through. I need shorter heddles.

The right arrow shows how I had the "tension flap" (that bigger block of wood) positioned for warping. The band becomes shorter as it is woven, because the weaving process creates take-up. This means it's helpful to be able to release tension on the warp. I don't have that much tension available to release, because of where I positioned the flap when warping. The upshot is that I wasn't able to weave this entire warp, because there came a point at which I was no longer able to advance the warp. It was just too tight and I couldn't loosen it any more. 

I finally found a way to secure the loom on a table so it wouldn't slide around on me. It works on this little table, placed on a bit of shelf liner, and clamped with one of the many warping peg clamps I have in my kit now: 

You can see the clamp in the bottom left of the above photo. Here is a lower view of its position:

After this practice project was done, I started again... this time with 5/2 cotton I had left over from a long-ago towel project. I adjusted my heddle-creation approach. What ended up working best was using a coaster as my template. You can see that the heddled and unheddled warp threads are meeting up quite nicely this time!

Also, I started with the tension flap in a more extreme position, which allowed me to weave the entire warp length comfortably. Success!

I also tried a different pattern. I found so many on this blog. Here are my final bands and key fobs:

For my next band, I'm going to work on getting a tighter weft at the very beginning of the weaving. Only one of these three bands was easy to get into the hardware. I could also reduce the width of the pattern - this project had 37 ends, so maybe try 35 or 33. 

Weaving colorful little bands is so much fun!

Monday, October 11, 2021

A good day to dye

Last fall, my friend Annette invited me over to do some natural dyeing. I was intrigued, and that visit really sparked my interest. I liked the idea of using foraged or repurposed materials to dye my yarn, and I also liked the idea of turning my pile of white handspun into something more appealing (the Breed School 2.0 experience was too monochromatic for me!). So yesterday, I started with this:

That's about two pounds of undyed yarn, all handspun except for one skein I picked up from the half-price pile at HipStrings a couple weeks ago (at SVFF). 

Natural dyes can be quite muted, and I knew I wanted to get colors as intense as possible. So this year, I took the time to mordant my yarn in advance. I used the most commonly used mordant, alum, which helps dye bond to the fiber. It also helps improve colorfastness. Most of the mordanting instructions say to heat the yarn in the mordant solution, but I chose to use the cold mordant method. It takes longer, but requires less monitoring...just the ticket for my life! On Saturday morning, I put all my yarn to soak in water. Saturday evening, I moved it into another bucket with dissolved alum, dissolved cream of tartar (which serves as an "assistant" and increases the amount of alum absorbed by the wool), and cool water. I used 12% alum and 6% cream of tartar. That sat overnight. I rinsed it Sunday morning, and took the wet skeins to Annette's, along with the plant material I had collected over the summer. I had bags of dandelion flowers and marigold flowers from my freezer, as well as some onion skins from the kitchen.

Annette had a variety of naturally-dyed skeins on display for inspiration as we got started. Aren't these lovely?

The first thing we did was build a "rainbow dye pot," which is a technique we read about in the Spring 2021 issue of Spin-Off magazine. With this technique, you build a layered casserole of dyestuff and fiber in the dyepot, and add minimal water (so that the fiber doesn't float or swim around). Rather than mixing the dyestuffs, we piled them in the pot so there would be distinct areas of color. We used black walnut, madder, annatto, marigold, onion skin, and dandelion in this pot. Between each layer of dyestuff is a layer of fiber encased in cheesecloth. Somehow I neglected to photograph the pot as we were building it, but here's what it looked like in the end:
Here's how it looked after removing the top layer of dyestuff. Annette put some washed (but otherwise unprocessed) fiber into those little mesh bags, while my contribution to this pot was a variety of mini skeins.

The deeper we went into the pot, the hotter it got. These heat-proof gloves became important. Here's an action shot of the unpacking:

And here is how my little skeins look after drying. They are pleasingly variegated!

With this method, you can sometimes tell exactly what dyestuff was where. This dark brown spot was certainly touching a black walnut:
We couldn't help but notice that the water in the dyepot was still quite deeply colored, so we threw some more fiber in for a second round. In this round, everything was mixed and more water was added, so there isn't much variegation. I got a pleasingly orange skein, though! This is Rambouillet:

We dyed some skeins with black walnut, too. I know most people find the fallen husks to be a nuisance, but if you soak them for a few days, they make a really nice dye. The top skein is just black walnut dye, while the next one has some iron added to shift the color to a lovely gray with an olive undertone:

Finally, the flower pots. The dandelions weren't very intense on their own (I could have used more flowers, or added a modifier to shift the color). Still, it's a pleasant light yellow:

And here is my favorite skein, the marigold one. This had quite a lot of flowers in it and also a bit of tin to shift the color. It is a glorious, glowing orange!

We had a lovely day, slowly moving dyes and yarns around, and chatting about all things fiber. Here are my 5 finished big skeins all together. They look harmonious, don't they?
I'm already thinking about what to do next time. I still have some undyed skeins, and I've been collecting avocado pits and peels. I also have a bag of black walnuts in the garage. So there will be more of this!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

FINALLY an in-person fiber festival!

It's been a while since I've been to an in-person fiber festival. I think the last one was MDSW in 2019. Regular readers will remember the temper tantrum I had about missing 2020. I was more resigned in May 2021 (though that didn't stop me from taking online classes). But friends, the dry spell is over - the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival was live this month and WE WENT!

Masks were expected indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and we were happy to comply. This is Alison, Kris, and me just after entering the first building. You can tell the yarn fumes are already making us a little giddy. 

I'd almost forgotten how to work a fiber festival. I feel that I didn't take the right pictures and I was kind of bleary-eyed from over-stimulation the entire day. But oh, what fun it was to be back in our natural habitat!

At least two vendors had a special show colorway, and I fell hard for the one at Dancing Leaf. It's called "Shenandoah River," and I think you can see that the other color name they were probably considering was "Janelle." I get why they went with "Shenandoah River," though (and I snagged a skein on their sock yarn base).

None of us went into this festival with a shopping list. We were open to whatever moved us, which is normally a pretty dangerous state when entering a fiber festival. I'll admit that I bought a bit more yarn than expected... but in my defense, there were some good sales! 

There was also some inspiration. I visited the Sweet Tree Hill Farm booth twice because I was so taken by this Butterflies and Bees hat. The yarn is milled from their Shetland sheep, and it's worked in stranded colorwork which is an iconic Shetland style. I texted a photo to S1, who also quite liked it, so I got the kit. There should be enough yarn in these mini-skeins to make TWO hats. As much as I love my Shetland yarn from Shetland, it's nice to have some grown a lot closer to home.

Lately I seem to be into a minty aqua color, so naturally I gravitated toward these bundles of roving from Two Roots Fiber Mill. The blend is 52% Huacaya Alpaca, 17% Suri Alpaca, 25% Merino, and 6% Silk Noils. They had some bulky yarn spun up from it, too, but I bought the roving so I can spin it myself (those bumps are 4 oz each). I took a picture of their yarn for inspiration:

I hope mine comes out as well.

I also got some needle tips and cables to supplement what came in my ChiaoGoo set... and a skein or two of random sock yarn... and some sale yarn for hats... and a new project bag made from Harris tweed. And I finally got to see everything adKnits makes in person. I just love her stickers! She has a series of knitting/national park designs, and I bought one for every national park I've actually been to. Starting from the top left, these are for Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Shenandoah, Acadia, and Great Smoky Mountains. I think they're so cool.

This is the third time I've been to this festival. It's a lot smaller (and hence, more manageable) than Maryland, and we typically have gorgeous fall weather. It's great. The first time I came, I was happy to enjoy my first slice of pumpkin pie for the season (I love pumpkin pie). They had it this year, too, so I just had to have a piece:
You can see that a little wasp is happy about it, too. I didn't even mind sharing a bit because the day was so perfect. Friends, fiber, and fellowship = my happy place.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Colorwork Band!

The (late) Summer 2021 Weave-Along with Yarnworker is Colorwork Bands. I've been wanting to weave bands for a while now, so I was happy when this project appeared on the WAL schedule!

I had to lay in some new stash for it, as the pattern calls for 3/2 mercerized cotton. I think this is sometimes called perle cotton, but honestly, there might be a subtle difference between them. (On a related note, I recently learned that 8/4 carpet warp and 8/4 cotton from Brassard aren't exactly the same - the twist is much tighter on carpet warp.) I really don't know. 

Anyway, the pattern requires a very small amount of yarn (under 50 yards total across two colors), and most retailers sell this yarn in large, 1-pound cones that cost about $30 each. Luckily, I figured out that Lunatic Fringe sells mini-cones (1.5 oz) for a much lower price point, and they stock all the colors of the rainbow! I got 4 mini-cones so I could play with two different color combinations. I also got a belt shuttle, which is needed to press the weft very tightly and create a warp-faced fabric. It has one beveled edge that can really pack that weft yarn in.

Liz provided instructions for both direct and indirect warping. It would have been a breeze for me to direct warp this project, but precisely for that reason, I chose to try indirect warping. I've only done that a couple of times, and I don't have good muscle memory for it yet. This medium-sized warping board seemed like overkill for such a small project, though! The warp is only 57" long.

Soon enough, the warp was on the loom. Notice that warp is 2" wide in the 12-dent heddle. The finished band will likely be 1" wide, or less. We need to smoosh the warp threads together in order to achieve a warp-faced fabric.
I got started with the actual weaving last night. It goes fast and is a lot of fun. You can see how much narrower it is now:

The project is a key fob, so we're only weaving about 12" of cloth, which will be doubled over in the fob hardware. 2021 might be a year in which everyone gets key fobs for Christmas!

This is so fun that I might need to learn band weaving on an inkle loom next. STAY TUNED...

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Tricky gloves

I started knitting these fancy Sanquhar gloves back in early May, and I got all the way to the part where you divide for the fingers before setting them aside. At the time, my biggest question was whether to modify the pattern and stagger the finger openings, rather than starting them all on the same row. Life somehow intervened (I've been through two family member hospitalizations since then) and I didn't have the mental bandwidth to look at these. 

When I returned to them and started searching online for pointers, I ran across an online Sanquhar glove knitting class with teacher Beth Brown-Reinsel (video download, not an interactive class). I decided to get it to look for answers. Also, the class comes with a pattern, which I hoped would be easier to understand than the one that came with the kit I got in Scotland:

Beth's class includes all sorts of interesting history and show-and-tell, but it gets started with an earnest look at stitch gauge. She recommends making a swatch - in the round and in pattern - using 3 different needle sizes. Only then does she suggest casting on.

I looked again at what I had knit so far and had to admit that it was too big. Can you see it?

There are a couple of things going on. First, I've already worked way past the point where my fingers begin. And more importantly, the gloves are just way too wide. Look at all the extra fabric along the left side of my hand. When I try to tuck it under, it looks more like this:

Gloves should be snug, not baggy, so these are way too big for me. I worked this on 1.75 mm needles. I'm a loose-ish knitter, though. So I buckled down and ordered some 1.5 mm needles - these are U.S. 000!

If this doesn't work, I may just have to make these for someone with larger hands. The pattern is such that no one ever modifies the basic structure. Each column becomes a finger, so you can't just remove one of those blocky elements. I've been meaning to cast on my NEW gauge swatch with 1.5mm needles for a few weeks now, and today might just be the day it happens.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Fifteen, Sixteen

I'm on track to knit 21 hats in 2021 - fifteen and sixteen have come off the needles! They are both very simple hats.

Hat #15 is yet another Sockhead Slouch (my eleventh one). Nothing special about the pattern, but the yarn is super special! This is a limited colorway from Neighborhood Fiber Co. called Fair Fight. It was dyed by color master Karida Collins to honor Stacey Abrams' amazing organization in Georgia. My sister lives in Atlanta and has worked on a bunch of "get out the vote" campaigns over the past 4 years. I sent her a picture of the yarn and she loved it, so I bought it.

You could get this colorway on any base, but I chose Organic Studio Sock. Atlanta isn't known for its cold weather, so a thin hat seemed to be in order. My sister wanted something simple, so Sockhead Slouch it was (though this isn't her in the photo):
I loved knitting every stitch of this. The yarn felt great in my hands, and the tonal variation of all the blues, with some purple speckles, was entertaining. Plus, I thought a lot about the impact Stacey Abrams has had on all our lives. For my Pennsylvania readers, have you heard about the New Pennsylvania Project, which is modeled after Abrams' New Georgia Project and Fair Fight? Something to watch!

Hat #16 is another design by Woolly Wormhead. She had a sale this summer, so I bought a couple of patterns after matching them with yarn in stash. The first one is this Waffle Slouch, worked in worsted weight yarn. I still had some handspun, undyed BFL left over from Katara #2 (Rav link), and it worked perfectly for this. The pattern is a grid (like waffles), but it's an open grid (like a screen). It reminds me of those old-fashioned snoods. I finished knitting this hat during a meeting at work, and I slipped it onto my head to see if it fit. My colleague exclaimed over it, and I immediately handed it over - I didn't even block it! She is one of two friends who adores any shade of brown, so it was fitting that these two individuals are now the owners of Katara #2 and Waffle Slouch. I could not be happier to have the yarn out of stash and out of my house.

I've now knit 12 of Woolly Wormhead's hat designs, and I have two more patterns waiting in the wings. The other pattern I bought at her summer sale is the Get Garter Beret (which sounds a lot more simple than it looks) - it's made with fingering yarn. Just today, she released the Square Cubed design with a discount for newsletter subscribers, and I scooped that up, too. It is a stranded design, also made with fingering yarn.

Even as I explore other Woolly Wormhead patterns, I keep returning to the Elemental collection. The 3 hats I made with Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool had excellent drape and softness. I decided that Silky Wool is the ideal yarn for these designs, so I bought more. I got 11 skeins in 5 colors. This isn't the best photo I've ever taken, but it gives you an idea of the range. The colors are: Medium Gray, Oxblood, Wasabi, Larkspur, and Blue Spruce.

And I still have some in Blackcurrant and Verdigris!

Yeah, I don't think it will be any trouble to get to 21 hats in 2021...

Friday, August 20, 2021

Four Looks Towels


This was a long, slow project, but it well and truly done now that it's finished and photographed! I started warping my Flip loom for the Yarnworker Spring WAL (weaver's choice of any project from the catalog) back in mid-May. I didn't start weaving until late June, and the towels were finally all hemmed on August 1. Then it took a while to get photos. So many steps! Here is my intrepid clothesline pole (the other end is tied to a tree):
I love that I was able to make these entirely from stash. I used Brassard 8/2 cotton in white, vieux bleu Y94, bleu pale Y756, and limette pale Y4269. The warp yarn was doubled in a 10-dent heddle and also doubled in the weft.

I also love that these are clearly a "family," but they aren't matchy-matchy. Stripes in the warp create so many possibilities! 

My finished towels are about 18.75-19" wide. The length varies more (24-25.5") because I sometimes ended a bit early in order to center a stripe pattern. I didn't quite realize that the design had a hem built in, and I added my own which I wove with 16/2 cotton (thinner, to minimize bulk). 

Another thing that isn't perfect about these towels is their shape - they are all a bit trapezoidal! I think this is because I found it very hard to wind this warp evenly. The threads on the left side were always a bit "softer" than the others, and I think this created more length in the finished fabric on one side. I need to think about this and maybe consult Liz. I think you can see that in this photo (despite the slight angle of the clothesline):

Overall, I'm pleased with these towels and especially proud of how good the plaid looks.

The summer WAL is about to start, and we will be weaving warp-faced bands. I've wanted to do this for a while, so I'm excited.