Sunday, July 15, 2018

Tamarind continues to teach

When last we left off, I had rewashed my Tamarind fiber only to find that it weighed the same. This implied that no more lanolin had been removed and that perhaps my work was a waste of time. This past week, I carded some rolags from this batch of fiber. Carding went fine, but spinning still wasn’t what I wanted it to be. The fiber was a bit sticky and that made drafting both uneven and uncomfortable. I do NOT want to spin a sweater’s worth of yarn like this – it will hurt my hands.

I watched some more YouTube videos to expand my knowledge of how other people clean fleece. Based on these and further reflection about my own experience, my takeaways were:

  1. Bad bags? Perhaps my mesh laundry bags had a mesh that was TOO fine, and the dirt/grease couldn’t escape well. This thought was confirmed when I washed my kids’ backpacks after the school year ended. A website recommended putting them in bags so that the straps don’t get tangled in the agitator, so I did. And those mesh bags had a LOT of dirt trapped in them at the end. Gross!
  2. Pre-wash. Many spinners begin washing fleece by soaking fiber in cold water with no cleansing agent. This initial soak removes a lot of dirt, but none of the lanolin. Still, by removing dirt before introducing the cleansing agent, you let the soap really focus on the job that only it can do: cutting grease.
  3. Hot water temperature. I learned that lanolin melts at 100F and you want to make sure your water never gets close to that… either at its initial, hottest temperature or as it cools during each wash cycle. I didn’t know how hot my hot water heater made my water, so I resolved to measure it next time.
  4. Smaller batches. Since I wasn’t happy with the washing machine approach, I decided to try the next batch using the kitchen sink.

I ordered some baskets with mesh bottoms and sides (it’s kind of hard to find ones with mesh bottoms, I learned) as well as some dish bins. The measurements listed online were deceptive, because the bins are wider at the top than at the bottom, and because the advertised width was the outside edge-to-edge measurement rather than the opening. The baskets, on the other hand, advertised their inside dimensions and didn’t account for the handles. This meant that my baskets did not fit all the way into my bins. But I forged on anyway. This is what my setup looked like:20180714_130145

There are two baskets nested, with fiber in the bottom one. The top ones holds the fiber in (it wants to float out), and the mug weighs down the baskets so that everything stays underwater when I want it to. The pre-wash really worked – here is some dirty water after a 15-minute soak:20180714_131745

Since the dirty water was cold and only contained dirt, I dumped it into the large potted plants on my patio.

Next I ran the hottest water possible, which my hot water heater makes 130-140F (I used two different kitchen thermometers and didn’t get the same result). Each basket is holding 1/6 of a pound of fiber (75 grams), so I added a scant 1/2 teaspoon Unicorn Power Scour. I probably could have done more fiber in each bin if the baskets fit in there better, but this is what I did on this round. I soaked for 20 minutes and then dumped the water in the back yard (not wanting the lanolin to go down the sink). I measured the cooled water, too – it gets down to 120-125F after sitting for 20 minutes. That should be in the safe zone.

Then I did a hot water rinse for 20 minutes, also dumping the water in the back yard when done. Because these amounts were so small, I was able to spin out the water in my salad spinner.20180714_141445

I did two bins like this yesterday and laid them out to dry on my screen under a ceiling fan. This morning, I eagerly weighed the dry fleece. Remember I started with 150 grams of raw fleece. The clean fleece was only 102 grams, so I had a 32% loss. When I did the initial batch in the washing machine, I only had a 23% loss. So this method definitely got the fleece cleaner. Hooray!

But the proof is in the pudding. I carded a couple of rolags and spun them to be sure. And reader, they drafted smoothly and easily. This is fiber I could work on for a whole sweater. 20180715_102600

Today I washed three little basket-bins of about 75 grams each. I did it almost exactly the same as yesterday… my only change was to add 1/4 tsp of Unicorn Fibre Rinse to the final rinse. Fibre Rinse is pure fabric softener. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to calculate my loss and learn if it’s similar to the first batch. I’m keeping a little “lab notebook” to keep track of all these little things.20180715_103616

I’m pleased that by starting with a pre-wash/soak cycle and working on small batches, I can get away with only one wash cycle. Now if only I could submerge my baskets properly in the bins….  (I think I will be ordering more bins tomorrow)

In other fiber news, I finished another pair of socks while we were on vacation earlier this month. This is a plain vanilla pair for Boy 1, made from the humble and hardworking Patons Kroy sock yarn (which I think I picked up at A.C. Moore once). S1 says they remind her of the Pendleton blankets a bit.20180709_104942

And seaming continues on the I Love Leftovers blanket. I put on row #9 this morning (out of 16), so I’m over halfway done!20180715_121846

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Gradient spinning

I have always been partial to gradients. I especially love spinning them because they are so entertaining. Last month at MDSW, I bought these two bumps of fiber from Still River Mill:20180506_161051 crop

They are 90% merino wool and 10% silk. The preparation is carded and it was thin enough that I’d call it sliver (pronounced SLY-ver), not roving. I pulled the fiber from the middle of each bump – it is wound just like a skein of yarn. They were a “show special” priced at $20 each (each bump is 4 oz), and they were labelled “easy spin.”

At first, they were very easy to spin. My plan was to spin each bump on its own bobbin and make a 2-ply yarn. I figured 8 oz would be enough to make a sizeable shawl. When I started with the pale pink fiber on the inside, it was very smooth and I used a short forward draw to spin worsted style.20180526_103245

Then I hit the pinker sections and began to encounter more nepps and bumps. These seemed to increase in quantity as the fiber became darker in color. I wonder if these “show special” bumps were created with some mill waste from another job? I’m not sure. Rather than fighting the nepps too much, I tried to relax and just enjoy the spin. I figured that the resulting yarn would have a rustic, slubby look.

I had a little more trouble than usual with the singles jumping off the hook, so I tried cross-lacing them. This was an effective way to keep things under control and I was very pleased. Once the bobbin was about half full, the cross-lacing created too much drag, so I went back to the regular way. This shows what cross-lacing is (easier to show than explain):20180626_172527

Two full bobbins! Aren’t they pretty?20180624_090045

I wanted to rewind these onto storage bobbins, which evens out the twist before plying. My normal weaving shuttle bobbins were too small, though, because I wanted to keep each full gradient on one bobbin. So I turned to my “Bobbins Up” bobbins, which are designed to attach to a power drill. I prefer to wind by hand because I have more control over the speed, and I experimented with using the Bobbins Up bobbin on my bobbin winder. The hole is larger than the shaft, so the bobbin spins around without gripping or winding anything. I played with paper towels and wool fiber, but nothing worked. Reluctantly, I got out my power drill. That was, as expected, an exercise in frustration. Even at the lowest speed I could maintain on the drill, the pull was too strong… and it kept breaking my singles again and again (I stopped counting at 8 breaks). I just tied knots and tried to limit the cursing.

That was Bobbin #1. For Bobbin #2, I went back to my hand bobbin winder and considered it again. This time, I wrapped a rubber band around the shaft:20180624_175242

This provided just enough grip to keep the bobbin on while I wound gently by hand. For Bobbin #2, I only had 1 break. Success! Here are my rewound bobbins:20180624_175556

That color reminds me of pink evening primroses.

And here is the end product!20180627_075102

I got 938 yards and the total weight is 207 grams. As expected, it is not at all perfectly even… but I think the imperfections you see close up will disappear in a knitted object:20180627_075215

I’m not sure how to describe the weight of the yarn… some appears to be fingering, but some is bigger. Here’s the “penny shot” in a couple of different areas:20180627_075506


Overall, I’m pleased with the result, and also happy to have spun something that’s not just another 4 oz braid. It’s nice to dig into bigger projects sometimes. (Can you tell I’m gearing up for Tamarind and Muesli?)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Big Why

I started knitting a sweater waaaaayyyy back in February, but for some reason I never blogged about it. Each time I thought I would tell you about it, I was almost at another phase where I thought it would look better (or something). It’s still a big “why?” as to why I didn’t document its progress, but now it’s done and I want to share it.20180213_075850

The pattern is called “The Big Y” and it’s by Jutta von Hinterm Stein, who lives in Austria. I wanted to knit at least one of my sweater quantities of stash yarn this winter (after finishing Boy 1’s Teen Gramps and my handspun Greenbow Sweater in the fall). So I went looking for something to make with this:P1010769


I bought this yarn from a Kickstarter back in 2013. I remember being able to choose between 4 skeins and 8 skeins, and I went with 8 so I’d have enough to make a sweater if I wanted to. This was a big commitment then when I was much newer to sweater knitting. What I didn’t anticipate was how much alpaca was in the blend (the final yarn is 70% alpaca and only 30% wool – and merino wool at that). The yarn is a 3-ply heavy worsted and it was dyed organically at Saco River Dyehouse in Maine.

I anticipated that the alpaca would make the knitted fabric heavy and saggy, so I knit a pretty big swatch. I was pleasantly surprised at how much memory the merino contributed to the blend. 20180204_130651

Note that I didn’t knit a garter border on the swatch – it is entirely stockinette. I read a convincing essay about why this will give you more accurate gauge and decided to try it.

The Big Y is a top-down sweater with a bit of a turtleneck (maybe a mock turtleneck), raglan shoulders, and a split hem. It has no waist shaping, but the slanting side rib creates the illusion of waist shaping. The “big Y” happens under the arms where two columns of ribbing merge to become one. It’s mostly stockinette, though.

My gauge was fairly off the pattern gauge, so I did some quick math and determined that working the size XS would give me a sweater that fit my M torso. And it did… in terms of stitch gauge. I had to make some adjustments in row gauge and some of them weren’t aggressive enough. When I finished the sweater the first time, I knew before trying it on that the dimensions weren’t right for me. The first picture shows the sweater alone, while the next one shows it with a commercial sweater that fits well on top of it:20180610_120126


The body is too long and the sleeves are too short. Here is the handspun Greenbow sweater I knit last fall (which fits well) on top of the new green sweater:20180610_120410

The Greenbow sweater was supposed to have 3/4 sleeves, but they are a big longer than that on me (but not truly long)… which confirms that the sleeves on The Big Y are too short. And the body is clearly too long. Want to see it on? I had to take these myself so they are NOT good photos, but you can see the fit issues:20180610_115604



I also decided that the split hem (which wasn’t totally finished here) wasn’t the best look for me. So: lengthen sleeves, shorten hem, lose the split. That was my plan. It took me all of a knitting Sunday to make those changes, but I did it. Here is the result:20180623_160548

You can see how the ribbing flows here:shoulder



The “Y” effect would have been more pronounced if I hadn’t rowed out so much… I shortened it by 24 rounds and also made the ribbing shorter.

All in all, I’m happy that the yarn has been used (I do still have 2 untouched skeins plus a little more, and I could unravel the two large swatches I knit, too), that I have a new sweater for next year, and that I stuck to this project long enough to make a sweater I would actually wear instead of one that would sit in the closet because it didn’t fit well.

I think that calls for some “party arms”!20180623_160738

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The magic number… 4? 17? 60?

In my current knitting, repetition appears to be a theme. Here are some things I’ve finished recently:

Monkey Socks – pair #4

Now that I’ve stopped knitting squares for the sock yarn blanket, I’m back to knitting actual socks. Curiously, my most recent pair (Hermione’s Everyday Socks) was also the fourth time I’ve knit that pattern. S1 wanted another pair of Monkey Socks, and she picked the red yarn. This is my fourth time knitting Monkey. Do you like it better on one background? Red is not the easiest to photograph! 20180602_173942



Pussyhat #17IMG_20180523_080502_023

A friend asked for this, and I knew it would be easy knitting during school concert season. I got this far during the band concert:20180511_073457

Next came the choir concert:20180516_074011

And I almost finished during the orchestra concert (but decided that grafting in dim light was unwise) – I cheated and took this later:20180525_091805

And finally, I now have 60 squares joined on I Love Leftovers sock yarn blanket:20180526_082154

Yes, I hung a clothesline dedicated to tracking its progress. In for a penny, in for a pound…

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Tamarind sampling continues

Hi again. My hiatus is to blame on the nastiest case of poison ivy I have ever had. It’s only my second one ever, so I guess I’m officially way more allergic than the average person. My entire left forearm is pretty much one continuous blister or oozing wound. My doctor put me on a steroid, an antibiotic, and told me to start using xeroform pads (which are designed to protect open wounds) instead of using the “nonstick” ones that were sticking to my skin. I will not subject you to a photo (which might require a trigger warning). Needless to say, this condition did not encourage knitting or spinning. On the bright side, I read a lot!

I worked one another round of samples from Tamarind on Day 2 after exposure. I had some itchy bumps, but no blisters or oozing yet. Finally today I had the wherewithal to photograph the finished samples.20180602_160517

Remember that my first two samples (A & B) were from the first batch I washed. I found the fleece too sticky to handle easily, and I wasn’t very pleased with the quality of the yarn. I’m capable of spinning better. Here are closeups of A (hand combed, spun worsted) and B (flick carded, spun woolen). 20180602_160550


At Dave’s suggestion, I rewashed a handful of fleece in the kitchen sink and then made samples C-E. This fiber was noticeably easier to draft, confirming my suspicion that I just didn’t wash the fleece well enough the first time.

C is combed and spun worsted:20180602_160605

For D, I carded some rolags (I don’t think I did a very good job, but here they are) and spun the yarn worsted:20180525_114543


And for E, I flicked carded and spun worsted from the cut end. Why worsted with a carded prep? I consulted Beth Smith’s book (The Spinner’s Book of Fleece) and noticed that she said she likes to use a short forward draw (SFD) with flicked locks to get a lovely, smooth laceweight yarn. SFD is a worsted style of spinning, but I tried it here. I DID get a finer yarn, and I also really liked the feel of it. I may work a larger sample this way and make a 3-ply yarn.20180602_160620


Since I have rather a lot of fleece from Tamarind and Muesli, I am thinking about a sweater. I thought it might be nice to make one of these beautiful yoke designs we’ve been seeing lately… perhaps Humulus? I would use Muesli as the main color (better for my complexion than the deep brown) and Tamarind for the hops design.

But if I make a sweater, I think I prefer a woolen-spun yarn, which will result in a lighter, loftier (and warmer) fabric. A worsted-spun sweater can be quite heavy. So maybe I need to revisit the idea of flick carding and spinning SFD. Maybe I should practice my hand carding, instead!

On the same day I made samples C-D, I re-washed the rest of the first batch of fleece. I weighed what I had left before beginning, since I was curious about how much more grease would come out. I started with 616 grams. I ran my hottest water into the washing machine, added 1.5 T Power Scour, and soaked the wool (in mesh bags) for 20 minutes. At this point, I fished out the heavy, wet bags before draining the water from the machine. I wondered if this was a mistake I made the first time around… was it possible I forced all the grease in the water right back into the bagged wool during the spin cycle? Then I refilled the washer with hot water again, added .75 T Fibre Rinse, and soaked for 20 minutes. This time I spun out the water with the bags in there.

After I left it all dry on the screen, under the ceiling fan, AGAIN, I weighed it. To my astonishment, I got exactly 616 grams, which was my starting weight. So perhaps all that extra effort was for naught?!

I haven’t yet had the chance to comb, card, or flick any more of this rewashed batch, so that will be what I report on next. My left arm is in no shape to wield hand cards or combs. Typing and holding up hardcover books is as much as I ask of it right now. And plotting my next steps with this gorgeous wool…

Friday, May 18, 2018

Sampling Tamarind

I decided it would be smart to process some of Tamarind’s fleece before washing any more of it, in case I need to adjust my technique. I am very glad I did, because the technique isn’t quite right yet!20180513_134800

When last we left, I had a screen full of damp fleece drying under a fan. Once it dried, I weighed it all again. This batch weighed 910 grams raw and 697 grams clean (23% loss).

Then I chose a handful and combed it on my English 5-pitch combs (which are so wicked looking): 20180516_080328

It felt just a little bit tacky while combing, but nothing these beastly tools can’t handle. The challenge began when it was time to diz off the fiber. I really had to pull hard to get it off. That was my first clue something wasn’t awesome. But the resulting nest is pretty:20180516_081756

Yesterday I spun that nest worsted style, and drafting was quite uneven because of the stickiness. It was not relaxing and pleasant – it was frustrating! Dave suggested taking a handful of the washed fleece and washing it again in the sink to see if that helped. I did that, but it isn’t dry yet so I can’t compare.

In the interest of experimentation, I decided to try a woolen prep, too. I flick carded locks using the Beth Smith method. This was kind of fun, and the locks really opened up. Here are “before” and “during” shots:20180518_101450


I kept my locks organized so they were all facing the same way, and I spun from the cut end. This shot shows how much waste is produced from one lock (the waste is still on the card):20180518_102154

Then I sat down at the wheel to spin up my collection of locks, and it was just as difficult (maybe a little more) than spinning the combed top was. Ack! I finished my sample skein and wet finished it anyway. Here are both of them – worsted on the left and woolen on the right (woolen is still damp, but you can’t see that):L Worsted R Woolen

So my next step is to wait for the bit I re-washed in the sink last night to dry, and then to repeat these preparations to see if the spinning is more pleasant.

I’m assuming that I didn’t clean the fleece enough, and that there is still too much lanolin in it. Can I wash it again to solve this problem? If you have an opinion, please let me know!