Having a bash at core spinning

Last night I blended some rather lumpy Southdown fleece I was trying to use up with some dyed Shetland. It was just for fun – no plan involved, just testing out my DIY blending board. When I sat at my wheel – watching ‘Hidden’, I couldn’t think what to do with it. Then I remembered seeing Lexi Boeger’s method of coreless- core-spinning in her book ‘Hand Spun’. I thought the strong colours would work well against the natural if spun in this way, so I had a go.

According to Lexi the principle is to only work with a small amount of fibre at a time, and to spread the fibres wide into a trianglular web. You spin the core with the fibres at one edge of the triangle, whilst simultaneously holding the other part of the web at right angles to this so that it can wrap around the core between your drafting hand and the orifice. Its bit like patting your head and rubbing you tummy at the same time – but once I got going I enjoyed it. There were a few messy bits, which I attribute to the lumpy Southdown myself!

I love the way the colours wrap around the natural core

I’m not sure its truly core spinning, but its on the way there and I do like the effect. The yarn was very over-twisted, but after a good soak in hot water and hanging with a light weight to dry naturally it is fine now.

Pencil spinning

Due to the virus situation the workshops have been closed at the University where I work, and we are ‘remote teaching’ from now on. That is quite a challenge for a practical subject like knitted textiles.

One thing I have enjoyed over the years of teaching first year knit design students is their excitement and enthusiasm when they realise that they can make their own yarns. Normally I would be running a hand spinning workshop for them next week, but obviously not anymore. We have two spinning wheels and I take in a box of drop spindles. Cartons of fibre are pulled out of cupboards and spill all over the floor, its a lovely day with some wild yarn developments taking place. I think its a great way to encourage them to explore the raw materials of textiles, and also to introduce them to yarn design.

But sadly this year its not to be! So I decided that before they left I would demonstrate ‘pencil spinning’ using two commercial yarns. Even this simple method was received with excitement, so I have made two short videos for the students, but have shared them on YouTube for everyone and put them on here as well. Bear in mind they were made for the students, following a demonstration so I refer to this, and the focus is on making small amounts of marl yarn for hand knit design sampling.

They have taken yarns away with them, so I hope to see that they have applied their wonderful creativity to making new and colourful yarns.

Knit Step by Step – new edition

A new edition of Knit Step by Step has been published this month. With new content including step-by-step instructions (with lots of lovely photos) of how to work the exciting on-trend chunky ‘arm knitting’. All wrapped in a smart new cover it looks great!

step by step 2020
Cover of the 2020 editon of Knit Step by Step

Visit to Diamond Fibres – wool processors

Today I accompanied a group of students on a visit to Diamond Fibres in Horam, Sussex. The company processes wool for worsted spinning, rather than woollen spinning, so concentrates more on longer staple fleece.

Starting in the sorting shed, we were shown round by Roger, the owner, and given a really thorough introduction to the processes involved in changing raw fleece into yarn.

There was a Wensleydale fleece on the picker, which Roger explained had already been washed once at 60 degrees to remove the first lot of dirt and oil and then dried. After picking, which would open up the compressed curls that the first wash had not reached, it would be re-washed and dried before further processing. He reckoned that it may in fact require a third pick and wash.

The students were looking tired just at the thought of this!

Following picking, the next process is carding the fibres to start aligning them in parallel into a continuous ”sliver’ of fibre. Unlike my meek little hand carder, they have a carding machine with 16 drums of metal, not wire, teeth. At this stage, any short fibres will still be in the sliver, it isn’t until combing that these will be removed.

The sliver begins to look more like something that is spinnable, but there are still thin and thick sections along its length. To eliminate these and even out the sliver it goes through ‘gilling’. Diamond have two of these machines. The first one has wider spaced teeth, and is used at this point, whilst the second is much finer and bulks up and evens out the sliver later on after combing.

When the sliver goes into the gilling machine, two are fed in at once, producing one thicker sliver of uniform thickness.

The fibre will in all likelihood go through a second gilling, during which the output sliver gradually bulks up, according to the machine settings, to achieve the required grams per metre.

If the requirement is for carded roving for hand spinning, this will be the last process. It may even be stopped earlier on, depending on what condition fibre is required.

If however, the desired outcome is combed sliver, then it has to go through the combing machine. This takes up to sixteen slivers side-by-side through the combs, crimping the final sliver to compress the fibres together and prevent breakage. It looks like doll’s hair emerging from the machine. Any remaining short fibres, nepps, noils or debris fall out into a waste bin beneath the combs.

This combed sliver has become slightly uneven during the combing process, and this is when it goes through the finer gilling machine to produce a consolidated, even sliver ready to have a small amount of twist introduced, (about four turns per inch) to make a softly twisted roving.

This roving is then drafted out into a thinner roving, and finally drafted and spun into singles weighing approximately 0.2g per metre. Amount of twist can be controlled to produce softer or firmer yarns at both singles and plying stages.

The singles can be plied into 2, 3, 4 etc ply yarns according to need. 2 ply tends to be flat, 3 ply rounded, and 4 ply has a square profile. To make a cable yarn, 2 x 2ply can be twisted together.

2ply yarn made from two of the 0.2g/metre singles would weigh approximately 0.4g per metre. This would yield something like 250 metres per 100g, which is within the DK category of yarn, and will be between 12-14 WPI.

Of course, as Roger pointed out, natural fibres do not conform as precisely as synthetics do, so there are highly likely to be variations in weight to length of a hank of yarn depending on humidity and other physical conditions when it is weighed. Oh the joy of natural fibres, thats why we love them!

I think the students now really appreciate how much work goes into making the yarns they pick off the yarn-store shelf. One even went so far as to say that they would never again complain about yarn being so expensive!

“This book ought to be mandatory reading for every new machine knitter!”

I came across this review of my book, ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’, and would like to share some of it with you.

“This book needs to be on every machine knitter’s manuals shelf, in pride of place, no matter if you use Silver Reed or Brother!”
“Where was this book when I was desperately trying to learn how to design lace/translate lace cards between Brother and Silver Reed?!?!”

This book is absolutely essential equipment as far as I am concerned!
The pictures will blow you away and they only get better.
The details are absolutely in depth and extremely easy to understand with stupendously clear focused pin-pointed and highlighted photography and exemplary diagrams that compare every aspect of stitches, fabric, mechanics, of hand and machine knitting. 
It isn’t a how-to… it compares them and shows some GREAT visuals of them on and off the needles. Refer to your manual for specifics on how-to cast-on and cast-off. Basically, this book compiled most of the answers to questions I have asked in the past, questions I have hunted down answers to, and questions that I hadn’t even thought to ask. It is utterly fantastic.
Buy it! Buy it NOW!
I can not say enough how much you need this book! How much I needed this book… now if I can just convince her to write one on Passap…
No! I have no affiliation with the author… I wish I could say I know her.’
Thank you to B. Newson on Amazon.com

 

Test run of my new Louet Victoria

Today I’m taking my new Louet S95 Victoria folding spinning wheel out on a test run. We are taking the bus – with a change in town – to my spinning group.

I’m using its own rucksack to carry her, and so far it’s OK. I’ll probably add chest and waist straps in the future to make it more comfy. I’ve popped my my lunch, a spare bobbin and some fibre in the front pocket. As I don’t know if the rucksack is waterproof I’m hoping it doesn’t rain.

I’ve got a little trolley I planned to use for taking my Ashford Traveller to group, but still haven’t got round to buying some stretchy ropes to secure the wheel to the trolley. Which is partly why I’m using the rucksack as a rucksack today.

I’m on the way home now, and that went well. I took the time with the group to play with the ratios of the Victoria , which are 1:6, 1:8.5, 1:13. I found that I could match the same fibre spun into yarn spun on the largest whorl of my Traveller, (which I think is 1:6.5), best on the 1:8.5 whorl, but that might be the way I was handling the fibre today. I spun the sample I was working from a few weeks ago, and do find temperature and humidity effect the fibre and my hands.

I will have to name my Louet, my Traveller is Dora, my Traditional is Hector. My little old Scottish double drive wheel is SweetPea because she is tiny, delicate and beautiful and treadles so sweetly.

Brother KH260 chunky knitter being a cranky machine

There is only one photo to go with this post as I was so covered in oil I didn’t feel secure holding a camera!

I am running a machine knitting workshop for my local Brighton and Hove Textile Art Group (TAG) in a few weeks, and most uncharacteristically I decided to plan in advance and check out the machines I will be taking along.

TAG is affiliated to the East Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, so most members spin in one way or another (drop spindle or wheel), so knitting hand spun yarn seems a pretty sensible thing to cover in the workshop. Because of this I intend to take my Brother KH260 chunky, single bed machine. I do love this machine, but haven’t used it in several years. Whilst I was working on ‘Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting’ I used my two electronics, a Knitmaster mid-gauge HK160 and a Knitmaster punchcard, so there just wasn’t room for the 260 to be out. Since completing the book I have been diverted to spinning and dyeing for a refreshing change, hence the long storage of the KH260.

When I unpacked the machine it was frustrating to find that the timing belt seemed jammed. The carriage would knit fine in stocking stitch mode, but everything else refused to work. Luckily my long experience at machine maintenance stood me in good stead to sort out the sticking cams on the carriage which were preventing the KC dial from activating and connecting the carriage to the timing belt, taking the machine cover off to expose the workings at the back, and understanding the basics of the patterning mechanism. For a start, the carriage and pattern mechanism parts were all covered in yellow, thick gloopy oil that I know glues the workings of the machines when they are left unused, so I applied LPS1. After watching many of ‘TheAnswer Lady and Jack’ YouTube videos when working on various machines I had invested in a can of this spray cleaner/lubricant; it works really well and is to my mind well worth the rather high cost (in Europe, not sure about elsewhere). According the Jack, LPS1 does not damage the plastic parts of the machine like mineral oils do and is similar in chemical composition to the Bellador oil supplied with Passap machines.

Having replaced a broken Brother timing belt before I’ve found its quite a long and exacting job so I am wary of timing belts and did not want to stretch or break this one whilst sorting out the problem. The service manual (downloadable from the wonderful resource at machineknittingetc.com) is really useful, but I still couldn’t work out what was jamming the belt. So it was back to ‘The Answer Lady’ and Jack, who is a fount of all knowledge on knitting machines.

After watching two of their helpful videos about the Brother timing belt I was pretty sure that the problem was connected to the right hand end of the belt and the associated cog and cam. On the right of the card reader, there is a round cog with a spring on the top that the timing belt goes around and inside this there are cams that activate the patterning mechanism; this clog refused to move more than a third of the full revolution, and felt ‘sticky’. So I soaked it in LPS1, making sure to get the little tube over the holes so that the spray would penetrate fully into the enclosed middle. But 24 hours later it was still stuck, but the black roller rotated, and now the card roller knob popped up and down when the cog mechanism revolved the short distance it was able to, but this still jammed after a third of a revolution.

After a further trawl of YouTube I found another, slightly older video that discussed reasons why the pattern mechanism won’t advance in a bit more detail. In this video, Jack explains that a drive cam hidden underneath that right hand, cog mechanism rotates the lower of the two card mechanism rollers (the white plastic one), which I had already noticed was not revolving when the top (black) one did. I now knew that the problem was definitely under that right hand mechanism. More LPS1 went into it; the machine case was now awash with the stuff! After another hour or so soaking the time had arrived for another test run.

With a rag to help my grip I nudged the clogged mechanism into a place it didn’t want to go. I could feel the gunk fighting me, but it was slowly yielding, and most importantly, as I nudged it, the lower, white roller began to revolve. I was now certain that the hidden cam was stuck up with gunk, and needed to be helped to free itself. I connected the carriage to the timing belt by setting it to KC, and if I gently moved this in the right direction I could add a little more leverage – gentle was the word here, remember my fear of damaging the timing belt? More LPS1 went in, and a bit more nudging back and forth, and slowly it all began to free-up. At last the cam gave and the clogged mechanism moved fully, the lower roller rotated and the punchcard mechanism advanced!

Wooppee!

Next came a test with a punchcard, which seemed to select needles and rotate OK. It took several rags to mop the LPS1 out of the case; it was leaking a bit and I didn’t want it to run out on the floor when I put the machine back on its end for storage.

Before putting the case back on I tested the patterning by knitting a piece, which worked up no problem. I felt wonderful – its such a kick mending something.

Those oily rags then came in useful to wipe off all the yellow gloopy oil that was left on parts of the inner workings of the machine. After that the case went back on. I’d reserved an oily rag to wipe down the beds and other exposed metal parts to protect and lubricate the machine; we live near the sea so I am very conscious of the rust factor. My old Knitmaster 700 had a rather sad case of rust when I was bequeathed it, but LPS1 was a great help in restoring it to good health.

I now have a working KH260, shiney and ready for the workshop. On to the next machine…

The Answer Lady and Jack videos can be found on YouTube, and these were the ones I used to help me with this problem.

Several Reasons why a Brother card reader might not advance, The Answer Lady and Jack, on YouTube.

Onion skins and Eco-Dyeing

Jacob’s fleece spun into a marl yarn and mordanted ready for dyeing

I’ve got a pot of onion skin dye ready to tie-dye a silk scarf and a skein of hand spun Jacobs marl yarn.

The yarn changed colour during the mordanting, and the cream ply has taken on a pale golden yellow tone. I think I will dip dye it to preserve this rather pleasant effect. Let’s hope the pale yellow doesn’t wash out at the end!

The scarf is already dyed in an ombre effect from grey to white, but cool greys don’t suit me; I want a warmer golden colour. The underlying ombre effect will be interesting, and I’ve tried marbles in in a pattern. I may add some eco prints on too, I’ll see what happens with the tie dye.

Rinsing the silk and wool after mordanting the fibres

I’ve rigged up a spoon and bowl into a frame to hold the hank of yarn whilst being dip-dyed.

I use a neat little induction hob from Ikea for dyeing to save energy as we have solar panels.

A steamy view of the dyeing process

The yarn was a little disappointing. I think I didn’t have enough dye material in the bath, and the silk took it up faster than the wool. However I dunked it into an iron mordant and it’s slightly saddened it into a softer yellow that blends better with the darker ply.

The scarf was ok, tie-dyed but wishy-washy and unexciting. So plan B, to eco print on it, came into action. During my dog-walk I collected a variety of leaves, luckily there is a small cluster of sumac and lots of Oak varieties in our local park.

My trawl of leaves, including Sumac, Oak, Maples and others

I also collected a few bunches of Rowan berries, beech and other leaves.

In my excitement I forgot to take a picture of the tie-dyed silk, or of laying out the leaves. I did that lengthwise along half of the width of the scarf, then folded it in half to sandwich the leaves between two layers. I’m not sure if this would have worked better if I had waited until the scarf had dried; I added the leaves directly after rinsing it after tie-dying.

Not having a spray bottle handy that I wanted to use for iron mordant solution, I’d already decided to soak the whole thing in the iron solution. Before doing that I folded the scarf widthwise once again and then tightly wound the folded scarf around a short length of plastic pipe, securing the ends with elastic bands. After giving the rolled packages a good soak in iron I used load of string to bind the fabric really tightly to the pipe all along its length.

Then it went into an improvised steamer for an hour. Unfortunately, because the steamer set-up only allowed a shallow water bath, I managed to boil it dry! This has mildly effected the outer layer on the underside of the pipe. It’s a bit darker.

For good measure I dribbled a bit of copper mordant on it as well. The effect was so strong that the white plastic pipe has now got leaf prints on it as well!

After unwrapping the scarf from the pipe, and following thorough wash it has come out rather well I think. Miles away from the boring grey one anyway!

George the cat approves of it as well!

George gives the finished scarf the seal of approval.


Quick to make T-Shirt tunic

In a flurry of energy today I made a T-shirt tunic out of some of my fabric stash. My stash is a pile of fabric that hunkers down in the corner, offering me enticing glimpses of exotic colours, textures and exciting new projects before my guilt makes me go and do the hoovering.

So today I said ‘hang the Hoover, dump the dishes, it’s time to SEW!’. And I did!

This is my variation of The Makers Atelier ‘Boxy T-Shirt’ pattern. I’ve lengthened the whole T-Shirt into a tunic, and made the back a little longer than the front. They advise using stretch interfacing to stabilise the shoulder seams, neck, cuffs and hem, and luckily I had some to hands – that’s the beauty of being a fabric hoarder.

The Makers Atelier patterns are easy sized and they encourage you to be inventive when using their patterns. I cut between the medium and large to get the fit I wanted. I considered altering the pattern by adding bust darts but am now pleased I didn’t bother. In a fabric with less drape that might still be a good idea for the future.

This cotton print Jersey fabric has been tantalising me from the depths of my stash for a few years. It was a remnant, so only just over a metre long and never quite enough for most things I considered. It had been expensive as it’s really good quality fabric so I didn’t want to waste it on something I wasn’t going to be happy with. All of which meant that it’s lain there waiting for its moment.

Now it is finally made-up into this tunic I am very pleased with it; this will be going on holiday with me. The Jersey won’t crease too adult and I can dress it up and ring the changes with linen trousers, Capri pants, leggings and even skirts I think. Plus it will work on the beach. Win-win I think!

It took me about 4 hours to make including cutting out the main fabric and interfacing, (oh and finding the interfacing which I had put somewhere totally illogical). The making was interrupted by the ‘incident of the bloody overlocker’ – when there was a ‘bang’ and the machine light went out. Well yes, I did panic, but it turned out that the bulb had gone ‘pop’ and blown the fuse of the overlocker at the same time. So it was easily repaired thank heavens. I hate it when my machines break.

Finishing off called for the coversew machine. I could have topstitched with a double needle on the sewing machine, but why have a coversew machine if you don’t use it? Threading it up is a bit of a pain but it sews a lovely hem, especially when the fabric is interfaced, so it was worth the bother.

I have a glow of achievement as I sit here blogging.

Wild Chalk: a celebration of the natural world of the South Downs

The South Downs are home to the Southdown breed of of sheep, the wool from which can be used for hand spinning. So to support the local Shout Downs national park and sheep farmers I joined several other members of my local spinning group, Woolly Umbrella, and took my skills (basic as they are) along to Wild Chalk. This free event, organised by the South Down National Park Rangers, was held in East Brighton park. Our part was to demonstrate spinning wool and encouraged people to have a go. I took along several drop spindles and a sack of washed fleece. Others brought along a spinning wheel, drop spindles and needle felting to share, plus an exhibition with some beautiful examples of naturally dyed, handspun wool. Most people were spinning the local Southdown fibre but mine, to my shame, was Texel cross Southdown.

As you can see children and adults alike really loved to watch, and most of them tried spinning from fleece to some extent or other.

I practised with a newly acquired Turkish spindle and using the Andean Plying technique even produced some reasonable 2ply.