Woolly Umbrella, new website

I belong to a local community textile group, and we have just launched our new website. Please take a look and see what we have been doing. Of course that has not been a lot since April 2020 as much of what we do involves going to outside events to share skills and demonstrate.

Lets hope the coming year will allow us to start doing this again. Meanwhile we have been meeting (in 6’s only) during the summer to spin outdoors, but the latest lockdown, along with the colder, shorter days has put a stop to that. Online meetings are OK, and I have organised a few, but its not the same!

We hope to be able to take ourselves along to demonstrate natural dyeing, eco dyeing, spinning, and fibre preparation at Bentley Wood Fair near Ringmer in September. Allan will hopefully demonstrate his fascinating nettle fibre preparation methods, and we will all be suitably masked and socially distanced of course.

Colour-changing yarn spun from a distaff

I’ve had a number of different colour hand dyed carded batts sitting waiting for me to find inspiration. They are all from fleece I have scored and carder myself, so are a mix of Shetland, Suffolk and Texel, with maybe a little Alpaca blended into some of them. Some are in 200g amounts, some less. I’d got a bit stuck about how to use them until I saw a useful tip by Anna from my spinning group that she has put on YouTube.

Before you start, select a group of colours that work together. After a designing session during which I wrapped different colours together, I chose five: orange, pale green, mid blue, pale blue and lilac.

Anna used a combination of hand dyed and commercial roving, but the principle is the same with your own carded batts.

1. First of all split the roving/batt into the required lengths, (I just used the whole length of the batt of my drum carder).

2. Then split each length lengthwise into 4, (or more, depending on the thickness of the roving/batt).

3. Next, lay out the colours lengthwise, next to each other in the order you want to spin them into yarn. Test this beforehand to see how they mix throughout one repeat of a yarn, and if this works for your chosen outcome, such as knitting.

4. Repeat the colour sequence three more times so you have a table full of ‘stripes’ of fibre. If you have more than four lengths let colour, carry on until all are used up.

5. Now this is the clever part. I have hand spun colour changing yarns before and got the sequence wrong because I put it all away in a box between spinning sessions. To keep the sequence do the following.

6. Take a metre + long length off ribbon and tie a pencil or empty pen across one end. This is your fibre-stopper. Tie a hand-sized loop on the other end. This is your distaff.

7. Starting at one end of the ‘stripes’, wind each length off fibre into a loose roll and slip the looped end of the ribbon through the centre hole. Carry on doing this, working methodically through the fibre lengths, keeping the colour order as mapped out in your ‘stripes’.

8. You will end up with a ‘necklace’ of colour ordered fibre rolls on the ribbon. Tie the ends together to stop the fibre sliding off.

The dyed fibre arranged on the ribbon distaff before spinning

Now to can put them in a box and they won’t get muddled. To start spinning, simply lift the necklace out, untie the ends, and slip the loop over your hand. It acts as a distaff and will hold your fibre nicely as you spin each colour.

Spinning the lengths into singles

What a great tip!

I plied the colour changing yarn with a single spun made from navy blue Corriedale. This made a lovely marl yarn that to me resembles stained glass windows. I can’t wait to see what it looks like knitted.

The plied yarn

Here is the link to Anna’s video

No sheep died for this rug.. (plus an update of new photos)

I made my first non-destructive, felted ‘sheepskin’ rug yesterday. Why I chose the hottest day of the year is beyond me. Well – it was meant to be a ‘sorting wool in the shade’ time, but a cotted mid-section of a pretty black Shetland fleece inspired me to take control and made something useful from it.

Floor rug or sofa rug, I can’t decide.

After cleaning as much VM as I could stomach from it – yes I know, I will live with the little bits forever now – I started to make the rug. I didn’t take any photos until it was done because it was a truly filthy job and I didn’t want to touch anything and needed a shower afterwards.

Update 13th August 2020

I made another one from a bi-coloured Shetland fleece and took a couple of photos,shown below

I laid the portion of fleece face down on the garden table and sewed together any holes – using wool yarn. I shaped it using this as well, so drew bits together and firmed up the edges.

After lifting the fleece I put an old net curtain on the table and then a layer of of bubble wrap, ( I have to fight to keep a stock of this as my husband throws it out when parcels arrive). On top of this I laid the firmed up fleece face down.

Next I laid layers from my own carded batts of black Shetland across the back. This wasn’t from the same fleece, but from last years equivalent. I did a quick and dirty carding session to get the batts, once through and no picking of bits etc. I criss crossed these to make a firmer backing. Over these I laid a thin layer from a batt of Blue Faced Leicester I had in my store cupboard.

Laying on the backing fibre

Over this I laid another old net curtain, and dribbled boiling water over it all, and some washing up liquid. Then I tightly rolled it around a pool noodle and rolled it back and forth lots of times – for a minute at least. This was the filthy part, as the dirt came out in spurts. Yuck.

Ready to roll
I find rolling the package really difficult as I’ve not got a large enough hard surface in the garden, so the table had to do. It would be a lot easier on decking or concrete.

I opened it all up, checked the felting and added more hot water and rubbed and kneaded any suspect places with a bar of soap to get them felting. The re-rolled for another minute, and repeated it all again.

Of course it still needed washing, which was another filthy job, but finally it was all done!

Drying it took a day in the sunshine. Now its on the sofa, yipee.

Spinning outdoors

Is it risque? It’s certainly liberating. Given the restrictions on meeting up indoors, going to the park seemed the the perfect way to meet up when we can’t go to our normal groups.

This is the second one I’ve organised and it was lovely way to spend a Friday afternoon. I took my portable Louet wheel and others brought wheels, drop spindles, knitting and crochet. And a picnic lunch!

Shade was mandatory as it was so hot, and we found a generous tree that have us a shady space big enough for plenty of social distancing.

I’m taking the photo…
So someone kindly took one of me

I took along a sack of stove-top rainbow dyed fleece as described on my Dyeing Wool page. It’s a little coarse, but in nicely formed locks, so I am flick carding it and spinning it quite thick for use in a rug, (maybe)?

Going for brighter colours

I’ve been dyeing a whole fleece into 100g lots mixing my own colours from primaries from Colourcraft acid dyes bought from George Weil.

I’ve gone into detail about this here, but the colours are zinging.

Pink, greens, dark red, yellow and orange. I’ve just completed a blue, but it’s still wet so will have to wait to be added later on. I added another batch of fleece to the finished due bath to exhaust it totally, which gave me a pretty pale blue.

Watch this space for the blues…

I’ve also tried stove-top rainbow dyeing. More about that can be found here.

Rub-a-dub-a-fleece

Washing (or scouring) raw fleece is not a quick job, I think that’s something all can agree on. It’s also surprisingly contentious. Everyone wants to tell to their method, and you gradually learn that different fleece require different scouring methods, so everyone is probably right!

So I’m going to write about my experience today.

I have been given a rather nice Shetland fleece. Rather nice that is, but filthy. The fleece is very greasy and every single lock is gummed together and dirty at the tip. Underneath however, you can see the gorgeous fibre hidden under the grease-trapped dust and poo.

It doesn’t look too bad here, but thankfully this is not smelly-vision
See what I mean about those yucky tips?

I gave some of it a good hot soak  yesterday with plenty of washing up liquid. The water was like oxtail soup (sorry if you like oxtail soup), but after a few rinses it seemed OK.

However, this morning’s inspection showed it to be still greasy and those dratted dirty and sticky tips were still gummed up.

Rather than transfer that gunk to my carder I reluctantly decided to re-wash the fleece. So more really hot water baths followed. The first was so hot I couldn’t put my hand in it, with loads of washing up liquid and a dose of washing soda to break the grease. I  always wash the fleece separated into small mesh lingerie washing bags. With this second wash, I opened each bag, one at a time under the water and teased the locks apart, concentrating on those dirty tips to loosen the greasy dirt.

Yes it was time consuming, bit surprisingly gratifying as the dirty came out quite easily with this method. I think because the fleece has just been sheared the dirt hasn’t had to much time to harden-off.

Now it’s drying out looks amazing and is so soft.

I’m itching to get spinning

Knitting and Wellness

Today met James McIntosh and Dr Thomas Ernst, inventors of the term ‘knititation’ and authors of Knit and Nibble. They had been invited to speak at the University of Brighton School of Art’s Centre for Arts and Wellbeing event, Knitting and Wellness.

When we first met, James told me that he had found The Knitting Book really helpful when he was teaching himself to knit – which was truly gratifying feedback. It’s nice to find out how people use and value my contribution to sharing knowledge.

James was first to speak, and he described his personal journey through depression and how knitting mindfully enabled his recovery and brought colour back into his life. Thomas discussed the science behind mindfulness and it’s aptness to knitting.

Nina Dodds, author of Invisible Jumpers, and I provided yarn and needles so that everyone who wanted to could knit during the event. We were gratified that everyone took up the opportunity!

This was my piece of knitting.

It was a great talk, entertaining and interesting. James and Thomas kindly gave me a copy of their book which I am reading this weekend.

At the end Thomas led a short mindfulness session, which was a new expressive for some of the audience. Hopefully we all left feeling refreshed.

Like James, and so many others, I find hand knitting keeps me calm; it’s repetitive movements bringing my attention back in a rythmic cycle. So now I’ve written this it’s time to take up my needles for a soothing session.

Long Buckby machine knitting club talk

Today I had a lovely day with Long Buckby Machine Knitting Club. They had asked me to come and talk about my book Translating Between Hand and Machine Knitting and gave me a wonderfully friendly welcome. This meant talking about my experiences as a machine knitter was like sharing with friends.

I met so many interesting people who have interests in common and was pleased to see some younger faces on the audience.

Janet Collins, Chair of the Knitting and Crochet Guild was there and spoke to the meeting about the recent amalgamation of the Knitting and Crochet Guild and the Guild of Machine Knitters. She also gave an impassioned plea for members to encourage younger people to become members. She told me that if the Guild is not offering what young knitters want, the way forward is to find out what they do want and make this an aim, otherwise the Guild will dwindle. As there are 1,500 members this would be a real shame.

I’m now on my way home feeling a warm glow from the kind words and the opportunity to meet genie machine knitters with so many skills.

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!