18 July 2012

Double Knit Sachets

It is almost time again for Christmas in July at The Whole Nine Yarns. I've missed the last couple years because I've been out of town during the event. The challenge is always to come up with a quick gift knit. Since I've been doing quite a bit of double knitting lately (see the soap sack), some double knit sachets seemed like a good idea.
The yarn is Classic Elite Soft Linen, which is a linen, wool, alpaca blend. The linen gives it crispness and structure, while the animal fiber gives it softness.

I came up with two different double-knit patterns. In the first, you start with Judy's Magic Cast-on, double knit the sachet, and bind off using purlwise grafting. The edges are rounded.
Since some people are not going to like the cast-on and the bind-off, I designed a second pattern with a crocheted cast-on and a three-needle bind-off. The difference is that a line of chain stitch goes all the way around the sachet. The edge is squarer and sharper.
It is this second pattern that will be available at Christmas in July, which is Sunday 22 July from 11 AM - 4 PM at The Whole Nine Yarns in downtown Woodstock. For $5 (to cover printing costs), you leave with a folder full of patterns for making knit or crocheted gifts. Most of the regular instructors will be in the shop that day to demonstrate the various techniques used in their patterns. And there will be several special guests as well! Sometime after Christmas in July, I'll post these patterns on Ravelry as a booklet download.

One final note, I stuffed one sachet with lavender and the other with cat nip. The cat nip version was very popular with the used knitter's cats!

10 July 2012

Pink Slime

You'll recall I used this burst of intense summer weather to dye some fiber. During the Independence Day holiday and following weekend, I spun that fiber up into yarn. I'm trying to decide whether or not this yarn can be labeled as "successful." I was aiming for a peachy-pink color that would emulate the traits of dewy European fairy-princess flesh -- pale, pink, soft, with a gentle glow.
Pink Slime/Gore/Road Kill hand spun, hand dyed, hand carded mohair
Yes, it really is this color, which is why I photographed it outdoors.
A couple things happened along the way. Firstly, the core fibers I dyed with pink lemonade Kool-Aid had quite a bit of brown kemp. The brown didn't show much in the rolags, but it did show when spun into the core singles. I didn't take a picture, but the core singles were noticeably both pink and brown, rather than just pink.

Also, the core singles required a lot of twist. Mohair is slippery! Duh! When spinning 100% mohair, it keeps drafting even when you think it should be done. I spun on a fairly high ratio and put in lots of twist. Otherwise I could tug on the yarn and it would draft.

Let me state right here it is not Jacey Bogg's fault that I am a poor corespinner. I took a two-day workshop with her back in April. It was very good and I learned a lot and if you want to improve your spinning skills, you will pounce with the enthusiasm of a cheetah chasing a gazelle if a similar opportunity is available to you. I also purchased her video Sit and Spin! and I've watched it repeatedly. And I own her book Spin Art and I've read it cover to cover. So I thoroughly recommend her. I think I take readily to knitting because it is intellectual. But I think spinning is much more physical. So much of spinning is feeling it in your hands. My hands just aren't that sensitive, so I just don't take to spinning with the same natural ease I feel for knitting. So this is not at all the teacher's fault.

Corespinning consists of a core (often a singles) and a layer of fiber wrapped perpendicularly around the core. It looks easy to do and I am pretty sure it is easy (for other people) to do. When you make a singles-based corespun yarn, it will by definition have some overtwist. A singles yarn, by definition, can not be balanced. But Jacey pointed out that if you corespun around a plied yarn, you should be able to have a balanced corespun yarn. So I decided to try that.

I encountered a couple of issues. You'll need one hand to hold the core plies as they come together. And you'll need a second hand to hold the cloud of fibers to be spun around the core. Depending on how you are used to holding singles during plying, you may need to hold your singles differently from your usual method.

I am also learning more and more that part of the secret to successful spinning is proper fiber preparation. My outer layer of pale yellow and pale pink fibers had been carded together by hand. They had become a little compacted, and midway through the spinning I ended up carding them again to open them up. For corespinning, you want your outer fibers to be a very loose cloud. The fibers should be sticking out like little feelers desperate to catch something.

Here's what I know now about corespinning as you ply.
To encourage the outer fibers to catch and wind on, hold the cloud at the back and let the front of the cloud brush against the plying core.
Keep the cloud against the core as you "draft" the core plies. If the core plies don't slip in your hand, then they don't turn. If they don't turn, the cloud doesn't catch and wind on. And if you move the cloud off the plies as you "draft," then the cloud fibers don't catch. You have to keep the cloud against the core as the plies twist together. (I have a lot of trouble with that part, as I tend to lift the cloud off the plies as I "draft!")
Try to keep the cloud perpendicular to the plying. If you start to draft it, you end up with a peculiar three-ply yarn instead of a corespun 2-ply. (I ended up with quite a bit of that!)
If your core and your cloud are the same color, it is hard to tell how much cloud is being spun.

The yarn was very compacted on the bobbin. It was also not balanced. So I balanced it using my trindle. As you can see from the picture, the yarn did begin to bloom.
More balanced and blooming on left, tighter on bobbin at right.
It looks pinker and prettier indoors than outdoors in full-spectrum light.

Because I really don't trust the fluff to stay put -- a little of it did come off during balancing -- I decided to shock the yarn during finishing in the hopes of fulling it slightly. I skeined the yarn and subjected it to my usual regimen of five minutes in the steamer to set the twist. I then moved it directly from the hot steam sauna into a bath of filtered ice water. It fluffed right up like an upset porcupine!

The final yarn is about 100 yards of wildly uneven, wiry pink mohair coated in a deceptively soft-looking but prickly layer of pink mist. And here's the rub: is it just me, or does this look like the color of mammalian innards? I just look at it and think pink slime or pink gore or road kill. Does anybody out there want to knit a road-killed armadillo or opossum? If doctors can bury their mistakes and architects can plant ivy, I suppose fiber artists can apply more Kool-Aid and call it art yarn?

03 July 2012

When Life Gives You 100°F Weather . . .

 . . . dye fiber!

I don't wander into politics too much on this blog, but it needs to be said that at this point, the arguments against the existence of global climate change are cold comfort. (There is, however, plenty to discuss about possible causes and what our responses should be.)

After that non-winter, I don't think there was a lot of surprise that summer came in with the fiery heat of a woman scorned. And I am giving a lot of thanks for all those lovely mature shady oak trees in my yard, thank you very much Atlanta developer who didn't denude my neighborhood in the 1970s. Still, there had to be something useful to do with all this heat. I've been thinking for awhile about dyeing some fiber, and had recently read this old Knitty article by Kristi Porter. She mentioned that you could dye yarn in the same way as making sun tea. So that's what I did.

Yellow and pink mohair, blended with hand cards.
My inspiration is a batt I suspect of being a wool and mohair blend. It contains both pale pink and pale yellow fibers. I hand carded the batt to blend the fibers into a gently glowing peachy mass of optical blending. If I had a drum carder, I'd probably run this through it a couple times to make an even better blend. I have some books about knitting dolls and I was thinking that a fancy hand-knit doll might be a fun, creative knit. This fiber might make lovely Caucasian skin. I want to core spin this batt. But I need a core.

At our May North Georgia Knitting Guild meeting, Lynne brought mohair from a friend who has goats that needed to be clipped. Several of us left the meeting with bags of free raw mohair. I put mine in a mesh bag and gave it a wash and rinse in the sink. I think I used Johnson's baby shampoo. Then I used wide-toothed pet combs to process the fiber. The longest locks were fairly easy to process, as I could hold one end and comb out the kemp and shorter fibers. Shorter locks were harder. I ended up with a small pile of silky, long white locks that are first rate -- glowing and glossy and worthy of the elves of Lothlórien. I ended up with a much larger pile of shorter, second rate fiber. The seconds include some fine, nice white fiber but also some brownish kemp. One of the nice things about this fiber is that the good stuff is mostly one color and the bad stuff is mostly a different color. With the correct equipment I could probably separate the two, but I haven't the correct equipment. There is also a small pile of long locks that are both white and brown. And there was a huge pile of waste. Since I'm looking for a core, the softness of the material is not a high priority. I'll save the two small piles of long, fine fiber for other projects. The waste went to the trash or the compost pit.

Second-rate mohair, fluffed but undyed.
The pink color at top is reflected light from the antique roll top desk.
While I ought to be able to just spin a core and cover it up, I'm not that certain of my core spinning skills. I decided dyeing the core pink might help. That way, even if the core shows through the peachy-colored fibers, the yarn will still look good. I soaked the 49g of mohair in water with two lemons' worth of strained juice added. I shouldn't need to add juice, but I wanted to be sure the whole mixture was plenty acidic. After an hour or two, I drained off a little of the water and took the bowl of fiber and lemon water outside. I mixed up a packet of pink lemonade Kool-Aid in a fairly intense half-cup mixture. I then poured the dye into the bowl. I swished it around a bit, and then placed a piece of clear plexiglass on top. Then I went inside while everything baked in the sun.

After an hour or two I checked the mixture. The dye didn't take evenly -- probably because I didn't swish the mixture around enough. It also wasn't as dark as I wanted, so I mixed up a second packet of pink lemonade Kool-Aid. This time I pulled the fiber out of the water, added the dye, stirred it, and then put the fiber back in. I put the plexiglass back in place and went back into the air-conditioned house.

When I checked in another hour, the water was clear. All the dye had soaked into the fiber! I tilted the bowl and let the water run down the driveway. I left the fiber sitting outside in the bowl for the rest of the afternoon so that it could dry. Then I brought it indoors. Later, I put the fiber in a mesh bag, gave it a soak in the sink to rinse, and hung it up to dry in the guest bathroom.

Pink lemonade mohair, after dyeing. Not a natural strawberry blonde.
A few days later after it was dry, I needed to process it again. For one thing, the fibers had begun to felt. Ack! I used the wide-toothed pet comb to open up all the fiber again. The dye penetration was a little uneven, again, probably because the fiber was packing down as it tried to felt and also because I didn't stir the mixture. I used my hand cards and in under two hours was able to card all the fiber into nice little rolags. I did roll them to be parallel with the fibers rather than perpendicular, as I want a semi-worsted rather than a semi-woolen yarn for my core.

Pink lemonade mohair, processed into roses of rolags, ready to spin!
After all that, I'm ready to spin this pink mohair into a two-ply core. And I won't be shy about playing with Kool-Aid in the sun. It was fun!