17 July 2020

Dyeing Texsolv Heddles — success!

The experiment with Jacquard acid dyes taught me one thing quite clearly — acid dyes are not great on Texsolv. I should have known this already, as I know acid dyes work on animal fibers (wool, silk) but not on plant fibers (cotton, linen). While acid dyes work on nylon (think sock yarn), they aren't great on polyester. Texsolv heddles and cords are polyester.

So, maybe the answer was to find a dye that works on polyester?

Of course, I started by looking at The Woolery, Paradise Fibers, Yarn Barn of Kansas, Susan's Fiber Shop, Earth Guild, and other usual suspects. Not a lot of luck.

It turns out, the answer was almost in my own backyard about three miles away at Hobby Lobby and WalMart.

Let me preface this by saying I rarely go in either of these stores. In particular, I probably hadn't been in that super WalMart in close to a decade. I'm almost surprised the bank didn't call to ask if my debit card had been stolen after I shopped in both places the same week. They both carry Rit DyeMore, although in different colors. I bought super pink, apricot orange, daffodil yellow, peacock green, Kentucky sky, sapphire blue, and royal purple.

Apparently, DyeMore is a relatively recent product. Rit dye is an old standby going back decades. With the rise of fast fashion and convenience fabrics, many (most?) Americans are purchasing clothes made from man-made fibers. Traditional Rit dye isn't optimized for those fibers. But DyeMore is specifically made for synthetics such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon.

I reset the heddles by giving them a good soak overnight, to remove as much of the Jacquard acid dye as possible. I went to my local Goodwill store and bought a small saucepan for a few dollars. I marked the handle clearly with "dye pot not food-safe." Then, I followed the directions on the bottles. (Basically, simmer in water just below boiling with a little dye for about 30 minutes. See the official Rit YouTube video here.) The yellow took a little time to strike. The purple and blue struck almost immediately — I could barely pull the heddles out in time to prevent them from becoming darker than I wanted.

I used some of the colors straight. Others, like the green, I shifted by adding yellow, as I wanted a more yellow-green than a blue-green. Ideally, you want not just a variation in hue between adjacent shafts but also value.

The final result is very pleasing!

I haven't yet found time to dress my loom and weave, but I'm looking forward to it. And with the shafts and the heddle cords dyed-to-match, I should be able to stay on track just by following the color-coding. If this works as I expect, I can use the ample leftovers to dye my 8-shaft loom.

16 July 2020

Dyeing Texsolv Heddles — unsuccessful approach

As the change tsunami rolled through my life last year, it washed away many old things, but also washed in some new things. One of those is a 16-shaft 32-inch-wide Ashford table loom.

When I first started weaving, I quickly realized what intrigued me was the complex structures. I am particularly fond of doubleweave and advancing twills. Complex twills are shaft-greedy structures. I soon upgraded my four-shaft table loom with an 8-shaft expansion kit. Then I discovered I always seemed to want to weave something slightly wider than 24-inches. So I bought the 32-inch loom and sold my 24-inch loom. But I still had only eight shafts. I even wrote to Ashford and asked if they ever made the 16-shaft model in the wider width. I only ever saw it offered in the 24-inch width.

Well, apparently Ashford made a run of 16-shaft looms in the wider width in early 2018. And I, somehow, did not get the memo. By the time I learned about it, they were all gone.

And then representatives from Ashford were at Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in 2018. I happened to put my snowflake twill full-body pillow in the skein and garment competition. The pillow was made from the ubiquitous Aunt Lydia's crochet cotton. It turned out well; and I wanted other weavers to see that this inexpensive big box store yarn could work for hand weaving. The pillow won a blue ribbon. That gave me a chance to ask the Ashford people in person if I could please have a 16-shaft loom in the 32-inch width? Pretty please?

By spring of 2019, Lisa at Yarn Junkees in Hoschton, Georgia, was able to place the special order. It still took several months for the loom to arrive. I finally picked it up in August, just a few days before Dragon Con.

By this time, I've figured out a few things about the Ashford table loom. One of them is that a forest of white Texsolv heddles is difficult to thread. When you have only four shafts, it is fairly easy to see where shafts 1 and 4 are. Shafts 2 and 3 are the only point of obvious confusion. But when you have eight shafts, telling the difference between shafts 3, 4, 5, and 6 simply by three-dimensional visual perception is trickier. I know trying to thread sixteen shafts will be a challenge.

If I were doing this for an eight-shaft loom, I would leave the first and last shaft un-dyed and use the colored heddles in rainbow order across shafts 2 through 7.

Since I have sixteen shafts, I'm breaking the sequence into groups of four.
1 = white
2 = fuchsia
3 = pumpkin
4 = sun
5 = white
6 = kelly
7 = turquoise
8 = lilac
Repeat sequence for shafts 9 through 16.

If I simply did the 8-shaft sequence twice, I'd end up with shafts 8 and 9 both being white, which would create confusion. I could also simply dye two more shafts (maybe light grey), which I might do later if this works well.

When I searched "dye texsolv heddles," I got surprisingly few results. Knowing not enough, I decided to give it a try anyway. I ended up needing multiple tries.

I started by using Jaquard acid dyes, since I have a whole set of those. Atlanta was still in summer weather, so I could sun dye outside — my preferred method. I can dye inside on the stove, but one of the things I love about sun dyeing is the protection from overheating the fiber. Since Texsolv is a manufactured fiber that will melt when exposed to excessive heat, solar dyeing is less mistake-prone than boiling on the stove top.

The heddles come tied together with twist ties. I was concerned leaving the twist ties in place would produce a tie-dyed effect. But, I also wanted to keep the ties, since that makes it easier to put the heddles on the shafts. My compromise was to re-tie all the heddles with sewing thread before putting them in the dye pots.

In this case, my dye pots are old glass salsa jars. I have a dozen I've kept for use as luminarias at Yule. I had some old citric acid leftover from a dye class. It was definitely old and discolored and possibly had some microbes growing in it. But, into the dye pots it all went. I used six colors — 620 hot fuchsia, 605 pumpkin orange, 601 yellow sun, 627 kelly green, 624 turquoise, 612 lilac. Each dye pot got four clumps of heddles (40 heddles in each clump) and two pairs of cords (4 total) for tying the shafts to the handles. The sixteen shaft loom has short cords for the front eight shafts and long cords for the back eight, so I dyed one pair in each color. In this way, the cords will help color-code the handles.

The color took a little, but with significant variability. So rather than saying Texsolv heddles can or can't be dyed, I would say they can be dyed but some colors will definitely work better than others. Also, there is a limit to how dark the colors are going to get. I wasn't happy with the results. And when I rinsed the heddles, the color seemed to wash away. And the orange got strangely brown.

Lessons learned:
1. Using old citric acid is probably a bad idea. The way the dye pots did or did not exhaust varied. (Notice the lilac dye exhausted but the other five did not.)

2. What it looks like in the dye pot is not necessarily what it will look like after rinsing. See how the blue looked saturated, but washed away?

Texsolv heddle in dye pot at end of day.

Turquoise heddles after rinsing — much less saturated.

3. Heating to make the dye set did not necessarily help. The orange turned brown.

After simmering on the stove top, orange turns brown?

4. Some colors definitely behaved better than others. But overall, the whole experiment wasn't great.

Final results varied in intensity and color fastness.

Tomorrow: a successful solution!

08 June 2020

Two-Color Double-Knitting with Only One Color at a Time

A question was recently posted to the Ravelry double-knitting group. The knitter wanted to work a typical two-color double-knit fabric but did not want to manipulate two colors at once. She wanted to know would it be possible to work the fabric using the slipped-stitch method?

While I think it is probably more efficient to work with both colors in one pass, it is possible to work each color individually.

Some caveats:
You want points at both ends — use double-pointed needles or circular needles.
If you like reading your knitting, it is tricky to read that second pass. You might want to set-up each row by inserting stitch markers at each color change.
This method is probably slower.

On the other hand, if you really can't stand carrying two colors at once or you are getting very different tension with each color, then working one color at a time may be worth it. You might find you better match the tension in both colors.

You will still need to move the yarn back and forth between the needles as you would for 1×1 ribbing or double-knitting with both colors manipulated at the same time.

The formula:
To work the next pair with the knit stitch in the color you are using, work knit 1, slip 1 purlwise with yarn in front.
To work the next pair with the purl stitch in the color you are using, work slip 1 purlwise with yarn in back, purl 1.

Another way to think about this is:
  • Move the yarn into position (to the back to knit or to the front to purl).
  • If the yarn is the correct color, work the stitch.
  • If the yarn is the incorrect color, slip the stitch purlwise (i.e. slide it over without changing its stitch facing).

I hope that helps!

28 May 2020

Book Review: Making Marls

When I bumped into Cecelia Campochiaro at STITCHES Salt Lake, I mentioned how much I loved her 2015 book Sequence Knitting. I asked if she was working on another book that would explore lace sequence knitting with yarn overs and other maneuvers. She enthusiastically replied she was working on a book about marls and was having a great time with it.

At that moment, I was a little disappointed. Marls? That's just holding two colors together to make a third color. I've done that in counted cross-stitch for years. How could anyone write a whole book about that? And it's such a simple concept. What could you find to say that would fill up a book?

For most of us, the subject of marling could hardly be longer than a magazine article. But, of course, in Cecelia's hands, the subject has unanticipated depth, complexity, and design possibility.

Making Marls is a large affair of the coffee-table book variety. There are plenty of photographs and charts. Most are large and easy-to-read. And there are many pages in the book where a 2-page spread explains one concept. Turn the page and the next two-page spread explores the next logical concept. The first few chapters set up marling — its history, how best to work with multiple strands coming from multiple sources, figuring out needle sizes, calculating how much yarn, following a pattern, and the like.

Where the book takes off is the thoroughness of thought given to the design possibilities. Chapter 3 "The Marled Look" goes into detail about contrast between strands. There are pictures of different effects with high-contrast and low contrast. The chapter also covers other considerations like should you ply the strands before you knit or just carry them together? It turns out, the look is not identical. How does an even marl (1 strand of color A with 1 strand of color B) look different from an uneven marl (1 of A and 2 of B). Does a 2 and 2 look the same as a 1 and 1 of the same colors? And then the book launches into a significant dive into color and value. By this point, I could see why Cecelia had been so excited! Making marls is similar to mixing paint colors.

Chapters 4 through 8 deal with different types of marling sequences (some of these we might call gradients or fades). Each chapter is a deep dive into the possibilities, illustrated with plenty of examples and explained with both text and tables. Cecelia proceeds logically through the possibilities, illustrating the Vulcan concept of complexity through simplicity. And the appendix contains tables to help you assess the possibilities if you have a dozen random skeins sitting around.

The projects are mostly simply — hats or scarves, often enlivened with a sequence knit pattern. Of course, if your fabric has plenty of color and value action due to the marls, texture and patterning would make the item too busy. Let's be nice to our eyes and not overwhelm them with action.

In addition to knitters, I would also recommend this book for spinners and weavers. Marling is basically optical mixing. "Making Marls" is not just a deep dive into combining yarn strands, but also a deep dive into combining color and value optically. Spinners make marls every time we ply yarns that aren't solid colors.

If you do read this book, take your time. Read a few pages. Let it sit in your mind. Think. Consider. Read a little more. In many ways, this tome is as much about the surprisingly complex results you can get from mixing yarns as it is about good design practice in general. And at the this point, I would pre-order anything from Cecelia Campochiaro.

10 May 2020

A Few Words About Lace in General

Galina Khmeleva's Russian lace class was not the only lace class I took at Georgia FiberFest in 2017. I also took a class called "Introduction to the History, Methods, and Styles of Lace Knitting" from Franklin Habit. Franklin talked about the various traditions including Shetland, Orenburg, and Estonian. In the class handouts he included charts of a motif typical for each tradition.

I keep notebooks of the handouts from the many classes I've taken. It is often useful to have swatches with those handouts. So, I decided to knit up samples from Franklin's class. The process got me thinking about lace in general.

First off, there is sometimes a distinction between lace knitting and knit lace:

knitted lace = action on both right side and wrong side
lace knitting = action on right side; mindless wrong side

Also, some laces are stockinette-based (knit on right side, purl on wrong side) and some are garter-based (knit on both sides). Garter tends to be bumpier, especially in large yarns. Traditions that use garter knit lace usually use a very fine thread worked at an open gauge, which naturally de-emphasizes the bumpy texture. On the other hand, garter stitch is reversible and lies flat without blocking. Stockinette has a flat right side but a bumpy wrong side. And stockinette curls. Many stockinette-based patterns will have a border of garter stitch to counteract the curl. For fun, I knit up the Shetland Tree Diamond in acrylic yarn using all four options.

Shetland Tree Diamond chart

This is a pattern that utilizes left-leaning and right-leaning decreases. It has a double-decrease down the center and a purl wale down the center as well. (I am shocked at how that purl wale doesn't look like a purl wale in my samples.)

There are four ways of working from this chart:

garter knit lace
The garter knit lace is a little squat. Remember, this is acrylic yarn. I can't block it open the way I might with wool. The shape looks more like a shrub than a tree. And the garter stitch around the lace wants to pull down vertically, making the lace motif seem taller than the surrounding background. If this were worked in fine yarn at an open gauge, those problems would disappear. Having action rows on both side in garter stitch is how this motif would traditionally be worked in Shetland.

stockinette knit lace

stockinette knit lace, wrong side

The stockinette knit lace is not quite as squat as the garter knit lace. The lace motif wants to be taller than the surrounding stockinette background. But in this fabric, the lace motif pushes forward in sculptural relief. (This is part of why the wrong-side view is slightly out of focus, as the fabric pushed up off the scanner.) You would need to work in a loose gauge to be able to block this open in wool, but it might block close to square. Interestingly, I found both the right side and wrong side of the motif to be different but pretty.

Both the garter knit lace and the stockinette knit lace were more difficult to work than the lace knits. The array of yarn overs close together means working decreases into yarn overs from the immediately preceding row. It is awkward. More than once I somehow lost a yarn over and had to tink back a row and try again. But, it may be why both sides of the motif look okay in stockinette knit lace — working decreases into the yarn overs makes the purl bumps less bumpy?

garter lace knit

garter lace knit, wrong side

The garter lace knit is fairly square. Right away, this was much easier to work with that mindless knit-all wrong-side row. The pattern is close to square. The central spine is not as pretty as on the first two swatches. And the bumpiness of garter stitch is somehow more evident. I am thinking if I hadn't bothered with the purl wale down the center, I would have liked this better. And while the bumpiness is a little bothersome, it also looks a little like a beaded trellis on the right side. Once again, the wrong side looked surprisingly nice. I'm think that's due to the lacy nature of this pattern, rather than a feature of this type of lace knitting.

stockinette lace knit

The stockinette lace knit has a nice, crisp right side. Interestingly, the motif is taller than it is wide. You need to stretch the fabric width-wise to block the motif square. Unlike the lace knit versions, this motif generally stays within the plane of the background stockinette, rather than trying to push forward into relief. The wrong-side row was mindless purling. Of course, if your knit and purl tension are different, this can quickly lead to obvious rowing-out. An advantage of stockinette lace knitting is that it looks nice even at a larger gauge with sock-weight or even worsted-weight yarn. This is probably why myriad shawl patterns in sock yarn are written in stockinette-based lace, The right-side action rows produce a pretty pattern, while the wrong-side purl rows are mindless. And since there is always a row in between each action row, you never end up trying to decrease into a yarn over still on the needles.

If you are designing lace patterns, I suggest giving this experiment a try with a favorite motif. You may be surprised by what you get!