Saturday, March 31, 2012

It Wasn't Hard at All *

In my last post, I showed you my freshly spun Bamboo/Merino/Bison/Cashmere yarn and talked about my dissatisfaction with the natural color.

I considered the color selection in Dharma Trading Co.'s acid dye, decided on Alpine Blue, and placed my order. I dug an old enameled stock pot out of the back of the cupboard, bought a cheap package of wooden spoons at Big Lots, and found my bottle of white vinegar.

A smarter woman would have done some experimenting first.  A more cautious woman might have practiced the process with some inexpensive commercial yarn, or wound off a small sample of the handspun for a color test.

I took time to read the instructions on Dharma's website, but then I threw caution to the wind.  I put my skein in a bowl of warm water to soak. I filled my stock pot and put it on the stove. I weighed out some dye powder, dissolved it in some hot water, and added it to my stock pot. I turned on the heat, added my wet yarn amd gave it a good stir. When the temp was just to simmering, I added a splash of vinegar, then let the pot simmer for 30 minutes. Then I pulled out the yarn and gave it a good wash and several rinses.
The Patron Saint of Reckless Women was smiling on me.

Want to see the results?
 turned into this..
I love the new color.  As expected, the bamboo did not absorb the dye the same way the wool, bison and cashmere did. It shines through as a paler shade of blue. The softness, sheen and drape I loved in the original yarn is still every bit as seductive.

Lessons learned:
  1.  I used far too much dye. The manufacturer recommended 1/4 oz for each pound of fiber. Since my skein was 2 oz, I figured I needed just under 1 gram of dye.  My digital kitchen scale really isn't accurate at such small quantities, so I can't be sure exactly how much I used. What I didn't account for is the bamboo.  It was 50% of my fiber blend. As a cellulose fiber, it does not take acid dye well, so I was really only trying to dye 1 oz of protein fiber. There was still lots of color left in my pot, so I know I did not exhaust the dye bath. Instead of pouring it down the sink, I poured it into mason jars.  I just can't bear to waste it (even though it's only about 50 cents worth of dye). I'm thinking I'll dig around the stash for some white wool to throw in.  Does anyone have any experience with re-heating a dye bath?  Am I asking for trouble here?
  2.  If I'm going to do much more dying, I need to get some rubber gloves.  The yarn needed lots of rinsing to get rid of excess dye - I'm guessing the bamboo was shedding the dye that was just on the surface and not bonded to the fiber. All that time in warm tinted water turned my hands a bit blue and softened my fingernails.
  3.  Fortune favors the brave. I'm so pleased with the results of this adventure.  I'm glad I didn't wimp out and decide to live with the original color.
* I almost changed the title of this post.  Instead, I'll just say to both my brothers, "Get your mind out of the gutter."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How hard can it be?

Five little words. Fourteen letters and a punctuation mark. How hard can it be? is the first step on a road that can lead to great triumph or epic disaster. Legend has it that these words were spoken when Alexis Xenakis, Elaine Rowley, and David Xenakis started Knitter's Magazine, launching the empire that has become XRX, Inc. Of course, the question has also led to many a house burning down as the result of an attempt to deep fry a Thanksgiving turkey.

I just finished spinning this...
Just over 350 yds of fingering weight 2-ply. The fiber is 50% bamboo, 30% merino, 10% bison and 10% cashmere from Louet which was given to me as a gift.

I love it. It is gorgeous. The bamboo gives it sheen, a cool hand and limpid drape, while the bison and cashmere make it soft like a kitten. It is conspicuously handspun, but not lumpy. It begs to be a delicate lace shawl or scarf.

There is only one problem: the color. The natural chocolate brown of the bison down makes the yarn a taupey beige.  Beautiful, but not a color that is flattering next to my face, unless skin the color of oatmeal is a new fashion trend I've not heard about.

I'm thinking about dyeing this yarn, maybe a rich sapphire blue. The problem is I've never done any dyeing. I feel a bit of trepidation. What if I screw it up? Could I destroy everything that is lovely about this yarn in the process of trying to alter the color?

But after all, lots of people dye yarn at home. Many even make money doing it. They can't be that much smarter than I am.

How hard can it be?

Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Tale of Two Sweaters - Part 2

A couple of months ago, I told you about the CVM/Romeldale fleece my friend Diane and I bought at the California Wool Festival. I showed you the wool when it came back all clean and fluffy from Morro Fleece Works. It's time for an update.
I finished spinning my half of the fleece last week.  I ended up with just over 2100 yards of yarn.  It is soft and springy and I an quite enamored.

 What's interesting, though, is how Diane and I have taken the same raw material and come up with two very different results.
In the middle is a staple length of the wool, ready for spinning. On the left is my yarn. On the right is Diane's. I spun a very airy woolen single with minimal twist, then made a 4-ply. With washing, the plies have fused into a lovely, cohesive yarn that knits like a dream. Diane spun a much smoother single, then plied it with a natural brown merino. The merino is slightly lighter in color than our CVM, and the 2 plies are much more clearly defined. Her yarn is also soft and elastic, but has a smoother surface, producing better stitch definition in the finished fabric.
Diane is knitting a gorgeous seed stitch pullover with staghorn cables. Sorry, no link to a pattern. Diane is designing this for herself, because that's how she rolls. You can see how her choice of yarn structure produced a cable that is crisply defined against the background texture.

My yarn is destined to make Crane Creek.
See how my woolen spun yarn makes a blurrier, less defined texture?
I'll show you both sweaters when they are done, but it may be awhile. Diane is nearly finished with hers, with only a sleeve and a half to go. My Crane Creek has not progressed past the swatch stage, and is likely to remain on hold for a while. I came back from Stitches West with tonnage of yarn for new design commissions (hooray!), so personal knitting is on the back burner.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Signs of Spring

In spite of the lack of a convincing winter, here are some sure signs of spring spotted in my neighborhood this morning...
Flowering plum trees
Japanese Magnolias
This weeks editing queue for the Spring/Summer issue of Twist Collective (live online April 16).
 I'd better get back to work.