Thursday, December 31, 2009

Weaving from the Viking Era

My third project from the Fall 2009 issue of Handwoven Magazine is off the loom and has been distributed as Christmas Gifts to a few special relatives and friends. The Viking Era Twill Towels were a big hit and were some of my best weaving to date.

There were six towels on the warp, and I wove them with alternating weft colors so I would know where one stopped and the next one started. Half the towels have a light blue weft and the others have a cactus green weft.

The towels are from 2/8 Cotton set at 24 epi. This made a firm fabric which should be perfect for the job they need to do.

My towels finished at 15" wide rather than the 16" that the author got. The finished length was also shorter - about 22" after hemming each end with a 5/8" hem rather than the 24" long for the original.

It did take me a bit to get into the rhythm of the treadling. I found I had to pay close attention to what I was doing to get the treadling sequence correct and to catch the floating selvages properly. That meant no podcasts while I wove, so I am woefully behind on a lot of my favorites.

My Husband still does not understand why anyone would weave dishtowels. I have told him that they are wonderful to use. Besides, they are a great way to explore weave structures, yarns and setts.

All in all this was a fun project that inched me along the learning curve to being a real weaver.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting Footprinted

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending a hand knitting seminar with the inspirational Cat Bordhi. Cat is known for her innovative designs for scarves, bags and socks. It was Cat's first book on socks - Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles - that actually got me to try socks again after a disaster on double points that left me with two socks, knit the same, but totally different in size.

Cat's latest book - Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, is about yet another new approach to socks. The socks involve no math, no short rows and no partial knit rows. Every row is knit in the round. The fit is perfect!

The socks are personalized for the wearer, and the initial sock is developed as a foot map - or footprint template is created. Once the template is developed, it can be used over and over for more socks for the same person.

In class, Cat coached us as we developed our templates. Most of us found that we needed fewer stitches for our feet than the traditional sock pattern calls for. My Socks That Rock yarn, knitted on size zero needles, needs only 48 stitches to fit my foot.

My leg opening needs 60 stitches. It would not be easy to do this with a standard sock pattern, but in a Footprint Sock it is no problem at all! This also explains why some socks give me such a poor fit.

Footprints socks are cast on at the toe, with a very simple cast on. The toe is increased, and when it is big enough, the foot is knit straight to the first increase point. This point varies from person to person based on the topology of their foot. Some people's foot gets thicker toward the ankle very quickly, while others, like mine have a gradual slope.

When increases are needed, they are done randomly or in a pattern on the sole of the sock. This leaves the top of the sock free for whatever designs the knitter wants to incorporate. The number of increase points and increases varies from person to person. The increase points and reference lines are marked on the template by trying the socks on the template. Subsequent socks only need to be tried on the template to see where the increases and other maneuvers are needed.

Once the increases are complete, the socks are knit straight to the leg opening point. This point is at the center of the leg. The correct sock length is found by trying on the sock and stretching it at the sides until it reaches the center point of the leg.

At that point, the row is marked on the top of the sock with a marking thread. One more row is knit, and a second marking row is added. The leg opening is later cut, stitches are picked up and the leg is knit up from the opening.

Knitting continues to the heel point where the heel is decreased in a similar manner to the toe. The opening is closed later with a three needle bind off.

In addition to the easiest toe ever, Cat showed us a very stretchy bindoff that will be useful for not only socks, but for any bindoff that needs to be very stretchy. This bindoff will get lots of use, I am sure. Cat has videos of this bindoff and other techniques in the sock on YouTube.

I confess, I probably would not have tried this method for making socks unless someone made me sit down and do it. Putting this much effort into what amounts as a "sock swatch" is not my nature.

In class, I managed to get my initial footprint knitted almost to the leg opening point. Last night, I knitted almost to the heel decreases. Once the footprint is done, I can open the leg and add the cuff. Then I have to do the second sock - not my strong suit for sure. The next pair of these will definitely be done two at a time.

I have to say that so far the fit is the best ever! I think I am going to love these socks.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saving Mr. Greenjeans

In 2008, I made a sweater published in Knitty called Mr. Greenjeans. I knitted it from my handspun yarn. I started trying to wear it, but it kept slipping down my shoulders. The fit was terrible, and so I decided to give it away. I promptly just forgot about it. The decision was made, and that was that. It was in the give away pile, however, I am very slow to actually get the box together and give something away.

Last week, at my Monday knitting group, one of the ladies brought in a sweater, knit sideways from garter stitch. The yarn was beautiful, but she was really unhappy with the fit of the sweater. She said when she put the sleeves in, that it was just weighted down, and the fit was terrible. We discussed ways to fix it so she could wear it.

The problem was all the weight of the yarn stretching out the garter stitch - which likes to grow and grow and grow. It needed to be stabilized, so we suggested crocheting a neckband to give the neck stability and stop the garter stitch from stretching. We discussed how in sewing, that a lot of stabilization is put in the neck and shoulder area, since that is the foundation that the garment literally hangs from. Sweaters don't get this stabilization, but unless the yarn is very light weight, they need something. Machine knitters often crochet a chain across the back neck, and apply the neckband over the chain. The chain helps keep the back neck from stretching.

A couple of days later, I was still thinking about that pretty sweater, and I thought that perhaps adding a slipstitch row of elastic thread would help it. Then I had an a-ha moment. That was what Mr. Greejeans needed. Maybe that sweater could also be saved.

So today, I went digging in my sewing notions and found some black elastic thread. I slip stitch crocheted with the elastic through the row where I added the neckband on the inside of the sweater. I actually did two slip stitch rows on top of each other. Then the neckband seemed a little floppy, so I did the same thing about two rows down in the ribbing from the top. I put a stitch in each purl stitch and skipped the knit stitches. In the photo, you can see where I put the elastic. It does not show at all from the outside.

I tried the sweater on, and was delighted with the new fit. The neck is now stable and I think the growing problem is solved. Mr. Greenjeans has been saved.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Drop by Drop

For several months, I have been planning a warp for the Summer and Winter Kitchen Towels in the Handwoven E-Book "Top Ten Towels on Four Shafts". In fact since June, five skeins of yarn have been scoured and waiting on the cabinet in my utility room. The time has long since passed to get them off the cabinet.

The thing that has stopped me is the number of colors of yarn that are required. The towels use five different colors of 5/2 cotton plus white. I had exactly one of those colors - white.

When I started weaving, I decided I would try to dye many of the colors called for, since I do not want to add to the large supply of yarn that I have already. The problem is I have no formal art training, so my color mixing knowledge relies heavily on what I learned from finger paints in kindergarten.

For this project, my challenge came in mixing some colors that were close to the colors used in the original pattern - although I am sure other colors would be equally pretty. I really struggled over how to mix some of the colors especially the "California Gold". I had the yellow part down, but was not sure how to get the gold part. I also needed to mix a "Dark Turk" color and a coral color.

From my earlier fiber reactive dye experiments, I learned that the mixed dye solutions can be painted onto watercolor paper, and the dried samples are pretty close to what the actual dyed cloth or yarn will be. Someplace, I also saw that a coffee filter can be substituted for the paper. So, I decided to mix a gradation of the colors between two colors in 9 steps, and try out the coffee filters as a place to preserve my samples.

I used a watercolor mixing palette, and put drops of Deep Yellow in the indentations with an eyedropper. In the first indent, I put one drop, in the second two drops and so forth all around to the last one which got 10 drops. Next, I used Chocolate Brown dye solution and in the indentation with one drop of Deep Yellow, I put 9 drops of Chocolate Brown. The two drops of yellow got 8 drops of brown and so on around. I did not put any brown in the indentation that had the 10 drops of yellow. So each basin had a total of 10 drops of dye, giving a simple formula that can be used to mix larger quantities of that same color.

Next I used a paint brush to paint little samples of each color all around the coffee filter. Now I have a good idea about how to get that California Gold color, or rather my interpretation of it, for the warp for the towels. I also have samples of the colors that can be mixed from these two colors and a rough idea of how to get the color I am aiming for.

I repeated this sampling with the rest of the dye solutions I had mixed up. Now I have lots of color samples to use for a quick reference the next time I dye yarn or fabric.

I dyed the yarn which had been scoured and skeined for three months. It is now curing in my hot water heater closet. I will be rising it in a couple of days, so soon, I will be ready to wind the Summer and Winter Towels Warp. I also dyed some muslin for my She-Knits Autumn Mystery Bag which is felted and waiting for a lining.

This was a fun exercise. It made me think of the art classes I did not get to take. I really do have a lot of colors hiding in a few jars of dye powder.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Drop in the Bucket Stash Busting

The Fall 09 Handwoven magazine contained at least four projects that appeal to me. The first one, the Budget Bamboo Shawl is off the loom already. Since the weaving weather is very good for being in my non climate controlled studio, I have rushed to get another project on the loom from the Fall 09 issue.

The new project is the Stash Busting Placemats which is now warped and the weaving is in progress. The sad thing is that I don't think my stash will actually see a big reduction. In fact, I think I have a net increase in stash since I did not have the 8/2 cotton used in the warp for these mats - so that FORCED me to go shopping closeouts at Webs.

However, I did uncover a cone of Cotton Flake in my stash that is going to give these just the look I wanted. I love the colors of this flake. The mats, in progress, are looking just the way I envisioned them. They are going to make a nice gift for someone on my Christmas list.

For the warp of these, I used one strand of navy blue and one strand of chocolate brown. In the weft I have 2 strands of navy blue, one strand of chocolate brown and 3 strands of the cotton flake. Laura Fry, the designer, used two strands of Cotton Flake in her sample, but I wanted mine a bit more hefty so I have opted for 3 strands.

The pattern did not really talk about how many picks of plain weave to use after the hemstitching, so I chose 3 for a total of 6 picks of plain weave. The pattern is a broken twill and I really love it. It is making a nice fabric for a busy yarn, so I will probably use this draft again

I have one mat woven and am ready to hemstitch the second one.

I am already queuing up the next project from this Handwoven issue. I can mind weave really fast. Too bad the weaving goes much slower or my stash might actually be in trouble!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Off the Loom

My Budget Bamboo Shawl is complete! It is off the loom, fringed, washed and pressed.
It was a fun project - one of those that made me want to do more weaving. The finished fabric is soft and very drapey.

It wove very quickly. I analyzed the tie ups and draft and discovered that I really only needed 3 treadles tied up. I rearranged those so that when my shuttle was on the left, I used the far left treadle, and when my shuttle was on the right, I used either the fourth or sixth treadle depending on where I was in the weaving sequence.

Other treadles were tied up in the draft, but they were for weaving some alternate designs with the same pattern. I decided to stick to the treadling sequence used for the sample in the magazine, after I looked at the alternates in my weaving software.

I bought 6 balls of the Aunt Lydia's Bamboo Crochet yarn and used most of 5. It took almost all of 3 balls for the warp, and 2 balls for the weft. I tried to pay attention to the 15 ppi which meant a light touch on the beater.

I did make a few weaving mistakes that I did not catch while I was weaving. I would have unwoven a ways to correct then if I had seen them. I will chalk this up to being a beginner - although with each project complete, I am farther along the path to being a real weaver.

I don't think the mistakes will matter in the long run, and I will improve next time.

As far as I know, I am the only one in our Weave Along who is done with the shawl. I don't think the others have their warps on the loom yet.

I am planning my next project already. I have my sights set on the Stash Buster Placemats in the same issue of Handwoven (Fall 2009). I really love this issue of Handwoven. After the placemats are done, there are still 2 more projects in that issue of the magazine that I want to try.

These projects will all end up as Christmas presents. I just hope I can get done before the cold weather hits because then my '"weaving studio (a. k. a the garage) " becomes too cold to use.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Blame it On Charlene

In September, Peggy, Kate Faye and I went to the Cajun Lagnaippe Fiber For'em. This is a nice little fiber festival held at a camp in southwest Louisiana.

The For'em features lots of great classes including Weaving, Bobbin Lace, Sock Machine Knitting, and Machine Knitting taught by Yours Truly. The teacher of the Beginning Weaving Class, Charlene, had this bamboo shawl as one of her samples. She wove it from the directions in the September/October 2009 Handwoven Magazine, called the Budget Bamboo Shawl.

The shawl is made from Aunt Lydia's Bamboo Crochet Cotton. It is woven in Bronson Lace (new for me). The yarn costs less than $15. It is available at Wal-Mart, JoAnn's and Hobby Lobby.

Charlene had deviated from the pattern and used a cream color for the warp and white for the weft, and the subtle difference gave the shawl lots of depth. Kate, Peggy, Faye and I all loved it, so we decided we would all weave it in a Weave A Long or WAL.

So, we all got the yarn and two Wednesdays ago at spinning we began winding our warps. I was able to finish winding mine, and I believe that Kate and Peggy have theirs wound too.

This week, after finishing my Scarf Jail Scarves (that is a whole nother story), I began warping my loom. The loom is a very old Le Clerc Nilus that I think was made in the 1950's or 1960's. It was a school loom, and I am sure could tell lots of stories if it could talk.

I am a process person, so I am always looking for a new twist on stuff. Never mind that I am a beginning level weaver with less that a dozen warps under my belt. Last year I ordered the Singing Weaver's (Nadine Saunders) Warping on a Shoestring video, and I also ordered Peggy Osterkamp's Warping from the Back Video, as well as her book on warping. So, armed with all this information, I decided to branch out (since I am so NOT an expert on warping from the front of the loom) and break out my new raddle to put this warp on from the back using a combination of Peggy and Nadine's techiques.

Nadine uses shoestrings for lots of things when she weaves. She ties the warp to the back apron with shoe strings, and she also ties the warp to the front apron rod with shoestrings. It takes a bunch of shoestrings for her technique and I had shopped Ebay and ordered mine last spring from someone who had some close outs (can't imagine why red and green plaid sparkly shoe laces would have been on close out). I think I paid less than $10 for 40 pairs. You can see them in the photo and even see the glitter!

So, the photos show my warp going on the loom from the back with the raddle in place (Peggy O does this a little differently and I might try her process next time). It also shows my completed tied on warp and glittery shoestrings!

A gadget I got, that I highly recommend is the Auto Reed Hook. This tool is a must have - though a little expensive, it is well worth it. This was the first time I had used it. That hook cut my reed threading time by 2/3rds at least. I LOVE it. If you are a weaver, put it on your Christmas list.

So today, I tied the warp on to the front beam with the shoelaces and a snitch knot a la "Warping on a Shoestring". I found it very easy to remove the knots and correct the two crossed in the reed threads, and I believe I am now ready to weave the shawl.

As a side note, two errors in the threading is the least I have ever had! I must be improving with time in the chair.

The next thing to conquer is hemstitching since the shawl is hemstitched on both ends, and you start with the hemstiching before the weaving.

I will be weaving on the shawl tomorrow!

Peggy, Faye, Kate and Marlene get busy! I want to see your progress. This is a Weave-Along, not a Weave-Alone!

Charlene, see what you have started?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shade Tree Knitting Machine Mechanics

A very common problem with Brother and Knitking knitting machines is as they age, the fairisle button becomes glued to the thread lace button by old oil and grease. My favorite machine has been suffering from this malady, and with no knitting machine service people in the area, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I thought maybe someone else might benefit from this information, so I am breaking my blogging silence.

Now one thing that does work on this problem every time I am aware of is to remove the carriage from the machine and warm up the center bottom of the carriage with a hairdryer for about a minute, then retry the buttons. Repeat a couple of times if needed.

I have used the hairdryer, with success, on this particular carriage. The problem is that the gunk rehardened and the button restuck, so more drastic measures were called for. My Bulky machine had the very same problem, and I used the hairdryer on it. After nine months the buttons are still working properly, so the hairdryer is the first thing I would recommend.

If you want to try this, you are on your own, I just want to make that perfectly clear. I am not going to accept any responsibility for your results.

Things can definitely go wrong, and if you are not 100 percent confident, then you best leave this for the experts. We still have a handful of folks in the Machine Knitting Repair business, and I suggest you send your carriage to them if you are not mechanically minded.

I have NO Knitting Machine Mechanics training. I have been thinking about doing this for literally months and have studied everything I could find on the subject, including the 930 Service Manual and the one website I found with photos of something very similar on a different machine.

So, if you are still with me, here is how I unstuck my fairisle button:

I used a flat head and Phillips screw driver, a container to hold the screws and parts, a container for some mineral spirits also known as paint thinner, a bristle brush, some news paper, some paper towels, Q-tips and Formula 409 cleaner.

  1. I removed the carriage and the presser plate. Then I unscrewed the handle. My machine has a motor drive, so the handle is attached by a bracket. For most machines the handle is held on by long screws.

  2. I turned the tension dial to past zero to help line everything up later. I made sure the Hold button was all the way at the left. The release button should be at the left naturally.

  3. Carefully, with the flat blade screwdriver I pried up around the center white disk. This disk is held on with delicate plastic feet, and I was very careful with it. If a foot breaks, it will not stay in place and I would be guessing about my tension. I also know a lot of this old plastic is very fragile.

  4. Next I removed the screw in the center of the tension dial and lift the dial and the small center disc straight off.

  5. I turned the carriage over and removed the two screws that connect the cover to the business part of the carriage. On every carriage I have examined these screws are gold colored, but that may not be true always. There are lots of screws here and removing the wrong one would mean a trip to the repair person, so I was extremely careful.

  6. Next I poured a little mineral spirits into a small container (I was in a well ventilated area), and applied it to the center area and edges of the carriage. I worked with all the buttons. I let it sit for a few minutes, then wiped off the excess and repeated. I kept working with it, and soon the farisle button button was unstuck! Then using the Q-Tips, I carefully wiped off the gunky areas of the carriage. I did not want to knock anything loose!

  7. So, all that remained was to reassemble the carriage cover and knobs and switches. There are a couple of tricky bits here. First thing I did was to wipe off the interior of the cover with the Formula 409 and a paper towel, just to get all the sticky residue that I could

  8. Next, the hold button and the release lever go back into place on top of the carriage. Then place the cover over the carriage insides and reattach with the golden screws.
    I checked all the levers and buttons to see if they were working, and found out the intarsia feature would not engage, so I had to take the golden screws back out and try again. The next time everything worked. I have a photo here so you can see the placement of the levers.

  9. Next I replaced the tension disc. Since I turned the dial as far as it would go before I started, I knew the position was correct.

  10. The small disc that goes under the screw was a little tricky to get back on. The "bump" goes up, and The notch goes at the bottom. The notch will line up with the red line on the center plastic disk when it is snapped carefully back on. I was careful to line up the notch first then gently snap in the disk. I was still worried about those fragile feet!

  11. All that remained was to reattach the handle and I was done with this repair!

I hope that my experience helps someone else. It was not too hard to do, and since we Brother/Knitking People are now on our own, we have to help one another when the repairs are fairly simple.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Art of Front Loader Felting

If you get one of the new High Efficiency front loading washing machines, you will notice that your clothes are suddenly a whole lot cleaner and seem much dryer when they come out of the wash than they did when all you had was your top loader. The new machines use a lot less water than the top loaders and they are much more gentle on your clothes. They have a computer in control that evaluates the load and decides how much water to use and how much washing is really needed.

When you tell your knitting friends who do not have a front loader yet, about your new acquisition, I bet the first thing you hear is that it is nice for you to have a modern machine, but to forget felting your knitting ever again - unless it is something that you don't want felted!

Well, friends, do not despair. You can felt in your front loader, but you will have to be more determined than before. Felting in the front loader is even more of an art than it used to be in the top loader, because the first thing you have to do is outsmart your smart washing machine! Things probably won't felt in 5 minutes like before - it may take one or two complete cycles to get the look you want.

I would tell you to start by reading the book that comes with the machine so that you understand all the settings, but my experience is that the books are totally worthless and do not cover how to take control of your washer. For example, my washer - an LG brand - will spin out without spraying water if I just turn it on, and select the spin speed I want then press the start button. This is not documented anywhere in the book that came with it. Someone on the Internet made this discovery and shared it on one of the lists I read in response to my whining.

Felting wool requires heat and agitation - and your agitation does not count. Since the washer computes how much water to use, if you just put your item to be felted in, with nothing else, don't expect much felting to occur - unless the wool felts super easy. So, find out how to run your load with really hot water. One item is not going to create much agitation either.

Get yourself some felting helpers to build a load that will definitely cause some agitation as well as adding weight to the load to fool the computer into thinking that you have a big load - and thus need more water.

I have some items that I keep just for my felting loads. My recipe consists of one dozen tennis balls. The photo shows them in a mesh bag, but I dump them loose in the machine when I felt. Add to the balls, one pair of old jeans (or more) a pair of flip flops, one old towel (or more) and an optional pair of old tennis shoes. Now you have an agitating load!

The next thing you have to do is experiment a little - remember this is an art and all front loaders are not created equally plus different wools felt at different rates. The best thing to do is to make a swatch (this is not a dirty word!) and felt it using the concoction you have assembled to do the deed.

Wet your swatch and don't squeeze out too much water. I have found that a wet swatch felts faster than a dry one. I guess it is because no wash water is wasted getting it wet, and you get a fast temperature change - one of the felting keys.

Put your swatch in a zippered pillow cover then into the wash. Don't forget to add a little soap , Dawn or Synthropol (not detergent since it contains whiteners). Set your machine on hot or Sani-Wash and let her rip! The swatch needs to be at least 6 inches wide and long so you are getting something to work with.

In my front loader, I can usually get a satisfactory felted item in one wash cycle for most wools, but for others it takes two cycles. I have found I have to use the Sani-Wash cycle to get really hot water most of the time. I also pick a long cycle, although some people say that it is the temperature changes that cause the felting to occur, so a shorter cycle might work too.

Felting time does vary with the wool used. I had one commercial yarn that felted well in my machine with half of a normal hot wash cycle. A long hot cycle would have ruined this project. My favorite handspun wool takes two to three Sani-Wash (extra hot and long) cycles to make suitable felt. So, experience is the best teacher, and when in doubt, swatch and felt the swatch.

Once your item is felted to your liking, pull and stretch it into shape over a box and or towels or other stuffing that makes it the right size. Then let it dry.

If you want to read a good felting reference, I suggest either of Kathleen Taylor's books on felting - Knit One Felt Too or I Heart Felting. She has some great information about swatches and felting in both of those books. She does not have front loader specific stuff though.

Good luck with your felting projects!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rockstars and Space Bags

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is the largest Fiber Festival of it's kind in the United States. Since shortly after I began spinning in 2003, I knew I wanted to go. This was my lucky year.

I have a spinning friend in Virginia, Julie, of Julie's Handspun Yarns, who I get to see rarely. Julie invited me to come and stay with her and attend the festival. I felt so lucky to have a guide and I left the planning up to her. I felt so lucky to have an experienced guide for the festival. I wanted to be sure I did not miss anything important, and I know Julie would be sure I didn't.

So, the Thursday before the festival, I caught a plane and headed to Virginia. Very early Saturday morning, we left Julie's house and headed for the Festival.

We arrived before the official opening time, and went on in. This was a good thing, because we were able to go to the big Exposition Center before it got too crowded. We bought a beautiful silver merino fleece that won second place in it's class in the fleece judging. We split this fleece and sent it to be processed.

We wandered through the barn and managed to get through about 1 more barn before the crowds got so big, you could not stir them with a stick. There were lines for T-Shirts and lines for Socks That Rock yarn which we did not get in. We decided that we were not waiting in line for those.

Most of the booths were so crowded that there was no way to get in. We did score a washed and skirted Coopworth fleece that we split. I have not spun Coopworth before, but it looks really nice.

I went to the Ravelry Meetup, and got to meet Mary Heather, Jess, and Casey. The lady in the wine colored sweater is a Ravelry friend - Llamalady (Barbara) that I also got to visit with. It was really fun to get to actually speak with someone I felt like I knew from the Ravlery She-Kints Group.

The day passed quickly. My friend Cindy was there working at the Jacob Sheep Conservancy Booth, and she wanted to go to dinner with us, so we were waiting for her to "get off work". This made us hang around later than we would have.

I was falling down tired so I found a bench outside of one of the barns and sat down. Being Texan, I made small talk with another lady sitting on the bench. I asked her what she bought and one thing she had was Socks that Rock sock yarn. This yarn is famous for the wonderful colors it is dyed in. I have never knit with this but have been hearing about it for a couple of years. By this time, late in the day, the lines were all gone. So, I got Julie and we headed to the Fold's booth.

The Fold had lots of Socks that Rock Yarn left at full retail, and they had a basket of seconds on sale at a good price, but only 4 skeins were left and the colors were, shall we say, ugly. So we shopped around their booth, and while we were making up our minds they put out the seconds they had held back for Sunday - two huge bins - and we got first choice! We got the Socks that Rock Yarn at a good price and we did not have to wait in line at all!

The next day at the Festival, it was raining and it never let up all day. This was good for us, but bad for the vendors since it hurt the crowds. The day starts with the Sheep to Shawl Competition.

Julie is a member of the Tidewater Treadlers Sheep to Shawl team, so we were there very early to get ready. I had never seen a Sheep to Shawl competition, and it was lots of fun to watch the sheep - a black Hog Island Ewe - get shorn, and then have the spinning and weaving commence.

In a Sheep to Shawl Competition, the loom arrives with the warp on it. The sheep is shorn and the spinners start spinning the fleece in the grease. Once the first bobbin is done, the weaving starts. The team has a short length of time to spin the weft for the shawl and get the shawl woven. It is important that the spinners keep up with the weaver.

The team is judged on several criteria, including their weaving accuracy, spinning quality, costumes (the Treadlers compete in Colonial dress), adherence to the size specified for the shawl and their teamwork. Once the shawls are completed and off the loom they are washed before being judged. After the awards are announced, all the shawls are auctioned off.

The Tidewater Treadlers had won the competition three times before, and they added win number four to their record this year. They also won a special award for the best spinners in the competition.

While Julie was spinning, I took the Umbrella and went to Jennie the Potter's booth to meet Knitting Rockstars Amy Singer from Knitty and Heather Ordover from the Craft-Lit Podcast. These two ladies are so nice in person - just the way I expected them to be.

I did some shopping and got Finnsheep roving and superwash Blue Faced Leichester roving as well as a few other treasures.

Once the Sheep to Shawl Competition was over, Julie and I bought another fleece - this one from a Columbia Sheep, and we took that to be processed. On the way back, we noticed there was no line for T-Shirts, so we stopped in and got one. Our patience - or lack of it - regarding waiting in lines paid off for us again.

Because of the rain, we really did not get to see all the booths at the festival. We missed the skein competition as well as the handmade garments. We also missed the sheep dog trials as well as lots of other stuff I am sure. I guess that gives me something to look forward to when I manage to go back.

Monday morning, it was back to Texas for me. I was very concerned about getting all my loot in my suitcase and I would have never made it without Space Bags! That suitcase was stuffed to the gills. I was very worried about it popping. I am sure the TSA did not open it, because I don't think it could have been closed again.

I arrived home bone tired and very happy. This was the most fun I have had in a long time. The only thing that would have made the trip better would have been more sleep!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Colorful Cotton Lint

My friend Peggy gave me 2 pounds of ginned cotton lint last fall to experiment with dyeing. I have not done too much cotton dyeing so every time I do it, I have to wing it a bit. The MX Dyes are not my friend - yet anyway. I was sure that I did not want to spin the undyed lint though. That would be way too boring!

I found instructions for dyeing the lint and also for dyeing cotton sliver at the Cotton Spinning Website.

Joan Ruane runs this site, and she is an expert cotton spinner. She has instructions for dyeing the lint or sliver with both the MX Dyes and also with Natural Dyes on her website and she also has a DVD on how to spin cotton that is available there.

I sort of combined Joan's instructions on dyeing lint with her instructions on dyeing sliver, as I wanted multi-colored lint to spin rather than a solid color.

Here is what I did:
  1. Scour the Cotton - put a pot on the burner and fill it about 3/4 full of water. Add a little dish soap. Break up the lint and immerse it in the water, forcing it under. Bring the pot to a simmer and let it simmer for 15-30 minutes or so. A lot of dirt will come out.
  2. Rinse the Cotton and squeeze out most of the water.
  3. Soak the wet lint in Salt water for 10 minutes - Here I switched to the instructions for dyeing cotton sliver. I used Joan's instructions of 1/2 cup of salt dissolved in one gallon of water and let my lint soak while I mixed my dyes and activator solution.
  4. Mix dyes - I used Joan's recommendation of 1/4 tsp of dye powder to about 3/8 cup of water. I mixed the colors I wanted - a green, a purple, turquoise and navy blue in separate bottles.
  5. Prepare soda ash solution to activate the dye - I mixed in another container 1/4 cup of soda ash to 3/4 cup of hot water. This should be enough soda ash solution for 6 colors of dye stock, so I was good with my 4 colors
  6. Squeeze out wet lint and put it on plastic sheet - at this point I took the wet cotton lint from the salt water solution and squeezed it with my hands until it was fairly dry. I lined my concrete mixing tub (a useful Home Depot or Lowe's item) with a few sheets of newspaper and a large sheet of clear plastic from a partial roll my friend Laurie gave me. A garbage bag or a couple of sheets of saran would work. I then spread out the wet lint on the plastic in the tub.
  7. Add activator to dye and apply - One at a time I added 1/8 cup or 1 ounce of activator to each dye. Then I applied that color at random on the lint until it was gone. The activator needs to be added to the dye, then the dye needs to be used quickly. I have read that after 45 minutes, it is technically exhausted or has lost a lot of potency.
  8. Wrap the dyed fiber and leave in a warm place for the dye to work - Unlike the acid dyes, the MX dyes work at warm room temperature and do not like to get too hot. It was a fairly cool day so, I put my plexiglass cover on the concrete container with the wrapped dyed fiber and left it in the sun for a couple of hours. Then I left the dyed fiber alone until the next day before I began rinsing.
  9. Rinse and rinse and rinse - Here is something that I find frustrating about the MX dyes - all the rinsing required. I have found that the item or yarn or fiber needs about 10 rinses in cool water before the water is semi-clear. I rinsed out the fiber
  10. Scour the rinsed fiber and set the color - Next I put the fiber back in the pot of water with some Dawn and brought it up to a simmer for another 30 minutes to set the color.
  11. Rinse out the soap, squeeze the fiber out - I had the bright idea to put the dyed lint in my front loader and spin it out. I put it in a mesh bag, but the heavy cotton that was full of water made the machine very unhappy. Next time I do this, I will remember to split it over several bags.
  12. Dry the fiber - I put dyed lint in a mesh bag and gave it a dryer cycle which left it pretty wet still. Then, I let it dry over night and gave it another dryer cycle and it was slightly damp, so I put it in a mesh hamper that would let the air get to it and hung it to dry another day.
  13. Tease, card and spin - I have started making punis from the fiber. It is going to be so much fun to spin my colored cotton!

Here is my pile of cotton fiber with some of the punis I have made so far. I will probably card all of it before I start spinning.

I am still not as comfortable with the MX dyes as with acid dyes on wool. This session helped some, but I guess I need more practice. Fortunately I have another pound and a half of cotton lint.

Now, I want to get out the bamboo roving I have and try dyeing that!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Clothes for Hand Cards

I have wanted to protect my hand cards from the elements for a while. I usually keep them tied together to protect the teeth, but that seemed like not enough. I am about to embark on a large, for me, carding project, and my cards are going to have to do a bit of traveling, so they really needed some clothes.

Today, I thought of a quick way to make them a cover in a short amount of time, and at the same time reuse something old.

You can do this for your cards too. It just takes minimal sewing skills, an old pair of jeans - preferably from a man, because you want wide legs at the bottom, and about 1 1/2 yards of 1 inch wide grosgrain ribbon. You will also need a sewing machine and an iron, but I suppose you could do without these things and have something a little less finished.

Here are the steps to make a cover for your cards:

  1. Lay the jeans out on a table or cutting board. See if one of your cards will fit into the bottom of the leg. Mine just fit in my husband's old jeans. If they don't fit because the leg is too small, you just will have to hem both ends. Move the cards up until the jean leg is wide enough to hold the card and whack off the hem there.

  2. See how deep the pockets need to be. For my cards, one pocket needed to be about 6 inches deep, so for the two pockets, I needed a minimum of 12 inches plus some ease for folding.

  3. Cut off the leg of the jeans at 2 times the depth you need plus about one inch for a hem. If you need to hem both ends, then allow another inch. For my cards, I cut the leg of the jeans at about 13 1/2 inches, giving the pocket a little more depth. I would err on the side of too deep rather than not deep enough.

  4. If you find your jeans are way too big for the cards, then you could take up the inside leg seam to fit your carders. Also, jeans taper down to the ankle, so one end of your tube will be a little larger than the other one. This did not bother me, but if it bothers you, then adjust the inside seam to straighten things out. If your jeans are just not big enough, then, I would take both legs, and cut them at the desired length. Open up the seam that is not topstitched, and then sew the two legs together to make your tube at the right size for your cards.

  5. Take the piece of jean leg and hem the end you cut. I just serged the raw edge and pressed under about an inch, then sewed around the opening with a straight stitch on my machine.

  6. Fold the tube in half with the hems together. Locate the center and mark with a pin. Sew the center of your ribbon through all layers at this point with your sewing machine.

  7. Now still with the hems together, open the pocket up and sew the insides together along the hem. Leave the outsides of the pockets free. This will keep your pockets together and keep things from flopping when you put in your cards.

  8. You now have 2 pockets, one for each card. Put in your hand cards, wrap the ribbon around the handles and tie in a bow.
I hope this makes sense to you and that your cards get clothes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


A warning. This is only remotely fiber related, but I feel I must share something with you all.

Today has not been a great day so far. We are in the middle of getting the house ready for a party on Saturday night, so things are getting cleaned that have not been clean in YEARS. This is silly, I admit. No one coming to the party cares. They like us for the way we are and not the way we should be.

So, this morning, my Sweetie removed some construction stuff from our back porch that has been there since 2002. I felt he would appreciate some help and I was worried about him injuing his back with the heavy stuff. So, I went out to help him.

We uncovered many treasures. One of them was a dirty laundry basket that had stuff in it that all went to the garbage. I thought I could use this basket for another purpose, and it was dirty. I brought it in and left it in the utility rooom sink filling with soapy water. I promptly forgot this so the water kept running. I was preoccupied with helping. My mistake.

So, when I discovered the sink had run over and spread water all over this end of the house (here is the fiber part) and into the knitting room running under the Pergo floor, I was not happy. I admited my mistake quickly, and my Sweetie ran for the shop vac and started vacuuming water up.

He was not too happy with me for being a dummy and forgetting the water. I wasn't too happy with me either. We cleaned water for a while and then he said some of our dogs had run outside when he came in. Then he realized he forgot the gate was open as he was using the tractor to take out the trash from the porch to the front of the house.

Kharma has a way of getting even doesn't it? He realized that he forgets things too and that took some of the heat of of me for being an idiot.

So, things went from bad to worse in a hurry. We dropped the vacuum and left the wet floor and went outside, praying our dogs had not gone far.

Now, if you have dogs, here is the part where you need to pay attention. Our dogs are all chow hounds and our yard is large. They can be selectively deaf to their names. but from the time they are little, we liberally give them cookies or treats every time they come to us when they are called. When they are babies, we always have cookies in our pockets, and even as adults, when we call them from the yard, they most often get a treat for coming to their names. They know coming to us will NEVER get them in trouble. If we need to scold them, which is very rare, we go to them. We don't ask them to come to be punished.

So, we live at the end of a dead end street. The dogs had been out at least 15 minutes. They are whippets and could have been far away.

We went into the yard, called their names and said the magic word "Cookie". They were all across the street which at our house means they were over the length of a football field away.

All of them came running like they were catching a rabbit. I am so, so grate full. I can not even imagine how much worse the day would have been if one of them was lost. Of course, they all got lots of treats.

So, I encourage you, if you have dogs, to always give your dog a treat for coming to his name. We call it "pay to play". You never know when it might come in very handy. We are drying things out and hoping the floor can make it through one flood. I hope I don't ever do that again.

Next time, I will try to get things back to fiber, but today this is DogGeekery.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wildflower Whiners Retreat

This weekend is the wonderful Wildflower Fiber Spinning Retreat. Unfortunately, I could not go this year due to other obligations. I was not alone. Several of my Spinning Buddies in the "Texas Twisters" also could not go. So, we decided to have our own retreat which we called the "Wildflower Whiners Spinning Retreat".

Our retreat had lots of the fun elements of the real Wildflower Retreat - food, spinning, workshops and laughing without the drawback of not sleeping in our own beds!

There were six of us, Joanne, Laurie, Maxine, Marlene, Terri and me and we gathered at my house on Saturday morning. Everyone brought their wheels. Joanne brought a wonderful cake, Laurie brought cream cheese, jelly and crackers and I made Lemon Bars. So we ate and had coffee and spun.

Joanne and Laurie learning to knit in the Portuguese WayAfter lunch we had our "workshops." Marlene bought her Portuguese Knitting DVD and so we watched that. To knit "in the Portuguese way" you tension the yarn through a pin or around your neck. The yarn is wrapped with a flick of your non-dominate hands thumb (left thumb for all you right handers) and it rests either on top (for knit stitches) or underneath (for purl stitches) of your needle. This method of knitting requires much less hand stress than knitting English or Continental style.

Laurie and Joanne tried it out while the rest of us kept spinning. There were some fits and starts. Joanne thought she was doing the knit stitch, but it turned our she had learned the purl stitch. There was lots of laughing about this.

At the real Wildflower Retreat, Cindy and Rita took a workshop on Viking Knitting where they made bracelets. They texted us a photo of their bracelets,so of course we had to send them photos of our Portuguese Knitting Workshop!

Our second "workshop" was the Patsy Zawistoski DVD on Spinning Cotton, Silk and Flax. It made me want to get my cotton sliver out and spin it. That just may be the next thing on my wheel since I was able to finish plying the fiber we dyed at the Winter Fiber Fun Retreat yesterday.

Joanne and Laurie learning to knit in the Portuguese WayAfter everyone left, I searched YouTube for
Portuguese Knitting
and found several good videos of the technique. I spent the evening learning how to do it - left handed of course! I managed several rows of the kitchen towel that I am knitting. While I might not totally switch to this technique, I am glad to have it in my bag of tricks and will keep trying it.

We had a really fun day. It was so nice to be able to get together with good friends and share the crafts that we are passionate about.

It did help make up for not being able to go to Wildflower this year.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Winter Fiber Fun - Roving Dyeing

My friend, Mary at Fancy Fibers, organized and ran a wonderful retreat in February, 2009, at a local camp. It was loosely organized for all types of Fiber Folk to come and do their thing and just hang out for the weekend.

She planned only a few classes for the retreat. One of those was a fiber dyeing class that I ended up teaching as a last minute fill in when the original teacher had to cancel. The roving was merino superwash supplied by my friend Joanne of Terrific Fibers

The class had about 14 people in it including several first time dyers. I was very concerned about keeping the dye where it should be and off of where it should not be, and I am happy to say we were succesful with that effort.

We covered everything well with plastic and newspapers, then laid out our soaked rovings on plastic wrap. We painted these with dye stock, then sprayed them with vinegar and wrapped them tightly. We rolled them up jelly roll fashioned. We labeled them with some plastic tape and markers and put them in roasters to steam.

Each of the rovings turned out beautiful, and the fiber spins like butter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mother of Invention

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, I think that is true.

I have a love hate relationship with the Design A Knit software program also known as DAK.


  • Original Shaping

  • Stitch Designer

  • Knit from Screen


  • the Copy protection that makes it difficult to move it between my computers and makes it impossible to install on a computer with no CD or diskette drive

  • the "life" system that makes me dependent on ONE person in the US in case of a life lost

  • the expense of the cables. I have many knitting machines and the cable expense for all of them runs into more than a thousand dollars

  • the fact that the software does not keep up with the times and has not had a new release in a very long time and every upgrade costs more and more money

I have become dependant on Original Shaping and the Knit from Screen function. I use these for almost everything I machine knit, and I would not be adverse to using it for my handknits. I have a computer that is pretty much dedicated to DAK. It really runs nothing else, so I don't have to worry about losing my DAK "life" from some innocent file cleanup.

Last summer I used DAK to design a little bolero top that I planned to knit on my LK150. It was based on a design from my favorite machine knitting magazine Knitwords. Of course, I planned to use a different yarn, and so a different stitch gauge and also a different machine with no automatic patterning meaning every single row has some sort of manual intervention.

I thought I would just knit the bolero from the Garment Notation print out of DAK. The top was to be knitted sideways with curved front edges so there was a lot of shaping involved. What makes this little bolero is the lacy stitch design. On the LK150, settings have to be changed manually on most rows to make the design.

Normally, I would color code the settings and changes as a stitch design, merge that with the garment design and knit from screen so with every row I could see what to do with each needle on each row. However, I do not have a DAK cable for the LK150 (which has no electronics or anything fancy). I also do not have my DAK enabled computer nearby so that I can see the screen and advance the knit from screen manually. (Advancing manually sounds hard but really is not that time consuming especially since the end result is what you designed.)

I gave this three attempts before giving up. I tried knitting it from the Garment Notation print out, but with pattern manipulations going on every row and shaping on many of them, I got too confused. I tried charting it in a spread sheet with the same result.

Fast forward to Christmas: My husband received a netbook computer - a small laptop with a small screen that does everything wirelessly. It has no CD or DVD drive and of course no diskette drive. It weighs just over two pounds and is ideal for traveling. And, it fits perfectly on the back of the table my LK150 is attached to. However, there is no way to install DAK on it without buying an external CD drive. These are expensive.

So, this got my wheels turning. How could I use the netbook to display the DAK screen from my DAK computer, preferably for free?
Windows Messenger to the rescue! Windows Messenger has many cool features. One of them is Application Sharing with Remote Control. Best of all it is FREE!

I set up an additional Windows Messenger account so I could message between the computers. Next, I shared my DAK session to the netbook and am able to advance the rows remotely with Knit from Screen. I tested this with a sweater which is the first I have ever knit for me on the LK150, and it worked fabulously. Next, I did an Intarsia Design on the LK150 and that also worked really well.

This setup is allowing me to knit things that I would not have tried before on my little simple machine. Maybe I will try that bolero again ....

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hunting Magic

My friend Hillary brought 2 cones of a really beautiful purple boucle yarn to Knit Club last month that she was destashing. I normally can resist yarn since I have a 2 lifetime supply, but not when it is the perfect shade of purple. I grabbed those two cones and brought them home.

The yarn has a heavy boucle, but the carrier thread is thin. I thought at first it was 100 percent cotton. Boucle yarns often present problems with knitting machines, and if the yarn had not been such a beautiful color, I would have left it for someone else to have fun with.

I swatched the boucle on my standard gauge knitting machine at tension 9, and the machine knit it, but complained the entire time. I went ahead and designed my sweater thinking I would knit it on the standard, but when I cast it on and knit a few rows, I immediately started having lots of problems with stitches not knitting properly. The more I knit, the worse things got. The standard machine was not going to work out.

So, I decided to move the project to my mid-gauge machine, which is an LK-150. It is a nice 6.5mm plastic machine designed for DK weight yarns. It will also knit some heavier yarns as long as they are not too bulky. Because it is plastic, I feel it is sort of fragile. You really can not push it with any sort of abuse without running the risk of breaking the carriage. One of these days, I will get a Studio/Silver 860 but for now, this machine is my only mid-gauge.

I swatched at tension 3 on the LK-150. The carriage did not glide, but it did knit without too much complaining. When I blocked my swatch, I determined that the carrier yarn is not cotton, but is a synthetic either acrylic or nylon and the drape after blocking was just wonderful. I became more determined to get at least a sweater out of the purple yarn.

When I started the actual sweater, the LK-150 was still not real happy with the yarn. I knit slowly but every row was a struggle. The machine would knit the yarn, but it was complaining every row, and I was afraid I would break the carriage or the machine if I continued. I almost gave up and would have except that the color was beautiful and the drape on the blocked swatch was just what I like.

Then I remembered a a tip that my friend Carol gave me to lubricate Bond machines. Yes, I have a Bond machine and I CAN knit on it, but it is not one of my favorites. Carol, on the other hand, LOVES her Bond and has knit many gorgeous sweaters on it including lots of intarsia ones. If you browse the photo archive at the DFW Machine Knitters Guild website, you will see lots of samples of her work,

Carol advises using a Silicone Cleaning Rag from the Hunting Department to lubricate both the bed of the machine and the carriage. This really makes the Bond machines knit much easier. Bond owners really should discard the wax that the machine manufacturer recommends for lubrication and only use this rag - it makes so much difference. I think that a lot more Bond knitters would be successful with just this one tip.

I got out the Silicone Gun and Reel Cleaning Rag that I bought at Wal-Mart and rubbed the bed of the machine as well as the underside of the carriage with it. I took extra care to get down into the needle channels on the carriage as well as the bearing surface for the rail. I like a rag rather than a spray because you use so much less. There is no overspray and the product goes exactly where it is needed.

The difference after the Silicone Rag was absolutely amazing! The LK-150 carriage now glides over this difficult yarn without so much as one complaint.

So, I thought someone else might benefit from this little bit of inexpensive magic. Look for this in the Hunting section at Wal-Mart. I know my rag was less than $5 and it will last a long time. Be SURE that the package says "Safe for Plastic" as some lubricants can dissolve plastic machines.

If you have a plastic bed knitting machine of any brand, try this out. I think you will be amazed.