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!