It’s been far too long since I have shared a blog post!
So just what have I been doing the past 6 months? Well, mostly sharing photos on my instagram account.
Over the summer, I was fortunate to take part in a work share program at a local, organic farm, Kittatinny Mountain Farm in Wantage, NJ. Danielle and Dave run the farm, and Jim (a local jazz musician) and I helped out four hours in exchange for one of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares each week. We’re still enjoying the bounty, particularly homemade pickles!
For crochet projects, I experimented with cotton yarn patterns, making a couple of water bottle cozies from a moogly blog pattern along with some dishcloths that I recently sold on Etsy.
Here’s a few pictures that I’ve also featured on Instagram:
Part 3, continuing from processing wool at Greenbank Mill‘s sheep shearing. Once wool is processed into parallel fibers, whether rolags, roving, or yarn, it can be dyed in several different ways. I’ve been experimenting with food safe dyes including kool-aid and easter egg dye, but the Mill focuses on using historic dyes to preserve our fiber heritage. The three main types of dye they demonstrated were Cochineal beetles, yellow onion skins, and indigo. The beetles are crushed to make a carmine dye, and the dye was transported to Spain from Central and South America starting in the 17th century. Yellow onion skins make a surprising variety of yellow to orange dyes and do not require a mordant so are another food safe dye that I’m looking forward to trying out. The indigo dye comes from a plant and “true indigo” is an Asian species (Indigofera tinctoria). In Europe, the plant Isatis tinctoria gives a similar color (Woad) and is responsible for the blue dye you see in Braveheart, having been used in battle as well as for dyeing cloth.
Dyeing indigo is slightly more complicated, since it is insoluble in water and must be reduced first. That, along with its unpleasant smell, requires special considerations, and the Mill demonstrated kettle dyeing outdoors. The dye bath was actually a yellow-green color, and the yarn did not sit in the bath very long due to the high pH of the bath. It’s also not necessary with indigo to let it sit, you can do multiple dips, and successive dyeings will be lighter in color as the bath is exhausted. The skein we purchased was more of a sky blue as it was one of the later to be dyed. Once the yarn comes out of the dye bath, exposure to the air oxidizes the indigo back to its blue color, quite quickly.
The dyed roving can be now spun into yarn or used directly for felting. The dyed yarns, in particular the indigo, require another washing before use to make sure to remove any remaining dye that was not absorbed into the fibers. Visiting the Mill and seeing all these stages of processing wool into yarn just made me even more excited with my projects of spinning and dyeing fiber!
Continuing from my previous post, we recently attended the Herb Sale and Sheep Shearing at Greenbank Mill in Delaware. After the fleece is skirted and cleaned, it’s ready to be processed into yarn. They highlighted the traditional hand performed methods of carding and spinning the wool into yarn. Carding was traditionally the job of children, and it is actually far simpler than I had previously thought. Basically you just comb the wool so that the fibers are parallel with carders which look like giant wire dog brushes (although much stiffer and sharper). You then roll it off the carder into rolags which can then be directly spun or dyed.
My intent for traveling down there was to pick up roving (as well as visit friends) and we left with two bags full- 25 oz. of half Merino and half Leicester longwool. We also picked up a skein of their mill spun Leicester as well as a skein they dyed with indigo earlier in the day. Again, I took lots of pictures, so dyeing wool will be in the next post. It was great to watch the spinners in action, and I now have a much better idea about how to draft out my wool with my little drop spindle. I’m using much of the roving I purchased for making dryer balls, but I’m also experimenting with spinning. Luckily, I have a customer who is interested in “art yarn” so the lumpier, and more interesting, the better. Here’s a picture of my bottom whorl drop spindle and roving that I got from Maine Woods Yarn & Fiber:
Such a fascinating process to watch the wool go from sheep to yarn, and it definitely gives you a better appreciation for historical clothing and current fiber artists. If you happen to be in the area, they have some cleanup to do at the Mill after last night’s flood. You can find them on facebook or through their website.
Last weekend, Greenbank Mill in Delaware had their annual Herb Sale and Sheep Shearing Festival. The weather was absolutely perfect and I escaped with a slight tan from my shoes and a slightly red neck. We also picked out a flat of herbs, and a couple of bags of roving, yarn, and a lovely little soap. I can’t resist white tea and ginger goat milk soap. Or fiber. I just had my pocket/ underwater camera with me instead of my usual Canon DSLR, so I hope the photos will do it justice. A friend of mine is now their event coordinator, and I must say that she and the volunteers did a fabulous job. I’m looking forward to more events (and more fiber!)
The Mill raises both Merino and Leicester longwool sheep, but the Merinos visit a nearby Mill for the processing of their more difficult coats. (Side note, I did an exchange through a Rotary Club in high school to Leicester, England, so I quickly learned how to spell and pronounce “Leicester”. Just insert an non-pronounced “ice” in the middle of “Lester” and you’re set.) During the day, they sheared one sheep each hour, and we saw 3 different sheep get sheared, from the oldest, April, to the quite large Michael. They demonstrated great skill in getting a first cut which maximizes the length of the coat. After the fleece is skirted (second cuts and unusable bits removed) and washed, it’s ready to be carded and spun. With so many pictures, I’ll show the processing of the wool in my next few posts, from carding and spinning to dyeing.
Several weeks ago, I ordered woven labels for my bags and coin purses and they arrived last week! They are much nicer than a printed paper label such as I use for clothing care tags. Hopefully these will lend a more professional and finished looked to my purses and I am excited to start using them. I picked them up from labelsandribbon, although they just redid their website, so they might have even more options now.
Another project I’ve been working on has been cotton dish cloths, a colorful project for summertime. I’ve got a variety of patterns and sizes I’m trying out, and several are in the shop already in 7″x7″, 8″x9″, and 9″x9″. Spa kits seem to be pretty popular too, so I’m researching those as well. My husband was disappointed we didn’t get to use these in our kitchen, so I just may have to make some for use at home as well. Anything to get away from disposal products! Cotton is easily washed and you don’t feel like you’re throwing money away every time you have to toss a sponge. This coming weekend is when I get to pick up some roving to start making felted dryer balls, so we’ll be expanding the eco-friendly household goods portion of the shop.
We dyed Easter eggs last weekend, so you can guess what I did with the leftover dye! I used the microwave method to set dyed yarn after soaking in the cups for awhile, and other than a minor explosion, they turned out great! Basically, most tutorials I ran across used the microwave method, dissolving the dye tablets in a bowl with vinegar and water, then adding the yarn, and zapping for 3 minutes at a time, letting it cool in between and repeating until the water is clear. I didn’t look up the tutorials until afterwards, when I was trying to figure out if the dye would be set.
I couldn’t resist just dunking in a tiny hank of yarn to see what would happen, and did one half at a time, the brightest pink (Paas dye, of course) with the orange and the greens with the blue. It all looked lovely, but I was concerned it wasn’t setting, so I decided to heat them in hot water using the microwave method. Unfortunately, your yarn can explode if you’re not careful, sending vinegary dye all over the microwave. At least it was easy to clean!
Luckily, they both survived the affair, and I wrapped them into the tiniest hanks ever:
Of course, I underestimated the amount needed for a coin purse, so they are turning into flowers and leaves. Still a fun project!
Part two of playing with kool-aid. As I explained in my last post, I’m following the tutorial written by leethal, where you use kool-aid in crock pots to dye yarn.
The blue kool aid spread throughout the crockpot, overdying both the yellow and green, but since the yellow was a weak dye, that section of the hank turned out more blue:
The other hank in this picture was dyed with cherry using the microwave method, but I missed a few spots, so it’s going back in the dyeing queue for now.
Along with felting dryer balls and learning how to spin yarn (I just got a drop spindle from Maine woods yarn and fiber), my other new project on the list is dyeing yarn. I’ve got a large skein of Lion Brand’s Fisherman wool that’s just begging for some color. While eventually I’d like to try out some natural dyes, even from edibles, I’m going to wade in with using Kool-aid. Since it’s so acidic, you don’t need a mordant (helps fiber take up dye) and you can use your every day pots, crock pot, or even dishes in the microwave. I found this great tutorial at leethal blog that I’m really excited to try out. Knitty’s tutorial suggests about 1 oz of yarn per packet of kool aid, so I’m winding my 8 oz skein into smaller hanks for experimentation. Luckily, I had purchased the original unsweetened Kool-aid packets (wasn’t quite paying attention), and I have 6 different colors: grape, mixed berry, lemon-lime, lemonade, pink lemonade, and cherry.
First up, I crocheted a coin purse to get an idea of the minimum yarn I should dye in a hank (~0.2 oz) and decided to microwave it with grape Kool-aid. It was really neat to see the dye start to leave the water and adsorb onto the wool. The tutorials say to let it cool in between 2 minute bursts of heat, and I think that’s to keep any boiling to a minimum as the agitation will felt the yarn. For this first try, I didn’t care so much since it was already crocheted, but I did want to get the technique down. In a different tutorial, they recommended re-winding dyed yarn while damp to get rid of any felting from the process. If you do want to felt something, going from hot to cold will do it, so it’s important to not cold-shock your dyed yarn (unless that’s what you want!). In any case, I recommend walking away from the microwave and doing something else while you wait for it to cool down, unless you’re a fan of cleaning up purple splatter from inside your microwave.
At least the house smells fruity while you’re doing it! After about 3 blasts, most of the dye I had added was taken up (the water was nearly clear), but with it being already crocheted, it dyed a bit unevenly. I decided to add the rest of the packet for a darker, more even color. Over the years, I’ve dyed quite a few things with Rit, but I must say it was really cool to see the dye leave the water completely and to see such a color fast result. Quite satisfying and potentially addicting!
There are so many great blogs about dyeing yarns out there, I think this will be a fun experiment. Knitwhatyouexpect and Knitting Iris are two in particular that have really documented their natural dye experiments and using food dye is another option.
Later this month, I’ll be heading to a sheep shearing at Greenbank Mill in Delaware, so I hope to get plenty of wool roving to play with for felting, spinning, dyeing, or crocheting!