Monday, December 15, 2014

Dragon Skin (aka textured yarn and knitting)

It all started with a stop at my local yarn store.  Really, that's all it was--a stop to see what was new and what was pretty!  I came home with something only a bit unusual.  It was a length of wool roving dyed in beautiful fall colors.  There was no makers mark on the label, just the type of wool and the weight.   I thought I would look at it for a while and then put it it my stash.

But I didn't. My oldest came down with a bug that kept her home from school for two or three days.  What did I do while taking care of my sick one?  I began to spin.

This lovely merino roving was irregularly dyed.  There was no true repeat of colors.  The colors did not extend across the width of the roving.  It was very random!  I finally decided that the best way to show off these beautiful colors would be to spin the roving into a thick and thin yarn.  (This decision was heavily influenced by Sarah Anderson's book The Spinner's Book of Yarn Design, where she starts her students off by spinning thick and thin as an exercise for learning control over drafting....It's a cool trick!)  I split the roving lengthwise into strips and spun my colorful singles.  It was so much fun!  It was just spinning for the love of it! 

To keep the colors separate, I plied the thick and thin single with a thin single of black Polwarth yarn.  My friend Wendy Feller gave me this fleece and I am slowly combing through the wool.  It spins beautifully!
Here's the yarn in it's thick and thin glory!  The thick parts aren't 100% evenly spaced, but they are regular and I was pleased!

Deciding what to do with a thick and thin yarn came next.  I ended up using a Ravelry pattern "Baktus" as my starting point.  To make the piece more textured, I used stockinette stitch for the bulk of the work, but for the thick sections I purled making a pronounced bump in the fabric.  :)

Here's the scarf and a skein of yarn:

The headband is knit as a moebius strip.  I followed Cat Bordhi's cast on technique (see ) on a circular needle (us#5).  The piece grows from the center width-wise towards the edges.  It was a fun knit.  I had to shift from mostly knitting to mostly purling at the half-way point around the loop in order to keep the fabric all (mostly) stockinette.  The transition is just visible in the band.  My finger marks the transition point--to the right are purl stitches (the back of the stockinette fabric) to the left are knit stitches.
 By twisting the headband at the transition, the band appears to be all stockinette stitch.

Lastly, I made a pair of fingerless mitts to complete the set.  I didn't follow any one pattern to knit these.  They start with  k1 p1 ribbing at the wrists, then shift to stockinette stitch with an increase for the thumb.  After I knit enough to get to the base of the thumb, I bound off the stitches I had added in to make the hole for the thumb.  Then it was more stockinette stitch and a little bit more of k1p1 ribbing around the fingers and Ta-Da! they were done!

This seems like a lot to get from one bit of roving!  The dyed merino roving was 6 oz.  I didn't weigh how much Polwarth I used, but I'm guessing it was 3-4 oz, maybe even 5oz. For 9-12 oz of yarn, it seems more reasonable to have been able to make so much.  The best part is how much I enjoyed the making of each part!

PS.  My oldest daughter really likes dragons.  She has a few figurines, she draws them in her spare time...When I gave her the scarf and made the headband she was trying to come up with a name for them.  After a few false starts (including "sparkles"--blech!), she said "Dragon skin" and the name has stuck.  The pieces are bumpy, yet smooth and mottled, but coordinated.  And, because they are 100% wool and wool is self-extinguishing, they are partially fire proof-- definitely Dragon Skin!  :)

Thursday, November 27, 2014


A friend of mine has finally moved into her new home after months of living in the "little house" at her mother-in-law's property.  These placemats are a housewarming gift for the new place.

The warp is 10/2 cotton with  chenille accent stripes (probably a rayon chenille) threaded as crackle.  My original plan was to use two colors of cotton chenille as warp with a 10/2 colored cotton as tabby.  Like all plans, this one had flaws.  The worst issue was that the polychrome (many-color) samples looked just awful!  I didn't care for them at all!  I shifted to a single color pattern (a grey-brown chenille) and a green 10/2 cotton for the tabby weft and was able to weave the mats.  

I made six placemats.  Four mats have "horizontal ladders" and two have something of a "goose-eye" pattern.  They are thick and rest well on the table (and they match my plates nicely...maybe I need to make another set! :).

Monday, November 24, 2014

PVC Weaving Tool and Plain Weave Stripes

I had a student at the studio this week.  She is a new weaver and ran into some trouble warping her rigid heddle loom with a pre-wound warp chain.  I wanted her to see how a warp chain was made on a warping board, but I use a warping reel.  This pvc warping "board" was put together from pieces of my pvc niddy noddy/yarn skeiner.   It's one yard long.  Aside from the straight pipe, it uses some T's and one X connector.  PVC is flexible enough that I'm not confident using is as a real warping board, but it worked great to show how a cross is made and how weavers tend to tie the cross in a warp.

The next pretty little piece is on my 8", 4-harness Structo loom.  It's plain weave with a cotton warp of stripes from commercial 8/2 and handspun yarns.  I planned this warp and had to re-do my calculations about three times.  The first issue was one of sett.  My handspun cotton was 18 WPI.  I usually sett plain weave at 1/2 the WPI.  Sara Lamb in her book Spin to Weave describes using a closer sett with a weft that is finer than the warp.  She says that this helps create good drape in a plain weave fabric.  I decided to try it, and recalculated the warp stripes at a closer sett (I ended up using 20 epi, threaded 1-1-2 in a 15-dent reed.)  The next re-calculation was due to concerns with the accent stripes at the edges of the plain weave stripes.  
Theoretically, when plain weave is being woven, a warp thread becomes a dashed line as the weft covers it every other pick.  I didn't want one side of my stripes to have a dash-dot-dash pattern and the other side to have a dot-dash-dot pattern!  I hate to tell you how much I worried about this!  Finally I realized that if my blue stripes were all odd numbers of threads, the purple accent warps would be on the same shed and would always lift together.  Whew!  There was one more related recalculation when I realized that I needed to have the white background in odd numbers of threads as well, otherwise one group would have a pair of dash-dot-dash accents and the next stripe would have a pair of dot-dash-dot accents.  Woo boy!  Well and good, I finally got it all worked out and am happily weaving at the loom.

Guess what I discovered today?!  I made an error winding the warp.  There is one group of white background threads that is an EVEN number of threads.  But check out the woven fabric: it doesn't make a difference in the way the stripes look!  I guess I got all worked up about nothing.  I wonder if it would make a difference in a different piece....maybe if the weft were thicker??

Friday, November 14, 2014


This olive green scarf was woven on my 8" Structo loom as an introduction to weaving for my daaughter's third grade class.  The kids all got to work the loom and weave a bit and then I brought the loom home and finished weaving.  The yarns are a combination of handspun and Cascade 220 that I dyed.  In the warp the two yarns alternate irregularly, but in the weft each yarn was used for about 2" before switching to the other yarn.  The scarf was wet finished following suggestions from Laura Fry's video "Wet-Finishing for Weavers".  The scarf was washed with a bit of detergent and rinsed.  The water was squeezed out and the scarf rolled up in a towel to remove any excess water.  Then, the fun began!  The scarf was repeatedly thrown onto a table multiple times to felt it slightly.  The felting didn't take long and the scarf drapes well!

This little piece is the end of a sample warp.  I took a double weave class from Jennifer Moore and used these 5/2 cottons for the class.  Unfortunately, after I finished my sampler, I didn't want to do more double weave on this warp.  So, I re-threaded the loom with this little flower pattern (I don't remember the name of the pattern. It was a 6-harness design with plain weave and floats to make the flower petals).  I wove with the bobbins filled from the workshop and just changed colors as the yarns ran out.  Then I had to decide what to do with this small piece of handwoven fabric.  My friends at the Conner Prairie weaving studio suggested a mobius scarf....and so, here it is:

The scarf is too short to wrap a second time, but it is a nice accent (my oldest tried it on for me this week and may be keeping it!).  If I were to make this again, I would aim to make it a little longer and maybe even make it out of something silky--either tencel or silk.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quilt Top #2 and Knit Socks

A few years ago, I started a major Christmas Quilt project.  For years my family has snuggled under a Christmas Quilt and read advent stories during the month of December.  At some point I noticed that we were outgrowing our quilt.  We didn't all fit under it, or on the couch!  So, I dug out the instructions for the family Christmas Quilt and began making squares for three more quilts. I finished one last year and gave it to my oldest daughter.  As of today, quilt #2 is on the frame and is being quilted.  Whew!  I have one more top to finish piecing and then I'll quilt that one and call the project done.  This year's top is for my son's quilt and I invited him to decide how to place the blocks.  He was thrilled about the assignment and talked to himself as he made decisions about where should this block go and what about these two...  It was fun to watch!

It turns out that this pair of socks are also for my son.  His favorite color is yellow.  Check out how well the stripes matched on the cuffs!  I was impressed!  Unfortunately, the yarn had four or five knots (yikes!) after I hit the heel on the second sock.  But, as my son says, "that's ok, Mom".

The socks are a simple knit 2, purl 2 rib from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks.  They are knit from the top down on double pointed needles.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Introduction to Immersion Dyeing

Linda Adamson at Tabby Tree Weaver hosted a class on Immersion Dyeing of Protein Fibers and I was the instructor!  Three students took the class and we were able to get lots of samples dyed--the first set showed depth of shade, or the range of color (light, medium, and dark), from a single dye color.  The second set of samples were color blends.  We started with yellow, magenta, and blue dye solutions and blended them to make new colors.  Jean Marie added drops of magenta and yellow to the blue to make a "smokey" blue.  Ellen added yellow to the blue in search of the perfect teal for her rugs.  Cindi mixed different amounts of the blue and magenta to make some lovely violets!  We ran out of time and didn't get to dye any of the fibers the students brought--it's amazing how fast time flies when you are busy! Thank you to all who came and dyed!  It's a wonderful, addictive fiber art!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Color Work--Photo as Inspiration

The new hat in use with the brim turned up.
 This past spring I taught a color blending class at "The Fiber Event" in Greencastle, IN.  The first part of the class was mixing a 12-color color wheel from three primary colored wools (red, blue, & yellow).  The second part was blending colors taken from a printed/photo source.

My inspiration was a postcard from Kenai Fjords, Alaska.    After identifying the various colors in the photo (I ignored the text colors), I discovered that there were too many colors and narrowed my focus on the seals and the rock where they are sunbathing.

At this point, my notes become extremely sketchy!  The basic process is that I used the colors I saw in the photo to choose my rovings, blended the rovings into rolags and spun them into the yarns I used.  My choice of knitting patterns (this is based on the "Golden Pear" baby hat from ravelry) adds some extra blending as two colors are used to knit a transition area between the single color segments.

Going mostly by memory and what I see in the yarn, the rocks at the bottom of the photo are represented by the dark brown at the band of the hat. They are a combination of a natural brown wool, Romney wool dyed black, and maybe some grey wool. The mossy rocks above the seals were interpreted by blending the same natural brown wool used for the previous rocks, but blended with some green dyed wools (and maybe other colors...I really don't remember the details as well as I would like!).  The seals in the sun are represented by the copper and cream band of the hat.  I blended copper colored mohair top with cream colored fibers, probably undyed Romney.  I intentionally limited the amount of blending so that the resulting yarn has lots of color variation, mimicking the dappled effects of the light on the seals

For me, letting go of the literal imagery of the photo was a challenge.  I wanted to create seals and rocks!  It was hard to let go of that and I know that no one else will see the seals on the rock in this hat, but when I look at it, I remember the source for the color combination and I can see the seals.