Sunday, 28 December 2014

Knitting Unplied Single Yarn and Felting Slippers

This is a grey fleece from a local sheep, at least three quarters Northern Mule.  I picked it for its shades of grey, ignoring the coarse fibres.  Dragging it out recently, it felt even harsher than I remembered, really not fit for clothing.  Although all wool is wonderwool and every kind will suit some project, I half regretted the time spent skirting, sorting, and washing this rough old thing.  

Wanting to see some return on last summer's preparations, knitting felted slippers seemed an appropriate use. Carding some rolags, I spun a ball of two ply about aran weight and knitted a slipper shape, nice and large, having previous experience of how tightly this kind of fleece will felt. Although it did shrink to foot size in a hot machine wash, the felted slipper kept slipping off my heel.
" Alright, Cinderella?"  Elinor Gotland looked up from her knitting as I shuffled past in one slipper.  "Prince Charming won't go door to door looking for the owner of that clod hopper."

"Harsh, but fair, Elinor.  I can't be arsed to spin another ball of yarn to make up the pair."
"Never say die, Beaut.  You shall go to the ball.  Put the kettle on and as the vicar said to the actress, I'll get my magic wand out."
"Have you been at the Christmas liqueur chocolates, you dreadful old ewe?"
"Enough of your cheek.  Advice improves with age, much like a good single malt.  Slippers don't need fine spinning."

So, no more carding, just pulling the locks into a rough cloud and spining a thick lumpy single. Roger, my Ashford Traveller spinning wheel, is a great workhorse for many weights of yarn, but even he protests at having his scotch tension cranked up to the max to ply this kind of stuff.  Knitting the single straight from the bobbin into a stocking stitch sample gave a fabric that
veered across to the right rather than building vertical columns of stitches.  I guess this was caused by all the unbalanced energy stored in the twist of the unplied single. Knitting a sample in garter stitch, each row of knit stitches was counterbalanced by the next.

So, garter stitch slippers it was, making up a pattern closer to fairytale me pumps than rustic clogs and in a size that fit my foot before felting.
Snuggly Sister Slipper Pattern
6mm circular needle.  Approx 50g Aran/Chunky yarn.
This initial shaping fits into the back of the heel to keep the slipper on, also avoiding forming an odd little point at the base of the heel.
Cast on 6 stitches, turn and knit 6 then cast on 3 more stitches.  Turn and knit 9 then cast on 3, turn and knit 12 then cast on 3, break the yarn, leaving the 15 stitches on the needle and make another piece the same.  Move the stitches from the first piece so that they carry on from the far end of the second piece with the tail of broken yarn at the far end.  
Knit across all 30 stitches, then knit another 3 rows.

Shape the sides down along the instep and up across the body of the foot like this:
*Knit 1, slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over, knit to last 3 stitches, knit 2 together, knit 1.  Knit 2 rows.*  Repeat from * to * two more times then knit another 13 rows across the remaining 24 stitches.
*Knit 2, make one, knit to last 3 stitches, make one, knit 2.  Knit 3 rows.*  Repeat from * to * two more times, then repeat the increase row, place a stitch marker and join ready to purl in the round across the 32 stitches. Purl and knit alternate rounds for a total of 9 rounds.
Place one marker 8 stitches before the round marker and another 8 stitches after it, keeping the round marker only to remind you when to change from knit to purl for a new round to keep the fabric garter stitch.
Shape the toe as you would for a sock - on the knit rounds, knit to 3 stitches before each edge marker, knit 2 together, knit 1, slip marker, knit 1, slip 1 knit 1, pass slipped stitch over.  On the purl rounds, just go straight round.  When only 16 stitches remain, use Kitchener stitch to graft them together from one edge marker to the other.
Sew up the heel in the midline and wash in the machine at 60 degrees Centigrade. Stretch the shrivelled result onto your foot and wear it until it is dry for a perfectly snug, custom fitted slipper. Make another if you like it well enough.
Wearing our new slippers, we danced around the Christmas Tree singing outrageous versions of 'While shepherds watched.'  

Best wishes for 2015.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Knitting Fair Isle Mittens

Four of these skeins were used to try out dyes with meadowsweet and comfrey on iron and copper mordants.  The pale one in the middle was dyed with mahonia berries on an alum mordant. Though disappointing at the time, that beige does harmonise well. Retrieved from the darkest depths of the basket, daylight enhanced all five colours and I found myself loving them up considerably.  
"You know, it really is true that natural dyes cannot be equalled for depth and subtlety."  
I addressed my prodigal companion, Elinor Gotland, the lost sheep of the family, who has returned to take full advantage of the festive season.  Three cups of tea with sloe gin had not softened her up much.  She eyed my skeins dubiously.
"So unique, you never get the same shade twice, Beaut.  That lot will have to work together, or never get used at all."
"Well, I was thinking of making something with a Fair Isle pattern.  Where you carry different colour strands across the back of the work. Ever tried that at all?"
"Born and bred to it, you daft English muppet. Remember Gotlands come from Sweden? I've been visiting cousins who can knit in the round, two colours per row, five balls dangling and never drop a stitchCommon traditions among the Nordic knitters and the Northern Isles of Scotland. "
"Is that where you went off to?  Sweden?  Why the sudden departure?"
"Carpe diem, lovely girl.  Got a heads up about auditions for parts in a Scandi detective thriller. The Girl with the Sheep Tattoo.  It'll be on telly soon."

I've seen black and white film clips of women in the Shetland Islands knitting furiously while walking along, heaven knows how they managed that.  It has taken me a fortnight to complete a pair of mittens.  I didn't check a tension gauge, no point, because no way could I modify the pattern.  It was my first time following a chart and I failed to cotton on that the squares with the dots on them should have been purl stitches, so the cuffs are looser than they should have been.  Very clever the way the thumbs go in on a line of removable extra stitches, though picking up the top set is a challenge.  I really like the way the thumb pattern matches up to the body, cunningly done.  Sewing in all the spare ends was time consuming on the first mitten, second time round I just carried the colours up vertically and it seemed to work ok.

"Christmas present are they?  For someone with hands like shovels?"
"They are for Steve, to keep his hands from freezing to the handlebars of his bike."

"If I were you, Beaut, I'd tell him they are oven gloves."
After a machine wash at 40 degrees cotton cycle, the mittens had shrunk to just the right size! Fantastic luck and a proper dense felted warmth, to boot.  
The pattern is called Vera Marguerite, by Pamela Wynne, though perhaps I shan't mention the name to the man himself.  

Elinor nearly found herself taking a ride in the hot wash, only I didn't want to spoil her elf hat.  It is intended for wear on an Alice band, as a festive fascinator.  Brilliant idea, designed by Thomasina Cummings and now available as a free crochet pattern

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Contact Dyeing with Iron Solution Painted on to Leaves

Frost is finally here, searing the foliage off perennial plants.  My hardy geraniums have had to work especially hard putting up new leaves, since I found out last June how well they work in contact dyeing.  The weak remaining afterbath from an evernia prunastri lichen dye was lurking unwanted in a pan on the patio.  Time to find out what the dye and the last leaves had left. 

Given that the iron modifed colour was unlikely to be as fetching as the original pink from the lichen, I thought I would try to minimise the effect by painting the iron directly on to the leaves, rather than dosing the whole dye bath with vinegar which had had rusty nails soaking in it.  I painted the back of the leaves, having seen how much better this worked with oak leaves, laid them out on alum mordanted, wet chiffon, folded the fabric up and wrapped it round a section of downpipe, then tied it up with jute garden string.
Here is the bundle, before and after an hour's simmer and an overnight soak in the dye.

After rinsing, the pink was weak.  Lichen dye had not penetrated fully through the layers and the iron did mute it.  However, I thought the final effect quite sophisticated and subtle.  The leaf prints were dark and very distinctly defined, I wondered if painting iron on to any leaf would give results as good.

Foraging round the garden for anything still green, I pressed a selection of leaves between some spare floor tiles, so they would lie flat on the fabric.  My remining piece of chiffon was already an uneven purplish colour, from being used to contain japanese indigo leaves then the fermented lichen while I was brewing up previous dye baths.  It had never been mordanted, but I thought the iron itself should do that. 
Here is the bundle before and after simmering in plain water.

And here is the result after washing.  The only really effective prints came from alpine strawberry leaves and lycestra, the rest just left dim orange rust stains. 

The roar of a sports car engine is rarely heard on our suburban street.  
I should have guessed it could only herald the reappearance of my erstwhile companion, Elinor Gotland.

"Where have you been all these months?  I've been worried sick!"
"Made a right dog's dinner of that chiffon, haven't you, Beaut?  Few more bags to come, I told the chauffeur to drop them in the hall.  Put the kettle on, there's a love."

I am so very glad she is back.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Knitting and Felting Handspun Woollen Yarn

If a sheep's fleece felts while it is still on the animal's back, this is called cotting.  When I visited a local farm to pick out a couple of fleeces from a pile in the shed, a young man was draped over the gate looking knackered, having been set to shearing a cotted sheep.  The older blokes were laughing like drains, holding the matted thing up in a solid sheet.  I didn't choose that one.
I did get the general idea that the Northern Mule crosses living on the farm had fleece that felted easily.  This white one is the Northern Mule X Suffolk that restarted my fermented suint vat this summer and plenty of it was open and not too grubby. The staple length varied between 7 and 12cm, fibres being medium soft to coarse with hairy areas, particularly on the britch.
Areas of the neck, belly and tail were shorter in staple and had actually cotted.  Skirting the fleece, it was easy enough to pull them away from round the edges along with the worst of the muck, before putting the whole thing into the vat for a week of cold soaking. I used the waste wool to line hanging baskets, think I'll stick to using coloured fleece in future.
Earth is a fine thing inside a container. When it rinsed through to the outside of this one, the whole thing just looked dirty.

It is heat and friction that causes wool to felt.  The open locks above are a tribute to the marvels of the suint vat.

 After three cold rinses with no agitation, this fleece was still full of lanolin, but in fair condition for spinning in the grease, if you are not too picky about such things.  It spent the summer rolled up in an old duvet, hidden under the spare bed.  Time to fetch it out, as I promised Gwyn the farmer a hat for Christmas.
The locks carded out nicely into rolags, stiff working against the drag of the lanolin, but easy to spin into yarn around 10 wraps per inch, trying to match the twist in the singles                                                       to the crimp in the locks.
I spun some singles as fine as I could and made three ply yarn as well as the two ply shown on the ruler.  The skeins were scoured by heating up to about 80 degrees Centigrade with plenty of detergent, then knitted into swatches.  In the photo, the paper in the back ground has a black outline drawn around the swatches before the machine wash. You can see that the two ply only shrank marginally in a delicates 30 degree cycle, while a 60 degree Centigrade cottons wash contracted the three ply much more, making a dense fabric.  The third sample shows the effect of a hot wash after knitting the yarn without scouring it first. Although the wool is a bit claggy and doesn't slip smoothly along the needles, this cuts out the scouring phase and the resulting fabric was a thick, textured, lustrous felt.
Of course, calculating the size I'd have to knit to end up with a standard hat after felting was never going to be very precise. Assuming a 58cm male head circumference and anticipating that the felt wouldn't stretch much, I thought a 56cm hat should be snug.  Guided by the small swatch, I worked out this needed
130 stitches to cast on, using a 6mm circular needle.  The hat looked gargantuan, but press on in hope.  Working a band in purl, then knitting until the tube measured 24cm, I shaped the crown in the classic fashion by dividing the number of stitches by five and placing a marker every 26 stitches.  Knitting two together through the back of the loop before each marker and knitting
two together after each marker reduces the stitch count by 10 on each round and I guesstimated two plain rounds between each reduction round to give a proportionate dome.  Once through a 60 degree cycle and the length was right, but the circumference too loose. Washed again, the circumference was right, but the hat became a skimpy beanie.

It has to be the warmest knitwear Gwyn will get this Christmas, half an inch thick, practically. Next time, I shall knit a better swatch for felting calculations.  

I name it 
The Cotted Cap.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Spinning a Blue Texel Sheep Fleece and Crocheting a Rug

I have been following the Wovember campaign - if you haven't seen it, do have a look, interesting articles have been posted through the month.  Of course I wanted to join in with a wool along (WAL), so on the first of the month, I went rooting through my stash of fleeces, wondering how I ever bought so many and consoling myself that my home will be wonderfully well insulated this winter and I can go to bed knowing that hidden underneath me, several rare breed flocks are being supported.

The first fleece I bought in 2014 was an ordinary Blue Texel. Back in May, I posted about washing and skirting it and using the rougher fibres to hook a rug. I have been tripping over three bags full of unfinished project ever since. The bulk of the fleece had been sorted by colour, about a third of the wool had been spun, two skeins much thinner than intended, through talking too much on spinning camp in June. The final bag contained a start on knitting. 
I'm very fond of rustic knitwear.  Anyone going out in one of my jumpers walks in peril of being rounded up by a sheep dog.  This bouncy fleece would be cosy, but on further consideration, spun into a bulky, woollen yarn and knitted into a thick jacket, it was all too easy to imagine the wearer disconcerted by an unexpected check for blowfly. 
There are limits to my willingness to tempt fortune, but none to my love of dappled fleece colours. Blue Texel is full bodied with a disorganised crimp, which I think makes it a Down-type breed. The staple length varied from 3-7cm, though much longer once put on the hand carder, because the fibres are so elastic.  No point fussing about neps in the rolag or twist in the singles,  I decided the yarn's greatest quality was its natural grey/brown gradient and resolved to relax and take pleasure in quick, simple
carding and headlong spinning as I pleased.  A thick rug would make the most of the warmth and display all the shades.  Double crochet creates a firm, tough fabric.  Making a patchwork of little cushions should be comfortable underfoot and also meant there would be no need to strive for uniformity when spinning or to stress over the stitch count to crochet constant dimensions. 
Each cushion started with a loop and two chain on a crochet hook between 4 and 5.5mm, depending on how chunky the skein of yarn.  Six double crochet (US single crochet) stitches were made into the first stitch, bringing the yarn tail in to the centre. Continuing in the same direction, spiralling outwards with no special link at the end of the rounds, the 
second round was two double crochet into each of the six stitches.  Third round, one double crochet in first stitch, two in the next, one double crochet in the next two stitches, then two in the following stitch and repeat, then one double crochet followed by two double crochet in the twelfth stitch to complete. From the fourth round on, it all got a bit ad hoc, 
typically increasing in every fourth, then every sixth stitch with successive rounds, stopping when happy with the diameter.  Filling the cavity loosely with a length of yarn, I reversed the pattern as best I could recall, decreasing instead of increasing till six stitches remained, breaking the yarn and threading it on a needle to sew the centre closed and bring the tail out through one side. Minimal stitch definition means no worries if you stray from the pattern, long as it looks about right.

By 15th November, I was more than half way through spinning the fleece, having unravelled the knitting and crocheted it up.  It was a surprise to find each skein of 24 rolags only made between six to ten cushions.  A fair sized hearth rug was not on the cards, although the original fleece had covered most of a floor in a modest sized room.  I had planned a sort of pixellated image of an oak tree in autumn, but it looked unconvincing.
The Fibonacci spiral is a shape repeated over and over by plants and shells and even galaxies. This article says it has to do with the Golden Ratio of 1.6, though my maths isn't up to a proper comprehension of the numbers on Wikipedia. Copying it, approximately of course, this is how far I got by the WAL photo sumission date of 25 November.

Writing a sentence to send to Wovember about my experience of the project so far, my first thought was that it had taken far longer than expected to produce a much smaller mat.  Right behind that idea came a terrible tendency to wax lyrical and as usual, I sploshed right in, getting out a book of Gerald Manley Hopkins poetry, which I find should have been returned to the school library in 1980.  Ah well, only two people had taken it out since 1975 and through the marvels of the interweb, now anyone can have a read of Pied Beauty.  I name this rug Dappled Thing and rejoice in its landscape, plotted and pieced.  

From the sublime to the fastidious.  Here it is in action.

One fleece transformed into two matching bathroom mats. Harmonious cushions, if not quite the music of the spheres.