Friday, 27 March 2015

Needlefelting an Upholstered Box Seat - Lincoln Greenish

Woad blue dye with a weld yellow overdye gives Lincoln Green.  The balance between them is crucial, in my opinion.  The bluer shades of green do not appeal to me nearly so much as the fresher, brighter, more yellow ones.  I needlefelted shades of Lincoln Green dyed wool tops onto this seat pad and wished I had used a bit less woad.  Or more weld.
I don't know what colour you would call coreopsis bronze overdyed with woad, though after I had needlefelted some on to fill in the plant and its pot, I suspected the name might be Dingy Green. To brighten things up, I used the purest of the weld yellow to do the outer parts of the birds, then decided it hadn't made them stand out as strongly as intended.

Turning out bits of plant dyed fleece from past experiments, though the floor became covered with more shades than I ever remembered having stored away, many of them seemed drab. The best contrast colours were the shades of pink from Evernia prunastri lichen.  Thinking of the two birds as symbolising Body and Soul, pink seemed a good choice for matters corporeal.
I couldn't decide if that bird looked good or just made the background look bad.  Plus the bothersome blue tinge wasn't quite going to harmonise with the spring green paint I had put on the body of the storage box, scuppering my plan to comb out and spin some of the same dyed tops and crochet a matching braid to go round the edge of the cushion.

While rootling about in my stores, I rediscovered some commercially spun yarn I dyed a good bright yellow with weld ages ago.  That ought to physically divide the paint from the felting, yet pull their elements together. Irritating to find that there wasn't enough to crochet the last couple of rows, but never mind, I finished the job with another skein partially dip dyed to Lincoln Green.
By the time I had sewn the braid half way round the box, it was clear that the yellow yarn alone might have worked, but the brighter Lincoln Green sections in it were just amplifying that damn bluish tinge in the needlefelt.
I stomped off for a grouch around the garden on my own.
"Ow do, lass." Standing in the rockery was Heathcliff Wensleydale, a ram brought home on a visit by my regular houseguest, Elinor Gotland.
I nodded to him and forced a smile.
"That yow Elinor vexing tha?"
"Oh no, Heathcliff, I'm just fed up with the bird box I've been making. I was going for Rich and Strange, but I'm getting Gaudy and Odd." He walked back to the patio with me and stood looking at the box for some time.
"Wants a good deep brown edging, that does."
Well, sure, I thought, what other
colour would a Black Wensleydale sheep recommend?  Still, I did have best part of a ball of Black Welsh Mountain X Gotland yarn, left over from knitting my daughter a jumper.  It didn't take me long to crochet a short length of braid and decide he could be right, at that. The dark brown braid calmed the whole scheme down and gave me new courage to choose cosmos orange for the Strange bird.

Elinor Gotland wandered into the sitting room while I was putting my knitting away in the new box.
"Happy ending, is it, Beaut?"
"Hi, Elinor.  Where's Heathcliff?  I want to show him how right he was about that brown braid."
"He never stays long and he's not one for goodbyes.  Gone off to try for a part in an ensemble put together by the British Coloured Sheep Breeders Association." 

"Oh and I was only just getting to know him.  He was a dear.  Now I can't thank him for his help."
"Fair play, Beaut, he does have a good eye for natural colour.  I'll miss him too, but no-one ties Heathcliff down.  Touring the UK will be right up his street."
"Well, since we've got the place back to ourselves, how about two old birds having some tea?"
"Less of the old, and yes to the tea.  How about a drop of sloe gin?  Let's drink to becoming Rich and Strange."

Friday, 20 March 2015

Needlefelting an Upholstered Box Seat - A Bad Beginning

Spinning combed wool tops used to seem less interesting than beginning projects from the raw fleece.  To be truthful, I felt tops were a bit of a sell out for the would be organic, unpasteurised wool freak.  Each time I have had a little go at working with them, I have been taken aback by the difference in the skills needed.
Coming to appreciate that tops offer a whole new range of yarn possibilities, last summer, I bought a few metres of soft, puffy Blue Faced Leicester.  Trying to emulate the gorgeous gradient braids sold by Indie Dyers, I dip dyed the ends in a woad bath. After mordanting with 10% alum and simmering in a weld dyebath, I ended up with a lovely braid of Lincoln greens, so felted that combing it back out again would have given me shoulders like Charles Atlas.
 It got stuffed to the back of the cupboard, along with another length, which I had overdyed with late season coreopsis, getting dull bronze shades and a grim dark green. 

Two second hand Lloyd Loom style storage baskets have also been knocking about the house, waiting for refurbishment.  The sitting room needs extra seats and I need safer havens than the top of the dining table to keep my works in progress.  I repainted the first one, stapled some boiled wool blanket loosely over the top and stuffed it with some rough old washed fleece. 
The perfect canvas for a deeply symbolic needlefelt design I have been brooding over for some time.

Elinor Gotland returned to the nest during a break in filming 'The Girl with the Sheep Tattoo'.  She has brought another member of the cast back with her and I am getting just a bit fed up with the pair of them, billing and cooing away and expecting to be made endless cups of tea.
"Heathcliff, darling, look what Fran is up to now!  Lovebirds, how terribly swee-eet."

"Actually, Elinor, 'Two Birds in One Tree' is an ancient Celtic symbol with layer after layer of meaning. Here, have a look at Aidan Meehan's book."  She barely flipped through a couple of pages, before turning to simper at Heathcliff Wensleydale again.
"Mmm, fascinating, I'm sure.  Your interpretation isn't a patch on his version though, is it Beaut?  Aren't the two birds supposed to be identical?  Yours isn't symmetrical either.  In fact, I think you must have started a bit far over to the left. "
Distracted from the task in hand, I accidentally stabbed myself with the felting needle, dropped the ball of handspun Hebridean yarn I had been working with and let loose a few expletives.
"Now then, lass.  Th'art champion wi' Anglo-Saxon, anyroad."
"Heathcliff, you're such a scream!"  Elinor went off into silvery peals of laughter.
"Yeah, funny as when you caught your left teat in the flyer."  I muttered through gritted teeth, as I migrated upstairs.  Best I wrestle those felted green tops into needlefelt without a running commentary.

To be continued.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Preparing and Spinning an Exmoorino Sheep Fleece

The very name Exmoorino sparked my interest - it sounded so commando.  When a friend brought a fleece back from a Wool Fair last summer, I crawled enviously around the huge thing displayed on the grass. Experienced spinners pronounced it 'a dream to prep' and fingering the long, crimpy white staples, I started to dream of spinning miles of soft, bulky yarn.

Of course, there are no military associations outside the homonymic.  Exmoorino is the name given to a cross between Exmoor Horn and Merino sheep. Exmoor Horn is described in the Fleece and Fiber Source Book as a meat breed of sheep that has been grazing in the Exmoor National Park for a couple of hundred years.  I vividly remember watching white lambs leaping about when I visited Exmoor decades ago, long before I took any any interest in fleece. The wool fibers are rated quite coarse, but full bodied and easy to spin. Having owned plenty of jumpers labelled Merino, I knew these sheep had particularly soft, fine wool, but til I read the Source Book, I never realised the breed originally came from Moroccan rams shipped across as stud for Spanish ewes, nearly a thousand years ago.  This proved such a successful match for wool production that subtypes of Merino sheep have spread through Europe and beyond.  Two things have put me off buying Merino to spin.  The first was inverted snobbery.  Why would I want to spin my own yarn from a wool anyone can buy from the shops?  The second was a more crucial and harrowing experience.  In my early days of spinning, I ruined the most expensive fleece I had ever bought - a Merino X Shetland - while trying to wash it. When an opportunity came up to buy an Exmoorino fleece online, I jumped in, hoping that preparing it to spin would be more of a dream and less of a nightmare.  You can see from the photo at the top of this post, I paid postage on an awful lot of grub.  Another reminder to me that it really is better to get to a Wool Fair in person.   

The whole fleece was a great deal smaller after skirting off the wool I did not think would repay the washing and carding it needed.  Staples varied in length from about 7 to 11cm. More problematic than the natural grease plus dirt, was the significantly coarser quality at the britch compared to the soft locks around the shoulders. After sorting, the good part of this fleece was lovely, no weaknesses or breaks, fine to rub between the fingers with lots of lanolin, but no significant staining.  This picture shows about 500g of open locks of fairly uniform length, with both bounce and softness.  Since the initial fleece had been so big, I still had over 2kg suitable for my project.  I washed it carefully, in four portions, using hot soaks with Unicorn Power Scour and three hot rinses to remove the moderately heavy grease and dirt.  A dreamily successful scouring, if I say it myself.

This was all done last autumn, when we had a long mild run, good for drying wool and not cold enough to kill off my Japanese Indigo plants.  Even in November, there seemed to be far too much foliage on them to dump on the compost heap with all the waste fleece, so I spent ages chopping up leaves for a dye bath, following these instructions on the Wild Colours website.  
Theresina is quite right to say July and August are the best months for harvest.  All I got for my trouble was a modest amount of bluish fleece and not a wildly attractive blue at that.  I put some of it in a pot of yellow cosmos dye, adding in dissolved alum to act as the mordant, simmered it up to overdye and got an even more matted lump of yellowy green.   
And thus I learned that Exmoorino felts easily in a hot dye bath.  Well, no, I only made this deduction after I had wrecked the rest of the blue wool, unable to resist seeing what would happen if I simmered it up with the last of a dish of fermented Evernia prunastri, blown down in the winter storms. Mangled clumps of purplish pink fleece, for the record.  These educational experiences came to an abrupt halt as Christmas approached and I noticed what a state my house was in and realised how little time was left to finish making presents.
Well, how lucky this began as such a huge fleece.  In the New Year, I found I still had about 1.5kg of unadulterated, clean Exmoorino.  Using the dog brush to flick out the butts and open the dusty tips, I fed 25g at a time into my small drum carder, drafted out the initial batt and carded it through one more time to make a really satisfyingly full and bouncy batt of soft, cream coloured fibres.  Spinning a nice even skein of chunky weight yarn was easy, as Exmoorino does share the Exmoor Horn virtue of good tempered handling and the wool really is soft and gentle on the skin, if more cosy than silky. 

I did experiment a bit, spinning finer yarn, though I had thought from the start this would be just the stuff for some really bullky knitwear.  My sister loves a huge jumper to hide in.  She likes plenty of colour too, but that wasn't happening.  The best I could manage was brushing out a few of the least matted dyed locks and laying a couple of bits of each shade onto sections pulled from the length of the plain batts.  Rolling each section up into a sort of rolag, the coloured locks drafted through in random lumps, giving a slub effect.

Each skein of yarn has uneven twist and variable thickness, but Pip enjoys that sort of thing. Trouble is, the process has got interspersed with spinning fine yarns from other fleeces, as an antidote to the endless round of drum carding Exmoorino batts. Given my decision to spin bulky, one batt gave hardly any spinning time, using short forward drafting and no fussing about exactly how much fibre got drawn through. Two batts from 50g scoured fleece made one single and since a fair amount of waste got brushed out, one thick skein of two ply weighed just over 80g. Somehow Spring is arriving and I have ended up with one white chunky and six superbulky slubbed skeins, but some are almost as heavy as four wraps per inch while others are nearer seven. I am working on the eighth skein at present and have noticed that there is only enough fleece left for two more. Grand total of spinning will be 700m. 

I name this yarn Summer Slubbing.

Now to knit a close fitting jumper. Where did that huge fleece go? Good job my sister is skinny.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Wet Felting Alpaca Again

In the Spring a middle aged spinner's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of felt. Reflecting on my second year of writing about wool, I can see my interests do run in a seasonal cycle.  The pleasure of having readers is still fresh.  For the record, the blog has had over 80,000 page views now and what is more, in the past year I've had a free book to review and three articles published in Yarn Maker magazine. Getting paid for writing surely makes anyone some sort of author. Seeing as Wool Tribulations began with a Felt Bag Epic, for this second anniversary it seemed timely to have yet another go at wet felting. I look forward to enjoying any number of future botched projects, as experience of this particular craft has taught me little except that twelve months is just long enough to drug my memories, lest I learn it. Yup, this week I shall be indulging myself with bastardising Alfred Lord Tennyson's Locksley Hall.  'Let the great world spin forever' - there's a sentiment after my own heart and never mind his sour grapes poetic misogyny.  Elinor Gotland is off filming in Sweden, so I've no-one to take the mick.
In her absence, I invited my much more supportive friend BG over for the wet felt event.  I had watched the same video about felting alpaca as last year, hampered only slightly by having no soundtrack.  The jack for the computer speakers has been oddly temperamental since my kids went back to Uni. Anyhow, same method of laying out raw, grubby locks of alpaca, having rediscovered some rather coarse fawn stuff in Deep Stash.
You can see we are being ambitious this year, layering fleece on both sides of a resist with a view to making a hat.  The darker stuff is waste left over from spinning alpaca, intended to make a contrasting brim.  Once we had three layers on each side, the whole shebang was squirted with soap, sprayed with water and pressed flat and rubbed under a net curtain to start to set the fibres.
Now for the fun part.
Using the three colours of alpaca waste, run through the drum carder to make strips of roving, we laid out swirly flower shapes and put in bits of dyed silk for the centres and strips of green to jazz it up.  Once these had been wetted, rubbed and flattened, the whole affair looked less like road kill and positively Ascot. 
Now for the hard yards.  
Swaddled in bubble wrap, that hat was rolled until BG and I could roll no more.  We made tea and
co-opted her son to roll on with more youthful vigour.  Even after a couple of plunges from hot water into cold -
O my felting, loose and lumpy!
O my alpaca, full of dust!  
O the dreary, dreary rolling!  
O I give up in disgust!
BG's desperate attempt to needlefelt the hat into shape on a sponge football was doomed from the start.

Last Resort.   
A hot cycle in the washing machine shrank the thing so much I could barely stretch it over our hat mould. Quite gutted myself,  I rang BG to break the bad news.

The fawn fibres had worked through to the surface, dimming all the patterns. What is more, the special hat mould proved to be too big. 
So I triumphed ere my passion sweeping thro' me left me dry. Left me with a rubbish hat.  Left me with 
a gusty sigh.      
 O, I see the crescent promise of my felting hath not set.  
Zips and wires of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet.
I darned the little place where a hole was and covered it with a crochet flower.  Sewed on a spare silk button and that is a functional felted bag.

Am I mad that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?
I will pluck it from my bosom tho' my heart be at the root.
Slowly comes a needle felter, as a lion, creeping nigher.  With BG's skill that bag becomes celebrity attire.

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range.
Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change.