Friday, 27 February 2015

Spinning Baby Alpaca from the Lock and Knitting Tartan

In which Fran meets a computer virus.

One day, Fran was blogging along happily, with a nice pile of reference books and a cup of tea beside her.  Suddenly, the screen went dark and Fran looked up with a sinking feeling.  A particularly heavy volume was resting on her hard drive, right on top of the off button. Months ago, restarting the computer had mysteriously come to necessitate reloading its internet access programmes. Being a Blogger of Very Little Brain, Fran had avoided trouble by keeping the beast fed with a constant supply of electricity. Some hours after the inadvertent shutdown, she crawled away from the keyboard, lifted up her mobile phone and made a loud, roaring noise of Sadness and Despair. 
"Help, help! Matt, I've caught a Heffalump!  A Heffable Horrolump!"
"What did it look like?"
"Like - like - It had the darkest screen you ever saw, Matty.  A great enormous thing, like - like nothing.  A huge big - well, like a - I don't know - like an enormous big nothing.  Like I accidentally downloaded a computer virus." 
"Well," said Matty, charging up his phone for a long night's long distance IT assistance, "I shall sort this virus out by means of a trap.  And it must be a Cunning Trap, so you will have to help me, Fran."
"Matt," said Fran, feeling quite happy again now, "I will."

In which Fran leads an expotition into Deep Stash

What is in my stash?  It is just full of things to discover, Fran thought carelessly, not being quite sure herself.  As the lid of the storage chest began to fall shut on her head, she backed out with an armload of Interesting Things.  In amongst them were three 50g bags of baby alpaca, bought from the Fleecewitch in 2013.  Wonderful discovery, blissfully soft, fine fibres in natural fleece colours that would definitely suit her ginger headed little brother Matty.  Brushing out tiny bits of debris, she spun them from the lock, fine as possible, drafting about one inch per treadle on the 1:15 
wheel ratio.  Each single was Navajo three plied, to make one skein per colour about 90m long.  Rediscovering an equally ancient 100g leftover of white alpaca fleece from TOFT, she spun that up the same way and hurried off to the front of the online Expotition in search of an heroic pattern, fit for an Antiviral Pioneer. But we shall never know what she might have found, for there came a sudden squawk from himself in the kitchen, 
"Fran, is this pot supposed to be boiling over?"
With a loud cry of alarm, she rushed the white alpaca yarn out to the garden to cool.  "Oh disaster!"
As Fran came back inside, himself remarked  "Thank you for asking, but I shall be able to use it again in a day or two."
"Use what?" said Fran.
"What I was telling you about.  The cooker."
"Were you?"  said Fran, looking puzzled.
"My mistake again.  I thought you were saying how sorry you were about my cooker, being all soaked and filthy, and could you do anything to help?"
"No," said Fran.  "That wasn't me."  She thought for a little and then suggested helpfully: "Perhaps it was somebody else."
"Well, thank them for me when you see them."

In which Princess Franklin comes to the fore, and Fran does some maths  

"Fran," said Fran to herself, taking out a pencil and licking the end of it, "you haven't any pluck."
Plan to Complete The Princess Franklin Plaid Collar
  1. General Remarks.  The alpaca yarn has been spun to the wrong weight and there are only four colours, not five.
  2. More General Remarks.  There probably won't be enough yarn.
  3. Therefore.  I shall have to go up a needle size to 3mm to make the gauge which will mean a thinner, looser fabric and I shall have to make a narrower collar.
  4. A thought.  If I look at the colour wheel in Franklin Habit's article in Knitty, I see that blue is opposite the tawny shades and I could dye some white alpaca with woad to be my fifth colour that will make the whole thing 'pop'.
  5. See 3. If I cast on 56 stitches instead of 72 for the main body, a nine inch deep collar ought to keep the draft off the average neck.
  6. Another thought.  The narrow collar will not accommodate the whole plaid pattern.
  7. But I could start the weave instructions nine rows late and finish 9 rows early in order to keep one block of the main plaid pattern central.
  8. And Matty would never discover the difference.  Unless he reads Knitty. Or goes on Ravelry.
  9. Which he never will!

"Aha!" said Fran, weaving in hundreds of little ends of yarn.
"I name this collar 'Heffalump Trapper'.

In which Matt has a birthday and gets a present.

With thanks to A A Milne for excellent bedtime stories and to Malwarebytes for clearing out monsters from under the bed.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Making Silk Fabric Covered Buttons

I bought myself a new toy.  I'd say it was an impulse buy, only I must have lurked around looking at it on eBay half a dozen times.  Then I pressed BUY - impulsively selecting not just the button making machine, but also a die mould and a bag of button blanks to fit in it. Delivery from China was really quick, though coinciding with the festive season, so no chance to play about til the kids had gone.  Before Christmas, I made a couple of ties out of the silk scarves I contact dyed last summer.  The left over strips and scraps were too good to throw away, yet too small to make anything much.  This machine's only instructions were a series of pictures online.  When the tops of my first silk covered buttons popped off faster than I'd got them on, I cursed myself rotten for buying a pig in a poke .

Reading other websites, I guessed the button blanks needed a bulkier fabric to grip tightly, but the whole idea had been to use up my precious silk.  After potching about with other stuff from the rag bag, I discovered the silk would snap on securely when laid over thick cotton interlining left over from making curtains.  Mustn't have too much fabric trapped inside the shell for a proper closure, nor so little that an edge comes loose.  Forget cutting a perfect circle, make a square that is just a fraction wider than the outer diameter of the die mould and clip off the corners.  To shove the button shell down centrally with an equal amount of fabric round all sides, I used the end of a big wooden spoon.

The whole lot stays inside quite securely when turned upside down onto the base of the die, which has the button back inserted.  Crunch down the plunger on the machine and it clamps the two parts together.  Not quick or easy, but the buttons are sound, very neat and pleasing.

It is a rare thing to find a quality cast off in our local charity shops, but I like to have a nose about on a Saturday morning while himself is doing something manly, like going in the bank or having a haircut.  He has ceased to loiter impatiently on the pavement and will even come in with me, trying on this huge coat, which proved too big across the shoulders.  Since it was made with yards of real woollen twill, at £10 it was a bargain for me to carry home in triumph.  The fabric survived a much needed turn in the wool wash cycle and after a press with the steam iron, I decided to repair all the ripped lining and keep it as a greatcoat.  Who ever owned it had had hard wear out of it.  Must have been a big bloke who got bigger, because all the buttons had been cobbled back on right at the edge of the front opening. Such an intimate thing, a coat.  The right hand pocket had been used most, because that was torn out.  I pictured the previous owner striding

over a stile ripping the lining above the back kick pleat and pulling the right shoulder stitching out while manhandling stock.  Though I sewed back a good few seams, the twill fabric had no tears at all.  Incredible stuff, wool.  I haven't any idea how old this coat may be, it has no label except a tag to hook it up which says Made in Britain. Let's call it twentieth century.  Now it is back in action with handmade buttons, ankle length on me.  How my vintage look impressed the seagulls while I was out beach combing, oak leaf dyed silk buttons glimmering in the wintry sunlight.  

Only now, himself has decided that with a jumper underneath and the buttons in the line where they were supposed to be, the coat is a good enough fit for him.  
After all, he did see it first.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Dip Dyeing a Shawl with Woad

Happily for me, my current fetish for spinning laceweight from Polwarth locks coincides with an absorbtion in lace knitting. It seems to me there is more knitting in a fine shawl than there is in a chunky jumper. Though the metres of yarn used are fewer, the stitches per metre must be far more numerous. This pattern is by Boo Knits and is called Drift Away.  I thought I had made it rather quickly once there were only four rows to go.  Then it took about a week to do those rows, including spinning extra yarn to complete the picot bind off.  The stitch count doubles just before the end and I had not really appreciated that if casting off two stitches on the final row means casting on three and binding off five, that is much the same as doing an extra three super long rows.  I finished it last Saturday.
"This is totally frilly and great fun, Elinor."
"Much too coquettish for anyone with wrinkles. Unless you get a small fluffy lapdog, develop a larger bosom and wear all your beads at once - that would work."
I decided that although Elinor Gotland was still nursing a sore head after the opening game of the Six Nations, she did have a point.
"Do you think it would reduce the full on froth effect if I dyed a gradient of woad blues?  I've still got a few grams of powder left after doing those curtains last year."
"Doesn't really matter what I say, does it, Beaut?  You just get that dye pot out and give me a bit of peace."  Elinor shut her eyes and replaced the wet flannel on her forehead.

Threading a length of garden wire through the top of every picot was a marathon in itself. The woad vat was made with 5g powder, using the instructions on All About Woad. Dangling the end of the scarf from the towel rail on the extractor hood for five minutes, then airing it for ten minutes, then dropping the scarf a bit lower for another five minutes, I spent half of Sunday afternoon getting through eight successive dips.  Each dip gave an incremental depth of blue to the wool, the deeper shades have blended into each other, but there are tide marks on the paler stretches.

All that dangling stretched out the picot edge, so I only blocked the scarf very gently after a proper wash the following day.  

I shall call it Tidelines.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Scouring Polwarth Fleece and Spinning From the Lock.

Handspinning lace weight yarn was once a far off dream, a distant goal.  Friends told me it isn't actually that difficult, so long as you have well prepared fibre.  I was convinced they were right on spinning camp, when I first managed to spin some purple roving finely.  It has taken a lot longer for me to commit to proper fibre preparation at home.
Those who read this blog will know I have carried on trying to get fingering weight yarn out of fleeces, despite the same old slapdash scouring.  Spinning some commercially scoured and combed Wensleydale just lately rammed home the original advice. More effort in the preparation will pay dividends with the spinning. The photo shows raw Polwarth fleece, some separated into locks, with butts teased out and tender tips tweaked off.
My guru, Beth Smith, writes in the Spinners' Book of Fleece that locks can be parcelled up in tulle fabric to preserve the lock structure while scouring and I have heard others talk about using net lingerie wash bags. This all seemed OTT to me, but after struggling to untangle Black Wensleydale locks, even after scouring pretty carefully, I thought I'd give it a go.  I laid the prepared raw locks in lines inside the bags and pinned them with safety pins, then sunk the bags in hot water with a good dose of Power Scour.  Just a very gentle squeeze/press after soaking for twenty minutes, a fresh detergent soak and three soaks in clean water.  Lifting out the soggy locks, I rolled them in a towel and stood on it, which got most of the water out, but left me with locks that looked pancaked, like a cartoon steam roller accident.
They puffed up again as they dried, which hardly took any time at all. Beth says that bouncing a flicker up and down on the tips to open them out means they spin with more body than combed or carded fibres and have fewer neps.  With all the grease washed out properly and no matting, these locks of Polwarth spun up like a dream, effortlessly smooth.  I also took her advice on spinning from the butts, instead of the tips, so maybe that helped too.  On the 15:1 ratio on my spinning wheel, I was aiming for plenty of twist, but I must have drafted well over an inch per treadle, because plying to what looked about 10 plies per inch resulted in a skein that seemed overplied. with several twists forming in the loop when I held it up.  Happily, after another hot soak, the yarn turned out to be balanced just right and it really is laceweight.  Polwarth fleece gives such fullness and softness, even spun with the most aligned fibres, as utterly worsted as could be.  I've been through this sequence three times, and not spun 50g of yarn, but what a pleasure it has been.
"Ooo, I prefer natural colours and characterful fleeces. End of that era, is it?" Elinor Gotland spoke from her grandstand dragon hotseat. "Next you'll be lace knitting sparkly rainbow silk, Beaut."
"Actually, I am doing another Boo Knits shawl, Elinor.  I think I am addicted."
"Well, I'm not going to argue. January detox is over.  Pour me a sloe gin and you can bring out the beads and I'll say nothing.  Got to have something to get us through the winter."
Think we'll all be having a drink. Tonight, the opening match of the Six Nations Rugby is Wales v England in the Millenium Stadium. Cardiff will be seething.  Wonder who Elinor supports?