Saturday, 27 December 2008

Finally off the loom

After a lovely few days of family and friends, I was finally able to get the towels off the loom. I'd hoped to get them done before Christmas, but best laid plans and all that... it just didn't work.

They are hand towel sized, with a really nice soft hand and while I really enjoyed working with the natural coloured cotton, off the loom it looks totally impractical - white towels, what was I thinking? This is the pattern sample while still on the loom. I was checking for threading errors and finding out how hard to beat the weft for the results that I wanted.

When switching to the actual project thread, white on white with a coloured border stripe, suddenly the pattern just becomes a nice bit of texture. When the towels were done, I took them off the loom and stitched between each one on the sewing machine, tossed it into the washer and dryer to wet finish them and cut them apart. They are now waiting to be hemmed . Normally I put off finishing them but at least one of these is to be sent else where - okay, 3 or 5 of them, so I'll actually get the hemming part done promptly.

Next project? Hmmmm.. well I want to do a 3 colour basket weave project, just to play with a bit of colour. I've 2 shawls to weave and some natural coloured linen singles waiting their turn as well. The problem is that I want to work on all of them next and can't decide. There is also a scarf project in the planning for one of my boys who requested it. I'd totally do it next but alas, the yarn stash doesn't have enough of the desired colours.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Happy Me!

Yesterday I started this. It's simple tea towels, just as a get going project. It's natural 2/8 cotton. The pattern will be a simple diamond twill, easy to weave during busy times. The borders will be in various colours, to show off the weave and coordinate with various kitchens. I love the color of the natural cotton! Only a 5 yard long warp, so it won't take forever to weave off. With kids coming home for the holidays, my sewingroom will become a guestroom as well. No use having a project on the loom that I'm desperate to finish while the room is being occupied.

Today, a quiet knock came at my front door. A delivery person dropped off a huge box. After pulling out giant staples, crumpled newspaper and styrofoam sheets, I cut off the large plastic bag. I had to untape a gazillion - okay maybe a dozen, 4 inch squares of foam and drum roll please..... LOOK WHAT I FOUND!!!!!!!!!!

This is all moments after a call came to tell me we have a house viewing at 9 am tomorrow! I have a new project to get on the loom and a new drum carder to play with and now I get to clean the muddy footy prints off my kitchen floor all day because it has rained all night and the snow has melted, yard defrosted, leaving lots of mud for my puppy to play in!

Okay, so I did take time to try it out... sigh... happy me.... It's lovely. Not only is it pretty to look at but it seems to be very solidly made. It's a Patrick Green Deb's Delicate Deluxe . This drum is for finer fibres but they have an interchangeable drum for long, strong fibres as well, which I didn't get. The service was quick and the lady I spoke with on the phone incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. On top of this all, it is a reasonably priced drum carder. This means that I can actually process some of my fleeces manually instead of sending them out and still have time to get fleece to projects done. I was going to say it's like Christmas in December, but really Christmas is in December, so it's early Christmas..
Now to find a safe place to stash it so visiting little hands and inquisitive kitty cat won't find it :)
(The blue batt is merino dyed with Dyer's Knotweed - Polygonum Tinctorum last fall. The yellow is Shetland - Jessie, dyed with Dyer's Broom just a few weeks ago.)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

winter wooliness

The mystery fibre is spun. It spun easily and the separated colours showed nicely rather than the dull grey when spun together. I had a photo of the skeins, in which the colour differences were actually distinguishable, but I saved it someplace safe and can't find it right now. I started nalbinding some mittens as I can't find mine anywhere. I realized that it was going to take a tad longer than I would have liked as I find nalbinding quite slow, so I knitted up a quick pair just to keep my hands warm while I finish the nalbinding.
The mittens are the same size but the colours are slightly different, one being more blue than the other. I don't use a pattern for plain mittens. My mother knit a gazillion mittens and I think I just absorbed how to knit a plain mitten as a kid. I used to jot down the numbers for the first one so I could duplicate it, but I don't even bother with that anymore. The one thing I did do with these mittens is use a needle size about 2 or 3 sizes too small. As well, I adjusted my tension so it was overly tight. For mittens I find this makes a very warm and windproof mitten, without having to felt it, which I find stiffens up the mittens to much.
The scarf on the loom is taking longer than I'd like mainly because I'm trying to be a conscientious mom and not wake up my son who is working nights. My loom gets to be a tad noisy when I get into a rhythm and since I use a drill as a bobbin winder, I worry about that noise as well.
I'm expecting some fleeces back from Wellington Fibres anytime within the next month or so. I was told to expect them in January. It takes a while for them to process fleece, but they do it so very well that it's worth the wait. I've been washing one and dyeing parts of it though I've been warned that I should think about putting it all away. I think it looks quite festive and rather Ealdormerean as well. I'm still running that madder vat and still getting lovely colour!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Winter Dyeing

I decided that I needed to do some dyeing. The previous blue, green, grey and orange fine wools needed to be augmented with yellow, rusty red and a dark colour - dark grey or black. The latter will have to wait until I get an appropriate coloured roving however I thought that perhaps the Dyer's Greenweed might still yield some pigment, despite it being late November and having had well below normal temperatures with lots of snow.

After 2 trips to the storage locker, I finally found the dye pot and scale, that I'd left in a "handy" spot -meaning near the front, in a plastic storage bin without a lid so nothing could be put on top of it. Hubby grabbed a white fleece from the storage locker as well. It turns out that I'd put all the washed fleeces in proper bins and the only one we could see ended up being "raw" - but it's a nice fleece. So my house smells of raw wool, wet wool and freshly dyed wool once again!

The Dyer's Greenweed still had lots of hardy looking leaves, amazing since we've had a number of really cold nights (-12ish). The waxy leaves hold up well obviously, although I'd just trimmed the shrubs back a few weeks ago to do a dye day with a friend, so there was no new growth. I got 100 grams and that included the woody stems - but it would be enough for a decent sample providing the pigment was still viable. I was totally amazed by the brilliant yellow. It is gorgeous.

I even did a quick woad vat, with leaves I'd dug up from under the snow. I've gotten useable blue pigment after snows and light frosts but there wasn't any blue left :( It was good knowing though that you only have so much time to get that last dye vat in with the woad.

Then I took some of the madder that I'd used earlier this year for the red wool that I turned into a dress. I had dried and saved the roots. Half were used at the above dye day and the rest I took home with me the other day in order to try out at home. I got a gorgeous colour and if I had a place to save the roots, I think there is much more pigment in them. That makes madder a really good option for dyeing, with multiple colours available from multiple uses of the roots.

As I'm running out of handy spinning fibres, I took some of Wellington Fibres mystery rovings and started spinning them. It was a blend of colours, mainly blues, with some greys, black, greens and red. The first ball of the whole roving was a grey with a few highlights. I thought it was rather uninspiring, so I separated the rovings into main colourways and spun them individually. They are much nicer now.
I even had time to make shortbread cookies for a meeting and had a great deal of fun making a mess while drizzling chocolate over them with a fork.. very fun and easy to over do it!

I had to miss Wassail due to hubby's company Christmas party. Since I ditched out of the last couple of Christmas parties with his former company and did the same with a family wedding to go to A&S (it's all cool 'cause he arranged it so I didn't have to do the wedding thing before I even had to think about it), I figured I should go. It was lovely and casual with kids running rampant around a small, independant winery, where we met for dinner. A nice meal and the only day with great weather since I got to drive home the 2 hour trip afterwards.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Blanket

Sometimes I surprise myself when things that I perceive to be taking forever suddenly get done before I realize it. Part of it I think is that I often work in small spurts. When my kids were young, I often didn't have a long stretch in which to work on projects. I learned that by giving a project your whole attention for only 15 or 20 minutes at a time, one can make real progress. That is what I think happened with the blanket. In small spurts, it got woven, off the loom and wet finished in really good time. Of course the centre seam and the hemming took hours and hours. I was totally tired of iffy home decorating shows with designers making ugly "art" from felt cut outs and leaf prints, CSI and cooking show reruns - Why do they only play the same 6 episdoes I've seen, over and over? The centre seam was done by picking up the weft threads on one side, then the other, back and forth, running an "extra" warp thread through to connect them all. Nearly invisible except for the fact that the alternating striped pattern caused a small pink line on oneside and a brown one on the other.

The yarn is labelled "mouton" - so wool and I think is 6/2. It's very soft and I had absolutely no choice of colours as it was a stash sale - so it was brown, grey or pink. The grey wasn't enough contrast for the pink and didn't look right with the brown. The brown and pink might not be my first choice in colour design, but it looks amazingly nice together. My son has told me that it is "red" and that he thinks he should have it. I take that as a compliment.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

spinning, dyeing, weaving

The other day, a friend asked me to spin her wool for a project she had in mind. It was to be small amounts of a number of naturally dyed colours. Of course I said yes. I'd been waiting for a project to get things back to normal. My spinning wheel was tucked into a corner to "showcase" my lovely antique pieces. According to the realtor, this is important, even when your "antique" spinning wheel is only a year old! However, it normally sits out in the livingroom so I can use it whenever I take a break. You wouldn't believe how wonderful it felt to get the wheel back in action. I hadn't realized that I missed the relaxation of spinning quite so much.
At any rate, instead of spinning in small doses, I went on a spinning jag with something satisfying to show for it! I'm not happy with the madder orange. The colour is great but the fibre was very harsh and spun up with the same characteristics. The yellow tags are yardage amounts.

On the loom is a summer and winter variant from Cloth and Clothing in Anglo-Saxon England - P. Walton Rogers. It really isn't a true summer and winter as it doesn't have the tabby tie down, but it's fun and easy. It makes a very interesting rib pattern which I can't wait to see off the loom. It's been interesting weaving something nearly the full width of my loom as it is quite a stretch for me- a Teridactyl arms reach I don't have! For some reason I didn't think it would take as long to weave off as it is taking, but there have been a bunch of distractions. I've already a huge list of projects in the wings so maybe it is just that anticipation which is making it seem like it's taking longer.
On the other hand, having a blanket which will fit on a queen sized bed, even though it will have a seam down the middle, will be pretty nice to snuggle up to.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


From Helen's website -"I have been tagged! Apparently I have to list 7 little known facts about myself and pass the baton on to 7 others."
I don't normally do things like this, or chain letters etc - mainly because I worry about being a nuisance to others and because I'm pretty shy most of the time and am not overly comfortable with opening up right away. However, after thinking about it, I decided to throw my concerns to the wind and try it...
7 Little Known Facts About Nina - who may also be known as Odette.

1- I have 4 children - They are all grown up
2- I own a Klingon dictionary
3-I hate sitting around not doing anything - okay, you might have suspected it but you know for sure now -
4-I like dolls -antique porcelain and ball jointed dolls - have done so since I was 2 years old!
5- I hate going barefoot
6-A dog ate my wedding cake -
7- Dark chocolate and bitter sweet chocolate are my favourites

My apologies to those whom I am about to inflict with this..
Karen, Tammy, Cate Sorry, there are only 3 of you whom I have blog info for and feel comfortable in passing it on :)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Weaving, weaving and garden update

Winter is setting in and the garden has been put to bed for the season. I've pulled more junk out than I expected, transplanted a few things to a friend's farm and ended up digging up all the madder. I had hoped to transplant it at the farm as well but an ill fated wind blew through the night I'd dug it up. Despite leaving the roots heavy with soil, most of them had started to dry. They ended up drying out in the barn instead.

I've been told that if I want to keep the "loom room" looking presentable, I have to keep a project on the loom at all times because without it, the room and loom look ugly. Oh Alas! The trials of trying to sell a house in a slow market! So I had two choices, either keep a project on the loom for decoration, or just try to keep weaving. Guess what I chose?

Here are the finished wicklebander! They took a lot longer to weave than I expected. They are really pretty, soft and quite light in weight. They were finished for hubby's birthday. He seemed happy. I mean what man doesn't want a set of handwoven wicklebander for a birthday pressie?

The linen thread singles that I'd spun a while ago were beckoning me. I had some cotolin thread which I used as a warp. Once again I was told that weaving with linen singles, even for just the weft would be a trial and extremely difficult to work with. Well these singles were strong. I had to use scissors to cut them. Once I realized that, I didn't worry. I did weave with them wet. Everything I read said to soak the bobbins overnight and keep the room at 50% humidty or mist the warp occasionally. Even with the cotolin, I misted. The linen singles did work much better if I soaked them for a few minutes and then let them set for an hour before using.
I was told linen was really hard to work with and difficult to weave with. I found it non of the above, providing I kept it damp. When it dried, it was slightly more fussy. The one concession I did make was with weave structure. I had wanted to play with huck weaves. Unfortunately they were a bit more fussy to thread. We had an open house and some viewings right about the time I needed to get the project on the loom. Instead I went with a straight twill threading and did 4 different structures; tabby, 2/2 twill, basket weave, 1/2 basket weave. The tabby, 2/2 twill and one basket weave cloth had handspun linen weft, the remaining basket weave and 1/2 basket weave used cotolin weft - cotton linen blend. It shrinkage rate was quite different between the two fibres. They aren't gorgeously pretty due to the natural linen colours, but they will work well camping in the summer, for covering food and drying dishes.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

I've been digging in the garden. I've moved a few plants to a friends place to hold for the winter, just in case we do actually sell the house. In reality, they'll do really well there as the spot gets lots of sunshine, is sheltered from the wind, gets lots of snow cover and is very fertile loam, being a 35 year old pig manure pile. It is well composted. The bloodwort, a dyer's greenweed are currently there. As well, I scattered a bunch of woad seeds for spring harvest. I'm going to move my madder bed there soon as well. Mainly though, I'm just pulling all the weeds and cutting back stalks for the winter and to make the garden space look tidy.

I feel like I've hardly accomplished anything over the past week, although the house is ready to list, or at least ready to call in a realtor and see what they think. It's been the most stressful house selling/ moving I've ever done and we're not even there yet, probably because we didn't initiate it and were woefully unprepared for this.

With the blue diamond twill sitting and aging until I get the energy, time and space to do something with it, I dressed the loom with what I thought would be a fast and easy project. Who'd of thunk that a simple pair of wickelbander (wicklebander?) would take so much effort? First I'd planned this project and bought the yarn in June. Then I let it sit until I knew I needed a fast project. I started researching it and that part has been totally fascinating - there are a number of properties which seem to come to light in the few number of fragments and pieces found. They're pretty much all 2/2 twill in a vertical broken herringbone pattern. Dyes used are orchil, woad, madder and some yellow and brown. They are mainly solid colours but a few have different coloured warps and wefts. The patterns can be inconsistent, switching directions at seemingly random numbers. One fabric bit has 3 selvedges, so perhaps evidence of the warp weighted loom as textiles woven on a warp weighted loom will indeed have 3 selvedges.
I had first threaded the pattern in the heddles, making a lovely horizontal herringbone. I had to un-weave, rethread and go to it again. Now I've a lovely vertical herringbone. It's a broken pattern, developed simply by skipping a shaft when switching directions. The rusty orange red, which I'd purchased at night and shoved in my cupboard, turned out to be the absolutely perfect deep madder red.
I've learned so much with this project and it's only just started. Edges - very different when you don't have the momentum of a boat shuttle. Beating - learning how to gently beat 'cause this project really needed a lighter hand. Counting for patterns - yea, right! hehehe I can see why the patterns could be somewhat irregular. Warp tension - it makes a huge difference in the fabric density and the edges as well. It sure was quick to dress the loom though - only a couple of hours, another added for the re-threading.
The Dyer's Knotweed has finally bloomed - when it's too late in the season for pollinators and we're having frosts - go figure that one.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Diamond Twill - done!

Yesterday I thought I only had about 1/2 yard left to weave on the diamond twill. No problem I thought. I started in the morning and ended up finishing by mid-afternoon. Obviously, I had a lot more than 1/2 yard left on the loom. When I took it off the loom, it was horrible. A twill like that should drape and be soft. This one was hard, stiff and crunchy! It practically stood up on end - yes, almost 9 yards of it standing by itself was pretty scary.
However, what comes off the loom isn't necessarily the finished product. I wasn't panicking quite yet. First you need to wet finish the fabric. That may mean soaking gently or in this case, popping it in the washer on the handwash cycle with a good glop of laundry soap and letting her go for 15 minutes. I took the fabric out of the washer and the smell of wet wool was wonderful. I'm guessing my wool/silk blend, didn't have alot of silk by the looks of the fulling process. The fabric though is wonderful. It is soft and drapey. It is really what I had hoped for with this project. There is about 8.5 yards of it right now. I took it from the washer to the ironing board and ironed it mainly dry. Funny thing that ironing the wool yardage will really finish the process.
This is all good since I had a bit of a scare when my ancient loom literally fell apart while weaving. Seems a couple of internal screws fell out. I found one and hubby the other so we had a quick repair session which very nicely put the loom back to square. This was after the screw holding the treadles fell off as well. It was an adventure to say the least but the outcome is good. Now the only problem is what to do with all this yummy yardage?

The next project is chevron twill wicklebander for hubby. I don't know that it will be any faster a project, except for dressing the loom as I'll have to use a small shuttle for this one. I hope I didn't pack them all! The yarn will be 12/2 merino in a commercially dyed madder rusy orange colour. 7 yards of 3 inch wide chevron twill coming up!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Distractions, distractions.. tsk, tsk

I should be finishing things up around the house. But I got cold, had to turn on the heat and got distracted while warming up. A huge cup of tea and a couple of projects which are more interesting than packing and cleaning will do that to me. Between things I should have been doing more of this week, I dressed the loom with a project I'd started before I wove the madder red wool. I'd wound off the warp and was about ready to dress the loom when I set it aside for the madder. Luckily, I thought about it before I bundled the chained warp into a plastic bag. I remembered to put in the worksheet I make up for each project I do, so I had all the necessary details at my fingertips.

It only took 3 days of sporadic playing at the loom to get it ready to weave and despite the broken diamond twill - from a Coppergate sample, being a tad fussy to treadle - two breaks with the same foot treadling in succession. Sorry it won't mean anything to non-weavers, but it does mean that it's fussier to weave than a solid walking pattern.
My first test sample was with the same weft and warp threads. Unfortuantely the marled thread for both warp and weft showed no pattern at all and I couldn't even find the 2 crossed threads that I knew I had. After changing to a darker thread, the pattern showed beautifully. While not common, different warp and weft coloured fabrics were found in early period and hey, why go to the trouble of a fancy weave structure if you can't see it? I should have over 8 yards of this fabric -a wool/silk blend.

I also present a lovely skein of tussah silk, dyed in the exhaust pot of madder from the red dress. I dyed it in roving form and the roving dried in what looked to be a matted, clumpy mess. However, when I put it to the wheel, it just opened up and loosened immediately. It was a dream to spin. I think all that flax must have worn off any rough bits on my hands. It plied up beautifully and now I'm trying to figure out what to do with this skein of 2 ply silk.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Madder, linen and cats, Oh My!

Last Sunday I was part of a Guelph Handweavers and Spinners Guild sheep to shawl team at the Drumbo Fall Fair. The guild fielded two teams. GHS team A came first while we came in 2nd, by only 1/2 point. The first place team scored 88.5 and we scored 88. We were pretty happy. The team is an amazing group of gals and it's so much fun to work with them. It was a great day and a really nice break.

Between scrubbing and packing extra stuff away, I actually got some more fun time in. I cut the madder dyed tabby woven fabric up. That was a pain as I didn't have quite enough for the pattern I'd wanted to use and had to set the pieces of a regular T-tunic several times before I could fit them on the fabric. I could have done an apron dress with ample fabric to spare, but it's too late now. It cut beautifully and I had almost nothing left over. I did save some of one selvedge edge as it is so nice and straight.
It's half sewn together already, however the cat has decided that he likes the madder dyed wool. I've put other wool pieces down for him, commercial wools, but he's having nothing to do with them, my cat of descerning tastes.
In between times, as the fairy tale goes, I've been spinning straw into gold or spinning flax. I've tried both line or flax strick and tow flax or flax top. Both required more spin than I'd expected. I wet spun them - don't use too much water, just dampen your fingers or you glue a whole fat bit together, which you don't want. Interestingly enough, I wasn't able to fill a bobbin as the flax doesn't spread out to fill gaps in the bobbin as wool does. It just piled on top of each thread, so I wound off at half a bobbin full. I got about 250yds - 360 yds per half bobbin, so that is pretty good. I have enough spun to use for the weft of a good sized tea towel. I'm out of flax fibre though and I want to spin more ... bwa ha ha ha ha... It's quite satisfying to spin flax that I can actually use for weaving more than a sample bit. The skeins are quite fine, pretty even and not many more little ends sticking out than the commercial linen singles I have. By the third bobbin, it was actually really nice.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Updating the Blues

The final vat of Dyer's Knotweed is finished. What fun that was and talk about a learning experience. Did you know you can leave the vat overnight and reactivate it in the morning? I figured that one out on the 2nd vat this past week. If I'd tried that for the first vat, I'd have had much more fibre dyed. As it was, I was hunting down all sorts of end bits of fibre to dye blue as all my fibre is packed away. So the total dyed with my 12 surviving Dyer's Knotweed plants - including one vat which definately didn't work was over 1130 grams - over a kilo of wool dyed. The breakdown was 762 grams of merino roving - then I ran out and had to change to yarn. The yarn was 310 grams of wool skeins from various breeds, mainly shetland -white and fawn with some Finnsheep and Bluefaced Leicester, plus another 60 grams of alpaca. You can see on the pictures of the skeins that the alpaca and the one on the right are from the final dye bath, which was definatley exhausting at that time. I tried and tried but couldn't get them any darker.

In between all this I was packing up the clutter in the house because hubby has been offered a job with a contractual requirement to move closer, quickly. This means our house will soon be up for sale.

Since my next two projects on the loom have to wait until I get the loom moved upstairs to my studio - apparently buyer's can't understand a loom being in the diningroom, I've been spinning. I was trying to finish off spinning the urine vat samples, when a couple of small ziplocks of flax fibres dropped into my lap. I realized that one of the next guild meetings was to discuss samples we'd spun from last year's meeting topics. Well, the artifical and new fibres I hated - and hid so I'd never have to look at them. The lace spinning was awesome and I had samples spun within a week of the meeting. The flax meeting I'd missed due to illness and was handed the samples at a later date. I didn't do what they wanted! I looked at my little ziplock bags which were obviously fibres to be blended - flax/soy - flax and something else. I dumped the blends - not for me at this time and just spun the flax straight. After I did the flax tow, I did the strick or line flax. Then I dug through and found some more line flax. Then I realized that I had another packet of line flax I'd set aside during packing and that hubby had packed my really nice, high quality pale flax and my distaff! So I'm using the towel technique, which works amazingly well and I've half a bobbin of linen singles spun. It's callous forming and I know I should stop and get my blue samples finished but I'll blame it on the cat. He only drinks out of the dripping tap and I've found out that he will also drink out of the fingerbowl I'm using to dampen the spun flax before I wind it on. I can't have a thirsty kitty now, can I?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Dyer's Knotweed Blues

I've realized that we're getting close to the end of our growing season. We could have a real frost anytime soon. So, not wanting to waste what I've grown and needing a diversion I've been harvesting the rest of the Dyer's Knotweed - polygonum tinctorium. I'm quite put out that the last bit of seed seems to have been misplaced in the clearing out of my studio as this stuff is now producing lots of pigment! Beautiful blues and lots of it.

It's a slightly different technique than processing woad, only in that you need to cook the leaves slowly to 160F before you can strain the leaves and oxidize the dye liquor. It is supposed to foam up like woad, but mine hasn't at all. This is the 3rd batch I've done this week and hopefully I'll have enough blue fibre to actually do something with, not just sample skeins.

I've only a few more indigotin urine fermentation vat samples to spin - wonderful colours and well worth the odours :) Spinning samples seems so fast and productive as you get the skein done in one evening! I've even remembered to label all the skeins - bonus!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

More pretty colours!

The UK dye samples are done. The Madder root and Weld were from Kentwell and the Dyer's Greenweed was harvested from the wild. Funny thing is that the colours are pretty much exactly what I have gotten with Canadian grown plants. Yay - huge amount of excitment as the colour correlations spanning across continents is very good news to someone who is interested in European archaeological textiles and reconstruction or experimental archaeology.

I'm in the middle of trying to use up my Dyer's Knotweed. I did a first experiment in August and had a rather pretty but pale ice blue colour. Because we could have frost anytime now, I just started picking leaves. I had about 600 grams of them. I followed Rita Buchanan's recipe from A Dyer's Garden and so far I seem to be having great results.

It is a bit different than working with woad. Woad foams up wildly and the blue pigment dances on the top of the foam. My two experiments with Dyer's Knotweed show nearly no foam whatsoever. I ended up using my stick blender to add air and only realized I was oxidizing pigment when the darned thing turned blue! No, I don't think it will come out but it is only used to make soap. The recipe said that 8 ounces of leaves would dye 2-4 ounces of wool. I put in 58 grams of wool and it dyed it a lovely blue - I then added more wool and it dyed it the same lovely blue. I've added more and more fibre and it's still dyeing it. I'm using merino roving and I'm running low. I'm betting I have enough of this blue fibre to actually do something with though, instead of just spinning samples!

Look what I found in the garden today! Woo Hoo - the apples are ripe! I had almost forgotten about them in the rush of the past few weeks but they practically glowed beside the white Rose of Sharon. Aren't they beautiful though?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Dye samples, Weaving, weaving, weaving

A friend went to England. I sent some mordanted wool with her as she had hoped to get a few dyeing experiments done. Instead, she brought me back the wool accompanied by some madder, weld and dyer's greenweed which was grown in Britain. They are all soaking right now to see what the difference might be. The madder was soaked in hot water for about an hour. The water turned this yellowy colour - which I drained off immediately after photographing. Yesterday it was a lovely deep cherry red but today it has started to ferment and is cloudy. I'll be dyeing with all three samples over the next few days. My dyer's greenweed is still flowering, so maybe I'll get a chance to do a sample with it as a comparison as well.

The red wool is off the loom. It took hours upon hours of weaving to get it all woven. I have just over 8 yards of fabric, tabby weave, with really good selvedges if I do say so- one of those wow moments when I realized that they were really straight. The fabric is pretty and it's been wet finished - still needs ironing. The last yard or so I wove off with a handspun grey shetland single. I was just playing around so despite the sett not being what was recommended for a twill -too loose apparently- I wove off a new twill sample.
The fabric is so wonderful. It is soft, it drapes and yummy. I'll be off to buy some more of that wool next week, if there is any left as I want to make a series of shawls with it as the twill weave was so nice. I will do nice fancy twills in patterns which require a bit of concentration but are easy to see when you make a treadling error. This weave was almost impossible to see errors with. I will admit that the last couple of yards of tabby weave on the madder red made me decide that I won't be doing too much tabby weave for a while.

Now to figure out what to make with all that luscious red fabric? The twill sample isn't big enough for a shawl, so I may need to cut it up for something - not enough for a hood but would it make a nice hat perhaps?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Weaving! Finally....

Lots of little things had been getting in the way of warping the loom. First, I'd said I would autocrat an SCA event called Fruits of Our Labours 2, (FOOL2). As well, I was trying to fit in making a 10th-11th C Anglo-Saxon outfit for my husband so he could be dragged along to a reenactment weekend. It was the first event of the Regia Angolorum Ontario group at the totally awesome longhouse and campsite. It was a totally relaxing and fantastic day and one of those spurs to more authenticity in re-creation archaeology activities. We weren't able to camp out that weekend due to some family commitments unfortunately.

Last week, between sewing and FOOL planning, I found time to start measuring off the warp on the warping board. It took 3 or 4 days - don't know exactly as I was just fitting it in here or there when I had time. The threading of the reed went really quickly, I'm presuming because a) I really enjoy dressing the loom and b) I'd done a good job of winding the warp on the warping board. Threading the heddles seems to involve some sort of time-space compression and expansion. From one side to the middle takes a fair bit of time - enjoyable time, but still. Once you get to the halfway mark, the heddles almost thread themselves, until the last 2 or 3 inches which seem to slow down and take 4 times longer than any other part. It took only 2 days and it was done. Then I started winding the warp on the back beam - I know, Front to back isn't supposed to be as good as Back to Front, however it works for me and I've never even seen a loom dressed the other way, since I taught myself to weave. The whole dressing of the loom went so smoothly that when it was done I was wondering why something hadn't gone awry.
I started weaving this afternoon and I sampled.. the sett looks good - it's a tabby so not much to go wrong with the pattern and it is pretty woven up. It isn't quite as red as my picture shows it, on my monitor at least. The fabric has a nice hand and I think my main concern with weaving this will be to keep the weft from packing too tightly.

This morning I made peach jam - mmmmmmm. It made the whole house smell delicious and it looks so pretty. I got to taste the little bit left in the pot for lunch and yep, it's a keeper! Peach jam is one of those comfort foods that I find to be a taste of summer. That is a good thing at the end of January, when the winds are blowing and the sun has forgotten to shine for the better part of a month and the high temperature is -17...

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Not so Mellow Yellow

On Sunday, I went to a friend's house. She owns Earendel Farm. Really, it was a Regia Wynmerestow work weekend, but Edith and I really just played. I helped her warp her loom. Then as she was jetlagged from a trip to the UK, we went for a walk and picked a half a garbage bag full of Canadian Goldenrod (solidago canadensis). I spent Monday and Tuesday cooking down the goldenrod into a large pot of dye. As well, I mordanted 2.5 yards of wool gabardine with alum on Monday and let it soak until I needed it.
This morning, I mixed the fabric with the dye, added a bit of water and slowly heated it. I kept the fabric moving as the pot I had was obviously much too small. After about 3/4 of an hour, I was getting awfully tired and the wool was very yellow!

I moved the wool fabric to a Rubbermaid tote, heated up the dye with a bit of copper sulphate ( 2% wog) and poured the hot dye over the fabric and kept manipulating it. Finally when I was too tired to move it around anymore, I rinsed it out and put it outside to dry.
- Goldenrod smells horrible cooking in large amounts
- Goldenrod has this very odd way of foaming whenever the pot is stirred or fabric moved. Lots and lots of foam.
- Goldenrod is very yellow - makes a very yellow dye
- When you rely on the properties of Copper to dull or green a fabric down - it WON'T!

This will be a tunic for my husband. He wanted a shirt in a colour other than white. I can't bring myself to make an Elizabethan shirt in a colour other than white, so he's getting a tunic. He is someone for whom I would spend 3 days dyeing fabric for... I did, with love and care... It is a gorgeous yellow, in a neon-school bus sort of way.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Madder Part ll

Madder is a natural dye which can provide a rainbow of colours in itself. It ranges from brown, purpley-pinks, brick reds, deep reds, burgandy, salmon, coral to bright orange. Acidify the water or mordant with cream of tarter ( tartaric acid) and it is easier to get oranges. Heat it too much and you get browns. Alkaline water brings out the blues. Adding calcium carbonate ( yes Karen, there is a reason) apparently helps with reds as it helps bind the alarzin into madder lac pigment.

So into my vat went the ground dry madder root. Didn't the coffee grinder to a good job? Then I tossed in the chopped fresh and well cleaned roots on top. I added 2 Tums - a convenient and easily dissolved source of calcium carbonate and covered it all with distilled water. We have really hard water here, but it has been quite chlorinated with all the rain, so I didn't want to take chances. Within a couple of hours, it started foaming and fermenting. I stuck the pot on the back of the stove and heated it gently to 100F several times over the next few days to help the soaking. When my son stuck his nose in the pot to ask what was stewing and said eeew, I figured it was time to try dyeing with it.

This experiment was to dye 3 lbs of merino yarn - about 10,000 yards. The warp and weft were divided ahead of time based on estimated yardage after winding off cones and into skeins. Knowing that I didn't have a pot large enough for the whole amount, I figured I would aim for one colour, with warp and weft in two different shades which would hopefully be close but not totally the same. Using two different shades of the same colour is a way to make handwoven fabric have more depth without being obvious.

I had also decided to do a low temp dyeing experiment and keep the temps below 160F, aiming for 150F or so. I also kept a running tab on the PH, making sure it was exactly in the neutral area - about 7. Yesterday I spent the day watching my dye vat, adjust the heat and gently stirring once in a while. After heating for about an hour and a half, I strained it - ugh, messy job and put in my weft wool, which by the way had been damp or mordanting in alum for nearly 4 days. This is what happened after a couple of hours of staying between 120F and 150 F. It looks like a huge pan of ground beef, but it is madder dyed wool.

Then I put in the warp wool and simmered. Because I couldn't watch it in the evening, I let it cool in the pot and after a quick check before bed, I let it sit over night. I chose to do the weft first as there is less waste so if the colour turned out darker than the warp, it would be a better use of dye. This morning the warp was a fine colour, just a tad lighter than the weft. It is waiting to be hung out to dry - raining again.
I am thrilled to pieces with the colour. The weft is fairly evenly dyed and a great madder colour. The warp is almost as evenly dyed, though there are a few uneven bits just 'cause it sat all night cooling.

Dyeing samples is fun. You can try new things, repeat others and using small amounts you aren't out much if something goes awry. Believe me, it can go awry and give you unexpected results. Dyeing for a specific purpose, aiming for a particular colour and dyeing a huge amount was a real challenge and I did worry that sometime later this year I might be weaving a length of fabric in clown hair orange or coral. euwwwww. In the end, I felt very MacGyverish when I was looking at the hanging yarn, thinking that I loved it when a plan comes together.

Monday, 11 August 2008


I had a lovely and relaxing holiday, camping at Pennsic. Our camp was on the other side of the lake, full of wonderful bards and with a pirate ship parked behind my tent. The only downside was having to say goodbye to one of my very best friends. I shall desperately miss running errands with her, sleepovers and sharing everything. She also had an awesome workshop, which while I will miss having access to, I'll not miss it nearly as much as I'll miss her.

I came home and between catching up on the laundry and making up t0 the beasties for being away, I started grinding madder roots. Lots and lots of madder roots - so far about 2 lbs of madder are soaking. There is dry madder root, some from last year's purchases and the rest I bought this year. I got to use my new coffee grinder to grind it up which is the best way I think to grind old madder roots.

There is fresh madder root that I dug up from the garden yesterday afternoon. I know why they suggest digging it up in the fall or spring. My arm is scratched to bits from the little thorny bits, trying to move away the greenery to find the actual plants. Three madder plants, all 3 years old, filled my 8kg kitty litter pail to at least the 3/4 mark.

I spent the afternoon and part of the evening grinding the dry roots, cleaning and chopping up the fresh roots. Each of the fresh root clusters seemed to have a clump near the top where the roots twisted around lots of dirt. It took a while to clean them all and my knife and cutting board were covered in orangey coloured madder juice. The combined dry and fresh roots filled my largest dye vat to at least the 1/3 mark, maybe more.

Now the madder is soaking, with a bit of heat once in a while as I've just read that the alarzin (dye pigment) in madder is more soluble in warm water. It is fermenting nicely - bubbling up and smelling very maddery. Good thing I like the smell and even better that nobody in my family complains about it. It smells like dyeing.

I've some finely ground madder yet to add, but this is all coarsely ground and I want to add the fine stuff later, after a few days of the coarse madder soaking. I think that the coarser stuff will take longer to soak, no evidence for it but mainly because I need to run out and get a new jelly strainer before I even think about adding the really finely ground madder powder, or I'll never get the madder powder out of the yarn.

I've almost 10,000 yards of 2/12 wool yarn mordanting in alum right now - 3 lbs of it. According to several different sources, the amount of madder should get me a rich colour - J.Liles says red, but not quite lacquer red. I'd be happy with something reddish and not rust or salmon coloured, and definitely not the bright madder orange. I'll be checking the ph regularly to keep the vat neutral or slightly alkaline as it is the acid side which gives orange.