September 27, 2010

Colours of September

One again, Sue has put out the call for the Colours of the month.   It is definitely autumn here.  The nights have cooled down substantially.   To the north of us, they've already has frost warnings.  We've been lucky so far and it's not dropped below 3 or 4C.    The fall colours are starting as well.   Not quite as brilliant yet as an hours drive north of here, but starting none the less.

 A single Maple tree, turning colour and already losing it's leaves.   By the time the rest turn, this poor tree will have lost it's finery.

A swan in the city of Stratford.   The Thames river runs through it, with beautiful park lands on either side.   There are a huge number of swans who live here, taken care of by the city I believe.

A Mallow plant.  This one blooms in the late summer, well into the autumn.   It's spectacular colouring is welcome this time of year. 

The last of the pie pumpkins.   They are all harvested now and I've baked pie, frozen the excess and given pumpkins away.    I'll do these up later this week, but am enjoying their colour on the back deck for the moment.

A brilliantly coloured Maple Leaf.    It's deep red colour caught my eye from a distance.   It's autumn here and for a few short weeks, the colours will be gorgeous.  

September 23, 2010

Sizing and Winding the Warp

I think the one question I've been asked the most about weaving with singles, is how do you size the warp?   I've only found a few written instructions.  Amos Alden's Big Book of Handspinning has recipes for several different warp sizings and is fairly easy to come by since it's still in print.  I've been told all sorts of different things and I'm sure there are some privately published and smaller books with this info in it as well. 

Here is my method and recipe.   It's easy, inexpensive, easy to wash out and it works.    While I worked it out before I read the above book, it's pretty similar.

Double Strength Gelatin Wool Sizing
Ingredients -
Plain gelatin
Cold water
Hot water

If you can find powdered gelatin in bulk, it is much more inexpensive than buying the little name brand packets.  Each packet would hold 2.5 tsps (12 mls)  and it gels 2 cups (500 mls) of water .  In a measuring cup, put 1/2 cup (125 mls) of cold water.  Take 2 packets or 5 tsps of gelatin and stir into the cold water.  This is an important step.  The gelatin must soften in cold water first or it won't dissolve properly later.  After 5 or 10 minutes, put 2 cups of water in a pot and start to heat it.  When it's hot, but not boiling, stir in the now goopy gelatin mixutre.  Stir until dissolved and liquid.  Turn off the heat and let it cool somewhat to just lukewarm.  It shouldn't start to set.  If it does, just heat it up a bit to soften again.

If I'm using the singles for a larger project, I'll mix up a double batch from the beginning.  By using the cold soaking water as supplementary liquid, I've found I don't have to add anything to thin it out a bit later.  I've always had to otherwise.

Take your skeins, set them to soak in the lukewarm gelatin mixture. Squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as you can, back into the pot and hang the skeins to dry.  I've put in pre-wetted skeins and dry skeins.  Dry skeins absorb more gelatin and maybe a bit more heavily sized but both work just fine.  Depending on how much active twist there is in the yarn, I've both weighted the skeins and left them to hang naturally. 

One the skeins are dry, wind them into cakes or balls  for dressing the loom or whatever process you normally use at this point.
I'm working with the warp for the hood project.   It sized up nicely and winding it into a warp was no issue at all.    This is the Z twist yarn.  Because my pattern is 19 threads - 10 Z twist and 9 S twist, I'm marking  the ends grouped in the appropriate numbers.  This way when slaying I can just thread all the Z twist ends first leaving spaces for the S twist ends later.
  Problems?  You bet...   I can't count!   Somehow I thought I had enough yarn and that 3 skeins of each would do it.    This is the first cake of yarn; 1 skein.  This is 60 threads of Z twist....   I need 310  for doing the twill.  Even if the other skeins are longer, I won't have nearly enough.   I redid my calculations today and sure enough, I'd plugged a wrong number into my little spread sheet program, which made a rather enormous difference.   Yikes..  I won't have the warp wound for our deadline but I'm still hoping to have it off the loom to put on display at an SCA event in November.

September 17, 2010

Analyzing Dyer's Knotweed Experiments

I've been thinking about the Dyer's Knotweed vats using the stainless steel pot as a double boiler as opposed to the canning jars in a stainless pot as a double boiler. In the first instance it was a small pot inside a larger one. The small pot balanced nicely because the handles fit on the rim of the larger of the larger pot. I had filled the small pot, not that small because it is an 8 quart pot, with leaves, covered them with water and then covered the small pot with tin foil because the lid wasn't handy. The canning jar double boiler had 3 canning jars because they are heat resistant and stronger glass than regular jars using the same pots.

The difference I could see after the fact was that while the leaves seemed to be packed into the stainless pot, the canning jars were much more firmly packed. Because of the way the rims of canning jars are, the leaves were held under the water more easily and there was definitely less surface area of the water exposed to oxygen. The stainless pot measured 8 litres but the canning jars were simply 3, 1 litre jars. While I don't know for certain, I think that the less air exposure was probably a big factor. As well, I wonder if it was easier to keep the temperature steady and high enough in the smaller canning jars than the larger stainless pot. I had a thermometer in the water vessel each time and with the canning jars, there was virtually no fiddling with the heat source temperatures compared to the stainless pot experiment.

Since the rest of my procedure was the exact same and the only differences were in which vessel I chose to heat the leaves in the first place, I can only think that it was the mitigating factor in the colour or lack thereof. Considering there were two vats in using each method and each time the 8 litre pot rendered less colour than the canning jars, I'm only going to use the canning jars from now on.

I redid the canning jar experiment the next day. I again got lots of colour and ended up letting the vat go because it was just too late in the evening for me to keep it up. I ran out of the white rovings I'd been using and put in some blue I'd dyed with indigo earlier this summer, thinking it might add a tad more colour to it. Instead it turned it greenish.. I totally wasn't expecting that!

There is much more Dyer's Knotweed to use. I've 1/2 lb of off white Bluefaced Leicester rovings that I can use and then I'm stuck with using white fleeces for the rest of this.

September 14, 2010

Dyer's Knotweed Comparison and Romney Hood update

For the past 2 days I've been harvesting and dyeing with Polygonum Tinctorium or Dyer's Knotweed. The first Knotweed dye vat yielded good results: a decent amount of medium coloured blue. There was a lot of pigment left, so this time I decided to do a comparison of methods I've been using. Two days ago I harvested 650 gms of leaves and put them in a stainless steel pot, inside a second pot to make a double boiler - as I had earlier in Aug.

The results were somewhat disappointing to say the least. The dye liquor foamed up but stayed a dull, dirty brown. The brand new container of Thiox I bought was clumped and obviously not fresh. That was also disappointing. The vat never really reduced properly and these were my results.. okay, I guess but not what I'd expected.

Doing the second vat also allowed me to see for certain if the Thiox was stale. I used the method I'd used several years ago which I was impressed with. It's pretty much straight out of Buchannan's A Dyer's Garden. I harvested only about 450 gms of leaves and used canning jars with smaller amounts in the double boiler set up. Once, strained, it took about 3 times as much thiox as I should have had to use, to get the vat to start to reduce. It never really got as greeny yellow as I like, but I dumped in my soaked rovings and was pleasantly surprised. I redyed the rovings from the previous attempt.

There are still many leaves.. I'm thinking I have at least a kilo left to harvest or maybe more. Some plants are even flowering, so my fingers are crossed for a late frost and some seed production. Until then, my free days will be spent dyeing things blue!


Much Romney fibre is being spun, although I'm not nearly as productive as I'd like to be in this area. My goal right now is to do spin patterned yardage. Spin patterning is when you use the twist of the yarn to create the pattern on the fabric. It's very subtle and will only show when the light hits it in just the right way. There are a few extant samples which show this technique, both in tabby and twill weaves. Since many of the textiles of that time period were spun using a medium hairy fibre, the Romney I have is pretty perfect for this.

I've got about 2000 yds of Z twist singles and nearly 1000 yds of S twist singles spun. To do a spin patterned twill, I'll need about 2300 yds of each. A spin patterned tabby is about 1500 yds of each. Not sure yet which I'm doing so I'm sort of going back and forth with Z and S spinning, so as to not over do it too much, until I decide which weave structure I'm going to do.

My goal was to spin 2 drum carded batts a day, however I'd neglected to take into account those days when I had other things planned. I've managed most days to fit it in and on most days I've spun extra batts in order to make up for the short falls on others. Still it is taking longer to spin than I'd anticipated. The winding the warp deadline for the challenge is Sept. 24 and I'm still spinning away. Once I get enough to do the warp, I'll start winding it and spin the rest of the weft as I go.

EGG update...

7 of the 11 girls are now laying and we are already up to our armpits in eggs. Still, chickens make good pets and require very little effort. The eggs are a bonus. That we have so many of them well, hopefully I have enough family and friends to take them off my hands.

September 08, 2010


We camped in the Wynmerestow Longhall over Labour Day weekend. The weather was not particularly nice. It was blustery, cool and rainy. The winds drove the rain across the field in a rather formidable fashion at times. We layered on the linen and then the woollen garments to stay comfortable... and we were! We harvested our vegetable garden! Considering we added no compost or other nutrients to the long fallow field, we had lovely baby leeks, an onion, parsnips, turnips and carrots to feed us all. Mainly carrots mind you, they did really well. We turned them into a soup to eat with our spit roasted beef.In order to get the fires going and the beef roasting, we had to put our canvas shelter over the firepits. It gave the boys interesting things to try with using wattle fences and cloaks as wind blocks.
Despite the wind, the cooking fires needed occasional help to get the water boiling for warming tisanes and heating dishwater. It's a good thing the bellows are very effective!
One of our members is a talented potter. He makes us all sorts of neat Saxon period toys to play with. This time it was lovely oil lamps. They are quite safe to use, having just a bit of oil floating on some water. If the vessel spills or cracks, the water extinguishes the flame. There were just a few of these lamps burning all night . The longhall had a lovely, warm and welcoming glow which made midnight trips to the loo much easier to manoeuvre.
Every once in a while there was a break in the weather and glorious sunshine blessed us all. At night the clouds parted with a star filled sky of immense beauty. The smoke of the fires was unavoidable. The smell of slightly damp wool followed us around as did the wet hems. Our boots though were waterproof and our spirits good. It was all too soon we had to pack up to come home. It was a good weekend - too short perhaps, but a good weekend..

September 05, 2010

Fresh eggs

A few days ago I went out to feed the chooks and there was an egg! The next day there was another, although it had a soft shell and was kind of icky. After day 3, we found a second egg so now two of the girls are laying. I was away over night and came home today to find two more eggs and my son had already gathered one, so 3 of the girls are laying now.
Woo Hoo. This is exciting or should I say eggciting :) Yesterday morning we ate fresh eggs for breakfast. While they were just the tiny first eggs, they were delicious and the deep yellow yolks are so pretty!