Autumn is really an amazing time, so happy and sad all at once. I’ve been tending to the living spaces, cleaning and buckling down for winter. The weather has been quite fine so I took some hiking time in my favorite source of inspiration, nature!
I usually like slow-burn projects to come to the fore this time of year, like spinning (so cozy) and my long term knitting voyage…
I just recently completed my 100th hexipuff for this project above: here’s Mister 100!
Yes, I’ve been happy and sad this season, as it is the time of year for remembrance of those we’ve lost. I lost friends this time two years ago, and this year have lost some older relatives, also. Time passes and we do the best we can to mark it as there is only so much to be had – and that’s why fiber arts directly represent love to me. We spend time spinning the threads or drawing the loops, precious time, dedicating it to another or perhaps just to ourselves. We leave our love in those fibers in the form of moments of thought, weaving a spell.
I hope this season has brought the best memories to you and of course lots and lots of hours of happy stitching ❤
‘Round about this time every winter my wandering creative eye starts to fixate on my spinning stash, as the cold and unpleasant weather of the Midwest drives me toward indoor activities that will relieve my mounting cabin fever. Besides spinning wool into crazy art yarns, I also hand dye wool rovings myself using professional acid dyes or experimenting with natural & botanical eco dyeing.
This year, my dye cabinet really needed to be worked through – I had POUNDS of wools stuffed in there waiting to be painted, and jars of dye I hadn’t even cracked open yet. On top of that whole situation, another imminent move (I’m a roving artist, myself – har har) meant that I really needed to downsize.
So in I dove, resolved to color all of the wool that I had laying around and produce a stash of things I could spin for years to come. 10-12 hours of labor and days of setting and drying time later, I had an extremely pretty and earthy toned woolen rainbow to cuddle.
But after that massive batch of acid dyeing, I decided I wasn’t done yet. I saved back about a half pound of wool because I had last summer’s reject elderberries sitting in my freezer, preserved with the intent to commit eco-dye.
In the past I’ve created my own botanical & food based natural dyes out of tea, coffee, turmeric, pokeberry, black walnut, and avocado – as well as trying out some commercial botanical dyes – and had mixed results. Usually it’s quite hard to get the homemade natural dyes strong enough to get good color and to mordant the fiber properly to get the color to stick. Still I get tempted because I’m a mad fiber scientist at heart!
In the late summer when we harvested 15-20 pounds of wild elderberries to make syrup and jelly, I discovered that while rinsing our little treasures the overripe and underripe berries tended to float to the top of the rinse water, making them easy to scoop out leaving the plump, juicy berries sunken at the bottom. I saved back all these rejects knowing at some point I’d try to dye with them, the perfect solution to not wasting pounds of harvest.
The dye process was quick, and I used this excellent post from Woollenflower to guide me. After a mordanting soak during which I boiled down my frozen berries, I drained the wool and put the dye berries through a cheesecloth sieve to separate off the liquid. The wool roving went into quart canning jars, each portioned with citric acid and elderberry juice, and I popped them into the canner to steam for about an hour. After the heat was applied, I let them cool overnight.
While most of the dye rinsed out, I’m still very happy with the gorgeous muted purples and pinks that appeared! Elderberry is particularly sensitive to pH levels, and I aimed to created a mottled effect with some alkaline color and some acidic color on the rovings – it’s hard to tell because none of my picture taking equipment captures these subtle tones in natural light, but I’m pleased with the result 🙂
I don’t expect a ton of colorfastness from this batch, so I’ll probably reserve this wool for creating a wall hanging, as I did with some of my Avocado dyed wool – an indoor decoration is the perfect solution to delicately dyed natural fibers which tend to fade in sunlight or with multiple washings.
I can’t stop looking at this gorgeous woolen rainbow, which I’ve had strung along my photo backdrop curtain string for weeks at this point just because it’s too dang pretty all displayed together like that 😉 But today I’ll pack it all away, now that my last stash of undyed wool is colored. I successfully cleaned out my to-dye-for wool stash, but now where do I put all the dyed wool??? Ha!
Almost all of my dyes, mordants, and dyeable wools come from Dharma Trading Co., a USA based tie-dye and fiber art supply company, and I highly recommend them for their products, free resources, and customer service!
Forgive me, fiber darlings, as the golden falling walnut leaves and the true approach of autumn sends me into paroxysms of nostalgia – you see, I’ve completed a very long personal fiber art project, and will not hesitate to use it as an excuse to wax sentimental 😉
Translation: This is a long personal reflection post and a project with no patterns. 😉
I had already been working with drop spindles at this point, but I was excited to take advantage of the larger, faster batches one could produce with the wheel. I dug into the first pound with vigor, producing a tight and even dark brown set of yarns… but like lots of large projects, the initial momentum got lost and it took me several years to finish spinning the rest of the fiber.
In the mean time I learned and experimented with lots of other things, and even added more alpaca fiber to the hoard, including a raw fleece gifted to me by a friend (not much of that one went into the final product – hand carding is a workout!!)
The fleeces followed me, like a little herd of alpacas themselves, though many phases of life in the past four years. I spun and played with them, dreamed with them. They reminded me all the time of the farms and ranches I worked at when I was younger and traveling the United States, work-trading as a farm hand at communes and eco-villages. Every fiber of them passed through my hands eventually, to twist together on the wheel or spindle – how many thoughts are in these fibers? How many dreams?
At once point I got exuberantly experimental about natural dyeing again (my first forays consisted of tea, coffee, turmeric, and a failed pokeberry batch way back in 2009-10 or so), so I started collecting the vegetable waste from my day job in the produce department and brewing up a big batch of avocado dye from the pits and skins. Raw material, collected and transmuted again. How many hands picked the fruit? How many dreams did they dream?
When I dive, I deep dive. I want to know the parts of a process like I know the breathing of my lungs, intrinsically, so that my fingers can read the dreams. To me, that is the way to respect – respect what, I don’t know. The energies it took to create everything around me? Maybe. It is gratitude, definitely.
When the fibers were carded and dyed and spun and plied and washed and dried, I took them to my fatter knitting needles: the 9.00 mm circulars from my interchangeable set. (I remember the super long knitted scarf from a decade ago, and how I tried to cram so many stitches of recycled cotton onto a cheap plastic yard sale needle and snapped it into oblivion, losing hundreds of tiny knit stitches to my cold-sweating terror…)
Good thing my tools have evolved with me. I knit and knit and knit, practicing my speed-purling, practicing my yarn overs, dropping stitches and switching to garter occasionally. I never got the bug for delicate knit patterns, I like my knits huge and stupid and chunky and easy.
I knew it was going to be a big folded rectangle essentially, with two arm holes. Simple. A large serape-like shell could be worn over other winter layers, since not all of the yarn I used is next-to-skin soft – but holy heck is it warm! Alpaca fiber is also naturally water-resistant, enhancing this wrap’s qualities as outerwear.
I played up the textural aspects of this piece, letting my big dumb rectangle be the blank canvas for every nuanced lump in the fiber. It was handspun; it was messy, chunky, uneven, perfectly imperfect. I did not want it to look sleek, cosmopolitan, curated. It was my glorious mess. So I did what I learned to do best in the grueling hours of the windowless rooms in studio art at Indiana University – turn imperfections into advantages.
(Mostly) planned dropped stitches provided visual breaks vertically, and lines of garter stitches complemented and accented the color changes horizontally, creating a weathered and distressed texture that plays up the lumpy, bumpy, mismatched yarnscape. The large needles allowed plenty of looseness in the stitches to give the otherwise square shell garment a flattering bit of drape. The rough visual style belies the incredibly squishy loft of the bulky alpaca yarns.
I can’t believe I spun 100% of this garment – it is my first large project to be entirely handspun. Some parts are a little scratchy, I’ll admit, and it certainly needs a second wash (it’s fragrant in a strongly camelid sort of way at the moment) – but this piece will warm me now in a special way, because so much of my story is now shared with it.
I get really excited when I finish a piece that’s taken me years, to me they feel like a victory! Previously, the Stump had been my longest-held project (3 years), but now the Alpaca Wrap (4 years) is the record holder 😉
And here’s my advice to every artist who may have had the tough moments, like me, that make dreams feel like impossibilities: Patience, patience, patience.
Sometimes for fun I’ll go back and see what I’ve been writing on this blog at the same time in previous years – it’s a nice perk of having years worth of posts, to see what kind of progress I’ve made. Apparently December and January is a common point in the year for me to be interested in working with spinning wool and working with handspun yarn. No surprise! It’s cold here during these months and the low light of the dead of winter keeps me inside focused on the coziest materials.
It all started with the Pounds of ‘Paca, a spinning venture in September of 2016 where I ordered waaaaaay too much alpaca fiber (on sale) and spun it all over the course of a couple of years – see Alpacalypse Now for the final yarns I came up with.
Not totally final though, because some of it went into my experimental Avocado Dye batch, coming out in shades of muted pinks and hazels, a really pretty and soft color to add to my giant pile of alpaca yarn. Some of THAT went into this bitchin’ avocado dreamcatcher 😉
The avocado dye batch was a year ago now, and I still have some dyestuffs left over sitting in the back of my fridge. I’m contemplating another natural dye run, but first I’m going to make some more progress on what I decided to do with all this excess camelid fluff.
It’s another large knit, similar in style to some of the loosely knit wraps I’ve made in the past:
But this one is made entirely from handspun yarn, in the pretty neutral and muted tones. I am not sure exactly how I will style this wrap, but I’m enjoying the mindless knitting for now. It’s worked in stockinette (the other large knits above are garter stitch) and I’m using continental style to speed up my purling (getting almost as fast as my continental knit stitch!)
There’s much to be said for instant gratification projects, but as I build my repertoire of skills, materials, and experiences, I grow more and more attached to the projects that follow me through my history as an artist. I’ve been finishing up a lot of long-term projects lately, causing me to reflect on one of the most valuable skills I’ve picked up through working my art:
Patience. Because nothing makes a piece more personal than having it grow with you over time. There have been many projects I have stuffed in a corner in frustration, or stowed away never knowing if it would be finished (and a few that actually did go into the trash forever). I always find that when those projects re-emerge, I’m armed with a new perspective or a fresh skill to bring to the table, as if the project was only waiting for that development all along and I didn’t know it ❤
Good news! I’m clearing out the last few items in the Spinnables category of my Etsy shop, which means I have a 15% off sale running for the two beautiful wool/silk blend rovings left! These are really gorgeous soft color schemes and the dye really shines brightly on the fibers – silk always dyes so beautifully ❤ So hurry up and buy them before I give in to temptation and spin them myself! 😀
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Speaking of, I rounded up all (or most of) my handspun yarns and took a family photo, because I was curious as to how it would compare to my similar picture from a couple of years ago. Not bad! It’s kind of like that ten year challenge thing, except with yarn. Ten Yarn Challenge.
Well, it’s more like a 2 and a half year challenge but… we’ll do it again in a couple of years 😉
You see, last Saturday I turned in my final assignment for my Bachelor’s degree, so I’ve been bursting forth with renewed energy on all the ongoing craft projects laying around my home. And exuberant art energy requires puns.
So that’s my segue into my post today, talking about one of the things I love to do when I have a little extra time – spinning! Well, it’s also just an excuse for shameless yarn porn.
I’ve been spinning periodically, although I haven’t really made a blog post about it recently. I did a silly thing a while back and ordered a massive amount of beautiful alpaca fiber from Alpaca Direct. I resolved to spin it all, and wrote a whole post about it – which, now that I look at that post, was over two years ago. Slow art for the win!
Because, I totally did spin it all! Yep, all of it. Some of it even made it into projects for my friends along the way. This is me, plying together the last bit of the natural white alpaca fiber, on my trusty wheel.
Her name is Mystic.
I made it through the pound of natural white, the 12 oz of dark brown, and SOME of the 8 oz of lighter brown (from Valentina) that I purchased at a later date. I eventually gave up on spinning it all consistently, and went in for the fast and wacky approach for the last half of the natural white. I love the variation in textures I got!
For the white yarn, some skeins were consistent, some were chunky, and some were singles. The dark brown (being the first batch I did) was pretty even, and the light brown is a bulky, fluffy affair.
I am really loving these natural tones, which is a good thing because my beautiful friends sometimes give me secondhand fiber. Last summer I was gifted a big bag of RAW alpaca fiber in a beautiful pecan brown color; the catch is, this fiber is really unprocessed.
Which is actually not a catch at all, since I finally had an excuse to purchase some carding equipment! Hand carders (still not enough resources to justify a drum carder 😛 ) were acquired and now I am clumsily learning to use them.
I’m not great at it yet, especially since I have to keep switching to my left hand so that my right arm doesn’t end up noticeably more beefy – this activity is a WORKOUT. But as you can see, I’m producing a few silly looking rolags from the raw material so I can spin them, bit by bit, on the drop spindle.
Excuse my awkward fiber sausage
Its tempting to build a pile of rolags and then spin them all on the wheel for speed’s sake, but for now I am enjoying the process of drop spindling them, so that I can learn how the fibers act when they are hand carded like this. I’ve been favoring the spindle lately anyway, after a period of neglect. Its simplicity and portability is really attractive and valuable, even though wheel spinning is more efficient, so I’m glad I learned both.
The real question is, what the hell am I going to make with 4 pounds of handspun alpaca fiber? Stay tuned, maybe I’ll know in another two years! 😉
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about spinning here, but not because there’s been a lack of spinning – most of it has been powering through giant piles of alpaca because, after I finished the first batch I had ordered from Alpaca Direct, I ordered more 😛
I plan on coloring the copious amounts of natural white handspun with some liquid natural dye extracts at some point – but it’s been a busy busy summer. More on that later.
At any rate, the fiber I’m talking about today is the Polworth Tussah 60/40 blend that I dyed last year – the other half of the braid I worked with PLUS a big booty 6.75 oz braid of the same colourway are both available (separately) in my Etsy shop.
The braid I split to spin half – “Celtic Teatime” Polwarth Tussah 60/40
Polwarth is a breed with wool that has a long staple length and a fine fiber around 23 microns. Combined with Tussah, or wild silk, which is also fine, soft, and lengthy in the staple department, what struck me about spinning this fiber was how EASY it was.
As I’ve mentioned before, the long staple length of 100% Tussah silk is balanced by how slippery the fiber is, making it easy to spin but also very easy to lose control of, resulting in lots of rejoining. The combination with Polwarth, which like all wools has more “traction”, totally solves this problem.
The 2.25 oz skein set on a backdrop of way too much alpaca yarn
I opted to spin this fiber as a 1-ply thick & thin slubby style. Silk always makes dyes look just amazing, retaining vibrant color and sheen, so I wanted to keep the focus on the colors by not plying them against another strand and possibly muddying their appearance.
This was where the fibers’ shared virtues came in handy – I don’t think I had to rejoin that single ply once the entire length! Very handy, and since I was aiming for primitive looking, I spun it at top speeds. Done in under an hour – awesome.
The silk gives this yarn strength and definition and the wool makes it pillowy soft with a slight fuzzy halo. I plan on using this yarn for another crazy pixie belt – prepare for cuteness!
Here’s some of the elements of said pixie belt so far – both the mushroom pouch and the shamrock pouch also have handspun in them – you just can’t beat it for giving your projects a totally unique look.
My prime directive this Thanksgiving break was to get a new batch of handpainted wool dyed, dried, and stocked in my Etsy shop, which I totally did, check it out! This batch features a lot of muted earthy tones, I guess I was sort of in a wintry mindset.
There’s a variety of fibers there, including a heavenly Polworth / Tussah silk blend that gorgeously translated my featured colorway this round, Celtic Teatime (the emerald, heathered silver, and russet gradients at the top). Please buy it before I spin it myself! Oh, and here’s some incentive:
Get some holiday shopping done! This 15% off deal applies to EVERYTHING in my shop, including crochet patterns and handmade items!
If completely awesome knit and yarn – themed jewelry is your style, you should check out Malojos, run by the same awesome lady who taught me how to spin correctly and thus re-launched my obsession with it. She’s running a 15% off sale too (check out the blog post in the previous link for details), and recently has pledged to donate a portion of her profits to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Shop small, do good, feel good! My favorite is her beautiful kitchener stitch instruction cuff.
Perhaps you are a fan of pretty rocks? I know I am. Take a look at Cherry Bones Arts, who does beautiful wire wrapping around a variety of stones. I own several of her pieces and get compliments every time I wear one!
No matter where you shop, stay safe out there and spread the love this season ❤
Thanks to a pro tip from a fellow Instagram spinner, I bought a jumbo bobbin and flyer kit for my Ashford Traveler wheel a few months ago and I have been loving it! Rather than get a whole new wheel for spinning bulky yarns, the jumbo bobbin kit allows me to spin all kinds of yarns on my regular wheel without taking up extra space.
That doesn’t mean I have quit drooling over the Country Spinner or the Majacraft Aura, but it does mean I have been experimenting a lot with art yarns. My most recent foray was with some BFL that I dyed and corespun in a gradient.
First, I had to split and fluff the roving (factory processing in addition to the dyeing process compacts the fibers – easily fixed by whipping the roving around a bit)..
Then I separated my colors so that I could spin them into a loooooong, bright gradient.
Corespinning, or spinning fiber onto a core of pre-spun commercial yarn or thread, is one of my favorite techniques, because the resulting yarn has the smoothness and color-centric-ness (word? I don’t think so) of one-ply yarns, but you can still achieve soft, cushy yarns without worrying about your fibers pulling apart easily. This one is called “Fire in the Mountain” and is available in my Etsy shop, along with a bunch of other art yarns I’ve been hoarding!
Fire In the Mountain was spun from roving dyed in my most recent dye batch a couple of weeks ago, in which these three Merino Bamboo blends also got some color:
The rovings are also for sale in the shop! Basically this post is just a glorified shop update. But I’m okay with that if you are. To compensate, here’s more pictures of yarn I spun (this time from my personal use stash):
The jumbo bobbin also helps with spinning regular sized yarns, as I can fill two bobbins to the brim with singles and then ply them together uninterrupted (like I did with that 4 oz of lovely emerald green pictured above). I think these two yarns are about to find a home in another Lotus Duster…
There’s been a color explosion over at my Etsy Shop recently as I listed some beautiful rovings that I dyed over Spring Break – along with some other new summer goodies!
This was the largest dye session I’ve managed yet, and I’m happy to say that my process has come a long way since my first foray into fiber dyeing. Here’s a peek at the madness I unleashed on my poor kitchen! It all starts with coffee, of course.
And here’s the results!
I dyed 4 braids of that earthy multicolored green and brown; it’s a generic wool blend from Dharma Trading Co. – no wool breed listed, but it spins up super nicely. The other three or so braids became faux dreadlocks using a combination of spinning and felting.
I also split the “Mango Punch” colorway BFL braid into thirds and spun one of the thirds for quality control purposes and also because I couldn’t help but play with some of that luscious color after all that work! It spun really beautifully paired with a deep emerald BFL roving from my stash into a bright art yarn I call “Jungle Juice.”
The other 2/3rds of that braid is listed in my shop at a discount since it’s already split!
As much as I am enjoying classes, I’m antsy and anxious as hell for the freedom to keep dyeing and spinning and stitching without other obligations. But I need to buckle down and finish the semester.