Alpacalypse Now

Guys, I’m really sorry about that pun. Sort of.

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.

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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.

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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 –ย  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.

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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!

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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.

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I am really loving these natural tones, which is a good thing because my beautiful friends sometimes give me secondhand fiber.ย  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.

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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 ๐Ÿ˜› ) were acquired and now I am clumsily learning to use them.

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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.

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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.

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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! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Here’s a picture of my moon lamp, for no reason other than its pretty!

-MF

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Fiber Review: Polworth Tussah

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 alpacaย because, after I finished the first batch I had ordered from Alpaca Direct, I ordered more ๐Ÿ˜›

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

-MF

Art Yarn Overload

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.

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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)..

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Then I separated my colors so that I could spin them into a loooooong, bright gradient.

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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

Happy spinning!

-MF

 

 

Roving Color Bomb

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.

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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.

Well, maybe just one more row.

-MF

I Sing a Song of Plastic Bag Yarn

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Out of all the materials I have ever crocheted with, I would have to say one of the most fun and rewarding is Plarn. For those of you who don’t know, “plarn” is the common terminology for “yarn” or cordage made from repurposed plastic grocery bags (plastic + yarn = plarn).

Despite the name, plarn actually contains no yarn and is made up entirely of strips from these grocery bags. Many countries have put initiatives in place to stop the enormous amount of plastic grocery bags from entering landfills and polluting the environment – but in America, we are mostly still woefully wasteful when it comes to these things.

That’s why it’s so satisfying to turn them into art instead! ย Also it’s like SOOOOOO FREEEEE.

Did I mention how durable this stuff is? You may not think that plarn would be strong, since grocery bags are relatively weak, but once you combine and stitch them, they are astonishingly durable. The first plastic bag yarn bag I ever made was in 2010, a nice simple drawstring mesh bag. For 6 years I have crammed my shower supplies and towels in that thing and dragged it from camping trips to festivals to cross-country journeysย and it’s still holding up. Mind you, I have not treated the poor thing gently at all. That’s how strong this stuff can be!

I won’t show you a picture of that bag, since it is pretty dingy after all that back woods hippie behavior, but I do have a few others to show. Here’s one from 2012…

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I used tapestry crochet for the trunk on the flap of this messenger bag and then slip stitched the green plarn on the surface to make a swirling leaf design.

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If you’re friends are nice enough, they will save you special colored plastic bags and you can make something like this mandala messenger style bag out of colorful plarn!

There’s lots of different ways to make plastic bag yarn, so I’ve collected a few links to tutorials I find most helpful to narrow down the search:

This HubPage article by Moira Durano-Abesmo demonstrates both the double-strand and the single-strand method for creating plarn (I use the double strand method)…

…while this Hubpage article by the same author talks about ways to make plarn softer by spinning it or working it.

Look At What I Made has a great post about making plastic bag “thread” for use in smaller plastic bag projects. Also, she mentions that plastic bags in the UK are mostly biodegradable now and therefore not good for use in projects you want to last! Again, here in wasteful America this isn’t a consideration, but something to keep in mind for readers from other countries.

Another great video on making plarn and then spinning it can be found on Youtube in a video from Wind Rose Fiber Studio.

Of course, there’s a million billion awesome creative uses for this plastic bag yarn once you’ve made it. I tend to make bags (I call them Bag Bags), but one simple Pinterest search will overwhelm you with other ideas – like this awesome Hammock project from Too Many Hobbies, Too Little Time.

One thing I searched for but couldn’t find was a tutorial for the “whole bag method” that was taught to me by someone who used it to make recycled plastic rope. It’s stunningly simple AND you don’t have to worry about throwing away those pesky handles!

The theory is similar to the double strand method, only you use entire bags to make the loops instead of strips of a single bag. To start, you need some plastic bags (duh) and scissors.

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Take the scissors and cut down the side of the bag, from the bottom of the handle opening down to the seam at the bottom. Repeat for the other side.

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Grasp the bottom seam in one hand and the top handles in the other, and smoosh the entire bag into one big loop.

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Grab another bag and repeat, making other big loop.

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Overlay the loops and pull one back through itself, creating a knot.

Continue making whole bag loops and looping them together. The cordage that this makes is really thick and stronger than normal plarn, especially if you twist or braid whole strands of this stuff together into rope!

It’s so thick that I haven’t tried to crochet plarn (plope?) made from this method, although I am sure there are intrepid bulky crocheters or knitters out there that have done so or will do. What about you? Have you worked with plarn, and if so, what do you like to make with it?

-MF

 

Fiber Review: Targhee

Thanks to a combination of schoolwork and holiday traveling, I haven’t written very many substantial posts for the past few weeks, but I’ve been eagerly awaiting a chance to sit and write some fiber reviews.

A while back I became very interested in spinning Targhee wool: Targhee is a breed of sheep developed in the U.S in the 20th century, with Rambouillet, Corriedale, and Lincoln ancestors. I had spun a sample earlier in my spinning career and loved the cushy quality this wool has.

So of course I ordered more from Corgi Hill Farm. I split the roving into quarters and spun two batches of end-to-end 2-ply. (Each quarter of the split roving spun as a single length of ply, then each pair plied together… mostly. But we’ll get to that)

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Here’s what I learned:

First, I was WAAAAY off when I split one half of this roving into two strips. My bobbins came out so uneven that I had to do some frantic fiber rearranging in order to make the two batches come out with similar color progression once plied and stitched. That doesn’t have anything to do with the specific fiber, but it’s good advice – if color length and progression matters to you, weigh your roving fractions so you can pair the most similar weights together to get the most closely matching lengths of singles for plying.

The fiber itself was just as soft and squishy as I remember. With a 21-25 micron count, Targhee wool has the friction and grabby nature that makes pure wool rovings fun to spin, but the Targhee I worked with was exceptionally dense and springy. One might say marshmallow-esque.

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In fact, it was so dense and marshmallowy that I had trouble spinning at first, even though I split and fluffed (i.e- jerked it around like a whip to make the factory-and-storage compacted fibers open up and loosen). I don’t always predraft, but predrafting was a must with this fiber.

Knitty, my primary source for amazing spinning advice, has a good article about treating roving before spinning.

Once I predrafted, spinning this yarn was pretty easy. Not as easy as Merino, but easy enough that I sat through a shameful amount of Vikings episodes continuously spinning. Like you seriously don’t want to know how many episodes I watched in one go while doing this. Don’t ask.

As I mentioned the first time I spun Targhee, much of the pillowy nature of this fiber is lost in a one-ply, so plying was had, on a drop spindle for my larger skein and on the wheel for my two smaller skeins. Once plied, the Targhee’s true nature was revealed to me – soft, warm, with enough resistance to shout “I’m Wool!” but also fine enough for hats, gloves, and other next-to-skin garments.

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I think this will be a lovely pair of woodland style armwarmers, my all-time favorite (so far) thing to make with handspun yarns!

~*Mf*~

 

Winter Updates!

I disappeared into an intense bout of spinning lately, trying out my new colorway with a fractal ply to test the harmony of the colors. It turned out GORGEOUS, and pictures will be shared as soon as I’m done setting the twist. The second run of the colorway, “Mango Punch” is officially available in my Etsy Shop, along with my second signature colorway, “Dyed Leather.”

Enough talk. Pictures now.

Mango Punch -Superfine Merino, 3.62 oz. I replaced the muted sage green of the first run of this colorway with a bright apple. I love both versions!

Dyed Leather – on Gray Gotland, 3.62 oz. The natural silver tone of this fiber took the dyes exactly as I was hoping they would, creating complexity and depth.

I also indulged in some doodling over Thanksgiving break, freehand with sharpies on a poster board. I do believe I will color it..

I guess you would call this a Zentangle, although I prefer less dense patterning in my mandalas.

And finally, I am stoked on my very first homebrewed batch of kombucha! I love this stuff, and I have wanted to brew some for years. I finally obtained a Mother, and now I am seeing the formation of the daughter! Woohoo!!!

Slowly, ever so slowly, I inch closer to my goal of being a weird, hippie art teacher who brews magic potions in the woods and wears sweaters made from her own goats. Because it’s important to have goals.

-MF