Archive for June, 2010

Merino Vs. Blue Face Leicester

June 15, 2010

This morning I went to my pile of dyed wool that’s waiting to be spun, and pulled out a bunch of lovely soft stuff, that I remembered dyeing with logwood a couple of weeks ago.  Only one problem.  I couldn’t remember if it was Merino or BFL.  Fortunately, I was clever and figured it out with my specialized problem-solving device – Knowledge!  Forcing myself to review what I know about the two breeds got me thinking about all the places I’ve seen wool for sale with descriptions like “It’s just like Merino but easier to spin!” when there are actually quite a few differences between them.  So I wrote up a giant explanation of them and posted it to the shop blog.  I like having educated customers.

It’s mostly based on my own experiences and opinions with them, so I would be happy to hear if anybody has had different ones.  I like being educated too!

Advertisements

Garden Update

June 12, 2010

There is new hope for the dye garden!  Yesterday I finally got around to planting some new madder, dyer’s chamomile, and lady’s bedstraw in my containers.

Madder in the big one, bedstraw in the two red ones, and chamomile scattered between the three.  And yes, if you’re wondering, my planters are an old barbecue and Ikea garbage cans.

What prompted this, aside from the fact that I should probably have done it weeks ago?  We got a barbecue!  Yay!  But it needed somewhere to go.   So yesterday we turned the pile of jumbled mess into this:

My new outdoor grilling/dyeing/whatever station.  It looks much nicer than it did before, and having everything stashed under the table makes me less worried that the upstairs neighbour’s kids are going to get into anything they shouldn’t.  We got the giant white barrel at the homebrew store for $10.  Not sure yet if it will be a large cold-water dyepot or a planter or two, or a water barrel, but it will come in handy somehow.

Now I just have to decide if I want to get an electric hotplate or a propane stove to dye with out there.  I’ll be happy to get the dyeing out of the kitchen, that’s for sure.

The rest of the garden is doing pretty well, despite the big rainstorms we’ve been having.

The first strawberries are almost ripe:

The clematis is starting to take over the railing up the stairs, and it has tons of buds:

This year’s woad is thriving in the cold, wet weather (think it’s from Britain?):

And last year’s is safely cocooned in cheesecloth, I’m sure the neighbours think we’re insane.

The foxglove, that for all of last year I thought was a weed, is flowering:

And it has a friend who I’m VERY glad to see, given our aphid problem.

And finally, the rosebuds also started to open in the last few days:

The sweet peas are exploding too, but I didn’t get a picture of them.  I’m not going to bother starting them inside next year, the ones I planted directly in the garden are four times larger than the ones I transplanted at the same time.

This is why I love spinning.

June 8, 2010

This yarn, right here.  It’s BFL wool, silk, and alpaca, spun up into a light worsted weight 2 x 2 cable.  70 grams, 81 metres.

Now, some people might say (and have said) something along the lines of “But why would you want to spin something so even, you can hardly tell it wasn’t mass produced.”  They would, of course, be dead wrong.

This yarn began in at least three very different parts of the world, and traveled quite a ways, through many transformations to get where it is now.  Shall I tell you it’s story?

Let’s begin with the wool.  Blue Faced Leicester, the new Merino and every spinner’s best friend.  It was grown on kind of an ugly sheep, who looked something like this lady here:

One nice spring day, while frolicking in a field with her babies, the poor thing was attacked, wrestled to the ground, and shaved.  How humiliating!  Her dirty, stinky, sweaty fleece was then sent away, never to be seen again.  Somebody washed it, picked out the bits of hay, and sent it through a giant combing machine.  I confess, I don’t know much about the actual industrial process, but in one way or another the fleece was cleaned and picked and stretched and combed until it looked like this:

Once it was prettified, it was packaged up in little baggies and sent off to the lovely Colleen at Flannelberry Fibre.  Who is awesome and everybody should buy stuff from her.  From there it was just a short trip over the mountains to me.

The alpaca grew on (drumroll please!) an alpaca.  Named Allie.  She belongs to Judith Elder-McCartney, a friend of my mother’s, and lives on a farm in Seaforth, Ontario.  She probably looks a bit like this, only more feminine (this one’s a boy):

She underwent a similar treatment as my anonymous BFL sheep, though I’m not sure if alpacas actually get wrestled to the ground quite the same way as sheep do.  Her fleece was washed, and sent off on a trip through the giant spinning wheels of spiky death known as a drum carder.  Have you ever seen a big one in action?  There’s a video here, fast forward to about a minute in if you don’t want to listen to the reporter getting overly excited about wool.  And then it too was stuffed into a bag and shipped to me.

The silk didn’t grow on anything.  It was, in fact, spat out by worms.  Big, fat, white worms.

Which everybody knows, but it’s still fun to say it.  Anyways, the magical silk worms lived in China.  At least a few hundred of them, possibly more, spat their little hearts out to make this yarn.  From China, the cocoons were sent to Camenzind + Co. AG in Switzerland.  According to their website, the family business has been around since 1892 and they’re in their fifth generation of silk production.  That’s pretty cool.  They did their thing and made all the leftover bits from reeling into lovely combed silk top, and shipped that off to Eve Kriss at The Silk Tree.  She put it in baggies and brought it to the Silk Weaving Studio where I bought it, after wiping the drool off my chin from looking at their insanely gorgeous weaving.  If you’re wondering, the drool did not harden into silk.  I was vastly disappointed.

Ready to spin?  Not quite – you may have noticed that the yarn is not, in fact, white.  Not even white and grey, as would be more likely given the colour of the alpaca.  No, I must include the dye in this story also.  I might be tempted to skip it, except it came from Maiwa.  I’m almost sorry to say that I used acid dyes on this yarn, not indigo.  But I haven’t brought my indigo vat back to life yet after the winter and my acid dyes were all ready to go, in solution and everything.  Oh well.

Anyways, Maiwa.  If you haven’t heard of them, you can thank me later.  Maiwa was started a couple of decades ago by a woman who liked textiles, and natural dyes, and didn’t want them to go away.  What started with a single purchase of a single item on a trip around the world became a mission, and since then they have taught countless people in rural Asia how to use natural dyes again, and sought out people who know how to weave, how to work with leather, how to block print, and helped spread those skills around, importing all the resulting goodies to Vancouver.  And if all that wasn’t enough, they do the same thing here, teaching workshops on dyeing and weaving and knitting and keeping us all well supplied with everything we need to do those things.  So.  My acid dyes came from Maiwa, and even if they were manufactured in a lab somewhere instead of being extracted from leaves, they still did their tiny part to support a huge textile legacy.

I didn’t actually measure the dyes for this one, except to be sure that I had enough to make it a nice deep blue.  I threw in a bit of everything – lots of blue, a good bit of black, some red, some yellow.  I went against my training, which was to dye perfect, uniform colours.  Fabric can look a bit dorky when it’s muddled in the dyebath, but less-than-even fibre leads to yarn with great depth, much more interesting than a flat blue.  I threw the silk in as a last-minute thought and it did what silk does and grabbed all the dye it could, gobbling it up before it could even penetrate into the centre of the roving.

The spinning itself was actually pretty uneventful.  I did actual samples, which is unusual for me.  I wanted to figure out how to include the alpaca.  I tried a couple of techniques, and settled on encasing it between the two plies, then cabling them together to hold it in place just a little bit better.  So that’s how I spun it.  Spread out over a couple of days because I was working of other projects.  Swore at the silk a bit, it’s so slippery and always goes a bit weird when it’s dyed.  The plying was fun – if you’re a spinner and haven’t tried encasement, you should!  Even if it does make plying slower.

Winding the yarn into a skein is always my favourite part.  You can finally see it all at once, not just a bobbin-layer at a time, and it’s free to do what it pleases, no longer held under constant tension and control.  This is the first yarn I’ve spun in a while that’s a blend of fibres other than wool, and it’s a bit surprising how palpable the difference is.  It is smoother shinier, fuzzier, heavier, and drapier.  The cabled structure means it is very strong, and whatever is made from it will last a very long time, an elegant heirloom or maybe just a scarf that will last many winters.  I looked at it every which way, twisted, hanging loose, by the window and under a spotlight.  I petted it a lot.

And then it was over.  I wet-finished it, hung it to dry, and then there was nothing left to do but take pictures and reluctantly list it in the shop.

So there you are.  The creation of this yarn supports nine different businesses, not counting my own, from all around the world.  Plus at least seven shipping companies.  And it’s gorgeous.

I named it Man-Eating Squid.