Thursday, February 28, 2013

The wrong fibre in the wrong place at the wrong time

That's a remarkably vague title, but it's what unites the two topics of this post. First, some spinning fibre: Cotswold sliver.
It doesn't look too bad from a distance. Creamy white, reasonably lustrous… feels relatively soft, not harsh. Could be good, but look at it more closely.
There are inconsistencies, curds of shorter, finer fibre. Also, as you can see, sliver is a carded prep, not combed; the fibres are not parallel, they're interlocked. But this is Cotswold… a long wool. What's going on?
Above are Cotswold locks, unwashed and washed. Below, fibres pulled from the sliver to check staple length (and therefore more parallel, similar to top, than they were in the sliver itself).
Check the staple length: it is long. (With those embedded tufts of finer, shorter wool just waiting to add … character … to the spun yarn.) I did sample it; I can't find the sample to show you, but spun with a point-of-contact long draw I assure you it seemed to me a relatively nasty yarn, hard to draft  (the long fibres run through both slubs and twist-locked thinner areas, so the slubs cannot be drafted unless the twist-locked areas are freed). Definitely characterful and not in a good way. The wrong fibre (Cotswold) in the wrong place (a carding machine) at the wrong time (when it was carding).

So. What to do? I could bin it, but 500g = £12 plus postage and I just can't bring myself to throw the money out. But wait! I don't have to. Gentlemen, we have the technology. We can rebuild him, er, it. With combs.
The fibres are unsorted, so ignore directionality such as butt and tip. Just lash the sliver on, then comb. In general more passes will give better results, assuming you don't stress, weaken and snap the fibres. In any fibre prep, watch what you're doing and if you notice more nepps than when you began, Stop! (And next time, stop before the nepps form.) I don't think this was wonderful fibre to start with; some of the sliver contains a lot of darker hairs and other areas contain dull, short fibres, so I give it only two passes. I have fleeces more deserving of that processing time.
The photo clearly shows that combing has done a good job of separating the long fibres from the short. Diz off the long fibres and:
there is a nest of roughly-combed top. There are still some nepps in it, but I can live with that. Above the top is the combing waste, composed of second cuts plus shorter, finer fibres from the base of the fleece, plus nepps formed from longer fibres broken in the carding process. In the medieval period combing waste was spun woollen to become weft for relatively low-grade cloth that was finished by fulling and perhaps brushing to raise a nap on the surface. I plan to try that with this waste, but if it's too nasty, I'll use some other softer, fullable wool. The top will be the warp yarn for this cloth. It's not too bad. That sheep was not shorn in vain.

Next, another fibre - or rather, fibres - in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Weaving! Janet Phillips showed me a different way to hold the lease sticks for threading, and I thought I'd share it - and my refinement of it - with you. For my first warps I had the lease sticks on lengths of string running from castle to back beam. I found this awkward, so was pleased to hear about Angel Wings, which attach to the Baby Wolf back beam to hold the lease sticks securely in a fixed position. But I found them awkward, too. The cross was a long way behind the heddles. Janet uses string but ties hers much nearer the castle, bringing the cross much nearer the heddles. I couldn't find a good, quick way to try her tying method on the Baby Wolf, then realised I didn't need to: two hooks off the kitchen pot rack would do the job. A loop of thick cord is passed between each end of the lease sticks, then hung from the hook. And, even better, the tube work light I bought for my husband sits across the hooks to shed light on the cross while I'm working. It works really, really well.
 (The light is not so ferociously bright as it appears in the photo.) You may notice some strangely yellow heddles in that shot; they're string heddles, tied to correct a stupid mistake: I miscounted the heddles when setting up to thread. I work from right to left, and the Baby Wolf shafts have a fitting in the middle that prevents heddles sliding across from the left side to the right. I could had pulled all 200-odd threads out, added more heddles, then re-threaded, but why would I want to do that? Far faster to cut some lengths of smooth, shiny mercerised cotton, loop it around the bottom of the shaft, tie two knots to define the heddle eye, then knot the ends loosely around the top of the shaft. Magic! The right fibre (cotton) in the right place (my thrums bag) at the right time (when I need it).
The wrong fibres (remnants of handspun lace yarn in tussah silk, cashmere, camel down) in the wrong place (on a loom) at the wrong time (as an unsized warp). I fear this will end badly, as the soft, blooming ends were catching on each other and causing uneven tension in the warp while I was winding it. I should have sized the warp after winding or, even better, skeined the balls of leftover yarn and sized it before winding the warp. But I was concerned only about the behaviour of the warp while weaving, so planned to size it on the loom. I'll know better next time. I'll persevere with this because dealing with the uneven tension will be educational (ha!) and, well. It's just so pretty…

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Passionate Weavers: thoughts on a great weaving weekend

See? I'm keeping my word. Another post, to share my 'Natural Time Out' weekend weaving with Janet Phillips, and some of my thoughts about it as I drove home. I'll spare you the "oh, why aren't I there yet?" thoughts (four hours on the road is even longer after a long, engrossing weekend).

So. After I returned from the gym on Friday morning I did the dishes, the housework, packed, etc, and started the long drive to Somerset. After three hours of motorway driving at a steady 68mph in deference to the age of my car (the oldest car on the road by a long stretch!) boredom won, and I left the motorway for Chippenham. Southwest for adventure!
Glastonbury Tor in the distance as I drove. Well, as I stopped to take the picture.

I had intended to climb the Tor, but it would have been a rather muddy walk from the car park in the centre of Glastonbury and I was trying to keep my shoes clean, so I settled for a wander around town -  right back to the early 1970s, complete with the same incense! - and a visit to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. I was thinking about pattern and colour as well as history:
Lines and blocks: arches in the ruins

Medieval encaustic tiles, a remnant of the medieval Abbey floor.

The Abbey did not have the atmosphere I'd expected for such a famous centre of mysticism, possibly because it is so thoroughly steeped in patchouli. Crowland Abbey and Rievaulx both made much deeper and longer-lasting impressions on me. Anyway, from Glastonbury it's a straightforward drive to Nether Stowey. Past orchards (Somerset is famous for cider), and some very muddy sheep. I conveniently found the two together here; note the mistletoe on the apple trees. I suspect these are rams; one was definitely Texel, but the others turned their backs on me almost as I clicked the shutter.

I checked into the Rose and Crown (Be warned, mobile reception is almost non-existent in the village. They do have wifi in the bar, but you have to ask.) and the next morning after breakfast I walked up the hill to the remains of Nether Stowey Castle in search of phone signal. 
From the top of the Castle mound or motte looking south over the foundations of the keep to the Quantocks beyond.

And the view north over the village, with the cooling towers of Hinckley Point visible in the distance.

And then it was weaving. I took full advantage of the fact I was Janet's only student on Saturday and Sunday (Tina arrived on Monday, and Amanda on Tuesday). I'd brought samples of my weaving to date, and Janet seemed genuinely impressed by what I'd achieved, particularly with handspun singles. I then laid out one of my favourite problems, an assortment of yarns I'd bought with a view to weaving fabric for a vest or other garment. 

I'd chosen colours to complement some Blue Moon Fiber Arts silk thread, but even with the added lustre of the silk as weft (I don't want horizontal stripes in a garment!) wraps to test warp stripes looked like school uniform fabric. Uninspiring.

I'd thought of adding 60/2 silk in toning or contrasting colours to enliven the warp (sample wrap on left) and it seemed to work, but I wasn't sure how best to do this in a fabric, or whether differential shrinkage would lead to the silk popping out of the wool after washing. Janet said "sample", just like every other experienced weaver of my acquaintance - but this time I had to do as I was told. As I'd asked to wind a warp and warp my own loom because I'd learned what I knew from books and YouTube, I was guided through the process of winding a warp for a 'Colour and Weave Effect' sampler from the yarns I'd brought. Including 60/2 silk where I thought it useful. Beaming is so. much. easier. with someone to reassure me from time to time! Wind on with sticks to start with, then sections of vinyl flooring; I will have to try this again, as it was extremely easy to work with and, although using rough paper for the 'tooth' to hold yarns tightly makes sense, so does using a smooth surface to prevent damage to the yarn and ensure that a badly wound section can be improved by subsequent tight winding. I stayed late to finish the threading only to find I had two spare heddles. A quick check showed that the error, whatever it was, was near the beginning. I left, resolving to come in early to find and correct the error. The morning light revealed I was two ends short of one colour; I left two heddles for the ends and rethreaded the warp in record time. (I was almost genuinely pleased to have the threading practice. Almost.) I couldn't have picked a better mistake to make at this stage, as Janet was able to show me how to add warp threads when needed. So easy! Then tie on, weave a header to check threading and tension (take up slack if necessary) and I was away. 

I used the Ashford 4-shaft table loom at back left, with a stick shuttle. On the dresser at right are cones of yarn and bins of samples, which Janet referred to almost constantly to answer questions or inspire thoughts. 

The sampler on the loom at 28epi. Note the subtle shifts of colour in the warp where silk threads are modifying the dull purple and gold.

Weaving. 0900–1600, every day for the next three days. With breaks for lunch, for quick lessons on the principles of weave design, to admire each others weaving, but still almost all weaving, almost all the time. It was WONDERFUL!

I fell in love with shadow weave. So I had a lesson on how both yarn colour and weave structure can be used to create a change in direction when and where required. And I brought home something to remind me that I want to do this, too.

Hard work, but full of wonders, of little flashes of enlightenment and inspiration. And laughter! We're all concerned that Janet's website photo makes her look entirely too stern :-) Tuesday pm came too soon, but we'll all try to keep in touch and meet at Janet's again.

I arrived home with tangible inspiration: a sampler. Four feet of sampler, including a host of patterns all woven on a straight twill threading. Not yet washed, but Janet's class work with this particular yarn, a tightly spun worsted 2-ply, indicates it will not full and shrinks very little, even when machine washed (on a wool setting). So I will finish this properly once it's hemmed and I've done something about the ends where I've tied in new warp to change some colours, but I am reasonably confident that - with this yarn - shrinkage of the wool won't cause the silk to buckle.

The sampler and the process of weaving it has answered many other questions. 

Not only do I have more confidence winding and beaming a warp (and correcting mistakes!), I know how adding silk thread to the warp will work, and what it adds to the fabric. I know that the silk I planned to use for weft wouldn't work as I thought. I can make a beautiful fabric without it, just by adding silk thread. I have some idea of the best way to add the silk to both warp and weft.

And I totally love what I made.

If you've survived reading this far, here are the thoughts I promised. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have been taught by three amazing weavers, Sara Lamb, Stephenie Gaustad, and Janet Phillips, each of whom has a different style of teaching and seems to be interested in different aspects of the craft of weaving. And yet, driving home, I found myself thinking about what unites them in my mind: their passion for weaving, their love of weaving, and their drive, their deep desire to convey this passion to their students. To me it's this last that defines the very best teachers, because how can we, their students, fail to respond to such a gift?

I will thank them with the work of my hands. I will weave.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Hullo again!

It's been a while, I know. I began a draft post last summer to tell you about Paradise Mill and the Silk Heritage Museums, in Macclesfield, but was distracted. But of late I've been thinking I should be doing more to document my fibre work, particularly my weaving, and this would be a good place to do that. I'd like to – I need to – acquire the habit of keeping records, and this is a good way to start. Also, I enjoy sharing my successes and, even more important, my failures.

In earnest of my good intentions, here's some spinning I just finished. The story begins sometime in 2010, when I told a friend about de-hairing and de-wooling North Ronaldsay fleece to get 2gms of the fine, soft down that lurks at the base of the fleece. She mentioned that while grooming her goat (known as Goat) she'd found a much higher percentage of goat down than usual in the comb-fuls of hair, and asked if I'd be interested. Of course I said yes.

Why did I say "YES!"? Because I learned from Robin Russo that, while cashmere comes from goats, there is no such thing as a Cashmere Goat. Any goat down of sufficient fineness can legitimately be classed as cashmere. And of course, I was curious.

So in due course a bag of Goat down plus hair arrived in the post. It smelled a bit of Goat (who is, after all, a goat), so I washed it. Exceedingly carefully. The end result looked a bit like this, but browner, cleaner and with a little less hair:

Raw (unwashed) cashmere, exactly as it comes from the goat (not Goat, in this case).

I put it in a plastic bag and put that in the kitchen with a pair of tweezers and another empty bag beside it. And for two years, every now and then, I spent 5–20 minutes standing over the kitchen sink (where the light is good), pulling hair out of down with the tweezers. It was really, really boring work, which is why it happened only now and then. Nonetheless I finished in November, 2012 or thereabouts.

I have no picture of the tiny finished pile of down, but I did think to take a picture of the punis it became. The darker ones are from a smaller sample of de-haired goat down sent to me by Baydancer of Ravelry fame.

The singles were spun on my Majacraft Suzie Pro, using the lace flyer and fat bobbin.

My goal was a relatively hard-wearing yarn that would nonetheless bloom. I'm reasonably happy with this; I suspect the singles are slightly over-twisted but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. (Or rather, the proof of the spinning will be in the wearing.) There isn't an awful lot of it despite my spinning quite thin, so I decided to ply it against silk, Orenburg-style. I am extremely lucky; at SOAR 2009, Michael Cook gave me 2 bobbins of hand-reeled silk (I'd helped him clear his teaching room).

This silk still contains sericin, the glue that bonds the strands of silk together to form a cocoon. To de-gum it requires washing soda and heat, which would be arrant cruelty to my Goat cashmere-equivalent. So I wound off 15' as a sample skein to test my degumming; it worked, but without any twist at all, I had great difficulty unwinding it to ply. So I spent a happy hour spinning several hundred meters of the reeled silk onto a bobbin at high speed, adding just enough twist to hold what would be a singles together, before bringing about 1tsp washing soda in 1litre water to the boil to dissolve, then reducing to a slow simmer before adding a few drops of Fairy and my extremely well-tied skein of silk and simmering for about 25 minutes. Rinse several times, acidulating the last rinse with vinegar to neutralise any traces of washing soda. The end result is VERY pretty.

The silk went on the skein winder, the bobbin of Goat cashmere on the kate and I was away, debating precisely how much plying twist I wanted. My dim memory of real Orenburg yarn was of relatively loose plying; this is my yarn and I prefer something that holds together while I knit it. I hate picking up only one ply.

On the bobbin, to the left is Goat+silk, to the right is Baydancer's goat+silk. Despite trying to spin all punis to the same grist, Goat's down is finer and silkier, so thinner and more even.

The end result is, I have to say, gorgeous.

I love it dearly. I've got just under 300m. It is of course coarser than true Orenburg yarn, but I'll make a sample Four Seasons Orenburg scarf to test my theory of yarn design. I'll modify the twist if necessary (the plied skein was very lightly weighted as it dried, to straighten some pigtails. After all, lace will be blocked.) and then I have an entire bag of Lesley Prior's English Cashmere that needs no de-hairing!

And in weaving news:
I want to weave my handspun, but I can weave faster than I can spin, especially as I can't stop knitting lace as well. So I'm alternating handspun and millspun projects, which means the next one is handspun, or largely so.

With the exception of the grey skein at right, and the large ball of multi-coloured wool below it (two prospective wefts), the rest of this is warp. Only the skein and ball at top left are millspun; the rest are laceweight shawl leftovers, all a bit darker than they appear here. All are no less than 50% silk, which I hope will reduce the intensity of seer suckering (the puckering that can occur if the warp (or the weft, for that matter) contains yarns that shrink differently on finishing. I'm winding the warp slowly, often combining two very thin yarns, or one very thin and a thicker, just to see what happens. Here are the first 120 ends:

I think I might have something over 360, to be set (sucks teeth and thinks) about 25epi for plain weave, maybe 28 for a twill. I will thread for the twill but might weave it plain if the pattern doesn't work. Weft is difficult. After winding the first 120 ends, I decided the two candidates in the photo are out. Current leader is a mess (literally) of 20/2 silk I massacred in the dregs of an indigo vat a couple of years ago. I might want it greyer; if so, I have the technology (black and brown dye, vinegar and heat).

There, not only a post, but a longish one with pictures. I wish I'd taken my camera to London on Saturday so I could tell the tale of the Neckinger, but maybe I can persuade my husband to walk it again on a warmer day.

p.s. I'll try to remember to disinter my photos from Macclesfield for another post. In the interim, if you're near enough, go and visit yourself! After all, Macclesfield is the western end of the Silk Road. Is that not amazing?