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Dyeing Wool

carnival

Wool is wonderful to dye! It dyes easily.  Dyed wool can be lustrous or matte, depending on the type of wool you are using. (see previous post). It can be vibrant and rich or it can be soft and pastel, depending on the amount of dye you use. Wool can be used for all of your creative color schemes and whatever mood you are in.  Wool is a protein dye so it needs to be dyed with an acid dye. There are many kinds of acid dyes on the market: Sabraset and AcidWash from ProChem, Cushings, Gaywool, Country Classic and Jacquard Acid Dye, just to name the ones I am familiar with.

There are some principles that you need to know when you are dyeing wool.

1. Wool has scales on the outside of each fiber that protect it. You need to soak the wool in warm to hot water in order to open these scales up. When they are open, the dye can penetrate into the fiber and attach more readily to the dye receptors on the fiber.  Give it at least 20 minutes before you add dye, so that this can happen.

The middle fiber is merino and the other 2 are medium wools.
The middle fiber is merino and the other 2 are medium wools. From 1906 publication by Watson Smith.

2. Not all wool is created equal.  Superwash wools have been processed under heat and pressure to remove the scales of the wool.  That makes the wool good for people who are sensitive for itchiness and for people who want to wash and dry their wool in machines because it won’t felt. Superwash takes up a lot of dye and in a hurry. This is because those scales are gone and the dye receptor spots are open and available. So you will have very saturated colors that may appear blotchy and uneven.

3. What about felting? I have never felted yarn by agitating it too much in the dyepot. You should take care and move the yarn in slow smooth movements, just to be on the safe side. My only felting disaster, so far, was when I was washing out in the washing machine.  I forgot that after you fill up the tub of the washer is starts spinning.  I put in the yarn and went out to do chores…when I came back I remembered….DUH!! That yarn was one big mess.  I was able to separate it out and use it for my projects. Yarn is a lot more forgiving than say roving.  Roving will felt with too much agitation, so don’t touch it or move it a lot when it is in your dye pot. The technique that I use when dyeing roving is to fill the pot with the dye, water and whatever else you need for the dye you are using. Then add the dry roving to it, pushing it into the warm, not hot water. The pushing action gets the dye all throughout the roving without excessive white spaces. Then If I want to add a second or third color I add it after that and move it gently with  spoon handle.palauandepths1

4. In that same vein, temperature during dyeing is important.  Bring the dyepot up slowly to the simmer, then hold it at that temperature for the entire time that the dye instructions tell you. Many sources will tell you a specific temperature and you may think you need to have a thermometer to monitor that.  I don’t think you need to be that fussy about it.  Hold it just under a simmer, no boiling for the allotted time and you should be fine.  Then cool it down to room temperature before you wash it. The water temperature for your wash out should be about the same temperature as the yarn.

5. To improve the hand, or the way the yarn feels after it is dyed, you can add a softener to it.  Wool is a type of mammal hair, so use hair conditioner on it.  Fabric softener is fine for cottons, linens or silk, but use hair conditioner on hair.

 

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The Year of Stash Appreciation–WOOL

fleece

The theme of FGF blog this year is a celebration of your stash. I want you to get to know what is in your stash. I want you to be able to make good decisions about which yarn should be used for which project. So I will be writing about the types of fibers and what kinds of patterns and projects will match the yarn you have. You will find information about animal fibers, plant fibers, and fiber blends of all kinds. I also want you to know how to most effectively use your hand dyes and semi-solids.

So this month WOOL is the topic. It is a fascinating, diverse fiber that can be used for so many different kinds of projects.

So let’s start at the beginning. Even if you know a lot about wool, I hope you will learn something new! I learn new things about wool all the time.

Wool is the fiber from a sheep. Duh, right? Well, there are people who call any animal fiber wool. But that isn’t accurate.  There are over a thousand breeds of sheep and each breed has wool that is characteristic for that breed.  Then there are crosses of those purebreds and their wool is a combination of the breeds that they come from.

Wool characteristics are classified by the variables of crimp, staple length, fiber diameter and the mix of fibers within the wool.  Crimp is the zig-zaggy nature of the wool. Fleeces with a lot of crimp tend to be softer next to the skin. This is because when the fiber touches a barrier, like your skin, the fiber will bend and not feel prickly on your skin. Crimpy yarns are also more elastic yarns, so they are great to use for items where elasticity is important like hats or socks. Crimpy yarns also tend to be from fine wool sheep.

Staple length is the typical length of each fiber. It usually represents one year’s growth for sheep.  Shorter staple lengths can give a yarn that will pill, since it may not be twisted well enough in the yarn.  However, longer staple lengths can at times yield a coarser  yarn.  Fleeces that are in the range of 4-6 inches are usually the easiest to make into a nice soft yarn.

Fiber diameter is measured in microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter. Some producers measure micron counts for their fleeces. Micron counts are done on a 2 inch sample of the best fiber (shoulder area) of the animal. The report shows a graph of all the different fibers in that sample and what most people talk about it the AVERAGE micron count.  What you need to know is that 2 fleeces could have the same average micron count and yet FEEL different.  One could still feel softer than the other even though the average fiber diameter is the same. This is because the blend of fibers within those samples is different.

The last variable for wool is the mix of fibers within that fleece. Every fleece is made up of diverse fibers. However there are many breeds that are called double coated, where there are 2 very distinct fibers within that fleece. One maybe more hair like and the other a soft downy undercoat. Some breeds also have kemp fibers in their wool. These are hollow fibers that are shorter, coarser and more brittle. They take dye differently so can give the wool a heathery, tweedy look.

When buying a fleece, roving or yarn, you can use these variables to make your purchasing decisions. You can pull out a small sample or just look at the ends of the roving or yarn. You can “eyeball” the fiber. Does it look fine? Can you see any crimp in the individual fibers? Can you see some fibers that are significantly different? And finally, how does it feel? Put it next to your neck. Is it soft enough to wear next to your skin? If not, is it the kind of yarn that you would want to make a sweater or other outerwear item?  Or is it something that you would want to spin and weave into a rug, pillow or other home decor item.

What do you have in your stash? Is there yarn there that you bought because you loved the color but now you think is just too coarse? I have a few skeins in this category that I purchased over the years. If so pull these out, look at them and put them into a separate boxes marked wool–outerwear or wool-home decor.

Tell me what you found in your stash. What have you been collecting?

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Swatching and Stash Appreciation

stitch samples

Do you swatch? I hear all the time that people do not like to swatch so they don’t swatch.  I suppose if you are making a shawl or scarf that doesn’t need to be a particular size you don’t need to. Or if you buy the yarn that the pattern says to use, you don’t need to. Or if you have a head, feet or hands that are “normal” size for most hats, socks or mittens, you wouldn’t need to.  But if you are making a fitted garment, like a sweater or using custom spun yarn from a farm or if you are “shopping” in your stash, you need to swatch.

But if you are like me, swatching can save you time and heartache in the end.  I do have a small stash, but more importantly, since my yarn is custom spun, I have yarns that aren’t the same as the yarns you can get at your LYS or craft store.  I want to use it and I want to share it. So I need to make sure that I know what it will do and how it will knit up.  Sorry crocheters, I really can’t figure out crocheting. I need to know what special mojo my yarns have so that I can share them with the world.  So I must swatch.

yarn swatch

For my famous Celtic Cardigan, I wanted to use my Fernham’s Choice yarn. It is a 80/20 blend of Blue Faced Leicester and kid mohair. It is a wonderful squishy worsted weight yarn, perfect for a warn cardigan.  The pattern called for 18 stitches/26 rows + 4 inches on size 8 needles in the stockinette stitch. and each cable had it’s own gauge as well.  I swatched and swatched until I got that gauge, but the needle size was different.  If I hadn’t figured that out, I would have ended up with a sweater that was totally the wrong size.  Even with this swatching, when I started knitting in earnest, my gauge loosened and I ended up  about 6 inches too wide. This would have been devastating if I wasn’t already having to take out the sweater for the million other things I didn’t like about my knitting.

The lesson for me is to swatch before I make any larger project.  I will also be swatching for my customers, in order to get a good idea of the gauge for my custom yarns.  What I like to do is to make a 5 inch square that is surrounded by about a half inch border of seed stitch with a 4 inch area of stockinette. To determine needle size, I use a spinner’s control card to get an idea of the WIP (wraps per inch) which I can then translate to the standard yarn language of lace, fingering, sport, dk, worsted, etc.  That gives me an appropriate needle size to use for my swatch.  If I start to knit and find that the needle size isn’t quite right, I simply take note of that for my swatch tag and change the needle up or down.spinner's control card

 

So when you see my gauge on the labels that is your jumping off place.  Each knitter has their own “gauge” as well.  Are you a tight or loose knitter? So you throw (English) or pick (Continental)?  After some time knitting, you will know your knitting “handicap”. At the trunk show recently, a group of knitters came into the shop. They began to talk about going up or down a needle size (or two) from the posted gauge of a yarn.  I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I do know I’m on the tighter end of knitting.

I hope you are inspired to do some swatching before starting that sweater or using that luxury yarn like our Zephyrette.  What have you learned about your knitting style through swatching? Do you have a swatching (or not swatching) story to share? I’d love to read your stories and learn for you too!!

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Magic Numbers, Pooling and My New Pink Cowl

It all started with too many snow days in a row. I had this knitting book that I bought last summer and it’s been sitting on my shelf. I had opened it a couple of times but just looked so complicated that after flipping through page after page of beautiful hand knit tunics, hats, scarves and sweaters, it would go back to the shelf.  Last Friday, I took it off the shelf. I armed myself with post-its, a highlighter and the desire to learn more about knitting.  The book is Artful Color, Mindful Knits: The DEFINITIVE guide to working with Hand-Dyed Yarns but Laura Militzer Bryant.

Hand-dyeing is what I do.  It is my passion.  I love when the colors make a pattern similar to ikat weaving.  I did have an understanding that the patterning was a result of the number of stitches, but I thought it was a fluke or serendipity.  Well, it’s not. This book teaches you to understand the way a yarn has been dyed, whether it is dyed across like stripes on the skein or whether it has been dyed around where the skein is dipped into successive dye pots to achieve color.  Of course there are many more techniques to get color on the skein but these two are the ones that produce the most noticeable patterning.  Sometimes when you buy skeins the dyers have kept the skein as it was out of the pot. There it is easy to see the color transitions and to understand how it was dyed. However there are other dyers, myself included, who reskein the yarn to show the interactions of the colors.

Very simply, to determine the magic number of your yarn, you need to determine the repeat. Then you need to swatch. This will help you determine how much yarn you use in each stitch. Of course this number will change with needle size and yarn weight. You do a simple calculation to get your magic number on that yarn, with that stitch and those needles.  A knitter can stack colors, make the colors zig-zag, or spiral with a few minor tweaks to the magic number.

Here is my yarn: it’s magic number is 73. This is our BFL DK yarn in Amsterdam Tulip colorway using a size 8 needle about 4.5 stitches per inch.

BFL DK Amsterdam Tulip 200 yd per skein $22
BFL DK Amsterdam Tulip 200 yd per skein $22

 

sample measuring repeat

 

 

 

In the first experiment I used half magic number of 36.5 +1.5 for 38 stitches across. I used a fisherman rib (k1, p1). The result was different on each side and really striking.  The fabric was a bit heavy though and I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it, so I ripped it out.

 

right side sample

sample back side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I decided to do a ribbed lace pattern with 8 rows of stockingette between the ribs.  I used double the magic number + 2 and knit in the round.  The pattern is a bit more mixed, however there is a spiral pattern going on in the colors.  This cowl actually took 1.5 skeins about 300 yards. When you start your next skein, you need to match new yarn to the same place in the repeat, so that you don’t disrupt the pattern.  This took me a bit of time but I was really pleased with the results.

cowl3

cowl 1