Monday, February 24, 2014

Mini Fiber Review: Romney Wool

Way back when, I used to write up these mini fiber reviews. They were little snippets about my own observations about various types of wool, and they are not designed to tell you everything about the animal, breed, fleece, spinning techniques, etc. These little nuggets are easy to digest and are wonderful to look at. :) If I find some more time, I'll start doing these mini fiber reviews again--it's a great way to get me to write my thoughts down on paper so I don't forget things!

Originally posted on June 7, 2012:

Onto the mini review!

Romney was my new favorite fiber discovery last May. It has the potential to be very soft (especially in cross breeds), and is quite durable in my experience. It felts nicely, and often has a long staple length. In terms of coarseness, it falls into the medium to coarse category, depending on the individual animal. I'm not going to go into details about the breed, how to spin it, what it's used for, because 1) there are way more people out there who really know what they're talking about; and 2) I don't want to limit the ideas of creative people--I mean, I could tell you romney isn't good for neck items, except I would be ignoring the fact that I have some moorit romney that rivals the softness of merino!

All I want to do is show you what I did, what I like about it, and give you high quality pictures. So, with that, let's bring on the locks!:

They have beautiful crimp, and a fair amount of sheen too. These locks were very easy to clean, and though they remain in a decent lock structure, no lanolin got stuck in the cleaning process. I made 3 samples, and recorded the info onto a 3x5 card cut in half. This is a great way to keep your samples together and identified, by the way (voice of experience).

The first sample I made was a true worsted single that I plied on itself. I arranged the romney locks into a bundle and brushed out both ends with a dog brush while keeping the fibers all going the exact same direction. I drafted them out and spun for a worsted 2-ply.

The second sample is a long-draw woolen worsted 2-ply. I'm still getting the hang of the long-draw method, but I think this worked out well. I brushed the locks as I did for the worsted method above, though before spinning, I folded the locks over my finger and drew from the center of the fiber as opposed to the end of the fiber. This creates a corkscrew effect in the yarn which traps air and adds loft.

In the close-up pictures, you can discern the slight fuzzy texture of the woolen spun yarn versus the worsted spun yarn, a fact to be taken into consideration when you need a specific yarn for a specific project. The last sample is a generally worsted, navajo 3-ply yarn. I say "generally worsted" to signify that I hand blended the fibers before spinning, so there may be some fibers folded over on themselves.

I really like romney, and I think it has way more uses than most people want to give it. Yes, it makes great durable items like hiking socks and market bags, but it can also lend strength and shine to less stable fibers too. Experiment. There are surprising advantages to having a bit of romney in your mix!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Free Charlotte Cowl Pattern: Phototutorial

This little project developed out of a need to have more patterns available for the time pressed gifter--me. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Being a handspinner, I often prefer to use my own yarns for projects. But that can seriously amplify the time I need to work on a handmade gift (testing, swatching, spinning, swatching, knitting...sigh). I also wanted a neat gift which probably isn't circulating the web like know, to enhance the one-of-a-kind feel. The Charlotte Cowl isn't really a pattern, per se, but rather a twist on the wrapped yarn cowl that is already a current trend. Let's begin the phototutorial!

First, pick out your yarn(s). If you are a handspinner, this is the perfect time to try out a funky new yarn with a ridiculous gauge and tons of bits and bobs for color and texture. Or you can use leftover bits of yarn from sampling or your stash. Any yarn will do, but the best result comes from a combination of colors and textures (you could totally still go neutral with colors and textures if you want a sleek, sophisticated look). For my cowl, I picked out a handspun yarn which was plied with bamboo and had locks stuck in between the plies. I had about 44 yards of it.

Here's a close-up of the locks stuck in between the plies:

Second, you need two tools. Well, you need just one tool, but the second one makes things convenient. You'll need a niddy noddy or a chair. You can use anything rigid (like a piece of cardboard), just make sure that when you wrap your yarn around it, it has a circumference of at least 30 inches (less than that and it'll feel too tight). And for convenience, find a crochet hook. Your fingers will work just fine for this in case you don't have a crochet hook available. (If you don't have a crochet hook, you might find a darning needle to be handy when you need to weave in the ends.)

We're ready to begin! Tie one end of your yarn around one end of the niddy noddy. Now, start wrapping. I wrapped the yarn such that each subsequent wrap lay next to the previous one, not overlapping. Tip: When wrapping, be sure to keep the tension a little on the loose side. If you're using anything other than silk or bamboo, it'll bounce back and be tighter in the end (don't make a noose!). Keep wrapping until you have used about 1/2 to 2/3 of your amount of yarn. For me, that was about 27 yards.

You can wrap your yarn however you want. If you wrap like I did, you'll get a cowl which stacks up on itself and becomes very tall (great for keeping your ears warm while simultaneously keeping your upper chest warm!). You can overlap the wrap to get a gorgeous, confusing highway of yarns going every whichway. You can do a minimalist approach with a few wraps, or you can layer the texture by making the background with bulky yarn and the foreground with thinner yarn. Seriously, this has tons of options! Now we need to keep the cowl together--right now, it's just a bunch of wrapped yarn!

Without cutting your yarn (or you can switch yarns now if you'd like), make a small slip knot and put your crochet hook through the loop. Now we will chain ply the wraps together.

Your yarn supply should be on the top of your project. With your crochet hook, slip the hook under one of the wraps (it doesn't have to be just one wrap..experiment with two or three wraps!).

Wrap the yarn around the hook and pull it under the wrap yarn and the through the slip knot on the hook (the loop closest to your hand). You will have made a new slip knot! Tip: You don't have to go under each wrap in order. You can skip the next wrap and go to the next one, chain it, then come back to the wrap you skipped and chain that one. It'll give your cowl some interesting lines (for example, when you look at a moebius strip and draw a line with your eye).

Rinse and repeat until you get to the end of the wraps. Now you have a choice. You can simply cut your yarn, knot the end, and weave in the end. Or you can do something like what I did...

I cut off a random length of yarn (crochet hook for scale--you don't need to remove your hook).

With your hook still in place at the end...

...pull SOME of the yarn through the loop, but don't pull the whole yarn through. If you leave some yarn on either side of the slip knot, you'll get ends which loop instead of fringe. While holding either end of the loops, pull to even them out if you'd like. The slip knot will hold the ends snuggly, but if you are using a slippery yarn, you may want to choose an alternate form of tying the end. You could try a square knot or a bow.

Add as many of these chain sections as you want. I had 7 chain sections to hold my cowl together, but I think 4, evenly spaced chain sections would be the minimum number to keep the cowl together. I spaced my chain sections irregularly to keep it from looking too uniform. You can even do chain sections which start somewhere in the middle and finish before the end of the wraps to add more visual interest. Experiment! Try stuff out! These chain sections are easy to remove if you don't like the direction it's going. :)

A few last tips before we do the big reveal. If your chain loops are bunching up, that's normal, especially when you're using a bulky yarn. If you're worried that the whole project might pop off your niddy noddy, you can tie scrap yarn around the center T and the wraps.

If you're worried about chaining the front wraps with the back wraps, place a piece of paper between the layers so that won't happen. I found that the paper being there helped me go faster since I wasn't always checking to make sure I didn't accidentally grab a wrap from the bottom level!

Here's the finished Charlotte Cowl!

I hope you enjoyed working through this project. Share pictures of your Charlotte Cowl with all of us over on Facebook! Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for this project. I plan to do more of these 'no knit, no crochet' projects in the future! <3

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fiber Artist Review: LMS Fiber Arts

I love doing fiber artist reviews because it truly does spread the word about us artisan craftspeople. Some people think I'm crazy to put any fiber into a person's hands, even if it's not my own. Sometimes it's just because someone else dyed a really great color. Or they have a different fiber base than me. Or they had different inspiration while at the drum carder. The truth is, I am as much a consumer of the fiber arts as I am an entrepreneur in this little niche market. Though these reviews are a little old, I still remember all of the excitement I had when I unrolled a batt or pulled roving out of the bag. Look these people up when you are in need of new fiber!

Originally posted on June 7, 2012:

I busted my **** getting this one done! Whew, I have made a really daunting review schedule for this month, but I can do it. :) Let's start with the Fiber Artist review. Here is the lovely batt I had to work with, courtesy of LMS Fiber Arts:

I came about this batt through a giveaway that Emily, the artist, was having on her blog. I had about 6 or 8 choices of batts, but it was the copious amounts of super soft sari silk carded into this batt that made me desire it! It's named "Kiss-O-Gram," from the new seasons of Doctor Who. This batt weighed in at approximately 4 ounces, had several layers, and included exciting extras like firestar and cormo locks. Suffice it to say that this batt was huge and dense! And well carded too.

After taking some glamour shots, the hard part came. What do I make with it? When almost everything I dye and spin can easily remade, the decision is easier. If I don't like it or need more, I can always satisfy that need. I decided to instead look at the type of project I wanted to make with this batt. From there, I could calculate how much yardage I would need, decide on the number of plies, and, of course, make sure I had enough fiber to meet those two needs! I deliberated for a couple of days, then I just knew it needed to be made into a shawl!

I spun this with a medium twist to hold together the shorter fibers (mainly the sari silk) and to keep it from pilling too much when worn. I decided to go with a WPI that ranged between 20-16 (I would call the finished yarn a fingering weight though), and the slubs that happened were completely natural. I split the batt roughly into two equal pieces and spun them on my lace bobbin. I had to move a *little* slower than I like because I wanted a single and not a plied yarn. I'm still getting the hang of not making an overtwisted single. :) I pulled the yarn off the bobbin and wound 2, almost equal, skeins. Here are some shots of the finished (washed and beat) yarn:

The total yardage came to 400, with one skein being around 220 and the other being around 180. They're really soft, hold together nicely, and have just a touch of shine and shimmer that's not over-the-top. I was slightly concerned when I first started spinning that I would run into a "mud" issue. The batt is predominantly warm colors that are shifted towards the red/purple side. The flecks of blue and gold sari were enough to create interest, but there were also large bits of green wool in the mix too. We know from art class that to make brown, you combine color opposites (complimentary colors). The thinner you make a yarn, the muddier the colors can potentially get, and the same goes for plied yarns--one of the reasons why I decided not to do a plied yarn.

Luckily, as you can see from these pictures, the splash of green is done in a tasteful manner, and is enough to create more depth to the color than if it were left out. I say, well done Emily. Those of us with new drum carders (like me) can throw color sense out the window. I no longer feel afraid to experiment with adding color compliments, and with the help of Deb Menz, I have a step-by-step instructor to help me. Bling is always a hot issue, it seems as though you love it or hate it. I think there always needs to be a balance. In Kiss-O-Gram, there are little accents of firestar here and there, much like how a bracelet or a necklace accents the finished look of an outfit. For those loathsome of bling batts, perhaps add the bling just where it's needed, as Emily has done.

Emily has lots of stuff in her shop to check out (and cool stuff to read in her blog), so be sure to stop over and shop a while. Say I sent you fiber artists love to find out where you heard about us. :)

**Update! I just wanted to pop in here to say that I did manage to make a shawl with this yarn. It turned out wonderful. :) I used the free Cora Shawl pattern available here on the blog.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Free Knitting Pattern: A Tale of Two Cozies

I've been needing to make a couple of patterns like these. And I needed to find a pattern suitable for random bits of sample yarn. After polling Facebook, it looked like "coffee cozy" was the thing to make. And fits a serious need! And you know what else?--a beer cozy fits a serious need too. Well, if I'm already making one, why not make two? :)

I also really like naming my patterns with people names. But in keeping with the Facebook derived nature of this pattern, it seemed natural to ask ya'll what they should be named! Heather Bair hit the nail on the head with Mutt and Jeff. Not only is a name like Mutt funny, but this combo is surprisingly appropriate. The beer cozy is tall and willowy, just like its namesake Mutt. And the short, stubby coffee cozy fits its namesake Jeff. Both patterns are listed together in the same .pdf download, so click the link and read about a Tale of Two Cozies!

Skills needed for this pattern are fairly basic. If you can knit in the round, you can make these cozies. I'll also teach you about how to make a jogless stripe. It's not as intricate or confusing as you might think and the result will be perfect stripes the whole way around the cozy. Enjoy!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Warp Weighted Loom Update #3: Defining the Iron Age

In my last update, I talked about the wool that would have been available to Iron Age people in Europe. I also mentioned that textiles are very rare, and because of the rarity of archaeological samples, we don't really know for sure what type of sheep they used, only that the wool has undergone dramatic changes over time. Some information about wool has been discovered through the scientific testing of sheep skins found contemporaneously, such as the micron count of each part of the sheep (ie, prime fleece, leg wool, etc.).

I've mentioned the "Iron Age" several times now, but I haven't said what I'm calling the "Iron Age." Generally speaking, tool technology advances into subsequently sophisticated tools to make life easier and warfare more deadly. But tool technology doesn't begin everywhere in the world at the same time, and in some cases, two or more tool technologies will be used simultaneously in various parts of the world. And even one a group of people began using a new tool technology, they didn't completely give up on their previous tool technology (can you imagine how ludicrous it would have been for everyone to switch over to cellular phones in 1993 and get rid of house phones?). While most of us know a few details about the Iron Age in general (ahem, they used iron tools), it's important to know from which Iron Age I'm gleaning information.

The Iron Age I will be referring to throughout my research is in Central Europe (Germany, France, Spain, etc.), Western Europe (Britain, Scotland, and Ireland, etc.), and Northern Europe (Scandinavia). In this part of the world, the Iron Age arrived about a thousand or so years later than it began in the Near East (Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India). If we travel from east to west, the Iron Age began in Central Europe around 850BCE, in Western Europe around 800BCE, and in Northern Europe around 400 (or 300) BCE. The end dates for each aren't quite so clear cut. The indigenous populations in Central, Western, and Northern Europe did not write historical accounts, so much of what we know about them comes from outside contemporaries. The Roman invasion introduced the indigenous people to a historical tradition (and Christianity) and were they were flooded with Roman culture. Rome conquered many cultural traditions in this area of the world, but some, like the Picts in Scotland (around 100BCE), retained their autonomy from the Empire. Generally speaking, the Iron Age 'ended' in Central and Western Europe by the middle of the 5th century, approximately at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. In Northern Europe, the Iron Age didn't 'end' until as late as the Norman Conquest of England (1066CE).

The Iron Age followed the Bronze Age, and was a critical period of cultural development across the board. Iron tools proved to be more durable and could hold a sharp edge for longer, but most significantly, iron can be forged. The technology used for making bronze items is through a casting method, where the hot metal is poured into a mold and allowed to cool. It could be honed to a sharp edge. Bronze is a softer metal than iron, so it couldn't maintain it's edge for nearly as long. If a bronze weapon chipped or broke, it must be melted and recast again. The differences in smithing techniques for bronze and iron were that iron required a very hot furnace and a specialized annealing process. During this transition period, iron was more used for decorative items than for weapons.

Since the information archaeologists have managed to piece together for any one particular area, temporally and spatially, is rather meager, it behooves me to utilize information from a generalized Iron Age period of 'western' Europe. Textile fabrics do not preserve well, and are most commonly found in environments like bogs, ice, salt (like table salt) mines, and metallic salts (salts produced as metals decay in acidic soil). Because of these specific environments, preserved textiles are contextual outliers--meaning, they are one of a kind given the time period in which they date, and anomalies given that there may only be a few textiles found in a certain geographic region. Inferences must be made about the type/appearance/etc. of textiles in surrounding areas, and the evolution of textile types/appearances/etc. in a single area.

For example, let's say part of a tunic is found in modern-day Paris, France, which dates to 125 +/-25 BCE, and is dyed with woad. We can infer that these people had an advanced understanding of natural dyeing and we can know this by studying modern societies who still use natural dyeing techniques. We can also infer that people in the same area probably knew how to dye with woad as well, especially if the plant is present in that area. For the most part, this assessment would be accepted as a highly probable statement--but that doesn't mean all groups that existed in the same area knew how to dye with woad. Unfortunately, though people buried their dead, they didn't also bury time capsules...we have to go with what we find in the ground.

I'll be using the information about a generalized 'Iron Age' to guide me on my quest to make a warp-weighted loom and use it to weave a scarf (let's shoot for realism). By pulling information from various parts of the western Iron Age world, I'll give myself a better chance of understanding the types of cloth which were made and deciding whether people were making cloth for specific purposes or for mass production. I'll go into those details in my next update, where I will talk specifically about what I've learned regarding loom weights and how to set up a warp to produce the best piece of fabric.

In these updates, I've been trying to merge two different fields of study together, that of archaeology and textile studies, and I hope I am doing them justice. If you feel like I missed something or that I got something wrong, please let me know! I am a master in neither field, but through these personal efforts, I hope to gain some level of mastery of both. In addition to grad school (which should be starting for me this summer), I'll be continuing on with this project until it's completed, no matter how long that takes. With ya'll there to read and offer support, I think I can make it through this daunting task. Thank you for reading about my journey!

I've also updated my bibliography, in case you are keeping up with me:

Current Bibliography:
Albarella, U., Johnstone, C., & Vickers, K. (2008). The development of animal husbandry from the Late Iron Age to the end of the Roman period: a case study from South-East Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science, 35(7), 1828-1848.
Andresen, S. T., & Karg, S. (2011). Retting pits for textile fibre plants at Danish prehistoric sites dated between 800 bc and ad 1050. Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 20(6), 517-526.
Degano, I., Ribechini, E., Modugno, F., & Colombini, M. P. (2009). Analytical methods for the characterization of organic dyes in artworks and in historical textiles. Applied Spectroscopy Reviews, 44(5), 363-410.
Frei, K. M., Berghe, I. V., Frei, R., Mannering, U., & Lyngstrøm, H. (2010). Removal of natural organic dyes from wool–implications for ancient textile provenance studies. Journal of archaeological science, 37(9), 2136-2145.
Good, I. (2001). Archaeological textiles: a review of current research. Annual Review of Anthropology, 209-226.
Joosten, I., van Bommel, M. R., Hofmann-de Keijzer, R., & Reschreiter, H. (2006). Micro analysis on Hallstatt textiles: colour and condition. Microchimica Acta, 155(1-2), 169-174.
Rast-Eicher, A., & Bender Jørgensen, L. (2012). Sheep wool in Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science.
Ryder, M. L. (1987). The evolution of the fleece. Scientific American, 256(1), 112-119.
Strand, E. A., Frei, K. M., Gleba, M., Mannering, U., Nosch, M. L., & Skals, I. (2010). Old Textiles—New Possibilities. European journal of archaeology, 13(2), 149-173.
Tomlinson, P. (1985). Use of vegetative remains in the identification of dyeplants from waterlogged 9th–10th century AD deposits at York. Journal of archaeological science, 12(4), 269-283.
Vanden Berghe, I., Gleba, M., & Mannering, U. (2009). Towards the identification of dyestuffs in Early Iron Age Scandinavian peat bog textiles. Journal of Archaeological Science, 36(9), 1910-1921.
Viklund, K. (2011). Flax in Sweden: the archaeobotanical, archaeological and historical evidence. Vegetation history and archaeobotany, 20(6), 509-515.