Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tail Spun Beauty: Reflections of the Process

A few months ago, April actually, I spent some time talking about my second successful attempt at making a tail spun yarn. My first bona fide tail spun yarn turned out okay, but I wasn't happy with what I needed to do to make it work--having longer locks helps. My second attempt used an already spun commercial core yarn (50/50 mohair/nylon), and I can hope that my future third attempt will be able to go without a spun core. Anyway, here is a picture of the finished skein of yarn:

I skeined the yarn and held the loops together in the middle and tied it with a scrap of yarn. This lets the locks fluff up during the washing and setting phase, and it really reminds me of how curly my hair sometimes gets when it has been cut short. Don't beat the yarn too vigorously, and don't weight the end. It might twist a little after a wash, but it will eventually relax. If it's overspun slightly, you can always let out a little twist in a localized spot. When I make a yarn like this, I really like to let it breathe. Because I'm so proud of this attempt, here are a few other shots:

And a nice close up of the individual locks:

In all, I got around 5.5 yards. So, not a lot. I only had 2 ounces of these locks, but I think over 5 yards of extreme tailspun yarn is a pretty good length. In the future, I will buy something like 8 ounces if I can. These long locks aren't cheap though! If you like dyeing, you can get locks for a little less if you buy them in white..or, if you can find them, colored. My wensleydale locks were a lovely steel gray color.

Now, onto the science-y part. Remember when I was talking about the function of the core yarn in the last post? Well, I think it does more than add stability to this kind of yarn. If you're a beginner, like I am, this is a rather difficult yarn to spin. There are many rules you need to keep in your head (spinning rules + art yarn rules = complex yarn) and you need to be able to maneuver your fingers into just the right place to keep the process going smoothly. The hairy mohair yarn helped me in this way. When I felt like I needed a third hand, the mohair was there as my rescuer.

Here's what I mean. I would hold the lock in my right hand perpendicular to the yarn, and use my index finger to hold the bottom part of the lock to the core. My left hand held the core yarn and managed the tension, and the index finger of that hand helped guide the bottom of the lock over the core yarn. But sometimes I didn't have the best grip on the lock with either hand, and that's when the hairiness of the mohair locked onto the teeswater and grabbed it along with the twist. It allowed me to keep the tempo of the yarn going smoothly, while also teaching me what is probably the main purpose of a core yarn--at least for beginners.

I also wanted to share with ya'll some of the reflections I had when I finished this project and re-read my previous post about this yarn. Some art yarn beginners think that to spin a tailspun yarn like this without a core is a sign of mastery over this technique. Given that this yarn is difficult to spin, and just thinking of managing the locks plus unspun fiber gives my hands cramps, I believe that it truly is some great goal to achieve. However, it doesn't stop there. Each step I have taken has taught me something new, something I didn't anticipate learning until I tried it out. I'll liken it to math: first you learn long division before you learn short division. Soon, you only do division on a calculator. Along the way, you learn how to division several ways and can fall back on those basic rules in a pinch (in truth, I do way more addition in my head than I do division, but you get my point). That's what these skills have taught me. I think I'll be in the place to make extreme tail spun yarns on an unspun core (or maybe, coreless!) one day, but I'm glad I didn't just beat myself up to try and get to point C before trying out A and B first.

My personal edification is one factor in my reasoning for trying these types of art yarns, but another is in discovering how to make it easier for all of you who need help deconstructing these complicated yarns. Now that I have tried a couple of other ways to make tailspun yarns, I think I can troubleshoot some beginner problems. After I've made a few more skeins like these, I think I'll know more about how to make these yarns even better--either by technique or method. Which brings me to my next point.

I want to inspire all of you to create the things you think you can't because you can. We all gain some measure of inspiration from ourselves, but we gain most of our inspiration from the world around us..and people who make yarn are the best translators of nature into culture. We can keep the fibers as natural and organic as possible, or we can transform them with the addition of technology to be far removed from its original state. And we can combine both fibers into a single yarn. How amazing is that? So, I hope you see my trek through this tailspinning process as a way to expound on my basic ideas: make tailspun yarns with shorter locks and ply it with an interesting yarn; use various types of cores to serve as your foundation, and even use your own lumpy-bumpy handspun to create more texture in your tailspun yarn; jazz it up with some bling additions, or use a string of sequins to make it a statement. Now, go out and make something beautiful to add to our (sub)urban world, and don't forget to share your lovely creations with us.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Warp-Weighted Loom Update #5: Making the Loom Weights

You know, there's a good reason to re-read some of the things I have lying around here. With my Spin-Off magazines, I typically use them as reference material once I've read them through once, and they're my go-to resource for pattern information (ie, going from unspun fiber to finished garment). But with all of my research into warp-weighted looms, it never occurred to me to also check out these magazines to see if it had mentioned anything in regards to these looms. As it would turn out, the Summer 2013 issue has such a mention.

As a reenactment and teaching project, the warp-weighted loom they used wasn't exactly like the kinds Iron Age peoples would have used...but it does give me some ideas about how to make a modern version. Iron Age looms built in Britain, for example, would have been made of hazel. The tree would have been about 4-5 years old, with a straight, sturdy trunk. They would have looked for a piece which had branch with a 45 degree fork near the top, then tried to find a second hazel trunk of similar proportions. After minimal trimming and drying, the loom would be ready for use. Well, there isn't any hazel in Korea, so I have to think and search a little longer to figure out how I'll build the structure. I'm not a carpenter, so perhaps I'll shoot for some grown-up Tinker Toys: pvc pipes.

While my brain grinds on that conundrum, I plan to make some loom weights. I was excited to learn more about how the spinners featured in the Spin-Off magazine made and set up their loom, but they didn't include such details. Now, sometimes it's easy to look at a simple tool and be able to make one just like it, and it does the job just fine. On the other hand, these simple tools have had a long history of use, so their ideal shape for the job they're intended for is fairly exact. With that in mind, I didn't want to spend time reinventing the wheel, so to speak, and a paper by Linda Mårtensson, Shape of Things: Understanding a Loom Weight, offered some help. The author created a series of experiments to test which kinds of set ups that Iron Age peoples might have utilized. This would help archaeologists determine the kinds of cloth people would have made when the only extant evidence are loom weights. Due to the experimental nature of this analysis, I have a well-defined starting point.

Iron Age Brits would use donut-shaped loom weights made of unfired clay. They were rough and clearly handmade, but I suspect they could make lots of weights at once if they wanted. There are some interesting details about the evolution of the loom weight as it traveled from Anatolia to Ireland, and you can read more about it in Prehistoric Textiles written by E.J.W. Barber (see below for full bibliography). The style of loom weight I'm going to attempt is the same style that Mårtensson used in one of her experiments, mainly since the dimensions and weight are also listed. This should make it easier for me to reconstruct the length of fabric she made, and hopefully it'll provide a safety net for the instance when I mess up (because I probably will). This is the paper clay I'm using:

My loom weights:
  • 10cm circle
  • 2cm diameter
  • 200g wet weight
  • 1-1.5cm hole
I'm shooting for a finished weight of around 160-180g, and 9cm by 1.8cm size of the weight. I made two weights to get started so I can make future adjustments as necessary. Two weights will help me figure out the average shrinkage for the paper clay. If this turns out as expected, I will need to make about 20 more of these weights in order to make a cloth 28cm wide. Whew.

So far, the weights have been drying for a day, but they still feel pretty wet. I should take some bets to see how long it'll take for them to dry completely. My best guess is that it'll take a full week. I should weigh them daily to actually know how long it takes. I'll post a follow-up on the weights when they're dry. I think I might spend another post talking about the history of loom weights (I'll take some interesting excerpts from Barber) since it's interesting from a weaver's point of view, but also from an archaeologist's point of view.

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.
Barber, E. J. W.(1991) Prehistoric Textiles. The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean. Princeton NJ.
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.
Mårtensson, L., NOSCH, M. L., & STRAND, E. A. (2009). Shape of things: understanding a loom weight. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 28(4), 373-398.
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.

Dye Testing: Brand 2 Results

The results are in for Brand #2 dyes! I have to say, things didn't start out too well for this brand. For the life of me, I couldn't get the yellow dye to mix with the water to make a solution. I tried all of the tricks I know, but I still couldn't get the powder blobs to make friends with the water. Even after letting it settle for a day, it continued to refuse to play nice. So, I wasn't able to dye with this powder. The red, blue, and black worked just fine, and had decent coverage just like Brand #1 did. It still didn't dye the merino as well as I wanted it to, but I'll talk about the differences when I finish Brand #3 (I've only just started on those).

Here we go, red, blue, and black:

For the sake of consistency, I dyed the same kind of fibers for each color: merino, silk noil, icicle nylon, faux cashmere (nylon). Without any additions to make the dye take more evenly, this brand dyed very evenly. It dyed the icicle nylon and merino the best, even if the merino doesn't look as saturated as the rest.

I really like the blue from this brand. It's very different than the Brand #1 blue, which is more stereotypical of primary blue. Brand #2 blue has a wonderful Caribbean vibe, and I think it has a lot of potential as a primary color. The red and black turned out very similarly to Brand #1, so nothing too interesting there.

For me, this brand of dyes is like comparing bing cherries to rainier cherries--both are delicious, but one is slightly sweeter than the other. I eat both kinds of cherries with a voracious appetite--go ahead, ask me how long it takes for me to eat 5kg of cherries--and I can't really choose if both are available to me. Those are the days when I buy both. :) So, I'm kind of torn with these two brands so far. Brand #1's black was horrible, and so was Brand #2's yellow. I kind of want to meld these two brands into one so I can be the epitome of happy.

Brand #3 is in the process of being tested, and so far I kind of like the idea of it being able to dye both protein and cellulose fibers. For those of you Facebook fans who have already gotten a preview picture of Brand #3's yellow, you know that I'm a little confused how this dye works for both types of fiber. Well, I guess it's time to get out the dyepot...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Japan Trip: Where the Fiber is

I'm pretty excited to say that we, Mr. IT Guy and I, are heading to Japan for a much needed vacation in about a week. It was somewhat a sudden decision, but we found out about cheap flights from Korea to Japan and thought, "Why not?" I know that the summers in Japan can be similar to those in Korea (hot, humid, rainy, dank, etc.), but somehow you can just deal with these weather conditions a little better when you're on vacation. After all, we dealt with them just fine on our last summer trip there.

As some of you know, I've been working with a lovely lady in Japan who has been my fiber and dye go-to person. Ever since I found out that Japan has an appreciation for yarns made of natural fibers and fleeces which are easily available, I've wanted to go to a fiber/yarn shop there. Some days, I feel like I'm sitting in a fiber-free void in Seoul, and it hurts my creative soul. Unfortunately, Korea still seems to be on the acrylic yarn craze bandwagon, but I have hope for the future here. But it isn't the future yet, so I am really looking forward to getting my fix in Japan.

I heard from a mutual Facebook fan that Natalie Redding (from Namaste Farms) knew of some places in Japan that sold fibery goods. A friend of hers, Junko, gave me the low down on the best fiber shops to visit in the Osaka/Kyoto areas. I'm going to post below the links and do some research later to see which ones I'll be able to try and visit while we're in Japan.

  • Teoriya: This shop specializes in weaving supplies and yarn. There is a pretty wide selection of plant and animal fiber yarns available in this shop, including some wool yarn directly imported from Sweden.
  • Spinnuts: The online shop features a ton of variety, from fleeces to spindles. There is a wide variety of sheep fleeces, many of which come from Australia.
  • Hitsuji: This place has lots of equipment and books available, in addition to yarns and fibers. What's really cool about this shop is that they sell natural dyes. If I wanted to get my Wild Color on, I know where to go to get the stuff!
  • Textile Aoni: I can't get a proper translation of this page, and since the Google translate feature doesn't work (I assume this isn't text based?), I have no idea what this shop sells...or where to find it. I could email the owner and hope s/he speaks English.
  • Habu Textiles: Now this is a swanky shop. If you're a fiber guru and you've been to New York, you might have popped your head into this shop. This shop mainly sells yarn and notions (buttons and beads), and the way the pictures are taken, I feel like I'm sitting in a serene rock garden. 
  • Avril-Kyoto: This one sells mostly yarns and needles, and has lots of knitting and felting workshops on-site. 
  • Sometake: This shop is a haven for merino lovers. There are tons of colors to choose from, and it almost all comes in combed top preparation. There are also luxury fibers like alpaca and cashmere.
  • Semba Center: This place vaguely reminds me of Dongdaemun in Seoul, except they have whole floors dedicated to fibery goods. As a bonus, there are lots of restaurants nearby, making this place easily a whole day visit.
A funny side note. While I was checking these websites out, I had to ask Google to translate them from Japanese. Now, the translate feature has come a long way since its inception, but funny things happen. For example, what we know of as "batts" get translated as "butts" by Google. So, if you check out these links and translate them to English, try to control your laughter when you read "Germany Butts" and "Irish Butts." :D

So, I think I have some favorites. I really want to try and visit Spinnuts and Semba Center if I can. We have a fairly open schedule while we're there, so I'm pretty sure Mr. IT Guy won't mind if we go to a couple of places. Osaka is noted as a culinary hotspot, so we will find some good food no matter where we go. We also have some plans to attend Universal Studios and see the new Harry Pottery features while we're there. I'll post more about my fibery adventures when we get back in a couple of weeks!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Double Mini Review!: Little Monkey SNS and Falkland

Falkland is one of those wools that many beginners try out at first, then move on to softer fibers. Falkland is a great utility wool, and can make excellent luxury socks. If you haven't tried it yet, it's a very inexpensive, very common wool, so buy a pound and spin it up! :)

Originally posted on June 25, 2012:

Quick review today. First, I’m going to talk about a fiber artist, then I’ll finish up with a concise chat about Falkland. I bought these super cute mini batts from LittleMonkeySNS:

She makes such inspiring batts, and gave me the inspiration for making authentic gradient batts. Because I didn’t have much per batt (each were about 1/2 ounces), and the colors had the potential to turn to mud, I decided to spin a bulky, soft-spun single. I laid one batt on top of the other, ripped off parallel strips, and drafted both batts together.

The yarn turned out beautifully, and since it’s spun with only just enough spin to keep it together, I managed to get 44 yards of a bulky weight single out of 1 ounce of wool. Not bad, eh? :) I’m thinking that I might just make a swatch of this yarn to see if it gets too muddy. The pink-coral color worries me, since there is a lot of green. I’m feeling more comfortable putting these color opposites into batts and spinning them, but I’m still a little hesitant when it comes to knitting with them.

Now, the Falkland. I really like this wool. It’s soft enough for next-to-skin items, and averages a micron count range of 22-26. Merino can be as fine as 13/15 microns, and as “coarse” as 23 microns, but all of which are appropriate for intimate items (like scarves and cowls, not those other kinds of “intimates” per se!). Falkland follows in as a close second for soft items, and has features that appeal to those who don’t like the bounce and poof of merino (or cormo). Falkland is very lustrous and strong, and though it may not have a fine crimp, it still has an adequate amount of bounce. Here are the samples I made:

Falkland wool can be used as a multi-purpose soft wool, though it won’t have as much durability as medium and coarse wools like romney. Shawls, cowls, scarves, mittens, socks, cuffs, etc. make excellent projects to show off the falkland properties. In terms of sheen, Falkland falls between merino and romney, though closer to the merino side of sheen rather than the romney side. The next wool I want to talk about will be blue-faced leicester, or BFL. It has many qualities similar to Falkland, though it has its own place in the continuum of wools.

Disclaimer: I wanted to point out, again, that these posts aren’t meant to educate people about the history of the wool and sheep or the ultra specific details of how to use it. I just want to show people what I do when I experiment and compare, and provide a list of things that came to my attention. I’m learning more each day I test and experiment, and only through empirical data can I finally come to cogent and well researched opinions about the type of wool to be used for specific projects. Until that day, bear with me as we adventure along in the world of wool.

I’ve got a back log of stuff I wanted to get through this last week and a half, so more posts will be coming later this week. I have more stuff to add to the Etsy shop, so be sure to stop in and give me some love!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day, America!

I promise that I'll be back in a day or two with some new(er) posts. Things have been kind of hectic over here lately, especially since I'm trying very hard to get my paper written so I can have it in publishable form by October this year. I'm on track to get it done by the end of August, but since school is supposed to start in October, that's the ultimate deadline. My paper has changed quite a lot since my last iteration, and I hope to talk a little more about it when it's just about done. It's a very exciting concept, tying textile production to the landscape, and I hope it helps expand the field of textile studies.

We're also heading to Japan again this summer--YAY--and we've been outlining the stuff we want to do there. I've been looking into fiber shops in Osaka, and if anyone knows of any there (or who wants to help me look!), post in the comments below. I really want to be in a fiber's been almost a year since I was last in one!

Anyway, have a lovely 4th of July, America. We miss all of the fun ya'll are having, so have a little extra fun, just for us. :)