Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tax Day Cotton Spinning Challenge: Halfway Point

Going from Level 1 to Level 2 in any RPG game is easier than going from Level 2 to Level 3. More experience is required. At those early levels, you're often encountering similar beasties and will receive similar XP when you smite them with your long bow or axe. So, attaining Level 3 took more monster killing than attaining Level 2. But you also began to learn some things about your character, your enemies, and the environment. Well, cotton spinning, for me, is no different. I think this metaphor applies to many of you who have been doing this challenge with me.

So, let's start off by looking at my first sample (which, if you'll remember, was made without researching anything yet):

It's rough, lumpy, has vm and noils, but most importantly, I succeeded in making yarn. My punis were soft, but the drafting was horrendous. I had to pinch and pull the fiber down to the point of contact (where the twist enters the fiber to become yarn) like an inch worm. Otherwise, my spindle would hit the ground. Sadly, my poor, Russian Bog Oak spindle, my baby, hit the floor several times. I put a towel down so it would land on something soft, but dropping a spindle is a sign I'm doing something wrong. Then I got a helpful tip from a G+ user, Andrea Schroer, that cotton needs a lot of twist. She's been spinning cotton for a long time, so that's the first change I made for my second sample.

Okay, so you can't really see the difference in this picture, but I really did add more twist to my second sample. Here's the side-by-side so you can see just how much twist was in the second sample, even after plying:

First sample, left, Second sample, right
The left sample is fluffier, fuzzier, and has a softer outline. The right sample is smoother, denser, shinier, and more sharply defined as a result; you can really see the individual plies as they twist around one another, but the loft obfuscates the plies of the left sample, so they're difficult to discern. Additionally, for the same length of skein, the left sample only made a single 180 degree turn (rotated a half turn) when I removed it from the niddy noddy, whereas the right sample made 3 whole turns. After washing and setting, using the same method I use for setting wool, they both hung in the same manner. Still, I think the singles need more twist.

Then I decided to try and spin the cotton worsted style, since some people had cotton top at hand. Now, I knew from years ago that this wouldn't be easy to do, and, well, it isn't easy to spin:

It may not have been easy to spin, but it did produce a smooth, non-fuzzy yarn which was probably stronger than my first two samples because there were no noils or vm present. I increased the twist again because my second sample still didn't look plied enough. With cotton's short staple, my fingers had to move deftly to spin far enough ahead of the twirling spindle so I could pinch and draft the fiber...and this is when I first encountered backspin. Because my hands were so busy controlling the twist and draft at the point of contact (where twist enters the unspun fiber), I let my spindle untwist. The decision between adding another spindle flick or managing the fiber/yarn dance was a difficult one. I realize that this is a small problem, but if I wanted to spin lots of cotton for hand towels or bags, this backspin would become a bigger issue and waste time. So, back to the drawing board.

This time, I carded the cotton top into a puni and spun from that:

The result was a similarly smooth and even yarn, with lots of twist, but slightly fuzzier than the true worsted sample. Over the course of this challenge, I have leveled up my puni-making:

After this sample, I decided to do some researching. I'm still in the process of reading up on cotton spinning, but here are two sources to read: Spin-Off's Spinning Cotton and a documentary about cotton spinners in South America. Because I had already spent some time experimenting and observing first, when I finally sat down to research I understood and retained more than I would have from the outset, and I may be able to fix some of my carding/puni problems from watching others.

For my fifth sample, I decided to make a larger sample. Sometimes when you make small samples, you're fingers and brain are just getting used to things, then you stop. I didn't give it an arbitrary stopping point--I just kept going until I couldn't remember what the starting yarn felt like.

Quick story time. When I first started spinning wool, I just let myself forget how I started spinning so I could find out 1) what my natural spinning gauge was, and 2) learn what gauge felt best for that fiber. I don't care that my cotton yarn will be a strange range of gauges when I'm done because I'm learning. Besides, I can use this cotton for all sorts of future projects, so I'm not wasting anything.

Here is the larger sample:

As I wind on, I'm trying to make an ovoid shape, just like the ladies were doing in the documentary video. It probably has something to do with spin time, so I'm experimenting to see if it has an impact with a different kind of spindle. The jury is still out.

The fifth sample felt like it was getting too heavy, so I decided to wind it off onto my ball winder (under tension) so the twist wasn't so active when I went to ply it:

While that sat, I started sample six. I was going to try my hand at double drafting the cotton (allowing twist to start to draft the fibers, then pinching the twist and drafting it further before letting the twist flow in again), which works well for very short stapled fibers.

While I believe it turned out to be more consistent than my first sample, it still suffered from the same kind of puni problem. In my original puni, I rolled the fiber onto size US 5 dpns in a fashion similar to the way I rolled the rolags in my blending video, but I think it made the puni too wide. I switched to a pair of US size 3, but the difference wasn't enough. I now roll the punis with a pair of size US 2 dpns, but after the fiber is wrapped around the two needles, I remove one of them and try to pack the cotton more densely around the single needle. I'll have to do a video to show you what I mean, and I'm not sure I'm even doing it right.

That said, I think it's worth experimenting with puni-making now. I have a good understanding of how to spin cotton (though, I think I'm still being timid with the amount of twist it needs), but my fiber preparation is halting me from moving forward. So, here I am, stuck at the end of the XP bar, all of my Level 3 abilities just barely out of reach. Here's my first solution experiment. I am picking open the cotton by hand, removing all of the little vm bits I can, then I'm hand blending the cotton so I can further open the fibers to remove vm and get the fibers all roughly aligned:

The result is a fluffy pile of cotton, which is ready for...well, a beating. Do you remember seeing the part in the documentary mentioned above of the woman beating the cotton? Well, I'm going to do something similar to that to see if I can prep this fiber for smooth spinning and for making stronger yarn. We'll see how that goes. :) If you want to be part of the cotton challenge, you're always welcome to join in whenever, even if you don't hear about it until we're done doing it as a group...knowledge and experiences are not ephemeral. Join us on Ravelry if you want more regular updates and if you want to share your current experiences and insights from spinning cotton.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Weaving Mohair: Halfway Through A Rug

I've reached the halfway point with my mohair rug weaving project, and it's time to convey some impressions on my progress and observations thus far. I have learned many things weaving mohair. First, I love it! I love watching the texture develop as I weave. I had imagined how this rug would turn out before I even began, but it's turning out more fabulous than I originally thought. It may be a shame that it'll be hidden under a computer desk... As you can see in the following pictures, there is an obvious difference in the two yarns for this rug project (top of photo: mohair, bottom of photo: Lincoln):

Mohair is incredibly shiny and smooth. It reflects light better than the Lincoln I used (and it should be rather obvious from my photos), and is probably most reflective in its lock form. Combed mohair top which has been worsted spun will also produce a very reflective yarn too, though with less texture. The second thing I've learned about weaving with mohair is that I prefer to keep mohair as a single, rather than as a plied yarn. Keeping the weft as a single allows the light to bounce off a larger piece of uninterrupted mohair (this concept also applies to silk)--this rug glows.

This rustically spun mohair single has helped me with one huge pitfall which I have suffered from: getting the right amount of beating. You can underbeat or overbeat a weft yarn, and the former will produce a very loose fabric with a weft which slides easily; the latter will produce a very stiff, weft faced fabric. Those aspects produce desirable fabrics occasionally, but I'm looking for something which is 'even', neither too loose nor too tight. The large diameter has allowed me to produce fabric that is flexible and not slippery.

 You can see how even the spacing is between the warp and weft in this picture:

Mmm, look at that texture! I love how the little bits of mohair pop out of the fabric, and I love how the little bits of green give the fabric a Berber characteristic.

I'll be back again when I'm all finished weaving and I've taken the rug off the loom. The idea with this rug was to make a selvage (so, without fringe) which will get stitched under the rug. I want to minimize fluff around the fan intake areas on the pc box...Mr. IT Guy already has to deal with my fiber mess, so let's not make him upset. :)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Photo Tutorial: Upcycling a Cashmere Sweater into a Tote

I really like the idea of upcycling old clothes and fabrics and turning them into awesome accessories and concept designs. When you rework small pieces of fabric, inevitably you create something unique and custom. One of my goals with a project like this is to practice cutting up old clothes confidently--it's about learning how to see past the shapes or construction of another garment and imagining how it could look with some tweaking. 

So, this will be a photo tutorial in a light sense, meaning that I won't be showing you exactly how to do this. Rather, I'll be showing you how I did the whole process so you can get an idea of how to do this yourself. I began with an old turtle neck cashmere sweater:

Some tools you'll find useful:
  • Sharp scissors or a rotary cutter
  • Pins
  • Self-healing cutting mat
  • Ruler and French curve
  • Sewing machine
First, I cut off the sleeves. I kept these aside and later turned them into arm warmers.

Sometimes it's good to pin things occasionally with a project of this nature. Cashmere isn't slippery, but I wanted neat, even edges. I started by pinning the bottom together:

Then I folded the sweater in half and pinned it together. The ruler is there for me to make a mark where the handles will eventually be formed. I made this point even with the bottom curve of the sleeve:

I just adjusted the French curve over and over until I got the curve I wanted. You may want to draw part of the curve, adjust, draw some more, to get the kind of curve you want. For my sweater, I had plenty of extra fabric at the top so I could make my curve in one go...but it'll depend on your starting piece:

This is how it looked when you open it up. This is the front of the sweater:

To make sure all of the curves are equal, I cut open the top of the sweater where the shoulder is. I pinned the armpit part of the sleeves on top of each other:

The central seam in this photo is actually the side seam:

Once pinned, fold it in half so that you can even up all of the curves. For a really thick sweater, this won't work. You may need to make a template.

See how uneven they are?:

Here are the edges all trimmed up:

Trim up the former shoulder of the sweater:

I am preparing to sew the sweater by pinning the bottom of the sweater closed. I tested some stitches on spare sweater fabric. This is important for testing sewing tension:


I went for an overlapped strap with top stitching (like you see on jeans), but you could choose any other seaming method you desire. I connected the front shoulder pieces together to form the handle and the back shoulder pieces together to form the other handle. This allows the tote to be opened completely without the handles getting in the way:

I chose a cool celtic stitch pattern in green because I wanted it to stand out a bit:

Then I curled the seam under and seamed the edges:

When you're done seaming, clean up the inside edges (if you want). I think it looks better trimmed up:

Now that all of the seaming is done, you have your tote! My sweater was a touch flimsy at first, so I felted it to give the tote more stability. Use the extra pieces to decorate, add pockets, etc. I will be back to show off the kinds of decoration I end up putting on my tote. For now, it'll hold my current knitting and spinning projects.

If you liked this photo tutorial, let me know and I will make more of them in the future! Let's stay crafty. :)