Spring Cleaning

I know. This weekend actually marks the beginning of summer here in the United States, but the summer equinox isn’t for another month, so I’m still good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about projects that have been languishing in various knitting bags around the house, and it’s time to make some hard decisions about these projects. What caused me to stop working on them? Are they worth reviving? If so, what do I need to do to get them going again?

Project #1: Unspun Silk Scarf

unspun-silk-1I actually don’t have a picture of the state of the project before I picked it up. This is a picture of it after I started working on it this week.

Last spring, I had an urge to play with unspun silk hankies, so I dug up a package of Chasing Rainbows hankies in Peacock colorway. I chose a simple 5×5 rib for a quick scarf. I casted on 40 stitches and worked about 4″, then stopped. I don’t know why I stopped. (Maybe I needed a manicure?) In any case, I stuck the whole thing back in a bag with the silk hankies and forgot about it.

This past week, I had an idea for working with unspun silk again.  (Hmm. There seems to be a theme here.  Looking back, it’s always spring when I want to play with unspun silk.  There was at least one other instance of this to support the theory. If it’s May, it must be time to play with silk hankies.) Anyway, back to today. I pulled out a bag of silk hankies and found the knitting with it.

unspun-silk-scarfA few hours of knitting over the course of 3 days, and it is finished. I don’t know if I intended one of those long and skinny scarves, but I chose to finish it off quickly by making a slotted scarf instead. Many, many inches shorter this way!

The finished scarf weighs less than half an ounce, between 10-15 grams. (I really need to get a better scale!) So, one package of hankies (Chasing Rainbows put up is 1 ounce) is more than enough for a scarf.

Knitting notes:

  • 40 stitches in 5×5 rib with 2.25 mm needles
  • at approx. 24″, knit 20 sts, attach new strand and knit the next 20 sts
  • continue working 2 sides separately for 2″
  • join the 2 sides again to close the slot
  • continue knitting as a single piece for another 4-5″
  • cast off

unspun-silk-2I like the sewn bind off, but it’s a bit difficult to work the sewn bind off with unspun. I worked around this by compressing the unspun a bit by rubbing the unspun between my palms, as if I was washing my hands. Do this all along the length of the unspun.

It’s not spinning because the twist goes every which way. But because the silk is so sticky, it stays compressed.  Now, the silk strand is ready to be used for the sewn bind off. The rest is history.

On to the next project!

Scarf Progress 6 – Fini!

scarf-leftThis is all that was left of the ball of yarn after I casted off the last stitch. I was really sweating it there for a few minutes.  How much was left? Not enough to register on my scale.  But that could be anything less than 2 grams.  I didn’t break out the niddy noddy to measure out the length.

Once I started knitting, it went quickly. Of course, I didn’t do much all weekend except knit.  The only outing was to a boat chistening and a Floato-de-Mayo party at the club (something about not saying “sink” around boats).

I didn’t like the first blocking attempt, so the scarf is back in a nice warm tub while I get ready for another round with pins and wires.

scarf-teaserThere will be no more posts on the scarf until after the submission deadline has come to pass.  I’ll leave you with this little teaser.

It’ll be nice to get back to normal programming around here. I haven’t spun since I left Wisconsin! Can you believe it? And there’s a new baby that appeared on the scene while we were in Wisconsin, 3 weeks early. I haven’t worked on a baby anything. His older brother received this as his welcome, so what will I need to do to top that? Maybe something woven?

(I understand the toddler still sleeps with his blanket every night. It’s always gratifying to hear that.)

Scarf Progress 5

scarf-swatchSwatch done.

Yes, it’s knitted lace. Not much of a surprise there, is it?

The top of the diamond is darker than the bottom. This is because the color of the fleece varied lock by lock.  The swatch shows definite bands of color, creating a variegated yarn. I like it.

The swatch was pro forma. It didn’t really tell me much, since the sample already told me most of the information I needed. The yarn I chose to work the sample in is approximately the same size as the yarn I spun, so the gauge and needle size has already been determined.  The swatch just confirmed that I was still on target.

So why swatch? It’s one of the contest requirements. The swatch ate up another 5 grams of yarn.  This leaves me approximately 35 grams of yarn for the scarf, or about 145 yards.

On the positive side, I was able to test out the cast off method I chose on the swatch. All is good.

Scarf Progress 4



Above: Skein 1 (lower) & 2 (upper) on silk handkerchief, all dyed with hazelnut leaves. (See Progress 3 for details.)

Left: Before and after dyeing. On the card: left is before washing/dyeing/fulling; right is after. In skeins: before is the bottom skein; after is the top skein.

Yarn Specs (skein #2):
Weight: 40 grams*
Yardage: 170 yards (1925 ypp**)
WPI: 20***

The color shift is very subtle. Overall impression of sage green and deeper in tone. It really highlighted the light/dark moorit variation in the yarn. It’s not as green as the un-mordanted sample. I don’t know if it’s due to the alum or the proportions, since I didn’t weight the original sample: a skein and a handful of leaves.

I have taken to dropping a silk handkerchief into every dye pot so that I can keep a record of all the dye experiments.  I purchase the handkerchiefs from Thai Silks/Exotic Silks in Los Altos. Now, I just need to get around to labeling them.

The yarn spun from the combed preparation (skein #2) is much more consistent and has more bounce. It just generally feel better.  This is the yarn that I will use for the contest.

* Yes, I seem to have lost 5 grams between the time it came off of the spindle and when it came out of the dye bath.  A few reasons for this. (1) My scale only records to the nearest 5 grams. (2) I took several yards off for record keeping: before/after dyeing for card record and skein for submission.  Between the two, I must have teetered from closer to 45 grams to closer to 40 grams.  One of these days, I’ll spring for a scale with better accuracy.  For now, it gets me in the ball park.

** Measurement taken by the McMorran Balance. For some reason, it was really static-y when I was doing my measurements. I had to spray the outside of the balance with water to prevent the yarn from clinging to the balance and throwing off  the measurements.

*** I did a little bit of fulling while washing the fiber, hence the change from 24 to 20 wpi. It bloomed a bit. Yes, it was intentional.

Dye and Scarf Progress 3

You might have guessed from the previous 2 posts that I had been thinking about whether I want to dye the spun yarn before knitting or leaving it natural.  The natural is pretty, but I’m not one to let an opportunity to play with natural colors pass. Part of the scarf competition rule is that if you are going to dye, it has to be with natural dyes. Yes, I have a whole kit of Earthues dye powders, but to keep in theme of the whole process it yourself, I wanted to gather the dye materials myself. (I even eyed my crop of horsetails up on Whidbey for the possibility of chartreuse. Too early in the season.)

I started to scan Ravelry’s Plants to Dye For discussion group, and I came across an intriguing discussion on using soak water from black beans to dye fabric. Hmm. But is it stable? I didn’t think it could be. I’ve seen the purplish water that I strain off. None of the books I have talks about it (not that it’s definitive, but it does provide some jumping off points). My guess is that it is transient at best. But what do I have to lose?

I started a pound of beans to soak as I finished spinning up my yarn. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish before the bean water started to ferment just a little. (It was left out on the counter because I didn’t have room in the refrigerator and the weather got HOT!) I wasn’t too worried. But I decided to strain it off and heat it up a bit to stop the process of whatever it was happening in the solution. That was my first clue that the dye isn’t stable. The starch and protein in the soaking water starts to break down, and that lovely dark blue purple also disintegrated into a dull brown.

I still wasn’t willing to give up on it. I put a skein in (alum premordant) and brought it to a simmer then let it sit over night. The results were extremely disappointing. Brown. And it rinsed out. I think I had to rinse it about 10 times before it rinsed clear. And now it’s back to the same color as it was before.

For which I am glad. Now I can start over without the need to spin up more yarn.

The skein is sitting in yet another alum bath right now in preparation for a hazelnut dye bath.

I gathered about 150 grams of hazelnut leaves and shredded it with my hands, as I would with salad greens, and let it sit in water yesterday. Since it was over 90+F yesterday, and the pot was in the sun, it got pretty warm in the pot. The whole pot was simmered for a couple of hours last night and let cool overnight.  It’s strained and now ready for the fiber.

Dye Notes:

  • alum: ~30%
  • hazelnut leaves: 2:1 wof

Progress Report:

  • All yarn spun.
  • First skein: spun from flicked locks on drop spindle, plied on Schacht Matchless. 30 grams/154 yards. 32 wpi.
  • Second skein: spun from combed fiber was spun on my Bosworth Featherweight and plied on a larger spindle.  45 grams/170 yards. 24 wpi.
  • Sample knitting still progressing well, but not yet completed. Put aside for now to focus on spinning and dyeing.
  • Deb Menz workshop spinning: 60% complete.