Friday, May 17, 2013

This and That, and I Add Another Fiber Arts Superstar to My List

Wow, the last few weeks have been crazy.

Saturday Spinners had a dying workshop last month.  Seems like every time I get into dyeing, we use a  different technique, and this was the easiest yet.  Each of us dumped our prepared fiber into a pot of water with a little vinegar, and brought it up to a simmer.  We had a couple dozen different colored dyes mixed in cups, and when the fiber was ready, we poured small amounts of the dyes directly on the fibers.  I dyed half a pound of combed merino top, and the results are the closest to what I intended that I've ever gotten.

I have an uncomfortable feeling that the spun yarn may blend into the color of a fresh bruise, but I'll get around to spinning it pretty soon and we'll see.

A dear friend gave me another knitting machine a few weeks ago -- this one a bulky knitter which is now at Newton's getting a tune-up.   Now I have the whole array of possible gauges. What fun!

I've been at a standstill with knitting lessons while I struggle to learn to use the lace carriage.  

Gave myself a break and knitted some sock blanks -- one for a friend to test and one for a door prize at Studio 66 (more on that in my next blog post).  Wendy chose some shades of green and yellow.  Although the colors aren't all that appealing in this photo, I had a chance to see her knitting socks out of the blank last week and they look beautiful. 

The cool thing about these sock blanks is that you machine knit two strands of yarn at once.  Then you knit one sock from each of the strands.  Because they were dyed as one, you get socks that pretty much match.  Some slight variations in color where the dyes don't soak through evenly, but that just adds a little interest IMHO.

At the end of April, I got to study with another fiber arts superstar, Amy Tyler.  Amy's business is Stone Sock Fibers, and you need to visit her site to look at photos of her gorgeous handspun yarns and knitted garments.  Amy teaches loads of workshops on knitting and spinning, and the GLASG guild hosted four workshops with her.  I was able to take a couple of vacation days to attend three of them.

The first was a day-long workshop called "Creating the Yarn You Want."  When I opened up the packet Amy provided and saw all the sample project cards waiting to be filled up, my heart sank.  I thought that at my skill level I would never be able to keep up with the class.  But it turned out to be a fun, no-stress class and I was pretty surprised at the end of the day to realize that not only had I kept pace, I actually had some very pleasing results.

We learned ways to control the thickness and twist in our yarns, and how to ply balanced yarns.

Much of the time was focused on duplicating yarns.  We were given a commercial yarn and asked to match it for thickness.  Then we made some samples, traded with our neighbors, and had to match the thickness of one sample and the twist of another.  

We also did quite a bit of experimenting with twist and drafting speeds. 

I came home from this class feeling like I might actually be a pretty good spinner one of these days. 

In addition to the many samples above, I had a big skein of singles created throughout the day.   Think I'll Navajo ply this one of these days and use it to accent a triangle shawl.

The second full-day class was "Blending Colors at the Wheel."  I have to confess that I am color-challenged.  I tend to stick to the same handful of "safe" colors that I prefer (reds, blues, and purples) and am not terribly adventurous about mixing colors and using those outside my comfort zone.  So I purposely tried to choose other colors when we had the opportunity to make selections.

The first thing we studied was the way thickness of spinning affects color.   Amy gave us samples of two different colors of top and had us spin a thick sample and a thin sample of each.  Then we plied thin to thin and thick to thick.   We also did the same with two different colors of roving.

Not surprising, the color differences stood out more in the thicker samples, while they tended to blend together visually in the thin samples. 

Then we worked on pre-drafting roving.  Here are some sample skeins of some lovely Coopworth wool called "Fairy Dust" from Hidden Valley Farm.

For the sample on the left, we were instructed to create a thick yarn with low twist.  On the right is my "default" yarn.  You can see how the colors in the thick yarn have kept more of their individuality.

We did a fun study of relative percentages.  Instructed to choose a light value and a dark value I chose a rusty brown (outside comfort zone) and a cream (safe).  We blended them 25% dark, 75% light, 50/50, and 75% dark, 25% light.  The result is three different but harmonious yarns.  I just love these three yarns, even though I would not have chosen this brown in the real world.

In this exercise, we chose four random colors.  I picked green (ok),  coral (ugh) and blue and gray (pretty). 

Then we spun the largest bit of color (gray) into one single.  We broke up the other colors into smaller pieces, mixed them at random and spun another single. 

Finally we plied the two singles together. 

I'm still not wild about the coral color, but I do like the overall result.

This sample is from my favorite exercise.  I picked three colors I like - red, cream, and medium gray, and one I don't - brown. 

We broke each into bits of various lengths, then randomly selected one bit at a time to spin two singles.  Finally, we plied the two singles together.  The result looks a bit like the fractals I spun a few months ago, but much more random.  I love this yarn and one of these days I'm going to duplicate it in larger quantity. 

After class, a few of us went to dinner with Amy.   What a fun evening!

The third day we had a guild meeting, lunch, and a half-day class on  "Spinning with Silk Hankies."  This was the most challenging of the three for me.  I had never spun silk except blended with alpaca, let alone worked with hankies.

Class began with a "hand spa."  No matter how smooth you think your hands are, this silk snags like nobody's business.  After an exfoliating scrub, we slathered on lotion, and still the silk snagged - just not as much.

Working with the hankies turned out not to be as difficult as I had expected, but still much harder than wool.  We got to pick a couple of different pieces out of a pile of beautifully colored hankies (just a section of them shown here) to work with.

Then we learned how to separate the layers, draft them into gossamer ribbon-like strands, and spin them.  We played with the amount of twist, did some Navajo ply, and created a two-ply marled yarn by trying to match the twist in a silk strand with wool and plying them together.   I still have some exercises to finish but this was a good introduction to spinning silk.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much I bought several packets of hankies to dye and spin from Nancy's Custom Handweaving (she usually brings a load of fibers, books, and tools to guild meetings). 

I thoroughly enjoyed all three classes and would take any of them again.  I learned a lot but there's a lot more I could learn from Amy.  She is a personable, engaging teacher, and her instruction was clear and easy to follow.  I just read through the handouts she provided -- they're terrific, and will help me remember all the information Amy shared in the classes.  

I have more to talk about, but it's going to have to wait for my next post.  Coming up...  Studio 66 Retreat 2013!