got silk?

The stash got a little larger…but only a little. Really. We went to a silk exporter, which was so overwhelming that I actually couldn’t even think about buying much. Bags and bags of silk, piles and piles of silk, floors and floors of silk. I bought one little skein of lustrous blue yarn, and some sari silk and some sliver carded from the same stuff.

the loot.
the loot.

I have such a backlog of cocoons from my own cats that I was not at all tempted by the noil and hankies. But Nisha bought some, so I’ll get to play with it in the mountains and teach people how to work with those preparations. I’m having non-buyer’s remorse about not buying more of the glossy yarn, but watching them pull out the equivalent of 3 big garbage bags full of every color imaginable just kind of short-circuited my brain.

The Beginning of a New Age

So the plan was to stop for a quick dosa on the way to the sporting goods store. But, today being Ugadi (New Year’s), every place we tried was closed. Just when we were about to give up, we saw a line of people stretching around the block—aha! Apparently the party is at Hallimane. We debated whether it would be worth the wait, but since it seemed like all of Malleshwaram was there, we could hardly miss it. We went ahead and got in line. And waited. Every so often, men would come out with trays of lemon-ginger drinks for everyone. I had plenty of time to examine the structure of the awning, woven from palm fronds and draped with garlands of orange and yellow marigolds. (Folks, this is a fiber arts blog. I had to get some textiles reference in there.)

We got right up to the door, then right inside the door, and then more waiting as everyone jostled to find a seat. The upstairs seating was just about over, so we waited at the foot of the staircase until the previous round of customers came streaming down. Then it was all elbows up the stairs, to long benches and tables lined with butcher paper and banana leaves. Servers came down the line ladling dish after dish onto the leaves—sweet, sticky puddles of jaggery and mango; crisp salads of corn and pomegranate seeds; rice with rasam and rice with sambar and rice with curd. Except for about 2 things, I have no idea how to order any of it if I ever wanted to eat it again. When we were finished we folded our banana leaves in half, and everybody got up to wash hands while the staff stripped the tables and reset for the next wave. Six hours later, I’m still stuffed.

Happy New Year!

Möbius, Maybe No

Last winter when I was working on an infinity scarf, a friend became fascinated with the idea of knitting a möbius strip. He asked if it would be possible to knit a möbius with diagonal stripes flowing into each other. So I played around with some strips of graph paper and determined that no, it’s not possible because the slope of the diagonals would flip from positive to negative (or, depending on how you look at it, the other way around). But you COULD, I decided, knit a möbius with chevrons that flow into each other. And if you CAN knit it, you MUST knit it, right?

Like all my best ideas (actually, like all my ideas, period) this one lay dormant for about a year. But eventually I broke out those graph paper bits again and got to work. I knit, and checked, and knit, and checked, and knit, and was just so pleased with myself. I got to the point of grafting and got set to figure out how to graft in pattern. Back to the graph paper…and I realized that it wouldn’t work. The knits shift to purls at the transition. I can’t figure out how I screwed this up–I checked so many times! I was so tickled at exploiting the inverse relationship of knits and purls! I thought I was so badass!

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So, back to the drawing board. I think this time I will just knit diagonals, which will form one big set of nested chevrons when twisted and grafted. Which will probably look cooler than this would have anyway. At least that’s what I’m telling myself…

Cotton, aka “Tiny Lambs”

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So, I’m auditing a class on informal learning, and our first written assignment was to learn something and write about it. I decided to learn to spin cotton on my support spindle (which, despite being a “Tibetan” spindle, looks nothing like anything I saw folks using when I was basically next door to Tibet). I had some cotton bolls that a friend had collected from the university research fields when she was out there for a pest management class. Borrowed some cotton cards from a different friend, and away we go. I was expecting the carding and rolling punis to be the easiest part, since it’s basically the same as carding wool and making rolags. I thought drafting would be tricky, because I am used to two-handed drafting and would have to retrain myself to do it one-handed. I was so wrong. Rolling the punis was trickier than I expected, and clearly the most crucial step of the process- the ones that I rolled well just drafted out all on their own like a dream, and the sloppier ones were much more difficult to manage. While reading up on cotton processing, I saw a couple mentions of a traditional Indian method of using a bow (like bow-and-arrow) to fluff the fiber and roll the punis. What?! But I can’t find any more specific information about how to do it. Grrr…and, another excuse to go back…

And then there’s plying. I realized I had absolutely no idea about plying on a support spindle. I looked up some videos on Youtube, and can I say, people, PLEASE. Let’s get some better instructional videos up there! Here were problems I had with every video I found:

1. The camera was opposite the spinner, thereby requiring me to mentally flip everything I saw. Maybe somehow position it behind you looking over your shoulder, or use a head-mounted thingy? I have seen knitting videos with a head-cam, and they’re great.

2. The camera was focused on the spindle, which had a couple consequences:

(a) The people appeared as headless torsos. It was a little weird.

(b) The hand manipulating the fiber was off-screen, so I was missing out on half the work that was happening.

3. They all started working from a wound ball of singles, so I couldn’t see how they went from the copp on the spindle to whatever they were drafting from for plying. Which seemed like an important intermediary step, and one that I didn’t do so well on my own.

So I muddled through, wound my singles into a sloppy center-pull ball (gotta work on my nostepinne skillz) and plied ’em up. They kept getting a bit snarled and also broke a few times because I didn’t put in enough twist. Eventually things got so knotty that I just decided to cut my losses (literally, and by literally I mean literally, folks). But I do have a teeny little bit of highly uneven, fragile handspun cotton yarn!

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3 Bags Full (and then some)

Well, I’ve broken myself of the habit of only spinning frog-hair, and have approximately 2 pounds of bulky alpaca yarn to get busy turning into a sweater. Although a friend did come over the other day while I was plying the last bit, and asked, “Is that your bulky yarn?” Yes. Yes it is. I’m knitting it on size 10 needles, thank you very much.

So now that I’ve realized that I can in fact control my spinning, it’s time to experiment. I’m planning on tackling my stash slightly less haphazardly than usual, exploring the characteristics of the different types of fiber I’ve been stockpiling. Including…

Wool: Border Leister, Churro, East Friesian lamb, mystery sheep, Rambouillet, Shetland, Suffolk, Wensleydale.

Other critters: alpaca, angora, mohair, yak.

Silk gets its own category: caps, cocoons, Bombyx top, Tussah top.

Plants: coconut husk, cotton (roving and bolls), flax, hemp.

I decided to start with the Wensleydale, which I have in the form of batts rescued from a free pile. Fellow thrifty spinsters take note: if you find batts of Wensleydale in the free pile, it’s there for a reason. This stuff is sticky, chaffy, and full of 2nd cuts. It’s not very evenly carded, so there are fluffy sections that draft out like a dream, and then big wads of locks all gummed up together. Yet, for some reason, I persist in trying to spin it. I split it in half and am spinning one half as close to worsted as I can manage, and will do the other half woolen. My idea was to compare different drafting techniques applied to the same fiber preparation, but so far the take-home from this one is: don’t spin yucky fiber.

Not Fade Away

Continuing adventures with alkanet: partial success. The color faded a lot as the skeins of yarn were drying/airing. I re-oiled a couple times, and after close to a month of airing, rinsed out the oil–which meant, more alkaline baths! This process has been very harsh on the fibers, especially the wool, which started to felt. I had two skeins of each fiber, so I gave half of them a vinegar soak. It did indeed shift the color back to red (well, since the dye had already faded so much, pink). Unfortunately, the pH change also seems to have made the dye even more fugitive! Here are the test skeins:

left to right: silk, wool, cotton; re-acidified and not
left to right: silk, wool, cotton; re-acidified and not

Part of the wool skein didn’t seem to get as much vinegar. It stayed more purple, and also retained more color. But they are all still very pale, and it was a lot of work for not much color in the end. I’d say it was most successful on the silk, but I think all the alkalinity would ruin the luster on a shinier silk than what I used here. I’ll cut short samples off each of these skeins, and then try overdyeing to see what happens. Maybe be able to get some greens and oranges?

Ratanjot Reprise, Surprise

So some of y’all may remember the ratanjot experiment, which didn’t work out so well. But I still had Ideas. I’d seen that the ratanjot (also known as alkanet, Alkanna tinctoria) does indeed turn oil red. And I remembered reading in my favorite natural dye book about Turkey red, which uses madder (another red root) with an oil-based mordant. And I thought, what if I did the oil process with pigment-infused oil? I read up on the Turkey red process, which is rather lengthy and involves rancid oil, alkaline emulsions, and optional dung. I’m forgoing the dung (you’re welcome, housemates). Otherwise, I am not one to be deterred from a project which promises to make a big mess of the kitchen. So.

I procured some rancid olive oil, and put some ratanjot in to steep. It started turning red right away.

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And got redder, and redder. Here it is after one week, and after several weeks–this is as intense as the color saturation got, so I moved on to the next step, making the oil emulsion.

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This, I thought, would for sure at least turn some fiber pink.

Or it could turn blue and precipitate out of solution.

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Fun with home chemistry. I threw some fiber in anyway to see what happens next, and it does seem to be absorbing the color, so there is (maybe) hope.

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The wool (top) is taking the color the most evenly. Cotton (middle) is quite uneven, but with the most intense saturation in sections. Silk (bottom) is taking on a slightly greenish cast.The Turkey red process that I’m modifying requires several oilings and airings, taking about a month, so it will be a while before I can really test for fastness. It’s also possible that the repeated workings will even out the color a bit. And, maybe if I do an acidic afterbath, it will shift back to red?

Fibrous Yes Adventurous Not So Much

This is the part where the blog gets really boring and fiber-nerdy. Not so much adventure these days, back to my hermit-crab home-body ways. BUT.

Last weekend I went to the fibershed symposium on ecologically sustainable production of wool. It was nerdy, and inspiring, and also squelched any lingering fantasies about shepherdessing as a potential career move. (For example: dogs. I don’t think sheepcats would work so well.) The morning talks focused on carbon sequestration in rangelands. In the afternoon, some shepherds talked about their work with contract grazing (hiring out sheep as lawn mowers, basically). The last speaker explored the potential for a vertically integrated production chain for locally produced, ecologically beneficial garments. Woah. Even just the people-watching was great–there were climate scientists with button-up shirts tucked into their khakis, and dudes with beard-dreds, and knitters with funky shawls, and no-nonsense boots-and-flannel ranchers.

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Maybe I do still want to live in a yurt, though.

Since we were already at Pt. Reyes, my friend and I drove a bit further to a beach where we collected seawater for mordanting fiber (the first step in working with natural dyes). We happened to get there right as the sun was setting over the waves, and the full moon was rising over the hills behind us. Let us give thanks for small magics.

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