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Monday, 10 October 2016

Step-by-Step Cotton Picking Blues

Ever wondered what 83 cotton bolls look like?  No?  Well I'll show you anyway!

These were the first bolls to open on my white cotton this year, so when I had a significant amount I started to process them ready for spinning.  Whole bolls take up quite a bit of space, so first step is to remove all the fluff from them.

I try to remove bits of dried leaf as I go so I end up with nice clean clumps of cotton. These clumps are then separated into individual seeds, i.e. each seed is attached to its own surrounding bundle of fluff (technical term!).  So far, these two processes are relatively easy and non-time consuming.

Ha ha - then comes the dreaded ginning!  Each little parcel of fluff has to be separated from the seed that it is clinging to.  I've tried a few methods of doing this - initially when I first spun some cotton I fluffed out the cotton on each seed (a bit like a halo) and spun directly from the seed.  Then I read that a pasta maker would remove them effectively if the cotton was run through the rollers with a piece of denim, and in theory (in practice too - I've seen videos of other people doing this) the seeds are left on top of the rollers after the cotton has departed through them.  Hhhmm, it doesn't work for me.

I finally found that the best (but very time consuming) way for me was to roll the seed out of the cotton using a wooden dowel on a non-slip tile.  I can show a photo of this in progress, but only with green cotton (my latest project).

The seed is the bit at the top of the dowel, about to be released, and the newly-ginned cotton is the pile at the top left of the tile.

One day, if I keep growing this amount of cotton, I would like to invest in a miniature cotton gin, but at the moment I feel I need to be sure I'll have enough cotton in the future to warrant it.  They're quite expensive.

The next step is the carding.  When I first started carding cotton earlier this year, I thought it was going to take quite a bit of effort to get the cotton nicely aligned and rolled up ready to spin, but actually this happened pretty easily.  Each carder-full was brushed three times from one card to the other and then rolled around the wooden dowel to make punis (the smaller, cotton variety of a rolag).  Easy peasy.  Green cotton again here as I forgot to take photos of the white.

Then came the interesting part - the spinning.  This has been done on my Louet Victoria because we were about to go off camping when I started and I wanted to take some spinning with me.  Also, cotton needs lots of twist and the best way of spinning it is by using the smallest whorl - the black drive band on the left has been moved to the smallest one; normally for spinning wool I have it on the largest, i.e. right next to the wooden upright.

Note : Apologies to any other spinners reading this for all the obvious explanations, but I do have non-spinners who read my blog and they probably wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about otherwise!

So, this is what 83 cotton bolls look like once they're spun.  When I started, I thought I would need the best part of two bobbins for the amount of cotton I had, but obviously it's quite deceiving.

Although I've dabbled a bit with spinning cotton, this was my first full bobbin, ever.  I started off a bit shaky, trying to work out a system of drafting that worked for me.  Long draw is supposed to be the optimal method, and I did try that, but basically I'm not very good at it.  I think I need to practice with wool.  In the end I came up with a method that I found easiest - my forward hand was about 8 inches in front of the other hand which was basically allowing a little bit of twist to enter the cotton at a time.  I got on quite quickly after that.

Even though I've been spinning for more than 26 years, spinning cotton was like starting to learn all over again, and I'm sure I've still got a lot more to learn.  One big mistake I made was taking the single thread off the bobbin, making it into a centre-pull ball on my wool winder, and plying from the two ends.  Absolute nightmare!  I had various episodes of complex knots forming because of the amount of twist in the cotton.  The first of these was impossible to untangle and I ended up cutting it out!

The offending article - it looks quite professional like this doesn't it?  No sign of the horrors lurking within.  Eventually though it was all plied up and ready for scouring.  At this point I weighed it - 130g before scouring.

This was dunked in a pan of water with some washing-up liquid and boiled for a couple of hours.  Then I rinsed it and repeated the boiling.  There was surprisingly little came out into the water, maybe because it was home-grown, not treated or sprayed with anything, and hadn't gone through commercial processing which apparently adds quite a bit of dirt. No idea really, but the water turned slightly yellow and that was it.

The final bit of processing for this hank of cotton was dyeing it.  I have lots of woad growing in the garden this year, some of which I planted, and lots which have self-seeded.  For this dye batch I used some of the self-seeded plants.

300g of washed, chopped woad leaves ready for their journey into the blue :-

Boiling water was poured over the leaves and left to sit for an hour, after which the leaves are strained out.  Then comes the chemistry!  After re-heating to 50 deg. I sprinkled in washing soda until the colour of the water changed to a greeny-brown, then whisked for about five minutes until the resulting froth on top turned blue . . . and what a blue!

I then let this sit while the froth subsided, then re-heated to 50 deg and sprinkled Spectralite on top to remove oxygen from the solution.  This then turns a yellowy colour and after about 45 minutes is ready to go.

The cotton skein was then carefully lowered into the water (don't want to risk getting any air bubbles in there) and left to soak overnight.  This is not strictly necessary - I've had good blues develop from a 15-30 minute immersion - but by the time I got to this stage it was getting pretty late.

The next morning I (carefully again - this dye bath probably still has some colour so I didn't want to introduce air) removed the skein and hung it up in the fresh air for the blue to develop.

It comes out of the dye bath yellow, then turns green, then blue.  I did have to re-plunge this because I had light coloured marks where I'd tied the skein.  You can just see this on the top right.

Finally, the finished woad blue cotton.  From seed to skein :-

Quite a journey!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Sienna Cotton Flower

Just because . . .

The saying is, "First day white, second day red, third day dead" - this one looks like it's on the journey to day 2.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

This Year's Cotton

I'm hoping to have a bumper crop of cotton this year, especially the white.  This was new seed that I grew this year which was donated by a Rav/Facebook friend in Italy (thank you Elisa).  Look how perfect these bolls are :-

Most of the white ones are like this.  My previous white cotton was a bit messy and disorganised, but these are just perfect.

The green has done well too, although there won't be quite as much.  I grew quite a lot of cotton this year and by the time I came to repotting the green (and some of the white) I'd run out of large pots.  All of the green ended up in much smaller pots than I would like, but they're still producing 5 o 6 bolls per plant.  When it came to repotting the sienna plants, I had a brainwave - plant them in used compost bags with their tops rolled down - worked a treat.

The green colour is quite subtle because the sun fades the outside fluff, but in the centres they're greener. A promise of things to come!

The star of the show for me this year (and there won't be an awful lot of these as they were planted later than the others, and I only have six plants) has to be the sienna.

Perhaps not the best-looking boll in the world, but look at that colour!  I must admit to being rather disappointed when this boll first opened as it was rather pale and didn't look much like the seed cotton I bought from Sally Fox earlier in the year.  I left it on the plant for a while though and it's gradually darkened to the colour I remember.

This morning I picked all the bolls from the plants that have finished producing (mainly the ones in the smaller pots) but there are lots more to come.

Note to Self : buy more large pots for next year!

The question is, as these were all grown in fairly close proximity to each other, will they have crossed? Exciting times ahead (maybe)!

Monday, 8 August 2016

Tour de Fleece Finale

My last post for this year's TdF.  This was my final skein of the Falkland for the Tour :-

I spun this straight from the carded fleece (unwashed, undyed) because I've had an awful lot of waste when I've dyed the fleece first.  This turned out to be much quicker and far less bother - must try and remember this in the future - dye after spinning.  I mordanted it and then dyed with logwood chips which gave a really dark purple.  In fact, it looks more navy blue than purple.

My final photo of my achievements during this year's Tour :-

It looks quite a lot, but these are all relatively small amounts - 515g in total.  All the Falkland was made into centre-pull balls; back left are the three dyed with madder, then two dyed with St John's Wort flowers, then two dyed with grape vine trimmings*, and the final 3 are dyed with different lichens.  In front of the lichen is the logwood dyed ball. Then at the front, the top skein is the result of our 10-minute challenge, the middle one was the 10g challenge, and then the cotton at the front dyed with weld.

* I realise I haven't posted about the dye session with grape vine trimmings, basically because it was rather insignificant.  I crammed my large dye pan as full as I could with grape vine leaves and cooked it.  I removed the spent leaves and crammed it full again with fresh leaves and cooked it.  After all that there was just a pale yellow colour in the dye which gave beige (!) on the fleece.  An experiment I probably won't repeat!

Onto a brighter note, I won a prize!!!  This was donated by a fellow team member and came all the way from America (thank you Meagan).  My prize was a hand-turned cedar nostepinne, which smelled amazing by the way, and she also included lots of little extras (tea bags to consume whilst spinning, a sample of spun yarn, a cute little pin, and a button on a hair grip).

If you don't know what a nostepinne is for, this might give you a clue :-

I couldn't wait to try it out!  I already have a ball winder but tend not to take it with me when we go away in the camper van as it's a bit bulky.  I've quite often been stuck without it and have had to leave off spinning because my bobbin was full.  This will fit nicely in my spinning wheel bag and will come in very handy!

Friday, 5 August 2016

Dyeing Cotton

This year during the Tour de Fleece I decided to spin some of my home grown cotton. As our team demands that we dye our fibres/yarns as well, I chose the white.  I really don't want to overdye the green as I like the colour as it is.  I carded up a batch of punis and got to work.

I won't bore you with lots of photos of the bobbin filling, but this is where I decided I didn't have time to spin any more and still get it dyed.  So I skeined it and threw it in a pan of soapy water to clean it.

Cotton normally contains a lot of dirt (I know, it looks pretty clean in the photo above) and wax.  I'm not sure if the wax is a result of commercial growing, or if it's produced naturally, but my cotton needed to be clean before I could dye it.  I boiled it for a couple of hours, then changed the water and repeated the whole process 3 times - 4 boilings in all.  This is what my pan looked like after the first boil :-

It took a lot of scrubbing to get that clean.  Then after the subsequent boilings it looked just as bad!  The water was just a dirty yellow colour, nothing dramatic.  Anyway, I ended up with a fairly clean (I hope!) skein.

Next step was mordanting.  Cotton and other cellulose fibres need a different approach from wool and protein fibres when it comes to mordanting.  I found instructions on the internet which used alum, tannic acid, and soda ash.  Previously I'd read that these had to be applied in separate stages, but the instructions I decided to follow did it all in one pot.  All went well with heating the skein in the mordant bath, but the next morning when I opened the pan after it had cooled, I was rather shocked to find this :-

Not a very good photo, but basically all the powders (which dissolved nicely when I put them in the pan of water) had settled on top of the skein of cotton.  The black bits are holes in the powdery scum.  I was a bit worried that it wouldn't rinse off, but thankfully the skein came out nice and clean and ready for the dye pot.

I decided on yellow for the colour and picked quite a lot (300g) of weld that had self-seeded in the garden.

I chopped it all up and cooked it in hot water.  I kept this at a simmering level (not boiling) because I'm always afraid that boiling will spoil the colour.  I left the dye stuff in the water when I added the skein of cotton hoping to get a bit more colour that way.  The result was a pale yellow - interesting, but pale.  I can only surmise that cotton doesn't take colour quite as well as wool and protein fibres because when I've dyed with weld in the past it's been a much deeper and more vibrant yellow.

I wasn't sure whether to ply this or not, so at the moment it's still a single.  I think I may eventually ply it  as, although it relaxed quite a bit during mordanting and dyeing, it still has quite a lot of twist.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Dyeing with Lichen

This is a little experiment I did for TdF with some bags of lichen I've had sitting around for a while  (I always lay my lichens out to dry before storing them, otherwise they can go mouldy).  I used the boiling water method for these because I didn't have enough time to ferment them. 

This one grows quite flat on wooden branches and is sometimes difficult to remove without taking a bit of wood with it.  I try to avoid getting wood in my lichen dyes because it can dull the colours.  I think this is a Parmelia type, but no idea which.

The fleece came out quite pale, sort of a mix of beige and yellow, but was quite nice once spun.

The second batch was from a bag of mixed lichens :-

There's all sorts in here.

These gave a pretty pale yellow

which actually doesn't show up that well in the skein :-

Finally, I had a bag of this lichen.  I think it may be Usnea, but again, I'm not sure which one.

This one looked by far the deepest of the three

and much brighter when the locks were picked out and fluffed.

Not a bad colour :-

All of the skeins I've shown you were awaiting their final wash.  I was quite amazed to see them change and brighten as soon as they hit the soapy water.  Here they are finished :-

As you can see, there's not much difference between any of them.  Next time, I'll just put them all in together!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

TdF Challenges

During the Tour de France, there are usually two days which are particularly challenging for the riders - usually when they have arduous climbs through the mountains.  On those days, we spinners like to challenge ourselves as well.  Karen, our intrepid Team DIY and Dye leader, usually comes up with a task for us (sometimes suggested by one of our team members) to challenge our skills and endurance!

Here's the first for this year : spin as much as you can for 10 minutes, then measure your yardage.  I was pretty certain I was going to totally suck be bottom of the class in this one because I think I'm a pretty slow spinner.  Sure enough, my suspicions started to be confirmed when the first team member posted her results - 71 yards.  I was pretty sure I couldn't get anywhere near that.  Anyway, here's my attempt :-

No idea what this fleece is - it came from a World of Wool botany lap waste bag.  I pre-drafted it ready for spinning (not sure if this was cheating or not!), and here's what I managed to spin in the allotted 10 minutes :-

34 yards.  By this time I was feeling pretty useless as you can imagine.  Then other team members started posting their results and I didn't feel so bad after all.  It seems I'm average - most of them were about the 30-40 yard range.  I don't mind average, average is better than useless!

The second challenge we were given was to spin 10g fibre as finely as possible and then measure your yardage (no time limit with this one).  I picked out some raspberry acid dyed Falkland from my stash for this and flicked the individual locks into a soft cloud of fluffiness.  I thought Falkland would be good because it's quite a long staple and it's easy to draft it out finely.

This took quite a while and I was surprised how much fibre there was in 10g.  Here's the finished article :-

I think this is the finest I've ever spun - and the grand total?  159 yards!  I was quite pleased with that.

Both of these yarns have been left as singles for now because there's more of each fibre to spin.  After the TdF finishes (that's today folks!) I'll put them back on the bobbin and spin the rest.  Then they can be plied and finished.