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Friday, 13 January 2017

Handspun Llevant

The end of October saw the arrival of a large (1kg) bag of Botany Lap Waste from World of Wool.  I treat myself to one of these every so often and in October it was on special offer.  When I opened the package I have to admit I was rather disappointed in the colours I received.  There's no choice - you get what you get!  About 60% of this package was made up of various browns.  I don't do brown, it drains all the colour from my face and makes me look as though I'm ready to snuff it any minute.

Not to be beaten, I thought I might be able to alter the colour of the fibres if I blended them with other shades.  I mixed all the browns on my drum carder and then blended the lot with various white and cream fibres I already had.  I managed to tame it to a colour that I thought I might be able to wear, but just to be sure, I then took a third of it and blended again with more whites/creams.  I ended up with 2 shades of brown, one of which was more of a grey/beige.

I spun these separately and finished up with 2 skeins of the paler colour, and 2 skeins of lightish brown, 410g, 1134 yds, all 14 wpi (4 ply, or fingering weight).

I chose a pattern, Isabell Kraemer's Llevant, but chose to knit it in graded stripes, starting with the lighter colour which would be next to my face.

I really like this pattern - fairly simple, but with a nice bit of detail at the neck, and 2 little buttons at the back.

Detail at the front of the neck
Little button band at the back
This is a top-down sweater, and I made quite good progress until I got to about waist level and realised it was just too big (yes, I did swatch before I started, but with handspun there's always a bit of variation in the yarn, and also, the sweater is an A-line and I need to have something a bit more fitted at the waist).  The bust area was OK, so I ripped back to there and then added some waist shaping.  The only other alteration I made was the hems of the sleeves and body which were rolling up more than I liked.  I changed to 5 rows of seed stitch which solved the problem nicely.

I finally finished just before Christmas, on 22nd December, so it's taken me a really long time to photograph and blog about it.  Still, better late than never.  Here's the finished item :-

I don't think this is ever going to be my favourite sweater in the world, mainly because of the colour, but it's warm and I needed a new warm sweater for winter.  Just in time too - apparently we've got snow forecast for tomorrow, first time in 2 years!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Cotton Prize

My prize for winning the cotton spinning competition arrived just before Christmas - perfect!

This is what spilled out of the box when I opened it :-

In more detail, I asked Joan for a copy of her book on cotton spinning on a wheel, and also her dvd "Cotton Spinning Made Easy".  I'm really looking forward to getting into these, hopefully to improve my rather strange (I think!) method of spinning cotton.  It works, but there's probably a better way.

Also, I couldn't resist this rather handy looking bobbin winder.  The bobbins can be used to ply from as they fit most lazy kates, and, as an added bonus, the bobbins can be inserted into a weaving shuttle to use with a loom (if I ever get that far!)  The little green ruler at the bottom was an extra.

There was also lots of cotton to spin, some of it ready to go, and some to play with whilst carding.

Another extra was this cute little bag, perfect for carrying/storing my current cotton spinning project and accessories!

And, last but not least, even the packaging material is spinnable (I had to ask her that, because I wasn't sure).  This is Acala cotton lint from her neighbour's fields.

A fabulous prize and I can't wait to get started after Christmas and New Year.  Thank you so much Joan for organizing the competition, and especially for donating such a brilliant selection of goodies!

If you would like to see the other entries, you can view them here : here.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

2016 Cotton Harvest Photo Contest

Earlier in November I entered a cotton harvest photo contest run by Joan S Ruane of  Joan has been teaching spinning for almost 30 years and now lives in Arizona.

2016 is the second year this contest has taken place, and this year was judged by Cary Ann Ely who works for the US Department of Agriculture in Wilcox, Arizona, assisting cotton farmers to improve their crops through soil management practices.

I trawled through all of my photos of the cotton I've grown over the past few years, but finally decided on one from this year's harvest :-

I called it "Stranger in the Crowd".  The sienna coloured boll was grown from some seed cotton I bought earlier in the year from Sally Fox.

There were some really good photos entered into the competition and, to be quite honest, I really didn't think I had much chance of winning.  Imagine how surprised I was, therefore, to return home from holiday (just had 2 weeks in the UK visiting family and friends) to an e-mail from Joan saying my photo had won $75 to spend on anything I like from her shop!!!

A couple of hours later I'm still feeling pretty gob-smacked.  Very flattered also that Cary Ann would like to enlarge the photo to put on the wall in her office.

Saturday, 12 November 2016


This is Hugo (hello Hugo!).  Hugo is a Maine Coon who belongs to my wicked stepson, Nic, and his wife, Vika.  Hugo is very very fluffy!!  and just look at those ears!

For quite some time, Vika has been saving the fluff she brushes from him every day, and a while ago gave me a bag to spin.  The spinning was amazing - like spinning clouds.  It was so soft, soft, soft.  But I have to admit, the preparation was a bit of a labour of love!

The problem was, each individual brushing had been made into a neat little parcel (see above) - great idea because they fit in the bag better.  When it came to teasing them out though, lots of them proved to be difficult, and some impossible.  I think in the process of making them into these nice little packages, the heat from her hands (and maybe slight natural moisture in the skin) has felted them.  These fibres are very fine and I think are quite prone to felting.  Lesson learned.  I'm hoping the next lot will be just as the fibres came off the cat brush as that would make my job a whole lot easier.

Anyway, the ones I managed to pull apart (sadly there are some that I've had to discard) were carded on my fine cotton carders and made into punis (thin rolags) and spun quite finely on my Ashford Traveller.

I had hoped to get a full bobbin of this, but maybe next time!

This yarn has a fabulous halo, but I haven't managed to capture it on my photos.  Maybe I needed the sun behind it.

The finished product - 35g of fingering/4-ply weight, and 106yds/98m.  Not really enough to make much except maybe some leg warmers for Hugo!

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)!