WIP it Out

I think that show and tell is probably the best course of action to describe what I’ve been up to lately. (Isn’t it always?)

First, I’ve taken appraisal of the yarn situation in my apartment and determined there is entirely too much. I posted this photo to Ravelry, but neglected to post it here – this is my entire sock yarn stash:

Yikes. I have another labeled version of it all as well. My boyfriend did take a few photos of my entire stash covering our bed, but the colors are grossly inaccurate. If you can stand an HDR, here it is. Seeing it sprawled out reaffirms my decision not to buy any more yarn for a good long while.

A recent day serving jury duty provided ample knitting opportunity, where predictably I worked on green socks. I am well past the heel and up the cuff on my first Eleanor sock, which is good, as I am trying to finish them by the end of June.

I also worked on a design-your-own sock challenge for Sock Knitters Anonymous, and it has involved a little math and a lot of frogging.

I got pretty far along when I realized a minor (and mostly undetectable error) that I knew would drive me crazy. I was so frustrated that I ripped all the way back to the beginning. I think I’ve got the pattern sorted out completely now, so once I cast back on these should be pretty fast-moving.

I also have socks in other colors currently going – Spiral Boot Socks for the Knitting 19th Century Novels KAL for Around the World in 80 Days.

I’ve loved reading the book when I have a spare moment (or can’t sleep), but I have not made any real time for these socks yet, and it’s unlikely I will finish them by June with everything else I’m attempting.

My green fixation has combined with my need for practicality in a One-Tone Ribbed Shrug from Fitted Knits.

This shrug is an enjoyable knit, and it’s moving quickly. The latter point is crucial because I really should be using those needles to finish this other little sweater, whose recipient is visiting my parents in less than two weeks.

This is the Cropped Raglan Sweater from Lion Brand, and I’ve knit one for myself, so I know I love the pattern.

The one that I knit last summer was all acrylic, and this is in Knit Picks Shine Worsted (a cotton/modal blend), so the drape and feel are completely different. At first I didn’t think I liked it, and I worried about the color, but now that I’ve had some time away from it, I think it has the potential to be a really lovely gift.

On some weird compulsion, I forced myself to cast on the Lace Ribbon Scarf even though I already had too many projects going. I messed up not once, twice, or even three times, but more than four times, resulting in complete froggings. Of course then it became a vendetta. I had to make this scarf.

I think I’ve got it now.

This is a red cotton yarn, and I really love the way it feels. The color and the texture remind me so much of Kabbalah strings it’s uncanny.

As this post probably makes perfectly clear, I’ve got a lot of projects going on and have failed miserably at my three-projects-at-a-time goal. I think this is an accurate reflection of the rest of my life at the moment as well. I hope to knock out some FOs quickly so that I can get it all back under control.

Oh, and I’ve also got this to deal with.

Sigh. We’ll talk more about that soon.

A Kitty Dream Come True

During a recent attempt to reorganize my stash (we’ll talk about that soon), I covered our queen-size bed in yarn, then wandered off, as I’m prone to do.

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I came back to find our little Iggy beside himself with glee, relaxing on a bed of yarn.

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Smokey joined him later, and the two of them spent many blissful hours living the dream.

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Not surprisingly, they honed right in on the very dearest part of my stash, concentrating themselves among the sock yarn and laceweight. These cats have good taste.

(More photos in Eric’s Flickr set of cats)

Natural Dyeing

If you didn’t guess from my previous hints, this weekend I ventured into yarn dyeing, more specifically dyeing from natural sources.

This semester I was taking a class called the Chemistry of Artists’ Materials, Techniques & Conservation, where we studied historical methods and materials, as well as the chemical and conservation issues they present. In a unit to do with organic materials in art, we learned about the chemistry of dyes and inks, and I was utterly fascinated.

For my final project and paper, I decided to expand on a natural dyeing lab with my own project and additional research (in class, we dyed multifiber strips with madder, weld, cochineal, and had an unsuccessful attempt with indigo, then compared alum, iron, and no mordant for shifts in color – you can see photos and brief notes from that here).

I decided on a standard method, since this was a chemistry project, but on hindsight I do wish I’d tailored my recipes to the particular dyes used. I documented the process in perhaps excruciating detail, as I really wanted my results to be unambiguous and repeatable. All of these pictures enlarge considerably.

I began with two 100-gram skeins of 4-ply fingering weight undyed 100% Merino wool (Knit Picks Bare). I split this into four 25-gram skeins by weight.

I used the legs of an old piano bench to wind my yarn into skeins, then sectioned and tied them each in four places using figure-8 loops.

They were really cute all dressed up and ready for dyeing.

I thoroughly washed the skeins in a mild dish detergent. After scrubbing, I let them soak for 20 minutes to ensure that they were completely wetted and cleansed. I then rinsed completely.

I prepared a mordant from a recipe by Ida Grae in her book Nature’s Colors: Dyes from Plants. I mixed enough to mordant four skeins at a time:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 ounce (28.4 grams) alum
  • 1/4 ounce (7.1 grams) cream of tartar

I simmered the yarn and mordant together for two hours at a temperature just below boiling. I kept thinking to myself “Mmm, yarn soup.” I allowed the yarn to cool in the mordant bath and soak overnight, at least 12 hours.

Meanwhile, I got to work preparing the dye liquors. For this project the dyestuffs I used were:

  • black tea
  • spinach mixed with dandelions
  • alkanet
  • Osage orange
  • annatto
  • kamala
  • sandalwood
  • cutch

Part of my research included the backgrounds, history of use, and chemistry of each substance. Specifically, I was interested in OH end groups that allowed for covalent bonding between an alum mordant and the fabric (I have diagrams and all kinds of nerdy stuff on this, which I may post in the future). Apart from the black tea and spinach-dandelion concoction, all of these dyestuffs were purchased through Dharma Trading.

I used equal weights of dyestuff to the amount of yarn being dyed, in this case 25 grams of each product. I simmered each dyestuff with 1 quart (32 oz) water in individual dye pots for one hour.

Here you see the beautiful, colorful brews.


Black tea / Spinach & Dandelions


Alkanet / Osage orange (cooled)


Annatto / Kamala


Sandalwood / Cutch

I let these mixtures cool and sit together overnight, at least 12 hours, to ensure maximum extraction of dye.

I filtered each dye using coffee filters and a kitchen strainer. I saved the remaining pieces on filter paper, with paper toweling and wax paper underneath, set on my windowsill to dry. Supposedly, you can reuse some dyestuffs for weaker, though often still successful dye extractions.

Once I had my clean dye liquors, I was ready to finally get dyeing!

I put one skein of yarn in each dye liquor and made sure it was completely covered in the pot. Here I patted myself on the back for the forethought to measure ahead, as I knew how much dye liquor I’d need to cover a skein of yarn. I got an amazing thrill out of looking at the yarns in their little enamel pots, trying to predict what colors I would get.


Black tea / Spinach & Dandelions


Alkanet / Osage orange


Annatto / Kamala


Sandalwood / Cutch

I simmered the yarns in the dye liquors for one hour at a temperature just below boiling. I let the yarn cool in the dye baths, then steeped the whole situation overnight, in this case eight hours.


(Yarn soup for sale).

I prepared a rinse for each yarn using about a gallon of water and 2-3 ounces of white vinegar. I did all this with a plastic bin in my bathtub, with a plastic tablecloth covering the floor and the door closed to avert cat or boyfriend-related disaster. I wrung out the excess dye from each skein and re-sealed the dye liquor container, again with the intention of reusing the seemingly not-yet-exhausted dyes.

I first did a thorough vinegar rinse in a plastic tub (wearing gloves), squeezing, pressing, and gently agitating the yarn. Once the initial dye bleed seemed to subside, I rinsed the yarns with cool water from the shower, squeezing them and examining the rinse water. I continued rinsing until they ceased bleeding completely, which I hoped meant that the dyes were adequately set and will not bleed in the future.

I hung each skein to air dry with acrylic waste yarn from my towel rack. Once they were completely dry, I was thrilled with the results.

I reskeined each yarn and got to work comparing the colors I achieved with samples from books and wrote the conclusion to my chemistry paper.

I learned so much in my research, and I’d really like to spout on and on about it, but for now let’s say I mostly got the results that I expected, with a few pleasant surprises. My Osage orange and annatto were much brighter and more vibrant than I expected, and I think my favorite was the beautiful warm rosy pink from sandalwood.

This yarn was definitely a labor of love, but it was a fascinating project and I hope I did well with the chemistry part of it.

Now, for some gratuitous yarn photos:

BLACK TEA

SPINACH & DANDELIONS

ALKANET

OSAGE ORANGE

ANNATTO

KAMALA

SANDALWOOD

CUTCH

If you may be interested in natural dyeing, in addition to the Ida Grae book I mentioned above (which can be hard to come by if you don’t have access to a good library), I would highly recommend the very useful and inspiring book Natural Dyeing by Jackie Crook.

Now that I have the supplies, the method, and an intense curiosity, I think there will be much more dyeing in my future. As for these yarns, well yes, I have a plan for them too…

Switcheroo

Once I decided to put my Entrelac Socks aside, I eagerly picked up my Spring Twists socks.

I truly love working with this yarn, as it is so spectacularly luscious and agreeable.

The only trouble is, I really don’t like how it looks in this pattern. Something about the vague striping of the variegation or the way the traveling stitches dissipate in softness… it just isn’t working the way I’d hoped.

So I decided to try a different yarn, a 100% mercerized cotton which is not actually intended for sock-knitting. This is Jager Siena 4-ply, and I think it’s going to work perfectly.

The tight twist of the firmer yarn makes the traveling stitches and ribbing pop more, and the solid color proves much less distracting. Which is to say nothing of how head over heels in love I am with this slightly shiny sage green.

I’m feeling a lot better and looking forward to how these socks turn out.

A Cat Related Yarn

While consolidating data on several hard drives, my boyfriend came across an animation project he did several years ago which features a kitty and some particularly feisty yarn.

It’s called A Cat Related Yarn, and I really love it.

He made it long before I started knitting, but this has always been the experience our cats have with my yarn. They still find it irresistibly alluring.

My boyfriend said that screening it for final critique was particularly funny because he was outing himself as a big giant cat nerd to a room full of hipster animation students. I think this is part of why I love him!