Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Warning: This Bunny Hole has LONG Tunnels

That should have been on the entrance to this weaving bunny hole I fell down some years ago.  I've been wandering around and getting into mischief here for quite some time but really, somebody should have warned me about the wretched side tunnels...

I started weaving to work with my handspun.  Thus far, only a very few of my woven projects have used handspun.  I found that I like to weave with cotton, but I don't like spinning it.  I also like new challenges.  Recall the conversation with Mandy on the way home from Ogdensburg when we picked up my Swatch Maker loom?  I decided to try Tencel.  Seems fairly straight forward.  Except, I never, ever, seem to take the straight forward route, do I?  ADHD has it's "creative advantages", ahem.  I decided I wanted to make painted warps.  But I know very little about fibre reactive dyes for cellulose fibres so I did a LOT of research.  I may be impulsive, but I am also a perfectionist, so when I get an impulse there is usually a lot of research before I actually dive in.  And, oh my, I have dived in DEEP this time.  This post covers barely the entrance to this particular tunnel, so stay tuned.

I learned from Paula Burch's excellent site "All About Hand Dyeing" a LOT about procion MX fibre reactive dyes.  Paula is a tie-dyer, not a yarn dyer, but she still had plenty of information to get me started.  What she didn't have was numbers.  I am a numbers person.  I like to measure and I don't like to waste.  For that, I found Diane Franklin's Dyeing Alchemy.  The book is very good, though again, it's about fabric dyeing, not yarn.  The spreadsheets are AWESOME!!!  I love a good spreadsheet and I will be able to adapt one of them for painting without much trouble, I think.

I ordered 25g jars of 8 colours of MX dye from G&S in Toronto, choosing the colours based on Paula Burch's table of "pure" MX dye colours.  There are 14 pure colours, the rest are mixes made by the various suppliers.  And I enlisted my friend, Sandy, to go on this adventure with me.  There was going to be sampling, a lot of sampling, a crazy amount of sampling.  I did a bunch of playing with the spreadsheets and made a plan.  2g samples of Tencel (I bought some from Brassard, then my friend Judith gifted me another pound cone to play with) are 15 yards long on my niddy noddy.  I made a lot of skeins of Tencel and some of cotton for comparison.  The first Friday we got together at the Guild Studio Sandy made a lot more skeins and we did value runs for Hot Pink, Orange, and Fuchsia and we did a mixing gradient of Hot Pink and Orange which was reported to give a truer primary red.  The skeins tangled rather terribly, but otherwise it went very well and we were pleased with our results. 
The trouble with fibre reactive dyes is they don't keep in solution very long, so I did some more at home that weekend to use up what we had.  I did the Royal Blue value run and the mixed runs of purples using the Royal Blue against the Hot Pink, Fuchsia and a mix of Hot Pink and Orange.

I made a lot more skeins of Tencel and cotton and figured out a way to tie them that I hoped would result in less tangling.  Fibre reactive dyes need a lot of stirring and washing and rinsing, which means a lot of moving skeins around in water.  We got together again on a Friday, this time our friend, Catherine, joined us.  We made more value runs with Bright Yellow, Golden Yellow, Ceruleun Blue and Black and we did the mixing gradients of greens with the blue and both yellows, and of oranges with Fuchsia and the yellows, and Fuschia and the blue.  That was plenty for one day.

At home, I finished the oranges, greens and purples that weren't done yet.  I thought I was doing it alone, but, true to form, Hobbes turned up to be the day's Helpy Helper.  He thought maybe he'd like to try purple highlights on his ginger.  I convinced him that he is gorgeous the way he is and, after checking the set up thoroughly to satisfy himself that I could manage, left me be to get on with it.

Now we have a set of samples to evaluate and work from and we have learned a lot.  I need to get them into a sample book so I can show them to you in an organized way.  There will still be more samples and then we will start sampling actual warps.  But first, Jan is going to teach me to use a warping reel!

Sunday, 29 May 2016


Back in January I ordered a "Swatch Maker 3 in 1" loom from Purl & Loop.  I know I should sample, but the loom takes a lot of yarn to do that.  The little Swatch Maker takes a lot less yarn and I can get a decent sample that will tell me quite a bit in not a lot of time.  And it is quite portable.  It arrived in Ogdensburg, NY at "My US address" and my friend, Mandy, and I went on a little road trip to pick it up.  Ogdensburg is just across the border from Prescott, ON, about 45min from here.  Mandy also had parcels waiting for herself so we shared the trip. 

Mandy has been weaving a very, very long time.  She belongs to the "Complex Weavers" group and mostly weaves on 8 or more shafts.  She has come around to my joy in my RH looms and does admit that they have a real place in weaving.  She has finally stopped asking when I will try a "real loom" and accepts that I already have more than half a dozen quite real looms, which together take less space than her smallest floor loom *.  She is, however, a brilliant travel companion and gladly shares her wealth of weaving knowledge.  She thought the little Swatch Maker was a very good purchase and looked forward to seeing it in use.  On the way home we talked about projects and yarns and sett (I'm still struggling with that one, hand me a knitting yarn and I can usually guess within one or two sizes what will give the right gauge and feel but I am totally lost with weaving structures and yarns, Mandy says it will come with experience).  Somewhere about Kemptville I was firmly resolved to try Tencel next, but that is a different tunnel off this bunny hole I am happily lost in and I will tell you about that another day, or days, or maybe over the next few months, it's a REALLY, REALLY long tunnel and I'm a little nervous and a lot excited about where it might end up...

*(In case somebody is keeping score:  3 RH looms, 1 inkle, 1 Swatch Maker, 1 Brio 2-shaft (designed as a toy, but it really does work!  Thing Tall made a lovely long swatch on it when he was about 8), 1 4 shaft Guild Craft and Thackery (an antique, I haven't actually used it yet, should try it this summer and tell you more about it) plus some peg looms, another little toy tapestry loom, an old looper loom...  If it makes interlacements, it's a REAL LOOM).

Back to the Swatch Maker:  the first thing I realized is that I am not fussed for needle weaving, so this little beast needed some heddles.  First try was a bit less than successful, but I googled (I do so love the Google) and found a very good video by Noreen Crone-Findlay on YouTube.  I decided to use dpns for the heddle rods, so I needed some end caps, otherwise known as point protectors.  Wool-Tyme had notions on sale for February, so off I went.  And discovered they were having their annual inventory sale - 20% off everything.  Those point protectors ended up costing $164! - $8 for two packages of 4 point protectors, $75 for yarn for a new gansey for Himself and $80 for a totally impulsive purchase of Lang Novena for a woven shawl.  I NEVER do that.  I always have a plan.  I bought 5 skeins in total not really sure how I was going to use it. 

I had a think, I pulled yarn off the skein and discovered that each colour was a good 2 yards long and the full repeat was something like 15 yards.  Now how was THAT going to work?

The Rigid Heddle Adventure group on FaceBook pointed me to a lovely little online book called "A Twill of Your Own" that shows a wide variety of possibilities with colour and weave effects from a wide variety of twill structures on 2-8 shafts, including a nice section on 3 shaft twills.  3 shaft patterns, now you're talking, my RH loom is MADE for 3 shaft.   Unfortunately the book has the pictures turned 90deg for some reason.  The warp runs horizontal in the picture, which meant the pattern that most caught my eye wouldn't work the way I saw it.  But, it gave me a starting point.  I spent some quality time with iWeaveIt and came up with a structure that looked promising.  I plotted out a few variations of the striping and then warped the Swatch Maker.  I went to Wabi-Sabi and bought some Ashford Tekapo 3-ply in Charcoal Grey for the background warp and the weft.  It's a LOT cheaper and it shows off the Novena very nicely.

 Here it is warped with some of the continuous string heddles installed.  The section of yarn that came off first from the skein had the least contrast in colour to the background Tekapo, so it's harder to see the warping pattern, but it's there.

 This is the back.  You are supposed to take the yarn all the way across the back of the loom, but that takes more yarn and this did seem to work just fine.

Here is the finished and washed swatch.  I ended up choosing a variation on the more widely spaced striping over to the left.  The sample tells me that my sett (12epi) makes a nice, drapey cloth, and how much shrinkage to expect.

From there I designed a shawl which is still on the loom.  I'll tell you all about it when I get it done.