Dyeing to tell you

For the last day of my trip to Scotland I had something special planned. I decided my holiday wouldn't be complete without a crafty day. So I searched the net and found the rather wonderful Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt Yarns. She is an indie dyer working in West Kilbride in Scotland and even better she does a dye workshop day. Her yarn looked amazing so I booked myself in for the day before we left for home.

The dye workshop was fantastic, it was like being a kid who had just been set loose in a room full of paint and told they could do what they liked. Lilith is a great teacher, she let me play around but she was also there to answer all of my stupid questions.

First I dyed some sample skeins and I got to try out different dye techniques, different colours and different fibers. They all change the result you get in the end. I also dyed some roving as I was keen to learn how to do that since I hope to dye some of my alpaca fleece.

After a quick lunch from the tasty bakery next door I decided on the yarn I wanted to dye for my main project. I picked out a lovely soft merino/cashmere/nylon blend and dyed two skeins of sock weight yarn. I'm hoping to make a clapotis shawl from it. I decided to dye it a murky brown colour and then over dye this with a lime green colour. The colour reminded me of brackish scummy water with bright green algae growing in it, in a good way though...

I also dyed about 100g of merino and bamboo blend top. This was a dark purple colour. The bamboo doesn't take up dye as it's a plant fiber (see all the things I know now after the course) so it gives these great white streaks running through the top.

In this picture you can see my dyed yarn on the top right. It's a lovely colour kinda like tree bark with lichen growing on it. Below it are the sample skeins. The bottom left is the roving which I can't wait to spin. Also on the bottom left is a skein of Old Maiden Aunt silk alpaca yarn in the colour way bracken. I couldn't leave without buying some! It was a really fun day, I learned loads and got to take home some lovely new yarn. Thanks a million Lilith.

In the top right hand corner of the photo above are some other crafty purchases from Scotland. I got some handmade soap with bog myrtle in it. I also bought a lovely nuno felt scarf made on the Island of Eigg. I picked up a lovely dress pattern for 50p in a charity shop. I try to buy crafts when I'm away, I can't afford to buy much but it's good to show some support for nice handmade things. Handmade things remind you more of a place especially if you get to meet the artist.

Rest of the photos are here.

Beer Holiday Read - Hops and Glory

When a beer nerd goes on holiday they need something to read. This year I bought Hops and Glory by Pete Brown on holidays to read and was glad I did. I spent a while reading it in the sun on the beach in Scotland. Bizarrely we had sun enough for sitting on the beach in Scotland.

The book is the story of his search for the original India Pale Ale beer. The history of India Pale Ale is tied up with Britain's imperial past and the East India company and Pete gives a very entertaining account of the history with some great characters appearing. I for one hope the word rake comes back into fashion after this book. This isn't just a story of the history of the beer. Pete in a mad moment decides to take a barrel of his own IPA to India. This is harder than you'd think and he ends up on various types of ships to get to India. The best part of his travels comes when he sails across the Atlantic in a tall ship. I won't give too much away but suffice to say there are some trials along the way.

I'm a fan of travel stories and this is one of the good ones. You get history and travel and a very affable humorous narrator. Recommended.

From washed fleece to spun yarn

I think this is the funniest picture ever. So cute and look at his funny hair! I'm still busily washing alpaca fleece. I decided to wash the second batch of it in cold water which worked fine to get it clean and it ensured that the fleece didn't felt.

I had kept the locks intact when I washed the fleece so the technique I used to prepare these for spinning is flick carding. In flick carding you grab hold of a lock, hold it by the end and brush out the end of the lock to open it up and make it fluffy. Then you turn it around and brush the end you were holding. This keeps all the fibres parallel and is good for spinning worsted yarns.

I then made rolags using the rest of the fleece using hand cards. A rolag is cigar shaped roll of fibre that has been separated and straightened out by the hand carders. I had tried making rolags before and they didn't turn out too well. I think raw fleece is much easier to make rolags from.

First you charge the carder by putting the fibre on it. The fibre is all over the place at first. Then you brush the fibre by drawing one carder over the other. Keep doing this until it's all looking lined up like in the second picture. Then I transferred from one carder to the other. The Joy of Handspinning website explains this really well and has handy videos too. Then you roll the fibres into a sausage shape. The fibre gets all separated and airy when you do this.

I made a basket of rolags and then spun them on my spinning wheel. Rolags are best for spinning using the long draw technique. There's a good video of it here on youtube. It's cool that a new technology like the net and youtube is used for teaching old techniques like spinning. Anyway long draw looks kinda like magic. I tried it before using the rolags I had made that weren't great. Because the rolags weren't good I couldn't get the hang of long draw at all. The thread kept breaking and I couldn't get enough twist in.

This time with the proper rolags long draw clicked for me. Now the single wasn't the most consistent and it wanted to get very very thin but it did mostly hold together without breaking so I'm getting enough twist in. I need more practice but at least I can do it. It's a very fast technique so it's worth sticking with learning it just for that. With a bit more practice I should be able to do it so that I get the thickness I want in the single. Long draw produces a woolen style yarn which is a lovely light lofty yarn with a bit of fuzz and halo to it. It seems to suit the alpaca really well.

I decided while I was learning new things I might as well try plying this yarn differently than usual. So I navajo plied it. This is a funky technique where you can make a three ply yarn from a single by sort of chaining the yarn while you put the plying twist in. I love plying yarn and this technique makes me like it even more as it's so much fun. Kinda like crochet with a spinning wheel.

Anyway after all that it's time for some shots of the finished yarn. It's just a first test skein so it's got it's wonky bits. It's very soft and fuzzy. It might make nice hand warmers or something. I've been learning loads since I got this fleece. Probably much more than I would if I'd just kept buying prepared roving. I wouldn't have had to learn how to use the hand cards and I would probably have just given up on learning long draw. I'm looking forward to learning more and ending up with lots of lovely alpaca yarn.

Though this post would be a good addition to fiber arts friday run by the lovely Alpaca Farm Girl. Check out her blog for even more cute photos of alpacas.

PS: I'm away on my holidays for the next two weeks so I'll see you all when I get back.