Fun with food colouring


I joined a really nice spinning group a couple of weeks back, and it has motivated me to spin about 23 hours a day. While I’m fleece obsessed and on a little fleece dyeing kick, I’d thought I’d show the popular easy peasy food colouring method that I use on combed top. (As usual, not exactly a tutorial, just a description of the way I do stuff.) 
The results are vibrant, and there are the major benefits of no really toxic chemicals or fumes, no mask, and being able to use normal kitchen utensils.
Oh, and economy. One bottle of food colouring: $1.06. One packet of dye: $10-$15.
This method also works for dyeing yarns, and there are some great YouTube videos on getting special effects like ombré and gradients. 
Me, I just reeeeeeeeally like rainbows. And then spinning the top fractally. Which apparently is not a word according to spell check, but spinners will understand what I mean. 


I use combed top, but carded roving works too. This is fine merino (19.5 micron) from Nundle Woollen Mills. I like to buy from them: their top is gorgeous, but mainly I like saying the word ‘Nundle’. I don’t use super wash wool, so have to be very careful not to felt it.
I braid it first, as it makes a nice tie-dye sort of effect. If you haven’t done this before, all it is is a crochet chain that you make with your hands. Make a slip knot at one end and chain to the other end.


I use these food colourings, because that’s what the supermarket had. But there are many types. I bought colours like pink and green, but of course just the primaries, red, blue and yellow are all you really need to make virtually any colour using basic colour theory.


I bought some sauce bottles from a discount shop just for ease of use (and so I feel like a super professional dyer). 3 for $2.50. But a jug works too. You also need white vinegar.
I’m not great with taking measurements, being a kind of intuitive (lazy) crafter. But I would say about 1/2 cup of vinegar in a kitchen bowl, the rest filled with water. Then soak the braid in the solution for at least 2 hours. One drop of detergent may be added if the braid is extra water repellent. 


When you’re ready to dye, mix them up. I wear disposable latex gloves for the dyeing part.
I use about 1-2 teaspoons of food colouring to one cup of water and one teaspoon of vinegar. Roughly. This might require a little experimentation, I tend to just wing it. The colour that the fleece goes on application is not exactly indicative of the finished product, which makes the whole thing even more exciting! 🙂 You can dip a little paper towel in the dye mix to check your colours too.


Incidentally, I have kept the mixed dyes and used them days later, and they still work.
Obviously I’m using grey top here, I like how it tones down the vibrancy of the food colouring.
Lay cling wrap along a bench. I use two thicknesses. Drain the braid. I wrap it in a towel and stand on it to soak out excess water. Don’t rinse it or let it dry out completely.
Lay it on the cling wrap, and paint it with dye! I trickle the dye on and press the wool gently with my fingers until that section seems completely saturated in the dye. Check that it has made it through to the back. Repeat until all done. (You have to kind of trust the colours you mixed up, as they don’t look too awesome on the fleece at this stage.)


Fold up the cling wrap over the braid once or twice, fold the ends it, and keep rolling to make a sausage. Roll it up loosely like a Swiss roll and put it in a microwave safe bowl.


The heat setting component can be done on the stove, in a crock pot or even in a hot car apparently, but I use the microwave because I am impatient.
Microwave on high for about two minutes. It should be piping hot, if not, do it for a few more seconds at a time until it is. Let it stand for a few minutes. Microwave on high again for thirty seconds. Let it stand again. Do one or two more 30 second hits/few minutes standing.
That’s all I do. If there is any liquid in the bottom of the bowl, it should be very close to clear. If not, the dye is not exhausted and it will need reheating.
It is hot, so I leave it to sit for a few minutes, then snip off the end of the cling wrap sausage and pour the fleece out.


Yay! Rainbow!
I don’t want to shock it, so I use very hot water to gently rinse (careful not to felt it), blot in a towel and dry.
That’s it. 



Here’s some spun up. (Yup, I totally painted one of my spinning wheels gloss black, for no obvious reason. M calls it the ‘Morticia’ wheel now). 


And here is some chain/Navajo plied and crocheted into a slouchie hat.



B 🙂

An Australiana Sock Experiment


A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to find and quickly snaffle another second hand spinning wheel on Gumtree, which is a free online classifieds site in Australia. Spinning and knitting aren’t exactly big things here in tropical Queensland, so it can be difficult to track down a bargain. Wheels are often listed at twice the price they are down south! I had been on the lookout for one for a while. My own little wheel couldn’t cope with the variety of yarns I now want to spin.
But I digress…this post is actually about the local fleece that was thrown in with the wheel, unwashed but packed extremely neatly in a box with the label ‘X breed from Howard’. I do so love a bit of random fleece! Because it isn’t precious, you can experiment.


I had been thinking about making my own handspun socks from scratch for a while now. There are plenty of sites that examine this in detail, so I won’t elaborate too much. I played with this fleece, and discovered it would suit the purpose. But I wanted stripey socks, and this fleece was all white.  
I have chemical dyes but…nah, where’s the challenge in that? 🙂 I decided these would be 100% Aussie socks, local fleece dyed with local plants. I was determined only to use natives from our property. I knew from previous experience they would make a variety of yellows, so I figured…sunshine socks!
With a few tips from this book…


I got down to it. This was SO MUCH FUN! It is chemistry, art and craft combined, plus later there was even maths! Squee! 🙂
Firstly I scoured the fleece in small batches. Then I tried the vegetation that doesn’t require a mordant – lichens, staghorn fern and some eucalypts. The whole house smelt like koala breath (eucalypts) and cheap aftershave (lichens). (NB you should really do this outside. Do as I say, not as I do.) 


The colours were very pretty, and the lichens in particular were amazing.


Lichens grow very slowly and can easily be wiped out of an area if you over-harvest, so I only got very small amounts from around Ravensridge. These three were the main ones I collected.


Then I tried a variety of foliage after mordanting the scoured fleece with alum.


Different types of gum leaves, banksia cones, grevillea leaves, bracken fern fronds, casuarina bark, paperbark, stringybark. This produced lots of shades of yellow, plus tans, oranges and pinks, and a slightly greeny-yellow I got from a native grass. 


I kept my usual meticulous notes regarding weights and volumes.


It all began to look like a sunrise. I then made another mordant using vinegar and old rusty bits of iron from the train. With yellow stringybark leaves and bark, it made the fleece the most luscious purpley grey. 


I decided to save that for another project though, and stick with the ‘shades of yellow’ socks.
I now had fourteen shades. I had figured I would just spin it, ply it and knit it. Um…yeah. But how much of each colour? How thick would the finished yarn be? How long did I want my socks? It will surprise no one to learn I hadn’t thought this through at all. So now came the maths. I weighed out little sections of coloured fleece for each sock, leaving a bit extra for waste from combing. I figured I would make the socks look like a paint chart, and keep a list of which plant produced each colour for posterity.
Then I combed each section carefully using my Majacraft mini combs and arranged them in a colour scheme. 


I used my old handmade wheel to spin (worsted, short forward draft with lots of twist) and chain/Navajo ply. 


It took a few days to do this. In the end I got two skeins, 170 and 172m respectively. Could have been worse.
Finally done and drying on the line.


So for the socks, I used 56 stitches on 3mm double pointed needles. I used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel as usual. But I did do these toe-up to make sure the toes were the lightest colour. I just reversed my usual vanilla sock pattern.


The completed Sunrise Socks. 


I don’t seem able to get one photo that actually shows the true colours though! This one is closest.


I’m very happy with them. Except that the bits I dyed with lichen STILL smell like cheap aftershave! 🙂

B

Route 1 and a trip to market

The sun peeked through for a trip to the market last Sunday. This is the drive to the Southside markets at Gympie, all taken on the go through the car window. Zoom zoom, life is too short for stopping apparently! It’s a bit of a drive, so we left at 6:30am.


Mango farm in our road


Macadamia nut farm at the end of our road.



Views over town


Court house


Lots of old miner’s cottages in Gympie.


Straight ahead you can make out Gympie hospital, and just to the right with the steaming chimneys is the Nestle factory, producing International Roast coffee. 😬


Over the river


And the market.
It’s a pretty good market. In the past I have purchased furniture, puppies, chickens, a kindle, fruit and vegetables here. This trip we just got sweet potato, a picture and a woollen coat.

So far in this oddly warm winter we’ve only had two wood fires. Atticus, for one, clearly enjoyed them. Toasty feets…


And speaking of toasty feets, more socks of course. Another boring grey pair for M that I didn’t bother to photograph, and a chocolatey pair for me. I’m putting some little flowers around the tops of these.


I’ve never purchased sock blockers as they seemed expensive and pointless. But when you’re constantly photographing socks, they begin to have some appeal…so I asked M if he could make me some. He said ‘draw a picture’, so I did. 20 minutes later he emerged from his shed and handed me these, out of recycled Perspex sheet.


What a legend. 🙂 He wanted to put holes in them for faster drying, but so far that has proven unnecessary. 
So then, in the spirit of pushing my luck, I said…you know what I’d reeeeeeally like? An e-spinner. (For the non-spinners, this is an electronic spinning machine, very handy if you have bad joints). They are expensive (very). And M said ‘show me a picture’. So I did. 
‘I can make you that’, he said. ‘Okay,’ I said. Yay!! I will keep you posted. 🙂
I’ve been spinning a lot, and I do mean a lot. Inspired in part by the acquisition of a pair of Majacraft wool combs, which make fibre preparation so much more fun than boring old carding. 


😀 SO FLUFFY!!! 


Practising two ply, 3 ply and chain plying. 


I also finished my Route 1 by Norah Gaughan. This is the second of these I’ve made, it’s a free pattern, a quick knit and a useful style for in-between weather. The yarn is Bergere de France’s ‘Recycline’.


Year of William Morris update: tapestry has resumed with the assistance of adjustable tapestry stand that means I can now lounge and stitch at the same time. 🙂


But for now, back to the wheel! 
B 🙂

Socks, spinning and FOs


The first sticker I have ever put on my car in my entire life. But I couldn’t resist. 🙂 
Apologies in advance for the rushed photos this week. Also WordPress seems to be deleting people from my feed. 😡 I will find you again!

Our perfect Queensland Autumn continues. The zygos are flowering

Frogzilla the gigantic tree frog has taken to hiding from the antechinus in the watering can.


The cats’ heated bed came out of storage. It was much appreciated.


In related news, the stash has been expanding proportionately to the gradual drop in daytime temperatures here in the Southern Hemisphere. 
I have never held myself back from casting on a new pattern or having countless WIPs. There is too much joy in riding that first inspirational wave of creativity like a body surfer to stifle it. But lately I’ve noticed that nothing much was getting finished this year, and nineteen projects were languishing in project bags. This in itself didn’t bother me, but the fact almost all my good needles and large quantities of lovely yarn were tied up did. So with M’s assistance, I frogged fourteen projects. It felt really good. 🙂 And now with the extra yarn freed up, my stash is practically exploding out of the train! Joy!
I have been charging through the socks to make way for new skeins, a pair for me in my favourite Lana Grossa Meilenweit India, 2.5mm needles, 60 stitches…


Another pair of boot socks for M in Drops Big Fabel…5mm needles, 40 stitches


And a squishy pair for Mum for Mothers Day in Berocco Vintage (can’t remember needle size)


Then I cast on these in Lana Grossa Meilenweit Solo Cotone, my first pair of cotton socks, 3mm needles, 52 stitches. The jury is still out, they feel a bit floppy to me, but we’ll see.


All of these socks have Fish Lips Kiss Heels. I have lately heard people complain about this heel, saying it pops off? I have to say that’s never happened to me, nor anyone I’ve gifted it to. Still my favourite heel by far. Last year I knit a pair of socks with one fish lips kiss heel and one traditional heel flap in a Bendigo Woollen Mills sock yarn. They looked like this:


And here’s how they look a year later after fairly heavy wear and constant machine washing (cold):


There is no apparent difference in the wear, if anything the fish lips is wearing slightly better. I won’t be giving it up anytime soon. 🙂
I’m doing a few blankets at the moment for Angel Blankets, who donate blankets to hospitals for stillborn or miscarried babies that can be held (14-23 weeks). The tiny-ness is a bit heart wrenching. I’ll be adding some pretty borders to these.


Some more crochet cable mitts. I do enjoy crochet cabling. I think a fisherman sweater is forming in the back of my mind.


M also requested a khaki jumper (shock!) and it seemed a good way to clear some yarn, 2000m of it to be exact. A simple crochet pattern by Melissa Leapman was chosen, and only a few days later, it was finished. I would NEVER have picked this for him, but he loves it. You just can never tell, hey. 


I’ve already started another for him. 


Yes, as requested that is camo yarn. No, I have no comment on that. Whatever makes him happy. 🙂
My Year of William Morris paused as I hurt my back and couldn’t sit at the tapestry stand (I’m pretty sure it was actually sitting at the tapestry stand that hurt my back in the first place) but it is nearly healed now and I’ll be back into it. In the meantime, my Auntie did bring me a lovely related gift on her recent trip up here from Adelaide.


Christmas Village Mark II is progressing nicely. Four buildings so far and the fifth and sixth underway. 🙂


And spinning…something about the cooler weather always makes me break out the wheel! I don’t know what this fibre is, I am guessing merino. It is part of a large bag of fleece my mother-in-law rescued from an op shop where it was being thrown out. It is sooooooo soft and floofy! I’ve never spun anything so light and fine before, and I’m very happy with it. Two ply laceweight, 220 metres. 


Then some rainbow something from the same stash, not as floofy and a bit old and felted, but I pressed on regardless. Another couple of hundred metres in 2 ply.


Then some chocolatey Corriedale. I like this one the best. 🙂 This came out a sportweight as a 2 ply. I have a couple of kilos of this fleece to process, so plenty for a jumper or three. I’ve only ever made one jumper from yarn I spun, and it was a plain cardy from our old alpaca, Patch. I might do something fancy with cables this time.


Of the other five current WIPs, this is my favourite, Ilvy, which I just started:


Crocheting pure linen thread is hard on the hands, but I love the result, so rustic. Poppy made me the little cedar stand for the reel of linen. 🙂
Hopefully I can now resume normal broadcasting and return to some sort of blogging rhythm after the erraticness of the last few weeks. Next week I turn the big 4-0, so a fresh start, a new decade and soooo many things to look forward to! 🙂 Or I’ll just let myself go completely, I haven’t decided yet.

Sock Selfies and Spin Time

Knitting-wise, there’s a lot of secret magazine designing and knitting going on which I can’t show. 😦 boohoo. But I did finish two pairs of socks this week too, one in Drops Delight and one in Bendigo Woollen Mills Sock, using my standard top down 60 stitches with fish lips kiss heels.
   
    
 I am also slowly work on setting up the ‘fibre room’ in the train. I have made room for my spinning wheel finally, and have one comfy corner just for spinning and a table for fleece processing. M and I rescued my wheel from oblivion in the top shed, cleaned it down, rubbed back all the metal and oiled it up. 

   
 Mine is a small wheel, purchased about 15 years ago from the loveliest little old man in Littlehampton, South Australia, who handmade them to his own design. The original rubber drive band died ages ago (to be replaced by upholstery buttoning twine), but other than that I have never had a problem with it.  

   
 When I started spinning, I actually thought there was something physically wrong with me, I just could not get it. I was frankly pretty shocked by this. I’ve taught myself many things from books, and did not expect to fail. The pictures all made sense, but my various appendages refused to cooperate with each other. After actual tears of frustration, I finally worked out I spin left handed. (I am right handed but I do the odd random thing like skateboard and chop firewood left handed too, so a more astute person would have probably spotted that earlier.) The joy of finally coordinating everything could not be described. 🙂 And a stroke of luck is that my wheel is fairly symmetrical and so ambidextrous.

I like imperfect spinning. It’s a combination of personal taste and lack of motivation. I know there are the most amazing spinners out there. For me though, spinning is about self sufficiency, reminiscent of the seventies, mud brick and stone houses, wood stoves, sheep out the back, a tyre swing. Handspun jumpers were rough and lumpy and occasionally smelly and very warm. That’s the feeling I go for. And I also can’t justify investing the effort and time to make yarn that looks like the bought stuff. Or why wouldn’t I just buy it? I like my handspun to look like handspun. And fortunately, my lack of ambition (and skill) means it does. 🙂
Many of my spinning tools are now missing after a lifetime of moving, so this weekend the lovely M whipped me up a niddy noddy out of dowel, and has plans for a Lazy Kate. 

  
For many years I kept alpacas, goats and sheep and still have copious quantities of fleece. But that does not stop me buying more if it is GREY. 🙂 I picked up this fleece really cheaply two weeks ago on eBay, a grey merino, lovely and soft.

   
 For some reason, Atticus Finch has a fleece obsession, it’s like catnip to him. Last time I left a fleece still packaged in a post bag on the coffee table when I went to work, I came home to find the bag completely shredded, and him asleep in a nest in the middle of it. So now he is not left unsupervised with fleece.
Everyone has their own way of preparing a fleece for spinning, and I thought I would share a staccato version of mine.

  
I find a big fleece a bit overwhelming, and I know I don’t do as good a job when I try to wash in bulk. So usually I just do a little a day over the course of a couple of weeks. That’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, I know, but I’m more of a ‘process’ person rather than a ‘product’ person, so I don’t mind if it is slow. 
I grab a couple of handfuls at a time. Before washing, I open out the matted ends. You can do this with a flick carder, I use an old dog brush. 

   
 If your immune system is a touch dodgy too, and even if it isn’t, always bear in mind the sheep germs. There should be a lot of hand washing and disinfecting. Don’t touch your mouth. Also tetanus shot should be up to date (she says, realising hers isn’t. Whoops. Hypocrite.).
I fill the sink with hot water, it should be hot enough to need gloves on. Some people add a kettle of boiling water too. The heat melts the lanolin. A big squirt of detergent comes next, sometimes I use wool wash but I usually find Fairy works the best.

  
Submerge the fleece but don’t agitate. The steam smells awesome! If you like the smell of dirty sheep, that is. Which apparently I do. Leave for twenty minutes or so. Don’t leave it forever or allow to cool down or the lanolin will reset and make a dirty mess.
Drain the water (use a sink strainer). Handle the fleece as little as possible. This is easier said than done. All I want to do is scrunch and swirl and play with it. But then you just end up with a lump of felt. 
If the fleece is very dirty, I repeat the washing step. Then it’s on to the rinsing.

 Refill with sink with hot water and soak a few minutes. Repeat the rinse once more. There should be no more bubbles.

  

I roll the wet fleece in a towel to blot, then hang it in this thing to dry. I have no memory of what this is or where it came from, but for as long as I have been spinning, I have been using it to dry fleece.

  
I have an Ashford drum carder which is always fun to use, and occasionally I use handcarders so I can say I made rolags. I love that word. Rolag. Rolag. Rolag.

  
Then I spin the fluff.

  
That’s as far as I have gotten this week. Next week I’ll ply some up. 🙂
B