Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dyeing Raw Alpaca With Black Walnut Dye

This fall I embarked on a walnut dyeing adventure. Previously I explained how I collected the back walnuts and removed the husks to make a dye bath. Soaking the walnuts was a long process. I did two batches at two different times and each batch soaked for 2 weeks. I didn't dye up the alpaca right away as I was still in the process of washing the fiber. Speaking of which, I hope to explain in the near future how I wash raw alpaca fiber. I know there are all kinds of methods out there for prepping alpaca fiber, though this summer when I looked up "how to wash raw alpaca fiber" I didn't find many satisfactory options.

These pictures are from my first time dyeing with walnuts on Wednesday, November 18th. It was a chilly, windy day. And though the sun was shining I was very thankful for my little fire and a cup of cocoa.  To prep my walnut dye for the dye pot I strained it through a cloth and fine mesh strainer. I filled the dye pot with the strained dye. I also put some of the husks that had been soaking into  a pillowcase, knotted the top and tossed it in the dye. My outdoor fire was set up as follows: 1. I stacked bricks 4 high and 5 deep, per side. I placed a couple bricks on top of the grate on either side as a safety precaution to keep things from sliding about. 2. I spread a generous helping of pebbly sand underneath my grate and a little overflowing out to help keep the ash and coals contained. 3. Then it was time to collect kindling. We have silver maples down in the field that drop an abundance of twigs and branches whenever there is a stiff breeze. Which, by the by, happens quite often here. In addition to the branches I also rummaged up some hardwood scraps from out in the wood shop. These were a great help as they had a longer burn time then the branches.

I had a good fire crackling while the dye bubbled merrily for an hour. When the dye was close to being done went inside to prepare the alpaca fiber. This is where I made my first Mistake Of the Process. I had a pound of alpaca fiber washed and ready to go. I divided it in half and stuffed (yes, I said stuffed *blush) it into my two mesh bags. On later reflection I realized that wasn't my best plan. I did dye again this past Monday, which was Dec. 5th. For that batch of alpaca I put approximately half a pound in each bag only this time I stacked them in three neat rows with tips all pointing the same way. Before putting the locks in the bag I enlisted help to fluff out the tips and tails of the locks. When they get washed they get a little smooshed together, and I figured the locks would be less likely to felt if they were fluffed somewhat.

My second Mistake Of the Process was not letting the dye cool down somewhat. I soaked the bags of fiber in hot water prior to adding it to the dye. But I forgot that the dye was boiling hot. So consequently I felted the fiber just a little. When I dyed with walnuts on Monday I let the dye cool down until it was warm, and I soaked the fiber in the same temperature of water before quickly adding it to the dye pot.

The fiber bubbled over the heat for an hour. Then I let the fiber sit in the dye for six hours. After the fiber had soaked I brought in and rinsed out the excess dye. For the first batch "slightly felted" translated into some back breaking time over the sink as I pulled the locks apart and rinsed them, trying to make sense of the jumbled mess I had created. Two hours was all tidy and laying out to dry.

This is my first batch of walnut-dyed alpaca locks. So far I have not had time to photograph my second batch. The colors turned out different, but as it will all be carded together then spun and knit, I don't think it matters much.

The white locks in the foreground is the natural color of the alpaca before it was dyed with walnuts. I'm hoping to spin up my two pounds of fiber and have enough yarn to make the Oatmeal cardigan from Spin Off. That will be a project for later this winter though as I have many Christmas projects in the works right now. The next week and a half will be very busy indeed!
Well I hope you have enjoyed this little look at dyeing with black walnuts. If you have any comments or questions don't hesitate to drop me a line. I always love to hear from my readers!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Knitting and a little bit of Spinning

My Thanksgiving knitting and spinning projects! More details to follow soon.  The brown yarn is Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Sport, in the Fedora colorway. The multi-colored yarn a skein of kettle-dyed yarn from I have been very happy with both these yarns. The yarn on the spindle is a blend I carded this week. I took a random bump  brown roving from the sample pack I purchased this summer and carded it up with angora. It spun up quickly and now I am navajo plying the single. The yarn itself is a brown heather with gold, green, and mauve running through it.


This yarn is my first go at lock spinning. I spun up two different colours of dyed Teeswater locks and then plied the single with a commercial lace-weight yarn. I'm not sure yet what I'll make with it. Perhaps crocheted/knitted flowers or other embelishments? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Greetings my friends! It has been awhile since I was last able to post and I must say I've missed it very much. Here on the home front we have been busy getting ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tomorrow being Thanksgiving we are cleaning  house and beginning our meal preparations. The menu for Thanksgiving dinner is as follows:

Turkey with stuffing & gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Beet, Carrot & Apple Salad
Cranberry sauce
Dinner Rolls
Grasshopper pie
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie

We are looking forward to spending time with family and reflecting with gratitude on the abundant bessings God has bestowed upon us.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Meet Our New Suri Alpacas, Windfall & Mounty!!!!

Yes, this is the new adventure which I spoke of in my last post! About a month ago we got two male suri alpacas.  It was a completely unplanned venture, and came about rather suddenly. But we all talked it over and prayed about it, and a couple weeks after the fact, they arrived in their new home!

This is Mounty. He is 6 years old and a shy little guy. He is quite stocky in build, and about a head shorter then our other Suri boy, Windfall. Mounty was pretty skittish when we first got him. Within a day or so he had calmed down quite a bit and we were able to feed him grass right out of our hands. He's adjusted beautifully to his new home.

And this is Windfall! He is 7 years old, and clearly the alpaca in charge! As I stated above, Windfall is a head taller then Mounty. He's built differently and is not stocky at all. The front of his legs are covered in tight curly locks so we are anticipating some beautiful curls on him when his coat is grown out. Windfall lets us pet him on a daily basis, which is lovely. 


Mounty in the background. Windfall's curly legs in the foreground.


Windfall, background. Mounty, foreground.


Looking at the two above pictures you can see the difference in the boys builds. Even though Mounty doesn't have the tight curls that Windfall dose, he still has a soft and beautiful coat. I think his fiber will be amazing to spin!

We are so excited to have alpacas, it is such a blessing! They have been quite the learning experience so far. Despite everything we previously knew concerning alpacas, nothing compares to owning them and encountering little situations that arise every now and then. There are more alpaca farmers in the area and we were able to get lots of advice and some help from a young couple who live not to far down the road. He has also offered to do our shearing come spring, and since they live close by the cost for shearing will not be as much as we had anticipated. What a blessing!

The boys LOVE to be hand fed fresh grass. Their enclosure is temporary until the spring when we can put them out in a bigger field. So consequently they keep their little patch of grass nibbled short. Fresh grass by the handfuls is always a treat and the crowd against each other and sometimes us in their haste to get to it first. Normally two of us go in the enclosure to give them their treat of grass. Windfall is quite the piggy and tends to steal Mounty's treats and grain if allowed.

I look forward to sharing more about our suri boys as we sally forth on this new venture!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spinning Romney and Walnut Dye.

Happy Autumn my friends! It is hard to believe that October is almost over! Only one day left. This month has flown by. I have not accomplished quite as much in the fiber arts as I was hoping to this last month as we have been busy preparing for winter. The garden is cleared of produce though we still need to pull out plants and burn them. We also started on a new venture that has taken up quite a bit of time, I'll be sharing that in my next post! We had a beautiful week and a half of Indian Summer weather this October. It was amazing to have such warm weather for so long in October, we spent as much time outside as possible! I was picked up my Romney again and started working on it during our Indian summer. I finished carding all the Romney locks and now have a bag stuffed full of rolags. I also started spinning up the rolags into this yarn. This is a project that I am taking my own sweet time on as it is for me and doesn't need to be done at any particular time.

I still am completely happy with my purchase of this Romney! It was a joy to card up the locks and such a pleasure to spin as well! 
The other big project I have going right now is walnut dye. My brother and I saw a bunch of walnuts scattered along the side of the road and stopped to ask permission to pick them up. The gentlemen said to take all we wanted so we picked two grocery bags of ripe, green walnuts.

I let them sit over the weekend as I was busy and a few of them ended up going bad. I was following the instructions for walnut dyeing in the Spin Off Summer 2011 issue. I wore old clothes and gloves as I did NOT want brown hands for several weeks. I used an extra paving stone and hammer to pound off the husk.

All the good husks I tossed into one of our big metal tubs. The few bad pieces I had I tossed into the fire pit to be burnt.

And the nuts went into a basket to dry and later be cracked!

Despite the fact that I wore gloves, a little bit of walnut juice somehow managed to leak into the glove and my finger was slightly brown for days! I ended up putting some slim plastic gloves under the heavy gloves to protect my hands. 

I put just enough water in the tub to cover them. The next step is to let them soak for a week to a week and a half. We ended up going on a short family Holiday so my walnut dye will have been soaking for two weeks come tomorrow. I have three more grocery bags of walnuts to prep tomorrow. My Dad found a place where we can get as many as we need, and can come back next year too! Such a blessing as we have had a hard time finding somewhere to get decent walnuts. The walnuts that my Dad brought me look amazing! They are huge, and almost flawless, they look like pears! I'll probably end up soaking them for two weeks as well because I want my dye to all be of the same strength. Though I suppose if I mix it all together in one big batch it won't make any difference. My end goal is to dye up enough of the alpaca fiber that I was given this summer to make myself a sweater. I'm hoping to make the sweater this winter, but that might not happen as I'll have to spin all the fiber up still! Right now I'm just trying to get the dye made up while the walnuts are fresh and available, and the fiber dyed. Maybe after all my Christmas presents are done and set aside I can focus on making some sweaters!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

After The Rain

A few weeks ago, when our grass was still green and the leaves had not yet started changing, we had a fierce thunderstorm with lots of rain. When it quit I was able to take some lovely after-the-storm photos.

At one point the double rainbow was arched all the way across the sky, it was stunning!

It was a gorgeous evening, with such interesting clouds and lighting! Everything was bathed in a mellow, golden light.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Just A Bit Of Birthday Sewing

This past week my sister and I puled out the scraps and did a little bit of birthday sewing for a friend. At first we were contemplate a small quilted table scarf but then we hit upon the idea of these coasters. Everyone needs and uses coasters, right? Of course! It was the perfect idea. We brainstormed colours, then patterns. We decided upon Courthouse Steps, Log Cabin, Vertical Stripes, and  Crazy Quilt block.
Once colours and patterns were decided we set to work cutting, tracing, and sewing.
The coasters went fast, and were fun little projects to make up.

Court House Steps Coaster

Now I RARELY machine quilt anything, (in fact I believe in all my years sewing I have only ever machine quilted one thing and that was my quilted knitting bag) but we decided to quilt the coaster as they will be seeing a lot of use and also tossed in the washer quite a bit. Machine quilting will give them more durability and they should hold together for years to come. 

Log Cabin Coaster
Crazy Coaster
The Crazy Coaster was my personal favourite. I just love how the colours, shapes and quilting came together for such an interesting textured look.
Diagonal Stripes Coaster

We made them approximately 4 1/2 inches square. Not too big, but just perfect for holding a large mug of cocoa! 

Friday, September 30, 2011

WIP: Pavo Sock & Church Mittens

 I've been working on finishing up an old project, and also starting a new, but long planned project. The old WIP is my Pavo socks. I just finished turning the heel this evening and only have a short cuff to do and then I can bind off. I'm so excited to have these socks done so that I can start wearing them! With the coming of autumns chilly days I'm really wishing I had more hand knit socks!

 The new project is my Church Mittens. I'm using the pattern "Winter Sky Slip Stitch Mittens" from the Spin Off magazine, Summer 2009. Back around February or so I decided to spin up this lovely Polworth/angora roving into the Main colour for my mittens. The green-blue roving is Corriedale wool that I hand-painted last summer. This is the secondary colour in my mittens.

I had four ounces of my Polworth. I purchased this last fall and as winter is fast approaching I decided I had better get on the ball and finish the spinning so I could start the knitting. I spun up two ounces last week on my  drop spindle, and I spun the other two ounces yesterday afternoon. It is a worsted weight so spun up and plied very quickly. It dried over night and this morning it was ready to go.

 I did start the mittens last night. This is how far I am as of this evening. So far I have done the Set-up rounds, Cuff, Ribbing, and Hand. Now I am too the thumbhole. It is a quick knit, very easy I think and the slip-stitch colour work is quite interesting. I'm enjoying knitting the mittens, not only because I like the pattern, but also because I love knitting with my own handspun yarn!

These mittens will be perfect for those freezing Sunday mornings when my hands go numb walking from the house to the car. I was planning on them being only for church, but I can see that is not going to be the case. They are working up so warm that I  am sure I will be wearing them practically everywhere I go this winter! The angora was causing the roving to felt slightly so I anticipate my mitts will meld together a little bit and make them all the warmer.
Ah, happy sigh!
 I should go my friends. It is suppertime and there is a delightful smell of chicken soup coming from the kitchen. Have a lovely evening!