Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bamboo and Samoyed Spinning Help

After six months of preparation, there's always a bit of a let down after giving a workshop.  Maybe not a let down so much as an, "Okay, so what's next?" I'm seriously thinking of beginning a complete study of angora rabbit fluff.

My presentation to the Illinois Prairie Spinners on Saturday went well and you can find the workshop notes on my website at  I gather useful tips and techniques from this blog and turn them into articles for my website.  It's becoming a book of sorts, a compendium of spinning, knitting and weaving knowledge organized in a more accessible, easy-to-find-things-in format.

In the workshop I introduced my technique of "spinning from the clump" which varies from all the stripping and other techniques often taught with roving.  Clump spinning allows me to better utilize the "drafting triangle" that vital space between fiber supply and twist where you begin to determine the thickness of your yarn.  I attempted to capture this in the above photo, but Baxter, my Samoyed friend, decided he needed to help.  Though this is not the best picture of the process, cuteness drove this editorial decision.  Down the road I will do a blog just on spinning roving and try for a better picture.  Maybe if I gave him a Frosty Paw first?  That would keep him busy long enough for a  photo!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is bamboo really green?

Not being one to take any claims at face value, I wanted to investigate if the bamboo rovings now readily available to spinners can be classified as a green fiber. Technically, the fiber is viscose, made with the same industrial process that gave us Rayon, except that rather than wood pulp being processed into fiber, bamboo pulp is used. I will be giving a bamboo workshhop on Saturday, April 24 starting at 10 a.m. in the Winfield Library.

The green part comes into play in growing bamboo—from what I’ve read, it grows like a weed. The variety (and there are many) used to make the fiber grows about three feet a year without needing fertilizer or insecticide. A field of this type of bamboo, grown generally in Southeast Asia, can be harvested every three to five years. Though this sounds sustainable, I suppose I’d have to consult a few agricultural journals to see if this is true.

The greener among us might blanche at the industrial process. Viscose is a chemical process and uses sodium hydroxide, aka caustic soda, aka lye in the process. Since this is a fairly common chemical and can be used responsibly, lenient greenies could let that go. At least bamboo viscose is greener than say wood viscose based on the source of the pulp. I’ve recently seen yarn spun from sugar cane viscose.

One claim I was able to verify is the dye-ability of bamboo. I was able to dye my bamboo using a rich color with relatively less dyestuff than called for. Above is some in my golden glow colorway.

Some make bacteriostatic claims for bamboo, inferring it would be great for socks by keeping down bacteria derived odors. I will find out once I’ve worn a bamboo socks around on a hot summer day. It makes sense that if bamboo doesn’t need insecticide, it has evolved some pretty strong plant defenses, but doesn’t follow necessarily that these properties would survive processing or inhibit the bacteria that cause body odor. Also, one article referred to this as “bamboo kun” which doesn’t sound to me like the name of an anti-bacterial compound that’s been isolated from bamboo viscose .

However, it is a lovely silky fiber and is known to produce filmy cloth that feels cool and light. The only drawback to pure bamboo is the slippery texture can make bamboo spinning tedious--but more on that later.  The green yarn is a three-ply finbgering weight bamboo-merino blend I finished recently.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Busy with bamboo and spring

Tying up some loose ends to be ready for my program on bamboo next weekend has been keeping me busy. Actually, I should say “tucking in loose ends” because one of the things I’m finishing up is sock made with a bamboo merino blend. I’m pretty much ready with 30 packets made up and most of my talk carefully lodged in my head. The program will be at the Illinois Prairie Spinners meeting on Saturday, April 24, which starts at 10 a.m. in the Winfield Library.

My sister-in-laws angora rabbit gave birth to a small litter and here they all are. I love the fawn colored ones but I understand the color lightens up with age, which too bad. Below I have a picture of Alice, the bunny mom. Last time, I showed you Albert and identified him as Alice. I think I have Alice this time.

Spring has kept me busy with eco-friendly planting. We went to the local nursery and came back with some Virginia bluebell and mayapple to plant under a large tree in our yard. I already have some bloodroot growing—which is not only a lovely spring flower but a dyeplant—and some violets who have volunteered for the duty. The backyard is not only pretty but provides some habitat. It was nice to see a newly emerged bumble bee visiting the violets.

Bees are in danger, so we are trying to have as many bee-friendly plants as possible—and for our native bumble bees, this means native plants. We have been removing the builder-grade shrubs from the front of our house and will replace it with a garden of native plants—yellow and purple coneflower, black-eyed susan, and some asters. We have a compass plant coming up there too, and hope to pick up the native variety of bee balm. I also want another blue indigo which has to be the most striking plant I’ve seen.

Though these native plants are going to be planted garden style—neatly that is—they can still help create at least an echo of what once was, enough, at least so that bumble bee’s brood can survive to awaken to another spring. Every little bit helps—or so I hope, though perhaps I am trying to swim upstream against too strong a current. But I plan to keep up the good fight, so maybe there will be something to leave to future generations, human and bee alike.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Craftsteader's Journal

Homesteading has long fascinated me—living off the land in a bucolic setting in upstate New York , Wisconsin or Maine, raising heritage free-range chickens and Shetland sheep. Maybe I’d even have a few dairy goats and whip up some really tasty cheese with the garlic and chives I would grow.

Life, though, has landed me in a Midwestern suburb with a postage stamp sized lot. Yes, we are building a little garden, but it is limited. Plus, I feel a strong pull to eco-friendly living and am interested in prairie restoration. I see my yard more as “suburban savannah” and have been slowly filling it with native plants to sustain butterflies, birds and the other critters with which we share this planet.

My focus has long been on making things. I shy away from harshly processed commercial rovings and buy fleeces from small farmers who practice sustainable methods of agriculture. I work up from the raw fleece—washing, picking, perhaps dyeing. I do my own carding and then I spin and use the yarn myself. I’ve added weaving to a repertoire once limited to knitting. With weaving, I can make all sorts of household products—blankets, rugs, dishtowels, curtains, even clothes. I hope to make much of the yarn myself, spinning and blending for both warp and weft. Though, I did receive some mill spun yarn when I purchased my second-hand looms.

Rather than homesteading, I’m craftsteading.

With all this craft activity, and my day job, I wonder if I would ever have time to add raising my own fiber. Sheep, as cool as they are, would take time away from processing the fleece, spinning, learning to weave and more. I would definitely be spreading myself too thin. Instead I can go to the farms of those who have a deep interest in raising these animals and find what I need. I am especially fortunate to know Mary Pratt of Elihu Farm, because not only does she have years invested in raising sheep, but is also a fleece judge and she helps me pick from her large selection of fleece colors and types.

My home has three spinning wheels, two carders, two floor looms, and a dyeing area and drying racks. So I have a craftstead—a sweat powered workshop devoted to taking the products of the land and turning them into something useful. In recognition of this, I am changing the name of my blog to “Craftsteader’s Journal” to chronicle my attempt to make so many things by hand.

Shown is above is my 60 inch wide Leclerc Nilus jack type loom, and two of the colors of yarn for the runner I want to weave. This loom sits in a retasked guest room. In the middle is my workhorse Clemes & Clemes carder which I am using to card some brown dyed Romney for this rug. Below that is a pot a homesteader might be tempted to use for canning, but we craftsteaders use for dyeing.

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