Hand Spinning & Natural Dyeing - Sarah Matthess

Saturday, 24 January 2015

'Red is the Rose' Art Yarn

I've called this latest art yarn, 'Red is the Rose' after the traditional Irish folk tune. I was thinking of Autumn colours when I spun it. There's a row of wonderful beech trees near my house that turn from the green of Summer to all the Autumn shades right through to the beginning of November, and all very gradually.  The tops of the trees will be all those wonderful rusts, reds and yellows, but the bottom will still be green.  So I threw in a dash of green here and there. 
This is a total mixture of naturally dyed fibre, with brighter accents being added by hand-dyed kemtex dye.  Lots of merino, tussah silk, then the softest lambs wool I could find from local sheep (Romney and Corriedale) and little bits of novelty yarn, metallic sparkle, cotton thread, embroidery floss and silk fabric here and there.
Getting back to the 'red hair' idea, I just see this on a red-head! It would of course go with a lot of complexion because natural dyes always do.
Spun similarly to my 'Lough Navar Forest' yarn, this is around 5wpi, on the larger whorl setting. Spun intentionally thick/thin. I would be knitting this on 8mm needles myself because some of the thicker bits, are well, thicker! but it could be knitted on 6 or 7 mm also. It's a 2 ply yarn, and I've prewashed it to set the twist. These are bigger skeins than normal, at 110grams each.  My latest knitted hat project took 100 grams, so I'm guessing I could get a hat out of a skein.
This headband was knitted out of half a skein. I cast on 10 stitches and knitted on 8mm needles in seed stitch, and then 12 stitches stocking stitch in a soft cotton/cashmere/merino mixed yarn for the lining. After reaching the desired length (a little short of going around your head so there is room for some stretch), I steam pressed out under a cloth (don't press art-yarn with a bare iron or it will melt the novelty yarn bits!) and sewed up. Covered the end seam with another band (see picture) of art-yarn (4 stitches wide) used as decoration. Couldn't be easier! Make one in an evening!

 'Red is the Rose' art-yarn, hand spun, bulky, and up for sale on Etsy.

Monday, 12 January 2015

'Lough Navar Forest' Art Yarn

Lough Navar Forest is a riot of green in the Summer. The views are tremendous. The Sperrins and Blue-Stack mountains can be seen from there. In that area of County Fermanagh there are fields of white tufted grasses, and little lilac coloured flowers at certain times of the year.  I've tried to paint that picture here in this new art yarn, just off my spinning-wheel and now up on Etsy. It's super-soft with merino, silk, lambswool, suri-alpaca, cotton, silk fabric and thread, and embroidery floss.
Around 5 or 6 wraps per inch, this will knit up nicely on 6 or 7mm needles - maybe even 8mm, depending on your project. It's bulky yarn and could be worn next to the skin.

Because this is a blog all-about-it, I'll get a bit more technical. I've spun this on my Kromski wheel.  My spools hold about 80 grams per spool so this super-big skein of 168 grams is made up of 2 identical skeins. Well, that's as 'identical' as hand-spun ever gets!! I use the large size whorl, and I select the smaller of the 2 options on that whorl.  It's slower work, but makes a better finished product on a bulky art yarn. This also allows me a chance to incorporate the silk and ribbon, and all that good stuff, as I go.  I keep a pot of it by my wheel, and I grab up a bit of this and a bit of that as I go.
I tried hard to dye the merino and the silk as near to grass green as I could. I think I got a pretty good match.  The grass is VERY green in this part of the world. Probably that's due to the ceaseless rain. And believe me, there's even more of it in County Fermanagh.
In Enniskillen Castle Museum, Co. Fermanagh, there is a visual display of a ' crannog' recently excavated right in the water of Lough Erne.  Most interesting to discover that there were ancient man-made islands on Lough Erne that were built to live on. Houses in fact. I can't imagine how people lived like that. Water underneath, water all about, and rain from above.
I decided to spin up a couple more skeins of this yarn, but this time added some novelty yarns, to make it even more textured. This is that same yarn knitted into a hat, now up on Etsy. Check out that lovely green field in the background of the photo.  Snow just melted today and the camera didn't pick up on the fact that we were getting wet taking these pictures!! (as usual).
 I knitted it in the round on double pointed 6mm needles. It weighs 98grams, just a little more than 1 skein. As above, this is approx. 5 wpi, so it is a bulky yarn. I cast on 60 stitches, 20 onto each of my 3 double pointed needles, and then knit away at that, knit 2, purl 2, for about 6", then stocking stitch for the rest. Bring it to a close at the top by decreasing for 3 rows, then pick up the remaining stitches and sew through them with the 'tail' and a darning needle. Pull up firmly and weave the tail away in to the knitting.

How to Make a Felt Bangle

How to make a felt bangle. Here's something for free. I have to just qualify this by saying that there are many ways to make a felt bangle. This is one of them. I have developed other patterns I use, but this gives the basics of just one pattern. 
First take a crochet hook larger than your needles that you will use, and make a chain. In this case I'm knitting up a strip that will be 5 stitches wide, so I make a chain of 6 loops. 
Then cast on your yarn into each loop hole.

 This is what it looks like when you have your 5 stitches through your loops.
 Then start knitting.  This takes trial and error. You will want to make your knitted bangle larger than your finished felted bangle. It will depend on the wool you use, and how much you felt it, as to how much shrinkage you get.  I would work roughly on the idea it will shrink by a third.  
When you have knitted your strip as long as you want it, you will need to cast off. To start with, release the chain at the cast on end. If it won't release and pull out easily, you may have to snip it and pull each strand out bit by bit. Feed each stitch onto your second needle, then holding both needles together, knit 2 off at a time with a  third needle (as the picture below).
It's a bit hard to see what's happening here, but basically as you knit off 2 stitches onto 1, (as above), you will then do that a second time to the next 2 stitches, and then slip the first over the second, to cast off. This joins both ends together with a really neat seam.
So now you have a circle made by joining both ends, and hopefully you left a long 'tail' with which to sew up your raw edges!  Using a darning needle, pick up and join both edges, all the way around, then secure your end by weaving it away into the knitting somewhere.

Now for the fun bit.  You will want a kettle of hot water, as hot as you can handle, and some washing up liquid. I squirt on a fairly generous amount, and begin to work it in with the hot kettle water. I use a paint roller tray that has bumps on it. This will catch the hot water somewhere so you can keep on using it a while until it cools down, and also provides a rough surface to 'work' your piece on, to felt it. The more you rub and agitate, (basically do all the things you are not supposed to do with wool), the nicer it gets. It will be shrinking at the same time.

Do a test of the surface every so often. If you can pinch up fibres between your fingers, then keep working at it. The felt should be well matted. It might take 20 minutes or more. 

I give my felted pieces a soak in a weak vinegar/water solution afterwards to soften and protect the fibres. Then I dry it on a 'form'. (read: old jar!)

Here are a set of 3 that I made to a slightly different pattern than that given above.

Unashamedly as near to an 100% Northern Ireland product as is possible to get! Even the embroidery thread I decorated these with was made in Britain.