Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Processing and spinning Qiviut

 Qiviut is the warm, soft undercoat of the musk ox. It keeps the musk ox warm in its native habitat of the arctic regions in places such as Canada, Greenland, Sweden, Siberia, Norway, and Alaska. It is a rare fiber and expensive.
 
I recently purchased 1 ounce of raw qiviut fiber from the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Large Animal Research Station. You can watch how they comb the shed qiviut from their musk oxen here.
 
Below is the one ounce of raw qiviut that I bought:
 
 
The long hairs have to be pulled out by hand. They are soft, but stiffer and not as fine as the qiviut undercoat. What you want is just the wonderful, soft undercoat. Below is the same one ounce, now a bit lighter, after it's been dehaired:
 

 
I kept the hairs that I took out of the qiviut, carded them and spun them up. I got about 24 yards of yarn. It's very soft to the hand, but prickly up against the neck. Here it is with the unspun qiviut:
 

Below, I'm holding a segment of the unspun, dehaired qiviut fiber. I spun it right from these segments of the dehaired blanket without washing, carding or combing:
 


It spun up wonderfully, here is the singles on a bobbin:


 
And here is the two-ply yarn:
 

It is a wonderfully soft and light yarn with no prickles. I got approximately 84 yards, and, after washing, it weighed in at approximately 0.7 ounces. It reminds me very much of the paco-vicuna I've spun; it's got the same heavenly softness and cloud-like weight. And the same high price-tag. I used to think that qiviut was very much the same as yak, but it's not. Yak is also very soft and warm, but it's not as fine and cloud-like as qiviut. Yak is a lot more dense, but still a very nice, soft fiber, and a lot less expensive than qiviut.

I really like the qiviut, I only wish I could afford enough to make something like a sweater - we all can dream, can't we?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Processing, spinning and knitting milkweed fiber

 
The milkweed plant produces a fiber that can be used by spinners. Fibers from hemp, flax, dogbane, milkweed and nettle have been used for thousands of years to produce textiles, cordage, netting, etc.
 
I've been wanting to try my hand at getting fibers from milkweed, processing them, and spinning them. I finally had the time to give it a try, so I went to glean a few stalks from an area that I know had milkweed growing last summer.
 
I gathered around twenty or so stalks that had been sitting in situ after dying off last fall. If you gather milkweed and nettle in the early spring, after the dead stalks have been sitting out all winter, it saves you the trouble of retting.
 
The stalks have a pithy core, with the fiber and the 'bark surrounding it. At this stage, after sitting out in the elements, the stalks break easily and it's easy to dislodge the pithy core from the bark/fiber layer. There are several YouTube videos that show this process for nettles.
 
Below, you can see the core to the left, and the bark/fiber layer peeling off to the right. The fibers are shiny and white: 

 

After peeling the outer layer off of all of my stalks, I had a small pile of fibery bark:


 
So here's the problem, how to release the wonderful, white, shiny fiber from the thin layer of bark? I don't know. I'm sure there is a way. It might involve breaking it in a manner similar to breaking flax. I do have a flax break, but I wasn't sure the milkweed would stand up to the flax break. I may try that next time. What I ended up doing was carding the bark/fiber. Most of the bark is broken up and falls away, but the fiber is also broken, and not all of the bark is released. It was heart breaking to break all of that wonderful, long shiny fiber up. I will research/experiment with other methods next time.
 
So here is what the carded milkweed fiber looks like in a rolag:
 

 
I ended up with about 0.7 ounces of carded fiber from those twenty some-odd stalks:
 

 
I split that up so that I could spin two bobbins and ply them together. The spinning was challenging, it's not an easy fiber to spin in this condition, but I got it done. Here is the two-ply on the wheel:
 
 

 
I ended up with about 17 yards of sport-weight, two-ply yarn:
 
 
I washed the yarn vigorously with hot water and soap. I know that linen yarn benefits from washing in hot water, and even boiling with washing soda (which I've done with my own linen yarn). I'm sure that this would clean up and lighten up even more with such treatment, but after just a couple of vigorous washings, and letting it dry,  I wound it into a center-pull ball for knitting:
 


 Like linen, it's a bit on the stiff side, but softens up with washings, and I'm sure with wear, too.

So I ended up knitting a little swatch, about 2.5" x 4" in size:



 
I'll probably fold it over, add a crocheted edge while binding two sides together, and keep the top open to make a small pouch to hold my stitch markers.
 
 
This was an interesting process. I hope to find out how to extract the fibers without breaking them all up with carding. As it is, I think this yarn is not very strong - certainly not nearly as strong as linen. Hopefully, if I can figure out how retain a nice length on the fibers, I can make a prettier, stronger, and finer yarn from milkweed in the future.
 
Okay, here is the finished pouch:
 
 
 
It's small, but a nice size to hold stitch markers:
 

 
 
From plant to pouch took about a day and a half. Looking forward to repeating with hopefully even better results in the future.



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Signing!

I'll be signing books at Old Trail School, nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this Saturday, March 22, from 10 AM to 1 PM. The indoor farmer's market will be in full swing, so there's plenty reason to drop by, do a little shopping, and stop at the book signing table to meet some local authors!

If you're in the area, hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Almost two pounds

About 1 1/2 pounds of merino, washed, dyed-to-order, and  carded into bats. Next up, grouping it for spinning, and then... Spinning! It's taken a long time to get to this point, whew!



Friday, January 24, 2014

Spinning flax into linen yarn

 
So, this past summer I grew some flax for fiber. After rippling, retting, breaking, scutching and hackling, I ended up with 6.9 ounces of fiber, ready to spin (see a picture here.) I finally had a chance to spin half of the flax fiber up into a two-ply laceweight linen yarn:
 
 
 
I got 425 yards total. The other half should yield about the same, so I should end up with between 800 and 900 yards of laceweight linen yarn.
 
I'd love to weave it into a kitchen towel, but I don't have a loom yet. I'm not sure how much knitted fabric it will make, so I'm searching patterns. I'd love to get a small apron out of it, but don't know if that's possible.
 
The yarn is a bit rough, but not as bad as 2012's crop. I'm hoping it will soften up nicely with washings and wear and do fine as an apron, if I can manage get one out of 800-900 yards.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Flower Fairy Doll

 
A couple of years ago I found a pattern in a magazine for knitted flower fairy dollies. I thought they were so cute, and then one of my nieces became pregnant - with a girl! I searched and searched for my magazine and couldn't find it, but then found the back issue in my library, hooray! I photocopied the pattern (since I'd already bought the magazine, but lost it, I figured it's okay to photocopy it).
 
I made the little doll, but she sat without hair, face, or wings for months. I finally put hair on, and then a few weeks later, the face. Over the weekend I got serious, with Christmas coming, and gave her wings and her little flower purse. Now she's waiting to be wrapped up and sent off in a brown paper package all tied up with strings (figuratively speaking, really just taped up with the address written in Sharpie).
 
Here she is sitting on her little flower purse: 
 
 

 
Closing the petals:
 

 
Tucked inside:
 

 
And here is a view of her hair:
 
 
 
She's made out of all handspun, except for her hair - I used mostly scraps of some colorful Malabrigo yarn I had on hand, and a few snippets of handspun as well. The handspun is all hand-dyed, some of it with natural dyes.
 
I got to use up bits of stash yarn on this project. The pattern is a Susan B. Anderson design and I found it in Knit Simple Magazine Holiday 2011. You can find the pattern online here.

Now to finish wrapping things so I can send this off!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I have a new wheel!

 
An acquaintance had a friend who was ill and asked her to find a good home for her spinning wheel after she passed. My acquaintance tried to find historical societies, schools, or arts and crafts places that might like the wheel, to no avail. The she found out that I'm a spinner, and, voila, I have a new wheel! It will certainly have a good home here, and if I decide I don't need it, I know lots of people who would love to give it a good home after me.
 
My original wheel is on the left, a Kromski Fantasia, which I love. My new wheel is on the right:
 
 

It's a Lendrum single treadle folding wheel. I've already spun a small skein on it. My daughter says that now I can teach her to spin since we have two wheels - she claims that I hog my original one and never have a chance to teach her, lol! (she's right)

Excited to get the hang of my new wheel!