Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Retting Flax in an Inflatable Kiddie Pool

This year's flax crop is retting in an inflatable kiddie pool that I got on clearance this same time last year. Last year's crop retted nicely in it. The pool made it through a year of storage in the garage without sustaining any leaky holes, so here we go again!

I saved the seeds from last year's flax crop so that I wouldn't have to buy seeds this year. All sources I can find sell coated seeds - the coating contains nasty chemicals that will protect the growing flax from disease, but I'd rather not use it.

The seeds sprouted really well, but this year's crop didn't get as tall as last year's. It could be for several reasons. One big one of which was that I didn't weed as often as I should have and there was a lot of grass in there with the flax. 

At any rate, it's been pulled, dried and rippled, and is now retting. I don't think I'll get the 800 yards of spun flax that I got last year, but I'm hoping I'll get at least 500 yards. We'll see.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Dyeing with Box Elder Leaves

My neighbors had an enormous, beautiful box elder tree in their front yard. Recently, with heavy rains, a large limb came down. A large limb came down a year or so ago, too, onto their driveway. Unfortunately, there were several limbs that would do severe damage to their house if they came down, so today they had the whole tree taken down. They were very sad about it. With their permission, I asked the tree guys if I could gather some leaves and bark. I told my neighbor I would try to make dyes with them, dye some wool, and then make something for them with the dyed wool so that they could always remember their beautiful tree.
I filled my large dye pot with leaves and simmered/boiled them for an hour. For the first dip, I mordanted around 8 oz. of Corriedale wool. After straining the leaves out, I plopped the mordanted wool in and simmered for an hour. The water I used was distilled water that I purchased because my water has been funky lately (we have well water and our softener is on the fritz). Here are the leaves in the pot:


When I took the 8 oz. of wool out, it was more yellow than green, but I rinsed it in my tap water and it came out of the rinse more green than yellow. Don't know if that's because of my water or not. The dye left in the pot was much clearer and a bright, pretty yellow, so I mordanted 4 oz. more Corriedale and added it to the dye pot. After simmering for an hour, the wool was a pretty, light yellow. This time I rinsed with the distilled water and it remained the nice, light yellow.

Below you can see the fiber drying. The green on the left is the first dip, the yellow on the right is the second dip:

I mentioned several things that I could do with the dyed wool to my neighbor, such as spinning it into yarn and making something(s), like a hat or scarf or mittens, etc; or I could wet felt the fiber into a felted vessel like a decorative bowl. She said, "Oooo!," to the felted vessel idea, so that's what I'm planning on right now.
I still have bark. I'll let it soak for a few days before I try to make a dye with it. The only reference I've seen on the web to dyeing with box elder bark gave a tan color as a result. I'm soaking the bark in untreated well water that's really, really hard. I'm hoping the extra iron and other things will sadden the tan a bit toward a brown, if I get anything at all. We'll see what happens. If I get any color at all, I'll try to remember to take pics and post about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Using dried and frozen Japanese indigo leaves for dye

Last year at the end of the gardening season, before the first frost killed off my Japanese indigo crop, I harvested a bunch of stalks to save. I hung some to dry; I took the leaves off of some, bagged the leaves in a freezer ziplock, and stuck them in the freezer; and I took the leaves off of some, laid them out on a flat pan, put the pan in the freezer, and left them to not only freeze, but to dry out (freeze-dry).
About a month ago, I tried brewing up a Japanese indigo dye pot in the usual manner (like I would for fresh leaves), but I used some of the freeze-dried leaves. It didn't work out. I meant to toss all of my frozen and dried leaves but couldn't quite bring myself to do it.
I'm glad I didn't because I just came across the book, A Garden to Dye For, by Chris McLaughlin. In it there is a recipe for using dried Japanese indigo leaves in an ice-water preparation to dye silk. Yippee! Of course I tried it right away.
The recipe calls for 4 ounces of J. indigo leaves, half air-dried, half microwave-dried. These are blended up with ice-water in a blender, the mixture is strained through a cloth (like a flour sack towel) and a strainer, and then the pre-wetted silk is placed in the thick mixture for 10-20 minutes. This is supposed to yield a light, turquoise-like blue on the silk. I didn't have any microwave-dried leaves, but I used all of the dried and frozen leaves I did have on hand. They totaled about 3.5 ounces.
The author of the book left her silk scarf in the liquid for 40 minutes. I didn't have any scarves, but I have lots of silk hankies, so I used some of those. Although I did see the blue color on the hankies at about 10 minutes, I left them in for 40 minutes. I also tossed in a small knitted swatch of wool I had on hand. After soaking, the silk should be rinsed and left hanging to dry.
I rinsed my hankies, and although I caught glimpses of that pretty turquoise for a moment, what I ended up with in the end was green. I don't know if that's because I left the hankies soaking for too long, because of the chemistry of my water (well water, run through a softener), or because some of my leaves were frozen, but not dried. The color is pretty, nonetheless.
Here are the hankies soaking in the thick liquid:  

And here they are after drying overnight. The turquoise ones on top are some hankies that were dyed in an actual J. indigo dyebath last summer. The little woolen swatch is to the right of those hankies, and the green hankies from last night's experiment are below those:
It's a nice color, especially on shiny silk, but not the pretty turquoise I was hoping for. I've used up all of my leaves from last year now, but fear not! I have another crop growing in the dye garden as we speak. I will, of course, repeat the experiment again in hopes of attaining that wonderful turquoise in the future from dried J. indigo leaves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A New Map for my book, Rose of Par Kluhnd, and trying a new experience with going KDP Select

Rose of Par Kluhnd has a new map at the front of the book. The original was my own, but the new one is professionally done and looks terrific! I'm so pleased with it:

The map was created for me by Anna-Dawn at
 It is already available in the eBook version exclusively at Amazon, and soon will be available in the print version, also available through Amazon. I'm so excited about this new map!
I am also trying a new thing. Thus far my books in electronic form are available pretty much through all eBook retailers, but for the next 90 days my book, Rose of Par Kuhnd: A Fairy Tale, will be available exclusively through Amazon. 
Amazon has a program for authors called KDP Select. In order to participate in KDP Select, your eBook must only be available through Amazon. My sales numbers have been stagnant so I've decided to give KDP Select a try. I don't like the idea of my books not being available for every type of eReader, but if no one is buying them from all of those other retailers anyway, why not give KDP Select a try?
So for the next 90 days, we'll see what, if anything, happens with Rose of Par Kluhnd. After being enrolled in the program for 30 days, I can do some nifty promotions through the program - discounts, etc., so that will be fun to try in about a month.
It'd be nice to see something happening with those sales numbers!

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.