Cotton Tales

bolls

Cotton Bolls

Cotton has been an important part of civilizations throughout the globe for thousands of years, with a history that is every bit as rich as it is mysterious. There is even an entire wikipedia page dedicated to the history of cotton in addition to the entry for cotton!

Today, we’ll be focusing on cotton fibers for spinning, starting with where it all begins: on a tree or shrub. Cotton is actually a tropical plant, so it thrives in a hot climate and needs lots of water. Harvesting cotton is a very tricky business: if done too early or too late, the cotton fibers will be of poor quality. Cotton growers test the cotton daily to determine the ideal time to harvest either by hand or with a special machine which removes the boll intact from the plant.

After the harvest, the cotton is ginned to remove seeds and remaining parts of the boll from the cellulose fiber. Most of you probably remember the name Eli Whitney from your grade school days: in 1793, he invented the cotton gin and revolutionized the way cotton was processed, giving way to the modern cotton industry we know today. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, the cotton fibers were painstakingly separated from the seeds by hand!

sliver

Cotton Sliver

Once the cotton is successfully separated from the seeds, it is usually carded into a preparation known as sliver. This is a preparation which is thinner than roving, and many commercial cotton yarns are spun from sliver. Cotton is a popular choice for warm-weather projects, but many spinners are intimidated at the thought of spinning cotton fibers due to their short staple length.

punis

Cotton Punis

Luckily, there are a few preparations which can make working with cotton much easier! Spinning from cotton sliver is a great place to start, since the fibers are combed into alignment when processed in this fashion.

Another preparation to try is cotton punis, which are similar to rolags . You can make your own or purchase ready-to-spin punis; while they can be spun on any wheel or spindle, they work especially well with the Charkha, for which they were designed.

Charkha

Charkha

A charkha is a spinning wheel which is ideal for spinning short-stapled fibers such as cotton, and it was made famous by Gandhi, who used it as a symbol for the Indian independence movement against British rule. In addition to spinning cotton, a charkha would come in handy for spinning angora, silks, or very fine wool.

Finally, cotton can be spun from the seed! This produces a very fine thread  and – believe it or not – is quite simple, as you can see in this video:

In our next blog post, we’ll have a special guest who will share tips for using cotton to spin textured, non-traditional yarns.

Thanks for joining us!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

 

Guest Post: Spinning Tussah Silk for Embroidery with Jillian Moreno

I’m fairly new to embroidery and spinning fine yarns has never been high on my list of fun until I found my reason – to embroider with it. The combination of embroidery and silk is really incredible. I do a loose, casual kind of surface embroidery, a few flowers here, a lovely edging there. It’s relaxing and so wonderful to be learning something new.

For me silk is so much more alive than cotton when stitching. Add the handspun element to that with it’s organic feeling and it’s pretty irresistible. I experimented with a bit of tussah silk top from Treenway Silk. I was curious to see how some basic embroidery stitches would look when I changed the ply twist in my yarn.

1 tussah silk

I spun my singles at about 40 WPI with a worsted draft, it’s as fine as I want to go right now, while I work on getting more consistent with my fine yarn. There are slubs in the tussah silk and unevenness in my spinning and I left them all in the yarn.

I like the look; I’m not trying to replicate machine spun threads.

2 tussah singles

I plied the singles with two different twists. One is plied just or a little under balanced. The second is plied with double the twist. Once I figured out the treadle count for a close to balanced ply, I used twice the number of treadles for the second batch of yarn.

3 tussah two twists

Then I stitched. I just did four of the most basic stitches to get a feeling for the difference. I did (bottom to top) back stitch, chain stitch and satin stitch outlined with stem stitch on linen.

4 silk stitches big

I used a needle with a bigger eye than I would for cotton, or even machine spun silk.

I wanted to make a bigger hole to pull the thread through so it would abrade less when stitching.

Back stitch shows the basic difference in thickness. The bottom line of stitches is the less plied yarn and the top is more plied yarn. The less plied yarn looks like a softer line. That visual softness will show more in other stitches.

5 silk backstitch

Chain stitch shows even more how the looser plied thread, bottom stitches, is softer and spreads out. The line looks almost fluffy. The top line with the tighter plied yarn looks crisper. I definitely use the different plies for different effects in stitching.

6 silk chainstitch

Look at the satin stitch circles. The left circle is the more tightly plied yarn and the right is the looser plied. The looser plied yarn spreads out and fluffs up. I used less yarn to fill the circle. The tighter yarn has more definition and more shine. The stem stitch around the outside of the circle is much more defined with the tighter twist.7 silk satin stitch (1)

I loved experimenting with tussah ply twist and stitching. I will use the tighter plied yarn for outlines and when I want a crisper line – stems, lettering, edges to divide or contrast. The looser plied yarn I will use for filling and edges that I want to be soft and for areas and lines of transition.

I wonder if bombyx silk would behave the same way? Now I’m off to experiment more!

jillianmorenoJillian Moreno is passionate about handspun yarn. She is perpetually curious and always is experimenting with spinning and using fiber. She loves to inspire other spinners to try new things. She is the Editor of Knittyspin, the spinning little sister of Knitty.com. She is a regular contributor to Ply Magazine and sits on the editorial board. She is currently working on a spinning book to be published by Storey Publishing. Keep track of all of her crafty and other pursuits starting April at www.jillianmoreno.com She lives buried in a monumental stash of fiber and books in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

All About Silk!

Tussah Silk

Tussah Silk

This March, we’re experiencing some serious silk madness here at the Woolery!

When most people think luxury, they think of silk. It’s soft and smooth, adding a signature shine to any fiber it’s blended with. The trade of silk dates back thousands of years; you may have heard of the Silk Road, which was a 4,000-mile long route linking China to India, the middle east, and Europe. The trade of this valuable fiber was so important, a wall was built to protect the route – also known as the Great Wall of China, which can be seen from outer space!

Bombyx Silk

Bombyx Silk

There are two classifications of silk: tussah and bombyx. Tussah silk is sometimes referred to as “wild” silk because the fiber can be produced both in the wild and captivity; the moths feed on several types of vegetation, most of which contains tannins which give the fiber a range of colors from pale cream to dark brown. However, the term tussah silk is now used to commonly mean any silk that isn’t bombyx: that is, cultivated using several different (yet closely-related) moths who are fed only chopped mulberry leaves, which produces the purest white fiber.

Silk Noils

Silk Noils

Silk is available in three grades:

  • Reeled, which is the finest grade available, though it is most often reserved for commercial-produced textiles.
  • Spun silk, which is most commonly found in yarn and is generally made using the waste silk from the reeling process.
  • Noils, which are fibers left over from the carding and combing process; they are easy to dye, and create a textured yarn with flecks of the dyed colors when blended into wool. They can also be used in paper-making!

Spinners are fortunate to not only have a variety of prepared silk fibers and fiber blends available to them, they can also purchase silk cocoons, hankies, or caps.

Wrapped Silk Hankies-500x500A cap is similar to a hankie, but it has a round shape, while a hankie (pictured above) has a square shape. To spin from either a cap or a hankie, simply work from the center, making a hole and stretching the fibers with your hands far apart. After it is stretched, break the circle where it is thinnest and draw the fiber out until it is manageable (thin enough in diameter) for you to spin.

silkcocoonsSpinning from silk cocoons requires a bit more preparation; click here to read an informative article on KnittySpin which will walk you through the steps from start to finish!

Our next blog post will feature special guest Jillian Moreno, who will be sharing her silk-spinning stories and expertise with us!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Guest Post: Wet Finishing with Laura Fry

We’re pleased to welcome accomplished weaver Laura Fry as our first guest blogger on The Woolery Blog! In this regular series, we’ll be introducing you to some of the best and brightest fiber artists as they share their knowledge and skills with us. We hope you’ll enjoy this new feature, and welcome your suggestions for future posts!

All the Best,

Chris, Nancy and the rest of the Woolery Team

It Isn’t Finished……until it’s wet finished.

New weavers are often quite surprised to discover that once the threads are interlaced into a woven web that they don’t actually have ‘real’ cloth.  Yet.  There are a few more things that need to happen.atq7

After cutting the web from the loom, take the time to inspect and repair anything necessary, like broken ends, skips and floats.  I prefer to clip the weft tails flush with the surface of the cloth, although some people like to leave a little bit to trim later.   If so, keep them short – no more than about an inch.  Longer than that and they can tangle in the final step in the process of turning threads into cloth – that of wet finishing.  If applying a hard press, the long tail can leave an impression in the cloth, so clip them flush before compressing.

What is wet finishing?  It isn’t ‘just’ washing it, although it may look a whole lot like that.

Wet finishing refers to the very first time the woven web meets water after being woven.  I like to distinguish between wet finishing and on-going laundering because the wet finishing process may be much harsher than ordinary cleaning of the textile once it has been put into use.aurora2

This is especially true of woolen yarns.  Woolen yarns have been spun with the intention of some degree of fulling happening during wet finishing.  This means agitation!   New weavers get very concerned about ruining their hard won efforts because we have all had the experience of washing a favourite sweater and taking it out of the washer or dryer the size of a doll sweater.

Agitation is the engine that drives the process of fulling.  During fulling the fibres migrate and compact which means you wind up with a much more stable, warmer textile.  Once the cloth has been brought to its finished state, however, all the rules you learned about not agitating something made from wool come into play.  Additional agitation will apply additional fulling, eventually ruining the cloth for its intended purpose if done to excess.

If you have never done any fulling, the best thing is to do it by hand.  Draw enough warm water to cover the cloth and add a little soap or detergent.  (Which one you use will depend on the quality of your water; for hard water use a detergent without whiteners, brighteners or perfumes, for soft water you can use either soap or detergent.)

The soap/detergent will do two things:  act as a surfactant, breaking down the surface tension of the water so that the fibre can more easily absorb it, and scour the oil/dirt from the yarn to clean it.

You don’t need a lot of soap/detergent – the maximum amount of suds I want to see on the surface of the water is one inch.  Usually I use less soap/detergent and add more if required as the scouring process happens.

Once the cloth is clean the agitation begins.  Run a fingernail over the cloth from beneath.  Watch to see how unstable the threads are.  As the agitation begins the fulling process, monitor the stability of the cloth by running your fingernail across the threads.  Once the web is stable enough for its intended purpose, rinse and dry with the cloth laid flat.  Larger pieces can be Z folded, turning from time to time to make sure it dries thoroughly.

For cotton, I use the washing machine and the hottest water available on a gentle wash and rinse cycle.  After wet finishing, which generally includes a hard press or cold mangle (compression – one with heat, one without), care instructions read “Machine wash warm water, machine dry until damp, iron on medium heat”.

Rayon yarns wet finished in the washing machine are done on warm water wash, warm water rinse, gentle wash and rinse cycle.  Some people prefer to wet finish their rayons by hand.   My care tags generally read “Wash by hand, hang to dry, press on cool if desired.”magic12

Wet finishing will change the woven web.  Sometimes the change is subtle, sometimes it is dramatic.  But once wet finished the cloth will be more stable, will therefore snag less and wear longer.

Welcome to the wonderful world of weaving!

Laura fry is the author of Magic in the Water; wet finishing handwovens as well as other self published titles and teaches weaving in North America. A frequent contributor to magazines, she also has a popular blog.

A Fibery Start to 2014

IMG_5272Later this month, the Woolery will be heading to the Fiber Frenzy Retreat in Lexington, KY (February 21-23) ! We’re excited for this fiber-tastic event – it’s a great way to start the new year! If you’re new to the fiber festival scene, you may want to check out our  blog post from last year which has some great tips for getting the most out of your fiber festival-going experience.

When you’re not immersing yourself in fleece and fiber, we highly recommend checking out some of the excellent classes offered to build your skills! Three members of Team Woolery will be teaching workshops at the retreat, so we’d like to take a moment to introduce you to some of the friendly faces you’re likely to see at the Fiber Frenzy Retreat:

nancyreidNancy Reid
Nancy has been knitting since the age of 5; since then, she has added spinning and weaving to her repertoire. For the last 12 years, she has taught spinning and weaving classes at festivals and retreats as well as privately. Nancy’s expertise is a valued asset on Team Woolery: she even has Blue State Fair ribbons for weaving, spinning, and knitting!

Nancy will be teaching a free workshop demonstrating how to safely and effectively use a wool picker to process fiber.

taeviaTaevia Magee
Taevia first started playing with yarn when she was six.; since then, she has learned  how to knit, spin yarn, weave, tat, and hook rugs. As a part of Team Woolery, Taevia combines her love of fiber and teaching to help others learn about rug hooking so that they will come to love wool and other fibers as much as she does!

Taevia will be teaching an intermediate class on spinning cotton with a Tahkli Spindle.

annaAnna Latek
Anna is fortunate enough to have been taught sewing, knitting, crochet, and embroidery by her mother and grandmother. It’s no wonder that a career in the textile and fiber arts was a given, and Anna studied costuming and textile history in college to enrich her fibery pursuits. In recent years, she has explored felting and loves to share the magic of the fiber arts with the world at large.  

Anna will be teaching a beginner class on Kumihimo braiding, an ancient Japanese weaving technique used to create lengths of beautifully-detailed cording for the Samurai, geisha, and every class in between

If you’re lucky enough to be in attendance, be sure to say hello to Nancy, Taevia and Anna if you see them, or stop by our booth to say hello!

Guild-Rewards-Banner
The Woolery strives to be a part of the fiber arts community and it is part of our mission to strongly support guilds and its members, who work so hard to keep the crafts alive for future generations.

In support of these efforts, the Woolery offers the Woolery Guild Rewards Program (WGRP), which has two main components:

1) Participating Guilds will receive a yearly cash reward based on purchases made by its members.

2) Participating Guilds can receive a Grant from the Woolery through our Woolery Humanitarian & Community Outreach Grant.

Click here for more information or to apply!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

From Sheep to Shawl

IMG_5289

Shearing a sheep

In our last blog post, we shared some ideas for crafty resolutions in 2014. On today’s post, we have one more to add to your to-do list for 2014: make a project from start to finish as only a die-hard fiber fanatic can….from sheep to shawl! ‘Sheep to Shawl’ is an expression that means you learn everything you need to know to make a shawl from start to finish, from raw fleece to a finished fabric. Of course, you don’t have to make a shawl from your finished handspun. You could just as easily go sheep to shoe or sheep to chapeau!

If you’d like to give this a try in the new year, we’ve created this easy guide to making your sheep to shawl dreams come true in 5 easy steps:

1. Select Your Fleece
We’ve blogged about various breeds of sheep, and there are plenty of fantastic books dedicated to the subject as well. Perhaps you have a favorite breed of sheep to spin with, or would like to experiment with a new-to-you breed for this project.

Most likely, you will need to wash your fleece before you begin preparing it to spin. If you are new to this process, here is a quick tutorial video to walk you through each step: 

2. Prepare Your Fleece
Now it’s time to card or comb your fleece to open up the locks and prepare for easy spinning. The process you select will depend on what type of yarn you’d like to make and what type of fleece you are working with:

carders

Carding processes raw or washed fibers to present them in a spiral fashion. This traps more air and makes a springier Woolen yarn which is more insulating, though it is not as long-wearing as a Worsted yarn. The most common fibers to be carded are cotton or wool, but a variety of fibers can be carded: alpaca, llama, soy fiber, and even dog hair!

combhackles

Combing produces a parallel presentation of fibers for Worsted or Semi-Worsted yarns. These yarns are longer wearing, smoother, and less insulating than woolen yarns. You can use a pair of hand combs or a single hackle; in particular, hackles are used for dehairing fleece and blending dyed prepared fibers.

You can also watch this short tutorial video to learn more about the differences between combing and carding!

3. Get Spinning
Now it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: time to spin your yarn! As we mentioned above, your method of processing the fleece will play a role in the finished yarn’s outcome, but how you spin it will also play a part. While there is a lot more technical information on this subject which is covered in books, DVDs, and classes, we would like to touch on one subject: long draw vs. short draw methods of spinning. In general, the short draw method gives most spinners more control, whereas the long draw allows spinners to spin more consistently because they have a better view of the process as they work. We encourage you to experiment to see which method you prefer!longdrawspinning

4. To Dye or Not to Dye
You may wish to dye your handspun yarn before knitting or weaving with it (click here for more information on DIY yarn dyeing on this blog), or you may decide that the natural color of the fleece is perfect the way it is!

5. Weave, Knit, or Crochet
Now it’s time to find the perfect project for your handspun creation! Some of our favorite resources include KnittySpin, Weaving Today and Ravelry. We’d love to hear about your projects using handspun yarns over in our Ravelry group!

We look forward to hearing about your sheep to shawl adventures in 2014!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team

Crafty Resolutions for 2014

Happy new year! As winter plods on, it’s a great time to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the new one at hand. We’re excited to make 2014 the craftiest year yet at the Woolery, and we hope you’ll join us! There are plenty of ways to get crafting and STAY crafting – below are just a few ideas to consider. We’d love to hear about your own crafty resolutions!

Find your community. Whether it’s online or at your LYS, finding a group of fellow crafters is a great way to exchange ideas and stay inspired. If you’re fortunate to have a local guild, they may have a  group which meets regularly (or they may know of one to refer you to). Ravelry is another great spot to check for knitting, spinning and weaving groups in your area.

ffr

Mark your calendar. There are plenty of special events to enhance your crafting in 2014! Fiber festivals, craft conventions, and workshops make great day trips (or destinations to dream of).

In fact, there is an exciting event happening in our neck of the woods next month: The Fiber Frenzy Retreat in Lexington, KY, which is taking place February 21-23! The Woolery will have a booth at this fiber-licious event, and we hope to see you there.  If you aren’t able to travel far and wide, consider joining a virtual event this year such as the Tour de Fleece, Spinzilla or Halloweave!

saoriweavingTry something new. The great thing about the fiber arts is that there is always something interesting to learn. Perhaps you already have something in mind, or you can add one of these suggestions to your crafty to-do list:

  • Try a new type of fiber. Spinners have access to all kind of breed-specific fleece, roving and top, but fiber artists who don’t spin can still get in on the fun! Make it your mission in 2014 to be on the lookout for interesting fiber combinations when shopping for your next project, it’s a quick and easy way to make crafting lively in the new year!
  • Expand your skillset. You can delve deeper in your chosen area by learning advanced techniques for spinning, weaving, felting, knitting or crocheting. There are plenty of books and DVDs for those who prefer to learn at home (or you might want to check out our YouTube channel for free tutorials); hands-on learners may wish to sign up for a class or workshop.
  • Try a totally new-to-you craft. Weavers, knitters and crocheters may be interested in adding spinning to the mix, while spinners may like to give needle felting a try…what a great way to use up those odd bits of fiber in your stash! If you find yourself with too much yarn on your hands (is that even possible??), weaving is a great way to destash quickly – knitters and crocheters take note!

If you get stuck, we have a support thread right here in our Ravelry group where you can ask your questions and get help from our team of experts (as well as our knowledgeable group members)!

All the best,

Chris, Nancy, and the entire Woolery team