Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Handspun Blanket

I set my mind upon making a blanket completely out of handspun wool. I need a wool blanket in my RV. My first bugout of the year has been in February the last two years. Its still winter in the mountains. That's where I go to escape the pesticide. I needed one that was clean, and safe. Everything, including organic wool that I've purchased has come with toxic processing chemicals or fragrance. So many "organic" producers don't realize that fragrance has pesticide, or that processing counts. I can wash a small amount of nasties out of cotton items but not wool.  The cotton items still get worn out in the washings. I just had to send back an order of Organic cotton balls today! They were so stinky my not toxically injured husband coughed and gagged. So, after I'd tried several organic wool sellers, I figured out I'm going to have to spin, dye and make my own. That was 2 years ago.


Its starts with sheep. These are my girls and boys.

First you pick out a fleece you want to use. I had purchased a merino fleece from another local grower. I decided to use that, along with my own wool. Originally I thought one fleece would be enough. Only merino has a short staple length. The shearer did such a poor job that a lot of it was too short. I ended up culling those short bits and used them for reupholstering an antique chair I was working on




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I used a beautiful organic color grown cotton for the upholstery, just so you know.  

But, back to the blanket project. This is Greta's fleece.
 

My husband, Ron,  is my hand model and helper here. Greta is a cross bred ewe that is English Leister over Wenslydale x Montedale. I was hoping the luster would contrast nicely with the fuzzy merino and add interest to the finished blanket. 

After shearing you can begin to wash the fleece. It takes 3-5 days soaking in water. The sweat and manure on the fleece contain enzymes that scour away the oils and stains. Honest! I've tried it without this method and the fleeces just don't come out as clean. I do this part in muck buckets outside. You follow the primary soak with washing in a degreaser bath and rinsing. Sometimes this step has to be repeated. Then the bags of fiber are placed on racks to air dry.

The dry fiber is removed from the bags, so I can wash more. It's then placed in the basket, ready to card. I use both hand cards, for short fibers, like the merino, or the drum carder for longer fiber like the second fleece I chose. I did a lot of carding with hand cards while in exile 2 years ago. I spun the merino with a drop spindle, as it gave me more control over those harder to control short fibers. I don't know if that's true for all hand spinners, but it was true for me with that fleece. This is Merino. The rolled up things are carded bats rolled together to keep the fibers from straying.





This is Greta's longwool fleece. Each bat is unrolled, divided into sliver, a mostly continuous ribbon, and then spun. You can see the sliver in the lower right of this next photo.


On the spinning wheel yarn is spun onto a spool. Thats a single. Two full spools are plied together using a larger wheel head called a flyer. It's spool is twice the size of the first spools to accommodate the mass. Then the yarn is wound off the flyer's spool into a skein. Its tied in several places to keep it from tangling during processing. I collect finished skeins in a separate basket. I also divide by color. Once I get enough skeins I take them to the kitchen for dying.




Before I dye, I scald. Its something else I've learned: the more grease you remove from the fiber, the better the dye job. So I scald in soapy water, then rinse well. This also sizes the yarn so I won't have shrinkage later. Its called fulling.



After the yarn is well rinsed, I get clean water, heat it and add the non-toxic dye. I usually forget to take a pic during this phase because even though its "non-toxic" my lungs are so damaged after that last round at the dentist, that I have to mask up, run the downdraft fan and work as quickly as possible. It still leaves me sick and congested. It will be better when I fined a safe property and can do it outside.

Anyway, the yarn remains in the dye bath, on simmer, for a specified amount of time. My medium colors were 20 minutes. My darker colors were 30. I wanted color variation as well. Since I can only dye 2 skeins at a time, I got plenty of variation. There's quite a bit of variation between the amount of dye the merino absorbed and that of the longwool. I dyed it 30 mins to achieve the same saturation level as the longwool at 20 minutes. After the dye bath the yarn is rinsed thoroughly and washed with detergent again, then rinsed. I squeeze out the excess water and hang them in the shower over night. The next day I place them on the drying rack in front of the woodstove and a cheery fire.

This first photo is the merino. I did all of it in 2 pots. Thats when I decided it was smarter to only do 2 skeins at a time.

These two skeins are longwool. Notice the slightly grayer color? The wool, itself, was a very light silver. It affects the final color. Once its completely dry I wind it into a ball.



Each ball has a different amount of of yarn. I have a tool that measures feet as I wind it into a ball. It depended on how much yarn I spun onto each spool and how thick or thin each single was. I aimed for a uniform size but I'm not that consistent yet. 

The next thing was to choose the pattern. I've mentioned in a facebook post that I was deliberating between weaving it and crocheting it. I chose crochet because its faster and it was getting closer to the time I usually bug out. I wanted it done this year, since I'm tired of being cold. If I didn't finish it in time I could take a crochet project with me. I then picked out and purchased an e-pattern. This blanket is made with a collection of squares. I tried to do each different square pattern from a specific dye lot. I calculated the amounts of yarn needed and according to the pattern specifications, I had enough. I began the final phase: Crocheting.

There are 6 large blocks and 4 different smaller block patterns of various amounts. I worked up all the blocks and discovered 2 things. The pattern was wrong on the numbers of each that were needed, and I didn't have enough yarn. This picture is of one of the large 15" x15" blocks.


Here are all the blocks with segments crocheted together.




Two years ago I was able to soak the fiber outside. Its become so toxic here that I can barely get outside safely even in the winter. There's also 2 feet of snow, and night time temps are in the teens. I've devised a five gallon bucket method of soaking, with a cover, in the house, but I can only do one net laundry bag of fiber at a time. Its going to take me a long time to process the wool into dyed yarn to continue the project. I doubt I can get enough washed dried and carded to have enough to spin by the time I have to bug out. I'm trying anyway. Here's what I have so far. Since I have to make more yarn anyway I decided to add a border. It may be next year before I get it finished. I decided to post this now because I know at least one person who's been checking for it.




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