Sentro knitted sweater vest

I made my first piece of clothing on the Sentro! It’s a rustic looking piece, made from all hand spun yarn and finished off this week with ribbing knitted by hand (yes, I am allowed to knit again). I used all the left over balls of naturally dyed yarn I had laying around in my stash, you may recognise some of the colours from my ’50 shades of beige’ dye series.

The process was quick and simple; I made two panels (like this) that were 40 stitches wide and long enough to go from the front edge, over my shoulder and down to the back edge. I then mattress stitched the two panels together up the middle, leaving a space for my head. A seam up each side, leaving a space for the arm holes finished the stitching part of the project.

Finally, I picked up the stitches from the bottom edge, removed the waste yarn and knitted a ribbed edge using 6mm circular needles. I repeated this for the neck and sleeves.

I have worn this vest to work and to town already. I love the feel of it on my skin and it makes me feel so self sufficient. I think I will have a go at making a jumper with sleeves next.

Natural Dyes – Dead man’s foot mushroom

On my walk this morning I found a lovely surprise. I was walking along slowly, much to the disgust of my puppy; Henry, when I saw a small brown lump at the edge of the path. This brown lump was a pisolithus arrhizus otherwise known as a Dead Man’s foot. This unassuming little sphere gives lovely rich browns and russet tones to wool in the dye pot… apparently. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. Of course I forgot to get a photo of it before bringing it home.

The brownish ball at the front of the photo is my Dead Man’s Foot fungus (such a charming name). The avocado skins and seeds are drying for future use as dye stuff.

I cut my prize in half and put a pot of water on to boil straight away. The two halves of the mushroom were just thrown in and plonked on the wood stove to boil.

You can see the immature spores at the top, they look like little golden spheres. The brownish powder is the mature spores.

After about an hour of boiling, The pot had a lovely deep brown colour. Most fungas dyes are substantive (meaning they don’t need a mordant to stick to wool), so I just wet my last skein of home spun wool yarn and popped it into the dye pot (in a paint bag to protect it from dyestuff).

The yarn was in the dye bath on the stove (at a steady simmer) for two hours. Then I let it cool, before taking the yarn out of the pot.

The colour wasn’t as dark as I wanted, so I popped it back in, along with an avocado seed as a mordant (avocado seeds contain tannin, which acts to mordant and slightly darken wool).

After another two hours simmering, it was taken off the heat and left to cool. Eventually, I washed the yarn in clean water and spun it out. The final colour is glorious! Variable browns and russets and a sneaky flash of yellow.

I love the colours in tis yarn. The yarn is a loosely plyed two ply from some merino fleece I was given long ago. From now on I will be searching the ground for these fungus as I walk, they are apparently fairly common in the Autumn and Winter.

Update: I found another one this morning!

This one is huge. You can also see the remains of the first one, I fished it out and plan on saving it to use again.

This is where I found the first one; growing out of the hard soil of the track.

I found the second one here in the soil at the edge of the road. The puppy is Henry, our newest baby. Look for an origin story soon.

Spring – Shearing time

Today was shearing day, we usually shear the sheep when the nights are warm enough for everyone to stay warm and the days are beginning to be uncomfortably hot. This Spring has been wet so far, which means that our sheep run the risk of being damp and warm for long periods of time (flies love that), so we messaged Karl, who shears our sheep for us, early this year.

Peri relaxing while she is shorn
Kracken losing her Winter wool

Karl came out and the sheep were shorn in no time. He always does a great job, treating them with care and respect and talking to them the whole time. This year they all behaved themselves, which is unusual, in previous years we have had to lasso escapees and even tackle one or two as they run past. Luckily, Karl plays football and takes it all in his stride. He seems to find us amusing, and laughs at the lengths we go to to keep our babies comfortable. We set up a shade gazebo for Karl to shear them under and then leave it up for a few days so they don’t get sun burned. We spray every little graze with antiseptic spray (the pink splotches) and give them a soothing feed of hay after their shearing ordeal. At the same time, he takes the time to make sure they are comfortable while he is shearing and they seem to just lay against him or on the ground while he works, and he talks to them like we do, so we count him as one of us, and so do the sheep.

Chloe and Karl leading Kracken to the shearing spot

I now have a bag of lovely wool from Eli to process into wool and knit or weave into something lovely. I could have saved more, but I have plenty of fleece to spin in my craft room already.

Eli after his shearing

Washing an entire fleece (in urine)

All right, this is a really yucky post. I have heard and read about how traditional spinners used to wash fleeces in urine to get them really clean. The theory (or maybe science) behind it is that the alkalinity of the ammonia in the urine reacts with the lanolin in the wool to make a very basic kind of soap. This soapy mess then cleans the wool.

Wool scoured in this way is then rinsed (multiple times, I imagine) to get rid of the smell. The resulting wool is soft and unfelted apparently. It also removes a lot more vegetable matter than other kinds of washing (according to the hype). I want to give this method a try, but not anywhere near the house.

This experiment needs;

A big tub with a lid: Thanks to a quick thinking husband, I found one of our fire safety bins (not so useful in the rain) and gave it a good scrub.

It does seem strange to be cleaning a bin that will hold urine.

A raw fleece: One of the partial fleeces I have in my stash should be small enough to fit in the container.

This one is a Merino cross fleece with a lot of dirt and lanolin in it.

A water source for rinsing: The garden hose has a 30 metre stretch and gives nice hot water on a warm day.

A place away from the house to minimise the awful smell it will no doubt produce: The far end of the yard, behind the garden bed will have to be far enough.

A whole lot of pee: It is just as well the urine should be aged for this, as there is no way our family can produce enough to fill this tub in a day or so. We use a bucket for night time pee trips (so we don’t have to go outside and wake the dogs and sheep up), so I just began to collect that pee in my handy bin instead of tipping it out way up the paddock.

Collection started.

The fleece is soaked in the urine for about a day (two if it’s really dirty), then the whole lot is tipped out and the fleece rinsed multiple times to take out any remaining smell.

The fleece in the urine, before it sunk to the bottom. This fleece is larger than I thought.
After the fleece soaked into the liquid, I did have to add some more water to make sure there was enough liquid to wash the whole lot.
The first rinse has washed out a lot of dirt and lanolin, but the smell is still there.
I filled the bin up with clean water and some home made soap and set the fleece to soak overnight. One more clean rinse after this should make the fleece clean and get rid of the smell.
It took quite a few rinses to get the water to stay clean (ish). I just kept refilling the containers and transferring the wool between them.
Finally, after four rinses, the wool is not giving off too much dirt.

The fleece is spun out in the washing machine and spread out to dry on a sheet in the sun.

I squeezed out as much water as possible and took the whole lot in to spin in the washing machine.
I lined the spinner with a clean piece of cloth and wrapped the fleece up in it to avoid small pieces of wool clogging up my machine. There was still a fair amount of dirt in the fleece as you can see by the residue it left in the spinner (it needed a good clean afterwards).
I spread everything out on a clean (but old) sheet in the sun. It will take all day to dry I think, even in 36 C heat.
The wool in certainly clean and hasn’t felted at all. It does still smell a little, but the sun will bake that off.

The result?

After carding,I have a usable fleece to spin.

My final immpression is that this is an effective way to clean a fleece if you have no soap. It does seem to stop the fleece felting and the wool is cardable and as soft as can be expected from a course fleece. The smell really put me off though. I think I will try washing a whole fleece with soap nuts again, but do the two day soak.

Lichen dyes – Usnea inermis

A new interest has floated into my mind over the usual holiday down time: lichen dye for wool. I have noticed that a lot of lichen grows on old fence posts beside the road. That started me thinking about what it is good for (as it turns out, quite a lot). I was driving home from a doctor appointment yesterday and began to notice the large amount of furry fence posts beside the road (much to the unease of the cars behind me, who must have been worried about my erratic steering and low speed), so I eventually pulled over and went to take some photos and collect samples to play with. I collected a couple of handfuls of lichen from a dead tree and took it home to play with.

Usnea

After a fair amount of internet sleuthing, I found a likely candidate: Usnea. I also found some other lichens (that I left in place for now).

Some other lichens.

It seemed to be a natural progression to make this handful or two of squishy goodness into dye, so I found a YouTube video to show me how it is done and off I went…

I plonked the whole two handfuls in a pot with water and put it on to simmer for an hour or so. Some videos say it can be boiled, some say to not boil it, some say to boil it then cool and boil again, some say once is enough. I will just play it by ear and simmer until I get some colour, and if that doesn’t work, I will boil it.

Apparently this species of lichen is also really antibacterial and can be used to treat infections on the skin. I think I will also harvest some to dry and keep on hand in my herb collection.

Yes, I did get two different types of lichen in my harvest.

Now I wait.

After about two hours of gentle simmering, I decided to try boiling as there wasn’t a lot of colour showing in the water.

After two boiling sessions the pot is showing an uninspiring yellow/brown. I can see some orange tones in it, but I don’t think I have enough lichen for the pot to make orange. I will see what my wool does.

Some sources say that wool needs to be mordanted and some say that mordant can actually interfere with the process. I am going with the no mordant camp for my first skein (mostly because I’m impatient to see what I get from the lichen). Usually the wool is soaked in water before being plonked into the dye bath, but I just put the skein in dry (due, again, to impatience).

Strained dye bath, looking a lot like aged pee.
In it goes.
Now we wait, again.

I am heating up the dye bath again, to increase the dye uptake. I will leave the pot on the stove for an hour or so, then I will let it all cool down and see what we get.

The result?? Beige.

The resulting beige colour is not that inspiring, but I can still see dye in the pot. I am going to dig out my iron mordant pot and see if adding iron to the pot will improve the colour a bit.

Yes, I know it looks gross, but it is really useful in dye pots.

I have added 4 tablespoons full of the iron mordant. The colour has improved straight away. I will leave the yarn for another half hour then see what I get.

Much better.
The final result.

After rinsing the yarn and hanging it to dry, I have ended up with a really pretty orange/brown. I think that I will iron mordant a few more skeins and gather some more Usnea (a lot more). I can imagine a pair of socks knitted in this colour.

I learned today that Usnea species gives a brown/orange colour in dye, that iron mordant brings out the orange tones in this dye and that I have my father’s ability to drive while thinking about things (that is… no ability at all). I will continue to gather and experiment with lichens and fungus in the dye pot, but I had better spin some new yarn to play with before I get too carried away.

Processing wool from Eli

Recently we had the sheep shorn for the year. A lovely man from a local town came out and did the job for us; after the year we tried shearing them with kitchen scissors, we decided the money is well spent. He bought his own equipment and was quick and efficient, we will be using him again I think.

Eli came out of the experience looking sorry and thin. We have been trying to fatten him up a bit, but it appears his age and breeding mean that he needs a huge amount of feed to get any weight on him at all. The current cost of feed and the fact that we have to pay so much for it means that our ability to fatten him up is limited, but we will keep trying.

The pink spots are antiseptic spray on the areas where he was grazed by the shears.
Eli is all angles and loose skin under the fleece.
Frieda came out of it looking like a black and white ball.

Eli’s fleece is lovely and long. He has quite a bit of crimp in the locks, but the wool isn’t particularly fine. There is also a lot of vegetation in the fleece (chaff and stray mostly), but I will have a go at spinning it, because I’m excited about using our own wool.

This is the fleece before scouring.
I used soap nuts to wash the fleece, the wool comes out so much softer and very clean.
Eli has been collecting dust and dirt this year.
Didn’t the fleece come out white and fluffy?
Carding it was a breeze; two passes over the carders and it was ready to spin.
The singles spun up smoothly and seem to want to be fairly thin. I think it will make about a sport weight yarn, once plied.

Even though processing some of Eli’s fleece cost me an extra bucket of water, I’m glad I tried it. It is a deeply satisfying experience to process your own fleece; especially when it is donated by a family member. I think I will try to spin enough to make a beanie for the people who raised Eli, they might like it as a keepsake.

Now I am wondering how Frieda’s fleece will process. This drought had better end soon; I need to wash a lot of fleece.

Meet Eli- new family member

Eli and Freida at breakfast

In all the rush and confusion around the start of the year I forgot to introduce our newest family member; Eli. We adopted him as a friend for Frieda, and our way of encouraging her to realise she is a sheep, not some kind of mish mash of human, dog and rabbit.

The full story;

Just before the end of the year (I can’t be precise here, I didn’t write down the date), I was walking past a group of Mums at school (the regular afternoon chat session, which I love to join, time permitting) when one of the lovely Mums called out to ask me if I wanted another sheep. I , of course, said yes (automatic response I’m afraid) then thought I should ask some pertinent questions. The back story was; a friend of this Mum had raised a lamb in the house (the same as Freida), he was a wether and had been a pet for her two year old son. She wanted to re-home him as he was being aggressive to the little boy. Sheep can become very pushy with those they see as below them in the social order. I thought twice about getting an aggressive sheep as they can be a big problem, but decided in the end to give him a go as we were desperate to find a friend for Freida since our old ewe Ma had sadly died from pneumonia. In order to get Freida to join the sheep herd, she first had to come to terms with the fact that she is a sheep.

I picked him up one day after work when the original Mum bought him to school in the back of her car. he was ensconced in a pile of hay in the back part of her four wheel drive with a collar and lead on. We woman handled him into the back of my car, a job which went very smoothly as he was eager to do whatever we wanted. His name was Eli and he was some kind of wool bearing sheep (i.e. not a shedding sheep or a hair sheep like the rest of my herd). He rode home in happy silence and jumped out of the car to meet Freida when she came barreling out of the humpy to see what was going on. They sniffed each other and got down to the business of finding grass to eat, they have been inseparable ever since. The house he came from was a very animal friendly one and it showed in his general nature.

Look at that happy face.

Eli is polite and calm, he is as trusting as it is possible for a sheep to be and allows us to do anything with him (obviously having never been hurt). He has shown no aggressive tendencies here (probably because we have no two year old humans in the herd) and has bonded to Freida well.

He enjoys sitting in the sun, eating (anything really) and having his ears scratched. He has developed a real love of corn flakes (we give him a handful as a treat sometimes) and chaff.

Eli getting a good ear scratch

Eli is a Dorset/merino cross, which means he has wool in some inconvenient places (like his belly and legs). He has been tail docked when he was a lamb, this procedure is essential in wool breed sheep as the underside of their tails are wool covered and, after a week or two, very poop covered. We will be getting him crutched (where the belly, legs and bottom bits are shorn on a roughly six monthly basis) as soon as we can get the shearer out here.

He has given us a huge amount of freedom as he has become Freida’s company and he will give me some beautiful fleece to spin as well. He has also given us the privilege of getting to know him.

Washing fleece with soap nuts

I have been using soap nuts to wash our clothes for a while now. I am really happy with the results; it cleans the clothes, takes out the sweat smells without adding any other scent and removes most of the stains. I also don’t have to rinse, therefore saving 50% of the washing time and water. I wanted to transfer those benefits to washing/scouring fleece for spinning, so I went googling of course (when did ‘googling’ become a verb?). There was only one reference to using soap nuts to wash fleece (that I could find anyway); Sheep Cabana blog. The post says to use them in place of the usual squirt of detergent. Another adventure begins.

I have MANY bags of fleece to spin. I always seem to collect more than I can comfortably spin in a year, even though I promise myself I won’t get any more until I spin what I have. Recently I looked at Eli (Freida’s companion, and best friend now) and saw that he has a good long fleece, all ready for a spring shearing. He is a Merino/Dorset cross, which means his fleece is fairly strong with a good crimp, but it should be soft enough for socks and gloves.

My go-to book when learning about new fibre types.
Eli will, hopefully, have wool that is slightly on the fine/soft side of this scale, thanks to his Merino ancestry.

Spring is only three months away, and with the spring comes usable fleeces from my sheep. I am setting myself a challenge; to clear some of the fleece piled in my craft room to make room for them. Usually, I wash, card and spin small, manageable lots. This time I’m trying my hand at bulk processing; I will wash a lot of fleece, then card or comb a lot of fleece, and finally spin, ply and wash a lot of yarn.

First, the washing;

This is the brand of soap nuts I buy. I hope to grow my own one day though.
I put a cup full of soap nuts into a saucepan with about two litres of water and bring it to the boil.
The resulting liquid; after I strain off the soap nuts. I use about half a cup of this liquid to wash clothes in but I think I will use a full cup for washing wool.
This is the pile of fleece to be washed; about a kilo in total.

Scouring fleece is a matter of simply making a fairly hot bath with detergent of some kind (in this case; soap nuts) and soaking the fleece in it. I use lingerie washing bags to hold my fleece because it makes fishing the soaked fleece out so much easier and I can just hang the whole bag on the line to dry. The trick is to avoid felting the fleece; I don’t agitate it at all, just push it under the water and I try not to change the temperature of the water quickly. This fleece took two soaks in the soap nut solution to come clean (it was a very greasy fleece), but it did come clean. After it is soaked, I throw the bags into the spinner of the washing machine and spin out the excess water. The bags are then hung on the line to dry.

A close up of the dirt and lanolin in the fleece.
A close up of the fleece after washing and drying.
There is now just over a kilo of fleece sitting in my ‘to-do’ basket waiting to be carded for spinning.

The soap nut/fleece scouring experiment is a success. I can now wash piles of fleece using soap nuts and not have to feel guilty about releasing all that detergent into my environment. I would definitely recommend using soap nuts for washing clothes and/or fleece.

making little fulled knitting bags

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I have been spinning a lot lately (whenever there is time), mostly from a coloured merino fleece I picked up  somewhere. The yarn is lovely and fine, but what to do with it all? So I decided to make some little knitting bags; the kind you can hang over your wrist and knit from, or stick your needles into and shove in your handbag when you realise the bus is pulling over at your stop (or is that just me?). I will spin the yarn, knit and full the bags then pop a ball of my yarn and some knitting needles into it and sell my ‘knitting starter kits’ at the markets (offering a free knitting lesson at point of purchase). I don’t know if anyone will take me up on it given the heat at the moment, but we will see.

My little bags don’t really have a pattern, it’s more of a knit-by-feel affair, but I will try to explain the process (with photos of course). First I find some spare homespun wool that I have been wanting to use for something and turn it into a neat little ball by putting it on my yarn swift and winding it off with the ball maker thing.

 

 

I then cast on some stitches, enough to make a decent square. For this bag I used 20 stitches and knitted a square base using garter stitch (knit every row). The square has to be big enough to fit a ball of wool on plus about 40% (to allow for shrinkage when fulling).

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A knitted square. I just love this yarn; caramel alpaca plied with gold thread

I pick up stitches around the sides of the square, trying to pick up the same number as my cast on side. The number of stitches on each side is not really crucial to success, but it does make things neater and easier to finish.

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I knit in rounds to make the sides until the bag is deep enough to hold a ball of wool, bearing in mind that fulling (or felting) makes the piece shrink, so adding about 40% to all measurements.

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My bag is coming together

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Now comes the tricky bit; handles. I have just discovered the Japanese knot bag design, and it suits the knitting bag design I have in mind. All I need to do is knit handles with one being shorter than the other…right?

This photo from the internet shows the design I mean

My little bag is a mini version of the one in the photo (knitted rather than cloth too), so the longer handle only needs to be long enough to loop around the wrist. I knit the handles by casting off until I reach a corner, knit some handle stitches (in this one I made them six stitches wide) then slip those stitches onto a stitch holder. Now I continue casting off until I reach the next corner. I do this all the way around until there are four sets of handle stitches (on stitch holders). Then I knit back and forward on one set of stitches using garter stitch until it is long enough to loop over to the handle stitch set beside it (that is the next set along tracing around the perimeter). I graft the handle onto the handle stitches using the three needle cast off. The other two handle stitch sets are done the same way but this handle is long enough to go over a wrist (plus 40%).

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Now the knitted part of the bag is finished, it is time to full or felt it.

 

 

Fulling is easy; just throw the bag in the washing machine with some detergent (I use shampoo actually) and let it wash for a few minutes. Fibre felts at different rates, so the fulling process may be really fast (if I used Icelandic wool yarn), or it may be very slow (if I used Suffolk wool yarn), but it will felt (as long as the fibre is wool and is not super wash treated). Alpaca is a medium speed felter, so it took about 15 minutes.

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The bags I have made so far in the washing machine ready to felt

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The finished bbag with a ball of wool and needles inside, ready to go. As you can see the bag shrunk quite a bit.

So now it’s back to spinning more wool from that merino fleece.

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Spinning Icelandic wool

For my next adventure into rare and/or old breed wool I decided to give Icelandic a spin (pun intended). I bought about 200g from a lovely lady on Facebook, it arrived as a neat little plait of combed roving with a picture and some breed information on the label. The skein smelled delightfully of sheep; warm, earthy and somehow mouth watering (the artist in this article had the same reaction to the smell of Icelandic wool).

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The good old Vikings seem to have really loved their sheep and took them everywhere they went. It seems that once they landed in Iceland they had very little contact with the wider world (the sheep not the Vikings, they went on to conquer other countries and found more sheep breeds) and the breed has remained ‘unimproved’. The Icelandic is known as the oldest and ‘purest’ breed of sheep because cross breeding has been banned in Iceland for many generations, keeping the genetics the same as they have been for the past 1100 years (except for naturally occurring mutations of course).

The tops in my little plait is a mix of both inner and outer coat (or tog and thel if you prefer) making my yarn a lopi type yarn. Lopi yarn is made by blending both layers of Icelandic fleece together and lightly spinning them to produce a soft, airy but long wearing yarn. The yarn I produced is not particularly loose-spun, I tend to make firmly twisted yarns, but it did blend into a lovely uniform grey and is fairly soft.

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I decided to card the tops again to blend the colours together a little more

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The rolags are very springy and soft

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Icelandic spins up into a hairy yarn. I did try to  spin with less twist, but my instinct is to add more

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I plyed my yarn loosely and ended up with a lovely soft grey yarn

I did discover that Icelandic wool felts very easily; I carried my plait of tops around with me to various locations while I was spinning and it seems that rubbing up against the plastic bag felted some bits of the outside. The felting carded out…thankfully, but it did remind me to be extra careful when washing my finished yarn.

 

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I don’t know whether to sell my yarn on my stall or…

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knit it into something to sell on my stall