Friday, November 29, 2013

Fix it Friday: Foray into Dyeing

So you know I buy sweaters in order to harvest the yarn they're made of. And often they're not exactly the colour you want. Or the colour was fine, but it was popular a decade ago and just isn't anymore. I've been intrigued by dyeing with Koolaid for quite a while and hear all about it from the Unravelers group on Ravelry. The main advantages (for me) are that it's readily available and doesn't need to be specially ordered, and it's food-safe so I don't need to have a separate set of pots and utensils for dyeing.

I told my sister that I was finally and definitely going to try a batch Thursday or Friday of this long weekend. I said it out loud, but I didn't really believe it. I have some sort of mental block to dyeing. It seems like lot to set up and do. But I woke up Thursday morning and apparently was determined enough to get it started. It's fun to surprise yourself, isn't it?

My first project was going to be this pale blue cashmere:
The colour isn't really ugly, but the yarn's been around long enough I realized I wasn't going to make anything from it. It's very pale and lifeless. I bought the sweater it came from at a yard sale for $2 so there was very little on the line if this didn't work. (Plus I only dyed the sleeves so I still have yarn from the front and back to try something else.) The yarn itself is very nice so if I could improve the colour, it would be very worth it.

I brushed up on my Koolaid colour theory from this site. (It's well-worth a quick look at that link...135 colours from combos of Koolaid flavours!) This page from the same site had basic instructions for the dyeing process itself. They use a microwave to heat the yarn, but I knew from other reading that you can do it on a stove top. I was doing enough yarn that I didn't want to try to fit it into the microwave.

Step 1: soak the yarn in water for about an hour:
Ok, step 1 isn't so hard.

Once the time was close to finished, I heated some water on the stove (in another pot) and mixed my Koolaid. They recommended 1-2 packets per ounce of yarn. I had 2.6 ounces and used three packets of Black Cherry (the only red flavour I had in the house). I mixed it in 8 ounces of water:
I thought there might be enough light by
the window to let you see the colour,
but there wasn't.
Ok, I can mix Koolaid.

Then I dumped out the water the yarn was soaking in and squeezed most of the water out so I didn't drip all over and added it to the water being heated on the stove.
Um, I can do that.

And then I poured in the Koolaid mix:
And then poked at it with a wooden spoon to mix up the colour and get it all over the yarn. (You shouldn't really stir or agitate as you may well felt the yarn):
That's not hard; I can do that too.

Then I let it stay hot on the stove (but well below boiling). You're supposed to let it go until the water is clear, indicating that all of the dye has been absorbed:
[I think I let it go a lot longer than necessary because the water still looked red. When I finally dumped it out, I realized it was just the colour being reflected. Oh well, no harm done.]

Then you let it cool down. Easy-peasy.

I was so encouraged excited by my apparent success, that I grabbed another yarn I couldn't stand the colour of
and started the process again. Pre-soaking:
I had a lot more of this yarn (3.5 oz x 3) so I needed more Koolaid. I decided to hit this one with purple instead of red. I had only five packs of Grape, though. But then I figured I could use Mixed Berry (blue) and Black Cherry (red) to make my own purple. I had two packs of each, and that would give me a total of nine packets, which would be a good start for that much yarn.

I mixed the Mixed Berry:
and added Black Cherry to make the purple. Here the mixed purple is on the left and the Grape mix is on the right:
I can't see a difference; can you see a difference? I know, I know, this picture isn't very conclusive as you can't really see a thing in the dark jar, but I found it encouraging nonetheless.

Yarn in heated water:
 Pour in Grape:
 and then the mixed purple and then spread it around:
Can you see a problem compared to the other yarn after it was mixed. Yeah, there's a lot of blue not being covered by purple. You can see it even better here:
You can also see that the water is blue. I think the red dye is absorbed more quickly, and I think it all started a little too hot so when I poured the dye on, it took really quickly where it landed and there wasn't enough to dye the rest of the yarn. As I understand it, this is considered normal for "kettle-dyed" yarn, which is essentially what this is. That's why Malabrigo yarns, though beautiful, vary widely from skein to skein, even in the same dye lot. Or it could just be that this is alpaca and the first batch I did was cashmere. I'm not sure.

In any case, I decided to finish the process and evaluate things then. I didn't get a picture, but the yarn is more even than I expected, but still shows a lot of blue through the purple. Troy likes it, but it's not what I want. I'll be buying more Koolaid and overdying it to even out the tone and maybe darken it.

By the time the second batch was done "cooking," the first batch was cool enough that I could finish it up. I dumped it out:
 and squeezed out all the water, and then hung it over the bathtub to dry. That's when I found a problem:
In the places where the skein was tied too tightly, the dye did not make it to the yarn and I was left with blue spots. I made sure to tie the skeins very loosely and I think this was from the original ties that I left on the yarn. That was a mistake.

As a side note, here are the ties that I used:
Some are acrylic and some are cotton. You can see that Koolaid has no effect on them. As far as I know, it works on animal hair/wool and silk only.

I was surprised that the cashmere was dry by evening and I could twist up the skeins and compare it to the original colour:
Big improvement, don't you think? I wasn't aiming for any particular colour and I figured any kind of red would be good. I'm very happy with it. Except these blue spots:
I guess I'll be buying more red Koolaid with my grape and then I can do a second Fix it to this particular Fix it Friday. But now I know, it's not hard and I can do it. (And tie it loosely!)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fold Over Hem

Here, I'll show you the end of the story first, so you won't be waiting in suspense:
I finished the knitting and seamed up my silk stripes sweater. It is now blocking and I am waiting for it to dry.

I haven't written too much about this sweater, as I see the last time I mentioned it, it was just getting restarted on a road September. I have been working on it regularly despite interruptions like Socktoberfest and some Christmas knitting.

Last week I finished the second sleeve and had to make a final decision about the hem. I had left the stitches live on the bottom of the sweater while I worked on the sleeves so I could sew the one seam (I got rid of the other seam by knitting the front and back in one) and knit the hem in the round. I also wasn't ready to make the decision of whether to knit the hem as a garter band (as designed) or to change it to a foldover hem. The garter makes more of a statement: "This is the end," but it's bulkier--not something I like at my hips. It also would match the garter bands I was doing on the bottom of the sleeves and around the neck. On the other hand, the fold over hem would be smoother, but provides no "oomph" at the end of the piece. I don't think I'm explaining this well. But some pieces need to end with a ! and others don't. But if they need it, but don't get it, it's like ending your sentence without a period   Not right.

Anyway, all that is to say, I debated it while knitting the sleeves and decided on a fold over hem. This is a nice silk shirt and I wanted a nice smooth finish.

I knit a stocking stitch stripe in the teal at the bottom of the piece approximately as wide as the pattern said to do the garter band. Then I knit a reverse stocking stitch row (the "purl ridge" you seen in the picture),
then I knit the same number of rows with the teal and the elastic strand it came with on a smaller needle. I figured the elastic and smaller needle would pull in the lining part of the hem and make it lie better. (Elizabeth Zimmermann's rule of thumb is to decrease the stitches by 10 percent for the lining, and I figured this would about do the same thing.)

Once that was knit, you turn the work so you're facing the wrong side:
 With the left needle, pick up the purl bump from the first row of the hem:
 Slide that picked up stitch toward the live stitches on the needle:
Then knit it together with the first live stitch:
and pass the stitch on the right needle over the new stitch to bind off. You work your way across the entire hem this way--picking up the previously knit stitches, knitting them with the live stitches and binding off. It took a while. But not as long as my usual method which is to kitchener the live stitches to the previously knit stitches.

With this method, in the end you get this:
Wrong side. You can see the chain of sideways Vs
of the bound off stitches.
and this on the right side:
With blocking, the tight line where the stitches were picked up is a little less. Because of how the stripes work in this pattern, some of the hem was picked up between teal rows (as shown above) and the other half was picked up right where the colour change happened. I expected the hem to be more obvious where it touched the gold, but in fact it was less obvious. I guess because your eye is focused on the colour change, it doesn't notice the hem line. In any case, it came out well and I am pleased. It's a little bulkier than the kitchener method but still a good method to use.

Now I am eagerly waiting for it to dry so I can wear it. I had it upstairs on a spare bed (my usual blocking "station") but the room was too cold and it was just as wet 12 hours later! I have moved it to the living room and it is getting there... (But not soon enough!)

P.S. I was so wrapped up in what kind of hem to do I forgot to sew that seam, which meant I knit the hem flat and seamed it later. Oh well, it works...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Cosy Tea Pot

It's that time of year. I'll be posting some projects that are Christmas gifts. If you think I may possibly be making you a gift and you want to be surprised, you should read these later. If you don't mind missing out on the mystery of what a gift may be (while retaining the mystery of whether something is for you), then feel free to read the posts. In general I'm not going to get into too much detail anyway. It is your choice. And considering I just don't make that many gifts, the vast majority of you are perfectly safe reading. (Although I guess you risk disappointment if you think something is for you, and then come January you realize it's not. Life is risk. Sorry.)

No that that is out of the way, this project was a "two-for" -- one for me, one for "giftee." I have wanted to make a new tea cosy for a little while. My old one doesn't match the new kitchen and was part of a set with some oven mitts and little pot handle covers for our cast iron frying pans. The oven mitts have been replaced, and the pot handle covers were functional but obviously singed and not holding up too well any more. So I thought I would make a new cosy and pot handle covers. And I knew someone else who could use some too. Get it done in time for Christmas and I had a nice little present, I thought.

First I had to find some fabric. Not too hard to do!
As soon as I saw the bright blue/multi colour elephant fabric in my stash, I knew that was the one for me! I also discovered an orange shirt in with my fabrics. It was a lovely shirt I found at Goodwill but was too small for Troy. I couldn't resist the colour and thought I could use it as fabric one day. This was the day. For the second set, I found some bright batiks. The green has pink allium blossoms and I paired it with an orange, pink and yellow all over pattern.

The first set was made from the Simplicity pattern 8693, a collection of kitchen appliance covers, place mats, oven mitts, apron, etc. At one time I had matching covers for the toaster, bread maker, coffee maker, plus the oven mitts, tea cosy and my own pot handle covers. (Don't judge me. All these appliances used to be out on display and the house was subject to much dust from Troy working in the basement.) And by now I was down to the tea cosy and sad pot handle covers.
I still had the pattern, so I pulled it out and realized the cosy was way, way too tall. I must have shortened it last time. (A reminder to make notes when you change something. You never remember what you think you'll remember. You often need what you think you'll never need again.) So I pulled out my existing cosy and make mods to match.

Last time I insulated with some quilt batting and a special heat reflective layer. (A thin silverish fabric they sell especially for making your own ironing board cover.) I wasn't too impressed with the job it did, so I didn't think I had to get so high-tech this time. I pulled out a sweater I had felted and used it instead. Here's the sweater:
It didn't felt particularly well and wasn't in a colour that I loved, so I thought it was a good candidate. I cut out pieces for two tea cosies and two "onderzetter" (the Dutch word I use for a trivet or hotpad because it seems more descriptive and sounds good with a Dutch accent) and two pot handle covers.
When I turned over the round piece, the tag centered
there so nicely surprised me. I guess that's what I get
when I center a piece on the center back of the sweater.
(I did cut it off before continuing.)
Once everything was cut out, it was time to layer everything. The onderzetters were easy--simply layer bottom, sweater layer, and top on top of each other.
I basted around the edges because there was no way I would be able to apply the binding with all those layers, especially considering the thickness. Two tips: run the foot so that the entire bottom surface contacts the fabric (don't hang it over the edge), but move your needle to the right so that you sew closer to the edge and don't have to take out these stitches later. Two, loosen the thread tension and lessen the pressure the foot applies. I'm lucky in that my machine will do this with one button that indicates I'm sewing thick layers. Your machine may have that too. Once it's basted, you can trim the edges even so you don't have to worry too much about having everything perfectly lined up. (I was in "get it done" mode, not "do it perfect" mode. It works for projects like this.)

For the tea cosy, I changed the construction a little to avoid having to bind the bottom edges. I sewed the lining and top fabric together along the bottom edge (with right sides together),
and then laid down the sweater layer and flipped up the top layer to cover it:
Then I pinned,
and basted:
Once I had two of those, I trimmed the edges even, and then basted the two piece together along the curved edge:
That is a lot of thickness!

Then it was time for binding. This is where I used the shirt again. It occurred to me that if I cut the sleeve on an angle, I had a ready-made bias tube to cut bias strips from. I tried doing a spiral on the first sleeve. That was not successful. (I think because it's not a straight tube, but is narrower on one end--the cuff.) On the second sleeve I cut one long line from the placket to the shoulder seam and then cut strips on either side for as much fabric as I had. I had to seam some of those pieces together but that's alright. (This also meant I had the existing sleeve seam as part of my binding, but I found that charming. Evidence of upcycling.)
Some of the bias strips. You can see the
sleeve seam in some of the pieces.
Since I needed shorter pieces of binding and wasn't going around one big piece, working with the shorter strips was very manageable.

No pictures, but I sewed one edge of the binding to all the pieces and then pinned for some hand sewing:
That is a pile of hand sewing to be done!
Last time I did the binding all by machine, but I don't really enjoy doing it that way so I did it by hand this time. It takes longer, but I find it too hard to make it look good when I do it by machine, and I've realized I just don't enjoy it at all, so why make myself do it because it's faster? To each her own.

An evening or two of sewing and I had all the pieces done:
The onderzetter came out bigger than I had in mind, but I followed the pattern. It's no big deal either way. I didn't have anything under the tea pot before, but I like the idea of insulating it from below as well. (Hmmm, Troy rubbing off on me, perhaps??)
I really like the thought that my tea pot is wearing a sweater.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Have you Heard of Swants?

Since I haven't gotten any links on my Facebook page, I will have to assume that most of you have not yet seen the swants sensation sweeping the internets.
Picture from Stephen West's blog here.
Stephen West, a very popular knitwear designer, put up a tutorial on how to make swants--sweater pants. In this case it was not only a tutorial, it was the genesis of a fad. It remains to be seen whether it's a fad to look and stare at or a fad to actually wear, but it got a mention on the Today Show so you know it has to be big.

I highly recommend following the link and looking at some of the other pictures on his post. (Skip the tutorial if you want and head to the end of the post.) Someone on Ravelry got it right when she said that you have to think of this as performance art, not clothing design.

If that is not enough swants-iness for you, then click here for his swants dance video. (It's shot in Iceland so at least the scenery will be good!)

Where this hits home for me is that I have been looking in the second hand stores for a while for a men's large sweater in silk or cashmere to convert to longjohns--essentially swants. But I was looking long before this post went up. And you can see from this post from 2010 that he isn't the first to think of it. I think he just used the loudest sweaters.

PS: I've heard lots of people say this would be a perfect extension of the classic "ugly Christmas sweater" party. Think about it...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Skirting my Baggage (Prequel to Part 2)

I said I would be making a strap for my "skirt purse" and I'm excited to report that I have it started.

I ordered some cotton "Curio" from Knit Picks, the giant online supplier of yarnie goodies. It's a lace-weight Mercerized cotton that was recommended by someone on the Ravelry tablet weaver forum.

I took a look at the website and thought three of the colours were exactly the brown, yellow, and green that I was looking for. It's hard to be sure on a screen, but I got lucky and they are great. Being Mercerized, the cotton has a beautiful sheen to it. I think it has a much nicer look than the "common" crochet cotton I've been using so far.

I've worn the purse a little since making it, even though the strap is a little short. I put a magnetic closure on it, which helps the purse from falling open and I've decided that the purse does need only one strap (not two as I was thinking) and should be worn crosswise over the body. I measured a bag I have and like and loaded up the loom.
I've made a few mistakes. (In fact you can spot a little one in the picture above if you look closely. No, I'm not going to point it out specifically.) The worst was one that I didn't notice for a few repeats of the pattern and it caused the cards to be turned in the wrong position. Long story short, the design still looks like diamonds and chevrons but the colours aren't in the right position. Once I figured out that something was wrong and discovered the cause, I was way too far to back out of it. Just not worth it. (No one is going to be looking at my purse that closely.) The only really sad part is that shortly after the mistake, I looked at my band and something didn't look right. But I didn't pursue it any further. Well, lesson learned.

I feel very much like the beginner knitters I watch. Slow and not really sure what's going on even as my fingers go through the motions! One specific example is that I put down the shuttle before I turn the cards, every time. It's like a knitter who drops the yarn before moving the needle for the next stitch. But that's what I need to do right now. (It really doesn't bother me--these thoughts come because it's a slow hobby and I have lots of time to think!)

I got the pattern from the same website I've used before. Click here to see the specific pattern. I changed the colours and then added an extra V going in each direction. You can't make those modifications online, but it's easy to do by printing two copies of the pattern and cutting and pasting. (I mean literal cutting and pasting with scissors and tape, not CTRL-X and CTRL-V!) I thought the strap was long enough that it could use a longer repeat.
This pattern is easy to keep track of. I'm sure even though you can't read the pattern in the picture above, you can see that it is very symmetric and repetitious. I keep a paperclip at the side of the paper to keep track of which section I'm on, and that's all I've needed.

One thing I did for the first time was add a border on each side. (You can easily see the solid brown border in the first two pictures above.) The neatest border requires you to always turn those cards the same direction no matter what the pattern cards are doing next to them. This causes those strings to twist up, making those warp threads shorter and shorter. To deal with this, I cut separate strands for those border cards (as opposed to a continuous loop). That way you can periodically untwist the strands.

But then you're stuck with how to tension those strands. If they're not wrapped in a loop, you have loose ends. Enter the highly specialized tool of a water bottle:
I tied a loop around the neck and just tie the strands from the right border to the strands from the left border through the loop. The full water bottle is a little too heavy, but obviously not that big of a problem since I haven't bothered to empty any of the water out.

Here's a shot of the twisting threads:
The ones in front (on the right) have been untwisted, but you can see how snarled the ones in back (left) are. Some people do this with the strands of every card so that they can untwist them. So far, I prefer to continuous loop and just make it longer than I need so I have room to "push" the twist into. (And in this pattern, the twisting that happens in one repeat is "untwisted" in the next so, except for the border cards, it's not really an issue.)

(Some take it one step further and attach each set of strands to a fishing swivel and that removes the need to manually untwist the strands. But it doesn't work with my loom so I'd have to use a different set up. I'm still tempted. The swivels are cheap so there's not a lot of cost in trying it. I'll do it some time when I have a pattern that requires it.)

I do have one other problem I may have to face soon. My border warp threads are much shorter than the rest. I thought I cut them all the same, so all I can guess right now is that constantly turning in one direction uses up more length. A second, less likely (I think) possibility is that it's because of the tighter tension from the heavy water bottle. But I would think that would make it use less, not more. I just don't know.
The blue line highlights the border threads hanging
down the back (without the water bottle for the
moment) and the pink highlights what is left of
the rest of the warp threads.
My band is pretty long. About 43 inches stretches down and left from the cards, down to the bottom, all the way across to the other side, left to the tension peg, up again, and down to the far peg, which is where the weaving starts. As I recall, I need 50 inches. And that's a generous measurement. So far I am thinking I'm going to end up tying the border warp threads to a waste string so I can weave right up to their ends. We'll see.

May I suggest?

I Say! or at least I did once...