Friday, December 19, 2008

Cat weaving class

First select your loom. This looks about cat size.
Lifting the heddle off with your teeth requires practise.
So where's the yarn?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

haircut day and some weaving

When is a suri not a suri - when it's shorn this close, the fibre left shines like velvet.
A morning spent at Allan and Jackie Grant's alpaca farm and assisted (bagging fibre and sweeping) whilst 9 alpacas got their annual haircuts. One very pregnant suri seemed very glad to shed her heavy hot coat.
The tui (adolescent) alpaca in the photo below was a bit fearful this being her first shearing experience but she was very good really.This is what is on my loom at home, the yarn is handspun, would have liked it to be finer, natural coloured huacaya alpaca being woven in a swedish lace pattern.Being woven into a baby blanket.
Moral of this weaving is keep your loom in good order. One by one the string tying the sticks to the front of the apron broke and had to be replaced. Wish I'd done them before tying the warp on.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Nearly the weekend.

Playtime on the loom. This little four shaft loom lives at the Textile co-operative shop and when I have time it's nice to weave something , this time just for fun. I dug out some of the 4ply wool yarn I'd dyed for the shop and put it in both the warp and weft, different colours, and wove plain weave, changing colour and even incorporating textured yarns at random, just enjoying the weaving process. The fabric is now off the loom and after I've washed it I'll see what it wants to be.
I can't keep up with the carding, as the batts go into the shop they just disappear. I was hoping to get to spin some myself. They do require a lot of work as the raw fibres get washed, dyed, carded in their individual colours before recarding into multicoloured blends. The best bit is mixing the finished colours together at the end.
There are more tourists about now in Oamaru, hope the weather warms up soon, it's been really cold today and a frost is predicted for the early hours tomorrow. Our neighbour will be out early with his helicopter protecting the vineyards from frost. The grapes are well on in Otago and elsewhere so frost warnings this late into spring are not taken lightly.
Anyway I'd better go and soak some more fleece for dyeing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Show Time

Halter trained and looking our best
Show time at the National alpaca Expo in Christchurch this month.

Enrico and Andy looking good, one of them won first prize.

This was a big class and required lots of patience for both handler and alpaca.
About 300 alpacas on show. I had a good view from our stand, sat and spun my yarn and enjoyed the view.
Not a big public turn out and day one was very warm. No big sales but enough to make it worthwhile coming to the expo and good to chat to people and admire their beautiful animals.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The colour of spring even though it's not here yet.

Some soft colours for lovely soft alpaca. Natural dyeing requires lots of bowls, so another trip to the second hand shops is due. It takes time to soak all the plant material overnight, boil it up, mordant the yarn and leave it to cure for several dyes before finally combining the yarn and dye to cook in some colour. It's a slow process and one I'm enjoying despite my busy days. Mostly these things can happen whilst I'm doing something else. So after a week or two of waiting here are the fruits of my labour, all washed and reskeined.
The plants I've used for these include brazilwood, and madder, osage orange, sandlewood and the little dried cochineal beetle. The paler shade are exhaust baths and mixing some of the dyebaths together.
The photo below shows one of my yarn displays at the Oamaru Textile Exchange. The yarns on the left are the natural dyed ones and the others are acid dyed handpainted skeins.
Next on the agenda is fustic, eucalyptus and indigo. Just mordanting another pile of yarn with alum. I'll take some more during shots.
It's been pretty variable here weatherwise, rain, wind, cold, sunshine, the works in fact. A few little lambs running around the neighbouring paddocks but not nearly the number as last year thanks to irrigation and the dairy industry growing so fast here. What a shame cows don't have woolly coats, black and white on one animal would be really useful.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Carding a cloud or two.

A day off from office work has been a good catch up time for carding some stock to replenish the shelves at the Oamaru Textile co-operative shop. This is carded batts of alpaca, merino and silk.
I'ts taken me the day to card this pile (there's about 2 kilos) of different colours, each blend is put through my supercard twice. This is on top of the time spent to find and buy the fleece, wash it, sort it, card it, dye it, wash it again, dry it, recard into colour blends, now all thats left is to label it and hope it finds good homes. I've been really pleased at the number of felters who have been buying my fibre too as well as spinners. It's so tempting to keep half of them to spin myself.

The green batt is an example of a silk and alpaca blend.
And a photo of a cushion cover where I dyed the yarns and stitched the cat on canvas from a Kaffee Fassett embroidery pattern. Its about 10 years old now and the cat is often snuggled up against it.

What have I been spinning, some alpaca and silk spun fine..ish to go on a warp for either a scarf or shawl.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Back to nature....sort of.

Various things recently have rekindled my interest in natural dyeing. One was a discussion with a couple of people on different occasions about dyeing with woad and whether it is possible to grow woad here in NZ since it is a noxious weed in some countries. This inspired me to dig out my dyed samples from about 15 years ago. All I could remember was that it was a lot of work both in preparation and the actual dyeing compared to dyeing with synthetic dyes.
Next step led me to digging out of the bookcase several of my natural dye books for a few nights bedtime read and suddenly yearning to do some plant dyed yarns again.
The yarn harlot always talks about the addiction of the yarn fumes. Handling and yes even smelling those softly coloured dyed yarns took me right back to those 'cooking days' when the pot on the aga might possibly contain soup or simmering weld plants. Some of the smells were definitely not as attractive as food. NZ lichen and recent samples.

Now I have a dyeing shed and everything happens away from the kitchen (to my family's relief).
I've spent some (okay a lot) of my spare time mordanting yarn (in particular my alpaca yarns), simmering dyestuffs such as madder, cochineal, osage orange, sandlewood and dyeing. Because the processes are lengthy but need some pot watching, I've been listening to podcasts and hand combing. I discovered David Reidy's 'Sticks and String' podcast recently and have had some enjoyable listening going through his archives, as well as my usual time spent with Knitcast and weavecast. The sludge of osage orange left after the first simmering and dyebath.

The magical moments of natural dyeing... what is in the pot simmering won't reflect what the actual colour is going to be and even the dye liquid only gives you a little insight. Plus what you get is.... what you get, and the next skein dyed in the same pot will be different, how the colours exhaust can also lead to surprises, just leaving the skeins in the pot overnight can deepen or change the colour. Leftover sandlewood with cochineal .

The lichen samples below are dyed from the unique NZ sticta coronata and a small sample of this lichen goes a long way as presimmering it produces the pinks and purples followed by the fawns and pale yellows. It can be revitalised and colour altered with either an alkaline added or acid.
Although I've only be mordanting with Alum this time round, this lichen doesn't need a mordant at all. It also smells gently of the earth when you simmer it...
This is dyed on my handspun suri alpaca.

Monday, June 23, 2008

S is for silky suri spinning.....

Photo of Que Cee courtesy of Flagstaff Alpacas.

Part 1. – an Overview.
I have dallied with suri fibre now for three years plus, ever since I found some sources of regular fibre. During this period I’ve researched by google, library, alpaca breed magazines and from the Suri’s mouth so to speak. There’s nothing quite like the hands on knowledge of touching the animal as it grows it’s fleece.
There’s always a thrill in seeing Suri alpacas in the flesh. I think they’re so graceful and beautiful with the sunlight reflecting off their lustrous coats.
How I’d love to own a few.
So it’s no surprise that there are several sackfuls of raw suri fleece in my garage, and carding room. All different colours, styles of ringlets, and weights. All with the names of the individual animals on them. In many cases, the name conjuring a picture of a place each calls home and a quick stroke of the fibre on the animal’s back. The surprising cool slickness through my fingers before the Suri moves off to graze or join the rest of the herd.

Converting raw suri fleece to yarn is not for those in a hurry for several reasons:
1. There is no crimp, only slippery, shiny waves and curls. The fleece lacks cohesion unlike sheep’s wool, so once off the animal, the locks lie individually on the table and separate.
2. Tight ringlets are not easy to pick open into a fluffy mass. Opening by hand is still the best way of creating a fluffy cloud ready to be carded.
Opening and fluffing with hand cards does a really nice job too, then I drumcard.
Putting them through a mechanical picker is less satisfactory,particularly if the locks are
fine with tight locking.They go straight past the teeth.
3. Suri fibre needs to be fed into a drumcarder at a relatively low speed,it builds static easily
and can be very flyaway.
4. Lack of crimp means there is no ‘bounce’ to the yarn, it does not shorten in width once it is washed, and will make a heavy yarn if spun thickly. However, it makes lovely, sleek, soft, fine yarn. Think silk……..
5. It is not like spinning wool at all, more like mohair.

Initially I began combing raw locks by hand using a pair of Majacraft hand combs.
The locks being relatively long create luxurious hand combed top which is so easy to spin, however, there is at least 40% waste, some of which can be carded,but comes off the comb all mixed in with debris, dust and very short fibres.The top is well worth the effort and spins into a really sleek, silky yarn.
Hand combing is time consuming and can be hard on the hands and wrist.
Spinning hand combed top is easy and fast. The subsequent yarn needs plenty of twist but will be strong and less likely to shed(all the short fibres have been removed).So I comb suri for my own yarns,but the method of preparation is too time- consuming to make it a viable product for our shop.

Drum carding on the electric carder needs the fleece well washed and opened(usually by the hand method, and hand cards).Again the finished batt reflects the amount of work put into sorting the staples,removing the debris and opening the fibre well and feeding the suri into
the carder slowly.
Dyeing suri can be done at the fleece stage or as yarn.Dyeing raw locks is easy, the fibres don’t felt readily.Tight locking structure in the fibre can resist dye, so soak fleece well before dyeing
and bring the dyebath up from cold, or better still soak the locks for 20 minutes or so in the dyebath prior to heating it. Suri take natural dyes well too.

Suri blends well with wool (I usually use merino for softness),silk of course, tencel, mohair, bamboo etc.The choice is yours. The silk and Suri blends are gorgeous.
Suri adds lustre and shine to the matt merino.The merino gives the Suri some ‘tooth’ and elasticity to the mix.70/30 or 50/50 make good blends, the Suri properties are visible even at 30%.

Spun fine, a little suri fibre goes a long way and is ideal for lace scarves,wraps etc and in woven cloth.I’m keen to brush some to make a light ‘mohair’ style shawl.I have noticed that a nap is raised and the 100% Suri yarnsfluff readily if the skein is handled a lot.
I also think suri would make a great boucle yarn and perhaps cabling a yarn
for added smoothness and shine. Handspun Suri yarns and blends below.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

missing....lost under a pile of fibre

I'm still here, somewhere.
Although my blog is quiet its because my hands are so busy at the moment.
Trying to get some of my commission pieces done, the list is getting longer.
I have two classes to teach very soon which require kits and yarns to be packaged, lessons planned in depth and samples to complete.
All on top of the day job, which requires our business accounts to be balanced and complete for the annual audit...aghhh... asap.
Then there's the siren song of the beautiful baby Guanaco fleece waiting for me to spin and an idea for a weaving mulling around in my mind.
I'm also guilty of a bit of procrastination, spending time trawling ravelry.
Will take some photos of the present projects to post soon, when I can find the camera again from under the pile.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

packing up fibre to go.

Last night I spent a good while packing a suitcase and boxes with suri fibre blends and a few yarns to take to the Dunedin Spinners and weavers meeting today,where the reception was warm despite the chilly weather. Our first truly winter day here in the south.
Came home with a lighter suitcase, thanks folks.
The box of batts on the left is a lot emptier now.
Even in this photo the lustre of the suri and silk is visible. I enjoy giving talks and demos on my fibre obsession although I always worry beforehand (and repack and double check) as I'm affraid of leaving something important behind. Like my prompt notes, or the hand outs I need.
Once back home I had a short dyeing session as I need a few more skeins for Tote shop.
Must be the cold, or meeting Stella in person, but I feel some sock knitting coming on, I've only completed one pair in my knitting life, the yarn will be hand dyed I think and I have a fairly straightforward pattern to begin with, and I could sneak it in to work.
Actually today was a successful day for everyone, my daughter got her formal dress in town, husband spent some time in Katmandu although he forgot the frying pan purchase he has bought some more shirts so I can tear the old ones into rags (when he's not looking), and son bought himself a cool jacket and umbrella,occassionally it rains in Oamaru:)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter to dye for

Last view of the fabric I've been weaving since the beginning of January on my Jack loom. It's a herringbone twill in natural sheep colours. It's now off the loom and being tailored by Chantel from the Oamaru Textile Exchange into a vic torian style costume.Pictures to follow when we complete the outfit.I'm very grateful to Chantel for offering to do this, my sewing leaves a lot to be desired.
Hot weather still continueing so dyepot was busy over Easter holiday. The blue stuff below is Suri locks dyeing in an electric frypan.
Did loads of carding too on my electric carder some for the shop and the rest for my talk,demo, sales at the Dunedin Spinners and Weaver's meeting day in April.

What am I making crochetwise at the moment.
A shawl for myself, it's going to get cold this winter in out stone building at Tote, and a crochet rug (blanket) from an alpaca fleece for a commission.
Photos to follow when further along.

last 5 days have sped by, back to work tomorrow, sigh.......

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Back on track

Well finally got to blog again after a frustrating two weeks of frozen computer syndrome.
Just not enough ram in the old dear to cope with broadband. The upside being time for lots of dyeing of yarn. Just as well as the stock of hand dyed yarns has been drastically depleted by my customers in the shop.
So Bob swopped the old computer with his slightly newer model from his home office and has done a great job moving over all the important files, no quick job, especially as there were a few glitches to sort out.
Although I've spent a lot of time in my hot steamy dye room, I didn't get around to photographing the stuff. But here's a couple of pictures of one of my tapestry crochet bags. The yarn is handspun alpaca. It wasn't the softest fleece, but made very good bag yarn. The image is my rendition of a Pukeko, which is my favourite NZ bird, related to the rail family, sometimes referred to as a swamp hen. I love their long red legs and absurdly big feet. When they become roadkill which is a regular occurence sadly, they look like a mangled umbrella. They are so colourful and characterful. This design was also my most popular when I used to make bags for two galleries and so I got a bit sick of making them, but now after a break from using this design for 6 months I feel another Pukeko project coming on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hot days and haircuts.

The past weekend was extremely busy. On Saturday demonstrating spinning alpaca fibre at the Oamaru A and P show day.The weather was sweltering but 4 of us sat and spun on a variety of wheels. There were less animals on show this year, Sheep numbers well down.
We had our stand with a couple of pens of alpacas beside the main arena. The animals always catch a lot of attention. I found the heat trying and by midday all the alpacas were cushed down on the grass, chewing placidly and people watching.
On Sunday I was invited to talk about alpaca fibre processing at an alpaca stud’s open day in Dunedin.
Another scorching day. Fortunately plenty of shade provided by some mature trees.
During the day three alpaca/llama crosses from a neighbouring farm got a haircut each. Only managed to photograph the first, who, being a blue eyed white was also deaf and was the least bothered by the noise
of the electric blades. They also got their nails trimmed and vaccinations.
Hot work for Howard the shearer as there was a lot of fleece.
Sooo... hot, glad of a lie dow
n in the shade.

Quite like this attention.
What's he looking for in there?

Please not the poodle cut....

Came home with several bags of suri fleece (thanks Andy) and a much smaller bag of precious baby Guanaco fleece, ( big thanks) which I’m soooo looking forward to processing even though I know I’m going to be spending a large amount of time picking out the hairs. Guanaco being a dual coated, hair/down fleece.
The down is very short as I expected but very soft and honey coloured. Haven’t spun any Guanaco fleece
for many years.
Guinivere is now over 6 months old. She stayed way at the Back of the paddock with mum so I didn’t manage to get a good photo of her. She looks as noble as her mum and dad and is therefore aptly named.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Busy dyeing

Whilst the farmers have bemoaned all this fine summer weather and drought conditions I've been dyeing lots of yarn and fibre for my section of the shop.
It's been fantastic drying weather.
I've also been busy trying to get some projects finished which are paying customer orders.
I'm hoping to finish the knitted alpaca jacket by the end of this week and have several metres left to weave on my Jack loom of a broken herringbone tweed which is going to be tailored into a victorian skirt, hopefully in time for modelling at a fashion show at the black and coloured sheep breeders conference here in the south island in May.
Did sneak a new project of knitted fingerless gloves as I felt compelled to try out some of the new yarn colour I've just dyed, a shop sample of course! Have to show my customer's what can be done with a skein of yarn. this is actually a frequent question so am planning a few example finished items to show what can be made with only one skein.
Photos below of the 4ply pure wool skeins and some 200g balls for those people planning bigger things.

I've also been weaving with the wool yarns in both warp and weft and they've performed really well. The yarn is really smooth but washes into a softer fabric off loom which shows off the weaving pattern. See purple scarf entry previously with curlicues.
I do love a yarn that it versatile.
The wool is Anna Gratton's lovely yarn from the little wool company in the north island.
Same 4ply wool yarn in 50g skeins. These have been my big seller so far.
Ah well back to the dyepots.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

From the place of the merino....

A trip to Central otago for a few days break and a bit of stash enhancement. The yarns are all Touch yarns.
A boucle mohair yarn and some fine kid mohair. Plus some quirky sheep buttons from the Merino shop in Tarras.
Very hot day, all the merinos were sheltering under trees and bushes. Looking forward to getting their summer haircuts.

Came home to a big package of 5 kilos worth of merino and mohair 4ply yarn, so dyed these last night
for our shop. I'm always torn as to whether I should wind into balls or sell as skeins. Skeins win for showing off the colours but I do sell some of the 100% wool yarns in 200g wound balls.
Compared to the straight wool I've been dyeing recently, the mohair blend just sucks up the dye so quickly. a bit like dyeing superwash wool.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


A Textile craft Co-Operative in Oamaru.
After two years of planning and discussion "The Oamaru Textile Exchange" was finally created. The word exchange was chosen as part of our title as the late 1800's building is known as the Sumpter Exchange after the founder of the local spinning mill here in Oamaru. Our wool connections are even more tangible than this, as in the building behind us is a current wool store piled with raw wool bales. So we experience parfum de sheep every day. Our small textile craft co-operative is housed downstairs whilst upstairs lives several old hattersley looms.
This is our street scape, a line of victorian whitestone buildings, restored or undergoing restoration. We officially opened in October 2007 and were up and running in time for the yearly victorian celebrations in November.
the textile Exchange houses a retail area and workshop space so we artisans can work at our various crafts in public view. This is a popular tourist area attracting mostly overseas visitors.
Not a very good interior shot, will do some more later to add to this blog. On site at various times of the day or week are people wearing and making victorian clothes on fully functioning old sewing machines, spinners, knitters and weavers. We also sell hand embroidery, yarns, handspinning fibre, clothing, hats, scarves, patchwork etc.
Photos of the working Hattersley loom owned by the Mcleans. Originally used on the west Coast of NZ by a commercial weaver, followed by Lawrence and finally housed upstairs here in Oamaru. Built in Yorkshire, they are historic looms associated with the scottish cottage tweed industry.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Affraid of colour?

You may perhaps have already noticed that I’m not too scared of splashing a colour or two about in my work. I admit that most of my projects involve more than half a dozen different colours, shades, tones etc. In fact I enjoy the challenges of using lots of differentBalls of dyed yarn in my work.Do I do any natural and single coloured projects? Actually yes, although often these are for other people at their request.I’ve done a number of different garments in black for instance. Right as I speak there is a black alpaca jacket sleeve sitting on my knitting needles as well as a natural brownAlpaca yarn in the process of being knitted into a hat. Over this last year I’ve woven several natural coloured scarves and wraps, crocheted a black shawl and knitted a short coat in brown. See suri scarf below in previous blog. I do like fibre in its natural, living colours, I’m a handspinner and therefore collector of fleece. I admit quite a few of them are white (grubby white as they wait to be washed), and destined for the dyepot.I just find the colourful stuff so appealing to do and photograph.

Above is a tapestry crocheted tote bag in my hand dyed yarns. This form of crochet is worked tightly, usually with a hook smaller than the recommended size for weight of yarn. It utilizes only the double crochet (single crochet) stitch and the fabric emulates a woven fabric so it is often not recognized as crochet. Two (or can be more) threads are used at the same time to create the pattern carrying the colours along the top of the stitches, this adds to the firmness of the fabric. For more info on this style of crochet and instructions see I made this bag at the end of 2007 out of a predominantly alpaca yarn. I don’t always line these bags because the fabric can be very sturdy, and non stretchy particularly if worked in cotton or linen.