Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Question for the Yarn Industry

Rant warning

I’m officially fed up. Fed up enough to swear off any yarn that’s dyed by anyone else! Which is bad news for my LYS and several on-line vendors. But (did I mention?) I’ve had it!!!

What has aroused my ire to such an extent? Yarns that bleed, and bleed, and bleed, and bleed – until the lovely colors for which you purchased them are pale. You buy a skein (or 10) of a beautiful, bright yarn, planning something scrumptious. You plan and swatch and knit. Yes, there’s a little color in the water when you wash your swatch, but not a lot…or at least you convince yourself there isn’t a lot. Then you wash the finished project. Within seconds the water is darker than the project, and a familiar sinking feeling in your stomach says, “Not again!” Heaven help you if you actually combined yarn colors within this project, by the way – especially if one of those yarns is (oh, no!!!) really light!

There doesn’t seem to be a reliable way to avoid these yarns. I’ve bought a dozen or more skeins in just the past year. Some are from small, independent dyers; some are from high-end yarn manufacturers. Some originated within the United States; other yarns originated in South America, Italy, or France. All are packaged for commercial re-sale; all come from reputable sources, whether the local yarn shops or internet shops. Some are solid colors; some are various dip-dyed or painted skeins. And all have roused my ire.

Dyeing isn’t that difficult – especially if you’re dyeing protein fibers! You measure the weight of fiber, measure an amount of dye powder (or dye-stuff if doing natural dyeing) exactly sufficient to dye that weight of fiber to your required depth of shade; mordant the yarn by soaking in an appropriate solution, and then dye. Set the dye according to the directions for the dyestuff – for protein fibers, that normally involves heat. Hold that heat at the required temperature for as long as the instructions direct. Let cool, and then rinse well. It’s simple, direct and fairly fool-proof, even if results can be surprising at times.

We did a dye-in at my LYS a couple of weeks ago; I was in charge of it. I knew how much yarn we were going to dye by weight, and that we planned to paint the yarns. So I mixed a carefully-measured 3% solution of acid dyes in various colors, soaked the yarns in a 0.05% citric acid and water solution overnight beforehand, and carefully microwaved the dyed skeins, using a digital meat thermometer to be sure the yarns stayed hot enough for long enough to set the dyes. There was a great deal of surprise on the part of the knitters/spinners involved when they could see no color in the rinse water. They shouldn’t have been surprised at all! But their knitting experience over the past couple or more years told them that the colors would bleed.

My question to the commercial and independent dyers of the industry is this: why can’t you be equally careful when dyeing your yarns? Excess dye is expensive for you, bad for the environment, and gives your yarns a bad rep among knitters. Use some basic equipment (scales and other measuring equipment) and do a proper job. It will lower your bottom line, and make your customers happier. You won’t even have to do as much rinsing, again allowing for savings to you!

Knitters want to knit. They don’t want to have to wash and rinse skeins before using them – they want to start knitting. They don’t want to have to become sophisticated about chemistry, deciding between Synthrapol and its equivalent or simple vinegar water to remove the excess dye you’ve left in your yarns – they want to start knitting. They don’t want to skein off and re-heat the skeins in an attempt to re-set the dyes – they want to start knitting. Again, knitters just want to knit! So please stop wasting your money, our money and our time, and allow us to knit with properly-dyed yarns.

Rant is now finished. You can come out of hiding.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Second Shetland Shawl for 2010! - Michael

Most of you are aware that 2010’s knitting plans were hijacked when first my daughter-in-law and then my daughter announced their pregnancies. Suddenly my self-appointed task of designing, spinning for and knitting a Shetland-type shawl for each grandchild became the total focus for ALL of my fiber time. However, I am happy to announce that both shawls are now finished!

Michael’s shawl was simpler in some ways than his cousin Mariah’s, but more complex in others. I chose to do Michael’s shawl on a stockinette ground, which simplified knitting the shawl in the round – no endless purl rows. I also chose to start this shawl from the center, so as to incorporate a star – important, since Daddy is a Texas boy! The 8-point star chosen also reflects Mommy’s family heritage; we’re all quilters of one sort or another and that knitter’s version of a star was a perfect choice.

Additional photos are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/54792920@N04/sets/72157625418826540/

After that central start, however, I needed to switch over to knitting a square. And come up with a choice of what I wanted to place in the larger, central portion of the shawl. My son-in-law and daughter both come from Irish backgrounds. My daughter has always loved Celtic knots, and has requested other knitted items that incorporate this sort of design. I found this Celtic knot in the Meg Swanson book “A Gathering of Lace,” and decided that a triad of the knots was a pictorial way of showing the growth of the family. So I charted it all out in Excel and started knitting.

After the knots, I wanted to expand the lacey portion of the shawl just a bit. So far the “lacy” motifs of the shawl were quite isolated by stockinette ground, and I wanted something more ethereal as I approached the edges of the shawl. I flipped through a lot of books, and found, in both “A Gathering of Lace” and Barbara Walker’s “First Treasury of Knitting Stitches,” a lovely rose (yes, I’ve been singing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” a good bit this fall) surrounded by a curving border vaguely reminiscent of a twining, Oriental design – at least to my mind. Since part of the baby’s heritage is also Filipino, this seemed appropriate, as well as quite pretty!

Now for the border: I was most of the way through the bordered rose repeat before I finally settled on something. Michael was conceived on the West Coast, but will be born on the East. Both areas have lovely mountains and shorelines, and I wanted something to reflect that. My usual choice for that sort of thing is some variation on Feather and Fan, but I didn’t like the way that looked with the bordered rose design – at least, not in Excel. Again, I started leafing through various pattern books, and again Barbara Walker came to the rescue. Razor Shell grows beautifully from the top of the rose border design, and curves in an fashion that has pronounced peaks.

The handspun for this one was from top I bought from Jameson & Smith – their superfine Shetland. It was a dream to spin, even to a gossamer weight of 35 wpi at two plies. I knitted it on size 2 US 40-inch metal circular needles from KnitPicks, magic-looping the center portion of the shawl. Total yardage for the completed shawl was approximately 1600 spread over three skeins, and total weight is about 6 ounces.