This is my blog to share my adventures, misadventures, exploration, and experimentation with fibre- and as it turns out, with life as well. There is some of both. One thing leads to another. Collecting, spinning, weaving, dying, learning, building a web of relationships. Here we are: welcome.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spinning silk- with some mishaps along the way

Oops, I didn't intend to let two months get away from me like that. This is what it looks like outside now. It was 80 degrees F outside yesterday, 72F today. This happened all at once.  Brown and dreary and nippy one day, then warm and sunny  all this week.  Things are actually growing and blooming! 

I left off with three bobbins of  merino/mohair singles that I'd spun.  The roving came from a local shepherd who has her fibre processed at one of the many local mills that have sprung up in Vermont.  As I had spun, I kept envisioning a fine thread of silk running through the plyed yarn.  So I ordered a 2 ounce hank of Tussah silk to try. (Tussah is from wild worms, which eat sundry things and thus can vary in color and quality, but is usually yellow or golden in color, with a subtle sheen.)

The Tussah silk is lovely.  The color and the texture is luscious. And it didn't take me long to catch on to spinning it. I pulled off a handful, loosened it up, and spun a sample as fine as I could manage.  The first few feet are pretty awful, but I made a few adjustments in the tension, my fingers found the "feel", and it was actually pretty easy going, to my surprise!

I reeled off my sample into a wee skein, tied it with bits of string, and washed it gently.  Ready to dye.

Now, though I've done a fair amount of dying with natural materials, I've not done much with chemical dyes.  Last year, with all intents to do some serious dye experimenting, I bought some basics. I'm a painter and studied pigments, so I decided to start with primaries and do my own mixing, just as I do when painting.  There are two ways to approach this: from the red/blue/yellow pigment-mixing, just like in elementary school. It's a good, time-proven approach.

The other way is to use what I've seen some call "warm primaries", but what artists often call "secondary colors".  It's looking at color mixing from the standpoint of light, and it is the same method used when computers mix colors on the screen, and also by color printers.  The colors used are magenta, warm yellow, and cyan, though the dyes may be called other names.  I look for the actual pigments used, because that is how I learned to mix colors in painting-- and the pigments are the same! I also ordered black, both for a true rich black, and to be able to adjust the intensity of my dyes as I wished.  I like the clarity of the colors mixed this way.

So, while the mini-skein sat waiting in it's warm rinse, I made up the dye-bath.  Naturally,  I couldn't remember where I'd stashed my dye-pots.  Or, rather, they weren't where I was sure I'd stashed them. Or anywhere else I could think of.  So I raided the recycling for a largish metal can, and mixed the dye in it. 

I wanted a clear, intensely brilliant red, so, guessing a bit on the proportions, I used a plastic spoon to dip out a little magenta.  Then I used the tip of the handle to add a teensy bit of yellow.  For the record, I was wearing plastic gloves and a dust mask, with my hair tied back. (I do not have a photo of
this. I am not dexterous enough to measure dye and take photo at the same time!)  Mooshed the dye in a little boiling water, then added more hot water so that there was enough for my mini-skein to move around in.  Since I have citric acid, I added the proportionate amount to the dye, but white vinegar would have worked.

And yes, magenta and a bit of yellow make a wonderful red. It's like magic. Slide the silk in, keep at a low simmer for a while, poking and stirring gently periodically (chopsticks are great for this).  When it looked a bit darker than I was looking for, I dipped it out, and put it into another pot with simmering water to rinse, and let it cool.  Washed out the excess dye with Synthropol and warm water, and hung to dry.  Yep, red.  (And yes, it is wound on an empty toilet paper roll. I have a collection of these things.) 

I loved the color and loved the feel of the dyed Tussah.  But it didn't have the shininess that I wanted for my yarn.  Well, this was an experiment, qfter all and now I have most of the Tussah (almost 2 oz) to use in another project.  Something that will take advantage of it's yummy soft golden sheen.

So... I ordered some Bombyx silk top from a vendor who works with silk suppliers who have a commitment to social and environmental values.  Bombys silk is from cultivated silk, raised on mulberry leaves, and the silk is white, and very lustrous.

Silk "top" differs from top of other fibres. It is made either from cocoons after the moths emerge, which cuts the fibres, or from trims left from unreeled whole cocoons.  The fibres vary in length.  The top I got had fibres from about 2 inches to 5 or 6 inches.  It was finer and more slippery than the Tussock, but had the shininess I wanted. It took me longer to get the hang of spinning it fine without losing it, and the spinning is more uneven.  I decided that that was ok.  Since the silk is spun much more finely than the wool/mohair, and is meant as a color accent, the unevenness would add a bit more visual interest.

I allowed myself to take my time spinning.*  This was more of a challenge than the Tussock.  Not only is it finer, but the dry air of our late winter and delayed spring made the top flyaway.  I learned to draft it out gently, then fold it up in the palm of my hand, and spin from the fold to keep it under control.  I added to it every day, until I was sure (or at least hopeful) that I had enough.

I finished spinning the silk before the rash incident* began, with a week out for the Herx*.  Then it sat on the bobbin.  Because I felt crummy, and because I couldn't find my small dye pots.  I still don't know where they are.  So I dig out my large dyepot.

This weekend I wound the silk off into a skein, washed it, and hung it to dry.  It's pretty twisty, because I spun it with extra grist to help it hold together.  It is very fine, and I was afraid of breakage at the thinner spots, but when I wound off, not a single break.  To get an idea of the how fine it is, the ties are remnants of 8/2 cotton from a weaving project. And the fat pieces right in front are the parts I spun first, before my fingers found the way. 

Today I cleaned my kitchen and tomorrow I'll dye the silk.  I'm so excited!  Then I can finally ply this stuff, the three bobbins of merino/mohair singles and the red-dyed Bombyx silk singles.

Stay tuned.

*Actually, I had no choice.  There's a story here.  You can skip this if you want; it has nothing to do with spinning or fiber.  Just with the comedy we call life. 

I had bronchitis during the winter, and didn't really think about it, except I kept getting more and more tired.  When I finally went to the dr and on an antibiotic, it kicked the bronchitis, but  it also kicked my butt.  I have chronic Lyme, and it wasn't just the bronchitis that was making me tired. I was also sliding into a significant relapse.  The antibiotic put me into a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction from killing off the Lyme bugs: a week of massive headache and body pain, twitches, brainfog, fun things like that.  (You can look up Jarisch-Herxheimer if you want. It's too complicated to explain here- this post is grotesquely long as it is.)

So... back to my Lyme doctor, and back on treatment for Lyme. That's fine; I've done that before and I know the pattern.

But things get more complicated.

Two weeks later, I got a rash, I thought from some new jeans that had spandex in them (new experience for me).  The rash turned into hives, itched, and spread. I started taking Benedryl every 4 hours.  The hives kept spreading.

When it got to my face, I decided to go to the doctor (this is five days later, dumb, huh?).  My daughter drove me. By the time I got to the doctor, my face was swollen, my eyes slits, my lips fat, and my tongue was starting to swell.  New hives were sprouting in the few places I didn't have them.  This is not good. (I do have pictures of this stage, but you don't get to see them!)

Observation. Debate about whether I should to to the ER. Discussion about epinephrine. (It would probably have been a good idea.)  But I was still awake, alert, and breathing, and reluctant to go to the ER.

Doctor felt jeans were not primary cause. We talked over the timing and she felt that the most likely culprit was a blood pressure medication my other doctor had increased the dose on not long before.  She said it is well-known to cause the kinds of symptoms I had-- just not usually so bad.  (Later when I thought about it, I recalled itching and red spots on various parts of my body since last fall, which would coincide with when it was first prescribed).  And the antibiotics were things I'd taken before with no problems.

We agreed that I would go off all antibiotics just in case, stop the BP med, period, take Clariton in the daytime and the Benedryl at night (so I wasn't groggy all day). She prescribed an EpiPen for me, and told me to have it near me at all times.  I had to raise my hand and affirm that I would use it immediately if I had ANY problems with swelling, hives, or breathing, and that I would call 911 right after using it. Yes, ma'am, I will do that. 

By the time I had the followup with her a week later, the hives were gone, the swelling was gone, the itching was gone, and all I had left were a some teeny weeny little scabs from scratching the hives that were starting to fall off.  Now the plan is to add the antibiotics back one at a time and see what happens.  I am on the first one now.  So far, so good. I feel fine.  Just in case, the jeans are sealed in plastic: I'm going to return them.

So the past ten days, I've been sticking close to home, doing research (my other passion is genealogy), enjoying the sunshine, and trying to catch up on some of the things that I haven't done for far too long. And basically, just enjoying being alive.