Monday, July 25, 2016

A fine fleece

Two types of fiber, side by side
Or not

When the fleece came off the ewe in March, it shone silver gray and lustrous in the sun. I was definitely tempted to take it home then and there, but I had sworn a pact to myself that I would not bring home another fleece. I said, no. 

Later, the fleece came up in a discussion among friends and one immediately offered to split it with me. The fleece came home.

Determined not to let it sit for months, I immediately scoured it using Beth Smith's Simple and Mostly Quick method. When it was dry, I set to work carding it with visions of spinning in my mind.

Gnarly black fibers

A silk purse, it isn't

Were I more experienced, I surely would have recognized the problem, but I'm not and I didn't. 

Putting it through the carder was hard. The licker filled and the drums locked. I attributed it to poor fiber prep and spent too much time going through the fleece, pulling it apart and trying to release any sticky bits with a small comb. 

And I kept trying. But even with all the prep and  four passes through the carder, there were still lots and lots of gnarly, nubby black bits. Clearly, the fleece would not be suitable for handspinning. But what is the problem?

That was when I stepped back and examined the locks very carefully. At the base of most of the locks was a snaggly clump of black fiber. It was extremely hard to separate from the locks. Pulling on a lock did not separate it. Rather, the fibers locked together and felt like wire. I didn't have the black fiber tested, but it looked and felt much coarser than the gray fiber. (Note: These were different from the dark fibers in the photo at top right.)

Gnarls in carded batt
I took photos and shared them, along with questions, with more knowledgable spinners. 

Turns out the ewe was double-coated. She shouldn't have been. But she was. And, interestingly, double-coated sheep are typically described as having a longer, coarse outer coat and a short fine undercoat. This is the exact opposite. The outer coat is long and fine and the undercoat, coarser. Some obscure, long recessive gene had clearly expressed itself. 

Now what?

I finished carding what seemed the most suitable, cutting the base of the locks with scissors. I still have gnarls throughout the batts. And I now have a lot of carded batts with gnarls. Maybe a felting project is in my future?

I didn't even try to card the coarser black fibers. But I didn't throw them away, either. More next week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

African fabrics and fashion

An example of a Vlisco textile

African fabrics to impress, inspire and surprise

First, the surprise. The wax printed textiles traditionally associated with West and Central Africa aren't manufactured in African at all. Rather, they've been designed and made in Europe for a very long time (and now China and India). 

Currently, five exhibitions at The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) currently has five exhibitions under the umbrella, Creative Africa. Ranging from historial to contemporary, two of the exhibits focus on  fabrics and fashion. 

Vllisco. (de Groot) 2007. 

Dutch fabrics to Africa

The exhibition, Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage, focuses on historical and contemporary textiles from the Dutch company Vlisco. Founded in 1846, the company entered the market in the last quarter of the 19th century--and was the market leader for years. It and continues to influence African fashion in through its its unique fabric designs in 'Dutch wax' fabrics that originate from batik techniques. 

Vlisco textile with scissor design. 
Vlisco doesn't distribute its cloth by design name, allowing African traders who sell it to name the patterns. Such naming practices add a layer of identity, status and value. 

Some designs are drawn from earlier textiles. One example is this swallow design by Marjan de Groot in 2007, an update of a 1949 design by Tonnie Wouda. Both are cotton, wax block prints.

There were shoes, ties, and scissors, to name just a few. Maybe a seamstress would wear the print with scissors?

Traditional textiles

Another gallery showcases the traditional textiles of Central and West African weavers, dyers, and other artisans in the museum's Threads of Tradition exhibit. Strip-weaving, resist dyeing, appliqué, and embroidery provide beautiful colors and patterns.

The colorful man's cloth (above left) was made by the Ewe or Adangme culture, Ghana or Togo c. 1920-1970. According to the label, It is strip-woven cotton warp-faced and balanced plain weave with continuous supplementary wefts and weft-faced rib weave. 

A woman's loincloth or skirt (above right) was particularly fascinating. Made by the Dida culture, Côte d'Ivoire, c. 1900-1950, it is braided of raffia in a tube and stitch-resist dyed--the stitch points can be seen in some sections.

Look Again

Although not focused on textiles, the exhibit "Look Again: Contemporary Perspectives on African Art" is a must-see. This major collaborative exhibition, which is billed as the heart of "Creative Africa," is drawn from the Penn Museum’s world-renowned African collection. Featuring art created in West and Central Africa from the 1500s to the 1900s, the show is impressive.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sticking to my knitting

...but not necessarily hand knitting

Knit purses. Imagine a drawstring through the top hems.
Want to see a hand knitter turn up their noses? Mention machine knitting. Typical responses include 'Oh! Dumbed-down knitting, eh?' Or 'How fast can you make a sweater?' Or their body language gives them away. They wrinkle their noses.

Yes, they do.

And I can't really figure out why. It can't be about handwork. I don't know one seamstress who would want to go without a sewing machine or a weaver who would turn down an electric bobbin winder or a woodworker who would wrinkle a nose at an electric saw. 

Yet it is exactly the same thing. 

Since my trip last week to the Met for their Manus x Machina exhibition, I must conclude that it is a subset of hand knitters who spurn advances in mechanization and/or technology. If the designs in the show are any indication, the most creative designers avidly embrace mechanics and technologies to achieve unique works.

Hands and machine

I hand knit, but I also have a knitting machine. (Hands still required). Originally I bought it to complement my 10-harness countermarch Glimakra loom. I have a jacket with a woven front and knit back, sleeves and finishes from the machine. Using the same yarns, the knit portions complement the woven part beautifully. 

But like Sleeping Beauty, my machine slumbered for a number of years. When it awakened this spring, we have become seriously reacquainted. I've knit a few things, one of which is the Pinelands Spring cowl knit from my homespun that I shared here

Group learning

One knitter demonstrates how to make a pleat
There is nothing so enjoyable as sharing with like-minded people. As I was relearning my machine, I found the Rapid Rows Machine Knitting Guild of Central Jersey and planned to visit. When I did, I was blown away. 

My machine is too big and too heavy to take anywhere so I planned to just sit in on what they were doing. That plan lasted about two minutes.

One woman 'just happened to have' a (second) portable machine in the trunk of her car. Another had a (second) sawhorse adapted to hold a machine. Note, I said 'second.' Each of them had a machine set up and ready to knit. Oh, yes. Then two balls of yarn were in my hand!

That day we made little purses with pleats in the center front and back and a hem at the top for a drawstring. I made one, too. Mine is the brown one on the upper left. Now I'll have to make one at home--maybe with a sparkly yarn.