notes on unraveling a sweater: new purse! (well, almost)

cimg1076After experimenting with fancier stitches, I still liked the way my crazy repurposed yarn looked best in good old seed stitch. So I made up a quick pattern and made myself this little purse. I love how sturdy it is, and how when you set it down the sides stay open and you can see right to the bottom. I tend to lose things at the bottom of purses, but this one seems made to keep me honest. 

cimg1082Obviously, there is some finishing to do on this before I can really claim it’s done. The sweater from which this was harvested was old, and the yarn was fragile. There was a lot of breakage during the unraveling, so the final yarn ended up with a ton of knots in it. I managed to corral most of those to the interior of the purse while knitting, but now the inside of the purse is full of knots and loose ends. The next step will be to make a liner to disguise those — and to keep the mohair out of my chapstick.

Notes on unraveling a sweater: re-knitting!

Lookee! I can’t believe how excited I am about knitting with my crazy new yarn. Not that there aren’t going to be some challenges to it. For one thing, the yarn is old and quite fragile, as I found when I was unraveling it and it kept breaking off. My best solution to this is the knit it with two strands held together, for reinforcement. That way if one strand breaks after the final piece is knit — Ah! Please! No! But it could happen — the other strand can hold it in place. 

Of course, two strands of medium-weight mohair knit together is a pretty chunky yarn. I won’t be making anything floaty and lacy out of this, I don’t think. Because the colors reminded me of a peacock, I was scrounging the net for a lace pattern with a good feather motif. A standard feather-and-fan would have been OK, but in my search for something more exotic I found this and this, not to mention a Fiddlesticks pattern for a gorgeous Peacock Feather Lace Shawl which is far beyond my lace-knitting abilities.

Not for this yarn, though. This yarn wants to be something bulky and utilitarian. The colors are so pretty, though…the world’s prettiest oven mitt? A set of place mats that I’ll never use? I’m stumped. As I’ve learned, the best thing I can do when I’m stumped is go away and do something else for a while, until inspiration strikes. 

(C’mon inspiration. Strike already!)

Notes on unraveling a sweater: hand-painting yarn

After making many test swatches, I finally got my nerve up to try over-dyeing all the yarn I salvaged from the sweater I found all those weeks ago. The original color was yellow-green, and I wanted to go for a range of greens, blues, yellows. 

I chose the microwave method of dyeing, for the ease and instant gratification of it. For anyone who’s interested in trying their hand at this, it is time-consuming, but quite straight forward. You will need:

– Kool-Aid, or equivalent powdered drink mix, in flavors/colors to achieve your desired colorway

– water

– a squirt bottle/applicator bottle. I got mine at a beauty supply store. It’s the kind used to apply hair-dye.

– a microwave-safe, high-sided dish

– a flat sheet of water-resistant material. An unopened garbage works fine, or a large plastic bag cut into a flat sheet. 

– a microwave with a timer

The first thing you want to do, after making test swatches and picking your favorites, is plan your colorway. Keep in mind that related colors (i.e. blue and green or red and orange) blend more readily into each other, while complimentary colors (orange and blue, purple and yellow), always make brown or gray when mixed. 

I knew I wanted my colorway to run from yellow to green to blue to purple. To get from purple back to yellow, I was going to have to go through brown (purple and yellow are complimentary colors) but I decided that was OK. 

One you know where you’re going, you want to get the yarn ready for dying. First, you need to get it into a long skein. I used the back of two chairs, set about three feet away from each other. I used strips of rag to tie the skein in four place, to keep it nice and neat. (Note, if you tie too tightly, you may make an inadvertent “resist”, that is, an area that is covered, so that the dye does not penetrate it and it stays the original color. This technique is used deliberately in some dyeing methods, like tie-dye, but it’s not what I was going for here. I left the ties quite loose and made sure the dye penetrated under them in each bath.)

Once the skein is nicely tied off, you want to get it wet. I soaked my wool for about fifteen minutes. Wetter wool is more porous and accepts dye more easily. Some people recommend a longer soak, up to an hour, but I’m impatient. 🙂 After you finish soaking, lifting yarn out of soak bath and softly squeeze out excess water.

Cover your microwave safe casserole dish with your garbage bag (or other water-resistant sheeting) and lay a section of your damp yarn — however much you want to dye in your first bath — in the bottom of the dish. 

Mix your dye formula to the specifications your determined while making your test swatches. First, pour dry drink powder into squirt bottle. The rule of thumb I read was 2-3 grams of powder to 1 ounce of yarn. (Kool-Aid packets are 3.6 grams each.) Add water to bottle, screw on applicator cap, and shake well. 

 

Squirt dye bath into section of yarn to be dyed, making sure to penetrate all the yarn in the skein. I found that lifting the ends of the dyed section out of the bath and draping them over the edge of the dish allowed the dye to run back out of the fiber and help create more subtle blending between color sections. 

To further blend color sections, I used dye baths that overlapped in color: first a yellow bath, then a yellow-green bath, then green, then green-blue, blue-green, blue, etc. This requires a little time and thought, but the results are really worth it.

Once your dye bath is applied to the yarn, fold the edges of the garbage bag up around the yarn and dye bath and arrange undyed yarn on top, making sure undyed yarn is not coming into contact with dye bath. 

Place the dish in the microwave and zap for 1 minute 30 seconds. Allow to set for a minute or so, then zap for 1 minute 30 seconds again. Give the yarn a moment to cool, then bring out of the microwave and check the color.

 

 
If the yarn has absorbed all the dye, then the bath will be clear or milky (that’s how you know it’s “exhausted”) and the water running from the yarn will also be clear. Be careful lifting the yarn out of the exhausted bath, as it will be quite hot.

Hang the yarn up, preferably outside, to drip, and/or give it a gentle squeeze. You want to excess water out (so you can work with the skein without getting water everywhere) but you don’t want to wool to dry out all the way, or you will have to soak it again. 

When excess water is out, you are ready to mix the next dye bath and dye the next section. When you dye the next section, you may want to overlap the dye sections by including some of the section you just dyed in the next dye bath. This helps make a smooth color transition between sections. 

Keep repeating until you make your way all the way around the skein, and “marry” the last dyed section to the first. Then hang up to dry completely. Yay! You have hand-painted yarn. 

        

I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. The transition between the purple in the last section and the yellow in the first section made an olive/rust/brown patch in the colorway, but I was expecting it, and not unhappy with it. For my first experiment with handpainting, I’m pretty stoked. The colors remind me of a peacock. I’ll have to find a pattern that makes the most of that. (Suggestions welcome!)

Notes on unraveling a sweater: over-dyeing

Looking for resources on over-dyeing mohair yarn, I found the Internet all a-twitter about the joys of dyeing natural fibers with Kool-Aid (and similar powder-based froot drinks). The components of an acid-base dye (dye, acid to help the color set in the fibers) are there.

Plus, it’s cheap. One package of Kool-Aid was about 12 cents down at my local grocery store. The rip-off brand, Flavor-Ade, was only 8 cents a package. I also got a package of kitchen food dyes. “Adams Extract” was the brand. (These contain no acid, so I used them only as an additive to already acidic Kool-Aid baths, or on their own with a bit of white vinegar.)

The range of colors I was able to come up with surprised me, especially the pinky-bronze and cherry red (achieved with varying amounts of Black Cherry flavor.

Glorious range of colors!

Colors!

I got a lot of tips about the dyeing process from the lovely Dye Pot, a ninja of over-dyeing. From her I learned about doing test strips in the microwave. Essentially, you put a small amount of Kool-Aid and a small amount of water into a microwave safe container. Wet your 3-5 inch test strip of yarn, and drop it into the mini dye bath. Make sure it’s totally submerged, then microwave for about 45 seconds. If you’d like the yarn darker, you can microwave a bit longer, and/or leave it to sit in the dye bath until it has absorbed all the dye, and the bath is a clear, milky color. I found it helpful to take careful notes on the process (how much dye I used, how much water, how long in the microwave) so I can try to duplicate the results later.

Though I was impressed with how readily this green/puce yarn turned pink and red, I think it’s ultimate fate is to be greens and blues, with maybe some swampy purples thrown in. (Any attempt at purple over green yields some pretty muddy results, which in this case is OK with me.)

Some dye baths I experimented with in getting ranges of blues and greens:

 1 part Kiwi Strawberry + 1 part Adams yellow

1 part Kiwi Strawberry + 2 part Adams yellow

1 part Kiwi Strawberry + 2 parts Adams yellow + 2 parts Adams blue

1 part Kiwi Strawberry + 2 parts Adams yellow + 2 parts Adams blue

1 part Kiwi Strawberry + 1 part Adams yellow + 4 parts Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade

1 part Kiwi Strawberry + 1 part Adams yellow + 4 parts Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade

1 part Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade + 2 parts Adams blue

1 part Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade + 2 parts Adams blue

One thing I found was that it took A LOT of blue to turn this yellowy-green yarn blue. My best bet seemed to be to add a bit of red to the blue bath and get some smoky blue-purples: 

 

1 part Black Cherry + 1 part Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade + 5 parts Adams blue

1 part Black Cherry + 2 parts Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade + 8 parts Adams blue

1 part Black Cherry + 1 part Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade + 5 parts Adams Blue

1 part Black Cherry + 1 part Ice Blue Rasberry Lemonade + 5 parts Adams Blue

 My final selections of test swatches for my tentative colorway looks like this: 

Voila!

Voila!

 I’m pretty excited about it. One bad thing I have heard about Kool-Aid dying is that the colors are not the most light-fast, so I may have to accept some fading but on something this thrifty and gypsyish and odd in the first place, I think I can live with that. It might even look good!

Brownie of the month: Pumpkin, White Chocolate, and Roasted Walnut

Pumpkin, White Chocolate and Roasted Walnut

Pumpkin, White Chocolate and Roasted Walnut

I knew the October brownie was going to involve pumpkin, because any excuse to put pumpkin and chocolate together is a good excuse. The trick was going to be finding pumpkin in desiccated form, since all the ingredients of the mixes have to be dry. I settled on a pumpkin powder from Barry Farms, a family-owned organic supplier out of Cridersville, Ohio. 

Through extensive (and delicious) testing, I found the yummiest combination of flavors to be 1 part pumpkin, 1 part chocolate, 1 part other dry ingredients. The pumpkin also seemed to absorb a lot of water, so that this recipe calls for more liquid than past recipes have. On the flipside, the pumpkin really held in moisture during the baking process — these are the ooiest, gooiest, densest, most decadent recipe yet. 

The brownie I ended up with was one I really love. The pumpkin flavor is definitely there, a rich warm note underneath the chocolate. The recipe also calls for white chocolate chips, a nice bit of creaminess to set off the dark cocoa and spicy pumpkin. Walnuts, of course, for crunch.

Want to try some? I’d be happy to whip you up a batch! The mix is for sale at my Etsy store, here.

notes on unraveling a sweater

 

Day One

Ugly sweater with holes in it

As I was biking to the store for beer on Friday night, I passed what was obviously the remains of a garage sale — all the sad odds and ends that nobody wants — sitting on the curb outside somebody’s house. I saw what appeared to be a bag of clothes and being the scrounger I am, I pulled over and started digging through by the light of my bike’s headlamp.

 

It was an interesting bunch of stuff – most of the clothes were pretty worn out, but there was a mohair sweater that I got really excited about until I saw it had several large holes. I’m also iffy about the puce color.(Actually looks a lot nice here on my monitor than in real life.) I’ve been wanting to try reclaiming yarn, though, so here’s my chance. 

If you’re curious about the process, it’s pretty simple, but I’ll elaborate. I started by cutting the pieces (sleeves, collars, plackets) apart at the seams. Then I snipped off the top row of each piece, i.e the last row bound off. If I were really desperate to save every last scrap of this stuff, I suppose I could laboriously unbind the bound off rows, but this has to be done stitch by stitch and is quite time-consuming. So I just snip it. 

Then I find the loose end of the yarn and pull.  And pull, and pull. The mohair is old, and in high-stress places, like the elbows of the sleeves, it has become quite delicate. So it breaks if I go too fast. And sometimes it just breaks anyway. There’s going to be a lot of knots in this stuff. Oh well.

I like the color more as it starts to unravel and catch more light. The gray and yellow notes that makes this puce so puce-y aren’t so obvious. It looks a lot fresher like this. (Here’s a photograph without flash that gives a better idea of the shade.)

Unfortunately, it probably won’t look like this when it’s re-knit. I’m definitely going to have a shot at over-dyeing this stuff. Maybe I’ll shoot for a warm blue.

 

 

I also snip off and save the buttons. The “front” side of the buttons is mother-of-pearl died the same icky yellow-green as the sweater. The “back” is undyed shell in white and a nice verdigris color, a bit distressed. If I re-used these, I’d definitely use them wrong-side round. 

There’s going to be several skeins of this. Not sure what the ultimate yardage will be, but should be enough for something interesting.

Product Review: Ikea Full-size Loft Bed

I had really high hopes for this. Our apartment is teeny tiny, so anything that maximizes space is awesome. We found this loft bed frame on Craigslist, with mattress for $200. Of course, into that you have to factor the gas it took to get to the other side of town, where the mattress lived, plus the tank of gas we bought our friend James in exchange for letting us use his truck, plus the beer we bought him when he came along and helped us disassemble the frame, which turned out to be no easy task. So all in all, maybe closer to $300. Still a good deal, so far.

The bed’s owner was very sweet, and she and her daughter helped us break the frame down, which was pretty tricky. Putting it up was, if anything, even tricker. The problem, on both break down and assembly, being that the bed was being squeezed out of and into very small spaces. That being, after all, the point of a loft bed. Assembly took about two hours, and involved a lot of sweating and cursing.

The design of the bed is pretty basic — a sleeping platform in two parts, bolted together in the middle, supported by four posts and support slats on three sides. When it’s assemble, it’s about 5′ 6″ off the ground, with a space underneath for desk, furniture, etc. It seemed solid, but when both of us climbed onto the platform it proved to shake a lot. Not scary I’m-about-to-to-fall-apart shaking, just regular I’m-a-free-standing-metal-frame-loft-bed type of shaking. I could probably get used to that, but C. doesn’t like his sleeping surfaces to move. The last straw was when we climbed up to go to sleep, lay down and discovered how freaking hot it was in a loft bed in August in Texas, with our faces three feet from the ceiling. C. then abandoned the project and insisted we put the mattress down on the floor and sleep there.

The next day there was vigorous debate about what our course of action should be. I was all for breaking the bed back down and re-selling it. C. wanted to leave it where it is and use it as storage space, with our old mattress on the floor underneath. He won, and that’s the way it is for now. When the weather cools off we may try sleeping up there again.

Lessons learned about loft beds:

They wobble. At least, this one does. And that’s probably almost inevitable in a piece this light, which can be broken down and assembled by two people. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not everybody is OK with sleepy on something wobbly.

Heat rises. So it’s hotter near the ceiling. Might not matter in some climates, but in Texas in the summer, in an apartment with barely adequate air-conditioning, it’s a big deal.

They divide the space in interesting ways. Probably my favorite thing about this bed is the space underneath it. There’s a cool, secret-clubhouse kind of vibe to hanging out down there which is so far the best argument for not re-selling this sucker.

All in all: a very mixed experiment. I’m sure this isn’t the end of this saga.