Thursday, December 4, 2014

Spinning DIY: Bobbin Winder

After you spin your singles, they are usually plied into the final yarn.  Many advise putting about 10 feet between the kate your bobbins are sitting on and your spindle or wheel so that the twist in the singles can even out and create a more consistent yarn.  My studio isn’t arranged to be able to do that.  You can’t do that if you are ball plying.
However, I read several blogs that showed you could achieve the same thing if you transferred the singles from your bobbin to a spool and then plied from the spools.  That’s what I do.  I use the spools that weavers load into shuttle boats.   Especially on large projects, it's recommended that you spin all your singles and then mix up those singles so that the yarn is more consistent across the whole project. At 20$ per ten 6 inch spools, spools are much cheaper than using $35 bobbins!

My wheel is a Schacht Matchless, which can be rigged 3 ways, but I prefer Scotch tension.  I rigged my brake with a hook, so I merely unhook it and the bobbin spins freely.  I transfer the singles from bobbin to spool directly from the wheel.  It takes less than 5 minutes, then I rehook my brake and I am ready to go for the next singles.  I prefer to have each singles on its own spool and find for a two ply, 40 grams of fiber per spool will fill a bobbin after plying.  If I am doing a three ply, then I usually spin 25 to 30 grams per spool.  I find that if there are any issues with the singles, I can deal with them during spool winding and not during plying.  I think my yarns look and perform much better since I started transferring them to spools before plying.

When I looked for a bobbin winder, I was surprised how expensive they are – and they are manual to boot.  BUT with a variable speed drill and a dowel, you can make one for under 20$.  

What you need:
1) A variable speed, reversible drill with power cord.  There was consensus that a rechargeable doesn’t have the oomph and longevity to wind a whole spool.  I got mine at Harbor Freight for 18$. Since so many of my DIY projects require a drill, I can use this drill for those projects as well.  If you already own such a drill, then this project is going to cost you less than 5$! 
2) A 9 inch length of 3/8 inch dowel rod.  This is for a 6 inch spool, which fits in most kates.
3) A 2 inch length of metal tubing that fits over one end of the dowel rod.  An old ball point pen casing might work.  I used part of the screw on lid from a broken thermometer.  A hack saw will needed to cut this to length.
4) Epoxy.

How to make:
1) Sand one end of the dowel rod to a very slight taper so that your spool will slide on, but only until about ¼ to ½ inch of the dowel end sticks out.
2) Epoxy the tubing to the other end of the dowel.  Since dowel wood is soft, this protects it from the clamps in the drill.

Tapered dowel with epoxied metal end
How to use:
1) Make sure the bobbin can spin freely.  Depending on the kind of wheel you have or if you are using a spindle, you may need to mount it in a kate to do this.
2) Set the drill speed to the slowest setting.
3) Put the dowel into the drill and screw it in snugly.  Slide the bobbin over the dowel far enough to be snug.

4) Manually wrap about 1 foot of the singles onto the spindle.  Stand about 6 to 10 feet away and make sure that the singles runs perpendicularly off the bobbin and perpendicularly onto the spool.  Otherwise you will change the twist in your singles.
5) Hold the drill in one hand and start it slowly.  Use your other hand to guide the singles back and forth along the spool so that it is loading smoothly and evenly under slight tension.  Keep an eye on the bobbin to make sure it is spinning smoothly and to anticipate when it is empty.  

6)  When the spool ends look full, concentrate the singles around the middle so it looks football shaped.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Spinning DIY: Blending Board

Just over a year ago I started spinning.  I did the usual: first worked exclusively with spindles, but then tried a wheel after 6 months and added that to the mix.  Along the way I bought as well as made the accessories that are in part needed and in part add to the fun.  What I love is that you can make most of your gear to start with and then add to that as you want.  I love making stuff, so much of what I have made I intend to continue using.  I want to explain how I made some of my equipment, but as someone wanted to know how I made my blending board, I'll start there.

I am attracted to quilting because I love patterns and color.  I love color in knitting and find that color plays a major role in creating yarns.  There are many ways to get color: from the natural colors in sheep to dying yarns to buying colored fleece to dying fleece yourself.  

I dye fleece by “painting” it with acid dyes and then heating it in the microwave (4 cycles of 3 minutes on, 3 minutes rest).  I can spin it as is, but I don’t care for how flat the yarn looks.  I prefer fleece that has color variations in it, much like your hair does.  That’s where blending comes in.  You add other colors, including undyed fibers to create something that will have depth to it.  You can create color gradations, heathers, whatever.  You can also add other fibers to improve the characteristics of the yarn as well as to add some bling.

The drum carder is the most efficient way to blend a large consistent batch of fleece.   

5 blended batts that started as 3 dyed pieces.
However, if you want to create stripes and add in bits and pieces of glitz or spots of color in a controlled fashion, then a blending board is most efficient.  They are very expensive to buy retail (120 – 200$) but while still not cheap, they are cost effective and easy to make. Most of the retail ones have a keel so you can blend while sitting.  I know I would not want to do that so mine is designed to sit on a table.  I find being able to stand back a bit helps in designing the batt. 

What you need:
1) 12 inch piece of 12 inch wide blending cloth.  NOT carding cloth – those tines are shorter and bent differently.  Blending cloth is specifically made to use on blending boards.  Cost range seems to be 60 – 80$.
2) A board that is at least 13 by 16 inches.  I used ½ inch plywood that I already had.  I don’t have a table saw, but I was able to get someone at a local school wood shop to cut it for me. Some people buy  kitchen cutting boards.  The board needs to be at least 4 inches longer than your cloth and an inch wider.  The piece I used was 13.5 by 17 inches.
3) Piece of molding as long as the shorter board dimension.  1”by 2” or smaller.  This is so the board will rest on the table at an angle.  I had some leftover from a bathroom remodel.
4) Glue: I used Gorilla Glue.  This is to glue on the molding and the cloth.
5) A bunch of small flat head screws to screw the blending cloth down after you’ve glued it as well as the molding piece. 
6) Silicon pads to keep the board from slipping during use.
7) 1 dowel rod 3/8 inch in diameter.  They come in 3 foot lengths. Cut this into two 15 to 16” lengths.  Sand and varnish them.  The smoother they are, the better you'll be able to slide them out of the rolag.

Construction Process:
1) About 5 inches from the end of the board lengthwise, glue and then screw down the molding.  This is the back of the board and the edge closest to the molding is the top of the board.

Back with molding and silicon feet attached
 2) Remove 2 or 3 rows of tines from the top and bottom of the cloth, so you have space for your screws.  The sides are already indented enough.  I was able to just use my fingers, but tweezers or needle nosed pliers work well.
3) Position the cloth onto the front of the board.  You want 2 inches extra length each end of the cloth and the sides of the cloth evenly centered. I opted for more room at the top than the bottom. Mark this. 
4) Apply glue to the board, especially along the edges and criss-crossed in the middle. Carefully place the cloth onto the board according to your markings.  Make sure that the tines point towards the top!  Place a large board on the tines and then place a bit of weight on it – enough to ensure good glue contact without damaging the tines.
5) After the glue has dried, drill and then screw the cloth along all four edges.  Screws should be about 2 to 2.5 inches apart.
Cloth glued and screwed....

6) Apply the silicon pads along the bottom edge back of the board and along the molding strip.
At this point the board is completed.  However, I decided to make an integrated cover to protect the board (and me).  I happened to have a large piece of upholstery leather that I screwed to the top edge of the board. I sewed a piece of elastic to the bottom that keeps it in place.  When I am using the board, I just roll/fold this back.  Canvas instead of leather would do a good job, too.

Cover showing how I attached the elastic band to the wrong side bottom.

Needed Accessories:

Along with the board you also need at least:

1) The above mentioned sanded and varnished dowel rods
2) A heavy duty utility brush is the best thing I have found to brush the fiber into the cloth as well as to clean the board.
3) A flicker – I like the dog slicker I bought better than a regular carding flicker.  The tines are softer.  This helps further straighten fibers and aids in removing the blended fiber during rolag construction.

I got mine at Pet Smart.  They are called Slickers.  About 10$

How to use:  (There are several very good videos showing blending board use on YouTube)

1) Mount fleece by stroking it onto the cloth from top to bottom.  Thin layers are better.  If mounting stripes of color, make sure there is overlap so there are no holes in the batt.  (The fleece I am using here is residue I pulled off of combs from another project.)

2) Brush this into the cloth using the floor brush and/or flicker.  Add more layers, embellishments, etc.  You can layer fibers side to side or on a diagonal.  If you are making several batts and you want consistency, then sketch out what you are doing and make notes – how much fiber, how wide of a stripe, etc.

3) When the board is fully loaded (up to an ounce seems to work fine), then brush up a beard of fiber along the bottom of the board.  Lay one dowel across this, pull out a little and then roll a half turn.  Lay the second dowel on top and continue pulling and attenuating the batt and then rolling.  Try, however, not to roll too tightly. If the fiber isn’t coming up, nudge it with the flicker. You can detach the rolag at any time or roll up the whole board.  If you make multiple rolags, then your striping will occur more frequently during spinning.  Otherwise, you’ll have a very long repeat.  You also can remove the fiber by rolling across the board diagonally!  (I haven’t tried that yet, just saw it demoed)

4) You can predraft the rolag, if desired.

Here’s a ball of yarn I made from 2 board’s worth of fiber. I pulled 3 rolags off each time. It weighs 35 grams, 85 meters at 14 wpi.  It’s chained plied.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Afterthought Thumbs (and Heels)

I often hear knitters lament that the scrap yarn approach to afterthought thumbs or heels is cool, but that pulling out the yarn while picking up the live stitches is tedious as best.  However, with the addition of lifelines, this process is easy.  The other way is to put the stitches on a holder (or yarn) and then cast on the same number of stitches.  When you get ready to come back to do the thumb, you pick up the needed stitches along the cast on edge plus use the live stitches from the holder.  I find this isn’t always very seamless as the other way.  There are several sites out there that show using the life lines, but I felt that I might be able to add some insights.

I will demo this with a swatch of worsted weight yarn I knit with 5mm double points.  This method works for any type of circular knitting.  I usually knit with magic loop myself.

While I am referring to a thumb, the same process would be used for a sock heel.
1) Knit to the first of the stitches that will become the thumb.
2) Run a thin and smooth thread of contrasting color (I used sock yarn here, but cotton crochet yarn works well) through the stitches that will be the used for the thumb.  Tie this loosely into a circle with a square knot.

3) Knit these stitches onto a piece of waste yarn.  It’s best if it is of a contrasting color and of the same weight the project is being knitted with.

4) Transfer these stitches back to the left needle and knit these stitches with your project yarn.
5) Run a life line through these new stitches and tie into a loop.

6) Continue knitting your project.
Sorry this is a bit blurry.

7) When you are ready to knit the thumb, pull out the waste yarn.  The life lines will keep the live stitches from going anywhere.  I can actually pull the original waste yarn at any time, which is helpful if I need to try on the item during the knitting of the main part.

8) Pick up the live stitches onto the needles.  Most instructions call for picking up a new stitch at each side, but I usually pick up whatever is instructed plus 2 more. On the next round, I knit the extra stitch on each side together with a main stitch.  I find this reduces the possibility of holes and it creates a little give at the thumb base.

9) I can pull the life lines at any time, but I usually tend to wait until I am sure I like how the thumb is developing.  That way I can always frog this back to the beginning, if needed.