Sunday, September 29, 2013

Washing Your Alpaca Fiber

I've been meaning to show you all how we wash our alpaca fleeces for a couple of years now.  In fact, these pictures are from the last two summers.  This summer I didn't have any fleece to wash (we were able to sell it), but I washed quite a few fleeces the two summers before.

Washing your alpaca fleece is definitely something you can do yourself with only a few basic items.  I haven't washed any sheep fleeces, and I know that that process is a bit different because sheep fleeces contain lanolin -- so the water needs to be super super hot to get that out, and the fleece is technically scoured.  Alpaca fleece contains no lanolin, so it can just be washed in hot tap water, and we are basically getting all the dirt and dust out.  Some people like to spin alpaca fleece right from the bag, and then when they wash their yarn to set the twist, that is when they get the dirt and dust out.  I prefer to wash my fleece before I process it.

First the fleece is skirted to remove any second cuts, and a lot of the VM (vegetable matter), hay, etc.  We also give our fleeces a bunch of really good shakes to get as much dirt and dust out that we can.

We use these basic items to wash our fleeces:
  • A sink
  • Hot tap water
  • Fibre Wash - you can also use a bit of dish soap
  • A mesh lingerie bag (available at Target or Walmart)
  • A salad spinner (optional - available at Target or Walmart)
  • Cooling racks (for baking) or old window screens

There are other ways to wash fleeces using a old fashioned top load washing machine, or a bath tub with multiple lingerie bags.  Or you don't even have to use lingerie bags at all - you can place the fiber in a colander.  We have a fairly good sized kitchen sink, and we have found that this method works best for us.

Here is our bag of fiber to be washed.
This is from Bella, or maybe Bosox
First I fill the lingerie bag with fiber.  Don't pack it too full.  The fiber needs room around it for the soap and water to soak in and work.  I don't worry too much about lock structure at this point.  If you want to preserve lock structure, you can make sure each lock is placed carefully in the bag, or you can wash each lock by hand in the sink.  I just grab a handful of fiber and gently place it in the lingerie bag.
Ready to go in the water.

Then I fill one side of our sink about 1/3 full of hot tap water -- the hottest that will come out of the tap.  I add a squirt of Fibre Wash and swish it about to mix it well in the water.

Filling the sink

Hot soapy water

I then place the lingerie bag carefully in the water and press it down gently with a wooden spoon to make sure the entire bag gets soaked with water.  Here is where you need to be careful.  Heat plus agitation will felt alpaca fiber.  So anything you do with the fiber in hot water needs to be very gentle.
Soaking in the sink

I let this soak in the water for 20-30 minutes - or until the water is no longer hot.

I gently lift out the bag and gently squeeze out the excess water.  I rinse out the sink and repeat the washing process another time.
Look at all that dirt!

After the second wash with soap, I gently remove the bag of fiber and squeeze out the excess water.  I rinse the sink and fill it about 1/3 full with luke warm to warm tap water (no soap this time).  I put the bag of fiber back in the sink and make sure it is fully submerged in the water.  I let this sit for about 20-30 minutes again - by now the water is typically no longer warm.  (If you forget about the fiber for longer than 30 minutes for any step, that is okay.  Sitting in the water for awhile won't hurt the fiber or the washing process).  Gently remove the bag of fiber, squeeze out the excess water, and rinse out the sink.

I repeat the rinsing process one to two more times, depending on how much dirt is left in the sink each time.  Each time you remove the alpaca fiber there should be less and less dirt in the sink.  When there is basically minimal to no dirt left in the sink after rinsing, I move on to the next step.

After gently squeezing out the water from the bag of fiber, I open the bag and dump the fiber out into my salad spinner.

My salad spinner (never actually used to spin salad)

Let's go for a spin!

I use the salad spinner to spin out the excess water from the fiber.

All ready to dry

When the excess water is removed, I take the fiber and place it either on a cooling rack to dry, or on a old window screen.  I mostly use the window screens now since I can have more fiber drying at a time then if I would use the cooling racks.

Cooling racks prepped in the dining room.

Fiber drying on the cooling racks.

As the fiber dries you can begin to fluff it up.  I typically fluff it once or twice a day.  In average conditions, my fiber dries in about 3 days inside up in our upstairs bathroom (no shower or humidity from bathing in this bathroom).  If you put your fiber outside or use fans or a heated drying rack it would dry faster.
Fiber on extra window screens.

We got the window screens from my parents when they got new windows.  They sure come in handy!

Using the window screens we are able to dry a lot more fiber at one time.

This is how we wash our alpaca fiber.  I have been quite pleased with the ease and simplicity of the process.  I like that I can be doing this in the background while I go about the rest of my day.  I just have to remember to check on the soaking fiber every half hour or so, so I can switch out the water.

This is by no means the only way or even the perfect way to wash alpaca fiber.  It is just one way to do it, and it works for us in our limited space and busy household.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dyeing Part 3: Easter Egg Dye!

I spent a couple days this spring dyeing yarn with Easter Egg dye and citric acid (you can get citric acid in the canning section and grocery stores.  I got mine at Walmart.  It was by the canning jars).

PAAS neon colors

PAAS regular kit

Here's how I did it.

Samples dyed using Paas egg dyeing tablets
Samples are 1 tablet/0.6 oz (16g) of Classic Alpaca Lite color #100 White House (30 wraps on 18” niddy noddy)
Use 3 tablets/50g to achieve same saturation
  • Pink
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Spring Green
  • Teal
  • Blue
  • Denim
  • Purple
  • Pink
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Spring green
  • Blue
  • Purple
Soaked yarn overnight or longer in plain water.
Used citric acid instead of vinegar. Dissolved 1 TBS of citric acid in 1 cup of water (made citric acid water- CAW).
For Reds, pinks, and purples: Put 1 dye tablet in small container with 3 TBS of plain water.
For all other colors: Put 1 dye tablet in small container with 3 TBS of CAW.
Once tablets dissolved, added 1/2 cup of plain water.
Added yarn to container and let sit until most or all of the dye was exhausted.
For reds, pinks, and purples: Put yarn and water left in container in a microwaveable safe container. Microwaved on HIGH 2 min, let rest 2 min, added 3 TBS of CAW, microwaved on HIGH 2 min, let rest 7 min, added 3 more TBS of CAW, microwaved on HIGH 2 min, let rest 2 min, on HIGH 2 min, let rest until cool. Rinsed in water with a bit of Fibre Rinse. Hung to dry.
For all other colors: Put yarn and water left in container in microwaveable safe container. Added 3 TBS of CAW. Microwaved on HIGH 2 min, let rest 2 min, on HIGH 2 min let rest 7 min, on HIGH 2 min, let rest 2 min, on HIGH 2 min, let rest until cool. Rinsed in water with a bit of Fibre Rinse. Hung to dry.

Ta Da!  Fun yarn!  These samples will probably become a woven scarf someday.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dyeing Part 2: Kool-Aid on the Stove Top

I have dyed a lot of fiber and yarn with Kool-Aid, but I am by no means an expert.

Here is a bunch of yarn I dyed with Kool-Aid for a blanket for Clucky.
Finished blanket
I like using Kool-Aid and other food safe dyes, like food coloring and Easter egg dyes, because they are food safe, and I can use the same pots and cooking utensils that I use to make food with for my family.  I don't need a separate set of equipment to dye yarn and fiber in.  I can also use the microwave, stove, oven, or a crock pot to dye yarn with.

My preferred method to dye yarn and fiber for a semi-solid color is on the stove in a pot.  I also like to use the microwave to heat hand-painted or multi colored yarn and fiber - hand painting it in a microwave safe pyrex or casserole dish.  If you use the microwave or oven to heat set your fiber, you will want to make sure your yarn or fiber is always damp/wet, so it doesn't burn.

These were hand painted with Kool-Aid and heat set in the microwave.
Ooo . . . rainbow yarn dyed with Kool-Aid
I call this one "Sunset" - also done with Kool-Aid.

Here is a very basic tutorial on how to dye fiber (or yarn) with Kool-Aid on the stove top.

Today I'll be dyeing alpaca roving with Kool-aid.

First you need to soak your yarn and fiber.  Depending on the type of fiber, it may need to soak for 30 minutes to overnight.  I find that I get the brightest colors when I soak my alpaca yarn or fiber overnight.  I like to soak mine in a crock pot or large baking dish.
Here is some alpaca roving soaking in a baking dish.

Next, pick out your Kool-Aid.
Look at all these choices!
Here I picked pink lemonade
I fill a pot with lukewarm water and place it on the stove.  I then add the Kool-Aid and stir well to mix.  The amount of water in the pot does not affect the saturation of the color when you dye.  What matters is how much dye you have per oz, etc of fiber or yarn.  The water just dilutes the color enough to make sure the fiber gets evenly saturated.  The more packets of Kool-Aid you use, the deeper the color.  I should also mention that you want to use the unsweetened Kool-Aid that comes in the little packets.  You also don't need to add citric acid or vinegar when dyeing with Kool-Aid because there is already citric acid in the Kool-Aid.
Water in pot.
Add the Kool-Aid
Kool-Aid and water mixed
I gently squeeze out the excess water from the soaking fiber, and then gently place the fiber into the pot filled with water and Kool-Aid.  The fiber will start absorbing the Kool-Aid right away.  If you are using superwash yarn or fiber, it will absorb it even quicker.
Fiber in the Kool-Aid

You then want to warm up and heat your water until it is just below boiling.  Now heat and agitation can cause wool, including alpaca, to felt.  We don't want that to happen when we are dyeing.  Once the water is heated keep it at that temperature for 10-15 minutes.  Then turn off the stove and let the water cool down until it is cool to the touch.  You don't want to handle the fiber (or yarn) very much right now, or it could felt. 

As the water is cooling you can check to see if all the dye has been absorbed by the fiber.  I like to do this with a spoon.  I just lift out a spoonful of water and see if the water is clear or gently push the fiber off to the side to check the color of the water.

Water is clear, all done!
When the fiber (or yarn) has cooled, you can now rinse it.  I like to use a dish or bowl in the sink with cool to luke warm water and a squirt of Fibre Rinse or dish soap.  I fill the dish with water and my squirt of soap and swish it around to get bubbles.  I then place my dyed fiber into the dish and gently move it around.  At this point any excess dye should be rinsing out.  Depending on the colors used you may get no bleeding or a bit of bleeding of excess dye.  I dump the soapy water out of the dish.  I then let the tap run into the rinsing dish being careful not to let the stream of water be directly on my yarn or fiber.  I swish my fiber around in the dish until the soap and any excess dye is rinsed out, and the water runs clear.
Rinsing the fiber -- (the pink didn't turn green - this is a different batch of dyed fiber)
I then use my handy dandy salad spinner to spin out the excess water in the fiber.
In the salad spinner -- (I also dyed orange fiber that day!)
I then set the fiber on old mesh window screens to dry.
Finished alpaca roving - I dyed a lot of different colors that day
There are many other ways and techniques to dye yarn and fiber with Kool-Aid and food coloring.  This is just a very basic tutorial to get you jump started into the world of dyeing yarn and fiber.
Lemon-Lime Kool-Aid
Berry Blue Kool-Aid
Orange Kool-Aid
Grape Kool-Aid
Angora (rabbit) dyed with Pink Lemonade and Grape Kool-Aid

Have fun dyeing your own yarn and fiber!

Here are some other references on dyeing yarn with food-safe dyes.
Ravelry group - What A Kool Way to Dye
Dye Your Yarn - a great reference for dyeing yarn complete with color charts for various types of food coloring and kool-aid.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dyeing Part 1: Ice Cube Dyeing with Kool-aid

So last summer when it was super super hot out in June, I dyed yarn with ice cubes.  These ice cubes were made up of concentrated Kool-aid.  I used a combination of the sun, to melt the ice cubes; my car, to heat up the yarn to help set the color; and the microwave, to make sure the color was completely set. 

Collage of my ice cube dyeing.

My mom knitted two of the skeins of yarn into  a bear, a cat, and some booties for Eli. 

The rest I wove on my Cricket Loom - my first woven scarf!

My first woven scarf!

Here's how I did it.

First attempt at dyeing with ice cubes.
Mixed each flavor of Kool-aid in 1/2 cup of water. Got four ice cubes out of each flavor. Used 1 1/2 packets for darker colors, 2+ packets for lighter colors (the lemonades).
Flavors used:
  • Pink Lemonade
  • Grape
  • Berry Blue
  • Ice Blue Raspberry Lemonade
  • Lemon-Lime
  • Lemonade
  • PiƱa-Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Orange
  • Strawberry
  • Black Cherry
Soaked yarn overnight - 50g skeins of Classic Alpaca color #100 White House
Attempted 2 skeins of each:
Confetti: ice cubes randomly placed on yarn
Rainbow: ice cubes placed in rainbow order on yarn
Covered with plastic wrap and put outside in sun to melt. After ice cubes completely melted, took off plastic wrap and covered in aluminum foil, then placed in the car windows to heat up in the sun.
Temp of yarn got to around 140 degrees inside the car, so after brought in to the house, took off aluminum foil and recovered with plastic wrap. Zapped it in the microwave for 2 minutes, rest for 2 minutes, zapped for 2 minutes, just to make sure yarn was heated up enough.

I hope to do more ice cube dyeing in the future.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Summer Vacation

I thought I'd give us a break from fiber and crafty things and alpaca things to bring you some pictures from our summer vacation.  Yep, actually went on a vacation this summer.  We, (me, hubby, and Clucky) went camping up in Ely, MN and then on the North Shore.  We stayed at Bear Head Lake State Park up by Ely, and then we stayed right on Lake Superior at Lamb's Resort up in Schroeder.  We have a new-to-us 20 year old pop-up camper (with a dusty rose interior).  It is a lot more fun sleeping in a camper then a tent.  (I've paid my dues in a tent though, especially camping out in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons 3 years ago, along with the way there and back.)

Here are some pictures from our trip.

Just after sunset on Bear Head Lake.

Snapping turtle in Bear Head Lake (he would come by when you were fishing).

An ore ship leaving Duluth - the aerial lift bridge

View from our campsite at Lamb's Resort - just a few seconds walk to the shore of Lake Superior

Sunrise on Lake Superior

The boys at Grand Portage State Park

Gooseberry Falls State Park - the day after it rained for about 24 hours straight.

The foggy shore of Lake Superior

That's all!  See you next week!