The result of the experimental purple-pink-orange dyeing had been a disappointment — for a moment, I considered not spinning it at all.  It might turn out alright or it might turn out awful but, either way, it just wasn’t me.  Why spend the time on it?

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But, I wasn’t brought up to waste, so I  spun it anyway — and I was even more disappointed when I did.  The first bobbin was passable, with its gaudy-but-cheeky bright pink sections that really lifted the overall colour combination, and the long sections of pale pink that added softness…

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But the second bobbin was just awful.  Awful.  It came out purple then orange then purple then orange.  There was no bright pink at all, and the pale pink was almost totally lost in the spinning.  It came out looking like a sweaty, stinky high school football uniform…

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I despaired.  I had planned on Navajo plying them but, whilst that might work passably well with the first bobbin, it would simply exacerbate everything that was wrong with the second.  No, the key here was damage limitation — I’d have to try plying them together in the hopes that that could do something to make it all a bit less awful.

To my surprise, it did.  It really did.  In fact, plying them together created a yarn that was so beautiful, so sublime, and  so amazingly gorgeous that I can’t stop looking at it.  It has the colours of a stormy sunset.  I  just want to stick my faced into it and rub it all around.  I am in love!

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Large skein — 58 yards, 20 inches

Small skein — 32 yards, 26 inches


Y’know, it’s taken me months to blog the dyeing I did over a couple of days.  What pleases me the most about that is that I must mean I learned quickly from my mistakes — because my last batch of dyeing was perfect, exactly what I wanted.

I’d been looking through my stash for inspiration, when I pulled out some fibre I’d picked up at MDSW — and a bell went off in my head.  At the time I’d bought it, it absolutely sang out for me to pick it up, fondle it, love it, buy it.  And I obeyed, chuffed to bits to have these exquisite colours as my own possession!

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But now I looked at it and realised, these colours were Kool-Aid.  And I could make them.  So I did.

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Spot on!   How’s that for learning from your mistakes?

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Even thought I wasn’t really satisfied with my last batch of dyeing, it taught me lessons nonetheless.  I knew now that the Kool-Aid orange was far too intense for my purposes, and the purple was too deep.  So this time I altered my tactics slightly, and decided to use primary colours to get the shades I wanted.  I dipped one end of the roving in yellow for a while and the other end in blue, and then submerged the whole roving in red.  When I pulled the results out of the crockpot, my heart leapt.

This was more what I had hoped for.  This was beautiful!

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I liked it so much that I skeined up some weaving yarn and dyed that as well…

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When you fall off a horse, you’re supposed to get right back on it, aren’t you?  So, I did and my next batch of dyeing came out much, much better.

Learning from my previous mistake (a sign of genius, that), I decided to ditch the ambitious cross-colourwheel combinations and go for some colours that sit more side-by-side on the wheel.  I chose as my inspiration a beautiful orange-pink-red-purple yarn that I’d bought at the Great Lakes Fibre Show and set off to the dig the crockpots out from all the moving boxes in the garage.

The inspiration:

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It’s a little hard to replicate colours like this using Kool-Aid but, this time, the result was a lot more to my liking, even if it did come out nothing like I’d hoped.  The orange was still to far too gaudy, the purple much deeper than I meant it to be, I didn’t let the pink run over the other colours as much as I should, and there’s something very high school team colours-ish about it.  And yet… it looks ok.   I don’t think anyone would come running up to it from across a crowded room, overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the colour combination, but I suspect it might just spin up surprisingly nicely.

The result:

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And I’m looking forward to spinning this up, because this time, I dyed with some BFL roving that is going to slip through my fingers with no arguments at all.  Joy!  What do you think, a thick-and-thin slub yarn?

Part of me was saying, “Just throw it all out!”  My first foray into Kool-Aid dyeing had turned out just ugly, ugly, ugly.  I was relieved that at least I’d thought to buy the cheapest roving I could find to start out on, but that was probably the only highlight of the whole experiment.  Chucking it all out and forgetting it ever happened might be the best way forward!

But, looking at it, I realised that, although the purple and green were hideous together and the blue and red clashed jarringly, there was a possibility of salvaging this disaster.  If I split them up and spun the blue with the green and the purple with the red, it might work.

I got out the wheel and got right to work.  The first thing I noticed was that this was some tough roving.  I’d bought it from a vendor at the Waynesburg Sheep and Wool Festival and, even as I was looking at it, the lady running the stall was trying to get me to buy another kind instead.  “That one’s just not that nice,” she said, pointing to the wool and alpaca mix I was fingering.  “This one over here is much better for spinning.”  But I explained that I was looking for something really cheap try dyeing with and, besides, I was used to spinning with uncooperative wool.

I’d never spun with commercially prepared roving in the UK, let alone top.  I learned to card when I first learned to spin, but quickly decided I just couldn’t be fussed to do it, and started spinning directly from the raw fleece instead.  It wasn’t easy at first — raw fleece is full of little knotted bits and vegetable matter (and very occasionally a dead bug or a lump of poo) — but my fingers soon became adept at sorting the wool as I drafted.  Spinning in the grease was highly economical as well, because the bottom has fallen out of the UK wool market — it often costs the farmers more to transport their shorn fleeces to market than they actual make from the sale — and I could get a good (whole) fleece for about £5, and very often for free just for asking.  Before long, I was able to spin an even, fine single direct from the raw fleece.

But there are no such bargains to be had in the US — fleeces here cost upwards from $40 — and, with my daughter showing signs of a possible allergy to lanolin, I’ve switched to spinning from roving and top.  At first, I didn’t like it — where was the challenge?  It’s all so smooth, it’s almost pre-drafted!  But I’ve quickly gotten used to it — spoiled, in fact.  It’s so easy and… oh yes,  so clean!  It doesn’t fight my fingers, it gives in so seductively, and raw fleece never came in the glorious colourways I’ve been collecting lately.

So it came as a bit of shock to be handling such an unruly wool again.  This roving didn’t want to submit — it chucked slubs and knots and vegetable matter at me.  And it argued, it stuck…  it annoyed me.  I suddenly  realised just how spoiled I’ve become!

But I carried on, let the slubs pass through for character while my fingers tried to remember what to do, and somewhat proudly finished spinning my first attempt at Kool-Aid dyeing.  It isn’t a nice yarn — it’s too rough and scratchy — and there’s not much of it, but the I think the result has clawed back some measure of success from disaster.

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MDSW awoke a desire me and, for days afterward, I couldn’t get it off my mind.  I didn’t want to spin other peoples’ colours — I wanted to make my own.  I wanted to dye.

I’ve dyed before, years ago, but that was with natural dyes and under the tutelage of someone who knew so much she made it easy…  Easy enough that I’ve forgotten entirely how to do it.  So, I asked my friend Cosy for help: how do I get started?  She suggested… Kool-Aid.

Kool-Aid.  I knew — vaguely — that you could dye with it, but I never thought much of it.  Surely it couldn’t be much snuff?  But Cosy assured me, and pointed out that unlike very toxic normal dyes, Kool-Aid was toddler friendly.  Now that was a compelling argument,  so I ran out to the supermarket and picked up a dozen packets of the stuff.  And as I chucked them in my basket, a cloud of insanely synthetic fruit-flavoured scent rose up and took me straight back to my childhood.

I’m not very good at walking before I run.  I’m very good at running before I’m ready, tripping over my own two feet and falling flat on my face.  And in that vein, I decided to try to replicate the purple and green roving I got MDSW.  An easier start would have been something more side-by-side on the colour wheel — something like a nice red and a nice yellow gently blending into a pretty little orange.  Purple and green are almost opposite each other on the colour wheel and a lot more difficult to excute deftly.  I was undaunted.

Crockpots make good dyeing vessels — they keep the water at the right temperature without letting it reach a boil and felt the wool — but I didn’t have any handy.  So I decided instead to have a go at my own version of handpainting.

I laid a long length of clingfilm out on the deck and put the wool on top.  Then I poured my Kool-Aid mixture over it.  There wasn’t enough, but there was a little brightly coloured sludge at the bottom of each cup, so I added a bit more water and hoped it would stick to the white sections of wool I poured it over.  Then I rolled the clingfilm up like a jellyroll, put it in a glass bowl, and stuck it in the microwave.

It was later that day that I realised that hot wool stinks.  And the smell of hot wool and combined with the sickly fruit scent of Kool-Aid is really quite stomach-churning.  And that once that smell is permeates your microwave, you’re going to smell it every time you try to prepare some food… for months.  I decided to dig those crockpots out of the moving boxes in the garage.

Anyway… the result… It was disasterous.  Purple and green should not be attempted by amateurs and certainly not with Kool-Aid.  Nor should subtle meltings of pinks into blues which, through the medium of Kool-Aid, risk coming out as garish red-and-blue bunting.

Behold the inspiration…

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And the abysmal results…

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But we can end this cautionary tale on a high note — the good news is the situation was (somewhat) salvageable.  More on that soon…

On the way home from MDSW, I realised with a start that the following weekend was Mother’s Day and, having just finished and falling in love with my cobbled-together version of Mary-Heather’s Simple Things shawlette, I decided to quickly knit one up for my mum.

I cast on the next day, using the Rumba yarn I’d picked up at MDSW and knit as fast as two demanding toddlers would let me.  Big needles (8mm) helped it move along quickly, and I finished it just in time.

Unlike the previous version, I loved this yarn, loved the way the deep raspberry colour melted into the caramel brown.  And I kept asking myself if Mum wouldn’t really be perfectly happy with a hastily bought bottle of perfume…?  But I was a good daughter and gave it away on the Sunday.  Mum was suitably delighted, which softened the blow.

I note, however, that she hasn’t worn it once so far — never mind that the weather has never dipped below 70 since — and if I don’t see it round her neck soon, I may be stealing it back!

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I love the way the yarn overs came out using bigger needles.  There’s something really graphic about the big stitches, the big holes.  It looks to me a little like this scarf has a spine… looks a bit like the skeleton of a dinosaur in the natural history museum.  That’s really weird, but I kinda like it!

As I said when I started this blog, I never finish anything, knitting-wise.  I have hundreds, thousands… nay, millions of unfinished projects lurking in dark corners of the house, all hoping that the sun will shine on them again one day.  It’s just get so excited by trying new things — new stiches, new patterns, new shaping, new yarn — that it’s impossible to resist until I’ve finished whatever I’m currently working on, and I find myself casting on something new — just to see — before the current project is even cool on the needles.  And that’s ok, because I don’t knit for the final product — I’m a process knitter.  It matters less to me to be that I come away with something at the end than that I just enjoy the knitting.  The click-clack of the needles, and feel of the yarn in my hands, the smell of the wool, and the rhythm of the stitches…  That’s what it’s about for me.

But when I saw Mary-Heather‘s Simple Things shawlette, I wanted it.  I wanted it.  And that was a strange sensation — and one I didn’t trust.  But I realised the project was small enough and quick enough that I might actually have  a shot at getting it done before I moved on, like a drifter, to the next shiny thing that caught my eye.

No pattern available yet, but I studied Mary-Heather’s photos and reckoned I could work out at least a good approximation of the pattern.  And so I looked through my stash for some decent yarn to try it out with, and cast on.

The funny thing is, I didn’t like the yarn as I was knitting.  I wasn’t sure I liked it in the ball, but the more I knit with it, the less I liked it.  The colours jarred.  And pooled.  It felt scratchy.  It was too marroon-y, and I didn’t like the yellow or the orange bits.  Time and again I thought to myself that I would just rip it all out and start over with another yarn…  but I never had one to hand at that moment, so I carried on.

I finished it on the way home from MDSW and here’s the crazy thing about this scarf: as soon as I put it on, I loved the yarn.  Loved it!  Couldn’t stop looking at it!  Then I took it off and looked at it and…  I didn’t like it.  Put it back on, and loved it…  Took it off again, and didn’t like it.

And, I still don’t like it.  Until I put it on — and then I love it.  I just totally don’t get that.

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Once upon a time, there was a girl who went to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  And she had a fabulous time.

And she got lots and lots of loot.  And she spent waaaaaay too much money.  And she met Jess and Mary-Heather from Ravelry.  And she ran into her friend Cosy.  And she met up with friends from her knitting group. And she met with a cyber-friend that she’d never before got the chance to meet in person.  And her husband and children were bored to tears, but they were very, very patient  for her sake.

And she listened to music.  And talked to sheep.  And she smelled all the wonderful fair-food smells.  And she looked at fibre and touched fibre and smelled fibre and lusted after the fibre and… and… and…

It was all too much.  She thought about blogging about but there was so much to say, she didn’t know where to start!  So she never did.  And, as time passed, more wonderful fiber-y things happened that she really wanted to blog about, but the first things about MDSW hadn’t yet been said, so the next things had to wait in the queue… and so they never got said either

And she thought they’d never get said.  And she thought it was all too much.  And she nearly gave up.

And then…  she told herself to get over it already and just GET ON WITH IT.  It’s only a bloody blog post!  Sheesh!

So here you go, dear readers…  Without further ado, I would like to introduce you to my MDSW swag…

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Some gorgeous purpley-bluey-greeny top from Fat Cat Knits…2009.05 126

I could not resist this top from Woolerina2009.05 114

Some fun dyed Wenslydale locks that I thought would be great to just drop into my spinning here and there…2009.05 129

I loved this purple and green from Dancing Leaf Farm so much that I bought two…2009.05 136

Some top in random colours from Stony Mountain, to spin on my spindle…2009.05 146

I got this yarn from Dancing Leaf Farm to make a Mother’s Day gift for my mum, and then immediately regretted not getting more!…2009.05 157

And finally, as I was looking at all these colours, I thought, “Maybe I should get in on this dyeing lark myself…” so I picked up two bags of undyed top from Little Barn, just to play with…2009.05 166

When I first tried it, I wasn’t expecting Navajo plying to produce a completely different yarn from regular plying, but it does.  I tried it on my drop spindle, using multi-coloured singles (where I had spun a little purple for a while, and then switched to a little blue, and then green, and so on).


When I plyed these singles in the normal way, I got a barber-pole effect across the whole yarn like this:


But, when I Navajo plyed it, the yarn came out multi-coloured in sections, like these two:


Both from the same singles, but what a difference!

It’s logical, of course.  In regular plying, you are bringing two separate singles together and, if they are different colours at the point where they ply together, then that barber-pole striping effect is what happens.  Whereas in Navajo plying, you are taking one single and doubling it over on itself (well, tripling it over, actually) so, in a multi-coloured single like I was using, you are plying like with like for a while, then switching to another colour and plying a new like with like, and so on.

I find the difference really intriguing, and I can’t decide which result I like better.  Which do you like more?