Monday, September 30, 2013

Visit to an Alpaca Farm

(Click on photos to enlarge)

We have an alpaca farm nearby and they were holding an open house this past weekend.  I've been wanting to visit for a long time and guess that was the incentive that I needed.  What a fun couple of hours.  And the DH was even glad he went with me. 

There were a couple temporary pens set up in front of their shop with a few alpacas that we could admire.  The owner greeted us and explained a few things about alpacas to us.  She and her husband have been in the alpaca business for about 15 years, breeding, selling, shearing, knitting, the whole gamut.  They don't do their own spinning but send it off to local fiber mills to do the processing.  It was hard to tear myself away from the animals, so beautiful and with faces to fall in love with.  She said that as cute as they look, alpacas aren't cuddlers.  They have personalities much like a cat, enjoy their antics and wait for them to come around for attention.

They had several babies this spring altho they looked almost full sized to me.  It was very windy when we visited and the young ones were kind of skiddish about the unfamiliar sounds and people like us roaming around.

This big boy is one of their award winning herd sires.  He was one that enjoyed being touched and petted.

Here is one of their breeding females and she kept an eagle eye on us the whole time we were there.  Isn't she a sweetie?

These are a pair of youngsters.  The one on the right was born with a recessive gene that gave him blue eyes and left him deaf.  He will never be able to be a breeding sire but is very tame and would make a nice companion to a herd.  The owner said that alpacas aren't loners as they get lonely just like we do, so they try to sell in pairs or to already established herds.

OK, enough of the animals.  So we go inside to the shop and find lots of tempting goodies.  Just look at the socks!  Who can resist a pair of socks?  They are so soft and comfy.  Note the ribbons and awards under their counter.

Look at the gorgeous alpaca items, yarns and roving.  It was a joy doing the touchy feely thing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gradient Dip Dyeing a Sock Blank
(Click on photos to enlarge)

I just love gradient sock yarns but there aren’t too many retail gradient yarns available.  And besides, dyeing is fun!  So…here’s my first attempt at dip dyeing a gradient sock blank.  And I’m quite pleased with the results, although I miscalculated my color placement a bit.  But as I knit the sock, I pulled out stretches of yarn in appropriate places to arrive at my destination.  The skein of yarn I started with was 4 oz instead of 3.5 oz of most sock yarns.  So here's what I did.
I first started by knitting my yarn into a double stranded blank, with a few rows of waste yarn at both ends.  The waste yarn will make it easier to unravel later and I didn’t want a permanent cast on or bind off edge to prevent the dye from saturating all the stitches.  I used my postal scale as I wound the cakes to get 2 cakes of equal weight.  I knit my blank by casting on 30 stitches and knit 260 rows at T9 on my KX-350 midgauge knitting machine.  I purposely knit my blank narrower than the normal sock blanks so my colors would transition better without creating definitive lines when I knit the sock.

I prepared my blank by soaking in room temperature water with a couple squirts of hand dishwashing soap.  I laid the blank on top of the water and let it ‘sink’ on its own so air bubbles wouldn’t be trapped in the yarn and cause a resistance which would prevent the dye from saturating.  I let it soak for about 30 minutes, then sozzled it around to ‘wash’ the yarn.  Then I rinsed it and soaked again for atleast another 30 minutes while I was preparing the dye mix and work space.

The rest of the steps are pretty much trial and error but worked just fine with a bit of refinement needed for the next batch.

The acid dye that I used calls for 2 tsp per 4 oz of yarn but as I worked, I could see that this was way too much dye.  Doing this again, I would start with about half the amount of recommended dye, thinking that I can always add more dye mix if needed.  

I devised my own DIY rack and frame with a couple pieces of Styrofoam insulation left over from one of our construction projects and used long metal knitting needles to make an adjustable rack.  I placed the yarn blank over the knitting needles and into the dye pot to determine placement of the top needle.  I wanted a couple of inches of the blank to be submerged into the dye pot.  So I poked the first knitting needle thru both pieces of Styrofoam to hold the blank where I wanted to start.  Then I spaced another knitting needle about an inch lower than the first, placed another needle an inch lower, etc until the last needle was resting on top of the dye pot.

I turned my hot plate on to medium high and let the water warm up.  I then added about 2” of warm water to the pot and added the prepared dye mix along with 2T of white vinegar (or citric acid).  Use caution on adding the vinegar at the beginning of the process because some dyes will break color if the acid is added too early.   I wanted my gradient to move from dark at the cuff, toe and heel with lighter portions in between.  Leave it to me, huh?  So I folded the blank in about half, which would be the heel area and hung it on the top knitting needle with both ends and the middle heel area about 2” into the dye bath.

Let that set for about 5 min, give or take, then I pulled out the top knitting needle so the whole blank would drop another inch into the dye bath.  From here, the trial and error really begins.  I placed a plastic dish in front of my dye pot so I could lift the whole rack and Styrofoam frame to see how things were going on the blank and to add water.  After this, I lifted the rack and yarn out of the pot and added a couple inches of water each time I pulled out a knitting needle to lower the blank into the pot another inch.  I let each section sit for about 5 minutes, checked it for desired color before I lowered it again.   Be sure to stir the dye mix each time water is added and before repositioning the blank again.  

When done, the dye mix was a couple of inches from the top of the pot when I pulled out the last needle and let the last portion drop into the dye mix.   I didn’t leave the last portion in the dye mix very long because I wanted it just tinted a bit.  Use your judgment on when to lower the blank or to add water as it will depend on how much saturation you want and how you want your gradient to look.  I used way too much dye this time around so I found it necessary to remove some of the dye mix with a quart jar and discard it and just added more water until I got the nice shaded gradient effect I wanted.

Because the water temperature never got hot enough for 30 minutes to set the dye, I lifted the rack and blank from the dye pot when I was satisfied with the results and squeezed out as much water as I could.  Then I wrapped the blank in plastic wrap and steamed it for 30 minutes after the water came up to boiling.  Cool, rinse, wash with Synthrapol or hand dish soap and rinse til clear.  Voila!  I now have a nice gradient sock blank.

This method of dip dyeing will not result in a solid color because the yarn isn’t in the dye bath long enough to saturate through all the nooks and crannies of the yarn stitches but is lovely none the less.  I would suggest painting instead of dipping if you want more solid colors.