Fibers, Part 3a: Cellulosic Fibers – BAST

I took a break from this series due to the summer heat, visitors and vacations.  Now that the weather is cooling … :)

Natural cellulosic fibers (also called cellulose fibers), come in three forms, one of which is bast.  Bast fibers include flax, ramie, hemp, jute and kenaf.

The plants that provide us bast fibers are usually tall, requiring stiff stalk fibers to stay up.  Bast fibers are collected from the inner bark (called phloem) that surrounds the stem.  A concoction of pectins, gums and waxes seal together the bast fibers.  Before being able to use the bast fibers, that concoction must be dissolved.

eraseDewRettingA bacterial process called retting is used to do that and is done in (1) fields (aka land or dew retting), (2) bonds or pools (3) tanks, or (4) with chemicals (e.g., sodium hydroxide aka caustic soda or lye).  The picture to the right is of flax undergoing dew retting from Sweden’s Ingeborrap Folk Museum.)


After the retting process (and washing and drying), is scutching.  This removes material from the fibers and separates the fibers from each other.  Once done by knives or swords (as demonstrated by the Ingeborrap Folk Museum), nowadays the eraseScutchingmachinestalks are put between metal rollers.  The scutching machine produces a thick roll of flax called a “lap” (pic from University of Leeds).

eraseOldscutchingmachineOf course, scutching machines go back a ways, as captured by the picture of “Brasier’s treble-patent Breaking and Scutching Machinery.”  The scutching machine was invented in 1797 by Neil Snodgrass of Johnstone (near Glasgow), Scotland but not patented. It was later improved (and patented) by William and Andrew Crighton of Manchester.

eraseHacklingNext, hackling removes short and irregular fibers and puts the fibers in a parallel layout.

New Hampshire Heritage and Traditional Arts demonstrates the process near one of the only known flax retting ponds in the state:

The flax retting pond is man made with the bottom lined with rocks so the flax could be laid out on the rocks, and then weighted down with clumps of sod to prevent the straw from floating to the surface. The natural microorganisms in the pond create the perfect environment for a retting process that can take 4-6 days- which is much quicker than the month it usually takes for dew retting out in a field.  



Long popular with fiber artists and crafters, linen is the fiber made from flax.  Archeologists, in fact, have found pieces of linen in prehistoric dwellings in Switzerland and as well as mummy cloths several thousand years old in Egypt.  Flax has always provided more than just fiber, however.  As noted by Libeco (a company that accounts for more than 60% of total Belgian linen production and sits between Bruges and the French border):

Always ecologically-correct, every part of the flax plant is at man’s service. The seeds provide oil for dyes, paint, cosmetics and floor coverings. When ground, they form a flour used in poultices. The fibers have been used as sutures. The by-products of linen production are processed into a pulp used for banknotes or fiberboard. However, flax is most renowned as the raw material for an extraordinary fabric.

eraseHempProcessingHemp is processed similarly.  It resembles flax but is not as fine as the better quality flax and thus was never popularly used for clothing.  Though not elastic or pliable, it is very strong and does not rot easily in water.   Thus, it was a great fiber to use for twine, ropes and cords.

erase_hempfieldFor those who wonder about the relationship between hemp and marijuana (and that’s a picture of a hemp field in France), hemp “is a commonly used term for high-growing varieties of the Cannabis plant and its products, which include fiber, oil, and seed. Hemp is refined into products such as hemp seed foods, hemp oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel.  Other variants of the herb Cannabis sativa are widely used as a drug, commonly known as marijuana.”  (Wikipedia)

erase_raimieRamie (aka grasscloth or reah) too has a history that goes back many thousands years.  comes from a plant is in the nettle family and needs hot, humid climates.  Its fibers are separated from the stalk by decortication while the plants are fresh (not dried out).  Though the ramie plant has white hairs on its underside, they do not sting!

As it is not a durable fiber, usually ramie is blended with other fibers.  It is similar to linen in absorbency and density but doesn’t dye as well as cotton.  Though it is resistant to insects, rotting and mildew (!), it is not a fiber you want to use to make linens:  Because it has a high molecular crystallinity it isn’t resilient or elastic.  Ramie is stiff and brittle and will break if folded repeatedly in the same place.

eraseJuterettingJute is one of the cheapest textile fibers you will find.  (Pic of retting jute from Wikipedia Commons.)  Its fibers, however, are short and brittle, so it is weak.  Mostly jute is used to make burlap bags for sugar and coffee, carpet backing, rope and twine.  To read more about jute, visit India’s Office of the Jute Commissioner.

erase_kenafLastly is kenaf.  Its leaves are edible but it, like jute, is used mostly for burlap bags, twines, ropes, paper and various industrial purposes.  And its plants grow high, as seen by the picture to the right.

Kenaf is cultivated in many countries, including the U.S. (though in the US mostly for animal bedding and feed).  Its fiber has many uses, including (but not limited to), for making wood, insulation,  soil-less potting mixes, packing material, and material that absorbs oil and liquids.  Ford and BMW, in fact, are making the material for the automobile bodies in part from kenaf.

erase_KenafSeedPodsIts seeds yield an edible vegetable oil that is high in omega polyunsaturated fatty acids, both necessary for normal growth and health and important for reducing cholesterol and heart disease.

And kenaf has pretty amazing seed pods! (pic source)


Posted in Fibers, Miscellany | Tagged | 8 Comments

Peace, Fiber Work & Health

For the last 10 years I have lived with a serious disease that is exacerbated by stress. Thus the calm and centered feeling I get from engaging in any fiber work – from knitting to weaving – has been crucial for me.  Part of coping – in addition to the medical establishment, exercise and nutrition, of course – has been (sadly) no longer reading literature from my academic field.  (I get both excited at staying current in my field and frustrated because I have no “outlet” for it: no graduate students to work with, no undergrads to spell bind, no clients to consult with, no books and articles to publish.)

That said, I read with semi-regularity (including Harvard Business Review, New York Times, The Guardian, Mother Jones and Slate) but nothing close like I did before I retired.  Thor subscribes to several journals that I read: Bloomberg’s, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, The Economist, and Time (though the latter is, in my opinion, closer to People than serious journalism).

The most recent edition of Barron’s, however, got my ire up.  I have been annoyed since reading the cover store by Barron’s columnist Gene Epstein, “Job? No Thanks.”  Epstein suggests that the vast majority of people receiving unemployment benefits (UI) would rather collect UI than work.  That is an unfounded implication; UI benefits are limited in duration, small in amount, and not accompanied by health benefits.  (Not surprisingly, also left unsaid by Epstein is that UI amounts are subject to taxation, thus lowering an already small amount.)

eraseBarron'sEpstein also implies that the people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments are cheats and frauds.  All one has to do is look at the cover of Barron’s 9/1/14 issue:  It pictures a smiling man wearing a bathrobe and slippers, carrying a mug walking down a large curved driveway from his large house toward his U.S. mail box.

The assumption of the viewer, of course, is that the man is about to open his mailbox and pull out his UI or SSDI check.

Epstein states that, “In 2013, the average payout per [SSDI] recipient was $1,146 per month.”  If you extend that out to a year, it would be $13,752.  It is highly doubtful that $13,752 would cover the tax bill, upkeep and landscaping on the house presented on Barron’s cover – never mind the food, insurance, tuition payments, childcare costs, clothes and utility expenses.

eraseBarron's2dYet on page 21 the same man is lounging in a nice hammock on a lush, green lawn.

Might there be fraud on the part of SSDI or UI recipients?  Of course; there is fraud everywhere – personal tax returns, corporate tax returns, government contracts, bank bailouts (etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum).  But Epstein’s unfounded implication is that the vast majority is committing some kind of fraud – an assumption I’d expect from first year undergraduates, not someone with a master’s in economics.

Further, the statistics Epstein used in the growth of the number of people receiving UI and SSDI are not given in context.  The changes wrought by the Great Recession were far beyond the responsibility of the average worker, many of whom were forced onto UI and SSDI rolls as a last alternative.   If you want to reduce the number of UI recipients and reduce the number of frauds in the SSDI rolls, basic economics instructs employers to offer higher salaries, benefits and provide adequate training, all of which are sorely lacking in this economy.

Six years after the Great Recession, pointing the finger at those least able to defend themselves is obscene and far beyond a respectable periodical.  It is reminiscent of “yellow journalism.”

Epstein’s article is yet another article that is red herring – a misdirection – designed to take public attention away from those in our society receiving the vast bulk of economic benefits over the last 30 years.  Instead, it puts the spotlight on the most vulnerable, ignoring two salient facts (thanks to Dave Gilson in “Survival of the Richest” for summarizing this info in Mother Jones; see also Emmanuel Saez, Ph.D., “Striking It Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States ):

  1. for every $1 earned by families in the bottom 90%, the families in
    the top 0.01% earn nearly $1,000;
  2. the grossly disparate change in income since 1980:
    (a)    – 24%  for the bottom 90%
    (b)  + 46%   for the top 1-10%
    (c) + 124%   for the top 1%
    (d) + 232%  for the top 0.1%
    (e) + 327%  for the top 0.01%

According to research by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (assistant professor at London School of Economics, currently a visiting professor at UC Berkeley), the current disparity in wealth in the U.S. is greater than what the U.S. saw in the 1920s:


If you are interested, I recommend viewing Saez and Zucman’s March 2014 presentation “The Distribution of US Wealth, Capital Income and Returns Since 1913.

eraseNYr1932Referring back to the picture of the cover of Barron’s, I think Barron’s had it backwards: The picture better portrays the 1% of wage earners in the US – not those receiving UI and SSDI. Before I go back to my knitting, here’s my last words on this topic.  Maybe Barron’s next cover could contain a picture similar to the November 19, 1932 cover of The New Yorker. 

Is what I am describing “class warfare?”  Hmmm … take a peek at what billionaire capitalist extraordinaire Warren E. Buffett said in a 2006 interview about taxation:

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

I suggest they’ve already won.  But here’s a question to consider:  How long will an ever growing number of laborers across the world continue to work for an ever shrinking group of wealthy families?

Enough of this.  Before I start quoting Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other, I have to close down my laptop, make a cup of herb tea, curl up on the couch and finish knitting the fingerless mittens (designed by KiwiYarnsKnits).

Posted in Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

Parallels Between Camping and Knitting

Returning from a trip where I introduced Thor to camping, I was struck with the similarities between introducing someone to camping and introducing someone to knitting.

Ensure comfort.

Knitting:  When teaching a new knitter, make sure she is physically comfortable. An environment that is warm, inviting and friendly allows your student to relax – a useful condition when learning an art that can be intimidating!

erasepic_MondokingCamping:  A good, comfortable night’s sleep is of critical importance.  While Thor already had a good sleeping bag, he had no sleeping pad.  A friend loaned us his MondoKing – Therm-a-Rest’s luxury open-cell foam, self-inflating mats.

A little whimsy is good.

erasepic_PonyNeedleserasepic_PeaceFleeceNeedlesKnitting:  My favorite needles – Addi Turbos – look boring (at least, that’s what Granddaughter F told me). Try a fun pair, such as those on the left made by Peace Fleece or on the right made by Pony that I bought for Granddaughter F.  (She gave each needle its own name – Olav and Marlene.  Yes, odd, I know.  According to my daughter, “Olav” is my granddaughter’s new favorite name, from a character in the feature-length cartoon “Frozen.”)

erasepic_PlatesCamping:  At a sporting good stores, I discovered a close out sale on six piece BPA-free outdoor meal kits made by Swedish company Light My Fire.  I bought two kits – one in green and the other in red.  (In this picture, I left the red kit packed up but unpacked the green kit so you can see what fits in a single kit!)  When I pulled them out of a pack, Thor’s face lit up with a grin.  A great combination: both fun and eminently useful!

Strength goes without saying.

erasepic_BrownSheepKnitting:  Be sure to have your knitter use a yarn that doesn’t pill or shred. One of my favorite yarns to use with beginners is Brown Sheep‘s Lamb’s Pride worsted (85% wool, 15% mohair). The yarn’s strength and its single ply means your new knitter is less likely to be frustrated by breaking the yarn or splitting the ply.

erasepic_StretchPreludeCamping:  Through the 1980s and ’90s, my daughter and I camped a lot and in all seasons. After a couple of uncomfortable camping trips on the Pacific Coast, in 1989 I invested in Sierra Design‘s excellent 4-season Prelude tent (now discontinued).  I bought it when Sierra Designs was still making its tents in Berkeley, California – about a mile from where we lived at the time.  (Now the tents are made oversees and imported.)  Our tent has a beautiful blue rain fly.  After almost 30 years, our Prelude continues to be a wonderful tent; it certainly kept Thor and me warm and snug when the evening temperatures plummeted.

Beauty always. 

erasepic_colorwheelKnitting:  Use a beautiful color yarn when you introduce your student to knitting. Bring a couple of skeins of appropriate yarns in attractive colors and let your student pick her favorite.

erasepic_RogueRiverCamping:  To ease Thor into camping, I took him to the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest. We camped at Natural Bridge Campground, on the banks of the Rogue River and about 20 miles away from Crater Lake.  That’s Wizard Island in the middle of the lake.  (It’s hard to take a bad picture of that lake!)  Scenic hikes and walks called erasepic_CraterLaketo us! How could a new camper not enjoy such landscapes?  And lest I forget, the night-time star gazing was jaw-droppingly beautiful.  Except for the occasional shooting star, it was a bit like gazing upward at innumerable diamonds on black velvet.  It was hard to take our eyes off the stars and go into the tent to sleep.

Do not overwhelm.

Knitting:  Do not start your new knitter on a long project that might become either overwhelming or boring.  Better for the new knitter to start and finish a project that will not become the dreaded “never-ending project.”  Good projects for the new knitter include a pair of wristlets, a pair of fingerless mittens, a headband, a hat or a baby bonnet.

erasepic_treeserasepic_floweronriverCamping:  Don’t take the new camper on a marathon trip, even if where you camp offers all the “amenities” (e.g., flush toilets and hot showers).   We camped at a “primitive” site (vault toilets, no running water), but our camping trip was only three days and two nights.

Don’t rush; enjoy the saunter.

Knitting:  Give your knitting student some time to practice between knitting lessons/sessions.  This lets her find her way, as it were.

erasepic_walkalongrogueCamping:   It took us about 3.5 hours of drive time each way, but the scenery was so beautiful the drive was enjoyable too.  Our route took us through multiple national forests, and, binoculars in hand, we stopped at many viewpoints along the way.

erasepicThor’s favorite mountain peak was Mt. Thielsen (9,182f/2,799m).   Mine too.  :)


Knitting & Camping:  On this trip I finished my fourth Pineapple Stacks hat (pattern by Rebecca Marsh)!

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Too Hot to Knit …

The Willamette Valley here in Oregon experienced an unusually warm July.  (This part of the valley generally gets some warm weeks scattered through the summer, but not a month straight!)  The heat has discouraged me from knitting much – nothing worse than having a partially knit adult sized mohair sweater resting on your legs as you knit in hot weather!

The heat, however, has meant a proliferation of wonderful fruits and vegetables.  So I have been putting up fruits and vegetables.  I have run out of shelf space for jams and preserves; the refrigerator can hold no more jars of pickles (we prefer the taste and crunch refrigerator pickles over the canned version), and the freezer is stuffed with berries.

erase8The newest addition to our culinary lineup, however, has been homemade almond milk.  Neither Thor nor I drink milk so have been buying soymilk and almond milk – until, that is, I bought a Vitamix (mine’s a bright red model 6300).

With the Vitamix, making almond milk has been nearly effortless.  Here’s what I did:  (1) Soak for 8 hours 1 c. of raw almonds.  (2) Pop the almonds out of their skins.  (3) Puree together (for about 20 seconds on high speed) the almonds, 4 cups of water and a dash of any sweetener or flavor you may (or may not) want.  (One batch I sweetened with a single date and a dash of vanilla.)  Result:  4 cups of almond milk.

Erasepic2After pureeing, I sieved out the almond meat using a fine mesh bag (called, aptly, a nut bag) over a large glass measuring cup.  (Squeeze gently, or you could have what I ended up my first time: almond milk sprayed all over the counter.)  While a standard canning jar would have worked well as a container for the almond milk, I wanted one that would pour better – one that was more bottle-like.

erasepic5erasepic4I visited one of my favorite stores – Down to Earth (it’s a home & garden store) – to find a glass container in which to store the almond milk.  They had many from which to choose!

erasepic8I bought two of these beautiful bottles by Quattro Stagioni (trans: Four Seasons), one to hold unsweetened almond milk and the other for sweetened almond milk.

By the way, each bottle came with a pamphlet with instructions (in several languages) on how to pasteurize milk.  Thor started to look concerned when I started reading the instructions aloud.  He looked even more concerned when I exclaimed, “I could do this!”

His response:  “We’re not getting a cow or goat!”

(If we had a cow or a goat I could try my hand at cheese making!)



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Pattern Monstrosity

I saw on The Purl Bee’s blog site a sweater she knit from a pattern titled, “The Wonderful Wallaby: A Hooded Sweater for All Ages” (1984, Carol Anderson and Kirsti Williams).  The sweater was cute (a hooded pullover with a kangaroo pouch), and Purl Bee liked the pattern.  Perfect, I thought, and a quick knit for practical sweater for Grandson O’s birthday.

That was the start of what turned out to be a harrowing journey.

erase_wallabyThe pattern (by Cottage Creations) is not available electronically, and it seemed to be a rarity at yarn stores.  After being told by several yarn store clerks, “Hmmm, I think I’ve heard of it,” I finally secured a copy through Paradise Fibers.  (Yes, it is sitting on a pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickled.)

The book(let) is 25 (that’s right, twenty-five!) pages in a tiny font and jammed full with discussions, instructions, encouragements, thoughts, and hints for the same sweater sized from a child’s 2 years to 48″ adult.  It’s written in a cutsie, folksy style.  (I am puzzled why so many knitters claim to like this style of pattern writing.  Hey, outhouses are folksy but no one waxes on lyrically about their virtues!)

The wandering narrative is interspersed with many drawings and sketches of kangaroos doing things like reading, knitting, etc.  Depending on size (and as explained on a whole page), the sweaters have different names:  Wanda Wallaby, Willie Wallaby, Wilhelmina Wallaby, Warren Wallaby, Washington Wallaby, Waylon Wallaby, Wilma Wallaby, Winifred Wallaby, Waverly Wallaby, Wilbur Wallaby, Wyatt Wallaby and Wisconsin Wallaby.

Really?!  If I’d wanted to read a child’s book, I would have borrowed one from the grandchildren.  Make up your mind … is it a children’s book or a knitting pattern?  (Note:  A professional editor could have guided the authors to make it one or the other – or at least streamlined the tortuous narrative.)

It seems that the authors attempted to write this pattern for the inexperienced knitter – and one who had no knitting friends of whom to ask questions.  That might explain why it is peppered with “helpful” information that, to anyone who has knit at least one garment from a pattern, shouldn’t need or find useful (e.g., reasons to knit the Wallaby sweater, half to full-page discussions on double points versus circular needles, etc.).

Again, pointing to its intended audience (the beginner knitter), the pattern is spotted with little paragraphs of encouragement:  For instance, “TREAT YOURSELF [sic] Take time to try on your Wonderful Wallaby, [sic] it feels so GOOD!  Your Wallaby won’t mind if tried on with needles remaining in the yarn!”  and “This is it!  Let’s hear a drum roll, cymbals clash and burst of trumpets as you begin–“The Placket…”

Erase_HumphreyThe instructions had me skipping ahead several pages, then back again, then forward, etc.  (What were authors thinking?!)

What made it a teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling frustrating read is that I felt I was laboriously pushing through the words, determined to read the instructions to their conclusion … all for a sweater pattern!  (At least Humphrey, after pulling the African Queen through a bug-infested swamp, gets Kate at the end!)

As I was already in $6.95 for the pattern and had already suffered through a first reading, I decided to rewrite it in my Neo-Norsk style.  That meant, of course, I had to read through the pattern multiple times to untangle the words and instructions – arghghgh.

After three days I finished the rewriting, taking far more time than I would had I simply designed my own pattern.  I admit I did much more than required for my own use.  For instance, I rewrote the instructions for all 12 sizes, added metric measurements, untangled and streamlined the tortured sentences, deleted unnecessary instructions, and repaired sloppy punctuation.

Here’s a glimpse at my rewrite – a total of 3 (three!) pages – all the “folksy” and “cutsie” removed:

Linda_Wallaby_cropDue to my respect for copyright, I cannot post my rewrite for other knitters.  But at least I won’t need to curse and tear at my hair while I knit up this pattern.  (And I will never again even look at another pattern by Cottage Creations.)

Posted in Knitting, Pattern Construction | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

3 Days of Delight: Black Sheep Gathering

As I try to cut down the next post in my new Fiber series to a much more readable length, I thought I would share some highlights of the Black Sheep Gathering (June 20-22, 2014).  Living once again in Eugene, Oregon, I attended every day of the event.

ERASE_KCL1ERASE_KCL2On the first day, Thor and I visited with Ken and Carol Ledbetter at KCL Woods.  (Thor purchased one of Ken’s amazing yarn bowls for my birthday one year.)  Ken’s work always amazes me.  This bowl (from acacia) was stunning.  After wiping my fingerprints of that acacia wood bowl, I bought another KCL shuttle!

ERASE_feltwallhangingI drooled over this masterpiece by Shannon Phifer of Kenleigh Acres Farm & Felt Pups!  It now hangs on the wall above my loom on a temporary hanger.  (Thank you, Thor!)  The sheep are needle-felted onto a hand-dyed, wet-felted background of Blue Faced Leicester.  The top piece is hand dyed, wet felted Navajo Churro; Shannon used Shetland for the yarn for the stitching on the top piece.  Each of the 12 breeds represented is made with fiber from that breed.

(See if you can you match the names to the sheep.  In alphabetic order, they are:  Blue Faced Leicester, Border Leicester, California Variegated Mutant, Coopworth, Corriedale, Gotland, Icelandic, Jacobs, Navajo Churro, Romney, Shetland, and Wensleydale.)

ERASE_felthatERASE_feltscarfI met Tylar Merrill at Thimbleberry Felt Designs.  Her scarves, jackets and hats were breathtaking.  Once I tried on one of her hats, I just had to buy it.  After I got home, I modeled the hat for Thor and then left it on my head.  Later that night while getting into bed, Thor asked if I wasn’t worried I would damage the hat in my sleep.  Only then did I take it off.

ERASE_pincushionI gasped with delight when I saw this creation by Trif’s Turnings.  Unlike my red tomato pin cushion and the heavier concave plastic version with a strong magnet, this doesn’t tip over AND it’s easy to pull out a pin!  Trif’s felted pin cushion (felted by his spinner wife, whose name I failed to get), is glued onto an ash base.

ERASE_buttonsERASE_buttons2And who among us can resist buttons?  I was amazed by Jodie McDougall‘s glass creations.  I had to grin when I saw the button on the right; it reminded me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

ErasePic1I also finished up a couple of projects.  You may remember the sweater I knit for my granddaughter F’s 6th birthday out of the Dale Falk yarn (to the left), I dyed a very (VERY) pink.  She LOVED the sweater which came in very handy as this year she celebrated her birthday on the Northern California.  But …

ERASE_FiaHatI groaned when I saw how much pink yarn was left over.  But, Granddaughter F LOVES pink so I knit a Pineapple Stacks Hat (by Rebecca Marsh).  But I STILL had pink yarn remaining.  (I was beginning to feel I’d never get rid of it.)

So I skeined that remainder up and tossed it into a very blue dye bath.  Voila!  Another Pineapple Stacks hat – this one for her brother, Grandson O.

ERASE_OlihatAs you can no doubt tell, I haven’t yet decided what type of topping to put on these hats. (I’m thinking a pompom for Grandson O and a felted flower for Granddaughter F.)  The grands will receive these adorable matching hats for Christmas (cunningly modeled in front of the hydrangea by my paper towel stand).

(I will have dig through my stash to find yarn to knit two adult sized Pineapple Stacks hats for their parents!)

And last – though certainly not least – I met Darlene Chambers of Peppermint Pastures Pygora Goats.  She raises hazelnuts, peppermint and pygora goats just north of me.  Beautiful fibers, tasty hazelnuts (frequently called filberts in the US), and peppermint adorned her booth.  The day I met her I was with another fiber aficionada, and between us we bought something from everything she sold.  (I have several pounds of hazelnuts in my freezer!)  :)

Yes, it’s been a wonderful week.

Posted in Dyeing, Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fibers, Part 2: Aesthetics

AESTHETICS has to do with your garment’s artistic qualities and beauty. But before starting your garment, however, you must determine whether a yarn’s aesthetics are appropriate for your garment’s anticipated use.  Choosing yarns should reflect that anticipated end use.  Understanding a fiber’s aesthetic properties comes into play here.

How much abrasion your project will be subjected to?  For instance, is your project for the outdoor garments or is it a delicate lacy dinner jacket.  A tightly spun wool yarn makes wonderful, well-wearing outdoor garments, while silk, though delicate to the touch, has great tensile strength!

Will some parts of your garment be subjected to more abrasion than other parts?  Besides fiber choice, your choice of stitch or weave, pattern and type of yarn will come into play.  Think, for instance, of the seed stitch panels commonly on the underarm portions of an Aran sweater: The smaller (and firmer) the surface of the stitch, the less likely much pilling will occur.  Consider also the type of yarn used in traditional Norwegian sweaters:  firm, thin, multi-stranded, tightly spun yarn, which also reduces stretching and makes the color patterns clear.

How much luster do you want in the final garment?  Mohair and some silks, for instance, put beautiful gleans into yarns and can be used in creating beautiful formal and elegant attire.  But perhaps you want a more informal look?  Then try wool or cotton, which are usually matte (dull).

What about the garment’s texture?  Do you want a smooth finish to your garment?  Natural yarns such as flax, wool and cotton tend to be more textured because they are, well, natural and thus affected by an array of variables (e.g., nutrition, weather, etc.).  For the ultimate smooth in “natural” fiber, try a manufactured cellulose fiber (e.g., rayon or bamboo).  They are first made into a pulp and then extruded into uniformly sized fibers.  Some silk fibers are also extruded from fibroin solutions.  Do you want a yarn that is heavily textured?  Try a boucle or a yarn that is made up of a multiple strands of different yarns.

How do you want the hand – that is, how the final garment will to feel to the wearer’s touch?  Remember, however, that what feels good to you might not feel good to another.  Years ago I knit an oversized sweater out of super bulky single ply Lopi (100g/3.5 oz, 60m/66y).  Thor calls it my “Yeti Sweater;” it is scratchy and I love its feel.  It is THE sweater I slip on when I am chilled and feeling sort of sick-miserable.  I admit I look a little like a bear in the sweater, but I love the HAND on that sweater – though no one in my family does.  (Fine with me; I don’t have to share it.)

What drape do you want your final garment to have?  What degree of flow do you want it to have?  Again, both the type of fiber you choose, how it is spun, the stitch or pattern you use, and the size garment will affect its flow.  I love knitting with lace weight mohair-silk … but I have had to repair beautiful lacy shawls and scarves because they seem to float out around me and snag onto various objects (e.g., bushes, children’s fingers, teeth of a house cat, etc.).

erase_absorbency.jpgHow absorbent do you want your garment to be?  This is always very important in socks; nothing worse than having wet or clammy socks on your feet!  Fiber manufacturers measure absorbency in “moisture regain” (MR:  the percentage of the moisture-free weight at 70F/21C and 65% relative humidity).  Wool is a hygroscopic fiber (one that absorbs moisture without feeling wet).  On the opposite end is cotton, a hydrophobic fiber (little or no absorbency ability).  (If you’re wondering what PBI stands for … it’s a manufactured fiber also called Arazole.  (Chart source:  Textiles, p. 26, table 3-6.)

What about heat or thermal retention?  Out of 12 fibers listed in Textiles (id.), wool is at the top of the chart; silk comes in 7th, flax 9th, cotton 10th and rayon 11th.  Synthetics place 2d through 6th, but every natural fiber rates higher in ability to absorb moisture without feeling wet.

During and after wear, do you want your finished garment to look like it did before it was worn?  Then you need to consider its resiliency – how the fabric returns to its original shape after bending or crushing.  In a list of 10 fibers, only 5 not completely manufactured, wool rates 2d (just under nylon), silk is 6th, flax 7th, cotton 8th and rayon 9th.

What does this mean for the designer?  Well, if you want to weave fabrics for a pair of slacks, know if you use flax or cotton you’ll be ironing a lot (unless you’re going for the wrinkled look).  If you knit a heavy cotton sweater, it will keep getting longer and wider (at least until you toss it in the washer and dryer).

What your garment’s elasticity – its ability to return to its original dimension or shape?   Fabrics with poor elastic recovery will stretch out of shape, while those with good elastic recover maintain their shape.  Fiber artists must not forget about this.  Not surprisingly, fiber manufacturers have a measurement for this too:  the fiber’s percentage recovery at 3% stretch (PR).  Wool’s PR is 99, rayon 95 (at 2% stretch), silk 90, cotton 75 and flax 65.

Lastly, think about the effort and attention to carrying for this garment.  What care properties are important for this garment?  If your garment is to be an easy-to-care for garment … well, consider that in choosing the fibers and finalizing your design!  If it’s a gift or for sale, be sure to include instructions.  The instructions should briefly explain how to care for this garment so it will last many years.

The next post in the Fibers series will look at why it is important for fiber artists to understand the differences between and among seed, bast and leaf fibers (aka natural cellulosic fibers).

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