Spinning weft yarn for weaving fulled wool fabric

Summer finally arrived yesterday (literally; that’s often how fast seasonal changes occur around here) so I’m now working outside whenever possible. I’m spinning singles wool yarn for weaving fulled wool fabric on the floor loom in a couple of months.

I have 19 3.5 oz skeins of 30+ year-old Danish and Swedish two-ply DK weight wool weaving yarns in my yarn stash. I bought them secondhand from two different weavers in hues of royal purple, lavender, turquoise, forest green, teal, jade and seafoam green. I think they look great together.

My plan is to make a striped warp using the yarn; I will calculate how to max out the warp length based on threading the full width of my 36-inch floor loom at a fairly open twill sett (around 12 to 15 epi). This will be my next floor loom project after I finish weaving the lavender huipil fabric 

For spinning the weft yarn I have three 4 oz teal merino or Corriedale braids secondhand from another spinner (she can’t remember which breed they are). I purchased the 1 ½ lbs of purple merino top new. I’m spinning the singles to be approximately the same thickness as the two-ply yarns. I will wind the singles directly onto weaving bobbins; commercial weaving yarns are never washed before winding onto cones for sale and I want the shrinkage to be similar for he width and length of the finished fabric. The idea is to allow the handspun yarn to rest and dissipate twist energy so that when I finally start weaving the fabric I’m not weaving with energized singles.

When I finish weaving the fabric, I want to full (partially felt) the fabric heavily. I don’t know what the finished fabric dimensions will be; I don’t have experience fulling handwoven fabrics. My vision is to make a full length, lined coat that would double as a robe. If I have leftover fabric, I could make a sweater or vest.


This is my mother standing on her front porch in Sedona, Arizona wearing a shawl she wove for herself. It has a cotton and rayon warp and rayon weft, mostly in royal purple, with jade green accents. It is a four shaft undulating twill. She made twisted fringe. Very drapey, shiny and colorful.


Making sourdough pita bread & naan

Real pita bread is sourdough bread, as it has been for centuries in the Middle East. Pita bread is made from a basic artisan dough, often with a little sweetener added.It’s a perfect bread for arid and semi-arid climates because unlike most artisan breads the rolled out rounds do not need to be wet when they are put in the oven. You actually leave the rounds out to dry a little before baking. I used two-thirds freshly ground whole wheat flour and one-third unbleached wheat flour, mostly for the rolling out part, in the above photos.

The top photo shows the initial kneading with a plastic dough spatula to flip over the dough on itself. Then the dough is left to rise for 30 minutes (known as a bench rest or bulk rising period). When the dough is ready to roll out, I use a metal bench knife to carefully remove small sections of dough. The trick with making pitas is keeping the rounds intact—don’t fold them over while rolling out or you won’t get even puffing in the oven.

You absolutely need unglazed ceramic tiles or a pizza stone to bake pita bread. I place the rounds on squares of parchment paper and slide them into a 550°F oven that has been preheated for 30 minutes to give the heat time to fully penetrate the tiles. The heat in the tiles radiates directly into the 1/8-inch-thick dough. Because the surface is dry and intact (no pricking as for pizza crust) steam expanding inside the dough cannot escape and makes the bread puff like a balloon. As the bread cools it deflates.

I the rounds were disturbed during rolling you might no get a full puff; you’ll see multiple smaller bubbles on the bread’s surface instead. Don’t despair. Call it naan and get on with your life. (Naan is another popular sourdough bread in the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan and India. It is traditionally baked on the sides of a ceramic/brick tandoori oven. Use the naan to scoop up the rest of the meal, kind of like Ethiopian injera.

Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen, 2009.


Saving back up sourdough starter

Excerpt from, Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen, “Make backup starter for long-term storage. Never put fresh sourdough in the freezer. Wild yeast (S. exiguus) and some strains of lactic acid bacteria, including L. sanfranciscensis, will not survive freezing. When first dried, the microbes go dormant and the culture can then be stored in a freezer without harm.“

I made a little extra sourdough starter the last time I made bread. I used a spatula to smear a thin layer on parchment paper. I put the tray with the starter in a safe out-of-the-way place (on top of the bowls above the refrigerator). I let the starter dry for a few days (I live in a dry climate). Then I crumbled the starter into a jar and put it in my freezer for safekeeping. I do this at least once a year. The starter can easily be reactivated by dissolving it into water and adding flour for food and increasing the volume until you have active bubbling starter.

Read my book for instructions on activating dried sourdough starter, whether homemade or purchased.

An aside about the bowls: the white bowl with the black gooseberries was a wedding present to my parents. Next June is their 50th anniversary, so the bowl is 50 years old. The blue bowl I bought in Romania in 1998 for $3. The white mixing bowl belonged to my husband’s grandmother, date unknown. All are in active use in my kitchen.

Use the following coupon code for a 10% discount off items totaling at least $5 at my Etsy shop or my book website: raynerblog10. Good until December 31, 2013.

This is me with my spinning and weaving friend Lauren at Buffalo Park, a natural area within the city of Flagstaff. I’m wearing one of my handwoven blouses, a cotton huck lace pattern. We were demonstrating spinning for passerby at an event held by Friends of Flagstaff’s Future. This spinning wheel is Lauren’s; it is a bobbin-lead wheel made by a local carpenter. The fiber is wool roving.

People walk, jog and bicycle on the maintained trails in the forested park. A family that included this girl walked by us and stopped to watch. The girl, who looked to be about five years old, wanted to try spinning. Her legs were too short to reach the treadle on the spinning wheel when she sat on Lauren’s stool, so Lauren said she would move the treadle while the girl could focus on drafting out fibers as twist entered them. Lauren demonstrated drafting for less than a minute and then the girl took over. We were surprised when she proceeded to draft out even yarn like a seasoned pro. The parents commented that maybe they ought to buy their daughter a spinning wheel since she seemed so natural at spinning.

I’m halfway done weaving the ruana—35 inches making up the back panel. This is the start of the slit for the front opening. The slit begins five inches before the halfway point. After weaving the first inch I decided to add one hanging selvedge to each new edge to make them firmer. I wove in the new yarn to the existing back panel. I rolled the ends of each piece of yarn onto a C battery and wrapped rubber bands around the yarn to hold them in place; both batteries are hanging loose over the back of the loom to provide tension on the yarn. (The outer edges of the weaving each have two hanging selvedges for firmness.) I usually weave partially loom-shaped clothing. The ruana is totally loom shaped. No cutting and sewing will need to be done. I will twist and knot the warp ends into fringe and add some closure elements on the front and sides (it can be very windy here). I don’t know yet if I will add inkle bands or crochet edging to the outer or inner edges of the garment. I want to try it on and think about it before I make any finishing decisions.


Sourdough cinnamon raisin swirl bread

My book Wild Bread: Handbaked sourdough artisan breads in your own kitchen, has an entire chapter devoted to enriched breads, that is, breads containing fat, sugar and other ingredients.

The dough for this bread is identical to that for the cinnamon sweet rolls I baked a couple of weeks ago, a mix of organic, hand ground whole wheat flour and unbleached flour with a little melted Earth Balance vegan butter and evaporated cane juice (unbleached sugar) added to the dough. After bulk fermentation (with the dough covered by the bread bowl to keep it moist), I rolled the dough out into one fat piece the width of the bread pan.

I brushed melted Earth Balance on the rolled out dough and sprinkled on cinnamon, sugar and raisins. The organic cinnamon and raisins come from my buying club (the cinnamon container is reused). I carefully rolled up the dough so that there would not be air trapped in it. I also baked it when it was a little less than doubled in size. I did both of those things to prevent a hole from forming down the middle of the bread roll.

Because the bread pan is dark I can also use it to bake bread in the solar oven. It was a grey day so I baked the bread in my regular oven at 375°F for 40 minutes. The bread is delicious plain or toasted and buttered.

Previous sourdough tutorials:

Making pita bread & naan

Saving back up sourdough starter

Whole wheat sourdough pancakes

Sourdough cinnamon rolls

Solar-baked whole wheat sourdough artisan bread

Whole wheat sourdough artisan bread

Sourdough vegan pizza Part II: the sauce & toppings

Sourdough vegan pizza Part I: The crust

Proofing and baking loaf bread (Dan’s sandwich bread)

Kneading bread dough

Dan’s Sandwich Bread ingredients

Saving sourdough starter for next time

Watching sourdough get active

Use the following coupon code for a 10% discount off items totaling at least $5 at my Etsy shop or my book website: raynerblog10. Good until December 31, 2013.


Cochineal dyed wools (click on the link for a more extensive post about my hand dyed roving and yarn). Cochineal is a Mexican natural dye cultivated and used for centuries by indigenous people. At one time it was exported to Europe in huge quantities because it was a richer red color than Old World natural red dyes like madder (a plant root) and lac (an insect related to cochineal).


Spinning cotton on a charkha

I spin cotton on Indian-Pakistani charkha spinning wheels. In this post I am using my upright Ashford charkha (charkha means “wheel” in Hindi"). I am the only person I know of in northern Arizona outside of the Hopi Reservation who spins cotton. Some Hopi men spin Hopi cotton on supported spindles for weaving ritual garments.

Many new spinners buy cotton sliver to spin. They soon decide (wrongly) that spinning cotton is difficult. It is easy, but you need the right equipment, namely, a spinning wheel with a very fast flyer and bobbin assembly, a charkha, or a supported cotton spindle of some kind, like an Indian tahkli or a Thai akha. Most American spinners have spinning wheels that are not equipped to spin fast enough for such a short-stapled fiber (staple refers to the length of the fiber and the fiber itself). The spinning ratio (ratio of the number of times the bobbin or spindle turns when the wheel is rotated once) needs to be at least 20:1. My Ashford upright charkha has a ratio of 85:1. My book charkha is a little slower. Some charkhas have a spinning ratio of 100:1.

Because most spinners abandon cotton spinning, I have been able to buy second hand cotton sliver (SLY-ver) from three local spinners. The cotton in the top two photos and the bottom fabric photo is second hand cotton. The other photos show me spinning organic cotton from Vreseis Ltd., also the source of naturally-colored cotton in the U.S. I will do a post on colored cotton soon.

A lot more spinners in southern Arizona spin cotton because southern Arizona is a commercial cotton-growing area. Cotton spinning expert Joan Ruane lives down there and teaches classes on cotton spinning on a flyer-and-bobbin wheel and on a takhli spindle. She does not use a charkha.

In the fourth photo I am demonstrating cotton spinning at my local yarn store, Purl in the Pines. Cotton is spun using a long draw drafting method. I use point-of-contact long draw, mostly. I’ll have to make a movie to show you how it works. When making 2-ply cotton yarn, I spin the singles on my up right charkha. I turn the wheel crank about 14 times for each arm’s length of yarn—1,190 twists! I wind the singles off the spindle onto storage bobbins. When I have two full bobbins I ply the yarn on my Ladybug flyer-and-bobbin wheel using a very fast flyer and bobbin. I have future weaving projects in mind for my slowly-accumulating handspun cotton yarn.

I wove the fabric in the bottom photo using my handspun 2-ply cotton in the weft; it makes up the wide, lighter-colored stripes in the fabric. After cutting the fabric apart, I dyed the sections with Procion MX and Rit dye. The blouse on the left won a blue ribbon at this year’s Coconino County Fair.

The middle fabric is still sitting in my fabric stash. I have not yet decided what type of shirt to sew from it. I have enough fabric to make a shirt with long sleeves.


Dyeing with food coloring: Part II

This is a pashmina shawl I bought for about a dollar at a thrift store (really). The label says that the weft is 100% pashmina and the warp is 100% silk. The shawl appeared to have been donated to the thrift store because there was an ironing mark on it. No doubt the shawl’s original owner thought the shawl was forever ruined (not true!!! The dyeing process completely removed any trace of the iron mark).

Wikipedia notes that pashmina is super fine cashmere. The name comes from the Persian pashmineh, which means “made from ”pashm“ or wool. Cashmere comes from the pashmina goat, which lives in the high elevations of the Himalayan Mountains.

The original shawl color was a light robin’s egg blue. I wanted a greenish turquoise. I dyed the shawl in a mix of neon blue and green food coloring a couple of years ago. The pashmina weft yarn took up most of the dye, probably because it is an open and fuzzy yarn, while the silk warp is smooth and dense, which slows down dye uptake considerably. I really like how it turned out. It usually hangs on the rod behind me where there is a space.

When I brought the shawl to a Flagstaff fiber arts gathering, people were amazed that I could (or was daring enough to) dye a pashmina/silk shawl in plain old food coloring. One woman said, "But it says on the label ‘dry clean only.’” I replied, “It only cost me a dollar!”

I made my necklace (I make all my necklaces). Sometimes I sell them through my Etsy shop.

Dyeing with food coloring: Part I

World War II government-issued poster.

The Natural Canning Resource Book - A guide to home canning with locally-grown, sustainably-produced and fair trade foods, 2010. Chapter 1 discusses how and why canning is an ecologically and economically sustainable choice for food preservation: the role of canning in a post-petroleum future, how to save money by canning at home, and a comparison of canning with other ecologically sustainable methods of food preservation.

Use the following coupon code for a 10% discount off items totaling at least $5 at my Etsy shop or my book website: raynerblog10. Good until December 31, 2013.

Extra shelving on the side wall of my kitchen island for storing home canned foods. Jars should be stored out of direct sunlight with the canning rings removed; the rings are meant for holding the lids in place during the canning process and are also used to hold on the lid after a jar is opened and stored in the refrigerator. You only need a limited number of canning rings on hand.

The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally-grown,sustainably-produced and fair-trade foods, 2010.

What I’m knitting now: Beautiful hand dyed blue-green sport weight yarn the color of green copper patina by Mary Gavan Yarns in the “Cuesta” line (“Cuesta means “sloped mesa” in Spanish), “Tropical” colorway. I bought the skein at the Sedona Knit Wits. Superwash merino, 400 yards. I am knitting an indoor scarf very, very slowly, maybe 1 inch per day on average due to all my other projects. The label said to use needles size 3 to 5. I knit tightly so I am using size 5. The knit-purl squares are 6 stitches across (row) and 9 stitches long (column).


Sweater Felting

I collect thrift store/yard sale sheep’s wool/mohair/alpaca sweaters for either reusing the yarn or for felting before reuse.Sweaters with 85% to 100% wool or hair fibers will felt. Too much synthetic or cellulose fiber content will prevent felting.

I have quite the felted sweater collection right now and don’t expect to add new sweaters to my stash for a while, so I decided to felt the four sweaters I had collected.

I don’t have a dryer so I do all my felting in the washer. Hot water, alkalinity (from soap) and agitation together cause the protein fibers in knitted or woven items to interlock, creating felt. Technically, this process is called fulling. Felting applies to wet felting and needle felting, processes in which the fibers are interlocked directly, without an underlying knitted or woven structure. However, felting sweaters is now a colloquial term so I will use it.

I place the sweaters in lingerie bags with very fine holes. This is to prevent the fuzz that comes off the fabric from clogging up my wastewater plumbing pipes and washing machine. I set the machine to hot water wash / cold water rinse and heavy agitation, usually for my washer’s longest agitation setting of 14 minutes. I placed a bathrobe in with the sweaters this time because you need a certain volume of material in the washer to help the fibers rub together and felt.

Some sweaters felt to the point of non-raveling after only one wash cycle; these sweaters are usually loosely-knitted and made of wool, especially merino, a quick felter. More tightly-knitted items or items made from alpaca or cashmere or other fibers take up to five wash cycles to felt to the degree I want. Fibers with a lot of scales and longer scales felt more quickly than smother fibers. As soon as the spin cycle is finished, I take out the sweaters and check on their progress.I shake out the loose fuzz balls and place the sweaters that need more agitation time back in the lingerie bags for another washing. The purple sweater in the third photo I decided to re-wash for firmer felt. If the fuzz is pure animal fiber I compost it. If it contains synthetic fibers I throw it away.

You can stop the fulling process whenever you want. Sometimes I just want to shrink an item down to my size so I can wear it directly; I have four cashmere sweaters I shrunk to fit me. Other times I want to create thick, firm felt for making sturdy bags or slippers.

Some felted sweaters need “grooming” after they are dry. Long fibers sticking out from the surface obscure fair isle and other color work designs, as you can see with the two fair isle sweaters above. I use a pet groomer to clean up the surfaces. Tomorrow I will show you some finished sweater felt projects of mine.