Saturday, December 29, 2012

Urban Yarn Harvesting to subvert Christmas present to Christmas past

On Christmas eve we got together in the field house to undermine the last 40 years of Christmas tradition.........

What if told you that you could change your knitting habits so that it could mean saving CO2 rather than increasing it and rather than contributing to global climate change, actually helped reduce it?

What if I told you that there's an infinite supply of very cheap cashmere, silk and merino yarns out there waiting to be mined? Got your interest?

With this in mind, Martin Borden went out hunting. He came back with a navy blue, thrift store, pure merino frame knitted sweater. I was able to confirm that this was the kind of sweater that you could easily unravel. Some sweaters are made garment shaped (like an hand knitter would knit them) and some are cut from a sheet of knitted fabric - this latter kind don't unravel except as short yarn lengths, as the edges have been cut. Not very useful.

Flushed with success, he went out for a Urban Yarn Harvest hunt at Value Village. His haul included several silk, cashmere, and cashmere and silk blend sweaters.

We spent Christmas Eve unpicking the seams and using my spinning wheel to unravel the yarn. The neck  alone of the merino sweater prouced 50g - worth more than the garment had cost!

Commerical yarn sweaters are made of very fine yarn, so plying the threads together gives you a handknitting weight. Currently Martin is working on plying a gold silk with the navy merino yarn to produce a tweed-like effect for knitting his next sweater. He has made himself a patented sweater unraveller from an old hand drill, and intends to ply on a drop spindle. He drops his spindle over the bannisters and down into his stair well for maximum efficiency. I hope he'll put some photos up on his blog to show you all this!

Don't forget that you can also unravel unnatural fibre yarns like acrylic and ply them onto wool  to make excellent sock yarn. Also, don't throw away all the short lengths that you can end up with when yarn breaks. Chop them into 3-5cm lengths and add them into your fleece as you spin. Makes great 'art yarn' and also is a way to introduce some silk (or cashmere, or merino) into what you're spinning.

If you don't spin (and don't forget you can learn how to do that at Urban Weaver) you can always compost your yarn ends or bury them under your beans for moisture retention (old English gardener's trick!).

So, with just a drop spindle, and a bit of luck in the UYH hunt, you can save wool, cashmere, silk, cotton and acrylic yarns from the landfill, or from being exported (at great CO2 cost) to poorer countries. In the countries where they are shipped, they rob the local weavers and spinners of a living and undermine the local cloth and weaving traditions that have been passed down for centuries. You can save the shipping of new fibre around the world several times in the quest to get it produced into yarn and then garments at as close to slave labour wages as possible. You can save the production of cotton and the environmental and water degradation that entails, the strangle-hold of Monsanto that has lead to so many Indian farmers killing themselves, and the forced labour of children in Uzbekistan*. With just a little effort you can subvert what has become the season norm, save greenhouse gases and have your gift giving not contribute to global climate change and human misery. Now wouldn't that be a merrier Christmas?

Plus, you could be giving your knitting and weaving friends balls of  unique, one of a kind Urban Yarn for Christmas next year, and you even have time to knit/weave something for them - how cool is that? And if you need to learn any of the techniques to achieve that, it's all free at the Urban Weaver on Monday nights - just ask and I'll set up a workshop.


*PS If you want to lean how to spin and knit cotton wool balls into a face cloth that can be washed for years, ask me how. No need to buy cotton wool balls, use them once and throw them away.......

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Urban Weaver flax project update - grow some of your own!

At the end of November I dug over a space in a garden that I 'borrow' and covered it with cardboard to stop weeds regrowing.

It was manured last year, so from what I read that should be sufficient nitrogen for next year's growing season. Flax does not require much nitrogen. Over-fertilizing can result in long spindly stalks that lodge easily. The ratio of N:P:K should be 4:7:7.

Nothing left to do until spring planting but get on with the planning.

I am getting plans from for the scutcher, breaker and rippler. Martin Border (he of the lovely spindled, walnut dyed knitted sweater) will be building them.

The hackles will come from Dragonfly Farm These are the most expensive part of the project and will take up almost all of the grant.

I'm still looking for a Canadian supplier of 'Marilyn' flax seed, otherwise will have to order it from Kentucky

There are two people who are going to grow flax in plots of their own (in community gardens). Of course they'll be able to take advantage of the flax processing equipment at the field house to make their own linen.

So if you want to grow some flax for yourself, remember that the processing equipment will be here for you to use once you've dried and retted your crop.

It takes a 20x20 foot plot to grow enough to make a shirt, but you can always grow a smaller amount over several years and save it. Once the flax is dried, it can be retted at any time. Once it is retted it can be processed at any time. Of course the linen fibre will keep for hundreds of years!

You can read the blog posts here and see when I plant/weed/harvest/rett etc and follow along with your crop.

Crafty Mondays in January

There will be craft nights again starting January 7th, (actually I'll be there December 24th too if anyone wants to come along).

So far nothing is booked in as a topic for January 7th, but January 14th we will be warping an Ashford knitter's loom and looking at simple small looms you can make at home.

January 21st will be making crochet lace edges. Bring along some fine crochet cotton and anything you want to make a lace edge for (like a pillow case). I have some fine crochet hooks for this - Dressew sells them at $1 for 6!

Crafty Monday's start at 6pm and run until 8.

If there's something else you want to learn or teach us, please come along and let me know. 

Meanwhile, here's Martin's blog about the process of learning to spindle and knit since October this year, and the sweater he has almost completed just to tempt you into the idea of making a sweater from scratch yourself.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Monday 10th and 17th December craft evenings cancelled

Sorry to give you such short notice folks, but we've just been told that Andy (my husband) will be having eye surgery on Monday.

It will leave him totally blind for a while, and assuming all goes well it will take 6 weeks to recover his sight. I therefore don't feel I can committ to anymore Monday craft nights this year.

Look out on this blog for information about Mondays in January.....................


Monday, December 3, 2012

How to grow a shirt and other revolutionary ideas

How to grow a shirt and other revolutionary ideas

I thought people might find the linked article interesting. You can see all the steps that will be involved in the flax growing and processing (apart from building the processing equipment) from soil prep to shirt.

I also thought it might be time to talk about the reason for this project. Then Sharon Kallis, the motivational force behind the Urban Weaver Project wrote this blogpost from Mexico.

It pretty much sums up why the flax project is important.

We are all inextricably linked in space and time by what we choose to buy, what we choose to eat, how we choose to move about. When we choose a car journey over transit, we are choosing to support the destruction of habitat and water quality, the loss of a place to live and food to eat for other people in countries that have ‘the curse of oil’ When we fly/drive/eat meat we choose our own convenience over the global climate change that it causes and the resultant damage and destruction now and to our children’s future.
When we shop, we buy the future planetary conditions for our and other people’s children.

It is already possible for us to live in another way that takes into account the consequences of our choices. For me, the flax growing project is just an extension of those choices.

Not many generations ago it wasn’t possible to buy clothes made from fibers grown half a world away, then in processing shipped round the globe several times to exploit people who would work much cheaper than we would ourselves. There wasn’t the oil available to do that.

People grew their own fibers and made their own clothing. They treasured the clothes they made, aware of the labour that went into them. It’s perfectly possible to grow our own flax here - we have the ideal climate.  By next summer there will be the equipment available free to all for processing flax, made by Martin Borden (more about him below). Already you can come to McLean field house and learn the skills of spinning and weaving, knitting and dyeing - for free.

All you need is to find space for your flax. Ask your neighbours if they will let you grow some in their garden (the flowers are so pretty!). Get a plot on a community garden and grow some. If you can’t find enough space for a large enough crop in one year, take 2 years to grow enough for your shirt.

Meanwhile, why not do something revolutionary in 2012?

Buy some local fleece. Make a spindle. Dye your yarn with local dye material, and knit yourself a sweater.

Martin Borden, Urban Weaver’s woodworker and film maker learned to spindle in October, to knit in November, dyed his spun yarn with walnut hulls gathered from the sidewalk in the West End and is doing just that!