Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bast Fibers

Bast fiber
of several strong, woody fibers, as flax, hemp, ramie, or jute, obtained from
phloem tissue and used in the manufacture of woven goods and cordage.*

I've been wanting to blog about this for a while now, since last summer actually. I spent the better part of last summer researching various bast fibers. I focused primarily on the fibers that could, in theory, be found growing wild in my own backyard and at some point in time, if deemed appropriate, could be planted the spring of 2011.

I was lucky, and found most of what I was after. I was unable to find any flax (bummer I know) but I did find plenty of stinging nettles, milkweed and another, typical to my area, wild fiber plant. ;o)

Yes, you read that right, I said milkweed in that sentence, and I am NOT talking about the fluff from the pods, but the actual bast fibers in the stalk. Frankly I had no idea the common milkweed plant could be a source of spinable bast fibers but all that research I did led me to the studies done by Prof. Yiqi Yang at the University of Nebraska, and lo and behold he was optimistic regarding the extraction and characteristics of fibers from the common milkweed.

Prof. Yang concluded:
Stems of milkweed plants have been used to obtain natural cellulose fibers with better strength and elongation that the milkweed floss fibers. Milkweed stem fibers have high cellulose content but low % crystallinity. The fibers have strength similar to cotton and elongation higher than that of linen fibers. The modulus and moisture regain of the milkweed stem fibers is between that of cotton and linen. Overall, the milkweed stem fibers have properties required for high value textile, composite, and other fi- brous applications. Utilizing the milkweed stems for high quality natural cellulose fibers will add value and make milkweed a more useful fiber plant.**

Sounds promising doesn't. :o)

I did a lot of trial and error experiments in regard to retting the various plants, mostly field retting and a little pond retting, and I tried a few other things I thought might work (I still have a few other tricks up my sleeve to try). Some methods were successful showing promise right away, some not so successful leaving me with some sticky and/or stinky masses of goo, and some methods have yet to be proven. It is some of the yet to be proven experiments that I'm showing today.

These bast fiber stalks have been standing in the Southwest corner of my patio since last summer/fall. Pictured are what one would typically find growing wild here in the Midwest, stinging nettle, common milkweed, and that other bast fiber whose name escapes me. Some of the bundles in the pic were field retted, some were split, bundled and then stood in the corner and some were just bundled and stood in the corner. I also learned from my research that in the Scandinavian countries they often just bundle and stand the stalked out in the elements for the winter. It sounded easy enough so I gave that a try too. The constant freeze thaw cycle with lots of snow/moisture does all the work of releasing the fibers, our winter here this year has been perfect, for that method.

I think I got a good amount of fiber release. The first pic is milkweed the second is nettle. There is still a lot of moisture in all the stalks so I can't do much with any of it, but I did bring in this tiny bit just to play a little.

Tonight I'm going to see what the next step needs to be. I have all the typical implements of fiber destruction extraction and others I think will work better for my experiments and fibers so it's play time. I can't wait any longer it's been a looooong 6 months of wondering if all my efforts last summer hold any promise or were just a fun way to past the time.

I will be gathering fiber plants again this year, and I also intend to plant a plot of flax and one of cotton. I know I'm really pushing the limits of a long enough growing season for cotton, but a friend said she had some good results one summer when she planted cotton along her garage. It can't hurt to try.

I've been considering growing (?) raising (?) some silk worms too. I have the mulberry, why not? I've tried silk worms once before without any success, but I do know what I did wrong. This time there are other factors to consider, namely Ben and Ida. I'm not so sure I'd be able to keep the animals away from a bunch of munching worms. The sound would drive them crazy.

*excerpt from
**excerpt from Biological Systems Engineering: Papers and Publications
University of Nebraska - Lincoln Year 2009
"Extraction and characterization of natural cellulose fibers from common milkweed stems"
Narendra Reddy Yiqi Yangy

Monday, March 07, 2011

Random is the flow today

I know I shouldn't do this. Posting on my blog without a single second of forethought is not a good idea, but if I'm ever going to get back into the groove of posting I just have to do it, be that boring and awfully stupid posts or not, so here goes.

Bare with me, my photography skills have gotten even worse, if that was possible, nonetheless I'll favor you with a couple pix cuz I really don't have anything to talk about. lol
A couple of people asked about the sizes of my wheels. I know seeing the individual pix doesn't give a good sense of perspective so here's a group pic so you can get some idea of the range of sizes. Unfortunately my spinning ability on these wheels has flown the coop. Antique wheels can be finicky, and tend to be stubborn in the cold dry doldrums of winter. Everyone is going to get a spa treatment this week. If I can't spin on them the least I can do is pamper with them.

Was I spinning before? Yes, I was. See?The bobbin on the left is from the wheel shown in the far left of the group photo. The bobbin on the right is the tiny wheel in the center. I think it's really interesting how much larger the flyer and bobbin are on the tiny wheel compared to other wheel.

I want another one of these Itty Bitty wheels. It really isn't an antique but I adore her just the same. I like her style. I like her portability. I like the way she spins, but it could be improved a tad. There are a couple right now on ebay exactly like her, but they are in the Netherlands and with an extra $60 for shipping they are going to be priced out of my budget soon. They have been selling lately for around $125- $175 which to me is kinda high for the quality of this wheel. Plus I can't get beyond the fact that I got mine for $20, I know that was prob'ly a major fluke, but still... Why do I want a wheel exactly or very similar to one I already have? I want to steampunk one and add some modifications but I don't want to screw it up so I need an extra in case I do something really stupid. (that is not outside the realm of possibilities ya know) I have been playing around in my workroom with all manner of spinning wheel like pieces and parts. Who knows, maybe I'll have one made from scratch done before I find another Itty Bitty to mess with.


And while I had my camera out...
Dang I wish I could take decent pictures, then I could show you how utterly awesome the platter Bart gave me is. It's waaaaay too beautiful not to be hung on the wall doncha think?

Hmmm anymore strange unconnected thoughts floating around in my head? Why yes there is!

Liam came this weekend to visit grandma and grandpa. The kid slays me. He's 16 mo running all around, loves to climb, and loves, loves, loves, to dance. Any kind of tone or sound he hears, he will stop whatever he's doing and dance. He dances to cell phone ringtones, he dances to the clock chiming the hour, and the alarm on the ovens. He will dance to anything. I was somewhat surprised though on Saturday when he stopped playing and started dancing to the sound of the trash compactor! LOL

Enough already, some randomness is too chaotic even for me.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


If you're a sock knitter you know there are some pretty fabulous sock patterns out there. I mean really, some of these people design absolute works of beauty. If you can't just take my word for it pick up any of the books by Cookie A or Anna Zilboorg and you'll get a taste of what is out there. And although I greatly admire these socks and the artistry behind them I never knit them.

I'm a barefoot kind of gal and socks to me are merely an article of clothing for which there is a single purpose. It eventually gets too cold to continue running around barefoot so socks keep your feet warm. Then of course there is that thing about doing the same thing twice cuz I do have two feet, and repeat performances around here is NOT the norm.


Socks are excellent take along projects. The tiny little things slip easily into your purse. And unless you are creating one of the magnificent socks from the above mentioned designers (or countless others) you don't even need a pattern or chart. Socks are nice unobtrusive knitting that can go with you on a moments notice. Thus I always have a sock on my needle(s).


No pattern socks get boring after a while.


Every new pattern has me adapting it for my narrow, high arch, foot.


My love/hate need/apathetic relationship with socks has often had me at odds in my knitting world. Until a few months ago.

Once again I turned my attention to the sock knitting goddess known to us mere mortals by the name Cat Bordhi. Her latest book , over a year old now, is "Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters: Book Two in the New Pathways for Sock Knitters Series" has shall we say started me on a new path. (Please don't ask me to say that title out loud. I'm a fairly well educated person but I am also phonetically challenged, and it makes me feel stupid.) Regardless of any petty personal affront I have regarding the title, the sock knitting technique in this book genius. I have found my rhythm and I'm churning out sock at lightening speed.

OK, perhaps not whole socks but I've got a lot of footprints made. :o) This is what I've done since Christmas.

On the lower left are 6 footprints. In the center are 10 socks in progress, and on the right are 2 pair. There are another 2 footprints in the knitting bag in the car and 2 complete pairs in the laundry.

This is what a footprint looks like.

The vertical marking thread tells me how many rounds I've knitted and where I've put my increases. The jog in the vertical marking thread is where my increases begin. The horizontal marking threads is where leg will go after I slip the stitches onto needles and snip and unravel the stitches between. The thread at the very top is a holding thread for the last of my heel stitches that will be closed up after the sock is complete.

I gotta tell ya, if it isn't obvious, making these footprints is addicting. I can zip through a footprint in an evening. Granted I'm using size 3 or 4 needles and while I'm not doubling the sock yarns I also using a carrying along thread or a cobweb weight yarn with it so my stitch count at its greatest is only 48 stitches.

Yes, I like my socks thicker than most people, it helps them fulfill a sock's purpose (its sole purpose snort) of warming my feet and as an added bonus makes my shoes fit my narrow feet better.

Those of you studying the pic might notice the blue gray sock center bottom looks a little bigger. It is, I figured out Joe's footprint too, I was beginning to feel guilty about all my new socks. Yeah, I know, pretty unselfish of me, go figure. lol You might also notice, although I know the pic is pretty crummy, but none of the socks completely match each other. Most of the footprint parts do, sort of, but not many of the leg portions do. I'm playing with new stitch patterns, and stripe counts. So from here on out, I'm pretty sure my socks are going to be mostly fraternal and not identical. Another added bonus to bulking up the sock yarn with a carry along yarn/thread I can usually get three socks out of the typical 400-ish yards of sock yarn. Three socks, fraternal triplets. That's a good thing when you have a family member who likes to eat hand knit socks.