Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Visit to the Textile Museum in Tilburg

I'm on vacation in Holland to see my relatives, and I just had the opportunity to visit the Audax Textile Museum in Tilburg.

This is definitely a place worth visiting, if you are a spinner or a weaver. It's located in an old wool-blanket factory, so there are some rooms dedicated to the old machinery (still all in working order!) that was used to make blankets.

There are other rooms dedicated to the history of jacquard weaving (I'll be blogging about that in a later post), but the major attraction is the Textile Lab, where modern, computer-driven weaving and knitting machines are used by artists to push the boundaries of current tech. Again, for a future post!

So, let's get started.
Quickie tour of the blanket factory:

The factory was in operation between 1900 and 1940, and produced 100% woolen blankets from bales of local wool. The blankets were woven and fulled on site and the entire production chain can be viewed.

The process starts with the "picker" (well, OK, it's called something else in Dutch). The wool shown in the pictures is pretty fantastically clean, and I'm not sure if this was actually the case when this puppy was in current use...but we'll not get picky about this.

[first stop: the picker]

Then, a couple of "carding" steps followed, to produce thin webs of fleece and finally narrow ropes of fleece. Unlike other mills I've visited, this factory didn't use a pindrafter.

[carding, step 1]

[thin fleece mat moving onto second carding step]

[second carding step, producing thin ropes of roving]

The thin rovings that come off the second carder look a lot like those wheels you get from Briggs and Little, called "country roving" - the ones you use to make Cowichan sweaters. See photo below:

[what comes off of the second carder]

These wheels were then used on the "spinner", which was a sort of automated drop-spindle. It thinned and twisted the roving into single-ply yarn.

[the spinner]

Then, weaving ensued. This step wasn't explained fully in the setup (all that was shown was how they set up a warp chain with a machine to do sectional warping - and they didn't demo it with the yarn shown above), but I understood that they produced double-woven pieces of woolen cloth (twill weave) that were then fulled and finally run through the teasel machine. The blankets were of a solid colour, with one side a lighter shade than the other.

The "fuller" took the blankets, soaked in a hot solution of ammonia and soda, and forced them through a pair of rollers, first in one direction and then 90 degrees opposed, to felt the wool fibers. Several passes were required.

[fulling machine]

After fulling, the edges were hemmed and the blanket was run through the "teaseler" a few times: basically a bunch of rollers with nasty burrs on them to raise a nice fluffy pile on the blanket.

[teasel machine]

[closeup of the nasty rollers]

Lots of factors contributed to the downward spiral and eventual death of the factories: the rising popularity of the down-filled or synthetic duvet, the fact that we have central heating in all our houses now, and the rising cost of land which makes selling the factory itself more lucrative than running it as a business. 

Wool blankets are a rarity these days. Most folks have one only as a sort of decorative throw, to cuddle under when watching TV on a winter night, or by a summer campfire. Blanket factories were once relatively common in northern Europe, England, and even in on the east coast of the US.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sock Yarn Review, v 12

1. KnitPicks Hawthorne - I used the "tonal handpaint" colourway. I was hoping that this yarn would be a "budget" version of Woolen Rabbit Pearl, and it some ways, it is that. At half the price, it certainly is "budget".... The yarn base is nice - not merino, so not as soft as Stroll - with a nice tight ply and lots of boing, so I find it pleasant to knit with. The dye job is not as nice as Woolen Rabbit - the colourways are not as subtle and it stripes in short sections. I think that it's probably not suitable for complex texture designs (like cables) because the colours are overpowering. I've seen other reviewers complain about excessive colour bleeding, but I have not had any issues. I will have to see how this yarn holds up in the long run.

2. Drops Fabel - this is a very popular European sock yarn that I have now finally found a local-ish source for. The colour selection is huge. It's superwash wool (not merino) at 410m/100g, and feels pretty close to Regia, although a little harsher and a bit splittier to knit with. It has an excellent price point! Again, will have to see how this holds up through the laundry.

3. H&W Comfort-Wolle sock wool (uni colours) - got this online from a retailer in Ontario; it's not a common yarn. But, very very nice, right up there with Regia. I'm pumped to see how this will handle repeated laundering; if it's good it will be a close contender to Regia!

4. Not sure if this qualifies as a sock yarn, but I've been knitting a project with KnitPicks Stroll Gradient. Not something I'd knit socks with - the gradient isn't really a gradient - the colour changes are too abrupt. Also, some of the colours stripe/pool during parts of the "gradient". And then there's the fact that it's Stroll - a yarn I am starting to like less and less...

I have recently found an amazing online source for sock yarn: Wool Warehouse. This outfit is based in the UK but shipping to my front door is a flat-rate $CD7, which is f*&*ing cheap, folks! Not to mention that the yarn price is amazingly low! I looooove their selection of Y-chromosome friendly Euro sock yarns.

So, a few days ago, this showed up on my doorstep:

[a crapton of sock yarn, in a lovely organza bag!]

Love the yarn. Love the bag! Can't wait to get started!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Reversible Socks

I recently knit up a pair of socks for my 20-something son, who is rather conservative in dress, and discovered that the pattern I had chosen (a simple knit-and-purl affair) was just as nice on the flip side of the work. Ta-da! Reversible socks! I knit them toe-up, with flap-style heels, and as long as you are neat about the ends, there is no reason why one cannot wear socks inside out. Right? Ask my son. He does it inadvertently all the time. Apparently one can wear socks twice as long this way before washing them. Yeah, mom!!! 

Here's the result:

[socks, "purl side" out]

[socks, "stockinette side" out]

The stitch pattern is a [K3 P1] rib, that gets offset every 6 rows (or something like that - can't remember exactly, but it doesn't really matter!). So the socks are stretchy.

Another knit-and-purl pattern that's reversible is "wavy rib" ( [K4 P2] for 4 rows, then offset it). I knit up these for my husband and used the toe-up Fleegle Heel. I like this one better for wearing inside-out; it doesn't have ridges along the sides of the "flap". 

[wavy rib socks, "right" side out]

[wavy rib on the inside = mini basketweave!]

I figure there must be many more reversible patterns out there, lurking in the knit-and-purl section of your local stitch dictionary...