The Fiber Imp

Adventures in food, fiber, and family


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Time Flies!

Well, things have been absolutely bonkers around here lately. Do you ever have the feeling that you’ve lost a few months along the way? That’s how it’s been for me since January. Between finishing the renos on our current house and looking for another that has more room for my shop, the flus that happen every winter, and running a business…this year just flew by. But, things are finally starting to settle down. My 3-year-old is finally starting to grow up a bit and become more independent (in a way that’s a little less destructive) and my 6-year-old is starting adjust to being homeschooled. The renos are nearly complete, and the shop is much more organised within the space we’ve made for it. I even got to watch a movie with the hubby last night!

I’ve also set up my second shop for selling handspun yarns and have nearly switched over all of the yarns from my original shop. I’ve branched out into carrying commercial product as well (if you havn’t seen them yet, pop in and take a peek at the commercially dyed and blended tops, they’re amazing).

There are tons of new items being added this month, batts, fibers, yarns…you name it, it’s there.

I’m also super excited that I am booked as a vendor for two major fiber shows this year. Fiber week in Olds, AB at the end of June and Knit City in Vancouver at the beginning of October. I’m really looking forward to Knit City as I’ve never been that far west and me and the hubby are going without the kiddos so it should be a fantastic time.


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New Roving Blends In Stock!

Thanks to the wonderful workings of Fedex, my order of roving arrived here 3 days early!  Yippie!  I now have 40 kg of fiber to dye, spin, and snuggle.  I spent the afternoon counting and sorting and generally organising, not to mention trying to decide what I was going to play with first.

I decided to stick with the bamboo as I haven’t dyed any plant based fibers before and it’s always fun to try new things.

I started by soaking the bamboo in a solution of water and urea.

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I then mixed up a solution of water and soda ash, poured this into 3 squirt bottles, and added dyes in the primary colours.  I mix all of my colours from the primaries, it’s simpler than having 60 different jars of dye powder kicking around (you do need to be careful with breaking colours if you do it this way).

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Next I put down a length of saran wrap (about 6 ft long) and ran the bamboo up and down the length of the saran wrap.  This way you get a good length to lay down your colours.  I then use my squirt bottles to paint the roving (give the roving a little sqeeze to help distribute the colours more evenly).

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Once your happy with the colours fold one side of the saran wrap over, then the other (it should make a sort of sausage looking thing), then roll up from one end, and tada, ready to set roving.  The bamboo is dyed with fiber reactive dyes so it’s just left to sit for 6-24 hours depending on the colour you want.  I will leave mine to soak overnight and i’ll give it a rinse in the morning.

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I had a little bit of dye left over so I tried to other methods to see what kind of effects I would get.  One is plunck in bowl, squirt with dye, cover.  And the other plunck in bag, squirt with dye, seal bag.  Pretty simple stuff 🙂

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This is a shot of the setup I use for roving.  I dye 4-100g braids of roving per length of saran wrap and 2 sets per colourway.  Since I generally dye at least 10 kilos of roving per dye day, I mix all my primaries in 4 litre pails.  I use a turkey baster to spread the dyes and small glass bowls to mix individual colours.

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Here’s a sampling of some of the new roving colours for this set!  I’m so glad that spring is coming and I can take a step back from the darker colours.  There’s nothing like a cashmere rainbow to brighten your day!

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Twelve months of savings!

This year we’re going to do something new. Each month http://www.thefiberimp.etsy.com will be having a sale on one section of the etsy shop. Make sure to check back at the start of each month to find out what the new sale is.

January: 25% off hand dyed yarn. This is a fantastic deal and probably won’t be offered again so make sure to stock up!

February: 15% off the entire shop. This is the month to spoil yourself with something special and truly one of a kind.

March: 25% off handspun yarns. This is definetly a one time sale, get them while you can!


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Water and Milk Kefir

My Kefir grains are here!

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I got them from a friend of mine who has been using them for ages to make water kefir and milk kefir. I’ve been having a lot of tummy troubles on top of my many other health issues (i’ll cover that in another post) and have wanted to try kefir for quite a while. Normally I take good quality probiotics but the cost is quite high so I was interested in a cheaper/healthier alternative. Kefir has many, many, many different strains of bacteria (around 50) that are all alive and kicking when you consume it. Probitics, on the other hand, only have a few strains and they don’t all survive the packaging/storing/eating so they aren’t nearly as good for you (still good, just not the best). Not to mention that kefir only costs a few cents a bottle.

I have developed a milk sensitivity in the last year so i’m hoping that I will be able to consume milk kefir occasionally without side effects. The bacteria and yeast break down the proteins and consume the lactose so many people who are sensitive to milk can still drink kefir. Right now I have a brutal migraine from the chinook we’ve been experiencing for the last few weeks. Once the wind lets up and the pressure goes back to normal, i’ll try the milk kefir and post an update.

My husband and I will be drinking mostly just the water kefir as he doesn’t particularly like milk either. My kids will be drinking mostly milk kefir as they like milk but aren’t very fond of juice.

Now down to business….The “recipe”. Kefir is pretty simple to make, it takes about 10 minutes a day for me to “flip” both batches.

Milk Kefir

I use store bought 4% milk (not organic, I’ve never even seen organic milk here, this is feedlot country after all). You can use pretty much any kind of milk other than skim and ultrapasteurized, these will slowly kill your grains.

2 Tbsp of milk kefir grains per litre (vary this amount based on how quickly your kefir develops)

Put grains in mason jar and fill 3/4 full with milk (leave about an inch of airspace). I cover mine with a coffee filter and a rubber band. Don’t use a metal lid, kefir doesn’t like metal and it needs to breathe.

Let sit for roughly 24-48 hours. Once it starts to thicken, pour the kefir through a strainer (plastic or nylon are best), give the grains a bit of a squish with a plastic spoon and start again with fresh milk. I use two mason jars and switch back and forth. You can store the finished milk kefir in the fridge for about a week. Also, if you need a break you can mix up a fresh batch with the grains and put them in the fridge for a week. Don’t do this to often or you may harm the grains.

Water Kefir

1 Tbsp sugar (preferably organic, if not organic make sure there is no aluminum, grains don’t like metal)
Dechlorinated water or spring (I leave a jug of tap water out overnight)
2 Tbsp water kefir grains per litre

Optional
Lemon slice
Dried fruit (1 or two pieces)
Ginger (small slice)
Sea salt
Sterilized egg shells

Put grains in mason jar and fill 2/3 full with water. Add in sugar. If using lemons DO NOT SQUEEZE, if you add the slice it will keep the ph nice and steady, if you add the juice all at once it can damage the grains. I like to add a few raisins or cranberries at this point as well. If you use white sugar you will need to add in molasses and sea salt occasionally for extra minerals. Do not use distilled or ro water, these have no minerals and your kefir will starve. Cover with a coffee filter and rubber band. Remember, no metal lids.

After 24-48 hours your kefir should be ready. Pour through a plastic strainer and start over.

There you have it!  Yummy, nutritious, kefir ready in just minutes a day.


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Yay! My silk scarves are here!

A few days ago my order of silk scarves came in and i’ve been impatiently waiting to have a dye day. Today is the day!

I decided to let my daughter help out with the dyeing as well.  She’s quite proud of the fact that she’s allowed to help with “adult” jobs now that she’s 6.

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She had lots of fun and did a really good job (there are a few questionable colour combos but that’s half the fun).

The process was pretty basic.  Put saran wrap on the counter.  Lay the silk scarves on the saran wrap in stacks of four.   Mix up your dyes (don’t forget the citric acid).  Start playing.  I use squirt bottles and a turkey baster when I dye, it depends on the effect I want.  Squirt bottles will give you a more speckled look and a turkey baster can cover large areas more evenly.   When I’m happy with the scarves I grab each end and flip the stack over.  I then touch up any spots where the dye didn’t penetrate all the way through.  When the dyeing is done roll up the scarves in the saran wrap and plunk in the steamer for 45 minutes.  You can steam for 1/2 an hour but I like to leave them in a bit extra just to make sure the dye is set.  After steaming let sit until cool.  Place in a hot water bath to remove excess dye.  I use a textile detergent at this point, I also add in a cool soak with dye fixative at the end to make sure the dyes won’t bleed.   Then dry and enjoy!

We dyed 30 scarves and they are currently hanging  in the window to dry.  One thing that I didn’t realise but am very happy about…Silk scarves dry super fast.  I’m so used to yarn and roving that can take a couple of days to dry inside that I had just expected the silk to take ages as well.

I will post some pictures of the finished scarves once they are dry.


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Spinning wheels…Things to keep in mind when searching for your new wheel

I live in Southern Alberta where the winds are wild and there is not a spinning wheel shop to be found. The nearest shop is a 2 hour drive each way so I did most of my research into choosing a spinning wheel online. I found many, many positive reviews but not many that spoke to negative aspects. I thought I would post a few things that i’ve noticed with my wheels that you may not realise while trying out a wheel for a few minutes in a LYS (along with a few good things so you don’t all think i’m a terrible person).

My first wheel was an Ashford Joy DT that I bought used. I had never tried spinning and didn’t want to invest a lot of money just in case it wasn’t my idea of a good time. I got a fantastic deal and have been mostly happy with it.

The good: It’s light, folds up quite small, and is super portable. It has great ratios for a travel wheel. Very, very, very easy to treadle. This is a fantastic wheel for beginners.

The bad: Since purchasing this wheel a year ago, 4 of my 8 bobbins have come apart. The bulky flyer vibrates quite a lot and if you ply too quickly it can catch on the brakeband and destroy the springs on either side (I’ve replaced them at least 5 times, only about $2 to fix but a pain none the less). It’s quite low. I’m fairly tall so having a low wheel makes me hunch over to try to get level with the orifice. It does make a bit more noise than a sidekick but not enough to be bothersome.

Over all i’m quite happy with my Joy. It’s a bit slow, I havn’t had it off the highest whorl in ages, but the convenience and portability makes it worth it.

My second wheel was a Schatt Matchless DT. My husband bought me this wheel for Christmas and i’ve only been spinning on it for a few months. I don’t particurlarly like this wheel, we don’t get along at all so i’m a little biased towards it, okay maybe a lot. I also had a terrible experience with my dealer which hasn’t helped matters. That being said a lot of people love their Matchless and use nothing else, so take this all with a grain of salt.

The good: It’s fast. Not crazy fast but most spinners will not outgrow the high speed kit for this wheel. It’s tall. This makes it less portable but I have much better posture when I have to spin up to something rather than leaning down. It’s quiet. Even on the high speed whorls, it’s still very quiet. It has different tension modes. I use DD for spinning and had the most luck with ST for plyng.

The bad: There is A LOT of adjusting when it comes out of the box. It took me 2 weeks of phonecalls to Schacht (who was very helpful) and a drive to my dealer to get it working and i’m still not sure it’s quite right. The quick change bobbins are not quick change AT ALL. Please, please, please, when you try this wheel CHANGE THE BOBBIN. This alone would have made me not purchase the Matchless. You have to unlock the orifice, take off the band/s, pull out the flyer, take off the whorl, take off the bobbin, and do it all again to put a new bobbin on. I’ve also dropped the flyer a few times during this process (i’m very clumsy, you may not have this issue). If you want to use the bulky flyer, you have to go through the entire bobbin change as well as unscrew the front maiden, try to thread the bolt back in through a hole in the side of the maiden that you can’t see, make sure it’s tightened enough, and put it all back together. You also need several different drive bands if you want to use the high speed set and the bulky flyer. And don’t forget that the drive bands wear out quite quickly. Schacht recommends changing them every 12 hours or so (mine last about 2000-3000 yds). Also, the bulky flyer is less than fantastic, a lot less. It makes a lot of noise, doesn’t have very strong take up, and has VERY heavy treadling (I cannot ply over 200 yards with it, on my Joy I can ply 1000 yds with ease). It feels like an afterthought when you spin with it. The treadling is also very heavy with the regular flyer. Try to sit and spin for at least 10 minutes to get a feel for it. It doesn’t bother me unless i’m using the bulky flyer but for someone with joint problems, this could be a big issue. This is also more of a problem with the high speed whorls, if you don’t spin fast, you probably won’t have an issue with the treadling.

I don’t hate the Matchless, I do still use it for 99% of my spinning. I just think if I had known about some of these issues going in, I may have been able to find a wheel better suited to me.

My last wheel was the Hansencrafts Minispinner. Not a lot of bad things to say about this wheel, more just things to consider before purchasing.

The good: As far as espinners go, this baby is quiet. It’s fast. It can handle just about anything you throw at it. There’s no treadling so plying is a breeze. It can spin any thickness of yarn thanks to the infinetly variable speed.

The bad: It’s not that quiet. Don’t get me wrong, if you need an espinner, I would hands down choose the Hansen. I don’t “need” an espinner (meaning I have no physical limitations preventing me from treadling) so I would rather use a good quiet wheel for general spinning. I found I had to turn up the tv if I was plying with it. That being said I use it with the WW on the highest speed (the WW makes a bit of noise and the motor gets louder the harder it has to work) so it’s “tapped out” for volume. The WW does not work fantastic for thin yarns. They have a lace flyer for this. If you make mostly lace yarns you will most likely need this (though many people happily use the WW for everything). I’ve havn’t tried it because I bought my epsinner specifically for plying and don’t have a huge need for it, yet.

And those are my wheels. Now to put everything into perspective…I sell handspun, this means I spin more than most people (about 2-3 hours a day, on average). The bobbins on the Joy lasted thousands and thousands of yards before they started having issues, I also don’t store them very well (in a drawer, all mixed together). There’s a good chance you won’t have this problem. Since getting my Matchless, I barely ever take out my Joy. I prefer the Matchless because it’s faster (this is incredibly important when you spin for profit), taller, and quieter. The time to change the bobbin is more of a problem for me than most people because I change it everyday, sometimes several times a day. Despite the problems I have had, the wheel can spin and spin well. I am still looking for a wheel that’s a better fit for me, but in the meantime, I happily use my Matchless everyday. However, I don’t use the bulky flyer, EVER. I spin because I enjoy it and when that bulky flyer goes on, I don’t enjoy it, at all. That’s assuming I can get the darn thing on. I ply exclusively on my Hansen. I can sit on the floor, on my couch, on my table if that’s what i’m in the mood for. I don’t have to sit in the same position the whole time so I don’t get pains in my shoulders or knees and my bum doesn’t fall asleep. The Hansen is the first thing i’ve bought in a long time where I thought, wow, this is exactly what I expected.


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My new computer is here!

I’ve been using my old computer with a free word processing software for, well, a long time. It had windows xp, which I love and am very sad to part with. But since i’m designing more now we decided it was time to upgrade and get a computer with programs that actually worked for me.

I ordered my computer from Costco (which I am very much in love with) and it was here within a few days. That’s right, days. Costco defies all laws of shipping. I once ordered ink cartridges at 5pm and they were at my door by noon the next day…Anywho, my computer gets delivered and I rip into like a crazy person because that’s what I do. Seriously, ask my kids, they’re terrified of packages…I give the styrofoam packing to my toddler which he proceeds to shred into “snow” for hours (yes, I know, I’m a terrible parent, it’s the packages fault) and rope my 6 year old into helping me run all the cables through a teeny tiny space behind my computer desk. After many scrapes (to me) and much whining and general discontent (from her) the computer is up and running.

But wait, what’s this…This doesn’t look like windows…This looks like a tablet…Hmmm…Maybe I’m hallucinating…Rubs eyes…No, still there…Crap, it looks like i’ve been under a rock somewhere while windows was completely making a mess of things. Looks like this won’t be as simple as I’d hoped. Opening explorer to find help. WHAT! Someone turned my browser upside down and now it scans sideways. Puts head in hands. Come on kids, we’re going upstairs until daddy gets home.

Enter husband. I’m old. Why? Because I can’t even work a computer anymore. Let me show you. He pushes a magical button that makes everything look as it should, sort of. My hero!!!

Maybe one day I will learn how to use the new fangled os but for now, I will happily plug away on my new computer in an old fashioned way. Which, somewhat ironicallly i’m not doing right now because the old computer is now upstairs and it’s much warmer up here…