Archives for January 2013

I Learned How to Longarm Quilt!

My friend Cheryl and I had an adventure today.  We took a road trip to Eddie’s Quilting Bee in Sunnyvale, CA to take their “Longarm Certification” class.  Lucky for us we were the only two who had signed up, so it was like getting a private lesson.  Our instructor, Gail, was great; the class was perfectly paced and I felt much more comfortable using the machine than I had expected.  As you can probably imagine, I was a little nervous to operate a big, expensive piece of equipment like this for the first time.

Here are a few photos of me preparing and operating the machine, a 26 inch model made by Tin Lizzie.

Preparing to wind the bobbin

Looking at the controls

Operating the long arm

I guess it may be a bit of an overstatement to say I “learned how to longarm.”  Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I learned how to operate the machine without damaging it. That and loading the quilt onto the frame, which is very important. I’m looking forward to practicing and getting better at quilting the actual designs.

Here is some “meandering clover,” a design I learned by watching Leah Day’s online videos. I had tried it out on my home machine and was curious to try the same thing on the longarm.

Meandering clover

I didn’t really consciously realize as I was doing this that I was making some three-leaf and some four-leaf clovers!  The momentum of the machine took some getting used to, and I guess sometimes I got carried away in the moment and looped into an extra leaf.

We booked a time to go back and do some “real” quilting with a pieced top in a few weeks, so look for that soon!

Keeping a Yarn Dyeing Notebook

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One thing I have struggled with as I’ve been dyeing yarn with acid dyes is how to achieve a particular color I have in my head. I’ve had lots of happy accidents, and I know a fair amount about color theory, but it’s still tricky to create a given color to match either an existing piece or what’s in my imagination.

To try to bridge this gap, I do a lot of experiments, and I keep a record for myself. That way I have a way of recreating colors I like, and I have a starting point for creating new colors.  In this post I’m going to explain my system, so you can do something similar if you want.  I will warn you that there is a teensy bit of math involved, but having more control over your colors is SO worth taking the time to figure this out.

My notebook is inspired by a book by Sara Lamb and Deb Menz called Color by Number Basic Book that has 1116 (!) different samples of dyed fibers along with the formulas to create them using Lanaset dyes.  It’s $225, which is frankly a steal considering the amount of labor that must go into creating it.  Still, I was already using the acid dyes from Dharma Trading Company, and I’m a do-it-yourself type person (obviously). So I decided to make my own book, building up my collection over time.

I record each yarn on an individual notecard the size of a business card.  To make these, I print out my basic template (get it on my Resources page) onto perforated business card paper, snap the cards apart, and then use a 3/4″ square punch to create notches at the top and bottom for wrapping the yarn.  I also cut small slits at the top left and lower right corner to tuck the yarn tails into.  You could also just tape the yarn to the back.  I keep the cards in a binder filled with plastic sheets designed to hold business cards.  I also put a zipper pouch in the back to hold my color wheels and extra cards.  I love how the spine of this binder from Russell and Hazel looks like it’s been smeared with dye!

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On each card I write down the following:

  • Name of the yarn
  • Total WEIGHT of material dyed, in ounces
  • Color(s) of dye powders; mine correspond to the numbers for the Dharma acid dyes
  • CONCENTRATION of dye stock: number of teaspoons of dye powder per cup of water
  • VOLUME of dye stock used of each color, in teaspoons
  • Teaspoons of dye powder per pound of fiber

This last quantity is the magic number!  Let’s call it the POWDER TO FIBER RATIO, or PTF.  You need to calculate it from the rest:

PTF = VOLUME x CONCENTRATION / WEIGHT / 3

This equation is written on the card itself. The usefulness of this is that now you can take a different volume of fiber, the PTF numbers for each color, and figure out how much of each dye stock you need to replicate your results.  (Granted, getting exactly the same color is tricky; that’s why big yarn companies have dye lots.)

Here’s how you do it.  The WEIGHT of the yarn is something you need to measure or read off the label.  The CONCENTRATION is something you choose.  I find that 1 tsp to 1 cup of water in mixing up dye stock works well, so my CONCENTRATION = 1.  After you mix up your dye stocks, you need to figure out how much VOLUME of each dye stock to add to the dye bath.  You can calculate this from

VOLUME = 3 x WEIGHT x PTF / CONCENTRATION

Here’s an example:

Yarn dyeing notecard

I dyed this pink yarn in a small experiment.  I split a 4 oz skein down into shorter pieces that I then re-skeined using the back of a chair.  I weighed the tiny skein using my trusty digital scale from Dharma and got 0.19 oz.  The colors I used were 441 (Peach Blush) and 446 (Silver Grey).  Silver Grey is a really awesome color, by the way.  I love mixing it in small amounts with other colors to get something just a little more complex looking.  It’s beautiful by itself too.

Anyway, I mixed up my dye stocks, and then I measured them out into my dye bath.  You might be wondering how I measured out 0.57 and 0.11 teaspoons.  These numbers actually come about because when I dye a small amount of yarn like this, I use a liquid syringe (a cheap plunger-like thing you can get at the drugstore) to measure out the dye stock in milliliters, then I convert back to teaspoons.  I chose 0.57 and 0.11 to get approximately a PTF of 1 for the Peach Blush and 0.2 for the Silver Grey.  For example, the PTF for Peach Blush is

VOLUME x CONCENTRATION / WEIGHT / 3 = 0.57 x 1 / 0.19 / 3 = 1

Now suppose I wanted to dye a whole 4 oz skein of the Kona Sport in the same color.  No problem!  My new VOLUME for the Peach Blush dye stock is

3 x WEIGHT x PTF / CONCENTRATION = 3 x 4 x 0.2 / 1 = 12

Remember VOLUME in this system is measured in teaspoons.  Twelve teaspoons is actually just 1/4 cup.  (To check this I just typed “convert 12 tsp to cups” into Google.)  Likewise, for the Silver Grey, we get

3 x WEIGHT x PTF / CONCENTRATION = 3 x 4 x 1 / 1 = 2.4

2.4 teaspoons is a little trickier to measure out.  Rounding it up to 2.5 would probably not make much of a difference, or I might pull out my liquid syringe again, type “convert 2.5 tsp to ml” into Google, and figure out that I needed 12.3 ml.

I hope this system is something you can use.  I would love to hear your comments about it if you do!  And of course feel free to ask questions in the comments if any of that wasn’t clear.

Happy dyeing!