Monday, April 7, 2008

Bamboo, Beads, and Boucle: Judith MacKenzie McCuin Workshop-Part 1

Wow, it has been quite a whirl (or should I say whorl?) of learning and excitement for me the past five days. The annual Whidbey Weavers Guild Spin-In has been spun and I am back home trying to catch up on all of the mundane chores. I am still a bit fuzzy-headed but please hang in there and I will do my best to describe the past five days.
I had the privilege of attending a pre-Spin-In workshop with Judith MacKenzie McCuin. The subject of the workshop was spinning what are called "reconstructed cellulosics" such as soy silk yarns, latte, and bamboo. Tencel(TM) and rayon fall into this category as well. In fact, pretty much any manufactured fiber or yarn made from cellulose materials are considered reconstructed cellulosics. In addition to spinning with bamboo and the like, we learned how to make a boucle* yarn and how to add beads to our spinning. The picture above is my final yarn from the workshop. It is a bamboo fiber yarn spun marled*, thick and thin, boucled, and then cabled with an encased beaded yarn. Phew! That was the workshop in a nutshell. Of course I won't leave you hanging there. I will go into a bit of the incredible detail that Judith provided us. Before I start, I want to note that any errors in information are solely my own and are not Judith's. If you find some mis-information, please make a comment and I will verify and correct it!
After going around the circle with each of us answering the question, "what do you want to learn from this workshop?" Judith pulled out four beautifully dyed balls of bamboo top* and put them on the floor in the middle of our circle for us to admire while she told us about how such fiber is manufactured.
We generally think of bamboo as being a "green" product as it grows abundantly with little or no pesticides or fertilizers needed. Many of the "green" houses tout sustainably harvested bamboo floors. Bamboo fiber for spinning and yarns uses the waste materials from the floor making process. In this, the fiber has some "green" qualities. We soon learned that the process for making the bamboo and other manufactured cellulosic yarns and spinning fibers is anything but green.
To summarize what Judith told us based on her research, bamboo fiber is made by putting the bamboo bits and pieces into a chopper to grind it all up. The pulp is dissolved in a hydrosulphite solution, in other words, lye. Formaldehyde and another chemical is added to the liquid to gel it so that it can be extruded into a fiber. The fiber is usually extruded into a sulfuric acid bath and can be made into any desired shape, luster, or other qualities.
Most of the reconstructed cellulosics are produced overseas in China and Europe. Environmental controls are different and the fiber is definitely not local.
From what I understood of what Judith was telling us, legally any reconstructed cellulosic fiber is considered rayon no matter what its cellulose source. This means that technically bamboo is rayon.
One exception to the overseas production is Tencel(TM) which is produced here in the U.S. under stricter environmental standards. Tencel(TM) is a brand name of one type of rayon.
We were lucky to get to spin dyed bamboo top. Judith mentioned that bamboo is very difficult to dye satisfactory, particularly in its un-spun state. I have a bit of "natural" colored bamboo. I think I will spin it and try out the natural dyes on it.
Speaking of spinning, I am not sure I really like spinning with bamboo. It is slippery which can be dealt with but the weight of it in the fiber bundle kept pulling it out from the bottom of my hand and would "drip" onto the floor. Very annoying. If I held it too tight to compensate, it would get all tangled up in my hot little hand.
We had an assignment when she turned us loose to spin. We spun the bamboo worsted* and spun a thin two-ply, and a thick 2-ply yarn. We made a marled* yarn, a slub yarn (thick and thin), and we cabled* a yarn using decorative sewing threads as binders.
From there we went on to boucled yarns and got to try our hand at silk, yak, and cashmere. I will talk about those in the next post. Stay tuned for Part 2 and then on to the Spin-In! -Renee

*see glossary

1 comment:

knits plenty said...

I've been to a few of Judith's work shops in the past, and now I know why she continues to inspire us to keep trying new things. I could listen to her for hours. I have to addmit that at the Whidbey spin in, in the past I have dozed off,because she has such a gentle ryhthm in her speach. You write so well,I feel like I was there too. Diana