Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Still trudging up the machine knitting learning curve

Machine knitted red lace scarf Posted by Hello

This got a blue ribbon at the State Fair, in the machine knit category. The judge's comment was 'very nicely done'.
I was impressed with it even before I took it to the state fair, but that came from the fact that I got through the whole scarf in one sitting, after only one false start. In fact I was almost late for work that day, I had started on the scarf before work, and it was going so well, I didn't want to stop. 'Just one more pattern repeat' became my mantra.

I love the edges on the scarf. I did just a quick cast on and knitted on waste yarn. And at the end, I did rows of waste yarn. Then I raveled that back and put the live stitches onto one of my skinny lace knitting needles. I probably could have transferred the end of the scarf to the needles directly, but as I was running short on time, it was quicker to just zip six rows of knitting on the waste yarn.
So once the live stitches were on the knitting needles I did a regular cast off on both ends. I like this finish much better than the hemming I did on the camel scarf.

There are several other differences that took this project one step up the learning curve. I did the lace pattern repeats with very few plain knit rows between them. And I used a finer yarn, which turns out to be a good thing. The drape on this scarf is fantastic.

I made this scarf for my mother, who is a 'red hatter'. These groups of senior citizen ladies meet for outings all wearing their red hats, and purple outfits. I thought the scarf was a perfect addition for her outfits. Since the yarn is acrylic, it will be comfortable in her Florida area.

I love this old knitting machine, except for one thing. I find as I am knitting along, it is not the relaxing zen experience it should be. Instead I am holding my breathe with every pass, wondering what will go wrong. This does mean though, that the victories, like this red scarf, are even more special.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I have a top ten list too

My list is the top ten questions I am asked while doing a demonstration of spinning angora at the fair. Also included are the snide remarks I have often thought of making along with 'The Real Answers'.

1. How many rabbits does it take to make a sweater?

What I'd like to say- none, rabbits do not know how to knit.

The real answer - It depends on many factors. If the yarn is spun very fine and lightweight, you might get one sweater from one rabbits yearly production of fiber (8-12 oz of fiber) Realistically, the way I spin, it would probably take about three rabbits' yearly output for enough yardage for a sweater.

2. If I buy a rabbit will my doberman get along with it?

What I'd like to say - Sure, for about two minutes.

What I usually say - This rabbit is not for sale.

3. How come the rabbit sits there so still for you?

What I'd like to say - Drugs, man, drugs.

The real answer - Angora rabbits are raised being handled from very young. Their frequent grooming sessions has them handles all the time and that constant handling tames the rabbit. Also, breeders select for that quality, so flighty, hard to groom rabbits are culled.

4. Doesn't that hurt the rabbit when you pull out his hair?

What I'd like to say - Yes, but all angoras are masocists and he thanks me for it.

The real answer - Every animal, including humans lose hair at some point. The angoras have been bred over many years to encourage this trait. They go through a releasing molt at least three times a year. This is no different than your cat or dog shedding their fur.

5. What's your rabbit's name?

What I'd like to say: Why name it? It won't come to you when you call it.

The real answer: ForSale. OK sometimes the rabbit really does have a name, or I will make one up right then and there. I haven't any one question why Bob the rabbit is now Sue the rabbit.

6. What is your dog's name?

What I'd like to say: My dog's here?

The real answer: This is an angora rabbit. His name is Sam (see above).

7. Is that hard to do? (asking about spinning).

What I'd like to say: Yes I am a trained professional, do not do this at home.

The real answer: No, all it takes is lots of practice and since I think it is fun, practicing is fun too.

8. Is that from that rabbit? (referring to what I am spinning)

What I'd like to say: Yes.

The real answer: This rabbit is not shedding his fur right now, so I have fur from another rabbit that is. That's why the rabbit on the table is brown and what I am spinning is gray.

9. Will the rabbit bite me?

What I'd like to say: If your fingers look like carrots.

The real answer: Only if you stick your fingers into his mouth. If you pet him gently on the back he will enjoy it as much as you do.

10. How much would it cost to have a sweater made for me?

What I'd like to say: Go get a loan.

The real answer: I do not market angora sweaters, the manufacturing industry has made the cost of angora sweaters reasonable enough, that it is worth your money to go buy one that way. The only thing I could offer would be an original design and then you are buying a work of art, not a sweater.


In spite of hearing the same questions a million times all day, I still love doing this every year at the fair. I got there at 8:30 and stayed until 4:30 at what will probably be the biggest crowd day of the fair this year. Since I only had three rabbits at the fair, I decided to take a 1.5 oz bag of fur that I had collected previously, and four knit items made with angora. When there was not a bunny on the table, I spread out the knit item for people to 'pet' I told them it was like petting the bunny only better, since the knitted hat did not run away. But no bunny even tried to run away that day. When I put a bunny on the table it was an automatic kid magnet, and there would be a dozen kids around the bunny in no time at all. The rabbits very patiently accepted all of the cautious and enthusiastic pats. I saw one bunny yawn, the biggest bunny yawn I have ever seen, I guess this is just much too boring for his lifestyle :)

I found this year I was answering more questions about just how spinning is done. Maybe I felt more confident to give that information, or maybe I just finally worked out a spiel that was understandable in laymen terms. I had many people thank me for explaining, because when they just watch, it does look like magic. Once they understand that the key thing is controlling the fiber and twist, the comprehension is visible on their faces. I liked seeing that.

The rabbits are home now, back in their cages and enjoying a well earned treat and snooze. I will not be taking the rabbits back to the fair, but I think I will try and get a spinning demo set up one time at next year's fair in the textile department. Hopefully, I can get some of the local spinners to join me, I think it would be welcomed by the textile department.

The fair is still going on this week, until Sunday, but I will not be back until Friday. I plan to go and see the sheep then. On Sat I have volunteered to work at the textile departments information booth for four hours, and then will go to listen to some music and relax with a beer. Then finally on Monday it is go and pick up all of my entries, and enjoy the ribbons attached to them.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Bunnies' Last Hurrah

Today was bunny judging day at the State Fair. I had three rabbits there, although I had originally planned to take six.

I knew that one French senior doe was not going to go. I had tried to hold her in coat until two weeks ago, when she stopped eating, a true sign she just had to have that coat off. Bald rabbits just do not belong on the judging table, and she was in such a molt that her whole coat plucked clean. She's much happier now, after many treats and hay and no six inch fur coat. I was not happy, she won best of breed before and I wanted to show her again. Also, it meant only five rabbits to go to the fair.

So Wed morning I head out to the barn to do last minute checks on the five. Well, both french bucks were still straggly looking from pluckings, even with the pluckings being 6 weeks ago. They do not grow the coat as fast in the summer. I picked the one that had the better coat, and left the other one at home. So then there were only four rabbits to go.

Except looking at the white french buck, who was truly miserable in the long coat, and thinking about taking that miserable rabbit in long coat to the hot fair grounds for four days, I took pity, plucked most of the coat off, and left him home too. So then there were three.

And three is a nice number anyway. I have a three hole carrier cage. So with three bunnies and all of their trappings packed into the car, I headed for the fair barn. I got everyone settled in, and then had an enjoyable lunch with hubby before returning home.

This morning I needed to be at the rabbit barn by 8 am. Not because the rabbits would be judged that early but mostly because I had no idea when they would be judged and one is suppose to be there for the judging. Besides, arriving that early got me a fairly nice parking place.

Since I had very few rabbits, and since they were already groomed and I was smart and put them on wire risers and not the shavings, I actually had nothing to do until the judging. So I volunteered to be a comment writer for one of the judges. As it turned out, that was the best thing I could have done. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and even stayed on after the angoras had been judged, to continue as a writer. I learned alot, grew a healthy respect for the judge, and found out that even after seeing over 150 rabbits pass by me, by the end of the day I was still fascinated by the cuteness of the critter in general, no matter what the breed. I am a die-hard bunny lover.

I found it interesting that the judge used the same routine with each rabbit. It impressed me that the 150th rabbit got the same attentive look-over that the first rabbit did. When the judge first picks up the rabbit he sets it on the table, runs a hand from neck to back end, and then pushes in on the tail end, rounding up the rabbit's body. The judge does that with every rabbit, and then runs his hand down the rabbit again, feeling that round shaping. That is how the body type is judged. Then the judge grabs the bunny by the scruff and ears and turns it on it's back. Teeth are checked, all four paws are checked (for color of toenail, or fur markings) sex is checked (and yes there are bunnies that change sex from owner's cage to the judging table LOL) undercoat is ruffled or maybe blown upon to check the fur and tail is checked. The rabbit is held up to the judge's face to check eye color and markings on the head. Next it is set on the table again and the judges hand runs over the head and ears, looking for ear faults. Finally the coat is judged, often by running the hand up and down the coat several times. Do that with 10 rabbits in a class, decide how to rank them all from 10th to 1st, remembering which of those many little black mini rexes was just which rank, and you too can be a rabbit judge.

I also finally understood the logic behind some of the 'best of' awards that are given. Let's take the angora breed as an example. The breed is angora, but there are four varieties of angora, the French, Satin, English and German. So one variety is judged at a time, in four classes, Sr Buck, Sr Doe, Jr Buck and Jr Doe (this is determined by age of the rabbit at the time of the show) Each first place of each of those classes (lets say French) are then judged against each other and the BOV (Best of Variety) is awarded. But to provide a pair, a BOSV (Best Opposite Sex Variety) is picked. If the BOV is male, the BOSV is female. Those two varieties stay on the judging table. The next variety is judged (let's say English) in the four classes (Sr buck, Sr doe, Jr buck, Jr doe) and the BOV and BOSV is picked for that class. This is continued until all varieties are judged (in angora's case, four varieties). There is now potentially 8 rabbits set aside, all best of variety. These are judged against each other, for the grand winner called Best of Breed (BOB) And to give a pair the opposite sex is award the Best Opposite Sex (BOS).

This is what I kept track of all day long :) I had to write it down before I forgot it again.

The logic of these awards is to give breeders an idea of what would make good breeding pairs, based on the judge stating the animals display traits close to the breeding standard. There is multiple awards, to give some depth to the choices. Can't get a BOB for your herd, then go at least with a BOV.

But I have stray far from my original posting idea, my bunnies last hurrah. That is because this was truly my last bunny show and the rabbits showed well. After Sunday, when I can take the bunnies home, they will be officially retired. No more breeding, no more fiber shows, no more judging tables. Just comfy cages, hay to munch, snoozes when needed and the occasional interaction with that human that feeds and grooms them. Life should be good in their old age, and I will still have plenty of angora fiber to spin.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Two afghan squares completed

White on white flower square Posted by Hello

I had an interesting time designing this square. I had the general idea in mind, but have never actually graphed a design to knit. So being fool hardy, I just grabbed some graph paper and starting drawing. I knew I needed a 12 inch square, so I randomly picked 5 stitches to an inch, giving 60 stitches. Then I took my graph paper and marked off a square 30 X 30 blocks and called each block 2 stitches. Then I started drawing in the flower. The design looks somewhat blocky of course, since it is made out of blocks LOL.

It looked good on paper. But it only took me knitting one row to realize I had not taken into consideration that the block was not going to be the same gauge in rows as it was in stitches. In other words each row in the design was definately more than two rows to get a 12 inch square. Gasp! I had to actually calculate it! Or more accurately what I did was figure it out on the fly, as I was knitting. Since the first three lines at the bottom of my pattern were just knit and purl rows, I measured after I had done 1/2 inch of knitting. I had done four rows. That would mean I needed 8 rows per inch, over 12 inches gave me 96 rows. I had 30 graph lines so divide 96 rows by 30 design lines and I would need to do 3.2 rows per graph line. Hmmm. Tricky.

Then it got even more complicated. I knitted another 1/2 inch and got the gauge of 7 rows for an inch. Not the 8 that I had expected from the first measurement of gauge (did all of this futzing tighten up my tension?) So back to the calculator. If I was getting 7 rows to an inch, and needed 12 inches, I would need to do 84 rows. Divide 84 rows by 30 lines of the graph and each line would be 2.8 rows.

I should have just picked a pattern in a book!

So here I am trying to figure out how to make each line on the graph be either 3.2 rows or 2.8 rows. I did it the good old fashioned seat of the pants way. I guessed. I knitted 3 rows, 3 rows and then 2 rows per line and continued that progression up the 30 lines of the graph. At various points along the way, I would remeasure, and find that I was right on a gauge that if I continued this way, when I hit the last of the 30 lines I would have 12 inches. And to my amazement, this is exactly what happened.

Who said woman can not do math!

Besides that was only half the fun of doing this pictorial knitting. The other bit of fun was figuring out how many stitches to make in a knit and how many in a purl, for the design to show. I had to figure that out for each row too. And keep track of which row I was on with tick marks on the side of the graph.

In spite of all of this, the square knitted up reasonably fast. I did about half of it, once I got going in about two hours, because once I got going I was really excited about seeing the picture develope. Plus I was loving the yarn I was knitting it with, a skein of corriedale that I had spun earlier this year. The fiber was processed at woolyknob fiber mill, and I was impressed with the yarn when I spun it, but even more impressed as I knit with it. There is just a special feel to the yarn, that is indescribable, and that kept me saying over and over, "I love this yarn!"

Since I got this square made in such a short amount of time, I decided to do a second square. Something simple!

It's not ribbing, it's Brioche Posted by Hello

This square is knitted from the sample skein I spun of the Border Leicester fleece I had processed at woolyknob.

Even though I thought I was picking a simple pattern, I had to frog the square twice in order to get the 12 inch size. I was measuring 6 stitch (two rib bumps) per inch when I'd get some knitted, and that seemed like I should be casting on 72 stitches. That is what I did at first and the square was way too big. So I cut back to casting on 60 stitches, and it was still too big. I couldn't figure out why I was not getting 12 inches with those number of stitches. At knit group on Sunday, I started once again, and something finally clicked. In this brioche stitch the first row after casting on, is a set up row. And in that row you S1 purlwise, yarn forward and K1 causing a YO and therefore INCREASING your number of stitches from your cast on row. No wonder my next knitted rows resulted in squares much too big. I cast on 48 stitches, did the set up row, and then was off on the real brioche stitch. I find that stitch to be very mindless knitting, once it is set up and going. It is S1 purlwise, yarn forward and then K2 together for row after row until the piece is complete.

This is a very dense, squishy fabric. It's color is a deep brown and I feel the depth of the brioche stitch matches that density of color. I loved this square, and plan to be using brioche for other projects in the future too.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Quilt corralling at the State Fair

Our State fair is due to start this Thursday, for the general public. However there is much going on this week before those doors open, and I have had the opportunity to be a little part of that preparation yesterday.

I volunteered my help two years ago to the Superintendent of the textile department. Last year, due to my work schedule all I could do was man the information booth for a period of time. This year though, I got to go in bright and early and assist the quilt judge.

What does an assistant do? Move quilts. Lots and lots of quilts. Fortunately there were 10 of us assistants, and it took all of us to keep things flowing. And with over 250 quilts to be judged in 26 different categories, it was a very long day.

It was easy work though, because each folded pile of quilts in each category was unfolded, laid out on a long table, with the next one stacked on top, until the whole category was on the table. Imagine the pleasure of unfolding quilt after quilt. That's what our whole day contained, all of those beautiful colors and patterns and textures. After all of the quilts in the category were on the table, the the whole thing was folded back in half. It was then ready for the judge, who first looked at each one as they were flipped back down. Then the top quilt was held up by two people while the judge looked at it. Then it was laid flat again on the table, and the judge got down to the serious business of making good and bad comments about the quilt. After the comments the judge decided, release or hold. The releases were refolded and put back in a pile in the right category area, the holds were judged again, to select the first, second and third place winners. Those were folded and stacked on another table, to be judged for the special awards.

After the first two categories, we got a good rhythm going, and still got to watch and listen to the judge's comments. I am not a quilter except in my mind (and I could not have helped as an assistant if I had had a quilt entered) but I found it very interesting to hear what was being judged. Many, many quilts had the negative comment of uneven borders, uneven quilt stitches, binding needs improvement (never use store bought binding!), and quilt needs more quilting. I was impressed with the judge though, because there was always a positive statement, even if it had to be 'good use of scrap fabrics'!

I found it interesting to observe how many quilts fell into a very middle range of skill and design. Only a few just plain looked terrible, and only a few were stunningly beautiful or original. The vast majority were of a known design, moderately well done in the piecing and quilting, and with a predictable use of color. Alone, in someone's home on someone's wall or bed, the quilt would be stunning, but bring everyone's in for judging, and it became almost tedious.

Did all this make me want to run home and quilt? Nooo, but, it did get me thinking alot about what I would enter should I ever wade into that creative river. It would be a stunning design executed over several years, so every stitch was perfect. Yea, right.

The great thing about the state fair, is that every one of those quilts will be hung for display, with the quilters name visable. Everyone gets to come and show anyone passing by, that this is their quilt. If there happens to be a ribbon on it, the happiness will abound even more.

And speaking of ribbons, I am hoping for a few of those myself. More on that later, I will probably post frequently during the fair, because it is a big part of my life this week.


Saturday, August 07, 2004

Is the Blue Moon a Creative One?

I was jolted out of summer doldrums this week by several good challenges to my creativity. My mind has been buzzing with ideas and I thought I would outline a few here to help me get some focus. I love this intense burst of creativity but if I am not focused very little actually makes it to a finished project.

First challenge is to make one or two squares for a group afghan. Even if I knitted both of these in garter stitch, there has been such good energy thinking about all of the patterns I could have knit. And that is the goal of these squares, to send good energy and comfort to a friend that is battling cancer. However, I think I have settled into doing one in a flat brioche stitch, maybe two colored, and the second one will be to try to do a picture knit. I have grafted out a simple flower design which will be done in purl stitches against a knit background.

The second challenge involves getting things ready to enter in the state fair. There are five skeins of yarn for five different categories. Those were not really a challenge, just spinning to specific specs. This year my designer yarn is spun from a carded batt I purchased combining dyed wool and buffalo fiber. The other categories include a 50/50 wool/angora blend yarn, a Lincoln lambswool yarn, a merino yarn, and a dyed 100% wool yarn. I will have pictures in a couple of weeks after the fair.

The real challenges came from other categories in the fair book. For the first time I am entering something that I knit on my knitting machine (a lace scarf, but different than the camel yarn one shown previously).

The biggest challenge, and the one I am still doing some serious design considerations about is to create a wall hanging. It states it should use textiles, but my thoughts are revolving around taking a fabric base and fusing rovings to it for design enhancements. And that's all I can say about that right now :)

And the last of the state fair challenges probably will not happen, but I have been thinking about it none the less. The category is for an original design garment. I feel like getting two glasses of wine into me, and sitting down at the knitting machine and just seeing if I can do anything that might look like it goes on a human body. Oh wait, did it say in the details of the category that a human had to wear it? This one is 'truly out there' but I may still try something this weekend and see.

The next challenge, after state fair is over, is to develope one or two original scarf patterns. I have several ideas for this also cooking on the back burner of my mind. These are going to be submitted to an exchange after the patterns are written. The recepient in the exchange is to knit the same scarves, following the pattern. They get mine, I get theirs, at least I think that is how the exchange will work. There is talk too of gathering all of these into a book and submitting it for publication. That is a good possibility, but definately a bridge that will be crossed when everyone has their scarves done.

To honor and support all of these great challenges, I bought a $5 ticket for the powerball lottery. After all, what good will it do me to have all these great ideas, and still have to go to work!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Comments fixed and a new fiber animal?

While reading other blogs on the SheepThrills ring, this blogger noted that I was a machine knitter and that she could not leave a comment about my machine knit scarf. That got me looking into the nuts and bolts of my comment section, where I realized I had it set so only Blogger members could comment. I remember selecting that thinking it would keep the spam at bay, but see now it was keeping others from commenting too. So that is fixed now, chat away if you please, it should be easy now.

And just to test it out, here is a picture of the new addition to our family. I am sure many folks can think of comments about a dog.

Barker posing for camera Posted by Hello

We have had him for a week now. We believe he was a 'dump the dog into the country' deal, because so far no one has come looking for a lost dog. I now know that he is mostly Corgi, maybe 100%, but unfortunately he didn't pack any papers with him. I seriously doubt I would consider spinning his fur, but he is a lovely deep black/brown color. And I think he is much cuter in person, he 'smiles' more. Somehow he thinks cameras need a serious look.

He is my constant companion when I am home, even if I go from one room to the next. Unfortunately he probably thinks he has been sent to doggie pergatory, because he seems to hate the country. He hates grass, especially wet grass, and darkness, and rain and probably snow. Well, we are working on getting him comfortable with this big place of ours. He goes out to the barn with me, waits patiently outside the door while I feed the rabbits and happily prances back to the house when we are done. He sits patiently on the back steps and watches me mow. As long as he hears the mower, he doesn't even bother to look for me He has made friends with one of our cats already, who now greets him when he goes outside with a good rub. So after a week, I guess that is good progress. I am just glad we were able to give him a loving home.