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, December 20, 2005

Knitting and Cooking

I have noticed over the years of reading blogs, that there is often a love of both knitting and cooking. There's a definate lack of cooking posts on this blog, not just because I consider it a fiber craft blog, but because truthfully, I do not like to cook. I have been told many times that I am a good cook. I also know I can be quite a creative cook, making a very good soup when cleaning out the refrigerator. And after successfully going through this year's sit down Thanksgiving dinner for 19, I know I am a very efficient cook.

That still does not make me like it. So don't come to this blog for ideas for tonight's dinner.

I am going to write however, about what I discovered about me over these last two months. I cook like I knit, or I could say, I knit like I cook.

My first clue that the two skills are similiar was the fact I have a full bookshelf of cookbooks, and a full bookshelf of knitting books. I had never thought of the knitting books as 'recipes' and I certainly can not stretch the similiarity and say my cookbooks inspire a sweater pattern. They often inspire me to knit, but that's just advoidance of doing the actual cooking.

The similiarity comes in how I use both bookshelves as a source of inspiriation. I have had to do a large amount of cooking these last two months. The first step in that process was to go to my cookbooks, flip through many of them and jot down possibilities. There's no difference between that and flipping through my knitting books, deciding just what the new yarn I just bought or spun wants to become.

And even the next step, the actual creating is very similiar for me in both skills. I may follow the recipe exactly when I make it, just like I may follow a pattern exactly when I knit a project. Or I may become creative as I go, changing ingredients for that soup, just like I will change a yarn or shaping of a knitting pattern. I find that certain areas of both are mundane and can be done without thinking, and other parts of both, can challenge me and send me to following directions exactly. And here's something funny, the brioche is an example of exactly that in both skills, the brioche knitting stitch, is challenging and just as complicated as constructing one for baking.

I have always thought that confidence built in one talent, allows the pursuit and usually success in another. There will always be a limit to the distance that skill develops, based on the actual amount of time and practice that is given to it. But confidence is a very large part of the initial attempt at most skills. I suspect that the successes in the kitchen encourage me to be creative with the needles, or the successfully knitted project encourages me to be creative in the kitchen.

And in true balance of it all, the failures happen too. The failed caramel coated apple cake that I tried this thanksgiving mirrors the sleeves that are bazaarly too large in the sweater I just knit. The cake was still edable, it just looked terrible. The sweater is still wearable, however, I do have plans to make it better. I will make the apple cake better too, by omitting the caramels!

In the end though, there is still one major difference between the two that will never change for me. I love to knit and hate to cook. No matter that I can do either with equal skill, if I have I choice, I will knit instead of cook.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A day for one's hobby

How rare it can be, to spend an entire day enjoying one's hobby.

This last Saturday, I did a booth at a local craft fair. I can not avoid the anticipation of sales, when I price and package any item I plan to put in the booth. However, I knew ahead that this craft fair, at a local high school was really not the venue for handspun yarns. I had a few other items too, mostly wreaths, and flower arrangements and a few Christmas ornaments. But the bulk of the items were handspun yarns, in wool or alpaca or angora.

And my spinning wheel, not for sale of course, but as usual a focal point to the booth. I sit and spin, people pass by and either stand and watch, or approach and ask questions. I explain often just how the wheel is making the yarn (no it technically is not thread) or that I am spinning and not weaving, (or as one lady told her child, sewing). I try to give them the amazement I still feel, that all fabrics made before the machinery age started in just this fashion. All fabrics, including the viking sails!

So I spun all day. I filled two bobbins of lace weight singles on my Ashford lace flyer with a soft wool purchased as mill end batts from Jaggerspun yarns. I am not sure what breed of wool they use, but it is merino soft, yet has very little of the merino bounce that I hate. I was very happy with the yarn that it produced. It is slightly off white, and I probably will dye the yarn after I have plied it. I hope to make a lace shawl with the yarn.

Which brings me back to all the yarn I tried to sell. Most of it, I have no plans for whatsoever. One bag I packaged up reluctantly, I love the color of the yarn. Lucky me that it did not sell! Now I really do need to make something from it.

The problem I run into is that I tend to buy rovings in one pound lots. And I find I can at the most, make anywhere from 300 to 650 yards of 2 ply yarn from that pound, depending on how thick I spin it. Some of the yarns I had for sale are very bulky. That's what knitters love right now, a soft bulky, interestingly textured yarn to turn into a scarf over a weekend. But the yardage on the bulky yarns are barely 200 yards, enough
for a scarf but not much else. Even spinning finer and getting the 650 yards is not really enough for any adult knitted project. A shawl needs at least a 1000 yards, and a sweater 2000 yards. It becomes clear why I have not used these yarns myself.

I have one bag of yarn stored away that I hope to use to knit me a sweater. The wool was purchased raw, I washed the fiber and then spun the yarn. I have not checked the specific amount of yarn I have, however, I spun the entire fleece, probably 3.5 pound of usuable fiber. I still may not have enough for a sweater! It's no wonder knitters run to Wallmart to buy six of the one pound balls of acrylic to knit anything.

Still, I love knitting with handspun yarn. It has a feel to it while knitting that I just do not feel from any commercial yarn. The fact that I come up with smaller amounts only challenges me to find patterns adaptable to mulitple colors.

And I will never stop spinning, even if I never use the yarn. I realized after spending the whole day at the spinning wheel, just how much I had missed it. I had not spun anything since about April, and during the winter I often spin a couple of ounces a day. When I don't do that, I miss the tactile experience of the fiber in my hands, I miss the visual experience of the colors developing in the yarn, and most of all I miss the relaxing mediative state of the whole spinning process. Here's to an early new years resolution, let there be some spinning in my life, if not everyday, then often.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Wedding flower pictures

As any of my readers may or may not know, my daughter just got married this last Sunday. I had the fun of doing the floral decorations from silk flowers and finally got these pictures to upload. These are not in any special order, but I am not going to mess with trying to do them over.

First, the cake table, which turned out beautiful itself for all the wonderful desserts present. I did the garland at the edge from a purchased garland to which I added all sorts of faux fruit and flowers:

Here is the brides table, which is also in fairness the grooms, maid of honor and best man's table too. On it are a crystal basket of fresh sunflowers, arranged that morning from flowers my daughter got at her food co op several days earlier. The chain of cranes was made by my daughter.

Throughout any of the decorations be sure to note the thousand and one orgami cranes folded by my daughter and her internet friends for good luck. They were made of very colorful paper, and looked like little flowers all over the tables, windows, even the cakes. Here's a photo of how the tables were set up for the reception.

This photo was taken at my house. It is a very large vase of silk flowers that we set on an area of the grand staircase where my daughter was married. All of the flower arrangements are done in fall colors, and with sunflowers, since that particular flower was special to the bride and groom.

The area for the reception had six large windows with wide window seats. To decorate that area, I did four silk arrangements in brass planters. You can see one of them in the window in the picture above of the table.

Again, this picture was taken at my house, but I used these two baskets to sit on the grand stairway. The stairway was magnificent with all of it's woodwork, but this little splash of color made it special for the ceremony.

Finally, not floral, but sewn, is the suit I made to wear to the wedding. The fabric is a brushed suede, with small embroidered roses on it. The jacket is lined and I was very lucky to find a rayon fabric the exact color of the roses for the blouse under the jacket. I found it very satisfying to be sewing again, after about two years of just doing embroidery with my machine. I hope it keeps me inspired to continue sewing, I have picked out more patterns I would like to do in the near future.

I have joked that I may have found a second career, arranging silk flowers. I just know that I saved this project of the many, many things to do for the wedding until last, because I knew it would be the most enjoyable.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Two clues done on the shawl

I love this yarn! It is called Baby Silk and is 80% alpaca and 20% silk. The color in the picture is not accurate, it is too red. The yarn is call cinnabar, and the color is a lovely orange/brown. I pinned the shawl out enough to see the pattern (I love the little cat paws all over it!). The lace will show more once the shawl is finished and blocked. I am using size 4 (US) circulars, and the shawl measures roughly 14" long at the top and 8" from top to point. Since I have the picture in a large size to show details, the yarn looks fatter than it really is. It is truly a lace yarn, gauged on the label as 28 stitches to 4 inches on size three needles.

I have no idea if I will end up with a large or small shawl. I think I am on the smaller side of the projects gauge, but with three more clues to go, it's hard to tell the final size. If it seems small, I am sure I can add a border.

These first two weeks it was easy to finish the clues within the week timeframe. I am up to 78 stitches now, I am sure it will get harder to finish as the size increases.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Mystery (Shawl)

I still do not have the button in the side bar that actually takes you to the group, but if anyone is in the mood for a knit along, there is a mystery shawl 2 at yahoogroups that I have decided to join. I found the first shawl knit along too late, but am right at the beginning of this one. So far the only thing in the files is a test pattern for swatching. A new set of directions will be posted each Friday for five weeks. The shawl is a triangle, lacy and needs an advanced knitting skill level.

I splurged (and buying yarn is truly a splurge for a spinner) and ordered Elann's alpaca/silk lace yarn. I ordered it on Sunday and it arrived today! Three day delivery. I ordered enough for two projects, a plum color and a raspberry color. I am off to swatch tonight, waiting for Friday's first posting of directions.


A Cotton wedding shower

machine knit cotton afghan Posted by Picasa

I am still in my very basic mode with my knitting machine. It is an older machine, all manual selection for any patterning, no fancy multiple color work possible. I still enjoy working with it though, and when it was announced that our Sunday knitting group was going to give my daughter a 'cotton' wedding shower, I went through the stash of coned yarn I bought long ago at R&M yarns to find cottons of a complatable color scheme with the plan to make her a cotton afghan.

I only had the basic design concept of wide strips of color when I started. Every part of the afghan had something to teach me! Even though I did swatches of each color, measured before and after washing and drying, my biggest problem was the fact that the lengths of strips did not come out even lengths, in spite of calculating how many rows per inch I needed and then how many inches. So after the strips were done, and all attached lengthwise, I had lots of fiddly bits to do, to make one section longer (putting the stitches back on a knitting needle and knitting by had until I had the right length) or shortening (undoing the cast off and raveling back to the right length) Add to that the fact that the whole afghan was definately stretchy, it was work to try and get it nice and evenly crocheted together.

The dark green was a 100% multi-ply cotton. It knitted like a dream on my standard machine, with tension set on the loose side. The brown and white tweedy strips was a cotton/rayon twist yarn and gave me lots of problems, the loose twist and slubbiness of the yarn makes it not really a machine knitting yarn. I made it through the two strips, but will not use that cone of yarn on the machine, only for hand knitting. Funny, I did not really have any problems with it when I swatched, but there's lots more knitting to be done for the long strips than that 6 by 6 swatch. I held my breath as I knit each row, and fussed though several disasters (one time a slub made the yarn break and the knitting fell off the machine, and I had to reset each stitch back on the needles). I was glad to get the second strip done, and made the design so I would not have to make any more! The small gold strips are a cotton chenille, a lovely soft yarn, that knit surprisingly well at a loose tension on my machine. And felted up into a nice fabric after washing and drying. Oh and yes, chenille does 'worm'. I honestly had never worked with chenille before, and finally saw exactly what that means. In the lovely fabric, every now and then, there is a big loop sitting on top of the fabric. I suppose it could make a difference in some projects, but I honestly was so pleased with the fabric and color, that I barely saw the worming.

But once completed, I was very pleased with the afghan. I will not probably make another one soon, the finishing time was much longer than the actual knitting time. But finish work is sort of like child birth, easily forgotten once it is past, and I may get the bug again to try and knit another one.

And finally, since it was a cotton shower, the hostess made a 'cotton' wedding cake. Nothing useful about it, just very clever and well appreciated and well worth sharing.

cotton cake Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 09, 2005

State Fair skeins 2005

After a day's worth of frustration with my dial up and this blogging and picture software, I think I finally have everything together in one blog entry.

Here finally are the pictures of the five skeins I did for this year's state fair. There were probably anywhere from four to eight skeins in most categories entered, and the judging was tough, based on the comments written on my skeins from the judge. I was glad to see the forty or so skeins this year, and keep encouraging other spinners in my area to enter, I want this category to stay active at our fair. They have also changed many of the categories, another good thing. When I started entering skeins about four years ago, most categories were based on yarns spun from the Lincoln fiber! That happens because anyone can support a category at the state fair, simply by paying the premiums for that category, and most of the spinning categories were being supported by a Lincoln breeder. The support has been picked up now mostly by the local spinning guilds and so their categories have broadened.

I STILL find the designer category to be the most challenging. That's good, because I would not continue to enter if there were no challenges. I must admit I thought I had a first place winner this year, with my Jacob self striping, navaho plied yarn, but was beaten by a blended yarn. The year I entered a blended yarn, I was beaten by a uniquely plied yarn. And these were judged by the same judge, so I still can not figure out exactly what in the judge's mind makes a designer yarn. I know what it means in my mind, a yarn that is specifically spun with a final knitted or woven design in mind.

What did I learn from this year's judging of my skeins? First and foremost, that I am not paying attention to small details while spinning. I am not being a perfectionist when I spin. It easy to overlook the need for every twist to be the same, every ply to be even. The final handspun skein always looks wonderful to me, because it is so unique. It is exactly that uniqueness that I strive for in handspun. However, that attitude does not win first place ribbons, and this year's lesson is that if I want to enter skeins in a competition, they have to be as perfect as possible, not unique. I feel I am a good spinner, but not by a long shot a consistent spinner, and that is what wins the first place. I can understand how a judge has to use consistancy as a standard, because every skein is lovely, soft, unique.

I learned alot about a judge's job and attitude this year by being the scribe for the quilt judge. That meant I sat at a table behind the judge and wrote down every comment made about each and every quilt. There are almost 30 different quilting categories at our fair, and often dozens of entries in each category. That adds up to almost a 10 hour day for a judge to look at and comment on each one. And what I learned as I wrote and listened was that a judge has to be completely ignore the 'WOW' factor of a quilt laying in front of them and fall back on the technical skills that created that quilt. Is the border straight, are the pieces well fitted, is the handquilting even? Often I would see a quilt spread out and think, 'Oh my that is just perfect' and then have to write as the judge spoke, that those technical skills I just mentioned were lacking.

So what I have been trying to say in those two wordy paragraphs is that no matter what is being judged, it finally comes down to the technical skills involved in making that item. And that is the lesson I will take to next years entries. I have many second place wins this year instead of firsts, because my plying was slightly overdone, my singles not exactly even, and worse of all, I did not tie the skeins with the same yarn as the skein. I did on a few, but not all, and it's those little details I will have to remember for next year.

Oh, you wanted pictures! OK here they are.

Jacob self striping designer yarn Posted by Picasa

For this designer yarn, I used part of the Jacob fleece I purchased this spring at Greencastle. I took solid areas of four different colors from the fleece and washed them. I combed each color separately to make top in four different colors. I then divided the top into color roations based mostly on weight. I spun these color rotations in order making one long single with long stripes of color. Then I navaho plied that single, keeping the colors matching, so I ended up with stripes of color. The swatch next to the skein knitted off from the resulting yarn, I did not change yarns to get the effect. It is a self striping yarn.

Spindle Spun Rambouilett Posted by Picasa

This category called for an all wool plied handspun yarn. I started with a raw Rambouillet fleece and pulled the finest fibers to wash. This was combed to make top. I drop spindle spun the top, and then plied the yarn on my Roberta. This is a wonderful yarn, I will have to make myself something special with it sometime, I have no plans to let this yarn out of my sight.

Dyed merino and angora skein Posted by Picasa

This category called for a blended yarn of at least 50% wool. I did this skein from one of the rovings I make to sell. The blend is 70% white merino and 30% dyed angora, in this skein the angora is a very pale turquoise color. The yarn is a bulky weight, I think it would make a wonderful hat for a toddler.

Yarn spun from Jacob locks Posted by Picasa

This category called for any natural colored wool. This is also a skein from the Jacob fleece I bought this spring. For this skein I took locks of wide variation in colors, washed them to keep the locks intact, and then combed them with a metal tooth dog comb, again keeping the lock intact. Then I just grab a lock at random and spun the lock until it was gone. I made no attempt to color match anything, and did a normal plying of two singles. There is no swatch with this entry, but I know it will knit up into a lovely tweed. There are two washed and combed locks beside the skein to show how they look right before spinning. The prep to do this is tedious, but I love spinning locks. Somehow the lock just magically and completely disappears into the yarn, unlike other forms of prep that can have so much waste.

Merino skein Posted by Picasa

And finally the last category is the obligatory merino skein. I have such a love/hate feeling for merino. Yes, it is next to the skin soft, and I love the yarn for that reason. But try as I may, I can not get a lace weight merino yarn and I hate a fiber that won't do what I want. Merino have a mind of it's own, and will poof out three times its WPI when washed. I tried not washing this skein before entering it, but the judge caught that . Well, the category did not _say_ the yarn had to be washed and some of the categories did require a washed skein. To spin this yarn I used 100's merino roving on my Ashford traditional with a lace flyer. If I spin merino on anything else, and wash it, it will be the width of a pencil. At least on my lace flyer I have the chance of getting a sport weight once it is washed. I don't think there is any way to win a first in this category other than practice, practice and more practice. At least I will have lots of merino yarn for shawls!

Thanks for your interest (since you got this far). I love sharing what I learn each time I enter a competition.


Friday, August 19, 2005

My lace bookmark and pattern

I lurk on the lace knitting yahoogroup, with the intentions of knitting a lacy shawl someday. In that group they occasionally have a bookmark exchange. You are assigned a exchange partner and each one makes a bookmark for the other. I finally finished this one for my swap partner yesterday. I used some machine knitting yarn on a cone that must have several thousand yards on it, so it seemed funny to knit such a small item. I used size 00 lace knitting double pointed needles, and the project took very little time, about four hours. I took the lace pattern from a pattern book and adapted it to fit the bookmark size. I've written out the pattern below, feel free to make one too!

Lace Bookmark Posted by Picasa

Little Lace Diamonds Bookmark

Lace pattern from the book _Big Book of Knitting Lace Patterns_

Yarn is coned lace weight wool, usually used for knitting machines, any very fine yarn can be used.
Gauge is not critical.
Needles: Two 00 lace knitting double points

CO 2 stitches
Make 1 stitch in next row
Row 3: Knit
Row 4: Purl
Row 5: K1, M1, K1 5 stitches
Row 6: Purl
Row 7: K1, M1, K1, M1, K1 7 stitches
Row 8: Purl
Row 9: Knit
Row 10: Purl
Row 11: K1, M1, K3, M1, K1 9 stitches
Row 12: Purl
Row 13: K1, M1, K5, M1, K1 11 stitches
Row 14: Purl
Row 15: Knit
Row 16: Purl

Start lace pattern and repeat for desired length of bookmark.

Lace bookmark pattern:

Row 1and 5: P1, K2, K2tog, YO, K1, YO, PSSO, K2, P1
Row 2 and all even numbered rows: Purl
Row 3: P1, K1, K2tog, YO, K3, YO, PSSO, K1, P1
Row 7 and 11: P1, K1, YO, PSSO, K3, K2tog, YO, K1, P1
Row 9: P1, K2, YO, PSSO, K1, K2tog, YO, K2 P1

Decrease rows:

Row 1: Knit
Row 2: Purl
Row 3: K1, K2tog, K5, K2tog, K1 9 stitches
Row 4: Purl
Row 5: K1, K2tog, K3, K2tog, K1 7 stitches
Row 6: Purl
Row 7: Knit
Row 8: Purl
Row 9: K1 K2tog, K1, K2tog, K1 5 stitches
Row 10: Purl
Row 11: K1, K2tog, K2 tog 3 stitches
Row 12 Purl
Row 13: Knit
Row 14: Purl
Row 15: Knit three stitches together into one stitch

Tie off this one stitch or use a crochet hook to start a single chain. Make chain longer than needed to
show at bottom of the book, bring end of chain up and connect with single chain to make a loop. Single several stitches to tack and then tie off.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

New skills and letting go

No pictures for this post, just a bit of philosophical blather.

First things first, I am doing the happy dance here because I have finally successfully navajo plied some singles. I've put off trying to learn this skill because in spite of reading about it and watching a spinning buddy do it, I could never make sense of what was actually happening between fingers and yarn. I guess the synapes finally connected and reached my fingers this week though, because I sat down with a small sample of single ply and made a loop and was plying loop after loop with ease. I was surprised to find that the 'bump' everyone claimed would be in the yarn when plied this way, was really not noticable. That was something else that had always made me hesitate about trying the technique.

This experience has made me believe in the existence of the knowledge of the common mind though. All those spinners all over the world that can navajo ply have put the knowledge in the common mind, and that knowledge just finally reached my humble farm and fingers! I believe because I didn't attempt this technique with book in hand, I just sat down and did it. It sort of felt like reinventing spinning itself .

Knowing how to do this is a very good thing, because now I can make the big skein of Jacob yarn the way I envisioned it. I have spun long stretches of different colors in a single and really did not want to ply those and risk the colors not matching. I can navajo ply that single and keep the colors together. I will also now be able to spin the lovely roving I won last year at SOAR, donated by Rovings, that is a polworth roving dyed in long splashes of fall colors. I will spin the whole pound as a single and then navajo ply the yarn. In fact, now I can hardly wait to get my fingers on it!

As I have been working up this Jacob fleece, I took a big section of the light gray color and carded the washed fleece into big batts. I was starting to spin these batts, when I realized that the way I spin was defeating the whole purpose of that fluffy carded fleece. I tend to split pieces off the batt long ways, and spin that in an inch worm fashion, and for the most part, straightening out those fibers before letting the twist enter them. I decided to try a true woolen yarn with those batts by trying the long draw method.

I have never mastered the long draw. I have seen spinners spin one handed, just the hand holding the fiber moving back and forth to the wheel. I must have too many control issues, I had to learn, over and over again, to just let go! I finally compromised, since I really could not do the one handed drafting, by holding a large chunk of the batt in my left hand, and placing my right hand, palm facing me and open. That way the fiber ran past my right hand but I was not actually pinching or smoothing the yarn before it ran onto the bobbin.

This was unbelieveable hard for me to do. I am a smoother by nature LOL. I can not stand fiber that has little bits of noils in it, I have to pull them out and smooth the yarn. So time after time, as I was practicing this, I had to repeat, let it go, let it go. It became the mantra of the hour, and sometimes I would find a nice relaxed zone as the fiber whizzed by, and sometimes I caught myself fiddling with the right fingers again and would have to tell myself, let it go.

I think I may have a life lesson here too. Little bits of mess in life don't really hurt and lovely stuff happens, when one just lets go.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Everyone needs a sock knitting box

Cigar box outside

Inside cigar box purse

I had read the occasional comment about cigar box purses, but had never seen any in real life. I was curious because in going through the stamp stash from my Dad, I now have a dozen empty cigar boxes. I had planned to make a purse just off of the top of my head, I figured I'd come up with something usable. However, when I went to the flea market yesterday, I saw this and decided I would buy it, because I love the 'kitsch' of it, and it gives me a good example to copy when I make some more.

Oh, not that I would copy the design idea, I have plenty of other designs in my mind, quilting themes, stamps themes, yarn themes...No I just liked having this example for the finishing details, and what hardware to look for.

Meanwhile, until I find the time to make some more, this cigar box purse will hold my current sock knitting project. It can slip into a larger bag, if I am traveling, or just be grabbed for a Sunday knitting group.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

I bow to free advertising

I will not 'push' my fibers for sale on this front blog, but if you look to the right I have added a link to a blog I created for what I currently have for sale. Right now, there are dyed rovings, but I think of this new blog as a constant ongoing crafts garage sale. You never know what will be listed next because my crafting does not take over just a closet, but two rooms of my house. Check back now and then to see if there is anything you just gotta have.



Monday, July 11, 2005

Spindle Yarn

Here is the yarn finally from a rambo fleece I washed almost two years ago. I took the very best part of the fleece, and combed it with my small hand held combs. And then I spun the top with a drop spindle. The spinning took more than a year, but that is because I rarely spindle spin at home. I have fond memories of the many places I did work on spinning this yarn. There were many odd Tuesday night gatherings at Barnes and Nobles, several evenings of listening to music and drinking wine at local wineries, and also one big gathering of dear spinning friends across the country called our Center of the Fiber Universe Picnic. I am sure there are many other places that have just slipped my mind. Next time I do a long term spindle project like this, I think I will slip a notebook in the bag and just jot down where and when I did some spinning.

The yardage is a few inches short of 200 yards 2 ply and the skein weighs 2.5 oz. It has been washed and put up into a 2 yard skein. That skein size is a requirement for the State Fair as I plan to enter this skein in the fair this year.

In other fiber news, I have finally been spinning every day, or washing and combing a Jacob fleece. The rush of spring outside work is over, and the hot summer heat and humidity have me glad to be inside in the A/C working with fiber again.


Spindle spun rambo yarn

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Revving the Creative Juices

As you can probably tell by my lack of blog entries, I have had very little time for any fiber work over the last six weeks. Even knitting, which in the winter I often pick up while 'resting' from any labors, has only happened once a week, at my Sunday knitting group. It's pathetic but true, my total creative output in the fiber realm, has been limited to six rows, once a week, on the sleeve of a cotton cardigan.

I see the end of this hectic pace though, and encouraged by that, and inspired by the yearly State Fair entry book, I have now made plans to make some fiber projects.

If you have read any of my previous blog entries on the State Fair, you will know how much I love this annual event. And it all starts with the arrival of the 440 page (!) entry book. The deadline to enter anything in the fair is July 1st, and the fair itself is mid August. So for six weeks my creative energy is all directed toward projects to enter in the fair.

There is a requirement that the project was completed in the last two years, and not a previous winner of a ribbon. And ideally (laugh) the projects have all been completed this year, from Jan through July. I laugh because that is not how I work. Deadlines, I need deadlines! And before the deadline, inspiration. Fortunately for me, the fair entry book brings both.

So with creative juices all revved by categories like 'Best Collection of Jams, Preserves, Marmalades and Butters in Jars' I have made my selections for the year and mailed in my entry form for the culinary department, the fine arts and crafts department, and the textile department.

Want to play along? I will only challenge you to the spinning category, hopefully most of you reading this are spinners. I will post pictures of my skeins after the fair, and challenge you to do the same. No there will not be any judging! This is just a fun play along spinning challenge.

Here are the six categories for handspun yarn. All skeins unless otherwise stated, are to be two to five ounces submitted in two yard skeins.

1) Handspun designer yarn with swatch (includes dyed or hand painted). A skein of all handspun novelty yarn (any fiber). The accompanying swatch should be at least 6" by 6".

2) Handspun yarn for novice spinners (spinning 1 year or less) Yarn should be plied, any weight (2 oz for medium weight, 1 oz for fine) Yarn may be made from dyed or natural fiber. Yarn should be washed and put up in neatly wound skeins, tied in 3 places.

3) 100% wool plied handspun yarn, dyed or natural, medium or fine weight, 2 oz for medium weight, 1 oz for fine weight. Yarn should be washed and put up in neatly wound skeins, tied in three places.

4) Wool blend handspun yarn, (must be at least 50% wool). Dyed or natural, medium or fine weight, 2 oz skeins for medium weight, 1 oz skein for fine weight. Yarn should be washed and put up in neatly wound skeins, tied in three places.

5) Best handspun natural colored wool, not dyed, with sample of unspun fiber (lock or roving) also submitted.

6) Best handspun Merino, white or natural colored, not dyed with sample of unspun fiber (lock or roving) also submitted.

I will be entering in five of the categories, I no longer can qualify as a novice spinner :) Category 1 will be the biggest challenge for me, it is so broad to just say spin a 'designer yarn'. I have problems because I am such a consistent spinner, my yarn has no designer qualities to it. I tried over the past two years to make the design element from the type of fibers used (angora and silk one year, buffalo fiber the next) but that didn't impress the judge as designer yarn at all. So this year I need a different plan and a reading of Diane Varney's book "Spinning Designers Yarns" is where I will start. I notice there is no fine or medium weight limit in this category, which allows bulky yarns as long as they meet the overall 2-5 oz limitation.

The third and fourth categories can probably be pulled from something I have already spun this year, or can be easily done over a couple of spinning sessions. My basic type of spinning fit these categories nicely.

For the fifth category I have decided I want to use the Jacob fleece I purchased at Greencastle fiber fair this year. That means I need to get sorting and washing it!

And the last category, handspun merino, will become my much needed portable spinning project. I have a very fine merino roving that should spin into a lovely lace weight yarn on a drop spindle. Many months ago I finished drop spindling a hand combed top of rambo fiber and I had not decided what next to spin on a drop spindle. So merino it is, and hopefully a lovely two oz skein of lace weight will result.

Ahh, it is so nice to feel the creative juices flowing again.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Spring clip 2005

I have discovered it makes a big difference to only have a dozen angora rabbits, compared to the 30 or more that I use to have in my barn. It was a matter of several days, for two hours at a time, to get everyone free of their winter coats and ready for the warmer weather. I added to the ease this year by clipping the coats instead of plucking. I would not do this in the past, when I wanted the fiber to sell. I still believe plucked angora is better for spinning and would only sell plucked fiber. Clipped angora can have short bits in it and is uneven in lengths. Plucked however is harder on the groomer and the rabbit. So to give us both an easier spring I used scissors on everyone. So for the first time I really can call it a spring clip.

Here are a few photos of the fiber. I wanted to photograph the whole clip as one photo, but it just would not fit and give the detail. As it is, the photos still do not show well the sheen of the satin fiber. I love both the French and Satin fiber, but for two different reasons. The French fiber is just plain luxury to spin and easiest of all the angora to spin. The satin is hard to spin, but if it is spun as a 100% skein the resulting yarn just shines plus has a halo. It is a very unique and lovely yarn.

Spring clip1

The himi satin looks white, but in truth has a brown tipping to many of the fibers. The rabbits (I have two) are unique in that they have blue/grey eyes instead of the red eyes associated with white rabbits. Also the brown coloring changes with the weather so in colder weather they will be browner and lose it in the summer. I don't see a very drastic change on my rabbits, they tend to be in a moderate temperature year round, by living in the barn. And the rabbits always 'look' white, the coloration is just in the tipping. It has to be taken into account though when spinning the fiber, it will not look white when spun.

In the middle of this photo, the red fiber, is from the only mix breed rabbit I have left from a breeding project I had started. The goal was to get the longer french fiber into the satin, and to get the intense red of the satin into the french. One very large litter was born from that mix breeding and most found homes with other breeders because they had more intense red coloration. Since I then decided I had to cut back on the rabbit business, I did not carry the genetic line any further. The plan had been to take that first generation and breed back to type, satin to satin and french to french. It would have taken five generations to be considered pure back to type, so it was a long term project. I would have enjoyed it too, however my life demands more travel time, and I just had to put rabbit breeding aside for that reason.

The black satin fiber is as awesome as it sounds. I dearly love that black rabbit, a very shy male that I have had for three years now. The clip was the longest coat I have seen him have, and it was easy to trim. Often satin can be very short, but the winter weather must have encouraged more growth, because most of my satins had longer than normal for them coats.

Spring clip2

The top three are my major french rabbits. The blue is the pet called Reboot because my daughter found the baby out of the nest, warmed her up and she lived. She is a monster rabbit now, well over 10 pounds, probably not real healthy for her, but I get a major amount of fiber from her on a regular basis. I have used the blue angora as trim for items knit from grey wool fiber (CVM mostly) and the two colors look wonderful together.

The chocolate torte is another wonderful color to spin. The yarn is very tweedy in appearance, browns, reds and greys. That's because the coloring on the fiber shaft goes from an almost white base to a deep red/brown tip. I must confess I have dyed angora, but usually feel there is no need, the natural colors are my favorites.

Spring clip3

There is one coloration problem on this photo, I seem to be unable to get a photo that didn't put a red tint to the lilac satin at the bottom of this photo. If you saw the fiber in person, it is a true white base and silver tipped fiber. The two satin fibers above it in the photo are so red, I suppose the color is reflecting on the lilac.

I realized as I looked at the rabbits in my barn now, that I have equal numbers of french and satin. And also that this number of rabbits is perfect to keep me a supply of angora to spin. I think I have finally reached a nice balance between necessary work and fun for this rabbit hobby.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Finally a finished project

Mohair shawl

This is a shawl I have been working on for almost two years. It's not that it's hard, I just put it down at one point because I was bored with it. And I do not like to work with the mohair in the summer, so that meant setting it aside at that time of the year too.

I am very happy with it though, and plan to wear it and show it off often.

The yarn is made by Adriafil and is called Touch. It is super kid mohair, nylon and a bit of wool. I used two balls and carried two strands while knitting.

The pattern is very simple. This is a rectangle shawl and I used size 10 1/2 needles to get the very lacy look. I cast on 74 stitches, but any number which will allow the pattern to be worked over 3+2 will work. The 3+2 means that each end stitch (the +2) is knitted and the 3 pattern is k1, yo, k2tog across the row.

There is a border pattern on each end of the rectangle that really adds to the shawl. It is 17 rows, knit rows 1-5, then a row k2, *k2tog, yo* repeat between stars until last 2 stitches which you knit. Then knit rows 7-11, do the lace row again (row 6) and knit rows 13-17. It looks very nice for such an easy pattern.

I plan to wear the shawl with a large pin gathering each end in the front. The size is just right for it to then fit across my shoulders and being so fuzzy, it stays in place. However, I doubt I can wear it over a dark color, it will shed on the clothing underneath unfortunately.


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Greencastle 2005

A trip to the Fiber Fair yesterday was an unexpected surprise in my week. For more than a week both my husband and I have had bronchitis, and had only the energy to move from one sleeping spot to another. But this Fiber Fair has been a part of our lives together since we met. For the last eight years we had a booth selling angora fiber and had made many friends. So when he asked yesterday morning if I felt up to a ride and visit for the Friday evening opening of the vendors booths, I said yes. The sun was shining, it was an easy drive on freeways, and we made good time.

Walking into the front door and not seeing our booth there was very nostalgic. I still feel I made the right decision not to vend anymore, and feel full of possibilities of things to try with this fiber hobby. There is no way around missing the fun parts though of what we had done all those years.

Friday evening is a great time to go. There are still very few crowds on Friday evening, so shopping is a pleasure. I could spend as much time talking to those friends as I wanted without the distraction of customers, theirs or mine! Most of these friends I only see once a year. There were some surprises. Nancy of Sheep Street has moved from her main street store location in Morgantown, and bought acreage. Her store is on the farm and they now have over 50 sheep of various breeds. A rabbit breeder friend is selling all her rabbits this spring and her farm and moving to Tennessee. Several long time vendors like me, called it quits this year. New vendors take their place, and the number of them continue to grow. Greencastle is a serious fiber fair and worth anyone's time to visit.

I walked all three vending areas twice. I never got to do that before. Here's a picture of my best find:

Jacob lamb fleece

The picture really can not do justice to how lovely this little Jacob lamb fleece looks and feels. I do not plan to try and separate the colors at all, just spin it by the washed handfuls and make a yarn full of that tweedy goodness. Although the cut area sitting on top in the photo is very distinctly black and white, the locks of fiber all go from a very white tip to brown to gray. There's no real hint of that distinct black and white when one looks at the lock as a whole. It's going to be very interesting to watch the yarn develope as I spin.

Here's a picture of a lock. It's about 4 inches in length (sorry I forgot to put a ruler next to it).

Jacob lock

I bought two books, Cat Bordhi's A Treasury of Magical Knitting and Galina Khmeleva's The Gossamer Webs Design Collection. I was looking at that last night, and I love the dictionary of motifs that this book includes. She shows them as squares with the motifs in the center, and I just thought what a lovely afghan could be made, say in baby weight yarn for a little baby girl, using these motif squares. Of course the shawls are always stunning and a goal for me is to knit one someday.

And for a lack of anything else to call it, my husband and I both got Jensen spinning wheel fever. I saw the wheels briefly last year, and of course had no time to really look at them. This year I was invited to take off my shoes and try one, so I sat down at the $1500 production wheel. It was double treadle, something I had always thought I would not like. It's big, something else I had avoided in wheels. But it was smoooooth, silent, and just absolutely lovely to spin. I felt I was sitting just a bit too low, but that would be a matter of the right chair, since I had to use what they had in the booth. The wheels are made of solid cherry, and are as beautiful as any good piece of furniture.

What surprised me was how taken my husband was with the wheels. I expected a response of, oh you have three wheels already! That fact was never mentioned, only talk of family heirlooms He took the paper work and I have made it known that I would not mind it one bit at all if one happened to be a gift at some point in my life. Who knows. Until yesterday, I was of the mindset that I can make any wheel spin yarn, and so there is no need to have a special wheel. I feel differently now. If I want to make my spinning experience a truly wonderful one, then a truly wonderful wheel does just that.

Last stop before heading home was to pick up fiber from Wooly Knob Fiber Mill. I had taken two fleeces to them at the SWIFT meeting and they brought the processed fiber to Greencastle. Mine and a whole trailer full of other peoples! It saves on shipping though, and I still stand by my opinion of the quality of their processing. Both fleeces were turned into lovely roving. One was a Black Welsh Mountain lamb's fleece that feels lovely and looks so rich and black. The second was a dark brown Rambo, a ram's fleece but still very soft and lovely. I had processed some of both of these fleeces at home and was having problems getting the lanolin out with just my routine washing process. There is just no comparison to having a fiber mill do that washing for you, with their super hot water the fiber comes clean and soft. To then have it turned into a roving that practically spins itself, is the icing on the cake.


Thursday, March 31, 2005


Fiber for spinning

Stamps for sorting

Which picture makes your fingers twitch to dig in?

I suspect most of you will say the first. The fiber does that to me too, at least when I was shopping, as this is a picture of my latest shopping spree at the SWIFT meeting.

But the picture of the shoeboxes of stamps is what my fingers are digging through right now, and I have been thinking lately about the reasons why. And that led to thinking about how I blog about many of my hobbies, but not stamp collecting.

On a whim last Friday I spent an hour searching to see if anyone was blogging about stamps. I found some neat blog search tools, and out of the many blogs I scanned I only found three related strictly to stamp collecting. Compare that to the hundreds of fiber blogs now being kept, often daily, it really does make one stop and wonder just what it is about this fiber, knitting, textile hobby that makes it so intensely interesting, Conversely, for me it leads me to wonder just what keeps me going back to the stamp collecting hobby since childhood.

Oh I have answers! Did you think those were rhetorical questions? Answers are what I hope come out of writing this entry.

First of all, do you have a hobby that directly reminds you of happy times with a parent? If so, then I bet you go back to that hobby at least now and then in your life. With stamp collecting, I remember my Dad, and time spent with him, learning all about how to recognize what country issued the stamp (so I still collect worldwide) learning the tiny details of how a stamp is created, learning at last how to value the stamp. There are two values to that tiny piece of paper, one, money because so few exist anymore, or two, even if it is only worth a nickel, if it is that last stamp a collector needs to fill a space in their album the value to them is priceless. Especially if they found it all on their own, while going through a big pile of stamps.

So to follow this line of thought, are many of us blogging about fiber because it reminds us of a childhood relative? I know I think of my one grandmother every time I knit. And many more relatives would have had to knit, weave, quilt, etc so there are more of us blogging about those skills.

In truth though, I know there are few stamp blogs because there is just no way to make the hobby interesting to a large number of people. It is an intensely personal hobby, sometimes shared but often persued in the quiet evening hours or a long rainy day (my Dad once told me that a neighbor said to him when it was raining, that he supposed he was having another dumb stamp day!) Even I, as much as I love stamp collecting, found the three blogs about the hobby, well, er, boring! It helped me make the decision that it really was not worth my precious internet time to start a blog about stamps, unless I could write a beginners how to....oh oh, I hate it when I have more ideas than time.

I found out some other interesting information about searching blogs, while looking for stamp blogs. It seems it is still very difficult to search the internal information of blogs. What is being searched is the title of your blog. I read several articles encouraging bloggers to make many blogs of specific information and then label your blog with key words pertinent to that topic. And those that carve and create the internet are working hard to find ways to search the internal content. At least I hit it right when naming this blog, it really is mostly about my spinning (and I am sure the reader doubts it at this point, but I promise this is the last of the stamp blogging here). I like having the link function on my sidebar that shows where this blog was discovered. Mostly of course it is from the rings, but now and then I see hits from Google.

The picture of the boxes of stamps are what I have to go through, left over from cleaning out my Dad's accumulation. Over the last three weeks, I have done nine boxes already. Hey, each box weighs from 1-2 lbs, even spinners can relate to the feel of victory over 9-18 lbs of anything! What does that mean, going through the nine boxes? It a thrill of the hunt. I could blog about the elation of finding a PNC #2 single of a bread wagon issue. Huh? It's just a different language. If I said I spun a 2 ply 21 WPI yarn on a 17:1 ratio, you'd know exactly what I mean.

The difference is in the fact that the yarn will have a future use, the stamp is just plain treasure. And we all know one man's treasure is another man's trash. That is why I and many others wade through piles of common everyday stamps. We are looking for the one that will make us go WOO HOO. The stamp I mentioned above is not worth much. It would catalog for .65 and I could probably sell it for a quarter. Why was it a find? Because I had it's siblings, plate numbers 1-3 and now I have added to that collection. Would anyone else find that interesting? Probably not.

In the end, it is probably just the old childhood language coming back to life in me: finders-keepers!


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Long Ago Sewing Lesson

I love a good auction, and I had the good fortune to attend one this last weekend. What makes it a good auction? Ah, that would be answered differently by everyone. For some, it is finding a great bargain. For others, it might be finding the rare item in their favorite collection. For me, it is finding a bit of personal history, tucked away where few would look.

In one of the box lots at the auction I noticed an old composition book. It was paper covered, somewhat dirty and well used. The yellowed pages were intact though and to my surprise contained some young girl's hand sewing lesson. I had to buy a box full of uninteresting postcards, as well as seven Top Value Stamp books, to win this little gem of personal history.

I have enjoyed going through each lesson and admiring the handworked samples attached to the pages, and thought I would share some of it here.

Lesson one looks so neat! Here is the student, new book, maybe new fountain pen, new start of the lesson. Impressing the teacher was a priority. The writing is lovely script, and the lesson is just a group of sewing term definitions. The student recieved a B.

Starting with lesson two, there is a list at the top, obviously the lesson plan. It lists what the sample shows, the material, the type of stitching, the thread and needle used. Linen toweling is used to show bastings, and various hemming styles. The scant lesson states that the overhanding (sic) stitch is one thread deep and two threads over, a permanent stitch, straight and close together, done with the needle pointed toward the chest. The lesson was too scant for the teacher though, the student received a C-.

Now the lessons get harder and each take several pages of the students unique handwriting to convey. In lesson three cuffs are discussed as well as how to lay a pattern on the material for cutting. For some reason there is no fabric sample for this lesson, although the lesson plan calls for a cambric fabric. Lesson four makes a hemmed patch in a damaged garment, the sample showing 'material from home'. Remember, this is all hand stitiching. In lesson five, a komono was constructed, using according to the lesson plan, a combination stitch, catch stitch, feather stitch, flat hangers, hooks and eyes, and self made bias facings. The type of fabric used was not listed, and there is no fabric sample for this lesson. The notes go on for eight pages and looked hurried, like maybe now these lessons are pushing the student hard to stay with the class. The teacher did not like the students explanation of making bias strips and noted that on the lesson.

Suddenly the next page is lesson 8 and it is one that impressed me the most. In it the student does a blanket stitch, and invisible mending. This is where I started again realizing how much of the hand sewing skills I have not learned, being so relient on my fancy sewing machines. When one looks at the black piece of fabric, with the white blanket stitching on the edge, that seems to be the only thing there. On close examination though, you can see where an 'O' and 'J' had been cut out of the fabric and then invisably mended! If you turn the fabric over you can see the square of like fabric attached to it, but the stitching is so fine (and I might add, so black!) that from the front none of that is visable. I gave the student an A+ in my mind, but the teacher, ever strict gave a B.

The student is now ready to do visable stitching, and so the next lesson is button holes. Yes, hand stitched button holes, thirteen in all, running in a straight line up the muslin fabric sample. The sample piece is folded over, doubling the fabric as in real sewing and the edge of the sample was (although not neatly) stitched closed. No frayed edges for this sample! Also practiced were six blind loops, used I believe for hooks. The student is concentrating hard now on the hand sewing, because the written lesson looks just like any of us would write, when in a hurry. There are many spelling errors, corrections of syntax by the teacher, and in a list of questions at the end are points to the lesson that were not addressed.

We are now up to lesson 11. At the top of the lesson plan are the words, Gathering & Stroking. Stroking? Turns out, as I read through the less hurried lesson (and so much better handwriting) that after doing the traditional running stitch and pulling up the gathers the student writes "We then stroked the gathers in this way: We took a sharp steal (sic) pin and pushed each gather close to one another and the first real close to the needle and brought that pin on down this leaving each gather finished." While there could probably be a few punction marks to make it clearer, I realized that stroking was the process of straightening and aligning the gathers before attaching the cuff band. The three written pages of the lesson was not enough for the teacher, at the end was written, in a lovely script, "How is band placed to garment? Which side was held toward you while gathering and stroking? Which was held toward you while pinning, basting and sewing on band?" Ah, details, details, that teacher definitely wanted details!

There are two lesson 11's in the book. I am sure by now our student has lost count! This lesson constructed an apron, both a large 'for real' size one (which the student got to put lace trim on the hem line) and a tiny two inch sample. The material is listed as Indian Linen, and is a fine sheer muslin. The tiny apron is complete in all details, tiny hem, tiny gathers, tiny band. The only thing missing is a tiny button on the back of the band, used in the real garment to wear the apron.

That was the last lesson in the book. Spring's here, school is out. Or were these after school lessons, given by the local seamstress for the improvement of the young ladies sewing skills? I will never know. Still looking into a bit of that one girl's young life is something I treasure. I know somewhere along the line, she had spring fever because on the very last page is written this poem:

Just a bunch of wildflowers from your far off home,
Gathered in the valley where we used to roam.
Maybe they'll remind you of a heart still true,
Just a bunch of wildflowers that I picked for you.

She may have never given that old composition book a second glance after that class. She may have hated sewing and never took up needle and thread again. But I am glad if was saved and will pass it on someday, for the sheer history of it, and use it while I own it, for the inspiration of just what could be done with only a needle, thread and fine fabric.


Auction finds

Look what a dime use to buy!

I did make several purchases at the auction I attended last Sunday. The above magazine was just one of three that was in one lot, which also included several Ladies Home Companions from 1898. The Ladies Home Companions were not in very good shape, but still interesting to look through. They included a few needleworking patterns, but are mostly stories, ads and items that the ladies of the late 1800's would find enjoyable to read. I much more enjoyed the Needlework magazines, full of true 1920 knitting patterns, lace knitting, tatting, embroidery and of course ads. I think I missed my calling by not going into the advertising profession, I find it very fascinating (and yes, I watch the super bowl for the ads!)

I won very little at the auction and stayed the whole day. But the items I did win I am very happy to now own.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

SWIFT annual meeting

Last Saturday I was able to attend the annual meeting of SWIFT. This is an active guild for spinners and weavers in Indiana that draws folks like me from neighboring states. I have been a member for a number of years but usually the annual meetings fall on a weekend when I have to work, so I was pleased to be able to go this year. It is held at a place near Indianapolis called Conner Prairie, which looks like it has several interesting things going on during the year and may be a place I will want to visit again.

The first thing to greet me when I walked in and set down my spinning wheel was a 12 hour old baby goat. It was not a fiber goat, but a milking breed, an alpine. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for goats since I use to raise Saanans and Nubians. All babies are cute, but this little one was just adorable. It was the smallest of triplets and mama had not taken to it so it was being bottle-fed and was happily snoozing in a small laundry basket on a blanket.

The next best thing was shopping. I treated myself to 8 oz of Yak down for only 12.95. It is a deep brown color and I plan to spin it on a drop spindle. The next bargain was a buy one get one free pound of bleached irish linen roving. Now I have not spun linen before and I know roving is not the usual way to purchase linen. So either I got a great bargain, or two pounds of pure challenge! I have been reading on Spinlist some of the suggestions for spinning linen and will keep those in mind as I try this fiber. One suggestion was to spin outside because it tends to give off a large amount of fluff. Well, it cannot be any worse than angora for that! Another suggestion was to premoisten the fiber and keep a bowl of water near by while spinning. The biggest concern seems to be the fact the fiber is so short, and bleached which makes it even more fragile. I think I can handle the shortness; it should be similar to spinning angora (more so than cotton at least in how it feels). I will try a 2 ply well stretched while it dries. Maybe if I get a decent yarn from the linen I can use it for doilies. Or if I can get it smooth enough, maybe it will work with my knitting machine. Ah, knitted linen placemats, truly unique! As you can see, it will definitely be a challenge. The last thing I purchased was a dyed wool and linen blend roving (I detect a trend here). I fell in love with the silver purple color of the wool with the white streaks of linen. I don’t anticipate any problem spinning this unless the linen fiber just refuses to blend with the wool as I draft. I am sure there will be more posts on here about these fibers as I work with them.

SWIFT held the regular meeting after lunch, along with a roll call of guilds. Then there was a show and tell time on that year’s theme of ‘anything black and purple’. This ranged from showing a ball of black and purple handspun with many intentions, to a floor length hand-woven purple coat with a black border. In between there were felted mittens, wall hangings and cat toys as well as woven scarves and a woven band with purple sheep! There even was a quilt of purple. Next year’s theme is ‘a blue moon’. Now this stirs my creative juices, not only to anything in blue, but also the thought of doing something that one rarely attempts. Tatting? Bobbin lace? It will be an interesting show and tell.

The meeting ended with a slide show and talk present by Lewis of Little Barn Fibers on antique spinning wheels. I found it very interesting to see photos of some of the wheels unknown to me. Lewis was full of informative tips on various makers of wheels, as well as what makes them rare or common. I wish now I had taken notes. The one that I remember best is the gossip wheel. He states that this wheel was not designed for two spinners to sit and spin (and gossip) at the same time, but for one person to spin two bobbins at the same time. It boggles my mind that anyone would be able to draft and control fiber in both their right and left hand and spin a fine linen thread, but according to him that is exactly the reasoning behind the design. He said he had only seem the gossip wheel used in that fashion once, and the spinner drew the flax from one source with both hands and spun it with each hand onto separate bobbins. Since all linen thread was hand spun in those times, and since it was often children spinning 16 hours a day, I imagine it would be possible to develop that skill. I doubt though that it was a home skill used by those that spun for family use only.

For me, I was content to just spin a single bobbin with two hands, on my Haldane during the spin-in and the meeting. I cleared some of the bobbins by plying what was on them, and then spun a lovely silver gray llama fiber. And even at that, I barely filled one bobbin, with all of the eating, talking, laughing and baby goat hugging going on around me.


Monday, February 21, 2005

I should have made it a vest

I am knitting again! All it took was a 16 hour car trip to visit my mom. I love car trips as long as I can have my knitting, and a book on tape.

So the mohair stole is 3/4 of the way done and looking wonderful. And the cotton cardigan for my daughter now looks like a vest and only needs sleeves.

I want to pick up stitches around the armhole on a circular needle and knit from shoulder to cuff. I think this makes a smoother join at the shoulder to the body of the sweater, and I can gauge better just how long to make the sleeve as I knit.

I found out though that doing this is not just a matter of reversing the increases to decreases, especially at the very beginning when trying to figure out just how many stitches to pick up for the sleeve top. If the sleeve was just a plain rectangle, that would be easy, but with the shaping of the top of the sleeve I found I was having a very hard time going from knitting flat to knitting in the round.

The sleeve is simple in design, almost a rectangle. In the actual pattern a number of stitches is cast on at the cuff edge, and increases are done on each side of the sleeve over most of the length of the sleeve. This is a very standard sleeve design. About 10 rows from the finish at the shoulder, 6 stitches are bound off on each edge. Then 6 more stitches are decreased over the last nine rows and the remaining 82 stitches are bound off. The shape of the sleeve is boxy, not a rounded cap.

So in my first attempt, I picked up 82 stitches around the armhole, increased to 88 sitiches over the next nine rows, and realized, if I was really to do the reverse of the bind off of six stitches on each edge, I would increase six stitches, and on a circular needle, that's just sort of messy looking. I think in the end, being under the arm, and blocked, it would be OK, but I just am not happy with the results so far.

In visualizing just how I would have sewn a sleeve made by the original instructions to the armhole of the sweater, I realized I would have put those bound off 12 stitches (six on each side) side by side on the underarm, and then eased the rest of the top of the sleeve around the armhole.

So my next idea is to pick up 12 stitches at the underarm area of the sweater, work back and forth until I have picked up 6 more stitches, and then pick up the 82 more stitches around the armhole, close the stitches into a circle, and continue with the gradual decreases as I work my way to the cuff.

I think this is the basic gusset design, but I confess I have not knitted a sweater with an underarm gusset, so I can not be sure. I don't think the sleeve will look exactly the same as one that I knit flat and sew to the sweater, but I do think handling it this way will help the ease and fit of the underarm area.

But I have not tried it yet. I have 10 rows done on one armhole, up to the point of the increase of 12 stitches at once. I think I will leave that sleeve alone and try my idea on the second armhole, then I can compare which one looks better.

No wonder vests are popular!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Move Along

There's no fiber content here.

I thought it would bother me more to type that, but life has been busy and productive in other areas, and there just has not been time to make any progress on any of my fiber projects.
Right now in my life it's all about archiving. I received a wonderful printer for my computer for Christmas. It allows me to scan my photo negatives and put them into my computer, and then burn them on a CD. I have been working through about 30 years of negatives, with the main purpose of at least getting them saved in case they were ever damaged. Why I would worry about that after they have made it through 30 years is a mystery to me too.

And when it became evident two weeks ago that our second and last VCR was just not going to work anymore, we purchased a unit that will play both VCR tapes and DVD. That means I am able to make DVD's from my vast collection of taped programs. This is not so much an archiving activity as space saver. Imagine the difference in space that 50 VCR tapes and 25 or less DVD's take. That's a big space saving.

And last of all there is the stamp closet to clean out. This is a small storage closet in my computer room that is filled with all of the inventory from my Dad's small postage stamp business. I am gradually working my way through it, keeping what I want and preparing the rest for selling. It's interesting and fun for me because I am a stamp collector, and love the bits and pieces related to that hobby. Saturday night I went through a box that had nothing but used envelopes. Most of them are trivial, and will give up their stamps to go into someone's album. But some were real gems. There were envelopes, with letters included from the early 1900's. The writing is spidery and faded and often hard to read. That which I could read spoke of details from the daily life not much different from what I would write now in an email to a friend. The part that makes me set this envelopes into the save pile, is that they survived this long already. Some have some value to them, written on Red Cross stationary, telling the recipient that their son was in the hospital but recovering. It's such a tiny slice of life in those envelopes, a peek into the past that keeps me involved in this hobby.

So this post is to let you all know I am alive and well and not knitting. I have been thinking about knitting, reading books about knitting, but no yarn has passed through these fingers for weeks. I doubt that will last long.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What a difference a technique will make

Normally I have no problem at all spinning a commercial roving. But once in awhile I run into one that gives me some grief. I found this alpaca/silk roving when cleaning and organizing my stash, and remembered that I had stuck it away because I found it very difficult to spin.

Usually when spinning roving, I can just spin straight off the end of the roving. The fibers are aligned and I have no problem spinning a nice smooth yarn. Once in awhile, just like this roving I find that spinning straight off the end, I run into several problems. One the fiber seems compacted in some areas and not in others, and even drafting doesn't keep clumps from jumping into the twist while I spin. Another problem, probably related is I run into areas where the fiber just runs out, like all of the fibers ended right in the same spot.

At first I thought I would solve this problem roving by just drafting as evenly as I could, and spinning with a very light twist, very slowly, and making a bulky yarn. I still had lots of thick and thin areas doing this though, and was not happy with the resulting yarn. In a moment of playfulness, I tried taking the thick single and plying it with a commercial yarn from a cone of machine knitting yarn. The thought behind trying this was, if the thick single was already thick and thin, wrapping a commercial yarn around it tightly would create even more of that effect. It seems like it would work. What I found though was even spinning with high twist, the alpaca refused to be wrapped with the commercial yarn, and the resulting yarn looked like roving just barely spun. It was highlighted the two things I didn't like about the alpaca, that it wouldn't take a good twist and hold it, and that the slippery fibers refused to be wrapped. I think it might look good once knitted, but in the long run it was not a yarn I really wanted to make.

This morning, I finally remembered my solution to a previous roving like this, a technique called spinning from the fold. I got out my wheel, took a hunk of roving and folded it over my index finger and fed the fiber into the drafting triangle from that fold. It worked wonderfully, and I was able to create a yarn that will be of the same WPI as other alpaca yarns I have spun. This was necessary if I really wanted to make something from this yarn, since I only have about 6 oz of this roving.

In the picture below, the first yarn is the single plied with the commercial yarn, the middle yarn is the bulky 2 ply and the final yarn is the 2 ply spun from the fold. The commercial yarn is very thin, and is not visable in the picture, and there is so little silk in the mixture that very little shows in any of the samples. That just hint of off white is the silk.

Three samples from an alpaca/silk roving.

I am glad I found a way to spin this roving because the color is a deep brown that I love. I am sure I bought the roving for the color with no idea I would have trouble spinning it. Now I can pair the yarn from this roving, with another alpaca color in a shawl.