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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Alaskan Memory shawl

Although it does not scream anything about Alaska, this shawl will always be my memory shawl of my cruise to Alaska. It will remind me of planning and swatching and starting the knitting process, while in class with Amy Singer. I will remember pinning the swatch out on a towel on the glass coffee table in our stateroom, wondering what the stewards would think of it, but knowing they wouldn't touch it. Everything else around it would be spiffied up anytime we were out of the cabin, but they had a great instinct about what to tidy up and what not to touch.

I will remember sitting on the couch in that state room, starting the actual cast on. I will remember that stateroom getting too sway prone, one day of very rough seas, and going to a more midship area, sitting in the common area, knitting and trying to not really look at the waves. It was enough to feel them.

I will remember being thrilled with Amy's creativity to come up with several lace patterns that had names and concepts for Alaska. We were instructed to pick two and work out the arrangement, and then cast on at the point of the triangle. With steady increases, adding more and more motifs, we would have a shawl. Oh and just because this was Seasocks Cruise 2008, we were invited to make it in sock yarn. This actually was a novel concept to me, and I find I really like the resulting shawl's drape and feel.

So in keeping with the theme, I knit a shawl shaped like a whale tail:

Here's a photo unpinned and draped:

I've worn it once, and find I like that extra bit that curves along the top. The shawl stays on my shoulders pretty well, being a non slippery yarn. But if I am moving and need to anchor it more, I can tuck those extra curved bits under my elbow and keep the shawl in place. The style will not work with a shawl pin, the shawl is too wide and therefore too shallow to really fit around my shoulders and pin in place.

The lace patterns I chose from Amy's suggestions were whale tail, and icebergs. The whale tail runs right down the middle of the shawl, and the icebergs pattern surrounds it. Here's a close up:

This has been one of my favorite shawls to knit so far, not just because it was a memory shawl, but also the patterns were pretty repetitive, and easily memorized, the increases were dependable constant, and the yarn was enjoyable to knit. I have thoughts of doing it again, because it's a great way to use those expensive hand dyed sock yarns that really never seem to be worth a pair of socks.

Here's the specific details on the project:

Yarns used: Mountain Colors hand painted yarns Barefoot, one skein in Lost Trail colorway, 350 yds. Patons Kroy sock yarn 2 skeins 384 yards, in Gentry Gray. Basically I knit until the yarn was all gone.

Circular needles size 5

Cast on 43 stitches. Instead of starting with just say 5 stitches for a point, I went ahead and made a flat end to the triangle, so that I could start the lace pattern right away.

Cast on May 11th. Finished Aug 5th. Entered into 2008 State Fair, no ribbons.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic spinning challenge finish line

I finished the final bit of the challenge at 10 am my time this morning, two hours before the close of the Olympics Beijing time. The cat bed knitting was completed Friday night, but so far the cat has only stood in it, not laid in it. I suspect it's just not cold enough yet to want a snuggly place to sleep.

So here's the starting line

And the finish line:

The challenge details:

Fleece from Maine Island Sheep (rare breed) about 2 pounds unwashed

Washed, picked, carded batts for spinning: 1 pound 9 5/8 ounces

Three sample skeins spun to get required 9 WPI for knit project

Total yarn spun: 630 yards 2 ply 9 WPI (total spinning yardage 1260 yards)

Project knitted: Snuggly catbed used 280 yards of yarn

Yarn put in stash: 350 yards

I feel a bit at a loss for what to do, now that this is done. I have focused on it above all other projects. I have cast on for a pair of sock and have about an inch knit, so if I want I can work on those. But for now, I have been happy to have a day away from the fiber.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Spinning Olympics update

I am on my last lap of the spinning olympic challenge. I can almost see the finish line from here:

Actually I took that photo yesterday morning, so half of the batts are already spun into a single.

A quick update though of the progress so far.

Days 6 and 7 I carded the picked fiber and started spinning a second set of skeins.

Day 8 through 10 I did a little spinning, but mostly was away from the project. I went to the state fair on one day, and spent two days editing the podcast. Off and on during the mornings of these days I picked the last of the washed fiber for the third and final batch of carding and spinning.

Day 11 I worked at the state fair, but in the evening I finished the plying of the second batch. Yardage for that batch was 238 yards of a bulky 9 WPI 2 ply. The picking helped alot, but the yarn is still bulky and slubby. I have given up any hope of getting anything but that type of yarn for this fleece. This evening I also searched Ravelry for a project to knit with the first 210 yards and decided on a cat bed. I've wanted to make one for my cat for a long time and realized that although this maine island fleece is bulky and slubby, it is very soft and I think the cat will like curling up in it. I have had cats crawl into baskets of washed wool to sleep many times, so I think there is hope this cat will accept the basket as a bed.

Day 12 I spent the entire day on the project (in between housework LOL). I carded the third batch of fiber, put the first three skeins of yarn into balls for knitting, printed out the pattern, rounded up circular needles and put all that in a bag for knitting at my knit group Tues night.

So to hit the finish line, I need to spin, and ply those last batts, and finish knitting the cat bed. I have 30 rows left to knit, and with bulky yarn and size 9 needles, it should be done by Friday night. I choose a catbed pattern that is not felted, although I may see how the cat likes it that way. If it doesn't seem snuggly enough for her (too big) it is 100% wool and will be easy to felt later if I want.

The project has been interesting, and certainly challenging, with the poor quality of the fleece. I will say though that the fiber type of the maine island is wonderful and if you ever have the opportunity to purchase some (hopefully from a breeder more in tune with the needs of a hand spinner) I would definately recommend it.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Photos for Podcast Episode 17

The first podcast for August is now here at Yarnspinnerstales, or in ITune if you are already subscribed. It's a mixed bag of topics this time, so I am loosely calling it, What I Learned Recently, Tips and Techniques.

The first topic is about picking a fleece. I have already posted previously about the fact that the Maine Island fleece I am working on currently had so much vegetable matter in it, that I was having problems spinning a decent yarn. I realized I needed to go back to the basics and pick the locks open after washing and before carding. I talk all about that process in the podcast. Here's a photo of the fiber after picking and before carding:

It probably could be spun that way actually, it is so open. But I like using the carder because it gives even one more chance for all that bit of stuff to fall out before forming into a batt.

I want to go into detail here about the 'stuff' removed from the locks while I picked. This is what was causing me so much trouble as I was spinning. I either had to stop and pull it out, or let it spin into the yarn, causing lumps and bumps.

Starting in the upper left corner, there is an example of locks that were not entire. If you pulled on the lock, it just split in half. Those halves, carded into the batt, made for areas where you would come to a dead end of fiber while spinning. Yes you can rejoin the fiber, but it still breaks the rhythm and therefore the smoothness of the spinning.

No explanation is needed for the next three bits of problem fiber.

Dead center between two clumps of fiber at the top of the photo, is a thin wisp of fiber with a nub attached. Next to it, in the upper right as some of the little black seeds that were driving me to distraction while spinning. And finally on the bottom of the photo are two just plain short cuts which happen from the shearer recutting an area, or repositioning the blade.

There's no way to deny that I purchased a fleece with problems. I was going only for the fact that the fleece was from a rare breed sheep. I did see the fleece before purchasing it, but was not examining it closely because I was going to buy some no matter what. I can say the fiber from this breed type would be exceptional, soft and lofty. I just got it from a breeder that really was not raising the sheep for a handspinner.

Two topics in the podcasts that I do not have photos for are how to andean ply, and also how to find competitions to enter your spinning and to prepare the skeins for judging. I thought since we are still in the middle of the Summer Olympics, to talk about another type of judging that we as spinners and knitters might actually enter.

The last topic is about spinning fat. I recently worked on a skein for my state fair for the designer yarn category and decided to go for an intentional bulky yarn. I explain in detail how I spun that yarn in the podcast.

First I discuss the fact you need a roving about a pencil width wide, which is rolled to compact it before spinning. I forgot to take a photo of that roving, but here's the single after spinning.

And then some of the 2 ply winding onto the bobbin. What you want to end up with is a 2 ply that is about the same thickness as your original roving.

I was getting a 3 WPI if wrapped loosely, 4 WPI if I scrunched them together a bit.
Finally here's a knitted swatch of the yarn.

Yeah, it looks and feels like a hotpad. It would take a creative knitter to make something with this thick yarn, but it is certainly interesting to knit. The whole point to the process was to spin with an intentional yarn in mind and that's exactly what I did.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Spinning challenge 4 and 5

The subtitle to this post is: Picky Picky Picky. It will be apparent as to why later.

Monday was day four of the Olympics and I did nothing with my challenge. That's not to say I did nothing at all though. Right now it is also state fair time and once again I will be busy with volunteer work in the textile department. I also have four entries in the fair, three skeins of yarn and the knitted shawl. I will post about those later. The fair opens tomorrow (Aug 14th) but all of the judging happens previous to the opening. And the judges need helpers, so my first volunteer day happened Monday, to help with the quilt judging. Those of us that do this, fondly refer to it as 'quilt wrangling'. Our jobs are to get the quilts from one category spread out one on top of the other on a large table, while the previously spread out category is being judged. This helps keep things moving. There are also scribes, which sit and listen and write comments the judge makes about the quilt, which are then mailed to the person that entered the item.

Quilting is a big thing in the state, and there are over 35 categories in the quilts alone. The number of entries per category can range from two or three to fifty. So it takes two judges, and about a dozen helpers to get them all 'wrangled' and judged.

I wouldn't miss this opportunity though, except every time I do it, I want to run home and start piecing fabric together. Ironically, if I entered a quilt, I couldn't then go to the judging. The compromise is to make the quilt and not enter it, something I am perfectly willing to do given the level of expertise I see at the judging.

But I come home very tired, and so did not even feel like spinning.

But Tuesday I got to spend the entire day spinning and watching recorded Olympic coverage. I am enjoying the Olympics more than I thought I would, and having it in such an exotic location is helping. To see bicyclists riding around the great wall, is just amazing.

I am not so thrilled with my spinning challenge though. The fleece is frustrating me and the yarn I am spinning is bulkier than I wanted. I already know I will not be making most of the ideas I had for the yarn, it is just too bulky for a nice afghan as well as maybe not having enough yardage.

This is what I am running into. First of all the fleece fooled me. It had a higher amount of lanolin that I anticipated and so it is still slightly sticky to spin. I really do not mind that in a yarn though, as I can use that to an advantage by making something for outerwear. It will help in the weatherproofing. But the fleece also fooled me by hiding a very large amount of tiny vegetable matter and the higher lanolin is holding it in the roving and not dropping out like it usually does while I spin. Also, there was hidden a larger amount of nubs. So I am starting and stopping all the time to pull bits of seed, and nubs from the yarn.

I almost quit, thinking well I will comb the rest and give this 8 oz up to a general loss. But I went ahead and at least plied the singles, and I liked the yarn better. Oh it's still bulky and I can still see bits of VM in it (OK can I now call it interesting additions to the yarn?). But the plying tended to even out the yarn and make it more appealing.

I don't have pictures of the yarn yet, I decided to wash it, so it is drying right now. I have about 160 yards of 2 ply at 9 WPI yarn so far.

Sleeping on a project often helps and when I got up this morning I realized that I needed to get back to the basics again and do something I had not done, hand pick the fleece before carding. In my feeling of needed haste for this project, along with thinking there was not much VM, I had skipped this step. The only thing I had done was open the locks some before putting it through the carder. It's no wonder there was a large amount of trash in the batts.

So I spent a hour and half on my porch this morning with about 8 oz of the remaining washed fiber and picked it open. It still did not remove all of the VM, but it does look better and will card up in a hurry, being already picked open.

Here's a lovely picture of the basket full of picked fiber. Hard to believe 8 oz fills the basket!

This is the trashy bits I gathered up off the porch floor after picking. Yes, it seems to be about the same amount of waste as I would get if I combed the fiber. It's almost the same process really, when you pick the fiber as hard as I do, there's alot of waste.

Later today I will card the picked fiber, and spin another 2 ply yarn. I imagine I could get a thinner yarn now except if I really want to knit something with this yarn, I should go ahead and continue with the 9 WPI and use it for something bulky and warm for this winter.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Spinning challenge Day 2 and 3

In all honesty, I didn't do anything on the fleece on day 2. The weather here was perfect, and we were in the mood to play hookey. You know, take the day off, go somewhere together and ignore all the yard and garden work that needed done. It was a great day. We visited a part of the 'world's longest yardsale'. This is one specific highway that starts in Ohio and ends in Alabama, and along the entire length you can find yardsales, on the second weekend in Aug. I saw two spinning wheels for sale. Neither had any markings on them and both had had the fliers redone with modern wood. But they were functional and in good shape, just small.

So on Sunday I got back into the challenge by carding about half of the washed fleece. I ended up with 12 big fluffy batts, totally over 10 oz. Here's a photo:

I am disappointed in the batts though, because the vegetable matter is just not falling out while I am carding the fiber. Often when I card wool most of the VM drops out between the small and big drums, or pops off the big drum as it goes around. But these batts have a high amount of VM still in them. You can see it in the photo. Maybe it's because the fiber is white, and I am use to working with a dark fiber, and just don't see the VM in the dark fiber.

Since I am working this fleece up for the breed notebook, I went ahead and combed a 1/4 oz of it to test spin. I shouldn't have done that, if you have listened to my podcasts you know I love combed top, and it was proven to me once again. There was _no_ VM in the top and the spinning was smooth and easy, since I didn't have to stop and pull out nubs and VM. I should comb the entire fleece, but if I truly want to do this over the Olympics, I need the faster processing of drum carding.

I spun up three sample skeins for the breed notebook, as well as to decide what size I wanted to spin for my Olympic challenge knitting. This is a photo of three of the skeins:

In the photo, there's an obvious difference in the color between the combed top on the far left, and the two carded samples. The combed top is whiter than the carded yarn proving once again it pulls out all the junk when you comb. It measured a 16 WPI but it doesn't look that thin in the photo. I think it may have relaxed some and bounced into a thicker yarn. The two carded skeins were done to see just how thick I could spin the yarn and still get a reasonably non slubby yarn. The answer is the middle yarn, around 9 WPI. The bulkier is just not that nice, because the slubs were not pulled out. So middle of the road yarn it will be, for the knitted project.

One other thing I did was browse through some of my knitting pattern books looking for ideas of what to knit with the yarn. Now some will be determined by just how many yards I finally end up with. I found several afghan ideas, like I originally thought about doing, but I also found two other ideas. Both are from the Folk Knitting books. One is a stole with pockets, and the other is a garter stitch vest. I like both because I could start knitting while still spinning more yarn.

But enough of all of this warm up work. It's time to get my nose to the wheel, so to speak, and get spinning.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Olympic Spinning challenge Day 1

And they're off!

Although my olympic spinning challenge certainly didn't start with the pyrotechnics that was used in the real Olympics opening ceremony. Nor will my challenge come even close to breaking me into a sweat. I salute all the athletes competing from all over the world, for all of their focus and hard work. And say again, thank goodness that's not me.

I want to try and keep my notes here instead of a notebook for this project. First a few details.

Fiber: Maine Island fleece, unwashed, and only around 2.5 lbs. I only purchased a part of the entire fleece, when I bought this, because it was a breed I had not worked with before, and because I was unsure if I'd like the fleece. Also it was white, and I am not usually attracted to that color. I gravitate more toward the blacks, grays and browns.

Project challenge: Wash, card, spin the entire fleece. Knit something to completion with some of the yarn, before the Olympics close.

Here's a photo of the unwashed fleece:

The fiber does not feel soft to the touch, nor does it feel like it has high lanolin. The fleece had been well skirted, I will not lose much at all from having to pull out dirty bits. That makes the higher price per pound that I paid (if I remember right it was $12 per pound) worth it, since I also don't think I will lose too much weight from lanolin. That will be determined later, after it is all washed. There was a reasonable amount of vegetable matter in it, for an uncoated sheep, but nothing nasty like burrs. There is some yellow areas, that I am not sure if it will wash out or not.

So starting bright and early on day 1, I took half of the fleece and pulled out the obviously big bits of straw and such, and gave it all a good shake. This lets some of the vegetable matter as well as short cuts of wool to fall out. Then I divided that approximate pound of fleece into half, and starting washing.

I used very hot water and Dawn dishwashing liquid. I washed the wool twice in soapy water, and rinsed it three times. The first wash water was almost like mud, it amazed me how much dirt was in the fleece, and also just how white the wool was turning after the first wash. The tips that were extremely dirty stayed that way though, and I may find I will have to cut those off before I card the fiber to keep that from ruining the nice white color.

Here's a photo of two washed locks and an unwashed lock (which is on the right):

The locks are of average length, around 4 inches. The crimp is really different and hard to explain. If the locks are intact, the crimp shows as very tight bumps. But if you look at individual fibers it's almost as if you can not see any crimp at all. You can almost see that on the photo above, the dark area of the unwashed lock shows the crimping I am talking about. It will be interesting to see what this fiber does once it is spun, because the amount of spring to the yarn does relate to the crimp.

After I had both batches of the fiber washed I put them on my sweater drying mesh and put them outside. We are having a period of low humidity and light breeze and it helped the wool dry. But just to be absolutely certain it would dry by day 2, I put it in front of a box fan overnight.

You would think I have a plan for this project, but I still am going back and forth about whether to be linear, and wash it all, then card it all, or to basically work on all areas at the same time. Card some of this batch, spin some and start knitting from the bobbin. Or do I wash the yarn? I have never knit with yarn that did not have the twist set first by washing.

And I have still to decide what all of the yarn from this fleece will become. At first I figured I would do a sweater for me, but I am feeling that the yarn will be too scratchy for that. I thought about a shawl, but that just doesn't work with the fact I would like to spin this a worsted weight at least. I do not want white socks either. What I see when I look at this fleece is an afghan or at least a lap robe to snuggle under in the winter. I am not sure why, but I can not get that idea to change into anything else. So I am going to look at some patterns and see if any appeal to me. And if the pattern is a good one to stop and start, I may just try knitting it without washing the yarn, and then wash and block the whole afghan.

It is an easy decision though about what to do on Day 2. I will be drum carding the fiber.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Project Updates A Rant and A Rave

Today is the official start of the Olympic spinning challenge, there will be a post following this for more details on that. It's only relevant here, because my fleece is soaking in hot soapy water and I need something to do to keep from poking at it. I am trying a new formula of Dawn for washing this fleece (this is the Rave, I love Dawn dishwashing liquid for washing fleeces, that greasy lanolin pops right off with Dawn). It's a concentrated formula and it's called Simple Pleasures. The scent is lemon and tangerine, which I am loving. The verdict is still out if this will wash a fleece as well as the traditional formula, I will know that later. And it may be hard to find, I know my local Kroger is discontinuing the product, I do not know if that means the company is discontinuing it or not. But for now, it's got my thumbs up (almost a guarentee that it will go away).

No pictures with this post, just some details on what has been keeping me busy the last two weeks.

Items for our state fair are due to be submitted this weekend, so I've had the usual last minute finish up rush. I am entering three hand spun skeins this year and they are spun and washed. I need to skein them into two yard skeins, because that is the required skein length. It's a clumsy operation to get them into the skeins that size. I can set my skein winder to that size easy and wind the yarn onto it. However the yarn is currently already in a skein, that's how it's washed. And winding onto a skein winder, from a skein without a second skein winder is hard. Usually I have to try and put the small skein back onto the PCV pipe skeiner I have, and wind it that way. The alternative is to put the small skein into a ball and wind from that. I have done that in the past too. The best solution is to put the yarn from the bobbin straight to the skein winder set for two yards. I have tried that too in the past and have been unhappy with how the skein looks after washing that large size skein. And if I am unhappy with it, I am sure the judge will be too. So I fiddle, to get a nice looking two yard skein, and because it is so fiddly, I procrastinate doing it. It's a good TV watching project and I have a movie I want hubby and I to watch tonight, so I expect I will be doing it then. Maybe I can talk him into holding the small skein, while I wind the large. Ahhh togetherness.

The other two fair items are in final finishing stages too. The first is my Alaskan memory shawl, knit from sock yarn. It's in the towel after a nice Orvis bath and then I have to pin it out to block in a little bit. I am procrastinating on that too, so many pins. And now here's my rant. I used a well known, high priced specialty sock yarn, you know the type, hand dyed in amazing colors. And when I washed the shawl, that yarn bled, an ugly orange brown color. Now the colors on the shawl did not seem to be affected by this bleeding, and I didn't leave the shawl in the murky water. Even the next two rinse waters were still bleeding a terrible amount of color. It really upsets me. I can rant because I am a dyer. I know about bleeding yarns, and what to do about them. It doesn't have to be that way, and to have yarn sold at high prices that bleeds like that is just laziness or ignorance on the manufacturers part. I do not think it has harmed the shawl, and I did not want to dunk the shawl in vinegar and then submit it to the fair smelling like a pickle. They'd think I'd entered it in the wrong department and that it belonged in Culinary. No I am just going to have to put down an old sheet and pin the shawl to that in case it bleeds while blocking. And then I will consider what to do about it after the fair. What to do may involved never washing it again. I can not imagine how bad this would be if I had knit a pair of socks with the yarn.

Back from switching the fleece from soapy water to rinse water.

The last fair project has been an interesting challenge and it is the one that it the least finished. It may or may not go but it's been fun to make. I have learned how to weave on the 12 inch square loom and it's partner triangle loom and have made squares of handspun to sew into a table cloth. Technically it will be a tea table cloth. I needed 25 squares, and have eight more to go. And then I should wash and block those, and sew them together. Ideally I would knit them together with a lacy design. So I am at the decision point soon, do I finish it fast, and get it in the fair, or finish it pretty and enter it next year. Stay tuned....


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Two Sheep breed review in July Spin In podcast

I have uploaded the July Spin In podcast and you can find it here or in ITunes under Yarnspinners Tales.

I talk about two different sheep breed fleeces in the podcast, so here are some pictures to go along with that discussion.

First, the breed of sheep that every new spinner is told to start with Romney:

Nice long open locks, moderate crimp and as you can see, combs or cards well. Combed skein is on the left, carded on the right.

Next, a rare breed, that was created specifically in the western United States, Targhee
This breed is part of the fine wool class, and has a very short staple, and very tight crimp. The washed locks feel cottony and did not like being carded at all. The combing produced a nice top but there was a high percentage of waste. Combed skein is on the left and carded, a very ugly lumpy skein, is on the right.
The yarnspinnerstale this month is about crafting and it's need for community. From the beginning when a crafter was earning his bread, there were guilds. Once machinery took over that task, crafters would gather to help each other, as in quilting bees. Now finally in this internet age, we have the height of the world wide community such as Ravelry. I talk about how the knitting Olympics started, and how it has grown to be a large community of not only knitters, but spinners too on Ravelry. And I talk about my personal ravelympic spinning challenge and the fact there are others doing the same thing.
My challenge is to start with a raw fleece and knit something from the yarn from it by the end of the olympics. That means washing, carding, spinning and knitting. I will challenge myself to have it all done through the spinning, and then I will knit a 'sample' which I have decided will be a mobius. I do not plan to knit the entire fleece by the end of the olympics, because that quantity of yarn needs to be a sweater or shawl. But a sample piece, to get an idea of the gauge is a perfectly acceptable finale for the challenge.
I have chosen another rare breed fleece that I purchased and have not had the time to work up yet. I will be keeping notes, just like I use in the podcasts so I can share the experience later. The fleece is from a Maine Island Sheep. Here's a photo:

And two close ups of the locks.

I have been spinning so many naturally colored fleeces lately that even though white seems boring, I am actually excited about working with a natural white for a change.
Stop by here now and then during the olympics, I will be posting pictures of the progress.
And if you are on Ravelry, I am on Team Tardis. Yeah, it's all about Doctor Who for me, because I just could not resist a team that boasts that they have already been and done the 2012 olympics and decided to come back for this one again :)