Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Next up.... Alpaca!

Frene Creek Farm Blue Face Leicester
Finally done with green and gray for a while, so I wanted some color.  I've had this bobbin of singles done for a while and have been pondering what to ply with it for a stunning yarn.  I'm so pleased with the way the LNL and Dorset turned out that I'm thinking to go in a similar direction with this... only bolder.  Thinking a neon looking barberpole stripe.  So I dug up some black alpaca from my stash and spun up some singles.  It is difficult to get a good picture of a light-eating black fiber, but this is what I got.
It is a pure, rich black. Little to no shine so I thought it would set off the electric blues and violets in the singles nicely. 

Alpaca is not the easiest fiber to spin - it is rather like dog hair.  Not much crimp - compared to wool - and it is somewhat slippery.  It barely holds together in the ball of prepared top.  It drifts apart and misbehaves if drafted too fine.  Seems easiest to handle if spun directly from the prepared mass of fiber rather than pre-drafting like I usually do with wool.

Black alpaca and BFL

But here's the best part - I'm thrilled with this sample skein, only a few yards, but I love the color play and the softness of this yarn!  This shot gives a more accurate color on the alpaca as well.  Deep, rich black and the brilliant blue - pleasing to me, and I'll have enough of it by plying this way to make something fun - like a vest, a shawl or maybe a sweater if I plan it right.  I've got plenty more of the alpaca should I need more yarn to match.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Color study completed...

100% DD
Nice to finally have this finished.  The last skein is a bit larger than the others since I had some leftover singles from the LNL to use up.  The Dolly Dorset spun very nicely since all the fiber was the same length, so none of the color pooling that happened with the blended skeins.  This kind of study is very useful to keep on hand to predict what heathered colors can be produced from a single dye batch.  In some ways this comes full circle from the initial process of learning to do dyework, since I have now created for myself a simple way to estimate the amounts of colored fiber needed to create a particular shade of heathered yarn using any of the colored wools that I have on hand. 

My personal opinion is that the natural colored wools are far more interesting than white wool dyed to black, gray or brown.  That being the case, I have many black sheep fleeces on hand.  For those who don't know, any sheep that isn't white, is referred to as a black sheep and the wool is processed separately from the white wools - it takes more time for a mill to do this.  Perhaps that is my reasoning for having primarily black sheep in my own flock when I was raising sheep. 

I love happy endings, so this project has been wonderful in so many ways.  Learning new things, creating things from my own skills and being able to keep them and learn more things from them.  What's not to like?

Here's a shot of the whole batch done, and a remembrance shot of the original batts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Introducing Poppy...

Poppy's locks: unwashed on the left
Ohhhhh, I've made a new friend.  Her name is Poppy and she's a Cormo sheep.  Laugh if you like, but this is one amazing breed of sheep!  I've wanted to try Cormo for a very long time and finally found a small covered fleece to try out.  Cormo is a very fine wool, rumored to be some of the whitest fleece available.  I begin to believe it as I washed it yesterday.  Here's a shot of an unwashed lock and a bit of a washed lock.

I've never had such blocky tips on covered wool.  Good, bad or otherwise I don't know yet.  What I do know is that the fleece washed clean very easily - and that surprised me, usually a very fine fleece is tough to de-grease.  This one washed clean in two washes and two rinses.  I could have kept rinsing but it was so white that I decided it was good enough.  Here's a larger clump of clean fleece.

Brilliant white and as soft as a cotton ball - no wait - softer than that.  I can hardly feel the fiber in my hands as I start to card on my fine toothed hand cards. Before the fiber purists aim their bazookas at me, I will say that the wool did very well in this preparation.  Most of what I read from others about Cormo is that nothing is acceptable but a combed, worsted preparation - yet I chose differently because I wanted to have a woolen preparation to spin for my first go at this. Very gently carded a couple of transfers across the cards and then I rolled off this rolag and started spinning from the end.

One interesting thing about this wool is that it nearly demands to be spun very fine.  So I chose my lightest spindle - which I've put aside for a while because I had trouble keeping it in motion on the wools I usually spin.  I have now found that spindle's true calling.  It spins fast and long with Cormo drafted to about sewing thread size.  This fiber is amazing to spin - drafts like a dream and it will go as fine as your courage allows.  It is nearly weightless - gives the impression of spinning the air itself.  I've done a lot of spinning and I have never experienced this before.  Spinning angora rabbit is the closest to this sensation I've ever encountered before this.  Spun up a little and shot this of the rolag and spindle with my bit of progress. 

Wound this on and was still amazed by the fineness and also by the relative strength of the singles.  I really hadn't expected that at all.  I was prepared for a very fragile single that I'd have to spin supported, much like cotton.  This one is spinning gloriously as high as my arm will reach, and the spindle keeps its speed much longer than I would have imagined.  As fleeces go, I doubt that I'd want very much of this unless it was covered.  Burrs and veg would be difficult to remove methinks, but I'd probably try it if the price was right on the fleece.  (After all, I made it through the Nasty Romney - I KNOW how to handle a trashy fleece! But I digress...)  Since this is somewhat rare, it tends to be rather costly.  This is going to be a fun exercise, but if I want economical fine spinning, I'll probably use the prepared Merino that is relatively inexpensive and far more commonly available to handspinners.  Merino comes in fabulous colors, blends of colors and blends of fibers and seems to be a very common type of wool for handspinners for these reasons.

Verdict: Cormo is indeed worth the price if you want the whitest wool possible and really have a penchant for (or contest to win) finely spun singles or laceweight yarns.  I'll enjoy working through this fleece, and by the end I'll either have decided I was absolutely crazy to try it or I'll be so enamored with it that I won't want anything else when I want to spin really fine singles and yarns.

I guess this would be called Poppy Love....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted...

Ahh, the joys of screwing things up... I'm well trained in clothing design.  At least I thought I was.  I did the things I was supposed to: knit the swatch, big enough to take measurements in several spots. Check.  Start knitting, check the gauge again.  Check.

This all went well, started knitting and didn't really think about it much more.  Until the wee hours of Monday night.  Blocked the cardigan pieces, and they kept growing and growing and growing.  Took some measurements - that sweater would fit King Kong.  I did what any sensible person would do - I walked away to keep from doing something horrible to all that knitted work.

It took another day for me to calm down enough to decide what to do next.  Declared it frogged on Ravelry, banished the pattern to the back of the work in progress clipboard, and announced a new project in that yarn.  At that point, I knew I'd be ravelling out the yarn.  Just finished doing that.  In a way, it was cathartic (though disturbing) to see how quickly I could undo the mistake I'd made.

More pondering, and now I'm thinking that I may re-knit the sweater.  A size smaller and on a size smaller needles, making all the changes I thought of as I worked it the first time.  Like doing the knitting in one piece as much as possible.  As I looked over the pattern again, I noticed it had knit up about two sizes too large - certainly not King Kong, but I'd never have worn it the way it was.  So I'll go back to Ravelry, update my projects again and begin again.

Now I have experience...

25% GNR 75% DD
 On the good news front, I finished the 25% Green Nasty Romney (GNR) and 75% Dolly Dorset (DD) skein of the color study.

Vital statistics on this skein:
25% GNR, 75% DD, three times through the carder to blend colors, singles spun clockwise, Navajo plied counterclockwise. 92 yards in this one ounce skein.

50/50 GNR/DD

I got a lot of carding done.  I was getting tired of looking at all that Green Nasty Romney.  So I chose the blend I liked best of the color study and that was the 50/50.  Carded up seven batts of that, about 300 grams total.  Might do some more, but this amount would give me enough to make a nice vest for myself. 

Pink NR, Sierra and white icicle

I also carded up four smallish batts of Pink Nasty Romney, Sierra (silver gray Corriedale) and a little white icicle sparkle fiber.  I've had batts of the Pink and Sierra sitting around for a while, and I got inspired by the Helix Scarf pattern in Spin Off magazine.  I really like the fact that the brilliance of the really hot pink was toned down by the silver gray of Sierra and a bit of sparkle from the icicle fiber.  Should spin up well and knit up to a pretty scarf - enough going on to be interesting, but not so much as to fight with the interest of the ruffling of the scarf.

More good news - got my first Cormo fleece in the mail yesterday.  What lovely stuff that is - washing it up now.  I'll take pictures when it gets dry...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Third skein of color study...

Here is the group so far.  The 100% Green Nasty Romney (GNR) is in the back, the middle skein is the 75% GNR/25% Dolly Dorset (DD). The one in front is the 50% GNR/50% DD. 

This color study has been fun to do.  I've still got two more skeins to go, but I like what I'm learning from the process.  Good to know that I can make many shades of yarn from one dye process.  These skeins are also proving that the blending works, even when the two types of wool are vastly different and actually can make the finished yarn more interesting.  The GNR is very long and wavy in structure with a luster, while the DD is a shorter, crimpier wool with a lot of bounce, but very little shine.  The difference in length is also making the heathering more interesting - little "blips" of color appear once in a while, and I find that I rather like that effect.

50% Green Nasty Romney/50% Dolly Dorset
 Here is the newest skein and it's stats:
50% GNR/50% DD, carded batt three times to blend color well.  Singles spun clockwise, Navajo plied counter-clockwise.  Spun singles entirely by handspindle, plied on the wheel.
106 yards, this yarn is a bit finer than the others, somewhat by intent, since I wanted to test the fineness I could reliably attain on the spindle.

I'm pleased with this yarn, I'll be doing more like this for a project I'm planning.

Monday, May 2, 2011

You'll never believe this...

The knitted hat before felting
Well, here it is.  All knitted up but not felted yet.  It bears an odd resemblance to a large woolen bag.  Sure doesn't look like a good Scottish tam.  At least, not yet.

The knitting went fast and really was a relaxing, easy knit.  The increases and decreases were no big deal, since the stitches don't show up in the finished felt.  No worrying about precise, straight lines and matching everything up.  In fact, the decreases were not lined up in the pattern on purpose - isn't that amazing!

The colors are wonderful together - bright and brilliant and yet it looks right at home with the kilt colors.  It should be a lovely hat to add to George's Renaissance Faire outfit.

Anyway, this thing is HUGE!  Really hoping that it will felt down to something that will fit a human head, since it sure doesn't do that right now:

George is in there somewhere

So, George comes over to get this wooly bag fitted to his melon.  Just for fun, took a shot of him wearing it before it went into the hot wash with the jeans.  Backed him up against the laundry room door and snapped this one:

Into the suds it went, for ten minutes to start.  Amazing how much faster the felting process goes when the object is bigger.  Maybe because it is more fabric for the jeans to agitate against, or maybe there is some other reason, but after fifteen minutes of sloshing it was about done.  Squeeze out the water and smooth it out a little so it doesn't drench him to try it on.  He sees it and gets pretty excited.

It finally looks like a hat, no longer the wooly bag that it was just a few minutes before.  Still some finishing work to do when it dries, but now it looks like this:

Amazing.... it seems like magic every time I do this kind of knitting.  Looks like George is pretty happy too.

Next up: Kilt hose.  Going to cast on later today.  Much bigger project since they work up at 8 stitches per inch.  They'll match the colors of the hat, but will be much lighter in weight.  Still worked in wool, since it is traditional and wears better than synthetics or cotton.

Off to bed for now...