Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blocked and ready to give...

Front view - Annis shawlette for Mom
Mom's shawlette is done and ready to give for Christmas.  This was a relatively quick knit.  I loved working with the Malabrigo yarn, beautiful color and wonderfully soft!  Way out of my price range, so I really enjoyed working with this fancy yarn.
I've done this shawlette before, and so I was familiar with the pattern.  That certainly helped me get through the nupps - which are not my favorite things to do - but the effect is very nice.  The method I use is not the knitting purist way of doing things.  The nupps on this shawlette are one stitch to seven stitches on the first row and then back to one stitch on the next row. I use a tiny latch hook, I got mine from a knitting machine supplier a long time ago.  Not entirely sure if they are still available, but it is about half the size of the standard rug making latch hooks I've seen in craft stores. The way I use it goes like this: the first row I do on the knitting needles in the normal way, knit one stitch without removing it from the left needle, go back into the stitch and do a yarn over. Repeat until the required number of loops are on the needle. Knit on in the pattern to the end of the row.  When I get back to the nupp on the next row, I slip the loops onto the latch hook and lay the working yarn in the hook, close the latch and draw it through all the loops and re-hang the yarn I drew through onto the right needle.  Then I tighten it up to match the gauge of the rest of the knitting.  Works better for me than trying to use a knitting needle or a crochet hook to capture the yarn without losing all the loops.
Back view - Annis shawlette for Mom
This shawlette has the lace done first and then short rows of stockinette to the top edge.  It is crescent shaped, and was a very different looking thing on the needles as it was being worked.  This particular piece didn't get quite as large as the pattern suggested for blocking.  The pattern suggested fifty six inches in width, I got about fifty two inches, and I blocked it out about as far as I could.  The yarn was beautiful, but it did lose some color in the wash water, but the finished piece doesn't look any lighter, so the color was probably excess dye on the fiber of the yarn.  I put it through several hot water rinses to be certain I got all the detergent out of the fiber, and to rinse out as much of the dye as would come out so that the shawlette wouldn't lose color onto any garment it would come in contact with when worn.

I do have a set of blocking mats from Knit Picks that I shot a picture of this piece on before washing so that you can see how much knitted lace changes from the needles to the shawl.

Before blocking - notice the size

This picture gives an idea of the size before blocking.  The tape measure shows about twenty eight inches, I thought I'd have plenty of space on these nice blocking squares. Not in real life though... I blocked the wet knitting out to the fifty two inches and it took my other set of squares, an alphabet play set that I bought at Walmart for about twenty bucks a few months back.  I knew I'd need them for the Shipwreck shawl I'm planning - I'm sure glad I had them for this!  Hideous colors, so I won't blind you with a photo of the lace being blocked, but they worked very well to hold the pins in the points of the lace.  I do have blocking wires, but they are not the super flexible ones, so I only used them for the ends of the lace where it is flat.  I used extra fine sewing pins for the points of the lace, being sure to catch at least two strands of yarn in each point.
Close up of lace before blocking
The process of blocking is pretty simple.  Take the wet knitting and stretch it out, using pins at all the points of the lace to pull them out and lay the knitting very flat and allow it to dry in that state.
The reality is a little more involved. 
1. Take the sloppy looking mess of knitting and soak it for a half hour in hot, soapy water remembering not to agitate it at all. 
2. Become horrified by the dark purple water under the suds.
3. Bundle up the knitting and squeeze out still more dark purple water and suds.
4. Remind myself to relax - there is still purple yarn in there.
5. Refill the bucket with more hot water and push the tiny bundle back into the water.
6. Become alarmed again by the dark purple water.
7. Repeat the hot rinse a couple more times, carefully watching to see if a white shawl will remain at the end of this process.
8. Relax a little when the color bleed slows down after the fifth rinse.
9. Take the little bundle out of the water, squeeze out most of the water and carry the tiny bundle down to the blocking board.
10. Start pinning it out after threading the two straight edge bits onto blocking wires.
11. Discover that the fancy branded knitting blocking squares are not even close to being big enough to do the job, no matter how cleverly configured.
12. Move the whole shebang to the kitchen counter and retrieve the other set of mats - the hideous bright colored alphabet set mentioned earlier.  I am NOT shooting a picture of lovely lace on those ugly things!
13. Start over, pinning the knitting out and re-pinning as it grows, and grows, and grows!  This piece more than doubled in size from the needles to the blocking.  I was amazed!
14. Wait for the thing to dry, finding somewhere else to prepare and eat my meals so I don't have to disturb what now looks very fragile, airy and light.
15. Remove a couple of pins after about 12 hours, gasp with delight that the lace holds the shape.  Then remove the rest of the pins and wires and let the knitting rest for a couple hours.
16. Prepare the dress form and shoot some pictures!
Even though I did this before with my first shawlette, I didn't use such fine yarn and didn't block it out as far.  I really was not prepared for the beauty and diaphanous quality of the finer yarn made into knitted lace.  I can hardly wait to begin the Shipwreck shawl.  That pattern is a very large circular shawl - almost six feet across when blocked!  Glad I had this experience first to prepare myself for that, although I love to be surprised by beauty like this.  I think Mom will be delighted with her pretty shawlette, and I hope she gets a lot of use out of it.
Next on the needles is a heavily cabled sweater for myself.  I'm already started on it and I'm enjoying this knit a great deal.  I like to keep one project in heavier yarn in progress for when I just want to knit something that I can really see progress on. Finer yarns are great, but the projects seem to go so much more slowly...
Still spinning on the singles for the Shipwreck shawl.  I've got about 600 yards of the sequined yarn and over 400 yards of the yarn without sequins.  I'm into the last ball of the Louet Northern Lights pencil roving in the Violets colorway and I've got a full bobbin of the purple recycled yarn ready for plying when I'm done with the LNL singles.  I'll probably cast on the shawl and get started on it so that I'll have some idea of how much more of the yarn I'll need of each style.  The sequins are in the netted part out toward the edge, so I expect that I'll need more of that.  The total shawl takes about 1600 yards, so I'll have plenty of knitting to do.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Knitting lace for Christmas...

Annis shawlette in Wiggly handspun
on the needles
As time goes on, I find that I enjoy the challenge of lace.  This lace shawlette is one I've done before - in my own handspun.  I showed you a picture of it in progress, at about the point where the current shawlette is on my needles now.  This is the Annis pattern from Susanna IC.  Granted that my handspun is a heavier weight than the yarn I'm using now - but the shawlette really turned out well.  Looking back, I never showed you the finished project, so here is a shot of it on the blocking board.  It is pinned out while still wet from its bath so that it will dry with all the gorgeous lace pulled out flat.  As you can see from the "before" shot on the needles, it isn't impressive as it is in progress.
Annis shawlette in Wiggly handspun
 on the blocking board
This is a relatively simple pattern, and I love the striping that happens in the stockinette section on the shawlette.  I blocked it into a crescent shape, thinking that the tails would stay in place better.  The nice thing is that I can change my mind and reblock it in a different shape when I wash it next time.

I took a couple shots on the dress form to show it on a person-shaped form.  I like the way it turned out.  I pinned it in place fully open, but in reality, I'd probably put the ends over my shoulders for the warmth of double thickness on my neck and shoulders.
Annis shawlette - back view
Annis shawlette - front view
Another way I could wear this is with the wide part across the front and the pointed ends pulled to the front as well.  Didn't take a picture that way though.  I guess I didn't think of that while I had the dress form out. 

Mom's Annis shawlette in Malabrigo
In any event, I'm working this one again in Malabrigo that I bought for my Mom about a year ago.  We were planning to knit this together and the lace was a bit too intimidating for her.  I'm doing it for her Christmas present this year.  I'm ten rows into the lace pattern, and the yarn is far different and quite a bit finer than my handspun.  I don't have the ball band from this lovely yarn, but it is mostly a lovely grape color with some blue shading.  Since it is still on the needles, I've pinned it out to show off the lace patterning.  The first set of nupps is done... not my favorite, but once I started using a small latch hook to finish the second row I was much happier with the outcome.  The nupps take two rows, the first row is to create seven stitches from one and the second row takes the seven stitches back to a single stitch.  This leaves a small bubble of yarn on that spot in the pattern.  There will be a chevron of five nupps that follows the points in the lacework.  Nice effect, so I'll do them for Mom's shawlette.
Here's the fun part.  I found some interesting soft laceweight yarn in a pleasant variegated gray to black.  This is Patons Lace in the Patina colorway.  Slightly fuzzy and mostly acrylic (80% acrylic, 10% mohair, 10% wool), so I was worried about how it would hold up to blocking.  I knitted up a swatch of the lace pattern and used beads in place of the nupps.  I just did a loop around the needle tip as a place holder of sorts where the nupp would appear.  That loop was unwound and I threaded a relatively large round bead onto the loop.  I like the result, and it gives a pleasant weight to the edge of the sample.  These beads are 6mm size and are just a bit larger than I really want unless I find some that really speak to me.  I was sampling to find the largest beads I'd use in this pattern and I think I found this to be about the maximum size.  I washed and blocked the swatch and it seems to be holding its shape relatively well.  The photo was shot with the swatch loose on a smooth surface, and it hasn't pulled back much so I'm calling it a success.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Through the Loop...

Finished spinning the Loop bullseye bump.  Let it rest on the bobbin overnight and then chain plied it on my Louet wheel. 
Plied "Goddess" from Loop on the Niddy Noddy
I have a system for chain plying that works well on that wheel.  I put the full bobbin of singles behind my shoulder on a ledge behind my spinning chair.  I draw off the bobbin in a straight line to the orifice of the wheel so I don't have as much snarling of the singles as I work.  To do the chain ply, I tie a loop onto the bobbin leader and put my right hand thumb and forefinger through the loop.  Then I draw a loop of singles through the loop on my right hand with my left hand forefinger and draw it out about 20-24" (I've never measured - oops!) until my left hand reaches a spot on the wall.  Then I bring the loop over to the continuous strand from the bobbin and do a counted number of treadles, in this case 13.  I do this for consistency of my plying twist - and I do count treadles, then stop the flyer and wind on the finished yarn.  Fiddly, yes, but I like the evenness I get in my yarn from all the counting.  It isn't perfect, I don't think handspun is, or at least mine never is perfect.  But I love my yarn, so it works for me.

Full view of the finished yarn on the Niddy Noddy.
This skein's vital statistics are as follows: Loop bullseye bump in the "Goddess" colorway.  I don't think this is one of the repeatable ones.  Fiber content is Merino, bamboo and tussah silk in undisclosed percentages.  At a guess, I'd say about half Merino from the way it spins up.  It became a very nice and soft yarn.  Not much sheen or springiness, probably because of the silk and bamboo.  The skein weight is 4.7 ounces or  132 grams, length is 686 yards and 24 wraps per inch before washing.  It isn't dry yet, but it doesn't seem to have much spring to it, so I don't think there will be much change in this skein as it dries.

Full view of the "Goddess" skein

I washed the skein in hot water with a small squeeze of Dawn Olay Hand Renewal dish liquid in the Lavender scent.  I was really hoping for some color bleed to tone down the bright green, but that didn't happen.  I may still split off the colors later on, but I'm currently considering a round yoke sweater using this yarn for the colorwork portion.  If I break up the colors, I could overdye that green with something else to tone it down - maybe a peacock blue or a darker green, just to knock the intensity down a notch.  Another option would be to plan the colorwork specifically to break up the stitches to small "pops" of the green.  The quilters call that kind of oddball color a "poison color" that is needed to energize the color scheme of a project.  In a colorwork yoke, I'm thinking of doing something floral... maybe iris or violets... or maybe something abstract, I haven't decided. The grist of 24 wraps per inch makes it a fingering weight yarn, so I do have plenty of options.  Many suppliers make a grand array of colors in this yarn weight.
Close up of the "Goddess" skein - color is more accurate in the full skein photo.
This seems to be my default yarn.  It is what I naturally seem to spin.  Unless the fiber wants to be something else - but then I have to pay closer attention to maintain some other grist.  But I do make the attempt, especially with the superfine wools I've been sampling lately.  Speaking of that, I'll show you what I've been sampling in the last few weeks.

This particular sample is also from the Loop Fiber Studio and it came in the box along with the Goddess bump as a gift.  It is a sample of Steph's Spontaneous Spinning Clouds.  The fiber is carded but not aligned in a batt or top.  This little bit had white and a pale pink fiber with a smidgen of sparkle fiber that appears to be Angelina.  No fiber notations were made so I can only speculate what might be in this yarn.
It is pretty stuff, a 5 gram sample, and I got 20 yards of chain plied soft yarn with a pale golden glimmer that is quite appealing.  Only enough for a little accent on a knitted piece, but scrumptious enough to be worth it.

Also in progress is some of the Grand Champion Targhee fleece that I purchased at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival last month.  I chose some of the fleece near one edge and did some lock washing on it.  Then I flick carded and spindle spun some of it quite fine.  Chain plied on the spindle - because the Louet pulls too hard to ply a super fine yarn, it breaks the singles.  We have an understanding now, and there is much less frustration.  There are some things a Louet S-10 does marvellously well, but fine yarn isn't one of them.

Grand Champion Targhee fleece, yarn sample
Statistics on this sample are thusly: spindle spun singles clockwise, spindle chain plied counter clockwise.  Before washing, it measured 28 wraps per inch and 13 yards.  After washing the sample is 27 wraps per inch and 12 yards in length. Pretty springy yarn, not quite as much as the super fine Corriedale that I prepared with the same method.  This is a very pleasant yarn, still in the fingering weight range, even though it feels finer. It will be a great pleasure to work through this lovely fleece!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gone Loopy...

Spinning is one of my favorite things to do.  Takes me to a wonderful, peaceful place with very few distractions. Of course, it also helps that I'm doing it in the middle of the night!  Even so, there is something creative and tranquil about the feel of prepared fiber slipping through my fingers on the way to the spindle or wheel.  Currently I'm working on a bump of fiber from a online shop called Loop.  This is the photo from the advertisement:
It is called "Goddess" and it is made up of Merino wool, bamboo and tussah silk.  It is spinning up well, although not especially quickly since it wants to be pretty fine singles.  Most people chain ply these bumps, and for a while I was thinking of doing the same thing.  I'm into the bright green part right now and I'm not crazy about the contrast with the other colors, so I'm considering removing the bright green and spinning it into a separate yarn.

Here's a shot of the bump after I started spinning the olive green section at the center of the bump. 
One of the interesting things about these bumps is that the fiber pulls from the center.  Most of the fiber I work with isn't put up this way, so it has been a new experience for me to spin from this kind of preparation.  One thing that is going to be nice is that I'll have a bit of time to decide how to handle that bright green, and it will already be in the spun singles form.  The blue is also quite bright, but it doesn't bother me as much.  An option I've considered is to use a neutral ply to tone down the brilliant intensity of the bright green.  I will keep on spinning the singles while I think this over.  I'd welcome any opinions on this quandry, please use the comments section to contribute your thoughts.  There are 4.6 ounces of this fiber, so in a chain ply, I'd probably end up with about 500-600 yards or so of a three ply in approximately fingering weight yarn.  If I do a neutral ply I'd have about twice that.

Here is a shot of the bobbin with the singles in progress:

As I've worked with this fiber, I've thought about making my own interesting color combinations, but doing up the colors as separate small batts from my drum carder.  Perhaps blending a small bit of the colors so that the progression is smoother between the colors.

But that is an experiment for another day.... I remember how long the color study took me to finish!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Squirrely.... in the best way!

Funny things sometimes happen when you least expect them.  The other day I was walking my dog and I spotted something before she did (thank goodness!) and was able to redirect her attention so she didn't know what she missed.  Amazing that I was even able to do that, since she's a Border Collie and really doesn't miss very much.  When I researched that breed before adopted her, the best advice I found was "if you bring a Border Collie into your life, get used to being stared at all of the time" and by golly - that is absolute truth!

What I saw was this:
At some level I was well aware that baby squirrels existed, but I had never actually seen one.  Typically, I consider them vermin... but my normal reaction was overturned by this little critter.  This is not a zoom shot - the baby squirrel seemed pretty fearless - I sat down on the grass and quietly waited for a few minutes and as it got closer, I started snapping pictures.  The sound of the "click" didn't startle it, which really surprised me.  So I kept clicking away... and imagine my delight when a sibling appeared in camera range!  They crawled all over each other, not really playing, just doing the littermate thing of "whatever you have must be better, but I simply must find out what it is and take it from you if I can" that seems to be common in every litter of baby critters that I've ever encountered.  Fun to watch, and even better that the new baby didn't mind the camera either, so I got this shot too:
What big feet they have!
I didn't bring out any treats for them, since I had no idea I could get this close, so I just watched them play and wrestle.  After a few more minutes, I reached out with a finger to touch the first one on the back - carefully avoiding their faces - since I didn't want to risk a bite.  It jumped straight up into the air, evidently some kind of startle reflex, but didn't seem upset in the least, and made no attempt to strike or bite.  So I stroked their soft fur and thoroughly enjoyed watching them and spent a few more minutes sitting there on the grass with my new little friends. 

They kept wandering closer and one of them put a tiny paw up on the leg of my jeans.  Since I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, I offered my forearm, and it clambered up onto my arm, and then onto my knee.  The other baby accepted the same offer and curled up next to the first one.  They promptly fell asleep there, in a small, furry heap on my knee.  I cupped a hand around each side to keep them from tumbling off (hence no pictures of that wonderful moment - sigh!) and watched them sleep peacefully for a few more minutes.  When they awoke, I lifted them off, and set them back on the grass.

I saw them once more that day, but then I didn't see them again for a few days.  I hoped that they were all right - and then I saw one again today,  About halfway up the tree - looking serenely down at me, as though it remembered our moment together, but it is still a wild creature, and it skittered back up the tree. 

It made me happy...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival 2012

Amazing weekend!  Took some vacation time and had a wonderful time at this fiber fair.  Probably the best and largest one that is close to me.  It runs from Friday to Sunday and just finished up its eleventh annual event.

As I think back on it, this festival started as a sheep show and has grown into the amazing event that it is now.  It has a full livestock show, fleece show and auction, vendors in two large barns, a sheepdog trial that runs all three days and classes from nationally known instructors.

This year I entered the Open Handspun Skein Competition in two categories.  Experienced adult spinner class - fine yarn lot, and Drop spindle class - medium lot.  The entry for the first one was a yarn that I just finished, I called it Deep Blue Sea and my plans for it are a very large shawl called Shipwreck so I still have a lot of spinning to do!  The shawl requires 1600 yards of fine yarn.  The skein I entered will be used for part of the beaded netting that the pattern calls for out near the edge.  I may alternate the sequined rows with the regular yarn, I'll sample it and see.  Here's what the yarn looks like:

Deep Blue Sea
Deep Blue Sea - swatch
It is a three ply yarn, one ply is a varigated wool from Louet called Northern Lights in the Violets colorway.  It shades from purple to lime green through several shades of blue.  One ply is a lambswool, angora and nylon blend in purple.  The third ply is sewing thread strung with 3mm amethyst iris sequins.  As I plied the yarn, I pushed in a sequin about every 3-4 inches so they would appear about once every knitted inch.  The Shipwreck pattern calls for beads at random intervals, so I thought this would work for me since they sequins are already in the yarn.  Beads strung on yarn have a number of concerns for me.  Sliding the beads along the spun yarn abrades the yarn unless the beads are very large.  If the beads are smaller there is the problem of a thick spot in the yarn that the beads might not fit over, and that is always possible on handspun.  I also made a small swatch, the competition required it to be quite small, so the motif from the shawl pattern was much too large.  I chose a small eyelet pattern from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury.

Blue Neon 3 ply and extra black chain ply
Blue Neon - swatch
The other yarn I entered was also a three ply.  Spun on a drop spindle, this yarn was one ply of a handpainted BFL (Blue-Faced Leicester) roving from Frene Creek Farm my favorite local shepherd.  The other two plies were made from a 50/50 blend of "Dusty" a fine wool covered Corriedale fleece from a shepherd in Colorado (no longer has a web presence) and some black alpaca roving. This photo shows the extra black yarn chain plied on top of the Blue Neon skeins.  I called this one Blue Neon because of the way it worked up - the skein showed brilliant color against the black background which was the look I was after with this combination of fiber.  The swatch shows a nice, shadowy stripe of the varigation of the handpaint.  I did like the swatch at this weight the best.  This one was done on size 4 needles and had the suppleness I'd want for a sweater or vest.  I had also done a swatch for socks on size 2 needles.  It is also pleasing to me, but I think this will probably become outerwear.  Might use some as an accent on socks, but since there is no nylon in this blend, it might not wear well enough for socks.

The skein competition was interesting to watch.  The instructions were that no talking or questions would be allowed, and the judge worked in silence.  Disappointing to me, after listening to the wool judge on the prior day.  He chattered away as he judged the fleeces.  Talked about what he looked for and what he was finding as he worked his way through the many fleeces in that show.  Just a difference in the way the two judges worked.  Perhaps there is a tradition there as well... I don't know, but I did enjoy the way the talkative judge worked.  I think I learned more from that method.

The results were available after the judging and I was allowed to keep my score sheets, which I appreciated.  Sadly, there were no comments on the papers, just the numerical scores.  The nice thing was that I was permitted to speak with the judge when she was finished.  The standard calls for perfection, and appears to compare the handspun skeins to millspun yarns.  I fared pretty well, my Deep Blue Sea got 96/100 points and the Blue Neon got 100/100 points.  Both were awarded second place ribbons.  Deep Blue Sea was topped by a bamboo/silk 2 ply that was perfectly even.  Not as pretty, in my opinion, but it was perfect.  Blue Neon was beat by a beautiful heavier weight two ply, that again, was perfectly even.  That skein also won Best In Show.  I'm content, my scores were very good, and I still love my yarn.  Actually, the judge did too, as I learned in our conversation after the judging was done.  She told me that she knew how difficult it is to ply with sewing thread and that she just LOVES sequins.  So..... I think she liked my yarn - quite a lot.

Will I do another competition?  I don't know.  I learned a lot, but I also know that my yarn scores very high in such a competition.  That part was quite satisfying.  The payout isn't really enough to make me want to do very much of this.  Each of those skeins represent many hours of work, and though the booth was attended, I was uncomfortable leaving my hard work out there for the whole weekend.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

So Fine!

Back to spinning... on some super fine Corriedale (yes, really!)
I called my favorite local shepherd ( a little while back and asked about some really fine gray fleece.  She had two on hand, both Corriedale.  I was skeptical, but I went out anyway, since she's never steered me wrong and she has lots of fleece on hand all the time.
I truly couldn't believe what I saw...
This is one of the two fleeces that I bought.  Both Corriedale and both very, very fine wool with abundant crimp.  Also very greasy fleeces, as most fine wools are, so the washing was a bit of an adventure.

I pulled off a small part of one of the fleeces and washed it the normal way I do fleeces.  After it was dry, it still felt sticky, so it got another bath.  Then I put it on the drum carder - mind you, I have a fine fur drum on my carder - and I got a batt full of noils.  

Back to the drawing board...

I took the pitiful, noiled batt and combed some of it to see what would happen.  The resulting nest of fiber is shown above.  Still some waste, but not a total loss as the batt would have been.  I did spin a couple of the nests of combed fiber and they were very nice to spin and quite fine and pleasing singles.

Then I said to myself, "Self, this fiber needs different preparation to be it's very best".  So I set about learning to deal with superfine wools.  Checked some books out of the library, read them, spent a little time in denial and then decided to try lock washing.  I shudder in the face of this kind of fiddly prep just to get the wool clean!  But, armed with a roll of tulle I sewed up the little bags to hold the locks of wool.

After the tulle bags were ready, I went back out to the garage to commune with my fleece.  Took it out of the plastic bag and unrolled it.  Took off some skirting bits that I didn't want to deal with for this kind of process and brought in about 600 grams to attempt my experiment with lock washing.  There is still about half of the fleece in the bag, just in case I want to experiment further.  I also have the other fleece, so there is plenty of wool for me to fiddle with.  I took pictures of the process for my friends over on the Knit Picks Community and I'll share them with you here too.

Here's the setup: nine nursery plant flats and one large tub big enough to hold them all and allow a bit of sloshing around space.  This shot shows the tulle bags with the raw locks stitched inside, in the nusery flat and ready to go into the water.

I stacked up eight flats like this and put an empty one on top to keep everything together and pushed the whole mess down into the soapy water - held it down for a minute or so and brought it up out of the water, and then pushed it down again.

At that point it looked like this and the water was positively filthy... like the first wash on the uncontained fleece the way I usually do my wool washing.
So then I did another wash, and several rinses using this same process, but separating the trays and using the empty tray on top of each one after the first wash.  This was to help each batch of locks get cleaner - at least that is what I hoped would happen!

After all that was done, I took the bags and laid them out on a screen to dry.  I used my mini trampoline for this - put up on sawhorses for good airflow and turned on the ceiling fan to circulate the air around the fleece.  I wasn't sure how much the bags would slow the process, since I usually am able to pull the locks apart as they dry and that can't happen in lock washing.

Here's a shot of the bags drying on the screen.  Nice clear gray, and the dirty tips will come off when I flick card them prior to spinning.  It took a couple days for the bags to be fully dry.  I opened one and flick carded the locks.  I used a small pin brush made for brushing dogs - the kind that looks like fine carding cloth - often called a slicker brush.  Flick carding is a process I hadn't used before.  Grab one end of the lock and brush out the other end with the dog brush until it is nice and fluffy and straight.  Then turn the lock around and do the same thing on the other end.  Remember not to card the fingertips!  It smarts!  I also dug out my old horse shoeing chaps to cover my legs while I did this.  It worked great since it is nice thick leather and I could really get a good push with the brush against the leather.  The flicking pulls out all the tender tip wool and gets out all the vegetable matter in the wool as well.  Very nice preparation and it leaves me with little tufts of fiber that is all lined up in the lock formation and ready to spin.  I started spinning from this preparation - super fine singles and pretty trouble free spinning.  Here's what it looked like after I had a bit of this spun up.

The locks are in front.  Different colors, yes, but I didn't sort for color on this batch of singles.  I wanted to have some variation in the finished yarn.  So I spun the locks as they came up, and there is some variegation in ths singles as you can see.  The singles are super fine, and much stronger than I would have imagined.  I did a chain ply on this bobbin of singles and ended up with 130 yards of chain plied yarn.  I noticed that the yarn was very springy and elastic as it went into its first bath.  As a note, I wind my skeins on a two yard niddy noddy, which I tie in at least four places to keep the yarn organized and easy to untangle after washing.  This means a skein hangs in about a 36" loop when it comes off the niddy noddy.  This skein had a lot of bounce to it, and I expected it to pull up some, but when it was dry it hung in a 24" loop!  I've never had such bouncy yarn!
I re-wound the skein after it dried, since some of the strands were somewhat wayward in the first skein up.  The new skein came out at 120 yards and still has an incredible bounce and springy quality that I've never had in handspun before.  I've got a couple skeins of commercially spun Merino yarn that have a similar feel.  I can't help but wonder if it is the fine wool, the crimp, or the lock spinning that causes this quality in the finished yarn.  Time to do more research into this... in the meantime, I'm enjoying this cottony, next to the skin soft wool that I've made.  Next big decision is what I'll make with it.  Since I have plenty more of this fleece and another fleece that is very similar, there will be much more of this yarn available to me.  Besides - I still have several of the tulle bags left to flick and spin....

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tour de Fleece recap...

It seems that I go through phases in my fiber art life. Right now I'm in a spinning phase and having a wonderful time!  Just finished Tour de Fleece, which I have never done before.  I had not heard of it until recently, but it is a self-directed spinning challenge that runs at the same time as the Tour de France bicycle race.  Having no interest in sports, I did the challenge for the personal satisfaction.

I participated in three teams, the first one was Knit Picks and I chose to spin a three ply yarn to complete the singles I had spun of "Blue Fleck" colorway from AlohaBlu that I received in a spinning swap a while back. 
Spin swap from AlohaBlu, the Blue Fleck custom dyed roving is in the middle

When I get those precious braids of handpainted roving I like to plan a yarn around them to show their beauty. This particular roving was about two ounces, and I like to have more yarn than that in the event I want more than an accent of the handpaint.  So I made up more batts to match. In this case, I wanted a subtle blend of blues and teals so I combined these fibers into batts: some gray Corriedale from a sheep named "Sierra", some wool top in a colorway "Bluebell" and some hand dyed Firestar in blue and teal.  All of this came from my stash (how cool is that!) so it made me feel extra good about the yarn I was making!  Here's the picture of the finished "Blue Fleck" singles and the stash of the other fibers.
Blue Fleck singles, Bluebell top, Firestar in blue and teal
Sierra Corridale

The finished batts looked like this:
I made four of these at 33 grams each so that I would have two bobbins with well over two ounces each for plying.  I prefer not to have to try and match batts after the fact, because it seems to be like dye lots, where even if I use the same materials and in the same ratios it never looks identical.

Then I started the spinning.  It seemed to take forever since I wanted the final yarn to be pretty fine.  I finished a bit early, which was a relief and did the plying and got this yarn:
It ended up being 600 yards, 160 grams or 5.6 ounces!  No wonder it felt like I had been spinning forever!  I ended up with quite a bit of the blended singles left, so I did an experiment with embellished yarn using sequins strung on sewing thread.  I chain plied it with the two strands held together, very fiddly and time consuming, but I really like the resulting yarn:
It is 36 grams or 1.3 ounces and 92 yards.  At this point, I'm planning to use this yarn set for some kind of outerwear with the sequined yarn for trim.  It isn't soft enough for next to the skin, but it is gorgeous and will wear well.  Haven't decided on knitting or weaving yet, or even what form of garment.  So into the stash it goes for the time being.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Yesterday I went to my personal Mecca.... Susan's Fiber Shop in Columbus, Wisconsin.  She's an amazing woman that I've met many times over the years of attending fiber festivals in various parts of the country.  Starting with the Estes Park Wool Festival out in Colorado many, many years ago.  I was there for two reasons, first to pick up a set of wool combs that I had ordered and also to test spin a wheel I'm considering - the Kromski Fantasia.

She gave me a short lesson on combing - I took along some of the Nasty Romney, thinking that if combing could make that awful stuff look good, it would work wonders on any other fiber I presented for consideration!

If you've never seen wool combs, they are a pretty startling piece of gear - in the same way that a picker is - except on a much grander scale.  Spinning seems to be such a gentle craft, peaceful and serene, until you see this:
Welcome to the dungeon... mwahahahaha!
Gleaming instrument of torture, one might think.  This is one of the pair, clamped down in its base and ready for use.  The other one is swung toward the stationary comb once it is loaded up with wool locks to begin the process of combing.  Actually it works a lot like combing my own hair, although mine never gets as messed up as the Nasty Romney!
So, I'll load up the comb and get started.  Here is the first load of locks from the Nasty Romney that I dyed plum some time ago.  I've tried to spin this from a carded preparation, and I'm sick to death of picking out, ummmm "stuff" (it is the most diplomatic word I could think of) while trying to spin this mess.  Here is what the first part looks like:
First load of the combs -
Nasty Romney about to get what it deserves!

The other comb is there on the left.  Ready to start swinging, catching just the tips of the locks to draw them away on the moving comb.  This gives the trash an opportunity to fall out, as well as aligning the fiber into a very nice parallel arrangement that is a very different spinning experience than carded fiber.  Carding allows the fibers to be in a much more random arrangement in relation to each other.  Makes a fluffy yarn (think sweaters) that traps air and is warmer to wear because of it.  The combing makes a worsted preparation (think suit fabric) that is much smoother and silkier in appearance because the fibers are more parallel, they stay in alignment during spinning.  The worsted yarn isn't as warm, since it doesn't trap air, but it retains the wool's other appealing properties.  As I combed the locks, the fibers begin to transfer to the moving comb, leaving the short fiber and some of the trash trapped between the rows of tines on the comb.  Looks like this at the end of the first transfer:
After the first transfer on the combs
The fiber is starting to straighten out, and see the short stuff and the trash left on the stationary comb?  That all gets pulled off and can be scrapped, carded or used for felting.

Next step is to transfer the fiber back to the newly empty stationary comb for the next pass.  Further aligning and cleaning the fiber.  I was truly amazed at the speed of this process - sure beats picking out all the mess by hand at the wheel!  I also started to see a bit of luster from this fiber, which I sure wasn't expecting at all!

So, here it goes back to the stationary comb for the next round of combing.  I took a close up so you could see how the wool gets caught in the teeth of the comb and all the fibers are starting to line up.
Close up of what happens at the tines of the comb -
could that actually be luster in the fiber?
By this point, I was amazed that this was the Nasty Romney - it is starting to look and behave like much better quality fleece!  This might actually become pretty yarn!  Just a note, the shiny parts are the fiber itself - there is no added bling in this combing.  I might add some later on, but I want to test spin some of this without any additives to see if has really become nicer to work with - heck, it couldn't be any worse than it was when I started!

Thus ended the second pass of the fiber in the combing process.  Susan suggested four transfers on the combs for the best result on this fleece.  So that is what I did.
After the fourth transfer - ready to pull off the comb
Plum Nasty Romney - combed top
Here is the fiber after the fourth transfer.  I can hardly believe how consistent and smooth it is!  The next step is to draw the fiber from the combs.  This can be done by hand or with a small tool called a diz.  A diz is a small curved bit of plastic in this case, with a hole in the center to control the amount of fiber that can pass through at one time.  The first few draws off the combs, I did by hand, just pulling the fiber off the comb in a more or less consistent diameter.  This one, I decided to try out the diz.  I like using it, I got a much longer piece of top and far more consistent, as I expected.  Here's a look at what came off the comb:

I thought it was truly amazing... no stuff in the fiber, smooth and pretty!  I can hardly wait to spin some of this and see if it spins as well as I think it will!  I typically enjoy spinning top, so this should be a far more pleasant experience than this wool has given me up to this point.  I'm also very fond of this color, so I doubt that I'll blend it with anything else.  So... I'm off to spin some of this pretty wool.  I almost feel guilty calling it Nasty Romney anymore - but that is where it started...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nasty Romney goes pink!

Well, a very long time ago I produced this hot pink wool from the nastiest fleece I ever worked with.
One of four dye baths I did with this Romney fleece.  Blogged it at the very start of the blog, so I won't re-tell the story here.  Suffice it to say - I finally did something with some of this pink wool.  Did a nice blend with some gray Corriedale from a ewe named Sierra and added a bit of white icicle fiber for some sparkle. 

It seemed to take forever to get this done, I had 99 grams of batts to spin.  Mostly did it while I was sitting at the computer listening to podcasts and my Celtic music station on Pandora radio.  Nice way to pass the time, to be sure! 

Spun the singles on a spindle and chain plied them on my wheel.

I ended up with this:
A lovely mauve yarn, with a touch of sparkle.  Softer than the Romney alone and more interesting than either color wool would have been.  I'm pretty partial to heathered colors anyway, I like the character and interest that they have when worked up into something.  I originally thought I'd do a scarf out of this, there is a pretty one from Spin-Off by Stephanie Gaustad called Helix Scarf.  It is a ruffled confection that is a very interesting knitting pattern.  Besides that, it would be great with my winter coat.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spinning in progress...

Busy, busy, busy and always more to do.  But this is what I've been working on.  I showed you the Cormo I was spinning in my last post.  I've spun up about half of what I have on hand and have this pretty little skein to show for it.

The next thing I've been working on is a pretty good sized quantity of batts that I had made of some of the pink Romney from way back when.  I blended it with some great light gray Corriedale from a ewe named Sierra from my favorite shepherd in Colorado.  I also decided to blend in a little bit of white icicle to add some sparkle to the yarn.  My original plan was to knit up a ruffled scarf that I found in Spin Off some time ago.  An odd thing happened as I worked with this blend.  The Corriedale was a little "sticky" to work with. I had washed it quite a while before I actually did anything with it, so it "rested" in that state. Since the blending was already finished, I went ahead and spun it up the way it was.  But I also decided to re-wash some of the fleece that hadn't been used in the blended batts.  Much, much better... feels clean and pleasant again.  I had no idea such a thing could happen with fleece as it sits waiting its turn in my stash.  I'll definitely chalk this up as a learning experience!  I doubt that I could spin a fleece "in the grease" since I found a little stickyness so icky to work with.

Here's a shot of the singles on the spindle and the bobbin that I load the singles onto as they accumulate.  This way I don't end up with a bunch of tiny skeins.
I still have a little more to finish up but I am on the last batt now.  The sparkle of the icicle doesn't really show up on the pictures - most sparkle fibers seem to be pretty camera shy.  I wonder sometimes how people get shots of Angelina that show the multicolor glittery effect.
I made another neat discovery.  There is a virtual knitting/spinning guild of sorts over on the Knit Picks website.  I've just joined up... it should be interesting to see what I find over there.

Until next time....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Happy Birthday to me!

It's my birthday, and I wanted to tell you about what I've been working on lately...

Well, once again I'm chugging along on projects.  Here's one:
The second pair of slipper socks.  This is the superwash part that doesn't felt.  Next thing is to pick up stitches and make the sole out of feltable wool.  This one will have the Fairy Tale color of Wool of the Andes that I had left over from my sweater.  Should be wonderful - and the best part is that the soles don't take very long to knit.  I'll get started on the top of the second slipper in the superwash so I've got simple knitting to do at Church tomorrow.

I've also been rummaging through my stash.  Did some more spinning too.  This time it was a smidgen of combed Merino top from Ashland Bay in the colorway Rose Quartz.  Their top is such a delight to spin!  Before I knew it, I had finished it up and then Navajo plied it.  Washed up and skeined it looks like this:

The vital statistics on this little skein are: Singles spindle spun clockwise, Navajo plied 15 treadles. Weight: 52 grams and 212 yards.

I think it is a lovely heather - looks like dusty mauve overall, but there are so many colors in this one!  From yellows to blues and several reds and violets.  Up close it looks like this:
If you click on the picture you can zoom in as far as you like.  This yarn is so soft - being Merino I expected that - but still, I'm thrilled!  Might do some lacy mitts with some Fair Isle patterning with the Amethyst skein I told you about a while ago.

I've also been spinning some Cormo top from the Riverwinds Farm in Boyd, Wisconsin.  I bought 4 ounces of this blended gray from them at the Jefferson Sheep and Wool festival back in September 2011.  I've put two or three spindles full onto the bobbin for plying and I've got another one started:
It is just as soft (if not softer) than the Merino, so it may get a role in the mitts as well.  This soft stuff is spinning up pretty fine, so it will be interesting to see how it works up.  Might even have enough left over for socks - at least the cuff part of socks.  I'm not sure how well this super fine wool would wear in socks.

Here's a closer look at the singles on the spindle:
Mighty pretty color and so fine and soft.  Spins so smoothly, it is difficult to stop spinning.  I guess I've been fooling with the Nasty Romney for so long I'd forgotten how nice it is to spin good wool!

I've also been digging around in my storage unit and finding a lot of my older handspinning.  I'm getting it out and rewashing it a skein or two at a time.  I'm amazed at how far I've come in my skills.  Seems to me that it is good to revisit my old yarn - and my old spinnables that aren't yarn yet.  There are some neat possibilities for me to explore in those boxes... I'll shoot some pictures of my "beginner yarn" once the skeins are dry.