Thursday, August 8, 2013


As an artist, I find inspiration everywhere.  Sometimes the power of an image demands a trip to see the original artwork.  Earlier this summer, I took that trip to see one of the most amazing sculptures in the world.  Nestled into the hills of South Dakota is this impressive sight.
Mount Rushmore has been on my personal "bucket list" for years, and I finally had the opportunity to visit this magnificent monument to see it in person.  As I gazed over the valley from the railing at the monument I burst into tears.  The sheer size of this sculpture is awe-inspiring, and the detail is beyond compare.  I found a book called The Carving of Mount Rushmore and I'm enjoying the story of the artist's journey and the negotiations behind the artwork - quite interesting indeed!
Other sculptures also inspire me, although these aren't nearly as massive - or as famous - as Mount Rushmore, they are magnificent in their own ways.  A friend of mine does very realistic sculptures of birds, down to the tiny lines cut into the feathers for realism.  I spent an afternoon with her and she allowed me to photograph some of her works in progress.

The Robin is life sized, and sitting on a tiny mug because his legs aren't completed yet, but I think you can see the fine detail in each tiny feather and brushstroke.  These small sculptures are done in wood and the feather details are done with a specialized wood burning tool.  Painstaking attention to detail is what makes this fellow lifelike enough to fool anyone into believing that he could take flight at any moment.  Although the landing would be difficult without legs....
I so enjoyed learning about how this kind of sculpting was done!  I don't think I'd have the patience to do it myself, but I can certainly see the care that goes into capturing the details in these tiny works of art.
This was a sculpture done with a sense of fun!  There were sculptures of many of the founding fathers on the benches lining the streets of Steamboat Springs in Colorado.  Here's a shot of my Mom with one of her heroes, the president Abraham Lincoln.  Such good sculpture work, and placed out in public where people can interact with the sculpture.  Nice to see such things in the current era of anything artistic being set behind ropes and guarded so as to be untouchable.  
There was one more sculpture in Steamboat Springs that really touched my inner artist and made my spirit sing for joy.  This one was in a small shopping mall, not too far from the place I was staying while in Steamboat Springs.  Made up of miscellaneous spare parts that most people would consider junk - and would throw away - this stunning work of art stands about 10 feet tall.  If I stood next to it, I'd just about fit under it's belly.
Another scupture - or maybe adornment is a better description - is found on the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Maybe it is kitsch - but I found it impressive in a quirky way.  The entire surface of the building is deorated with corn.  Here's an example that was set under glass to show how it is constructed.  First the finished image:

And then this example to show how it was accomplished.  I found this fascinating!  I knew corn was available in many colors, but this was not something I ever would have dreamed possible.  These panels were probably about three feet wide and two feet high.  Very interesting, and I thought it was a pretty neat way to decorate a wall.  Until I rounded the corner and saw the Corn Palace in all its wonder....

The whole building is covered with decorative murals and textured elements made of corn.  I had no idea how impressive it was until I saw it in person.  Weird, but wonderful in its own way.
Taking art three-dimensional makes it complex and inviting.  Art that can be considered from many more viewpoints than just flat on a wall is far more interesting to me than any other type.  Perhaps that is where my fascination with fiber art begins.  The ability to wrap fiber around a three dimensional form, whether it be a person or a structure never ceases to amaze me.  I love the trend of yarn-bombing that has taken hold.  These odd little bits of knitting that cover trees, benches, and bike racks have a sense of fun all their own.  I've seem images of this in various places, but never in person.  Maybe someday I'll find some - or maybe make some of my own!



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Where squirrels are slow...

A couple of weeks ago, I said goodbye to my best friend.  Granted, she was short and furry, but she was my buddy, my confidante, and my solace when things weren't going well.

Her name was Vanessa, and she was a Border Collie and Sheltie crossbred dog that was rescued from a hoarder who had about fifty dogs on the property.  The dogs weren't mistreated, but had little human contact.  She and her mother, Piper (also rescued by Great Lakes Border Collie Rescue) were both placed in foster homes.  With so little human contact, Vanessa was very shy and wasn't available for adoption right away.  At the time I found out about her, she had been in foster care for nine months of her year and a half lifetime.  So many people had wanted this beautiful dog, and just were not a good match for her, with her shy nature and high sensitivity to noise and motion.  I was fortunate enough to have a lifestyle and quiet environment that the foster caretaker wanted for Vanessa to recover and learn to love being a pet.

At first she was so timid that she wouldn't get close to anyone unless they had a treat for her.  This was the only dog I've ever had that was so motivated by food, that she'd do just about anything to get it.  Made her delightfully easy to train, and she was so intelligent!  I could watch her figure out problems - important things like "there is food on the table, how can I get up there to get it?" and "how can I get the thumbed one over here to open the refrigerator?"

She loved the farm, the ability to run loose and chase the cats, rabbits and squirrels that populated the great outdoors.  Lightning fast and graceful, she was a joy to watch.  She was independent and smart, and her training went quickly and well.  She went through obedience classes and then beginning level agility classes and passed both with flying colors.  Competition was suggested, but with my work schedule and her skittishness with strangers, I never pursued it.  When I moved into the city a few years later, she was by my side.  The open farm was replaced with trips to the dog park, where she loved to run and chase mice and gophers.  Once she caught a toad, which was amusing to me, but must have tasted bad to her because she flung it away and drooled for a while afterward.
As she got into doggie middle age - about six in this case, I decided to have a photographer do a shoot of us together.  My thinking was that I'd rather have photos of her while still in her prime than to wait until the end of life and have only the pictures of an old dog with no sparkle.  I'm so glad I did.  These pictures are from that shoot in June of 2009 with Konopa Photography.  They have since moved to Alaska and I bought the rights to the pictures, which I have enjoyed greatly.  Black dogs are notoriously difficult to capture on film, and I think they did a marvelous job with Vanessa.  We had a lot of fun during the shoot, doing both indoor and outdoor shots.  She was a lovely model and the pictures were so much fun!  She was willing to do all her tricks for the photographer, and he was able to catch a few of them, as well as creating some fabulous images with the both of us together.

As she got older, the visits to the dog park involved too many dogs that wanted to pick a fight with her.  She was so selective in her choice of playmates, and that seemed to frustrate some dogs into aggression when she ignored their invitations to play.  It didn't take too many instances of that kind of agressiveness for me to pull the plug on that situation.  She didn't need to be attacked for wanting to be left alone to run. 

So we took walks at home and played in our own yard as she slowed down.  She still loved to try and catch the squirrels that populate the oak trees and the small woods.  Sometimes she'd get a few feet off the ground going after one of them up a tree.  She took her squirrel duty very seriously, and never missed an opportunity to run them back up their tree, and then looking wistfully after them.  I could almost hear her say "almost got that one!" before we'd turn back for home.

Last April, her annual veterinarian visit turned up a decline in kidney function on her blood work.  I already knew she had a heart murmur, but this was something that there really isn't a treatment for that is reasonable for a dog.  As she started dramatically increasing her water intake, I knew her time was growing shorter.  I started coming home from work for lunch so she could get outside more frequently.  That lasted quite a while, and I actually enjoyed our time together during those breaks from my work day.  Then I noticed that she was less interested in her rawhide treats, and played with her toys less and less.

There comes a point where the quality of life trumps nostalgia.  I knew she couldn't get better and that the end was coming for her.  I did not want her to suffer - she'd given me so many years of companionship and joy.  I made the most difficult call of my life when I contacted the vet for her final appointment.

About a week later, she got in the car and we made the short trip to the vet.  Dr. Jan brought in a padded blanket and spread it out on the floor, we had the conversation about how the medicine works.  Vanessa didn't even need to go up on the table this time.  Dr. Jan gave her a sedative shot, and Vanessa wobbled over and laid down on the blanket with her head on my feet, so I couldn't go anywhere without her knowing.  She always did that when she wanted to rest, so that she wouldn't miss anything exciting.  Then Dr. Jan gave the shot in Vanessa's foreleg that let her go peacefully away, and she was gone.

Vanessa was a beautiful story of success from her difficult beginnings, through rescue and the fabulous people who donate their time, their homes and their love for the dogs that they help along the way.

Goodbye my beautiful friend.  I'll always remember you, my dear Vanessa.  In time, we'll meet again in the place where dreams come true, and squirrels are slow.
6/2003 to 3/13/2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Things are getting fuzzy!

Knit Picks Galileo in "Gem" on size 3 (3.25 mm)
Spinning and swatching have taken up my fiber time lately.  I've been working on wooly goodness to put into my Etsy shop as well as spinning more singles for another embellished yarn.  Swatching for some new projects as well.  Sometimes it is nice to start looking into my next few projects when I feel ready to stall out on my current one.  Shipwreck is in that particular spot right now... a little too much time on really fine yarn and fiddly lace has me hungry for some super simple take along type of projects.  That being said, naturally the first thing that grabbed me was the extra-super-duper fiddly cabled cardigan called Tapestry.  I'm nuts - I know.  But the swatch was plain stockinette with garter borders, so it met the need of super easy knitting that I needed just then.  Of course the photo also gives me away - I've cast on for the sweater and I'm a couple rows into it.  Didn't I just frog out a cabled sweater?  Ummmmm..... yes, but I guess I'm ready for more punishment on even finer yarn and smaller needles.  Learning from recent mistakes doesn't always happen in my case evidently.

Combed Romney nests up for sale
Other fiber madness includes this batch of delightful fluff.  This is hand combed Romney that I processed on my English 4 pitch combs.  I mentioned them and discussed the process back in the Wicked post.  It is a very nice way to get lovely spinning fiber out of clean but trashy (with VM) fleece.  Spinning from hand combed top is such a pleasure.  The fiber is arranged in parallel fashion, so the spining is so smooth and wonderful!  I like texture too, but nothing beats combed fiber for a lovely smooth singles when spinning.  This Romney is pretty typical of the breed, long and silky fiber.  Not as harsh as most of the longwools and a terrific fiber on which to learn spinning.  There is also something about spinning the pure, undyed, creamy natural wool.  My passion for color in spinning doesn't often give me the time to do much white, but this fiber may just find a place in the lineup sometime very soon.  This particular batch is listed here in my Etsy shop.  I'm working on more of this fleece in dyed colors as well.  Those will go up in the shop as soon as I'm finished combing them.

Original pair of swatches for Knit, Swirl jacket
Another fun project that I'm still swatching is a jacket from the book Knit, Swirl by Sandra McIver.  I've wanted to do one of these lovely knitted works of art for several years, so I finally bought the book and raided my stash for these swatches.

The rich purple is a mohair that has been in my stash for years, just waiting for the right project to showcase it's beauty.  Being mohair, it isn't next to the skin soft, but it has such a wonderful fluffy halo that it should work well in this jacket.  The one on the bottom is the handspun that has made several appearances in this blog.  It is the Dolly Dorset with Louet Northern Lights in Wild Berry Jam.  These swatches were done on the same needles with the same stitch count and pattern, and they don't match up for size.  Bummer, but that is why I do swatches, to find this kind of thing out before I charge into a project.  I've learned this the hard way... so I do a lot more swatching than I used to.  Since the tags aren't really visable, I'll give the details here.

The mohair swatch is done in Millie Mohair that I've had in my stash since 1992 or so.  I remember buying it back when I lived in Colorado from a shop called the Recycled Lamb.  I believe that they are still in operation - I've encountered them on Ravelry from time to time. 

Back to the swatch: I cast on 24 stitches with the plan of a three stitch garter border and worked it up on size 7 (4.5 mm) needles.  Did four rows of garter stitch and then worked the stockinette center section and finished up with another four rows of garter stitch.  Bound it off and gave it a bath.  Who knew such fine yarn would work up in nearly Aran weight?  The fabric is light and airy, but the fuzz really fills it up!  I also notice that it has a definite tendency to bias which is good to know.  I didn't block it hard because I wanted to know what it wanted to do on its own.  Worked up at four stitches per inch, just a bit too big for the gauge called for in the pattern.

The second swatch is the handspun done up in the same fashion.  But it washed up nice and square - being a three ply yarn really helps it to behave as a more stable yarn construction.  This swatch worked up at just over five stitches per inch. 

New swatch showing the welted construction,
done in two different needle sizes
Tough decisions now... do I switch yarns, or switch needles to make these yarns work together?  The first thing I sampled was to change needle sizes to make the gauge match and it worked pretty well.  But, and here's the big problem, I don't like it as much.  Knitting the mohair on size six (4 mm) needles makes it firmer than I really want and really compresses the fluffy fun that makes the yarn such a treat.  I also find that I'm not as wild about the handspun on the size 8 (5 mm) needles.  A bit too floppy for my taste, and I think the colors just don't really go together as well as I'd hoped.  So, I'm back to the drawing board.  What I'm considering now is a very plain yarn with the mohair so there is less competition between the yarns.  I'm also thinking that I may alternate rows to spread out the fluff a bit.  The welts will still show up well I think, but I'll need to swatch it to be sure.  I'm not wild about the visible purl bumps between the welts, so I may match up the yarn on those rows to help them blend in better.  So, now I'm in search of a new background yarn to use with the mohair.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rare breed Spin-A-Long - Dorset Down

Brindle Shetland yarn, finished skein 466 yards
Rare breeds of sheep are so interesting.  The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deb Robson and Carol Ekarius is one of my favorite sources of information on breeds of sheep and the qualities of their wool. Yet it gives only the kind of knowledge that reading provides.  As a spinner, I love the tactile qualities of the wool.  So I was immediately attracted to the Knit Spin Farm Rare Breed Spin-A-Long (SAL) that started back on the first of January.  I mentioned the Shetland that I did as my first project.  Since I posted last, I finished the skein.  It ended up being 40 wraps per inch in the singles and about light fingering weight in the finished chain plied yarn. 

Close up of Brindle Shetland yarn
Statistics: 3.7 ounces, 106 grams. 466 yards of chain ply yarn.  Spun singles clockwise on the Kromski Fantasia, chain plied on the Louet S10 13 treadles.

Dolly Dorset - raw lock from darkest portion of fleece
Now that I've finished the Shetland, I decided to do more with the Rare Breed SAL.  Thought through the list and decided on the Dorset I have in my stash.  Remember Dolly from the color study?  I'm working with her fleece on its own this time.  Took a couple ounces and prepared them on my wool combs to produce a semi-worsted top.  I did not lock wash this fleece, and I'm not concerned about having a fully worsted preparation since this is a down wool.  I wanted to have some fun with the bounce, and by combing I thought I'd be able to reduce the fuzzy factor of the finished yarn somewhat.  This is what the fiber looked like beforehand.

Saving a lock out of the raw fleece is an excellent idea, since I seldom am able to process a whole fleece at the same time.  Typically, I'll do a small sample and start the record keeping in a spinning journal.  The pages aren't in any particular format, but I do try to record things that I do with the fleece. 

Combed nests of Dolly Dorset's fleece
Back to the raw lock, there is a good reason to save it.  The crimp pattern is most obvious in a raw lock that is undisturbed.  In this particular fleece the crimp is very orderly and consistent from end to end.  The brownish tips are somewhat weathered since this fleece was not covered with a sheep coat.  Being a down wool, it should be (and has been) pretty resistant to felting.  This particular lock shows length of about four inches, which is longer than usual for down wools. A happy surprise indeed, since it allows a lot more options for processing and spinning this wool.  I usually use the snack size ziplock bags to preserve the raw lock and make a note of the breed, the name or ear number of the sheep, the source and price and the weight of the fleece and whatever other things I notice at this stage of working with the fleece.  Then I toss the bagged lock back in with the fleece.  As I process the fleece, I tag the bags as I go along so that I don't lose track of which one it is and what I've done with it.  With a raw fleece, I put any notes in a page protector since the grease of the wool will affect the paper - sometimes to the degree of obliterating the notes I've made - not a happy discovery!

Finished skein of combed Dolly Dorset
Down wools come from several breeds of sheep, and the saddest part is that few shepherds that raise them are much concerned with the quality of the fleeces and treat the fleece as more of a nuisance than a profitable product that the sheep are producing.  Perhaps this SAL and others like it can encourage a few more shepherds of these down wool breeds to place more value on these fleeces.  This particular fleece seems to be from a shepherd that does have some care for the spinning quality of the fleeces they are producing.  That being said, the fleece was still quite reasonably priced when I bought it through Ebay.  Many shepherds use Ebay and Etsy to sell their fleeces, and with the exception of the Nasty Romney, I've had little or no trouble with inaccurate descriptions.  Most sellers are very honest about the qualities of their fleeces - sometimes even exaggerating the amount of vegetable matter to be sure the buyers know what they are getting, and discounting the price to make it more appealing if there is veg in the fleece.  Such was the case with Dolly's fleece.  It was described as having some veg, which it did, but not nearly the quantity I was expecting.
Close up of the finished yarn

The spinning was smooth and easy.  The combed preparation drafted smoothly, and I did much less predrafting than I typically do.  I spun with a medium backward draw since the staple length was allowing me to do so. The singles were very fine and the plying went well.  Overall, I continue to be impressed by how well-behaved this fleece is.  Everything just works, smooth and simple. The fiber does shed slightly while spinning, and feels somewhat dry in comparison to other wools I've worked with.  I don't know if this is characteristic of the down wools or not.  I've got an order in to another shepherd for some Dorset roving to test this idea, but being a commercial prep, so I'm not sure the comparison will be valid. 

The statistics on this skein are: 31 grams, 1.1 ounce, 124 yards.  Spun singles clockwise on the Kromski Fantasia and chain plied counterclockwise 13 treadles on the Louet S10. 

Dolly Dorset carded batt
Part of my purpose for this wool in the SAL is to compare combing and carding prep on the same fleece.  I'm looking forward to finishing the woolen prep I did for this study.  I've started on it already, and the main difference I've noticed is that I'm pulling out the neps as I spin.  I rather expected this, since combing removes them before spinning.  Woolen preps mean less waste at the processing step, but more at the spinning step.  Still less overall compared with combing, since it leaves the different fiber lengths in the batt.  Combing sorts out the longest fibers and keeps them well aligned in the top.  It is a trade off in some respects, but the end product can be vastly different.  Since I wanted to test the difference in prep, I'm spinning the singles in the same way, medium backward draw, clockwise on the Kromski and I'm about halfway through the batt.  It looks and feels similar in the singles.  The washing of the plied yarn will tell a better story.  The combed prep seemed less bouncy than I expected after the washing.  The value of doing the two similar skeins side-by-side will show the difference in bounce by the length of the finished skein.  I expect the woolen prep to be much shorter in length since the crimp isn't as altered.  I'll have my answer soon.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Welcome to the frog pond... are you hungry?

Discovered this in my inbox this morning and thought it made a certain amount of sense, so I'll share it with you too.  It is a little video (under two minutes) that really made me think about what my own "frogs" are.

So here's my first live frog... a frogging project!  I've decided to "frog" the cabled sweater so it will stop bothering me.  In case you aren't a knitter, "frogging" is where you discover a mistake a few rows back, and "rip-it, rip-it, rip-it" back so it can be re-knit.  Hopefully correctly on the second try.  Some projects take many trips to the frog pond.  I had a sweater that I had completely finished knitting the pieces and frogged it all the way back because I didn't like the fit.  I blogged about that here, just scroll down the page until you see the red-violet sweater.

See how the ribs mis-match the cables... bummer!
So here is the shot of the mistake side of the sweater... I showed you the good side last post.  See how the cables don't line up with the ribbing.  That was making me unhappy, because that is one of the things I really liked about the pattern.  Since I hadn't done cables in a while, I followed the pattern precisely rather than making sure it made sense on the reality of the needles.  When I converted the pattern to knitting in the round the stitch count didn't line up to the pattern anymore - probably because of the stitches not being lost into seamlines of the finished sweater.  In any event, I'll reknit this in the round and watch more carefully to be certain that the ribs line up with the cables.

This is the part that always makes me go "hmmmmm....." because as satisfying as it is to watch a mistake disappear, there is the niggling consternation over how long it takes to knit this amount of yarn versus how quickly it can be made back into just balls of yarn again.  In any event, it is finished now and I can consider how to start again to make the ribbing line up.

Back to being balls of yarn, needles and a pile of markers.
Part of the reason for the error is that I hadn't done cables in such a long time that I didn't really watch where the stitches of the cable were coming up on the pattern over the ribs.  I was too busy counting stitches!  It is going to be a matter of lining up the knit stitches of the cable pattern over the knit stitches of the ribbing.  Sounds easy enough, but there are several charts working at the same time - six different charts in each row.  I've made myself a "cheat sheet" of sorts where I've made photocopies of the charts, which are different sizes, and I keep a colored pencil with me so that I can mark off the rows as I finish them.  Ponderous, I know, but it is a way to keep track that works for me.  There are chart keeping systems out there that use magnets to line up on the papers, but I don't have one of them.  Since I keep my pattern on a clipboard that goes in and out of a project bag, I'm not sure the magnets would stay in place.

Brindle Shetland roving and bobbin of singles in process.
The next thing I've been working on is the Shetland roving I started on the last post.  I've got over half of it finished now.  2.6 ounces of the 4 ounces I started with are now spun into singles.  This is such luscious wool - I'm loving the way it spins up, fine and soft and very different from the commercial Shetland yarn I've encountered in yarn shops.  I spent some time with my Mom today and since she remembers the days when Shetland sweaters were all the rage, I asked her about them.  Wondering if maybe the wool was better back then, like the hand processed roving I'm using now.  She said it was dreadfully scratchy to wear those sweaters, and she had to be sure to wear some kind of firmly woven shirt underneath those stylish sweaters!  What young women go through to be fashionable.... seems that it never changes. 

I take a certain comfort in knowing that as a spinner, I really can do a lot to make my yarn be exactly what I want it to be.  Granted, there are some wools that really are never going to be "next to the skin" soft.  There are many others that can either be blended with other kinds of fiber, or handled more gently in processing that will come very close to being that soft.  Soapbox I'm hauling out now: the medium wools may not be as soft as the finewools, but they are lots more pleasant to spin, more durable, and by buying raw fleeces or roving from local shepherds I get to support small, local farms.  That is so important to me... having had a farm of my own for ten years.  The driving force behind this rare breed spin-a-long is to encourage spinners to at least try some fiber that is new to them.  I can use myself as an example of how surprising the project can be.  I would cheerfully buy more of this kind of roving from this farm.  Shetland sheep have a claim to fame in their colored wool - there are eleven "official" colors and many patterns of markings on these tiny sheep.
The worn heel of my favorite slippers.
Garter stitch patches, about 4 inches square.
Next thing I've been working on is some mending.  I'd prefer to mend than to remake things as much as possible... use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without is something of a mantra for me.  Not a popular idea in current culture, but one that I strive to live.  This particular mending project is a pair of slippers that I knit and felted about a year ago.  I've loved them nearly to death, and now they need patching.  These slippers are from a felting book that I just love.  There are many projects that I want to try, but I've done these twice.  When I do mending, I try to catch spots that are wearing thin before they become holes - which are much harder to fix!  I decided since the rest of the soles of the slippers are in pretty good shape, I'd just patch the heels.  My thinking was that since the stockinette wore out faster on the heels, I'd do the patch in garter stitch to get more yarn into the same amount of space.  I knit up a couple of squares of garter stitch, casting on 20 stitches on size 8 needles and working until the pieces were square.  The next step is to felt the squares.  I'll put them into a "delicates" bag and throw them into a heavy duty wash with low water level and plenty of soap - with a couple pairs of old jeans for company - and beat the fuzz out of them until they become good, firm felt.  Having done some of this kind of felting before, I'm pretty sure they won't be square at the end of the process, but since it will be felted, I could cut them to a specific size if I wanted. 

My favorite, although well worn, slippers.
Here is my project page from Ravelry on these slippers.  And here is a shot of what they look like today.  The soles are in pretty good shape, but the superwash sock yarn tops are still like new.  Superwash wool is amazing stuff!  This is done in Wildfoote from Brown Sheep yarn company.  Still available, but I don't know if this colorway is still part of their line up.  I bought this yarn years ago, and did a stash dive to make these slippers over a year ago.  I've been so impressed by the durability of these slippers and I've made another pair since then so I can always have a pair to wear - they take a couple days to dry after being washed - felt is pretty dense stuff!  The felt does relax a bit with wear, so washing and doing a little massage job on the worn parts tightens the felt a bit, but these are to the point that the felt doesn't have the ability to tighten up enough anymore.

My condo is on a slab foundation, and the thickness of these slipper soles keeps the chill off my feet very well indeed.  I'm off to make felt patches....

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Shetland Wool - Brindle roving from Bramble Wool Farm
This blend is 49% Black/51% White Shetland in natural colors.
So begins another adventure!  Since I work third shift, I was awake for the midnight change of year.  I celebrated by spending the night spinning some lovely Shetland Brindle roving from Bramble Wool Farm.  It is part of a Rare Breeds Spin-a-long with Joanna and the folks over at the Knit Spin Farm podcast.  This wonderfully prepared roving followed me home from the 2012 Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival back in September.  I had a hankering to experiment with Shetland wool, but the tiny skeins I found for very high prices at my local yarn shop certainly put a damper on my enthusiasm!  That being said, there are wonderful rainbows of color available in those gorgeous Jamieson yarns!  Since this wool is so often used for Fair Isle knitting, I suppose that it makes a certain amount of sense to have small skeins available.  I think I'll chain ply the singles I'm spinning and perhaps dye it in several colors to play around with some Fair Isle.  Here's what I have done so far:
1.8 ounces spun into singles on the Kromski, pretty fine singles
This will probably be a chain plied yarn.  I prefer the rounder cross-section of three strands to the flat nature of two-ply yarns even though the two-ply is what is traditionally used for Fair Isle work.  I have four ounces of this roving, so I'm just about halfway through it already.

Some things were surprising as I spun this Shetland.  I was sure it would feel very scratchy and rough like the commercial yarn I saw at the shop.  To my delight, it is softer than expected and it drafts well.  As I browsed the farm's website, I did discover that they hand wash their fiber, which may account for the softness and the very slightly "oiled" feel of the roving while I draft it.  Hand washing the wool allows it to retain just a touch of the natural oils to remain in the strands of the wool.  It is a matter of opinion whether this is a good thing or not - but I prefer it for spinning, since it allows the fibers to slide along each other more smoothly.  Commercial preparation strips out all the natural oils and, to me, makes the fiber seem parched and dry.  It also straightens most of the wave and crimp in the fibers which deadens the bounce and lively nature of hand processed wools.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have started the Shipwreck shawl and I'm thrilled with the way it is turning out.  Here is the first "in progress" shot I took at the end of the 5th section, called Bleeding heart lace, of the pattern. It is pinned out on a blocking mat for the picture, since knitted lace is less than lovely just sitting on the needles.  This measured about ten inches in diameter when pinned out.

I have continued into the next section, called Madeira, and shot another picture after stringing a very long cable through the stitches.  You might notice a white thread strung through the stitches a few rounds from the edge.  This is called a "life line" and is a clever way of retaining sanity while working complex lace patterns.  Lace is difficult to rip back in the event of a mistake since the holes cross the boundaries of the rows.  Life lines are threaded through the stitches of a round, and make it possible to replace the knitting needle correctly in the round if the knitting has to be ripped back.  The needles I'm using have a nifty way to accomplish this.  There is a small hole in the end of each cable connection to tighten the interchangeable needle tips - this is also useful to make life lines, just string some sewing thread through the hole at the beginning of the round.  This draws a thread through each stitch in the round.  At the end of the round, the life line is placed - much easier than other ways!  The only trouble is that it also takes the thread through all my markers.... This time, I did slip the thread out of the markers, but I think next time I'll just do another life line about five rounds later and leave the thread in the markers.  In any event, here is a picture three rounds into the Madeira pattern.
Notice that in just a few rounds the size has increased enough that it takes four of the mats to pin it out into round now!  Probably about eighteen inches in diameter now.  This style of shawl construction is called "Pi shaping" since the increases come at intervals where the stitch count doubles in a single round.  Makes it simple to keep track of the increases.

The other project, the cabled sweater, is in time out at the moment.  I've made an error when I converted the pattern to knitting in the round that altered the stitch count and the cables didn't line up exactly as I had hoped.  I'm not sure anyone would notice but me, yet part of the appeal of the sweater pattern was that the cables grew up out of the ribbing.  So I'm trying to decide if it bothers me enough to pull it out and fix it.  I'm about twenty rounds into the pattern, and it is gorgeous, but the mistake at the edge is pulling at me.  I'll probably frog it back to the ribbing and re-knit it unless someone has a slick solution to fix it without having to pull out all that work.  In any event, here is a picture of the sweater so far.
I don't see the mistake in this shot, so it is probably on the other side.  So in the interest of full disclosure, imagine the pattern offset by two stitches so the cables don't line up over the ribs at the bottom edge.  One of the many things I really like about this pattern is that the sides of the sweater are in regular stockinette stitch as well as the panels between the cable sections.  I find that more appealing than the reverse stockinette that most cabled sweaters have as the background.  Reverse stockinette means lots of purling, but it also means a nubby surface that seems more likely to pill than the smoother stockinette surface.  This particular yarn is the rugged Wool of the Andes Worsted in Amethyst Heather from Knit Picks.