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.