Wednesday, 30 July 2014

escape from the countryside

I have run away. Never fear dear reader, this is not a permanent thing. My charmed life of gardening, dog walking, and making had started to feel like Groundhog Day. There were cheap tickets to London, and The Hairy Man was at sea (literally, not figuratively) so I booked. Then The Hairy Man came home; so he is there, and I am here. In a coffee shop in Islington.

Stuff has been happening. Well, making has been happening. I finished Trillian. I'm so pleased with the finished shawl; but, my word this was a boring knit. Trillian is the sort of pattern that I should have kept handy for auxillery travel knitting, not as my main knitting project. A crochet friend asked if it would make a good first knitting project. It is easy enough for a beginner; but I suggested that she go for an instant gratification project, unless she was a particularly patient person. It always worries me when beginner knitters say they are making a scarf. I tried making a scarf... once.

The yarn is lovely stuff. It came from the Yarn Garden booth at Woolfest. The colours are wonderful, and given the chance I would own a lot more of it.

And Tour de Fleece has been going on. You'll remember that my goal was to spin all that Southdown top, and have all the singles finished by the end of the tour. I did do that. And I haven't spun since. I've not been put off spinning for life. It's just hot, and I can see myself back at the wheel next time it rains. In the meantime the turkish has been tucked in my handbag in case the mood strikes.

I'd wanted this trip to be more of a cultural tour than a shopping trip, but I've already been to Loop and started a new pair of socks. That's the holiday knitting taken care of, now on with the culture!







Monday, 14 July 2014

never accept fleece from strangers

Any spinner worth their salt will tell you never to accept just any old fleece that you're offered. There will be a good few spinners at your local guild who will tell you this. And quite a few very famous spinners who make this abundantly clear in their books and videos. But you know how we roll here at the school of hard knocks...

On Saturday evening a friend of a friend turned up here with the fleece of her nephews pet sheep stuffed in two horse feed sacks. All I can say is that it was a good thing it had been a stinking hot day, and I could turn the whole lot out in the back garden to take a good look at it all. And that the brown bin, for garden waist, was empty. I learnt that lesson about free, unidentified fleece the second I upended those sacks. Then I dashed inside for the camera so that you might learn the free fleece lesson without having to experience it first hand.

I took loads of photos. Partly because Barney, the dog, started behaving in the oddest way. He was having a fine old time burrowing into this great heap of fleece, and making a massive nest for himself. By the time I got him out of it, so I could get a better look at the state of things, he was so greasey I had to give him a bath. He was hilarious. You'd be able to appreciate how hilarious the dog was, and how horrendous the fleece was, had I remembered to put the memory card back in the camera after I last downloaded the photos on it. Huge blogger fail there then.

There were two problems. The most significant was that the fleece hadn't been skirted. Somebody had just pulled it apart and stuffed the whole lot in bags. Secondly, this was an indoors sheep. Sheep that sleep out in a field might have a muddy undercarriage, but their fleeces don't tend to be carrying about all the straw and debris off a barn floor.

There were a few redeeming features about this fleece too. I knew it was a Texel/Suffock cross, and suitable for more machine washing experiments. When I opened the bags they smelled greasey and sheepy, not manurey or damp. There were no hitchhikers in there either. And when I tested a few of the locks for strength, they all made that little ping noise that a nice strong fleece is supposed to make. The problem was that the good bits were all jumbled up with the bits that should have been ditched as soon as they came off the sheep.

In the end I decided to separate out a small heap of fleece that was obviously good, to use as a lesson the processing fleece. The rest got heaved into the bin. I washed the salvaged wool immediately. This is the section where I really kick myself over the photos that were never taken. When I started washing the fleece was the colour of sawdust. And after it was WHITE.

This afternoon I started carding the heap into rolags. You can see that there's still quite a lot of vege matter in there. It will be some time before you see any spinning.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

micro knitting

This month I only seem to be attracted to things that require super fine motor skills. I'm having to manage my Tour de Fleece goals quite carefully so that my hands don't just clamp up into little claws, and I become known locally as the lobster woman. At the beginning of the tour it seemed sensible to restrict spinning to an hour at a time. There are folk out there saying to themselves "You get to spin for a whole hour at a time? Uninterrupted?!" Well, those other folk bothering your spinning are probably doing you a huge favour. These days I've cut it down to half an hour before I head off to make coffee and procrastinate over cleaning the shower. And I'm stopping to dangle my hands by my sides every five minutes or so. We know about repetitive strain injuries here, and don't want to go back there.

Yesterday it occurred to me that all of my current projects are just tiny. I started Mr Bakery Bear straight after the pattern release. Rather than doing the sensible thing, and finding some aran weight yarn, I grabbed a ball of beautifully soft alpaca that had been loitering beside the bed, and cast him on using 1.75mm needles.

The sashiko cushion I finished earlier in the piqued my interest in embroidery. These wee kits from Kirikipress seemed like a nice way of learning some more complicated stitches, but they are only about 12cm tall. I think progress on this one will speed up once all the chain stitching is finished.

Then there are socks. Which I always do on 2mm needles with no problem. I'm trying out a new construction with these, so perhaps my hands just tense up when the brain is engaged.

So back to yesterday. I was procrastinating over starting some projects because I couldn't be bothered to get out the ball winder and swift. If you saw how handily placed these two gadgets were you'd understand just how lazy I was being. So I had a big ball winding session. (I see what happened there with the balls. No need to snicker.) Then uber organisation mode engaged, patterns were printed, then yarn, needles, and paperwork were tucked into project bags. How organised is that!

To counter all of this micro knitting, I picked up the first project and cast on. They are 3mm needles, and feel like broomsticks!


Monday, 7 July 2014

shrinking southdown wool

The results of yesterdays experiment are in. Machine washing my Southdown swatches has been intriguing. I just wish I'd been as well thought out in my method as the Sockrat trials. And had something to pin my swatches to, so that they didn't look all curly and raggedy in the photos.

The two bulky swatches definitely shrunk. Not by a huge amount, but if you look at the back you can see where the stitches are starting to disappear.

Giving the finer swatch a bath had a really exciting outcome. Yesterday this swatch felt a little like a pot scrubber. Post washing machine the wool had softened significantly, and had a halo. The fabric still feels robust, but would make a very cosy pair of socks or mittens. It would make a lovely waterproof(ish) sweater. Personally, I wouldn't want to go to the trouble of spinning and knitting a sweater, then risk it in the washing machine at this point in my textile career. I'm prepared for SPAKAL to be a learning experience, but not that much of a learning experience!

For now I'm just going to sit here fondling my fluffy swatch, and wondering if I should just put some of this beautiful Hilltop Cloud fibre in my cart.





Sunday, 6 July 2014

tour de fleece and a talk about southdowns


Behold! The first bobbin of Tour de Fleece / SPAKAL spinning. On Friday spinning for a big sweater project seemed pretty daunting. Thanks to some encouraging words from the folk over on the Ravelry forums, I now have the first 100 grams under my belt, and am gunning to get the next bobbin on my wheel. So now seemed like a could time to drop in to talk about the fibre I've chosen.

A few years ago I stumbled across The Knitter's Book of Wool. (Clara Parkes' other book is good too, but there are fewer sheep.) I was already pretty exclusively a wool and wool blend knitter, but this book made me think about selecting wool for projects in a new way. Thanks to folk like John Arbon, and Blacker Yarns it's now quite easy to get your hands on a variety of quality breed specific yarns, and really fun to try them out. Spinning just blows your options for woolly goodness right open.

For SPAKAL I wanted to make a robust sweater to wear out doors in the middle of winter. One that could take a lot of washing and wear, that would be cosy enough for working outdoors without a coat. An allotment sweater basically. A downs breed seemed like the obvious option. I chose Southdown because I was at Wingham Wool Works, and they had a kilo of it. This was a stroke of luck, because I've since put my hand in a bag of Suffolk and it felt like super lofty toy stuffing.

The aim was to make a DK weight, 3 ply yarn. It was The Knitmore Girls who put the notion of sampling in my head. I'm so pleased they did, the sampling process has been an education. The plan was to spin long draw. I tootled off on a long draw workshop two weeks ago, and decided that using a brand new technique on a whole sheeps worth of fibre was not a good idea. Back to the drawing board.

I made the first swatch using the wheel set up I'd normally use to make DK yarn, and a short draw from the tip of the top. The resulting chunky, lofty yarn was a complete surprise.

Swatch two was spun from the fold using the same setting. I'd expected this technique to turn out a lighter loftier year, but the finished yarn was exactly the opposite. This yarn was dense, and wirey.

For the final sample I went all out for a DK yarn, and spun it short draw on a 13 to 1 ration. This swatch feels like armor. If you put a cable in there, it would stand up on its own. All of these yarns are especially elastic, but this last swatch you can ping across the room like a big elastic band. It's incredible.

The first sample is the one that feels the nicest, so that's the yarn I'm trying to recreate for my sweater.

I've just had the most marvellous idea! Wool from Downs breeds has a reputation for not felting well. Let's put these swatches through the washing machine, and see how they come out. Stand by for the results!


Friday, 4 July 2014

clearing the decks

Plyorama is over, and just in time too. The spinning wheels have been cleared, and I'm already to knuckle down to my Tour de Fleece goal. It's a significant goal; and, as forlorn as the wheels look with no bobbins on them, I'm chomping at the bit for the start gun tomorrow.

For today though, there is finished yarn. I should start by saying that the crazy pink blob below was an experiment. I haven't suddenly started liking pink. I have learnt that having a colour in your stash that you aren't keen on makes you much more prone to to interesting little adventures.

(Ravelry details)

I have come, rather late in the day, to the notion of fractal spinning. If you have a load of pretty hand dyed top in your stash, this sure looks like a lot of fun. And I love the striping effect that this style of dividing your top produces. My stash is not bursting with lovely hand dyed top. It is bursting with a large sample bag of dyed merino top, mostly in shades of pink. There was only one way to make spinning all that pink seem like fun, and that was to have a shot at my own self striping yarn.

As usual I wanted a 3 ply. I also wanted to tone down all that pink. So I took 40 grams of white shetland, and spun that - ply number one. Ply number two was made by weighing out 8 grams each from fives different coloured tops. I spun each piece of top in its entirety, then moved on to the next colour. For the third ply I weighed out 8 grams of the same five colours. Then I took each length of top, divided it lengthways into four sections, and rolled it into a bump. Then all the bumps were spun up in no particular order to make a single with short colour changes. Finally I plied them all together to make the crazy riot of colour you see before you.

There needs to be an aside here about using the fibre from different breeds of sheep successfully in the same yarn. You might think you'd just spin them all at the same ratio, and that fibres with similar characteristics would ply marvellously. You might want to have a look at the ombré experiment, then come straight back here to find out what I changed this time. It wasn't much really.

  1. I checked the wraps per inch on each single to make sure they were the same.
  2. I made a twisty with each single, and checked the twist angle.

That is all. Carry on.

The pink yarn is still repulsive to me. That aside, I am going to cast on with this yarn immediately. I want to see how it stripes. Who knew pink could be this much fun.



Wednesday, 2 July 2014

finishing glory - safety socks

I love Regia's new(ish) flourmania sock yarn. The dark days of winter are going to be vastly improved by this pop of colour. I used the six ply version of this yarn to make a nice pair of gumboot socks. It comes in 150 gram balls, and I almost have enough to make a second pair.

There are several things I'm not that keen on about these socks. The first happened in the middle of a Mary Berry cooking demonstration. There was a knot. I really think that balls of self striping yarn with knots in should only be sold as seconds. It's not like they can't identify these faulty balls of yarn, because it takes a human to tie these wee knots. They know exactly where that knot is going. I just soldiered on. In all honesty, I'm not that bothered.

This was my first go at putting in an afterthought heel. They aren't quite in the right place - bit too much negative ease in the foot length. I used my normal toe shaping for the heel, except the decreases are right next to each other. This has left a ladder up the side of the heel, and the end of the heel has definite corners. Next time I'd try to make a rounder heel.

These socks are also coming up a bit short for my liking. It felt like I'd been knitting tubes forever. Apparently eternity is not quite long enough. And the ribbing is a bit on the stingy side too.

Over all they are no worse than a pair of commercial socks, and will be perfectly serviceable. And they will cheer me no end, popping out the bottom of my jeans when the weather starts to turn.