Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mittens and Kittens

This is why I love semester breaks: mittens in one week!

Lotus Mittens

All finished, and I have quite a bit of yarn left over. I started out with something like 200 yards of grey and 180 yards of pink. The pattern calls for two hanks of Schaefer Heather, which are a whopping 400 yards each, but now I figure you could probably get two pair of mittens out of that much yarn! There's only one project for this pattern marked as finished on Ravelry, and that's the pattern sample, so I was unsure whether I was cutting the yardage close or not. These were on 2.25 mm needles (US size 1), and I think they would have gone even faster if I hadn't resorted to DPNs. Addi: You need to make a size 2.25 mm circular needle, in the 24-inch length! I remember feeling a tiny bit betrayed when I found out that your "Size 1" is not the same as the "Size 1" used elsewhere in this country. But this is a minor drawback. I will be moving on to a different project this morning while the mittens finish drying.

Another great thing about the holidays is spending time with my parents and their kitties. My family averages about 2.5 cats at any one time, and right now is the best time of year to be around them because they are warmth-seekers and will snuggle up to you. Or take naps in inconvenient locations. You know, whatever.

Mid-morning naptime

That's Pheobe (grey tabby in front) and Piewacket (back in black black in back). Pie is very old (I think 12 or 13?) and doesn't do much besides eat and sleep these days, but Pheobe is interested in everything, and a chirper. I've had many good conversations with her, especially when I've just come through the front door. She likes to tell you how her day has been. Neither of them are too terribly interested in the yarn, but Pheobe likes to follow you around and be involved with whatever you're doing.

I miss having a cat, and although the significant other and I happen to be in a building that allows them, I feel kinda bad confining a cat to such a small space. Although, I guess if we got a kitten and it grew up in a small apartment, maybe it wouldn't notice? I don't know. Anyway, being home is great, and a large part of that is because I don't have to be a responsible adult for awhile. I get ten days where I don't have to walk three blocks to do laundry, don't have to think too hard about what we're going to have for dinner next week, get to lay around watching TV with my sister (we're suckers for Law & Order and What Not To Wear), and just catch up with the people I used to see every day.

Plus, I have family members who are truly interested in the knitting, from the yarn stage (tasty and a toy!) through photos (hey you're outside and I'm outside isn't this fun?) and blogging (your small metal box is a kitty warming station, right?).

Grey Kitten with Grey Mittens

I hope you all get to spend some time with the souls you love!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Present Recap

My Mom and sister loved their gifts, which can now officially appear on the blog attached to their ultimate purpose. First, the tiger glittens:

Tiger Glittens

Pattern is Broad Street Mittens from Knitty, done on size 2.75 mm (US 2) DPNs. Yarn is all handspun: the orange is superwash BFL fiber from Numma Numma, colorway "Pumpkin Butter" and the brown stripes are Shetland Fine Wool from Pigeonroof Studios in "Bitter Orange." For some reason, I didn't expect this much variation in the Pumpkin Butter yarn, it looked more homogeneous to me in the skein (I think I was in denial). But these are for my saxaphone-playing, marching-band-addicted little sister, so she can keep her hands warm in style on the crisp (ha!) San Jose fall evenings during practices. I checked, and she can still play even if her thumb is covered.

And the other gift which has been on the blog before which I thought about blogging so much I've apparently fooled my brain into thinking I did blog about it but actually never got around to it. Huh. I guess I really was busy in October! Anyway, my mother got the Egyptian Green scarf:

Morning Surf Scarf

My mom also loves green, so this was an obvious choice for her gift. Mom is sensitive (I refuse to accept allergic) to scratchier wools, so her scarf is 80% wool 20% silk, spun from roving dyed by the Sanguine Gryphon (obtained via The Loopy Ewe) in the Egyptian Green colorway. I spun the singles big and loose (pretty sure it was on the largest whorl), then plied the singles with black sewing thread. The pattern is the Morning Surf Scarf, which I think is excellent for a single skein of handspun. You find a needle size that works with your yarn (I used 5.5 mm, US 9) and just go! On Ravelry folks have knit this with every weight of yarn imaginable, and they all look fabulous. The only thing I would have done differently with this scarf is skipping the blocking. I didn't wash the yarn before knitting with it, and I think the blocking killed some of the natural bounce and squishy-ness that the scarf had when it was fresh off the needles. The stitch pattern would have been a little less defined, but the thick-and-thin nature of the yarn made up for it. I have another bump of this fiber in a different colorway, and I think it is destined for a similar spinning style and project.

I was a little surprised that my holiday knitting was mostly done with handspun this year, but when I stopped to think about my full-to-brimming paper shopping bag next to the Ladybug, my surprise wore off. I love my handspun, and it definitely gives me an extra sense of creativity. I don't usually try to envision a project straight from fiber to garment, but that doesn't detract from the satisfaction of telling people that I made the yarn myself, too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Wow, you all are such enablers! And that comes from someone who is frequently called an enabler herself, so I say it with love. :) I tried really really hard to bring enough knitting to keep myself sane but also not pack quadruple the amount of knitting I typically do in one week. For some reason being on vacation gives me the subconscious idea that I am Superwoman and can knit at close to the speed of light or something. So I tried to be restrained and pack only a few projects. I did not start a quick hat on the plane, but instead cast on for this pair of mittens, which I have been promising myself for about a month and knit those on the plane.

Lotus Leaf Mittens

These are the Lotus Leaf Mittens from the latest issue of Twist Collective (yes, from the section with the adorable animal watercolors). The yarn is handspun from the November shipment of the Verb fiber club (Finn wool, colorway Equilibrium, 2 ounces each of pink and grey). I'd had my eye on this pattern since the winter issue went up, and the fiber was just a perfect match. I've had the yarn spun up for a week or two, but promised myself that I wouldn't start them until all my holiday knitting was finished. I cast on last Friday, right after finishing up my spinning project left over from Color. Remember the silk hankies?

Verb Silk Hankies

I finished spinning the singles, then wound the whole mess into a center-pull ball and plied from both ends. I wanted to have the yarn done on Friday, so I didn't allow the singles to rest overnight like I usually do, and boy did that come back to bite me. About halfway through the plying, I tugged a little too hard on the yarn end coming from the center and got an enormous tangle that took about half an hour to get out. :P That was no fun! The color is a little off in that picture, the yarn isn't quite that pink. The skein is about half an ounce, 65 yards. I'm thinking maybe an iPod sleeve or cell phone cover... there isn't enough yardage to do much else! I mainly wanted to free up my Cascade spindle so I could work on this:

Burnt Ember

Yum! More Verb Wooly Wonders, this time Bluefaced Leicester in a colorway called Burnt Ember. It's the softest BFL and I can't stop petting it. In addition to all this I've got one other potential knitting project to keep me busy, and hopefully that will last me until I go home to the stash on the 29th. If you happen to be celebrating something during this time of year, hope it's happy or merry or at least a good time! I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that I've got yarn waiting under the tree this year. :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's a trap, get an axe!

On Friday I had a nice, relaxing day that I almost allowed to turn into a holiday knitting disaster. Watch and learn from my near-escape, all ye who knit gifts!

It seems like the mantra on lots of knitblogs these days is "I'm going to knit less this holiday season" and I am no exception. I decided that it's enough to have grade-related stress right around the holidays, and that I don't need to add the stress of finishing up lots of projects to the mix. I narrowed down my must-knit-for list this year from 7 people to 2. These are the two who will love and wear my knitting, or who will at least lie to me convincingly about loving and wearing it. Some people got knocked off the list because I suspect that they do not cherish handknitted items as much as I'd like them to, and others because I found something much better for them than another pair of felted slippers or cotton dishcloths. Either way, I had way less holiday knitting going on than I have in the past four or five years, and I was pretty much on top of everything. One knitted gift was finished, and the other had about two hours of knitting time plus buttons left before completion when Friday rolled around.

After a long week at work (it's the end of the semester, always a little nuts for me), I used my day off to do my get-in-the-spirit activities: hanging a wreath on our door, watching cheesy Christmas movies, eating leftover curry, and wrapping gifts. Since I leave most of my friends behind and stay with my parents over Christmas, I have to leave about 2/3 of my gifts wrapped (with very clear, firmly attached name tags) for the significant other to distribute in my absence. As I was wrapping up cleverly chosen, personally appropriate, non-knitted items and congratulating myself on planning things so I could start a new pair of mittens next week if I want to, I also started going over who I still need to get gifts for. I like to feel I am on top of things, but I'm not like my mother who has 90% of her holiday shopping done by October. My list still has a few holes: there are some people who are getting gift cards (specifically requested), some people for whom I have half a gift right now, and one who is a bit difficult to shop for; so far I've put off shopping for them. And when I finished wrapping all the completed gifts, my brain said "Wait a minute! We can just whip out a pair of fingerless mitts for the hard-to-shop-for and half-of-a-gift people! I bet we can have 'em finished before you have to leave for the party in two hours." Seasoned crafters are probably already shaking their heads at this point, recognizing the siren call. I had already looked up patterns on Ravelry, scoured the stash for yarn and appropriately sized needles, and was battling with the correct number of cast-on stitches (being reworked from the pattern for a substitute yarn) before I remembered that I'd decided not to knit for so many people this year. I got caught up in the illusion that knitting can feel instantaneous sometimes (like with my cowl). I'd forgotten how much work I would have dumped on me after this week, and my simultaneous goal that I would finish all this work before I get on the plane home, instead of taking it with me like I've done every year since I got this job. With the whole weekend stretching in front of me, I felt like time was nothing, putty in my hands, mine to shape with yarn and needles into fashionable knitted accessories with a mere wave of my wrists. It was the quick-knit delusion, people. And it nearly got me. I came thisclose to tripling the number of knitted gifts this year. The worst part is that I didn't stop because I came to my senses about time and reasonable scheduling and all that. I got frustrated trying to figure out the right number of cast-on stitches, trying to strike a balance between two different patterns with yarn and needles that would give me a gauge in the nebulous space somewhere between the two. After the third botched attempt at a cast-on, I pulled the yarn off the needles and realized I better stop because I had to be out the door in ten minutes. I thought vaugely that I would come back to the project when I got home.

Only later, as I rode the bus to have dinner with an old friend who's leaving the state, did I realize how far I'd gone. It was close. Too close. The pull of yarn and the desire to share my love of knitted things is stronger than I anticipated. I don't know precisely when or where the turning point was, but I knew I'd gone over the edge last year when I announced to my sister that I needed her to sneakily measure a sweatshirt from my brother's closet so I could knit a sweater for his 6'5", 220 pound frame. Maybe it was fate that pulled me back from the edge this year, perhaps some kind patron saintess of handcrafts decided that I couldn't be allowed to martyr myself and showed me the clock, reminding me I had other obligations this holiday season than to clothe every single relative, friend, and passing acquaintance in squishy warmth. Or maybe I just needed some distance from the stash. It's a rare occurence for me to spend more than an hour in such close proximity to the wool fumes these days. I'm not sure. All I know is that somehow I got away. Don't let it get to you, too. I'm off to grab an umbrella (the rain just decided it's TIME) so I can find buttons. My second gift knitting (for a recipient who reads the blog, so no pics) is done, all ends woven in.

Think I can whip out a hat on the plane ride home? I could do it on big needles. Maybe I'll just go peek in the stash...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Done and done!

The Cream Tea cowl and I are off to Berkeley! Have a good Saturday morning, everybody.

The yarn, which I finished plying before I posted yesterday:
Cream Tea Camel/Merino

In progress last night:
Cream Tea Cowl

And this morning (it's all unwashed and unblocked):
Cream Tea Cowl

Holy crap, I just realized that this thing went from unspun fiber to finished garment in less than a week. Talk about your instant gratification! It's scrumptiously warm, too, perfect for our weather the last few days.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I've got a fever

and the only cure is more cow(bel)l.

Ok, so I am being a selfish knitter this holiday season. Originally intending to knit items for about half of the people on my gift list, I've now cut it down to three or four. Partly, this is because I went to the Bazaar Bizarre on Sunday and found great gifts for people that I hadn't been expecting to find. These were also mostly folks who'd either gotten fabulous knits last year, wouldn't get too excited about receiving a handknit gift, or in one case, can knit something themselves. So I don't feel too bad about not making them something. They're all still getting fabulous (or hilarious) presents anyway.

So the significant other, the sibling, and I all decided that we didn't really want to deal with so much traffic on Sunday, so we got up at 4 AM to beat the rush. It worked, and that's how I was able to make it to the BazBiz at all. I was excited to be there, but more than a little exhausted. I didn't really need any more spinning fiber. I blame my falling-down at Verb's booth on the tiredness. Yeah. That's it. It wasn't my fault.

So more that one member of our knitting circle has made/is making a fabulous cowl. So when I saw the Merino/Baby Camel blend, I knew just what to do. Some fast, easy, bulky spinning for a project where gauge wouldn't be an issue. This is the real reason I love Ravelry: I had a pattern idea within 2 minutes of searching, the Gloria Cowl. I'm already done with the first seed stitch band. I wonder if I could finish it before leaving tomorrow morning for Verb's Grand Opening? I guess this is what I needed or wanted, to balance out the craziness of the last week of the semester: some simple, soft, non-fiddly, instant gratification knitting.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Stash Update, Part 2

And we're back from a second helping of turkey leftovers! Yesterday I was talking about new stash, and then promised you all a projects update, both of which require a little bit of context. Let me set the scene. So, we drove from the Bay Area to Orange County (yes that Orange County) for Thanksgiving, which is actually a bit unusual for us. Typically we spend the weekend with the significant other's family, which is a heckuva lot closer. Less holiday traffic and all. But this year we decided that since we didn't get to see my family that much this year between the business trips and Germany that we'd do Thanksgiving there to make up for it. Also, my folks recently took a trip to Toronto and wanted to show us pictures and souvenirs and whatnot.

Now, my mom was very brave in Toronto. They go on a trip about once every other year visiting places all across the globe for a professional conference that my dear old dad attends, and they like to get us kids a souvenir. Sometimes these work out really well (my sister got an awesome blanket from when they went to Germany) and sometimes not so much. This time, my mom just flat-out asked me what I would like her to bring me from Toronto. I said something about a famous blogger/author living there (those of you who are here for the knitting content already know who I'm talking about), and how she frequents this one yarn store, and wouldn't it be cool to have yarn from that yarn store, and to support local Toronto businesses, and how I'd have plenty of art posters and typical souvenir stuff from my travels in Germany. To make a long story short, my awesome mother made a pilgrimage to Lettuce Knit" to buy me yarn.

It was fabulous. I didn't know what she would get, but I knew it would be good. It turned out to be a little shocking because she actually called me from inside the store! I giggled a bit when she said "There's a lot of yarn here!" but I remembered that the first trip to a yarn shop can be a little overwhelming, and tried to be more helpful and think of a yarn that they'd probably have there but that would be harder for me to find locally. And I came up with the Fleece Artist brand. She got me two skeins, one each of Blue Face Aran (in Ivory ?) and Scotian Silk (in some deep plummy red color I can't identify). That's just what was for me. In addition, she apparently saw a store sample of some fingerless gloves and thought that it would be nice to have a pair for driving, so she picked out two skeins of Misti Organic Cotton (one a light tan and the other with one ply white and one ply dark brown) for me to use to make her fingerless gloves. The skeins of Fleece Artist are big (400 yards each!) and squishy. I keep petting them. They might have gravy on them by the end of the weekend.

Anyway, on to the project update. I found buttons for the February Lady sweater, and we didn't even have to go to San Diego to get them! Last weekend we took an impromptu day trip down to Stinson Beach, and managed to squeeze in a visit to Blue Bird Yarns in Sausalito. It's a new shop, but very cute and within walking distance of the rest of downtown Sausalito. They had a nice selection of yarn, including some brands that I don't see often in the city, so I will definitely be back. While the significant other made friends with the ladies knitting in the shop, I poked through their button boxes and found just what I had in mind: about 1-inch diameter circular wooden buttons. They got sewn on that evening.

Next: Remember this combo?
Orange and Brown

Well, I have decided what it must become: a smaller project that will turn into a Christmas gift for someone who reads the blog, so I can't show you photos of the progress or tell you the name of the project. The recipient is not on Ravelry though, so once I have some photos, I'll link you all over there to check it out. I was packing up on Wednesday morning, stuffing projects into my tote bag, when I realized that my two current works-in-progress were gifts intended for family members I would be hanging out with all weekend. Ack! Emergency project required: into my bag I stuffed my Tigget's Hollow Wensleydale yarn, some sock needles, and the book A Fine Fleece. I realized on Thursday that I don't know exactly how much yardage I have in the skein, so I have no idea if my plans for the Ancient Oak socks will actually see me past the heel turn, but I'm hoping I can at least get little ankle socks out of the skein. No pictures yet, but they are coming along nicely.

The good news is that I finished the other secret project today, which means I meant that I could give my mom her birthday present on time, and that I can now share it with you without fear. Here's the Rivendell socks in all their lovely green glory:

Rivendell Socks

Details recap: Most of one skein of Sundara Sock yarn in the colorway "Pine over Gold", pattern is the Rivendell Socks. I used Addi Turbos in 2.75 mm for the cuff and instep and 2.0 mm for the heel flap, heel turn, sole, and toes. Originally I had planned on using 2.5's for the upper parts, but it was completely my fault for having shoddy yarn storage habits. For the rest of the weekend I'll just have to settle with squeezing the Fleece Artist skeins and knitting furiously on the other gift project in secret.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stashtastic Update!

So I'm stranded sans camera at the parents' house for Thanksgiving. Well, that's actually a lie, we have the camera but no way to connect said camera to the computer and upload any new photos. So I'm going to regale you with older photos of new stash, and tell you about some of my other new stash. The new stash falls into three categories: stash acquired of my own free will, stash acquired after a sacrifice of old stash, and stash that my mom gave me.

I'm a little ashamed of the new stash, because I told myself I was going to cut back this year. See, last year was the first year that I really had a yarn budget to speak of, because I had my first real full-time job (but this is only sort of true. I'm in education and live in California. It's a full time job in that I work about 40 hours a week and they pay me money, but there's very little security. But I'm not here to talk about work. Back to the regularly scheduled program.) So I had money to spend on yarn, even if I wasn't at the end of a project. Also, the new yarn didn't have to come from the sale bin or be something I had saved up for. I had a lot more freedom to try new fibers and more expensive brands, and I built up a sizable stash. So this year (since May or so) I've been trying to be a little more discerning in what I purchase, and to buy at a rate that more closely matches my rate of knitting yarn up into projects. Part of me trying to cut back includes a caveat that I am allowed to acquire yarn/fiber from certain sources without feeling any guilt. One of these sources is anything dyed by Adrian of Hello Yarn. So I snapped up these puppies, both from a fellow Raveler who was destashing:

Hello Yarn Wensleydale Fiber: 6 ounces of Mollusc
Hello Yarn Wensleydale Mollusc

Hello Yarn BFL Fiber: 8 ounces of Earth
Hello Yarn BFL Earth

I'm super-excited about these colors, and the other day I saw a fabulous shawl knit from Wensleydale fiber (this from the Verb fiber club, but still fabulous). I think I want to do something similar with my Mollusc, and having 6 ounces instead of 4 gives me a bit of wiggle room in case my spinning isn't as even or as fine as I plan. The BFL I have absolutely no plan for, but I've had striped vests on the brain lately and this would be neat as half of a striped vest (maybe paired with a dark blue or green?).

I also achieved a long-standing goal of mine. I've had this goal since before I got the blog, and I think I've even mentioned it here before: to get into the Hello Yarn Fiber Club. Well, apparently my web-stalking skills have been built up enough, or perhaps things in the universe were just aligned correctly, because I got in! I haven't had time to stop petting the November installment long enough to take any photos at all, but it's gorgeous and I can't wait to spin it up.

Now for the stash that required a sacrifice. It sounds a little more dire than it actually is. Our Tuesday-night knitting group decided to have an unwanted stash exchange a few weekends ago. There were six of us, and we got together with about one large paper grocery bag's worth of yarn each to trade and socialize and eat fabulous cupcakes decorated with red and black frosting so that they looked like ladybugs (thanks thesecitystreets!). There was lots of yarn, and we basically just piled it on the kitchen table and started slowly picking out stuff we liked. I gave up a lot of really really old yarn that I knew I would never ever knit anything out of, and got a few nice things, including a skein of Artyarns Ultramerino, a partial ball of Meunch Touch Me (really soft chenille yarn), and a little puff ball of black angora yarn, all stuff I've been meaning to try. I also scored 4 skeins of Cascade 220 in a lovely blue-green heathery shade that reminds me of mallard ducks. That's where this whole idea for a striped vest came from. The swap was a ton of fun (we really should do that once a year!), and I was very pleased to take home less yarn than I'd walked in with. We'd all agreed to only bring yarns that we really and truly did not want anymore so that there wouldn't be any hard feelings, but that did mean that some yarn was completely unwanted by any of us, so one group member generously took the bag of leftovers to a yarn shop that accepts donations. It was nice to clear some stuff out and be left with yarn that is more likely to get my creative juices going, even if there isn't as much of it as there was before.

I'm blogging during our traditional post-turkey coma nap rest hour, but my dad's calling us for the pie. I'll be back again later to tell you about the stash from my mom, and give you a project update (teaser: I found buttons). Enjoy the holiday weekend (if you're in the USA) or just the regular weekend (if you're somewhere else)!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It Never Rains but Pours

Except for this weekend. Sheesh, it was hot! I think this definitely counts as an Indian Summer, seeing as we've had one cold rainstorm through here prior to the heat wave. It was hot and sunny even in our part of the city, which is unusual. I cannot wait for it to be cold all the time! It's usually dark by the time I leave work these days, and I love to come home, put on a sweater and some comfy pants, and play with my fiber. We've had wintertime food on the brain, too. Two weeks ago the significant other made a reeeaallly good batch of chili that lasted us for three days of lunch leftovers, and last week I realized I hadn't made a quiche in a very long time (apparently I also decided that we don't have enough saturated fat in our diet- this was a serious quiche).

Has anyone else looked through the Winter Twist Collective? I am in love with the "Creature Comforts" section! The artwork kills me (squirrels and kittens and bluejays!), and I want to make everything. The workmanship on this magazine is top-notch, and the patterns are presented beautifully.

The title of the post is actually in reference to FOs. I managed to finish up lots of projects since I last posted here. First of all, I spun and plied the Black BFL/Shetland blend all in one weekend. I know, insanity, right? But it was really nice to let myself get a little obsessed with a project. I put my audiobook on while the significant other was out, sat down with my wheel and fiber at the kitchen table, and just spun spun spun. Like all day. For two days in a row. And the result is this:

Chocolate Fruit Loops

Here's a close-up with the Scrabble tile:

Chocolate Fruit Loops

It's definitely a dense worsted (possible bulky?) yarn, about 235 yards. I originally intended the yarn to be a 50/50 blend of the Shetland and BFL, but I ended up not using all the BFL. In the end, I think that's for the best. Too much brown would have drowned out the colors more than I intended, and I was going more for a homogenizing effect. I don't have a scale, so I don't know exactly how much the skein weighs, but I'm guessing somewhere around 6.5 ounces. I definitely have less than half of my 4-ounce bump of BFL left over. And Kristine just told us on Ravelry that the November package has been shipped! Yippee! I'm going to have to do a separate post for all stuff I've stashed recently (uh... pay no attention to that pile of unphotographed fiber behind the curtain).

I also finished the February Lady sweater, on Saturday evening. Dudes, this was a seriously quick knit! Not counting the time spent knitting a teeny tiny too small neck, I took about 3 weeks on this from start to finish. The only problem now is buttons. I know exactly which buttons I want. This is good, as I can take an inappropriately long time to choose buttons. The buttons I want are in San Diego. This is bad, as I am not in San Diego. It might be awhile before the sweater has buttons. In the meantime, enjoy some FO pictures.

The front:

February Lady Sweater Front

The back:

February Lady Sweater Back

The sweater isn't washed or blocked, and I'm a little reluctant to wash the thing. There is the distinct possibility that the sweater will grow significantly in the wash, and I really really like the size the way it is now. But I guess I'll have to wash the darn thing sooner or later, so I might as well do it now. Oh well. I can justify putting off washing it until I have buttons, right?

And now to transition to another FO using one last photo of the February Lady Sweater:

I love my fleece!

The fleece is washed! Two Fridays ago I washed the very last batch of fleece, so now the whole thing is done. I've gone through and picked out the darkest locks and the lightest locks, separating them out from the rest of the fleece. I'll probably use them for different projects, but those piles are probably about 1/3 of the total fleece, and the leftover 2/3 is a much more even shade of gray. Much better for a cabled sweater! While I was trying on the February Lady sweater for photos, I had the whole thing laid out in the sunshine for sorting, and eventually I couldn't resist just picking up a double-armful of fluff and squishing it. You know what the really sick part was? A little voice in my head said, "We finished washing this one, so now we can have another one, right?" NO! The last thing I need right now is a raw fleece stash in addition to a yarn and processed fiber stash. I really should spin up a large chunk of this fleece before I get any thoughts about a second one. But overall, I was surprised at how manageable it was for me to wash the whole thing. Even in our tiny apartment, it really only took four or five afternoons to get the whole thing done. If I had been a little more organized, I bet it would have been done in October, too.

Now that Thanksgiving is almost upon us, it's time to start thinking about gift knitting. Last year my gift knitting included some pretty fancy stuff: a pair of colorwork felted slippers, a large man's sweater, a gloves & scarf set, just to name the gifts within the immediate family. I've been spinning up a storm this year, so I think it's time to consider making stuff from handspun. But no sweaters. While the gifts I made last year were very well-appreciated by their recipients, some were not so fun to knit. What holiday gift knitting have you all done, either current or past, that you most enjoyed knitting?

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Short post today, as I'm in the middle of finishing my fleece washing. It's a good thing, too, before we really get into the wet season here, otherwise I'd have to wait weeks for the locks to dry.

I finished winding and measuring my new cotton yarn:


It's about 190 yards, a heavy worsted to aran weight yarn. But it's got that beautiful smoothness of a cotton yarn. I'm still deciding whether or not to boil it to finish it, but in the end I don't think I will.

I also finished carding all my rolags:

Shetland/Black BFL blend rolags

Here they are all laid out, waiting to be spun. I've decided to do a 3-ply yarn. I roughly divided the rolags of each color into three piles, and each bobbin will be spun red-orange-brown-blue, and plied together in the same color order. Hopefully there will be large stretches of solid color, with some blending near the joins.

I'm almost done with the body of the February Lady sweater, but the significant other is picking up a new lens today and has absconded with the camera so I have no action shots yet.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's Officially Autumn! Or: Three Projects

I don't know why the weather got the memo about five weeks late, but this weekend we got our first sizable storm through the Bay Area. It sprinkled a bit on Friday, and was coming down steadily by the afternoon. It really got going Friday night and has been rained steadily all day on Saturday. I'm ridiculously excited about the rain, mostly because it means I can wear my knits again. I spent all day in my favorite scarf, even indoors!

I've been mainly working on three projects these days, with the Rivendell socks on hold for a while. One is a knitting project, one is a spinning project, and one is a future spinning project that requires a lot of prep. I'm really enjoying the balance of having projects in all three stages. One of them is portable enough for me to take it on the airplane to visit old college friends, I'm using stash fiber for the spinning project, and I'm practicing my new carding and blending skills with the prep project. Having more than one means that when I'm sick of knitting the lace pattern I can sit down and do some carding or spinning, so my short attention span is satisfied. Finally, having three means that the project I switch to always has a bit of novelty, like passing a friend while running errands or a colleague in the hallway: "Hello, haven't seen you in a few days, how's it going?" Pretty sweet. So here's what is happening with each one.

Knitting Project: February Lady Sweater Update

I've switched to size 8's on the February Lady sweater, and it fits just fine now! I got through the yoke, knit the 8 or 10 agonizingly long rows after the eyelet increases, then split for the sleeves and body last weekend. I was able to try the sucker on, and it's going to be a peach of a cardigan. I wish I could knit the sleeves on their own, though. The pattern calls for you to pick up sleeve stitches after finishing the body, and I'm not looking forward to turning the whole damn thing over and over in my lap while I crank out the sleeve. Sleeves make great travel knitting, and I'd love to be able to work out a way to knit them now and attach them later.

So far the only thing I can come up with is to do an invisible cast on and graft them on at the end, but the thought of grafting in the gull lace pattern gives me heart palpitations. Not to mention this is promising to be a really lovely sweater and I tend to get impatient with finishing, and I'd be really pissed if the grafting looked crappy and I ended up having to re-knit the sleeves. I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but this pattern is a sized-up-for-adults version of an Elizabeth Zimmerman baby sweater. Perhaps I'd better not mess with her genius. She really knows what she's talking about when it comes to sweater construction. Anyway, the sweater is coming along, and I'm hoping this will get done quickly now that the weather has taken a turn.

Spinning Project: Cotton!

So when I first got back from Germany, I ordered some cotton fiber with ideas of spinning it up quickly for a project that wouldn't make my hands sweat in the late August heat. Turns out 100% cotton is a lot trickier than I imagined, and the fiber got stuffed down in a fiber stash bag. I tried different wheel ratios, re-read my notes from the cellulose fiber tasting class, even went back to a drop spindle to try and figure it out. Every now and then, I'd pull out a little more and try again, but I kept getting the most incredibly lumpy yarn that would pull apart at the fat bits (which were getting underspun) or break at the thin bits (which were absorbing all the twist) before it got to the bobbin. On the Thursday night before Color I felt stubborn and sat down with an empty bobbin, determined to make progress. I ended up staying up a little too late in the evening and a lot of little bits of almost-yarn ended up in the trash bin, but at least I was getting somewhere. After a few hours, I was starting to learn how to hold my hands, how tightly to grasp the fiber, teaching my body that it needs to do something differently to make yarn from cotton. In order to keep this knowledge fresh in my hands, I've been trying to spin a little bit (even if it's just five minutes at the wheel) every day, and the improvement is there, if small. My yarn got more even, especially on the second bobbin. I don't think I'll get enough yarn to do something bigger than a hat (or a cowl... I have had cowls and mittens on the brain lately. Can you tell I'm ready for the cold weather?) but I will be proud to have met the challenge. My all-time favorite handknit scarf is out of cotton, and it would be a real treat to re-make it some day from scratch. I just finished plying the two bobbins together, so we'll see if how much yardage I get out of it later.

Fiber Prep Project: Blended Colors

At the beginning of our fiber prep class, Kristine gave us a lesson on using handcards, and gave us all samples of bright red commercially dyed wool and some of her delicious black BFL to blend together. I fell in love with the resulting tweedy yarn, so when this came in the mail:

Verb Wooly Fiber Club Fruit Loops

I knew my plan. This is 4 ounces of Shetland wool, the second shipment in the A Verb for Keeping Warm Wooly Wonders fiber club, colorway Fruit Loops. I ordered 4 ounces of Black BFL fiber from Crown Mountain Farms with plans to blend it with the Shetland to make a tweedy, heathered yarn. I split the Shetland into four chunks, roughly separating the colors. One chunk was blue, one mostly deep red, one kind of pinkish-orange with bits of yellow, and one a more brownish orange. I ended up with a bunch of rolags in each color, and now I have to decide what I want the yarn to look like in the end, which I think will mostly depend on what sort of project I want to get out of this. The colors are still lovely, but much more muted and I can't wait to see the yarn.

I'll post some pictures of the rolags before I start spinning (and of the cotton yarn before I start knitting), I promise! Here's my excuse this time: the significant other got some new toys for the camera. And when I say some new toys, I mean he found his mom's old stash of camera bits and bobs from when she used to work as a professional photographer. Filters, a flash and flash screen, and (so I'm told) a Very Serious Tripod. He wanted to take some photos to play around with the new stuff and get acquainted with it, and I told him to go ahead, I could get a little spinning in before it was my turn. Aaaannnnnd... He used up all the battery on the camera before I could take my WIP pictures. So even though I can't show you the pretty heathered Shetland/Black BFL blend, the status on my cardigan, or my new cotton yarn yet, I can give you a few artsy photos taken of me and the wheel while I was doing the 2-ply. Enjoy!

The flyer and bobbin from the back of the wheel, while I was finishing up the second bobbin of singles:
The Flyer doing its thing

The Schacht sheep logo and the flyer during plying (notice how I switched to Scotch tension?):
Schacht Logo and Flyer

So now that I have my first bobbin full of cotton yarn, I'd like to ask you all a question: do you actually need to boil cotton yarn? If it makes a difference, the fiber was in sliver form, the yarn is now a 2-ply, probably bulky weight. I've heard something about boiling to set the twist in cotton yarns in the distant past, and if it's the difference between my project falling apart or something awful like that, I'll go for it. For example, I know that setting the twist by washing with protein fibers is not absolutely vital (or at least I haven't been struck with lightning for knitting with unwashed handspun and those mittens turned out just fine). I usually wash my yarn anyway, just to get any dirt from my hands off the yarn before knitting with it, but I rarely weight my yarn while drying anymore, as I feel it deadens the bounce that I love about my handspun. Also, boiling my yarn frankly sounds a bit scary. So if I like my cotton yarn the way it is, what's the worst that could happen if I don't boil it? Inquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chihuly Update!

Hooray, the significant other finally got our photos from the Chihuly exhibit at the De Young posted on Flickr! He took most of the pics, but I did snap a few of them (although darned if I could remember which ones...)

Oh, and since this is still a knitting blog, if you look through the set you can see my Honeybee stole out on its maiden voyage. Nothing makes a girl feel fancy like wearing a lace shawl to an art museum!

Color and Cardigan

Hi everyone, sorry it's been such a long time between posts. This month has been busy-busy-busy, and not just for me! Seems like the autumn is just slipping away from everybody I talk to. It's definitely getting a little chilly in the mornings around here, and the ground at work is covered in oak leaves, which makes me smile.

Pacific School of Religion

So Saturday was Color: Fall 2008, and it was another beautiful day in the East Bay. Wow has the festival grown! See how we have TWO tents for the spinners in the picture? There were also double the number of vendors, and it definitely seemed like there were more people floating in and out throughout the day. I took two classes, which left me a little more time to sit and chat and browse the market, and I wasn't nearly as brain-dead by the end of the day as I was in April. I took Spinning from the Lock with Maia, where we basically learned the various ways to spin fleece directly from the lock (without turning it into a carded batt or roving or combed top). We spun some basic wool (no particular breed), some Romney, and dyed and undyed CVM (California Variegated Mutant), all still in lock form. Here's the plied results:

Spinning from the Lock Class

The Romney was fun, I don't think I'd spun that one before. I also took Kristine's Fiber Prep class, where we looked at handcards, combs, and drum carders. Kristine brought her drum carder and a bag full of random fiber, and let us all make batts! Super-fun. These were not huge, thick batts, maybe an ounce (or less) each, but I had SO much fun spinning mine up later that evening. I was so excited about it I forgot to take photos of it before spinning, but it was some black BFL fiber along with some green wool/silk and mohair locks. I can see why people go all crazy with their drum carders, there is a sense of adventure when you're using one (is it shiny? Sure! Throw it on the tray!)

Fiber prep class batt

So we were essentially playing with different fiber prep techniques, and I had enough foresight to bring along some of my clean locks, so I got to try out the combs! Yippee! Here's the comb set-up, along with a little cloud of my combed Cormo and the pile of waste fiber (yikes!).

My combed locks!

We had stations set up to use the drum carder and two sets of combs, and just spent the last 45 minutes or so playing with fiber!

Fiber prep class

I really wanted to try every different hand-produced prep method I could before deciding how to process my fleece, and I feel like I accomplished that goal during this festival. So now I have little samples of yarn, all spun from the Cormo, in a variety of different preps and spinning methods. I did two yarns that were combed, one spun worsted on my Maggie, one spun woolen on the Mt. Rainier; one yarn spun woolen from a carded rolag, and one yarn spun worsted from flicked-out locks.

Worsted-Woolen Prep Rainbow

The picture doesn't have my worsted-spun combed yarn, because I spun it after taking the picture (oops)! I knit them all up into a little sample (pictures later), and I'm stuck between the true worsted and the yarn spun from the lock. Surprisingly, the lock-spun yarn feels rather slick and nice, even compared to the combed fibers. I can't tell if that was just part of the fleece that perhaps didn't get quite as clean as the rest, or if the different texture is a result of the prep method. The true worsted yarn came out very very squishy and just looks more like a sweater yarn than any of the others, but I also spun it on a different spindle than the others, so I might just be biased because it's a thicker yarn. I definitely didn't like the carded rolag yarn for the kinds of projects I have in mind for this fleece, though. I've had one of the cabled sweaters from the book A Fine Fleece kicking around in there for a few weeks now, so I picked up a copy of the book from the marketplace after classes. Some Ravelry folks did a potluck lunch, and man did folks bring the tastiest food! It was a very long, very fun, very fibery day. I came home exhausted, with my name tag still stuck to my shirt and my addi turbos around my neck for safe-keeping, and wanted to stay up and spin all night long. I can't wait for the next one!

In other knitting news, the Rivendell socks are on hold since I got to the boring foot part. I also need to figure out the length of the potential recipient's feet before I go on so I don't put the toe at the wrong place. In the meantime, I have been itching to cast on another sweater since I finished the Tangled Yoke to such great success.

The February Lady sweater has been all the rage on Ravelry (up to nearly 2500 projects!), so I picked up some yarn and, like a very good and patient knitter, made a nice big gauge swatch. I swatched in both garter stitch and the lace pattern in three different needle sizes (US 8, 7, and 6), and even washed the swatch again and double-checked my measurements before casting on. Even though the pattern recommends US 8's, I got gauge on my 6's, so I dutifully trusted the swatch and worked on the raglan increases all this week. Last night, after trying on the nearly-completed yoke for the sixth time (first two try-ons in a cafe in public with other knitters, the rest at home) I realized that the neck is actually too small. My brain had a very difficult time accepting this state of affairs. It whined at me: "But we got gauge! And it doesn't look like it's going to choke anyone else on Ravelry, even when they knit the size small! And dammit, I want to knit on the stupid thing after I did all that stupid math to figure out how to spread 47 yarn-overs evenly over 219 body stitches!" I might have stamped my foot in girlish petulance. I'm sure I dreamed about this sweater, agonizing in my sleep whether to bravely trudge on or rip it out and try a new needle or pattern size.

Finally, after a (not so restful) night of sleep, I decided to hang the gauge swatch. The thing is too constricting about the neck, and I need to go up at least one needle size for this pattern size. Still struggling over how it came out wrong when I did everything right, I had an epiphany while brushing my teeth. I grabbed the half-ripped-out yoke and snatched up my tape measure. My heart pounding in my chest, I picked a random spot on the yoke I'd just spent the last 12 hours agonizing over. I laid down the tape measure, lined it up with a garter ridge, and slowly counted stitches. I counted twice, people, just to be sure. And then compared it to my gauge swatch. These are the following results:

Gauge swatch: beautiful, even, LYING 18 stitches per 4 inches

Sweater: lovely, squishy, DECEITFUL 19.5 stitches per 4 inches

They were both knit with the same exact needle, my beloved addi natura US 6 (4.0 mm) 24-inch circular. The swatch was knit back-and-forth, and so was the sweater. I was dumbfounded that my gauge swatch could so easily have led me astray, but also relieved to know that I'm not bonkers and can still do basic arithmetic. I have learned that maybe (just maybe) if the sweater looks great on everybody else, and everybody else knit it on needles two sizes bigger than yours, and you sweater is a little small, it's okay to trust your instinct and go up two needle sizes. Especially if that means that you 16 stitches per 4 inches in the gauge swatch might translate to 17.5 stitches per 4 inches in the sweater.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Drive-by Blogging

Oh man, the weekend sure got away from me! I guess that's what happens when you work all day on Saturday. The significant other had to go in, and I hung out and did a major stack of work in solidarity and/or on the principle of misery loving company. And on Friday, when I typically start my blog posts, I had a few one-time important meetings to attend, so the blog just slipped away from me. So today you get the quickest of updates while I bolt down my breakfast before work.

Last weekend we went to see the Yarn Harlot, and her talk was absolutely fabulous as usual. The ladies who run the Knitmore Girls Podcast were there collecting audio from folks standing in line, and we each gave a little blurb. I knit on the Rivendell socks while we were there, but had to put them down when I got to rearranging the stitches for the heel flap- there was just too much counting for me to be able to hear Stephanie at the same time. They're coming along nicely now, I just need to figure out the length of the recipient's foot so I know when to start the toe.

I've been spinning some pin-drafted roving I bought at Boonville from Merry Meadows Farms this week (4 ounces each in white and naturally brown colored), trying to work on getting more even singles. The brown is finished (a nice fat 245 yards, 2-ply), and I'm about a third of the way through spinning the singles for the white. My goal is to get a more consistent yarn instead of just letting the fiber go through the wheel willy-nilly, to get some practice for spinning my fleece. If I really want to do a sweater, I'll need to be able to make a consistent yarn.

Ah, the fleece. Through some strange alignment of fate, I managed to wash a double batch this weekend (hmm no wonder I didn't have time to blog) and now it's almost finished! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. For some reason I was sure I wouldn't have the entire thing washed for months, but I only have one more washing batch before it's all done. Last night after everything was dry I poured out all the locks to look at the colors and just squish huge handfuls of sheepy fluff in my hands. Yum! I also prepped some locks in a few different ways with my handcards to see what I like and what I'm willing to live with. I like getting all the little neps out of the fiber before spinning, and even though I'm getting better and better at making rolags with the cards, I don't think that's the way I want to go with this fleece. It's a pretty fine wool, and I think the neps will make the yarn too lumpy for my tastes. Which brings us to upcoming events: this coming Saturday is Color! I'm so excited to see my favorite local vendors and fiber friends all in one place. I'll be there all day, and I'm only taking two classes this time. Last time I did three, and it was a little ridiculous. I'm registered for the Fiber Prep class and Spinning from the Lock. Can you tell I'm getting ready to spin this fleece?

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but the camera has been stranded and hasn't been hooked up to a computer for a week! I'll take pictures at Color for y'all, and next time tell you about my new project (I know, I'm weak).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Blogging in the Wild

This morning I'm writing from an internet cafe with reasonably good hot oatmeal down by the ocean. It's been foggy and cooler in the mornings over the past few days, signaling the end of San Francisco's late-clinging summer season. It's not quite cold enough for me to need my sweater indoors, but if I decide to take a stroll along the beach after finishing this I'll need it to keep the chill off.

Looks like once a week is pretty much the norm for blogging while school is on, huh? I guess I should just try to accept the reality of my schedule, now that I'm almost halfway through the semester. It's been crappy picture-taking weather, too, but I don't have all that much to show you guys anyway.

Tigget's Hollow Wensleydale

I love the colors on this yarn! Yummy yummy yummy. The wensleydale is still waiting for its bath, and I didn't start a new spinning project this week, mostly because the rest of the weekend slipped away from me. If you're not up to date on the latest San Francisco news, this past Saturday was the grand re-opening of the California Academy of Sciences. The new location is in Golden Gate Park, right across from the De Young museum and really close to lots of other fun places like the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Rose Garden, the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the Shakespeare Garden (man, we like us some growing things in SF, don't we?).

We were insanely lucky and managed to get tickets to the Chihuly exhibit before it closed at the De Young, and it was just incredible. The significant other was in charge of the camera, if I can find the photos I'll share some next time.

And then on Saturday, we went out for our usual brunch and decided we would go look at the spectacle around the new Cal Academy. Entry was free on Saturday, and it seemed like everyone in the city descended on our little corner to try and find parking. There was a line of cars extending out to 19th Avenue (the entrance to the park is at 9th Avenue, for comparison). It was just a little ridiculous. We already had plans to go with out-of-town friends on Sunday, so we didn't hang out too much in the crowds. On Sunday things were much more chill, and the new Cal Academy is really wonderful. It was still too crowded for us to get into a planetarium show, but we will definitely be going back, and probably soon. The exhibits are well-done, I love watching the penguins, and I really did learn new things during our visit.

The rest of the week was so crazy that I barely had time to pick a new project for Purl Jam on Tuesdays (link is to Ravelry group). I pretty much grabbed the first project on top of my "didn't get to over the summer" pile: Rivendell socks in Sundara sock yarn, color Evergreen over lime.

Rivendell Sock

These might end up being a gift as well... we'll see how it goes! I learned my lesson about sock sizing on my last pair of Jaywalkers, and I'll be doing the leg on size 1.5's and the heel, sole, and toe on size 0's (both sets of two addi turbo circulars). I got a surprisingly large amount of knitting done on Tuesday night, but I haven't had time to touch the socks since then. Now I'm off to wash some fleece, since it's Friday. Catch you all next week!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Spin, span, spun!

Whew, since finishing the Honeybee stole it seems I am all about the spinning. I enlarged my fiber stash a bit on one end, but also decreased it on another end. First things first: the Verbiversary party in Berkeley was so awesome! I was a bad blogger and didn't pull out the camera, because I was having such a good time. There were little cupcakes with sugar sheep on them, delicious cheese and pizza and cake, and prosecco (yum!), lots of fiber, friends, and fun. Oh, and Marcel the Diva (their French Angora rabbit) made an appearance despite his busy social schedule. What a cutie pie! :) Being my typical pale San Francisco self, I got a little burned by the harsh East Bay noon sun, but it was worth it to spend a couple hours with such fantastic people. And I exercised quite a bit of self-restraint by only buying fiber for one spinning project:

Verbiversary Fiber

I give you A Prudent Shirley Temple. This will be a two-ply yarn, one ply in Shetland wool (color Prudence), and one color 100% Tussah silk (color Shirley Temple). The pinks are a bit different for me, and I'm thinking a nice plush cowl with a little bit of shine to it.

Now I wanted to make sure I didn't buy too much at this party (I am now saving my fiber money for Color in mid-October), so I brought some spinning with me. Along with my new Cascade Mt. Rainier spindle, I took the first installment of the AVFKW Fiber club, Wooly Wonders version:

Verb Wensleydale

Verb Wensleydale

This is such a beautiful fiber, and the presentation of the entire package is just stunning. I especially loved the little note card on Wensleydale with a sample lock of washed fleece. I kind of brought along the fiber without thinking about what I wanted to make, just decided to spin it and see what weight it wanted to be. Turns out predrafting is the key with Wensleydale, but in exchange for meticulous prep, it rewarded me with some of the most even spinning I've ever done (and on a spindle, no less!).

Verb Fiber Club Wensleydale

I split the fiber into two long strips, and spun each strip separately in one long go. I knew I wanted to do a two-ply, and I ended plying the singles with the color repeats reversed (kind of back-to-front if that makes sense), and got about 260 yards of passable sock-weight yarn. I can't wait to try and photograph the beautiful fuzzy halo of this yarn! I'm thinking I'll split it in half and do a pair of short socks. It's a little scratchier than I'd like for a scarf or something to go around my neck, but my feet won't mind too much.

While I was working on this, I really really wanted to start spinning what I'd bought at the party, but I had another project taking up space on the wheel. Remember the Polwarth locks? I've been sitting on them since last February and now that I have cards, I wanted to get those things processed and spun into yarn. I worked on this project almost exclusively late at night, so I have no photos of the process, only the product:

Polwarth Yarn

Sorry for the flash photo, I'm still figuring out the significant other's fancy new camera. I did a sort of flicking prep with the handcards, dragging each end of each lock through the teeth on one the handcards until they fluffed out, and then spun the yarn from the lock. I learned a valuable lesson while doing this: only prep what you can spin that day. I flicked a bit, spun a bit, then decided to just flick out the rest of the locks all at once. The next night when I sat down to spin, I ended up needing to brush out half the locks a second time to get the same consistency in my yarn. The leftover bits from the flicking got carded into rolags, and I spun a little bit of lumpy bumpy woolen yarn from that (that's the skein in front). The rest is a DK-to-worsted weight yarn, about 215 yards. Once I had this plied and off the bobbins, I was able to ply the Wensleydale and free up the spinning project space in my head. Hooray, now I can start something new!

I also washed another batch of fleece on Friday, and I'm hoping I'll be able to keep washing every Friday until it's done. I keep thinking about how I want to prep this fleece, and what kind of sweater I want to come out of it. I'm not so into carding or carded fibers right now, but I'm not sure if that's because I'm not that good at carding yet. I also find it hard to get the evenness I desire in a yarn spun from carded fiber, but again, that might just be my inexperience showing. I got a chance to try out combing and combed fiber at the Verbiversary party, and I really liked the results... but I guess combing leaves a lot of waste fiber, and I'm still a little irrationally worried about having enough yarn for my coveted sweater. And if I decide to comb the locks, I would probably have to invest in some combs. I guess my best bet is to do some samples (spin and swatch) after I have the fleece washed, so I can see how much each method yields and how fast the prep is.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Oof, my back!

Thanks for all the kind comments about the fleece (and about my hands. I'm blushing, that's so nice!). We are getting along nicely! I gaze at it adoringly, and it rewards me by remaining beautiful. This week I scouted the hardware stores of the Sunset district for washing equipment: the perfect rubber cleaning gloves (pink, of course), some regular old blue Dawn, mesh lingerie washing bags, and some large, deep containers for water. I ended up with a set of rectangular basins that are just the right dimensions, a little bigger than the mesh bags, and small enough to fit in my kitchen sink. I really wanted to be able to wash some of the fleece one evening this week, but it took longer than I anticipated to gather my supplies. I was even all set up to do some washing last night (Thursday), but a mini-emergency at work called me away for most of the evening. It happened so suddenly, and I had to leave right away, so that my Honeybee stole got an extra-long soaking while I was taking care of business. Today I've got a bit of a backache from bending over to stick all the pins in. Here's the stole blocking on my living room floor (DVD box for scale):

Honeybee Stole Blocking in Progress

I laid it out on a beach towel so there would be something absorbent between the carpet and knitting, which is probably a really good thing considering how long it's been since I vacuumed in there. After pinning out one short edge, I did every fifth tiny side scallop point to get the basic dimensions right, then did the other short edge. Then I spent another 40 minutes or so pinning out all the little "winglets." Sheesh. Why did I want to do the bigger size again?

Honeybee Stole Blocking in Progress

It's about 2 feet wide and really long. I kinda wish I'd counted how many pins I used, because it was a very meticulous process. It's probably the kind of impressive number that makes you feel like you've conquered a huge task when you say it out loud. If I'd been smarter I would have worked out some improvised blocking wires or something. Anyway, the stole got a second spritz of water after getting pinned out completely, and was bone-dry by dinnertime today. I have to weave in the ends and then it'll be ready for a photo shoot!

As if bending over and shoving so many teeny little straight pins into my carpet wasn't enough, today I decided to lug around tubs full of water for a few hours. Yay, I did my first round of fleece washing! I was a bit nervous to start with, but everything turned out fine. My fleece didn't felt, I successfully removed the dirt and most of the lanolin, and I learned a lot about the process doing it all myself. Here's some of the realizations I made:

1. If I'm going to wash 3 bags of locks, I will need 4 water containers (and the sink does not count as a container, see #4).

2. My bath faucet gets hotter water straight from the tap than the kitchen sink, and it gets up to maximum temperature faster.

3. I probably don't need to add nearly boiling hot water to the rinses.

4. If the kitchen sink gets used as a rinsing station, then the basins need to be carried to the tub to be emptied.

5. Water is really heavy.

6. I am ridiculously paranoid about accidentally felting this fleece.

7. The little random black stripes in some locks of the fleece please me to no end.

8. There are lots and lots of variations on the color grey.

Fleece Washing!

9. Even a wee little apartment kitchen is big enough to wash fleece in! Hooray!

I'm basically doing six steps for each bag of fleece: one pre-soak in really hot water, two wash soaks with blue Dawn (first one enough to tint the water blue, second one with a little less), then three rinses. To dry, I gently squeezed out as much water as I could by pressing the bags in a dry towel, then draped an old towel on our wooden drying rack and laid out the locks. It wasn't easy this time around, but I know what I will do to make things go more smoothly next time. It still doesn't look like I took a big chunk out of the fleece, but I'll keep washing when I have the time until it's all clean.

Now that the Honeybee is done, I'm getting to where I really want another big project to cast on and sink my teeth into. Or maybe I'll just spin for awhile so my fiber stash doesn't get backed up. I have a new project on the needles, but it's a gift and I know the recipient reads this blog, so it can't go up yet. If you've seen me knitting over the past few days, yeah, it's that thing. I'll tell you all about it when the gift is given.

In other news, Prudence (the Kromski Prelude I picked up for free in August) has gone to live with her new family, who will love her as much as she deserves! I don't feel bad, she would have just been second fiddle to Birdie if I'd kept her. Tomorrow I'm off to Verb's birthday party in Berkeley, and hopefully I can be an introvert on Sunday and do some more washing. I'm so excited! Now I just need to decide how to prep and spin those locks when I'm all done washing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

California Wool and Fiber Festival, Part 2

Lordy, I have been doing battle with the old digital camera. I took a whole mess of pictures, and EVERY SINGLE ONE turned out blurry. Yuk. Anyway, I got another batch, things are starting to look up, and I can tell you about the second half of my weekend. Nevermind that it's almost the weekend again already.

So if Saturday was the scouting part of the trip, Sunday was the watch-like-a-hawk part, with the usual fair fun thrown in. I managed to drag myself out of bed at an early enough hour so that I could see some of the sheepdog trials. Man, are those some smart dogs! Conversely, the sheep are pretty stupid.

Sheepdog Trials

It was worth getting up early to be able to see these guys. After the sheepdogs and some lunch, I spent the hour before my class wandering around the CWFF building, looking at fiber, and keeping a sharp eye on the fleece wall. As I said last time, of the six or so fleeces I'd written down on Saturday, only one was gone by the time I got there on Sunday. By now I'd had enough time to consider the top two I wanted to buy, and I was basically waiting for class to find out if I'd picked good ones. I ended up buying a new drop spindle (Cascade Rainier), a WPI tool in maple wood to match my ladybug, and some pin-drafted roving in natural cream and dark brown from Merry Meadows Farms. I swear, I do have photographs of my purchases, but none of them came out well and there hasn't been enough sunlight to do a re-shoot. Just imagine the most lovely squishy spinning fiber ever, a gorge

Our class was really awesome! Kristine managed to pack a TON of information into three hours, and it was very well tailored to the students. We talked about our experience with spinning, fiber types, and fleeces, and got to fondle some very beautiful fleeces Kristine brought to share with us. After discussing some of the things to look for in a good fleece (I have come away with the intention of watching a fleece judging sometime during next year's show season), we went out to the vendor area to look at the fleeces for sale. We stopped at the booths with fleeces and made our way to the judged fleeces. With our new knowledge, we poured over the varying sizes, colors, textures, smells*, and placings of the fleeces in their categories. I was pleased to find that my initial assessment of one of the colored fleeces was sound: it was a beautiful color, but didn't have that lovely "ping" noise when you snapped the lock. We also oohed and aahed over the champion fleeces:

Grand Champion Fleece

Junior Grand Champion Fleece

The Junior Grand Champion (bottom photo) was one of those crazy Navajo Churro fleeces. It's a dual coated sheep, and this one had the most beautiful cream color in both the down and guard coat.

Three of us picked out fleeces, and after some inspection from our instructress, we made our purchases. I settled on this:
CWFF Merino/Corriedale Fleece

It's a naturally colored merino/corriedale fleece from Nebo Rock farms, and it won first place in its division. I am in love. The locks range from light to dark gray, with lighter tan to medium brown tips. A few locks have small stripes of black in them. When we got back to the classroom area, we spent the rest of class washing a small portion of our new fleeces, and while the bags of fleece stewed away, we got practice carding and flicking out locks of fleece for spinning. At the end of class, we took home our cleaned locks in ziplock bags. After a very long trip home from the fair (with a stop for dinner in the middle), I set up a little corner in our kitchen to dry the wet locks with an old towel draped over our wooden clothes drying rack (sorry for the blurry photo!):

Drying Fleece

And here's the color of some of the locks after drying completely:

Washed Fleece

The variation in the color of the locks:

Washed Locks

Check out the black stripe on the lock in the upper-left hand corner. Finally, the staple length of one lock:

Lock Length

I've been pretty much thinking about this fleece during every free moment this week, and tomorrow I might finally have time to wash some more of it. I know it's a bad idea to let the fleece hang out being all greasy in the bag for too long a time, so I'm a bit anxious to get on with the washing. Unfortunately our weekend plans are looking more busy than not for the next few weeks or so... so I might have to sneak a few batches in on weeknights after work. I went out to buy some Dawn, rubber gloves, some plastic basins, and mesh lingerie bags to hold the locks.

The ultimate plan is to make myself a sweater from this fleece. It's four and a half pounds, and while some of that weight will be lost with washing, I could have quite a bit left over, even after making a sweater.

In other areas, I FINALLY bound off my Honeybee stole. Right now, as we speak, it is in sitting in the bathroom sink with some Soak wool wash (making what the significant other calls "delicious yarn soup"). It's gonna be big. Even unblocked, it's as tall as I am. Whew.

I also got the first shipment in the Verb for Keeping Warm Fiber club! No pictures yet (I really want to do this beautiful package justice), but it's fabulous. More loveliness to come!

*Hint: some ram fleeces smell like... well... the way you might expect an occasionally disgruntled male sheep to smell.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

California Wool and Fiber Festival, Part 1

Since the significant other is still gone, I'm in the sort of mode where I have to schedule some event or activity for most of my waking, non-working hours in order to stay sane. If I don't have something planned, I end up sitting home by myself watching movies and generally feeling lonely. So this weekend I attended the Mendocino County Fair, mostly so I could see the California Wool and Fiber Festival. I've been cooking up this plan to buy a raw fleece, right? But I missed Lambtown (which by all accounts was a real good time) due to being in another country, and I knew I was going to miss it several months in advance. So I was able to plan out this whole weekend to get up to Boonville and take Kristine's class, called "How to Buy a Fleece and What To Do With It." I was determined not to miss this one, as it's the last festival of the season that's close enough for me to reasonably drive to.

Oh man oh man, what a weekend. I did a lot of driving. I mean a LOT of DRIVING people. And while I think that Boonville is a pretty nice place and the trip up Highway 128 is quite lovely, I think if I went again next year, I would only go for one day, not two in a row. I put quite a few miles on the car over the last two days!

I haven't been to a county fair in a while, and this was a really fun one. I saw chickens,

Chickens at the Fair



very cute goats,

Baby Goats!

and of course, sheep.

A Ram

There was a strong contingent of farmers who are part of the Navajo Churro Sheep Project, and consequently, a large number of navajo churros. This guy had some cool horns!

Funky Horns on This Guy

I spent most of Saturday just looking around, enjoying myself, looking at everything. I saw a demonstration on indigo dyeing and got to see some sheep shearing. I didn't get any really good photos of the shearing, but it was really neat to watch. Those sheep wanted NONE of it! One complained before, during, and after, and the next one just sat on his butt when it was his turn, so that the poor girl helping the shearer had to drag him across the floor to the platform. Afterward, a friend and I pawed shamelessly through all the fleeces. I wrote down the tag information for six of them, the ones I liked based on my very limited knowledge of fleeces. I didn't have any idea how much fleece there would be, and I was pleasantly surprised:

Wall of Wool (and some Mohair)

This is about a third of the total judged fleece. A couple booths (Nebo Rock Textiles and Merry Meadows Farm) had additional fleeces that had not been entered into judging, but which mostly looked just as good as some of the best judged ones. Before the fair, I was worried that all the good fleece would be gone by Sunday afternoon. I needn't have worried! I think only one of the fleeces I wrote down on my short list sold between the time I left on Saturday and when I came back on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday was my class, but I'll save that for a second post. (I am trying not-so-cleverly to invent suspense when, in fact, I just don't have enough pictures yet!)