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!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oh Help Me Jesus...

The new issue of Knitty is up. I am in love with Camden. I love the sleeves. I love that the sleeves come off. I think I'd make it without the bobbles, but I love this design even with bobbles. I wish I had one of the models' tiny waists (not both at once, which is closer to how I am in real life). Maybe I'll make it with a v-neck...

I hate how I have 67 projects in my queue, 13 of them being sweaters, but I want to cast on the first shiny thing that comes my way. Oh well, off to check out the price of the yarn on Knit Picks!

I also hate how the old digital camera runs on AA batteries instead of a rechargeable battery pack like the old one. I am apparently out of AA batteries. More pics as soon as I can get to a Walgreen's!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Finally, an FO!

I have been needing a finished object like nobody's business lately, and then I surprised myself and got two. In the same day I finally had time to wash and block my Bronte's Mitts, and also finished up the toe on my second Wollmeise Pomatomus.

Forget-me-not Pomatomi

To recap, these are Cookie A.'s Pomatomus socks, done in Wollmeise 100% superwash sock yarn in the Vergißmeinnicht colorway. These socks were great to knit, the stitch pattern is very interesting. It's also crazy stretchy. These would make really nice knee socks, I don't know that you'd need to do a ton of calf shaping (something that scares the bejeezus out of my because of my rather... um... curvy calves). The socks look really skinny off my feet, but it's essentially all ribbed, hence the stretch:

Forget-me-not Pomatomi

The true color is somewhere between these two photos, I am struggling along with the old digital camera (poor thing runs off AA batteries!) and it isn't possible for me to set the white balance manually like on the broken one. The top one is too washed out, and the bottom one is too dark. Just like everyone else who's knit with Wollmeise, I am amazed at the yardage. I could probably make a third entire sock with my leftovers! I think next time I will go down a needle size to make socks with this yarn, because it's kinda stringy (Wollmeise 100% superwash is something crazy like an 8-ply) and I can feel the purl bumps on the bottom of my feet more than I usually like. The color, though, is truly fabulous, saturated and deep. I will probably try to do the Mermaid Fingerless Gloves with my leftovers.

So yesterday I had a little train trip in front of me, and started freaking out a bit because I'd cast off both of my travel-sized projects! Apparently my brain considers the Big Sur river no threat to my Honeybee stole, but the N-Judah line is right out. Then it hit me: THE MITERS! That's right folks, she's back to the blanket after letting it hibernate for about three months. It's been pretty hot here over the last two weeks, and cotton feels really nice compared to the fluffy, fuzzy, melty yak or the Malabrigo lace, which both get kind of sticky in my hands at these temperatures. I still have the pattern for the square memorized, I discovered. It was a little eerie, a little déjà-vu. I cast on a square that will be yellow with purple stripes, and I think this will become my travel knitting until I figure out some gift knitting. As the equinox approaches, I'm starting to think about Christmas and birthdays that are rapidly approaching, and there is at least one project I have in mind that needs knitting AND spinning before then.

And now I'm off to bake a pie, then get in a pool!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Of Cards and Cameras

Looks like the blogging is dwindling a bit, down to a once-a-week sort of thing now that school's back in session. The significant other goes back in Germany for a short (two and a half weeks) wrap-up trip starting on Wednesday, and we've had a really nice long weekend so far. On Saturday, I let him sleep in and get caffeinated while I strolled over to my new LYS: Urban Fauna Studio. It was amazingly packed! There were gift bags for the first 75 customers to make a purchase of $10 or more, and I think a lot of folks showed up at 10 on the button so they could get one.

Urban Fauna Studios Swag

We got stickers, postcards, a Knitting Daily tape measure, iron-on embroidery patterns, and a little sample of O-Wool yarn. I originally got pink, so I naturally offered a trade with Pink Viking for her sage green. I think my favorite is the Girl on the Rocks quail stitch marker. Good times!

There were tasty little chocolate and cream cheese cupcakes, lots of local knitters/spinners/general fiber artists to chat with, and of course, fiber! I think the painted store front window looks adorable, and it was nice to see some of my buddies from the knit group on a different day of the week. I can tell this shop is going to be awesome for my stash and awful for my budget! They had a lot more spinning supplies and equipment than I was expecting, and I think this store definitely fills a unique slot for San Francisco. They're also carrying other interesting craft supplies such as rubber stamps and some acid (I think) dyes. I recognized a few products from local crafters who've been vendors at the good old Bazaar Bizarre and Maker's Faire.

The best part is that this shop is right in my neighborhood. I couple of us were just saying last week that the only thing saving us from drowning in yarn is the fact that Imagiknit is not within walking distance from where we live. This place? Totally within walking distance. In fact, it's two steps off one of my most beaten paths in the city. It's on the way to the place I like to do laundry, the place we go to eat out, and the place where I prefer to get a caffeinated beverage and some free wireless internet. It's ten blocks from our apartment. TEN BLOCKS, PEOPLE! It might be a (very happy) problem.

So what did I buy there? Blog, meet Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum:

Schacht Handcards

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are a pair of Schacht handcards, 72 teeth psi. I went to UFS with the firm resolution to not buy any yarn or spinning fiber. I wasn't even convinced that I needed to spend enough to get the little gift bag. See, I want to save my money a bit for Booneville in two weeks and Color next month. So on Friday I sat down and made a list of things that I wanted to be able to purchase at either of these festivals, and things I would allow myself to purchase before then if they happened to come my way (the second list was much shorter than the first one). A set of hand carders was on my second list and in stock at Urban Fauna, so they came home with me! I have some lamb's wool in carded roving form from a friend (short staple length, FULL of neps) that I mainly use as practice fiber, and I made a few rolags to get the hang of carding:


I'm not sure I'm doing it the 100% correct way, but spinning the rolags wasn't any worse than spinning the carded roving, so I think I've got the basic idea. I was following the directions in Teach Yourself Visually Handspinning, which are pretty good, but I think I'll dig up some video tutorials before my next attempt. I've been sitting on those tasty Polwarth locks from AVFKW since Stitches West (when I started the blog... holy cow!) and now I can actually get around to spinning them! I tried two different preps: I made a little thin rolag from three locks, and then took two other locks and just flicked out the ends a bit. I spun both on the same ratio, and did a quick andean ply to see which I liked, and I'm definitely going with the flicked locks.

Why don't I have pictures of the Polwarth samples? Well, I do. But they look like this:

Dead Canon! :(

My little point-and-shoot digital camera is very, very sick. I think it might be in its death throes. Or perhaps it has been going through a prolonged illness for a while now, and sensing the presence of a new digital camera, decided it can retire with (some) dignity. It's probably all my fault anyway, for dropping it at the start of our European adventures and then forcing it to work long hours for the next eight weeks straight. It was a hand-me-down from my parents, and it's served me well, but I guess I'll have to learn how to use the fancy new beast. As soon as it gets back from Germany with the significant other... crap... or... maybe I'll dig out the old one.