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!


Janice said...

You know, I never weight any of my yarn, but it's all lofty stuff. I do wash it all in just below simmering water. Never had any ill effects, and I guess I feel that is the worst that will ever happen to the knitted object (well, adding agitation would be worse).

As for cotton, I don't know the pros and cons of washing, but I follow Kathleen Taylor's blog, and her cotton lace wrap really grew:

The color changes she talks about are interesting, too. I am in the market for a tahkli, I want to spin cotton, and I got some of that shredded blue jean stuff from Urban Fana.

the Lady said...

I think the idea boiling the yarn might have to do with Mercerized cotton, which is heat treated to make it shiny and give it greater tensile strength.