Monday, February 22, 2010

Control Freaks?

I wonder if I love knitting and spinning because it allows me to give full reign to my obsessive controlling side. Of course there are all the other crafty benefits: knowledge that you're creating something functional and beautiful, allowing your brain to relax and think about something else besides work (or kids, homework, pick your stress-inducer). Sometimes, however, my crafting doesn't really look like something I'm doing to relax. Sometimes, it looks a lot like work. And not easy work, either.

First case: the wedding shawl.

I started this in November, and I'll admit it's been going slow. I can try and blame this on Starbuck, but that only goes so far. True, the noise that the beads make in their little box has woken him up from the deepest of mid-morning naps, but that's not the only reason it was stalled. To start, I timed the cast-on rather poorly, and after working on it for only a few days had to put the shawl into hibernation for nearly a month in order to finish holiday knitting. Then, I was obsessing over which size to knit.

Aphrodite Progress

Since I'm using handspun, my yarn is not of a perfectly consistent thickness. Secondly, while spinning I was not yet sure what I would knit with the yarn, so I made enough for a decently-sized shawl. So I spun up a little more than 1,000 yards of yarn. Now the Aphrodite pattern comes in two sizes: the small is little more than a scarflet, and the tall is still not a huge shawl. There's some wiggle room in the measurements depending on how severely I decide to block the shawl as well.

Aphrodite Progress

So I have several questions floating around in my head: Which size to make? Do I make the small, the large, or try to figure out something in between? I spent a good half-hour doing arithmetic and figuring out how the body pattern and edging pattern meet up. I will almost certainly make a larger size, but it might be halfway between the two published sizes. For some reason, I want mine to be different. Also, what about blocking? What will best show off the pattern and the yarn? I probably shouldn't block it too much. I've already come across one or two sections of yarn that got dangerously thin, and what if they (knock on wood) snapped while blocking?!? I'm not confident in my ability to darn in a lace pattern and then spit-splice the ends together. I know I'm going to get a slightly more rustic-looking shawl. It's not going to be one of those wisp-thin, floaty shawls. But it will keep my shoulders warm when the sun goes down. All this thinking, and all that math last week, doesn't really look or feel like relaxing with my knitting!

Second case: play with drum carder day.

This weekend I attended Urban Fauna's drum carder open house event. Basically, you bring your fiber and get free use of their drum carders for the entire afternoon. I was ready to spend four hours making batts out of some washed fleece, and several multi-colored rovings I planned on splitting into their individual colors (sort of like how I did for my Ripe Olives roving here).

I only got through one of the five different carding projects I brought with me. Using the drum carder was a good learning experience, but certainly not easy. Now don't get me wrong, I had a fabulous time chatting with Blas while making my batts. But I also really let my inner nit-picky control freak go wild. After the first color, I decided I was picking up too much leftover fluff from the previous set of batts, and spent a good 20 minutes or so minutely cleaning off the drums of the big electric carder. Then, I wasn't getting a smooth enough color blend, so I decided to do three runs of each batt. By the time I got through that first four ounces, I was a little exhausted. My back ached from bending over the carder, and my fingers were a little scratched from trying to pluck bits of fiber from between the carder teeth. I still had an hour left, but I went home early after turning this:

Garden Walk Merino/Mohair

into these:

Garden Walk Batts

So although the experience wasn't what I was expecting, I learned more than I thought I would. I see second-hand drum carders go up for sale quite frequently on Ravelry, and always wonder a little bit if I should have gotten a carder instead of combs. I could certainly be processing fiber much more quickly with a carder. This weekend, I realized that I would go absolutely crazy cleaning out every single tiny fiber out of a carder in between batts. Plus, the inner control freak prefers the pace of combing. You process a very small amount of fiber at one time, and there's lots of room to change your movements and use of the tools, adjusting as you go to suit the fiber. The drum carder treats all fibers equally. On top of this, I remembered that combed top really is my favorite prep. Maybe it's because I learned how to spin with a worsted short-draw, or maybe I just have an unnatural aversion to the neps in woolen-prepped fibers. It feels like junior high, but there it is. I'm sorry woolen prep, but I only like you as a friend.

Ultimately I think that having and exercising control can still be fun in small doses, especially when it yields results. Every now and then, I'll still want something small and easy where I don't feel any need to obsess over color choices, gauge, or size. Or maybe a project where I only obsess over one of those things.