Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wishing for sweater weather…

Like many folks in the mid-Atlantic and New England, we are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures. It was in the mid-80s today, with an even hotter RealFeel. In mid-October. Odsbodikins, I say! (This is a new word I learned recently – it was a mild curse word in colonial America. Let’s bring it back.)

I am trying to move the temperature with the power of my knitting. In other words, I’m knitting a sweater. I shared a glimpse of it when it was just beginning, remember?IMG_6699

The pattern, Blank Canvas, is knit from the bottom up. First I knit the body (with waist shaping). Then I knit the sleeves – a conference this weekend helped me finish those up. When I got home, I had to attach the sleeves to the body and start working the yoke in the round. Here they were just before attachment:IMG_6757

Not the world’s best photo, but you get the idea. I am doing the shoulder decreases now. I am cautiously optimistic that I can finish it this weekend, as we have a longish car trip and I don’t have to drive. IMG-4383

I would like to finish this sweater so that I can begin another one. Boy 1 has long outgrown the gray sweater I made him 4 years ago, and he never quite got the hang of wearing the vest I made him last year. I guess he’s just a long-sleeved sweater guy.

Remember the tiny Gramps sweater I made for a colleague’s baby last fall? gramps

It spent some time on top of our living room piano, waiting first for buttons and then for wrapping. This mama noticed that Boy 1 kept going over to look at it and pet it. When I mentioned that the pattern came in sizes from baby to adult, he lit up. We didn’t spend hardly any time looking at other patterns – clearly he wanted a Gramps sweater with a shawl collar. We looked at a bunch of color options in Ravelry, and he decided he wanted a single color sweater. No contrast for the neckband, cuffs, and ribbing. He looked at the Cascade 220 color palette and chose Sapphire Heather:IMG-4497

It’s a little bright, but not too bright. I appreciate knitting with a heathered yarn when I want a solid look – it provides interest. I picked up the skeins I needed when I was at WEBS a couple weeks ago. I also found buttons to match:IMG_6760

Here’s hoping for sweater weather SOON!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spinning Summit–a MASSively fun time

Here is a belated post about the fun time I had at the Spinning Summit. I drove myself up to Northampton, Massachusetts, to what some call “the mother ship” – WEBS, America’s Yarn Store:20170929_155929 I got there late Friday afternoon, in time for a book signing by the teachers. I owned three of their books, which luckily I remembered to grab off my shelf before leaving home. We had time for introductions and spinning/knitting in the store later that evening… but during the dinner break, I motored over to Amherst to meet my sockworthy friend for dinner. I’d say she likes her socks! It was such a treat to give them to her in person ad to catch up. 20170929_183654

On Saturday morning, I took a class with Amy King on chain plying called “Spinners in Chains.” Here is Amy showing us how she holds her hands during this technique:IMG_670520170930_105424

First we made a small chain play sample (the purple yarn at the bottom). Then we tried some 4-ply yarn (which is chain play with one more strand held alongside). Finally, we started a new sample of whatever we wanted, and I chose to try to make the most perfect yarn I could. I’m not sure how I did. Here are my samples after they got a proper bath at home – the bottom one is the final one:IMG_6742

I think it’s a bit harder to get a smooth, even, 3-ply yarn with the chain-ply method than with the regular method, so I’ll probably continue to reserve it for when I want to retain a clear color sequence.

My Saturday afternoon class with Jillian Moreno was called “Batts in the Belfrey,” and was all about spinning batts. (Batts are those fluffy rectangles of carded fiber that come through a drum carder – they are often rolled and bagged when you see them for sale.) And boy, did we look at batts. There was an extra materials fee for the class (above and beyond what was included in registration), and that was because we came home with SEVEN batts. We got a pair of each of three types of batts: blended, layered, and striped. The idea was that we would learn on one in class, and have a fresh one to take home and practice with. Here is Jillian showing us the various ways batts can be constructed. IMG_6718

As we moved into each new type of batt, Jillian would dump a bunch of different colored batts into the center of the floor – and then tell us to choose one. I won’t lie to you… elbows were thrown. Spinners often have very clear ideas about what colors they want! Jillian managed us quite well, though. First she only let us choose one batt. Then we regrouped before grabbing the second one. Here are the moments just before one of the batt scrums:20170930_145958

The interesting thing is that you can’t always tell what is in a batt when it’s rolled up. I chose this one because it was “doorsy” (Pam’s new adjective for the shade of green I often choose), but it was eggplant purple on the inside!IMG_6722

Math-inclined readers might have noted that 3 pairs of batts is 6 batts, and I said we came home with 7. We only got part of a “wild” batt – these have all kinds of fiber in them as well as deconstructed upholstery fabric. IMG_6723

I can’t wait to spin up some of the batts I brought home, but I haven’t had time yet. Just you wait!

My final class, on Sunday morning, was “Handcarding the Color Wheel” with Beth Smith. I don’t think I managed to snap a single picture of Beth – but we started with three balls of fiber in primary colors:IMG_6727

Hand cards hold about a tenth of an ounce of fiber comfortably, so we used food scales to measure our blends. My first one was 90% yellow and 10% blue. I blended those on the cards and then rolled off the fiber in this airy tube, which is called a “rolag.” I have struggled with carding in the past, but somehow I got it right in Beth’s presence. Here is my first rolag alongside her sample of the 90/10 yellow/blue blend, both in yarn and fiber forms:IMG_6732

We measured and carded and measured and carded. The goal was to have 30 rolags that represent the whole color wheel (and Beth’s secret goal was to get us comfortable with carding, which we were). I only got 2/3 of my rolags made during class, but I finished up at home and laid them all out. They are in little plastic bags to keep them separate and labeled, so there is a bit of glare here. But you get the idea:IMG-4511

These please me so much that I almost hesitate to spin them – but I will! I intend to spin them in order to get a gradient yarn. I think it will be a singles yarn – no plying. And then… maybe I’ll weave something with it? Not sure yet. The view around the circle was enchanting:IMG_6741

I think part of the reason I finally “got” handcarding this time was because it was about the 4th time I’ve tried. Recently, I spent some time studying this video from Schacht that features Beth – How to Card Wool with Beth Smith. If you can’t take a class with her and have her give personal feedback on your technique, this is a great resource.

Attending the Spinning Summit was a great opportunity to take classes with some of the top teachers in the U.S. It can be hard to find intermediate spinning classes in shops or even at festivals. It was also a way to spend time with like-minded spinners. We had such a fun time hanging out in the shop on Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday, we had a team scavenger hunt that was quite competitive! And because of that, I have no pictures – ha! Let’s just say that our team did very well, and that every spinner was a winner in the end.

Thanks to WEBS for a great event, and I hope this is only the first of many Spinning Summits! I’d love to attend PLYAway at some future point, but it is a longer drive and I don’t have a wheel I can fly with, so it seems a lot more unlikely that I’ll make that in the foreseeable future. Northampton is a 6-7 hour drive for me (depending on traffic), but it’s doable. Kansas City is quite a bit further.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Chain Chain Chain

Whenever I think about chain plying yarn, an Aretha Franklin soundtrack starts running in my head.

Let me go back to the beginning, though. I bought this braid of Polwarth at the Frederick Fiber Fest in June.IMG_5657

I thought the colors were so dreamy, and the fiber was really soft. I pulled it out last month when I was looking for an easy spin. Imagine my surprise when I unbraided it and found this:IMG_6690

Where is my dreamy purple-to-gray progression? Now it is striped with pink! It appears that the dyer dyed the fiber when it was braided, and the dye did not penetrate completely in those spots. That is really weird. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it. I immediately went on alert.

I also noticed that it wasn’t always easy to unbraid the fiber – it was stuck to itself and was probably a little bit felted. Argh! This is bad fiber prep. In this photo, you can see a little bit where the fiber really got pulled apart. This is combed top, which is supposed to be completely smooth with all the fibers running parallel. But because it was mishandled during dying, it’s not:IMG_6692

What to do? The fiber didn’t draft smoothly as one expects finewool top to do. Sometimes it drafted okay, but as soon as I  hit a section that had been bunched up in the braid, it started fighting me. The only thing I could think of was to try to loosen the fibers up by flicking them a bit with this flick carder:IMG-4454

On top is the fiber as it was unbraided, and on the bottom is how it looked after I’d worked it with the flicker a bit. (The denim is what protected my pants from the flicker.) I started spinning and it looked pretty nice:IMG-4452

The color wasn’t a smooth gradient from purple to gray (because of all the pink and white bits), but it was a little more interesting. I decided to spin all the singles onto one bobbin and then chain ply it to preserve whatever gradient was left at the end. But I let the singles rest for about 10 days, because I wanted to wait to ply until after I took a class called “Spinners in Chains” last weekend.

Okay, switching gears now. I went to the Spinning Summit at WEBS in Northampton, Massachusetts, last weekend. They had four fantastic spinning teachers – really some of the very best in the business – and I got to take classes with three of them. The first one was with Amy King of Spunky Eclectic, and she taught the chain plying class. Here are Amy’s hands:IMG_6709

I picked up a couple of good tips and came home ready to tackle that bobbin. Here is how it came out:IMG-4503

It isn’t the most perfect yarn I’ve ever made, and I freely blame the prep. It is hard to get a nice, even singles when the prep is uneven, and it shows in the final yarn. Also, when I set the twist in hot water, a TON of dye came out. I had to do a second rinse with a big glug of vinegar, and a third wash with Soak. It was still bleeding some, but I called it done at that point. IMG-4506

I’m glad to call this project “done,” and now I know some signs to look for when I am shopping for fiber. I’m glad it was only a 4 oz braid instead of a larger quantity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sewing with handwoven, and happy socks

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My mom was here last week and she successfully made a new phone pouch for me using my handspun, handwoven fabric! She made me one 5 years ago (pattern: cell phone wristlet) and I use it a lot. I’m hoping this one will work as well. You can see that it’s a little bit larger than the original – she added 1/2” in both directions because the handwoven fabric was so much thicker than quilting cotton: IMG-4471It’s also a lot puffier than the first pouch. There is fusible fleece in there, which quilting cotton needs for structure, but I wonder if we could have used a softer interfacing for this one. Mom brought some batik fabrics and I chose one that coordinated well for the lining:IMG-4470

I had enough fabric that she was able to carefully place each pattern piece so we could get all the colors. Even the back is really pretty:IMG-4469

We are both concerned about durability. Can you see some of the pink weft threads already coming loose near the zipper? That area took more abuse from the presser foot than the rest of the fabric. While the last pouch lasted for 5 years, we are hoping that this one will make it for one year. I’ll be careful with it, but we will see. It is so nice to be able to make the things you use (or know someone who can help!).

In other news, I finished Chipo’s happy rainbow socks. They brought many smiles while they were being made, and I hope they bring more to her when she wears them during the long, New England winters:IMG-4488

Having not used this particular yarn before, I wondered how colorfast the dye was. But Knitterly Things Vesper Sock Yarn really held up. I tried the citric acid soak technique, which you use to set the color if the dyer hasn’t done her job (description here). You can use this technique on the yarn or on the knitted object. I soaked my socks, and the water was clear after. Then I wrapped the wet socks in plastic wrap and microwaved them for a while. There was no dye in the plastic wrap, either (which I didn’t expect since it didn’t run in the bowl). Great news!IMG-4475

I hope to give these to Chipo this weekend when I’m in her neck of the woods for the WEBS Spinning Summit (my extravagant birthday present this year).

Also, since I was done with the socks, I returned to knitting my blanket squares using leftover sock yarn. I cranked out quite a few last week: FullSizeRender (19)

I’m up to 138 now!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Use the handspun

My big 2017 fiber resolution was to knit more of my handspun. I’m not sure if I’ve done a super awesome job so far… but I have churned out 2 scarves, a pair of socks, and a pair of fingerless mitts.

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HOWEVER, 2017 isn’t over yet! I have a couple of things going now.

First up: I have a little phone pouch that my mother made me back in 2012. Long time readers may remember it: IMG_2440I use this all the time and it is now completely threadbare:IMG_6694

I asked my mom if she would make me another one, and I told her I was thinking about weaving the fabric for it. What did she think? She was game but neither of us really knew what I would make. I wanted to use wool so that I could full the fabric and make it denser than the cotton fabrics I can weave on my little Cricket. Honestly, I decided not to overthink it and just went by instinct. I took these two yarns which I had spun earlier this yearIMG_2767IMG_3084

…and jumped right in. I double-threaded the undyed, 2-ply yarn on my 10-dent heddle and used the dyed Teeswater singles as weft. IMG-4388IMG-4393

It is hard for me to predict how woven fabric will look. Here is the result! IMG-4409

It’s kind of gradient-y, but also kind of stripey. I honestly don’t know if this fabric will work to make another phone pouch. Will it be durable enough? Will the sewing machine be able to handle a layer of this wool handwoven with batting and a quilting cotton liner? Will it look stupid? The jury is out on all of those questions. My mom is visiting in a couple of weeks, and we will consult. She might end up taking the fabric back home with her, because she gently pointed out that her sewing machine is way better than mine. I get that.IMG-4412

Even if this fabric doesn’t end up working for the phone pouch, I can say I wove with my handspun – and the undyed yarn is completely gone, out of stash.

In other handspun news, it’s time to knit another sweater. Remember the sweater quantity of Greenbow I spun last year? I spun the singles at the end of 2016 and plied it up in January of this year. I spent a little quality time with Ravelry and decided to try making Ysolda Teague’s Blank Canvas sweater. It’s simple, which is good with a colorful handspun yarn. It also has an interesting shoulder construction I’m eager to try.

I swatched on both a US 5 and a US 6, in the round (it kills me to cut all those floats, but the swatch didn’t lay right without doing so):IMG_6696

Of course, I didn’t have gauge. But I my old friend, math, to help me out: IMG_6697

So here I go, hoping it works out. I’m trying not to overthink it and just knit the yarn.IMG_6699

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Good Hat

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Last Sunday, I got a text from a friend that said “Do you like to knit with Brooklyn Tweed yarns? If so, do you want some?” The answer, of course, was YES and YES. She was finding it difficult to knit with this very woolen spun yarn and wanted to switch to something she could knit on autopilot (I think the way she tensions the yarn pulls it pretty taut, and the yarn was drifting apart on her). So I became the owner of FOUR skeins of Shelter in this lovely teal color (“Tartan”) and one skin of the bulky yarn, Quarry, in a deep purple (“Hematite”).  IMG-4431
Boy 1 immediately spotted the bag on the coffee table. (In his defense, it was a Chipotle bag – and you know teenage boys and their burritos.) I think he expected to see chips when he peeked inside. Instead, he found yarn – but he grabbed it and said “Ooooh, this would make a good hat! I love the color!”

This knitting mama knows how to seize the moment. We went to Ravelry and I showed him some hats I had favorited, including the 1898 Hat. This is a free pattern from the Seaman’s Church Institute, and I think it’s brilliant. The headband features curved earflaps and a doubled garter stitch fabric that is super squishy. The crown is a single layer of simple stockinette. I know slouchy hats are all the rage right now, and I’ve knit some for Boy 1 – but he prefers a beanie style hat because it doesn’t slip down over his eyes. He also yanks his hats down over his ears – this design eliminates the need for extra yanking. The hat is quick to work on a US 7 needle and came out perfectly! IMG-4444 crop

You work the garter stitch part flat, with increases and decreases to make the curvy ear parts: IMG-4425

Next, you graft the edges together (see the provisional cast on at the beginning in dark purple yarn?). For instructions on how to graft in garter, I used this helpful video (which just appeared on the Mason Dixon Year of Techniques series last week – perfect timing). I should have switched to regular Kitchener stitch instructions when I got to the 3 stitches of stockinette in the middle – you can see here how a garter ridge runs right across it. Next time I’ll do better:IMG-4427

Then you fold it in half. The center ridge of the flat part becomes the bottom edge of the hat, which leaves you with two edges where the crown begins. You just pull yarn through those two edges with a crochet hook and then start knitting in the round to finish the hat in the normal way. So clever.IMG-4426

The crown decreases are in seven places, which I think has a very pleasing effect:IMG-4437

This hat was a joy to make, and the perfect companion when I was recovering from a bad cold (maybe even flu?) last week. Fingers crossed that he doesn’t lose it (the last hat was lost). But if he does, I’ll just make another one. This pattern is a keeper!IMG-4440 crop