Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Spring (potholder) fever

You know how I am about weaving potholders. They are quick projects that are both delightful and functional, and I am especially enamored of the PRO size potholders. The loom is 10" square, and once relieved of tension, the finished potholders are 8" square. This is a nice size for actual kitchen use, and also a bigger canvas on which to work colorful patterns.

Harrisville Designs is running a spring potholder design contest utilizing the "pastel" colors in their loop collection. Predictably, this sent me to my loop stash to see what I had. I only had 3 of the pastel colors "in stock," so naturally I ordered the other 5. Then I played with the potholder design wizard (truly an addictive tool) to mess around with some ideas. This is my first potholder (photo taken on a rainy late afternoon so the color isn't great):

This wasn't quite what I envisioned. My original idea was to have this colorful cross floating on a peaceful field of pale blue ("powder blue" is the official color name) ... but I didn't have quite enough loops to do that, so I used powder blue in the warp and the other blue ("robin's egg") as the weft. It's nice, but a bit busy. 

I counted my loops and decided to do the same colorful cross concept on a pale yellow ("daffodil") background instead, since I had enough yellow loops for that. I think this is much better!

I had to make my cross just a little bit wider in order to have enough yellow loops for it.

Then I looked at what I had left, and made this plaid-ish potholder, which only uses 5 colors:

I did not have enough pastel loops left to make even one more potholder, so I stopped. But my mind didn't really stop. Soon I was re-counting and altering the design so I could re-make the first potholder to have a solid background. Can you take potholders apart? Why, yes, you can!

I quickly re-worked that first potholder, and am happier with this result:

While the plaid potholder uses only 5 colors, the other two use all 8 colors in the pastel line, which I think is nice. These are lovely for spring and were perfect for my Easter table this year. If you're interested in seeing what other potholder enthusiasts came up with, check out the #friendlyloompotholdercontest hashtag on Instagram.

And if you are feeling an itch to revisit a common childhood craft, I say GO FOR IT! You're never too old to weave on a potholder loom!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A new toy: Electric Eel Wheel 6.0

I got a new toy in the mail last weekend - an EEW 6.0! EEW is short for the Electric Eel Wheel, a lower-cost espinner designed and manufactured by Dreaming Robots. Maurice is the designer, and he has been making espinners for a while (as you can tell, because we're on the 6th version of the EEW). For those scratching their heads, an espinner is an electric spinner (as opposed to treadle-powered) that typically can be plugged into the wall or powered by a battery. 

I joined a Kickstarter for the EEW 6 sometime last summer, and hundreds of us received our wheels over the last week or two. I was so excited to see this box on my front porch!

Here is all the stuff that came out of the box:
Boy 1 (the engineering student) happened to be home over Easter weekend, and he was VERY interested in how all this went together. He helped me set it up. It's so easy he could have done it at age 5. I got it set up and spinning right away. The this soda can is for scale, so you can get a sense of the actual size of this contraption:
I've always been curious about espinners and often stop at festival booths to try them out. They can be quite expensive ($1000+). This one had a much lower price point and I was curious to try it. One thing I can do with this is spin FINER singles than my Ladybug can handle - the Bug's fastest whorl is 16:1. 

The EEW has a dial that goes from 0 to 6. I've been spinning on 4, so I still have room to go faster and finer. The whole thing has quite a small footprint, too - here is my setup on this little side table that I pull up to the couch:

The fiber you see here is Cheviot dyed in a colorway called "Christmas in July" (by Sheepspot). I had been spinning it VERY slowly on my cross-arm spindle, but now I'm whizzing through it. Here are my fiber nests ready to grab and spin. You can see I tried to break the fiber in blue sections so they will blend seamlessly into one another:
I tore myself away from this fun fiber to finish up my Breed School fiber from February: Rambouillet. Rambouillet is a fine wool, so knitters, think "merino" and you're close. I started spinning this quite fine on my Ladybug, but it was taking FOREVER so I started spinning it thicker. I figured I'd have two skeins and that was fine. But then the EEW came and I wanted to try spinning it on that, so I ended up with three different bobbins:
The purple one is the EEW bobbin - so fun!

I finished all of these as 3-ply yarns, and they are each a little different:

A - spun pretty fine on my Ladybug, 14:1, finished yarn is 13 WPI

B - spun thicker (because A was taking soooooo long) on my Ladybug, 10.5:1, finished yarn is 10 WPI

C - spun at #4 on the EEW dial; I got 11 WPI in the finished yarn

This fiber was harder to spin consistently than I expected. I don't know if that is because it's a fine wool, or because it's undyed (so I have no color cues to give me constant feedback about my twist angle) - probably a combination of the two.

Of course, it is next-to-skin soft and would be great in neckwear or a hat. Also, I think I can use skeins A & C in the same project - they are close enough.

I'm eager to experiment more with the EEW 6. One reason I got it is because I can spin a much finer single without getting another treadle wheel - my Ladybug's fastest whorl is 16:1. The EEW dial goes up to 6, and I was only on 4, so there is definitely more runway for me to play with.

The arrival of the EEW has energized my spinning this week! I'm also getting excited about a virtual MDSW class I'm taking on blending boards. My kit arrived this week and look at all the goodies:

In related news, that class will happen on 4/27, the day after I get my second COVID vaccine shot. I'm a little worried about side effects, but I happened to receive the Pfizer shot and I've heard that its side effects are much less extreme than the Moderna ones. So I will be drinking coffee, popping ibuprofen, and using ice as needed so I can power through a class I've been wanting to take for over a year. I was registered to take it (in person) at MDSW 2020, but of course it was cancelled. I am so excited to be on my way to fully vaccinated!!!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Elemental Hat - Opal

I'm back with another sideways hat from Woolly Wormhead's Elemental collection - this one is called Opal and it represents the element of Air:

I used the Buoy DK yarn from Hipstrings for this one (just like I used for the first hat I knit, Toph) - though this time I went up a needle size, which make it a bit less stiff. It didn't seem to impact the gauge, which is good. I knit this on a 3.0mm needle, while the other one was on 2.75mm.

Here is how the hat looks after a single pattern repeat. It takes 7 repeats to complete the hat:

The wind motif is minimal and subtle - just 3 wavy lines. I love the way this "goldenrod" color looks against the blue.The color is best on the picture above.

Another hat done! That's four out of five in the booklet. I figure I may as well finish the set, so I've already cast on for the last one, which represents the element of Water. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Elemental Hat - Azula

I am still working my way through the Silky Wool in my stash. I have two colors: Blackcurrant, a beautiful purple I bought to make this sweater in 2014, and Verdigris, a chalky teal that Caitlin passed to me from her stash about a year ago (not long before pandemic lockdown began). She happily parted with it to reduce her stash and allow me to try making this waffle weave scarf... which I made not once, but twice!

I've already used these two yarns together on the Korra hat from Woolly Wormhead's Elemental collection. This design represents the element "balance," which I suppose is not technically an element. It's just the 5th design after water, air, earth, and fire:

I used these two yarns again, but with the colors reversed, on Azula:
This design represents the element of fire, and if you know that, you can definitely see the verdigris flames licking the blackcurrant crown. The design might be more effective if I had used literal fiery colors?
Now that I've worked 3 of the 5 designs in the collection, I'm getting a more clear understanding of how the designs are similar and how they differ. In this one, the short rows are used in an asymmetrical way to create more movement in the motifs. In the other hats, the short row elements look like stems and leaves - you might "see" leaves in this hat, but definitely no stems... and the leaves are quite different from each other. 

This more disordered and asymmetrical approach is mirrored on the wrong side of the fabric. The "flames" are close enough to carry the yarn across the back as a float in some areas (the red arrows) but not others (the yellow arrow). I just had to weave in more ends than with the previous hat, which actually had NO extraneous ends at all.

Here is what one repeat of the pattern looks like - it takes 8 to make this hat:

I'm definitely still grooving on Woolly Wormhead's sideways hat vibe, so I've cast on for Katara, which represents the element of water. And I'm NOT using the purple and teal Silky Wool leftovers (though I have more) - so stay tuned for a similar hat in a different yarn!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Elemental Hats - Toph and Korra

The hat craze continues. I have completed two hats from Woolly Wormhead's Elemental collection, Toph and Korra.

Here's Toph:

I just love how the short row sections nestle into each other so organically. The hat is carefully designed so that the final fabric is flat, even though it seems REALLY wavy while you're knitting it. This is how the pattern looked as I began:

The provisional cast on is along the bottom. This is one pattern repeat; there are eight in all. At the end, you remove the provisional cast on and graft the stitches in garter:

The graft is a 4-step sequence, just like kitchener stitch, except a little different because kitchener is a stockinette graft and this is a garter stitch graft. It worked great!

My contrast yarn - the "goldenrod" - came in two mini skeins which were not exactly the same depth of shade. I alternated skeins every few leaves. Perhaps I should have alternated with every single leaf, but I didn't. If you think you are seeing different yellows, you're not wrong.

This Buoy DK yarn is a blend of Bluefaced Leicester, Shetland, and Manx Loaghtan, and it's a rather toothy yarn. I used a 2.75 mm needle in order to get gauge, and the fabric is a tad stiff at that gauge. You can tell that the slouchy part isn't really slouching much on its own. It will wear GREAT, though.

I immediately cast on another pattern in the collection, Korra. I have some old Silky Wool in stash left over from another project, and a friend passed me some of her leftover Silky Wool from another project, so I have two nicely contrasting yarns. This yarn is thinner than Buoy, and the silk adds a lot of drape. Here's what this hat looked like after one pattern repeat:

This design is repeated 18 times. The interesting thing is that there are nine different placements for the leaf motif. It doesn't matter what order you work them in, as long as you use each placement twice - if you do that, you'll get a flat fabric in the end. Here's the finished hat, after blocking:
This hat definitely has a bit more drape than the first one:
This hat was so addictive to knit. I cranked it out in 5 days, which is pretty fast for me. And then, I immediately cast on for another hat in the collection! 

I cast on for a sweater over the winter break, but knit the hem on one side and then just stopped. I wasn't feeling it. But hats seem to be just the right speed right now, even challenging hats. Since the goal of my knitting is primarily to make me happy, I'm going to keep going on this hat knitting streak.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Doubleweave Colorwork Ruana

 I finally finished my ruana! This was a big weaving project that stretched my skills. I learned so much!

The piece of cloth I made is pretty large, because it was doubleweave. The entire thing is 38.5" wide. The front (which contains a slit) is 17.25" long from the shoulder, plus a generous 7" fringe. The back is 18.5" long with 3" fringe.
But let's rewind to the making. After my last update, I chugged along with the weaving, fighting some sticky warp threads but generally (I thought) keeping things under control. I felt more confident as I went along. I was chuffed that I labeled my shuttles with washi tape to keep track of which one is used on the top layer and which one is for the bottom.

I felt pretty good... until I took the cloth off the loom. At that point, I was STUNNED to see that somehow I missed FIFTEEN warp threads. Like, completely missed them. They weren't even part of the fabric. I still don't really know what happened there, because everything looked pretty fine as I was going along. Here's a not-great nighttime photo of the cloth with all those missed threads:

The good news is that this is fixable. I threaded up my trusty tapestry needle, and needle-wove the thread into the fabric where it should have been all along. This was time consuming (I clocked it at 12 minutes per thread, so about 3 hours in all) ... but it was also kind of calming. I settled into a rhythm of fixing and derived a lot of satisfaction from it.

In addition to those (essentially) gigantic floats, I also made a few mistakes on the second half of the double weave, where the two layers of fabric are not supposed to be connected on either edge. I must have messed up the 4-step sequence, because the layers were connected in 3 places where they shouldn't have been. I was able to cut the yarn there and then needle-weave some replacement yarn. In other words, I patched the weft mistakes. Those fixes were quite time consuming.

Only then did I turn my attention to all the "regular" floats that sometimes happen. I decided to fix these by un-weaving the involved warp thread and re-weaving it. This approach (as opposed to the weft-based fix) takes a little longer but doesn't involve feathering in ends, which adds bulk to the fabric. By this time, I was a master of needle-weaving warp threads. I adopted an "in for a penny, in for a pound" mentality and fixed every single float I could find, even the really tiny ones. For fun, I logged them - and there were 29 in all. 

Only after fixing all that did I address the fringe. The pattern calls for offset knots on the back edge, and offset knots plus twisted fringe on the front edge.

Tying knots was a welcome change from needle-weaving. As usual, my pal Will helped me out. Here is a line of finished offset knots. So pretty!
I took another day to twist the front on the front edges. This adds a bit of length (at least visually) and protects the warp threads. I use this helpful gizmo and it's a fun process:

Then I washed the fabric, trimmed the ends, and it was done!
I didn't go into this project thinking "I want to make a ruana so I can wear a ruana." This was more about the learning. But now that I have a ruana, I find it more wearable than expected. It is 100% wool and a nice layer to throw over my shoulders while working at home. It certainly classes up my usual WFH look.

Some WAL participants noticed that you can wear it sideways, too, with the slit over one shoulder. I think it might work better with a pin than what I did here, but you sort of get the idea. It's neat to see the plaid (the back) and the stripes (the front) at the same time:

I find it helpful to list learnings after each project, so I can find them before the next time. Here is what I want to remember about this project:

  • When warping a wider project, it's worth it to drag out the heavy wooden folding table for the warping peg (if warping directly). My normal setup is prone to movement.
  • After threading the warp but before packing the beam, check the back of the heddle to make sure all warp threads went around the apron rod - I missed one and it only went around the heddle. It was fixable, but a bit fiddly.
  • I used a 24" shuttle but could really have benefited from a 20" shuttle. Something to pick up on my next supply order.
  • I learned how to predict how much yarn to put on a shuttle and not have extra waste (especially helpful in the stripe section).
  • I could also use another "beefy" pickup stick. These are 1.5" wide and really help open the doubleweave sheds. I have one but wanted two for this project.
  • When working doubleweave with heddle 1 in the "down" position, push heddle 1 snug up against heddle 2. This helps combat traveling warp threads.
  • Consider removing the trap from the loom on big projects in order to get my center of gravity closer to the work. 
  • If I were to weave this again, I would use the indirect warping technique. I'm ready to try indirect warping again, and I think it would really help address most of the issues I had with crossed threads.

That's a wrap on my most challenging weaving project to date! I'm not sure what will go on the loom next. I am pondering weaving some curtains for our work-from-home space. I have an experiment set up with some handwoven kitchen towels as a stand-in for curtains, but I'll probably weave something especially for this window. Because I can.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Mixed Braids

I was the fortunate recipient of a Christmas gift certificate to Inglenook Fibers a few months ago (thanks, Brian!). This certificate was kind of burning a hole in my pocket, but I waited patiently for a shop update which occurred in February. I scored two lovely mixed braids at that time. This first one is a mix of whiteface woodland wool, ramie, llama, and bamboo, and the colorway is "Purple Rain:"

I think the mix of cellulose (plant) and protein (animal) fibers is so interesting, and the colors are dreamy. I also got this mix of merino, camel, brown alpaca, and mulberry silk called "Emerald City:"

After spinning lots of undyed fibers for Breed School 2.0, I was eager to put some color on the wheel. I started with Purple Rain. Because the different fibers can draft quite differently, I decided to spin this in small sections from the fold. Here are some chunks torn off and ready to spin:

Watching the bobbin fill was mesmerizing. Here are the singles, all done:

I considered chain-plying this in order to make use of every inch of the singles, but in the end, decided to make a traditional 3-ply in order to better blend the colors. There were some sections that were especially light or dark, and I wanted to mix them all up. Here's the finished skein:

This is 218 yards and 10 WPI (worsted weight); it weighs 130 grams. The cellulose fibers definitely make it feel a bit heavier to me.
I had some singles left on two bobbins, so I made a tiny 2-ply skein that is just 28 yards long. I just couldn't bear to throw away what was left on those bobbins!

I will probably put the Emerald City braid away for now, as I have the next Breed School 2.0 fiber now - it is Rambouillet! I've spun this before and it's a lovely fine wool breed. 

Inglenook also sent a tiny sample of their tweed blend, which is wool with viscose tweedy bits in it. I didn't let it sit long enough to photograph it, but I think it was this blend. I spun it up and made a plying bracelet for the sample (which I did think to stop and photograph!):

It made an intriguing little skein. I thought it was quite a coincidence that I got a tweed sample, as I had just registered for a tweed class with Judith MacKenzie for (virtual) MDSW21. Watch out because I'm going to start putting tweed in everything!
That's my spinning update. You can see my ruana on the loom behind the tweed sample above... I have finished that piece and have quite an update for you. But first, I have to get photos, which is challenging as it has been quite breezy lately. Welcome, spring!