Saturday, October 13, 2018

Wheel care

The Sheepspot Podcast is a great way to feed your learning about spinning and to receive weekly shots of inspiration. I’ve been a fan of Sasha Torres since her SpinDoctor podcast days (2010-14). Then she started Sheepspot, and in December 2017 she launched a new podcast about handspinning: The Sheepspot Podcast. It’s a weekly and it’s only about 30 minutes long.

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I’ve been following along but somehow never blogged about it. In episode 13, Sasha talked us through spinning wheel maintenance issues and recommended we do a “spa treatment” for our wheels. At that point, I realized I’d owned my wheel for 10 years and never done any maintenance beyond dusting it. It took me through May to gather supplies and finish all the steps, but I did it – and my wheel spins better for it. (I realize that I got away with this for so long because my Ladybug was brand new in 2008 and the ball bearings are sealed, but it still benefitted from some TLC.) In the process, I replaced the drive band, replaced one of the front feet (which was missing – I didn’t even know this until I turned the wheel upside down to clean underneath, which Sasha encouraged), and cleaned every wood surface with Wood Beams. Wood Beams is a beeswax-based product that is “good food for wood” and is even safe for food surfaces like wooden bowls. I rubbed it in and rubbed it off. I loved the result (and the process – it smells great) so much that I also rubbed down my 4 wood bobbins. I bought it at the Bosworth booth at MDSW18.

Sasha made another great suggestion in episode 14:

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See that cute little belted bag hanging off the front of her wheel? (free pattern) I finally decided that it was time for me to have one. I have been using the cup holder for these little tools and things, but recently I’ve learned that my cup holder is perfect for holding a battery-operated light that really helps in the dim corner where my wheel lives. Here is the light setup:20181012_080547

After much musing, I decided to dig into my stash of handspun to select yarn to use for the bag. In pawing through the baskets that contain my handspun stash, I realized (again) that my spinning has improved A LOT over the years, and that I was unlikely to want to knit with some of these older yarns. But felting with them would be perfect, as the visual imperfections in spinning would be completely erased by the felting process.20181007_094542

I chose this skein of 2-ply Polwarth. I bought the fiber at MDSW10 and spun the singles on a spindle while on vacation that summer. My drafting is not as even on a spindle, and there is a lot of variation in the twist. There are some big fluffy sections, and some that are wound too tight. The resulting knit fabric is especially pebbly – here’s a closeup:20181007_094418

Felting is so fun, though! Here are before-and-after pictures of the bag, with a knitting gauge for scale.20181007_094408

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I used size 10.5 US (6.5mm) dpns on this, which left huge ladders at the joins – but I knew it wouldn’t matter after felting.

And here is the wheel kitted out with the bag:20181012_080422

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I still have my orifice hook hanging down (as before), along with a large paper clip on a bit of yarn. I clip my notes and samples (which are on a little card) to the clip for easy reference while working:20181012_080505

And finally, here is what is tucked into the bag at present:20181012_080718

This was a quick, gratifying, useful little project!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Going batty

I haven’t posted about spinning in a while, but I’ve been working diligently on my long term project (processing and spinning the fleeces of Tamarind and Muesli that I bought at MDSW this year). The method of washing that seemed to work best for me involved pretty small batches, so it took me a while to work through them. I liked the sample skein I made with hand carded rolags, but when my friend Annette offered to loan me her drum carder, I jumped at the opportunity. Here is Annette showing me how to use it:drum carder

I’ve been using these inexpensive white laundry baskets from the dollar store to store, organize, and tote my fleece from step to step. These are lightweight and stack very compactly. I started with 3 and now own 8 because they are so useful for this project.

Before you load the drum carder, you have to “pick” the fibers to open them up a little bit. I do this by hand, but there are machines out there that can help with this step (just google “wool picker” to see them). Each basket of washed wool turned into about 3 baskets of picked wool. Here is washed wool:20180924_081108

And here is picked wool:20180924_081120

I guess you can’t see the difference very well on the screen, but it’s a big difference. The mat of carded fiber you pull off the drum carder is called a batt:20180923_125707

…and they are generally stored rolled up like this:20180923_154230

To spin them, you can either strip them (just tear them apart into strips that are easier to hold and manage), or z-strip them so each batt is one continuous strip. Here is a batt and a z-stripped batt side by side:z strip

As I started spinning these, I used the z-strip method… but as I progressed I switched to regular stripping. Regular strips are easier to handle and I don’t mind making joins.

When I spin sweater quantities of yarn, I like to store the singles on storage bobbins which hold about 1 ounce each. After making a few batts, it occurred to us that I should weigh the fiber before carding the batt so that I made 1 ounce batts. I can spin 4 ounces on one of my wheel bobbins, so I separate the pre-measured amounts by spinning a bit of red in between them. That way, I have a continuous single, but I know when to break it as I’m transferring the singles to storage bobbins. 20181009_191431

I have the Fiber Artist Supply Co bobbin winder, which is very affordable compared to the major brands. If you are in the market for a bobbin winder, I recommend the review that Sasha Torres did over on The Sheepspot Podcast (episode 36). I don’t have many choices for surfaces on which to clamp a tool, as straight-edged surfaces are far more stable and both my dining table and coffee table have curved edges. I clamp my winder to the pull-out shelf on my antique roll top desk. It’s not super stable, but it works well enough. I do wish that the clamp were more substantial and versatile. winder 

Here is the view from below, so you can see how the clamp interacts with the surface it’s clamped to:20180927_080242

I appreciate the cutout on the wood (many clamps use a simple wood block with no cutout), but I wish it extended longer under the table surface and that the screw was longer. The photos on the website do not show the cutout, so it’s possible they have changed the design since I purchased mine a few years ago.

Anyway, I am happily spinning brown singles from Tamarind’s fleece. Right now I have 11 ounces finished: 20181010_124353But I have LOTS more batts… so many that I think I may skip over spinning some of them for now. My plan for this fiber is to make a Humulus sweater using Muesli’s fleece as the main color and Tamarind (the brown) for the colorwork in the yoke. I would like to have this project completed before I go to Scotland in late March. Big goal! I need to start sorting and picking Muesli’s fleece so I can get it running through my little batt factory.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Epic sock yarn blanket is DONE!

Records show that I started “I Love Leftovers,” my sock yarn blanket made from leftover sock yarn, in October 2015. Here is my inspiration project, and here are the very first squares I knitted:IMG_9530

I ended up working 200 squares. These squares are the most portable and compact project I have ever had, and I never got tired of making them. Every time I picked a new leftover, it brought back memories of the original project and added to my enjoyment of watching yarn turn into fabric. Some of my older posts mused on the socks that led to the leftovers.

Now it’s done and I hardly know how to tell you about it.20180929_094001

First thing to note: it’s big. The final measurements are 73.5” x 57”. You can see it’s bigger than this full size bed, especially in the length. I tried to get some bird’s eye shots, but without a lift to hold me above the blanket, every shot is from an angle. But you can really see the whole thing here:20180929_101527

I went for a generally ROYGBIV arrangement that cascades from one corner to its opposite, and I really like that.

I was a bit intimidated by the final two edges, which I wanted to finish in black so that the entire blanket would be framed in black. It turned out that picking up all those stitches wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe I’m just getting better at it with so much practice… but it doesn’t bother me at all anymore. For those with trepidation about picking up stitches, I highly recommend Very Pink Knits’ video tutorial about her Log Cabin Scrap Blanket, which requires tons of picking up. I ended up picking up 30 stitches on each square, plus a bit at the ends – my short end required 361 “pick up and knits” and the long edge needed 483. Here’s an example of one of my final edges:20180929_102937

I could look at this thing forever.20180929_094035

This is going to be a staple on our couch for sure.20180929_095501

The finished blanket weighs 3 lbs 9.8 oz, or 1638 grams for the metrically-inclined. I used about 3.5 100-gram skeins of black yarn for all the edging, and leftover sock yarn for the rest. Most of the leftovers are from my own stash (Ravelry says I’ve made 157 pairs of socks in my knitting life), but a few are from the Hendon stash – they were eager to contribute once they saw what was happening.

If you’re interested in making your own blanket, there are more details about how I make my mitered squares over on Ravelry. Now I have to get back to my colorful couch. #Rainbows4eva!

Monday, October 1, 2018

I wish to go to the festival!

alpaca

This weekend, Kris and I returned to the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, where we hadn’t been since 2015. The weather was sunny, which was reason enough to celebrate. But there was also lots of gorgeous fiber!

There was only one thing I was officially shopping for, but of course a few other things fell into my bag. My first purchase was two bags of Romney/alpaca/mohair roving in colors “Leprechaun Suit” and “Wizard’s Spell”:20181001_081440

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I am planning to blend these with my handcards so that I end up with a gradient yarn that slowly moves from green to blue, with all the shades in between.

My next purchase was the thing I was shopping for: sock yarn to make Dave’s 50th birthday socks. Dave wants sheep on his socks. This is my inspiration (pattern is Sheep Balls):sheepballs

I’m going to run a line of sheep around the ankle or cuff of Dave’s socks. Since he has size 11 feet, I knew that 100 grams of sock yarn wouldn’t be enough. I purchased these two skeins to use – the green will be on the foot (like grass) and the blue will be above the sheep (like sky):20181001_081135

These skeins were dyed by Yarn Daze in Indiana, and the yarn is 90/10 superwash Targhee/nylon.

The next booth that really intrigued me was HipStrings, a Pittsburgh-based shop:20180929_161912

I’d never seen them before. Their wall of spinning fiber was different than anything I’d seen and very compelling. Can you see it from a distance?20180930_120621

Let me show you what I picked and see if you agree. This braid is called River Rock. It is 75% merino, 12.5% tussah silk and 12.5% sari silk. It is very muted, but there’s still a lot of color variation:river rock

What will it look like when spun? Well, it depends on how you spin it… but here is a yarn sample on display:20180929_161937

It almost looks tweedy.

I also got this braid, which was a special colorway created for Indie Knit & Spin:indie color adjust

I know it looks a bit garish here, but look a the yarn sample:20180929_161953

Subtle and tweedy! I thought S1 would like a hat or scarf or something made from it. The fiber blend is different – this one is 37.5% BFL, 37.5% Shetland, 12.5% bamboo, and 12.5% tussah silk.

I also got this little wraps per inch tool which seems so much more helpful than the typical ones:20181001_080755

That was day 1, which ended with a wine and cider tasting (yes, right at the festival). Sunday morning began with coffee and a lovely conversation with Margo and her owners – have you ever seen such a stylish sheep?20180930_084439

Then I went off to my class about spinning on the great wheel. There were 5 of us in class, and 3 people brought their own wheels! I used one of the teacher’s wheels… but we all tried many wheels. 20180930_090007

Most of the wheels were this “New England style” – very simple. But one was a “Southern wheel,” which contained many turned parts and was really quite fancy. 20180930_090042

I’m not planning to get one of these anytime soon, but I’ve always wanted to know exactly how they work, and now I do. Fun!

Kris took a class on painting silk scarves. I haven’t seen the finished, dry scarves yet… but they sure look good in process (I hope it’s okay I stole this from your Instagram, Kris!). kris_scarf

Finally, I couldn’t resist one more skein of sock yarn. This is one of those gorgeous marled skeins from Yarn Hero, in a purple-plummy colorway called Octopus Love. These will be for S1. 20181001_080922

We had Thai food for lunch and then headed back home. It was a great weekend at a wonderful little festival that I highly recommend. It has none of the crazy crowds (ahem, I’m looking at you, MDSW) and a lot of really great vendors!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Catch some blackbird’s wing

My Blackbird poncho/shrug is finally done!crop 20180928_172711

I bought this kit at MDSW earlier this year. It was totally an impulse buy, but I loved it. I think I’m going to love wearing it, too. Just to recap, the main fabric is a strand of sock yarn and a strand of mohair held together. I worked a very large rectangle in stockinette stitch (BORING! but good for social knitting). There were three sizes in the pattern, and I worked the largest one because the rectangle seemed so small. Now I wish I’d gone smaller, but I’m not turning back. crop 20180928_172726_052

Then I picked up 373 stitches on each side in order to work the colorwork band. This was time consuming, but my confidence about picking up stitches improves with each (large) project where I do it. I don’t do much stranded knitting, so I expected the bands to be a challenge. To my surprise, they practically knit themselves! With each row, I was left wanting to see how the next one unfolded. I slowed down at once point because I knew I would run out of yarn, but then I remembered that I had a swatch I could unravel. I did, and finished the colorwork. I didn’t have much of the main sock yarn left, though:20180901_144654

The bands were knit in the round, so when I was done I had a weird shape like this:20180909_135028

Can you see where this is headed? My first steek. Here is the area that had to be cut:20180909_134938

There are at least a few ways to stabilize the fabric before steeking, but I knew I was working with slippery sock yarn and would need to be aggressive. I hauled out my sewing machine:20180909_135951

This was not easy to sew. I’m sure there are adjustments you can make to a machine, but I don’t know what they are. This heavy knit fabric did not want to feed. But I managed to get some zig zags in:20180909_141041

And then I cut between them!20180909_141158

I turned back those edges and sewed them down. Then I blocked. 20180909_153210

I keep my blocking pins in a little tea tin. It pleases me.20180909_153239

You can see that the final shawl is longer than my blocking board – I made do. It took me a while to get to a Joann to get buttons (12 buttons, .5”) and sew them on. At that point, it was done! It has been raining here for weeks and weeks, so I’ve been waiting for a good time to photograph it. This evening worked:crop 20180928_172946

I am so happy about the sunshine, because Kris and I are going to the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival this weekend and this weather is going to continue. We first went in 2015 and had a great time. We’ve been wanting to return, and this is the year! The weather will be sunny and crisp, just perfect for a weekend of loving wool. crop 20180928_172726_018

P.S. – the post title is a line from Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway,” one of my all-time favorite songs. Here’s the verse:

And when we die we say, we'll
Catch some blackbird’s wing
Then we will fly away to Heaven come
Some sweet bluebonnet spring