Sunday, May 7, 2017

Brisk and breezy–MDSW ‘17

For the first time in many, many years, I did not go to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival on Saturday. The weather forecast predicted chilly temps (highs in the 50s) with 60% chance of rain on Saturday, so I decided to try Sunday instead. It was still chilly and windy today, but it only sprinkled a little bit – not enough to wish for an umbrella. This means I missed Dave (Gettysburg College ‘09), but I bumped into Anne (Gettysburg College ‘05 and fellow librarian):IMG_5441

Oops! I caught Anne with her eyes shut against the pollen (which is especially high this year). Going on Sunday also meant I caught Franklin Habit’s lecture about the history of knitting patterns:IMG_5465

In case you’re wondering, the reason “B” is for “purl” is that “B” meant “backstitch” which is the same as the purl stitch. (P was for knit, or “plain.”) Franklin was exactly like I expected him to be based on his writing – personable, knowledgeable, and funny. I loved that Julie, Alison, and I were able to catch this talk.IMG_5466

Another good thing about going on Sunday is that I was able to see a bit of the Sheep to Shawl contest. The team themes and costumes have evolved quite a bit since my last StS, when most participants were wearing old-timey clothing. This year, one team was The Blues Sisters:IMG_5426

And one had a Hairspray thing going!IMG_5432


I saw some beautiful things in the Skein & Garment competition, including this hooked project that I presume was made one square per day over the course of a year:IMG_5445


I thought the kids did an especially good job with their poster entries this year (and isn’t it interesting to see which breeds they think are cool?):IMG_5451

I wish I could have seen this entire poster, but the ribbon was taped to it – I tried to brush it away but it didn’t budge:IMG_5453

Now for some booth porn – here are some shots from Brooks Farm Yarns (Kris’s favorite) and Bartlettyarns (I’ve knit two sweaters from that yarn):IMG_5458


I watched a little bit of sheep judging – these are Corriedales:IMG_5464


But I know what you are all waiting for – what kind of stash enhancement did I achieve this year? I think I did pretty well. I really wanted to find some down breed fiber to spin to make more sock yarn (inspired by my Southdown socks earlier this year). I am going to embark on a historical knitting recreation this summer, and I didn’t think I would find appropriate sock yarn to buy – so why not just make what I need? I went shopping armed with a list of true Down and Down-like breeds. This confused most vendors who asked if they could help me find something. However, I did score at a couple of places. First, I got the last bump of Clun Forest roving at Solitude Wool. It is a happy, sunny yellow – which is fine with me!


I also got a 4 oz bump of Dorset roving at Solitude. They make a Dorset sock yarn, too, but it is very thick. They call it “hiking sock yarn” and I’ve worked with it before. It’s just not right for these special socks I’m going to be making.



But this is the big find for me – at Singleton Fiber Mill, they have a roving blend that is 90% Clun Forest, 5% Romney, and 5% Alpaca:IMG_5472

It is a little hard to see in this photo, but the roving has several colors in it (2 blues and a purple). That variation will give a dimensionality to the final yarn that I very much like. I got 5 oz of this to make sure I had enough. This was Singleton’s first year at MDSW, but I knew them a little from my 2015 trip to the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival – that’s where I got the fiber from which I made the “greenbow” yarn. It was so beautifully prepared and easy to spin. I was thrilled to find a Down fiber in their booth this year.

I got one more bump of fiber to spin – this organic Polwarth from Middle Brook Fiberworks. It is such a dreamy light gray. I want to make a 3-ply yarn that matches (in size) the gradient yarn I spun from the Into the Whirled Falkland batt last year. I have my eye on the Pania of the Reef pattern to use both yarns. IMG_5481

That’s it for fiber. I had my eye out for some sportweight yarn that would be suitable for a baby sweater (machine-washable and soft) and in the favorite colors of the mother (blue and green). I really like what I found:IMG_5483

This will become a Baby Surprise Jacket for a baby who is due in August!

I also got a bunch of consumable items, some of which are gifts. If you haven’t tried the maple cream yet, you really should:IMG_5468

I also got a couple of small tools. The tiny carder can be used to clean hand cards (or used as a tree ornament), and the mini-loom is for swatching without having to warp up the loom:IMG_5471

I made one final purchase with permission from home – a queen-size wool blanket. We have really enjoyed the wool blanket we brought home from Iceland, but it is not bed-sized. It’s really just a throw that is useful on the couch. I looked at these blankets last year and really liked them… this year I took the plunge. The wool is grown in Maryland; it is processed and woven in Canada. I love the cheery yellow color and think it will be perfect in the winter. IMG_5485



With that, I got my yearly bag of kettle corn and headed home. Another great year at the festival!IMG_5467

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Remember that slinky little braid of lustrous longwool that arrived recently?IMG_2851

This is Teeswater from Sheepspot’s Fiber Club. Here is what the sheep looks like:

File:Track of Railway, from Ingleby Incline at Bank Foot Farm - - 1594044.jpg

The staples are quite long and shiny.

I’ve never spun a longwool this long and was a little hesitant. Sasha recommended using a big (slow) whorl and slowing down the treadling a LOT. Eventually, I decided to spin a singles yarn that wasn’t too tight. I spun on my 9:1 whorl and drafted a longer amount that I usually do. I didn’t want to put too much twist in the yarn, lest it be wiry. I split the fiber vertically once, in order to shorten the color lengths a bit, and then spun it as it came. Here is the result, 320 yards (96 g):IMG_3084

It isn’t super soft, but it isn’t as rough as I feared it might be. And it’s strong. IMG_3088

Once again, I have no idea what to do with this. Maybe use it as weft for weaving?

In other news, I’m back to combing Oliver, a CVM/Romeldale cross with a deep, chocolatey brown fleece (from Sheepspot’s Fleece Club). I’m finding this more difficult to comb than Olivia. I think the staple is a little shorter, and the fiber seems doughier… like the strands want to stick together. I have to pull pretty hard to diz it off the comb. It’s hurting my hands. To be fair, I think my hands were primed to be hurt due to a recent burst of weeding, which uses the same muscles. I get one charge of energy for gardening in the spring, which will dissipate soon. I have learned to take advantage of it when it comes. So this week, I’ve been planting containers, weeding beds, and preparing to mulch.20170502_080304

And of course, the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is this weekend! It really snuck up on me this year. I will be looking for Down fiber this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Handspun mitts

I finally finished these fingerless mitts made from my handspun. This 3-ply yarn was made from Whitefaced Woodland from Sheepspot’s Fiber Club last fall.IMG_2988

The pattern is Sugared Maple, which I cannot really recommend due to poor editing. For example, it only directs the knitter to place one marker, but later talks about how many stitches are between the two markers. Also, it directs the knitter to put an odd number of stitches on waste yarn for the thumb, but that leaves an odd number on the needles to continue in a pattern that requires an even number of stitches to work correctly. I fixed everything, but this would be confusing to a newer knitter and is really unacceptable in a pattern that is for sale.IMG_2986

I also had to adjust all the numbers in the pattern, but that is because my handspun was different than the DK yarn called for. The designer listed three sizes to fit a 6”, 6.5”, or 7” palm circumference. My palm circumference is 7.25-7.5”, yet I had to cast on 34 stitches to get the right fit, which is 4 stitches less than the smallest CO number. I ended up reknitting most of the first mitt in order to get the numbers just right. Then the second one was finished in a single day.

I gave these a bath in water with a little hair conditioner to soften the fiber more. They are sturdy mitts – maybe even a little crunchy – but certainly not unwearable. I love the way the colors transition so gently due to the 3 plies. The finished mitts weigh 54 grams and I have 39 grams of yarn remaining.

Next up is a simple scarf made from the Targhee 2-ply I just finished. I’m using a cartridge rib pattern over 47 stitches. It is easy and soothing, which is exactly what April calls for in knitting.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Targhee Take 2

IMG_2869I found another bump of yummy fiber in my closet – it turns out I bought this online in 2008, when I was a brand new spinner! I’m not sure why I didn’t try spinning it right away. Maybe I thought I wasn’t good enough yet? That happened a lot back then. (If you are a new spinner, my advice to you is: get over it. Just spin what you have - the sheep are growing more and you can get it!) Anyway, this is 4 ounces of Targhee top from Mountain Colors. Targhee is a finewool (same category as merino).

This top sat on my coffee table for a few days while we reacquainted ourselves. As I pondered it, I got a shipment of the Sheepspot Fiber Club. This month we received Teeswater, which is a longwool. I was struck by how different these two top preparations are:

IMG_2871 (1)

They aren’t exactly the same weight (Targhee on the left is 111 grams; the Teeswater came in at 94 g), but you can see a huge difference in their mass. The Targhee is puffy; the Teeswater is smooth and slinky.

I started to spin the Targhee from the fold, but I found it was actually easier to draft longdraw. Even though it is top, it seemed doughy and not very slippery. I spun it fairly fine and here are my two finished bobbins of singles:IMG_2888

I wanted the colors to blend as much as possible, so I prepared the fiber in advance. First, I split the entire braid down the middle, because it was quite wide. I spun one half as it came – that’s all on one bobbin. With the next half, I split it lengthwise again into four sections before spinning – this meant the colors shifted four times as fast. On the left is a piece I spun for bobbin #1; on the right is a piece split 4x for bobbin #2:IMG_2876

When I prepared the fiber for bobbin #2, I mixed up the sections to distribute the color as much as possible. In other words, I did not spin those four skinny pieces in the above photo one after the other. They were interspersed among the other skinny pieces. I warned everyone in the house not to touch my fiber ottoman!! IMG_2879

In the end, my 2-ply skein contains 424 yards and weighs 109 grams:IMG_2924

It’s really soft. This simply must become something for the neck. I suppose a hat would be fine, too, but the yardage is making me think scarf or shawl.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Southdown Socks

I have finished my first pair of handspun, handknit socks – these are made with the Southdown fiber from the Sheepspot Fiber Club:IMG_2901

Regular readers will know that I was worried about running out of yarn, but as you can see, I finished with a tiny bit of reserve (a mere 3 grams). The finished socks weigh 91.3 grams. I used the garter rib pattern on my standard top-down sock with an eye-of-partridge heel. IMG_2896

I gave them a bath with some hair conditioner (as suggested by Whatzitknitz) and I think these will be a lot more comfortable than I initially thought. I am certainly eager to try them – though I think spring is really, truly here now and I have missed my window until next fall.

The most recent issue of PLY magazine is all about down and down-like breeds (like Southdown), and I was especially interested in Rachel Smith’s article called “A Down Breed Sock Experiment: 2-ply versus 3-ply.”  She found the 3-ply handspun sock yarn to be more difficult to knit on small needles – as I did, especially on the heel flap. She was happier working with the 2-ply yarn, and also felt that the sock fabric draped better. BUT THEN… she did the “intensive month of wear” experiment, and her 2-ply handspun socks completely disintegrated. The 3-ply socks survived the experiment, which included daily hard wear inside boots and machine washing every two days. Despite being uncomfortable to knit, they were very comfortable to wear. I hope this is true for my socks, as well… but you’ll have to wait 6 months to find out! (There is a second round of experimentation in the article which is equally interesting, but I won’t reveal that… you should get your hands on the magazine and read the whole account.)IMG_2898

Did you know that down and down-type breeds are supposedly felt resistant? There is a whole article about that in PLY magazine, too. A skeptical writer spun and knit a lot of swatches, and put them through their paces in a washing machine. It seems that the true downs are the most felt-resistant. I’ll be keeping my eye open for down breed fiber (or… even a fleece?!??) at MDSW next month.IMG_2895

After years of knitting socks with millspun yarn, this project was especially satisfying. Boy 1 seemed especially impressed, so he will probably be the recipient of my next pair of handspun, handknit socks.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


I was digging around in my studio closet the other day, and I found a couple bumps of fiber I had totally forgotten about (the ability to add fiber stash to Ravelry is quite recent, and I did not retroactively catalog that stash). IMG_2790

Isn’t it pretty? This is a 60/40 blend of merino and bamboo, prepared as top (that means combed not carded). That also means slippery and fast. I know I received this as a gift when I was a new spinner, and I probably put it away thinking I wasn’t “good enough” yet. That may actually have been true, as these slippery fibers can be tricky to handle. But I was up for the challenge when I rediscovered it!IMG_2795

I split the top into three sections by weight, then started spinning worsted-style with a short forward draw. I vaguely remember stripping the first third so that the color changes would happen a little more quickly. (Stripping means to separate the fiber in half vertically.)

Then I went a conference and forgot everything about this project. When I came home a mere 4 days later, I just picked up those other two nests of top and started spinning. There was no stripping or any attempt to control the color. Merrily I spun away.

When I started to ply, I saw that the first section was all green – green was coming off all three bobbins. And it kept coming that way for a long time. So I cut one singles and rewound it onto a storage bobbin. I thought if I reversed that single, I would get more color variation. Guess what – green was at the other end, too! I decided to just go with it and plied from there.

When I wound this yarn onto the skein winder, it seemed like there were very long sections that were all green or all blue, and only occasionally did the colors mix. It will be hard to know for sure until this skein is knit. It looks mighty pretty in a pile like this:IMG_2845

I got 334 yards of 3-ply yarn, and the skein weighs 108 grams. It is very soft, slinky, and drapey, suitable for next-to-neck wear.IMG_2865

This experience sent me back to a book I received for Christmas, Yarnitecture: A Knitter's Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want by Jillian Moreno. There is an excellent section on color. Now I want my next project to  be from a hand-dyed fiber so I can try some of the techniques she talks about. What to see what’s next? It’s the other bump I found with this one in the closet!  This is Targhee top. Targhee is a finewool, similar in many ways to merino. Stay tuned. (Yes, Judy, I know these are your colors!!)IMG_2869

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Field Trip–Baltimore ed.

20170325_131326I was in Baltimore for a conference last week and was able – FINALLY – to make a visit to the Neighborhood Fiber Co. I have seen their yarn at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, but never been able to visit their shop. I was especially motivated to do so because of this post by owner Karida Collins: Neighborhood Fiber Co. Takes a Stand.


The shop is gorgeous. It’s in an old firehouse and the shop and studio are in one big room. You can see exactly where all these yummy skeins are dyed. I was there on a Saturday and there was no dying, just drying. 20170325_124731

Like many LYSs, there were many small, artistic touches that gave the place a distinct personality.20170325_130627

The gradient sets were out of control. Fortunately for my wallet, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty that I could not settle on a colorway or a project, so I didn’t get one. (But I’ll be musing between now and MDSW!)20170325_130509

I couldn’t leave without getting something, though. I was intrigued by a sample of the Seashore Cowl, which uses two yarns with very different textures. All the Ravelry photos show it being worn as a capelet, which I’m not likely to do… but I can definitely see wearing it as a loop. I chose colors that are very “me” and will fit in with my wardrobe. Gone are the days when I listen to that little voice that says “but you already have a gray and green cowl” – if it’s in my color palette, that’s fine. I’ve learned that I’m a lot more likely to wear those things that are in “my” colors even if I have choices in those colors. What’s different for me about this project is combining two yarns that are so different. IMG_2817The gray yarn is a laceweight merino/cashmere/nylon, and the green is 60/40 mohair/silk. I’ve already cast on!

And yeah, I got the Unity shirt and pin, too. I’ve already worn the shirt, so I guess it was a good field trip. So glad I skipped lunch after the Carla Hayden talk to go! (She was amazing btw.)

Other than that, there has just been a lot of blanket square knitting. Like these:


And I’ve been spinning a new project, which is ready to ply. Maybe that will be my next post.