Wednesday, April 30, 2008

spinning pretties

I'm proud of myself. Last night, all I wanted to do was spin, but all these other priorities tried to interfere. I got home a little late, had to make dinner, husband and cat wanted attention, etc. This is the way things typically go when my husband is in town: I talk to him, I make dinner, we eat, and then it's bed time and I never get to crochet or spin. So last night I spun first! Not only that, I managed to make dinner quickly enough that we still had time to eat and get to bed early. Yeah!
I'm feeling really good about everything, so I decided to spin one of the treats from the gift fleece stash.

This is (half of) an ounce of combed shetland top. (I forgot to take a picture until I had already spun half of it.) It's very interesting wool. It seems to be medium staple length (at least relative to what I've been working with), and it's grippier than BFL or merino but less grippy than the gray mystery wool.
Instead of trying to do anything fancy, I decided to just split the top into two pieces of equal length, spin singles from each half, and then ply them. It seemed like the colors were very uniform throughout, so I figured this would make a yarn that was pretty uniform over its length. It was a little deceptive, though: one end had more white than the other. But it still made a really nice yarn.

It's a lot less consistent than my yarn has been lately, and it's not because this is bad fiber. It was a lot of fun to work with. Actually, I had been reading on Ravelry yesterday about long-draw drafting, and it seemed like this fiber really wanted to do that, so I decided to try it. I'm not sure if I was doing it right--when I've seen people do it, I was generally in the midst of such information overload that I really couldn't absorb anything beyond "Wow! That looks like magic!" But there were some points when it really seemed like it was working. Of course, there were other points when the twist just decided to travel up the whole big fat top and take over the entire thing, thank you very much. That was easier to undo than I expected: I just pinched the yarn at a point before everything went nuts, held it up and let the rest untwist (which it very obediently did), and then inchworm drafted that part into something more reasonable. I picked up again later with the attempted longdraw. There were several points when it seemed like it was really working. I definitely want to play with this more. I think my bobbin tension should have been tighter--as I went, I would get this long, twisted section of singles and then kind of shove it toward the wheel to get it to take up onto the bobbin. I want to try it with the gray wool, too--that stuff seemed like it really wanted to play this way.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I won!

Dudes! We now interrupt your regularly scheduled work day for a bit of internet squee. I won Yarns to Dye For: Creating Self-Patterning Yarns for Knitting on Kathleen Taylor (the author)'s book drawing! She held three drawings in celebration of her blog receiving 100,000 hits. Look! That's me! Yay!!!!!
She had some really awesome prizes, and there were also drawings for yarn and fiber, but I was really hoping to win this book. I can't believe I did! It's been on my wish list for months now. How cool!

knitting night

Last night was knitting night. I missed three weeks in a row between working on the taxes, working on the scholarship application, and I don't remember what, so I was really excited to go and see my knitting buddies. They're really a fun group. I had an incredible headache when I left work, but I decided to go anyway. Also, I felt weird going when I don't have a current knitting project or even a baby blanket going right now. (The hat just needs the last few stitches bound off at the top and a seam.)

I still can't quite decide whether I like the knit side or the purl side better. If I make it again, I think I'm going to make the whole thing rib instead of just the bottom inch or two--the ribbing is actually my favorite part.
As you can see, I learned to decrease. It's so easy! (I did k2tog, which is just grabbing two old stitches instead of one and otherwise knitting as usual. The directions I was using were for a hat knit in the round, so they didn't say anything about what to do when you got to the purl side, which wouldn't happen in the round. I've never heard of a p2tog, but that's what I did. It seemed to work fine. If I ever do something with more normal yarn, I'll have to find out whether the p2tog slants in the opposite direction or anything, but for this hat, it matters not in the least.) The funny thing is, I was in the car at a stoplight trying to explain to my non-knitting husband how you decrease in knitting, and just as I was making knitting gestures, two of my buddies from knitting night pulled up next to us at the stoplight, honking and waving!
Anyway, since the hat is basically done, there was no point taking that to knitting night, and I finished the baby blanket for Project Linus. I pulled out a piece I originally started for the contest at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival, but there was absolutely no chance that I would finish it by then. (That was back in February.) Apparently most other people had the same problem, because the contest ended up getting cancelled. So here I am still working on it.

As with most things I start when I'm not really paying attention, it is bigger than I intended. I like how it's coming along, though.
It was originally going to be much more flamboyant, but it evolved into more of a fairy tale sort of thing. I didn't really plan it, just picked a yarn and started crocheting, then picked the next one when I had a few rows of that done.

When I finish the gold chenille, I'm going to do another yarn in about the same color as the beginning (neck) part, only it's not faux suede, it's a soft rich base yarn with a few very long eyelash things. A lot of people really hate novelty yarns, but I think they can be a lot of fun if you put them together well. I bought a whole raft of novelty yarn on clearance last summer when Michael's and A.C. Moore started dumping it, specifically for the purpose of making things like this capelet. Honestly, I miss being able to wander around looking at all kinds of crazy colors and textures of yarn, but that fad is clearly over. The local yarn stores here only have serious yarn, and Michael's cut their yarn stock about in half and quit carrying anything except boring stuff and fun fur. The Hobby Lobby near me carries a lot of weird yarn, but it's mostly garish and crappy, and anyway it never changes. I miss going to A.C. Moore during the fad yarn heyday. It's a good thing I stocked up when I did!

Monday, April 28, 2008

ah, spinning

Last week was crazy. I'm Eastern Orthodox Christian, and for us, Easter can't fall before the start of Passover. Passover started on the 19th, so last week was Holy Week for us, which meant basically all church all the time. This is the most important and most joyous feast of the year, and I love it. I love all the services leading up to it, and I love the celebration.
On Sunday, after the festivities were over, I was back at my spinning wheel, and that felt incredibly good, too. It was like coming home. That seems outrageous considering that I've only been spinning on a wheel for about three weeks even if you include last week, but it really did feel that way. I have got to find a way to get more time to do this.
Anyway, I started with some of the gray fleece that my friend sent me. It's very grippy wool--the fibers are long and really like to stick to each other. It's not like any of the other things I've worked with so far. It's pretty easy to spin, and I suspect this yarn would felt like a maniac.

I also spun a little of the roving I bought in Asheville. I chose that particular one because its colors are very soft and subtle. I wanted to try one of the techniques from Lynne Vogel's class: splitting the roving lengthwise, spinning both halves the same, and plying them together so the colors line up. I tried this in class and made some gorgeous yarn in which the colors did not line up at all. I figured if I got some subtly colored roving and that happened, it would still make a beautiful, subtle yarn. Just not in the mood for anything resembling a barbershop pole right now.
Well, I spun two bobbins of singles, and when I plied them together, the ends were within six inches of each other! Holy cow! I have never achieved anything remotely close to that before.

The colors lined up pretty well, too. They're just different enough to be really interesting and nice. I am so pleased.
This roving is a dream to work with, too. It's a merino blend with some sparklies. I'm not sure if there is any other kind of wool in there or not; my guess is not.
I've heard opposing things about merino: some say it's the best thing ever and any beginner will be in love with it by the end of an hour, and some say it's the last thing you'd want to give a beginner because it's so fine and short-stapled and non-grippy. I wanted to try some myself before ordering a whole raft of it from Sheep Shed Studio next paycheck.
The verdict? It's like butter. It's so soft. I love it. More more more!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

much-anticipated yarn

So I was poking around on Discontinued Brand Name Yarn and I found South West Trading Company's Bamboo on sale by the bag. This yarn is normally $13.50 a ball, and they have it for $42.50 for ten! I cannot tell you how excited I was about this yarn. I was thinking of a nice, soft summer top. Here's what Yarndex had to say about it: "Often compared to premier ramie, it's cool and silky to the touch and works up beautifully in sweaters, tops, dresses, skirts, and anything else where a flowing drape is important." Between the mentions of "ramie" and "silky" and my own mis-memory of two very soft yarns that I own being bamboo (they're not. One is soy and the other is banana silk), I was expecting something super soft. Here's the flawed logic: If the Bernat Bamboo I own (wrong) is so incredibly soft and I got it on clearance for $2 and it's half acrylic for heaven's sake, just imagine how soft this expensive famous brand yarn must be! Yeah.
So the yarn arrived last night.

It's beautiful. It's not soft, though. It's more silky like raw silk than how I think of silky, which I guess would more accurately be called "satiny."
What a disappointment. And it's a discontinued color, so I can't send it back. I probably wouldn't anyway--in fact, if it was an option, I doubt I'd even be thinking about it. But knowing that it's not an option gives it that perverse appeal.
Anyway, it's still really beautiful yarn, and if people are willing to pay $13.50 a ball for it, there must be lots of really great things you can do with it. I need to start making swatches and see what works. It may still be soft enough for a nice summer top. The color is perfect: dark enough not to be too pastel insipid lilac, but light enough not to be too hot for summer. It was actually the color that I was most concerned about when I ordered it, but the color on the store's website is actually pretty accurate. (It's the same hue as the bottom picture above but a bit lighter.)
Anyway, it's really nice yarn and a great deal, just not what I expected. This disappointment is amplified by the unusually long wish list I have right now--this yarn would not have been such a high priority for ordering if I had known what it's really like. Instead I probably would have gone for KnitPicks CotLin, which I've also been obsessed with lately. They have this light, almost-drab green that I'm suddenly seeing everywhere; they call it Kohlrabi. I never wear this color and thought it was ugly until about two weeks ago; now suddenly I must have it! The Lantana also looks very nice. And this yarn explicitly says over and over in the description that it's soft.
But then again, I have a spinning wheel now, so of course I have to pine for unspun fiber, too. Consider for a moment FiberLady's OMG gorgeous Stormy Night bamboo top (which also says explicitly that it is soft) or Squoosh's Lately Merino and Bamboo.
I'm sure you can understand why I resent the SWTC Bamboo for misrepresenting itself in order to cut to the front of the line. However, the reality is that I have a whole raft of new, beautiful yarn! This is a good thing! I can't wait to start playing with it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

trying out my new spinning wheel

Last night I set up my new spinning wheel and used it for the first time. Well, ok, I tried it in the store, but I don't count that because I wasn't really trying to make anything then (except a decision).

I'm really astonished at how huge it is--I guess I got used to the size of the Little Gem. I don't have a picture of it from the same perspective--it's so small you almost couldn't see it from that perspective!--but here it is with the same chair.

Anyway, I got it all set up, which won't be any big deal the second time I do it but took a while this time because I kept stopping to read the directions. Then I decided to finish off the last of the cheap wool while I got a feel for it. Apparently I didn't learn anything from being frustrated with the Little Gem while spinning this wool--the wool didn't suddenly get smooth and lose all its fuzzes and lumps in the past week, and I didn't magically become a better spinner. I spent a fairly frustrating evening with it and ended up wondering if I shouldn't have just bought the Little Gem. It's so discouraging to spend all this money on something and then have it not seem all that great after all. And the Little Gem was so smooth and so tiny, and I really made friends with it by the end of the two weeks. Oh yeah, and I was spinning gorgeous long-staple well-prepared fiber. Wake up, self! Start spinning nice fiber, and in a few days you'll be just as much in love with this wheel. (I hope so!)
Anyway, here's the yarn I made. It's natural mystery wool plied with gray mystery wool (also natural, just naturally gray).

Hopefully tonight will be better. Meanwhile, something incredible happened: one of my high school friends sent me wool! Apparently she had tried spinning but didn't take to it, so with unbelievable generosity, she sent me this:

For the past two weeks, every day I've eagerly checked the mailbox for it, and every day I've been disappointed. When the mailbox was empty again yesterday, I thought it must have gotten lost and I'd have to go on some hopeless quest to try to have the post office locate it. But when I went in the house, there it was! Beyond all expectations, it was way too big to fit even in our industrial-size rural mailbox, so the mail lady had delivered it and my husband carried it inside. That is a whole lot of wool, and better yet, it's colors and fibers I wouldn't have picked. That is so awesome. A lot of it is shetland, which I don't think I've seen around here (she lives in Pennsylvania). I'm really excited to try it out, especially the big bag of red blend. Also, the orangeish bundle must be a batt, which I've never worked with. All kinds of new adventures await.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I bought the spinning wheel! I tried a Lendrum, a Louet Victoria, and a Kromski Sonata. The Louet Victoria was just too teeny and unstable--I could feel it shaking as I was treadling, and I wasn't even going fast. It was really a tough decision between the Lendrum and the Sonata. I thought I wouldn't like the angle of the Lendrum, the way it tilts toward you as you sit in front of it, but in person that's no problem at all. It was very smooth, and the angle of the treadles was very comfortable. The Sonata was not as smooth, but it hadn't been broken in yet and got smoother as I used it, even for that little while in the store. In the end, I bought the Sonata, mainly because it folds into such a nice, stable package and comes with a very nice padded bag. Also, it's lighter than the Ledrum and has a wider range of ratios (6.7, 12.5, and 14 vs. 6, 8, and 10 for the Ledrum), and the bobbins have more capacity. It is a lot bigger than it looks on the internet. Here's the scale.

I want to build it a wooden box for when I fly somewhere with it. The bag is padded and seems quite sturdy and nice, but I've seen the way those guys throw the luggage around when they're loading and unloading the plane. I'm thinking basically a small trunk with heavy-duty casters on the bottom and extra space for clothes and fiber purchases, since the airlines are suddenly only allowing one checked bag (without having to pay extra).
Before I gave back the Little Gem, I finished spinning all of the beautiful Hoobody roving. I figured I better spin it all on the same wheel if I wanted it to be remotely consistent. I thought that would take a long time, but I finished it in one evening without even trying. I just kept thinking, "oh, just one more little bit, and then I'll call it a night," until suddenly I was done. I re-wound it onto storage bobbins. Here's what it looks like.

Some parts have a lot more purple than others. If I wanted to make the colors evenly distributed throughout whatever I'm making, I should have split the whole thing lengthwise instead of breaking off a section, spinning it up, and then breaking off another section. I think it will be nice this way, though. I want to make a scarf, and I like the idea that the purple will be concentrated in some areas. Of course, I just realized that I want to make it in rows that run lengthwise and do at least some of it knit. With crochet, it doesn't matter--I can make any shape I want in any direction I want, but all that scarf wouldn't fit on any of the needles I have. Darn it. It seems like every time I try to knit something, I need to buy more equipment! (Ok, that's because I'm a beginner and didn't own a single knitting needle until February.)
Anyway, I did finish the afghan for Project Linus. There was enough rainbow yarn with a little to spare. (I probably could have made another row and a half.) Very happy about this--definitely did not want to buy yet another ball of this yarn!
It came out nicely and is very soft and cheery.

I finished that before we left for Asheville, and then I was trying to figure out what projects to take with me. In this regard, I'm like the Yarn Harlot--I always pack a completely irrational overabundance of yarn to work with whenever I go anywhere, way more than I need or will possibly get to. This time I took a cape in progress, a shawl in progress (both small), and some new yarn that I want to swatch for a sarong and/or some sort of head covering. It's Rowan Purelife Organic Cotton, in Brazilwood. It's pink with beautiful subtle variations in the color.
In the end, all of these projects remained in the bag untouched. I drove us up there, we had dinner, we collapsed. The next day we had breakfast, shopped all day, drove all evening, got home, and collapsed. Oh well--my yarn got to go on vacation too.
Asheville is a very cool city, at least for what little we saw of it. The Dry Ridge Inn was beautiful and comfortable. Earth Guild was totally fabulous, and after we were done there, we wandered around looking at the shops a little. Pansies were blooming everywhere, and we had lunch outdoors in the beautiful sunshine. Then we found a cool little shop with local rovings, handspun yarn, and hats, scarves, and wraps made by local artists: Asheville Homecrafts. They had a ton of beautiful things, all locally made, plus a fun selection of commercial yarn. I really enjoyed looking at all of these things, and I found it very encouraging. I can definitely spin as well as some of the homespun yarn they had for sale. I would love to have a local outlet like that to sell my creations in, but meanwhile, I should just get on it and get some things on Etsy.
Anyway, I couldn't leave without buying this gorgeous roving.

It's a merino blend, and I can't wait to spin it. Altogether, it was a truly fabulous trip. I'd love to go back and spend more time exploring Asheville.

Friday, April 18, 2008

sheep vs. driving

After reading about the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival on Ravelry, I started to reconsider. Everyone was writing in with suggestions like bring your own water, bring your own food, bring your own wetnaps, bring your own tp, wear sturdy shoes so you don't get hurt when people run over you with their wheelchairs (?!?!), wear sunscreen, bring chapstick, bring a camera, don't bring a lot of heavy stuff or you'll hurt yourself lugging it around all day. It started to sound...well, unpleasant. 11 hours to drive up there, two days of heavy crowds and mania, and then an 11-hour drive home... Also, my dad was going to meet us there, but he can't go. I would have liked to see all the sheep and demonstrations and all that glorious fleece, but it sounds really exhausting. I think instead I'm going to take the fine suggestion of Meg from Yarn Expressions and go to Earth Guild in Asheville instead. It's half the drive, and if the website is anything to go by, it looks like I could spend a whole day or two there drooling over all their stuff and meanwhile not worry about getting stepped on, dehydrating, or waiting two hours in line for a Porta Potty with no tp. And it looks like they have all the spinning wheels I want to try. Plan 2.0: better, cheaper, and more peaceful. 12 hours less driving is 12 more hours available for spinning and crochet!
Also, I found a fabulous deal on a B&B. The Dry Ridge Inn is having a special: $99/night for weeknights in April! The Super 8 is within $10 of that! And it looks gorgeous. They have a nice garden and even a hot tub. I'm so psyched.
The plan is to drive up Sunday afternoon, stay the night, have some nice breakfast, and then head for the Earth Guild to check out the spinning wheels. Oh yeah. And if somehow one should tire of that, they also have tools, equipment, and supplies for 16 other crafts! I'm not even exaggerating. Heck, I'm not even counting knitting and crochet as two separate crafts. This is going to rock!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I got my application for the scholarship to SOAR in the mail yesterday. I am so happy to have that done! I really struggled with writing the essay. I've written tons of essays about why people should give me money to learn about computer science, but somehow that didn't transfer easily to persuading people to give me money to learn about spinning. Also, spinning is such a right side of the brain thing--I think that didn't help with the left-brain writing part.
Anyway, it's done!!! I really hope I get the scholarship--I so want to go. They have a whole three-day workshop on color in spinning--*drool*! And a few other three-day workshops at the same time that I would also love to take, plus a whole bunch of awesome half-day sessions for the second part. I wish I could take them all.
Also, blanket night was cancelled last night--nobody else was going to be there, so I got to work on the blanket in the comfort of my own home. I finished the last wide stripe; all that's left is one last repeat of the pink-yellow-rainbow-pink pattern of narrow stripes. Just eight rows! If I work on it tonight, I'll probably finish it. But, I am running low on the rainbow yarn. If it doesn't last two more rows, I really am going to scream.
I spun some more on the Hoobody roving last night too. That stuff is so gorgeous. And there is definitely a huge difference in the staple length between that and the cheap fiber.

The staple length on the Hoobody stuff, which is South American Punta, is about 9 inches. The cheap stuff, which is mystery wool, is more like 4.5 inches. Plus the cheap stuff has a lot of little fuzz balls and veggie stuff in it. Looks like you get what you pay for. The cheap stuff still made that crazy color jelly bean yarn that I dyed over the weekend, so I'm not knocking it. I'm just saying the nicer stuff is more enjoyable to spin.
I've been thinking about what to make out of this yarn. Well, both of them--every time I walk by the dining room table and see all that crazy color stuff, I feel like I'll die if I don't do something with it right now! But the yarn I'm spinning now... it's about four ounces of fiber. I think I'm going to keep it as singles and maybe make some kind of scarf out of it using knit and crochet together. If four ounces of fiber is enough for a scarf. I'd probably have to add in some other yarn as filler.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

glorious spinning

I finally bought the additional yellow yarn for the Project Linus blanket. I can't say I was happy to be buying more of this yarn, but they had the same dye lot after lo these many months, so I really can't complain. Progress resumed on that last night; maybe I'll be able to finish it tonight at the final meeting of the blankie brigade.
I finished some pretty difficult things yesterday, not the least of which being the taxes. In celebration, even though it was kind of late, I decided to spin some of the Hoobody roving. Remember this?

I had been saving it until I got a little better with the wheel, but last night I decided I was ready.
Dudes. This fiber is so totally awesome I can't even tell you. First of all, it looks from the outside like it's mostly pastel colors, but when you open it up and fuzz it out some, it looks like this.

Lots of gorgeous, rich colors in there. Also, this fiber has very long staple length. I'm not kidding. I grabbed the roving and tried to pull it apart, and I could not get it to break unless I held my hands about two feet apart. It wouldn't even budge. The stuff I've been working with has a much, much shorter staple length. Honestly, I would have had no idea what to do or resorted to cutting it with scissors to get a piece off to spin if I hadn't had a similar experience with the roving at the Spinning with Color class.
So I got a piece separated off, fluffed it up, and separated it lengthwise into a lot of thin strips. I put on some tunes and started spinning it, and let me tell you, it spun like a dream! It practically drafted itself, and the yarn came out all even and nice. Really incredible. Check it out.

Does that or does that not look like I suddenly got a whole lot better at spinning?! I'm not sure I'll be going back to the cheap fiber. Also, notice how the singles are distributed evenly across the whole bobbin. Did I suddenly get a Woolie Winder or something? No. Actually, I really don't know how that happened. I just started spinning, and kind of regained consciousness half an hour later when I ran out of fiber. (That's why I wanted to break off a piece--I need some sleep for work!) At that point, I thought "hey, I never moved the butterfly clip but it never stopped taking up the yarn; I wonder how little yarn this is?" I looked, and the yarn wasn't even through the butterfly clip or the cup hook, just through the delta orifice. Yet it never tangled once, just distributed itself all perfectly over the bobbin as I spun. Altogether, it was an evening of spinning magic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

unbalanced yarn

In spinning, one of the things we try to achieve is balanced yarn. Basically, if you ply two singles together, the twists of the singles and the twist used to ply them together should all balance each other out so that the yarn doesn't want to twist in either direction any more--if you hold it up, it just hangs down, not pulling to either side.
Everyone seems to agree on that much. What they don't necessarily agree on is whether you really need balanced yarn. Merike Saarniit taught us in our class at Useful Knowledge how to make balanced yarn and that it's important because otherwise the fabric you knit from the yarn will skew. On the other hand, I stumbled across someone else on LiveJournal who posted about making unbalanced yarn and knitting with it. She was really happy with the results and said (in the comments of the original post in the spinningfiber group, which is now defunct) that if you use garter stitch, it doesn't skew that much. One of the things Merike emphasized in her class was that we should listen to everybody who has anything to say about spinning and try it for ourselves, not just listen to her. I have a lot of respect for that.
So, when I had some singles lying around, I decided to swatch them up and see what happened. First I knit. I did some stockinette and some garter before I ran out of yarn. Here's the front (stockinette at the bottom, garter at the top). The knitting needle is there to provide a straight line for reference.

Here's the back:

The stockinette skews like mad, whereas the garter does skew a lot less. Merike also said that you could crochet with unbalanced yarn, no problem, so I decided to try that, too. I had some singles in the maroon yarn that I spun on the spindle a week or two ago; I never got around to plying it. So I used that to do a few rows of dc, a row of tc, and a row of sc. Sure enough, it didn't skew, even in the tall stitches. Then I remembered a really incredible vest that Lynne Vogel showed us in the class on color. It was absolutely gorgeous, and she had alternated between knit and crochet, taking advantage of the skew in stockinette to add little bits of diagonal in the midst of everything else straight. So I added a couple of rows of stockinette to the crochet and then finished with a row of sc. I would have done more, but that was all the yarn.

Here's the front (crochet to the right, stockinette and one final row of sc to the left):

Here's the back:

I love how the crochet looks with the thick and thin yarn, and I definitely want to play with this more. I don't like as much stockinette together as I have here--I would probably do just a row or two between crochet.
Anyway, I had been getting really bored with spinning the undyed fiber, but the little knit swatch is really nice, and it's much softer than I expected from working with the fiber. Also, it seems like lately several of the blogs that I read have all coincided to say that if you're spinning, knit something with your yarn as soon as possible so you can discover the flaws in it. I was pretty happy with my yarn, imperfect as it is, so I was a little nervous about knitting it and getting some big revelation that it's no good after all. However, rather the opposite. I thought it was going to be a big hassle trying to knit my singles, since they have all this mad twist wanting to be released, and if they can't be plied right now, they'll eagerly settle for becoming a big pile of pigtail spaghetti all over the floor. But I leaned an afghan square against the lazy kate and knit right off the bobbin with no problems at all. Actually, I'm pleasantly surprised at how it looks. The natural yarn I used for the knit swatch is much more even than I thought it was when I was spinning it. The maroon yarn is less even than I thought, but I really love the effect in crochet. It adds a pleasant touch of chaos, and the thin parts have a metallic look, like wire. I like it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

dye mojo

Over first week of renting the spinning wheel, I accumulated a pretty good pile of natural wool yarn. On Saturday, I decided to try dyeing it. I was going to use Kool-Aid, but I ended up impulse-purchasing some Wilton icing dye (gel form) and using that instead. I wanted to stick with food dye so I wouldn't have to worry so much about ruining my kitchen or getting special pots and pans to be used only for dyeing. Also, this icing dye was super cheap. I bought Wilton's Red, Lemon Yellow (each with only one dye color in them), and Violet. I have heard that trying to dye stuff purple is difficult because the red and blue that make up purple are absorbed by the yarn at different rates, so you often end up with some kind of pink-and-blue mottled effect instead of purple. However, I really wanted red, yellow, and purple, so I decided to try it anyway.
First, I soaked the yarn in hot water and vinegar. Our tap water is very chlorinated, so I put it through my Brita filter first, then microwaved it to get it hot. I used 2 Tbl. of vinegar to 2 cups of hot water. I have no idea if this is a good amount; I left all the directions at work, so I just made something up based on the egg dyeing directions on the regular food coloring. Basically, I tied the skeins of yarn in four places, mostly-filled a dishpan with vinegar water, and set the yarn soaking. Meanwhile, I mixed the icing dye with hot water. I was going to measure the icing dye, but it's really thick and gooey. I couldn't really get it to work with the measuring spoons, and I should have had way smaller spoons for that anyway. So I basically scooped up a thick blop onto a butter knife and swirled it around in the water until it dissolved. I kept doing that until I liked the color that came out on a paper towel when I wiped the knife blade after the dye was mixed. I would estimate I used somewhere between an eighth and a quarter of an ounce of each color in a cereal bowl of water (didn't measure that either, maybe half a cup?) This was probably too much dye, but I really like the super saturated colors that resulted. Also, after the first skein, I decided I probably better add a tablespoon of vinegar to each bowl of dye. That seemed to speed up the dye absorption a good bit.
Once everything was ready, I spread out each skein of yarn in my 9x13 glass casserole dish and painted the dye on with a foam brush.

The colors were very bright and very primary when first applied. Also, after the first skein, the purple looked like a very dark navy blue when I put it on the yarn, no matter how much I tried to mix it. This would be really blinding yarn if it had stayed that way, but luckily it didn't.
I stretched a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the casserole dish, leaving vents on each side to let some steam escape, and put it in the microwave. I cooked it for two minutes, waited and moved it around a little, maybe added a little water. (If you add water, don't pour it directly on the yarn--it may wash the dye out or felt the yarn or both.) Then I zapped it again for another two minutes. After repeating this for a total of six minutes, I took the first skein out and put it in a sink of steaming hot water. All this blue dye started coming out! (This was before I added the extra vinegar to the dyes, but blue dye came out of every skein at this point.) The colors muddied just enough to be really nice--I was shocked but pleased. Also, a lot of green appeared where excess blue from the purple interacted with yellow. I put it back in the microwave for another two minutes, and then it was done. I rinsed it three times in the sink (again being careful to use very hot water and not pour water directly on the yarn) and hung it up to dry. I was so happy with the results, I did the same thing to all of them.

It ended up taking me a really long time because I painted each skein individually in the casserole dish and then waited around while it microwaved and stuff. If I was going to get more serious about it, I'd have to find a way to dye more at a time. I'd probably underdye everything yellow and then get a syringe to shoot the color into a thick pile of yarn. (With the paintbrush, I had to flip the yarn over and paint the back or end up with a big dye soup in the bottom of the dish.) In any case, I had a great time, and I'm really happy with the results.

Now I'm trying to figure out what to make out of it. For some reason, it seems like it should be a vest. The colors are not something I'd normally wear, and actually neither are vests, so I don't know why I think this, but maybe I'll just go with it anyway. The wool isn't soft enough to be something like a scarf, and it just seems too wild to be a sweater. (Also too warm--I sometimes forget that I live in Alabama.) Maybe with some black interspersed to tone it down a little, it could be a warm vest to wear in my cold office.

Friday, April 11, 2008

catching up

I went home a little early last night, and I was all excited because every other day this week it's been after 9:00 before I started spinning and I was tired. "This night will be different!" I thought, incorrectly as it turns out. I ended up cooking, which was certainly an idea whose time had come, and then my husband called and we ended up talking for an hour an a half. By the time I got upstairs to the spinning wheel, sure enough, it was about 9:00. I persevered and spun anyway, and the yarn came out much better than the night before. (Usually when I think something has gone badly, I come back later and realize it's much better than I thought. Not the case with Wednesday's yarn: it's just bad novelty bad.)
In other news, I worked on the blanket for Project Linus the whole time I was on the phone, and sure enough, I ran out of yellow with three and a half rows (of yellow) to go. Reluctantly, I think I will break down and buy some more yellow. I want to make a big yellow sun for a blanket that's been on hold for months now, so I can use some of the rest for that. (Said blanket, if it ever gets finished, will be a scene of a pond with frogs and flowers and things for my best friend's daughter, who loves frogs. Obviously it needs a big yellow sun in the sky, preferably one that's nice and soft like this yarn. The sky is done, and I made a fish and a half entirely by winging it and with complete and amazing success. However, the tedium of the vast blue sky and pond has defeated me since July or August, and I still have no clue how I'm going to crochet a frog. I think they may be a bit trickier than fish. Yeah, just a bit.)
When I started the Project Linus blanket, part of my purpose was to use up this leftover yarn. I am again defeating this purpose by buying more yarn! Darn it. But I really can't think of any attractive workaround. The yellow is just so...yellow. It appears in every other instance of the repeating theme that ties the blanket together. If I skipped it or replaced it with another color for the last instance and a half of the repeating theme, it would just look stupid.
Anyway, I went around this morning and tried to take pictures of all the things that had been defeating me, and I scored two victories. At long last, here is the darn butterfly clip on the Little Gem!

There are two loops that you could thread the yarn through. Take my advice: don't. This only makes things worse. Even the instructions say only thread it through one, the closest one to the bobbin. The other loop is (presumably) just to give you something to squeeze on the other side when you move the thing.
Also, here is the crazy yarn I made on the Journey Wheel!

I was going to work on it some more to even out the plying twist, but maybe I'll just wash it and see what happens. I actually love the way it looks now with all those crazy twisty parts, but if I used it, you wouldn't see those anyway, unless you just glued it to something as it is or some crazy thing like that.
Anyway, I really enjoyed making that yarn and all the yarn from that gorgeous roving. This week I've been using some undyed wool that I got at Little Barn really cheap, thinking I should work with the cheap stuff until I get the hang of this wheel thing. But I'm getting a little bored with the cheap wool. Yes, natural sheep color is pretty, but it's not the most exciting thing in the world. I think this weekend I'll break out the Kool-Aid and at least dye the yarn I've made from that wool this week. I may try dyeing the actual roving, too. I'm afraid I'll felt it and make it harder for myself to work with, but I guess if I'm going to do that, it might as well be with the super cheap stuff! I'll try not to though.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

technology turns against me

Yesterday my work computer ground completely to a halt. It had been degenerating for a while, but yesterday I couldn't even get it to boot up. In addition to small things like, oh, my job, I had been using it to edit the photos for this blog! It had an SD card reader and PhotoShop. :( This morning I attempted to replace its functionality using the quirky collection of machines I have at home. For some reason, my new less old Mac won't read from my camera, only the old one will do that. But the old one sometimes flakes out when I copy stuff from it onto my jump drive to move it back to my new machine, which is the only one with any photo editing software whatsoever. I downloaded a Gimp installer for it way back when--I should actually use that at some point. Meanwhile, I'm using freebie stuff that came with the machine and the scanner. So I finally got the images copied from the camera to a machine that could edit them...and most of them are no good anyway. I wanted to show you all what I was talking about with the butterfly clip thing on the Little Gem, but the camera absolutely refuses to focus on that. I took pictures of it from all different angles, and I've got really great shots of my carpet, the quilt on the futon, the closet door, and anything else that was in the background, with a big fuzzy flyer in the front, totally useless. I was also completely unable to capture the wacky yarn I made last night. I was reading on Ask the Bellwether about spinning thick yarn, and she mentioned having people get some pencil roving and just not draft at all. Well, last night for some reason I couldn't draft evenly to save my life--I was just making all these fuzzballs in the yarn. So I thought, hey, maybe I should just try the no-drafting approach! Rock on, solve that problem, right? I don't have any pencil roving, but I think it's just roving in really thin strips. Maybe it's combed? What I had was carded, and I just divided it lengthwise until it was about the amount of fiber I'd draft out if I was trying to make a thick yarn, and started trying to spin it. (No pictures of this either--!@#%%^$!)
I had a lot of trouble with it breaking. In retrospect, I'd say this is probably because I wasn't putting enough twist on it because I was feeding it onto the bobbin too fast because I didn't have all that time taken up with drafting. Anyway, it certainly did make thick yarn, but it wasn't much fun. If I did it again, I'd definitely pay more attention to the twist. Spinning is a lot of fun if you can get a rhythm going, but not much fun if it just keeps breaking or getting tangled up.
Anyway, my camera came through for me in one area: the blanket for Project Linus.

It's about 2/3 done now--we had another meeting of the Blankie Brigade last night. The design has evolved a bit--I ran out of purple, so the purple and yellow wide stripes are smaller than intended. I'm in danger of running out of yellow, too, which could be disastrous at this point. I really don't want to buy a whole 'nother ball for, like, two stripes, but at this point it would be hard to come up with a balanced end without a few more yellow strips. (I already bought more hot pink.) Well, so far the yellow is holding out, so maybe it will just make it.
Anyway, I did manage to capture my improvised "tension" scheme for the lazy kate. I didn't think to take a picture while I was actually using it, but here it is. I just leaned the afghan squares against the bobbins, and that little bit of drag was enough to keep things going nicely.

With any luck, tomorrow will be a better day for all this stuff. Meanwhile, even if I can't document it, at least I got to play!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Spinning on a spinning wheel

Over the weekend, I rented a Majacraft Little Gem from Yarn Expressions. Although in my internet research I dismissed this wheel as being too funny-looking, it's actually a very cool little wheel. It's not nearly as funny-looking in real life, and it folds up real small into its own nice bag. (I haven't actually tried this yet.)

I thought I remembered reading that people found it unstable, but I haven't so far, and it has an good range of ratios, from 4.5 to 12.7. At first, I found that the treadling action lacked smoothness--there's one point in the rotation where it's like the wheel pauses for a split second. But when I treadled a little faster, this stopped being noticeable, so there's a decent chance it's me, not the wheel.
I did have a very frustrating first evening with this wheel, and I have tried others that were much easier to use, so it wasn't just that I'm a clueless newbie spinner. By the end of the evening, it was kind of late, I was getting grumpy about having to go to work the next day, and then I started plying. Spinning singles had been going...fair to middlin'. I was pretty unhappy with how the yarn was coming out, but I was able to keep a smooth rhythm for at least a few minutes at a time. Plying, on the other hand, was a total disaster. This wheel comes with an untensioned lazy kate, which was not interacting well at all with my overtwisted singles--I kept ending up with a pigtail spaghetti mess on the floor. Plus, every time I stopped treadling, I'd have a hard time getting it started again and end up with the yarn tangled up in the butterfly clip that this wheel has instead of cup hooks. (So far, I vote for cup hooks.) On top of that, the cat started batting everything. I finally gave up for the night and locked the wheel, kate, and fiber in the guest room. (Protection from cat, or punishing the wheel with a time-out? Both.)
Honestly, I was so frustrated, I was considering returning the wheel before my first week's rental was even up, but I do have a tendency to lose my dexterity when I get tired, so I instructed myself to give it another chance on another day. Sure enough, Monday night I tried again, and I finished plying the rest of that yarn without too much difficulty. I think I had been feeding the yarn through the butterfly clip wrong somehow--I only had the yarn tangle on it once or twice that night instead of every two minutes. Also, I did my plying in the guest room with the door shut, so no "help" from the cat. It was still a big mess, but much better. I had some really good music going, too, which I think helped me keep my rhythm better. After that, I spun some new singles, and they were coming out a lot better. Let me tell you, as I was spinning the first night's yarn, I thought it was a complete disaster, although looking at the finished yarn, it's actually not that bad.

So I spun with great tunes, and everything was going smoothly, and I was getting pretty happy. I considered whether I should leave it on a happy note and put off plying until the next day, but I decided to go ahead and do it right away. Well, good music, no cat, tamer yarn, and proper butterfly clip use makes a big difference. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I had the inspiration to lean something against the bobbins on the lazy kate so they'd have a little resistance and not just spew spaghetti twist all over the carpet while I was trying to ply. Some acrylic afghan squares I made a million years ago did the trick nicely. Everything was much smoother, and I got some reasonable yarn without wanting to throw a temper tantrum.
I still want to work on getting everything more even as far as thickness and twist, but it definitely feels like I'm starting to get the hang of this. I'm thinking a trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is in order. I want my own wheel (and I want it now)!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spinning in Color

The class totally rocked. (Come on, it was color spinning with Lynne Vogel! Of course it totally rocked!) It was more information than I could absorb in one day--luckily I took notes! But even aside from the fabulous information, it was so great spending the whole day hanging out with really nice people, and playing with gorgeous fiber.
The night before, I figured I better practice with the spindle some, since it seemed like everything else was always getting in the way. I'm definitely getting better at this!

I adore that maroon roving. But look what I got in class!

It's hand-painted blue faced leicester from Three Waters Farm in colorway Royal Family. It's exceedingly soft and the colors are gorgeous to the nth power. (The picture doesn't do it justice.) If somebody locked me in a cell and fed me only bread and water but I had this roving and something to spin it with, I'd still be happy as a clam.
So you have this gorgeous roving, and you want to make gorgeous yarn out of it. If you're really good at spinning, perhaps you could make singles--then the colors would all be exactly as they are in the roving. But at this point in my development, my singles are a crazy mess, way too uneven to try to make something out of. Even if you didn't mind the overtwisted parts and the near-certainty of skew, there are a bunch of undertwisted parts that would be prone to breaking. So basically, I want to make a plied yarn where the colors look good.
One option is to intentionally not line up the colors from the original roving, so you end up with different colors plied together. If all of the colors in the roving look good together, this can make some really beautiful yarn. Another possibility is to divide a piece of the roving lengthwise, spin both halves identically, and ply them together. This makes perfect sense, but is difficult to achieve. Some folks in the class did it, though. A third option is to make a single and Navajo ply it. In Navajo plying, you take one single and pull it through itself in loops to magically make a gorgeous three-ply yarn where all the colors line up. This was beyond me this past weekend, but I will be learning it as soon as I can. It is super cool. Meanwhile, here's what I made on the spindle. I was trying to get the colors to line up, but as you can see, I utterly failed. This fiber had a much longer staple length than I had been working with, plus it was combed instead of carded, so it took me a while to get used to. So many little pieces of fiber were lost to yarn breakage and other mess-ups, it was really hopeless that it would line up the same. But it's pretty yarn anyway, so I'm happy.

I also got to try out some spinning wheels. One of them was a Journey Wheel, a very clever wheel that folds up into its own wooden box so you can take it with you. Unfortunately it weighs about 15 pounds, which is definitely on the heavy side for schlepping through the airport, but it's still a super cool idea. It didn't have a ratio low enough for me to really keep up with, so I ended up spinning some really crazy out-of-control yarn, which was so unruly it wouldn't even submit to being photographed. (Semi-serious here, I really couldn't get a decent picture of it.)
Then I tried another one, which I can't for the life of me remember anything about except it had a much lower ratio and was super easy to spin with. (It wasn't a folding one, though, and I want to buy a folding one. I still wish I remembered what it was.) Anyway, I was still in frantic spaz mode from the other wheel, so I ended up making crazy thick yarn that reminds me of these hair ties I used to have when I was a little girl.

For as enormously thick as it was, the thickness and twist did come out much more even than I had been achieving, so I'm proud of it too. And anything with these gorgeous colors is just irresistible. I wish I had taken a picture of the singles when they were on my wrist for Andean plying, an extremely cool new trick that I also learned in class. Basically, you wind the yarn around your hand in a clever way that results in a bracelet of yarn that you can pull from both ends for plying. This solves a small problem I had been having with plying the singles from my spindle. I had been simply putting the single around a chair leg and walking it through the house until I had the ends together, and then plying my way back to the chair. Merike Saarniit taught me this at Useful Knowledge, and it is the ultimate in simplicity. If she had tried to teach me anything more complicated that day, my brain would have exploded. However, as we say in computer science, this approach is not scalable. I was already running out of house to stretch it through, plus my cat started participating way too much. Andean plying solves both of those problems for me.
Of course, even though I have all this great fiber waiting for me at home, I couldn't leave without buying something.

This is South American Punta roving from Hoobody Fibers, hand-dyed by Meg of Yarn Expressions herself. (At least, I'm pretty sure that's what she said.) It's really pretty, and it's not colors I would normally choose. After seeing the gorgeous results everyone in class was getting from colors I wouldn't have picked, I decided to get something outside my usual zone (but clearly pretty) to play with. Can't wait to see what happens with that!
Meanwhile, I found out that Yarn Expressions rents spinning wheels! They don't carry the Kromski Sonata, which is still the one I'm stalking on the internet, but I rented a Majacraft Little Gem. So at my house right now is a spinning wheel--squee!!! More about that tomorrow.
One last observation about the class: I was really struck by how absolutely beautiful everyone's yarn was, even the yarn in colors I thought I hated. Gorgeous. Yet, many people in the class were very frustrated. Even though they had made this incredible yarn, it wasn't what they had been trying to make, so they were mad. I do this to myself a lot, but for some reason I wasn't on Saturday, so I could see it from the outside. Wow. Note to self: relax! Don't worry too much if you don't get exactly what you were trying for, just be happy if you make beautiful yarn! Or even if you don't! (Well, maybe that's asking too much. On the other hand, I've found that no matter how ugly I think something is, somebody thinks it's great. So I guess even ugly yarn is something to sell on etsy.)

Friday, April 4, 2008


I finished my first design proposal last night. Whew! It's due Monday, but they don't accept electronic submissions, and I'm going to be at the Spinning with Color class all day tomorrow, so I had to get it in the mail today. The proposal itself went a lot faster than I thought it would, but then I ended up staying up until 1:30 am to finish the swatch. On one hand, I was happy to be doing something with actual fiber--it seems like all I've been doing lately is meta stuff! But on the other, I started losing my manual dexterity a little after midnight. Also, I put on a movie for the purpose of pretending that there was nothing in the world I'd rather be doing than crocheting this fun little piece, but the movie ended up being awful. That did not help.
Anyway, it's all done and ready to be mailed on my lunch break, and I'm so excited about the class tomorrow. I bought this luscious roving at Useful Knowledge, and I've been really eager to spin it.

If I hadn't gotten distracted by that maroon roving (see earlier entry), I would have started spinning it by now. But I'm glad I'm going to the class first; I'm sure she'll tell me how to spin this to best advantage. I can't wait!