Friday, December 24, 2010

The Link Now Works!

Thanks to the fine folks at Ravelry, the link to the pattern now works.  So please enjoy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Christmas - here's your present - a pattern

Here is an easy and straight forward pattern for a pair of bed socks. You knit them on size 5mm needles and use chunky yarn, so they knit up fast. If you don't have chunky yarn, like used in the downloadable pattern - available below for FREE, you can use a couple of strands of DK or Worsted Weight  to bring it to a heavier weight. 

The pair in the photo above were made from one strand of green Cascade - Quatro, a strand of blue Berroco Ultra Alpaca and one strand of dark blue Hand Maiden sock yarn. I ran out of the sock yarn near the toe, but it didn't matter. 

Download First Socks Now!

I am working on another pair.  In fact I started this pair earlier today. And while it am putting it down to make my tourtiere and do my last minute shopping [and doing a blog post] I am sure I will finish this pair tonight. 

For this pair I am using a strand of the green Cascade Quatro from before and a strand of kid mohair and silk. I am amazed at how lovely the fabric is. 

I hope you enjoy the pattern and better yet, I hope you make a pair for yourself and some loved ones. 

Happy Christmas all!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Maine Socks -- complete

The socks are done and on their way to Bangor, Maine.  I finished them on Thursday night, and they were in the mail Friday morning.  Here's a shot of them in their beginning phase -- on the flight to Winnipeg.

And here they are:  DONE.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Knitting in airports

So I have these two skeins of  yarn and more to come. It's pretty much what I hoped it would be like, but now the big question -- what to do with this llama/alpaca/merino/silk yarn?  It's going to be an extremely warm wearing item, whatever I knit with it. 

It is between a sport and a sock weight yarn.

I decided to make a pair of socks for my Dad. He lives in Bangor, Maine which is a fairly cold place in the winter.  It's a damp cold. 

Last Sunday I had to fly to Winnipeg for work, so decided that the airport waits/lineups and hotel evening time would help me make a dent in this project.  In the line up for the re-scheduled departures, [because the morning flight out of Calgary was cancelled due to mechanical errors which threw the whole system out of whack,] I cast on 56 stitches for the socks.  After 1 1/2 inches of 1x1 rib, I knew these were going to be too big.  I was using 3mm needles, the same I reguarly use to make socks.  . . . this yarn was a wee bit thicker than the sock yarn I regularly use, I never thought it would make that much of a difference.  No matter.  I had a two hour wait ahead of me, so I headed through security, grabbed a table and a coffee and proceeded with my project.

I did a few quick [back and forth] rows of stockinette stitch and measured it up.  No wonder why 56 stitches were too huge.  I ripped it all out, and according to my calculations,  decided to cast on 48 stitches.

Start #2 - no matter and no problem - I had a two hour wait ahead of me, and not many distractions.  I was in the Abbotsford Airport.

Knitting a sock or knitting a mitten is kind of like knitting a swatch, so I often don't stress about gauge and such.  All I've "wasted" so far is about 20 minutes of knitting.  That's nothing, and it helped to pass the time.  In fact, while I was standing in line, a middle aged woman walked past me, stopped and asked, "what are you doing with those sticks?"  "I am knitting."  "Oh," she said, "Is that like crochet?"  A moment flashed before me while I explained the similarities and differences between the two noble crafts [and she grew crazed with boredom and stabbed me]. Before I could come up with a reply she saved me by asking what I was making, "Socks, socks for my Dad."  "Oh, I should try that," she said, and tottered off on her heels.

I carried off in the lineup and kept knitting.  It wasn't until I was comfortably seated in the coffee area by Gate 3, that I had time and presence of mind to take an honest look at the piece I'd been making.  Yep, it's true.  This is way too big.

As mentioned earlier, I cast on 48 stitches - down a full 8 stitches from the first effort.  This should make a difference.  I knit 2 inches of 1x1 rib.  Then started on plain, easy, mindless stockinette.  I knit, and knit, and knit.  I phoned home, I texted friends.  I took photos of the sock with my phone so I could document the amazing progress of this pair of socks.   One and half hours into this activity, a feeling came upon me.  This sock is still too big.  Not as obvious as the last one, but it's still too big.

Many of you knitters will know this feeling.  I comes on you quietly. 

This isn't right. 

But another side of your brain says,

Yes it's just fine.  You did a swatch.  You measured it out

This went back and forth, while I kept knitting. 

This isn't rightIt's still too big. 

Don't worry, once it's washed up it'll shrink to size. 

And this went on until we [finally] boarded the plane to Calgary. 

Once aboard and settled in, I looked at the sock.  I removed my boot and tried the sock on.  Yep, it's way too big.  What was I thinking, why was I kidding myself?

I measured it again, getting [to no one who knits surprised  at this fact] a different gauge reading from knitting in the round than from my first flat measurement.  Sometimes you want to get something done so badly, you forget what you already know.  I can't believe I made this mistake.  No time for personal admonishments.  I had a two and half hour flight ahead of me -- knitting Nirvana.  Starting again was not a problem.

I promptly ripped it all out.  My seat mate looked over at me a full three times while I did this.  I wondered if he had experience with knitters and was wondering why I was engaging in this activity in silence? -- no swearing or cursing out of me.  I am the consumate traveller.  Nearly invisible.

I didn't rewind the tangle of yarn that landed in my lap. It seemed like a waste of time.  I cast on 42 stitches, 14 on each needle and started knitting.   By time we landed, I had completely knit up the nest of yarn that was in my lap. I was at exactly the same place in my knitting, as I was when I boarded the plane. 

More later, with photos [as soon as I learn how to transfer them from my phone to my blog.]

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Green Yarn Photo Shoot

More photos of the green yarn -- two skeins plied up so far, probably another one, maybe two more to come. The photo below is the yarn, freshly plied, loaded onto the niddy-noddy, the tool that helps you make 2 yard skeins.

The next step is to wash the yarn to help all the fibres relax and bloom.  Here's the yarn going into a hot soapy bath, where they will soak for about five minutes.

Here's the finished skeins.  This is a photo with no flash; the colours are off, but you can see the texture much better than in the photo below.  In the photo below, the colours you see here are right on the mark with the actual colours, but the flash washes out the texture and puts way too much sheen on the yarn.

This is a pretty decent amount of yarn and, as noted earlier, there are probably two more skeins to come.  Now, what to do with this yarn?  I was going to make some socks, still might, but with this much yarn, all looking the same, I could dream up a much larger project. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Three-Ply Green Yarn Photos

Found the camera, charged up the battery and here are some photos of the three-ply yarn I was telling you about in the previous post.

Three bobbins: top to bottom -
green merrino blend from Sweet Georgia Yarns;
black llama from Mt. Lehman Farms;
Grey Cria Alpaca from Amisto Llamas

Nearly full bobbin

Close up of nearly full bobbin
The colours aren't coming through in these photos; bad lighting in my living room.  After this bobbin is filled, I will skein it off and start all over again plying the singles and filling bobbins until the fibre runs out.  I will have to spin up more of the green to keep things even with the black and grey, and I do have it in my stash.

After it's a spun up, the yarn gets washed and then "thwacked".  To thwack yarn, you take it out of the rinse water, gently squeeze the water out of it and thwack it, hit it really hard against the side of the bathtub.  It's a very satisfying thing to do and it does wonders for your yarn.  It helps the llama and alpaca bloom and felt a wee bit at the core.  Do this a couple of times on each skein and then hang it to dry.  Will try to get to all of this on the weekend.

Bye for now,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What was I thinking?

I was happily spinning up the black llama and was nearly finished it when I was struck by a memory. 

I hate knitting with black yarn. 

It is difficult to see what I am doing, I can't read my knitting.  Why am I setting myself up for a project frought with frustration?  Maybe it's my eyesight, maybe it's the poor lighting of the spaces where I do most of my knitting these days [the bus and Skytrain].  So last Sunday, I decided on Plan B. 

Background: A while ago I purchased a couple skeins of commercially spun yarn that, from a distance, was a lovely green.  Up close, and peeling apart the three plies that the yarn consisted of, I discovered that the yarn was actually a black, grey and light green single; all working together to make a green yarn.  It was so clever and interesting for the eye.  I was determined to try it out for myself.

Plan B:
So, I quickly finished spinning up the 100 g "bump" of black llama and then started on a 100 g bump of grey cria alpaca that came from another local farm.  Thanks to the Eastern and Western Grey Cup Semi Finals [Canadian Football League] that were on television last Sunday, I had several hours of spinnning.  I was able to get two full bobbins of black llama and grey alpaca.  In my cluster of unfinished spinning projects, I had a full bobbin of green merino/tencel/nylon blend from Sweet Georgia Yarns.  I had spun it fine, and it took such a long time to fill one bobbin, I just never managed to get back to spinning up a second one for plying.  But this one was perfect.  For this Plan B, I needed thinly spun singles, and these three that I had on hand, was what I believed would do the trick.

So I plied the three together.  I have about 1/2 a bobbin filled, but have had to take a break from it due to a fantastically crazy work schedule this week that has me out of town, and away from my wheel.  I will finish it up this weekend -- watching the Grey Cup Final, and take some photos so you can see there is method [and reasonably good results] to my madness.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beautiful Black Local Llama -- Wandering Star

Got some terrific llama fibre from Jane Pinkerton at the Guild Sale last week.  She is the owner of Mount Lehman Llamas.  Here's what I bought:
It's just a label and probably not that exciting, but it is for me.  Mount Lehman is one of the hills that borders Glen Valley, where I live.  So, this fibre is pretty darned local.  You can also see that it's "Prime" llama, meaning that it's soft, luxurious and with the guard hair removed.  I like the fact that Jane writes the name of the llama on the label. In her world there are no dye lots, just real animals with real names. 

The fibre comes in a form called a "bump".  Carefully prepared rovings that just roll of this "bump" shaped thing. It's a $10 "bump" and in my world of trying to find local fibre, it's worth it.  And more so.

It's really fine stuff and it spins up thin with little effort, so to make a good weight, I'll triple ply it.  There's a 100 grams here so I should get some good yardage -- like that "oh-so-Canadian" blend of metric and imperial measurement?  The ultimate plan is to make enough yarn to knit up a pair of socks.  They will be amazingly warm.

I'm off to a decent start.  This is the result of about 1 hour of (often interupted) spinning last weekend, because I was demonstrating the craft at the sale.  Now that I have some other things off my plate, I can get down to more.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's harder than I thought. . .

I knew that it would be a BIT of a challenge to try to make mittens, hats, socks, scarves, shawls and other wonderful knitted and woven items from locally sourced fibre.  But I didn't realize how difficult it would be. 

In the old days, a mere four years ago, there used to be this annual event called the Fleece Sale.  It was hosted by the Lower Mainland Sheep Growers Association and assisted by our guild, the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild.  It sounds mighty old fashioned, but it wasn't. 

It was an annual gathering (first week of June) whereby all the folks who raise sheep quality fibre for hand spinners find a home to sell their stuff.  Members of our guild and their association gathered on a Friday evening and graded all the fleeces.  The next morning, folks from far and wide would line up outside the door to come in and buy unwashed fleeces and give reason for their hearts to soar for another year, or two, depending upon the weight of the fleece.

This event no longer takes place. 

My goal:  find out why is no longer happens.

Second goal:  find out what happens to all these fleeces.

I am running out of fibre. Sad but true.  I have llama and alpaca that I obtained from the Artisans' Sale: Beyond Fibre, but I have very little wool.  And if you are a spinner, you will know that llama and alpaca are wonderful and soft, but you ALWAYS come back home to plain old sheep's wool.  It's simple.  Easy to clean.  Has no guard hair.  Is springy. 

Quest: obtain enough wool to get me through the 2010-11 winter.

Folks are saying its going to be colder and nastier than the last ten winters put together.  I'd better get myself ready for those socked-in snow days that they are warning us about.  Wouldn't want to be caught with nothing to do but housework and read work-related email.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Knitting ADD

And I don't in any way mean to offend anyone struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder, it's just that I am starting to see indications of it in my own fibre arts life.

After the rush and focus of gettting all the stuff made for the guild sale, my knitting/creating brain exploded.  Since last Saturday, when the stuff went out the door and the game was over, I have started 6, yes, SIX knitting projects. 

1. Easy First Socks/Bed Socks for my mom  done
2. Fan and Feather Lace scarf in Pink/Blues Merino [okay, it's just a swatch, but it still isn't done!]
3. Fan and Feather Lace scarf in Autumnal Colours - Merino  completed January 13, 2011
4. Coin Lace 1/2 mittens for Melinda - merino/alpaca done
5. Coin Lace 1/2 mittens for Judy C - merino/silk ripped it out, started again with another yarn
6. Cable scarf in chunky weight for GR  done - November 14, also added a pair of red alpaca mitts to that.

I keep starting things because my brain is just exploding with curiosity about yarns, yarn weights, patterns and the way colours blend.  I am also trying to write patterns to accompany the things that I am making these days.  So I knit, and while I am designing/sorting it out, I also write it down.  Then I have to do it again, so I can test knit the pattern I've written.  So it's all fun, at least is it for me.

But it is keeping me from my real task, which is to find some new sources of local fibre because the cupboards bare!

Will have updates on that quest and photos of finished objects -- soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Inspired by the season

Last year I purchased a skein of yarn at my LYS - local yarn store - 88 Stitches.  I was inspired by it because it reminded me of the autumn colours you see back east at this time of year. 

I didn't have any particular pattern  in mind, or even a thought about what kind of an item I would want to knit up.  I just loved the colours. 

I started knitting a pair of socks, but stopped because the yarn just striped and I wasn't looking for a pair of striped socks. Ripped it out. 

So I tried something else.  I started a scarf from which uses a dropped stitch pattern and blocks of knitting and purling.  The end product looked woven.  It would be a lovely scarf/wrap in any other yarn.  But this one just wasn't working.  It sat there in my UFO box. 

On Sunday, inspired by the fact that I no longer had to focus on getting those items completed for the sale, I was FREE to play and imagine new things.  So I headed to my studio and took out some fun yarns I have had on the back burner.  I had this small ball of lovely merino left over from a pair of socks I made.  I wanted to try the Feather and Fan Lace pattern, so grabbed that yarn to do a test swatch.

Feather and Fan Lace:  works on multiples of 18 stitches

Row 1:  Knit
Row 2: Purl
Row 3:  K2tog - 3 times, YO knit 1 - 6 times, k2tog - 3 times.  Repeat across the row.
Row 4: Knit

Repeat these four rows for the pattern.

A variation of the patterns adds a stitch at the beginning and the end - so it is 18 stitches plus 2.  Knit the first and last stitch on row three.

Here's what it looks like. 

Not only was it easy to knit, I loved what was happening with the colours.  They weren't striping, they were pooling.  That's exactly what I wanted the Fall Coloured yarn to do, but hadn't yet found a way to do this. 

This one was pooling in two distinct columns, which is kind of pretty, but not what I had in mind for the Fall yarn.

I ripped out the dropped lace scarf and was secretly happy because I could reclaim all my abalone stitch markers.  Re-wound the ball -- and dug up some slightly larger needles than the ones I used on the test swatch.  For that I used 3mm.  I grabbed the 4mm, cast on 38 stitches and started knitting.  In a very short while I realized I had found what I was looking for.  It's really hard to imagine how happy this made me -- so happy in fact I tried to share my enthusiasm with sleeping hubby.  Got a much better reception from the gals at work the next day. 

Here it is.  It is what I envisioned -- it looks like an eastern forest in mid October.  The golds, oranges and reds are at their height causing the dark greens from the evergreens to stand out. 

The rocks on the windowsill say it all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Countdown update

I made it. 

I managed to get 20 items over to Sally's house for jurying for the guild sale.  Jurying started at 9:30 -- I dropped the stuff off at 9:30 am. 

Last Sunday I finished knitting the baby sweater.  During the week I wove in all the loose ends, and wow, there were a lot of them.  Desperate to make it interesting, I changed the yarns and colours several time.  See, you pay a price for art.  Then I stitched up the only two seams needed -- it's truly an amazing pattern.  You make a baby/toddler sweater by knitting one huge piece.  You fold it up, sew up two seams and you have a sweater.  Go to this link and see Stephanie Pearl-McPhee aka The Yarn Harlot -- write about her first experience making on.  Great photos too. 
Sweater done.  Item number 18. 


On Tuesday, on the way into the city, I brought the lace hat along and knit that up.  Wow, that went fast.  By the end of the day, the ride home, I was binding it off and looking around for something else to distract me for the rest of the ride. 

Lace hat done.  Item number 19. 


The rest of the week was a bust because of late meetings and other obligations -- like life. So I kept staring at the bag that contained one 1/2 mitten --sans thumb, and the nearly complete cuff of the second mitten.  The pattern is the Vancouver Specials, but knit on size 3mm needles, with fingering weight hand spun.  I cast on 44 stitches.  So there's way more knitting on this one than on the 5mm one with 24 stitches. 

I was just about to admit defeat of my own self imposed deadline, and even thought about going into my "completed knitting items box" to find something else to put into the sale, when I had a burst of refusal.

So on Friday am, I was knitting the second 1/2 mitten on the car/bus/train into town -- and trying to figure out how I would get the rest done. Thanks (?) to an over abundancy of traffic and other delays, I was binding off by the time I reached my Main Street Science World stop, and tucked it into my bag thinking that things were looking good. 

I knit the thumbs on both mittens in an interlude between my 11am meeting and my 2pm meeting.  And no, I didn't rush the end of the 11am meeting just so I could have more knitting time.  How could you think that?

Inspired by the fact that these items were 90% done, I wove in the loose ends during a break in my 2 - 4:30pm meeting. 

1/2 mitts done.  Item number 20. 


DONE.  Big high five. 

No one else in the room cared -- or even knew what I was celebrating.

Came home and washed the mittens.  You really have to do that, especially with hand spun yarn.  Any thing I knit looks so much better after a good wash and blocking.  So that is another thing you have to build into your "completion plan".  Anyway, got it done.  They looked great.  Put the labels on them and got them into the box.  In my enthusiasm to get this all done, I didn't take ANY pictures.  So I will take some at the sale so you will know I am not making all of this up.

Really, how could and why would anyone make any of this stuff up?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Countdown is on. . . . 6 days to go

While I do want to spend my time sourcing new fibres and visiting fibre farms in my 100-mile (160 km)radius, I have more pressing business at hand.  In a mere six days, I have to have all the items that I want to sell at the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild Annual Artisans' Sale: Beyond Fibre ready for jurying.

Yes, jurying.

It's what guilds do.  As a guild we have a set of Standards for each of the areas that we specialize in:  weaving, spinning, knitting, felting and dyeing.  Any guild member in good standing (having paid their annual dues) can sell things at our annual sale.  It's a terrific deal.  This sale is known far and wide, has a long history -- over twenty years -- and is two days long.  People come to buy our guild members' items and for the amazing things that all the other artisans produce.  And best of all, guild members don't have to pay a commission on the stuff they sell.  How's that for a good deal?

So a while back, after missing about five sales in a row, I set a goal for myself.  This year I would submit 12 items to the sale.  That means that I have to have them all ready and labelled for the second last weekend in October. 

Jury members will spend an entire day looking over our finished objects to make sure they meet the Standards established by the guild.  It's a good process and it lets the general public know that they aren't buying junk.  The mittens are the same size; socks have no gaping holes from the join-ins; hats will fit a head; woven tea towels are a standard "tea towel" size; and so forth.  It feels a bit intimidating to have folks examine your finished objects with such scrutiny, but they aren't doing it to be nasty.  They do it to ensure that the Standards established by our guild are adhered to.  As I wrote earlier, that is what guilds do.  That is the way that we make sure the art and craft of weaving, spinning, knitting, felting and dyeing have room to grow and evolve, while at the same time, keep the craft alive and well.  If your items pass jurying, they can be sold in the sale.  If there is a problem with an item, a jury member will contact you and if possible, give you a chance to repair, replace, fix the problem so it can be put into the sale. 

So right now, thanks to hats and 1/2 mittens, I have 17 finished items for the sale.  (Yippee, that's five over my goal!!) I also have three UFO's.  A lace hat, a baby sweater and a pair of half mitts on size 3mm needles (what was I thinking?).  I need to spin up a bit more yarn to finish off the sweater, it's really only three rows from knitting completion.  Then there is the sewing up, attaching buttons, and weaving in all the loose ends.  The lace hat just needs a few more hours and I can do that on my commute to the city/work next week.  One day should do the trick.  The mitts may take longer.  I have one finished, will see how far I can get on my commute. Will have to resist the 24-Hour crossword and get the job done.  Below is the Baby Surprise Jacket in progress.

Fingers crossed that I can get these last three done and have 20 items in the sale and PASSED by the Standard and Jurying Committee.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Vancouver Specials: Half Mittens you can make in a weekend

Here is a pattern for a pair of half mittens you can make in a very short time.  When I test knit the pattern, I started in the afternoon, and finished them by the end of the day.  I am a fairly fast, but not crazy fast knitter -- so trust me, the timing may very well be the same for you. Think about it, you are using size 5mm needles and thick yarn.- 24 -28 stitches, 14 rounds can make the cuff, 10 rounds to the thumb, and another 14 or so rounds until you cast off.  The thumbs themselves take about 15 minutes to knit up, because you have to focus and think about what you are doing, ie. picking up stitches. 

I named these half-mittens "Vancouver Specials" after the architectural housing style that evolved in Vancouver in the late 60's to 80's. When we moved here in 1994, all I had for winter wear was lovely warm mittens from life in Northern Ontario. I spent more time taking them off and fanning my sweating hands, than I did wearing them, so I decided to make a different kind.  I liked those fingerless glove patterns, but after making one pair of those I wondered why I was spending so much time on each finger. . . . what if I just made a pair of mittens and then stopped before the decreasing at the top?  Magic.  A comfortable, funky looking, easy to make and lovely to wear item that warmed my hands just the amount needed. 

Here's the link to the pattern.  Good luck with it and let me know how it turns out.

I want to thank my sister Laura for desktopping this pattern and making it look so good on paper.  And also to thank my reluctant model -- youngest daughter Georgia Rose.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Baby Fan Lace Mitts from the Rambouillet

   This pattern is called Baby Fan Lace Mitts by Morgan Wolf, a free Ravelry download.  You can knit up a pair in about sixteen hours, or bribe a friend to make you a pair.  

Here are a couple pairs of 1/2 mitts I made from locally sourced yarn.  The purple ones on the left are from the Rambouillet, the bluish pair are also from the Rambouillet with some silk blended in with the combs.  They are deliciously easy to knit up.  Despite being very easy to knit, the pattern looks complicated so you get the benefit of seeming to be more advanced than you may be.  There is a bit of thinking to do around the gusset, but all you need to do there is pay attention to the pattern. 

Mitts, hats and socks get most of my attention because they are quick and easy to make.  You can use up small amounts of handspun and move onto another project.  I have a short attention span and I like to experiment with colours, fibres and patterns, so trying new things on socks, mitts and hats is the way to go.

These half mitts will both be on sale, along with many other items I've been making, at the Langley Weavers' and Spinners' Guild Annual Artisans' Sale: Beyond Fibre.  Mark your calendar, Saturday November 6 from 10 am - 5 pm and Sunday, November 7 from 10am to 4pm at the Fort Langley Community Hall on Glover Road in Fort Langley BC.  See you there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A new twist on local

While my goal is to create many clothing items from locally sourced fibres, there is also another category within the concept of "local" that deserves some attention.  That is the LYS, or local yarn store.  We have some real gems our here in the Lower Mainland and one in particular that I want to draw attention to here: Sweet Georgia Yarns
Felicia Lo has an amazing studio just blocks from where I work in Vancouver.  All along the first floor of her studio are drying racks filled with recently dyed rovings and yarns; bins full of a rovings and yarns waiting to be dyed; spinning wheels and a loom. The small upstairs area is completely shelved and these shelves are full of dyed yarns and braids, like the ones seen on the left, of fibre.  My favourite these days are the bluefaced leicester (BFL) 100 gram rovings.  The green on the far left and the orange are BFL. 

I spun up the green -- called pea shoot. It was dreamy and luxurious.  Wonderful stuff.  And made the following hat and 1/2 mitts.

The hat is from called "Foliage".  It's a straightforward lace knit that works up fast.  The pattern is easy --despite it being rated as "tangy" because you can memorize it quickly and read the lace, so mistakes or errors are easy to avoid.

The 1/2 mitts are my own pattern.  I'll post those in a while.

So when I want to take a break from washing, carding, and dyeing my local fibres, I treat myself to a braid or two of unspun fibre from Sweet Georgia Yarns.  Almost as good as a visit to the spa.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cleaning fibre with wool combs -- Rambouillet

As I was leaving the Lower Mainland Sheep Grower's Association annual sale several years ago, a small bundle of fibre caught the eye of my youngest -- who was about seven or eight at the time.  It was a small bundle, a 3.5lb lamb's fleece from the Rambouillet breed. The development of the Rambouillet breed is a wonderful story for those who love history.  As found on the net, "The Rambouillet had its origin among the Moors of North Africa during the Fourteenth Century. Distant ancestors of today's Rambouillet accompanied Moorish conquerors to Spain, and their descendants were left behind when the Spaniards drove the invaders out."  The Rambouillet descends entirely from the Spanish Merino. In fact, it is the French version of the Merino developed when Louis XVI imported 386 Spanish Merinos in 1786 for his estate at Rambouillet.  To read more of the fascinating history of this breed and how the Spaniards gave up their monopoly of Merino sheep and inadvertently helped create/maintain the Rambouillet, visit here

The fleece was soft with a 2.5 inch staple -- and it was only 3.5lbs!  I had just purchased a 12lb Romney fleece and was feeling a bit overwhelmed.  But my daughter wanted this one.  Always the one to enable a budding fibre enthusiast, I bought it.  It washed up easily enough, but there was vegetation in it that I couldn't seem to get out with washing and usual carding methods.  The dirt was mostly in the tips, but because the staple was so short [and because I didn't know any better at that time] I didn't consider cutting the tips. 

So it just sat there, soft, dirty and un-spun.  Here's a small clump of it.

A while later I attended one of our guild "spin-ins" -- a monthly gathering of spinners hosted at a member's home.  At this spin-in I shared my frustration about this fleece and how I couldn't seem to get the fine vegetation -- turned out to be ground up alfalfa -- out of the fibre.  A friend suggested I try using wool combs as a way to prepare it.  I had never used wool combs before, so we agreed to meet, me with my fibre and she with her combs and see if it could make a difference.

Wool combs are frightening looking things, even the Mini comb style.  They have two rows of long steel spikes that don't bend.  The result was stunning.  So dramatic that the next day I ordered my own [locally made] set. 

Here's how you use wool combs for fibre preparation.  You load the fibre onto the combs by sorting out the staples.

Staple anatomy and definition:  a staple is a chunk of wool fibre.  There are two ends to the staple; the tip -- usually dirty and sunburnt for it is the oldest piece of fibre and the butt end, the end that was cut.  This end often has a lot of lanolin in it because it was closest to the skin.

Load these onto your wool comb, tips out and butt end secured into the comb.  See above and below.

Then using a gentle stroke, you comb the fibres.  Each hand holds a comb -- doesn't look like it in the photo because the other hand is holding the camera.  The right hand comb spikes point upwards.  The left hand comb spikes face you.  Crazy but true.  As you make each a pass through the fibres, the right hand, which is facing upwards, moves in a more upward direction; and the left comb which is facing you, moves towards you and then curves to the left with a twist of your wrist.  These combined actions help to move the fibre from one wool comb to the next.

You comb, moving through the fibres until all the fibres from the right hand comb are onto the left one.

Then you do it all over again, moving/combing the fibres from left comb to the right one.  Not all the fibres will move over.  What will be left is the shorter fibres and lots of dirt and vegetation.  Magic.

After a few passes, you will pull the combed top off the combs.  At this point, the fibres are pretty much all the same length. Gently stroke them out to a beard shape and start pulling.  Not too much; pull about half the length of the staple.  Then reach up and grab another section, and gently pull that again.  When you do this, your right hand will be holding the comb securely in place.  This is a gentle tug-o-war.  Tug too much and oops, you have a bundle of fibres in your hand.  Tug gently and steadily, moving up the fibre and you will have what is called a combed top.  A spinner's dream to work with. 

Here's the family of Rambouillet I played with today.  On the left is the dirty, uncombed fibre.  Right top is the waste from combing.  This waste contains shorter fibres and all the vegetation that I couldn't remove with my hand carders.  On the bottom right is the finished, clean and smooth, combed top of Rambouillet. 

It may seem like a lot of work, and in some minor ways it is, but the result is amazingly soft and clean fibre that practically spins itself.  Additionally, it is a great work out for your arms, particularly your upper arms.  And who at this age isn't concerned about that?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yummy yarns from local sources

All this yarn, with the exception of the burgundy stuff in the middle, is from local sources.  You are looking at handspun yarn made from wool, alpaca, llamba, and a few made from a blend of all those fibres including mohair. 

Over then next while I will share the items I've made with them over the last few months as I get ready for the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild Annual Artisans' Sale:  Beyone Fibre.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 24, 2010

GR's Sweater from Minnie

As I mentioned in my first post, when I first started spinning I bought a fleece from a friend Lani, who had a small flock of sheep.  This fleece was from a ewe named Minnie who had lovely wool; soft and lustrous. Lani kept good care of her sheep and it showed in the high quality of the fibre and the fact that it wasn't full of hay and manure. 

I washed, carded and spun up the fibre.  It was terrific fun -- I didn't really know what I was doing -- was relying on books, calls to fellow guild members and instinct.  I was new to spinning so the yarn was slightly over twisted and didn't have the loft and airiness that my yarns for sweaters now have.  As a result, the sweater, when finished was dense and heavy. 

When I started spinning the yarn I didn't have a project in mind, but I knew I wanted to make something "substantial".  A sweater for my youngest daughter seemed the best idea, because sweaters are "substantial" and she was small so it would not take too long.  I dyed the yarn using kool-aid -- easy as anything.  The pink is from Strawberry Koolaid, the green from Lemon/Lime, the yellow is Pineapple and the white was good old Minnie. 

These Icelandic sweaters are a dream to knit up.  You work the body in the round, the arms in the round and then you join everything up at the yoke, working in the round and working the pattern.  The colour work keeps you going as each row lets you see the picture develop.

The sweater was heavy when completed, but my daughter loved it and wore it until it didn't fit her anymore.  Then we passed it along to another wee one who also wore it until she outgrew it.  A lot of hard wear and it still looks good.  I guess that's what you get with over twisted yarn. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Local Romney from Ann

This spring I purchased a 10lb lamb fleece from a fellow guild member named Ann.  Ann raises a small flock of Romneys on a farm which is 11.5 miles -- 18.4 km (as the crow flies) from my place.  Here's an up-close look at what a lamb's fleece looks like before it's washed/scoured.  Double click on the photo and you will get a larger view.

You can see it is full of vegetation -- bits of grass and seeds; lanolin -- the lovely oily stuff that makes your hands really soft; suint -- the dried sweat from the sheep; and other surprises like dead bugs and clumps of sheep dung.

After you scour it -- that's the word we fibre folk use when we talk about washing wool -- it looks totally different.  To scour means that you wash it in really hot water with soap to clean it of all the oils and dirt -- allowing easy fibre processing and, if you choose to dye it, to allow the dye to adhere to the fibre.

Here is what washed fibre looks like.  This small batch is hanging on my back fence.  I tilted the wire fencing to make a shelf -- clever of me eh?  It helped the fibre dry quickly because the warm air could circulate all around it.

Once it was dry, I brought it into the house and got it ready for spinning.  I decided to use my wool combs so I could easily and quickly remove the final bits of vegetation that were still in the locks. Here's what the combed nests look like.

Aren't they heavenly?  Doesn't that just make you want to spin?  I was so happy with this fibre.  It is soft, not super soft, but soft with a springyness to it which made a lovely yarn with some give.  I will post photos of the yarn I made next time around.  This batch of cleaned fibre was about 3lbs of the fibre.  You can see you can get a lot of yarn from a 10lb fleece.

Thanks Ann and your lovely lambs fleece.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why 100-Mile Wear?

This blog is about my efforts to create clothing items from fibres that come from within a 100-mile radius of my house.  It is inspired by the book A 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J. B. Mackinnon.  I initially resisted reading that book, feeling that it would have a repremanding and superior tone that would result in guilt and total lack of enjoyment for anything that I ate following that.  But it wasn't that way at all.  It's a terrific and inspiring book written in an intelligent and engaging manner. 

And it got me thinking.  How much of our resources are spending moving stuff around the planet, all in the name of fashion?  How many of us have forgotten how to create clothing and fabric, leaving it all in the hands of technology and third world countries?

I joined the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild in January 2000 with a deep desire to learn how to spin, right then and there.  One of the seasoned  members of the guild advised me to get a wheel and buy a fleece.  In a very short time I purchased a second-hand spinning wheel [Ashford Traditional] and started processing a 7 lb fleece from a ewe named Minnie.  The first yarn I spun was over twisted, thick and lovely.  The sweater I made for my 6 year old weighed about 2 1/2 lbs.  I dyed the fibre using koolaid, because they were safe and easy to obtain.  I didn't have the brain power or space needed to get into dyeing in a "real" way.  The sweater was gorgeous and she loved it, despite its weight.  She wore it with pride until it didn't fit her anymore.

I loved that yarn and the whole process of making it.  I had to skirt the fleece -- take out the inevitable animal bits, then scour the fibres -- wash them in very hot water to rid it of lanolin, suint and dirt.  After the washed fleece dried, I hand carded it and spun it up two-ply.

Every spring after that I attended the local fleece sale.  It was a once a year chance to buy a fleece from a farmer in the region.  I purchased many pounds of fibre at this sale every year, looking forward to the heat and sun of summer to help dry the fleeces.  From this I learned that in our area we have the capacity to produce some exquisite fibres.  Over the years I have bought Ramboulette, Shetland, Clunn Forest,  and of course Romney from local sheep farmers. 

Over the next while I will show you [as soon as I can find my camera] yarns and items that I have made with locally sourced wool, alpaca and llama.  You will also hear the whining frustrations from my attempts to obtain more fibre now that the annual sale is no more.

Stay tuned.