Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Recurring Theme - The 100-Mile Skirt

I was looking over my blog, reviewing 2013 and I noticed a recurring theme. The 100-mile skirt. This year I have several posts about it, all promising some kind of progress and completion.  Here's the short story of it.

In October 2011, inspired by Abby Franquemont at the Taos Wool Festival, I decided to make a 100-mile skirt. That meant that I would source the fibre from my area, prepare, spin and knit it. I already had a pattern, from a knitted skirt I made and finished in August 2011. 

Here's the fibre I chose. Local alpaca - nasty stuff, full of brambles, twigs and other things that stab you. And a braid of fibre from Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club.

I did a few samples and settled on the look that the skein on the far right gave.

The yarn is a 2 x 2 cabled yarn. That means one ply of grey alpaca and one ply of the blue stuff made into a 2-ply yarn. Then you take that 2-ply yarn and ply it again. That meant spinning up yards and yards of each - it was a 4-ply cable to that was a lot of fine spinning.

Here it is being plied again to make the cabled yarn.

And here are the first two skeins, washed and ready for knitting.

I got this far with the skirt and then ran out of yarn, so I had to go back to combing the alpaca and spinning up more singles of each - the alpaca and the blue wool.

And here is the last skein of this yarn. Once this is all used up, I have to go to plan B.

And here it is in progress. This is where we are today -- 8 repeats of the lace pattern. I'll knit until it's gone and then if I need more length I'll make a cabled yarn from the blue wool singles that I have left over. Right now it reaches to about an inch above my knee.

Here's a close-up of those sweeties.

Plan B:  There's a lot of yardage on these bobbins, so I think, if needed, I could make enough yarn for a half repeat. Enough to give a finish. We'll see.

88 Stitches, our local yarn shop is hosting a Knit Along (KAL) for the month of January. I have openly announced that I will work to finish this project. I am so close - so very close. So I'll have some incentive to get this done. . . . of course I have the Norwegian mitts to finish first. When they are done, I'll re-acquaint myself with this pattern.

Happy New Year's to all and best of luck and love for 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Overdue Christmas present - Norwegian Selbu Mittens

I managed to do a good amount of knitting for Christmas presents, but ran out of time. I started these mitts on December 22nd with the bold hope that I would have them finished by Christmas Day. At least sometime during the day. But alas, here it is December 30th, and this is how far I've come. And I didn't knit a stitch on them yesterday at all. (Because I spent the day tidying up my studio - she writes defensively.)

It's not that they are difficult. In fact, they are quite straightforward. They just require absolute concentration. This is not a "knit and watch a movie" kind of project. This is "sit up and pay attention" with the pattern being consulted every single stitch and every single row.

The chart is terrific, but the instructions are a little skimpy. If you are a proficient knitter you will easily figure out where and how to put in the increases and decreases, and what "reverse pattern for second mitten" means. And then there is the thumb!

The pattern is a lovely traditional Norwegian snowflake pattern. I love it.

Now that I'm nearly done and I know how much yarn they take, I've got a plan to make a few more pairs in my hand spun. Should be lovely.

BTW the pattern is Norwegian Selbu Mittens by Henrietta Hope. It's a free download on Ravelry or here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

#fail - Flax doesn't like to be frozen

I think the title says it all -- flax fibres don't like to be frozen. Or if it wasn't the freezing that weakened them, it was the amount of time they spent in the water. And the freezing didn't help either.

Here's what properly wet-retted flax fibres look like. They have a lovely colour and they are long, strong and lustrous. The piece on the bottom is nearly a metre long. I have 27 stricks of this wet-retted flax. This was from stuff that I planted early in the year. It had time to grow, bloom, get harvested, dry out, get rippled, wet-retted and then had time to fully dry before all the rains came.

This is the dew-retted and then wet-retted flax experiment. The flax fibres, while released, are weak and short. They've broken up.

I have a small kiddy pool full of this -- and to make matters worse, it smells like a dead swamp rat. Really. I threw it in the water because it was smelly and wanted to urge on the retting process. But then the cold snap came and it was frozen solid for about ten days. It smells so bad I don't want to touch it.

It's tricky to photograph something in the water, but here it is. I have one more mini-field's worth of flax out on the north lawn retting. Like this batch, it didn't get harvested until after the rains came, so it never dried and got rippled. But it has been on the lawn. And while it had indeed rained and snowed, it was never under water for any length of time. I just checked it out and it the flax fibres are releasing.

The rain is supposed to stop sometime today and then I'll scoop it up and put it on a drying wrack on the porch to start the drying process. Fingers crossed I'll have something to play with when it's all done.


1. Buy good seeds and buy the linen variety, Linum usitatissiumum "Evelin".
2. Plant your flax as early as you can. You can plant it when you plant your lettuce, peas, spinach and potatoes. You want it to grow and be done during the hot summer so it has time to dry, get rippled, retted and dry again.
3. If your flax falls over due to rain or wind, set it upright as soon as you can. If it stays tilted, it will have bend in it which makes it difficult to work with.

I am sure I will learn more as I go onto the next stage of breaking, scutching and hackling to get the fibres ready for spinning.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Arctic outflow winds impact flax production

The recent arctic outflow has brought a burst of winter to the lower mainland of BC. My flax is undergoing a whole new level of experimentation -- wet retted flax frozen solid.

It is a mini skating rink! A solid block of ice that my dew-to-wet retted flax is trapped within.

Not sure how this is going to impact the linen fibres. But there's not much I can do about it now!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dew retted flax from Glen Valley

This year, my second year of experimenting with growing and processing flax for linen, I had four good sized beds of flax growing. I planted the first two early in the season and they finished up nicely. There was enough time in the season for them to sufficiently dry, get rippled and wet retted. They are now tied up into a couple of dozen stricks for use in my "Flax to Linen" workshop that I hope to have at FibresWest 2014.

The other two beds presented different challenges.They were started later in the season and by the time they were ready to be harvested -- had finished their blooming, the rains had come in. The rain makes it difficult for anything to dry, but it also causes the plant to fall over. When it falls over, it bends. I have learned that this "bend" is not a characteristic that you want your drying/retting flax to have.

I haven't been able to sufficiently dry these last two beds of flax, so the rippling didn't happen. In fact, I got busy and lost track of them, so on the ground they went. Not a bad thing as you will see. 

What's below is the flax from the very last bed dew retting on the ground right on the lawn. It's been raining a lot and next week we are rumoured to be hosting some below zero temperatures. Let's see how flax likes that.

You can see why dew retting creates a grayish linen. The molds that melt the pectin covering away stain it.

Below is batch #3. It's a hybrid of dew retting at the beginning and most recently, wet retting. Even though the dew retting was coming along fine and I was starting to see the flax fibres being released, it was slimy and I wanted that gone.

So I tossed it back into the wet retting pool. It's been cold so the retting is going slowly. There is no foaming and swamp smell like I got with the earlier wet retting.

The constant rain keeps the water fresh. My challenge with this is how to dry it?  I'll have to take it out soon and put it onto drying racks that will sit in my greenhouse over the winter. Won't dry much, but at least won't get wetter.

Life in the valley is good. I have space to do these kinds of experiments, not sure how I'd so that if I lived in town. 

Story of a shawl - Part 2

I tried another shawl with the Waterfall yarn I made during Spinzilla week. This is the Spiral Staircase pattern from Ravelry. Easy peasy. While it does do what I was hoping it would so, show off the subtle colour gradations - I should have used larger needles. This shawl is too small for my liking and the fabric that knit up -- on the 4mm needles is too dense. I'm going to try it again with 6mm needles so the fabric will be looser and have a chance to drape.

And I will plan it better, so I use every inch of the yarn, unlike the sample above.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Story of a shawl - Part 1

This incomplete story is the tale of a shawl -- from fibre to yarn to shawl. The shawl itself is not complete as is this blog post. But stay tuned. I'll find my camera and take pictures of the next phase of this art object.

This shawl started out as a lovely roving from the Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club. The colourway is called Waterfall.  In the notes that accompanied the roving, Felicia suggested we try an Ombre approach. Separating all the colours, spinning them in the single colour sequence and then chain plying. So that's what I did.

This was the first thing I spun  for the Spinzilla contest. And here are all the rolags nicely carded into the colourways and put into some kind of Ombre order.

After an hour of spinning, I was mostly finished with the blue.

After a couple of hours, the green was done too.

[Not sure why this photo is the size of a postage stamp.]

Here is the final yarn, chain plied to preserve the colour ways. You can see the silk shining through.

And here's the first attempt at a shawl. It's the Adhara Rainbow Shawl -- pattern was from Elann.com but I can't find it anymore. It's essentially a feather and fan pattern that grows.

I kept getting lost in the pattern and ended up un-knitting more than I was knitting. So decided that the yarn/pattern were telling me something.

So I tried another one.

Photos of that one tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Spinzilla: The Final Photo Shoot

Spinzilla is over and the plying has ended. The first three skeins are double-plied, the next two are Navajo plied, and the last one on the right is a singles, and will stay that way.It has all been washed, thwacked and bashed about. In other words, it's all ready to be made into some fantastic object.

Though right now, I am not entirely sure what that will be. Some things to consider: all the yarn is a wool/silk and at times, something else blend. It's sleek, fine, and has potential for a lovely drape.

The only skein I have plans for is the Waterfall one. That one is the fourth from the left. It was done in an Ombre mode, so the colours blend in a long colourway. That one begs to be a shawl. Over the weekend, I'll tour around Ravelry and see what's possible.

I will of course keep you posted.

PS - Team Sweet Georgia - the team I spun for, came in 6th out of 34 international teams. I'd say that's a good showing.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Knit City 2013 - Intro to spinning with a spindle class

On Saturday I taught a class at Knit City 2013 in Vancouver. It was an early class. I had to be up at 6am, to pack the car and leave the house by 7am, to get there by 8am, to set up the class and teach at 9am. I tossed and turned in bed from 3am onwards. Convinced that I was forgetting something, I taught and re-taught the class in my dreams. By about 4:30am the idea of flat tire on the Port Mann bridge had me consumed. I am just being stupid? or is this an important premonition?

It ended up that I was just being stupid. Surpised? The workshop went well, people who signed up learned to spin and had achieved the learning goal they identified at the beginning. That's pretty good for a three-hour workshop. It all went so fast that today I keep going over things that I meant to tell them; things that I would normally mention in my longer workshops, but never had time in this one. Does it matter?

People wanted to learn how to spin and I really worked hard to show them how it happened. I gave them one-on-one help when needed and then backed away so they could do it. That was the hardest thing. I kept wanting to fill the space with the stuff that I needed to tell them. But I know how annoying it can be to have someone tell you something that may be important - Do I need to take notes? - while you are concentrating on getting this spindle to keep a spin while learning the process of drafting out fibre.

I'm having the post-workshop blues. You wait and wait and plan and plan for the event and then poof! -- in three simple fast hours it's all over. And now I look back and ask -- did it make a difference?

It did for me, because I have learned some important things that will help me on my journey to being a spinning instructor. I think/hope it did for the participants. They smiled, laughed, expressed their frustration when things weren't working, shared their pleasure when it did, purchased spindles and thanked me profusely.

Are they just being "Canadian"?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Spinzilla 2013 - the final tally

Last week from Monday, October 7th until 9pm on October 13th, I spun every single moment I could for Spinzilla - a Monster of a Spinning Contest. I got up an hour earlier than normal and spun in the morning. (Some days that worked better than others.) I carried around my Houndesign spindle and spun in the car, on the train and on the bus during my commute to the city. It is not easy to spin on the bus. You don't have much room sitting down, and it's impossible to do so standing up what with all the starting and stopping. And people stare at you. I am used to folks looking over at me while I'm knitting, but they really STARE at you when you haul out a spindle. And of course, I spun in the evening after dinner.

There were many times during the week that my leg or back got sore. When that happened I got up, walked around a bit and then got back to the wheel. Like a marathon, it's all about pacing yourself. And as you are part of team, you know that everything you do will help the team. I was on Team Sweet Georgia - as all the fibre I used during Spinzilla was from there. It's wonderfully prepared and the colours are simply lovely. They propelled me forward.

Yesterday was particularly tricky as I was working on a final push - and preparing a Thanksgiving feast.  But I got it done. I finished this duo (London Town in Panda) at 8 pm last night. I only had one more hour left and didn't feel like starting a new braid of fibre. As well, my back and leg were sore, so I got out my spindle and spindle-spun myself until the clock said 9 pm. Done, done, and so very done.

The final result was 4,496 yards (4,150m) of singles yarn -- from 630 grams of fibre - that's 1.4lbs.  All the fibre I worked with was blended - super fine wool like merino, BFL or polwarth with bamboo, tencel, nylon, and or tussah silk. It was easy stuff to spin fine and once I got going, that was the plan. Yardage was the goal. If the contest was how much weight to spin, I'd have spun chunky weight. But as it was all about the yardage, so I cranked my wheel to the second highest speed and treadled away. 

Here's the photo of the entire fleet of spun singles. I'll be spending the next while plying these into two-ply and three-ply yarns and will proudly display the results.

Go Team Sweet Georgia -- I hope we do well. I know I did my best for the team. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spinzilla - Day One

Today is the first day of Spinzilla - a monster of a spinning contest that spans miles and time zones. I am a member of Team Sweet Georgia. (#teamsweetgeorgia) I am working all week so I have to plan my spinning around the work. So, I got up early today and was down at my wheel by 6am. This tray awaited me -- 36 carefully prepared rolags that I would spin in order to get an ombre effect. 

I spun until 9am and then started my (paid) work. I took three 10 minute breaks throughout the day and spun a rolag. At lunchtime I spun for half and hour. I had a couple of tele-meetings so was able to spin through those. The fibre is Waterfall - merino, bamboo and tencel from Sweet Georgia Yarns. In fact, all the fibre I'm spinning this week is from Sweet Georgia Yarns. They are of exceptional quality and have such amazing colourways, they are a delight to spin.

At 5:30 I spun for another 15 minutes and then finished up. Here's the finished braid all spun up. It weighs 128 grams.
That finished I started on the next one - this is a contest after all. There's no time to rest. Well really, I had a hot bath because my leg was sore. After the bath I spun for another 45 minutes on this - Indian Summer. BFL and 15% nylon SGY.

I'll see how far I get with this while I watch M*A*S*H Season 3.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Skein from the spinning cotton workshop

Yesterday I participated in an all-day spinning cotton workshop. I've spun cotton before and hated it. Wondered why anyone would want to do it, and was increasingly in awe of those who did it well.

At this workshop, a dozen other veteran spinners and I learned some wonder techniques and experimented with an amazing variety of fibres all thanks to an excellent instructor named Heidi from Vegan Yarn.

Here's the skein I produced. The first shot is with the flash off, and you can better see the texture. That's a regular sized marble there so you can judge the size of it. It's 40g and 100m. A decent sized skein.

And here's a shot of it with the flash on so you can better see the colours. All the colours of the cotton we spun with yesterday were natural colours. Not natural dyes. The cotton grew that way. There are a variety of shades of browns, several greens and of course white. All were a wee different to work with, but I managed to spin all the samples.

By the end of the day I really had the knack for spinning it sorted out. I think I may even spin some cotton during #spinzilla week cause the long-draw technique really creates good yardage.

Thanks Heidi.

Drying the Glen Valley flax

I've had a difficult time this year drying my flax. I got the first batch dried, rippled and retted. Then the rains started coming, so the next drying stage was delayed. Meanwhile, the rains caused the other flax beds to fall over so one of them was quickly harvested.

That flax was put up against the fence in the hope that it would eventually dry and I could ripple it. The rains kept coming and coming. Nothing was drying. So I decided to use the rains to my advantage and instead of leaning them up against the split rail fence, I put them on the grass. At least the downpours could continue to rinse the smelly swamp water from the first flax. And the hope was that the steady stream of water could start to dew rett the other flax, despite the fact it hadn't been rippled and was still full of leaves and seed pods.

The sun finally came out yesterday and it's still here today. So I decided to take advantage of the sun and heat and do some active things to encourage drying. I got the drying rack and stacked the retted flax onto it.

Then I had a look at the non-rippled flax that I threw on the ground. I flipped it to get the really wet side in the sun. Lo and behold! It's starting to rett. You can see the fine wisps of linen fibres on the edges. It doesn't go all the way up the stem, it's mostly happening down near the root end, where there are no leaves.

About an hour later, encouraged by the heat and sunshine, I moved the drying rack over to the driveway. The gravel in the driveway heats up and we can really push this drying number today. I took the flax from the shade of the second and third level of the rack and put it on the ground.

Inspired by the retting results of the non-rippled flax, I moved it from the lawn over the driveway next to the retted flax. Using the jet stream on the hose, I power-washed as much of the rotten leaves from it as I could manage. And now the whole lot is drying. I'll flip it every hour or so, until the sun comes down. And then everything is going under cover. Enough of this.

And last but not least is the harvest of the final bed. I have this off the ground, all stacked up on the garden bench. It can't stay there. I have to fashion something that will help it dry - but we have some more rain coming in this week. I need an Indian Summer to get this stuff finished off.

Time to head back out and flip the flax.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Getting ready for Spinzilla

Spinzilla is coming up. It's the first of its kind spinning event. From October 7th to 13th it is "a community wide event where competing teams challenge each other to see who can spin the most yarn in a one-week period."

What does this mean for me? Well, I joined a team - pretty respectable team of amazing spinners, the Sweet Georgia Yarns team, and I don't want to let them down. I work full-time so will have to cram in my spinning time in the morning and after work - combined with spindle spinning over the lunch hour.

So this last while I've been getting ready.

Getting ready for Spinzilla, a full week of full on spinning, means that:

  • you have to have empty bobbins for all the spun yarn
  • a great deal of easy-to-spin fibre at hand
  • no decisions to make.

I don't know how much I will need for an entire week. I know that during demonstration events when I just sit there and spin, I can  easily spin 100g in about 4 hours. All of this depends on the fibre of course. Some fibres are tricky to spin and take more time - others spin easily and create great yardage - which is what matters in this contest.

So here at the base of my Ashford Joy is about 3.5 lbs of delicious fibres all ready for spinning. In the next week, I may even draft out some of the braids so no time is wasted.

I am part of a great team and I really don't want to embarrass myself at the end of the week. So I have to get ready. One week still it starts. . . . . .