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?