Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quickie post -- Jenny's mitts

What you see here is 73 grams and 222 metres of fingering/sport weight yarn all ready for knitting.  I still have another 30 odd grams of fibre left.  But I really think I have enough to knit elbow length gauntlets.

The picture on top shows the sheen that comes through from the blended silk.  And the photo below, without the flash, shows the noils.  The nasty noils that caused me stress but ended up being quite a nice, if not intentional, addition to the yarn.

It may have lots of noils, but it's really knitting up nicely. Here's mitt #1. It's quite an elegant thing.  When I am finished the pair I'll do a full on post about the pattern and such.   But for now, this is a quickie.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Waterfall Scarf in Vintage Postcard yarn

Over the weekend I made a very simple scarf. The results are so fun I had to share it with you.  The pattern is Waterfall, by Linda O’Leary.  It’s in 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders.  It is a great resource to help you use up your stock of single skeins. Because of my short attention span, I have a lot of those hanging around the studio. 

The yarn I used was a loosely spun single from Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club.  The colour way is Vintage Postcards and the fibre is Falklands.  I’ve been wondering what to do with this yarn for a while, and when I saw the Waterfall pattern, I knew it had a chance. The colours in the yarn would cause horizontal striping and the dropped stitches would cause vertical striping.  Could be a nice result.

The knitting was simple, straight garter stitch knitted in the back loop.  It’s a minor variation but you get used to it quickly.  The magic comes after the bind-off.  You leave a few live stitches on and then let them run down the length of the scarf – as controlled drop stitches.  The twisted stitches on either side of the dropped stitch keep the stitches tight so the dropped stitch doesn’t make the others around it loose. 

Because the yarn is a loosely spun single, the fibres often caught.  So it wasn't a simple dropped stitch that ran down the scarf like wildfire.  It was a bit of a tug-o-war and I had to snip fibres occasionally to get it to drop.  Once dropped, the yarn released from the stitch makes a wide space, about three stitches wide.  So the narrow scarf widens.

Still working on the last column of dropped stitches.  But it's a good result, no?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jenn's elbow length gauntlets

I wrote about blending fibre for this project in an earlier post.  At the end, I noted that the results weren't what I was hoping for -- too many noils.  I figured I could easily get rid of them so didn't fret too much over it.  I have 112 g of this blended fibre -- wool, alpaca and silk -- I am not planning to abandon it without trying a few things.

Yesterday I heard back from Jenn with her measurements and confirmation that she wants me to make these gauntlets -- so I confronted the challenge of spinning this fibre into fingering weight yarn.  It was a lovely lazy day. After struggling through a hot spell the threat of rain in the air was a welcome relief.  I set myself up on the front porch, with my wheel, tools, and glass of cider.

As I mentioned earlier, this fibre ended up with a lot of noils in it.  Some of them were from second cuts. That's when the shearer passes a second time over the piece being shorn and produces very short clumps of fibre. If I had paid closer attention, I could have removed these before I picked and blended the fibre. I was too excited about using the picker to blend the fibre that I didn't even look closely at the polworth. The other noils are not from second cuts, but seem to be from mishandling of the fibre. The polworth is a fine wool and it can't take the stress of the picker and then the drum carder.  The fine fibres either break or get tangled and become a noil. Again, something entirely preventable.

You can see the noils in this photo. They are the white bits that are sitting in the fibre. I figured I could remove them so I got out my mini wool combs and tried combing them out. To no avail. The fibre is so fine the noils just slip past the tines and stay in the fibre. I tried drum carding it again, being much more gentle  -- but no, they are still all there. Then I tried hand carding them, to pick out the second cuts and comb straight the other noils. Again, it didn't work.The noils are there to stay.

I started spinning.  As I spun I stopped often to pick out the noils.  It was slow going and not satisfying spinning.  There had to be another way.  The way I finally decided upon was to do a test swatch and as I spun ignored the noils.  It was difficult because everything in me wanted the yarn to be smooth and not littered with these bumps.  But really, what choice did I have?  I could abandon this fibre or I could accept it as it is and see what it looked like spun up.

I spun a small (15g) sample as though the noils didn't exist.  I washed it up and then to my surprise, fell in love with it.

It's not perfect yarn, but it is really lovely. The noils from the second cuts pop out on their own in the plying and washing. The other noils just get tucked into the yarn and create a bit a texture. The silk shines through, the wool gives it a bit of bounce and the alpaca some drape. I knit up a sample, see above, of the gauntlet.

I think this will do just fine.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Field of flax in full bloom

A field of flax in full bloom is a lovely thing. Years ago we had a summer place outside of Lipton, Saskatchewan.  One day when we were driving around exploring the countryside, we came around a corner and saw a lake shimmering in the distance. As we got closer to the lake we realized it wasn't water at all, but a field of flax in full bloom.  The blue flowers and the gentle way the plants were swaying in the wind looked like water and waves.  We didn't have time to be disappointed that it wasn't a lake -- as we were so thrilled by the beauty of flax field.

While my wee field of flax is nothing in comparison to those 50+ acre parcels in Saskatchewan, it is still a thing of beauty.  Since the flooding wiped out a lot of our crops, this is the prettiest thing in our garden these days.

So what's the plan for this field of flax?  About 30 days after the flowering is over, the flax is ready to be harvested.  Then the work begins.  I pull the plants up, roots and all.  If I want to save the seed -- for next year's planting (?) I have to dry the plants out.  If I decide not to save the seed, then I can move to the retting process right away. Retting is the process of rotting the outer layers of the stalks that are holding the linen fibres to the  woody core.  This is the first step in extracting the linen fibre. You can do this by leaving the flax outside on the ground and let the morning dew do it.  You can also do it by leaving the flax in standing water for a while. According to "Linen in the Middle Ages -- A Guide to Growing and Processing" by the Baroness Eleanora van den Bogaerde, water retting is faster and leaves the flax a whiter colour than dew retting does.  The challenge is having something large enough.  With my wee field, I don't think this is a problem.  Maybe in the future it will be, but for now, I think I can manage with a huge rubbermaid bin.  After it's retted, there are three more steps before I have fibre for spinning.

One step at time.  Right now I am growing the stuff and admiring its beauty.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Status update on my 100-mile skirt

It's a hot day here in Glen Valley, threatening to go up to 32 degrees by mid-afternoon.  So I thought I'd catch some time indoors next to the fan and do an update on the 100-mile skirt.

A while back I combed a bundle of the grey alpaca and divided what I had done into two batches.  I've spun most of that onto two bobbins -- very fine with a light twist. Even though this spinning has produced a lot of yardage, I may need more.  So I asked my friend if she would return the bag of grey alpaca I gave her.  It is so nice to have understanding friends.

I have next to spin an equal amount of the blue fibre -- totally amazing stuff from Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club.  Titled "Placid Waters" it is 50% merino, 25%  bamboo and 25% tussah silk.  It has a wonderful sheen and subtle gradations of blues.  As with the grey alpaca, I underestimated how much I would need, so again in a mild panic and relying on the kindness of friends, I asked another dear friend if I could have her braid of "plaid waters".  She willingly gave up her braid and for that I am very thankful.

Now I have no excuse to procrastinate.  I have more than enough fibre to do the job and a good chunk of time on my hands.  My problem is my own attention span.  I like starting projects and trying new things.  The part where you have to finish is the part that takes a lot of discipline.  Right now, this project is in the spinning marathon phase.  Just sit and spin.  And spin.  And then ply, and ply.  And so forth until I have what I figure is enough to get the job done and the skirt made.

Then it's a knitting triathlon as there are different aspects to the skirt. That I can manage, what with my transit assisted commute to the city.  I'm aiming to wear this skirt by Thanksgiving.  See if I'm right.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Yarn for a new project

At the Aldergrove Fair a couple of weekends ago, a young gal asked me to make her a special pair of mitts.  She liked the half-mitt style in hand spun yarn -- but for this pair, she wanted them to come up to her elbow.  So after a few minutes of finding out what fibres and colours she likes, I agreed to make her a pair.

I've got the pattern designed -- it's a variation on the Baby Fan Lace mitts, starting with more stitches and decreasing as you get to the wrist.  And now I am working on the yarn.  She liked the idea of blending alpaca and wool and adding just a wee bit of silk for some luster.  So I set out to do that. Here's a sample of the blended fibres and knit pattern. The first half (on the left) is the one I settled for, the yarn on the right is wool blended with cinnamon alpaca and silk.

Here's what it was made out of: beige/cream alpaca, polworth (wool) and some tussah silk.  Blending fibres can take a long time on the drum carder so I decided to use the picker to do the blending.

A picker is a piece of machinery that helps you open the fibres and get them ready for carding or even spinning.  It's also a great tool for blending fibres so they are mostly mixed before you put them through your drum carder. My girlfriend, from the dyeing days, owns a Patrick Green picker and she kindly let me borrow it for a spell.  Here it is.

It has some pretty sharp teeth, so there's no sipping wine while you do this.  You have to pay attention on every single swing.  The fibre is fed into the front and on each swing, the teeth grab the fibre, drag it across all the other teeth, and spit it out the back.  All loose and opened up.

Then I took this wool/alpaca blend, added silk and put it through the drum carder.  The results weren't what I was hoping for -- too many noils.  I'll post some photos of the sample yarn, when I have the issue sorted.