Sunday, December 23, 2012

Welcome Winter

Are you ready to say goodbye to 2012?  I'm feeling ready.

I finished knitting a few presents in plenty of time for the holiday, so I decided to begin next year's projects, while the holiday mood remains and there is still grading to avoid.  I found a pattern for felted Christmas Trees at the Purl Bee and am putting the finishing touches on the first one.

I'm needle felting the snow, using alpaca fiber from Aja that got a bit felted in the cleaning process.  

Another project is to make accessories with this beautiful cashmere blend yarn:

At one point this yarn had been transformed into this sweater,

but I really hated it, so it got ripped and now, a year later, it's being re-purposed.  The cowl is another pattern from The Purl Bee, and the hats are my own design.  I have enough yarn for about 15 projects like these.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

We're getting colder

SMW recently wrote a list of charitable organizations that are accepting a variety of donations in the coming months.  The St. Mungo Woolly Hat project seemed most appealing to me.  Here is my orange hat:

This is made with Jojoland “Tonic” in color #AW128, known to me as Nuclear Orange.  It’s 85% acrylic, 15% wool and has a decidedly synthetic feel to it.  Although it’s en route to serve its purpose for Woolly Hat Day, I am in no hurry to use what remains of this skein. 

Making the hat sent me in the completely opposite direction, back to a sweater I started a year (2 years?) ago.  It’s made with very rustic natural-color wool from Beaver Brook Farm.  I can’t take this project anywhere because it has an intense oily smell that I huff joyously every time I pick it up.  I made the sleeves long ago; now I’m on the second attempt at the body.  It’s plain stockinette until I reach the neck—excellent stinky, mindless knitting.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fleece Chronicles: the source!

It's been a little over a month since my nephew gave me the alpaca fleece.  Today's adventure was to visit Schoolhouse Farm in North Granby, to meet Aja, who was so generous as to give up the fleece she spent a whole year growing.
It was Open Farm Day in Granby, and when I arrived soon after the event began, there were already about 20 cars and lots of people around.  Schoolhouse Farm opened a few years ago and now has 16 alpacas, some chickens, and a few pigs.  A friend who lives near the farm tells me that the property has been transformed from several acres of neglected land with an old ramshackle house to a beautiful farm with new buildings and a huge garden.  I'm sure many folks who drive by the farm every day have been eager to visit for awhile.
Aja is an adult female, pictured here with the farm's first baby.  I soon discovered how Aja's fleece acquired its layer of dirt.
Mary-Jo and Greg, the farm's owners, have one alpaca they call Britney who is especially friendly and serves as their ambassador.
My nephew Josh, here being led around by Britney, answered many questions about alpaca behavior.  I was impressed not only by how much he knew about them, but also by how much he seemed to like them.
Greg was happy to see some yarn made from Aja's fleece.  He holds the first (only, as of now) usable skein.  Many more to follow!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fiber in process

I've settled on a process for preparing Aja's fleece to make yarn.  It's not easy to see by comparing these swatches, but the swatch on the right (#3) is more dense and the yarn is cleaner than in swatch numbers 1 and 2.
The fiber in #3 is much easier to spin because it is very clean.  I began by combing the locks and making a pile of combed fiber.  I love this process of picking the locks out of the bag and combing them straight.  I find it difficult to stop.
Once there is a reasonable pile, I stuff it in a laundry bag and give it a soak in hot water with Dawn detergent.

The clean fiber is then spread out to dry.
Once dry, it can be carded and made into rolags.  Now it's ready to be spun.

At this point I've got fiber in every stage of production and have a constant supply ready to spin.  I'll begin hat production in a few weeks!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tighter twist

The first swatch is complete.

I used #4 needles--the yarn is a DK weight.  This skein is a bit fluffier and rustic than I was going for, so I've adjusted the spinning wheel to give the yarn more twist.

It's just been washed.
As soon as the skein is dry, I'll make another swatch.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Spinning Experiment

Oogy's suggestion was a good one--I quickly learned that the alpaca fiber needed to be carded.  I know that some spinners could work with the combed-only fibers, but I need fiber that is more uniformly fluffed up (I'm sure there's a real term for that!).

I've done an experiment to see how the spinning might go.  This is about 20 g of singles.

I plied it and made two little skeins.

Then I washed one in baby clothes detergent.  This proved entirely insufficient.  The yarn smelled worse than before it was washed, and it was still rather dirty.  A second wash in Dawn dish liquid made a big difference.

Next step, once the washed skein is dry, is to knit a swatch!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Welcome Distraction

I'm supposed to be painting cabinet doors.

I took a break yesterday to attend a graduation party for two nephews, one having just graduated from college (he was just a baby, wasn't he?) and the other, his little brother, having just graduated from high school.  Imagine my delight to arrive at the party and be handed a big bag of alpaca fleece!  Little bro helps to maintain the pristine appearance of the animals' stalls at a neighboring alpaca farm.  It's my understanding that he was offered a fleece to give to his fiber-fiend of an aunt.  He chose the fleece of one Aja, a 2 year-old with a light coat (white? beige?).

I waited until this morning to carefully inspect the fleece.  It was not as smelly as I anticipated.  I learned from a bit of internet research that alpacas do not produce the oils that make sheep fleece so pungent.  This lack of oil is also why many spinners feel it is not necessary to scour the fleece, and instead prefer to spin the unwashed fiber and clean it for the first time as yarn.  I took a few locks to the spinning wheel and discovered quickly that this fleece needed some sort of cleaning.  Today I dumped the bag out and began to skirt.
With the usual help.

The fleece has an interesting pattern of dirt deposition: clean at the skin end, then a band of dirt, then a relatively clean area before the tip, which is glued together with another band of dirt. Combing gets most of the dirt and the occasional seed pod and twig out, but soap was required to remove all of the dirt.  The washed lock looks white to me.
It feels incredibly soft, though I have no experience in judging the quality of the fiber.  I believe another trip to the nephews' house will happen soon and we'll go visit the farm.  I'll ask all kinds of questions then!

I have about 100 g of combed locks that I'll begin spinning soon.  I haven't decided if I should card them, or if the combing is all I need to do.  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Knitting with sea weed

I'm having fun with a recent acquisition, Fleece Artist Sea Wool, which is 30% Seacell, 70% merino, from the Mermaid's Purl in Wickford, RI.   It looks very silky.
I'm using it to make Unleaving (thanks for yet another great suggestion, Oogy!).

After just a few 16-row pattern repeats I am able to knit without consulting the chart.  I am using my working memory to keep track of where I am in the pattern, but otherwise it's rather mindless and relaxing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Alternative Yarn Retreat

A perfect combination of factors: excellent company, pleasant weather and comfortable surroundings, very poor/non-existant cell phone service, tasty food prepared by someone else, multiple knitting projects including new Webs acquisitions, and sanctioned time away from reality.  What would make this better?  Learning to weave!
Behold the Ashford Rigid Heddle Loom with 10 dent-per-inch reed!  Once again, Oogy has exposed me to yet another fiber-dependent activity.  I had not considered learning to weave before, although I have often admired the work of others.  The Yarn Harlot's scarf from this May was beautiful, and Nova has brought some of her exquisite work to our knitting group.  There's something very appealing about the flat nature of the fabric, the way it drapes, that is not easy to achieve with knitting.  Plus, weaving is faster and uses less yarn. 

Now that I have some experience I can recognize other features of weaving that make it increasingly appealing.  I have learned that lace- or fingering-weight hand-spun yarn lends itself beautifully to weaving, revealing color and textural features that can be hidden in a knitted fabric.  Weaving shares with knitting a soothing, repetitive action that quickly becomes habitual.  It also shares with knitting the opportunity to watch a project develop as each row is completed, though this happens more quickly with the simple weaving we accomplished this past weekend.  

It was not too difficult for us to learn.  The YouTube video provided by Ashford was invaluable.  From it we learned how to warp:
This is best done with 2 people, even if neither one really knows what's happening.  Once the loom is warped, the weaving can begin:
Our trial run, done with beige and off-white worsted weight wool, yielded a scarf that we determined to be gift-worthy.  I would not say this about my first knitted project!

This scarf is the second project, made with Oogy-spun hand-dyed Romney wool:
It's really very beautiful, the way the colors come through.
You can view the third project on Oogy's blog!  We did encounter some difficulty with the warping process for this project, but it was remedied quickly and you can see that the weaving is in full swing.  Thanks to Mr. Oogy, who it turns out grew up with a master weaver and was able to offer some assistance when we encountered this, and other, minor snags. 

I'm still mulling all of the implications of learning to weave.  I would not give up knitting, but what is the harm of adding another fun yarn-related activity to the repertoire?  A long time ago I said I would never be interested in spinning, but that turned out to be very wrong.  In fact, weaving and spinning complement each other beautifully.  Even if I decide to forego weaving, it was awesome to learn the craft with Oogy, who is a constant source of inspiration to me.  Oogy, I often wish we lived closer together, but imagine all the trouble we'd be in! 

Monday, May 28, 2012

So-called Easy Lace

Way back in 2011 Oogy and I decided to focus on knitting lace projects.  I began this Large Rectangle shawl from Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby, thinking it would be a relatively quick project.  I had to leave it languishing for many months because it was not mindless knitting.  Even though it is labeled "easy lace" in the book, I found that it required all of my attention, even after doing many repeats of the pattern within a short time.  The other thing about lace is that it requires concentration just keeping it on the needles.  So, it sat until about a month ago when I decided that I needed a total escape from thinking about work.  I found it so therapeutic to pause the incessant internal work narrative and focus just on knitting.

The pattern is a traditional diamond motif with a 12-row knitted-on border.
I used Misti Alpaca Lace in a color I can't remember.  It's a moss-like green.
One of the most challenging aspects of making lace is blocking it to show its pattern most effectively.  I have sewn the wet shawl onto a quilt!
I thought once this project was complete that I would not be interested in making lace for a very long time.  However, I'm now eyeing the considerable stash of lace-weight yarn and wondering which project to tackle next.  Perhaps one that Jane Sowerby calls "intermediate lace"?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Normal

I was going to call this "back to normal", but this has been a transformative year and what was a normal level of busy last year seems a bit leisurely now.  Right now I'm happy to focus on something other than work at 10 o'clock at night.

A few weeks ago Oogy posted pictures of her Wingspan projects, and as is often the case, I did not hesitate to follow her example and made my own.  She is my project guru.

I began with a few sock blanks from Knit Picks.

Which I dyed to varying degrees of intensity with the color Wedgewood from Prochem dyes.


I got impatient and scrapped my original plan to make the husband stand over the stove holding the sock blanks and lowering them slowly with exact timing.  I did this instead.

By the time I had lowered both blanks into the bath, the dye was mostly used.


The color progression was not perfect, but I was OK with that.

With the dyeing finished, I was very eager to begin knitting.

The variations of Wingspan that most impressed me were ones with gradual color progression, so I was hoping to achieve that with the wedgewood-dyed wool.  It sorta worked...

This pattern is very good for semi-mindless knitting.  It's all garter stitch, with markers doing all the counting work.  Just when it gets boring, it's time to begin a new wedge.  I can see doing this again.