Monday, January 31, 2005

I had an extremely productive weekend. I wanted to spin some of the Ramb x Cormo, but most of my bobbins had dribs and drabs of other fibers on them, plus I had several small balls of singles of alpaca and merino/silk kicking around. Basically, my spinning felt disorganized and scattered. So before I started in on the Ramb x Cormo, I decided to clean up a little. I plied up all the singles, and freed my bobbins. From the dribs and drabs, I got seven skeins. Here they are drying.

I was so ridiculously organized, that I even labeled each skein with fiber content, weight, and yardage! Left to right, they are:

  • 50:50 merino/tussah silk 1.2 oz, 383 yds
  • 50:50 merino/tussah silk 0.8 oz, 179 yds
  • alpaca 1.2 oz, 138 yds
  • scratchy mystery wool 1.7 oz, 169 yds
  • soy silk 1.4 oz, 132 yds
  • 1 ply cashmere/ 1 ply tussah silk 0.2 oz, 31 yds
  • tussah silk 0.1 oz, 25 yds

All this plying and washing took until the wee hours on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Once again the singles fooled me into thinking the plying would take a fraction of the time it actually took. Just plying the merino/silk took two and a half hours. And then, because I am obsessive, when I moved on to the alpaca, I decided to spin more singles instead of just plying what I had. You see, I discovered one last lonely handful (more like half a lapful) of unspun fiber when I was digging through the closet looking for bobbins. It really wouldn't have made sense to ply the existing singles and leave the unspun fiber until later. That's just making two little skeins instead of one medium skein. So I spun and plied the alpaca. That took another two and a half hours.

Then it was on to the soy silk, which I am glad to finally be done with. I hated spinning this fiber. It was slippery but didn't draft well, it was so fine and flyaway that it got everywhere, it squeaked and put my teeth on edge, and it was generally not fun. I did get a pretty good sized skein, though, so maybe I can knit a doily or something and salvage some good from the experience.

Plying the scratchy mystery wool went fast, though I don't know what I'll ever use this yarn for. It's not very nice wool, and there's not much of it. At least it's off the bobbin.

The little bit of cashmere and little bit of silk were a puzzle. These were samples from a workshop with Judith MacKenzie from two years ago, the first (only) time I've spun cashmere. I was going to ply each on itself, but that would have made the cashmere skein really really small. So I decided to ply the cashmere with the silk until the cashmere ran out, then make a second skein of the remaining silk. I'm pretty happy with the way the cashmere and silk go together. We spun the cashmere using long-draw, which I had never done before, so that singles was lumpy and uneven. Plied against the short-draw-spun silk and fulled vigorously when I washed it, the yarn is soft and yummy, if somewhat uneven.

By the time I was done emptying the bobbins, it was after midnight and I had watched three disks of Season Two of Alias , so I went to bed. I dreamed I was a spygirl looking for silkworms in Taipei. It was very strange.

Sunday I spun Ramb x Cormo. All day. It was great. I filled six bobbins and rewound them so they're all ready for plying. Each bobbin took two one-ounce balls of roving, so that's approximately 12 oz of wool, spun in one day.

Actually, I didn't spin all day. Emma and I went for a big long walk in the afternoon, to explore our new neighborhood. We were gone about two hours, but I had to carry her quite a bit on the way back. She was tuckered out when we got home, and went straight into a three hour nap.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Emma is a girl after my own heart. As we were walking to the babysitter's house this afternoon, she kept picking up pebbles and fir cones off the road. Eventually she had too many to hold, so she started putting them in her pockets (she just recently learned what pockets are for) until her overalls were so saggy she could hardly walk. Then she started handing them to me.

I find this a heartwarming trait in my offspring, because when I was in elementary school, I was forever collecting pebbles. I always had a row of them on the ledge inside my desk. (Remember the desks with the lift-up lids and a well inside to store all your books and paper tablets and secret notes and crayons and paste and pencils?) One of my favorite activities when I was in, maybe.....second grade? third?..... was something my best friend and I called "Crack," though it had nothing to do with what third-graders today probably know as crack. It involved finding pebbles and smashing them with a larger rock, in order to see what they looked like inside. This is a good game for kids in New England, since the roads are sanded extensively every winter and therefore lots of small to medium sized pebbles accumulate on the roadsides. Finding a quartz pebble was a very special occasion, no matter how often it happened. They were all dull and rough outside, but when you cracked them open, oh joy! Sparkly and crystally and shiny!

Anyway, I had the first babysitting shift today, while the other mom worked (she watches Emma while I work, and I watch hers while she works). Emma was having such fun with the pebbles that I decided to take her and Nick down to the beach after lunch, before they both went for nap. They had great fun. Nick, who is three, mostly wanted to climb around and throw rocks into the water, but Emma continued with the pick-up-pebbles-and-give-them-to-Mom thing. It was very sweet.

The beaches here on the island are beautiful and pebbly. I greatly prefer a rocky beach to a sandy one. Much, much more interesting.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Yesterday was a fun day. I went over to Lopez Island for the quarterly Textile Guild meeting. The program this time was a presentation on Norwegian woven coverlets, by Kay Larsen. She's assistant curator of the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, and she gave a fantastic program. I have some Swedish roots, and have always been drawn to Scandinavia, though I've never been there.

What struck me most from Kay's presentation was how hardy the Nordic people are/were. She was discussing the rya weave, and how a rya coverlet was essential to the fishermen in Northern Norway. They would go on cod fishing trips in late fall, to the northern part of Norway (above the Arctic Circle) in OPEN boats! As in no cabin! They would take the sail down and lay it over the forward part of the boat, so some of the crew would have that shelter while they slept, but the main part of the crew would only have their rya to keep them from freezing. She had a quote (can't remember where it was from) she read about how the men often had to shake the snow off in the morning, and how a man whose boat capsized insisted that his friends save the rya before pulling him from the water. They were that important.

Wool from their own sheep, collected when the sheep shed it in spring (from Spælsau sheep- a primitive breed that sheds its fleece), spun by hand on drop spindles, woven and knotted on a simple frame loom into a thick pile coverlet. This was a tremendous investment of time and energy by the women of Norway, done with love to keep their men alive. A rya for every man, taken north in fishing boats to catch the cod that would keep their families alive. That's a really satisfying thought.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I have a very strange cat. We were home longer than usual this morning, and Naia did this while I was brushing my hair. I wonder if he sleeps in the bathroom sink all day when we're not there. He jumped up and snuggled in like he had done it before.....

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Knit some more on the alpaca shawl last night, but had a very frustrating time when I discovered a mistake. Three rows back, I started the patterning two stitches to the right of where I should have. This meant that the nice symmetrical lines of the fabric were not symmetrical anymore- there is supposed to be an eyelet diamond centered in a background lattice of double eyelets. The lattice was no longer centered around the diamond. Not good. This pattern is SO regular that any wonkiness stands right out.

So, after putting it down for half an hour or so and repeatedly telling myself that IT MUST BE DONE, I ripped out those three rows, and spent the next half hour picking up stitches and redoing the eyelets so that each one was back on the needles properly. Quite a fiddly job. But it's done now, and I knit another four rows just so I could say that I had net progress last night.

Monday, January 17, 2005

It snowed again Saturday. We got four inches this time! Unfortunately, it was in the mid 40's on Sunday, and pouring rain last night for at least 6 hours. Needless to say, the snow is now gone. We're back to wet Northwest winter, instead of fluffy white New England winter. Oh well. Damp and green is beautiful too.

I knit some on the black handspun alpaca shawl yesterday. I figure I'm probably about halfway done as far as the length goes, but the rows just keep getting longer so I'm actually nowhere near halfway done. It's fun to knit, though, and the pattern is easy. It's very symmetrical and geometric, so I only have to refer to the chart once or twice per row. I knit about an inch and a half on it yesterday, which is a pretty good whack.

I can really tell the difference in the yarn I spun for this two years ago, and the yarn I spun last week from the same fiber. The old yarn is much more uneven, though not too bad. I had only been spinning for a few months then, and it shows. Luckily, I should have enough of the old yarn to finish the shawl.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Today I added two new birds to my list of species seen in my new yard. Not new to the life list, just new to the yard list. Red-breasted nuthatches are always fun- they’re so tailored and elegant- but the red crossbills were the most exciting. I’ve seen them before, but always way up at the top of tall trees. These were right in prime viewing range, about 15 feet off the ground and 20 feet from the house. I sat at my living room window with binoculars and watched them prising fir cones apart for about half an hour. I could actually see their crossed bills!

Earlene, a member of my Textile Guild, came over this afternoon to see if I could repair an antique crocheted baby cap that has a few broken threads. It really is a lovely piece, made out of what looks like #20 3-ply cotton thread, with hundreds of bullion stitches. It was made by her grandmother in the very early 1900’s, probably 1903. Her grandmother made it for her mother when she was born, Earlene wore it when she was a baby, Earlene’s daughter wore it, and now Earlene has a granddaughter. What a wonderful family heirloom. I’m so glad I can help preserve it for the next generation.

I even had some vintage thread that I found at the thrift store that’s a virtual match to the cap. The color is very slightly darker, but the thickness, twist, and sheen are the same. There are only three spots that needed repair- two bullion stitches and a half-double crochet, so it didn’t take too long to fix.

Here’s the damaged area before and after.

Pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Absolutely no fiber progess was made last night. I was tired and went to bed at 7:30, after putting Emma to bed. I read for 45 minutes, turned out the light, and next thing I knew it was 8:00 am and Emma was ready to get up.

I did want to show off the completed Christmas socks, though, finished on New Year's Eve. Finally got around to taking a picture this morning.

When I showed them to Shaun, he said, "Very nice. They don't match." I, however, think they're cool.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Not too much to report the past few days. I've spun a few more ounces of the Ramb x Cormo, knit a little on the sock, but mostly, I've been busy with other bothersome things like work and toddler care.

I would like to wax philosophical for a moment, though.

Today's entry over at Too Much Wool really struck a chord with me. I can totally relate to much of what is written there. How often have I told a non-fiber person (or even a fiber person who isn't a spinner) that I like to spin yarn, and I get this weird sideways look, and an "Oh.... that's neat" while what they're thinking is really "What a nut! Why would she waste all that time making yarn when you can just go buy some?" Or I say that I knit/crochet/whatever, or even worse, am knitting in public, and people tell me their grandmother used to do that. And yes, I have had my spinning (wheel) group confused with a spinning (excercise) class during the course of a conversation. No wonder the person I was talking to looked so confused. "You make yarn with a bike?"

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-yarn-buying. Not by a long shot. I make lots of things with purchased yarn. But I do enjoy spinning. It's one of the most exciting feelings to knit with yarn that you made youself. I highly recommend it.

Another thing that has happened to me since I started spinning is that I know yarn better. When I go into a yarn shop, I look at the yarn, really look at it. I see the twist, the ply, the fibers. I've always pretty much been able to pick out a yarn that's suitable for the intended project, but now I know why I know it's suitable. And I want to know more. When I look at the label on a skein of yarn and it says 100% wool, I think "Well, yes, but what KIND of wool? What breed?"

Spinning has enriched my knitting life immeasurably, even as it has reduced the time I have available to knit. It's not for everyone, but I think it's great. And not just for grandmothers.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Over the past few days, there has been fluffy whiteness everywhere! We don’t usually get much snow here, since we’re on an island and the water modifies the temperature, but on Thursday my backyard looked like this.

It's only about 2”, but it’s so pretty. Even better, it has lasted more than a day! Usually whatever snow we get melts right away, but it’s been really cold since Wednesday night. The roads are a mess, since the island only has one sand truck, and people here don’t deal well with snow. It got just warm enough Thursday afternoon to partially melt some of the roads, but then of course they froze again, and Friday they were a sheet of ice. I actually slid off the road on my way into work Friday, avoiding another car. Luckily it was a controlled slide, and though I did go off the road, it was onto grass and wild blackberry bushes. No damage, no owies. Except maybe to the blackberries. I think Emma thought it was fun, but my heart was going a mile a minute.

So that was outside. Inside, we have this fluffy whiteness…

I finished carding the first of two pillowcases full of the Rambouillet x Cormo fleece. That box contains 24 one-ounce balls of roving, and the other pillowcase contains 34 oz of uncarded wool. This fleece started out at 6.7 lb and is now 3.6 lb, so that’s a 54% loss from washing. Quite a bit of grease.

While I was carding, I dropped the second cuts, neps, and other bits I picked out onto the floor beside me. Emma decided that she was going to help me, picked them up and deposited them on the Christmas tree beside her. I give you…

Emma’s fluffy white Christmas tree.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Shaun is away this week. He's at a conference in San Diego, but that's not relevant to what I'm going to talk about. What is relevant is that Shaun is gone, and I can trash the house with as much fiber and carding stuff and spinning stuff and yarn as I want to. And I can leave it out until Saturday afternoon!

We got a sheet of plywood before he left so that I can set up the borrowed carder on the dining room table (the table has a shaped edge, so the carder won't clamp directly to it). Since he left I have carded 8 ounces of the Rambouillet x Cormo fleece, spun 5 ounces of it, plied a skein of 4-ply bulky and a skein of 3-ply worsted weight yarn using part of those singles, spun and plied 2.4 ounces of 2-ply laceweight alpaca, and knitted half a sock. All this took place on Tuesday night after Emma went to bed and Wednesday morning while she napped. I think I may have warped the space-time continuum.

I was on such a fiber high Tuesday night that I wasn't even tired when I went to bed at midnight. But I was surely tired Wednesday morning when Emma wanted to get up at 7:00. She usually sleeps at least until 7:30- why'd she have to get up early?

Anyway, here's a shot of the carding set up.

The plywood is 5'x5', so it's a nice large working surface. I just got a little scale (cheap-o model from OfficeMax), and it makes it so easy to make batts that are (approximately) the same size. I'm weighing out an ounce of washed fiber, carding it three times, attenuating it into roving, winding it into a ball, and tossing it into the large storage container. I'm having a bit of trouble with the fiber making neps because it's so crimpy, but if I card carefully it's not too bad, and they’re pretty easy to pick out when I spin. Two 1-ounce balls of roving almost fill a bobbin on my Ashford Traditional.

I initially did a 4-ply skein, but decided it was a little too heavy for the yarn I wanted for a sweater. So I switched modes, and will do the rest as a 3-ply. Here's the 4-ply:

1.8 oz., 57 yards. Nice round yarn. I'll probably make a little more 4-ply and use this for a cozy warm hat.

And here's the 3-ply:

2.3 oz., 82 yards. Haven't decided what kind of sweater this will be yet. Prolly cabled. I love cables. Both these yarns are sproingy and soft.

I also spun this skein of alpaca laceweight.

2.4 oz., 325 yds. It's not the greatest fiber, but I got it free, so who can complain? It is a mill-processed roving, and there is a lot of guard hair in it. The yarn it makes is a little scratchy, but it has a lovely drape and knits up into a springy fabric that has a nice crispness and shine. I spun quite a bit of this before I was pregnant, and started a shawl. I think this is a project that should be resumed. The pattern is the "In Love with Lace Orenburg Shawl" from Knit One Crochet Two.

As you can see, I probably have enough yarn to finish the shawl and then some. Just need to knit. Actually, I had forgotten that I'd knit so much on this. Definitely must be resumed.

And since I'm posting tons of pictures, here's one of the sock I started. Not very interesting, but there it is. Another with the hemmed cuff. The colors are pooling weirdly.

Monday, January 03, 2005

I didn't get as many snowflakes blocked before Christmas as I would have liked to, but I did do some.

There were intended to be giftoids for the people I work with, but since I didn't get them done until the morning of the 24th, I was too late. Noboby was at work on the 24th, so I hung them on my tree instead. So pretty! I may still give them away as Happy New Year gifts.

I still have about 50 flakes to block, but I need to make more copies of the blocking diagram so I can do more than 15 at once. There's just something about crocheted snowflakes that pleases me no end. Radial symmetry, delicate white frothy lace, quick to make, and stiffened to show off the stitches.

These are made with #30 Cebelia thread and a #11 hook. Though using #10 thread makes larger flakes, I like the more delicate look of smaller thread. The large one on the top left makes an 11" flake as written for #10 thread, but mine came out about 8". I have a book of 12 of these huge snowflakes (Super Snowflakes to Crochet by Helen Milinkovitch Milton, Leisure Arts 1993) that I have a secret plan to crochet in cotton quilting thread. They will be all for me, and I will hang them on my tree next year, and I will be sublimely happy.