Wednesday, April 22, 2009

OMG! A sheep went 'splody on my porch!

Jacobs Fleece
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Okay, not exactly, but it sure does look like it.

Spring is here and not only do we have thousands of adorable lambs running around in all the big grass fields, but apparently it is also time to shear off the fluffy coats of all the older sheep so they don't slow broil over the course of the summer.

What's amusing about this is that I've gotten several offers of "free fleece". I'm told this is a dangerous thing. You really don't know what you're getting into. The sheep may not be a breed that's meant to be shorn for its fleece (it may be intended for other sorts of consumption... leg of lamb, anyone?). It's likely to be very dirty, and there are hundreds of other things that could be "wrong" with it, or so I've been informed my more experienced fiber artists.

If I were a discerning spinner, no doubt I would want to go to a show and go through the various fleeces and pick the very best one, buy it, and toodle home to fleecy goodness of my own design. However, since I am not a) experienced or b) discerning at this point, the major point of "free" is awfully hard to pass over. I figure if it's truly an awful fleece then we're planning on a new vegetable garden this year and I hear it's fantastic mulch.

This particular 'splody fleece on my porch is "Jacob" fleece. It's a fascinating breed of sheep. I got two of them (fleeces, not sheep) from a woman at my gym. She's noticed my knitting and spinning before (because I am not shy about sharing my projects about the locker room and in fact a couple of people "follow" what I'm working on. It's quite gratifying). So I'm very happy to have received this kind gift. However, one of those small "unfortunate" things did happen in that the sheep were sheared in their stall and the fleece dropped right in the straw. Oh, yay. She did offer to have them shorn on top of a tarp next year. But this time I spent the afternoon pulling the two fleeces apart to separate the two colors of wool, and doing my best to pick all the straw out of them. The upside of this activity is I got a really good up-close look at the fiber.
Jacobs leftovers
I was able to pull out the shorter cut parts and anything that still had too much dirt (or other matter) in it as well as the places that had felted on their own from the elements. What's left is really beautiful, and I have a 5-gallon bucket packed with prime mulch material.

Unknown Wool Fleece
I also was gifted a huge fleece that looks buttery yellow on first examination. I wiggled a little lock out of this monster bag (displayed here with some affection by my darling Yarn Angel) and submerged it in the hottest water my tap produces and a little Dawn detergent.
Unknown fleece - cleaned
I wasn't particularly surprised (but I was extremely pleased) to see every last bit of that yellow mist away into the water leaving behind a pearly white lock. This stuff is gorgeous!

I'm going to take my fleece(s) up to Canby to a mill and see what they can do with it for me. I think there's plenty in the big bag to make at least one sweater, if not two. And the Jacob fleeces are going to be wonderful to play with!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stash Update

Today, there was sun. It was amazing. It was beautiful and... my children were sleeping. So instead of fleeing the house and running across the neighborhood lawns with much abandon, I drug out my Macro Studio and the half of my stash I have been pretending doesn't exist, and I took pictures. I added yarns to my Ravelry stash page, and made sure all my fiber for spinning was included as well. I moved items from the stash page to "all used up" status, and double-checked one last time. I planned what yarns for what patterns and in the end felt much better about 3/4 of my stash. The remainder refuses to be labeled for its exact use and thus remains an annoyance to me. I desire everything to be in a nice bin with a plan, rather than waiting about undefined. The plan may change, but there at least should BE a PLAN.

It's rather daunting to see what you've socked away around the house, and at the same time rather gratifying to see how much you actually have knit through as well.

It was also rather nice to take a final look at a few skeins and realize that I'm really not going to use them for anything at this point. I put them in my Destash page for reasonable prices (I hope) and if interest happens, great. If I come up with a Plan for them before then, great. But right now they're redefined in my head as "not in stash". I've had good luck destashing so far, so here's hoping I get a message or two showing interest!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Oh, no!

Some days, things just don't work out. Despite much reading, estimating and calculating, taking into account other people's gauge and sizing.. I thought I had plenty of yarn. I should have had plenty of yarn. Almost everyone I looked into used 2.5 skeins or less to finish this sweater.

Not me! I started into the second sleeve and looked into my knitting bag and blanched at the floppy rings of yarn remaining. I pulled all that yarn out and re-wound it into smaller balls and weighed it. I knit a few rows and weighed again. I calculated in my head, and weighed it again. I knit a few more rows and... yes.. weighed it again.

I was so close. So very, very close. And yet, I knew it. I was short. Short! I was going to run out of this lovely yarn, dangit and now i had to decide... tear out some of the sleeve, or tear out some of the body... or beg online for more yarn.

I could, of course, buy another skein. I have alternated skeins through the entire project so one more new one wouldn't be the end of the world. Unfortunately, it would be another $22.50 for a very small amount of yarn to finish this dang project. Not really where I wanted to go.

I pulled out the sweater again and argued with my little remaining balls of yarn. Can you make it to the end? The yarn didn't think so. I weighed it all again, gnashed my teeth and said... sure you can! It replied, "Did you remember you have to do the garter-stitch cuff, too?" I cursed (quietly, internally, for it doesn't do for little ears to pick up on such things) and put on my best face so that certain small parties wouldn't decide that why mommy was upset was extremely interesting and start asking pointed questions. There's nothing quite like being peeved and having a four-year-old grill you as to why you're not happy.

Then I hit Ravelry. I found five people that have used this yarn in projects already (I love that feature!). I figured out that three of them have actually been active in the last couple of months. And I sent out desperate pleas for help... and I was promptly answered by all three! I love the internet community and people willing to send you their little leftovers to help you finish a project! I love that one of these three is willing to send me an entire project that never got gifted to a friend, so I might frog it and use the yarn. It's amazing and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

I need to go find some little warm-fuzzy things to send back as "thank you" for such wonderful generosity! I'm thinking.. chocolate.

Friday, April 10, 2009

February Lady Sweater

Works in progress are so much fun. I found I have all sorts of great pictures, but have been too much of a slacker to blog them. So, here they are, a bit late and after the fact, but happily put together so you, kind reader, can see what I've been frantically knitting over the past couple of weeks!

My friend Andrea lit a fire under me (figuratively and I'm sure unintentionally) by making more progress than I did on her gorgeous FLS over the course of last week. I decided I was going to catch up, although probably not surpass her. I was hoping we'd both be able to wear our sweaters next Monday and get a paired picture. Wouldn't that be fun? So I set to knitting with a vengeance, and bumped up my goal of one lace repeat per day, to two repeats.

One of the things I found really interesting was the variations in color between skeins. I assumed that BMFA did they're dying in larger lots, but what most of us in this KAL have found out (because we were kind enough to share the information around) is that BMFA generally dyes two skeins at a time. That means with a three-skein project, you're sure to get one that was dyed a bit differently. In some projects, this has been painfully obvious. I opted to start striping back and forth between two skeins once I got to the lace portion of my FLS. It's a bit more work (okay, it's a LOT more work) but in the end the outcome is worth it. Pooling is much reduced and so is the obvious "argyle" pattern you can get from shaded yarns.

February Lady Sweater
Because this is a cardigan knit in one piece, I didn't want to switch my skeins at the edge of my work. This would make for some obvious "floating" bits of yarn every time I switched skeins, right on the front edge of the sweater. Instead, I opted to switch at the edge of the garter-stitch border, right where it transitioned into lace. I started by twisting the two skeins together, but this didn't provide a strong enough link between the two skeins. Instead, I ended up knitting the first stitch after the switch with both strands held together. Because it was a transition from garter to lace, you can't even see the slightly thicker part where every-other-row there is one stitch held doubled. It made the join even and almost un-detectable. In fact, I dare anyone to find it without a magnifying glass.

February Lady Sweater
I also did this again on the sleeves at the beginning of each round. There's a little jog there anyway, so it hides the irregularity of the stitch-weight. I'm really happy with how the sweater is turning out! It has beautiful colors that will look lovely with my wardrobe, and I have high hopes to finish in time to wear it for Easter.

Sparkle Yarn!

April's Challenge them was "Celebrate". Once again I went out of the box to pick what I thought was the ultimate celebration song, Prince's "1999". Because, let's face it, New Year's 1999 has got to have been one of the biggest parties in a long time (and we must admire Prince's genius for engineering the resurgence of his career for a brief time with this song).

IST Crafts Spindle
For this challenge I got to bring out my brand new (at the time) ITS Crafts spindle from Europe. It's dang gorgeous. It is exactly the same weight as my cherry Bosworth spindle (23g), but it feels so much more delicate. The whorl is topped with amboyna burl, and ringed with reclaimed brass shavings in epoxy. The shaft is walnut and is gently tapered for its entire length. I'm afraid to drop it. But it spins smoothly and long (as a rim-weighted spindle should do). The roving is unknown random top from my grab-bag in purple, pink, black and grey. Not shown here is the magenta angelina I picked up because for this challenge, I have a special request.

2009 April Spindler's Challenge "Celebrate"
My daughter wants a hat. Specifically she wants a purple hat. With sparkles. For the first half of this yarn, I took 6-8" lengths of roving and carefully plucked and pulled it out flat. I then laid the angelina out over the top and rolled the whole thing up like a sparkly jelly-roll. I spun the first batch from the fold, wanting a lofty, soft yarn that would barber-poll. Only the purple got the sparkles. The black went in plain. I did what I think of as "long draw", although I'm not entirely certain that's accurate. Rather than pulling the fiber in with my fingers and following the twist up into my drafting zone, I hold my single further down and let the twist grab the fiber out of my hank as it wants to. I'm still not letting more twist up into the fiber until it looks like I'm not grabbing any more. Then I open my fingers to let what twist has built up jump into the higher single and drafting zone and then pinch it off again to pull out more.

This method resulted in a more blended single. The colors across the roving mingle more. The purple/pink side came out more uniform, and the black/grey became heathered. My daughter took one look at the resulting two-ply yarn and pronounced it "not sparkly enough!". So I began again.

2009 April Spindler's Challenge "Celebrate"
This time I opted to spin worsted. I'm better at it and it goes faster. I took my purple roving and broke it again into 6-8" lengths and spread each one out into big, flat squares. To these I added a LOT of angelina and rolled them up like the first. Instead of spinning from the fold, I spun from the end. I was better able to control the spread of the angelina this way, since if I got a little thin at one point I could just grab a few more strands into my drafting zone, or a few less when it got a little thick. The black section had more white in it than grey and I was able to separate them so they would stripe rather than blend. When plying, it was fascinating to see the black and white line up versus the purple and pink, making one color or other pop out.

This yarn met my daughter's approval.

Sparkle Hat
The hat was knit from the top-down, increasing every other row in six places. After finishing the crown, I knit a few rows and then switched to 2x2 ribbing. I bound off the edge with some of the pink-only strand (extra that I plied back on itself). And the very last bits of yarn I wound into a pom-pom for the top. The hat is big! It easily fits me. The woolen-spun yarn is at the bottom so it is especially warm around your ears. But the beauty of 2x2 rib is that it collapses on itself and this hat still fits my daughter. And... she loves it! The crown is quite sparkly and so is the pom-pom. By using the purple ply (with the angelina in it) doubled back on itself for the bind-off, there is a little extra sparkle around her face, and she doesn't seem disappointed at all (if she even notices) that the "less sparkly" skein was used as well.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Eva's Hat

Eva's Hat
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Here's a quick little project I've been using to fill my time. I've found that knitting a large object (or in other words, a sweater) on circular needles causes my hands and arms to ache after a few rows. Rather than push into the area of repetitive-stress injury, I've opted to knit those few rows and then move on to something smaller that doesn't seem to bother me as much. I've had this cute little hat on my "to do" list for a long time, thinking I'd use it to finish off the Baby Cashmerino I had from the Striped Cardigan. I thought the two might compliment each other nicely.

Eva's Hat
I opted for the 18" size, thinking the 15" would be too small. While that might be true, I believe that the 18" is going to be a bit too big for the intended recipient (my niece, who is not-quite-one-year-old). Modeled here by my 4-year old daughter, it's quite cute (but still a little bit big). On me, it's just a tad tight. Part of that was learning more about Fair Isle. I thought I had kept the floats in the back loose enough to not be a problem. The knitting looked just fine when laying flat. But once you pull on the band a little, the tight spots become quite clear. I spent quite a bit of time redistributing tension across the band as best I could, but I still can tell where it puckers a bit. It's not fatal by any means, but I'm really glad I got some beginner's practice before embarking on a larger project.