Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not just rose..

So, the rose wasn't the only thing I spun this past three weeks. Oh, no. In fact, after a bunch of the rose, I was getting pretty darned tired of dusky pink. And dark pink. And light pink. And pink-y brown.


So somewhere in there I conceived a desperate need for blue. I went by my LYS-dyers' place and picked up the most gorgeous blue/green/purple/gold tussah silk top you've ever seen.
Tour de Fleece - July 14th
And then a few days later I went back and bought the rest of it that she had (for 6 oz total). Since this was never in the original plan for spinning, I didn't really have any major drive to get it done. I started out spinning a very thin and even single and just working my way through it as a break. At the same time I was working on knitting a shawl and it came into my head that it would look amazing with a green border. At my Monday knitting group I approached my friend dyer and asked if she couldn't cook up a batch of green silk. Green, like the pretty fronds of plant in the vase beside her on the table. She took a sprig, tucked it behind her ear, and by Wednesday, I found GREEN waiting for me!

Tour de Fleece - July 16th
So the green became my second project of the Tour. But wait, you say, isn't the blue your second project? Well. Yes, and no. You see the green silk is finished. Two ounces spun in 385 yards of 2-ply, lace-weight tussah silk yarn. And it's already wound and being knit as well! (You'll get to see that later. Maybe Friday. I'm keeping it under wraps.)

Tour de Fleece - July 17th
The peacock blue/green/purple/gold was still being spun.
Tour de Fleece - July 18th

Side trip number two was getting back to a project I'd planned for the month, but sidelined for my Tour de Fleece projects. I spun up my Spindler's Group Challenge yarn. I had planned on this being my second attempt at a cabled yarn, but it just wasn't working for me, so I went with 3-ply instead.

Tour de Fleece - July 18th
I also took a side trip into supported-spindle spinning. Of course, I don't own a supported spindle. But I solved that problem! Channeling my inner MacGuyver, I dug out a bamboo skewer and a racquetball and constructed a perfectly serviceable supported spindle. I began to work on my long-draw techniques, so that I might feel confident enough to take the leap into spinning down fibers like cashmere.

Tour de Fleece - July 26th
I'm still working on the "peacock" silk. I'm trying to decide if I should ply it with itself, or find a coordinating wool to use as the second strand. At the moment I'm leaning towards wool, to give it a soft hand, loft and bounce.

As a final overview of this past month's efforts, and listed in order of spinning:
950 yards (+100 yards leftover silk single) of 2-ply rose in 3.8oz of tussah and 4oz of merino, (24-20 WPI)
55 yards of 3-ply “just for giggles” in 47g of random wool (didn’t measure WPI)
385 yards of 2-ply green in 2oz of tussah (22 WPI)
? yards of cotton “challenge” yarn on a bamboo skewer+racquetball. (Go MacGuyver!)
1200 yards of tussah silk single, waiting for its perfect mate (as yet undetermined)

950x2 + 100 + 55x3 + 385x2 + 1200 = 4135 yards or 2.35 miles.. approximately

Monday, July 20, 2009

From Fiber to Yarn

What you see here is my first week-and-a-half spinning for Ravelry's "Tour de Fleece". This fun group makes a spin-a-long of the Tour de France, with the only requirement (and a loose one at that) being that you at least TRY to spin every day.

This is made easy by the fact that if you post your progress for the day to the "daily progress" thread, then the next day people vote on their favorites and an award is given to the top two most-voted-yarns. Being somewhat competitive in my nature, this spurs me on each day to at least a little bit of spinning, and sometimes to a whole lot of spinning!

Superwash Merino
One of my goals for this (my first) Tour was to finish a project I've had in mind for a while now. I originally purchased 2 ounces of tussah silk from Dyepot.com because it was on sale, and it was lovely. I later went back and bought the rest of the lot (almost another two ounces) as well as four ounces of a coordinating merino wool to ply with it. This, I reasoned, would easily give me 1000 yards of lace-weight yarn with which to make a shawl.

Tussah Top
Another shawl-in-progress at the moment was my first attempt at working with tussah silk. Rather than leave it all to chance for the "Big Shawl", I decided to spin a smaller project first. This was especially easy when I happened on another sale of a lot of four ounces of silk. (I'm a sucker for a sale, and know it. Thus, when I need to save money I'm very careful NOT TO SHOP in the first place.) That was done just before the Tour and I'm knitting it now. What it did for me is allowed me to test out how evenly I would spin over time, and how I liked for the silk to be spun.

With that knowledge, I embarked on this, my second (and largest) lace-weight project to date. I started with the silk and purposefully spun it "thicker" than my original yarn. I wanted a slightly softer yarn, and my first silk had gotten quite twisted, and thus a little rough, in many places. I also didn't want to stray towards cobweb weight, which is all too easy when spinning silk.
Tour de Fleece 2009 - July 4 Tour de Fleece - July 5th Tour de Fleece - July 6th Tour de Fleece - July 7th Tour de Fleece - July 8th

Over the course of the week I worked my way through the silk, documenting my process each day. It is especially fun to spin outside while my kids play in the yard. We get to enjoy the sun (and sun on silk is a beautiful thing to behold). They get plenty of playtime, and I get spinning time. They'll even chase the spindle, or I can chase them. It's wonderful to be mobile!

At the end, I could feel myself getting anxious. I wanted to get this project done. I was also nervous about my yardage, so for the first time I sat down with my singles and wound them onto my niddy-noddy for measurement. Relief! I was well into 600 yards of silk single on the first attempt.

I polished off the silk (and wound that.. it was over 500 yards) and then heartened by my success I pulled out the merino top. Here, I ran into an issue I'd never had before. This particular top was so densely compacted I almost couldn't get it to "break" apart into sections. I knew that would be an issue for drafting. In addition, parts of it were dyed brown, rather than rose. I'd expected a bit more of an even application of color. This wasn't bad, just not what I'd originally envisioned.

Tour de Fleece - July 9th
My first hour of each day spinning the wool was sitting down and breaking it into sections by brute effort. Then I split each of those sections along their length several times. And finally I mixed-and-matched the sections until each one had an equal number of rose strips, and one tan strip. These lengths I then carefully "pre-drafted" together. I tugged a little bit at the bottom just until the fibers started to slip past each other, and then moved up a little bit and repeated the process. This turns a compacted, dense top, into a light and airy length of fiber that is easy (or at least much easier) to spin. As an added bonus, it also blends the various strips together, so the tan became incorporated into the other colors rather than standing out bluntly against the various pinks.

Tour de Fleece - July 10th
Then I went to town. My silk spinning had put me in good practice, but the merino went like lightning. I spun through two ounces each day, finishing four ounces in two days! This didn't spin quite as thin as the silk. Despite having a bit more wool by weight, I spun about 100 less yards of it. Still, this was putting me right around my 1000-yard-total mark, and that made me happy enough.

Tour de Fleece - July 11th
Now I had four rolls of spun fiber. Each of these I wound together so that one strand of silk was with one strand of wool. This is known as a "plying ball" and is a great way to make your plying work much more portable. I hold the ball in my left hand and unwind enough yarn to ply, spin it up, wind it on the spindle, and continue. You can ply all over the neighborhood. At the gym. In the supermarket (if you wanted, but I wouldn't). Did I mention I like portable?

Tour de Fleece - July 14th
Plying spindles get full. You want to be careful how you wind them. I've had trouble with the bottom getting loose, despite careful winding and cross-winding to keep it stable. This time I cross-wound very rarely, and straight-wound quite a bit more. I came out with a really solid cop. There's just enough cross-winding on it to make sure the spiral-wound strands won't come loose, but not enough to make the cop slippery so that things start falling off.

The last step is to wind one more time onto the niddy-noddy. This confirmed I had 950 yards of finished 2-ply merino/silk lace yarn, with 100 yards of silk single left over. Whew!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Next Monday

I dropped by Dyelots today. I've been desperate to find some super-saturated blue/purple SOMETHING to spin. Of course, she had some. AND it was silk. I'm so addicted to silk right now. She also had insanely saturated mohair, which just wouldn't cut it on the spindle, but dang. PURDY.

Janice says, "Let's knit at Cafe 440 on Monday." So I'm sure people will be getting email soon. Except the list is totally broken, so she'll be doing her best to get the word out. Spread it around. Cafe 440 (on Coburg road, just a little north of Pier 1 and Trader Joe's) on Monday night!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Setting yourself up for failure

Some days, you just can't get it right.. and while it was entirely my fault. Well. It wasn't my fault!

Okay. It was all my fault.

I took lace knitting to my Monday night group. This was, of course, a minor risk. Lace takes thought and attention. Chatting it up with a half-dozen knitters (or more, but summers are pretty light in attendance) isn't exactly conducive to either. But the shawl I'm working on (with my own handspun, I might mention!) is a very easy "leaf lace" pattern I've done several times before and hardly have to think about now. The only trick is remembering the center-line where the pattern starts over.

We set the scene on Monday night amidst several happily knitting women. I knit along on my project and at some point I spread out my stitches at the end of the row and frowned. Things didn't line up right and it was very odd. So I spent an hour over that small section, figuring out what was wrong (which I never quite did) and finally fudging the stitch count back into shape so I could continue. But it bugged me. I'm pretty darn exacting about my knitting and even small errors gall me.

Then, near the end of the evening, I stretched the whole thing out to admire my work and noticed an oddness near the center. Oh, sure enough, in that one tricky spot where I've debated every row that I ought to put in a stitch marker to remind myself that HERE is that tricky center stitch... I'd missed it. I'd shifted the whole thing over (by an increasing number of stitches each row, due to the way the lace is put together). It was a mess.

I will admit that I used some fairly strong language (greeted with much kind laughter by my friends). I scowled at it for a good amount of time as one of our more accomplished lace knitters packed up to go home. I was advised to let it go and look at the whole thing with fresh eyes in the morning. But fresh eyes would be at war with two children. I just don't have the ability to drop back lace AND properly take care of things around the house. Monday nights are my best bet.

I took a deep breath. I could see what the issue was, and I could see a plan to fix it, so I dropped back those dang stitches and proceeded to knit them back up again... wrong. At this point it was 10pm, and everyone else was packing to leave, so I did as well. But I know myself well and I muttered about it all the way home. There was no way I was going to get to sleep with this looming over me.

When I got home, I dropped those stitches down again and this time fixed the persistent error. I was rather proud of myself for it. I went to sleep a happy woman.

This morning, bolstered by my success, I resolved to do the same with the other problem. Only, I just couldn't find the root of it. After dropping more stitches than I like back more rows than I like, I finally admitted defeat. I pulled my circular out of the knitting and several rows of yarn were wound back onto the ball before I carefully picked up each stitch in the next row down as the yarn popped out of it.

Foliage Shawl
As I began to re-knit that "first" row, the first row of my evening out, I was happy to have erased my error (even if it did mean loosing a fair amount of progress). I once again got to the end of the row and couldn't help but notice that things weren't matching up. So I stopped, counted, and scrutinized and found the one stitch I'd dropped into a yarn-over.. and realized that because of this I had decreased incorrectly in three different places for the rest of the row. There was NO WAY I could have fixed this by dropping back stitches in the middle of a supermarket cafe with women chatting all around me (and certainly no way I would have noticed it in the first place, chatting back as I was doing at the time). And once I noticed the error it was much too much to fix easily. I would defy any but the most accomplished (and OCD) of knitters to be able to drop back that 20-some stitches in any circumstance.

But now that I had frogged back, fixing just the one row below was quite simple. And now I'm back on the right track once again.