Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WCMercantile - Phat Fiber Sample

Wensleydale. All I can say is "WOW". I pulled out this Phat Fiber sample and was both curious and pleased with the really interesting fuchsia coloring, and was even happier as I rolled it out. The batt blends from bright pink to purple as if it were space-dyed. It's not a color I'd use a lot, but it is bright and happy and just rather fun. It is a little wiry to the touch and that gives the hint right off that this is a more sturdy fiber. It probably wouldn't be the most comfortable thing in the world to wear right next to the skin.

The next thing I did was pull a little sample out of the end of the batt. I've begun to do this to save a small pinch of fiber tied to the information card so I have an idea of what it was like before it was spun. In this case, the wool shocked me. I've never spun Wensleydale before and I was not prepared for the length of the staple. "My goodness!" I thought, "This stuff must be at least nine inches long!" I am accustomed to Merino wool which has a staple around 3 inches. And even now I must report I was mistaken in my initial estimate. I took my sample bit to a ruler and it is TWELVE inches long! Considering that is four times as long as my usual spinning it becomes extremely difficult to do a long-draw on this fiber. I would have to hold my hands over two feet apart!

So I spun the Wensleydale short-draw (ha--a short draw still twice as long as my usual long-draw, which should tell you it's all relative to the fiber you're spinning) with worsted techniques and got a gorgeous, mostly smooth single. There are still some uneven ends poking out in odd places that makes me wonder if it might halo a bit when worked. More than that it was fun to spin. When I pulled out a few filaments with my drafting, they just kept coming and coming and coming, rather than drafting apart.

Doubled back on itself I made about 20 yards of fingering weight yarn. It was harder to gauge exactly how much fiber to draw out to get a thinner single, but I'd like to try. I'd also like to work with a combed preparation, rather than carded, to see if would come out even smoother with worsted techniques. Lucky me, someone else packed in Wensleydale as a sample, too, so I'll get to try again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Giffordables - Phat Fiber Sample

Oh, look! More Phat Fiber! I'm going to have to come up with new and inventive ways of saying, "Gee, here's our next installment" because I still have 12 samples to go and that's going to get old really fast.

This lovely pink sample is a blend of milk fiber, Shetland wool, alpaca and "wool top" in unknown amounts coming from Giffordables and named "Princess" to fit in with our September box theme.

I have to mention that the lack of information included with each sample is becoming one of my bigger complaints with the Phat Fiber box. If you're going to send a sample, label it clearly. I want to know what I'm spinning, and in what percentages, or I can't really get a good feel for what properties I should try and exploit in the spinning. There are some samples in this box that don't say anything at all about the fiber! At least I have some idea of what's here.

Because of the Shetland and generic wool content, I decided to spin this carded batt with a long draw. This technique yields a softer yarn with more air in it and typically it will be much warmer because of that trapped air. I still spun pretty thin with the intention of being 2-ply yarn, but this sample came out much closer to fingering weight than the laceweight of earlier samples.

The long strip of fiber spun well and was nicely blended. Only the milk fiber wasn't distributed throughout but showed up more as shiny stripes much like a caramel ripple in ice cream. Everything drafted together nicely and I didn't end up with a handful of shorter-staple fibers at the end.

Giffordables - Phat Fiber Sample
One of the fibers must be brown or grey because the whole sample has a gentle heathery appearance. That adds a nice depth to what might otherwise be a monotone pink. In fact, I can't always decide if it's pink, or perhaps it's lavender. I really like that.

The finished skein is nicely squishy. The milk does show up it some places with a soft luster and no doubt the alpaca will make it very warm.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lampyridae - Phat Fiber Sample

If you want to see a beautiful drum-carded batt, then Lampyridae is a good place to look. This lovely poof is our next installment in Phat Fiber spinning. It came packaged up in a small pop-up box and tied to the lovely little card you see here. The verse on the front is "Beware ye do not slumber by the water, for the devil's darners shall knit thine eyes closed!". This quote references old myths that call dragonflies "The Devil's Darners" and is the theme and name for this sample.

Unfortunately there isn't a content list for this sample, but I'd lay odds on wool and either milk, soy, or silk blended in. The other major disappointment is that after all that packaging (pop-up-box, blue ribbon, card and gold ribbon holding the card on) there was only 2.5g of material provided. I realize this is a sampler, but 2.5g isn't even 1/10th of an ounce. If I had any advice to the seller, it would be to dump the packaging and include a full 1/4 ounce of fiber instead. I can't spin cardboard, or even re-use the box with the amount of hot-melt glue that was applied to it.

With so little available I didn't save a little tuft for reference later, but rather spun the entire sample. I also went for spinning the fiber as thin as I could get it (and still want to knit it). So with that in mind, I carefully spun it worsted to see what I could get.

Lampyridae - Phat Fiber
The batt drafts very easily and the fiber was lovely as it slipped through my fingers. I was pleased that the quality seemed to be high and I didn't run into nubs or noils. I found myself wishing for quite a bit more to play with, but went with what I had and was able to create 15 yards of 2-ply yarn. The resulting yarn is very soft with a nice luster from the blending and the subtle shifting of blues and greens creates a lot of color-interest.

Negative Progress

While this may look like a happy in-progress photo, it is in fact an anti-progress photograph! After knitting half way down my foot on both socks, I came to the unequivocal opinion that the sock was just too tight over the top of my foot.

It didn't FEEL too tight. In fact it felt deliciously soft and comfortingly clingy as a good sock should. But the lovely lace on the top stretched so terribly you could no longer determine its original shape. How sad.

So after much debate, I pulled the needles from my first sock and ripped the poor thing back to the heel flap. The second followed soon after this picture was taken.

The one bright light in all of this was that we drove to the coast on Saturday to go to the Aquarium. I didn't know this was going to be such a great thing but what it did give me was at least three hours of solid knitting time while I chatted with my husband (who was doing all the driving) and allowed my children to nap in the back seat. It was some of the most peaceful time I've had all week and was all the better for the great conversation.

I also got a lot of knitting done!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bohemian Knitter Chic - Phat Fiber Sample

Here is our second installment of the Phat Fiber September sampler ("Legends, Folklore and Fairytales"). Bohemian Knitter Chic provided this lovely sample of drum-carded flax in a pale wheaten color called "Rumplestiltskin".

In contrast to the milk fiber, the flax is very clearly made of plant material. It is slightly rough to the touch and brings instantly to mind the feel of grass or rope. It was a bit daunting to plan on spinning this fiber since most of my skills tend towards wool and similar materials. Flax can be spun wet or dry, and after a quick note off to the Bohemian Knitter, herself, I figured I might as well spin it dry to get the best comparison to how I'm spinning everything else lately.

The flax actually spun quite easily. I used a worsted draw on it, smoothing the irregular strands together as I went. There were some little bits that fell off or flew away, but what was really interesting was that it was a little bit warm while I was spinning. As I got a little toasty and sweaty, the flax in my hand actually got softer. I can see how spinning wet would be very different! And that of course tempts me to get some more to try it.

I finished with around 20 yards of spun flax. The yarn itself feels very sturdy. I washed and whacked the skein--not because I thought this would set the twist (because it is plant material and not wool) but rather I wanted to see how it would behave wet, and if a little extra finishing would soften it at all. It soaked up a lot of water easily, wrung out well and dried fast. But after it was just as tough as before. It predictably has no loft to it at all and it lacks the instant softness of spun cotton.

Bohemian Knitter Chic - Phat Fiber
However, it is really beautifully smooth. I'm looking forward to knitting it up into a band or bracelet. I had a friend with linen sheets she had used for years and I have never slept on anything so smooth and silky soft. I'd love to see how this yarn behaves over time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hampton Artistic Yarns - Phat Fiber Sample

Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Here is my first sample!

I have to say that more than anything else, the color drew me to this sample. Vibrant yellows reach out to grab your attention, and the hank had a gorgeous sheen. But while first glance might suggest it, this isn't silk top. Instead, Hampton Artistic Yarns has contributed a sample of 100% milk fiber dyed to invoke the spun gold of Rumplestiltskin.

I'm not enamored with milk fiber for a number of reasons. Milk fiber is actually processed milk protein, so it dyes just like wool or silk would. It is chemically created and extruded as a fiber and then processed into top, or reeled off for weaving. Many manufacturers tout how "Green" milk fiber is, and it may be. Without sitting down with someone inside the industry I have no way of knowing for sure and part of me has doubts. It is also touted for many other beneficial properties like making your skin softer, and being somewhat anti-bacterial.

Milk acts a lot like silk. It's even more slippery than the tussah top that I have spun. But it is not as strong as silk and will snap a lot sooner from over-twisting, and being quite so slick it is difficult to join again. I didn't have much trouble with snapping while spinning, but I did break my single several times while winding it off to ply. This was a lot more annoying since it's much harder to splice yarn once everything is all off the spindle and tangled up on itself. The fiber I had came with a tiny and regular crimp and I'm curious to see if that will make it more lofty than silk would be.

Milk has a similar sheen and feel to silk when spinning and in the spun skein. It appears to take color quite vibrantly and this yarn is really a joy to see in person. Once I have a few more samples created and figure out what to knit, I'll come back and comment on that, too.

All said, milk fiber is really interesting. I can see why people would like it and it could make a really stunning addition to a blended batt. I wouldn't pick it over silk to spin solo again, but that doesn't mean it isn't a lovely and useful fiber.

If anyone knows anything more about the creation of milk fiber and its environmental impacts, I'd love to read more!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Phat Fiber Box - September 2009

Here, my friends, is my impulse buy of the month.

For quite a while I have been watching these items called "Phat Fiber" boxes on The creator of the Phat Fiber box has been able to get many of the retailers on Etsy to pool together and contribute samples of their product. She then compiles these samples into packages and distributes them. There is a yarn box, mixed box, and fiber box. Each comes with an assortment of goodies with a theme-of-the-month.

Phat Fiber Box - September 2009
September's theme is "Legends, Folklore and Fairytales" and the box is filled with all sorts of lovely items. the first thing I found upon opening the package was a "book". Inside this book is a single page of The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. I love this book and it has to be one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time (although I must admit to a wee misty tear to see that a page had been excised to send along in this package... I still loved getting it). Along with the page was a packet of business cards from all the contributors to the Box. Most of them come with coupon codes for the month so you can purchase more of their stuff! I'm sorry you can't see all the contributor names, but it was really too difficult to show them all without giving away the coupon codes as well. In addition, there was a stack of lovely shell buttons, a pumpkin stitch marker and a glass bead stitch marker. Pretty!

Phat Fiber Box - September 2009
The rest of the box was stuffed full of every kind of fiber imaginable. There is merino, alpaca, silk, bamboo, milk, Wensleydale, and sparkle and more, some solo and some in blends. Each one was named for a folktale or myth and colored appropriately. I would list them all out now, but that task is rather formidable and instead I invite you to keep reading over the next few months as I spin and review each item individually!

I hope you have as much fun reading as I will spinning!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

September Challenge

AbbyBatt - Fairy Farts
We're back with another months' spinning. I'll have to admit I've snuck this in under quite a few headings with some creative designation. First, this was my "vacation spinning". I spent two weeks with my family "back home" and we limited how much we were bringing along by quite a bit. This wasn't a huge hardship (and avoided that nasty checked-bag-fee) but it did mean that I was extremely selective as to what exactly I brought along. I brought my sock knitting, and one small spinning project--an AbbyBatt (created by Abby Franquemont) called "Fairy Farts". Second, I spun this up under the heading of "Fleece to the Finish", an effort on the "Friends of Abby Franquemont" group on Ravelry to support each other in getting a fleece finished. Of course, I wasn't about to pack a fleece in my luggage. So this worked. And last, but not least, this is my September entry in the Spindler's Challenge.

The batt was silk, wool, and angelina (a synthetic sparkle) and it lived up to its name. It also fit the spindler's challenge for this month of "Night Sky". Of course the first thing that comes to mind is blue-black fiber with silver spangles; that's certainly the sky I remember from camping out in my childhood. But there are plenty of other amazing night skies. This AbbyBatt in particular, brings to mind the low-bellied clouds of summer thunderstorms, pressing in so tight that they reflect the street lights bright enough to seem like day.

I really loved getting to spin this up at home. I like talking about spinning, and I like sharing it with just about anyone that will listen. I also think it's pretty funny to spin outside and let my kids (or my niece and nephew) chase the spindle around, although I can get pretty dizzy keeping ahead of them! I spun on my Bosworth Midi (22g) which is a great travel spindle. Made of Cherry wood and birch, it's sturdy. Bosworth hooks are rock solid and a challenge to bend out of shape. I wasn't worried about packing it in with everything else, or even loosing my race to the kids. They really couldn't do much to it unless I gave them plenty of chance to try. In addition it has great balance (nary a wobble) and I can work it through a nice range of speeds for creating most yarn I like to spin.

Over the course of two weeks I slipped in enough spinning time to finish the one-ounce batt I brought with me, completing the last of it on my final day in town. At home I was able to wind off, measure things out and determine that while I love 3-ply yarn, it was only going to get me about 110 yards. 2-ply would be closer to 180, and likely between lace and fingering weight. I debated and paged through Ravelry quite a bit, trying to decide if I should use it as an accent in another project or on its own, and happened across a pattern for fingerless mitts that suggested 175 yards of yarn.

So there we have it, I went ahead and created 175 yards of lovely 2-ply yarn that will be just about perfect for a pair of fingerless mitts. I can't wait to get knitting!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stitches Midwest!

Merino Silk Blend
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Well, I'm back! (Did you miss me?) Sure you did!

Bet you didn't know I was in Illinois for the past two weeks. Because I rather forgot to mention it. But I was! I carefully packed myself, my family and my knitting (and spinning) into a shockingly small number of bags and set off for two weeks "back home" with my family. We had a lovely visit and one extra bonus came out of the whole wonderful time...

... my mother took me to Stitches!

We had a lovely time in the Marketplace. We spent about four hours there, including a very brief stop for lunch. For the first half we managed to follow my philosophy: see everything, first, and THEN go back and buy. But unfortunately we chanced upon the cutest little kit to knit a Tooth Fairy and fell down on that resolution. Oh, well!

My last purchase, but first pick, is pictured above. Each skein is two ounces of dyed merino wool blended with undyed silk. These deliciously fluffy strips of combed top are from "Imagine Together" and unfortunately my receipt does not include the name of the booth from which they were purchased. I believe these bright colors are destined for some lovely colorwork.

Millie's Place
As we walked on we came to the booth for Esther's Place. Mom had found out about this shop and we had originally planned on driving out to see it personally, but opted to go for Stitches instead. As luck would have it, they were there with a booth! Here's where I fell down on buying and caved to purchase a half-ounce of Type B Pygora (this is the fiber from a cross between a pygmy goat and a cashmere goat and there is a nice FAQ you can read here). Touching this fiber is like running your fingers through a cloud of dreams. I have Big Plans to blend it with something else--probably merino and perhaps a bit of silk as well.

Miss Babs fiber
The final booth for me was Miss Babs's. I had wanted to shop at Miss Babs's booth at Sock Summit, but somehow got distracted and missed it. Trust me, there was a lot to be distracted by at Sock Summit and since I had already been up and running for 10+ hours before ever going to the market there, I'm not shocked to find I missed out on some of the real finds. I was thrilled to run into it again at Stitches Midwest. One twist of fiber immediately caught my eye and it was four ounces of a merino/bamboo blend in "Oregon Cellar", which is apparently a colorway dyed originally for Sock Summit. I was in love, but I've been avoiding merino/bamboo. I'm not sure why, but the way bamboo is marketed as an "environmentally friendly" fiber rings warning bells in my head.
Miss Babs fiber
Too much hype and not enough evidence. At any rate, it didn't take much searching to turn up the same colors in merino/tussah silk and... oh. So pretty. I had to buy, and at the same time, also really wanted another color called "Woodland Viola". I debated for a couple of minutes and then took my mom's advice. I bought both ;)

On top of all the gorgeous yarn and fiber, Miss Babs has got the "extras" thing down. She tossed a couple of really fun items into our shopping bag as we left:
Miss Babs extras
a small bar of multi-colored glycerine soap, a mini-skein that is 10 yards of her "Wow, Whatta Skein!" yarn (in "Denim" blue) and some pencil-roving.I never thought I was such a sucker for extras, but this stuff really made me pleased I'd shopped with her.

After four hours (and a bunch of purchases for Mom, too) we were done in and gathered ourselves and our things, and headed back home to fathers and family. What a lovely day.