Thursday, January 28, 2010

Imagine, Together

Merino Silk Blend
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Look! It's more pretty fiber! My rented wheel is burning through the stash at an amazing rate. That's a good thing, since I have plenty to spin!

This is four ounces (two each) of "Imagine Together" merino/silk blend. I fell in love with them in the first aisle at Stitches Midwest and walked the entire floor before going back and buying them. The saturated colors entranced me. I felt that the price for merino/silk blend was entirely reasonable (although I didn't realize I'd be paying Cook County's 10% tax on them! It's painful when you're accustomed to no sales tax at all). I'm questioning, now, if they might not be merino/bamboo instead. Silk should have taken the color of the dye unless it was blended in later, and the salesperson there was a bit uncertain about the labeling of the products.

Imagine Together - Merino/silk
At any rate, I decided to spin these these up as 2-ply fingering weight. I think I may knit them together into two coordinating hats, or a pair of colorwork mittens. They are going to be plenty warm with just a hint of shine and the semi-solid color has lots of depth.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quick Spin, Quick Knit

When I gave in to the urge to buy this braid on a destash from a fellow Raveler, I had no idea what I was going to do with the wool. It is four ounces of Merino top, wonderfully soft and squishy. I fell in love with the colors, but walked away for a week before finally going back and buying it.

I've been working very hard to not purchase anything for which I cannot figure out a final plan. I want to know what I'm going to spin with it, and what I'm going to knit. Otherwise, it just gets tossed in my box of fiber for the eventual future. You know. The Stash.

The Stash likes to grow somewhat faster than I can work through it. So my goal this year is to work from The Stash. I've managed so far with yarn (meaning, really, that the past six months or more I have not significantly added to The Stash of yarn). The Stash of fiber benefits from the fact that I have five pounds of white wool sitting in a storage tub. It's hard to look at that and buy more. Not impossible, of course, but it's a huge help!

Still, this wool managed to get past my resolution of "No New Fiber".

As I have mentioned before, I have a spinning wheel for the month. I figured this unknown-end-point braid of wool was great for practicing on the wheel. Since I'm still learning my way around it, I didn't have to worry about what exactly I got out of it.

I still got some pretty stuff!

I spun up 1/3 of this fiber onto a bobbin each day. The closest I got to planning was an attempt to make the colors jumble more by breaking the braid so that the pink portions didn't line up. After that, I just spun it as it was most easily manipulated. I did figure I wanted a warm 3-ply. I thought maybe it would end up a hat, or mittens.

It finished so delightfully soft and Charmin-squeezable. It's thicker than I planned (aran/worsted weight), which is good to know for future spinning. I'll have to work on thinner singles with the wheel.

For some reason it made me think of a good friend who could use a hug and some support from friends right now. She'll be needing a little pick-me-up, so I stealthily sounded her out for project ideas. She pointed out the Ravelry project 198 yards of Heaven. It's a shawlette, for aran/worsted yarn.. and I have.. 220 yards! Perfect.

Counting on Heaven
The knit is fast and easy. It's amazing how quickly a project can go on size 9 needles. And lace blocks out into something marvelous. You may like what you're knitting while you're working on it, but it really shines once you stretch it out and pin it within an inch of its life.

So here's a little shawl for my friend to keep her a bit warmer over the next few weeks. Hugs to you from the other side of the U.S.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sock Summit Spinning

Yes, here we are nearly a half year later and I have finally made it around to spinning my Sock Summit loot. Miss Babs was the first up with her merino/silk blend in Oregon Cellar and it was a dream to spin. But my next project was to take this beautiful 50/50 blend of baby camel and tussah silk made by Sliver Moon Farm in their colorway "Cahoonzie" and spin it into something lovely and knitable.

The preparation of this top threw me for a bit of a loop. I bought it because it was pretty, shiny and soft. I had no idea what baby camel was like and didn't really know what to look for in a blend. The silk was not well blended throughout, and the camel was lightly felted (very lightly, but still had to be pre-drafted to loosen it up. I hate listening to top fizz and crackle as I pull on it). The silk's staple was 3-4x as long as the camel. Up until now I've only spun merino/silk and apparently the silk had been cut to a somewhat-similar staple as the wool. With the camel having such a short staple, it was really easy to draft out all the silk and suddenly have to carefully long-draw the short camel down. If you have spun similar blends before, do know if this is pretty typical? It certainly isn't on part with Miss Babs' fiber.

Baby Camel / Tussah Silk
It still spun up pretty, tho. I was able to get 240 yards of light fingering weight 2-ply yarn. It's plenty for a cowl or small scarf/shawlette. And it it gloriously shiny and soft at the same time. Camel, as a down fiber, is supposed to be quite warm, even warmer for its weight than wool. So I expect that whatever this turns out to be, it will be hard not to want to bury yourself in it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's all in the light

Sometimes, you don't think about what a simple thing like proper lighting can do. But when you're trying to capture subtleties in a photograph, the light you have available becomes very important.

In the summer, I have no problem. I step out back and toss my project on the lawn. I have a beautiful, lush green backdrop and perfect light every time. In the winter, it is much more difficult. The sun rarely peeks out from behind dull gray clouds and when it does, its light is harsh. It's hard to find a good balance. Shade means you don't end up with overblown highlights, but you also loose glossy shine of long-wool fibers and silk.

I keep trying. I have a macro studio (a big box built for taking pictures), but that still needs adequate light to work well. I try my best, adjusting brightness and color carefully in editing programs to take off the harsh edge of indoor lighting. But even then, sometimes the true colors just escape you.

It also drives me nuts when people (specifically in KALs where they all bought the same yarn) start arguing about the color of their yarn when compared to what they see on their computer screen from other people. "I like yours better than mine, it's more X," they often whine. But is it? Really? Or is it just the light when the picture was taken (or the settings on your monitor) shifting the display of those colors?

Here's some recent efforts I felt like I needed to share, just to show what we're all dealing with. These four pictures are of two skeins of yarn I spun recently. They both have silk in the blend, which shows up under flash, but is lost in my daylight picture. However, the colors are closer to true in daylight. Still, none of these pictures is absolutely true to life. I wish people would think of this whenever they get the urge to debate about yarn purchased online. After all, you never know what light was used for their pictures!

Miss BabsMiss Babs - Oregon Cellar
Sliver MoonBaby Camel / Tussah Silk

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Almost the end of the story...

Egyptian Mittens
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
The mittens are done! All that remains is to wrap them, and take them to the gym and gift them.

I am really looking forward to giving these away. But until then, I've been enjoying showing them to anyone that would look! This is the first project I have done that I have planned every step of the way, starting with the fleece and working through to the knit object.

Egyptian Mittens - palms
The pattern is Egyptian Mittens by Tuulia Salmela. It is not in English, but Google Translate does a decent job with it. Luckily, I didn't really need to bother with the translation since the pattern is charted. Follow the chart, and everything is okay.

I added my own twist on things in general.

Egyptian Mittens - turrned cuff
I used a crochet provisional cast-on. I had planned on knitting a long cuff back up inside the mitts when I was done, but they fit well enough that I decided a short turn was better. The provisional cast on gave me the freedom to decide on the fly how long to make that turned cuff.

I rotated the pattern on the cuff so that the two mittens matched, rather than the wrist pattern on one showing on the back of the second.

I stopped the thumb early. I did knit the thumb as written, but it came out freakishly long and pointy. That's well enough, but I don't like all that fabric flopping around in the way.

Egyptian Mittens - backs
I changed the motif in the pattern. I dumped the star, and turned the other motif 90-degrees. This eliminated most of the very-long floats. I dropped a couple of white stitches in a few places to take care of the rest. The motif still looks lovely, but since there are no floats longer than five stitches, I did not have to capture any that might show through on the front of the knitting, and I still don't have any long enough to snare a finger as you put the mitten on.

Egyptian Mittens - floats

I didn't plan on blocking them, but figured that could be a good thing. Let me assure you, blocking is an amazing thing. I cut forms out of a cardboard box and covered them with plastic bags to insert in the mittens as they dried after washing. It gave them a really professionally finished appearance.

All of these things combine to make a mitten of which I am quite proud.

Friday, January 22, 2010

While the husband's away..

Recent Spinning
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
.. on a wheel I will play!

My gift to myself for this most recent business trip (four weeks!) was the rental of a spinning wheel from my LYS. For $60 I have a Schacht Ladybug for thirty days.

It's addictive!

For the most part I have been working my way through ounce samples of various fibers, spun in various methods depending on their preparation. For instance, the bottom three skeins in my picture are all woolen spun, which yields a very lofty, fuzzy yarn. Woolen yarns are softer and warmer, but don't tend to wear as well. Since the ends aren't trapped into a smooth strand, they pill more. The three on top are worsted-spun, which gives you a smoother yarn that is more likely to have good stitch definition.

There are two-ply, three-ply and even one singles yarn in the pile. And more coming!

I can see why people fall in love with their wheels.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Handspun Socks

My November Sock Knitters Anonymous entry started way back this summer with an impulse purchase of Falkland wool so pretty I couldn't resist the colors. Falkland wool is from a location (the Falkland islands) rather than a particular breed, so there can be a lot of variation. This batch is sturdy, but still soft. According to The Falkland Islands Government web page, "Sheep breeds are predominantly Polwarth and Corriedale."

I enjoyed spinning this wool up into what I thought would be fingering weight yarn, skeined and finished it, and put it on a safe shelf to admire until I could find a project for it. Of course, my inexperience was showing a bit. The yarn is not one consistent weight. A good portion of it is sport weight (or possibly heavier) and some is very fine fingering.

Orchid from Laughing Rat Studios
It still knits up nicely!

I only had around 300 yards, and I was concerned about having enough for socks. So I found some coordinating yarn for the toes and heels. It took a couple of tries. I think I started these socks four or five times trying to find the right gauge for the irregular weight of yarn and finding the right stitch-count for my feet. But it did pay off.

Classy Slip-Up Socks

I knit "Classy Slip-Up Socks" by Betsy Lee McCarthy from "Knit Socks!". This was actually the first book of sock-patterns I purchased, and it's still a solid resource. I do like to sub in parts from Cat Bordhi's books, and of course I couldn't just leave the pattern alone. Rather than knit top-down with an uncertain amount of yarn, I switched the pattern to toe-up. I subbed in Cat Bordhi's reinforced heel, and also knit both the toe and the heel in a coordinating yarn. I also pulled my favorite trick and wrapped the to-be-slipped stitches twice when working the previous row. My sock is stretchy and comfortable!

Classy Slip-Up Socks
The wool seemed a bit rough to touch and when working it, but after just one wearing the bottom has fulled up nicely into a very soft fabric. The colors striped in a surprisingly similar fashion considering I had spun the roving up without a plan or a clue.

For my first handspun socks, these are a complete win!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Midnight Mitts

CJKopec - Midnight
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Here's another November leftover! This skein of yarn was spun from a lovely batt of blue fiber made by C. J. Kopec. I separated out the dark, medium and light portions and spun them in sequence and then did a great technique called "Navajo plying" which turns one strand of yarn into chains of three where the color order is preserved. This means my skein of yarn turns slowly from white to dark blue over its entire length.

CJKopec - Midnight
Here's two of the three batts spun up and wound in preparation for knitting. This project was a SAL/KAL, which meant that everyone bought the same fiber and then knit along with each other on the same project (or rather two projects in this case, so you had a choice). I planned on making Winter Twilight Mitts (You may need a login to follow this link, I'm not certain). Rather than spin contrasting colors from these batts, I went and purchased some black mill-spun yarn (Malabrigo Sock in "Negro") to use as my second color. There's some small risk in this since the weight and twist may not match up perfectly. But I really don't like spinning black, and I wasn't sure the dark blue would contrast enough with the other two blues from this batt to make spinning both colors worth it.

Twilight Mitts - progress
The mitts are great fun to knit! It helps that I was able to take a class from my LYS on multi-color knitting. We learned about both Fair Isle knitting (stranded) and intarsia (blocks of color). In this case, the Fair Isle techniques were really handy. One great trick when knitting in the round is to turn your work inside out and knit across the back (inside) of the item, rather than the front (outside). This stretches your "floats" (the spare yarn you're not currently knitting) around a larger circumference and keeps them loose so they won't cause your knitting to pucker in odd ways.

Twilight Mitts - progressTwilight Mitts - progress

Winter Midnight Mitts
Here's the finished mitts! I've added very long cuffs to the top. They are quite squishy and delectably soft, but the best part is that I can roll them up over my fingers so that they are more like full mittens in the cold morning weather. It makes holding onto the steering wheel of the care much more enjoyable. And then as the day warms, I just roll them right back and can operate my phone properly (which requires a bare fingertip to dial).

CJKopec "Midnight" batt
Finally, we have the last batt spun up. This one I did not separate and I plied with three singles together (not chain). I have around 120 yards, plus another 80 or so left over from the mitts in mini-skeins of white and dark blue. I think I will be knitting a small cowl or necklet of some sort to coordinate with the mitts and my fabulous red jacket I got for Christmas!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Starflower Socks

Starflower Socks
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
One of the little things I did in back in October was knit my sister-in-law (HI!!) a pair of socks! Of course, since I know she visits here from time to time, posting said socks was not a brilliant idea if I wanted to keep the surprise. So, of course, I didn't.

Now that I'm catching up a bit on my posts, I can!

These lovely socks are Starflower Socks, a pattern written by Jeannie Cartmel. I knit these with a side-gusset, and a Cat Bordhi reinforced heel and I'm told they fit great! It helped that when my sister visited this summer, I measured her feet. Muahahaha. Tricky me! I was also able to enter them in the Sock Knitters Anonymous October challenge under the designer category (Jeannie Cartmel). She has some seriously cute socks!

One thing to consider when knitting these socks is the stretch. Slipped stitches in general draw in the fabric you are making because you are pulling one stitch across multiple rows of knitting. The stitches around it do give up some of themselves to allow the slipped stitch to stretch, but the more you pull it across the fabric, the less elasticity it will have. I highly recommend making the stitch-to-be-slipped longer when pulling it across more than just one row (in this case you pull it up two rows AND over two stitches and that's a pretty long distance for one little stitch!).

For me, this means when I knit the stitch I will slip in the next row, I wrap it twice around the needle. When I get to it next, I drop the extra wrap. Since the stitch is now twice as long as its neighbors, it pulls easily and doesn't stress the fabric too much.

If you ever knit something with slipped stitches, I hope that helps!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 in Review

I couldn't help but go back and check out all the projects I've finished this past year--both spun and knit. Maybe you'll enjoy them, too!