Monday, January 31, 2011

January Recap

This year, I made resolutions. That's not something I normally do, or rather I don't normally consign resolutions to be made only on the first of the year. I like to make them all year around, whenever they need to be made. But I made fiber resolutions this year, and I've managed to keep them for a whole 31 days so far!

First up, we have some lovely "aubergine" batts. These were gifted to me by my wonderful husband. I spun them up into a lace-weight (possibly fingering) 2-ply yarn that yielded about 450 yards. I'd like to use these with a slightly-off-white handspun in a weaving project, but don't have that fiber yet (and can't buy it, since I'm still on my "Stash Staycation" until the first day of Spring). This also dovetails nicely into Janel Laidman's Stashdown (which reinforces my 4-oz-per-month goal). And my resolution with the Spin your Stash group on Ravelry. I feel like I have a whole motivational horde behind me!

Blue Whale Shawl
Second, I have knit four (actually closer to six) ounces of handspun yarn. This is the Blue Whale (Ravelry link) shawl designed by Jared Flood. The pattern came with the fiber and is a part the AVFKW "Pro-Verbial Club", so there will be several more of these projects throughout the year. In fact, I got a bit of a jump start on February's spinning with the next shipment, and boy is it pretty. But that's for another post. The yarn for this shawl was a lot of fun to spin and I'm really happy with how it worked out in the pattern. It's gratifying to see a plan work out almost entirely as intended.

Ella Rae Scarf
I also wove a scarf (although this project tread the thin line of the intent of my resolution, since I did buy new yarn specifically for the scarf because I was afraid to "waste" any of my current stash. Then again, the lessons learned were valuable and I will now be comfortable using stash-yarn for further weaving projects). Weaving is extra and not "required" by my project-resolutions. But I'm probably going to, anyway. I have hopes of making some place-mats in February. I've already done the math, and I think that's the hardest part.

Itty Bitty Gumdrops
And last, but not least, I knit "four ounces" of millspun yarn (also a Christmas gift, but this time from my daughter). Socks typically use four ounces, even though this particular yarn comes in 50-gram skeins and thus is slightly short of the full four-ounce mark. And since the socks are for my daughter, the project did not use the entire two skeins of yarn--but it's close enough. The remainder of that yarn will get used as scrap, probably in a scrappy woven scarf. Or it will get knit into a tiny cosy of some sort for small electronics. As it is, it's not enough for another full-sized project and I'm just going to count it as used up!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Mitten - The Cast of Critters

I've been avoiding this post.

It's rather a silly thing. First, I avoided making the post because I didn't want to "give it away". This ensemble was created as a Christmas gift for my niece and nephew (and really for their Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa as well, since I knew they would all share).

Second, I avoided making this post because... I knew it was going to be so darned long. Blogging each little animal, when I understood so little of exactly what I had done, intimidated me. (But as I have decided this post will not explain how to make each individual creature, I have gotten past that fear.)

But, as Sandi Wiseheart actually mentioned me on her blog (SQUEEEEE!!!!) I figured I'd better get off my butt and get this one done!

Forgive me repeating myself just a little bit. I set out this Christmas to make Kitten Mittens for my niece and nephew. The nursery rhyme is near-and-dear to me, because it was hand-embroidered on my crib quilt (which later became my twin-bed-quilt when a 1-foot border was added on all sides). I loved my quilt and its whimsically embroidered kittens, each searching for their mittens through blades of grass. When the idea came to me to knit mittens for the kids I decided that just two wouldn't do--instead I would knit three that didn't match. Kitten mittens, as it were.

I wanted to send the story, too, and started hunting up books that would work. There are quite a few versions out there, but none with which I fell in love. But while hunting, the woman helping me said, "Oh, but you must read The Mitten!. I'd never run into Jan Brett's books before, but I instantly fell in love. And the more I read it, the more I became convinced that I needed to make this story.

I started with the mitten itself. I dug through my stash to find some appropriate handspun--in this case a sample of Cheviot I had received in trade. I had just about the right yardage and a good weight of yarn. I improvised a mitten using an article called "Progressive Gloves" (Interweave Knits, Winter 2003) and a related article about thumb gussets, which I have used many times to create gloves and mittens in the past. It was easy to knit up, and if it came up a bit short in the fingers it hardly mattered, since it was only going to be stuffed with the next step in my plan... the critters!

In this story, a little boy pleads for a pair of white mittens to be knit by his Grandma. She eventually agrees, even though she thinks he'll loose them in the snow. When he goes out to play, predictably he immediately looses one mitten. While he continues to play, a whole host of animals crawl one-by-one into the mitten to get warm.

I worked from two patterns I found on Ravelry, one for "Owlets" and the other a "Baby Polar Bear", but the rest of the animals I improvised. I had particular fun with the rabbit (crocheted from 100% handspun angora yarn) and the mole (made from handspun CVM) but the rest were completely adorable as well. Each had its own quirks and I became noticeably more adept at creating what I wanted as I went along.

I've been asked several times to write these up as patterns, and I'm seriously considering it. The major hurdle is that I hardly know how to read crochet patterns, much less write them. Still, should the time present itself sometime this year, I may try to tackle the task.

And I'll be sure to post them here!

The Mitten - AnimalsThe Mitten - AnimalsThe Mitten - Animals
The Mitten - AnimalsThe Mitten - AnimalsThe Mitten - Animals
The Mitten - AnimalsThe Mitten - AnimalsThe Mitten - The Cast of Critters

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ella Rae Scarf

Ella Rae Scarf
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Even though I am on a "Stash Staycation" with a promise of not adding to my stash until the first day of Spring, I have been presented with a small difficulty in that I really could use some yarn with which to practice weaving--yarn that is not too expensive and I don't mind "messing up" a bit. Most of what remains in my stash is high-end sock yarn, and sweater quantities of heavier weight yarn that are already earmarked to be... sweaters, of course.

This meant that when a 50% off any one regular priced item at the local Ben Franklin (which happens to have an unusually nice yarn section) came to my inbox, my resolved crumbled a little. I went hunting.

What I found was a lovely skein of Ella Rae Merino Lace. It's not a true laceweight yarn. I would probably mark it as Light Fingering weight, but it is a bit lighter than I'd want to use for socks as well. It is superwash, beautifully dyed and delightfully squishy. I fell in love at at half price it seemed perfect for another loom project.

I dithered about it for a little bit. I had a hard time wrapping my head around how to do all the math. It's pretty straight forward when you say, "I want to make a project X wide and Y long." It's a little harder when you say, "I have 460 yards of yarn, how can I best divide that in length and width to have a good sized scarf, and still have enough left over to weave it after warping?!"

Ella Rae Scarf
I finally hammered through the numbers on my spreadsheet and thought I had them down pretty well. They made sense. Double checked and nudged about, they still made sense, and so I decided to go with it.

I warped for a scarf that would be around 8" wide (a little less for shrinkage) and hopefully about 2 yards long when finished. That meant I actually put on 2.5 yards for the warp, the extra 18" accounting for "take up", "shrinkage" and "loom waste". I must not have measured that quite right, because instead of that using up just a little over half my ball of yarn, I was down to just over 1/3 of a ball left after warping. That wasn't enough to weave the whole length. Ouch.

But since this was partly an exercise to see what happens with bad math, and how far you can get with what's left, I wove anyway.

After getting the warp set up, I started to weave my header with waste yarn and ran into another curiosity.. too many ends in one slot. Somehow I had accidentally put an extra set about 1.5 inches in from the edge. I had two options. Cut them out, or shift everything over. I opted to untie the warp ends and move everything over one space so everything was properly spaced and then tied back on again. Of course, that's five yards I didn't have for the weft, but oh, well. One mistake found.

As I began to weave, I was careful not to beat quite so hard this time, leaving open spaces between each pick, but not too much. I snugged the selvedges in carefully, but not tight enough to actually draw in the cloth (next time, they need to be just a smidge tighter. I'm told a small amount of draw-in is okay to get clean edges). I also did a small detail of Leno Lace three inches into the beginning of the scarf. It looks wonderful! In particular it is 2x2 leno on a closed shed.

Ella Rae Scarf
I was feeling pretty smart as I got down towards the other end of the scarf. Despite my miscalculation on length and width, I had figured out one other helpful detail. When winding my stick-shuttle, I had wound 50 wraps on one side, and then turned the shuttle around and wound 50 wraps on the other side. Switch back and forth, and when you get down to the last 50, you know you're coming to the end of your yarn. More than that, I was easily able to calculate a good approximate of the yardage left. Add that to the known width of my weft, and I could give a good guess how many picks I could weave with my remaining yarn. I knew I'd need 36 picks to be the final three inches of cloth, so when I got close to that I did my Leno detail for the tail end, and then wove to the last tiny bit of yarn. I left just enough to hemstitch the end of the scarf. Perfect.

Perfect, except for the extra two feet of warp.

Scarf leftovers
So stash-diving I went and I came up with a scrap of handspun I did last year for a Spindler's Challenge that really matched the warp well! I figured this was the space where I could try and see what beating harder, and pulling the selvedges in really tightly would do to the cloth.

I advanced the warp enough to have a nice fringe on the tail end of the scarf and then wove with my handspun until it ran out. I ended up with a pretty little sample I might turn into a wall-hanging.

The scarf seemed too loose to be a nice project. I washed it, anyway, and was still somewhat disappointed as it started to dry. But after it dried, I took it downstairs and tried to steam-block the leno so it would match the width of the scarf, and suddenly, after ironing the whole thing I found the cloth had pulled together into something cohesive, lovely, and gorgeously soft!

I'm already loving wearing this scarf around town. It's light and should last well into the Spring, but still pretty warm. I was almost sad to leave it behind today to try out wearing yet another new finished item. I'm definitely looking forward to more sock-yarn-scarves in the future.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Raw Wool Sampler - Complete set

Raw Wool Sampler
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
Here's the true wrap-up of this little adventure.

From the top:
Merino 3-ply worsted
Merino 3-ply woolen
Polwarth 3-ply worsted
Polwarth 3-ply woolen
Cormo 2-ply worsted
Cormo 3-ply woolen
Corriedale 3-ply worsted
CVM singles worsted

It took me an entire year to get through all five two-ounce samples. I probably could have wrapped it up sooner, but I was distracted by all the many things I had to work on through the year. In fact, a few samples are missing from this picture because they have already been incorporated into other projects.

I think I really learned a lot working with this wool. I learned a lot of different tactile properties of each breed. I learned how to maintain lock structure and effectively wash without felting the raw wool. I learned how to comb the locks, and card the waste for spinning into usable yarn.

And above all, I learned that while I enjoy trying this stuff out to learn it, it's not my true calling. I love all this yarn. But I'll be perfectly happy to leave the processing to the mills from now on, no matter how tempting the smell of fresh wool and lanolin may be. Or at least, I'll leave it to the mills, right after I finish with the pound of fleece I couldn't resist this year!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wraping up - Merino Sample

As we get down to the end, I start to feel like I'm repeating myself and so I write less and less..

Merino is lovely. It is soft, full of incredible amounts of lanolin, and packed with elastic crimp. After being carefully washed, it combed easily and spun as if it were leaping into yarn from my fingers without any real guidance. And in both the woolen and worsted yarns, it created an extremely similar yarn to the Polwarth.

This Merino is a slightly richer brown than my Polwarth sample. But unless you look closely, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Despite all the other wonderful qualities of the various samples, I think Merino is my favorite. I might choose a different wool to bring out different qualities in the yarn I want, but for pure pleasure I will reach for Merino every time.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wrapping up - Polwarth sample

My fourth sample from the Spinning Loft Sampler was a lovely brown Polwarth.

Polwarth is a popular fiber right now. Yet another fine-wool with a lot of Merino in it's background, this breed has 75% Merino/25% Lincoln (a long-wool breed) and is considered a dual-purpose meat and fiber breed.

I love this brown! I had no idea how much I would enjoy wool that wasn't white, but the three colored offerings from this batch were a joy to spin. Once again, this sample was combed/spun worsted and the waste carded/spun woolen. I went for somewhat similar sized yarns, so that the woolen and worsted differences are a bit more obvious and not obscured by the differences in yarn construction.

This Polwarth was not as lanolin-heavy as the Cormo or the Merino, but still had a significant amount to be cleaned out. It also doesn't have quite as pronounced crimp. But it combed easily with my borrowed mini-combs, and spun up wonderfully into squishy three-ply yarns. The woolen yarn is much more lofty and squishable than the worsted yarn, but both have a delightful hand.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wrapping up - Cormo sample

Last Christmas I received a wonderful gift of a "Fine Wool Sampler" from The Spinning Loft. It came packed with two-ounce samples of raw wool from five breeds of sheep (CVM, Corridale, Cormo, Merino and Polwarth).

Here's the third sample: Cormo wool. I had put off finishing up spinning the samples because of the amount of work in processing them. But this time I decided to follow up on an offer from the owner of Dyelots to borrow her mini-combs (thank you, Janis!!).

While working with my hair-picks sufficed to get the job done, working with real combs was much more enjoyable and quite a bit faster. Still, I found I must have lightly felted the locks in washing, because they were quite a bit of work to comb!

The waste went in a box and I carded it up into rolags.

The fine lace-weight skein is the combed wool, spun worsted. The fluffy skein is the carded waste, spun woolen. Both skeins have a delightful "sproing!", and can easily be stretched several inches with a gentle tug. The elasticity is amazing.

Cormo is a beautiful wool. I can see how it would be difficult to process properly in a mill, but it is certainly worth it to find a good source.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rainbow Striped Cardigan

I'm thinking I'll let this particular project speak for itself.

But in short, it's a cardigan. It's a pattern I have knit before and really liked. And I had a friend that needed a baby sweater. With yarn I had on hand that fit the pattern, and a fun idea, I set to work.

And it came out beautifully.

Rainbow Striped Cardigan Rainbow Striped Cardigan
Rainbow Striped Cardigan Rainbow Striped Cardigan

A couple of quick thoughts just in case I need reminding later:

  • Slipped selvedges make a very nice edge, but may not be strictly necessary or advantageous if you're going to seam it anyway. Use a stockinette or garter edge for more points of attachment.
  • Stripes are awesome. Stripes have a ton of ends. Use stripes sparingly, or get a self-striping yarn.
  • Leaving longer ends than normal at the edges of the stripes was a very good idea and made finishing the project a lot easier.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Was Made

So. The loom. It calls me (but sadly I am busy with many things, and can only answer one call at a time).

I was thrilled to pull this almost-scarf off the loom as a first project. For warping willy-nilly and pulling design ideas out of the air, it looks pretty slick. It's just long enough to go around the back of my neck and fold over my chest, so I may actually use it as a scarf for a while. I do so hate a cold breeze down my neck.

I originally warped until I said to myself (albeit in harsher terms) "Oh, dear, I'm running out of yarn!" So then I wove until I really did run out of yarn and this is what was made. I will admit that even "willy-nilly" there was some thought put into it. I wanted the white stripe so I could see what I was doing with the dark brown yarn. I thought I didn't have a lot of the white, so I figured the off-center stripe would be nice (and it is!). It is deliberately placed. There are 20 ends of brown, 20 ends of white, and then 60 ends of brown (actually I just recounted and found I have 64 ends--doh!). In some schools of design "three makes a pattern". So I thought that making one side three times wider than the other would have a sense of proper weight. I did the same thing with the horizontal striping. There are three times as many picks of brown as there are of white. Right or wrong, I think it works and I'll do it again sometime.

My edges visibly improved with practice. I think they could use even more improvement--but that's me. And of course we're always harder on ourselves than other people are when looking at our work! Our weaving LYS-owner assured me I'm doing great. I believe her.

First Weaving - initial selvedge
Beginning Selvedge
First weaving - final selvedge
Ending Selvedge

But even after using up the last of both my white and brown yarn, there was still more warp! Rather than waste that effort, I dug into the stash and pulled out the final nugget of some LionBrand Wool-Ease I'd used in my first big knitting project (a baby sack we never used for the baby because it was too scratch.. and plain. And BOY was that a lot of stockinette to knit!).

At that point I "advanced the warp", which is to say I cranked the whole thing forward so there was a big gap. Then I set about trying a number of different techniques using the pink Wool-Ease. I started using a "pick up stick", which is a way to lift parts of the warp beyond what the loom does normally, so you can make more patterns. Then I tried the weaver's version of lace, "leno". I can't seem to stop myself from thinking of Jay every time I read or write that. Oh, well. I also did some "Brooks Bouquets" which I really liked.

First Weaving - weft float sampler
Warp Floats
First Weaving - Leno lace sampler
Leno Lace

After everything was done, I got out scissors and CUT THE WARP. Yes, I cut a lot of yarn. And I didn't even cry about it. And I dug out of my brain some old macrame skills (thanks, Mom!!) from when I was a Girl Scout. It made for a very finished-looking fringe.

It's a good first project. I've been thinking and planning and doing some math for project #2 in my head. I think I have it figured out. But I have a little something else in the works, first.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


This time of year, many of us make promises to ourselves. Eat less. Exercise more. Loose those holiday pounds. Run farther. Keep the house clean. Catch up on the backlog on your desk. And so on.

This year, I'm going to loose pounds... from my stash.

I have already entered a "Stash Staycation" pact with a friend. Neither of us will purchase any more fiber until Spring (that is, March 21st) with the one exception of WIPs where you run out. It would be just plain cruel to make a girl wait until Spring to finish that sweater she wanted to wear this year...

But that's just part of the deal.

I don't just have yarn stash. I have millspun yarn and handspun yarn. And on top of that, I have unspun fiber. I have laceweight and fingering and DK and Worsted and Bulky. I have bags of sample bits of handspun and leftovers from old projects. There's nothing wrong with having an inspirational stash, but I'd like to reduce my backlog of projects and the amount of yarn I'm just saving because it's pretty in the skein. So, here's the plan.

  • For every time I get more fiber/yarn (gift or purchase), I must spin that weight in fiber. This means either immediately spinning the new item, or getting something out of my stash.
  • For every project I spin, I must knit an equivalent weight handspun.
  • For every project I knit out of handspun, I must knit the same out of millspun.
  • For every project I knit out of millspun, I must spin a project.

I think it's a pretty good plan, if I can stick to it. What's your plan for the new year?