Friday, March 11, 2011

Well, that puts things into perspective

This morning's news about the mega-quake/tsunami combo in Japan has pretty much wiped away any ideas I had about writing a knitting and/or spinning-related post today. I've been glued to my computer all day today, tuning in to news broadcasts between work deadlines. Not exactly conducive to knitblogging, you know?

But I do have a few things planned for the weekend, so we'll have a nice cup of tea and catch up on Monday, okay? See you then...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

This might be the one

After my last post, I spun up some of the Fat Cat Knits fibre, just to see whether there was a hope in hell of it coordinating with what I spun last week.

The result:(Middle skein is the Fat Cat one—it landed somewhere between the brown and the green/mix that I've already spun, and I think that if I use a plain yarn for contrast, we could be cooking with gas in very short order.)

I declare myself pleased. Now, on with the show! There's yarn to be spun, sweaters to be knit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Betwixt and between

I mentioned to you the other day that I've been thinking quite seriously about knitting a sweater from wool I've spun myself.

This might not seem like a big deal to some people—choosing the right fibre, the right colour, the right weight of yarn, spinning it up more or less consistently, and knitting it into something that a person with reasonably good taste might actually choose to wear from time to time—but to me, from here, it looks like a bit of an uphill slog.

For one thing, aside from the insane amount of laceweight I showed you yesterday, I haven't really accumulated a lot of mileage on my wheel. And while I want something wearable, I confess that I have the attention span of your average gnat, such that spinning one colour for miles and miles sounds about as appealing as removing my own toenails with a chisel.

Therefore, I resolved that this would be a stripey sweater. Lots of colours, preferably ones that get along reasonably well together.

So far, this is the yarn I've spun:From right to left, you're looking at about 100 yards of BFL/bamboo/firestar, spun on a whim from some carded batts; about 200 yards of Fleece Artist Merino in the Moss colourway, spun from sliver; and another 350 yards of Fleece Artist Merino, Moss and a colourway whose name I don't know (although it could be something like Autumn).

So my question is this: what next? I need at least another 300 yards of something or another if I'm going to make even a cropped sweater with shortish sleeves...and looking through my current stash, I'm having trouble deciding which way to go next.

Do I opt for this one—Falkland combed top from Fat Cat Knits, in the Brimstone colourway?I like the way the warm tones seem to pick up the warmth of the already-spun yarns; even though there's not a hint of green in this one, I can see it working out as a companion to what I already have.

Or should I consider this—BFL from Yummy Yarn?It looks a bit anemic in the first shot, but that's mostly because I was in a rush to get the picture, and neglected to consider that the bright afternoon sunshine would wash out the colour. Here's another, to give you a better idea:
Again, here I like the idea of sticking with greens and yellows, but this green is quite a bit more blue than the Moss in my current batch. Is that bad? Will it look putrid? I can't decide.

Or do I cave completely, and go with some advice I received recently: use the handspun yarns for the yoke, and get something plain and store-bought for the body and arms? I do have time to ponder the question, since I still have Beatnik on the needles (and will have for a while, if I keep proceeding at this pace).

But if you have an opinion and you feel like sharing, I'd welcome it (unless your opinion is, "Have you lost your mind? Why are you even considering making a sweater out of a whole bunch of colours like this?").

Monday, March 7, 2011

Marathon woman

In our "Biting Off More than We Can Chew" department, I give you my two latest spinning projects: an 8 oz. coil of blue Corriedale/silk, and two 4 oz. wine-coloured braids of local alpaca/bamboo.

The Corriedale/silk thing had me stumped for the longest time. I've already posted the story of how I circled it cautiously, trying to figure out how best to spin it, before finally hitting on the idea of drumcarding it into blended batts. That worked beautifully: the two-ply yarn has both drape and a bit of crunch, and the colours distributed themselves fairly evenly throughout. There are some shiny slubs, where the silk kind of bunched up as I drafted it, but I'm not unhappy with it—I'm fond of "character yarns" that show their roots a bit.Granted, it took for-freaking-ever to spin, and now I think I know why: having skeined it all and counted the yardage, it turns out I wrung about 1,200 yards of yarn out of that one long, heavy coil of fibre. And then there was the alpaca/bamboo mix, purchased from Turtlepurl Yarns and Notions. I dove into the first hank of fibre right after I got my wheel; mostly, I wanted to try out the smaller flyer, I think. But once I'd started spinning it up, I felt committed to finishing the lot. It was fun to spin, and although I found ample evidence that this fibre had once been worn by a living, breathing, hay-eating alpaca, it didn't bother me. As I say, I like a yarn that knows where it comes from.

Like the Corriedale/silk, the alpaca took a while; and again, when I tallied it up at the end, I discovered I'd spun about 1,000 yards.Of the two, the alpaca/bamboo is definitely the softer yarn, with a fuzzy halo; the Corriedale/silk has more heft and body, and will probably do very nicely in something that calls for a little shimmer. But I'm in no real rush to knit either of them up; for now, I'm content to sit back and contemplate the magic of twisting fibre into yarn.

Friday, March 4, 2011

True love

I know I've been talking a lot about spinning lately, and it really seems like that's all I've been doing, fibre-wise, but in fact I've had a few projects on the go (including that bally hat, but perhaps the less said about that, the better).

I find it really odd how I can look at a pattern approximately 1,000 times and think, "Meh." And then I look at it for the 1,001st time and suddenly fall completely head-over-heels in love with it. As in, "must cast on right this very second; oh look, I've even got the right yarn in my stash, and the right needles and everything; it must be fated, this project and I belong together forever." And so on.

It happened with the Clapotis (three times, actually), and it happened again recently with another Knitty pattern, Beatnik. For some reason, the first several times I flipped past this one, I was not really that impressed. I do like cabled sweaters, and I love bateau necklines and three-quarter sleeves, and even that shade of dark orange is oddly appealing to me, but at first the pattern just failed to register with me.

Then last week, I was glancing through that issue of Knitty again, and the pattern practically jumped off the page at me. Conveniently enough, since it was about 10 p.m. at the time, I realized that not only did I have the perfect yarn for it in my stash, but I'd just freed up my 5mm needles, so I could knit a test swatch right then and there.

Since then, Beatnik has been my primary project, at least in the knitting department. I haven't done any real cabling to speak of in dog's years, but it came back pretty quickly; I'm currently very close to finishing the back.This is the closest I could get to the actual colour—California Poppy in good old Cascade 220. I tend to refer to it as "school bus yellow," but perhaps I am being unkind.

My one gripe is not about the pattern, but my own strange inability to keep the cabled stitches looking neat and tidy; can you see, in the middle motif, where the cables kind of bulge and shrink in odd ways? I've tried a number of tricks to correct for this, to no avail. My current strategy is to think positive: maybe it'll even out when I block it?
My goal is to have this finished while it's still cool enough to wear it. This one just doesn't strike me as a fantastic addition to my summer wardrobe.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

In which I completely blank on a clever title

Well, you won't believe what's on my needles today.

I can hardly believe it myself: I'm not the biggest fan of violent radioactive green acrylic, and yet for reasons that I cannot yet disclose, I'm buzzing away on a plain green and white toque with a gigantic pompom (also green). I'm not even going to bother photographing this one, because it's kind of non-noteworthy, except for the fact that it's so unexpected. I will tell you that I'm doing it for Adrian, but not for him to wear. More to follow.

In lieu, though, I will tell you about another project I'm cooking up: my grand plan to spin down my fibre stash while simultaneously preparing to knit my first handspun sweater. You might recall that this was one of my plans at the new year, except that originally I was thinking "spin enough for a sweater...with a drop spindle," which is a bit like "chop down an entire forest...with a herring." If not quixotic, at least silly, especially given that I now own a wheel.

Anyway. The stashdown/sweater thing. It started with this:which I spun up into this:
(Well, there was more of it, but Rachel was running around that day taking shots of everything, and this was the nicest one of the lot.)

Then (having finally figured out that I should think hard about what I ply things to), I plied it to a whole bunch of Fleece Artist Merino in Moss Green.
The goal was to tone the colours down a bit, and also to make the final yarn a bit more compatible with the next colourway, which happens to be (wait for it) Fleece Artist Merino in Moss Green, plied to itself. Sadly, I have no pics of that yet, but it's on my list for tomorrow. You're not missing much, really—just a whole whack of green yarn, in more-or-less worsted weight.

Next up...well, I could act all mysterious and pretend that I have a grand plan, but I don't, really. So I think my next step will be to dig through the stash for something that I could plausibly add to the mix.

By the way, I've decided on a name for my wheel: in honour of its extreme blueness, I hereby christen it "Babe." I still won't call it a "she," though. I do have some standards.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lessons, learned and not learned

So last summer while I was visiting Victoria's sweet little fibre arts store, Knotty by Nature, I bought two 4oz. braids of the most beautifully dyed Corriedale. I couldn't wait to start spinning them, and by odd coincidence I had brought my Houndesign spindle with me, so off I went.

When I was about halfway through the first braid, Mitchell commented, "Wow. I think I liked the colours better when it was just fibre."

This was remarkable, in that Mitchell rarely notices what woolly thing I'm getting up to, unless I physically grasp his head, turn it toward the WIP, and say, "Isn't this a (fill in adjective of your choice here) (fill in name of project here)?" At which point he will obligingly respond that yes, it's the best, most artistically knit pair of socks he's ever seen; or alternatively, that no, that's one butt-ugly pattern, the designer must have been selling it to feed his or her crack habit, and I'm quite right to want to set it on fire and stomp on the gory remains. Mitchell is very supportive that way.

Anyway. This one time last summer, he noticed that the fibre I was spinning was starting to look kind of muddy, with one colour running into the next and getting lost. I later figured out that this is because I'd been a bit overenthusiastic with the predrafting—a mistake I haven't made since then, and my spinning has been much the better for it.

The other thing I did with those two beautiful braids was spin and ply each one separately: I carefully split each braid in half lengthwise, spun it up, and then plied it to its other half. Makes sense, right?

By the time I was about a quarter of the way into the second braid, though, the horrible truth began to dawn: although the braids had looked like identical twins when I bought them, as I spun them, the subtle differences began to show in a not-at-all subtle manner. One skein of finished yarn was kind of mauve (okay, muddy mauve), while the other was more of a light brown with hints of purple. They were cousins, but definitely not identical twins.

In hindsight, I figured out that I should have plied A to B, rather than A to A and B to B; at least that way the finished yarn would have, um, matched. Okay, I thought. Lesson learned.

And yet...when Rachel gave me two braids of the most delightful blue-green Fleece Artist merino/silk sliver at Hannukah, do you think I followed my own sage advice?

Not a chance.

It's like the whole mauve/beige yarn thing had never even happened. I happily spun up the singles from A...and plied it to a second singles from the same skein.Pretty, huh?

And once again, by the time I was about a quarter of the way into B, a small nagging doubt began to work its way into my brain.

"Hey, this is a lot more blue than the first one," it said.

"Oh, shut up," said I. "It'll all even out by the end. You'll see."

"Doubt it," said the Nagging Doubt.

I ignored it, and kept spinning. And then plying. And when I finally took the finished yarn from Braid B upstairs and compared it to the results from Braid A, the Nagging Doubt just sat there smirking.

"Not even close," it said.
I will not record what I said. (And yes, I do realize that more cautious souls take a more organized approach to spinning. They spin up samples, and keep the first yarn next to them so they can compare and adjust the results as they go. I wish I were that kind of spinner, but I'm really not.)

Anyway, just so you know: I think I've got it now. **Spin a singles from Braid A. Spin a second singles from Braid B. Ply them together. Repeat from **. Or risk this:

p.s. Yes, I know I haven't posted in a while. Sixteen whole days, as one reader helpfully reminded me. All I can say is that it's late winter, and for some unknown reason everyone and his dog feels the need to have conferences and meetings and whatnot at this time of year. And since my livelihood kind of depends on this happening, I can't really complain about it, even when it cuts into my blogging time.