Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Into Darkness

Sometimes I buy fiber just because it is unusual. That’s what happened in September at the Interlochen Fiber Arts Weekend. (Expect to see more fiber events at Interlochen in 2015.) There was a handful of vendors at this inaugural event. I did my best to buy from many of them. The vendor that was closest to the entrance is a friend of mine, Tracie Herkner. Her business is It’s Sew Ewe . She had some lovely carded rovings that were blends of Huacaya alpaca and wool. I got 4 ounces of a medium brown, luxurious blend of 85% alpaca and 15% Finn (a.k.a. Finnish Landrace) wool. Sounds like a match made in heaven. This roving may well become a cowl or scarf or hat and mitts that I will keep for my very own self. I expect to spin it up sometime in the next couple months.

I also got 4 ounces of a dark brown blend of alpaca and Babydoll Southdown wool. Now, this blend seemed unusual to me. Huacaya alpaca is characterized by a silky feel, with some crimp, a reasonable staple length, and not much in the way of elasticity. Babydoll is pretty much the opposite: not overly soft, seriously crimpy, short staple length, and loads of elasticity. Spring, sproing, sprang, sprung! My immediate urge was to make socks from this fiber blend: taking advantage of the elasticity and strength of the Babydoll and the softness and warmth of the alpaca.

A couple weeks ago, I pulled this roving out of my to-do-in-the-near-future bin. I’ve been spinning it. And, well, it is unusual. I’ve spun a lot of different fibers and fiber preparations, but this one required something new from me.

I tried to use my default short draw (worsted) technique, where I draft untwisted fibers then allow twist to enter. I was having a heck of a time getting a consistently thick singles. The roving behaved like alpaca: silky and somewhat slippery. And the roving behaved like Babydoll: super elastic. My drafting strategy just wasn’t getting the most out of this weird combination.

And, I was having trouble seeing what I was doing. I was spinning a thin singles (expecting to make a fingering weight 2-ply yarn suitable for socks). And my eyes aren’t what they once were. I’m experiencing very typical age-appropriate changes in my eyesight. But I don’t have to like it. I really don’t like it. I really don’t. I need “cheaters”, and good light. Dark fibers are just plain harder to see and spin than they used to be. D**n it.

I got out my Ott floor lamp. I turned on all ceiling lights in the room. I even started using a white lap cloth (a sweet kitchen towel that my sister had given me for Christmas one year).

But I struggled. So, I changed my drafting. I let some twist enter the fibers I was drafting, rather like a version of point-of-contact long draw. Something was still not right. I then started drafting the fibers forward instead of my typical backward. That helped a bit. Then I allowed more space between my front hand and my back hand. Way better.

Near the end of the filling the first bobbin, I finally found my groove. I don’t think the change in drafting technique was the key. I think it’s more likely that all the things I did to be able to see better helped more, especially increasing the distance between my front hand and my back hand. I realized that my front hand was casting a shadow on the lap cloth and that shadow was right under the drafting triangle. Once I put more distance between my front and back hands, the shadow was no longer an issue. I could see a bit better, and that made my drafting much easier to control.

Into – then out of – darkness. The second bobbin is half full. I expect to have some lovely sock yarn – for my very own self – next week sometime.

I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vest Again

Years back I knitted a vest that quickly became one of my favorites. It was a Classic Elite pattern, #632, “The Ruins of Dunstaburgh Castle”, designed by Susan Mills. I distinctly remember seeing a knitted version of this vest in a yarn shop and being smitten. I asked to see the pattern. The photo of the vest does not do it justice. But the actual vest was quite lovely. I bought the pattern. And I knitted the vest within a couple months. That was in 1996.

Here’s a picture of the pattern. (I think the plaid pants are as charming as the sweaters.)

My vest went through thick and thin. So useful, so versatile, so … me!

But nothing lasts forever. Last year, the edge of the buttonhole band started to fray. I couldn’t find any of the original yarn in my stash for repair, so I tied knots. The fraying continued. I finally had to accept that it was time to retire the vest.

I still love the pattern, so I decided to knit it again. (It is most unusual for me to knit any design more than once ... except for socks.) After rummaging through my stash, I chose a tweedy grey Annabel Fox yarn, “DK Donegal”. This yarn has been in my stash for longer than the vest pattern. In fact, long ago I’d knitted the yarn up for a cardigan but I’d never gotten around to sewing the pieces together. I finally accepted that I really didn’t like the pattern that I’d chosen, so I ripped out the whole sweater and stuck the yarn back into the dark corners of my yarn drawers.

Now the old yarn and the old pattern came together. I dutifully swatched for gauge. Good thing I did, because this yarn knitted up at a different gauge than the pattern called for. I was obliged to make adjustments. No problem; my math is good.

I finished the vest yesterday, sewed the buttons on (quaint pewter buttons designed after the old buffalo nickels), and washed and blocked. It’s drying now. Here’s a picture of the vest in the construction phase. My crappy camera and the grey weather conspired to make the vest difficult to photograph.

I plan to wear my new old vest for Thanksgiving. And I plan to save some of the yarn for repairs – 18 years from now. And I plan to felt the first version vest for some as yet decided upon future project.

Everything old is new again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

So, you haven’t heard from me in awhile. September and early October were packed with teaching events, travelling to Wisconsin, then New Jersey, then two events in Michigan. At the end, I was pooped but happy. I met so many delightful and kind fiber folks. It was a wonderful wooly whirlwind.

Upon the heels of this teaching frenzy, I started – and finished – a new project and article. Earlier in the year, I’d proposed to write an article for Spin-Off  magazine for their “stash busting” issue, Spring 2015. Here is my initial suggestion to the magazine’s editor:

“I've got a bin of miscellaneous bits of handspun yarn. I'd like to use these bits to do some rug hooking. I've got the equipment for hooking, and a couple books, but I've never done it before. I've always wanted to. It could turn out great, but maybe not. It would be a gamble.”

You read right:  “…I’ve never done it before.”

My proposal was accepted. I also mentioned to the editor that my September was rather full, so they gave me until the end of October to submit the article.

I got home from teaching at Yarn in the Barn on Saturday, October 4. (What fun I had!) I allowed myself two days to relax.

On Tuesday, October 7 I started the rug project.

On Sunday, October 26 I finished the rug.

On Monday, October 27 I started writing the article.

On Thursday, October 30 I emailed off the finished article. I was so very proud of myself. I was so very relieved that I actually finished on time and the rug wasn’t horrible.

All I can remember about October is hooking, hooking, hooking. Then writing, writing, writing. I know that the leaves on the trees changed colors and then dropped, but I did not witness it. Other things must have happened too, or so I’ve been told.

After a few free days, I prepared for teaching at the Fall Fiber Retreat in Boyne Falls. This annual retreat is a sweet, relaxing event that almost always coincides with the first real snow fall of the season. Friends, fiber, and delicious food (especially the French lentil stew). My nerves were mending. Since then, I’ve experienced a more comfortable pace. I’ve been cooking and baking and knitting and spinning and thinking about new classes and starting new projects. (Oh, and I’ve been shoveling. We’ve had an amazing amount of November snow. Today is the first day in over a week that I have not had to shovel the walkway. It’s supposed to rain today and tomorrow. Bleh!)

I have some blog catching up to do. I look forward to it.