Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tour de Fleece 2012: Day 2

Day 2 time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Total Tour time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

I managed to spin the Falkland wool on my spindle a few times throughout the day and was pleasantly surprised to see that it added up to almost two hours of spinning time.  It seems like that should add up to a bigger cop on the spindle, but I'll take what I can get:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tour de Fleece 2012: Day 1

Day 1 time: 17 minutes, 54 seconds
Total Tour time:  17 minutes, 54 seconds

Today I pulled out the handpainted braid of Falkland wool.  Gorgeous!!  I examined the braid, pulled it into one long rope, then laid it out to look at the color repeats:

After a few minutes of deliberation, I decided I wanted this wool to become a pair of socks.  I split the whole top lengthwise down the middle to divide it in half and began spinning from the green end with my spindle:

My plan is to spin each half on the spindle and wind off, then n-ply each of the two cops into the final two skeins of yarn.  This will even give me the opportunity to try knitting up a pair of socks at the same time, rather than knitting one sock, then the other. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tour de Fleece 2012: Announcement

Beginning in 2006, an annual spinning event called the Tour de Fleece was started.  It's a spin-along event based on the Tour de France. When they spin, we spin.  The event has a group on Ravelry, and over 5000 people have joined the group! 

Like the athletes in the race, the idea of the Tour is to challenge yourself.  There are many, many teams "competing" in the Tour de Fleece, and I put competing in quotes because the point of the event is not to compete against others, but to set your own goals and see how well you do.  Some teams offer prizes, others do not.  I'm not participating for the prizes, but am very interested to find out how much spinning work I can accomplish.  The Tour de Fleece follows the same schedule as the race, beginning on Saturday, June 30th and finishing on Sunday, July 22nd, with days of rest on July 10th and 17th. 

I've never really tracked how long it takes me to prepare wool or spin, so one of my goals for the Tour is to write down this information.  Each day I'll report how much time I've spent working on fiber for the day, plus the overall total for the Tour. 

And because I apparently need to be on the edge of overcommittment in order to feel alive, I've decided to join three teams for the Tour de Fleece 2012.  But even considering that bit of psychological baggage, I think I've set some realistic goals for my Tour.  I've joined the Climbers, Woolgatherings, and Spindlers teams for the Tour.

The Climbers team is dedicated to the idea of accomplishing a personal challenge, much like how the Tour riders will have to climb steep hills during their race.  I have two Climbers goals.  The first is to finally finish that grey mill-ends yarn that has been hanging around my spinning wheel for too long.  The second is to completely finish one of my fleeces.  I've chosen my Icelandic lamb's fleece for this challenge.  The fleece is washed, and several months ago, I had started picking the wool and drum-carding it, but I didn't get very far and it soon ended up in a plastic crate on a shelf.  My Climbers goal is to finish picking and carding the wool, then spinning all of it.  Here is a photo of the wool showing a staple, a section of washed fleece, and a handful of picked wool:

The Woolgatherings team will use handpainted fiber by indie dye artist Kate Sitzman (who has a bit of a cult following and is probably my favorite dyer).  To add another twist (pun slightly intended) to my Tour, I've chosen two handpainted braids that are fibers I've never spun before:

100% alpaca

100% Falkland wool

And lastly, I joined the Spindlers team, which is a group of spinners who love using spindles for creating yarn, because I think it's likely that I'll travel during at least part of the Tour and would need to have a small, travel-friendly project to bring with me.  I'll use one of my Woolgatherings braids and my new Kundert spindle:

The Tour begins tomorrow!  Cheers to all athletes and spinners and to a successful Tour!

Surgical results

We made it through the surgery and my husband is slowly recovering at home.  As hard and painful as the initial procedure is (and it's nasty), it's the weeks and weeks after spinal surgery that are hardest.  David handles it better than I think I ever could.  We won't know for quite a while, since it takes so much time to heal, if the procedure was successful this time, but I'm feeling optimistic so far.  Wish us luck!

I wanted to make a special note that my parents are incredibly wonderful people.  They drove to Minnesota to spend this time with us and help get through the first hard week of the surgery & initial recovery.  I am so very, very grateful.  Thanks, Mom & Dad!  You are the best. 

I did use fiber as my stress reliever during the procedure and while spending time with David in his hospital room.  I got about a 1/3 of my BFL-silk blend fiber spun and made a good dent in the new baby blanket:

I never touched the other knitting project, so the Socks That Will Never Die are still worthy of the title.  Someday they will be finished, if nothing else because I want to use those needles on a different project! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Surgical preparation

My husband will have major neck surgery tomorrow, so I will be spending the day in the surgery waiting area.  This is our third trip to the hospital for this problem in 18 months.  I don't think I can over-emphasize how grateful I am that yarn is such a portable craft.  I will go nuts with stressed-out waiting if I can't keep my hands occupied. 

I plan to bring one spinning project and two knitting projects with me, so that I have a variety of choices depending on how much I need to distract myself.  It's funny how a little bit of planning like this gives me a sense of control over the day, which is calming, even though I understand intellectually that I have no control whatsoever over the procedure or how the day will unfold.  My job is to wait and not be a basket case.  Yarn will help me achieve this result. 

If I need to be totally zen, I'll work on the spinning.  I have a project started using my smallest spindle and about 1.5 ounces of BFL-silk blend fiber.  I'm spinning it very thin with the idea of getting as much laceweight yardage from it as possible.  This kind of spinning is very simple and rhythmic for me.  My hands know what to do and I don't have to think about it, but just let myself slip into the flow of the spinning action:

If I need to more actively focus my brain, I'll work on a pair of socks that have been lingering on the needles for months.  (I've started to refer to them as The Socks That Will Never Die.)  I'm at the point of grafting the first toe closed, then casting on for the second sock:

And if I need to relax with easy knitting that will give me the satisfaction of growing in length quickly, I'll cast on a baby blanket project for a friend who is due in a few weeks.  (Yeah, I should probably get working on this project soon...)  They chose to be surprised about the gender of the baby, so I'm going with tried-and-true yellows in worsted weight cotton for a gender-neutral blanket:

Normally, I am very friendly when I spin or knit in public.  These kind of activities seem to always attract a bit of attention, especially from children, and usually I welcome the chance to talk about the craft and will give a little demonstration if a person is really interested. 

But in a surgical waiting area, I completely submerge into the introverted side of my personality and have no interest in talking with other people.  I just want to spin or knit or read and be left alone until a nurse or doctor can give me updates on my husband.  I've found the best repellant against others approaching me is to wear headphones and to avoid eye contact.  I don't even need to actually be listening to music - just wearing the headphones is enough to avoid conversations. 

So now my own version of surgical preparation is complete and I am armed with fiber to deal with the stress of tomorrow.  I have no idea how non-fiber people cope.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Updating the blog

I've had a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the look of my blog.  It has been the same template & color scheme for a couple of years and no longer reflects my taste. 

So it's time for an update!

I hope everyone enjoys the new look.  I haven't changed any of the navigation tools or layout, although I did briefly play with the idea of changing those items.  But in the end, just a fresh dose of color, a few font updates, and easier readability of text against a white background was enough to make me happy. 

And now it's time for me to get back to processing cherries.  (sigh)

addendum: On my regular PC, the updated colors & background look fabulous, but it looks like utter crap on the iPad browser.  grrrr! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Finished Spindlers June challenge yarn: Undercover

I finished my June challenge yarn for the Spindlers group on Ravelry!  To summarize, the theme was "Undercover" and I immediately thought of superheroes & supervillains, which led me to think of the X-men's Mystique as the ultimate undercover character.

After plying this yarn, I finished it fairly harshly.  I soaked it in hot, soapy water, then in cold water, then back in hot water, and finally, a last swish in cold water.  I pressed out as much water as I could, thwacked it heartily against a wall several times, then hung it up to dry.  The finishing treatment really fluffed up the yarn and brought out the halo of the mohair in the mix.  The final yarn is light with a nice bounce to it.  It's not the fanciest or most consistent yarn I've ever made, but I like it and love that it gave me a good opportunity to try a new plying technique. 

The final Mystique inspired yarn:

85% wool, 15% mohair blend (mill ends)
2-ply, long-draw drafting style
16 g/0.57 ounces, 49 yards, fingering weight

In other news, after plying my yarn yesterday, I caught up on some housework (okay, I'll be honest... I scratched the surface of my backlog of housework) and I also worked on harvesting some fruit from the backyard.  I only got a handful of strawberries, but I picked a whopping 12 pounds of cherries:

I love the color of cherries.  I need to make a mental note to figure out how to dye fiber with this sour cherry color inspiration.  Setting up my home dye lab is on my fiber to-do list in the "soon" category.  I hope that translates into sometime this summer.

In the meantime, though, I will be spending a few hours today in cherry heaven... or hell, depending on how long it takes me to process all of the cherries. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Plying bracelet

Since I don't have a huge amount of yarn on the spindle for my Spindlers June challenge yarn, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to finally try a plying bracelet. 

A common method of plying, especially among spindle spinners, is to ply from both ends of a center-pull ball.  Essentially, what you are doing is folding your single in half and plying it from both ends to the middle of the single.  There are arguments that can be made either for or against the idea of plying a single against itself, but especially for small lengths of yarn or for samples, it is the simplest method of plying.

There are several different ways of setting up this process:  (1) winding a center-pull ball manually, (2) using a ball-winder, (3) winding a center-pull ball on a nostepinne and leaving the yarn on the nostepinne during plying, and (4) winding a plying bracelet on your hand. 

I've tried the first three methods before, and I have to admit, I'm not a fan.  There are spinners who swear by these methods of plying, but I have found it a frustrating process with lots of tangled yarn, so until now I only swear at these methods, not by them.  The more you ply, the looser the ball becomes and the greater your chances for tangles to form in the ball.  But I haven't yet tried using a plying bracelet and before I throw up my hands in utter surrender with regards to plying a single back on itself, I want to give it a try.  I especially like the idea of having a simple method of plying that doesn't involve any tools except my hands.

So here goes..

In my quest for plying bracelet self-education, I went to my home library and read descriptions of the method in Amelia Garripoli's "Productive Spindling" and Priscilla Gibson-Roberts "Spinning in the Old Way."  Oddly enough, their descriptions are mirror images of each other.  Garripoli calls the method "Andean Plying Bracelet" and has the wraps of the bracelet form on the palm of the hand.  Gibson-Roberts calls it "Peruvian hand-wrap plying" and forms the wraps on the back of the hand.

I decided to go with Garripoli's instructions, because it seemed like it would be easier to slip my finger out of the wraps if they are on my palm, rather than the back of my hand, when I come to that part of the process.  You'll see what I mean. 

To start, decide which hand is going to hold the yarn.  I chose to wrap my left hand.  I secured the end of my yarn to the inside of my left arm.  I "cheated" by using a bit of tape on my arm:

Next, I brought the yarn over my palm and around my middle finger. 

The yarn is then wrapped below the thumb and around the back of the hand to the other side.  It comes back up from the pinky side of the palm to wrap around the middle finger again, then back down to the pinky side of the palm. 

From there, wrap the yarn across the back of the hand to the thumb side, up around the middle finger, back to the thumb side. 

Please note that when you wrap around the middle finger, you'll be alternating the sides of the finger that is wrapped.  From the pinky side, wrap around the left side of the finger (palm facing you), and from the thumb side, wrap around the right side of the finger (again, palm facing you). 

Repeat the process until all of the single yarn is wound around your hand.  Some folks create beautiful wraps... mine is fairly ugly, but very functional:

Finally, you need to gently push the yarn wrapped around the bottom of your palm up a bit, to ease the tension just enough where you can slip your finger out of the loop of yarn that is wound around it.  This is why I chose to wrap the single against my palm instead of the back of my hand.  It was much easier to gently remove my finger from the loop in this direction.  The key to creating the plying bracelet is using enough tension on the yarn during the wrapping process that it doesn't tangle back on itself, but not so much that you can't easily slip your finger out of the loop.

Once your finger is removed from the loop, the yarn becomes a circle that you gently ease back down to your wrist.  Keep track of the ends, secure them back to the spindle, and start plying!

Using a plying bracelet is the first time I have enjoyed the process of plying a single back on itself to create a final 2-ply yarn.  I didn't struggle with yarn tangling back on itself, and the plying process went very quickly and smoothly.  I have now discovered my vastly preferred method for this kind of plying, and I will never bother with center-pull balls or a nostepinne for plying like this again. 

I can see that the one potential problem is that you do need a bit of uninterrupted time for this method.  Once the yarn is on your hand, you're more or less stuck with it until you're finished with plying.  MNLacer commented on last Friday's post about this issue, and also suggested that in a pinch, you can ease the bracelet around another object like a paperback book if you are forced to take a break during plying.  I will definitely keep that in mind!

Here is the spindle full of plied yarn:

Now I'm off to wind the yarn into a skein and wash it!


Friday, June 15, 2012

Finally, yarn!

I have finally ended my dry spell of fiber activity!  Phew. 

I spent a little bit of time on spinning during the past two days and managed to spin all of the fiber for my entry into the Spindlers group challenge for June.  Here is my "Undercover" yarn so far:

 I didn't worry about anything fancy with this single.  I spun it as quickly as possible, using as long a draw as I could manage.  This translates to a somewhat inconsistent single in terms of diameter, but it should emphasize the fuzziness and bounciness of the fiber in the final yarn. 

I'm considering my plying options with this single.  There's not a lot of yarn, so in order to maximize it, I think I'll go with a 2-ply.  Now I need to decide if I want to wind the single on a couple of bobbins, or maybe I should try an Andean plying bracelet for the first time. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

1,536 Bricks

Yarn?  What's that? 

It's been so long since I last made or used yarn that I am definitely showing signs of irritability from fiber withdrawl.  I was bound & determined to either ply my mill ends yarn or start spinning my June Spindlers challenge yarn over the weekend.  Instead, my major accomplishment of the past weekend was arranging approximately 1,536 bricks on our newly improved patio. 

I might have had a few bad moments of hating this project.  I might have considered having my own version of a toddler tantrum.  More than once.  Maybe.  But in the end, I gritted my teeth, got through it, and I'm really happy with the final product of this patio makeover.  And now I will have a beautiful space to enjoy spinning outdoors for the rest of the summer. 

The old patio was made from concrete blocks (circa 1958) that were crumbling and unlevel due to inadequate water drainage (fixed that problem with new gutters a few years ago) and a huge maple tree with strong roots that grows next to the patio (we choose to live around this problem).  My husband and I had discussed several options regarding the patio problem, and thought we had settled on eventually constructing some kind of deck.  However, we recently discovered a patio resurfacing product that is made from recycled tires and decided to go with this instead. 

So, my husband, his grandfather, and I spent the weekend working on the patio.  The project started with prepping the area with removing the worst of the old blocks and patching with concrete:

The next step was setting up the border and starting to lay down the grid for the bricks:

Oliver thinks, "I thought you always said no digging??"

And then I got to work filling the bricks into the grid.  This was initially fun work, but it quickly deteriorated into a hated task because I had to
re-do the first big area twice in order to get the darker red bricks spread out randomly in the pattern in the right proportion to the other two colors.  Having hot and humid weather didn't sweeten my mood either. 

However, the dogs loved spending the weekend outdoors and amused themselves with games like tug of war:

And now the final summary...


Two days, hours & hours of work, and 1,536 bricks later:

I have promised myself some uninterrupted spinning time this week.  I have earned it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 2012 Spindlers Challenge: "Undercover"

I've missed the last two months of Spindlers challenges, which is a shame because the themes were fun, but I'm not missing the June 2012 challenge!  The theme is "Undercover."  My immediate association is with cops & criminals and superheroes & supervillains.  It occured to me that the ultimate undercover character is Mystique from the X-men comic, and I just happen to have some fiber in my stash that would be perfect to use for a yarn inspired by her.

Here's Mystique (as featured in the X-men movies):

and here's my fiber:

This fiber is leftover from a dye class I took in 2010.  It's a wool-mohair mix and should spin beautifully.  I decided to keep with the blue theme and use a 1.3 ounce blue spindle for this yarn:

(Refresher info:  The Spindlers group on Ravelry has monthly theme challenges where you start & finish a yarn within that calendar month using a spindle.  Click on the discussion thread for the June challenge if you would like to follow it.) 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Yarn? No. Garden? Yes.

My fiber time for the last several days has been sacrificed to the garden gods.  I love having a pretty yard, and I love having my own homegrown fresh fruits & vegetables, so I understand the necessary trade-off between yarn and garden time.  My fingers are getting antsy for fiber, though, so I know I will make sure to do something with yarn this week to appease them. 

But if I couldn't play with fiber this past weekend, at least I got to play in the dirt. 

In one corner of the yard, we have our perennial garden where the grapevines are flourishing on the arbor.  The vines are loaded with baby bunches of grapes and I will have more than enough to make homemade grape jelly this year.  Behind the arbor, the sour cherry tree is also bulging with fruit that is just starting to blush with red. 

I'm particularly pleased with the windowboxes on the shed this year.  My husband and I picked out different purple, magenta & white flowers for them:

On the other side of the yard is the vegetable garden.  The perennials that border the garden space are doing very well - the strawberry patch is happy, the rhubarb is huge, the mint is growing like weeds, and the raspberry canes have the best crop of berries started on them that we've had in years.  Apparently they appreciated the wet spring more than I did.  Of course they didn't have to constantly wipe mud from dog paws for weeks on end, either.

The vegetable garden is planted!  This always feels like the biggest accomplishment of early summer.  This year's line-up:  hot peppers, turnips, radishes, green beans, zucchini, sweet corn, onions, 6 different kinds of tomatoes, eggplant, pumpkins, basil, & parsley.  Summer should be very, very tasty. 

It doesn't look all that spectacular now, but give it a couple of months and it will be a jungle of vegetable plants.  It will be fun to have before & after photos to compare between planting weekend and the beginning of harvesting.  Also, that black plastic-looking material on the garden?  It's not very attractive, but it is wonderful stuff.  It's a biodegradeable material that will prevent weeds and help the plants retain moisture.  I won't have to spend hardly any time at all on weeding... and you know that means more time for spinning & knitting!

My husband's rose garden is growing beautifully this year. The roses loved the mild winter and wet spring, too:


Lastly, I potted the thyme and rosemary this year, instead of putting them in the garden.  I plan to bring them indoors for the winter, so I can continue to enjoy using fresh herbs in the kitchen when it's cold and snowy outside:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Thank you Mr. Postman!

June is starting with a bang!  My copy of Spin-Off, Summer 2012 arrived in the mail.  I always dance a happy jig when it shows up:

I try really hard to enjoy the magazine as slowly as possible, only letting myself read one or two articles at a time.  It's hard not to devour it in a single sitting, but I try. 

While I always enjoy the magazine, some of the Spin-Off quarterly issues appeal to me more than others.  This summer's publication might be destined to be one of my favorites.  Perhaps it's because there is so much spindle-related information in this issue, and I love using spindles.  There are two articles that pertain to support spindles, which I have barely used and gaining some expertise with support spindling is on my fiber to-do list.

A couple of other articles talk about twist - one focuses on how to overply yarn for specific kinds of durability, and another deals with creating functional singles yarn.  I've been thinking about these topics in depth on my own for quite a while now, so these articles dovetailed well for me and confirmed what I've been working on with my own yarn.  I haven't played much with singles yarn yet, and it's definitely something I want to do with my craft.

Another highlight that's waiting for me is an article from Deb Robson that discusses the relationship between fiber diameter, crimp, and fiber softness.  I am a total wool geek, so this article is crack for me.  With much teeth-gritting, I'm saving this article for last.  I will make it my reward for some dreaded task. 

And in other news, those bobbins of mill-ends singles are still on the lazy kate waiting to be plied.  What can I say?  Memorial weekend was busy.  (sigh)

(I don't intend this post as an advertisement, but if you want your own copy of the magazine and you can't find it locally, here is the Interweave store link.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Playing with my wheel

I need to work on my relationship with my spinning wheel.  We like each other, but we could know each other a helluva lot better. 

I was getting into a rut using the same pulley size and tension, which is great for producing consistent yarns of a certain size, but not so good for making sure I'm comfortable and familiar with all of my wheel's potential.  So I changed to the fast pulley size and began working on producing much thinner yarns than I ever have on my wheel. 

I'm frugal with experiments, so I typically choose a nice but inexpensive fiber to play with for these skill building projects.   I had several ounces of grey variegated mill ends wool in my stash, so I grabbed that bag and starting playing with it.  I don't know the exact fibers in this bag of mill ends, but it's pretty fuzzy and I suspect there's some mohair in this mix. 

I'm spinning singles with a more worsted style of drafting, because I think the yarn will be fuzzy enough without allowing twist into the drafting zone:

I spun enough to fill three of my 6" plastic storage bobbins, which will give me plenty of yarn for a knitting project, perhaps a hat or scarf.  I usually opt for 3-ply yarns, but in this instance, I will make a 2-ply yarn.  The bobbins are loaded on a lazy kate and I'll work on plying this yarn over the Memorial holiday weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Finished yarn!

My latest random spinning project is now complete.  Here is the metamorphosis from fiber to yarn:

The singles were spun on a 1 ounce spindle using a semiwoolen drafting technique with combed BFL top.  After deciding to make a 3-ply yarn, I used my wheel to ply the singles together randomly to hopefully create the most consistent yarn possible, with no particular thoughts on creating a specific color pattern with the yarn.  I n-plied the last of the yarn in order to use up all of the singles.  I finished the yarn very simply to set the twist - just a soak in hot water, a cold rinse, a few snaps over my wrists, then hung to dry. 

The finished yarn feels light with a nice amount of loft, and a bit of bounce to it.  Even with a slightly fuzzy surface texture (from the drafting style), the natural shine of the BFL wool still comes through a bit and is very attractive.  I think it will eventually make a great pair of socks!

100% BFL wool
3 ply, semiwoolen drafting
104 grams/3.7 ounces, 24 WPI, 360 yds