Saturday, 28 May 2011

All papers, all the time.

I should warn anyone reading that I'm currently in the last 3 months of my MA, which means wrapping up the last of the coursework and writing my thesis. I have a topic I love (at least I love it now, I may hate it by September 1), and it's one that is based on my work so should be doable in the time I have available.

What this means for the blog is that I'm in a weird place, fiber-wise. I'm still knitting and spinning. What I'm not doing is finishing much or knitting things which are more interesting than my zillionth pair of Monkey socks. What knitting concentration I have at the moment is devoted to Weaving Friend's wedding shawl, since that has a deadline. Unfortunately, it's not blog fodder since she doesn't want any photos of it until after it's done.

I suspect there's going to be rather a lot of philosophical navel-gazing and not so many photos over the next three months. Sorry about that. The good news is that I've booked a week and a half off work starting from the day I submit, and I'm planning to see whether I can knit an entire cardigan in a month.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Flicking locks

I've now finished washing all my Gottland, which means that I'm now in the "prepping for spinning" phase of turning it into yarn. I'm planning to turn the lot into combed top and could at this point just lash the lot onto the combs and have at. However, I've been doing a lot of reading, and am firmly in the "flick, then comb" school of thought.

See, the tips of this fleece are pretty well stuck together. And however thorough my skirting job was, there will still be second cuts and bits of plant stuck in the locks. It's all going to have to come out before or during the combing process, because I don't want to be spinning all that rubbish. So, out comes my trusty Ashford flicker and my fleece apron*. It seems to produce much better top than just combing, and as the Tsarina said, "good fleece deserves the extra attention, and mediocre fleece needs it." Plus I enjoy flicking. It's soothing.
(Flicked lock above, unflicked washed lock below.)

Current plan is to flick the lot, then comb it all. The Tour de Fleece is in July, and I'm aiming to spin all of the Gottland up into a lightweight 2-ply for weaving. Gottland is a breed that was around back during the periods of history covered by the SCA, so if I like spinning it as much as I think I am, I plan to acquire a whole fleece next year and make a full Viking gown. For now, I just want to get a nice wrap out of it. Isn't the colour gorgeous?

*This is just a regular beige cotton lap-apron that I've turned into a spinning apron, since I don't like being covered in bits of fluff. Also protects my clothes and legs from the flicker and combs.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The problem with laceweight.

I have a lot of laceweight* yarn. More than a quarter of the stash entries on my Ravelry page are laceweight, and while that doesn't seem like much, perhaps, that laceweight is more than half of my total yardage. Probably closer to 2/3. I thoroughly enjoy knitting with it, and given how economical it is per yard, I shouldn't really have a problem. Only trouble is, I knit very little of it. In fact, looking back at my completed projects, I've only finished 3 projects of laceweight yarn. (Well, plus five thread snowflakes, but they don't really count.) I've finished lots of lace, but it's all with sock yarn or heavier.

The reason? Laceweight isn't portable**. At least not for me. I do almost all of my knitting while I'm out and about, so projects that I can't take with me just don't get much time. Socks are great, especially ones that I can knit while standing up (read: no chart or one I've memorized). Shawls are good, as long as they are still small enough that I can complete a row in the amount of free time available. I can't stop in the middle of a row - my stitches fall off when I jam the knitting into my bag, and I'm allergic to the rubber used to make the stoppers. (And yes, L, I could just use corks like I told you to, but all the corks in my flat belong to Spouse, Brewer of Booze.)

It's the bag-jamming that's the real issue here. DPN projects go into the WIP tube, then into a zip-top bag. Then the bag gets jammed into my handbag, to do battle with my wallet, my umbrella, an iPod, my keys... Actually, here's a photo of the typical contents of my bag:
If socks get snagged on my keys or caught on the umbrella, it's not the end of the world. They're going to get worn and worn out, a little snag doesn't make them any less wearable. With laceweight, though, a snag would more likely be a snap, ruining hours of work. A velcro snag would be a catastrophe!

I could in theory get proper project bags for my laceweight projects. I say in theory because most project bags close with a zipper, and the few that don't fail to totally enclose the project. I'm thinking something with magnets and an envelope flap, similar to the pocketbooks one sees in posh department stores. But then, I can't imagine a department store selling pocketbooks big enough for a lace shawl, can you?

*I'm lumping cobweb and gossamer in here too, since they all share the same flaw.
**Big projects aren't portable either, which is why I've still never knit a sweater***.
***Actually I did knit a sweater, but it predated my discovery of gauge and was knit from rust-coloured acrylic from the 70s that I swiped from my grandmother. I wore it once and threw it in the trash. To the best of my knowledge, there are no photos proving that it ever exists, and that bodes well for the future of my knitterly credibility.

Mmmm, snuggly scarf

So, a FO that never got blogged as a WIP, even though I started it in March! Oops! :D
Some details:

Pattern - the Hourglass Scarf from Knitting New Scarves
Yarn - 2 skeins of Posh Emily in the colourway Marrakesh, held doubled
Needles - 8mm straights for the ribbing, 5mm DPNs for the gathered sections
Mods - quite a few, detailed below

I bought this book a while ago. At least two years, maybe (probably) more, and I've never gotten around to knitting anything from it. Trouble is, all of the designs are innovative and brain-stretching, and I've not really had the mental energy for them! They are gorgeous, and the instructions are very clear.

This scarf was a gentle introduction to some of the more mind-bending projects. It's essentially a chunky ribbed scarf, with some gathers thrown in at either end. It's supposed to have several sets of gathers at each end, creating the hourglass shape that gives the scarf its name. I decided to only have one at each end, though - they were fiddly, and I'm in the middle of MA finals and thesis-writing. Fiddly is not a good quality in a knit right now. The gathered sections were also supposed to have snippits of a contrast colour worked in, but I didn't have any scraps of Emily to use. I also knit the gathers a few rows shorter than called for, again because the fiddly was irritating me. I knit the body of the scarf until I'd used about half of my yarn, then stuck a stitch marker in and knit until the two halves were the same length.

Probably should have used a different bind-off, as this one flares, but it doesn't really bother me. At least, not enough to unpick it and redo it! I now have a lovely, soft, squishable new scarf that is just perfect for the May we are having. I sometimes ponder emigrating, but if I did I wouldn't get nearly as much wear out of my handknits.

Monday, 9 May 2011

New spindle

As you may have noticed from all the fiber I've been prepping, my spinning mojo seems to have returned with the sun. I've been itching to get my hands on the wheel, and my fiber lust has been so strong recently that I finally broke down and bought a new spindle. This is spindle number 3 for me, and this one is a keeper! Number 1 was just too big and too heavy. It hurt to spin for any prolonged period of time, and it wasn't able to produce the kind of yarn I wanted to make. Number 2 was a good weight and size, but a bottom-whorl - and a notched one at that! It was just not pushing my buttons. It's ok, though. Number 1 now belongs to Weaving Friend, and Number 2 is going to go live with Mum.
Number 3, ah - Number 3 is just right.

Top whirl, 19g, short, thick shaft perfect for finger-flicking, perfectly balanced. I am a little bit in love with Number 3. It's beautifully handmade from cherry wood, both shaft and whorl. I bought it from Wildcraft, along with two new lumps of fiber. The first is 100g of Devon and Cornwall Longwool.
The second is actually not a lump, it is 30g of mawata. I'm still pondering whether to spin this or knit it up into mittens as per the Harlot. I'm not sure I would ever wear unspun silk, as I think the squeaking would bother me. Still, it's not like I'm in a great rush to get this on the wheel - I've already got three wheel WIPs on the go!
The observant will have noticed that there is fiber on Number 3, and that it is neither silk nor Devon Longwool. It is, in fact, half of the 34g of Shetland top that the spindle came with as postal padding. Well played, Wildcraft. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Did you know?

If one is darning socks and lacks a darning egg, the plastic insides from a Kinder Surprise Egg work quite well. One might almost say surprisingly well! :D

Friday, 6 May 2011

Holy Anniversary, Batman!

I'll confess I don't remember the exact date, but I've just been reminded that I've been knitting for ten years. Good grief! It certainly doesn't feel like that long. I can't imagine not being a Knitter nowadays, to be honest. How would I watch television? How would I not go nuts queueing? What would I wear on my feet?

My Ravelry page tells me quite categorically that I am a socks-and-scarves knitter who dabbles in lace shawls occasionally. I'm content with that. I wear everything I knit! (Well, obviously I don't wear afghans, but I do use them.) I'm also getting to the point where my handknit socks have outbred my bought socks - I've thrown out pairs of bought socks and not had to replace them, so I think the current batch may be the end of the line.

And here's a blast from the past:

My very first knitting project! A garter stitch scarf, of course, knit from some sort of tweedy acrylic/wool blend from the market knit on needles several sizes too small. Density ranges from practically lace to bulletproof, with width changes to match. There are dropped stitches, accidental yarnovers, bizarre decreases - basically every newbie mistake imaginable. But you know what? I love it. Ugly Scarf paved the way for a lifelong love affair, if you'll forgive the cliche. I'd never have dreamed that this monstrosity would turn into cobweb wedding shawls and a class on Rovaniemi mittens. And a spinning wheel. And a living room that smells of sheep.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Comb, comb, comb the wool!

Yesterday was glorious and sunny, so I decided it was perfect for all things fibery. I got Roy out and did some spinning, then decided that I should take advantage of the heat and wash some fiber. I bought a kilo of Gottland locks last year at iKnit Day and haven't ever gotten around to doing anything with it.

So, yesterday I pulled it out and started prepping. The skirting job was not wonderful, and there were some second cuts throughout that I had to remove. Also, it being gottland, some of the fiber was just too matted to salvage. I estimate that I lost around 150g-200g of unwashed fiber. I also got rid of the fiber from the dark stripe across the back of the sheep, as the staple was quite a bit shorter than the rest.
Once I'd cleaned out the junk, I sorted it. I was thinking about doing some sort of funky gradient spinning with it, but I think a tweed effect would be much prettier. The locks range in colour from a silvery white to a dark, steely grey. The shine is just incredible, and the locks are gorgeous and long.

I thought the fiber was pretty clean when I started. It was from a coated sheep, so there's almost no plant material in it. Then I started scouring. Oh my. This was a mucky little sheep! I had to wash and rinse 6 times before the water ran clean, and I'm sure that combing will get out a lot more dirt. I've washed about 2/3 of the fiber, but my rack is full.

While the gottland was soaking I fished out the bag of Wensleydale locks I washed and flicked a few months back. I'd planned to spin them straight from the lock, but decided that I really needed to experiment with the combs before starting on the gottland. I have mini combs, which I use without a stand. I wanted to be able to use them at SCA events, so figured that using them freehand would be more portable. They're not actually that sharp, although I did get a tetanus booster before I started combing!

Of the 100g unwashed fiber I started with, I've ended up with 34g of combed top. Most of the waste was from combing, although I expect to have less waste as I get better at combing. Some of it was from the flicking, but I suspect that rather a lot was from the dirt and grease that came out in scouring. Sheep are filthy creatures!