Saturday, January 31, 2009

Growing things

It's nice to take a moment to look at growing things. In the depths of winter, it is all too easy to forget that new life will return in the spring. This is the time of year when I start growing sprouts on the kitchen counter, both to supplement our winter diet of mostly root vegetables, and to remind myself that new life will spring up in no time, once given the chance.

In a week, those seeds will be tiny little green plants. It never ceases to amaze me.

I also take comfort the growth of my knitting. It may be cold, but a little fiber makes for cozy cuddling. Slowly but surely, Branden's sweater is growing. (I'm really glad that I've had the spinning to distract you with while I work on this project; "I knit another 2 inches of stockinette" makes for boring blog posts.) I finished the two 25 inch long sleeves last week. They are long enough to wrap a cat in:

Doesn't she look warm and happy?

The swatch is also growing. (Can you believe the bias in that feather and fan??)

It's really interesting to compare the width along different sections of the swatch; I have only varied the stitch count by one (to switch from even to odd number of stitches), so that variation is almost entirely due to the difference in horizontal stretch of the patterns. (With the exception of the section just to the left of the feather and fan.)

As you suggested, I blocked the lacy section to see what I thought of it before continuing. Turns out that I was wrong about the stitch type; it's a modified faggoting stitch (yo and k2tog), not a brioche (yo, k2tog, sl wyib). Just in case anyone was wondering.

I blocked it pretty severely, but this yarn has bounce, and it's pulled back together again since the blocking. I like it for all the reasons that I stated before. The pattern works, but it doesn't sing. I think this yarn can do better. So, I went back through the Walker books. Now that I have a better idea of the things I'm looking for in a pattern, I've narrowed it down to about 6 candidates.

Fluffy Brioche stitch:

Walker says that this is an especially light and airy brioche, and I have to agree. It's a beautiful fabric, and keeps the drape that I liked in the faggoting pattern. I think I would go up a needle size, though; the ssk's are hard to knit on these needles, and the fabric would benefit from being a tiny bit looser. I love the little "Y" shapes:

I also tried the Vertical Lace Trellis pattern, another yo-decrease mix (I really don't like the word faggoting, though it is the technically correct term, and has no negative connotations in this context). I really like the zigzag texture on this one, but it is a very solid, stable fabric, without the drape that I liked in the others.

It shows off the yarn beautifully, though.

A side shot shows the pattern texture much better (same order as above):

From this angle, I think I like the last (fluffy brioche) the best.

I have 4 more patterns to try, but I ran out of yarn. I'm officially a third of the way through the handspun. The swatch is currently 21 inches long, so I should get a reasonable-length scarf out of three balls. I want it to be wider than it is currently, but the increased width will probably just account for the large amount of yarn used in the stockinette-dense sections.

Now, I need to go wind another ball so that I can keep swatching. (At this rate, I'll be knitting this scarf at least twice...)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is Cat the Cure?

I've finally done it. I always look at fiber festival announcements and class lists, and I always think that it might be fun to go. I'm not a crowds-full-of-strangers person, and so it's hard for me to be super-excited about a big room full of people, even if they are of fiber-inclined. Add to that the cost of classes and the (high) probability of stash enhancement, and my practical side usually steps in and talks me out of it. Sometimes I manage to think I'm going up until a few days before, but I always end up deciding not to go.

Of course, as my dissertation gets closer and closer to being done, I'm starting to realize that I won't be here in a year, so many of the things that I've put off for "some other time" had better be done soon, or they won't be done at all. And really, it is a shame not to take advantage of the large fiber community in Seattle. (I know, I should have been doing that all along. I tried for a while, but after 2 knitting groups that dissolved or just didn't fit, I kinda gave up and went online.)

So, I just registered for Madrona. I even signed up for a class, and the banquet (so now I can't back out at the last moment, as I usually do). I decided to pass on the "spin for lace" class, because my wheel is not of the portable variety, and I don't really want to lug a full-size wheel around Tacoma in February. Too bad, would have been fun.

Instead, I am taking an all-day class with Cat Bordhi. You have all heard me lament about the fact that I love handknit socks, but don't like making them. So why, you ask, would I sign up for a 6 hour class on socks? Well, I figure that Cat is probably the person to get me over the lack-of-sock-love, if anyone can. Even if that fails, I still think she'll be a fun person to think with.

Two weeks. Tacoma. A fiber festival. And maybe a new-found love of socks?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Swatch, Switch, Swatch

On Friday, I turned the BFL singles into this:

I was careful when spinning to keep the colors as separate as possible, so I have very long color repeats on each single. Since there were small variations in the amount of each color and the thickness of the yarn as I spun, the color changes don't always line up, and so I get long sections where the three plies are different colors, as well as some where they are all the same. It's definitely not the most even yarn I've spun, but it is pretty.

There's a huge difference before (right) and after (left) setting the twist. For starters, the "after" yarn actually keeps the twist, instead of un-plying itself as the "before" yarn tends to do. It also blooms significantly in the bath, going from 12 wpi (before) to 9 wpi (after).

It's interesting to compare the BFL and the Coopworth. I spun them both with the same method, from combed top. The Coopworth is a shorter staple, has much tighter crimp, and makes a very thick, fuzzy yarn. The BFL is a smoother wool, almost silky, with a long staple and long, loose crimp, and it keeps a lot of shine in the final yarn. I think it will have much better stitch definition, and I expect (much) less pilling from the BFL.

Of course, I wanted to play with the yarn once it was dry. The question is: what to knit with it? It's still a heavy yarn, so it wants big needles. I love the look of a marled (barber pole) yarn, but I have a very hard time coming up with ways to knit it. Most patterns obliterate the twisted look, and it seems like that's a special part of the yarn that's worth keeping. Too much texture in the stitch pattern makes for a confused piece, because there's already so much going on in the yarn itself. I also don't have much yarn (~250 yds), so openwork would be good to help it go as far as possible.

I started out with a plain stockinette fabric, which I love. (This surprised me, as I usually feel that stockinette does not do justice to a marled yarn.)

I think I might like the reverse side even better. Unfortunately, a few inches of this dense fabric had already made a significant dent in the first ball of yarn, and I only have 3. Not a good sign.

So I added some holes to take up space. I like the braided look of the purl rows, but I don't like the rigid columns of holes, and I didn't think that this pattern really worked with the yarn.

So, I added even more holes, by trying a brioche-related stitch:

I like this because it preserves fairly long stretches of the yarn, so that I can actually see the details of the plying. On the other hand, there are so many long segments that it can look confused, and just generally too busy. I like this stitch better when it's stretched out.

It feels wonderful, too. Since the yarn is loose and open, it really lets you feel the silky smoothness of the fiber. Still, I wanted this to be a warm, thick scarf, and the brioche is almost too open. I really like it, but I'm not sure it's the perfect stitch. I wanted to see what else I could get out of the yarn. Next, I tried a feather and fan:

Visually, I think this stitch pattern works best with the yarn. From a distance, the brioche can just look tangled and random, but the feather and fan is a more solid pattern, and it keeps the purl-braids that I liked in pattern #2. The problem? It has serious bias. I was using only k2togs for decreases, so I think I could eliminate the bias issue by balancing out my decreases, though that usually isn't necessary in this pattern. A slightly less tractable problem is that it also takes a lot more yarn (fewer yo's means more yarn per square inch, and a much shorter piece).


Branden and I both agree that the brioche feels the best, but that the feather and fan looks better. The brioche might block out nicely, but I have a feeling that it won't hold the blocking particularly well.

So, I'm not sure yet what to do with this yarn. It's enough for a scarf, as long as it's an open pattern. There may be some biasing (though it behaves as though it's a well-balanced yarn in everything but the feather and fan), so a firm fabric is probably advisable, or at least a pattern that balances its increases and decreases. I dunno. What do you think? Keep swatching?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How I spin

Jocelyn asked for a video of my spinning technique in the comments a few posts ago, so Branden and I took advantage of some rare sun last weekend to shoot a brief segment.

(I've had this whole post written and ready to go for a week, but we were having video compression issues. Sorry for the delay, but hopefully the problems are all sorted out now...)

Before I show it to you, I need to add the disclaimer that I am a new spinner, I don't have formal training, and I don't honestly know much about what I'm doing. I'm just playing with yarn, and doing what feels right to me. So, this isn't a tutorial...go to more experienced people for that!

After reading a little more about drafting techniques on Spinning Spider Jenny's blog, I think I am doing some kind of variation on an American supported longdraw.

When drafting, I just increase the length of my drafting zone at the same rate that I add twist, so that I have the same (low) twists per inch throughout the draw. When I finish the draw, I have to feed the yarn into the flyer slowly, because this is where I actually add the real twist. If I let it in too fast, I don't have a stable yarn. If I want more twist, I just let it in more slowly.

The video is shot from the front, by the flyer, which makes it seem like your attention should be on my left hand, but it's actually the right that's doing all the work. The left is just there to pull against for drafting, and to keep the yarn from rubbing on the orifice while I do a right-side draw. All of the thickness control is done by the right hand, by varying how hard I hold the fiber, and how far back I am on the staple.

If there's a dense spot in the top, I sometimes get a thick spot in my yarn, but there isn't much twist in the longdraw, so it's easy to pull thin again. This happens once about halfway through the video. To fix it, I just grab the two ends of the thick section, separated by about two staple lengths, and pull gently. If there's too much twist to move the fibers, then I roll the ends between my fingers to let some of it back out again, and continue pulling until it's the thickness I want.

So, that's how I spin. How about you?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The leaf socks that aren't are no more

I finished knitting the leaf socks that aren't in November. November 21st, to be exact. They became my favorite socks, despite the fact that the splitty yarn made them unpleasant to knit. I had knit them small enough so that they didn't slop around on my feet (I like my socks snug), and the under-arch expansion fits my foot perfectly. I'm not used to having things fit my feet perfectly, and so I really appreciate it when they do. I will forgive a sock for being a pain in the neck to knit if it repays me by fitting well.

I wear knit socks a lot around the house, but not a crazy amount. I have very few pair of handknit socks in my collection, and so my favorites get worn fairly frequently. I probably wear these socks once a week, depending on how on top of things I am in the handwashing department (and really, how long does it take to hand wash a pair of socks?).

On Sunday, I looked down at my foot and saw this:

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a wear spot. In socks that are less than two months old. The rest of the sole is in similar condition:

(Look at that ladder! It didn't show up at all when the yarn was intact!)

The sole is quite threadbare, compared to the tops of the socks:

I'm considering a repair job, but it would need to be so extensive that it doesn't really seem worth it. And, why go to the trouble of darning something that won't even last 2 months?

You might ask, as I did, what happened to all the fiber? Did I just pull it on a nail or something? Well, if you happened to turn the socks inside out, you would find something like this:

All that remains of a completely disintegrated yarn.

I am not pleased. Has anyone else had this happen with bamboo/merino blends?

Spinning up a storm

It's funny. When I started spinning yarn for a sweater, I thought that spinning would be a long, slow process. Turns out, it's not.

Two pounds of Coopworth top turned into this in almost exactly a month:

I finished washing and drying the sweater yarn last weekend, and then managed to wait until Wednesday before breaking into the new fiber (self control...ha!). I said last week that the top looks felted when it comes out of the dyepot. Does that not look felted? But, a little bit of fluffing, and it turns into a beautiful, puffy fiber, with no signs of felt.

I tried the bigger drive ratio, and the yarn is coming out a little bit finer than before (8.75:1 vs. 7:1), but I still have a ways to go before I'm producing fine yarn. I think (hope?) that this will be a little heavier than DK once plied. I guess we'll find out for sure when I set the twist!

I started spinning this on Thursday. I could finish tonight if I wanted to. I have 2 and a half bobbins full, and I only have fiber for three bobbins.This spinning thing is suddenly producing an awful lot of yarn. Not that I mind more yarn, of course, but it's a little scary for the non-stashing side of me to see this much yarn piling up so quickly.

I suppose this means that I should actually get some knitting done. I do intend to have some knitting content to show you soon, this being a knitting blog and all. Actually, I would have had some tonight, except that I forgot to take pictures earlier.

It's been a little easier to sink into spinning than knitting lately. I'm not sure why that is, except that spinning is a little newer and therefore requires a little more concentration. Maybe I need to pull out the lace knitting again, but that's a different kind of concentration. It's a counting and thinking sort of concentration, not a feel-fiber-run-through-your-fingers sort of concentration. Just a little bit different. Since I am in need of a little escapism through fiber, spinning seems to be a little bit higher on the to-do list lately, but I'm also looking forward to using the yarn I'm spinning, so hopefully there will be some interesting knitting to talk about soon.

So, the big question: what do I make with it?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Supporting small business

Back again! Just reading through the blog list, and saw Boogie's post on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, and how it affects home crafters.

In short, a law is currently being put in place to require lead and other testing in all products that can be used by children. It's meant to protect kids from hazardous imported toys, but has no clause to exempt small businesses and home crafters. The testing that this law would require is expensive, and will be far too much for individual crafters to pay. Want to know more?

As someone that enjoys being able to choose handmade over big-box, I think it's worth a few minutes to send an email and object, no? We have until the 20th (that's next Tuesday) to object. Maybe it's time for knitters raise their voices?

If you want to include yours, you can do so by writing the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Office of the Secretary, email

They can be faxed to (USA) 301 504-0127

The Office of the Secretary,
Consumer Product Safety Commission,
Room 502, 4330 East-West Highway,
Bethesda, Maryland 20814 US.

Comments should be captioned: Section 102 Mandatory Third-Party Testing of Component Parts'

If you agree, please spread the word!

A new knitter?

I ran across these pictures on my camera the other day. I can't believe I'd forgotten to share them with you! My nephew is about 15 months old, and he was fascinated with my knitting while we were home over Christmas.

Every chance he got, he'd run over and pick up the sweater in progress, find the needles, and tap-tap-tap the tips together. He didn't quite get the idea that the yarn needed to be involved for anything to happen, but he definitely knew that the needles needed to click.

I have to say, he was very good about being careful. He got into the knitting many, many times, and never dropped a single stitch. I think he might be a natural.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week one is done!

Well, I survived the first week of classes, despite the fact that my home internet connection and my computer refused to speak for most of the week. (That small inconvenience makes it rather difficult to answer student questions and keep up with blogs, I must say.)

But, I had something to look forward to.

Yesterday morning, I made small bundles (about an ounce each) of white BFL top. While those bundles bathed, I covered my dining room in plastic.

That's a 2 mil sheet of plastic from the hardware store. It failed to make a good cold frame for the garden (too lightweight, and ripped in the wind), but it does a great job of covering my entire dining room.

Of course, the reason for covering the dining room was that I was planning to play with things that stain.

I mixed up stock dye solutions in four colors, and one in black, in case I needed to darken the colors to get what I wanted. The stock dyes were then diluted down appropriately. At this point, I realized just how much dye you get in one of those Jacquard bottles. It's a lot. One tsp of dye powder makes 1/2 a cup of stock, and then 1-5 tsp of stock get diluted to 3/4 of a cup, which is a lot of dye. Good to know.

I did some test strips to check the colors.

I couldn't really see much difference between the burgundy and the purple, but I decided to use them both anyway, since I had already mixed them up.

If you've never gotten top wet before, you will be sure that you have felted it. It looks very sad when it comes out of the sink.

But adding colors makes it look like happy felt, at least.

The burgundy is on one end, and the purple on the other. Can't tell, can you?

I wrapped the top up into little plastic rolls.

And then steamed it for a long time.

When it cooled, it looked like this:

See those colors?

It must have steamed long enough, because the dye was exhausted. No leaking!

After its bath, it hung up overnight in the shower to dry. This morning, I had some very pretty fiber waiting (and it doesn't appear to have actually just got really dense)

I can now tell the purple and the burgundy apart, but my camera still can't. But we won't hold that against it, will we?

Maybe my carrot for this week is getting to do some more spinning...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Well, I'll be...

I apologize to those that do not spin. The following may not be of much interest, being that it is a little bit heavy on the spinning-geek.

As you know, I've been spinning quite a bit on the sweater yarn lately. I've noticed that I have to keep reminding myself to keep the singles thick to keep my yarn the same throughout the project, so I think there's some hope that I will get something smaller than super bulky one of these days. It's been good practice to have to hold a constant gauge throughout such a big project; it's really challenging to keep it the same from day to day, especially since I've been playing with technique along the way.

Still, despite my recent advances, I have just not been able to imagine getting my yarn thin enough for fingering weight on this wheel. Worsted, maybe. Laceweight? No way. I've developed a freeform (sloppy?), modified long-draw technique that I really like, where I actually let the twist into my draft area (I know!) and use it to pull out the fibers that I need for the yarn rather than using a second drafting hand. It works well, is much more meditative since I have to actually listen to my yarn, and I feel that it gives me better control, as long as I pay attention. With two-hand drafting, I end up pulling the fibers into the drafting zone with one hand, and I always get a thick-thin-thick single, either because extra twist builds up right before the leading hand (making it thinner than the rest), or because I end up pulling a few fibers too many into the drafting zone, thereby increasing the thickness of my yarn. In short, my two-handed method is not good enough yet to keep my singles even. I can make the two-handed method work, but I wasn't loving the process. It seemed like there must be something better.

Not being one to play by the rules, I began experimenting with letting twist into the drafting zone. I needed something to help keep my fibers pulling out evenly, and twist seemed like just the thing. It was. With some practice, I've decided that I like this better, at least for the combed top that I've been using. The fibers come in straight and even, and it's easier to control the uptake by playing with how tightly and at what angle I hold the top and let the twist do the drafting for me. My right hand holds the top, and I only use the left if I need to tweak the draft zone for some reason. And somehow, this rule-breaking makes my yarn better, as long as I focus on what I'm doing and keep the wheel tension right.

This is all a way of saying that I have been playing with my top to figure out how it wants to be taken up. I keep the tension pretty high (because the flyer is actually doing some of the drafting work for me), and so it's not surprising that my yarn wants to go a little thin. But even at high tensions, I am nowhere near fingering, never mind laceweight. Besides assuming that my wheel just couldn't do that weight of yarn, I had no idea what else to try, since I've tried using tension as high as is reasonable without that much gain.

But tonight, I figured out what I need to try next. Anne posted a link to Abby Franquemont's blog the other day, and I decided on a whim to follow it. Well. If you need to know about spinning, let me tell you that this is the place to go. Go now. Take a look. You'll be glad you did.

Amongst many other interesting topics, I found an entire post on drive ratios. Now, I thought I understood drive ratios. I was under the impression that the important ratio in a double drive band setup was the difference between the bobbin and the whorl. Turns out that it's the ratio between the whorl and the drive wheel (the big one) that actually matters.

For those of you that already know about spinning, this is probably a very obvious thing. In retrospect, it is very obvious. I can't believe I missed it. You talk about drive ratios in terms of 15:1, and there is nothing like that kind of ratio between the bobbin and the whorl. I should have caught on to this earlier. But, somehow I missed it.

The good news is that this means that I had completely reversed high ratio and low ratio for choosing yarn weight. I am using my biggest (of two) whorl size, because I wanted to have a large ratio between the whorl and the bobbin. But the big whorl actually makes a smaller ratio with the drive wheel. So, I have been trying to use a lower drive ratio to spin a finer yarn, and wondering why I was having trouble getting enough twist into the singles. I'd played with the tension, and it didn't help. No wonder, since it wasn't the problem.

I can't believe it. I have seldom been so thrilled to discover that I'd gotten something backwards. If I can spin a yarn this fine on the "heavy" setting, then I should have no problem spinning a finer yarn on the higher ratio setup. And that means that there is hope that I can spin a reasonably lightweight yarn on my wheel. Not that I have anything against super-bulky, besides the fact that it eats fiber like crazy and makes a really heavy garment. I am going to love this sweater because it will be thick and warm, but it will definitely be for cold days only! I am not thinking about the broomsticks that will be necessary to knit it, either. I absolutely love it, but it really is a bulky yarn.

Moral of this story: take time to make sure you really understand your equipment, and read about it even when you're sure you get it!

Of course, now that the ratio thing makes sense to me, I'm thinking about all the different ways you could manipulate the yarn even further. I've gotten a pretty good understanding of tension through this little exercise, and I've also really enjoyed playing with twist and uptake. Maybe ratios are next; I would love to experiment with changing the bobbin diameter relative to the whorl, but maybe another day. For now, I have some bulky to get off the wheel so that I can play with going finer.

Yay for informative blog posts!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

This and that

This blog is usually a quiet little corner of the internet. Blogger doesn't allow me to answer comments directly, and so I usually wait a few days between spurts of answering. I logged into Haloscan today, and was amazed at how many comments there were. Thanks, especially for the stash sympathy!

I said the other day that I didn't really have any New Year's resolutions for my knitting. Well, I lied. I do have one. I have this horrible habit of lurking on blogs. I'm quiet in person, and I'm quiet on the internet. The only problem is that, on the internet, being quiet makes you invisible. (That's somewhat true in real life, too, but being made of matter does help with the issue.) So, I am trying to comment more. There are lots of blogs that I've read consistently for well over a year and only commented on once or twice. It's not that they're not interesting. It's not that I feel unwelcome, or as if I have nothing to say. I just somehow never get past clicking on the silly "leave a comment" link. But I like getting comments, and I know others do, too. So I'm going to try to be better about that.

I haven't been doing much knitting this week, I'm afraid. Instead, I've been focusing on this:

I had to go back to the Weaving Works and pick up another 3 oz today, because I'm almost out. 5 ounces left, and I'll have spun a sweater! At first, I couldn't believe how long it took to get 200 yards. And now, all of a sudden, I have a sweater's worth. It's like a time warp or something.

While I was in the spinning section (I love a LYS with a whole spinning section), I might just have picked up some of this:

(That would be 8 oz of white top for dyeing, if you hadn't guessed.)

I didn't get around to dyeing it today, mainly because my house really needed to be cleaned and I really needed some time to dither about colors. I'm thinking it will make a good reward for getting to the end of the first week of classes.

I may also have picked up a few other things...

But there will be more on those later.

For now, I think I will leave you with a recipe. The quarter beginning means that Sundays are once again cooking days, and it's snowing outside (again...are we still in Seattle??). It's just the night for something cozy. I baked bread for the week, and a soup seemed a fitting accompaniment. We have recently discovered that Branden has a talent for making perfectly carmelized onions, so we started there:

Squash and Apple soup

1 onion, diced
2 tbsp butter
2 large apples, cubed
1 large winter squash (butternut and delicata are my favorites)
2 16 oz cans chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp sage
1/2 tsp ginger
red chili flakes to taste
salt to taste

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add onion and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Saute slowly to carmelize (until it turns light brown and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan). Add apple, cubed squash and about a cup of chicken broth. Cover, and steam until squash is tender, adding extra liquid if needed. (I had the oven on already, so I roast the squash instead; it gives it extra flavor.) Add the spices and the rest of the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Let cool slightly, and blend.

Mix 1-2 Tbsp of brown sugar with cinnamon. (I have a cinnamon-walnut-hazelnut spread from the farmers' market that is excellent for this!). Swirl a small amount into the top of each bowl, as a garnish.

Sour cream or goat yogurt make for a good tang, if you're not into the sweet stuff in your soup. Cheddar grated on top is also good.

Or, try cilantro and green onions. Really. It's good. Very Thai.

If you like the asian curry flavor, you could also substitute a can of coconut milk instead of chicken broth. Or milk, if you like it creamy.

As you can see, this soup has many variations that give very different flavors. Makes for great leftovers.