Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Finally Finished That Fleece!

Finally! A new post! And even better, I am finally done spinning enough of the California Red fleece for a sweater.

California Red & Alpaca

It's not the greatest picture, but that there is 21 oz, or about 600 grams, and 1955 yards of three ply. I am jumping around for joy, and I hardly know what to do with myself now that this is done! (Besides dyeing it, of course...) I was aiming for six four ounce hanks, which would have brought  me up to about 2100 yards, but I checked the yardage requirements for my size and there's no way it's going to take more than 1800 yards to make myself a sweater.

I weighed my bag of alpaca fleece, and amazingly there's not even 2 ounces of alpaca blended into that. Way less than I thought, and it made a huge difference to the spinning.

My next spinning project? Yikes, I think I'm going to stick with combed top for a while. I have some Spunky Club stuff that I have been longing to get to, and a bump of BFL/silk I dyed myself which I could not let go of. However, I'm looking forward to spinning that new fleece in my closet, so it won't be too long before I'm carding again.

I have also been very busy in the garden, planting and weeding and digging stuff. It is so wonderful to see all the perennials I put in last year come up. The saskatoons and currants are blooming like crazy, the lilac is just about to open, and the sunflowers have re-seeded themselves, which suits a lazy gardener like me. I love comparing how the yard looked last spring to this.

A very unhappy rock and weed garden in May 2011:
Corner flower bed

A very happy flower garden now:
Front Corner Flower Bed

This picture was taken a week ago now, and things are even bigger, and I've put in a few annuals. I always wish there were more flowers at this time of year, so I might put in some anemones or pushkinia for more early blooms.

Last year, I put a miniature columbine in the rock garden by the back door, and it's doing so well I'm going to gather the seeds and plant more in that area. I think they'll look really nice blooming away in between the tulip time and iris time- and probably longer. I guess I'd also better get some glads in there so I have something to look forward to in August.


Oh, and I did finish the felted bum basket- it's so funny! and cute! The boys both asked for one, and I want to make some moebius baskets for their teachers, so I'd better get on with my knitting...

Moebius Bum Basket

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day!

Last night, we celebrated mother's day with big bowls of butter chicken and chocolate mousse. Today, I intend to celebrate by spinning a lot. Shocking, I know. I can feel the waves of disbelief funneling through the internets at me. I also have a moebius bum basket started, and I still need to sew the zipper onto my felted wallet, so I'll probably work on those this afternoon while I'm at the yarn store.

I know how to party.

Pink Tulips!

"Is there, when the winds are singing 
In the happy summer time,-
When the raptured air is ringing
With Earth's music heavenward springing,
Forest chirp, and village chime,-
Is there, of the sounds that float
Unsighingly, a single note
Half so sweet, and clear, and wild
As the laughter of a child?"

from The Mother's Hope, by Laman Blanchard.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Felted Things

It's a pretty cold and windy day, so I've been amusing myself with all sorts of indoorsy things- like carding, dyeing, laundry, and my newest obsession: felting and moebius knitting. I'll be teaching a class on May 26 at Make One Yarns on the Moebius cast-on , so I figured I should get Cat Bordhi's A Second Treasury of Magical Knitting and ramp up my moebius skills. Boy, has it been fun- and as a bonus, I've developed a love affair with felting.

It began with a simple attempt to unvent a moebius basket- which resulted in this:

felted moebius basket

An item which looks somewhat like a large, floppy shoe, but in reality comfortably holds a cake of yarn and WIP. I made it somewhat differently from the book using short rows, so it is long and rectagular, not round. I have a few other ideas for different shapes banging around in my head, but I can't knit as quickly as I can think them up!

One thing I love about Cat Bordhi's book is her clear and thorough instructions for wet felting things. I have felted the occasional thing, but not in the washing machine, because I didn't want to wreck it. (Either the machine or the item!) After following the instructions to felt a little wallet, I made this:

felted wallet

Yeah, I picked up a needle felting kit too- and I can't believe how much I love it! Which is great, because I hate intarsia, but I like having motifs and pretty things added here and there.

Next, I felted a little disc of knitting, thinking I would make a set of coasters. It turned out a little large for a coaster, but being wool it will be great for a hot pad or just a pretty accent:

Delft-style hot pad

This was done with Lopi, which produces an unbelievable and unexpected halo!

Next, I knitted up a moebius basket, a la Cat Bordhi:

Moebius basket


This one was done with Berroco Peruvia Quick, and it took a little more than one ball. I think this yarn is a little thicker than two strands of Cascade, which is what is recommended, but it sure felted up like a dream.

I'm going to needle felt a swirl on this.

Felted Moebius basket

Did you know it's actually kind of hard to blow up a balloon inside a basket? I think I'll let the kids have the pleasure of popping it when it's dry. Wait, no, there's only one balloon... two of them... how could I think that would end well?

There are going to be more, many more of these. How can I not give them to the boys' teachers for the end of the year gift? They will love this! However, I think the next moebius adventure upon which I will embark will be The Bum Basket.  My kids have each noisily requested one- well, really, one of those and one of everything else in the book. Time to get knitting!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Perfect Crummy Fleece

Last fall, we had a local shearer bring a huge assortment of beautiful fleeces from all kinds of different sheep and alpacas. My attention was caught by a particular one, from a rarer breed of sheep- a California Red. This breed was developed in California by crossing a Barbados Blackbelly sheep with an American Tunis. The Blackbelly is a hair breed which is red. The California Red lambs are born reddish and lighten to white or oatmeal over time. I looked the fleece over, and although it was very greasy and dirty, I was utterly charmed by the way the sample washed up into a creamy, warm white and felt so very soft against my skin.

I also picked up a tan alpaca fleece with both the blanket and second cut. I decided to card and spin the alpaca with the CR fleece, thinking it would only make the yarn softer. However, I had to use the second cut of alpaca, since the blanket cut was too long to card with the CR. This meant that it didn't really make the finished yarn softer. I was happy with it, but I only did about 5 or 6 oz altogether. This was that yarn:
Alpaca & Wool

It was a nice 2-ply, if a little coarser than I had hoped. I didn't have serious problems with it, besides it being a little neppy and shedding a million little bits.

My problems started when I decided to spin the California Red all by itself. Since the alpaca wasn't making it softer, and it was tan, not white, why bother with it? Besides, I wanted to see how this fleece would behave in a pure yarn. So I washed more of the fleece, and started carding with my hand cards.

California Red Fleece

I began to realize what was lurking under the grease and dirt.
This is a picture of a typical, nice lock:
California Red

Lots of crimp, springy, soft, white. But I found there are also a lot of locks like this:

California Red Fleece

Longer, wavy and not crimpy, lots of kemp, quite coarse, and darker. I think these sections are a throwback to the Blackbelly ancestry. Besides these long sections, there are some of these:

California Red Fleece

I would just chalk these up to short cuts, but the odd thing about them is that they are clearly a different color and crimp pattern again.

Those parts aren't annoying in themselves. I just have to relax and let myself toss them out. The worst part was discovering that a lot of the fleece- ok, most of it- has sun damaged tips which break and scatter and create neps while carding. Also, there seems to be a lot of, well, gunk, that won't wash out and is hard to get out any way at all. Some of it is sticky and is probably suint, some of it is dry and looks like dandruff, and a lot of it is vegetable matter. And there is a LOT of it, especially the dry stuff. So much that it is messy to card, hard to draft, and frustrating to spin.

I thought if I drum carded it, that might help, so I made a batt or two- carefully trimming off the damaged tips (with the help of a friend! Thank heavens for that!) and cleaning out the VM as much as possible. There were fewer neps, but it was still frustrating. I tried spinning it from the lock, opening and flicking them a little, which helped reduce the creation of the neps, but it was not fun. Spinning should be fun, right? And I was ready to wind off the bobbin of singles I'd managed to make and pretend that this experiment never happened. Except I'm so damned stubborn.

I picked up my hand cards again, wondering why I was having such a crappy time of it when it wasn't that bad last fall, and decided I would fill my second bobbin, ply it, and wash my hands of the whole affair. I carded another rolag or two and began to spin, when suddenly the wool started drafting like butter! I watched slubs dissolve in the drafting zone and neps popped off on their own. Whaaaa?? And then I remembered that I had been carding some of my new white alpaca fleece and hadn't cleaned out my carders.

Alpaca. I was carding with alpaca. The tan alpaca may have not made the fleece softer, but it made it smoother. Much smoother. I couldn't believe the little bit of alpaca on my cards had made such a huge difference, but it had. Like adding a little dab of butter to the pan of eggs, it does an almost invisible but effective job. So now I am adding a little white alpaca to the blend, and I am much happier with this project. This alpaca blanket is short enough that I don't have to cut it or anything to blend it in.

California Red & Alpaca

I'm glad I figured out this fleece. I am learning to let go of wanting control of the fleece, and to use every last little bit, and to stop trying to be a perfect spinner. It's ok that one ply of the yarn won't have alpaca and the others will. (I keep telling myself that). Yesterday I decided to ply up a hank of yarn, wash it and see whether it is worth proceeding with more singles, because I have given myself permission to ditch the fleece and the singles if it isn't.

California Red & Alpaca

I love this yarn. It's a 3 ply, and super smooshy, poofy, springy, and soft: the soft I had envisioned having when I picked out this fleece. I'm once again excited about making myself a sweater from this fleece. No, it's still not perfect and there still are neps that I have to pull out, but I am happy enough that I can keep going... and just keep my vacuum handy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Knitting Update

Wow, it has been a busy week- I can't believe it's Friday, and I didn't post a single thing all week. Yikes. I engaged in several fiber adventures, and one of them is definitely something I will write about... but not today. I have a short post with some knitting, and I think tomorrow I will discuss The Crummy Fleece and What I Am Going to Do About it. (Not the alpaca fleece, but another one I have.)

When I went out to the alpaca farm, I came home with a hank of sock weight yarn as well as the fleece. I have so many projects on the go, that I assured myself and everyone that it would be ages before I could hope to get to it and knit a pretty wrap... but then I kept thinking about it and thinking about it. Before I knew it, I was mentally flipping through my stitch dictionaries and choosing between a couple of different summery lace patterns... and casting on "just to see" how it would look...

It looks like this:

beachcomber wrap

Pretty, no? I have done enough beach walks to know that, at least in Canada, they are not necessarily pleasant without a little something to wrap up in. What could be better than to beachcomb in a shell lace wrap?

Once I got going, I couldn't stop. Well, I had to find out if half the ball really was going to be enough for half the wrap, right? And I was a little worried there, because before it's blocked, it doesn't look like it will be.

Beachcomber wrap

But it is. 30 inches long for each half will do. Yay!