Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer of Spinning

All four ounces of this fiber have been spun into singles and are resting quietly on various spindles waiting to be plied. I like to give the new singles at least a week to recuperate before taking them into the next stage. Makes them less likely to get cranky and snarly.

In the meantime I extracted this eight-ounce bundle of hand-dyed superwash merino from the plastic bin under the bed where it has lived since last summer. I'm really glad I bought it, because the Crown Mountain Farms website no longer shows availability for this colorway, which is called "Say A Little Prayer," something I often do while spinning.

Not only is the fiber beautiful, but it's incredibly easy to draft. Suddenly I feel like a pro, zooming along as the singles shift from green to cream. I thought briefly of attempting to do something ambitious with the colors – spin all the cream, then all the green, and then ply them together perhaps – but in the end I decided to spin it random. I'm not confident enough of my spinning skills to be sure the colors would go where they were intended to go. Maybe next time.

And there are, after all, eight full ounces. That's twice what I have ever done before. The fiber attached to this spindle (Cascade St. Helens, and yes, it is new) plus the three little bird nests represents only the first ounce. I'll spin this ounce, spin the second ounce on another spindle, ply them together, and do the same thing three more times. I believe that will keep me nicely occupied for the rest of the summer -- for spinning. Knitting, of course, gets its own separate allocation of hobby time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fog on Friday

It's the time of year we generally label as "June gloom," which sometimes arrives after an extended period of "May gray." One of the joys of living by the ocean when temperatures are changing. On my morning walk over the hill, which began in bright sunshine, a change of wind direction brought this lovely stuff drifting into the canyon below.

It kept right on coming, filling the entire canyon and blanketing the town.

By noon it was gone, and we were all moaning about the heat. Come back, fog! Come back!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Helix Socks are Finished!

The Mustard Stripe Helix Socks are finished. Here is the first one, posing in the garden.

There are, of course, two.

I really like the helix method of striping – saves one from struggling with the infamous "jog." But it has its limitations. For starters, you can only do one row of each color. If you want a two-row stripe, you need to add another ball of yarn. I found it challenging enough to cope with three little yarn balls. Four might be acceptable, but no more.

I had a lot of fun making these socks and learned a lot too. Some items of interest --

The Cast On – I used the long-tail cast on for both socks. For the first, I cast on in one color, then added each of the others as I got to its section. For the second, I cast each of the three colors on to a separate needle, then joined up (and joined up and joined up). I think you can see the difference in this picture. Either way, though, the top flared out in an unappealing fashion. Might have been the K5, P3 rib. I've used that rib before, but with a K2, P1, K2, P3 cuff. Probably should have done the same here, but I was so befuddled by the color management that I forgot. In the end I did some sewing around the top edge that succeeded in pulling in the flare.

The Toe – I decided to do a round toe, because I simply couldn't imagine how to sort out three ends of yarn while doing a Kitchener stitch. The concept was good, and I had no trouble pulling up the final stitches with the last color worked, maneuvering the other two colors through, and poking all three to the inside. But for some inexplicable reason, I decided to continue the ribbing on the instep for a while, executing those decreases on the K5 panels. Looks stupid. See the pink line? That's where the round toe starts. I could/should have either done a regular round toe in stockinette or done the instep decreases on the purl stitches. Brain was apparently not engaged.

The Heel – The heel is fine. No technical problems. I did, however, make this project more exciting than it needed to be by selecting the yarn of which I had the LEAST amount for the heel.

Often impromptu projects are more entertaining than those more carefully planned. Although these little guys fall short of perfection, we had great times together and I'm going to enjoy wearing them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A New Plying Spindle

As I've learned more about spinning – and especially plying – I've become frustrated with my plying spindle. It's too light. I'm putting more twist into singles nowadays and could use more weight to pull on those kinky strands and get them plied.

So I purchased this lovely creature from the friendly folks at Woodland Woolworks. It's a two-ounce Cascabeles in aromatic cedar. I like the simplicity of the design. And the shaft has just enough 'tooth' to keep the cop from slipping.

And speaking of the shaft -- here it is next to my former plying spindle. That is one loooong shaft, 13 inches actually. The other spindle could just hold 100 grams if I wound on very carefully. This one should have no problem at all.

The Spindle family gathered together to welcome its new member. In the back we have the 1.3 ounce Kundert (now retired from plying). To the left is a .7-oz Spindlewood Square (used to be .75 oz, but a piece broke off the shaft); to the right, a 1-oz Forrester Granny. These two are the workhorses. Generally I spin 1-2 ounces of singles onto each, pop them in the plying box, and we're off. The Bosworth Mini in front is usually reserved for tricky fibers since it has the fastest acceleration of any spindle I've ever encountered. It has, however, proudly spun an entire ounce of merino last week and is eagerly anticipating a trip to the plying box.

I too am eager to see how the next plying session goes.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Adventures in Spindling

I haven't done any spinning for quite a while. Partly because I had a bunch of knitting projects that clamored to be finished. But mostly because I'd had an unfortunate outcome from spinning a test sample of some new fiber and couldn't decide what to do.

This is the fiber – superwash merino in a mix of purple, orange, turquoise, green, and little squibs of other colors. Very bright and rich. I spun and plied about ten yards of fingering and wound it into a mini-skein. Then I popped the skein into the customary hot water bath and let it sit for 20 minutes.

When I extracted and dried the skein, this is what it looked like – an allover chocolate purple color. Evidently the darkest colors bled and overdyed the other colors. Even the white skein ties emerged medium purple. I was so discouraged that I tucked the fiber back in its box and returned to my knitting.

But then the spindles got restless. (Spindles can be worse than yarn.) They kept tumbling onto the floor or snagging my sleeve with their hooks as I walked past. The worst offender was the Bosworth Mini. Being such a short guy, he sits in a tiny vase near the telephone, and every time I picked up the phone, well . . . .

I surrendered, grabbed MiniBos, pulled out the fiber, and took them both out to the patio for a spindling session. A few sessions later this is what we had – almost a full ounce, which pretty much fills this little spindle. Now I was starting to think – if I could just deal with the color bleeding issue, I might actually get some lovely yarn from this effort. Not that a result is absolutely necessary. Spindling with colorful fiber is a zen thing -- satisfying in itself.

At this point I have nearly another ounce on a second spindle. It looks like less, because this spindle is much larger than MiniBos. It can hold 2-4 ounces easily. So, I'm about ready to ply. Which I will do as usual with my trusting plying box. Or maybe not.

This is the trusty plying box. I have always plied from two long spindles onto an equally large but heavier spindle. Notice how well the two spindles fit into the slots in the box. Will the MiniBos fit into this box? Nooooooo. It is much too short. Erk. I see three options here – find a way to rig MiniBos into the plying box, wind the entire contents of MiniBos onto something that WILL fit into the box, or, possibly, try a different approach to plying. Option number three opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.

And all this fun happens before I even begin to search for a way to finish off this yarn that does not involve immersion in hot water (thereby causing the colors to bleed and overdye). Steaming is one alternative I have turned up. Apparently it's possible to do this with a steam iron or in a pot/rack combination. Anyone ever tried it? I'm wondering, too, if immediate immersion in cold water and vinegar would help to set the colors. Then I could worry about setting the twist. I believe it's the combination of heat and wet that sets the twist, but I'm not sure. My spinning references mandate the use of hot water, but they neglect to say WHY.

The worst-case scenario is that my fingers will have had tons of practice drafting Merino, I will have learned a lot about plying and finishing handspun, and I might even have 400 or so yards of chocolate-purple yarn. I'm good with that.