Saturday, April 27, 2013

All About Handspun

It appears as though I have been falling in love with spinning/handspun lately.  In part I know it has to do with my trip to the Alpaca Expo and the three bags of fiber I bought there, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that it has to do with the changing seasons.  I never noticed until I got to thinking about it, but the spring and summer months tend to be my spinning months.  In fact, looking at my bin of handspun that I have made over the years, not a single skein was made during the winter.  I guess for me, winters are for knitting and summers are for spinning.  At least now I know.

Here in Minnesota, we've had a particularly slow start to our spring season.  This month alone we had snow storm after snow storm.  Here's a photo from April 19, just one week ago:

I have to tell you, working in a coffee shop where I interact with hundreds of other Minnesotans every day, it was clear that we were all using every ounce of our strength to stay sane and civil during these past few weeks.  In the fall, we mentally prepare for a long, dark, cold winter with the knowledge that on the other side will be spring.  We hunker down and get through it the best we can.  When March comes around, our longing becomes a little more desperate and with each snowfall, the complaints begin.  April hits and we know that the snow will soon be gone and we shed our emotional winter coats in place of a more hopeful, lighthearted demeanor.  So when April continues to dump inches upon inches of snow on our already fragile, now unprotected, winter-weakened emotional state, it is a little difficult to cope.  We get through winter knowing that spring is coming, but when we get to the other side to discover that there is only winter...  the anxiety, frustration, and desperation is palpable.

Thank god, then, for this weekend that has brought temperatures in the 70s, a clear blue sky, and the warm spring breeze that we have all been longing for these past six months.  And like clockwork, the changing of the seasons (and I really don't think it's supposed to happen this suddenly...) has brought me back to spinning.

Outside, even.  In fact, I was sitting at that very same picnic table that just a week ago was covered in half a foot of snow.  I never realized how relaxing it is to spin outside - I'll definitely be doing it more often.

It's well past time that I finished up this spinning project, which I started almost a year ago.  I'm very near to the finish line with only seven ounces (of 36) left to spin, resulting in the most amazing sweater yarn I have ever owned.  I am so excited to have this done, not because I'm sick of spinning it (which I am not.  I never tire of watching these colors flow through my fingers), but because it means I can move on to the next step of the process - knitting the sweater!

And it's not just the spinning wheel that has been seeing some action these days.  I even broke out one of my spindles again, which has been a lot of fun.

This particular spindle is a Kundert spindle and spins like a dream.  It is perfectly balanced and beautiful to look at and has very quickly become my new favorite.

And as if spinning wasn't enough, I've been knitting with my handspun, as well.

I showed you those wrist warmers back in February, and they're still not finished, but hopefully soon I'll have the second one done.  I'm also knitting up a lace shawl using some superwash BFL dyed and gifted to me by Anne at Wooly Wonka Fibers in her "Wood Duck" colorway.

I love the wonderful character that handspun is adding to this project.  The pattern is Miriam Felton's Mountain Peaks Shawl, which has been in my queue for years.  I think this pattern is a perfect balance of lace and simplicity to show off the yarn, which totally surprised me with its stripes.  We'll see if they continue throughout the whole project.

I've continued to submerge myself in spinning, reading what I can and watching several videos to improve my skills and understanding of the craft.  Does anybody have any recommendations for the best hand cards and combs?  And yes, I'm totally serious.  I want to take this spinning thing one step further and begin to prepare my own fiber.  I hope to at least get one Suri alpaca fleece from this year's shearing at the farm, but I'd love to prepare other fibers as well.  Any advice would be very helpful!

Until next time, stay warm and enjoy the sunshine!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Finding Greener Pastures

Well, I sure didn't last very long with my blogging resolutions, did I?  Let's do some bullet-point blogging before I get to the meat of this post.

  • Not much has been happening since my last post.  The sweater is still unfinished.
  • I started a lace shawl with some handspun, but I had to put that down pretty early in its development because
  • I agreed to do some more sample/test knitting.  This means I can't show you what I'm working on.
  • My LYS now carries BrooklynTweed yarn.  It takes every ounce of strength to not go there every day.
  • Last week (two weeks ago?) I was working a later shift at the coffee shop than I normally do and discovered a secret knitting group comprised of young, hip knitters.
  • They said they tend to intimidate new people because they're "serious" about their knitting.
  • I said bring on the cables and leave the crying at home.
  • I'm playing with a symphony again, but I still get paid more to knit than I do to play my clarinet.
Alright, now we're all caught up.  Wanna know what I did today?

I drove down to the Minnesota Alpaca Expo and hung out with these camelids!  I had seen a post on Ravelry a couple weeks back about this event and immediately took the day off of work so I could be there.  I had never gone to a fiber festival or anything of the sort and I thought it was high time I saw what all the hubbub was about.

Today the hubbub was all about alpacas.  The expo was less about fiber crafts and more about the animals themselves.  They had a halter competition (like a dog show) and there was a silent auction for live animals.  Alpaca farmers from all over the midwest showed up with their best show animals to compete for a blue ribbon.

I, however, simply showed up to see these cute faces.

As I wandered around taking an obnoxious amount of blurry pictures of alpacas looking away from me, one of the handlers asked me if I had any questions.  "No, I'm just looking..." I heard myself say.  "Wellllll, maybe just one question."  45 minutes later and I had met two local alpaca farmers and was walking away with plans to start volunteering at an alpaca farm starting next weekend!

You think wool fumes in a yarn shop are bad?  By the time I did one loop around this place I was ready to drop everything and start an alpaca farm of my own!  The next best thing to do, in my mind, is to volunteer at someone else's as much as possible.  The one I'll be visiting has 80 alpacas.  I'm so excited!

Did you know there are two different kinds of alpacas?  Huacaya alpacas are the ones I've been showing you above.  They're soft and fluffy and have shorter fibers than the second type.  Huacayas also make up 97% of the world's population of alpacas.

And just look at all the different natural colors they come in!  Be still, my beating heart.  (Full disclosure: I walked away with 8oz each of black, gray, and white fiber.  I couldn't resist.)

The second type of alpacas, the 3% that's left, are the Suri alpacas.  They have a very long staple length (the length of their fiber), which naturally forms into beautiful dreadlocks.

I apparently didn't do a very good job taking pictures of Suris.  You can see that when there are children present, the alpacas won't even give you the time of day.

Suris make up 17% of the US population of alpacas, but even so, there are less than 20,000 of them in the country and they're no longer being imported.  I'll be sure to get better pictures for you later because the farm that I plan on volunteering at?  All Suri alpacas.  I have to admit, I think they're less photogenic and look a little nerdy, but that's what makes me like them so much.

All together now:  Awwwwwwww!