Tuesday, August 20, 2013

FO: Ashby

Pattern: Ashby, by Leila Raabe; BT Fall 2011
Yarn: Cascade 220, colorway 9548 - Slate Blue; 3.2 skeins
Needles: US 8 for border, US 7 for body

Monday, August 19, 2013

At a standstill

Judith MacKenzie always says that if you're concerned about time, perhaps working with textiles isn't right for you.  I understand this logic and most of the time am willing to accept that it takes time to knit a sweater, or spin a skein of yarn, or wash a fleece, or prepare fiber for spinning.  It takes time to weave a cloth - heck, it takes time just to warp a loom! - and it takes time to crochet a shawl or sew a dress.  I get that instant gratification does not exist in the textile world and if we want good results, we have to be willing to invest a significant amount of time to our craft.  But I'm here to tell you that last night at 10:10pm (I know this because it's when I looked up at my clock in desperation), I thought that thing that people in our world should never think.  I thought, "When is this going to be over?!"  Now, this isn't the first time that a project has lasted longer than I might wish it to, but with spinning I run into the problem that I can't just start a new project to take the edge off.  With knitting, if I'm really not feeling the project I'm working on, I may cast on something quick like a hat or fingerless mitts before returning to the original project.  Spinning is different because I only have one wheel and although it's possible to just put on a new bobbin and spin something else for a while, I prefer not to do that because I'm afraid that upon returning to the current project, I wouldn't be able to get the wheel settings just right to continue spinning the same yarn.  And it's not just the wheel settings that I'm concerned about, it's my settings as well.  A few weeks ago a friend on Ravelry asked me for my opinion on knitting multiple projects at the same time and, to my surprise, I was quite opinionated about the subject.  I won't get into that right now (much), but one of my concerns when switching from project to project in knitting is that my tension will change.  If I switch from knitting a lace shawl to a worsted-weight sweater to socks, I make tiny changes in the way that I hold and tension my yarn and it works different muscles.  If, for example, I knit on a lace shawl for several days and then decide I want to knit a bulky hat, that's going to feel really weird to my hands until I get adjusted.  I have several pairs of not-quite-the-same-size mittens to prove this fact.  The same goes for spinning.  It's not just the wheel that needs to be adjusted when I start a different project.  I need to adjust myself as well - how I hold the fiber, how I draft the fiber, how quickly I treadle, etc.  Normally I don't feel so strongly about this, but my current spinning project did take a bit of trial and error to figure out exactly what needed to be done (to myself and to the wheel) to produce the yarn that I'm looking for.

The yarn that I'm looking for is laceweight and I'm here to tell you that it takes forever to spin, or at least that's how it feels.  The fiber itself is a treat to work with, but I think I've reached the point with this project at which I need a break.  I'm almost halfway done, but it took a long time to get here.

That little bit in my hand is what's left of the first 2oz. and I predict that it will take at least 6 hours to get that spun up.  Maybe I just need to look at my time to production ratio a bit differently.  It's easy for me to look from my fiber to the clock and conclude that although I've spun for an hour and a half, no noticeable difference has been made (which is exactly what happened last night).  But if I look at the yardage that I spun in that time, it's obvious that something did indeed happen, it's just not as easily measured visually as watching my fiber not change for hours on end.  It's not my wheel's fault and it's not my fault and there's not really anything I can do about it.  It's simply that spinning laceweight just takes time.

The resulting 2-ply is actually quite nice.  After a wash it's surprisingly springy and because it's an 80/20 BFL/silk blend, it shimmers in the sun.  I do really love the yarn and don't hate the process, it's just that I'm anxious to move on to the next spinning project.  At this point I keep going back and forth about what do to.  I could stop after I finish these 2oz. knowing that I have enough singles spun to produce hundreds and hundreds of yards of lace yarn or I could charge ahead and spin the other two ounces and get enough yarn to knit, well, anything that my heart desires.  Stopping now would be somewhat limiting, but it would also mean that I could start something else on my wheel, which is always exciting.  What would you do?  I suppose I could also set this bobbin aside with some samples to remind myself of exactly what I'm aiming for and hope I can reproduce it.  Why is it that the least important decision I could possibly make is the one causing me so much stress?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Washing Alpaca Fleece

Last week I decided that it would be a good idea to try to wash the fleeces sitting in my closet while I still had the benefit of warm summer days, which allowed me to sort my fleeces outside and aided in drying them with the windows open to keep the air circulating.  This way if I decide this winter that I would like to do something with one of them, I'll have a nice clean fleece to work with.  I thought I'd document here what I did to wash them both as a reference for myself and for anyone else who is interested.  This all comes with the disclaimer that I had never washed a fleece before, but did consult a number of references, including a few alpaca farmers and the owner of a fiber mill who specializes in processing alpaca fiber, so rest assured that although this is not the only way to wash an alpaca fleece, it is perfectly acceptable.  There are two more things to keep in mind with this process:

1.  This process is similar, though not identical to how one might wash a sheep fleece.  Alpacas do not have lanolin and other oils/waxes on their fleece that require scouring with hot water to remove them.  When washing an alpaca fleece, the goal is to remove the dirt/dust/sand that they so lovingly roll around in all year.  Because of the absence of oils and waxes, you do not need a scouring agent or extremely hot water.  Any mild detergent will work, including wool wash, dish soap, or even shampoo.  The temperature of the water that I used throughout the process is what I might use to run a bath or take a shower although you could achieve the same results with tepid or lukewarm water as well.

2.  This process does not do a good job of maintaining the lock structure of the fiber.  For this fleece I wasn't concerned about this as I will most likely be carding the fiber for spinning.  If you want to work with individual locks or plan to comb your fiber, there are other ways to wash the fleece that will give you more control over the locks.  If, however, you wish to wash a large quantity of fiber for carding or felting, this process works perfectly well.

I first spread out my fleece as best I could so that I could sort the fleece into different piles.

With a sheep fleece this is easier to do because the fibers tend to hold together a little better, but all you want is to be able to see the whole fleece at once.  Often when you buy a fleece it will already have been skirted (the coarser leg and belly hairs, felted bits, and really cruddy bits removed), but what you want to do is feel around with your hands for any patches that aren't as soft or seem to have a slightly different texture, patches where the fibers are shorter or longer, and you can also remove any large bits of VM (vegetable matter) and 2nd cuts if there are any (these occur if the shearer goes over the same spot more than once or cuts up into the lock, resulting in really short bits that will cause problems when it's time for carding or spinning.)  I got this particular fleece from Teresa at Hollyhock Farm Alpacas and it was already wonderfully skirted and free of 2nd cuts.  I sorted the fleece into three different piles from coarsest to softest (but let's be honest here.  This is a baby alpaca fleece and there was no such thing as a "coarse" hair.  It's all relative.)  If there was a patch that was particularly dirty or muddy, I would have also set that aside for extra cleaning.

I then proceeded to wash the fleece in four separate batches, the larger pile in the top right (above) split into two batches for washing.  Take a lingerie bag and fill it relatively full with fiber.  You want to make sure there's room for the water to flow through the fiber, but keep in mind that once the fiber gets wet it will compact a little bit, so you can fit quite a bit in there.

I used a larger laundry bag and simply tied the top shut.  If possible, you want to use a bag that has larger holes like the one above rather than a superfine mesh because it will allow more of the dirt, sand, and VM to wash out during the process.

Fill your sink/laundry tub/bucket/whatever you're using to wash the fleece with enough water that the fiber can be fully submerged and add your detergent.  I filled my sink with 4 or 5 inches of water and used about a tablespoon of detergent.

Now you can gently, GENTLY, press the fiber into the water.  You can let it sink down on its own, but the fiber is so airy that it just floats on top for a while.  You want to agitate the fiber as little as possible.  Just press down making sure that the water has completely wetted your fiber.  Remember, with warm water, soap, and agitation you fiber will begin to felt, so do what you can to minimize how much you agitate the fiber.  You can't do anything about the water or soap.

You'll notice that the water will almost immediately begin to turn brown.  Good, it's working.

Let the fiber sit for 15-20 minutes, then press it down again to get as much dirt out as you can.  The water will be gross.

Remove the lingerie bag and gently, GENTLY, squeeze out any excess water and set the bag aside while you drain the sink and refill it with clean water.  Repeat the process a second time, adding detergent (you don't need as much as in the first wash) and again letting the fiber sit for maybe 10-15 minutes.  Remove the fiber and refill the sink with clean water again.  Keep in mind that you never want to run water directly on to your fiber.  This is agitation and will felt your fiber.  Always remove your fiber before refilling the sink with water.  Got it?  You should also do your best to always match the water's temperature from one rinse to the next.  Moving fiber from hot water to cold water will shock the fiber and cause felting.  It's a great trick if you intend to do it, but it's better to be careful.

At this point your fiber should be clean and it's time to rinse out the soap and any residual dirt/dust that is still in the fiber.  With your sink full of clean, non-soapy water, submerge your fiber again.  It's not necessary to soak the fiber, but press it down a few times to make sure the water is running through all the fibers.  You might want to gently, GENTLY, lift the lingerie bag out of the water once or twice to make sure the soap and dirt is washing out.  At this point, your water will still turn a very light brown.  Remove the fiber, drain the sink, refill it with clean water once more, and rinse the fiber a second time.  Your water should stay clean.

So that's two washes and two rinses.  If you're washing more than one batch, you don't need to drain the last rinse water.  Just add detergent and use it as your first wash for the next batch of fiber.  While the new batch of dirty fiber is soaking, you can take your clean fiber (still in the bag) and roll it in a towel and squeeze it or stomp on it to get as much water out as possible.  Do not wring it out, just squeeze.  Only squeezing.  Alternatively, you can place it in your washing machine and spin the water out on the spin cycle, which is what I did.  But be sure that your washing machine's spin cycle really only spins and doesn't add rinse water.  We don't want water running directly onto our fiber.  Agitation and all that.

When you take your fiber out of the bag, it will stay in a big clump like this:

It shouldn't be felted together, so gently, GENTLY, pull it apart and lay it out to dry.  I MacGyver-ed a drying rack using some plastic netting, clamps, and the bed in my spare bedroom, but you can use a clothes drying rack, a sweater rack, or anything else that allows good air circulation.

Be sure to place an old sheet under the spot where you're drying your fiber.  There will still be bits of VM, sand, and other particles that don't disintegrate and therefore didn't wash out of the fleece and they will fall out as you pull the fiber apart.  As my fleece was drying I would also give it a gentle shake/bounce every once in a while to loosen that up.

In no time you'll have your whole fleece drying while you ponder the infinite ways in which you can use it.  Just be sure that the fleece is completely dry before you store it.  The last thing we want is a moldy or mildewed fleece.

The end.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Safety Nets

I can't imagine it would surprise you if I were to say that a vacation that involves spending a week and a half on a lake with no obligations is relaxing.  I think my nephew (2 years old) summed it up nicely as we were packing up when he said, on the verge of tears, "I want to stay at the cabin forever!"  Me too, kiddo, me too.

Despite the fact that I took over 300 pictures while at my cabin, I only took 12 with my camera (the rest were with my phone) and 260 were of either my brother or my dog.  In years past I would get up early to watch the sun rise over the lake.  I would never set an alarm, but some internal clock would wake me minutes before the sunrise each morning.  This year I think I left my internal clock at home.  I only got up to watch the sunrise once, and even then I was tired, cranky, and cold and crawled back into bed right before the sun actually rose above the trees.  Here's the only photo I took, before deciding to curl back up on the couch.

Most of the days were quite windy and the lake was always in motion.  We only had one or two days of rain and the rest were warm enough for me to lay around in my bathing suit, provided the sun didn't hide behind a cloud.  As soon as the sun started to set, however, it was jeans and a sweatshirt for me.  Check out this sunset, though.

You can't make that up.

As far as knitting is concerned, I didn't do nearly as much as I thought I might, which in all honesty is fine by me.  Like I said in my last post, knitting acted more like a safety net than a life preserver, if that makes any sense.  I know it's there if I need it, but there's no need to wear it at all times.  I knit one sock and did a bit of work on my Ashby, but for the most part, I chose to spend my time laying around in the sun, kayaking, playing card games, swimming, canoeing, drinking coffee, or sitting by the bonfire.  (I also went waterskiing once and while I used to do it all the time when I was younger, it has been probably five years since I did it last and boy, is that a workout for your legs!  I was embarrassingly sore the next day.  I also had a really hilarious wipeout that resulted in the ski smashing against my shin so hard I'm convinced there's a fracture in there somewhere while at the same time nearly tearing my swimsuit off my body.  And I don't mean that my suit got pulled down a bit when I fell.  I mean that the entire side seam tore open and for the rest of my skiing experience, I tried to pretend that I wasn't skiing with a loincloth rather than a bathing suit.  I'm sure the entire lake got quite a show.)

But I digress, I was talking about my knitting.  At the last minute I decided to only bring enough sock yarn for one pair rather than two, and despite the fact that I was a little bit stressed that I was going to run out of knitting the whole time, it turns out I only knit one sock and didn't need enough yarn for four.

It continues to be near impossible to take a decent sock photo when the sock is on your own foot, but I did my best (and believe me, this one is the best of the lot.)  The yarn is Malabrigo Sock in some kind of blue and I opted to go with a basic K2, P1 ribbing with 1x1 twisted rib for the cuff.  Super simple and it turns out that's exactly the kind of knitting I wanted.  It was so relaxing that I sped past the point where I should have started the gusset increases by two inches and had to rip back, but no harm done.

I did some work on Ashby as well.  I finished the cabled edging and picked up stitches to knit the body of the shawl.

I'm convinced I could finish that one up with just a few more days of knitting, but (and this is so unlike me), I'm more interested in finishing the second sock first.  Since when do I feel compelled to finish the second of anything?  I always seem to have that "been there, done that" attitude when it comes to making the second sock, mitten, fingerless glove, whatever.  I think the reason I want to finish this pair is because I got my first taste of the cold weather to come while in North Dakota (one night the temps hit 40) and I kept thinking how nice it would be to have a pair of wool socks.  And nice it will be, I'm sure of it.

Are you feeling the change in weather?  Have you adjusted what you're knitting accordingly?