Monday, May 27, 2013

Two Distinct Batches

A quick post today to show that I did, in fact, finish plying all of my sweater yarn.  In fact, I finished over two weeks ago but just now got around to taking some pictures.

I'm really happy with this second batch of yarn.  I call it my second batch because I spun and plied the first 24oz. almost a year ago and then did the remaining 12oz. this past month.  I hadn't really done any spinning in the intervening time, but I did spend some time reading books, scrolling through forums, and watching countless videos and my approach to spinning the final 12oz. was a bit different than the first batch.  I did want my new yarn to resemble the first batch as much as possible, but I think my singles were a little thinner (and definitely more even) and I took a more conscientious approach to my plying this time around.  I think that's the biggest change I made.  With the first 24oz., I put 2oz. of singles on each bobbin and then plied two bobbins together into a 4oz. skein.  This time I began the same way - with 2oz. on each of six bobbins - but when I got to plying I made sure to continually switch bobbins throughout each skein to make as even a yarn as possible.  All six bobbins of singles contributed to each skein of plied yarn which means that overall, the yarn is much more consistent.  I was also more deliberate in the amount of plying twist I was putting in to prevent having some spot overspun and some underspun.  All these changes reflect, I think, a more knowledgeable understanding of the qualities of fiber and yarn and how to manipulate these to get exactly the yarn that I want.  This is a shift from my previous approach to spinning, which was to essentially throw the fiber at the wheel and hope for the best.  I hope to continue spinning with a deliberate and thought out approach that will result not only in a yarn that I like, but in a yarn that I planned for and intentionally produced.  A much better approach, I think.

On the left is a skein from the new batch of yarn.  It's not as fuzzy looking, but it does look much more even and consistent, doesn't it?  The skein on the right has thick spots and thin spots and spots that don't have enough twist.  They're both useable, but now I have to come up with a plan that will allow me to use both yarns throughout a sweater without any jarring discrepancies that would come from changing skeins in the middle of the body.  I was thinking I could use the new yarn just for the ribbing on the body and sleeves and then again for the collar, but if I ran out of the first batch in the middle of the yoke or halfway through an arm, I'd be SOL.  What if I did set-in sleeves and used the first batch for the body and the second batch for the sleeves?  Would that look weird?  I don't think alternating skeins would be a good way to go because I would be afraid of having some strange corrugated effect happen.  I'll have to think more about this.  Any ideas?

I also have another experiment coming up with this yarn.  I took the last of my singles and plied up a small skein of 3-ply yarn and will do some comparative swatching to see which I like better.  I figure it's a good thing to know and interestingly enough, the 3-ply isn't any bulkier than the 2-ply.  I'll let you know how it goes!

On an unrelated note, alpaca shearing in five days!  I'll be at the big farm (did I mention that I don't just volunteer at the small, 4-alpaca farm?  The big one has 77) and am so excited for shearing day!  I predict I won't take any pictures, but I'll be sure to tell you guys all about it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Fox Way Boys

It's time to meet the gang from Fox Way Alpacas that I have had the pleasure to visit a few times over the past couple of weeks.  From left to right we have: Kane (Raising Kane), Simon (Simon Says), Turbo, and Aiden.

Turbo is the biggest of the bunch and acts as the leader of the pack.  He's always the one keeping a look out for danger and is usually the first one to greet a newcomer to his domain.

He's technically a beige alpaca because of the smudge on his forehead, but for all intents and purposes, his fleece is just as white as Kane's.

Kane tends to be the troublemaker and is definitely the most rambunctious of the group.  I have yet to have a great deal of trouble with him, but I hear he can throw a bit of a hissy fit.  When in the shelter, he likes to hunker down by the door so he can always see what's going on outside.

Simon is a bit skittish, but has a very lovable personality.  Perhaps I just view him as a fellow introvert and leave him be.  His fleece is a beautiful black and I love the streak of white on his forehead!

And lastly we have Aiden.  Aiden, obviously, is a brown alpaca and had a stint in the show ring before moving in with the other boys.  His dad is still a showpaca (I made that word up), so for the time being he'll be staying out of the circuit, but his fleece is quite beautiful.

All four of these boys are very gentle and are a joy to be around.  It's always fun to watch them run and jump around, roll on the ground, or most often in my case, do what they can to stay away from me.  Hopefully that changes soon!

I definitely think alpacas are man's other best friend.  Who said a person can only have one?

All photos in this post are taken, with permission, from the Fox Way Alpacas Facebook page.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Deep End

Ever since I attended the MN Alpaca Expo on a whim a month ago, I have turned into a bit of an obsessed freak when it comes to my fiber interests, and so my mission began.  I wanted to become a more knowledgeable spinner and fiber fanatic (I can't really say "fiber artist", because I mostly tend to flail around like a novice) by learning more about sheep breeds and how best to used their wool.  I wanted to learn about how animals are raised, the different climates that various animals thrive in, how best to prepare certain fibers for spinning, what the best type of yarn is for a particular project, etc. ad nauseum.  In short, I want to become proficient in my understanding of natural fibers in a way that allows me to contribute to the continued success of this industry.

A few weeks ago I heard about an event in Minnesota called Shepherd's Harvest.  It's Minnesota's Rhinebeck and I immediately and passionately exclaimed (all over Ravelry) "I WILL BE THERE!!!"

...only to discover the next day that my work schedule wouldn't allow for that to happen.  I was so crushed!  I had only just learned that this event even existed and, really, hadn't invested an exorbitant amount of time imagining what it would be like, but I felt so sad.  Luckily, my coworkers are familiar with my wool obsession eccentricities and by the sixth hour of my constant lament of how sad I was that I would have to miss this event that only occurs once a year and allows farmers to connect with those who value and understand the hard work that they put into raising these sheep and other fiber animals, not to mention the teachers who travel from all over the country and the incredible amount of knowledge concentrated into one little space and how could I possibly live with myself if I didn't somehow participate by showing my support and appreciation and... and by that sixth hour, one of my coworkers finally caved and took my shift on Sunday.

And so it was that I attended my first ever sheep and wool festival, and boy, these things do not disappoint!  (Although, somehow I forgot to take a single picture.)  My one and only goal was to buy my first fleece.  I really wasn't interested in yarn or the rainbow of dyed fiber that was available (I'm technically on a yarn diet.  It started on May 1st.  I didn't tell you.  Fiber doesn't count.)  I did a buttload of research about sheep breeds and what kind of fleece would be best for the type of fiber preparation and spinning techniques I thought I might want to use to produce a certain type of yarn.  Armed with this knowledge, I wandered the booths looking for the perfect fleece.

On Saturday there was a fleece judging and silent auction which I was not able to attend because I had a symphony concert to play, and I was certain that every last fleece worth buying would have been snatched up that day.  I am so glad that I was wrong!  I felt confident in my ability to choose a fleece that was right for me based on what I had read and watched about how to pick a fleece, what to watch out for, and so on.  I saw some beautiful fleeces, but passed on them because they weren't a breed I was looking for, they were a bit too dirty for my first fleece, the staple length was too long, the fiber was too coarse, etc.  This whole time as I wandered from booth to booth I thought to myself, "Wow, Peter.  You're being really practical and systematic about how you're choosing a fleece.  I bet this is what it's like all the time."   ...and then I walked into the next booth and was immediately drawn to one of the fleeces on the table and as soon as I felt it, I felt a wave of inexplicable intoxication much like the way one might feel when they have their first taste of the best chocolate in the world, or the first juicy strawberry of spring, or sinking into a warm bath after a long day of work.  I lost all sense and knew that, regardless of any practical reasoning, this fleece was destined to be mine.

I know that this picture is quite disappointing because it doesn't begin to demonstrate the power that this fleece had over me.  The color in real life is rich and gorgeous, the fleece itself is full, soft, and so springy that it feels like a sponge when you press into it and just by sheer luck, it also happens to be exactly what I was looking for.  It's a 5.5lb CVM (California Variegated Mutant) fleece from Crosby Hill Farm and to make things even more spectacular, the sheep was coated which means that the fleece itself is incredibly clean and free of vegetable matter and other foreign objects.  This fleece is sure to provide me with YEARS of spinning pleasure and I can't wait to begin the process.

I would have been happy to have stopped with one fleece because I was so elated to have found exactly what I was looking for, but I had made a mental note to visit the Hollyhock Alpacas booth to see what they had to offer.  The Hollyhock farm raises Huacaya alpacas (the fluffy ones) and I was curious to see a huacaya fleece because the farm I volunteer at raises Suris.  Well, it turns out I didn't just see a huacaya fleece - I took one home with me, too.

But honestly, how could I say no?  This is a cria fleece, which means that it was the alpaca's first shearing (a cria is what we call a baby alpaca.  No, I don't know why) and as I'm sure you all know, baby alpaca is soft, soft, soft!  I was so fortunate to have snatched this one up as it was their last cria fleece for sale.

I also took a three-hour spinning class on Sunday morning and although I was perhaps a little disappointed with the class overall, it did provide me with the opportunity to try a number of fibers that I had never spun before - silk, yak, cashmere, and cotton.  The yak was my favorite.

I'll be back tomorrow to introduce you guys to the four alpacas I've been spending my weekends with.  They're such charming boys, I'm sure you'll love them!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Six Little Bobbins

Six little bobbins
All in a row...

...It's time to ply
So here we go!