Thursday, January 29, 2015

Blending fibers with a drumcarder, Part 1

As some of you may know (gee, I hope more than some!) I've been writing occasional articles for Yarnmaker magazine. This is a wonderful little magazine published quarterly and it is always full of interesting tidbits from the UK and around the world. This is my first article for them, published back in 2012. Some spelling/terminology is British English. I just hope I can find the correct photos to include.....

Blending Fibers on a Drumcarder

     There are a number of basics to consider when blending fiber as you want to reduce wear and tear on the equipment and operator. The choice of fibers to blend is Step One. An old basic rule of blending is “animal with animal and plant with plant”. For a smooth even blend, choose fibers of similar lengths and qualities. For example, Merino wool and silk top work well because the length, thickness and softness are similar, while Merino and a silk hanky pulled into roving form will not work well due to the extremely long silk fibers. The Long Wool breeds (Romney, Border Leicester, etc) work well with mohair because the thickness (micron count) and staple length are similar. Adding soft fiber like cashmere to a harsh wool will not soften the blend; the harsh wool will still feel harsh in the spun yarn and it is likely that the much shorter cashmere will clump up and form neps in the blend. Fibers should not be so long that they wrap around the drum of a carder.

     Step Two is fiber preparation. The more prepared your fiber is, the less work for the operator and the less wear on your equipment. Raw wool needs to be clean; any lanolin left in the fleece will adhere to the card cloth and become sticky, attracting dirt and fiber which is difficult to remove. Clean dry fleece (wool, alpaca, llama, chiengora, etc.) will need to be picked apart and fluffed, removing vegetable matter (VM) and nepps/second cuts in the process.

I like to run the picked fleece through the carder once or twice to open it further and allow me to see any VM/nepps that I missed in the picking process. Combed tops and slivers should be split lengthways if necessary, and attenuated before carding because they have usually become compressed after mill processing and packaging for shipment. This process yields a more open length of fiber that will reduce fiber clumping on the carder drums and allow a more even distribution of fiber.


     For textured blends, I usually find a way to break the rules for a smooth blend. Choosing short yak fibers (1.27 to 0.63 cm) and longer Merino (5 to 7.6 cm) fiber stays within the animal/animal rule and softness rule, but breaks the length rule. Wool (animal) and linen (plant) of a similar thickness and length makes a crisp yet warm yarn. Long staple cotton and alpaca is another warm-yet-crisp blend. Wool and silk noil yields a nice tweed. One of my favorite blends is Merino (soft, animal, 5-7 cm staple length), angelina (soft, man-made, 5-7 cm staple length) and silk noil (soft, animal, 0.63 cm staple). What a great glittery tweed yarn it makes!

Part 2 coming soon!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

So what profound thoughts does a blogger post for the holidays? I've been traveling a ton since the last post--to Connecticut for Thanksgiving and to have coffee with a SIL, to Charlotte with Husbeast--then back home to attempt completion of a research project which I'm writing for publication, to cook a second Thanksgiving dinner for family here, to prepare for Christmas. And I've avoided writing a post because.....what the heck do I talk about?

And it hit me this morning, after a long conversation with my brother last night. I have always wanted to be part of a Father-Knows-Best, Waltons-on-the-mountain kind of family, but we all know those families are mostly screenwriters imaginings. Real families have warts, sometimes more warts than beauty marks. Mine is one of those, and my brother and I were discussing all the warts and cancers (literal and figurative) in our large family. You see, he has tried all his life to remain neutral in family squabbles because, let's face it, no one normal really enjoys angry confrontation. But in his attempt to remain neutral, he missed out on all the good stuff. Yep, he stayed out of the fight between Brother #1, myself and Brother #3. He stayed out of the fight to the extent that he wouldn't talk to any of us about subjects outside of the weather and how our kids were doing--he didn't want any details at all. And he missed our kids' graduations, Eagle Scout celebrations, the celebration of the last cancer treatments of a SIL and myself, the going away party for our son, the details of our sons' treks up Machu Picchu, a nieces long haul to graduation and certification, the wonderful details of Brothers #2 and #3 lives (he was at their funerals but he totally missed being part of their lives). In short, by trying to pretend there were no bad parts of our family, he missed all the good parts.

I realized over coffee this morning (isn't caffeine wonderful?) that although I haven't lived the ideal life I wanted, with 4 kids, a picket fence and worshipful husband and no family confrontations or squabbles, I HAVE had:
  • 2 kids who challenge me and puzzle me and make me laugh and do silly things.
  • a husband who screws up on a semi-regular basis but worships me (while I am of course perfect and never screw up)
  • a beautiful 103-year old house that I adore
  • a nice patch of garden where I can get my hands dirty, work hard and enjoy the magic of eating something that was a seed in my hand last year
  • a yard full of wildlife that I love to watch (now that I've fenced and electrified everything that I don't want them to eat)
  • the wherewithal to buy food, good food, for ourselves and the wildlife and to share the garden overage with ...
  • good neighbors who watch out for each other and notice when ambulances are summoned or children are walking the new puppy
So, my message to myself this Christmas is not to regret what I haven't gotten, those missed dreams I mourn. Instead I will put peanuts out for the birds and squirrels (why is the nuthatch always the first to notice them?), celebrate my fantabulous Christmas lights, bake gingerbread men for my adult sons, drink wine and play board games with the family on Thursday and laugh. A lot. Because my life is good, despite all the bumps and family dramas and crazy family members who (rightfully) I avoid.

Have a wonder holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and enjoy the fact that after today the light is coming back to our lives.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I missed last week's post, more about that later.

I am finally on the last hour of work on an afghan I started in......1998! It was meant to be a wedding gift for a couple who split up soon after the wedding, so it was never given to them. It's been around long enough that the colors match our living room and so I decided to finish it and use it. The knitting is done and I'm now weaving in all those ends. Yes, there are over 100 ends to be hidden in the back of the work and it's pure drudgery. But it will be finished by this weekend, as I have house guests and just don't want a half-finished afghan lying around.

And then there's the little issue of my having bought way too much yarn for this afghan project. We have scraped our old bed, bought a new one and--yet again--the yarn colors are a great match for the bedroom. So I'm working on a bed runner to tie the curtains, duvet and rug together in a somewhat harmonious room. Which is not something I lie awake nights worrying about, but if it accidentally comes together I consider it good karma. I am NOT a Good Housekeeping type of person but it's nice to fall asleep and wake up in colorful peaceful surroundings.

And lastly, the reason for my missed post. We're having the walkways and driveway redone. The walks were poured concrete done by my brothers back in......1962? I think? They'd pour 1-2 squares each evening after work, then decide the next evening if their mix of gravel to cement was correct. Often it wasn't and the pavement was crumbling a decade ago. I was amazed at what they'd thrown under the concrete as leveling stone--old fieldstone pavers, a line of bricks (who thought THAT was a good idea?), pottery pieces, slag, whatever they found on the property seems to have been fair game. What can I say? That's not unusual for the DIY 60s.

The driveway was more recent, having been paved back in the late 70s and not recently kept up. As in, my brother seems to have given up on all maintenance on this house 20 years ago. Asphalt was never a good idea on a driveway lined with mature black walnut trees, as the roots pushed up the pavement over the years. And he never sealed it after the first 5-6 years so it crumbled, sunk and was overgrown on the edges for at least 12" each side.

Next week: Pix, I hope, of the new cardigan I'm working on. I spun the yarn (see below) while in Charlotte last month and am trying to finish up so I can wear it to our wedding vow renewal on Saturday. Till then, I'm off to find a cup of coffee and the knitting.....

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yarn inspirations....

I can never decide which of the seasons is my favorite. Spring has it's newness and promise of things to come, summer means fresh vegetables and fruits and lots of time outdoors, winter is snow blanketing ugly places and birds gathering at the feeders. Autumn is just for color. The sky turns that intense blue and the trees put on their best outfits in colors that go so well with that blue sky.

Driving home from NC last weekend, we got to watch the backward progression of autumn color. North Carolina was just at the peak and as we traveled northward, colors became less intense especially on the east side of mountains where the trees endure the weather. Like this stop for a tank of gas in the Virginia mountains, where the color is still holding on my right but faded to mostly browns/burgundy/gold on my left. I'm thinking about a multi-brown yarn with pops of burgundy, gold and green. Possibly woven into a nice warm scarf.

Golds and burgundies on a taupe background on the windward side

Still holding the golds, reds and greens on the leeward side

Yesterday I got fed up with doing all those things on the To Do List, checking them off in such an orderly and efficient manner. So I ran away from home, heading up to Harmony to visit with Lisa and then a back country drive to my favorite diner. The tree beside the diner was stunning! So many possibilities here--deep green/purple yarn with gold, peach and ruby highlights, or white yarn with those same highlights and a snap of purple every so often.

THIS will become carded batts, then handspun yarn in a month or so!

I had to stop at the local supermarket for a few things for dinner tonight, glanced across the street at a defunct business, and found this:

A burnt orange yarn with yellow, red and green tweed? A multicolored yarn with tan tweed?
Color is everywhere! Especially brilliant at this time of year, but it's always there if you know how to look for it. And it's a never-ending source of ideas for yarn and garments.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A quiet productive week

NOTE:  This was scheduled for posting on Friday but my tablet refused to upload the pix. So here it is on Sunday night!

I have gone on a work/play retreat of sorts. I brought knitting, a spinning wheel, a cross stitch project, and some writing I needed to attend to. On the way here, I accomplished nothing because I had a bout of food poisoning from a restaurant dinner the evening before. I'll not name the restaurant here, but I'll privately disclose the name if you feel you need to know. Let's just say that pre-cooked chicken and long-standing salad greens are not a safe food handling strategy.

By Monday I felt fine though. It's Friday now and I have finished :

Over half of the pound of fiber is spun. There's 8 oz. of dyed superwash and 8 oz. of a blue violet superwash wool, and I'm plying them together for a subtly striped DK yarn. I'll be washing skeins today so I can start another Garden Cardigan (pattern on Ravelry) and work on it during the drive home. Yes, Doug, it's purple and, no, you can't have it. ;-)

The pair of socks I've been picking away at for 6 months. Knit from Cakewalk yarn (sadly now out of business), they are wonderfully soft and comfy.

I've started a pair of mittens to wear while walking on chilly fall and winter mornings. Pattern 23 from Charlene Scurch's Mostly Mittens. Which  is not included in the revised edition if you went looking for it. There's plenty of other patterns in the revised edition that are wonderful too! This is an old Flat Feet sock blank that I dug out of the stash and a ball of Regia 4 fadig in natural. I think they'll work well with my pink Ergonomic Earwarmer.

I also had quiet hours to work on a couple of proposals for magazine submissions and to revamp my spinning classes to fit into 1-hour segments. All in all, a very productive week, with no self-imposed deadlines or household requirements to meet. What a pleasurable week....

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elephant squash, applesauce and Spinzilla

So my task this morning was to bake my Hubbard squash--affectionately known as Elephant Squash (see photo)--and freeze it, make applesauce and write the blog.

Step 1: Turn on the oven, get the roasting pan ready.
Step 2: Slice open the squash. Ha! I had to take the meat cleaver to the darn thing, then sweep up all the squash bits that flew around the kitchen counter. I kid you not, these babies have thick skin!
Step 3: Remove seeds, set half the squash in the baking pan, add hot water, roast for an hour (repeat with second half), cool, scrap out golden pulp and pack in freezer containers. Yep, pie for Thanksgiving!

"The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?"
I just had to throw that in there as a reminder of our shrinking wildlife and reckless handling of Mother Earth.

Applesauce is easier. Wash eighteen apples, quarter them, remove the core/seeds. Cut them in chunks into a big soup pot--yes, I include the skins; a Pa Dutch lady told me that the red skins will 'pink up' the applesauce, and it does! Sprinkle apples with a bit of salt, add 3 cups boiling water and simmer for 20-30 minutes till soft (you need to stir them once or twice because the lower apples will cook and leave the top apples still crisp). Run the mess through a food mill. Transfer back to the pot, add sugar/cinnamon/nutmeg/my secret ingredient. Have your canning jars & lids ready, heat the mess and fill the jars. Wait for the lids to pop, meaning that the vacuum seal is complete. Try to keep the applesauce a secret from your youngest son, who will devour a quart in one sitting.

And my Spinzilla 2014 total--4,870 yards (2.75 miles!) of handspun yarn in 7 days. Now I just have to wash it and find a use for all that mileage.

Good food, good luck and happy spinning to one and all.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Another gradient shawlette and recent activities

And just for the fun of it, and because I try to include a couple photos in each post, here's the second gradient yarn that I carded, spun and knit into another shawlette. I'm happy with the design I created and I like the size and drape. There's one darker green line that I wish wasn't there, but spinning from a batt of Merino isn't a precise science and these things happen.


I'm not sure I mentioned this before, but I have an article in the latest PLY magazine. I arranged a fiber challenge for our guild two years ago and we had a blast, learning and stretching our skills. So I wrote an article describing our challenge and giving suggestions for designing your own challenge, whether for your guild or your fiber buddies or just for yourself. You should check it out. The entire issue is packed with good stuff.

I've also been helping a new weaver understand her loom and refreshing her warping and weaving skills. What fun it's been! And she has an art degree and understands when I talk color theory or we get going on European artists--I know who she's talking about and which painting she's referencing. It's been so lovely teaching her.

Spinzilla Report: I'm closing in on 3,000 yards with two days left to spin. Can I make 5,000 yards? Go Team Darn Yarn Harmony!