Thursday, March 5, 2015

Getting ready for Sweden and Hats! Hats! Hats!

I'll be teaching two workshops in Sweden this spring--one on different drafting techniques and one breeds tasting. I've been researching and writing the handouts off-and-on for a month! For the breeds tasting, I'm taking six different breeds, 2 oz. samples of each, for the students to play with. I have spent a good part of today packaging up the six breeds, labeling them, printing out the handouts, tucking in some labels and ribbon for identifying each spun sample--and stuffing all that in big plastic Ziploc bags so each student has a nice packet. For the drafting class I need to prepare rolags, batts and clouds and grab some combed top for each student. But that will happen another day. Then there's the cards, combs and flick carders to pack. Oh! and the chocolate chip cookies I'm taking for fika (coffee break). Hopefully, my host and hostess won't get into the cookies before class (you know you want to!). There has been a lot of other prep work on the part of my hostess and myself, little things like deciding which day and time is best for classes and arranging lunch and registration details. It's been a while since I've done workshops and it has slipped my mind how much prep work they require, but it reminds me to appreciate all those teachers who took the time to prepare materials and themselves for a class, ship equipment for students to use, provide the best of supplies for us to use, and take care of the myriad little things. Thank you!

In my spare time--HaHa!--I've been raiding my handspun stash and knitting hats while I binge-watch British TV series. As an aside, watching these shows is awful if you're a knitter because I want All. The. Sweaters!

These are the wool/silk/alpaca/whatever beanies:

Wool pillbox hats:

And three hats that can be worn as slouchy hats or turn up the brim and wear as a tossle cap:

There's still a TON of handspun yarn in the studio, so I'm sure more hats are in my future as long as the British costume dramas continue. Season 5 of Downton Abbey just arrived in my mailbox  <squee>.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Obsessed with scarves!

This winter I seem to be obsessed with weaving scarves on my rigid heddle loom. Probably because I'm just a bit stumped on a certain segment of assembling my new 8H loom. Or maybe I just need some instant gratification. Whatever it is, I've been cranking them out in between travel and writing and designing.

The first was from a gradient batt I had lying around. I just wanted to see what it would look like woven up.

Then I got into the bags of striped rolags I'd made on my blending board. There was enough of some colors to do two scarves, so I spun up enough matching colors blended with Angelina glitter to weave two scarves--same but different.

Then there was this really nice dyed top from Blue Moon Fiber's Rockin' Whorl Club, a nice Polwarth that only Tina can work such magic on. While winding the warp, I glanced into a corner of my studio and spotted a small pile of mohair knitting yarn (lots of corners, lots of little piles of things). One of them was a perfect match to the warp yarn. I had enough of the warp left to weave one scarf, so sat down and spun a matching mulberry for the second scarf.

This has been such a fun adventure. I've got a few more scarves in the works, one with beads! I can't wait to see how that one works up. Now if I could just find the time to do something creative with those fringes......

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blending Fibers With a Drumcarder, Part 3 of 3

Last time I talked about the process of making a fiber 'sandwich' on your drumcarder, as published in Yarnmaker magazine back in 2012. This week we discuss a few odds and ends. And I apologize for the lack of pictures; there's a whole disc full of them and at least four that accompanied this section. However, the disc seems to be corrupt and I can't open anything including the photos from the first two sections. :(
If you are working with large amounts that need to be blended uniformly, you’ll need a bit more space, more time and a way to keep helpful pets out of the carding area (yes, I have a curious cat). Weigh, divide and prepare all your fibers. At this point, you should know how many total batts you’ll be making based on the total weight of your fiber and the amount your carder will hold. Remember that number. Let’s say I need to make 16 batts, each weighing 28 grams. Once I’ve made the first layered batt, I divide it into 16 strips and each strip is the beginning of a new pile. The second layered batt is also pulled into 16 strips and added to the 16 piles. Continue in this manner until you have 16 piles, each with a strip of fiber from the 16 layered batts. If there were any discrepancies in the amount of fiber in the layered batts (angelina and the fine exotic fibers are difficult to weigh because they are feather-light), this process should distribute the fibers more evenly. You now attenuate and recard the 16 piles into 16 new batts. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to achieve the blend you want.

Finally, before you run off to play with your new fiber, CLEAN YOUR DRUMCARDER. Trust me, if you don’t do it now you WILL forget. And the next time you use it, those leftover fibers on the drums will adhere to your next batt. They will be unsightly, annoying and frustrating--if not impossible--to remove from the new batt. Follow the recommendations of your drumcarder manufacturer for cleaning. Mine came with a flicker that I use to clean the large drum; my small drum rarely needs a cleaning. Simply hold the flicker against the drum with the wires of the card cloth in the same direction and rotate the drum slowly. Repeat across the entire surface until the drum is clean. In a pinch I’ve also used a single hand card or a stiff scrub brush to clean the drum(s).

Your explorations in blending will become something to share with your spinning friends. You could form a study group within your guild to see what blends the members will come up with and how each person will spin and use the same blend. Spinning should always be fun, and exploring different fibers and blends is an endless journey.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blending fibers with a drumcarder, Part 2 of 3

Last time I talked about choosing your fiber and preparing it for the carding process, as published in Yarnmaker magazine back in 2012. This week we start the actual process.

Finally, Step Three is the carding process. If you want to repeat your fiber blend with consistency, you will need to weigh out the fibers for each batt and make note of the amounts used. Postal scales work well for this and can be purchased at reasonable prices. I like to work in sets of four or eight batts and divide the fiber into four or eight piles after weighing. Once weighed (or not weighed if you’re feeling free-spriited!), you should prepare the fiber for carding by attenuating, fluffing or picking as dictated by whether you have top, clouds or roving, or clean dry fleece. You should have more of one fiber than the others—this is your base fiber. We’ll be making a fiber “sandwich”, so we need top, bottom and dividing layers of base fiber. Working with one batts-worth at a time, divide the base fiber into one more section of base fiber than you have blending fiber. In other words, when I blend Merino/angelina/silk noil, I divide the Merino into thirds because the angelina and silk noil are my blending fibers and the Merino is my base.

28 g of Merino top split into 3 strips, Firestar and silk noil ready for the carder.

Once everything is weighed, prepared and divided, you can start building your batt. In my Merino/angelina/silk noil example, I start with one third of the Merino, feeding it slowly and evenly into the drumcarder, making sure it feeds evenly on the drum covering it from edge to edge.

Feeding the first Merino top into the drumcarder

Leave about 1.25 cm of the drum edge clear, otherwise fibers will tend to wrap around the axle of the large drum. Next, I feed in the attenuated Firestar or fluffed-up angelina so that it’s also spread evenly on the drum.

Adding the Firestar

This is followed by another third of Merino,

Carding the second layer of Merino top

 ...the fluffed-up silk noil,

Adding silk noil

 ...and the final third of Merino.

Carding the final layer of Merino top

 You now have a batt with layers of fiber, which can be spun as-is for a textured effect or recarded for a more blended, smoother batt and yarn.
To recard, remove the batt from your carder and split lengthwise into appropriate strips.

Splitting the batt

 My carder only holds about 48 grams (1.7 oz.) of fiber, so I split into fourths. If your batts are larger, you’ll need to divide into more strips. Each strip should be easy to handle and easy to attenuate. Once divided, attenuate each strip

Attenuating the four strips from the split batt

and feed evenly into your drumcarder as before. You can repeat this stripping and recarding as many times as necessary to achieve the blend you like.
You can see the blobs of silk noil in this strip.

Re-carding the batt onto the large drum

Yes, I have a howling wolf on my studio wall!
I usually find that two recardings works well on my Strauch Finest carder, but drumcarders differ and you need to observe how yours handles each blend.
Next time, I'll talk about how to deal with large quantities of fiber that needs to be evenly blended throughout several batts.

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.....