Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Slump?

I'm not sure why it is, but I seem to have hit a knitting slump. I just don't have much of an urge to knit anymore -- mostly because all I want to do is spin! I have been diligently working on the projects that have deadlines, such as the handspun socks, which are finished and blocked and ready to be handed over to the recipient (that handover just has to be scheduled). I've also finished my two squares for the charity blanket.

These are both adaptations of washcloth patterns I found on Ravelry, and I managed to get both out of less than one skein of Cotton Supreme (with leftovers, even). These will be shipped out to the U.S. coordinator on Saturday.

I haven't touched my Essential Cardigan sleeves in about a week, though I'm determined to pull them out at knit night tomorrow. I think my lack of desire to work on them might have something to do with the fact that we're in the middle of a 90+ degree heat wave -- even a lightweight sweater is completely useless in this heat! As I'm in no rush to wear it, I think it's probably okay if I take a little break, at least until it's back in the 80s.

It really has been all about the spinning lately. I'm nearly done spinning the singles from the most recent All Spun Up spinalong fiber (merino/silk -- luscious!), which will be chain plied when they're done, and I've been working on a long-dormant spindling project. And today, while I was home with Rainbow (daycare was closed in preparation for summer camp, so I took a day off), this arrived:

This is the June shipment from Crown Mountain Farms, Perendale (4 oz.) in a colorway called the Fifth Element. Yes, it really is that bright in real life! Should make for an interesting spin.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Brief Hibernation

I worked on my Essential Cardigan sleeves over the weekend and got about halfway through the increase section, but I've but them aside for the time being to work on some charity knitting.

If you're on Ravelry and hang out in the Remrants board/group, then you know the sad story of a Raveler who recently lost her husband to cancer. They're both young and they'd been married only a short time -- a sad story all around. A number of Ravelers wanted to do something special for her, so there are several projects going to shower her with knitted (and crocheted) love. I'm knitting up a couple of blanket squares. The organizers asked that all yarn to be used for the squares be washable, so I'm using some Cotton Supreme leftover from the most recent Shedir (I'd bought two skeins to be on the safe side but used only part of one). The theme of the squares is to be "love," so I'm going with the obvious and using a heart motif. This particular square is based on a dishcloth pattern I found through Ravelry.


I'm planning a different heart pattern for the second square, which I hope to have finished up by the end of the weekend. I generally don't like knitting squares -- too much like swatching! -- but I'm finding this little project to be a good break from the monotony of my sweater sleeves.

Otherwise, I'm still working on the pair of handspun socks and have just a few more inches of foot to knit on the second sock before I can start the toe.

I've also been spinning a fair amount, because my LYS's Summer of Socks and Lace contest officially kicked off earlier this week and this year there's a spinning component. Specifically, the winner of the spinning competition will be the person who spins the most lace and sock yarn by weight, and yarns spun from fiber purchased at the shop count for weight and a half. I made a few acquisitions when I was there a couple of weeks ago and put them away so I wouldn't be tempted, but now it's time to get them out!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Clapping with One Hand

No, the title of this post doesn't have anything to do with philosophy or meditating or anything like that. It's the colorway of my most recent spin, 4 ounces of Border Leicester from Crown Mountain Farms that made up the April shipment of the 2011 fiber club.

This breed, like so many other shipments, was new to me. Border Leicester is a long wool, so more wavy than crimpy, and this particular batch had a beautiful luster to it. I didn't want to spin it too thin because I worried it would turn out wiry, so I opted for a quick-and-dirty two ply. It turned out just as I wanted.

The finished yarn is about a worsted weight and roughly 140 yards. It is silky and lustrous, though not quite next-to-the-skin soft. I think this would make a lovely hat or pair of mittens, perhaps lined with something super soft. It was also great for some immediate gratification spinning after spinning and plying all that laceweight -- I spun the singles over the course of about a week and plied the whole finished skein in a couple of hours last Sunday afternoon.

I enjoyed working with this fiber, though I'm not sure it's something I would have chosen on my own. It makes me think that I might be able to tackle last year's Lincoln!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ennui?

I feel like I am in a bit of a rut with my knitting these days. I've been doing a fair amount of designing lately, which is exciting, except that it means knitting the same thing several times and not being able to show it to you if I want to try to publish it -- in short, it's good for my creative side but bad for the blog. The only thing I've really been working on that I can share with you is my Essential Cardigan, and that's just strips of stockinette -- again, not so great for the blog. I finished the second front on Tuesday evening and cast on for the sleeves immediately after. I'm working them both at once to avoid the horrible feeling that comes with finishing one sleeve only to realize you have to knit another. Plus, this way I know that they'll match (or at least they will in theory).

Last night, despite the fact that a certain toddler had woken me up at 3:45 a.m. and kept me from getting enough sleep, I did manage to get to Hurricane Knitting, where I slogged through the ribbed cuff (the pattern is 1x1 ribbing on the wrong side and knit on the right side; I have come to realize that there are few things in the world I dislike knitting as much as 1x1 ribbing because it takes so friggin' long). I have a few more rows to work before I start increasing, but at least now I'm working in plain stockinette on the larger needles, so I don't have to pay attention to much of anything.


I was thinking the other night that this sweater seems to be knitting up fairly quickly given that it's in a lighter weight of yarn than most of the sweaters I've knit, but then I remembered that a pretty fair portion of it is in the ribbed collar/button band combo thing, and that involves the dreaded stitch pattern with the 1x1 rib. I know this sweater is going to be really comfy and versatile when it's done, though, so I just need to power through.

I've also been working on some socks with this handspun -- just plain socks in stockinette, in order to let the yarn be the star -- so you can see why I've been experiencing a bit of knitting ennui lately. Gray yarn just isn't all that inspiring, even if it does go with everything.

With all this gray stockinette, I am craving a little color and variety of stitch pattern, so I may cast on soon for Wendy Johnson's Summer Mystery Shawlette. I'm thinking that perhaps a skein of my handspun might work nicely for this. Time to dig through the stash!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spinning Outside My Comfort Zone

My latest handspun yarn was all about spinning that is not my usual. This Coopworth came as the March shipment from the Crown Mountain Farms fiber club; the colorway is called Hittite Kingdom. The fiber felt very springy in the hank, so I decided to try to spin it as a thicker two ply, thinking it would make some great mittens.

In the process of spinning it, I found that it was really difficult to spin a consistent single, mostly due to a lot of nepps. Because I was trying very hard not to spin my default yarn, I left most of these nepps in, figuring that they would lead to a more textured yarn. And that is just what I got.

The finished yarn is probably around a heavy worsted weight and approximately 166 yards. It's a little underplied for my taste, but I think that's due to the fact that this was the first yarn I plied on my miniSpinner and I was clearly still getting the hang of it. I will say that the skein was balanced when I took it off the niddy noddy, so my taste in tight twist doesn't necessarily mean that there's not enough.

All in all, I'd call this yarn satisfactory. I didn't hate spinning this fiber, but I didn't love it either. I'm a bit noncommittal about the colorway, too, though it is neutral enough that whatever I make with it, be it mittens or something else, should go with lots of things.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

MDSW: The Recap

What a weekend! As a MDSW virgin, I found there to be a lot to take in at this festival, but all in all I had a great time. The weather was perfect (mostly sunny and in the low 70s), the company was fab, and the shopping was spectacular!

I drove down on Friday afternoon with my friend Yvonne, who was kind enough to let me not only mooch a ride from her but stay with her and her friend Kim as well. We settled in to our hotel room, did a bit of knitting and chatting, and then headed out for a delicious crab cake dinner at G & M Restaurant (when in Maryland, one must eat crab cakes!).

The next morning, we were up bright and early (I actually woke up on my own at the time I normally get up during the week!), had a quick breakfast at the hotel, and were at the fairgrounds by 8 a.m. Though the festival technically didn't open until 9, they were letting people onto the grounds by then. Some vendors were already open, though we headed straight toward Jennie the Potter's booth because Yvonne had sleuthed out that she had a limited number of MDSW mugs featuring a crab in addition to the traditional sheep. Her booth wasn't opening until 8:30, so we stood and waited while we chatted with the folks who were helping her to set up. It took me a few minutes before I realized that one of the helpers we were talking to was Amy Singer -- yes, that Amy Singer. (Yvonne promptly made fun of me for being star struck at this point.)

Our mugs in tow, we headed next to the main barn, where Yvonne and Kim went to see the Miss Babs booth and I went in search of spinning things. By 10 a.m., I had found pretty much everything I'd come to the festival in search of, though I did spend the rest of the day looking around and picked up a couple bundles of fiber. Want to see my haul?

The main thing I wanted to find at the festival was a lazy kate for my miniSpinner. I had heard from other mS spinners on Ravelry that the Nancy's Knit Knacks Katie-a-Go-Go would hold the WooLee Winder bobbins, so I was in search of one. I found one at the Mannings' booth, where I got to watch Henry Clemes of Clemes & Clemes spin on one of their wheels while waiting in a very slow-moving line.

I was also potentially interested in buying a spindle or two at the festival, and one I was particularly interested in looking for was a Jenkins Turkish spindle. I found this beautiful one at the Carolina Homespun booth (very fitting, as that's who sold me my Lendrum three years ago).

Isn't it gorgeous? It's Bloodwood and 0.95 oz. and positively tiny compared to the spindle I learned on. The fiber on it is some cormo I picked up later in the afternoon at the American Cormo Sheep Association booth. I am just enchanted by how the cop of spun singles is wound onto this type of spindle.

I should have been satisfied with my one beautiful spindle, but I was shopping with Colleen, a new spinner, at that point, and we both went a little crazy when we saw the Bosworth booth. I ended up buying this 1 oz. Redheart Midi (I started spinning on it that evening with some Gale's Art corriedale blend).

Now, I was not really a spindle spinner before this, but in using these two new spindles, I discovered that buying good tools really does make the process easier. I can now say that I am hooked!

We left the festival for the day a little before 3 on Saturday because we all wanted to sit and relax for a bit. I ended up going out to dinner with some family friends Saturday night while the rest of the crew went to a Thai restaurant they'd found and loved last year, but we all met up in the hotel room later to knit and chat.

We were up again fairly early on Sunday morning, but as we had to pack up the cars with all our stuff and check out of the hotel before we left, we didn't get quite as early a start as we did the day before. It ended up not mattering much, as we still got a really good parking spot and all of us had already done most of our shopping. We headed to the Fold's booth, now that the crazy line from Saturday was gone, and I made my last acquisition of the trip -- a tiny 1 oz. bundle of Tussah silk from Blue Moon Fiber Arts in the colorway Pepe le Plume.


Okay, that's not true -- technically, there was one more acquisition, but I don't have anything to show you. Why, you ask? Well, here it is: I bought a fleece. Yes, I caved and bought a fleece. My friend Jenn, who is new-ish to the Hurricane Knitters and who knows about fleeces because she spins and also used to have sheep, was volunteering at the fleece sale and enabled me helped me to select a good fleece. I picked up a lovely cream-colored Romney fleece that was marked 4 lbs. but actually weighed in at 5 lbs. when I took it to the processors. It was a good price, in my estimation ($32 total, which translates to about 40 cents an ounce), and it's now in the hands of Ozark Carding Mill, where it will be washed and carded into roving and then delivered to my door in roughly 12 weeks.

Yvonne and I got on the road, this time with Steven in the back seat, at about noon, and she dropped me off at home at about 4:30. It was a beautiful day for a drive, and I even managed to finish the back of my Essential Cardigan on the way.

So, all in all, I'd say it was a very successful weekend. My wallet came home a bit lighter, but I'm very satisfied with my purchases and am not suffering from any buyer's remorse. I really enjoyed the festival and the company, and I know now that this is going to be an annual event as long as I can swing it.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Completely Enchanted

On Thursday night, as I was wrapping up things and getting ready to head to MDSW, one of the things on my list was to skein up the finished yarn from the latest All Spun Up spinalong. I believe the last time you saw it, the singles were halfway done.

The name of this colorway is "Enchanted," which perfectly described how I felt about this fiber. Shades of blue and green, my two favorite colors, on a luscious blend of 50% fine alpaca, 30% merino, and 20% silk -- what's not to love? I knew I wanted it to be a two-ply laceweight, and the singles were definitely the finest I've ever spun. I used my miniSpinner for the first time (other than the bit of practice I did with the sample fiber that was included with it when it first arrived) to do the plying, because I knew it was going to take a long time. Even with the electric spinner, it still took me about a week of plying sessions to get it all done.

When I finished skeining it up, I realized why: My 4.125 oz. of fiber yielded more than 1,000 yards of yarn that is roughly 36 wpi. And I love it.

Now the challenge will be to find the ultimate pattern for this yarn! Suggestions are welcome.

Coming up soon: a recap of MDSW!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Fin.

I feel as if I've reached a key milestone in my "career" as a knitter and spinner: I can now officially say that I have knit my first sweater from my own handspun.

You may recall that at the beginning of this year, I set out to spin up two pounds of some mystery wool I had inherited from a friend into enough yarn for a sweater. I knew that this sweater project was ambitious and so made it one of my spinning goals for the entire year -- by year's end, I had hoped to have spun up enough yarn for the sweater and knit it. I didn't have any specific pattern in mind, seeing as I had no idea how much yardage I'd get from the fiber, but I was aiming for a three-ply worsted weight yarn, as that seemed to be a weight that would yield a lot of options in terms of patterns to choose from and one that would be fairly time-efficient to spin (I knew that if I spun my usual thickness of yarn, I'd be spinning most of the year and would need several more months to knit up the resulting fingering weight yarn into a sweater). Moreover, I wanted to spin something a little thicker because I intended to spin all the singles at once, without spinning anything else in between, in an effort to keep them as consistent as possible.

I began spinning on January 1 and did, on average, an ounce of singles a day. I had separated out my fiber into one-ounce bundles ahead of time to make this process a little easier. After I spun an ounce, I let the singles rest on the bobbin for a day or two and then wound them off onto my ball winder and transferred the resulting center-pull ball onto a toilet paper or paper towel tube for storage. I ended up spinning a total of 30 ounces, which left a little bit of fiber from the original two pounds that I saved in case I wanted or needed to spin up some thinner yarn for seaming my sweater.

The plying phase went much more quickly. I wanted to randomize my singles to some extent to combat any unevenness between them, but because I am also a little anal about things, I also wanted to have a system for how I plied them. I ended up plying the first, 11th, and 21st "bobbin" of singles and then the second, 12th, and 22nd and so on. I stopped plying when the first of the three storage bobbins I was plying from ran out and threw whatever was left on the other two into a bag for later. After I had my 10 skeins of plied yarn finished, I plied up an 11th skein with all the leftovers, adding in more each time one ran out. In the end, I had approximately 1,250 yards of three-ply worsted weight yarn, spun in about six weeks, with virtually nothing leftover.

Now came the hard part: picking the sweater pattern. The Ravelry database was enormously helpful once I had some specific parameters set regarding the yarn weight and yardage available, but looking through the patterns on Ravelry can sometimes be more confusing than helpful because there are so many great patterns from which to choose. Then I happened to be listening to Chrissy over at the Manic Purl Podcast and heard her talk about the sweater she was working on. When I looked it up on Ravelry, it seemed perfect: The yardage and yarn weight specifications fit, it had a nice mix of fabric textures, and it had a look I loved. Without much thought, I bought and downloaded the pattern. I swatched almost immediately, got gauge, and cast on on February 20.

And a little more than a week ago, I finished the last of the seaming and weaving in of ends and sewed on the buttons -- less than four months from fiber to sweater.


Pattern: Acer Cardigan (Ravelry link) by Amy Christoffers, 38" bust size
Yarn: my handspun, three-ply worsted weight from mystery wool
Needles: US 6 (4.0 mm) Knit Picks Options and US 5 (3.75 mm) KP Options for button bands and collar
Started/Completed: February 20/April 23
Mods: added more length to the body and picked up more stitches than specified for the button bands and collar

I really enjoyed knitting this pattern. The construction of the sweater was a bit new to me, which was part of the enjoyment. The body is knit back and forth in one piece from the bottom up to the armholes, at which point stitches are bound off for the underarms and the back and fronts are worked separately. The shaping at the shoulder is worked in short rows and the seams are joined using a three-needle bind off. The sleeves are knit in the round from the cuff up to the underarm, where again stitches are bound off, and then the sleeve cap is worked flat. Finally, the sleeves are set in to the armscye in the round (and frankly that's what scared me a bit at the end, because set-in sleeves always give me trouble and I'd never done one in the round, but they ended up being a lot easier than a typical set-in sleeve).

I did add some length -- I think about an inch -- to the body because when I'd knit to the specified length, it was hitting me in an unflattering spot and I knew any shirt I'd wear underneath it would likely hang out the bottom if I didn't make it a little longer. I also had to fudge the numbers for the button bands and collar a bit, as you may remember, though that's a pretty typical mod for me to make because I never can seem to pick up the same number of stitches as the designer. That didn't bother me too much, because I was more concerned with getting a button band that fit the sweater (and obviously I needed more stitches because the body of the sweater was longer). I believe that I ended up adding an additional buttonhole and button because of this added length as well. The buttons themselves came from my grab bag of buttons; they're a dark blue that I selected mainly because they were the right size for the buttonholes, I was able to find the right number of them in the bag, and I was too lazy to wait until I had a chance to go button shopping. I think they're actually a pretty good match for the sweater; I didn't want anything to draw attention away from the details in the sweater or the yarn, so in that respect, I think they're a success.

The pattern was, for the most part, a delight to knit. It's very clearly written, with easy-to-read charts, a schematic, and only a few pictures that show key parts of the design. I did run across a couple of areas of difficulty, though, that I think you should be aware of should you decide to knit it yourself. The first was a very obvious typo near the end of the directions for finishing the back where it's clear that several words were copied and pasted or typed twice; I sent the designer a message on Ravelry about this, and she said that she is going to be correcting the error in the PDF. It's not an error that will cause a mistake, though, so if you already have the pattern or buy it before the correction is made, you won't have a problem. Though I didn't really follow the numbers, as I mentioned above, I'm not convinced that all the numbers given for the collar are correct. It should be a multiple of four plus two (it's a 2x2 rib but the first two and last two stitches should be knit as seen from the right side). The smallest size and the largest three sizes all have numbers that are multiples of four only, so if you're knitting one of these sizes and are picking up the number of stitches specified, keep in mind that you will need to add in two more stitches somewhere. Finally, though the supplies list on the first page of the pattern does say that you'll need a size 5 needle "for edging," the directions do not specifically state that you should switch to the smaller needle when you get to the button bands. This is probably something I should have marked myself so I wouldn't forget, but I did forget and had to rip out my first attempt at a button band because of it, so it would have been nice to have had it stated explicitly in the directions.


Overall, I am very pleased with how my sweater tuned out. I did have a fair amount of yarn left over, including the rest of the skein I used for my swatch, so the yardage estimate seems to have been pretty accurate. It fits perfectly and is the right length, and obviously it was a fun knit. Unfortunately, it's also as itchy as all get out, even when worn with a long-sleeved shirt underneath (as it was on Saturday morning, when it was still a little chilly outside and I decided to give the sweater its first wearing). I still have no idea what breed of sheep the fiber came from, though my guess is that it's a dual-coated sheep based on the coarser guard hairs that both fell out as I was spinning and stick out and poke me when I wear the sweater. I even gave the sweater a good long soak in the tub with some hair conditioner when it was finally all sewn up and finished in the hope that it would soften some, but it's still extremely rough and rustic.

So, my big spinning project for the year is finished. While the sweater I ended up with isn't the softest, most luxurious garment ever, it is very warm and I can tell that it will wear well and will last for many years to come. The bigger sense of accomplishment, to me, comes from the fact that I was able to spin enough yarn to knit a sweater in a relatively short period of time and to the specifications I wanted. I know that I can do it now and that this handspun sweater will not be my last.