Thursday, 31 May 2007

Perspiration and inspiration

Well, the new hand spun has been plied, skeined, washed and set. Here are the two new skeins alongside last week's to show that as hoped, there has been an improvement in the spinning technique. A detail shot of the newest skein is included below. There is a part of me that loves the rustic quality of the first skein with all its lumps and bumps but the second two show a lot more control. While I was spinning it I was convinced that I couldn't possibly spin any finer but now it's plied I have only moved from heavy aran to mostly double knit. I'm going to have to challenge myself further. What I need is inspiration....

And lo and behold, inspiration arrived on the doorstep this very morning. I have been on a waiting list for the legendary Crown Mountain Farms hand spun Sock Hop yarn for the best part of six months. A couple of weeks ago they announced to us patient waiters that their spinners had been spinning away for months and the fruits of their labours would be going onto their website on Saturday at 5 pm precisely. It's a good job I was home for the launch as within two hours the yarn was gone. All those months and months of spinning and it was disappearing the moment it was put up. And here it all is... from left to right, Midnight Hour, I Got You Babe and Heatwave. I am completely in awe of it - one day I will be able to create yarn like this!

Close up of I got you Babe

Sunday, 27 May 2007

A week is a long time in spinning

Readers may recall how excited I was with the first yarn that I spun on the wheel? Whilst I was pretty sure that it was full of inconsistencies and errors - I was just amazed that I could create something long and woolly!
The plied yarn that I made reminded me that while I was spinning it I couldn't conceive of spinning any thinner and that at some point I was surely spinning sock weight but the reality was that we were talking heavy aran at the most generous definition. Therefore, it couldn't be impossible to get the fibre to co-operate and spin up a bit thinner without breaking. And look what I did! More BFL but this bobbin looks nothing like the yarn I produced last weekend - it is so much more smooth and even and thin.
The other thing that I am starting to discover is that neither the fibre nor the wheel have a life of their own - they are entirely under the control of me and the laws of physics! Why is it that when I first tackle any new skill I feel as if the inanimate object is in fact in charge? Surprise, if I can't draft quick enough - I can slow down with the treadling. If I have to wait for the twist to travel up, guess what? I can treadle a bit faster!
Another thing I have discovered is that it is taking me much longer to spin up 100g than it did last weekend which is stating the obvious as last weekend the wheel was just inhaling the stuff - now I am training it to have far better manners! Last week I was so furiously focused on just getting the stuff on the bobbin and hanging on for grim death. This time, for one or two precious moments, I can look up and see what is happening around me,what the yarn is looking like, how even the twist is, enjoy the rhythm and start to relax. I have also stopped pushing the wheel across the floor with my furious treadling. My drafting could still do with a bit of work, my grip is a little less firm than it was although my thumbs and forefingers do still get a little bit sore and I have a habit of creating a big hairball in my right hand that I am sure shouldn't' be like this.
I am now dreaming of spinning colours. I am going to Woolfest in June so am trying to be really self disciplined and finish using my practice fibre before chasing lovely dyed roving but it is so hard... Can't wait for Woolfest!
Gotta go - the wheel is beckoning - I am hooked!

Friday, 25 May 2007

Seven random facts

It appears that I have been 'tagged' by Lixie to share seven random facts about myself. I think the secret is not to over think so off the top of my head...

  1. I have a GCSE in Modern Greek
  2. I had a letter published in an Australian national newspaper about the destruction of the Tarkine Forest in Tasmania
  3. I am quite scared of fish
  4. I love to listen to the shipping forecast on cold, stormy nights
  5. I cried when Joe Strummer and John Peel died
  6. Toupees make me giggle like a fool
  7. I can quote most of the dialogue of Brief Encounter

I pass this on to anyone who wishes to share.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Past, present and future

I have been a knitter for as long as I can remember. I don't carry around a lot of souvenirs of my childhood but this battered little chap is particularly precious even to an unsentimental character like me. This is Tatty, my first and demonstrably most loved teddy. He is probably the same age as me, darned by my mum until there was nothing to darn the darning to. I was clearly a loyal child as I was resolute in accepting no substitute bear so in a final attempt to preserve his integrity he has been tucked into a fine pair of hand knitted trousers, certainly the earliest surviving example of my knitting - I must have been about 6 or 7 when I made them. Believe it or not, he also has on a pair of knitted underpants underneath - teddies don't go commando in a respectable English home!

Moving on to more contemporary matters I am proud to say that I have shown a degree of project loyalty and managed to finish L's socks. I am so fond of their brightness and randomness. Matching socks aren't for me! Close observers may notice they are displayed on man sized sock blockers - each with a big, manly moose carved into the top - they always make me smile.

Bringing ourserves completely up to date we encounter things present. These are my current mindless commuter socks in a particularly joyful shade of Apple Pie by Apple Laine. I love using this yarn with its mix of merino, silk and mohair. As mindless socks go, however, these are a bit of a departure for me - I have adapted the toe and heel from the Inside Out pattern from the Rockin Sock Club for a plain toe up version. I am enjoying it - the garter stitch heel and toe give the sock a primitive, rustic quality compared to the more tailored top down flap and gusset pattern that I generally favour.

And finally I think my future includes..... more socks! Here we have a modest but beautiful couple of additions to the Yarn Archive. Fleece Artist Sea Socks in Poppy. I haven't tried this before but it feels so soft and silky. The other one is Soft Touch Ultra by Sheldridge Farms in Cajun Spice. The photo doesn't do the yarn justice. It is a fabulously substantial heathered yarn with green and orange highlights.

There you have it , a journey through my life - in wool.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Today I will recount a brief overview of my spinning history (ie one whole week).

The bobbin at the top of the lazy kate is Shetland which I have been diligently working on for 15 minutes a night when I get home from work. An experienced spinner would be able to read this yarn like book containing an unfolding story of error and over correction. They would find patches that resemble barely twisted pencil roving to patches so thin and over twisted they may well disintegrate when removed from the bobbin. There are lumps and bumps and thick and thin bits but gradually the yarn reader would see that the thread was slowly resolving into something a little more controlled and confident. I am sure that the last few yards look nothing like the first.

Spurred on with confidence I decided that I was up to tackling something a little more interesting so I took two natural shades of Blue Faced Leicester with the plan of actually producing some usable yarn. I have to admit that those who say that Shetland is a very easy fibre to learn with are correct. In the first instance I did find the BFL a little more slippery and difficult to control. However, I started to get into a rhythm of sorts and after a while produced a couple of bobbins of singles that I was quite pleased with. I have noticed that I haven't yet managed to settle into a preferred drafting style and that sometimes I have the whole thing in such a vice like grip I have to tell myself to let go and be a bit more gently with the fibres but I suppose it is all a part of the learning process and relaxation will come with practice. Mind you, at the moment it isn't a bad workout...

Next came the plying. I am glad that I used the two shades of BFL as it has given me a good chance to see exactly what is going on when yarn is plied. I could see what happens when one ply is more over spun than the other, the impact of viable thickness and how to control the level of plying. It was starting to look like yarn!

Spinning has introduced me to so many arcane and tactile pieces of equipment, including the niddy noddy. Now, I'm not sure I actually managed to use it correctly so I would be grateful if anyone could point out better technique but it did serve its purpose because...

Voila! A proper grown up sized skein of hand spun yarn made entirely by the hands of yours truly! I was worried that it was going to feel a little overworked and harsh and not like BFL at all but it has relaxed into the familiar silky softness and lustre that we all love about it.

It may be uneven and idiosyncratic but I love it.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

I can't say much about this piece of knitting right now as it is planned as a gift but suffice to say I am enjoying the texture as it develops. The yarn is Lang Fiorina, a 100% cotton yarn that has been cooling its heels in my stash for a few years, knit on a 2.5mm circular - you know how I love those itty bitty needles!

A couple of years ago I discovered Elann who have far too many amazing deals on discontinued or end of line yarn. I have to admit I got a little carried away and can attribute a large proportion of my stash to it, including a whole box of Fiorina...

I have also noticed that I am going through a bit of a startitis patch having presented a new work in progress here every other day without the same number of finished objects! Having thought about it I realise that I do go through phases. I will often find myself buzzing with ideas for a while and getting started on a whole lot of things then at other times I just want to snuggle down with an unchallenging work in progress where the pattern is well established and I don't have to think too hard about them. I will often find that I will finish several things in a flurry too.

The major lesson that I have learned is that there is no reason to get stressed about it and think that I should be disciplined and complete one thing at a time from start to finish. That might suit some but that's not the way I enjoy my craft and surely that's the whole point!

Have a look at this ribbon! I had forgotten I had it until I was wrapping a present for a knitting friend and thought it would make her smile. Close observers will notice that the instructions do not stand up to scrutiny - you wouldn't learn much in the way of technique from this ribbon. The ribbon comes from Laura Foster Nicholson who makes some gorgeous quirky ribbons with motifs including vegetables, cupcakes and labyrinths to name but a few.

Off for my daily spinning practice - still got new mistakes to discover!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

This seems to be going the rounds so I thought I'd have a go myself. I think it's a good checklist of techniques and a reminder of things that would be good to try. Borrowed mine from Lixie.

Edit the list, bold for stuff you’ve done, italics for stuff you plan to do one day, and normal for stuff you’re not planning on doing.

Garter stitch
Knitting with metal wire
Stockinette stitch
Socks: top-down
Socks: toe-up
Knitting with camel yarn
Mittens: Cuff-up
Mittens: Tip-down
HatKnitting with silk
Moebius band knitting
Participating in a KAL
Drop stitch patterns
Knitting with recycled/secondhand yarn
Slip stitch patterns
Knitting with banana fiber yarn
Domino knitting (modular knitting)
Twisted stitch pattern
Knitting with bamboo yarn
Two end knitting
Charity knitting
Knitting with soy yarn
Toy/doll clothing
Knitting with circular needles
Knitting with your own handspun yarn
Graffiti knitting (knitting items on, or to be left on the street)
Continental knitting
Designing knitted garments
Cable stitch patterns (incl. Aran)
Lace patterns
Publishing a knitting book
Teaching a child to knit
American/English knitting (as opposed to continental)
Knitting to make money
Button holes
Knitting with alpaca
Fair Isle knitting
Norwegian knitting
Dying with plant colors
Knitting items for a wedding
Household items (dishcloths, washcloths, tea cozies…)
Knitting socks (or other small tubular items) on two circulars
Olympic knitting
Knitting with someone else’s handspun yarn
Knitting with DPNs
Holiday related knitting
Teaching a male how to knit
Knitting for a living
Knitting with cotton
Knitting smocking
Dying yarn
Knitting art
Knitting with wool
Textured knitting
Kitchener BO
Knitting with beads
Long Tail CO
Knitting and purling backwards
Machine knitting
Knitting with self-patterning/self-striping/variegating yarn
Stuffed toys
Baby items
Knitting with cashmere
Knitting with synthetic yarn
Writing a pattern
Knitting with linen
Knitting for preemies
Tubular CO
Freeform knitting
Short rows
Cuffs/fingerless mitts/arm warmers
Knitting a pattern from an online knitting magazine
RugKnitting on a loom
Thrummed knitting
Knitting a gift
Knitting for pets
Knitting with dog/cat hair
Hair accessories
Knitting in public

Monday, 14 May 2007

Thermal from Knitty is moving on slowly but surely. I accept that its going to be a long knit but if I do a little every day it will get there. I have checked the tension and its fine but because its so stretchy it looks alarmingly small. It does feel beautiful though. I am using Austermann Barkarole, a rather luxurious blend of merino, silk and cashmere, sadly discontinued a few years ago but not before I managed to snaffle a few balls at a fraction of the usual price! I have always preferred knitting with fine rather than bulky yarns which is why I have to have my fair share of instant gratification projects. Cue the socks....

I always like to have an absolutely plain and mindless pair of socks on the go, even if the colour of these is far from plain. I have made so many pairs that I have memorised the pattern which makes it an utterly stress free knit for he journey to and from work. These are man sized socks in Trekking XXL for my friend L in Australia. I know few people in the world less troubled by vanity than L so it is a source of much pleasure and amusement that he loves my hand knit socks, the more brightly coloured the better and needs little encouragement to whip off his shoes and show off the socks. I always keep a practical supply of machine washable self striping yarn on hand with him in mind.

And finally, we have a small amount of rather thick but reasonably consistent Shetland singles. It was a bit of a trial getting the brake tension correct -it either sat there spinning away with the yarn hanging out of the orifice like a dog's tongue or disappeared like a frightened snake. I discovered that it only takes a small adjustment to make a significant difference. Better get off and practice a bit more!

It was a little tricky at times but here it is, my wheel, all ready to go. I am terribly pleased with myself, wielding screw driver, allen key and hammer like a professional!

All was going way too well until I came to attach the flyer then realised that there were no holes to screw it onto. That was because I had attached the side bars upside down! It's not easy to partially dismantle the thing with the wheel in place but there was no way I was going to get the crank shaft out again so there was a lot of propping and swearing going on. I don't know who invented barrel nuts but the aren't for the faint hearted or cack handed. But they are no match for the determined would be spinner!

The wheel itself is an Ashford Traditional, single treadle with scotch tension which I think is the best thing for me to develop a solid skill base on. I have a few bags of Shetland roving to practice with so I'll be trying to spend a short time with it every day.

And finally, in case anyone thought I had abandoned knitting for my new passion here are my finished Rockin Sock Club February socks. They were an enjoyable knit and fit pretty well. They are thicker than my usual socks so I think will be good for inside hiking boots for when a bit more padding and support is required. They have also persuaded me that there may well be more toe up socks in my life.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

All is chaos and excitement here at Yarn Archive HQ - the wheel has arrived! How lovely it looked - all contained in its box. Can't wait to start spinning. However, this craft is also an education in patience. I chose to buy an unwaxed/finished one as I wanted to do it myself, partly based on economy, partly on wanting to select the finish myself and partly as I thought it would help me get an understanding of the pieces prior to putting it all together. I braved the crowds of hairy forearmed Do-It-Yourselfers in B & Q and came away with a simple paint on wax for beech ( for that is what my wheel is made from).

In a matter of minutes the contents of the box had become this:

The helpful assistant advised that it would be much easier to apply the wax with a rag rather than a brush so yes, that is elderly underwear put to a better use in the corner of the photo...

Speaking of helpful assistants, of course, no delicate, messy operation is complete without the close supervision of one of my neighbour's cats. Against all odds, and to the accompaniment of the Eurovision Song Contest (Oh come on - it's so bad it's good!) I worked my way gently through the pieces. Here are the bobbins...

...and the flyer...
I am really glad I chose to do the finishing myself as it was lovely to get to know each piece and watch the patterning and graining appear as I went along. The pieces are now dry and buffed and I'm starting to assemble it. I'm taking it slowly but so far so good.

More later...

Friday, 11 May 2007

No photos today. Instead, in the interests of giving a picture of my full knitting world I offer some sobering statistics. I recently decided to undertake an inventory of my yarn (the things a long dark winter will drive a girl to). It has taken me several months to come to terms with the size and scope of what is affectionately known to some of my friends as the National Yarn Archive. I don't think they are referring entirely to my enthusiasm for squirrelling discontinued yarns. I love my inventory - It's fair to say that in life I'm under rather than over organised so to be able to know whether I have enough yarn for a project without rummaging through bags and boxes is a real pleasure. I was also reunited with some lovely yarn that I had temporarily forgotten I had.

Of course now I have so many projects swirling around in my head that I am positively dizzy - but in a good way. I don't quite feel ready to reveal my Work in Progress (or as I prefer to call it, extended swatch) list yet.

My simple spreadsheet reveals the following:

Weight of collection in kg - 198
Equivalent expressed as 50g balls - 3962
How long the stash will last if I dispose of it (by knitting or other means) at a rate of 1 ball a day - 9 years, 6 months and 20 days
How many pairs of socks worth of sock yarn I have in hand - 125

This year I have resolved to:

At the very least stabilise the volume by having as much leave as enter the stash - can't let it stagnate
Get it properly organised in plastic bins
Hold a charity destash!

But above all I will enjoy it!

Anyone else like to share their statistics? Lixie is offering a handy Stashtimator here for anyone who would like to get a grip - we feel so much better for it...

Other breaking news - I have finished the orange cotton t shirt and worn it - twice - pictures when I can work out how to get a decent photograph of it now the rains have returned and all is dark at Yarn Archive HQ.

I have also embarked on this which with 4ply wool and 3mm needles for a girl built like me is a whole lot of knitting!

And finally, thank you to everyone for their kind comments about my handspun. I am full of anticipation and enthusiasm as I am picking up my spinning wheel tomorrow!!!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

This is part two of the saga of my hand spun. I decided that there was no point in letting it sit there and that perhaps there was enough of it to be useful. I remembered that the next step was to wash it in really hot water then hang it up with a weight on to set the twist. My hand spun spent the night on a hook with a bottle of leave in conditioner hanging from it - a girl has to improvise after all! It became a lot softer, although being a Jacob/ Texel cross it was never going to be suitable for baby clothes! The lighter colours were also much more pronounced. I decided that there might be at least sufficient for an embellishment so I have made this hat...

I used one of Anne Budd's hat recipes from the Knitters Handy Book of Patterns and a ball of undyed Blue Faced Leicester for the body of the hat. BFL is so beautifully lustrous and silky and this shade matched perfectly with the pale highlights in the hand spun. I picked up every other stitch on the brim and knitted on the hand spun border in garter stitch. I will be the first to admit that there are some lumpy, over spun sections but I am pleased with the overall effect. The most exciting thing for me is that last week it was an unprocessed fleece and now its a piece of wearable clothing.

In fact I found the whole experience so magical that there might just be a wheel making its way to my house...

Friday, 4 May 2007

It's stash flash all the way today - perhaps I should subtitle this blog 'Jane's Probably Been Shopping. First up we have the latest offering from the Rockin Sock Club. Now I know there is no chance of this entry being labelled a spoiler as I am undoubtedly the last person on the planet to receive her yarn but as I haven't finished last month's socks yet I can't really complain, I had a good preview of it last night anyway when I visited the Liberty Knitting Group specifically for a meet up with the London Chapter of the RSC - four of us in all so hello to you all, especially Missmalice who got us all together. It was also lovely to see so many familiar faces, Sue from Skipnorth and Jenny, one of the founder members of North London Ktog to name but a few. Knitting really does turn London into a village.

I have had a very sociable week. On Wednesday I met up with the Ktogs as I try to do as much as possible. There is something about spending time with a diverse group of women who have been drawn together through a shared interest but over time have become a real community. We share the ups and downs of our lives, laugh, comfort each other, eat cake, laugh some more, maybe even knit a bit. We may not all be there every week but it has become a place where we can always drop in and pick up where we left off.

Back t the shopping confessional. I have been hearing loads of good things about Japanese knitting patterns and have been roundly assured that as the patterns are all charted and symbol translations are available on the net they are an essential in any serious knitters library. I was hugely pleased by my ability to work my way through Amazon Japan without accidentally purchasing a logbook for a Nissan and even more impressed that it took them 2 days to get them to the DHL depot in Canning Town. I will not go into detail about the trouble I had negotiating their release from the depot but it did include sitting down on the sofa in reception, getting my knitting out and refusing to leave until my books were 'taken off the van'. I was not the only person being given the runaround by probably the surliest, foulest mouthed receptionist I have ever encountered. As I left, a harassed man with seven parcels to extract said 'Can I borrow your knitting - I may be here some time...'

I have to say the hassle was worth it - the projects are beautiful - now all I need is a crash course in Japanese knitting symbols!

Finally, I have some unashamed yarn glamour shots. This has to be one of my favourite sock yarns - Apple Pie by Apple Laine. With a recipe that adds silk and mohair to the wool it really is a tactile treat. I'm off to rearrange my little Apple Pie tower...

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

As you can see I am loving my Rockin Sock Club socks. This is the progress I have made since Saturday which is probably more to do with my failure to get to bed at a reasonable time than any efficiency of the knitting variety. It would be nice to get them done reasonably quickly as I am on borrowed time because my April yarn hasn't appeared yet. I may pop down to the post office on my way to work tomorrow morning and menace them into conducting a fingertip search of their premises.

One of the good things about coming late to the game as far as the current sock is concerned is that I can take advantage of all the tips and tricks learnt the hard way by other knitters. I have certainly done a lot of needle changes. The toe was started on 2.25 mm needles, changing to 2mm to keep the foot ribbing snug, back to 2.25mm for the heel flap then up to 2.5 mm for the cuff as the corking great 11 stitch cable rather tightens things up. I have tried them on regularly to make sure that they fit and so far so good. I'm now deliberating over what sort of cast off will match the stretch best.

One of the things I have been reflecting on as I read about all the adjustments that people have been making to their knitting to accommodate the pattern is that as I start on writing up my sock designs, any pattern I write needs to be clear enough to help people avoid these sorts of pitfalls. I would be disappointed if I was the cause of too much ripping and swearing!

Just to prove to myself and others that I am a) not entirely devoted to sock knitting and b) capable of making progress on things that I start, here are almost two sleeves for my Orange Rose T shirt. The body is complete. There is so little left to do that there is every reason for me to plan on wearing it next week. There. I said it. In public.