Saturday, January 31, 2009

A sneak preview

It's amazing the things folks will find enjoyable. Take me, for example. I've been sorting fleece, scouring fleece, carding fleece, and spinning fleece today. I'm exhausted and yet so happy that I've gotten all of a half-dozen yards or so of my very own hand-processed Shetland lace-weight singles! What on earth is going on in my head? Ah well, if you find the mind I have lost, please don't give it my forwarding address - I'm having too much fun!

So, let's start with the first fleece I've (mostly) finished. This would be a Shetland lamb's fleece. Being a lamb fleece, one can expect a lot less lanolin in the fleece (and Shetlands are known to be light on the lanolin as it is) and a shorter staple length. This is a double-coated fleece, with the downy, inner coat part being this gorgeous chocolate brown and the longer fibers being a sun-bleached gold.

After the initial sort-and-scour, I put the fleece on a pair of drying racks and start looking for locks that have too much ground up vegetable matter (the dreaded "VM"). I pull those out and will hang them on bushes and trees outside for the birds to use now that we're close to nesting season. While I'm doing that, I also gently pull on the long, sunbleached fibers so that the extra comes out. I don't really want all of that in my yarn - it'll make it too scratchy. But some, some would be good 'cause I love that golden color!

Here's a better look at the drying fiber:

As always, the browser doesn't do the color justice - it's much more chocolate-y than that! Anywho, once I've got it dry, in to the drum carder it goes!

To get something decent from a drum carder generally requires 3-5 passes through the carder. There are several good videos on youtube and books with instructions on how to use a drum carder, so I won't go in to detail on all that. Suffice to say, when you're done, you end up with something nice and ready to spin:

I've got the first batt in process on my Majacraft Rose wheel - I'll post some pictures when I get a sample plyed and ready for your viewing pleasure.

I have another Shetland fleece that I haven't taken out of the bag yet - this one will be a black, adult fleece. I am looking forward to playing with that! But first, I have a couple of other fleeces and fibers waiting for my attention. A sample of targhee, for instance:

Targhee is an amazing wool - it really feels like a big cotton ball when it's been carded! What you see above are two carded batts and a handful of the scoured wool waiting for its turn through the carder. I haven't spun it yet, but I'm sure it's going to be lovely, light, and sproingy.

But wait, there's more! One fleece I've been anxiously awaiting is my Jacob fleece from Kenleigh Acres. Jacob sheep have a rather interesting history, and have an even more interesting appearance! The sheep can have anywhere from two, to four, to six horns! They are also somewhat mottled, with white and dark fleece in distinct patterns. I've just started scouring the fleece I got yesterday, and it's just about perfect. It is definitely more heavy in lanolin than the Shetland, and even more than the merino I'm also working on (pictures of that tomorrow). The staple length is 4-5", and it's a great mix of cream colored and grey (the Jacob breeders call it lavender - I have no idea why). This is going to spin up like a dream.

There is still more in my new fleece-and-fiber stash just waiting for attention, including a champagne-colored merino, a sample of some cheviot, some alpaca I want to blend with cashmere, and more. I hope to get more pictures and progress tomorrow for you all (and for my own permanent record). I need at least three days every weekend to get through everything on my list!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feelin' the Fiber Love

You know you've just totally gone over the deep end when you realize you spent the best part of your weekend washing fleece ... and liking it! I got about 3 pounds of fleece this weekend - half of it is a nice champagne colored merino, and the other 1.5 lb. is a Shetland lamb fleece. I hardly spun at all, telling myself that I'd spin after my drum carder arrives and I can finish processing what I've washed so far.

I've learned a few things about fleece - first is that a pound of fleece is a lot more than you might think, especially when you wash in small batches! After reading lots and lots of advice on how to scour fleece, small batches seems to be the way to go even if it does seem to take forever. Second, you don't actually need to wash everything in one weekend. Even if you wanted to, you probably couldn't, so it's just as well you don't need to. My goal was to wash about 5-8 ounces - enough to do a nice spinning session, but not the whole fleece.

The third thing I learned is that fleece is very, very dirty. And that lanolin stains the water anything from yellow to brown. And that I can't wait for my drum carder to get here so I can finish processing this wool!!!

I'll do a photo series next weekend, though as always, photos just won't capture how it all feels. And that is simply the best part. Ah, well - you'll have to make do with photos, or find your own fleece!

Next week, the carder will arrive, as will some Jacob fleece. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? :-)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How much wool can one person have?

So I've started a list of all the unspun wool I have in the house, focusing on what kind of critter it came from. I was surprised, happy, and yet somewhat alarmed by the variety so far! At least all of this is in relatively small batches - 1 oz. to 1 lb. No full fleeces or anything ... yet. :-)

Here's what's on The List:
  1. Cotswold
  2. Lincoln
  3. Cheviot
  4. Alpaca (huacaya)
  5. Cashmere
  6. Mohair
  7. Romney (this one is all spun up)
  8. Perendale
  9. Targhee
  10. Herdwick
  11. Gotland
  12. Shetland
  13. Jacob
  14. Merino (moorit)

Isn't that an awesome list?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obsessed? Me?

So, last week wasn't much for fibery goodness. I decided that meant I simply had to make up for it this fine three-day weekend! And make up for it I did. First and foremost, many thanks go to Beth at WhorlingTides for pointing me to an eBay auction for a Louet Roving Carder. And I won it! My very first eBay win - of course it had to be fiber related. Even with shipping, this is going to be about $50 cheaper than if I bought it new, retail. Yay!

But that was only part of my weekend fiber extravagance. I did quite a bit of spinning and plying and carding and combing. I finished up the Romney, finally. That was about 8 oz. total of scoured wool, and of that, I'd guestimate 2/3 ended up on the carders for woolen spinning, and 1/3 out of the combs for worsted spinning. It's quite nice, really, and it should make for some great cable patterns. I took pictures of the Romney last weekend, so no need for new pictures of that - you've gotten the idea.

I also had some fun with some crazy singles out of a set of batts I got from the Silver Sun Alpaca Batt Club. It's kinda fun, if a bit, um, decadent feeling to switch between "how fine can I get this" to "let's make bulky singles!" The finer the spin, the more yarn you get, so when you go bulky, you don't have as much to play with in the end. But even so, it is fun and the end result should be a cute knitted something-or-other.

Now, let's put that in to better scale:

I do have another cat (Kipling) but he's not nearly as willing to help with my photos as Blake is.

So, the singles were fun, but what I'm really excited about is a nifty silk-and-wool blend I finally finished this weekend. The result is a really awesome barberpole yarn that has the vibrant silk colors and glint with the softest merino-silk-alpaca blend you can imagine. I am majorly pleased with the results!

That ended up being about 10 wpi and 185 yards. Soooooo soft...

And last but not least, I spun up a sample of an alpaca-cashmere blend as part of a spin-a-long on Ravelry. We're studying cashmere this month, and I wanted to see how it might work as a blend. The blend wasn't terribly even - it'll be much better when I have that carder in my hot little hands! - but the results were quite nice. It spins up _very_ fine, and yet blooms nicely after being washed and fulled.

Obviously the penny wasn't enough to show the scale on the yarn - Blake came over to make sure I gave the proper sense of scale for the photo. What would I do without such a helpful kitty?

So, while I'd love to spin the last day of this three-day weekend away, I find myself WAY behind on my knitting! So I'll take the lovely morning and afternoon light and work on some of my long-delayed project (some fingerless mittens for a work friend, my tank top for Stitches West) and maybe spin up some nice singles tonight.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

With friends like these...

I was setting up to take a photo of my fabulous, colorful, 330 yards of finished yarn, when my helper decided to, well, help.

As you can guess, I had only just put the yarn down and gotten the camera out to get ready for the shot. I had the grey card out for white balance in the photo. I was just starting to fiddle with the camera angle. I was getting ready to adjust the camera to frame things properly. Suddenly, there was 26 lb. of "help" in the mix!

I did attempt to at least get some decent photo of the yarn. Blake held the yarn down to make sure it didn't get away while I was taking the picture.

Perhaps not the greatest yarn shot, but hey, you've got to admit it's more cute! WhorlingTides, creator of this fine roving, Blake approves of your wool!

This afternoon's fiber-y goodness brought to you by His Regalness, Blake.

Good help is hard to find, and it is quite exhausting to do good work. Good night, all!

Do I really need all this stuff?

So, you may be asking yourself "Self, why on earth is she getting so much fiber preparation stuff?" This weekend, I did a bit of experimentation to try and show you how different methods of fiber preparation and different spinning techniques leave you with different yarn.

You may recall a picture from a week or two ago of me preparing to spin some Romney wool.

The first time I spun this up, I prepared the wool with a pair of handcarders and spun the wool in a "woolen" fashion. The resulting wool was nice and puffy and squishy.

The second time I spun this same wool up, I used my new combs and spun the wool in a "worsted" fashion. Using the combs gave me only the longest fibers to spin, making a worsted spin nice and easy.

The third time I spun this same wool up again, I used the handcarders and spun in a worsted fashion instead of woolen.

The results were all quite different, and will result in different cloth when knitted. We took a picture to show the differing texture, tho' of course the difference is most profound when you handle the yarn.

If you click on that, you should get the full-sized version which shows the yarns in even more detail. All three yarns were two-plyed, and I did my best to make the singles of equal diameter as I was spinning. The bottom row closest to the control card was the woolen, handcarded yarn. It looks lighter in color mostly because it reflects more light. It's got a lot more air spaces within the yarn, which means it's fluffier and will be warmer as a finished item. The middle row is the worsted, combed wool. It's definitely not as fuzzy, thus showing up a bit darker. It's a more polished yarn, as one would expect from a worsted spin. The top row is the worsted, handcarded wool. That was a bit annoying to spin - the carded wool still had a number of bumps and lumps and was of varying fiber length. It worked, but it was obviously not the best combination of fiber prep and spin style!

And THAT, my friends, is why I need so much stuff! I want different types of yarn for different purposes, and that means having the right tools for the job.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And the world spins on...

It's a beautiful sight:

I picked it up yesterday from Carolina Homespun, along with a few other items:
  1. St. Blaise Comb Set
  2. Lazy Kate
  3. Plying bobbin and appropriate flyer
And I have a Will Taylor skeinwinder/swift on order. It was a fine shopping excursion all around! After I finished, I drove down to San Jose to pick up my sweetheart. Fortunately for me, he wasn't ready to go yet and so out came the new, portable, mine-all-mine wheel! I spun up a nice little sample batt that someone had sent me, and it was good. The singles were reasonably even, and I had no problem with the treadling action on the wheel. When we got home, I got out a second sample batt and spun that up for some thick singles - just as well that is what I was aiming for since that's what was going to come out of that batt! A lot of stuff in the middle layer was fairly felted.

So, the very first yarn - a bit overspun, but hey, singles are hard!

The, the second yarn, again overspun but fine for what I wanted:

I took myself off to bed last night quite satisfied with the new wheel and so happy it was Friday so I could do more and more and more spinning through the weekend. I'm most of the way through a second braid from WhorlingTides (the first I finished a few weeks ago on the Rose), and I'll ply that tomorrow. I think I'll keep some brown BFL in the bag with the wheel as my "I've some time, let's do some spinning" fiber.

Next on the Singles Scene will be pretty jazzy yarn from the Silver Spun Alpaca's batt club!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tick, tock, tick, tock

Because Murphy is alive and doing fine, I finally received word the day I got back to work that my new wheel was in and ready to be picked up any time. I'm so happy it's here! I'm so exasperated that the timing worked out to what it is! ARGH!!! I'm taking this coming Friday afternoon off to drive up to San Francisco to pick it up, and then you can guess what's on the list for the weekend. It'll be spin-city at my house. Which is good, 'cause some more of my fiber club batts came in yesterday and I can't wait to spin it up.

And to digress for a moment away from fibery goodness, I would like to take a moment to publicly pat myself on the back for keeping with my New Year's resolution to work more on my own health and well being! I don't usually make resolutions, but this year was an exception. Last night I went to my first fitness class. It was an "all body workout" class, and can I say "ow"? But it was pretty much exactly what I was looking for to get off my skinny butt and get the stress out at the gym. I'm signed up for two nights a week from now until mid-March. About dang time!

Back to my fiber life, I'll post pictures this weekend of the new wheel and whatever I'm spinning. Later!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Last day of vacation

Alas, my vacation is winding to an end. Or should I say, spinning to an end? As a last-hurrah I decided to treat myself to something I'd been saving: spinning silk. I changed the whorl to the high-speed whorl and am spinning faster than I've ever spun before! Zooom! You have to put more twist in silk, or so I'm told, thus the higher ratios. Silk is definitely a pleasure to spin, and I'm debating whether I should ply it with a white alpaca-merino-silk blend. The problem is the dye is still bleeding off the silk and always will to some extent. What'll that do to the wool blend? I'll have to inquire in one of the Ravelry spinning groups. I'll post pictures of the silk here when I'm farther along.

My sweetheart spent some time this afternoon explaining to me how to take pictures of dark things, where one would typically lose detail. I am knitting something for a friend who wanted it in black, so this will come in handy when I am ready to put some progress pictures up on the web! And it's true what they say about knitting black - it's kind of a pain. Unless you have really good lighting, it's hard to see what you're doing! Fortunately, we've got this lovely big window and lots of sun, so I made some progress.

Since the camera was out, I took a photo of my two-toned BFL plying experiment:
Not too bad, but I think it would have been better as a three-ply with two light and one dark, or maybe two dark and one light. It turned out to be a fairly bulk yarn, in part because the light BFL was from the third bobbin I ever spun - it's not quite as thin as the brown turned out to be! I'm thinking of using the first several yards (which are really variable) as something to play with when dyeing. I think dyeing two-toned yarn like that might end up with a nice effect. I have to try it!

One thing I did learn from that experiment is that I want to spin up some tan alpaca I have with more light colored singles than I have right now. No problem! WhorlingTides will come to my rescue! I've ordered some merino-silk roving that'll be just the thing to three-ply the alpaca with. Can you say soft, warm and totally comfy? That's going to turn out fabulously well!

My stash of roving and top is definitely outstripping my time to spin it all. But I must say, I'm enjoying having so many options and so much to play with. Here's to hoping my traveling wheel comes in soon so I can spin a bit after work and maybe make a dent in my growing pile of spinning fiber!

Friday, January 2, 2009

The art of plying

Yesterday was plying day. Plying is pretty cool - it helps even out over-twisted singles, it makes the end product a bit stronger and somewhat less likely to pill, and you can get some pretty nifty color effects. Of course, there's always a downside - it means you only get half (or a third, or a fourth - depends on whether it's a two-ply, three-ply, etc.) of what you actually spun and, at least in my case, plying isn't something you can put down and come back to later. Not if you want the twist to be consistent, at least!

So yesterday I plied the Romney wool that I carded and spun myself, and it's all soft and wooly. It's great! There's about 90 yards of it, and I've got lots more to play with. The plan is to do the first batch using a long-draw, woolen spin, which is done. Then I'll try carding a slightly different way and see if the second batch can be done worsted. Then I'll decide which I like most and do the rest of it that way. Here's how it turned out:

That's about 2.5 oz. with 8 wraps-per-inch (wpi).

But my Pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance was plying up the gorgeous merino roving I wrote about a while back from CrazyCatLady. This was about 4 oz of merino and ooooh my is it pretty!

That ended up being 300 yards! And it took me about 6 hours to ply it all! Ouchie. Sitting up at the wheel with no breaks was harsh. One of these days I'll figure out how to take a break from plying large amounts. That's about 12 wpi, tho' there's definitely some variation in there.

Next on my plying list is some pure alpaca in a lovely tan color which I'll then ply with a white merino/silk/alpaca blend. Now _that's_ gonna be some gorgeous yarn. And I may have enough to make a winter hat/scarf/mittens set! I think I'll go get started!