Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Creating yarn

Our story of the fine and fabulous spinning retreat continues with a photo shoot of the yarns I created. Mostly these are samples - enough to get the hang of the idea or technique, but not enough to knit a scarf with. Sampling your spinning is like swatching your knitting - it's just something you need to do if you want to have any idea whether the end product will actually fit your needs! You'll need to click on the pictures to have any hope of getting to see the detail that differentiates the yarns.

So, it all starts with plying. Specifically, it starts with a two-ply. The singles were pre-spun at a small mill and brought by the instructor. Two-ply yarns are pretty simple - most spinners have done these. Lace-weight yarns are usually two-ply.

Then we moved on to three-ply, which I didn't find much more difficult than 2-ply. The only "trick" to three-ply is that you need to make sure all three strands are winding around each other at the same point. It's easy to have to strands wind around each other and then the third strand wind around somewhat past those first two strands. That makes for an uneven yarn.

From three-ply we of course move to four-ply, which creates a stronger, rounder yarn. You've got the same challenge as you do with three-ply - the winding of the strands should be happening at the same point, usually between your drafting finger.
And then, the really hard one: a five-ply! Keeping the tension even across all five strands is quite tricky, and some folks in class never quite got the hang of it and ended up with a knotty mess. I managed it, but I don't think I'll do this for my own yarn. Five- and six- ply yarns are traditional for some sweaters. I'm not sure I'll ever get to the point of spinning enough for a sweater!
And last but not least for the basic sampler set, a 4-stranded cable. This is a yarn that is spun out of two two-ply yarns. Cabled yarns are the strongest yarns you can create, and if you do them in colors, you can get some interesting effects. More on that later.

Pretty nifty stuff! Here's the whole family of plied and cabled yarns, plus the slubby (uneven) single we were asked to do on purpose:

All of the yarns above were of straight wool. Judith did make sure we had an opportunity to spin with something other than wool, which was interesting since I've only ever spun wool and silk so far in my spinning life. Below are three samples of plant-fiber singles - hemp, flax+wool (commonly known as linsey woolsey), and ramie. I didn't much care for them, though ramie reminded me a lot of spinning silk. I wouldn't mind that one so much - if I find someone I want to make yarn for who has issues with animal fibers, I'd choose ramie over any other plant fiber.

With regards to plying and color, here is an example of a two-ply yarn that had one strand as a light silk and the other as a darker merino-cashmere blend which I then put together as a four-strand cable and then knitted to see how it would turn out:
To be honest, I wasn't thrilled with it, but other folks thought it was fantastic. I liked the two-ply yarn better than the cabled yarn in this particular instance.

On another day, Judith showed me how to blend fibers to make something new and unique. I had brought my gotland locks with me - I've been hesitant to spin them 'cause they are just so silky and pretty and I wasn't going to do them justice. She gave us a detailed lesson on the history of gotland and gotland sheep, and then started doing a blend with this and a wool-silk (80%-20%) strip of roving. I was absolutely amazed at the resulting yarn, and immediately started to do some of my own blending and spinning. The result is a marvelously light, soft yarn with the gotland adding a nice sheen and color to the roving.

That was so much fun, I started doing the blend with a slightly brighter roving in a colorway called "heather" - really, how could I resist that?
On the last day, we did some really cool things with novelty yarns. I don't generally knit with novelty yarns, but these came out so beautiful I may have to make an exception! I even wore one as jewelry to work last week.

These are both silk with a colored or metallic thread as the second strand. The silk was spun out as a slubby single, then plied like I was doing a boucle yarn (the silk was plied at a 90-degree angle instead of the normal under-your-drafting-fingers angle), then the two-ply was cabled together.
So that's it! It may not seem like a lot of yarn to you, but it was a lot at the time! I also didn't show you the straight two-ply silk or the woolen romeldale I did on my own when Judith wasn't teaching.

I am very much looking forward to another class, and even more looking forward to when my hands heal up from the weekend so I can get back to spinning!

In the next few days I should be getting a shipment of roving from three fleeces I sent to a local fiber mill - a black shetland, a black romeldale, and a Black Welsh Mountain sheep. Don't ask why they were all black - it just sort of worked out that way. My next blog post will be about black.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Spinner's Retreat

I know it's been a while since I posted, but after taking a bit of recovery time after Stitches, and then finding myself scrambling to get ready for the Plying and Cabling retreat with Judith MacKenzie, I was a rather busy camper! I hope the wait is worth it for you, 'cause the time was awesome for me.

I just got back from a 3 day spinning camp with the very special and awesome Judith MacKenzie McCuin. The class was held at Point Bonita, in a converted military installation. We spun and learned from about 6pm to 9pm Friday night, from 9am to 10pm Saturday, from 9am to 10pm Sunday, and from 9am to 4pm Monday. That, in case you are not a spinner and are wondering, is one heck of a lot of spinning. I mean, really a heck of a lot of spinning. More spinning than most spinner's do in a month. Or two months. Or more. But it was so darn cool I would do it all over again every weekend of the year.

So, rather than glow in writing, I'm going to do a little photo essay of the class. Later this week - probably over the weekend - I'll actually take photos of what was spun during the weekend and post those too.

My photo essay:
Point Bonita is that little point of land on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can get there by driving across the bridge and taking the first exit and heading west. If you're lucky like me, you'll find a new friend like Jenne to carpool with.

Since the area used to be a significant military installation, the housing and classroom setting looks quite austere:

But really, who cares, when this is the kind of view you get:

Not to mention the fact that you will be able to rummage through the magic contents of Carolina Homespun's Yarn-V!

And for the price of a short walk, you can see the ocean at a rather private beach.

Friday we started to gather, all 20 or so of us, and set up around the room. Please note how neat and tidy we are!

So we learned...

And we spun...

And by Monday, the room had kind of exploded...

And that was after some ambitious souls started to clean up! There was fiber everywhere. It was fantastic. The folks I got to meet and spin with were all wonderful, all happy to share information, and all eager to learn.

Tune in to the blog in a few days when I'll post pictures of my 2-ply, 3-ply, 4-ply, and 5-ply yarns, as well as a 4 stranded cable and some awesome novelty yarn.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tired, broke, and happy - the conclusion of Stitches

My loot. Isn't it a fabulous array of fiber and stuff? I'll go in to more detail below on most of what you see up there, with a special guest visit from one of my cats.

First, let's look at some of the purchases inspired by yesterday's Color in Knitting class. The goal of that class was to get the students to look at color in new ways and figure out how to add colors to your work that you might otherwise never consider putting together. This class was taught by Laura Militzer Bryant, and it was absolutely amazing. I am going to get a lot more out of the bargain bins in yarn shops because I have seen how the most amazing disparate array of yarns can work together for some fabulous projects. It'll take a long time to train my eyes and brain to do this more naturally, but at least now I know what to start looking for.

The pictures below are of a scarf I started during the lunch break - I ran down to the market to look for yarns that might work, and found these three soysilk yarns that I thought would be good to apply the color principles we were learning about. Normally I would never put that coral yarn with green, and the dull grey-ish color was kinda blah. But I started a scarf in half-linen stitch, and it's turning in to a very very nice thing! It's fascinating to me how the coral yarn in turn looks more pink or more orange depending on what other color it's paired with.

After I bought the soysilk yarn, I found the cheap bargain yarn section and spent some time throwing things together to see what might work. Here's a set of colors that will do quite well together and look totally different than they do on their own. Don't ask me what I'm going to do yet - probably another scarf, since a scarf can be considered a great big color swatch, and that's what I'm going after.

One other purchase that focused more on how to colors a little less wildly different and blend them was some merino and silk rovings. The idea here is to have the intense merino/cashmere roving pictured below to be mellowed out and lightened by a slightly different colorway in silk.

So, enough of class work! Now we get in to more of my Thursday impulse-buying purchases. This is where I started to get assistance in my photography. :-)

What you have there is a merino silk blend in one heck of a vibrant color. I don't usually do reds, but it was just too cool to pass up. Won't that make a fabulous hat?

Further posing from the kitty had me going ahead and using him to help give you a sense of scale of the braids. The braid at the far left is a gorgeous purple color and is an alpaca/silk blend.

And Kipling continued to be helpful, despite totally not working color-wise with the red or purple braids. So, I pulled out a silk bronze-y braid that I thought would do much better with his coloring. Nice, Kipling. You can get off the cedar chest now.

Next on the list of "too yummy to pass up" was some fiber from A Verb For Keeping Warm.

What you have there in the cream-y color is a 50-50 silk-camel down blend. I bought three and spun up one of the braids this afternoon while in the lobby outside the Stitches Market. The other is a silk-cashmere blend. It's this amazing jade color which will have to go in to a lace shawl or something. Mmm-mmm good!

And last but not least for photos, I spent some time with alpaca farmers. Suri-Al Paca and Alpaca Direct were both at Stitches. I hadn't actually had a chance to fondle suri alpaca fiber, and figured I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to play with some! In the picture below, the suri fiber are the two thinnest braids towards the bottom of the photo.

The top three braids in dark and light brown are huacaya alpaca from Alpaca Direct. I bought those to play with an example of what the Ranch of the Oaks can do with fiber. They're the fiber mill I've recently sent some of the fleeces I've been acquiring off to so I can avoid using quite so much water in processing fleeces. I'll still process some, but most of what I get I think I'll send down to them. The yarn is certain great, so I don't see why the roving won't be too!

The final braid was a particularly impulsive buy - I just adore those colors! That's a huacaya alpaca blend. Num num num.

And there you have it! In the big photo that started today's blog post you also saw some nice bamboo knitting needles. I also got a pair of ebony circular needles, some square needles that folks have been raving about, and a pair of rosewood circular needles. Can't have too many needles in the sizes one uses most, now can you! I also got a wpi (wraps per inch) tool 'cause I've been wanting one for a while and don't like using the pencil with little scratches marking 1". I also got two small bags of yak down which I'll blend with something - probably merino - in the next month or three.

Stitches was a great and wonderful event, and I will most definitely be signing up for classes and the market again next year! I will need to start saving money now, given how much the market can get to me!