Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pretty Skeins All in a Row

Wendy, Wendy, please don't tarry
How does your spinning go?
With bamboo silk and oreo
And pretty skeins all in a row

A special thanks first to all the new visitors who commented on the spindle lesson. I was thrilled to see the comments! I hope you'll all come back soon.

In the meantime, here's what I was up to this weekend (yes, I know it's Thursday, but things had to dry!)

I finished a bamboo silk/wool 2-ply. This is designated for my husband's scarf this winter. I have another skein or two to complete ... and I must say that bamboo silk is a bitch to spin ... its very slippery. Here it is doing its impression of ramen noodles:

And here it is all dried and ready to knit once the whole batch is done.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you the most wonderful wool in the world (drumroll please...). OREO.

I found this wool at my LYS. Yes, it's true I need a 12-step program but I just couldn't resist this. I bought a whole 20 ounces and got down to it. I'm not even halfway done. But Oreo, who I believe is a Corriedale, is going to be my next sweater project.

The skeins on the top have been washed and hung to dry (see how they puffed up?) and the two on the bottom were just plied last night.

I don't think I'm going to have biasing problems this time because there's no extra twist that I could see in the drying process. Dummy me, I hadn't yet soaked that other wool before I started knitting it into that swatch. Then I read the new issue of Spin Off, which has a whole article dedicated to charged singles. I'm torn over whether to set the twist or knit it for a zig zag.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

This One is for Wendy

No, not for me. For Wendy. See, she's having some trouble with her spindle. Since it's so rare that I can offer insight to uber knitters, I figured I'd give it a shot. You see, I want her to take her spinning to the same heights as her knitting. Maybe next year she'll have handspun yarn in her "flash your stash" photo (you've just gotta see it to understand).

OK. Let me first say that handspindling gave me fits and that my husband had to censor me more than once with bleeps when I was learning. But I got it down pat, and ultimately I bought the wheel (incidentally, I'm calling her Charlotte. As in Charlotte A. Cavatica.) And so I offer my tips for spinning.

1. Make sure you have a good spindle. I started with a bottom-whorl spindle I picked up on the web, and within 48 hours had trekked to the LYS and purchased an Ashford top-whorl. Having the right spindle makes a HUGE difference in learning to spin. The Ashfords are under $20, and, well, I mean, c'mon. It's what they do ... it's what they live for.

2. Start with a small bit of roving, not a huge piece. About hand-size oughta do it.

3. Pick a fiber that works for you. I tried spinning first with wool, and ironically, the results were disasterous. I had an awful time drafting it, and hated it. So, when I picked up my Ashford spindle, I also picked up some alpaca. My advice? If you can, try playing with some fiber at the store before bringing it home. It's much easier to start with something that has a smooth draft.

4. Pre-draft the roving. When life gives you a big fat Sharpie, turn it into a pencil. That's right, take some time to draft the roving out to spinning width. Using two hands, hold the roving in your left hand and gently tug a little out at a time with your right hand. Turn that hand-sized bit into a long length of ready-to-spin fiber.

5. Start a leader. Instructions tell you to start with some handspun or commercially spun yarn as a leader. I prefer to use whichever fiber I'm working with. Don't ask me why; I have no idea. It just seems easier for me. Start the leader by looping about an inch of your under the hook on your spindle. Like this:

And then pinch the end in with the rest and give the spindle a spin. Don't worry if it's big and fat. It's the leader, after all, and if you start off making thicker yarn, then you have few problems with breaks early on. That said, spin that spindle and practice moving your left fingers back until you have three or four inches of leader. Use the "spin and park" technique. (When the spindle stops, park it between your knees.) It will stop rather quickly because 1) you're working with thicker yarn (which doesn't need much twist); and 2) you're working on a small drafted amount (it won't take the twist long to move up your drafted portion). Take a minute and make a leader and then wind it on your spindle.

6. Spin the spindle. Hold the spindle between your knees with the fiber in your right hand. Pinch the leader (what you already spun) with your left hand, (ignore the rest of the fiber for a minute) and give the spindle a spin. Then park it between your knees.

7. Let in some twist. You may notice at this point that you feel some tension in the already-spun yarn. That's the force of the twist building up. It's what you want to feel. That said, with the spindle parked and your right hand free, use your right fingers to pinch just to the right of your left fingers. Don't release your left fingers until you have pinched with the right hand. Then, place the left fingers a few inches up the fiber supply. You should be holding a segment that looks like this (I'm only using one hand here because I needed one to use the camera. Pay attention to the arrows -- the red arrow is where your right hand should be pinching. The green arrow is where the twist buildup should be, the blue area your drafted-but-yet-untwisted fiber and the yellow the rest of your fiber supply.)

Now, you basically want to do that same "sleight of hand" trick you did before to let the twist in to your segment. Keep your left hand pinching off the fiber supply. Release your right pinch, and watch the twist move up the fiber. See that? Voila! Yarn!

And now, you go back to the beginning of steps 6&7. Keep going until you have enough to wind on the spindle shaft. Wind it up, but be sure to leave enough above the whorl to have enough to work with.

Let me stress my personal opinion that handspinning on a spindle is more about the way your hands move than about the way the spindle turns. Learning on a handspindle REALLY helped me learn the basics that I was then able to transfer over the wheel spinning (which goes so much faster -- it's easier to slow the process for learning purposes this way). It also helps because you're working with smaller amounts of fibers and therefore you're less likely to ruin large amounts while you're learning. That said... GOOD LUCK!

Friday, June 23, 2006


OK, so I've been crazily carding Sugar Pie up with a bunch of different other wools and yesterday I decided to spin up a few rolags and do a swatch. (Sugar Pie is a bit itchy so I really need to evaluate that before I do too much and end up with a garment that no one wants to wear...) I pulled out a pair of #6 needles and cast on. Did a few rows and discovered that the knitting was slanted. That's right, rather than knitting a nice little square in stockinette stitch, I was making a diamond.

To confirm my theory, I reversed (knitting the rows I had purled and vice versa) and sure enough, the swatch went the other way. Can anyone tell me WHY? And how I can STOP this from happening again? It would be great for a scarf pattern, but I just don't think it would work for a sweater ...

A bit dismayed by the resulting chevron, I decided to play a bit with that alpaca I spun right after I got the wheel. Cast on 20 stitches and did 20 rows in stockinette. There's a very slight tilt to the swatch, but nothing that a little blocking won't fix. If I had enough of this, it would definitely be a sweater. I wish you could touch it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sugar Pie, How I Love Thee

My father had an expression growing up that he'd use frequently when he thought someone had a crazy idea. Always colorful and not really one to mince words, he'd tell them he thought they were "out of their rabbit-assed mind."

Insert Dad's expression here, because I'm nuts.

Last night, I didn't feel like embarking on a major spinning project, or committing to any one batch of anything. And Sugar Pie has been calling me from the wooden chest next to my wheel. You see, she wants to be spun! And there's a whole pound of her white fluffiness waiting for me.

Now I know that a pound of this wool is not going to make me much of anything (the goal, I think, is to try to get enough for a small garment), so I need to figure out what I can combine the wool with and how. Over the weekend, I bought a pair of dog brushes from Petsmart to try my hand at carding on a micro-level. Wool combs are something that I'd love to get as a gift (hint -- my birthday is next month).

Last night, I made some rolags from Sugar Pie to play around, but then I started pulling out my other fibers and carding small bits of the two together. And this is what I ended up with after about an hour:

That's right, it's a bunch of snack-sized Ziploc bags filled with rolags made of Sugar Pie and another fiber. I carded her with purple mohair, with brown varigated merino, with a yellow llama/silk/merino blend, bamboo silk and practically anything else I could put my hands on immediately (not including the beagle hair I have all over the house).

I think my favorite came from combining Sugar Pie with a small amount of moorit wool -- a last minute, impulsive buy in the barns at MS&W. It's slightly tacky (makes me think that not all the lanolin is gone) but it actually spins very well. The problem is, I only have 2 oz in two different colors. Not enough. Oh well. I'll keep playing! The dog brushes seem to work OK to card for now, but I can see why the carders are more popular. They're bigger. If I were to use the dog brushes for the whole job, I'd be carding until this time next year. But they are great for sampling!

On another note, I decided to sample up some plied purple mohair and compare it to the singles that I spun on my spindle way back when. I think the wheel (left) wins. I will try to post a photo a little later. Blogger let me post the other two pics, but it's obviously got a bias against two-ply purple mohair.

Oh, and by the way. Birthday is next month. I'm not in the habit of pointing out gifts, but one of these would be awesome.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Spinning a Yarn

Here are just a few more skeins of my labors. First, this is a charcoal grey/ash grey two-ply alpaca:

And, of course, here it is up close.

Then there's some bombyx silk that I spun two bobbins of singles for, then plied together. This is the same silk that I spindled last week and posted. I'm in comparison mode. Click here to see the spindled batch.

I have a whole second bobbin full of plied silk. This skein measures about 70 yards, and I'm hopeful the second skein will be comparable. Any ideas what I should do with about 140 yards of spun silk?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Wheel of My Own

Folks, the deed has been done. Yesterday, I took the plunge.

So here's a picture of the final product -- it took an hour or so to put together (had to get some help from hubby for the the actual wheel addition).

And of course, the Lazy Kate -- which will be the first thing to get finished. I don't know if I want to stain or paint.

And finally, the fruit of my labors.

This process is so much faster than a spindle, but admittedly, there's definitely a learning curve. In some ways, I feel like I'm back to square one. But in others, I think I've been spotted a few points. I think I'm going to liken it to learning to drive a stick-shift as a brand-new driver as opposed to learning with a few years of experience under your belt. As a new driver, things are complicated -- you're trying to learn where the turn signals and headlights are, figure out the pedals and at the same time watch everyone else around you and obey traffic laws. When you already know how to drive, it's easier to learn the manual transmission. It doesn't mean that you stall any less, or that you don't shift improperly at first, it's just a little less mentally stressful, I think. Going from a hand spindle to a wheel is kind of the same thing. This first yarn is slubby and inconsistent (and way over twisted), but it isn't a bad start. Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

On Spinning Silk

Just a teaser today ... no knitting but some two-ply bombyxx silk that I spun over the past two days.

I used two Bosworths midi spindles for the singles and then plied together using the "spindles stuck in a box" method (as opposed to Andean plying). Hubby was very good natured about keeping the spindles in their respective slots in the box (they kept popping out). This worked much better than Andean plying, which resulted in my having a serious psycho moment and cutting the jumbled, tangled mess from my hand since it wouldn't ply. I'm not entirely sure I have enough twist to that, but that will be remedied with a wheel, I think. I've included a penny for scale here.
Interested in comments and thoughts, so please drop in and post. I'm also interested in thoughts from wheel users and how the spinning differs from spindling ...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

DLK Post

DLK stands for "damn little knitting." After all, today was Red Rose Sunday.

Now not everyone knows what this is all about ... so let me elaborate. I am a10th generation descendant of a gentleman named George Steitz, who was a bigwig in Lebanon County, PA a long time ago (10 generations carry across a pretty long timeline). To read more about George, click here. So what does this have to do with red roses?

Well ...

Nearly 250 years ago, George Steitz gave land to officials of Tabor United Church of Christ for a payment of five shillings and one red rose to be given the first Sunday of June forever. Yes, he dictated that it be given forever. Tabor is known as the Red Rose Church and for as long as I can remember, a member of my family has headed north on I-83, through York, past Harrisburg, through Hershey and into Lebanon to collect this "rent." Sometimes we get some hotel rooms, stay overnight and turn it into a family reunion, with my cousins coming in from San Antonio, my uncle from New Orleans, my aunt from Florida and my father from Maryland's Eastern Shore. Each year, our cousin Gigi and her husband John come with cousin Kyrsten from nearby Reading and we make a nice morning of it. Each year, a young member of the church makes the presentation with the pastor (I mean, most kids these days really wouldn't care). This year, the presented was a gentleman named Mark who is getting ready to graduate high school with perfect attendance for his entire school career (which includes kindergarten). He was enthusiastic and very, very nice to the boys, who thought he was the bee's knees.

Tabor is a pretty church and the people are very nice -- and very good sports about the whole forever thing.

So anyway, this year The Yarn Sniffer (TYS) became the Rose Collector for a day:

TYS really was cute, standing there straight and tall in his dinosaur tie looking very solemn and serious. I think the fact that the presentation ceremony was held in the adjacent cemetery behind their historical marker really threw him. He isn't crazy about graveyards.

I knitted on my pi shawl the whole way up and back. We took the scenic route back, heading west and then South through Hanover. We even ended up in East Berlin and tried to find the spinner's mecca, The Mannings. We couldn't find it without the address, but later took solace in knowing that it would have been closed anway.

And now on another spinning note: I have chosen the wheel I want. (Drumroll, please.) Click here to see it. I know I can get it from my local yarn shop, and even that they have one in stock (I saw it there on Saturday!). Right now. It's killing me -- 'cause they're closed on Mondays and besides, I still have a few hundred to come up with before taking the plunge. It's bonus season ... but I can't bring myself to ask if I'm getting one ... so who knows when the wheel will be mine?