Overflowing Fiber Riches

Posted in spinning, toys by tchemgrrl on January 31, 2010

So for the first 4-and-a-bit years that I spun (until a few weeks ago), I had a very consistent set of spinning tools. There’s my Ashford Joy, and about 3 spindles that I handle with any regularity.

There are a lot of things I like about the Joy. It was really the ideal wheel for me when I bought it–an intermediate beginner with a love of fine yarns, no spinners in my social circle, a moderate budget, and almost zero space. It was easy to set up and learn. It folded down to a very small size. There’s tons of information and parts lists for Ashfords available out in the world. It is happy to spin very fine yarns. It looks amazingly cool.

But for the last year or so, I’ve been keeping an eye out for something different. I’ve got more space and money than I did as a grad student in our tiny Madison apartment, though I still have a fairly “compact” sensibility. I’ve become a much faster spinner since I bought the Joy, and spent a lot of time bored on the highest ratio (the highest ratio was also noticeably harder to treadle than the lower ones). I’m a bit more willing to deal with complexity–something that can be tuned a bit.

At the end of last summer, I decided to deal with this by getting on the waiting list for a Bosworth book charkha. A ratio of 70:1 makes my inner speed demon drool, and so does the craftsmanship and adorably teensy size, which I can easily toss in my backpack before I ride my bike to a guild meeting. I’ve done a little playing with cotton on a support spindle, and I think that this will be a really fun way to continue working on that. The charkha should be coming within the next week or two, and I’m wicked excited. Pictures and more details once it arrives.

The charkha is a pretty specialized tool, though. While I’ve been waiting for it I’ve still been spinning like crazy on the Joy, and spending most of that time close to the limits of our mutual mechanical abilities. I wasn’t in a rush for a new wheel, but I was keeping an eye out for something interesting.

And that something interesting popped up locally just a few weeks ago, in the form of a Schacht Matchless.

New wheel!

This particular wheel is 21 years old, although the Matchless is still in current production, so parts are easy to come by. I like the nice clean lines and castle wheel construction. The fact that it’s an older wheel gives it a bit of quirk (I’ll need to do some work on the bobbins before I can use the wheel in Scotch tension, frex), but it’s in excellent shape and when I have things arranged correctly it’s amazingly quiet. I’ll be buying some some new high-speed bobbins and whorls for higher ratios soon, but the current top speed I have is slightly faster than the Joy and not nearly as tiring.

Never rains but it pours, I suppose.

And what of the Joy? Well, within about a week of buying the Matchless I realized that I’m probably a one-spinning-wheel person. The Joy is already loaned out to a friend that’s a newer spinner–spreading those riches around, I suppose. If I don’t miss it and she likes it, it may stay there. It does mean a loss of portability–the Matchless isn’t too cumbersome, but in a portability contest the Joy wins that hands down. But I do have spindles, and soon I’ll have a charkha. I don’t think that will be too much of a loss.


Posted in Uncategorized by tchemgrrl on January 25, 2010

Did you hear an explosion last week? That would have been this yarn the moment it touched water:

mojave yarn

I got this fiber–Ashland Bay Merino in the Mojave colorway–as part of the Fondle This! Fiber Club. I’m doing this club in part because one of my patterns is being included in the club, and I decided that this would be a nice opportunity to try different spinning techniques. First up: spinning from the fold.

I’ve spun from the fold for tiny samples before, but I hadn’t ever kept it up for a long period of time, or tried to do it while maintaining a particular thickness. Maintaining it for 4 ounces seemed like a worthy plan, and an expansion of my spinning toolbox. My ability to do this new technique followed my standard learning curve.

Day 1: Pure frustration. Nothing works. Constant breakages, things slipping through my fingers that looked fine. A big pile of snarly fiber both on and off the bobbin after 30 minutes, as long as I can stand it. Clearly I suck.
Day 2: I still suck, but at least I’m not frustrated anymore. No unpredictable breaks, but thick and thin like whoa. A lot of intentionally breaking the yarn to remove an ugly bit, a lot of stopping to deal with a slub.
Day 3: As far as I can tell I am doing exactly the same thing as Day 1, but suddenly things are holding together, more or less evenly, and I can actually control what’s going on. It’s not as good as my comfort zone, but now it’s just a matter of refinement. Magic.

I knew that this yarn would not be the most even in the world, and I was fine with that. I had aimed for a sportweight 2-ply, and I figured it would be close to that with occasional forays to DK. Plied and skeined directly after spinning, I had 15-16 wpi with a few thicker slubs, looking very similar to some commercially spun sportweight yarn in my knitting bag. Sweet.

Then it hit the water. Remember? kaboom.

Now first of all, this is non-superwash merino, which loves to bloom like a blooming thing. Secondly, I was intentionally spinning with a woolen technique, quite different than my usual semiworsted drafting style. These two things added up to the yarn blooming rather spectacularly after washing and drying, from 15-16 wpi to 13-14, suddenly DK bordering on worsted.

A good lesson in sampling, and a good lesson on spinning to spec with a new technique. I really like the resulting yarn, squishy and bouncy and warm. But it’s not at all the yarn I intended, and it’s not the yarn for the project I was thinking of (a retread of Suppliers of Angst).

I did really want to do a quickie project with this yarn, and in looking through my favorites on Ravelry I found a cool project from the book Knitting Nature, involving a variety of hexagons put together in interesting ways. I’m not very far on this one yet, but it seems to be getting my knitting mojo back after almost exclusively spinning since late October. (I’m knitting on 8’s, incidentally, and the fabric is not at all dense, but the yarn is completely filling up the spaces. Magic.


Posted in FO, made with handspun, spinning, weaving by tchemgrrl on January 18, 2010

There’s been some stuff going on in my life lately that led me to say no handmade Christmas gifts this year, everything for me. Except somehow in mid-December suddenly I wanted to use my little inkle loom, and making bookmarks for some folks seemed like a moderately useful, fun little project.

Long ago and far away, I spun some dyed silk top, some of which I used to make a scarf. Sometime later, I spun some undyed tussah silk, and had the vaguest idea of mixing the two yarns–same fiber, similar weights, very pretty. There was an article in Spin-Off this past summer about making silk ribbons with an inkle loom, and that appealed to me a lot. Pretty handspun handwoven ribbons! How could I resist? So I made a weaving project, just a plain woven ribbon. Sometimes I make these things forgetting that I’m me, though, the ungirliest of female people. What is the point of this ribbon? Its current job is to tie the cap of a hot water bottle to the body so they don’t get separated. It’s nice to look at when I’m crampy, but that’s hardly showing it off to its fullest potential. Bookmarks, though, those are nice to have around and look at.

I decided to use the same yarns for the bookmarks, but I wanted to try some pickup patterns (which in weaving lead to patterns of longer threads that appear to sit on top of the woven fabric). One problem I’d had with the yarns when weaving the ribbon was that they were a little too loosely spun and were sticking to their neighbors frequently. So I cabled them–added a ton of twist, held two strands of the same color together, and cabled with a ton of twist. This did help a lot, so it’s useful to know if I’m ever spinning up a fiber with the intention of weaving it.

I was played around with different pick up patterns, just to get an idea of how they worked. I set up the patterns so that they would be reversible. Initially I started with my copy of Inkle in front of me, but after a few rows of that I got the idea of how things worked and was just able to play. For all of the ribbons, I did a few rows of plain weaving, then set up a pattern, trying to arrange it so that it would be symmetrical and 6-8 inches long, and then I left an inch or two of unwoven warp between each bookmark, so that there could be a fringe on either end. I was able to do a bunch of bookmarks on one warp (basically I just had to set up to weave once for all of these bookmarks), which was great. The whole process didn’t take very long, maybe 30-45 minutes per plain bookmark, a little longer for the fancier ones, and an hour or two for warping, washing, and finishing.

inkle bookmarks

The ribbons had a tiny bit of a helical curl when they came off the loom. I don’t know if this is because the yarns were intentionally overtwisted a bit in the cabling, if it had to do with some error in the warping, or with the weaving itself. I’m still very much in the goofing-around-newbie phase of this all. After washing, they seem to lay flat, and being stuck in a book for most of their lives should help too.

inkle bookmarks

The bottom bookmark was kind of a screwup, but a symmetrical screwup! Second from the bottom was woven plain without getting fancy–the warping was set up to do that striping, because I liked the color patterns that could be made with that warp setup.

For the bookmark in the third from the bottom, I was thinking that it would look like a little floral pattern–if you just look at the longer pieces of white (the pickup pattern), it kind of looks like a flower, and I was mostly paying attention to the pickup. It was only after taking it off the loom that I saw it for what it clearly really is: a TIE fighter. Once my brain saw it that way, it could not be unseen. JJ claimed that one.

Third from the top was where I really started to figure out how to set the weaving book aside and make up whatever pattern I wanted. Second from the top is just cool, though the strong color contrast between the two colors makes it harder to see in person. I think this would look really nice as a pattern on a single color.

The one on the very top is my personal favorite, and it was one of the easier ones to work. A lot of graphic bang for the weaving buck. I’ll definitely use that pattern again, maybe without the plain weave at the beginning and end.

The recipients liked them. I brought them to the family’s house with me and just told everyone to pick one, as they were more of a stocking stuffer. They’re easy enough that I’d definitely be willing to do them again.

Yarn swap!

Posted in FO, fun, knitting by tchemgrrl on January 15, 2010

I’m not very good at out-of-the-blue inviting people over to my place without a purpose. I always need to find some kind of excuse for a get together. I like having people over, though, so once I think of an excuse, things happen quickly.

A while back my local group on Ravelry was having a spate of “Anyone want to trade X for Y?” types of messages, and it seemed like the kind of thing that would work better in person. The vast majority of fiber people have stash that someone would love, but which isn’t doing it for them–maybe they already used some of the yarn on another project, or they’re just tired of looking at it. So why not have a yarn swap? I’m including some notes on what worked and didn’t here, both for future reference and for ideas in case you’d like to try it.

The way I arranged it was to set up my dining room table on one side of a room with as many leaves as would fit, then have chairs in a circle next to it. One piece of the table was taped off as “for free”, for things that people didn’t want to take home with them (we collected unwanted orphans at the end and donated them). The rest of the table was for sale or trade. This was a late afternoon to early evening get-together, so I made two quiches, thinking that other people would be more likely to bring chips or desserts (which was right on the ball, it worked out perfectly.)

About 10 people were able to make it. This was a really good number. If there were many fewer people there might not have been enough stuff to get a free-flowing trading setup going, while if there were many more, it would have required more organization to sort out whose yarn was whose. It was a good mix of huge and tiny stashes, larger and smaller pocketbooks, more and less experienced knitters. Everyone knew at least one person, and everyone didn’t know at least one person (even me!), so it seemed like a decent social mix as well.

I seriously underestimated the amount of yarn that would show up. Some people made multiple trips up my stairs to carry it all. The table was pretty much instantly full, then there were bags under the table and around people’s feet. I did like having it all together rather than next to the owners, which could have made it feel too much like people were protecting their yarn. If I did it again I would kick the cat out and pile the yarn up in the middle of the room on the floor, maybe on a sheet so it was kept mildly organized.

Straight-out sales (as with a gorgeous Hanne Falkenberg kit) seemed to settle at about 50% of retail. One thing I worried about beforehand was whether people would be trying too hard for a 1-to-1 trade, but after the first person said “Eh, you can keep it,” the whole room really opened up. I think everyone passed along whatever generosity came their way: I gave something to S without a trade, who gave something to R, who gave something to M, who gave something to me. It all worked pretty well. This is something I’ve found at Share Tompkins; the presence of generosity makes everyone feel good and generous.

Having a computer handy was useful; my desktop is in the room we met in and there were occasional checks on Ravelry or yarn sellers to find out the fiber content of something, or the retail price, or to remind someone what weight yarn they needed for that gorgeous scarf they saw the previous week.

Overall, I think it went really well. A few people talked about making it a once-a-month thing, but I feel like a less frequent meeting is more likely to work out so we don’t all see the same unloved yarns all the time. I might do another one when the weather warms up, as a spring cleaning.

Yes, yes, all very nice. What about the LOOT?

At the end of the night I had a fabulous pile of Dale Baby Ull, to replenish my colorwork stash, a skein of kettle-dyed bright green sock yarn for socks for JJ, and some chunky wool yarn in a colorway that matched chunky wool yarn I already had a small amount of. The chunky yarn was so that I could make a cat bed for the wool-obsessed cat. Once I had enough yarn to make the bed, it came together really quickly.

punky bed prefelting

punky bed postfelting

See? Wool obsessed. I put it on the floor and she pretty much instantly claimed it.