Friday, July 27, 2007

Back home again

I'm back in my own home sweet home after a simply wonderful trip through Yellowstone Park, Jackson, and Wapiti Valley. I am so grateful for Thomas and I to have had this chance to spend such a luxuriously long time together, just the two of us. We saw geysers, a grizzly bear, mountains, rivers, trees, pronghorn antelopes, elk, and lots of bison (is it any coincidence that my favourite animals were the fiber-bearing ones? I think not.) I hoped to find some bison fibre for spinning, or at least some bison yarn, somewhere on my travels but alas, did not, so I will order some from somewhere (once I remember where I saw the information about it.)

As any self-respecting knitter would, I took multiple knitting projects with me. I had enough sock yarn on hand for at least five pairs of socks and all the accouterments necessary. But.....gasp.....dare I say it? I did not knit a single stitch. Every day was so full, and I was enjoying my time with Thomas so much, that I didn't need to, or want to, knit. This of course brings my sanity into question but I plead in my defense that since Thomas left his golf clubs at home (and golf is to him what knitting is to me) for the first vacation ever we just spent time doing things together instead of our own activities. And we liked it.

Of course, this can't continue. Since returning home we've each rectified the situation by (for me) immediately starting a sock out of a self-patterning Sockotta yarn in black, white, and purple (it's in the lower left corner of the photo; the ball that looks like it got started as something and then unraveled, because that is what happened to it some time ago) and Thomas has been on the golf course three days out of the four we have been home. My knitting habit is actually cheaper than his golf habit, but the evidence of my stash acquisitions does have a way of hogging up closet space, while golf doesn't leave a lot of traces around the house, if you don't count all those tiny golf pencils in the laundry.

And even if I didn't knit, at least I did buy some yarn! There's a very nice small needlework shop in Cody called The Iron Kettle, and I wanted to get a little something as souvenir yarn. I must admit to not paying as much attention as I normally would, and thought I had purchased some Wildfoote sock yarn, but after returning home I realized I had in fact bought Cotton Fine from Brown Sheep. This comes from not actually reading the label, but simply thinking I recognized the style of the lettering on the label. This turns out to be a happy accident as I have been wanting to try Cotton Fine (80% cotton, 20% merino) as I have really liked Cotton Fleece yarn, which is a worsted weight version of the same blend. I love the deep red colour (sorry for the blurry photo) and now am not sure if it will still be socks as I had planned, or if it will become a lace scarf or something of that sort.

As I had planned to knit on the trip, and had planned to knit socks, I purchased a Knitpicks complete set of sock needles, along with two skeins of Gloss (80% merino, 20% silk) in Grape and two skeins of Palette (heathered wool) in a deep blue. I'm using the needles for the first time on the Sockotta socks, and am loving them. I chose the 6" length which is so much easier in my small hands than 7 or 8"ones, and even though I knit loosely the slick metal is not sliding out of my stitches as I feared they might - maybe the shorter length helps there, too. The Knitpicks set is great because it contains 2.00 mm through 3.25 mm sizes, which in US sizes translates to size 0 through 3, with two variations of sizes 1 and 2, giving a complete range of choices. The set comes in a neat clear plastic envelope with a secure snap.making it perfect for carrying around. Now if only it fit into the Knitpicks Options inter-changeable circulars binder.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I'm on vacation!

I'm off on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park and environs to celebrate my 50th birthday and my 10th anniversary with my main squeeze. I've got enough sock yarn and patterns to keep my busy for a month, the Yarn Harlot's new book, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off, my camera, my suitcase, my sweetheart, and a Mustang convertible to ride/drive. I'll spend 3 nights in the Wapiti Valley visiting Vickery and I'm planning on a great 10 days altogether! See ya!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Sheep to Shawl (again)

Yesterday was the final day of the Alameda County Fair, which means it's also the day for the annual Alameda County Sheep to Shawl competition. The competition is open to anyone who wishes to join, not just Alameda County residents/teams, and the Silverado Spinsters team I participate with always looks forward to this low-key event. This year we had a whopping 7 teams in the competition. So often we find that there are only 2-3 teams in the competition, and while this guarantees every competitor a prize-winning competition, it does take a little of the glow off of one's sense of accomplishment.

The Silverado Spinsters team has worked really hard over the 2 years plus that I've been competing with them to improve our skills at spinning to a standard. This means finding some way to accurately compare the yarns each team member is spinning to be as sure as possible that we are all spinning the same yarn. We've made great strides in achieving this skill and decided to put it to the test at Alameda.

In recent competitions we had developed a shawl design that has become an almost sure-thing winner, so rather than rest on our laurels we determined to design a shawl that would challenge our abilities to spin to a pre-determined standard. We had beautiful white and champagne coloured fleeces, and selected a block lace design using primarily the white, with accents of the champagne colour.

The lace pattern meant that the body of the shawl needed to be in a plain weave, which not only doesn't drape as well as a twill-based pattern, but also makes every flaw more visible. Especially in the very fine, tightly spun yarns needed for a lace pattern to show off well it can also look a tad on the , shall we say, cheesecloth-like side? We knew careful design and good, consistent spinning would be critical to making this shawl a winner.

As usual, we spun like crazy, and wove like fiends, and got the shawl off the loom and to the judges in time to get the bonus points for finishing in the early time frame. Then the long, tense wait for the judging began.

This competition doesn't hire an independent judge but asks each team to nominate a member (or 2, this year) to participate in the judging. Each 2-person panel judges all the shawls except its own. So the final results are more of a judging by our peers rather than from a single expert. I must admit, I really like the feedback we usually get from the independent judge, who more often than not discusses each shawl and explains why he/she made the prize decisions that were made.

By the time the final decisions were announced we were very pleased to be voted the 2nd place winners, with the Spindle and Flyers team from Berkeley taking first place. We knew we'd taken a chance with our simpler (in appearance, if not in actual production), less colourful shawl and we're very happy with the results. And we each have beautiful red ribbons to add to our collections!

Friday, July 6, 2007

More catching up to do

A continuation of the cotton/elastine socks from my June 17 post.... I had ordered 3 balls of 2 different colours of's Esprit cotton and elastic yarn to make socks for my Mom a month or so ago, and found that the yarn makes a lot more socks than one might think. I made her one pair out of the lighter seafoam green colour, and used 1 1/2 balls total. So I made a second pair using the darker teal colour, and still had enough to make a 3rd pair, this time in a stripe sequence that is identical for each sock but with reversed colours. The first 2 pairs were in a feather & fan lace pattern on size 6 US needles, which made a fairly airy fabric. I used size 5 US for the striped socks, which I like better. The only downside I really see is that I got a definite line that appeared in the gap between my dpns. I don't usually have a problem with this so I wasn't looking for it, but it does show up even after blocking. It appears faintly in the lighter coloured sock in my picture. However, the yarn is soft and cushy, and is definitely a good choice for wool-phobic people, or as a gift for someone who's foot size is not well known.

Other topics... I finally finished plying the first wool that I carded in my new drum carder, which I use primarily to blend fibres and/or colours. I had a partial, pre-washed polwarth fleece that was a variety of silver-grey shades that I blended with undyed silk noil. The noils clumped much more than I expected, and while my goal was to produce an oatmeal-y sort of colour there were larger lumps of silk than I planned, but the finished product is still pretty much what I wanted.

While I finished spinning the singles some time ago I had delayed completing the plying; I have found that the plying head on my Lendrum wheel is challenging to treadle; it puts a real strain on my lower back, and I pushed too hard and plyed more carelessly than usual. I finally got it done by spending only 30 minutes at a time maximum , and slowly but surely finished it. Once I had finished plying the 2nd skein I realized the 1st skein was really badly done, so I ran it through the wheel a 2nd time to tighten it up. I now have about 750 yards of yarn that looks great, but let's face it, each skein is a little different. Not my finest spinning job, but I was a bit distracted by admiring the beautiful wool/silk mix.

I will knit the yarn in alternating rows from each skein to help blend the 2 different skeins; it will need it. I'm not sure yet what I will make with it, but since I know it's not enough to make an entire sweater I'm picturing doing some sort of round-yoke pullover that will allow me to work the body and sleeves before committing to the yoke, where I can introduce additional colours in the yoke as needed to make the yarn go further. I haven't made a sweater like that in years and it sounds like fun to try it again.

My Mom's vest is going slowly, as in I'm unknitting with as great or greater speed than I am knitting. This is where I was a few days ago; the center back is the lower edge of the photo (a bit of the provisional cast on is showing there) and the top edge of the picture is the armhole edge.

While I do like the colours and textures, I feel like the squared-off zig zag in the chenille is much stronger than the narrower rows of darker colours. It's also a bit wider than I want for the center back to armhole measurement, so I'm going to rip back and rework it. I like the chenille zig zag, but I think the other stripes need to be beefed up a bit, and perhaps have a little more texture added. The chenille has plenty of texture and visual weight and I want the other yarns to balance it, not fade into the background. At least I know know exactly how many rows I want from center back to armhole and can work out a more pleasing stripe sequence based on a known number rather than flying blind.

Once I get this first half of the back into a satisfactory state I'm going to go back and work from the center back out to the other armhole so I won't forget what I've done. I've included lots of shaping to fit my Mom's body that is proving to be challenging to write down as I go, so if I don't wait too long to do the 2nd half I will be in a lot better shape down the road.