hello friends. sorry for the delay in new posts as well as any trouble you might have had contacting us by email today; we had some server maintenance this week that went on longer than expected
brrrr, is it cold here—not only are the temperatures sticking to the single digits but the wind chill is driving those numbers to the minus 20 mark.
forests of frost are creeping across the window panes and i’ve taken to wrapping my wool sarong over my pants—our house lacks insulation and the walls are radiating cold; it travels surprisingly far across the floor and up my legs.
i love this one—it looks like a storybook sleigh riding hill.
the upside is that it’s soup making weather and when i finish this blog post, that’s just what i’m going to do—make a huge pot of vegetable soup.
we even have a few things left in the garden to pick for it—while the tops of these green onions don’t look so hot, the part that is buried in dirt and insulated by snow is still viable for cooking.
now let’s see—where did we leave off last time?
oh yes, with our arrival at blessed criations ranch, the home of america’s natural fiberworks, where our better breakfast yarns and our mohair blends are now produced.
(emily made new friends throughout our two-day adventure here)
we didn’t exactly hit the weather jackpot last weekend, but we still shot plenty of great photos and video which will be used in a chapter of our blanket club eBook featuring the better breakfast yarn (each yarn option will get a turn to be featured in a chapter).
besides running a busy mill operation which specializes in processing alpaca, owners carrie and robbie davis raise beautiful alpacas for fiber, as well as cormo sheep.
while the wind turned the outside weather bitter cold, we stepped into the warm mill building to be greeted by bones (left) and tigger (right), who instantly sussed out emily as a likely
the first thing we did was to look over the two hundred pounds-ish of mohair fiber that arrived a few weeks ago from pennsylvania producer, john frett.
those who were in the 2014 BNK club are familiar with john—and his goats—from the april chapter of the eBook (for those not in that club, the final version of the 2014 eBook, including nineteen patterns, is now available in our online shop and in our ravelry pattern shop).
carrie and robbie made those test samples of the beautiful mohair blends that i showed you last week
from some of this mohair batch. we had a meeting to talk about how we would use the rest. there is a lot of white fiber and some red (which is really a caramel brown) and some gray. they will blend some with merino for our chebris yarns
and some with silk and bright white, lustrous coopworth from carol wagner in wisconsin, for our sparkling cabécou brillant.
with a nice variety of colored mohair and access to colored merino, they can blend a range of shades for these yarns. in addition to white, we can expect grays and—with that reddish brown fiber—a champagne shade. we will do the cabecou in sport and lace weights and the chebris in lace, sport, and worsted (to take the place of the old chèvre yarn, but softer). plus, we are discussing an alpaca/mohair/silk lace blend.
i know—i’m drooling too. and we haven’t even talked about the better breakfast yarns, which we are now done testing and will be rolling out in earnest as soon as our january shipment arrives. we may even be able to open up additional spots in our blanket club for the better breakfast option; we’re looking into that now.
carrie has a little shop set up in the lower level of their home and is playing around with alternative products as time allows. she and robbie gather the fiber and hair that drops into the vacuum chamber of the dehairing machine and collects under the carder to make a lofty, cushy alpaca core yarn that is about .5 inch in diameter. they are developing felted rug designs with it and offering the yarn for sale to weavers.
last month they sent a bump to us that was made from all the fallout from our fiber run; we take turns petting it and dreaming up projects we should do with it.
(note the wild colors in that bag of alpaca and tuck that into your brain for later . . .)
anyway, back to earth . . . carrie was eager for all of us to try our hands at making some yarn of our own devising. we were excited about this idea too, and chose a blend of alpaca, merino, and small quantities of yak/silk blend and pearl infused rose fiber.
yes, you read right—pearls.
do you need a little break to pant?
the fiber is a cellulose based synthetic which is infused with crushed pearls. the smallest amount—as little as 2%—adds a smooth, polished feeling and soft sheen to any blend. we are told it even has benefits for the skin. that’s it on top of the fiber sandwich in the photo but will be covered over with the merino layer before entering the carder.
once it goes through the carder and a couple of drafting frames, it comes out looking like this—a cloud of unbelieveableness. seriously heavenly.
and all those colors? blended to a shade of gray that, on closer inspection, has threads of everything running through and a halo of gold. i brought a four-ounce bag of the stuff home to spin by hand; i’m hoping to make some nice lace yarn with it. i bet with that pearl stuff the slip is incredible.
next it goes onto the spinners; we decided to have a light fingering yarn spun at about 2200 yards per pound—that would give us approximately 550 yards per skein.
here it is, fresh off the spinner, before washing.
it felt unutterably soft; good thing there was a skein for each of us to squeeze or we’d have been fighting!
it took most of the day to take those two pounds of fiber from bags to skeins—in a real production situation, carrie and robbie make much better use of their time, so we really appreciated that they took the day to give us this experience.
the yarn came out so well that we might actually put it into production, possibly as a special edition for a future sweater or shawl release. for now, we decided i should knit sweater from some of it (i know exactly what i want it to be).
as we passed the skeins around, we all marveled over its burnished, antique coin color and jokingly decided that we should name it “money” because that’s what it feels like.
during the long drive home we schemed and planned our next steps with this mill—they do make the most beautiful yarns.
i had told emily and erica that i would wait til the next day to wash the yarn but it was only 9 pm or so when i got in, so i decided to put in on to soak right away. i put each skein into a mesh bag, loaded into the washing machine with hot water and wool soap and let it soak for a while. then a quick handwash cycle, rinse, and spin.
sparkling clean now, it was ready to hang to dry. which took a lot longer than i expected—about two days, even with the drying rack set close to the heat vent (which is running constantly in this weather).
eventually it was dry—notice the transformation in the loft; the upper photo is kind of flattened and elongated, while the lower photo shows a lofty, light and springier yarn. mmm.
the process of making yarn is not complete until—you guessed it—swatching has been completed. you need to knit some fabric with the yarn to see if the structure makes a viable fabric and what kind it is suited for. we want to know if it will bias right or left from overspinning or underpinning (respectively); we also want to assess if the amount of twist holds the yarn together nicely and feels good to the hand. do you recognize my swatch?
i’m working on secret knitting all weekend, but once in a while, i’ll treat myself to a swatching break with this yarn. i need to make several pattern swatches to determine the optimal needle size as well as several stockinette swatches for a “control” group to archive.
i always admire my friend anne marie in this regard; she makes all her swatches and labels them carefully, then sends them back to us with each sample item or test knit she makes.
and my swatches, plentiful though they are—well, you know how they end up.
we had a great day here at home today too—david and i became a great-uncle and auntie today and i hope you don’t mind me showing off our new status just a little
he’s a big strapping boy of 9 pounds and cute as a button, i think—i love his gigantic hands; they stamp him as a hanson, haha. but then again i may be partial.
we are all so excited—this is the first baby in our fourth living generation. everyone is healthy and happy
i can’t get over that my little imp of a nephew, who was just a boy—what, like five minutes ago?—is now a dad in his thirties!
it’s all good. i hope we can go visit on a weekend soon; i better get to work on little knitted something or other, hadn’t i?