Archive for May, 2006

do you whorl and twirl?

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

today i am bending to the pressure of the peanut gallery to write about spinning. in fact, i think i should try to have one day each week when i cover my spinning. for those of you who just want to see knitting, scroll past that to find my knitting updates. i even added some gardening at the end for any stray non-fiber persons that might happen onto the page!

often, spinning IS the reason i do not have new knitting to show! i spend a good deal of time on it, but for some reason, it often escapes my posts, as if it is the dark sister of my knitting. maybe because it is such a low-key, and noninvasive, activity that has become second nature to me, i do not think of it as being something that extends outside myself, or something that needs showing. and here, i am not talking about the product, the yarn, but the spinning itself.

so, of course, one of my astute readers has called me on that!
“why don’t you write about spinning?” she pestered me
“i want some exploratory posts about spinning”, she badgered.

okay, okay, i get the drift. and to celebrate that my work on the yarn rant is done, today is dedicated to

alpaca goodness. first a few facts about alpaca, gleaned from other sources

Alpaca is one of the world’s rarest natural fibers. Stronger, lighter, warmer and softer than wool, alpaca fleece comes in over 20 natural colors.

The soft ‘hand’ of alpaca fiber is a result of the combination of several factors. First is the natural fineness of the alpaca’s fleece, generally in the 18 – 29 micron range. (A micron is 1/1000 of an inch.) Alpaca fibers are also very flexible, a quality that gives alpaca fleece a softer feel than might be reflected by diameter alone. Finally, the structure of each individual shaft contributes to the alpaca’s soft hand. Whereas on many natural fibers, such as sheep wool, the scales that form the shaft tend to curl away, alpaca fleece viewed under a microscope will reveal scales that lie parallel to the shaft. These qualities create in alpaca a fiber that produces finished garments of unparalleled softness.

Even today archeologists find remnants of cloth made of alpaca fiber that are nearly 2000 years old – a testament to the durability of alpaca fiber!

Alpacas are of two distinctive types – the suri alpaca and the huacaya alpaca, and alpaca fleece comes in over twenty natural colors.

Huacaya alpacas are recognized by their woolly appearance. The fleece of a huacaya alpaca tends to stand straight away from the alpacas hide, and a high quality fleece demonstrates crimp of a short frequency.

The fleece of a suri alpaca hangs from the alpaca in long, tight, curly locks. Suri alpacas are known for the high luster that their fleece exhibits. Suri alpaca fleece is highly prized for use in exclusive woven fabrics.

Alpaca fiber, sometimes mistakenly referred to as alpaca wool, is sorted into 22 distinct colors, ranging from blacks through browns and whites, and including subtle shades of maroon, peach and grays. Alpaca fiber can be blended into an infinite array of natural colors, including combinations that do not occur naturally. Alpaca fiber takes and retains dyes very well.

Alpaca fiber has little to no guard hair and no lanolin. It is unusually strong and resilient. Fabrics made of alpaca fiber are unusually easy to care for and long-lived. These and other qualities make alpaca fiber a sought out commodity in commercial textile houses.

bottom line: for spinning, alpaca is smoother and more slippery, often longer, and finer than most wool fiber. since it does not have the crimpy elasticity of wool, it does not take twist as readily, or have the response to twist that wool does. this can be disconcerting, though most spinners grow to love working with alpaca. besides its natural tendancy not to be crimpy, there are two main types of fleece preparation (as for all spinning fiber), top (or sliver), and roving

the roving is pictured above the top in this photo. roving is fiber that is carded to clean and arrange it for spinning, into slightly twisted ropes. this is called woolen preparation; the fiber is left in a semi-chaotic state within the roving, with more air trapped between the fibers. this helps the spinner make a light and lofty yarn, that is fuzzy, warm, and which has a glow from within, due to light pouring through the spaces between fibers.

top is roving that is then additionally combed, so that the fibers becomes stretched and silky, and move into parallel position, with little air between fibers, and less cause for friction during spinning. this called worsted preparation, and is used to make yarns that are smoother, heavier, less prone to pilling, and cooler than woolen yarns, and which have higher lustre, due to light reflecting from the tighter surface.

the differences between the two can be seen in the photo; they are small differences, but every little change is felt in the spinning. seriously, (for you non-spinners) you’d be amazed; you can even feel separate fibers dragging across each other once you’ve done it for a little while!

top is, naturally, more slippery, and requires a practised hand, but has little or no vegetation to interrupt spinning or yarn consistency. roving is a little easier to spin, but the amount of vegetation included is higher, and may require patience to work with. here is some top that i am spinning this week

this one is showing some fuzziness, but unlike woolen fuzz, this fiber sticks straight out from the twisted ply. alpaca may also be blended with other fibers in order to take advantage of the best features of several fibers. here it is blended with some wool, which will help it have more spring in the finished yarn.

or, it can be spun on its own, and then plied with another fiber, which is what i am doing with this white. i love this romney wool from louise, a local producer; it makes light, springy yarn that does very well for socks. but we all know how hard david is on his socks, and i had this small amount of alpaca that melissa sent me for my birthday.

so i decided to spin up each one separately, in order to ply them together later, thinking the addition of the alpaca would strengthen the wool, and the wool would add warmth and springiness to the finished yarn.
here are some yarns that were made from alpaca, as well as some from alpaca and wool

and here are a couple of projects. this first one is a traditional peruvian poncho that was a request from david (this was before the poncho craze of fall ’04!). i wanted the fabric to look woven, so i used a herringbone slip-stitch pattern. (sorry about the pictures;it is the fabric i want to show off)

the two-tone wool makes it look like a real tweed fabric. it’s beautiful, but unfortunately it’s so heavy, that david mostly uses it as a blanket on chilly winter nights, though he has worn it to home depot a few times. then here is a swatch and a pullover i made from some really lustrous alpaca

as i said before, ohio has a LOT of alpaca—it is readily available to us, as well as being quite well-priced. so all the information above about its rarity, while true, is not so true in my immediate situation. lucky me!

all right, and now for what’s on my needles! i just HAD to start another dress for the little munchkin whose birthday is next week

i’m using the same dress pattern, but i am starting it wiht a 4-inch or so border of this lace pattern, and then doing the little bodice in openwork as well, to keep it airy.

debbie suggested a strap-back dress rather thatn a full-back bodice, and i may do some variation on that!! i love the idea, but have visions of those hand knit straps getting stretched and always falling off her lil shoulders.

i’m almost done with one green sock, but have been ignoring socks for the sake of the new dress

and i have been gardening. david and i bought a sorely neglected property 3.5 years ago; the yard had not even been raked in 8 years! needless to say, it has been a real evolution toward a better-looking yard, especially since we came here from a very urban apartment life.

we discovered some things growing here that just needed a little TLC, like these peonies that were hiding in the scrubby hedges along the backstreet

and we added some color of our own choosing; david loves poppies

and some areas—sigh—just needed a total overhaul. this spot used to be the site of a rickety set of rotting wooden stairs that went to what used to be a second floor apartment (kinda like the backstairs at an old western brothel . . .). the old walkway was a liability suit waiting to happen, since our property is the neighborhood thoroughfare between blocks. now it’s all been transformed

david made all these cool pavers and arranged them in a mid-century pattern that staggers to the garage from the house. no more pools of water, slush and ice in winter as we cross the yard. the plantings are all me—see how chaotic my gardening tendancies are?! fortunately i have this to calm me

i forgot to show this last item from my trip to wooster; my african bead. i was inordinately drawn to it and could not get it out of my mind. it’s ceramic and fired in some kind of raku or buried fire process. i will keep it on my desk with my stones from japan and my iron pine cone (and my sock), so i can touch it when i need to.

yarn rant phone list ready later today

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

for those participating in the yarn rant, who need a phone or street mail list, that will be available late this afternoon!!

the email lists are done and will be posted around 7 pm wednesday evening, so that the rant is concentrated all into one day.

combo knitting cable mania

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

i’ll start off with some knitting today—since i actually DID do a bit of knitting at wooster (but strangely, did not do much of it at home this weekend. hmm—well, that’s gardening for you).

anyway, so, saturday i got to take two classes with the wonderful Annie Modisett. the first one was an introduction to her combination knitting techniques. i thought it was going to be awkward to learn, because so many of my knitting habits are very ingrained (i have been observed as continuing knitting after dozing off more than once). but it wasn’t! it actually comes very naturally (which is exactly ms. modisett’s point), and makes a lot of sense. annie has put a lot of thought into why her technique is different and how it works better, and i was very interested to learn the technical details—which she shares with relish, rather than just saying “i dunno WHY it works, but it DOES”. it is all outlined thoroughly in her self-published tome

the ghist of it all is that, for some people whose kitting is uneven between knit and purl rows, the combination technique will help even it out. likewise for the vertical unnevennes we sometimes get in ribbing, between the knit rib and the purl rib. there are also special techniques for increasing and decreasing. in the swatch below, the new technique was practiced in sections 1 and 3, and my usual technique in section 2 and 4.

using the new technique caused a little unnevenness in my stitches that wasn’t there before, especially in the ribbing, but i’m sure that would disappear with practice. or, maybe i don’t need the new technique, but i did notice that in the ribbing, i did not get any vertical gapping between ribs, a problem i sometimes have. and though i do not see it in this swatch, sometimes my stockinette rows are uneven, depending on the yarn and needles used. so i would definitely use combination knitting if i were experiencing those problems.

the other class was to learn to cable without a cable needle, and let me tell you, i am SO ready to not use one any more! i love doing cables, but they slow me down, which i do not like. i had previously taught myself to do some twists without a cable needle, but my technique was limited to cables with three stitches or less.

here we did left cross and right cross cables as well and a braided cable. annie’s technique is MUCH better and i will use it a lot. it is definitely more suited to knitters who are very comfortable with their tools and with working stitches OFF the needles. it will save time and i will put it to use on that tangled ropes cabled pullover i started in february. i haven’t tried it yet with cables larger than 4 stitches, but i will keep you updated.

between classes we had a break, and we got to look round a little more. we mosied over to the skein competition to see what examples of handspun yarn had been entered and if the judging was done. as you can see, the results were in!

i don’t know why i never entered this competition; one of these years i really should—it would be fun! there are several different classes, such as fine or fingering yarn

and handspun singles (something i also keep meaning to try, but so far, have not)

then there is handspun from hand-dyed fiber

and finally the heavyweights

i (obviously) so enjoy examining the entries to skein competitins! spinning is more than a fiber interest for me—it is a both scientific and archaeological journey as well. it is an endeavor that just feels right for me on every level. being able to touch and closely examione other people’s spinning is a thrill for me. what can i say?? you know i’m a geek!

after the second class, the day was over and we headed home, but no trip from wooster is complete without a stop at the Dalton Dariette, so we succumbed. mm—french fries for lunch and soft ice cream for dinner!

early sunday morning i went back, to get some quiet time with vendors that i thought really stood out. i took some extra pictures, chatted with them, and made plans to interview them in the future. here is a brief overview of a few i did not already mention, with more in-depth coverage to come.

now, let it be said that, i am no rug hooker, and good thing, too, because Gloria Ault has got it going on, baby! i could never be more than a mere dabbler next to her. she and her husband larry retired from their careers and opened Aults Rug Hooking Store in shelby, OH

this is my favorite piece. i love how the chicken and the horse are always talking to each other every time i look—it’s hard to tell, but the background is FULL of all kinds of wonderful curves and pools of color. her fabric choices are witty and her compositions painterly, and even a little hallucinogenic—you know, in a folk art way! larry kept me quite entertained while we waited for gloria to come back from lunch

larry makes tools and frames for rug hooking and seems to be enjoying himself quite a bit! and here is gloria with a piece of proddy

which i had not heard of before, but fell in love with immediately. she had a small piece there that i am coveting, but which i KNOW she will never sell. i had a lot of questions about gloria’s artistic process, because the concept of wool fabric as a painting medium, was one i found captivating all of a sudden. mind you, i had never really given rug hooking a second thought before, so gloria, you have made a convert out of me! i am looking forward to a future interview with you!

i reluctantly moved on so this delightful couple would not get too weirded out by my sudden, inordinately-uncalled-for enthusiasm for their work and life. i turned my refreshed excitement to another victim vendor, Morning Star Fiber, a small wool processor. the mill is managed by Karen Christensen. sorry about this picture karen; i’ll get better ones when i visit you!!)

last year i had purchased some icelandic thel fiber from karen, which i spun into yarn for the middle tier of the wooster shawl. i decided to get some more of that because it was both enjoyable to spin and a pleasure to knit.

since her parents sold their flock of icelandics, this might be the last i get for a while! it was time for me to move on to my last stop, a visit with Walter Turpening, a furniture builder who specializes in made-to-measure chairs for fiber artists, as well as everyday home use.

need a better-fitting chair, rocker, or bench for spinning, knitting, weaving, or just plain sittin’ around shootin’ the breeze? walter will hook you up. walter left his career as a technology developer make chairs as a lifestyle. he fashions the frames from solid wood, and weaves the seats using designs based on mathematical functions.

oh, i know i am going to get into trouble if i try to explain that, so let’s just say that walter appreciates the relativity of geekiness and applies it liberally wherever he thinks we will appreciate it most!
now, i have looked at, and tested, walter’s chairs for several years, and this year, i finally decided to get one. i settled on the basic spinning chair in walnut

with the two-tone seat you see above, in the bench, giving walter complete artisitic freedom as to the weaving design. if, over the year it will take to be made, i can afford it, i will get the gradient gray seat weave i am lusting after (and which, of course costs QUITE a bit more!!). that seat satisfies my big danish modern heart, so i might just have to do it . . . but i will be patient and see what happens.

in the meantime, i got measured, and then had a wonderful conversation with walter about the geeky aspects of his work (i love that stuff!)—how he weaves the different cordings, how he decides on a seat design, etc.
here is walter’s lovely partner seated in the knitter’s rocker.

and that was it for me! i slowly walked back to the car and thought about everyone i had spoken with and all that i had seen. certainly, we landed in a place full of riches—it may have been accidental, but i feel as if i am right where i belong for now!

back to the ranch, now, for some yardwork and daydreaming.

woo-woo wooster!

Monday, May 29th, 2006

i don’t even know where to begin! i took about 100 pictures and talked to SO many people at the wooster fiber show this weekend. there were animals, exhibits, classes, and shopping—what to tell about first?

well, i guess first and foremost, if i haven’t mentioned this before, this show is NOT maryland!! and from what i hear, that is a very good thing. wooster is not about fitting the most vendors into a small area, or more bang for your buck, or a mall-of-america fiber experience. there are few large companies that are represented here, if any. this show is totally about the wonderful small- and micro-producers from the region.

that said, it was still a little crazy and crowded on saturday, so i went back early on sunday to take pictures and talk to the vendors. i was trying to organize the information last night, because there are so many great, small producers that come to shows like this, that you would never hear about otherwise, but too much about them to put into one post.

and i definitely want to interview several of them later, so you can read about their interesting lives and their products in detail. one thing almost always comes to light when conversing with small producers at fiber shows: so many of them have done what a lot of us dream of doing—left their established careers to start something completely new, which satisfies them in a different and creative way.

spending your weekends here, instead of stuck in a hi-rise office certainly has its appeal . . .
i’d like to tell you more about that aspect of the fiber life through closer examination later on.
i mean, c’mon—doesn’t margaret myer look happy (and young!)?? she’s raising angora bunnies and it obviously agrees with her!

so today i’ll try to show an overview of my adventures at the fair, and then i will cover each of the standout vendors in later posts with interviews. and even at that, today’s post may run into tomorrow . . . and that way, i can spread out the pictures of my purchases (which i like to think of as few, but significant . . . and yes, i’m kidding myself, but it works for me).

[NO PHOTOGRAPH DUE TO THE PORNOGRAPHIC NATURE OF THE COMBINED MATERIAL]

i did manage to stay away from the alpaca; i have enough of that at home, but really, it took a lot of fortitude . . . ohio is the nation’s largest producer of this mighty fiber, and at any show you will find a plethora of choices in every imaginable color, at unheard-of prices.

instead, annette and i made a beeline for the fleece show area and the Wooly Knob Fiber Mill, Inc. booth, since we had fleeces to drop off for processing, and some to purchase as well. debbie j is going to split fleeces with me this year.
to get her to stop lusting after, and plotting to steal, my cormo fleece from last year, i purchased us another lamb’s coat from Winterhaven Fiber Farm. i dropped that at the wooly knob booth, which saw a lot of action all day.

in the few years they’ve been in business, matt and jamie have garnered a good share of the region’s processing work. throughout their growth, they have been enthusiastic, entertaining and inspiring; they quit their jobs to start the mill and to live a better life.

in addition to processing our wool, they also produce their own fiber blends for spinning, incorporating recycled clothing that has been shredded, as well as their hand-dyed fiber (and you know i love me some recycling!). i always buy some of this wool; it is a dream to spin and gorgeous! i bought enough of this one for a sweater.

and now they have jamie’s parents rooked into it too—they recently opened an adjunct business over at their place—Aunt Aggie’s Spinning Mill, where you can get your roving spun into any yarn you like. jamie’s sister is producing goat’s milk lotion and soap . . . is this an empire in the making? anyway, we just love them and are really happy for their success!

at the fleece competition table, i bought us this charcoal gray fine wool (center front in the
above photo). SSHHH! those are the judges, making their decisions as about which fleeces
will win prizes.
i was longing for the brown one with the red ribbon as well, but i walked away.
then i came back, but i walked away again; it was just a little too expensive for me.
and on sunday i looked at it one last time . . . and i walked away!! tell me how proud you are.

then we got started on the vendors—we had only a couple of hours to browse and shop before our classes began, so we raced around a little, then realized how stupid that was, and started to relax! there was wool and hemp blend yarn from DZined.

i’ve been wanting to try something with hemp for a while, and i definitely wanted to know more about it. this vendor was hesitant to talk to me or let me photograph the booth, but her hand-dyed yarns are nice! i comtemplated the fiber for spinning, but decided to leave that for another time, and just buy one skein of sock yarn. (see how good i’m being?)

at the same booth where i bought the cormo fleece, i spied something that made my heart sing! really cool buttons! we don’t have any place here to look for great buttons; i sorely miss the button shops in NYC, which i used to prowl through for wonderful finds. but here at Winterhaven Fiber Farm, i found something i love.

hand-cut horn and antler buttons, with really quirky edges. when i knit with handspun yarn, i like the textures of buttons made from natural materials. these are perfect!

next i saw dave lewis, tucked into his corner at the information booth. dave belongs to the spinning guild that i participate in and is talented in myriad ways, which will be spotlighted in a later post just about him.

here, dave is doing some beadwork using a paper pattern—similar finished items sit nearby (he insisted on including the knitspot business card in the photo). dave is also an awesome high school science teacher, and as you can see, pretty happy to be almost done for the summer.

HoDoBe soap and wool is another vendor i visit every year to be sure i get some of her wonderful soaps. she makes a mean patchouli/oatmeal one as well as a cinnamon/oatmeal bar that i love. this year she has added some new ones made from goat’s milk (hey, is this a trend??) that i’m trying. nothing like following a swift, hot bike ride with a fragrant shower . . .

then i saw it. the Briar Rose Fibers booth. this is the place where my resolve melted and i spiralled into a black hole of yarn shopping and ruination.

i DO remember being amazed at the colors and choices. i also remember feeling my first hank or two, and speaking with the lovely proprietress (whose name i asked, and thought i would remember, and i think it might be chris, but i can’t find it on her site, so please email me so i know!). but i’m afraid that halfway through that conversation, my speech began to slur and fade as i turned dizzily, not knowing where to begin pawing through yarn first.

you can see from the blurry photographs that my blood sugar was dropping rapidly. so, you can then go on to deduce (and excuse) what happened next. i mean, it wasn’t a massacre of my bank account exactly . . . it’s just that i was being SO good, and i had PROMISED myself i would not buy a bunch of yarn.

the merino/tencel blend is soft, lusciously colored, and has a beautiful sheen.
i just want you to know that no, i did NOT grab the whole basket in my arms and run. i wanted to, but i did not. and you know i would never do anything so undignified.

instead, i just dumped it out and inspected each and every skein, positioned in such a way that no one else could (or would dare) approach the area. a 500-yd. hank makes this shawl, so i bought two (different ones), and one of them is the last hank of a similar yarn that contains silk.

and then . . . well, then i discovered the merino/nylon superwash sock yarn basket. everyone is quite aware that i do not need more yarn, especially not sock yarn. maybe i can use it for christmas gifts . . . oy, oy, oy. but honestly, can you blame me??

i even dragged annette back to this booth so she could commit similar acts of injustice to her wallet. i just knew she’d dig this yarn! we will be talking again with this wonderful dyer about her business and her life for a future post. that is, if i can manage to get her name right (i can’t help it, i just keep thinking of her AS briar rose . . .). and who knows, if we get to the michigan festival this year, we may even get to visit her workshop!

by now, it was time for classes, which took up all of saturday afternoon. i’ll stop here, and let you catch your breath til tomorrow’s post. i don’t want to bore you by running on and on and on.

oh yeah, i do that every day without giving it a second thought. hmm.