Friday, September 29, 2006

A Time to Spin, Part 2: Er, it can't be that hard, right?

I arrived home with the Pennic haul in mid-August. Book in tow, I bravely began to tackle my new supplies. First, the pink roving. It's pretty densely packed, this stuff, probably felted up a tiny bit when it was being dyed and then packed up tight for a while. I wasn't sure how to prep the roving, so I pulled off a little sliver and started pulling it apart, then attached it to the spindle, and off I went. I ended up with rather light-weight yarn with a lot of twist. Here's the picture again of that first go:

That's a picture of the first attempt at spinning the roving. I had so much twist on it that one night I wound it off and then moved it back to the spindle, slowly unspinning it a bit at a time to let some of the exsessive twist out. Is that the "proper" thing to do while handspinning? Who knows, but I did it. It's now a little better than it was at first, as we'll see below.

Next, I decided I couldn't keep my hands off of it: the washed fleece. But what the heck to do with it? Card it? Comb it? Try spinning right from the fleece? I didn't have hand-carders or wool combs, and wow, are they expensive. A trip to the pet store netted me 2 dog brushes, and I tried to remember how to card wool using the instructions in the book and some online references. The last time I did this I was about 10 years old. (OK, don't work it too much, you just want to straighten it all out a bit...) I finally ended up with a few rolags, and spun those on the top-whorl Ashford student spindle. Here's the spun version of what I carded:

Neat, but it's a little fuzzier than I expected, and when I tried drafting it thinner, it wouldn't hold together. Perhaps I should buy the expensive hand-carders, I think. Maybe I should try combs! I would definitely have to order those, no one seems to stock them, not even (I checked) the ToRontO-shop-which-shall-reMain-Nameless-but-they-sent-me-Into-the-basement (Toronto knitters, you probably know The Basement.) Perhaps I'm not using the right spindle to get the weight of yarn I want... er, better yet, perhaps I should actually go and talk to someone who knows what the hell to do with this stuff!

Enter Lettuce Knit, and Laura's drop spindle class. We were provided with some lovely hand-dyed roving and a spindle (another Ashford student spindle, ah, what the heck), and 4 hours of solid, patient instruction for 2 hours, two Fridays in a row. Here's my roving from class (I bought the matching second skein for $6):

Sadly, I'm lacking pictures of the in-progress spinning or of our "homework": 2 toilet-paper rolls of singles to take to the second week's class for our plying lesson. Perhaps when I spin up the rest of this roving, I'll fill in that gap. However, I do have pictures of the finished product, or My First Official Skein (2-ply hand-dyed merino):

I have to say, thanks to Laura's wondermous roving (which she had already pre-drafted a bit for us) it suddenly made sense. It's all in the fibre preparation. The better-prepared the fibre is, the easier it is to spin. This stuff is wonderfully soft, and made learning to spin on a drop spindle way easy. In fact, it was so much fun to spin Laura's roving that I bought more:

Laura also humoured me and brought "real" handcarders and wool combs to the second lesson, and at the end we played a little with various types of fibre preparation. I brought The Fleece, and the class got to meet it, and Laura carded a little bit and combed a little bit and everyone got to see how that works. I came to the conclusion that my dog brushes are actually pretty good (just a little small, so not as much volume, meaning, slower to card everything).

And I definitely decided that I need wool combs. I'm considering calling these guys, although that would be a bit of a splurge. Alternatively, a much more affordable option is the combs from Majacraft, which I think I can order from The Black Lamb. However, Lettuce Knit can also order the Louet Dutch Combs, and I really love Lettuce Knit. And folks, service goes a long way. I'll stew on it for a couple more days and let you know.

Armed with my newfound spinning knowledge, I tackled the pink roving again. Now that I actually know how properly predrafted roving is supposed to feel before I spin it, I'm more comfortable working with the densely packed roving. Here's how it's spinning up now, compared to that first batch of spun yarn:

Improvement? Not? Who's to say. It's not as even and it's not as light, but I'm more relaxed, the hand-dyed nature of the roving colour is coming through better, and my hands don't hurt from holding it so tightly. In other words, works for me. Perfection is overrated anyhow.

And finally, I tried spinning some of the grey superwash straight out of the ball o' fluff. Fun! Different! Harder to keep it together... but if you think about it, that makes sense. [Teacher Mode]The little scales or barbs on the wool fibre (when seen under a microscope) are what allow us to do so many wonderful things with it. Those little scales are what cause wool to felt when exposed to heat (which opens up the fibre more) and agitation (which causes the barbs to rub together and get tangled up due to the friction). The little scales are also what help wool to become yarn, because the natural friction of the fibres, when combined with a little twist, makes them stay together. [/Teacher Mode]

In other words, yay friction! But the treatment to make wool "superwash", as I understand it, strips away some of the outside of the fibre - some of the little scales. And therefore it doesn't want to stick together as much. In practise, it means I'm having to put more twist on this, after very carefully training myself over the last month how to use less twist. I hear you laugh. Anyhow, here's some of the superwash yarn in-progress:

So, that's part 2 of the spinning adventure. In part 3, more roving, some combed top, alpaca and silk! Woo! And did I mention Lettuce Knit offers regular Spinning Wheel classes? Hmmm? Maybe that's for Part 4.

I leave you with this picture. As for a caption, I was thinking, "Thank you for your offering, pitiful human", or perhaps, "Yes, lovely, but I'm still prettier." Husband's response was, "It's not a hairball, honest!"

Monday, September 25, 2006

Picture, thousand words, blahblahblah: The Knitting Spot

Crazy Aunt Purl has asked her blog readers to send her a picture of their knitting spot. I, needing little encouragement to procrastinate on the work I should have been doing for the last week and didn't, was more than happy to oblige. In fact, I took several pictures, which I now present here, with commentary.

SIDE NOTE: In Fall 1993, the beginning of my final year at Syracuse University, I took Intro to Archaeology as an elective (point of fact: Best Elective EVER). As our major project, we were asked to create an archaeological artifact list of our dorm room. In other words, imagine that in October 1993, a volcano erupted and buried Syracuse, New York. You are an archaeologist a few centuries later who has broken through the roof of a buried room, which has been left spectacularly intact buried under the volcanic ash. Give a complete artifact inventory, and speculate about the life of the room's occupant.

It's amazing what people can learn about YOU by studying your living space.

This is My Knitting Spot:

Tiger, asserting his Feline Right-By-Birth, moved over to my spot the moment I got up to take the picture. I habitually occupy the left side of the couch, because there's a little table there where I can put scissors, yarn and drink, and it's a good place for the OTT Lite. Stacks of magazines on the table are sorted and tossed every so often, or more likely when they fall over. Notice the wallet, cell phone (charging) and ever-present Starbucks Venti Caramel Macchiato peaking out from behind the OTT Lite. This is where I sit as soon as possible after coming home. I drop my things (backpack to the right) and check email (laptop computer on the coffee table). It's also where I work, knit, stitch, watch TV and spend most evenings.

Behind the couch (second-hand from an aunt, actually a love seat, biggest we can fit into tiny basement apartment), is the wall-o-cds. It extends off to the left. A little bit of the completely mirrored wall behind it can be seen poking out to the right of the CD racks, with the reflection of things off-screen. Moving further right, the "unwatched" DVD stack. I've mentioned our DVD and CD obsession before. So, photographic evidence now. Hanging on the side wall in the corner is another CD rack shaped like a lizard. Cute, gift from my mother, not a bit practical as far as volume goes, but I like it. We're actually thinking of packing away most of the CDs, now that the entire CD library has been ripped to the IPod.

The backpack is leaning against an old TV stand, which serves as another place to acumulate piles of papers and more junk. Underneath it we store some computer peripherals. You can also see the pet brushes that serve as my wool carders, until I can afford good ones. Box of little hand sanitizers on the table. Next to the backpack, on the floor, a pile of books with a new board game on top. Hanging on the wall above the TV stand is an old poster of this painting that I had up in my dorm room over a decade ago.

Wedged between the little end table and TV stand are the knitting WIP bag (lower, canvas) and the spinning WIP bag (upper, black with pattern). Two plastic bags perched on top contain this past weekend's spinning purchases, in full view so that the husband could see the evidence when he came home. I'll detail those in a later post, but they include alpaca and some hand-dyed silk hankies, woo!

Under the end table, photographic evidence of the other cat, Ford, in the form of shredded bits of paper. It's a hobby with him. I think that was once a pizza flyer. He hangs out under there sometimes.

Now then, no "knitting spot picture" is complete without a view of what one sees from the spot. So I give you My Knitting Spot View:

Ford is occupying his normal spot, front and centre, on the coffee table, and will surely kick both remotes off the table as soon as he stretches back out, as is his way. My computer on the left, husband's computer to the right. (He usually takes it to work with him, but today was a "running late" day.) We have a wireless hub in the back of the apartment, so both laptops can be online anywhere in the place.

Against the far wall, the television setup. More DVDs in front of it and on top of the left speaker. These are "what we're working through now." Also in front of the TV is the new MacMini, for which the television also serves as a monitor, and below it is the TV-tuner thing that allows it to take an incoming television signal and view it through the computer, and also record shows. This setup is intended to replace the aging VCR and DVD player, which are still there and will be sent away once we work all the bugs out of the new system. (The silver mouse on the coffee table is for the MacMini, the keyboard is under the coffee table.) There's also a PS2 under the TV (hiding behind my monitor), and you can see the end of our old telephone, which I insisted stay accessible for when the power goes out and the cordless phones don't work. Found that out the hard way.

To the right of the stereo (and the cat thing on top of it), PS2 games and Oh-my-God-More-DVDs. Help me, please, I'm being buried in them. Small pile of take-out menus under the Star Wars movies. To the far right, you can see the corner of my stash storage boxes (mostly cross stitch patterns and knitting supplies). Hanging above is an Animaniacs lithograph bought many years ago - a storyboard of the "I'm Cute" segment, signed by the voices of the Warners. The cats like to sleep on top of those boxes, in front of the print.

Hanging next to the Animaniacs print (from a light) is a dreamcatcher, hand-made by a local woman as part of a stash exchange. She didn't have stash to trade, and this is what she offered! It's neat, and by far my favourite trade ever. Above the TV us my finished and framed Teresa Wentzler "Unicorn". Better picture can be seen here.

A word on the wallpaper: Yes, I know it's nasty. It was here when we moved in over 12 years ago, and it will most certainly be here when we move out in a couple years. We couldn't be bothered to deal with it - we are renters, and I have an aversion to anything resembling construction projects and home improvement, being the daughter of a contractor (meaning: our house was always the last to be finished - the bathroom was under construction for years.)

To the left of the TV you can glimpse a corner of the door to the kitchen. Another Venti Starbuck's cup is clearly visible. I hope it's empty, otherwise, um, eew, gross. It's sad, this addiction.

Two final notes: The big white plastic bag below the stereo contains board games, used yesterday by my husband at a gathering and not yet packed away. I mention it because Tiger has a plastic fetish, and unsurprisingly chewed off a corner of the bag some time in the night, and then promptly puked it up with his breakfast this morning. On my bed. Yay, laundry time.

Finally, on the floor in the bottom right corner: that white and black thing is Fuzzytail, or Ford's Most Beloved Toy. It was his first toy when he was a kitten, over 11 years ago, a strip of rabbit fur that originally had a piece of wire inside (removed immediately so he wouldn't hurt himself) and a rubber band string to hang from a stick and make it bounce around (chewed through in first 5 minutes). Fuzzy tail is getting a little bald on the ends from much licking and playing, but he persists.

So there we go. Enlightening? Er, maybe not. But a good way to spend an afternoon? You betcha.

Finally, in the tradition of Crazy Aunt Purl, a cat picture with a caption:

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Time to Spin, Part 1: The Pennsic haul

I spent several idyllic days in August visiting my family, although most of that time was spent at Pennsic. (That's the official link. Another linky here). Any SCAdians reading this will know exactly what this is, for the rest, this is a large (really, really large) event hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism (another link here). This event has been taking place for a couple decades now at the same campground in Western PA, and growing every year. Conveniently, the campground is about 5 miles from my ancestral home, where my parents and a number of friends and relatives still live. There aren't a lot of perks to be had from that (my knowledge of the local back roads and places to go in the area means little at an event where people don't have much reason or desire to leave the site), but it does make the laundry thing far less troublesome, and I have a place to crash if it all gets to be too much and Oh-my-God-I-just-need-a-real-shower-and-a-bed-now.

One of my nieces has been going for several years, and I finally managed to go and spend some time with her. I've been wanting to go to Pennsic (and possibly get more involved in the SCA) for some time, but there was the university thing, followed by the getting married thing, followed by the moving to Canada thing, then the "Oh my God, I have to work for a living" thing. Then came the "I want to play in a concert band" thing and finally the "This would be a great time to go back to grad school" thing. Before you know it, 15 years have gone by, and I've STILL never made it to Pennsic or looked up my local SCA groups. Which is pathetic, really.

So this year I went. I had two goals: 1) See if I would be comfortable at an SCA event and if this is something I would like to do more often, 2) Learn to spin on a drop spindle. The jury is still out on the first goal, although I've since been in contact with my local groups. I'm going to their meetings for a bit to observe quietly and see if any of them would be a good fit for my interests.

The second goal, however, was quite sucessfully met. In the interests of full disclosure, I bring you Bridget's Pennsic Stash Haul:

First, drop spindles, and a book to teach me what to do with them. The top whorl spindle is your basic Ashford Student (inexpensive) spindle. I like it well enough. I bought it with the book, along with some roving. The second is a hand-made clay low-whorl spindle, bought from this shop. It's heavier than the Ashford, spins forever, and I adore it. In this picture, it's holding my first spinning attempt.

The brooch was bought from the same merchant. I needed it for the scarf, which I feel I should explicitely state was bought from a completely different merchant.

Ahem, the scarf. I should explain a bit. I had no garb of my own. Rather, I was wearing garb borrowed (mostly) from my father. His shirt was huge, oversized, and fit like a sack (not a bad thing, honestly). There was also a large piece of cloth that he wore like a tartan, over one shoulder and belted around the waist. I decided to wear that as a head covering instead of a hat (which is problematic with my hair up in a bun), lest I roast in the August sun, SPF 50 be damned. I discovered very quickly the first day that his pseudo-tartan was far heavier material than I wanted. I was sweating like a freaking pig. Hence, the scarf. A very lovely scarf, much cooler, with the ends beautifully yet heavily overdyed using who-the-hell-knows-what-but-damn-its-BLUE. It was also definitely NOT colourfast dye. To be fair, the merchant I bought it from warned me. She suggested I buy this scarf since most of it was undyed (most of her others were completely dyed), and thus I wouldn't end up with a smurf-coloured head and face as soon as I stared sweating on it. She also recommended that I NOT allow it to be rained on, and if I intended to wear it as a head covering with any regularilty, that I wash it and try to fix the dye once I got home, perhaps with vinegar. Under normal circumstances, I probably would have moved along to the next merchant and bought something confirmed to be colourfast, but the scarf was pretty, and I was desperate.

This lovely scarf got me through the rest of my trip without incident (and, in fact, netted me a couple compliments from complete strangers - Pennsic is like that). I managed to keep the ends from touching my sweaty self the whole time. I tried to set it with some really good dye fixative when I got home (Raycafix, recommended for "unknown" dyes), but alas, let's just say that the scarf ends are no longer that brillant shade of blue. In fact, it bled so much that if it were red instead of blue, it could have made for an awkward conversation with the neighbours in the laundry room. It's now a lovely, pale aquamarine, at best. Not a big deal, it wasn't expensive. I'm going to play with it a bit and see if I can re-dye it. If so, perhaps the scarf will make another blog appearance.

Anyhow. Back to the rest of the stash.

Next is the pink roving, bought at the same place as the Ashford spindle and the book. Apparently it was dyed with Brazilwood using tin as a mordent.

This roving is the first thing I tried spinning, on the clay low-whorl spindle. My first spun yarn is here, with a better picture of the spindle. Considering how densely packed the roving was (it needed a lot of pre-drafting) and the fact that I'd never used a spindle before, it's not too bad, actually. There's too much twist, of course, which isn't surprising for a learner, especially given how heavy and fast this spindle is.

When I was buying the clay spindle, I also grabbed another bag of fleece. This one is merino lamb's fleece, superwash treated. It's so light and fluffly that I can spin it without brushing or combing. The staple length is a little shorter, though. I'm just starting to play with it now, so more on that in the next post.

By this time, the fleece-buying frenzy had completely taken hold. A few merchants were selling raw fleece as well, and I wandered into one such tent. The woman was a dear - or perhaps a deer is more accurate, since she had antlers strapped to her head. (They looked great, btw... did I mention I was at Pennsic? *grin*) She took one look at my red, sweaty face (this was the day before I bought the new scarf), and she promptly sat me down and plopped a handful of ice into my hands. We sat on the bench in the shade and rubbed our faces and arms with ice for a while, talking. A third woman joined us. After a bit, I realized I'd come into her shop to look at the fleece! The one I really liked wasn't washed, and even I - an enthusiastic newbie in the throes of fleece-buying euphoria with a healthy credit card, realized that I didn't have a convenient way to wash and dry a large fleece promptly upon returning home. Seriously, I live in a basement apartment, and I have no yard. The shopkeeper obliged by finding me a smaller, washed fleece. Meet my new friend, a Romney Cross:

Here's a close-up picture showing some of the lovely crimpy locks. I'm not sure how visible it is, but there's a grey touch to some of it. I think it's in the undercoat. I've been playing with it. I carded a handful, combed some, and spun a bit straight out of the fleece with just a little pre-drafting of the more matted parts. I was happiest with the combed locks, so I'm probably going to get some good wool combs and learn how to use them. This is mostly for spinning practise anyhow, I'm not really worried about how much yarn I get from it in the end.

Best of all, it smells sheepy, a bit like a barn but not too strong. I find it a most comforting smell. I wasn't raised on a farm, but I was surrounded by them growing up. Most of the farms around us stuck to cows, but the sheep were my favourite. As soon as I catch a whif, I am instantly transported back about 20-25 years. Friends raised sheep and angora rabbits that they would show at the Butler Fair (we lived close enough to bike there, if not walk) or the Farm Show. Their mother spun and knitted with the wool. When the kids were showing animals, they slept in a stall in the barn next to them, sleeping with the sounds of quietly bleating sheep.

It's funny. Twenty years later, living in a large city many hours away, and I finally figured out how to bring home to me.

Finally, I needed a bag to put it all in, and for good measure, I picked up some silk/wool yarn that will probably make the loveliest socks ever:

So, that's the Pennsic Haul, as we're calling here. My husband received fair warning of my purchases when I was still 5 hours away, and did not have me committed upon my arrival home. After I played around with everything for a little bit, I decided I should probably get someone to show me how to spin in-person. I wanted to take one of the classes at Pennsic, but I missed them the first week and didn't stay long enough into the second week to catch the next one.

Next post, my local handspinning class goodies, and my first skein.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This blog will return soon. Really. With pictures, even.

So, since the last entry, I sucessfully defended the paper (it was very anti-climactic and all, but it's done THANK GOD), and then I ran away for a bit to visit my family and attend Pennsic with my niece and specifically NOT think about school and papers and dissertation topics (or rather, lack of dissertation topics) for at least a week. After I came back, I continued to not think about any of those things for the remainder of August and at least a week of September, although I did come out of hiding just long enough to fulfill my duties as the departmental "space cadet" (Assigned task: fit 43 graduate students into 28 desks and convince them to be happy about it). Aside from that and a little bit of volunteer editing work, I've been avoiding work for a solid month.

I bought wool instead.

And drop spindles. Three, to be exact.

These were accompanied by two types of roving, several hand-dyed combed tops, and best of all, one skirted and washed (but otherwise unprepared) fleece. It still has some bits of veggy matter in it. And it smells sheepy, which is a smell from my childhood that I'd forgotten.

It's also a smell which I find remarkably comforting. More on that later.

I'm feeling somewhat better now, and beginning to work on the dissertation topic this week. Next week I start TA-ing again, but I'm remarkably calm about that. It's the same class I did last fall.

My second of two drop spindle classes is this Friday. We'll be plying. I have pictures, and a much longer post coming. Maybe even two. Before and after plying. Hmmm.