Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ugly Yarn Day 2012

This week I was going to post about Corespinning in another Art Yarn 101 post.  Not that I didn't start learning the technique.  I did.  I carded some dyed alpaca, blending it with some sari silk and bits of silk ribbon, a little mohair and a smidge of sparkly stuff.  I kicked off my Uggs and stretched my toes, sat down at my wheel, balanced my core yarn, and spun a small hank of UGLY, UGLY  purple yarn.

"Why is all my yarn purple?" I asked myself.  And then the negative self-talk spiraled out of control and the next thing I knew I wasn't just NOT and artist and NOT creative, but I was a poor excuse for a human being.  (In desperate need of some nurturing, which began with a walk in the woods, also known as taking a giant step back from the abyss of negativity.)

Thank god for tools and a little self awareness and some perspective.  When I came back to it later, I found it wasn't so bad if I picked out some of the bits of ribbon.  I designated Tuesday as Ugly Yarn Day and navajo plied a bobbin of questionably-dyed merino that had been sitting around for, well, months, actually.  Yep...still ugly.  But not purple.  And perfect for trials of some patterns I'm working on.

It's growing on me...a little.

I have a quote from Ira Glass of This American Life radio program that comforts me in times like these.

May we all push through to the other side, close the gap and NEVER QUIT!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Here's a new colorway I mentioned a few posts back.  I'm calling it Hill Country Morning because it reminds me of sunrises in the Texas hill country, where I spent time growing up, camping with my family, splashing in Canyon Lake, sneaking illicit sips of beer at the Wurstfest in New Braunfels while my parents polka danced.  Good times.

And here it is spun up two different ways.  The first is spun then plied using Navajo plying, a.k.a. chain plying, but Navajo sound more romantic.

The second is done in what is called Fractal Spinning, which I learned when I took Felicia Lo's Spinning Dyed Fibers class on Craftsy.  What a great online class!  She does remarkable things with plain spinning of bright colors and I really learned a lot.  It was worth every penny.  Fractal spun yarn will knit up in a self striping pattern.  Which, obviously I have not managed to accomplish yet.  So stay tuned.  Part of the problem is the fiber.  This is Romney, and let's just face it, it's scratchy.  So I'm not sure what to do with it.  If it can't be a hat or a scarf or a sweater, what can it be?  The ball is in your court, yarn.  Speak to me.

Meanwhile, back in the dye studio (a.k.a. my kitchen), I've cooked up another colorway--Cedar Key.  The fiber is 50% merino/50% silk from Ashland Bay and it's downright gregarious.  It keeps me up at night suggesting what might become of it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Going, Going...You Know the Rest

When I started the blog a couple months ago, I was sure that I'd be sharing more projects made with hand spun and commercial yarn, like this hat.  I truly am knitting like crazy.  But I'm frogging just as crazily.  It sucks to frog.

First, there was the Churchmouse Easy Folded Poncho.  Made out of my first intentional hand spun yarn, a blend of wool, alpaca, llama and sparkle.  But once knit, I found it to be scratchy and too asymmetrical for practical use.  So...bye bye!  But, I learned some things.  I learned something about wool randomly selected from the fiber store (high potential for scratch, know your sheep) and I learned something about ponchos (maybe not a style statement I want to make).

This was a poncho.  And then it wasn't.

Second frog, the 
SKIF Xena sweater.  I used hand spun merino plied with bamboo then made the tragic mistake of knitting that with a strand of Euroflax linen.  The pattern is interesting in that you knit the front and back all in one long piece with a hole in the middle for your head.  Once I bound that off, I could hardly lift the thing.  It was like wearing one of those lead blankets they put on you at the dentist for x-rays.  It was bulletproof.  I don't normally need bulletproof garments, so...bye, bye!   Again, I learned some things.  I learned that linen does not make everything fabulous.  I learned that hand spun yarn probably does not need any help being fabulous.

Finally, most tragic of all, the Cocoknits Liesl Tunic.  It was gorgeous, knit of Euroflax linen, drapey and soft after blocking.  It fit like a dream.  Well, it fit like a dream the morning I donned it.  I wore it most of the day, and by the time I got home, my tunic had stretched into a maxi dress.  Honestly, someone, give me a break.  Ready?  Here it goes...Bye Bye!

I'm crying a little bit, here.

I am learning that you have to be philosophical as a knitter.  You can't be too attached to the outcome and you have to be willing to let go.  And you truly have to enjoy the journey, enjoy the process of creating.  Because the creation, the end result, may not be what you expected or even intended.  If you haven't loved the journey that took you there, you may just feel like you wasted your time.  And if you feel too often like you wasted your time, you may not feel like the act of creating is worth your time.   And you may be nudged into giving up before you really let yourself create your best work.  And that really would be something to cry about.  So, as Tim Gunn says, "Carry on!"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sheep of the Week: Merino

Word has it that there are over 450 breeds of sheep throughout the world, and most enthusiasts agree that the merino produces the softest wool of all, some of which rivals cashmere in its luxuriousness.  So luxurious, in fact, that the keepers of these sheep have been utterly stingy in the past.  So stingy, it’s a wonder we even have merinos 
in this part of the world.  We do have a few, but even 
now it’s difficult to find true merinos in the U.S.

Before the 18th century, King Ferdinand of Spain cornered the market on merinos, known then as Escurials. (We have a rooster named Ferdinand, a.k.a effing Ferdinand, bastard chicken from hell.  Only we don’t say “effing.”)  Anyway, remove a sheep from Spain and effing Ferdinand would have you executed.  I told you they were stingy!  He gifted a few to his cousin in Saxony, Prince Xavier, and the Saxon Merino was born.  Eventually, war came and the flock was all but annhialated.  What survived was dispersed to the four corners.  Those that made it to America were selected for meat, and their wool suffered.  Those that went to Australia were bred for their wool, and they ate something else.  So fine that someone got stingy again and it wasn’t until 1986 that the Aussies allowed sheep to be exported.  Rams only.  Good luck with that breeding program.  

Ever resourceful, ranchers in America bred those rams with well-chosen muttons, and now we do have a few farms that produce lovely merino fleeces.  Alas, none are local to Western North Carolina, but we can still hope.  (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)  Merinos have been crossed with other breeds to add softness to potentially scratchy wools, so when you find Cormo or Polwarth or Rambouillet, you’ll have a nice next-to-skin fiber to use in your spinning or knitting.

I am a huge fan of merino fiber.  One of its characteristics is loftiness.  Another is warmth.  Once spun, the yarn is puffy and bouncy, light weight, yet warm.  It does not wear hard, so it will eventually pill.  But honestly, it's worth it.  Look how pretty.

This is hand spun merino plied with bamboo in my Reed colorway.

Fun fact:  Merino sheep carry up to 10-25 pounds of fleece on their 80-175 pound bodies.  I bet they’re frisky on shearing day.

Another fun fact (and probably TMI):  Did you know that you can buy merino undies?  Wool panties.  Sounds awful, but, again, I am a huge fan.  Every try to pull up a pair of sweaty wet cotton panties (after peeing in the woods) when you're backpacking up a mountain on a 90 degree day.  Wool panties will change your hiking life.  Trust me.

Effing Ferdinand...Bastard Chicken from Hell

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Art Yarn 101: Tornado!!!!!!!

Jacey Boggs' Spin Art:  Mastering the Craft of Spinning Textured Yarn

Last week I hand carded and spun thin a little mohair and a little alpaca, then used them, with some gold Guterman thread and carded Jacob roving, for my next Art Yarn 101 project...the Tornado.  It's a lot like the Autowrap in that you wrap something around the core that you are spinning. But the tornado is fussy and fiddly.  A little temperamental. With a dash of recalcitrance.  But with perseverance come great rewards, and in the end the tornado spun yarn is complex, and a little wild.  

Here I am fiddling with all the parts:

Depending on your materials, the possibilities are truly endless.  But I'm finding that true for so many of these spinning techniques.  Every one is richer and more interesting than the last.  I think this yarn would be festive with some beads strung in along the way.

If you can persevere long enough to make 900 yards of tornados, this yarn would make a stunning vest that you could wear almost like a piece of jewelry.  I persevered long enough to make enough for this small swatch.  (Did I mention that it's fiddly?  And slow?)  

But after I knit the swatch and recognized the possibilities, I carried on.  Do I have enough for a vest?  No.  No I don't.  But it's all knit up and fabulous in my imagination and that will have to do for now.

 What would you create with a few yards of tornados?  Cuffs and a collar on a Chanel-inspired jacket?  A necklace made from several strands of yarn hung with a pendant that you found at a flea market?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Art Yarn 101: Thick and Thin

I've been making my way through Jacey Boggs' book, Spin Art: Mastering the Craft of Spinning Textured Yarn, one project at a time.  We've done the Racing Stripe and the Auto Wrap.  Next up--Thick and Thin.  

Which is exactly what I spun (right?) when I sat down at the wheel lo those many months ago (eleven) in the middle of Biltmore Square Mall during the Friends & Fiberworks Winter Retreat, which, by the way, is coming round again January 18-20, 2013.  I took a 2 hour workshop with the lovely Julie Wilson of Jehovah Raah Farm.  I wouldn't exactly call it spinning, what I did that day.  It was more like cramming fiber into the orifice and twisting it up in bunches of fat and skinny loops and then joking at the end of the workshop about how it was "art yarn."  Not even close.

But you have to start somewhere and keep practicing your craft, and eventually you get to the point where you've got some mastery over the technique.  Once you have mastery over the material and the technique, then you can begin manipulating the material in more creative ways with intention.  Intention is the key.  Without that, it's just an accident.  Sometimes accidents are happy.  But I'm never fully satisfied with happy accidents unless they sing in harmony with the rest of the composition.  

To spin harmonious and well balanced thick and thin yarn, start with a shorter staple fiber like merino.  Short staple is important to the structure, because when you do a little wrist flip to draft out the thick part, you want to see where to pinch it at the end of the fiber.  You trap those ends in the thin part, and voila!  Yarn that has structure and will knit up into a textural masterpiece.

I had Romney fiber on hand, which I'd dyed in my new colorway, High Desert.  Romney staple may be a little long, and the first bobbin was definitely over twisted and pretty kinky.  Got the hang of it, though, by the end of my batch.  Have a look...

The wrist twist
This is how I hold my hand while spinning the thin section.

Then you pinch and turn you hand/wrist as if turning a key in a lock 
to draft out the thick section.

And here is a swatch, knit on US 10 1/2 needles.  I just love the texture of all those bumpy slubs.  I'm thinking hat or cowl.  Something simple to show off the yarn.

What I would change

I would spin my thin sections a little shorter to give more balance to the thick and thin sections in the finished yarn.  I would spin this yarn on my plying head in order to accommodate more yarn on the bobbing and to get all those fat slubs through the orifice more easily.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sheep of the Week: the Romney

Let's get this straight, the unfortunately-named Romney hails from the Romney marsh area of Kent, England and has nothing whatsoever to do with that other Romney whose name is setting like the sun on a long summer day...not a minute too soon.

  He is showing off his show ribbons!
Anyway, these guys are the Humvees of the sheep world--big, stocky, utilitarian, go-anywhere sheep with long staple wool that's super easy to spin. They produce a LOT of wool and, if you have the space, a Romney or two can really boost your income from fleece.  

Photo courtesy of SkyLines Farm of Idaho.

For spinners, the wool is characterized by medium luster, low grease and minimal shrinkage during fiber prep.  For knitters and weavers, the yarn works up best into hard wearing outerwear--sweaters, hats, mittens, throws. If you're sensitive, you may not appreciate it right next to skin.

I bought some roving recently at Asheville NC Homecrafts shop in the Grove Arcade and dyed it into two new colorways I'm working on...High Desert and Hill Country Morning.  Both have a bit of a heathery halo to them that I haven't seen in my other dyeing escapades. I'm very happy with the fiber, but have my fears about the yarn, just because I really like my fiber soft and snuggly.  Stay tuned for the yarn and a project.  I'll let you know if it's soft enough for knickers.

High Desert

Hill Country Morning

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

One Down, Countless More To Go

Nothing like chunky yarn and big needles to make me feel like I've accomplished something.  I knit this up the other day in Urban GypZ Hand Spun yarn using a variation of her hat "theory."  Love it!  I've had hat hair all weekend.

Friday, November 23, 2012

New WIP and New Yarn

Just what I needed...another WIP (I'm at 7 and counting).  But I couldn't resist casting on for a hat on our drive down to a Hot Springs Thanksgiving yesterday.  The yarn is Urban Gypz's delicious one of a kind hand spun, so soft and so interesting to knit.  I love the surprise of every unique inch of yarn as it unwinds from the ball.  Good thing, since I screwed up the gauge count and had to start all over again.

And here is a little something I finished this week--hand painted merino in Reed plied with hand painted bamboo.