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.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Have a Thanksgiving filled with love and good food, friends and plenty to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sheep of the Week: Jacob

One of the hardest parts of spinning fiber into yarn is choosing from among the oodles of materials.  You can't always tell from the way a fiber feels in the store how it will feel once it is spun and washed, its twist set, then knit into something yummy.  In a cruel twist of fate, fiber that is soft enough to swaddle a baby (think Merino) generally will be more delicate and likely to wear out sooner.  And what is durable and sturdy (Wensleydale, anyone) is what that itchy scarf is made of.  You know the one.  It's on the floor in the back of the hall closet the last time you checked.  And as I search for materials, either in my local shops or on online, I find that there is an information underload.  So I am trying to educate myself about various breeds of sheep by both researching and experimenting first hand with a variety of fibers.  Each week, I will study a breed and share my findings.

First up, the Jacob.

I stumbled across some beguiling fiber at a local shop, The Asheville NC Homecraft Shop, which carries many locally produced products, including rovings from Hobby Knob Farm, just up the road in Weaverville, NC.  This stripey madness is what I spied:

When the lady in the shop told me it came from one sheep with 4 horns, I knew I had to investigate.  I also bought a Jacob batt, when had been well blended to a uniform gray, and which I dyed in my Carolina Sunrise colorway---purples, indigos, coral and red--and spun into a textured yarn for which you'll just have to stay tuned.  

Until then, let me introduce you to the Jacob.  Does this look real to you?

Octavia, from Hobby Knob Farm.

From Hobby Knob Farm. I only see 2 horns.

They're like the panda bears of the sheep world!  Only with horns.  And hooves.  And I bet they reproduce more easily.  Anyway...they believe that these sheep come from the Middle East, through Spain and Portugal to Britain.  Its wool is of medium luster and is best when spun into a thicker yarn, either worsted or woolen.  It is not a next-to sensitive skin wool, so save it for knitting into outerwear and outdoor garments--hats, mittens, sweaters, vests.  

I decided to use some of my top to practice the second lesson of Art 101--the Autowrap.  I carded some gorgeous mohair with a little sparkle to serve as my wrap, plopped that in a bowl at my feet and started treadling.  Now, I'm not much for brown yarn.  I'm just not much for brown, period.  And the mixing of the brown and the white of the fiber is a little obscured by the mohair which, I grant you, could have been spun a little finer.  But the more time I spend with my little skein of Jacob, the more enamored I am.  You decide.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Art Yarn 101: The AutoWrap

After having fun with the Racing Stripe, it was time to move on to the next lesson in Spin Art by Jacey Boggs, in my autodidactic quest to learn all I can about textured yarns.  The Autowrap, as it turns out, is a really rewarding technique that is also pretty easy.  You can use a variety of materials, getting different results each time depending on what you combine. 

For my first attempt, I chose a stripey Jacob top from Hobby Knob Farm and wrapped it with hand spun mohair carded with a little glitz.  Two things.  One, if you use a hand spun wrap, be sure to spin your yarn in the opposite direction from the handspun.  I spun the mohair counterclockwise, or S, then spun my yarn clockwise, or Z.  Two, it is really, really, really easy to overtwist this yarn, and don't think you'll fix it by spinning it back the other way once you are done.  You will not fix it.

For my second attempt, I dyed a batt of Jacob, also from Hobby Knob Farm but blended to a uniform gray and wrapped it with a commercial mohair blend.  I think I mastered the twist in this trial, and I've got enough for a hat.  YAY!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Art Yarn 101: The Racing Stripe

Now that I've been spinning a while and getting a little more familiar with fibers and the sheep that produce them, I've decided to delve a little farther into the making of "art yarn," or as master spinner Jacey Boggs, aka Insubordiknit, calls them...textured yarns.  (The point being that there is an art to making every yarn, from the thinnest, most evenly spun lace yarn to the chunky thick & thin, crazy-carded, multi-fiber yarn with all kinds of crap thrown in like skull beads and nuts and, I don't know, twigs & leaves.  You name it, it's been thrown into the yarn soup.)

So Jacey has a book called Spin Art, which is just exploding with ideas and photos of beautiful textured yarns she has spun.  Bonus!  There is a DVD so you can spin along with Jacey!  She wears a pinafore!  So worth every cent.  I do hope she will come to Asheville for a course.


The book is organized into lessons, and I started working my way through those lessons earlier this week.  First up--Racing Stripe, whereby you hold a second spun fiber in your drafting hand as you draft and spin a singles yarn. I chose some really pretty ugly merino I plucked out of a length of top I'd dyed.  It was hideous and perfect for practicing a new skill. I didn't have high hopes for this practice.  I striped it with a lace weight linen Euroflax linen, which I also dyed green.  It was gonna be ugly!

Here's what I love about making yarn, though.  Through the magic of spinning, these two elements came together into something that is actually pretty beautiful.  Look!

The linen gives yarn a nice sheen and a nice drape, and I'm a little sad that Euroflax is discontinuing their lace weight line.  Oh was fun while it lasted.  For me, there is no end to the yarn fun.  I love this job!

By the way, Jacey is teaching a course, a retreat, really, at the John C. Campbell Folk School, way out in Western North Carolina.  It's in April.  I'm saving my pennies 'cause I really really really want to go.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's get this Thing going!

This thing being my blog about my latest obsession, the one that might stick.  I've been obsessed with a lot of things in my lifetime--yoga, NIA, writing, sewing, dog training, travel, shoes, folk art.  And I've spent an obscene amount of money pursuing these obsessions, all the while looking for "the one."  You know, the one that keeps me awake at night.  The one I never want to stop doing.  The one where I buy the books and actually read them all because I just want to know more, more, more.  The one I want to do the moment I get up in the morning, before coffee, before breakfast, before washing the sleep out of my eyes.   I believe they call that one's "passion."

I think I've found my passion.  At least that's what spinning yarn feels like to me.  I am a woman obsessed and I love everything about it, from plunging my hands into a freshly shorn fleece to watching colors blend as I hand paint the fiber to to the excitement of seeing the yarn take shape on the bobbin and knit up into a luscious fabric or garment.  This is it and I can't stop myself.  Not even to eat.

So, first things first, my little room upstairs that has been so many things is now my little spinning nook.

The sun streams in from across the mountains in the morning, my favorite time to work.

Here are some of my first yarns:

1.  Truly, the first yarn I spun in the class I took with BJ at Earth Guild.  After class was over, I tried my hand at dyeing, and was quite pleased with the results.  Why didn't I write down the recipe?  Must get better at taking notes.

 2.  My first "art yarn" where I carded (on hand carders, no less) merino, alpaca, sari silk, scraps of a silk hippie skirt I bought in Hawaii and never wore, and sparkle.  I loves me some sparkle.

Isn't it pretty?

3.  Merino plied with bamboo, with which I am knitting a SKIF sweater, so stay tuned for that.  I can't stop looking at the is soooooo beautiful.

4.  This one I started on vacation.  I taught myself how to spin on a drop spindle so I could spin on camping trips.  I mostly didn't spin while camping, but I did knit a hat on a backpacking trip.  No pictures, though...I gave it to my friend Kristi.

There it is...a beginning.  I can't wait to see where it leads.  I have a feeling this will be one of my favorite trips ever.