Archive for May, 2011

Just quickly

I know I keep disappearing, and it might seem that I’m not spending as much time on this project as it warrants. That’s because that’s true. Thing is, I feel kind of accountable to you guys and in a way, like I should be explaining myself to you! It’s not because I’m a slob, it’s because I’m overcommitted – so in the spirit of adding more commitments and explaining myself, I’ve started another blog. Hammer and Tongs at the Wheel will be a lot freer and wider in its focus and if you’re at all interested in the other fibrey things I’m doing, I’ll be posting about much of it as I go.

Stripping Batts

It never ceases to amaze me, how many different ways there are to muck around with fibre. See, I could, if I wanted, just spin straight from these batts. But it would be more difficult to get the effect I want, and to get a nice even yarn (not that it’s turning out to be all that even anyway – singles I hate you!).

So. I have found that for what I’m trying to do, it’s easier to spin from rovings than batts – they’re airier and come out less lumpy. To this end, I sat down to process half the fibre I’ve got set aside for this yarn. First I stripped the batts, tearing them lengthways into narrower batts. Then I pulled them through my dodgy DIY diz, drafting as I went to loosen the fibres and get more air into the rovings. Each roving was then wound into a little rosette.

Stripped batts, diz and rovings

One of the batts had fairly pronounced sections of different colours and textures. Because I’m spinning quite a fine yarn, and it’s going to be a single-ply, this could result large sections of my green being either bright shiny bamboo, or dark brown wool, or annoyingly tufty camel down. I want a more cohesive, mixed yarn, so I stripped that batt quite widely, into only four pieces.

Roughly carded batt - I need the colours to mix a bit more

Then I dizzed them extra carefully, stretching out the sections of bright bamboo or dark wool etcetera, as best I could, to end up with a more mixed roving.

Carefully dizzing the wide batt section

Fairly well mixed roving

And voila! Lots of little parcels of rovings, all ready to spin. But for today, I’ve spent hours chained to the wheel already so I’m not going to start on it just now . . .

Fluffy little roving flowers

Warm Fluffy Snakes??

Now, sampling is something I don’t like doing. I feel like I’m wasting – wasting fibre, wasting time, over-committing to something because once I get on a track I find it really hard to change my mind. But this sampling story is one with a happy ending! I guess I could have been slightly more stringent about it, but I’m not planning a fitted garment with this yarn so I’ll give myself a bit of leeway.

I am planning a single-ply yarn that will knit, in an open lace stitch something like Kieran Foley’s Sound of Waves stitch pattern, into a snakeskin-like colour pattern. In order to get this, I know I need to spin alternately from the three different batts. My only real questions are what weight single to spin, and how long to make the colour repeats.

The first answer is pretty arbitrary – I don’t want anything too thick because that would make the patterning clumsy, while fine laceweight is categorically out of the question, after the Ptarmigan experience. Because the two green batts are quite similar in colour and the green thus dominates the mix, I feel that the yellow will be the counterpoint or feature colour in the mix.

I got a new spinning wheel yesterday, and was fool enough to try and spin my sample yarn on it! Silly me – but there was no stopping me, of course. It’s a Majacraft Aura and I love it, but it’s a bit of a learning curve, so my yarn was a bit . . . well, shit. It’s yarn, by the most generous definition, but it definitely needs improvement, chiefly to get it more consistently in the sport/5-ply weight range I decided on. The respective lengths of the colours varied between about thirty centimetres and about sixty centimetres. I think I panicked a little in the green sections and ended up not making those as long, so it’s a bit shy on the green. Here is a crap night-time bobbin shot that hides the imperfect single nicely:

Notional Serpent sample on the bobbin

I whipped it off the bobbin and onto the niddy-noddy, thankfully without it drifting apart at any point, then gave it a quick wash and hung it to dry overnight. When I came home today, it was dry and ready to knit up!

Serpent sample, wet-finished and dried

I cast on 33 stitches using 4mm needles, and just as I got to the end of the first knit row, I had a brain fart.

Short rows.

Out went all the fancy lace stitches, and I went with erratic, crazy short rows in plain garter stitch. My aim was to pool the yellow in a matrix of green, so I ended up with spots and splodges of bright yellow standing out against that wonderful rich multi-toned green background. And I love what I got. This is my little swatch, which is about fifteen centimetres by eight centimetres. I can’t tell you how much I love it.

Snakeskin swatch

I think I’ll go up a needle size when it comes time to knit, as this is very scarf-like and doesn’t have a lot of drape and I definitely want some drape in the FO. But this is a great start, very very encouraging. It’s highlighting so many things to me – that not only is there endless scope within the fibre arts for creation of a particular effect, but that fibre and knitting are very forgiving crafts that will express your vision very truthfully, if only you have the courage to give something a go.

Notions of Serpents

So what is next? Yes, I’m still with you all, I’m still thinking madly about Pratchett yarns and still well and truly enmeshed in the whole Discverse. So, what is next?

Much of the stories seem to be occurring in the Year of the Notional Serpent. This is yet another quaint, slightly absurd phrase that tickled all my funny bones, and you have to admit, serpents and yarn share a great deal in terms of shape! So my vision for this yarn, to be called Notional Serpent, is to make one that looks like a snake. Not difficult, let’s face it. So, how to add a challenge? I thought on this, and since one mad brain cell still insists that I’d like to knit and exhibit pieces from all these yarns one day, I began to think of a stole . . . a stole that looks like a coiled serpent . . . and its skin, like a python’s, is flecked with a beautiful pattern of greens, golds and browns. Camouflage, modular effects, sinuosity, optical illusions . . . that’s what I want this yarn to look like.

This all happened in my mind a while back, and it happened at just the right time for me to snaffle the perfect batts for my Notions of Serpents. The incomparable Brittany aka Bohoknitterchic updated her shop and I bought three of her smooth carded batts.

I’m still planning for the best way to make this happen, so I’ll be back in a day or two when I’ve planned my spinning technique out.

I’ve had a couple of questions about how I steam-finish my yarns – which is a little funny to me because I only just sort of muddled my way into it out of necessity for this project! So I thought I’d take some photos and explain my process in case it helps anyone else. This is the good process, by the way – not the one that resulted in scorch marks!

First, make sure your yarn has room to breathe. Don’t be too tempted to put lots and lots of yarn into your steamer in one go, because then the steam won’t make it to all the strands, and additionally if you’re steaming to bring out the bloom, you want to make sure there’s room for the strands to expand to their fullest potential.

I used a stock pot with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, and a pasta colander. Make sure your yarn isn’t going to be sitting in water; but also, you want to be sure that the pot won’t boil dry. Now, the colander doesn’t sit snugly in the pot because of the handles, so I had to seal the gap with a couple of tea towels and a couple of tissues. (Yes, they were clean, hehe.) This is the setup:

The yarn I was steaming this time around was the Hedgehog yarn, which I needed to puff out as much as it possibly could. So I spun the 4oz of polwarth in 1oz lots, then plied them into two lengths of yarn that were about 55g each. That left plenty of room in the colander:

Then I brought the water to the boil and popped the yarn into the colander. With the lid back on, the steam bath was all a go, and I let it sit in there for three or four minutes. Then, wearing rubber gloves!!!, I turned the yarn over and put the lid back on for another couple of minutes. Done! And here’s the result – these two skeins started out the same size. The skein on the bottom of the photo has been steamed, the one at the top hasn’t.

After having to wait for a while for my leg to recover, I’ve finally managed to complete the Sudden Hedgehog! I eventually decided to tie the hedgehogs on with crochet cotton, after everything else was done. So this is a really good example of the miracles of experimenting and sampling, because I learnt so much during the making of this yarn. I really set myself free from the “lust of result” and allowed myself the room to make mistakes and let things just happen. And here is the result – the perfected (well, almost) Sudden Hedgehog.

And the gratuitous macro shot:

I never want to see this yarn again.

That’s not to say I’m not proud of it – to a point. It’s beautiful – smooth, incredibly consistent (well, it does have six plies, after all!), ridiculously strong. Visually, it does what I wanted it to do. It’s flecky with white and multi-dimensional, rich browns, and it does have a certain grace to it. But on the other hand, I’m really disappointed with how fine it turned out. I wanted a bulky-weight yarn – or at the very least aran-weight. Instead, I’ve got DK!!! It’s so fine! In a way this is a great achievement, but then again it wasn’t what I was going for. So in that sense it isn’t a successful expression of my vision. It’s 200g and approximately 200m, and it’s going at the very back of my stash until I have the wherewithal to face it again.

Without more ado, please welcome – Reversed Ptarmigan.

On the bobbin - bulky Ashford flier

Reversed Ptarmigan

Reversed Ptarmigan

Sorry to be a bit down on this one – it was a challenging yarn to spin, and I’m just a bit demoralised by the whole thing. I think I feel kind of like it beat me up! I still have to complete the final draft of the Hedgehog yarn, and then I am planning a beautiful, coloured single ply! But all that has to wait till my leg recovers, so bear with me!

I’ve been plying madly and spinning like a demon, to try and get some headway on the Ptarmigan yarn. I’ve done so many miles on my (single drive, single treadle) Traddy over the last few days that my right leg is injured! I’m so close to getting the second plying pass underway, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to wait a day or two until my leg isn’t so damn sore! I can’t even walk properly!