Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Woefully Underprepared

So the Tour de Fleece starts this weekend and I...am not ready. It's my plan to spin as much Spunky Eclectic fiber as possible (I haven't settled on a firm goal yet, largely because I fear failure) but I have a little problem.

Now. A moment of confession. I have 9 bobbins. That's a lot. I shouldn't have any problem with running out of bobbins. The only issue is, I'm kind of a slacker. I know without looking that I have at least three bobbins in my box with fiber already on them, where I spun half of something but never spun the other half, and so never plied it, and so it's sitting on the bobbin. I also haven't gotten any spinning done on the little color puffs I started last weekend, so those are sitting on a fourth bobbin on my wheel. Which...still leaves me with five bobbins left. Maybe I'm not in such bad shape. Since the point of this whole exercise is to spin and finish, and since I usually only need two bobbins per bag plus one to ply on, I'm probably okay. Maybe.

I was going to finish the color puffs this weekend, but I neglected them for Evenstar. I wanted to get through as much of the border as I could, so I cranked on it all day on Sunday. It takes me 40 minutes to do a repeat if I don't make a mistake and nothing interrupts me. I set a goal of 1 hour per repeat (using the extra twenty minutes to do housey things here and there, like tending the dog, switching out the laundry, eating dinner) hoping that I could get to 36 total repeats by the end of Sunday night. I made it (though at 10 instead of 9, which was what I was aiming for) and last night I put on two more, so I'm feeling good. The end is in sight.

Or at least it would be, if it weren't for the Tour, which I expect to suck up a large part of my long weekend. Sunday is looking like it's going to be a wash unless I take a drop spindle with me, and frankly...I suck with the drop spindle. Absolutely terrible. I love the look of drop spindles, some of them are really beautiful, I'm just really, really bad at it, and truth be told, I don't enjoy the process all that much. I don't know, maybe I'll give it a shot. I might like it more now that I'm more experienced at drafting. Anyway, I have church in the morning and then in the afternoon we have plans. I might let the SO go without me, though, because the host has a cat. I adore cats, I think they're sweet and beautiful and cuddly and soft. However, I am horribly, horribly allergic. Eye-watering, nose-dripping, skin-itching allergic. So unless the host can be convinced to relocate the festivities somewhere other than his cat-ridden basement, I think I might have to decline.

If I can go, though, I don't know how I'm going to fit any spinning in at all. Maybe I can take my wheel with me. I could spin the cat.

Okay, I'm kidding. Besides, he also has two sweet, well-meaning, large, clumsy, and slobbery dogs. No wheel for me.

Anyway, I'm going to have to spend Saturday and Monday making up for lost time on Sunday. I want to get a good start!

The other thing I have not done is sorted through my fiber and pick what I want to try to spin. I have a lot, more than I could possibly accomplish during the Tour. I should go through and sort it out and figure out what I really want to attempt. I also need to figure out what to spin for the challenge days. I'm thinking I will attempt merino on at least one of these. Why merino?

Remember this?


Yeah. I've largely avoided merino since then unless it was blended with something like bamboo. Sounds like the perfect challenge, right?

One of the great things about the fiber club is that it's not the same type of fiber every month, so part of what I want to try to do is spin some fibers I've never spun before. These are things I'll be thinking about when I go through the stash. I'll let you know what I come up with.

There's a physical limit to how much I can spin at once, so I don't expect to neglect knitting entirely during the tour. I'm waiting eagerly for the next installment in Romi's 7 Small Shawls to Knit to come out. I finished Merope, the first shawl. I ended up buying yarn since I didn't think I had anything in the stash suitable for the second shawl, Maia. I got another skein of Schaeffer Audrey, this one in colorway Diane Fossey. I'm actually a little ambivalent about this choice. One of the things I love in the sample Romi knit is the great stitch definition she got, and I'm not sure I'm going to get that out of Audrey. It's got good sheen with its silk content, but because it's a single, and not a particularly tight single, I'm not sure it's going to give me that definition. But, it's what I've got, so I'm going to make do. I'm still on my yarn diet after all, so while cheating with one skein here or there isn't too bad, I don't want to go overboard. (Also, I'm a little bitter about the summer heat, which will prevent me from triumphantly wearing Merope until such time as I would not pass out from heat stroke.)

Of course, I still have Evenstar to finish, and I'm really looking forward to having it done. I'm so close I can taste it...and yet, you can do the math. 40 minutes per repeat at best, and 18 repeats to go. If only the Tour started a few days later! I only need one really dedicated weekend to finish this thing! (Do not point out to me that it would be finished if I hadn't dedicated last weekend to finishing Merope. It is a fundamental law of vacation knitting that your knitting must end as soon as possible after your return from the vacation, or it loses its vacation magic.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leveling Out

Some days I wonder how I got so busy, and how I ended up with so much drama. The answer to this question is usually a greater interaction with people, which is a good thing, but I am an introvert at heart so I occasionally have to set limits on what I do so that I have time to recharge. Of course, I am awful at this, so generally speaking I end up with an overabundance of interaction for a period of time, followed by a period of hermitage. 

All of that is a rather long-winded intro to say that I am finding myself utterly relieved to finally be free of appointments and obligations, at least for a while. My church choir doesn't meet for the summer so that is about to end, my vacation is over, I have fulfilled all the craft obligations I had to other people, and I am more at my own disposal than I feel I have been in months. What did I do with my new found freedom?

I spun. At last. Spinning has gone by the wayside for quite some time, because I can't spin and knit at the same time (if anyone has figured out how to do this, please tell me your secret). Really, I can't spin and do anything at the same time, not even really hold a conversation. Maybe when I get better it will require less focus, but for now, I really have to pay attention to what I'm doing. I also have more trouble feeling the progress when I spin - it's not done until it's done and there really isn't any satisfactory progress indicator. So, when I'm stressed and feeling the futility in life in general, I tend to stay away from the wheel and gravitate more towards the knitting. I need the feeling of accomplishment.

I can say that I do absolutely love plying. Spinning singles is a long, slow slog which, while enjoyable, is work and takes forever. Plying, not so much. It requires less thought and attention and it goes so much quicker than spinning singles. I love it. It's the payoff at the end.

I subscribe to the Spunky Fiber Club and so every month I get a shipment of fiber in the mail. I love this. I love getting yarn and fiber in the mail so much that the SO has occasionally threatened to snitch some of my stash sometime when I am having a grumpy week and mail it to me. I have done nothing to discourage this idea.

However, because I have not been spinning I have quite a bit of fiber built up from the club, in addition to all the fiber I bought at MD Sheep and Wool and fiber I have received as gifts. The fiber stash has thoroughly outgrown the bin I was keeping it in and continues to enlarge every month, because even though I haven't been spinning nearly enough to justify maintaining my fiber club subscription, I just enjoy it so much I can't bring myself to cancel it.

I have decided, therefore, to participate in this year's Tour de Fleece. I'm hoping that I will be able to chew through some of the fiber I have accumulated and reclaim some of my fiber space - or at least, reassign it to yarn. I plan to spin as many fiber club bags as possible. Although 4 ounces of fiber doesn't really make a significant amount of yarn (especially if you are making 3-ply super bulky yarn, which is mostly what I have managed to accomplish so far), it is a comfortable amount to spin without getting bored. Also, see above statements regarding progress. I think I will be more motivated during the tour if I have the accomplishment of actually finishing stuff as I go.

Of course the tour doesn't start the first week in July (conveniently and inconveniently, it starts on the 3rd, which means I have the long weekend for the 4th to get a good start, but also means I will have to work around several forth of July activities that are happening that weekend) so in the meantime, I am spinning whatever I feel like spinning. First I finished off the yarn that was already on the wheel, which was a Spunky Club merino/bamboo mix in a colorway called Beach Day that I really loved when I received it. Loving it did not keep me dedicated to it, though, so I only spun up the first half and then it sat untended for a long long time. Last week I spun up the second half of it, let the singles rest overnight (I should have waited longer since the original bobbin had been sitting so long, but I'm impatient) and then I plied the two bobbins together. Often I have Navajo plied my spunky club fiber since I'm not a fan of barber pole yarns, but these fiber had such a watercolor effect to it that I thought it would be fine just to let the colors fall against each other as they would, since I felt it would all blend together prettily. I was really pleased with the result. I haven't actually checked the WPI but I'm pretty sure it's at least a worsted weight, and I have hopes that it might even be a little finer than worsted. It's by far the thinnest thing I've spun and one of the only yarns I've ended up with that I felt I would actually knit with. The only problem is, there are places where it is very underspun, where I made a mistake and got a really thick spot and it just doesn't have enough twist. As evenness goes, it's definitely an improvement over past mistakes, but it's still pretty textured. Even so, I love it, I feel like it shows progress, and that makes me happy.

The underspun-ness bothers me a bit, though, because I was already spinning on the smaller circle of the whorl. My Kiwi only has two ratios so if my yarn isn't getting enough twist, I will have to learn to hold onto it longer or treadle faster. Since I'm still learning anything that involves changing my spinning style makes me a little wary. Ashford does sell a lace flyer for the kiwi so that's a consideration also.

As it happens Techmuse sent me some fiber some time ago via a third party, and I finally picked it up from said third party this weekend. There was some purple fiber and some white fiber and this:

I squealed a little. They're just so cute! This looks like a sampler of naturally dyed fiber (cochineal, indigo, and another word that started with c that I can't remember which I assume gives you the yellow; the green is a combo of indigo and the other c word) and the bag says it is 4 ounces total, which means each puff of color is probably around 1 ounce. It just looked so happy there in its little bag, and I petted it all the way home (I was not driving) and put it on the wheel right away (I may have gained extra amusement from imagining tiny colored sheep wandering around a meadow). It's a BFL crossbreed, according to the label, and I really enjoy spinning BFL so I was extra excited. On the way home I pondered it and decided that I would spin each of these little colored samples in a row, and then spin some of the white fiber I received and then ply the colored together with the white. I didn't find a label for the white fiber but the staple length and crimp appeared to be similar to that of the colored fibers. The only problem with this is that I don't think I have a scale capable of weighing out four ounces of the white fiber. I have a tiny little scale I occasionally use for yarn but it's not nearly big enough for fleece. Maybe I can borrow the SO's kitchen scale.

Anyway, then I could conceivably find a white commercial yarn and stripe it with my handspun to make a scarf (similar to the famous noro 1x1 rib, 2x2 striped scarves) that would go from yellow to blue to red to green. If all went according to plan. Which is always a question, really.

I spun all of the yellow fiber:

And then some of the blue before I had to quit because my drafting hand and my back were wearing out. I wonder if a single treadle wheel is easier on one's back, since you can have one foot on the floor and conceivably not have to be slightly rocked back the way you do when you're treadling with both feet? I do find that spinning is a little tough on my back, which may have to do with my chair. I'm not sure what the ideal height for a spinning chair is. Right now I just use my dining room chairs.

In knitting news, I bought a subscription to Romi's Seven Small Shawls To Knit e-book and I have mostly completed the first shawl to be released, Merope:

Yarn is Shaeffer Audrey in colorway Nellie Bly, and I really got lucky with the pooling. Visually interesting and miraculously symmetrical! I still have to knit the edging. There are options in the pattern for either a knit-on border or a reverse stockinette icord and I haven't decided what I want to do yet. This was primarily my vacation knitting, since Evenstar is 100% silk (and also huge) and not really feasible as portable knitting. I have held off on Evenstar since I got back so I could go ahead and finish this project off. Speaking of my vacation, you are not supposed to take pictures at the Jamestown museum, but I could not resist just snapping an iphone pic of this display:

This looked so much like the tools I use today (especially the needles) that I really doubted the veracity of the display. I expected colonial knitting needles to look more rustic, somehow. I can only assume, however, that the museum knows what it's doing.

They were also selling "Intentional Spinning" in the book shop, which I found interesting. There was a drop-spindle class in Colonial Williamsburg as well, but schedule didn't permit me to go watch.

I hope to get Merope finished by the weekend, and then spend this weekend chugging on as much as the Evenstar edging as I can. I'd love it if I could finish that edging before the TdF starts. I love the project, but I'm ready to be finished with it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I long to knit

This weekend was a generally low-yield knitting weekend. I'm sad. I would have liked to have done a lot more knitting, but I am trying to get some things checked off the to-do list, so the knitting has (once again) been somewhat pushed to the side.

I did get out of work a little early on Friday, though, and since I had a crappy week, I made a beeline for the yarn shop, where I discovered the wonder of stitch dictionaries.

I also discovered Cascade Pima Cotton in some gorgeously irresistible colors. I got a beautiful teal, which is what is shown here though the color is horrifically rendered. Here is the link to the color card instead. I think what I have is 3734, and I also got a skein of 3704 (I think). It's 220 yards per skein and it was $9 per skein and it is stunning, so even though I'm on a yarn diet I'm kinda sorta thinking about going back and getting more, especially because I really love the crescent slip stitch cotton shawl in the new issue of Interweave Knits. The yarn is soft and shiny and beautiful, and do you know what I'm making with it? A gym towel. Because you know what? The gym is about the least glamorous place ever and I think a soft hand-knitted towel in a beautiful color is a nice bit of luxury and sophistication to remind me that there is more to life than sweat and grime. Part of me feels a little guilty for putting such a beautiful product to such an ignoble use, but I'm telling that part to shut up. Besides, making the thing has whipped by. Anyway, I used my new stitch dictionary and I picked an edging and I picked a stitch pattern and off I went and it's beautiful. I can't remember what the edging was called but it uses the cluster stitch. The main pattern is the broken checkerboard pattern. I luff my new stitch dictionary.

Sadly, progress on Evenstar has been slow since the only real knitting time I had was Friday evening, and I spent it on the towel because I was too tired and brain dead to fiddle with lace and beads. Over the whole three day weekend I only got two additional repeats completed on the edging. This puts me at 13 repeats completed out of 54. Very depressing, especially since, based on last night's knitting, it takes me about an hour to do a repeat, so I basically have a full work week of knitting to do to finish off this piece. This makes me so sad. I really want it to be finished. I am looking longingly toward other projects. Not that my love for this project has diminished or languished at all, but, I'm only human, and the next project I plan to work on is a veritable sunburst of color after all. this. white. I'm still wondering if I will be able to see any blue at all when I finish and block this piece. If I look really hard I can identify the places where the color is pooling, but I can see only that it's a little darker in those places, not that it's blue. Oh well - it's beautiful anyway and nothing shows off a lace pattern like white. Right? Right. I at least like having the beads on the edging, though, the smokeyness of the beads gives it a bit more depth, I think, and takes it a little out of the 'wedding' look.

I'm going on vacation in two weeks and there's a lot I have to get done between now and then. I'm making some cards that friends have asked for that I'm trying to get off my plate (this is why I don't often do things on request, I get so stressed about it) and I have to get the house cleaned. One of my coworkers is coming to pupsit while I am out, and he is kind of a neat nick and I am...not. At all. So I want to get the place in order enough that he doesn't pass out when he walks in the door.

My friend requested a set of thank you cards and a set of thinking of you cards like these, which I had donated to the church fundraiser:

So I made those, and I had more base cards than I needed, so while I was at it I played around with some other things and made these:

The base cards are pink, though you can't really tell in those photos. Pink and black always look good together so these cards are really simple but still really pretty. I have some other things that I started that are partially done, but not finished yet. I really should just sit down and play with things more often. Usually when I'm working on a card it's for something or someone in particular, and I get kind of stressed out about it. Tossing things around, seeing if they work, changing it up if they don't, without feeling like I'm under pressure - that was pretty fun. I'll have to do that more often. I also really like having these pre-cut, pre-folded cards to work with rather than doing it myself. It just speeds the process up quite a bit.

I'm also working on some long cards my boss asked me to make. He likes to give savings bonds to his grandkids for their birthdays so he often asks if I will make up a card to present them in. That's on my agenda for tonight. That will check off the last "do for other people" thing on my list and I can move on to just getting the house clean.

I don't think I'm going to take Evenstar with me while I'm on vacation. It's too big and beads are a bit much to fiddle with for a car trip, so I will probably start my next lace project for that trip. Or I will work that cotton slip-stitch shawl I mentioned. That would be good, easy vacation knitting. I will also need to take something small and easy since we are going to an amusement park for part of the trip and there will be lots of standing in line. I will have to investigate possibilities for that, I think. Last time I went to an amusement park, I took a merino/tencel sock on the grounds that a plant fiber mix wouldn't be too hot. I do have a wool/tencel yarn at home, but I didn't actually like working with it very much when I last used it, so I'm not sure that's what I want to do. I'll have to give this some thought.