Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Recurring Theme – The 100-Mile Skirt

I was looking over my blog, reviewing 2013 and I noticed a recurring theme. The 100-mile skirt. This year I have several posts about it, all promising some kind of progress and completion.  Here’s the short story of it.
In October 2011, inspired by Abby Franquemont at the Taos Wool Festival, I decided to make a 100-mile skirt. That meant that I would source the fibre from my area, prepare, spin and knit it. I already had a pattern, from a knitted skirt I made and finished in August 2011. 
Here’s the fibre I chose. Local alpaca – nasty stuff, full of brambles, twigs and other things that stab you. And a braid of fibre from Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club.

I did a few samples and settled on the look that the skein on the far right gave.

The yarn is a 2 x 2 cabled yarn. That means one ply of grey alpaca and one ply of the blue stuff made into a 2-ply yarn. Then you take that 2-ply yarn and ply it again. That meant spinning up yards and yards of each – it was a 4-ply cable to that was a lot of fine spinning.

Here it is being plied again to make the cabled yarn.

And here are the first two skeins, washed and ready for knitting.

I got this far with the skirt and then ran out of yarn, so I had to go back to combing the alpaca and spinning up more singles of each – the alpaca and the blue wool.

And here is the last skein of this yarn. Once this is all used up, I have to go to plan B.
And here it is in progress. This is where we are today — 8 repeats of the lace pattern. I’ll knit until it’s gone and then if I need more length I’ll make a cabled yarn from the blue wool singles that I have left over. Right now it reaches to about an inch above my knee.

Here’s a close-up of those sweeties.

Plan B:  There’s a lot of yardage on these bobbins, so I think, if needed, I could make enough yarn for a half repeat. Enough to give a finish. We’ll see.

88 Stitches, our local yarn shop is hosting a Knit Along (KAL) for the month of January. I have openly announced that I will work to finish this project. I am so close – so very close. So I’ll have some incentive to get this done. . . . of course I have the Norwegian mitts to finish first. When they are done, I’ll re-acquaint myself with this pattern.

Happy New Year’s to all and best of luck and love for 2014.

Overdue Christmas present – Norwegian Selbu Mittens

I managed to do a good amount of knitting for Christmas presents, but ran out of time. I started these mitts on December 22nd with the bold hope that I would have them finished by Christmas Day. At least sometime during the day. But alas, here it is December 30th, and this is how far I’ve come. And I didn’t knit a stitch on them yesterday at all. (Because I spent the day tidying up my studio – she writes defensively.)

It’s not that they are difficult. In fact, they are quite straightforward. They just require absolute concentration. This is not a “knit and watch a movie” kind of project. This is “sit up and pay attention” with the pattern being consulted every single stitch and every single row.

The chart is terrific, but the instructions are a little skimpy. If you are a proficient knitter you will easily figure out where and how to put in the increases and decreases, and what “reverse pattern for second mitten” means. And then there is the thumb!

The pattern is a lovely traditional Norwegian snowflake pattern. I love it.

Now that I’m nearly done and I know how much yarn they take, I’ve got a plan to make a few more pairs in my hand spun. Should be lovely.

BTW the pattern is Norwegian Selbu Mittens by Henrietta Hope. It’s a free download on Ravelry or here.

#fail – Flax doesn’t like to be frozen

I think the title says it all — flax fibres don’t like to be frozen. Or if it wasn’t the freezing that weakened them, it was the amount of time they spent in the water. And the freezing didn’t help either.

Here’s what properly wet-retted flax fibres look like. They have a lovely colour and they are long, strong and lustrous. The piece on the bottom is nearly a metre long. I have 27 stricks of this wet-retted flax. This was from stuff that I planted early in the year. It had time to grow, bloom, get harvested, dry out, get rippled, wet-retted and then had time to fully dry before all the rains came.

This is the dew-retted and then wet-retted flax experiment. The flax fibres, while released, are weak and short. They’ve broken up.

I have a small kiddy pool full of this — and to make matters worse, it smells like a dead swamp rat. Really. I threw it in the water because it was smelly and wanted to urge on the retting process. But then the cold snap came and it was frozen solid for about ten days. It smells so bad I don’t want to touch it.

It’s tricky to photograph something in the water, but here it is. I have one more mini-field’s worth of flax out on the north lawn retting. Like this batch, it didn’t get harvested until after the rains came, so it never dried and got rippled. But it has been on the lawn. And while it had indeed rained and snowed, it was never under water for any length of time. I just checked it out and it the flax fibres are releasing.

The rain is supposed to stop sometime today and then I’ll scoop it up and put it on a drying wrack on the porch to start the drying process. Fingers crossed I’ll have something to play with when it’s all done.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Buy good seeds and buy the linen variety, Linum usitatissiumum “Evelin”.
2. Plant your flax as early as you can. You can plant it when you plant your lettuce, peas, spinach and potatoes. You want it to grow and be done during the hot summer so it has time to dry, get rippled, retted and dry again.
3. If your flax falls over due to rain or wind, set it upright as soon as you can. If it stays tilted, it will have bend in it which makes it difficult to work with.

I am sure I will learn more as I go onto the next stage of breaking, scutching and hackling to get the fibres ready for spinning.

Arctic outflow winds impact flax production

The recent arctic outflow has brought a burst of winter to the lower mainland of BC. My flax is undergoing a whole new level of experimentation — wet retted flax frozen solid.

It is a mini skating rink! A solid block of ice that my dew-to-wet retted flax is trapped within.

Not sure how this is going to impact the linen fibres. But there’s not much I can do about it now!

Dew retted flax from Glen Valley

This year, my second year of experimenting with growing and processing flax for linen, I had four good sized beds of flax growing. I planted the first two early in the season and they finished up nicely. There was enough time in the season for them to sufficiently dry, get rippled and wet retted. They are now tied up into a couple of dozen stricks for use in my “Flax to Linen” workshop that I hope to have at FibresWest 2014.
The other two beds presented different challenges.They were started later in the season and by the time they were ready to be harvested — had finished their blooming, the rains had come in. The rain makes it difficult for anything to dry, but it also causes the plant to fall over. When it falls over, it bends. I have learned that this “bend” is not a characteristic that you want your drying/retting flax to have.
I haven’t been able to sufficiently dry these last two beds of flax, so the rippling didn’t happen. In fact, I got busy and lost track of them, so on the ground they went. Not a bad thing as you will see. 
What’s below is the flax from the very last bed dew retting on the ground right on the lawn. It’s been raining a lot and next week we are rumoured to be hosting some below zero temperatures. Let’s see how flax likes that.

You can see why dew retting creates a grayish linen. The molds that melt the pectin covering away stain it.

Below is batch #3. It’s a hybrid of dew retting at the beginning and most recently, wet retting. Even though the dew retting was coming along fine and I was starting to see the flax fibres being released, it was slimy and I wanted that gone.

So I tossed it back into the wet retting pool. It’s been cold so the retting is going slowly. There is no foaming and swamp smell like I got with the earlier wet retting.

The constant rain keeps the water fresh. My challenge with this is how to dry it?  I’ll have to take it out soon and put it onto drying racks that will sit in my greenhouse over the winter. Won’t dry much, but at least won’t get wetter.

Life in the valley is good. I have space to do these kinds of experiments, not sure how I’d so that if I lived in town.