Category Archives: local fibre

Spinzilla 2017 – it’s a wrap

Spinzilla ended Sunday, October 8th at 11:59:59pm. It ended for me at 10:40pm.

It was a good week of finding ways to fit spinning into my life. I worked all week so had to find time in the morning and evenings to spin. And, when I could, I spun at work. On Tuesday, I had my wheel with me because I was heading to the Team Sweet Georgia spin-in that evening. I brought my wheel into my office and spun a bit during a department conference call – about twenty minutes. Other times, I had my Jenkins Turkish spindle with me and spun during phone calls and over lunch hour.

My plan was to spin the entire bag of “Daisy”. Daisy is a sheep owned by a fellow guild member -1/2 north country Cheviot, 1/4 Suffolk, 1/4 Romney Dorset Karakul. Quite a variety and lovely, lovely wool. Last November, I¬†bought a large bag of Daisy carded up into inviting rovings and had plans to spin it for a sweater. Perfect task for Spinzilla. I really thought that would take my entire week, so I didn’t have much of a back-up plan. Fortunately I have a bit of a stash so when I finished spinning Daisy on Friday evening and plied it up on Saturday morning, I spun up some Clun Forest I bought from my neighbour.

On Sunday evening at 7pm, after plying all the Clun Forest, I still felt like spinning. I had about 7grams of spun fibre on my Turkish spindle so grabbed the bag of that fibre, (Shetland 70%; Silk 30%) and finished spinning all that up while I watched two episodes of Shetland. Fitting isn’t it? It spun quickly due to an excellent fibre prep and silk. And I plied it while I watched Scott and Bailey.

All in all I had 6 bobbins of Daisy, 3 of Clun Forest, 1 Shetland/silk, and small bobbin of Turquiose Perendale/silk I spun at the spin-in after I spun up all the Daisy I bought with me. That all measured out to be 1,683 yards of 2-ply yarn, which translates into 5,049 yards of spinning for Team Sweet Georgia.

I’m happy with this result. I managed to spin a decent amount and I stayed sane. I didn’t stress myself out with trying to spin, spin, spin. I relaxed, went running on my days off. Did errands, and prepared an entire Thanksgiving Dinner.

I’m extra happy because I have all Daisy spun up and enough of it for a sweater – 1,100 yards. The Clun Forest is going to be added to the Clun Forest I spun for the last Spinzilla, dyed and woven into a shawl/blanket.

I love Spinzilla. It forces me to focus exclusively on spinning, and while it is only a week long, that is long enough to get a significant amount of yarn made. I also love it because it brings a community of spinners together, the members of our Team Sweet Georgia, and also other spinners from all around the world spinning for this competition. While there are team prizes for the most spun, and individual prizes for the same, I like to think about the grand total that all the teams are creating. Can we beat the total we reached last year, and if so, by how much?

So that’s ones in the books. What’s next?

(Photo on top is all skeins washed and drying in the Monday sunshine.)

Knitting on the Go: Part 1

I live in the countryside outside of Vancouver. I work in the city. While often I am able to work from home, I do spend a considerable amount of time commuting each week. As a result, I’ve learned how to knit on the go.

Knitting on a bus, train or even in a car can be a tricky business.  You don’t have a lot of space, in fact there is very little elbow room.  It’s often difficult to consult patterns, especially ones in books.  With the exception of mitts or hats, it is hard to try things on for size. I leave early and arrive home late so many times it’s dark on the bus. Because of the myriad of distractions around you, the knitting you are doing needs to be fairly mindless, but not too much so or it will lull you in sleep.  And finally, some people are self-conscious about knitting in public. People tend to stare at you and some even ask questions. With all these challenges in mind, why on earth would you even try?

I conquered the process of knitting on the go due to the basic facts that on my commute I have an abundance of time, my hands are free, and I desperately need something to distract me from the tedium of the travel around me.

So here are a few things I’ve learned. First, the item I’m knitting has to be compact. A pair of socks, mitts or a hat are great things to knit on the train. Having a pattern that is easily to memorize is an added bonus. That’s where these lovely mitts come in. They are from the yarn I dyed on a Good day to day. The yarn for these mitts came from the Magic of rainwater experiment.

I love the Baby Fan Lace mitts by Morgan Wolf. They are lovely to knit and the fan lace pattern is easy to memorize. The only problem with knitting these is when I come to the thumb gusset. It’s not a difficult thing to do, but it does require concentration. The thumb gusset increases happen on every third row and the fan lace pattern is over four rows. So to stay on track you need to follow the lace chart and check off your progress. This is a wee bit tricky on the bus/train as you need to keep the pattern nearby and a pen at ready.

So here’s my solution to that problem.

I decided to try something different around the treatment of the thumb. When I got to the place where I’d start the gusset I did so by defining the stitches for the gusset with yarn overs. Then I stopped the lace pattern and knit in straight stocking stitch. I marked each increase row with a yarn over on each side of the increase. Because I was putting in these yarn overs I had to decrease on each side of them as I did not want the gusset increases to come from yarn overs, but from “make one left” and “make one right”.  [I’ll write the whole pattern out soon.]

The point I am trying to make is that by using yarn overs as a “marker” I could do a couple of things. I was able to add a decorative element to the pattern which also served as an easy way to read my progress. It’s easy to count what row you are on after a yarn over, something that you could do by feel and in dim lighting. After I set aside the thumb stitches, I continued in the regular pattern right to the end.

So that’s a way I did minor adjustments to a pattern which enabled me to knit it with ease on the bus.

I love these mitts.  Everything about them. They are truly 100-mile wear.

Local fibre from Acacia Acres

At the Aldergrove Country Fair this July I met a sheep producer who runs Acacia Acres (sorry, no website yet) in south Langley. I knew her from the fleece sale last year as she and her fleeces cleaned up on most of the awards that year.  We got talking about fibre and knitting and such and over a few meetings we have struck up a deal where I make her and her family knitted items from her fibre, and she pays me for my work in her lovely fibre.  I get all the benefits of having sheep and lovely fibre, without having to raise the animals myself and neither of us has to fork out any cash.
So I came home from Acacia Acres with 10 pounds of washed fibre and 2 pounds of an assortment of unwashed fibres from 4 different sheep.  In exchange for this fibre I am going to make 6 pairs of 1/2 mitts and 3 x 3 inch knitted samples from the four different fleeces.
As I didn’t have to waste any time washing fibre, I got right to work as soon as I got home.  The wool in this picture is from the fleece of a very happy romney sheep called Ashley. Ashley’s fleece won the Grand Champion prize at the Lower Mainland Sheep Producers Association annual fleece sale this past September 22nd. The wool in this picture is from Ashley’s fleece from last year. Just as lovely, soft and wonderfully grey.  Here it is hand carded into rolags.  The staple on this fibre is about 3 inches long on average, so it’s a dream to hand card.  
What you are looking at is 86 g (3 ounces) and 144 m (165 yards) of fingering/sport weight yarn. Look at that steely grey colour and sheen on the yarn.  That’s what I love so much about romney, the sheen. 

From that skein I made these 1/2 mitts — with slightly less than an ounce left.  What’s left in is the ball on the right. The mitts are made on 3mm needles and 44 stitches. They are medium to large size for they are intended for a young man.  

In addition to five pounds of Ashely’s fleece,  I also got five pounds of washed fleece from Ebony. Ebony is a white romney and such a lovely white she is. Here is a close-up of a skein of double-ply Ebony. I drum carded the fibre this time.

It is such a luxury to get washed fibre to work with. Even though you still have to do the fibre preparation, at least I didn’t have to spend time washing up this volume of fibre.

This is another large skein of fingering/sport weight yarn. This one ended up being 100 grams (3.5 ounces) and 155 m (168 yds) of fibre. Here it is on the niddy-noddy.

This weekend I spent time exploring this fibre. I had already made two large fingering/sport weight skeins of yarn, so I was ready to try other yarns. Below are two skeins: the white one is a three-ply of the Ebony (71 g/ 2.5 oz and 61m/67yds). I would call this one a worsted weight yarn. The grey skein is a 50/50 blend of Ashely and Ebony, you can see how much lighter the grey is. To thoroughly blend it I drum carded it. I put very little twist into the singles and made them much thicker than the previous yarns. The result:  a light, lofty yarn.(107 g/3.75 oz and 103m/112 yds)

 Here is a photo of the whole family. Ashely, Ebony and the blend.

Now that I know how the wool will behave when being made into yarn, I am going to spend some time dyeing and blending the various colours.  It is so much fun to have this much wonderful fibre to play with.

Thanks Jacqueline and Linda!

Jenn’s elbow length gauntlets

I wrote about blending fibre for this project in an earlier post.  At the end, I noted that the results weren’t what I was hoping for — too many noils.  I figured I could easily get rid of them so didn’t fret too much over it.  I have 112 g of this blended fibre — wool, alpaca and silk — I am not planning to abandon it without trying a few things.

Yesterday I heard back from Jenn with her measurements and confirmation that she wants me to make these gauntlets — so I confronted the challenge of spinning this fibre into fingering weight yarn.  It was a lovely lazy day. After struggling through a hot spell the threat of rain in the air was a welcome relief.  I set myself up on the front porch, with my wheel, tools, and glass of cider.

As I mentioned earlier, this fibre ended up with a lot of noils in it.  Some of them were from second cuts. That’s when the shearer passes a second time over the piece being shorn and produces very short clumps of fibre. If I had paid closer attention, I could have removed these before I picked and blended the fibre. I was too excited about using the picker to blend the fibre that I didn’t even look closely at the polworth. The other noils are not from second cuts, but seem to be from mishandling of the fibre. The polworth is a fine wool and it can’t take the stress of the picker and then the drum carder.  The fine fibres either break or get tangled and become a noil. Again, something entirely preventable.

You can see the noils in this photo. They are the white bits that are sitting in the fibre. I figured I could remove them so I got out my mini wool combs and tried combing them out. To no avail. The fibre is so fine the noils just slip past the tines and stay in the fibre. I tried drum carding it again, being much more gentle  — but no, they are still all there. Then I tried hand carding them, to pick out the second cuts and comb straight the other noils. Again, it didn’t work.The noils are there to stay.

I started spinning.  As I spun I stopped often to pick out the noils.  It was slow going and not satisfying spinning.  There had to be another way.  The way I finally decided upon was to do a test swatch and as I spun ignored the noils.  It was difficult because everything in me wanted the yarn to be smooth and not littered with these bumps.  But really, what choice did I have?  I could abandon this fibre or I could accept it as it is and see what it looked like spun up.

I spun a small (15g) sample as though the noils didn’t exist.  I washed it up and then to my surprise, fell in love with it.

It’s not perfect yarn, but it is really lovely. The noils from the second cuts pop out on their own in the plying and washing. The other noils just get tucked into the yarn and create a bit a texture. The silk shines through, the wool gives it a bit of bounce and the alpaca some drape. I knit up a sample, see above, of the gauntlet.

I think this will do just fine.

Yarn for a new project

At the Aldergrove Fair a couple of weekends ago, a young gal asked me to make her a special pair of mitts.  She liked the half-mitt style in hand spun yarn — but for this pair, she wanted them to come up to her elbow.  So after a few minutes of finding out what fibres and colours she likes, I agreed to make her a pair.

I’ve got the pattern designed — it’s a variation on the Baby Fan Lace mitts, starting with more stitches and decreasing as you get to the wrist.  And now I am working on the yarn.  She liked the idea of blending alpaca and wool and adding just a wee bit of silk for some luster.  So I set out to do that. Here’s a sample of the blended fibres and knit pattern. The first half (on the left) is the one I settled for, the yarn on the right is wool blended with cinnamon alpaca and silk.
Here’s what it was made out of: beige/cream alpaca, polworth (wool) and some tussah silk.  Blending fibres can take a long time on the drum carder so I decided to use the picker to do the blending.
A picker is a piece of machinery that helps you open the fibres and get them ready for carding or even spinning.  It’s also a great tool for blending fibres so they are mostly mixed before you put them through your drum carder. My girlfriend, from the dyeing days, owns a Patrick Green picker and she kindly let me borrow it for a spell.  Here it is.
It has some pretty sharp teeth, so there’s no sipping wine while you do this.  You have to pay attention on every single swing.  The fibre is fed into the front and on each swing, the teeth grab the fibre, drag it across all the other teeth, and spit it out the back.  All loose and opened up.
Then I took this wool/alpaca blend, added silk and put it through the drum carder.  The results weren’t what I was hoping for — too many noils.  I’ll post some photos of the sample yarn, when I have the issue sorted.

A Good Day to Dye

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a “good day to dye” event at my place.  I pulled all my dyes out of the cupboards and shed, dug up skeins of handspun yarn and all kinds of fibre and called my girlfriend.  She signed on and brought bags of loose fibre, rovings and skeins of yarn.  We had more than enough to play with.  The weather was perfect for this, sunny skies and the bugs stayed away for the most part.

Here is a photo essay of our day.

This is the dyeing studio a.k.a my back porch.

We threw some loose fibre into dye pots and we also painted skeins of yarn and then steamed them.  The skein being dyed here is from the fibre cleaned in my rain barrel experiments.

Here’s my friend painting a merino roving.  After the painting, it got rolled up in cellophane, left to sit for a spell and them put into the steamer.

One view of the drying rack with all the finished projects.

Next day view of the drying rack.  When the rovings were fully dried, I opened then up and am very happy to announce there was no felting at all!

From left to right:
Blue and pink shiny fibre is caesin — the silky fibre from milk proteins; grey/blue roving — straight up corriedale from Humming Bee Farm; pink/orange roving — merino/silk blend; grey/pink skein — cheviot two-ply; yellow/blue skein — polwarth two-ply spindle spun; blue/purple skein — hodge-podge of singles hanging about the studio that got spun into two decent sized skeins.  Variety of fibres. This may be hard to believe and you may think I am making this up, but I actually have plans for every bit of fibre here and each skein of yarn. Stay tuned so I can prove to you it’s true.

Spinning in Haida Gwaii

I’ve been pretty quiet this last while, using every spare moment I have to get materials organized and myself prepared.  For what you ask?  On Friday, I’m flying up to Haida Gwaii to teach a two-day spinning workshop in Tlell. 

I was there in April 2010 teaching a writing workshop, and because I had extra time, we decided to add a drop spinning workshop to my trip.  It was a hit and I’ve been striving to find a way back ever since. 

Saturday from 9am – 5pm, I’ll be teaching a Beginning Spinning workshop — using the drop or suspended spindle.  In the evening, we are hosting a Spin-In for all the workshop participants and other fibre enthusiasts who may want to join in.  On Sunday, I’ll be teaching an Advanced Spinning workshop — doing more advanced techniques and playing around with more fibres, making blends and such.

Yesterday I picked up the Houndesign spindles, specially made for these workshops.  I’m packing 35 Henry’s Dervish and 15 Lace weight spindles.  They are so beautiful I scarcely want to part with them.  I’m also in the final stages of organizing all the materials — four different kinds of wool; mohair; alpaca; llama; tussah silk; silk caps; merino/cashmere blends; soya silk and casein (a silky fibre made from the proteins in milk!)

The challenge is to try to pack it all into 2 checked bags and one carry on.  The spindles themselves take an entire box.  All this fibre has to go into my large suitcase and medium carry on.  Thankfully fibre packs down pretty well.

I need to start now just so I can be sure that I’m not forgetting something critical for the workshops. I’ll keep you posted on my packing progress — now back to more fibre preparation.

Humming Bee Farm

When I first got into spinning, I had romantic notions about raising my own sheep and alpacas, with the occasional angora goat — a fleece flock I called it. That was before I spent some time with friends who actually raise sheep. It’s not a money maker — it is a labour of love. Animals need a lot of attention and the time you spend on them is time you can’t spend spinning and doing fibre preparation.

So in my development as a fibre artist I decided that I would do all I could to support those who are raising these fantastic animals — especially those who are doing it as small scale farmers. For as much as my crafts of spinning and fibre preparation need to be continued into the next generation or we’ll lose them, so too is the art of animal husbandry. The art and craft of taking care of domestic animals.  They don’t take care of themselves.  They need a lot of looking after for a healthy and stress free animal provides the best kind of fibre — and meat.  Sorry to the vegetarians, but it’s a fact. 

In my teaching workshops, I am committed to using and promoting locally sourced fibres. So as I begin getting materials ready to teach 2 full-day spinning workshops in Haida Gwaii in mid-May, I start by looking at what the local fibre producers have to offer.  This weekend was Fibreswest and I was thrilled to meet Devon Stringer and her mom from Humming Bee Farm there.  They had just the kind of fibre I was looking for — and a great story.  From her website:

At Humming Bee Farm we breed and raise high quality, purebred white and colored Angora goats. Angora goats are on Canada’s Rare Breed Conservation List and we are very pleased to be helping protect them from becoming an endangered species.  We shear our goats twice a year, once in late March and once again in late September. On average we get about 10 pounds of lusterous white mohair from each goat, each year. Mohair is a wonderful fibre and in much demand by our local spinners and weavers.”

Here is some fibre from Humming Fee Farm  that I purchased this weekend for the workshops. I bought 4 1/2 lbs of lovely corriedale and 1/2 lb of yearling mohair. I’ve spent the morning portioning the mohair into bags and making the wool into braids.  The braids on the right are 50 g braids and the bags in the plastic box each contain 15 g of the yearling mohair.  The corriedale will be used in both the Beginning Spindling and Advanced Spindling workshops. The mohair is for fibre blending in the Advanced workshop.  There are many more fibres to gather and prepare (alpaca, silk and other kinds of wool) but this is the start. 

And a grand one it is thanks to Devon and her family.

Back to the 100-Mile Skirt

After fiddling round for a while with various cabled yarn experiments, I have finally decided which one I want to make for the 100-mile-wear version of the Claudia Skirt

The one on the far right is the prototype.  It is a cabled yarn.  This cabled yarn is constructed from a 2-ply grey alpaca single and Placid Waters (50% merino, 25% bamboo and 25% silk ) single.  That 2-ply yarn is then plied again to make a 4-strand cable.  It’s a lovely yarn.  It has a wonderful drape and from a distance looks a bit denim. 

So I devoted last Sunday afternoon to combing alpaca nests, and here is what I got  — 22 grams of combed nests.  I haven’t yet done the complex math to figure out how much I need to make the skirt, and therefore how much I need to comb, spin and ply and cable.  Part of me just wants to comb up all the grey alpaca that I have and hope for the best.   It is extremely fine fibre and is to be spun up fine, so this amount, small as it seems, will go a long way.
 

I am going to comb up another serious batch of it and start spinning.  Here’s to lazy, rainy Sunday afternoons and a challenging fibre project!

Cheers.

The magic of rain water

A couple of weeks ago I took some dirty fibre, put it into a lingerie bag and threw it into a bucket of ice cold rain water for over a week. The day I removed it I had to break the slim layer of ice that had formed around it. The water, while dirty at the beginning, was replenished daily from the deluges we’ve been having, so at the end, it was rather clean. I was going to leave it for several weeks, but it seemed so clean already, I got impatient with my own experiment.

So, I took the bag of fibre and tossed it onto the garden for the rest of the week. Over the week, as we had bouts of rain and sunshine, it got soaked and dried out repeatedly. A couple of days ago I retrieved it, towel dried it and put it by the stove to really dry.

I am absolutely amazed how clean this fibre is. There is no dirt in it at all, and only a trace amount of lanolin. Here is a photo of it. Bottom corner are the clean locks, at the top is a combed nest, and along the side is a hand carded rolag from the combed waste.

Here’s the whole lot of the experiment, combed up and waiting to be spun. It’s beautiful stuff — not damaged or affected at all by super hot water or harsh chemicals. 

While it was easy to spin, the trick was keeping it warm.  When the fibre was cold, the lanolin was a bit sticky.  It’s generally chilly in this semi-insulated farmhouse, so I kept the fibre waiting to be spun, on the warming stove in our front room.

Here’s a double-ply skein which weighs 14.5g and is 58 m long. Pretty good sized sample to play around with I’d say.  Because the wool fibres are stretched so much during spinning and plying, it’s good practice to wash or at least wet the fibre after it’s been skeined.  This way it returns to it’s regular size and shape, reducing the risk of surprises the first time you wash a garment made with hand spun yarn. 

I didn’t want to remove any of the lanolin from this yarn, so I’ve wet it again in rain water.  The stuff is ice cold, so I brought a bucket of it into the house, where it may at least get to room temperature in several hours. 

Here’s my lovely skein soaking. I’ll let it do this for a few hours, to make sure the fibres get good and wet and then I’ll hang it to dry.

I can’t wait to knit this up and see what it’s like.  Imagine, this beautiful yarn from fibre made clean with rain water and time, plenty of time.