a new family portrait

wheels

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that the new wheel has arrived and it is a Majacraft Aura. It came on Thursday, March 27. That morning I finally received a tracking number from the Woolery. It was being sent directly from the Majacraft workshop in New Zealand, and I hadn’t heard anything for almost four weeks. When I looked up the tracking, I discovered that it had already traveled from California to Ohio, and I spent all day Thursday watching its slow progress from Cleveland to my local office. It was agonizing! Around the end of the day, I got a notice that it wouldn’t be delivered until Friday. Unacceptable! I would be leaving early that morning to go to Pittsburgh for the festival and didn’t want to wait until Sunday night to open the box. So I called the post office to ask if I would be able to pick it up. They said yes. But they’ve done this to me before — saying on the phone that I could pick up a package, but refusing to give it to me when I get there. I got myself so worked up on the car ride over, preparing myself for a fight. But thankfully the box was waiting for me and I took it home!

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Even though I had plenty to do that afternoon (we were leaving at 8 am the following day, but luckily the car was already packed), I wasn’t going to leave that box unopened. I was able to get it put together without too much anguish. There were a few parts of the instructions that were oddly vague, but in the end I was able to get some yarn on it before having to resume my packing. From the beginning Olive had decided it was her wheel.

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When I got home from the show I continued to fiddle around with the settings. It didn’t feel great at first and I was disappointed. The treadling wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined it would be (did I mention I did not have the chance to try this wheel before I bought it?). I think I was feeling overwhelmed by the newness of it all. I chose this wheel because I wanted something that was different from the wheels I’d had in the past. Everything else had been scotch tension and this was a double drive! Why buy a new piece of equipment that is the same as what you’ve already got? So basically I got what I asked for and now I had to figure out how to use it. I read about other people’s experiences on a Ravelry forum and was able to make adjustments that helped. Feeling more confident, I decided it was time to spin in earnest.

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My first yarn off the new wheel was a 2-ply of Blue-faced Leicester locks and a mohair single. I guess I just wanted to jump right in there and see what this thing could do, so why not curly locks AND a thin yarn AND plying? I hadn’t spun locks in so long, so for just that reason I love the way the yarn turned out. I also love that the curls didn’t have anywhere to get snagged on. The sliding loop thingy is great. No more peaks and valleys created by the hooks. The delta/pig tale orifice is nice too. It’s just cool and weird. It really holds the thinner yarns in place and you can wrap around it twice to lessen the tension. Another thing I noticed (not sure if this is specific to this wheel, double drives, or random chance) and love is that the yarn packs down so tightly. I used to hate how fluffy the bulky yarns were on the bobbin. So much wasted space! I’m still working on bulky yarns. I am finding it easier to spin thinner yarns than chunky, so there is still a lot of work to be done.

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The second finished yarn was a mohair/Merino blend that I couldn’t resist buying or spinning. Such a gorgeous luster. Ugh! It was wonderful to spin on the wheel. I have never been great at spinning anything below worsted weight, and this might be a light worsted if I’m lucky. But it was enjoyable and doable. At some point I may get another whorl with higher ratios for finer spinning, but even on the highest ratio I can spin finer than I expected. It’s exciting!

Did I mention Olive has claimed the wheel?

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dryer balls: an exploration

Several years ago I heard whispers on the wind about felted wool dryer balls. And I thought, “eh, I’ve got loads of wool. I can felt. Let’s do this.” I didn’t read any tutorials or even research why people were using these things. I just made some. It was an excuse to stop buying dryer sheets, which I didn’t want to buy anyway. The first generation was not very dense, but I didn’t know that was a problem, so I just used them. Basically I just wadded a bunch of wool into a ball, put it in a stocking, and washed it. I guess they worked?

Then I found out they were supposed to be very hard and solid so they could bounce around in your dryer. Eventually I made another batch. This time I used yarn as the inside to give it more weight. It was a lot easier to pack the yarn tight rather than the roving. Plus it gave me a chance to do something with all of those odd little bits of yarn I have hanging around the house. I made a small ball of yarn, wrapped it in roving, wrapped more yarn around, more roving, etc. The second generation balls were larger and less squishy. However, the outside got smooshed up when I crammed them into the nylon stocking for felting.

1st & 2nd generation dryer balls

So, for the third batch I decided to do some pre-felting. I started with a tight ball of yarn and then covered it in roving. Using my 6-point needle felter, I tacked down the outside wool. This kept everything in place nicely and they came out so smooth and pretty. I’m sure they’ll end up covered in pills after one or two uses, but they will look deceptively pleasant in the bowl at the farmer’s market.

Balls pre-felted
Balls after an initial needle felting. The inside is a tightly wound ball of yarn with handdyed wool roving around the outside. In some cases I placed all of the roving around the outside, covering it entirely before needle felting. Those ones had a more interesting swirling color pattern. Others I tacked down each piece as I laid them down.

Balls ready for felting
Balls have been placed in a nylon stocking. I purchased knee-highs from the drug store for 50 cents a pair. I was able to get 4 to 5 balls in each stocking.

Dryer balls ready to go
The balls are finished! These went through two wash cycles. I reshaped them before throwing them into the dryer. They came out slightly damp, so now they are air drying. The best looking ones yet.

PS. I just listed them for sale. Click it.

 

home from Yarn School

Disclaimer: I’m going to be honest about my experience and I don’t see any reason not to be. If someone doesn’t like what I have to say, that’s okay. They don’t have to agree. I know things are going to be as they are regardless of how I feel about it. This is simply my personal take on the weekend and I am allowed to have my own opinion.

I can’t say exactly what I had anticipated, although I know I was trying to keep my expectations low so I wouldn’t be disappointed. Unfortunately it was more that they were wrong altogether. In retrospect, I can say that Yarn “School” is more of a retreat rather than a focused learning opportunity. While there was some instruction given, there was a lot more sitting around and chatting. If that is something you enjoy, then you’d probably love this event. However, I had hoped to gain new insight into something about which I already know the basics (and am bored with). We were shown how to do long draw and beehives/coils, so that was helpful. Also, I picked up a few tips for using my drumcarder and tried different techniques for dyeing. I was able to spin on several wheels, some of which I had considered buying and now know that I don’t want. Everyone was extremely friendly and the food was fantastic. However, much to my body’s dismay, we did not eat at its usual times. Dinner was usually served between 9 and 10 pm, so I spent the entire weekend in digestive distress. The accommodations were pleasantly comical — the dorms were old school classrooms. There were many wonderful vintage decor items to look at, especially in the dining room. I appreciated the time away from home, out of my usual routine. And now I know I can travel solo without having a complete meltdown.

Overall I can say that it was a positive experience, although not what I wanted it to be. It is unlikely that I would return, partly because there are many other places to explore and partly because it just isn’t the way I like to spend my time. Honestly, I don’t need to fly halfway across the country to sit and spin. I can do that at home. Perhaps I missed something? I missed the point of it all? It doesn’t match with my need for structure, instruction, and constant activity. I tried to keep myself available and ready any time there was a chance to learn something, but it just didn’t happen that often. If you were totally new to spinning it would have been a great chance to have everything handed to you at once, but for the seasoned spinner, you were on your own much of the time.

Also, it made me realize that I like living in my crummy small town where I am somewhat special rather than being one out of many who all do the same thing. Upon returning I do have a feeling of “let’s get down to business”. Not sure I can go as far as to say “re-energized” or even “inspired”, but I do feel like I want to get more focused. I had to leave my wheel at home, which made me sad, so I am now ready to sit down and get some yarn spun. I know I should be glad for this opportunity, but I’m still slightly disappointed.

Didn’t get many photos taken. Just three in fact.

I spent a lot of the early morning alone. I’d get up between 6 and 6:30, have a nice breakfast (alone) and then go upstairs to the quiet gym where the wheels were waiting. As the weekend went on everyone’s fiber crept farther out from their seat.

empty room
My neighbor had brought her Schacht Ladybug and thankfully let me use it. Very smooth wheel! When I was looking into a new wheel, I had considered this one. However, the Kromski Sonata won out. I think I would’ve been happy with this as well though.

bobbin

Everyone had the chance to dye two pounds of fiber. Each pancake is 8 ounces and a different breed. Can’t remember which is which right now, but they had Falkland, Polworth, Romney, and a wool blend. The one at the bottom left was done in plastic wrap, so the colors stayed just where I put them. I am going to chain ply that sucker for sure!

dyed at yarn school

progress in pictures

Thanks to Instagram, I am now documenting everything down to the last insignificant moment of my day. I baked muffins? Photo! New shoes? Photo! Cute kitty pose? Photo! Project in the house? Photo! Spinning yarn? Photo! It may get a little dull sometimes, but the up side is that when I am in the midst of a knitting project, there are many more process shots.

I finally finished the Age of Brass & Steam Kerchief using approximately 250 yards of handspun Shetland wool and size 8 needles. For each section I used a different color of yarn. The pattern was so easy and quick. Although my measurements didn’t come out quite as the pattern suggested, it’s much wider than any other shawl/kerchief I’ve made. I didn’t make any adjustments, just followed the instructions as is.

Three shades of #Shetland. #handspun #wool #yarn

Shetland triangle shawl. #nodyes #WIP #handspun

Shetland triangle blocking. #shawl #FO #handspun #handknit #natural

In action.

snapshots around the studio

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And by “studio” I mean my kitchen.

Over the past two years I’ve gotten myself into quite a rhythm. On average I get out my dyeing and carding equipment once a month. I spend one week dyeing and the next week carding. That usually leaves me one week to get everything labeled and packed to go to my next show. When it comes to dyeing, I still don’t have any recipes. I tried to do color cards, but when I went back to repeat those colors, they came out differently. Oh well. That means I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and not worry about it too much. One of a kind (sort of) it is! By the way, I just found out that this “OOAK” thing everyone uses to describe their work stands for “one of a kind”. Huh!

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Anyway, I can’t go beyond three days of dyeing otherwise I get so bored and mentally dried up that I just pour black on everything and walk away. Day three is usually my least productive day, however this week it was my most productive. On Wednesday I had a haircut at noon, so I couldn’t get started until after that. And the first day I usually get started late because I have to get out all the pots and dyes.

My goals were quite manageable:

  1. 4 lbs of Merino for Margaret
  2. 4 lbs of Shetland roving
  3. Winnie’s fleece (approx. 3-4 lbs)
  4. Odds and ends for carding if I feel like it

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With two crock pots, three stock pots, and two roasting pans, I was able to get all of that and a little more done in two afternoons and one day. Today I have the pleasure of cleaning up the kitchen. But the living room also needs to be vacuumed, so I think it will just end up being a full on cleaning day while I wait for the fiber to dry.

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when gauge matters

Basically I’ve always lived on the edge when it comes to my knitting. I don’t do gauge swatches. I don’t worry too much about matching up my yarns. I don’t do a whole lot of counting and calculating. So far there haven’t been too many circumstances where this has come back to bite me in the ass, but last week, it did.

The funny thing is that it was and wasn’t my fault. I knit two fingerless mittens using the same needles and diligently counted the rows. When I was done, one was little and the other was big. I counted and recounted, but I had the same number of stitches. Waaah!? The gauge was off, but it wasn’t simply a tension issue. The yarn had actually increased in size! And here is where it was my fault. I spun that yarn. It was a navajo-plied yarn, so if the single had gotten thicker as I went, the ply would have gotten thicker and thicker too. Looking at the two mitts, I knew I couldn’t block them to match, so I knit another mitt. With barely enough yarn, I managed to complete a third mitt. It was just slightly larger than the second. Aarrrrg! Thankfully, the difference is minimal and I should be able to block them to match.

Here they are: my Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear mitts!

gauge issues

in the news

This past weekend I was at the Holiday Open House & Sale hosted by the Artists of the Mahoning Commons at the Ward Bakery Building in Youngstown, OH. That’s a mouthful, eh? Two different local news outlets came and wrote articles about us. The first was from a TV station. Their article was short, but they included a photo. I ended up in the picture! At least my underwear wasn’t sticking out the back of my pants.


The second article was written by a reporter from a newspaper, The Vindicator. It didn’t have any photos, but it was much longer. He talked to me for quite a while and he was very nice. I feel a bit sorry for him though, having to listen to me ramble on and on about drumcarding and sheep breeds and yarn. A few details in the article are a bit inaccurate, but when you are trying to write about something totally foreign in a small amount of time and you are piecing together my descriptions of how things work, I think you are allowed a bit of wiggle room. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the newspaper before, at least not for this sort of thing.

If you missed out on the show last weekend, you will have another opportunity to shop the weekend following Thanksgiving. The hours are 12 to 5 pm both days. Support Small Business Saturday!

decisions as a dyer

As a regular reader of this blog would know, I enjoy taking trips down memory lane now and then. Having a Flickr account since October 2006 (hey – seven years this month!) gives me the chance to compare earlier work to my current work. I can see how much I’ve improved — or stagnated. I can see how much more — or less — productive I am now. Either way, it’s good to remind myself of my progress.

Today I am taking a look back at my early dyeing experiences. I am sure that I had started dyeing earlier than what is available via Flickr, but I hadn’t started documenting things yet. The first photo I have of dyed locks is this one from November 6, 2006. It was Lincoln wool. I had run them through the carder and decided it looked like a potential wig… so it went on my head!

Lincoln Beehive
The next two photos are from the following spring. The first from March 9, 2007 is combed top, just a domestic wool blend. When I first got into dyeing, I would buy a pound of domestic (super cheap!) and dye 2 ounces at a time to make it last longer. Now I am buying 22 pounds at a time. What a difference.  Those colors say lanaset to me, so at that point I was already getting past the Kool-aid/Wiltons phase and into wool dyes.

nugget of joy
This photo is from March 11, 2007. It’s the wool roving I received from a fiber processing mill that lost my original fleece. To this day I am not entirely sure what the breed was, but I think I still have some of it lying around. It wasn’t the greatest stuff, but it gave me a lot of experience dyeing.

Narniana

Where was I going with this?

I think it’s safe to say I should be out of my “experimental” phase by now. Sure, it’s fun to try new things now and then. Different techniques, fibers, dyes, etc. One doesn’t want to get bored. However, I have been avoiding something that almost every dyer I know can do: repeated colors. I have always claimed that I take an “unscientific approach” and I don’t record any recipes. It ruins the artistic flow. And that is true, but also I am using it as an excuse to remain casual and detached, a way to avoid being purposeful. On one hand, having repeatable colors would make my life easier in many ways. On the other hand, it could be boring.

Why not do… BOTH!? Someone (Rich first and then my dad) suggested that I have two separate collections: those that are predictable, repeatable colors, and those that are special little moments in time that will never be seen again. I’m sure many dyers take this approach, but it makes a lot of sense. I can still have the fun of “come what may”, but those shoppers who want a sweater’s worth in one color can get it. We’ll see if I can pull it off!

This week is going to be full of dyeing. With Indie Knit & Spin coming up quick and a successful event behind me, I have a serious amount of restocking to do. Planned for this week:

  • Grey Romney roving
  • White Border Leicester/Coopworth roving
  • White Cotswold locks
  • White Border Leicester/Corriedale locks
  • White Falkland top
  • White Blue-faced Leicester top
  • White Colonial wool top

Have things gotten out of hand? #wool #fleece # fiber #stash

another successful event

And just like that, it’s over! Thank you to everyone who attended and helped with the Autumn Fiber Festival on Saturday. It was a rainy day, but the building was full of shoppers. Hooray! And a special thanks to all of you who helped me with my “studio clean-up project” by purchasing any items from the destash table. Having a larger space than usual — 10×12 rather than 10×10 — allows for that extra table, so I think it will become a regular feature. Everyone needs to go through their stash now and then to give it a good scrubbing!

10x10 Booth

Getting to the event on Saturday was a little nutty. Unfortunately I left my house 15 minutes later than I planned and then found out the event was 15 minutes farther away than I thought. That meant we arrived half an hour later than I expected. I only had one hour to unload and set up. It was crazy, but a few other people helped my dad bring in boxes while I started laying things out. In the end we got it done. I used a different configuration than I have in the past. It might not have had the best flow, but it worked well enough.

It was great visiting with so many friends this weekend and talking to several returning customers. Some even brought projects to share! It is so exciting to see what people do with the fibers I dye. I get them started, but you make them into something special. Do you spin them? Felt them? Knit them? Crochet them? Keep bringing your projects to shows – I couldn’t be happier to see them.

customer project

customer project

new pattern is complete!

Say hello to Sideways Gull Stitch Mitts. Wow. I am not very creative with my naming. This pair has a cable along the bottom cuff and is knit sideways.  I love this cable in particular — it’s only a four-row repeat, so it’s easy to remember and it looks fancy without much effort. Also, adjusting the size for larger/smaller hands or a heavier yarn is simple.

I used a handspun singles yarn for the initial pair. It is 100% undyed alpaca. If you were to use a yarn that was more worsted (not woolen), the cables would be clearer. However, I do not plan for things such as that, so it is what it is.

gull stitch mitts

I want to thank Rebecca of Dusty Tree Soap and April of Studio Strategos who were both a big help testing and editing this pattern. I am still very new at the writing of patterns, so I tend to be insecure. April has a great technical eye, so she gave me lots of suggestions on the terminology and Rebecca worked through the pattern twice. The first time she didn’t have enough yarn, so she only got one mitt done. It’s still beautiful though!

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On the second pair she used a heavier yarn and size #9 needles. She noted that the lighter yarn required 12 pattern repeats and the heavier required nine. Also, she used a provisional cast-on and added a thumb. They look so cool!

rebeccamitts