Learning New Things

Burton Vestigan – just finishing the collar.

I took a bit of a break over the last six or eight weeks of 2017 from spinning, because there was knitting to be done. I like to specifically take time at the end of the year to knit patterns from other designers, and I was really pleased with my Burton Vestigan that I had decided to work on.

I also had decided that I wanted to spin for and knit the Ghosthunter’s Cloche, with some moorit Shetland fibre I had picked up earlier in the year. That was… not entirely successful. And not for any fault of the pattern (in fact, I’m going to re-knit it in a commercial yarn), entirely through my own fault.

The problem was, the Shetland I have is roving, but I spun it short forward anyway. I’ve done this before, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it most definitely was for this fibre. The resulting yarn, which was nice enough to look at, was so insanely dense and uneven, it was actually uncomfortable to work with.

Traditional 3-ply, roving but spun short forward. Looks just fine in hank form, but it’s wildly uneven.

I did knit a gauge swatch before starting, but when your gauge is all over the place, what’s the use? Needless to say the hat doesn’t fit, much to my chagrin because it’s a super awesome pattern. All may not be lost – I’m going to try felting it in the wash to get it down to size.

But that whole experience really got me thinking about my spinning.

I’m very comfortable with short forward draw, and I’m okay with short backward, but when it comes to things like spinning from the fold or long backward, I’m the proverbial babe. This is compounded by the fact that I like spinning worsted and really love worsted yarns, but as I so painfully learned in December, that’s not always appropriate.

So the past few weeks, I’ve been digging through my stash – I have a selection of rovings I got from Custom Woolen Mills in Carstairs last year that I’ve been woefully neglecting, and I decided finally to learn long draw.

Like most handspinners I fear the dreaded “wasting of the fibre”. I know whatever new technique I’m learning will not produce the awesomest of yarn, so I just avoid it. So here’s me, with literally pounds of fibre all prepped and ready to go, but languishing unused.

Well screw that, I say. It’s not all necessarily about the finished yarn, it’s about learning something new, and you’re never going to be great at something you’re just learning for the first time. But practice it enough and you will be great.

So, I pulled out my Ile de France roving and got to work.

My first skein was bumpy. And had underspun bits. And overspun bits. I felt like I was a first time spinner all over again. But, I also learned that long backward is fast. Really fast. That is something I definitely like.

I decided that that first skein was going to be all about learning the new movement – not worrying so much about consistency. I use my left hand to pull the yarn forward in short forward, so learning to pull back with my right was the complete opposite, and my muscle memory fought me pretty hard for that first bobbin.

With the initial jump, I feel a lot more confident though, and quickly decided to move on to a spinning project. I’m being a lot more purposeful with my movements, and a lot more careful about keeping it even. I’m pulling out more slubs, and when a section comes through that doesn’t match, I’m fixing it. The skeins will still be uneven, but I’m hoping not quite as much.

I’m on my final bobbin now, and after plying I’ve decided to finish by thwacking and fulling slightly – the thought process being any under spun bits will hopefully gain some needed strength.

So far I feel pretty good about the whole process, and I’ve gotten enough confidence in it to starting thinking of uses for my other rovings that have been sitting untouched. The last of the moorit Shetland will be next, and I’ll spin pretty much the same weight as the Ile de France. Who knows, maybe a hap is in my future with my first woollen spun yarns?

Tomatoes & Spinning, Oh My!

Harvested Tomato ‘Dubrava’ fruit

It is finally the beginning of tomato harvesting season here in Alberta. I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever! In reality it’s only been three months, we don’t plant out tender plants until May long weekend here in Edmonton because of the risk of frost, but watching these guys grow for three months and having to wait to eat them is a serious tease.

To say I love tomatoes is an understatement. I grow around 30 plants every year, all of varying varieties, and have converted a not inconsiderable amount of my yard to tomato patches. I grow them, I save as much seed as I can, and I share them around the world with other gardeners (The Populuxe Seed bank has been my pet project for the past 10 years, and I have hundreds of varieties preserved).

I know, I know, this is a knitting/spinning blog right? Well, that’s a bit of a explanation for you why it’s been so long since I posted! We’ve been enjoying the summer here (when I’m not hiding from the 30C temperatures that is), and the garden does take up a lot of time and care through the summer.

Not to say I haven’t been knitting and spinning of course!

1221 yds of Merino/Romney 2-ply.

I’ve finished up my Merino/Romney spin, which I started for Tour de Fleece, and continued on after that. I wanted to get around 1200 yards so I could have enough to knit two 600 yard shawls, and I accomplished my goal. There’s 5 skeins, all totalled after finishing, at 1221 yards.

The Stats

Grist: 1039 ypp
Twist: 40°
WPI: 15/16
Weight: Light fingering
Draft: Short forward draw
Ratios: Spun 14:1, Plied 14:1

I plan on dyeing this yarn, but I haven’t decided how much and what exactly. I purchased some natural dyes from Maiwa in Vancouver that I’m very excited to start experimenting with.

I bought logwood, osage, and chestnut, along with some iron. I think out of these three colours plus what I can scrounge around me I should be able to make a few different colours that I’ll be happy with. It’ll be an interesting experiment anyway.

I’m leaning towards dyeing these skeins (or at least a few of them) with logwood, and giving them an after-bath of iron. But first I’ll be experimenting on some mini-skeins I spun up exactly for this purpose. Part of me is really scared of screwing them all up and I’ll just despise the colours I dye them, so taking that leap is a bit of a scary prospect.

I’ve been knitting too – but I’ve been mostly keeping that under wraps for now. These are a few designs that I feel like I’ve been working on forever. It’s mostly been starting to knit, ripping out, rejiggering the pattern (technical term), and then re-starting them. But now, I’m almost done the first pattern, and the second will be started imminently. I’m really excited about these designs, and if you liked Inis Oirr, I think you will too.

Inis Oirr is available for free on Knotions, so head on over to the pattern page here to find that link to tide you over until the new knits are ready to be released.

Experiments in Raw Fleece – The Finished Yarn

Merino/Romney 2 ply spun for Tour de Fleece

What a weird few weeks it’s been.

So since my last post, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few farms, meeting a few sheep (along with some donkeys and llamas), skirting a bunch of fleece, and then… I sprained my ankles. Both of them. Long story, and let’s just say I’m really good at injuring myself in new and interesting ways. They’re on the mend now, but they’ve taken about a month to heal.

So that has actually put quite a damper on a bunch of plans, and I’ve spent more time than I care to think about sitting on the couch, elevating and icing said ankles. Which really put the kibosh on all my Tour de Fleece plans.

I haven’t been totally immobile (because seriously that would have driven me crazy), but I haven’t gotten anywhere near as much done for TdF as I had planned. As I write to you, on the very last day of the tour, I’ll be plying up my third skein. The two above I spun in the first two weeks, one is 250 yards and the other is 230. I’m really, really pleased with the final product. I feel like it’s been a long road, but it hasn’t been, really. I only got my Merino/Romney fleece in March, started washing, waited for my combs to come, spent a lot of time prepping, and now I’ve finally looking at my finished (or almost finished work). Four months from start to finish isn’t bad.

I’ve said this frequently over the course of the past few months, but processing my whole fleece and being with it every step of the way as filled me with a satisfaction I’m not sure how to articulate fully.

Meeting your fibre source, and really experiencing the life behind home-prepped fleece has is miles different than going with commercially prepared fibre. And there is a life in self-prepped fleece that you don’t get with something done commercially.

Not to say there isn’t joy in a commercially prepped top (I just got some Manx Loaghtan that I’m super excited to spin), but it certainly is different, and experiencing that and really getting to know my fibre through its life after it’s been shorn is an experience I think any spinner would benefit from.

So is this the end of my Experiments in Raw Fleece series?

No way! I have a ton more fleece in the garage from a variety of different breeds that I’m just itching to get started on. The process of learning with spinning is always on-going, and I imagine these fleeces have much more to teach me. I look forward to listening to what they have to say.

A Week (Or Two) In Review – Part Deux

Light Fingering Cheviot 2-ply.

You can hear the wind whistling through this blog it’s been so quiet the past few weeks; but not for lack of anything to talk about.

In fact, I’ve been so busy, there hasn’t been much time to sit and compose my thoughts into coherent sentences – and it’s almost all been yarny/fleecey/fibrey goodness.

Also it’s summer, and that means a lot more outdoor time. We get lots of indoor time in the winter, so here in Central Alberta we have to soak in the warm rays of the sun as much as we possibly can during the summer.

But I digress.

I was going to write one big giant blog post, but honestly that sounds like a chore, and you wouldn’t want to read a bunch of disjointed thoughts anyway (right?). So let’s do it this way – brief overview, and then I’m really going to drill down into some topics in their own posts, because whew boy, I have some things to say.

Super-Secret Shenanigans

The first thing I want to talk about, or rather, allude to but not really talk about, is my new super-secret project I have in the works. It’s been something bubbling in the back of my mind for some time, and the pieces now are falling into place for it to happen. Unfortunately, that’s all you’ll get for now – but in approximately four to six weeks I plan to announce my devious (not really) plans. It’s been taking up a fair amount of my time, and I can’t even talk about it! But it is fibre related, and it’s something I hope a lot of my fellow Canadians will be excited for (mysterious, eh?)

The Merino/Romney Fleece

I swear this is the never-ending fleece. Not that I’m complaining because it’s an absolute dream, but I’ve been a washing/combing madwoman the past few weeks, and the fleece is looking like I barely touched it. I originally thought I’d wash, comb, and spin bits at a time, but turns out I wanted to wash and comb it all and then spin. I did, however, get my first samples spun up, and I’m over the moon about them. The impetus for buckling down on the prep as much as I can before July, however, is because it’s…

Tour de Fleece!

That’s right, I’ll be participating in my first ever Tour de Fleece, and I’m pretty stoked. I’m part of Team Wool ‘n Spinning, and I want to spin as much of my Merino/Romney as I can, hence all the prepping. If I run out of Merino/Romney that’s prepped, I’ll move onto my 6 lbs of various breeds I bought from Custom Woolen Mills in May. Don’t worry, I’m certainly not going to run out of anything to spin.

S-Twist and Z-Twist… What’s the diff?

I spin S (wheel goes counterclockwise) and then ply Z (wheel goes clockwise), which is the opposite from what most other spinners do. Why do I do it that way? No idea, but when I taught myself and that’s what came naturally, and I’ve just stuck with it. Is there a difference at all? That’s what I set out to figure out, because I couldn’t really find anything definitive online – and I’m not one to leave a question unanswered. So that’ll be an upcoming blog post with what I found out from that mini experiment.

Also Natural Dyeing

Lilac dye test

Oh ya, I did that too! I did a test sample, and then went whole-hog and dyed 700 yds of my Cheviot light fingering weight 2 ply that I spun up last month. I used lilac with an alum mordant – and I’ll save the specifics of it for another post, because I’m going to get all technical about it (sort of).

Pictured left is the mini-skein dye test I did before jumping in with both feet.

And a Lazy Kate

I finally got myself a tensioned lazy kate so I can make traditional 3 plies – which I really wanted to do because my chain plying game sucks. Eventually I’ll get that up to snuff, but frankly, it’s not top priority with everything else on the go, so a lazy kate was necessary. I’ve already sampled using it, and I love my itty bitty 3 ply skein. I cannot wait to spin more.

Farm Visits!

I’ll be visiting a few farms with sheep flocks within the next few weeks, and I hope to expound a bit more on that after I come back (and also show off my new acquisitions), so stay tuned. I’m really looking forward to these visits, looking forward to some new fleeces, but maybe most of all, looking forward to petting some sheep. Who doesn’t want to pet some sheep?

I will totally be posting pictures on Instagram by the way, so come and find me to get in early on the sheepy goodness.

Experiments in Raw Fleece – Tool Talk

I’m a big believer in getting the right tool for the job. I’ve needed a lot of tools for a lot of different things in my life – from photography equipment to screen printing, art materials to carpentry tools. I’m a doer, and with that means I like to try a lot of different things, and one thing I’ve learned is don’t cheap out on tools or materials.

Wool combs made by Richard Hawkins

The right tool for the job isn’t always the most expensive. Especially for somebody not doing any of the aforementioned things above professionally, there’s no need to get something on a professional level. But likewise, cobbling something together and/or using something really, really cheap just causes more frustration than it’s worth.

On the flip side however, I don’t like spending more than I have to, and the most expensive thing doesn’t always make it the best.

But there’s a middle ground. It’s not the cheapest, nor the most expensive option, but it will work perfectly well for my purposes, and that’s what I like to aim for. It’s a mixture of keeping my costs down while also providing me with the least amount of frustration.

Spinning uses really specialized equipment, so a lot of it is on the more expensive side (supply and demand, after all). So when I started looking around for a pair of wool combs I was smacked with one of two options:

1. Make my own; or
2. Fork out the dough for combs

For some reason I thought combs would be about the same amount of money for hand cards, of which there are quite a range of prices and quality. Was I ever hit with a rude awakening. Combs are expensive, and they’re all about the same price no matter where you look. Since I’m in Canada, my options for purchasing were even fewer – with our dollar the way it is right now I’d be paying 25% – 30% higher than the listed price, plus shipping, plus duty (so, let’s say on average 50% higher than the listed price). That’s nuts.

So, I looked around for some options. Could I make my own? Was there a kind of comb I could use in lieu of proper wool combs, just to get me started?

So I searched around, and I saw people using hair picks or dog combs, making their own hackles and combs out of a combination of the above. But looking at those and comparing with proper wool combs, that option was limiting, and to me it looked more like an exercise in frustration than anything. Some people use these, and swear by them, but it wasn’t for me – I wanted some combs that would be good for a range of different fleece types, and the tines on hair picks and dog combs really just lend themselves to one kind of wool from what I could figure. Since I have two pretty different fleeces waiting for me in the garage, that wasn’t going to work.

So, Back to looking at wool combs, and keeping it limited to purchasing from a Canadian supplier.

My first batch of combed top from my Merino/Romney fleece.

I searched around, asked a bunch of people, and emailed some shops. I finally rested on a pair of combs made by Rodger Hawkins of Peterborough, ON, sold by Gemini Fibres out of Mount Albert, ON.

They aren’t the cheapest combs, nor are they the most expensive, and word was they were good for a range of wools, which is what I needed.

As luck would have it, I even had a birthday coming up, so guess what I asked for? My family is pretty awesome.

I’ve had my wool combs for a few weeks now, and they are excellent. They’re easy to use, and comfortable, and I’ve used them for both my Friesian and Merino/Romney fleece, and this set works well for both wool types. I’m really, really glad I got these rather than trying to cobble together something else – sitting and combing wool is something I’m finding relaxing, and I can’t wait to wash up the rest of my fleece so I can get to combing in earnest.


Lessons Learned
    I like combing wool much more than carding (which is fortunate, because worsted spinning is my go-to)
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