Monday, July 28, 2008

Tour de Fleece -- Arrivée!

The cyclists of the Tour de France wound their way yesterday to their grand ceremonial finish down the Champs Élysées in Paris, tired and a little battered, but relaxed and beaming with exhilaration at having made it all the way through an incredible 2,200 punishing miles of racing. (I think I said 1,200 before, but I should have checked first!) Just finishing is a signal accomplishment.

Rastro and I, likewise, made our tired but happy way to the finish of the Tour de Fleece yesterday. Along with a few hundred other intrepid -- or foolhardy -- spinners, I set my sights on a goal of spinning every day during the Tour de France, and maybe meeting some personal spinning challenges. I didn't set a fixed goal for quantity. I just set out to spin as much as I could of my remaining pound and a half of lump-bedeviled bargain roving in pursuit of an eventual sweater. The colors combined to make a surprisingly pretty three-ply yarn.

Here's a short retrospective on my Tour de Fleece.

Rastro was suited up and feeling competitive.

After all, being properly outfitted is so important, isn't it?

After the first day's spinning, we were starting to get warmed up.

We swung into our rhythm and started to make progress on the early stages.

Oops, a spot of equipment trouble. Just a pesky squeak, it was soon put right by the support team.

The road stretched on for miles ahead, but we started to put some distance behind us.

Rastro was careful to load up on carbohydrates for energy during the race. He may have overdone it.

The terrain changed as we started to get into the first mountainous climbs of the Pyrénées.

Beyond lay the formidable Alpe de Nepp, a craggy and snow-capped edifice better known as old Mount Lumpy. The ghosts of spinning wheels past shadowed its mighty flanks.

We peddled hard and made it through the high mountain ranges.

Rastro began to indulge fond and foolish dreams of victory and practiced his speech for the podium in Paris.

But then a serious reverse struck -- rider down! -- a business trip, several days away from home.

Luckily, it was nothing a Band-aid or two wouldn't fix. We would just have to make do with alternate equipment until we could get back to the wheel. We pressed ahead as best we could, spinning Shetland top into laceweight on the spindle.

Finally, ahead of us stretched the storied boulevard of the Champs Élysées, and the stunning backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe. We'd made it! We certainly were not the fastest; some of the Tour de Fleece spinners cranked out prodigious amounts. We just kept going steadily day after day, undeterred by busy schedules, travel, and a rather sore knuckle developing on one forefinger. Inspired by the real cyclists, encouraged and buoyed by the camaraderie of fellow Tour de Fleece members, we kept at it throughout the entire three-week course, plugging away at our own personal challenge.

And here's the reward. Rastro and I spun about a pound of heavy- worsted weight three-ply (leaving a half- pound to go) and a smidgen of Shetland laceweight.

Now perhaps it's time to have a glass of Champagne and give that sore knuckle a few days off!

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Excursion into Lace

I've been spinning with gusto lately, enjoying the friendly camaraderie of Star Athena's Tour de Fleece. The knitting has been temporarily in the back seat, asking endlessly, "are we there yet"? But the those incredible, persevering Tour de France bicyclists are still pedaling, and so must I. Thus it was that, when I finished my version of live2knit's Mockery socks, I didn't have something else going immediately. But a trip loomed, and I had no portable knitting project underway. This state of affairs, of course, could not stand!

So, yesterday, I went browsing through my yarn stockpile and came up with a skein of Malabrigo laceweight baby merino in the Marine colorway. It's a solid blue, but it has that lovely subtle kettle-dyed variability. (Liquidgirl's picture here shows the coloration fairly accurately.) Thumbing through a few books, I lit again upon Jane Sowerby's Victorian Lace Today. It bulges with gorgeous lace patterns. I was looking for one that would be easy to wear, rather than a grand dramatic gesture. It needed to work with laceweight, and as I only have one skein, about 470 yards in all, it needed to be adaptable in size.
The one that jumped out at me is the Cherry Leaf Shoulder Shawl. A couple of photos are on teeweewonders' post here. In the book, and peeking out in the photo here, it's shown in a heavier-weight solid-colored yarn and in a hand-dyed silk, rather than a laceweight wool. But the author comments that she has knit this shawl in many different yarns and weights with good results. It also looked not inordinately challenging, thankfully, since I've never before knit with a true, delicate laceweight. (That gorgeous, sumptuous Handmaiden Sea Silk that I used for my tall elegant mom's lace scarf was actually a little heavier, really somewhere between lace and fingering weights.) And, since the shawl is triangular and knit from the point up, I can pretty much just knit until I run out of yarn, leaving a bit aside for edging. If it turns out too small for a shawl, it can be a lovely little scarf or kerchief. And probably end up being worn more often.
So off to the airport I went with my yarn, pattern, and US size 7 circular needles to have a go. I had a flight delay, so I buckled down in the gate seating area to get it going. Oh my, what a painful operation that turned out to be. It was astonishingly awkward to cast on three little stitches in microscopically skinny yarn on relatively great big needles and then wrestle that tiny little unanchored wisp of work while trying to slip a stitch and pick up a thread to make a new one. Along about the sixth time I ripped it all the way out to have another try, I was beginning to have serious doubts about the whole enterprise. I got a little perturbed about a gaggle of loud guys who took up residence in some nearby seats and settled down to joshing and guffawing boisterously at the top of their lungs. Couldn't they see I was working? (Obviously, my usual sense of proportion had fled, too.)
It took all my powers of concentration, a few more tries, a move to a quieter spot, and my tongue planted firmly in the corner of my mouth, but I finally got it going. After that, first referring to the chart, row by row, and then, once I understood the internal logic of the pattern, continuing on my own, I watched in wonder as the first couple of rows of veined leaves appeared within a garter stitch frame. I was entranced, and had no more trouble concentrating when I boarded the flight and pulled it out again.
So here am I, away from home for a couple more days -- and away from my camera, so no pictures -- but knitting away happily. As the shawl grows from the point, it widens, so the rows are getting longer and slower. But just as charming!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Everyone's Patience Has Limits

World's-most-patient-husband pointed out a video to me this morning. Before he let me see it, though, he was careful to say, "You can't do this." Well, for goodness' sake, there was no need for that, was there? Really, I'm sure I wouldn't have been tempted. But it doesn't hurt to be safe. You just never know, do you? And even world's-most-patient-husband has his limits. :)

With no further ado, the link to a CNN video: Pet sheep lives with UK family. You can't imagine how cozy a full-grown ram can be until you've seen him lay his little chin adoringly on a family member's lap!

[I don't know how long CNN keeps these videos on-line, so I apologize if the link is broken by the time you try it.]

Friday, July 11, 2008

Light-Hearted Mockery

I've been much caught up, the last few days, in watching the Tour de France and treadling the spinning wheel for the Tour de Fleece. But I did find the time to bring the Mockery socks to a happy conclusion.

The pattern is from live2knit's Katie Grady, here. It's quite a nice stitch pattern -- easy knitting, considering the pretty effect you get.

I knit these with US size 0 needles and Dancing yarn, a cotton-wool-elastic blend from Knit Picks, now discontinued.

(I have to say, though, Patons' new Stretch Socks yarn, from the fiber blend and the picture, looks an awful lot like the same yarn.)

The yarn texture works well in the pattern, but the strong color changes do tend to hide the fancy stitchwork. So the stitch pattern is sort of a hidden delight, something to enjoy secretly, except when the light hits it just right and reveals it for all to see.

I especially like the way the eye-of-partridge heel stitch looks in this yarn. It almost makes a trellis-work of color.

I knit the pattern with very little modification. I did need to add a few extra rows to the heel flap, since I got a slightly different row gauge with the Dancing yarn than called for, making them mighty tight around the instep. I didn't add any repeats to the leg, though. I liked it a little on the short side for these summery cotton socks.

I think I may actually end up wearing these socks a lot more often than the others I've made for myself so far. While my sweet family members happily wear the socks I've knit for them, I have to admit I don't often wear my own. Hand-knit socks are thicker than skinny commercial ones, and most of my shoes don't have room for them. Of course, I can solve that sooner or later by buying some new shoes sized for wearing with my beautiful handmade wool socks. It may also be that I'm subconsciously reluctant to wear them, thinking they'll wear out. Maybe I can fix that by making more, until I have a whole drawerful!

But in the meantime, these light-hearted cottony socks seem perfect for sneakers, which of course are already designed for thicker socks. I even have a pair that will work well with these cheerful colors. These are going to be fun.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tour de France/Tour de Fleece

For years, world's-most-patient-husband and I have spent much of July glued to the TV watching the drama of the stupendous 1200-mile Tour de France bicycle race unfold. I've also spent much of that time clicking away on my knitting. Of course, in the last year or two, I've also developed a certain attachment to spinning. You might have noticed. :)

So I was tickled when I happened upon Star Athena's Tour de Fleece a few weeks ago. It's spinning in the theme of the Tour de France, with personal challenges and like-minded company. I like spinning; I like watching the race; perfect! I joined her Tour de Fleece group in Ravelry right away. It's great fun to see what others are tackling as their Tour de Fleece spinning goals, from spinning for speed, to lace-weight, to tricky fibers, to art yarns in the spirit of the wild creations of Pluckyfluff.

There's another Tour de Fleece on the web as well, incidentally, Le Tour de Fleece. It appears they're both now in their third year. But Star Athena's version looks like the more easygoing of the two, with no urgent race to complete a goal before the bicyclers reach Paris, but just a pledge to spin every day and lots of opportunities to make it fun. That's clearly the one for me!

I laid my plans and did just a little advance preparation. Call it training. I decided to spin the other three colors of my foolish lump-bedeviled roving bargain. That will be the demanding terrain I have to get over. Having blended and spun the first three colors into the rustic Stormwatch yarn, which turned out better than it had any right to, I decided to spin the remaining three colors individually, and make a three-ply yarn of them.

And don't those pretty colors look innocent just sitting there? They give no clue of the lumpy soul that lurks within. There will be no picking out all those lumps. We will just have to transcend them like a hill stage on the Tour. Alpe de Nepp, you might call it.

I went ahead and tried spinning a bit of each color. I spun it more thinly than the singles for the Stormwatch yarn, partly because three plies will make a thicker yarn than two, and partly just to see if I could, with this bumpy stuff. Then I tried out plying the three strands together, a first-time experience. It didn't seem to go too badly. This is the little sample skein I would up with. Really, I quite like it.

With the three finer plies wrapped together, my sample seems to be something like a heavy worsted weight. I knit it, with US size 9 needles, if I remember aright, and wound up with this nicely tweedy swatch. Something about the mixture of colors and the visual texture makes me think of a Chanel-style jacket, so that may be what it's destined to be. French-inspired, so appropriate!

The challenges for me will be several. Spinning finer plies around the lumps. Spinning intentionally and consistently to the same gauge as my sample. Spinning every day (travel permitting). Getting the twist right and three-plying a balanced yarn.

So my training was done, and I just had to wait, staying away from spinning and champing at the bit with growing impatience, for the real Tour to start. When the time finally came this morning, Rastro and I were suited up and raring to go.

And we're off!