Friday, May 29, 2009

Almost Like the Real Thing

All that outdoor spinning (but no sunburn, please) has done its magic. I've managed to produce something very like a skein of three-ply sock yarn. It's far from perfect, but for the first time spinning sock yarn, I have to admit it's not bad.

It looks like I will actually be able to make a pair of socks from it. I counted 338 yards, though I haven't finished the yarn yet by washing it. When it goes in the hot water bath, that yardage may well shrink down to 300 or so.

But if I knit the legs on the shorter side, it should be enough. And I do still have a little fiber left over. I do my best to divide the spinning evenly among the bobbins. But somehow when I ply, one always runs out first, leaving some extra singles left on the other bobbins. So in a pinch, I could get a few yards more out of what's left.

I'm also happy with the weight of the yarn. Once I got used to spinning those skinny little singles, and they weren't falling apart, I managed to spin the yarn a little finer than my initial samples. So it may even work for inside-the-shoes socks rather than scuff-cozily-around-the-house socks. I can't say what the wraps-per-inch are, since I haven't measured them. (When I try to, I'm never confident about whether I'm squeezing the yarn together too tightly or letting it spread out too much. So I confess, that tends to sap my enthusiasm for collecting that particular bit of data. Wondering if the number I'm getting is complete nonsense just seems to have that effect on me. For some reason.) But just by holding my newborn yarn up to some commercial skeins of sock yarn, I can tell it's in the right sock-weight ballpark. When I get around to knitting it, the gauge will tell me for sure.

Here you can see that it's not actually as highly twisted as one might like for a strong, durable sock yarn. With this spinning project, I definitely learned more about assessing how the twist is going to come out. I was testing it by letting a little strand double back on itself once in a while during the spinning, but it turns out I have to be a little more careful about how I hold it to get an accurate reading.

It should be okay anyway, though. This fiber (it's called Sockables II, from Little Barn) won't be like 100% merino wool that has to be very tightly spun for socks to stand up to moderate wear. It's is a blend containing 25% mohair (the yarn has a touch of fuzziness if you look closely) and 75% Blue-Faced Leicester wool. Mohair is supposed to provide a lot of strength in a sock yarn. It should go a long way toward compensating for imperfect twist.

So I'm proud to have done reasonably well in my first attempt at spinning sock yarn, but there's one thing that still does bother me a little. It's the color. It's not that it's a bad color. It's a nice denim-y blue, and my friends have been telling me how well it will go with jeans. To me, though, it just seems a little blah. It seems like after all this, these socks ought to look a little more special than "goes with jeans." Especially my first-ever handspun pair.

Never mind. I've got some ideas. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Golden Day

Yesterday was one of those gorgeous days that come along in the spring when the flowers are in bloom, the grass and trees are a fresh moist green, the sky is clear and blue, and it isn't yet hot. It was just about perfect.

Work still loomed, but deadlines and problems seemed less consequential, and I got home while it was still bright. Rastro and I were lured outdoors to bask in the soft air and slanting sunlight.

This was a first. Portable or not, Rastro hasn't wandered much and had never been outside before. We may have to make a habit of this. Spinning in the outdoors was lovely, in the strong light and the gentle breeze. The birds chirped, and the world went entertainingly about its business. And on the practical side, I didn't have to worry about catching the little flecks of debris that fall from the fiber as it's drawn out to be twisted. I just let 'em fall overboard. If I had a dog again to lie alongside me, it would be just about perfect.

There was only one cloud to mar my day. What could it be?

American Idol.

Oh, I know I haven't mentioned it, and I usually just talk about the knitting and the spinning. But now and again I quite like a good swig of singing talent and merciless judging. We all have our quirks.

This season, I came late to American Idol and only watched for the last few rounds. But from the moment I woke up and started paying attention, one singer had me riveted. Adam Lambert. The assured, powerful voice that swelled and rose and never faltered. The fiery laser-blue gaze from eyes fringed in black. The one-man glam-rock revival. He survived all the way into the finals as one fell after another. The foreordained winner. Or so I thought.

And the winner is... yes, yes, YES? Kris Allen. ... Kris Allen? Nooooo!

OK, I realize that Kris is talented and likable and his singing style is very popular. Lots of people love him. It's a nice thing that he won.

But, as for me, it's just one of those things. I'll be waiting for Adam's album.

It will be just about perfect.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Take Me To The Fair

Yesterday, world's-most-patient-husband and I took a jaunt to a historical site called the Claude Moore Colonial Farm, in McLean, Virginia. The park shows life on a tenant farm in 1771. Among Virginia's many historical sites, this one provides a different view of colonial times than Williamsburg's townspeople or Mount Vernon's rather well known wealthy landowner.

This was the weekend of a Colonial Market Fair, when people would have gathered from across the countryside to buy and sell their wares, take a break from their labors, and socialize a bit. What an unexpected pleasure it turned out to be. I might just have to add it to my annual calendar, in the long dry spell between Maryland Sheep and Wool and the Fall Fiber Festival.

There was a pub.

There were market stalls with all kinds of handmade items, like furniture, and jewelry, and toys, and clothing, and soaps, and mobcaps and sewing trinkets. There were well- costumed and engaging interpreters everywhere, mingling with the modern-day visitors.

There was lunch rotating on the spit. And there were no outside vendors, with sodas and fast food. The lunch offered to visitors really was what was being cooked here, offered along-side sausages, and butter-cake, and all manner of authentic fare being prepared on the spot.

There were turkeys roaming around, calmly picking their way hither and yon at a stately pace, minded by a patient turkey-herder.

And, what do you know, there were spinners. And very chatty spinners they were, too. From them I learned that wool from Hog Island sheep is a favorite of re- enactors, since, rare though it is now, it's an authentic breed raised commonly at the time. That's what they were spinning here, and the roving had a nice bouncy feel.

(World's-most-patient-husband's comment on seeing the spinners? "Now I know why we had to come." But I didn't know they would be there, honestly! It may have crossed my mind that it might be a possibility, its having been a necessity of colonial times and all. But it wasn't a plot! Not really. :)

I found a couple of irresistible things for myself at the stall with the sewing supplies: a sheep molded of beeswax from right on the farm, and a needlecase simply wrought from warmly rich-looking wood. And from the full-time giftshop out front, a jar of local honey.

I'm not sure what to do with a beeswax sheep, but I loved him, so home he came. He looks alarmingly like something edible, though, so I think I'd better keep him out of the kitchen and out of danger.

I thought I'd use the needlecase to hold the tapestry needles I use for knitting projects, to seam up and sew in ends. It would be a nice change from the plastic tube that the Chibi needles came in. Unfortunately, I hadn't reckoned well; the needles were a half-inch too long to fit. My cross-stitch and needlepoint needles, on the other hand, fit quite nicely. So I'll still use and cherish my little holder.

Just not as often.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Shaggy Start

I need to get in training. Star Athena announced a little while ago that the Tour de Fleece will be on again for 2009. Tour de Fleece is an event for the biking-mad and the spinning-mad. Spinners set themselves a personal challenge and commit to spin every day of the three weeks or so in July when world-class bike racers are toiling their way through the thousands of miles of the Tour de France. The combination of the two is irresistible. And Lance Armstrong is supposed to race again this year!

I don't know if you'd call me either biking-mad (I love to watch the racers, not be one) or spinning-mad (it's sometimes an on-again, off-again affair when other things compete for attention). But I'm in. :)

Someone said she would be spinning for socks this time, and I lost my head and said I would too. Now, mind you, I've never spun sock yarn yet. It's tiny, and it needs to be even. I imagine a big bump in the yarn might give you that feeling that you need to take off your shoe and shake it out in case there's a little stone in there. Hence the need for training.

I suppose it was bound to be sock yarn some time soon. I've somehow collected four or five batches of fiber intended for socks. They're waiting anxiously, and I needed to dive in and get the hang of it.

I've started the attempt with the Blue Face Leicester/Mohair fiber from the Little Barn, that I bought at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last week. I had read some advice from the respected spinning teacher Judith McKenzie McCuin saying that sock yarn needs to be 3-ply, as it's smoother and more rounded than 2-ply. OK, that means the individual strands have to be spun a little finer, then. I looked at my spinning gauge tool that shows the width to aim for to spin various weights of yarn. For a strand to go into a sock-weight 3-ply, the width was narrower than anything shown on the tool.


OK, then. Let's just give it a go.

On my first try, I came up with a few yards of the fuzzy, uneven blue yarn you see in the picture. It's laid over a skein of Socks That Rock lightweight for comparison of the weight. It's a little thicker than the Socks That Rock, not the thinnest of sock yarns itself, but it's in the ballpark.

My maiden sock spinning also produced a noticeably shaggy yarn, with a lot of halo from the mohair in it. While I do think it's cute, I'm aiming for something not so hairy-looking. For the next little sample, I'll try changing my drafting method, and smoothing down the fibers as I go.

I tried to put a lot of twist into it. I've read somewhere that sock yarn needs to have a lot of twist to wear well. Well, I cranked my spinning wheel down so the flyer would whir the most per revolution of the big wheel, and I held that yarn back for more twist until it tried to wiggle out of my hands. When I got done, it was really pretty twisty, I felt. And yet, it looks like the Socks That Rock out-twists it by far. Interesting.

I knitted my little yarn sample into a little swatch on little needles. With US size 1 needles, it knitted to about 7 or 8 stitches per inch. So t is definitely lin the ballpark of something the size that reasonable socks could be made of, although it's too dense and stiff at that gauge. It might need bigger needles, or it might need less twist. Or more.

I can see I'm going to need a lot more training before July. I'm off to a shaggy start. But it sure is a cute little thing!

Monday, May 4, 2009

In the Penalty Box

This weekend was the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. And that can't be bad.


Well, right. Maryland Sheep and Wool is a wondrous thing. I don't think anything can change that. But this year I took only a small, tantalizing sip from that deep, deep well. Leading up to the weekend, I was trying to decide on which day best to go. Each day has its charms: Saturday with its well-stocked excitement, and Sunday with its more relaxed pace and room to breathe.

I was leaning toward Sunday. But as Saturday wore on, I found I couldn't wait. Even the weather was right. The record-setting heat wave of the previous week had abated. Cooler sweater-friendly weather had set in. I wheedled world's-most-patient-husband into going with me. I donned my handknits and packed the essentials -- a big tote bag, my camera, and a small knitting project for the car. And off we went.

We arrived and found a spot in the lush grass of the parking meadow, then world's-most-patient-husband set a time to meet and headed off to watch the sheepdogs, while I made a beeline for the shopping. I dove right into the main barn to have a look around. The time went faster than I imagined. I ended up just managing to browse my way through the indoor vendor areas, not even visiting the sheep or shopping the outdoor vendors before it was time to go. I had only made a couple of small purchases (including this Blue-Faced Leicester/ mohair blend for sock-spinning, from Little Barn.)

No matter; Sunday was still ahead, and I could come back on my own and spend as long as I wanted to. I knew Joanne Seiff would be there on Sunday signing her book, Fiber Gathering, and I thought it would be fun to meet her. I was also still hoping to spot some blog friends I knew would be there (though my lackadaisical planning had forestalled any prearrangement of meeting times and places).

But a funny thing happened Sunday morning. I thought of all the piles of yarn and spinning fiber already in the house, some of it even from Maryland Sheep and Wool days of years gone by, still waiting its turn. I thought of how little I really need, however much I might like the pretty things for sale there. I thought of the other festivals I hope to go to in the fall. I thought of the sweater project that was sitting waiting for me to gather the gumption to do the hard work of finishing and put it together. It was looking rather like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz lying forlornly without his stuffing until Dorothy put him back together. I thought of how it would have to wait longer still if I spent the entire weekend up at the festival. I thought of how being a grown-up sometimes means doing what you ought to do before what you want to do. I stayed home.

But I'd only bought a couple of small things! I hadn't even gotten out my camera! I'd been so confident that I'd be back!

Well, that's OK. I still have wonderful memories. Watching the antique sock-making machine crank out a short-row heel. Receiving a compliment from a stranger on my handspun vest. Seeing yarn and fiber everywhere in glorious colors. Chuckling at festival-goers knitting even in line for the restroom. Finding something wonderfully unexpected (like the fiber in the picture: rare Hog Island sheep's wool blended with alpaca, from a gentleman at the Fingerlakes Woolen Mill booth who had a Hog Island ram). Seeing every kind of spinning wheel I've ever heard of, all there for the looking and touching and trying out. Hearing Maggie Sansone of Maggie's Music absently tapping lovely rhythms on a traditional Celtic bodhran drum in a quiet moment. Seeing craftsmen who already have long, long waiting lists, sharing their wisdom with new enthusiasts. Seeing a pen of little goat kids tumbling and romping. Hearing a couple of young voices singing soft harmonies in a bluegrass band.

Aaahhhh. Come to think of it, it was a wonderful visit. As always.

And, since I stayed home on Sunday, my Dad's sweater finally started growing a collar.

And that can't be bad.