Sunday, July 18, 2010

In which the Rabbit spins in the Tour de Fleece

The Tour de Fleece is an annual event for spinners that takes place, not so surprisingly, at the same time as the Tour de France. The idea is that one chooses a more or less challenging spinning project and works away at it every day the racers in the Tour de France are riding. So as Lance and co. are spinning away, so are we.

Having crashed and burned during the Ravelympics, I was a little reluctant about the TdF. But I thought I should probably join in for the podcast's sake. So I threw in my lot with Team Sasquatch, an amalgamated group of podcasters and their listeners on Ravelry. I'm so glad that I did.

I decided that I wanted to spin the California Red lamb's fleece from Apple Rose farm. It was a small fleece; after washing and doing some preliminary sampling I had about twenty ounces. That seemed like a manageable amount to work on for the TdF; the challenge, I thought, would come from the day-in, day-out sameness of the color.

Using my handy digital kitchen scale purchased for fibery pursuits, I divided the fleece into one-ounce clumps, which I spent most of June, it seemed, painstakingly turning into one-ounce batts. Twenty in all. Here's a picture of half of them:


I used one of the batts for training purposes--to experiment with wheel settings, etc. I decided to add to the challenge by using this as an opportunity to practice my long draw, recently fine-tuned in a class with Maggie Casey (more on this in the podcast). I wanted to make a nice, round three-ply yarn, so I wanted the individual plies to be as fine as I could comfortably make them with a long draw at this stage. So I'm spinning at a 14:1 ratio and plan to ply at 16:1.

This is the first big spinning project I've done and so I decided to invest in a bobbin winder and storage bobbins. I'm spinning the 19 ounces, putting them on bobbins as I go. When I ply, I'll be selecting bobbins randomly in hopes that this will tend to even out any differences in width and color and produce the most consistent yarn possible.

Here's how the bobbins look, all lined up like little soldiers.


I took this picture several days ago. These have been joined by seven more. Very satisfying.

In addition to the pleasure of working methodically through the carding and spinning of this lovely fiber, I've also had the fun of being part of Team Sasquatch. Folks are reporting daily or every other day on their progress, and generally cheering each other on. It's a lovely group of people.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In which the Rabbit apologizes to her blog for neglecting it

Not much has been going on here.  All the activity around the podcast these days has been eating up a lot of my creative energy.  I haven't been doing much knitting.  The projects I have going seem either stale (Mr. Rabbit's Smooshy socks) or, like the afghan, interminable.  And while I have been spinning, it's all been podcast related, so I'm loathe to scoop my own podcast by revealing it here.

I'm going to cast on a couple of new things today in hopes of jumpstarting my knitting mojo.  I'll report back soon.  Promise.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

In which the Rabbit makes a list

Five things I should have on the needles at all times:

1.  Something that is knitted from handspun

2.  Something that is  all garter stitch

3.  Something that is a gift for someone

4.  Something that is a challenge

5.  A sock

Friday, May 14, 2010

In which the Rabbit waxes philosophical about fulling

So yesterday, I was plying up some yarn that I made with Coopworth roving.  It is a lovely dark, rich brown.


I bought it because a) I wanted to practice supported long draw (see Abby Franquemont's video here), which is best done with roving, and b) it's lovely and soft.  In that respect, it's a way better version of the Coopworth fleece I bought at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival, which is so coarse that no matter how I process it, and no matter how I spin it, I can't seem to make a yarn that I would want to spend any time knitting:

Coopworth Fleece

Anyway, I was finding this roving a little, well, challenging.  Mostly because I'm not so good at supported long draw.  I'm way too much of a control freak, and you pretty much have to abandon yourself to the twist and let it do what it's going to do.  And what it's going to do—at least, if you're me—is pull the fiber out of the supply hand in a somewhat uneven way.  And, since I'm a control freak, this makes me a little crazy.  Did I mention that I'm a control freak?

Compounding what I have come to think of as my long draw problem is the fact that this roving has some of what spinners call "VM"—vegetable matter—in it.  Mostly this is little bits of hay.  So I'm spinning along, trying to get into some kind of rhythm with the long draw, and having to keep stopping to pick out the hay, which is surprisingly tenacious.  Suffice to say, I found this a less than entirely relaxing experience.

So last night I plied about half of it, and I wasn't happy.  It just didn't look good.  It was uneven.  It was fuzzy, and not in a way I liked.   But, hearing Abby Franquemont's voice in my head, from her video on drafting, saying that woolen yarns change a lot when they are washed, I dutifully went downstairs to my basement, where the yarn washing happens, and fulled the heck out of that yarn, using the method Judith McKenzie McCuin describes in Teach Yourself Visually Handspinning.  In other words, I felted the yarn a bit to give it more structure, help the plies cohere, and encourage the fiber to puff up and take up more space.  I soaked it in hot water and Eucalan for a bit, then moved it to very cold water to shock it, then back to hot.  Then I agitated it with a sink plunger (brilliant, Judith) purchased for the purpose.  Then back to cold.  Etc.  Then, as usual, I wrapped it in a towel and spun the water out using the spin cycle of my washing machine, gave it a few good smacks against the stainless steel surface of my laundry folding table, and put my hands through the loop of the skein and snapped it a few times, a la Maggie Casey.  The last two steps are said to distribute the twist.

Suddenly, I loved this yarn.  I loved the way it felt, and looked, and smelled.  It's still quite "rustic," but it's also soft and lovely and bouncy.  And much more even in diameter than I expected.


And then I had two thoughts.

Thought Number One: this is why I spin.  Because even though I disliked picking out all the little bits of hay, this is a much nicer, livelier yarn because the fiber has been so minimally processed.  It still smells a tiny bit sheepy (in a good way).  It's a little tweedy because it hasn't been carded to within an inch of its life to blend the colors.  And it's bouncy in a way that most commercial yarn isn't, because most commercial yarn has been made from wool that has been through a process that literally burns the VM out of the fiber.  It really is a different creature from commercial yarn.

Thought Number Two: fulling is a pretty good metaphor for life.  You're all ugly and uneven and imperfect and full of little bits of hay.  Then you get beaten up--tossed from hot to cold, agitated with a plunger, smacked against a table.  And then it turns out, after all that, that the abuse has smoothed you out, rendered you shiny and resilient.  You're still imperfect, yes, and you're beautiful.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In which the Rabbit announces a new endeavor

The Rabbit has started a podcast!  It's called SpinDoctor, and it's a show that reviews stuff for spinning.  It's not up on iTunes yet, but the show notes page, where you can download the first episode, is here.  Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

It's bi-monthly; I'm going to shoot for the first and the fifteenth of the month as posting dates.

If you're on Ravelry, there's a discussion group for listeners here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

In which our story continues . . .


In the car on the way to and from Maryland I continued working on the Log Cabin afghan.  These squares are big fun—just when the garter stitch starts to get tedious, it's time to bind off and pick up stitches again. So I'm feeling quite enthusiastic about this project.  Hence my conclusion that it needs more pink and green, and my purchase of three more colors for it yesterday.  Do I need this yarn?  Nope.


Really: no.  But, as the woman in the store said: "they look like a watermelon."  How could I resist?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In which the Rabbit, and Mr. Rabbit, go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

IMG_2424Along with a lot of other people!

So last weekend the Rabbit and the ever-stalwart Mr. Rabbit got in their car and headed south to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  The Rabbit was so excited she could hardly contain herself.

I used to live in Baltimore, you see, and I love the city and miss it terribly.  So this trip meant not only unparalleled fiber-y shopping opportunities, but also a chance to eat the best crab cakes in the universe—Faidley's, in Lexington Market, below, hands down—drive by my old house in Charles Village (no pics, sorry).


Then we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art, and generally hung out in the city on Saturday.  At the Market we were even treated to some live music by a fabulous blues band, which afforded me a chance to dance (and sing!) with total strangers.  Fabulous.  And in the BMA sculpture garden we even found a lagomorph!


Then, after a nice dinner in Canton, we went home to bed so that we could head to the festival early Sunday morning.

I knew from my study of the Maryland Sheep and Wool group on Ravelry that Sundays at the festival are generally less crowded than Saturdays, so we opted for Sunday and boy oh boy was I glad we did!  Apparently the crowds and traffic on Saturday were insane.  Sunday was managable, but still blistering hot.  All the animals were panting.  So were we, at times.

We saw some Alpaca.  Mr. Rabbit said that they look like Dr. Seuss characters, and, as usual, he's right:


We also saw  tons of sheep breeds in person that I'd only read about, and a blade shearing competition.


While we were watching the competition, Heather Ordover of CraftLit happened by and struck up a conversation about lamb sausage.  I knew it was Heather Ordover because a) I recognized her voice from the podcast and b) she was helpfully wearing a CraftLit tee-shirt.  We had a nice chat about Dracula, among other things.  She is lovely.

I picked up an absolutely gorgeous Corriedale fleece that I had selected a couple of weeks earlier, sight unseen, from Ruppert's Corriedales.  I wish I had thought to take its picture before I handed it, and the nine-pound (!) black Cormo-Corriedale cross fleece I bought at the festival's fleece sale, off to Ozark Carding Mill for processing.  (Added bonus: in the Ozark booth I met spinning guru Maggie Casey, whose classes I'll be taking next month at The Spinning Loft.) You'll just have to take my word for the fact that the Ruppert's fleece was stunning.  And the black fleece was also pretty lovely.

Aside from the two big fleeces, I was pretty restrained.  I bought some lovely silk and merino painted top from Cloverleaf Farms in their "Autumn" colorway.


And two skeins of worsted, minimally-processed Polwarth yarn, dyed in seawater, from Seacolors Yarn (they don't have much of a web presence, but they're profiled in the book Shear Spirit).  I've been wanting to see this yarn in person since reading about it, and it didn't disappoint.  One skein for me, one for my friend Aara.


Last, but not least, I was able to visit the Three Waters Farm booth, meet Mary Ann Pagano, and see her beautiful hand-dyed yarn and fiber in person.  Wow.  Just . . . wow.  The pictures on her website are impressive—I've been stalking this fiber online for a while now; the color palette is so rich and original I couldn't decide which I wanted—but they really don't do the fiber justice.  My pictures don't either (my camera seems a bit vague and unfocused today), but they give a hint.



It was so hot that we actually left the festival around 2.  I know I didn't see everything, but that just means more discoveries next year, right?  We drove back Monday.  It was pretty much a perfect weekend.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In which the Rabbit confesses her adoration of Kay Gardiner


The Rabbit just loves Kay Gardiner, the "Mason" half of Mason-Dixon Knitting.

I adore her affection for the rectilinear, the clean-lined, and the graphic. I swoon over her passion for garter stitch, and her brilliance in deploying it in ever-new ways. And I totally heart the fact that she hearts the quilts of Gee's Bend. So, inspired by her fabulously cukoo-for-coco-puffs plan to knit an entire log-cabin afghan out of sock yarn, I have embarked on a log cabin project of my own (first, experimental square, above). Partly because I want to use up all that Cascade 220 I bought for the Penny Rug Purse that got frogged when the color decisions all got too much for me. But mostly because I want to be more like Kay Gardiner.

Here are some things of hers that I particularly love. Most of the postings on Mason-Dixon Knitting don't seem to have their own links, so you'll have to search for these: "A Dingo Stole My Baby," and "Blue, Orange, Green, Green, Green, White, White, White, White." The latter I find heartbreakingly gorgeous.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In which the Rabbit ponders her ambivalence about processing fleece

The Rabbit is amassing something of a history with fleece. Raw fleece, right (more or less) off the sheep, skirted—that is, with all the really filthy bits removed—but still all greasy and smelly and delightfully sheepy.

I love raw fleece. But here's what's a little weird: once I've washed it, I kind of lose interest. Because once it's washed, it—and I—enter a space not unlike the waiting place in Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go. The Carding Place. Or, in some cases, the Combing Place. In either case, a place one has to be for a very long time. And the fact is, I don't care much for these places.

My drumcarder has helped. It's a Strauch Petite, and it makes big, lovely batts. But not everything is suitable for drumcarding.


This big, beautiful Cormo fleece (above) that I bought in the fall from Sue Reuser is too fine for the drumcarder; it needs to be combed by hand. Somehow, I find the prospect of combing a five-pound fleece kinda daunting. And I haven't even started it. Even though the fleece is to die for.

On the other hand, the drumcarder is perfect for this little beauty:


This is a two-pound (manageably sized!) fleece from a California Red lamb. It's from Elizabeth and Leonard Ferraro at Apple Rose Farm, and I think I got it within a week or two of shearing. Because it's a lamb's fleece, it's soft, and the color variation in the lock makes a lovely, tweedy, oatmeal-colored yarn.

The plan was that the California Red fleece was going to be a sweater for Mr. Rabbit. But I'm not sure that I have enough of it. So I've arranged to buy a big Corriedale fleece (seven pounds) from Windborne Farm that will become Mr. Rabbit's sweater. But I'm getting smarter in my old age. I'm going to pick up the fleece next week at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and then I'm going to trundle it right over to Zeilinger's Wool Co. and give it to them for washing and processing into roving.

Thus completely avoiding The Carding Place.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In which the Rabbit considers the mysteries of dyeing

For the past few months, the Rabbit has been experimenting with dyeing fiber, and trying to learn about what fiber dyed in particular ways looks like when it is spun into yarn. There has been a lot of brightly-colored paw fur and some interesting results.

For example, this is some of the first fiber I dyed, with food coloring from the local Metro. It's hard to get much depth of shade with food coloring, so the fiber ended up looking like Easter eggs. Which, if you're a rabbit, isn't such a bad thing, as Easter is the national holiday of bunnies. Anyway, here's some fiber from that experiment, some Cormo top from Apple Rose Farms:


See what I mean about Easter eggs? So here's what that top looks like as yarn:


I found it hard to draft the Cormo smoothly, so I went for a thick and thin yarn. This was before I read Judith McKenzie McCuin on thick and thin yarn, so the bumps aren't exactly mathematically precise. But I still think this would make a nice baby hat.

For my second experiment, I used acid dyes (Sabraset, to be exact, from Pro Chemicals) on some lovely Polwarth top from Legacy Studio:


At the time, I was deep into Lynne Vogel's Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in dyeing fiber. Vogel keeps the math involved in mixing dye solutions very simple, and advocates just mixing colors intuitively and playing, which gave me the courage to dive in.

I used the same four colors, a persian blue, an olive, an eggplant and a plum using different dyeing methods on different sections of fiber. I was thus able to get a range of different values that I then combined in different ways (still following Lynne Vogel's advice). Here was the result:


The braid in the back was painted in solid stripes; for the ones in the front, I scattered the dye onto the fiber in artful, Pollock-esque drips (the difference between the front and middle braids was only in how much dye I used).

I then made a series of two-ply yarns using these braids in as many different combinations as I could.


Then I became interested in what happens when one uses one solid ply and two painted plies together in the same yarn. I started with this Finn top, from Village Spinning and Weaving, dyed with Sabraset dyes:


Then I dyed up some border leicester locks in coordinating blues:




Spun and plied together, these yarns look like this:


Finally, and this will catch you all up on the dyeing experiments thus far, yesterday I dyed three 3 oz. bumps of Wensleydale (from the fabulous Beth Smith's Spinning Loft) in tones of red, green and brown, with one light bump, one medium, and one dark. I used the same base color for the browns, adding black for the darkest bump and water for the lightest. I aimed for a forest, olive and sage green, and for a maroon, medium red and a pink for the other two. Things turned out unexpectedly:


Not exactly what I was going for, but I'm going to try plying them together and see what happens.

In which the Rabbit makes a recommendation

The Rabbit has been hugely enjoying Barbara Parry's blog, Sheep Gal, of late. Barb is the shepherd to a flock of Cormos in Western Massachusetts, and her accounts of life on the farm are delightful. Her videos are pretty great, too.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In which the Rabbit neither apologizes for nor explains her long absence from this blog.

The Rabbit has been spinning, spinning, spinning.

When not spinning, spinning, spinning, she has been knitting warm things for herself in a vain attempt to say warm in the frigid Ontario January:

A cowl and fingerless mitts made out of Malabrigo silky merino:
Typically, the Rabbit's camera is making this color, touchingly called "Ravelry Red," look much more orange than it does in person. It's really quite a pinky-red, and very flattering to the bunny.

A pointy hat made from Noro Kureyon:
An ingenious pattern from Rosie's Yarn Cellar in Philadelphia (available here)that uses short rows to make the stripes in the Kureyon go up and down instead of around the hat. The Rabbit is finally seeing the point of that Noro stuff.

Another cowl made of an alpaca/silk blend from Americo Original's Cadena (a tiny bit scratchy, but warm):

Another cowl and mitts, made from my handspun yarn. This yarn was spun from hand dyed Blue Faced Leicester top in the colorway "Patina" from Frabjous Fibers:

The Rabbit must now turn her attention to a) more hats for herself b) felted slippers for Mr. Rabbit. Both must be completed by the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, when she will join Team Sasquatch for the 2010 Ravelympics.