Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer Knitting Wrap-Up

Late summer seems to be here. Orange school busses are rumbling through town, the college students have returned (and all seem to be driving at the exact same time.) Best of all, this morning it was a glorious 57 degrees outside when I got up! The sweltering heat this summer seemed to melt my creative energy away. But stepping outside and feeling that whisper of coolness on my skin was so invigorating. I feel ready to tackle some of the larger projects that looked too daunting in the pit of summer.

For now, here's a rundown of my smaller, less-taxing completed summer knitting projects.

Fungi Perfecti Socks
My original design. The yarn is Malabrigo Sock in a colorway called Primavera. One look at it when I undid the skein, and all the subtly-colored mushrooms that abound in the autumn bloomed in my head. Knitted on US0 and US1 double points.

A Quartet of Washcloths
The pattern for two of the cloths is my adaption of the Ripple Hand Towel by Kristin on Ravelry. The stitch pattern for the other two cloths is taken from one of the Barbara Walker volumes. The yarn is Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy, a hemp/cotton/modal blend. Needles: US3.

A Hempathy Soap Sock
The pattern is one I've knitted for years and keep tinkering with. I think I've just about got it right now. The yarn is Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy. Needles are US1 and US2 double points.

That's it for now. With a clear head, sun pouring in the windows, and a little coffee coursing through my veins, it's time to get back to fiber works. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silk Hankies

The brown wool challenge is moving along smoothly. It's relaxing to sit and feel the wool glide through my fingers, to watch the yarn build up on the bobbins. However, over the weekend I pulled out a container of spinning fibers, looking for some angora. Instead of the angora, I came across a ziploc bag of silk hankies that I'd handpainted. Now don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly happy spinning the wool. But this little bag of silk was so colorful, so shiny, so tempting... I put the spinning fiber box away but the bag of silk hankies stayed out. What's the harm in a quick little spindle spinning project?

Silk hankies are one of the many forms of silk spinning preparations. Hankies are formed by boiling the silkworm cocoons to remove the glue-like substance (sericin) that holds them together. The cocoons are then stretched out on square frames. Layers of cocoons are built up on the frame to create a hankie.

It's fun to prepare a hankie for spinning. You start by carefully lifting a thin layer from one corner of the hankie.

Peel this layer away from the hankie.

You then use your fingers to poke a hole in the center of the separated layer.

Now slowly begin to stretch the layer into a large donut.

Stretch it out some more.

Continue to enlarge the silken loop by pulling on portions of the loop. When drawing out a section, your hands must be far enough apart for the fibers to shift and slide away from each other. If you pull on a section and nothing happens, your hands are too close together. You are holding onto both ends of the same fibers.

(Here's a tip for spinning any form of silk. Make sure your hands are as smooth as possible. The delicate strands will snag on any little rough or dry spot. I never work with silk right after washing dishes or digging in the garden. If the silk is catching on my hands too much, I will rub in a little hand lotion. A friend once told me that she sprinkled her hands with a bit of cornstarch before spinning silk. I tried this and it worked, although perhaps not as well as the hand lotion, I thought.)

By stretching out this loop, you are also reducing the number of silk strands in any one section. When to stop stretching and thinning the loop is the spinner's choice. I usually draft out my loop to about the thickness I plan to spin my yarn. It's sometimes hard to draft (or thin out) the fibers once you begin spinning because the individual silk strands are so long.

When you are satisfied with the thickness of the drafted loop, choose a spot and pull it apart so that it is now a very, very long ribbon of fiber. At this point I like to carefully wind the silk onto a wrist distaff. A wrist distaff is a sort of bracelet that holds your fiber while you are spindle spinning. The one in the photo is made from handspun wool. It's grabby but not too fuzzy so it does a good job of holding the silk without entangling the fibers. The spindle is a Golding 1/2 ounce high whorl spindle.

The actual spinning of this project is a piece of cake. Because I've already drafted the silk out as much as I wanted, all I'm doing with my spindle is adding twist.

Silk hankies have long fibers but also short broken bits too, so the spun yarn is going to have some lumps and bumps. I didn't worry about uneven areas or slubs as I spun. The spun single strand had lots of color mixing in addition to the texture. There wasn't very much of this fiber to begin with and the single ply was basically rather thin so I decided to chain-ply it, using a 2 ounce Golding spindle. After plying, I ended up with just over 12 yards of silk yarn. Not nearly enough for a project all on its own, but I think using it as an accent yarn in a weaving or knitting project will play up its unique character anyway. It's so soft and colorful that for now I'm going to hang it on my spinning wheel as I work my way through all that brown wool.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Calling Rumpelstiltskin ...

The wheel ...

... My Rick Reeves 24 inch Saxony, single treadle. Made circa 1992 at the time when Rick and Marge were handcrafting each wheel, its beauty is more than just skin deep. It's an efficient spinner with large bobbins that can hold quite a lot of yarn.

The wool ...

... a medium brown fleece with a fiber diameter that is on the fine side of medium and has nice crimp. The sheep is one of a spinner/knitter friend's flock. The raw fleece weighed 7.75 pounds when I gave it to Bonnie and Carl at ABC Ranch to process into a fine spinner's roving. It came back to me in the form of "bumps", 15 bumps, each weighing about 5.5 ounces, or just a smidge over 5 pounds total.

The challenge ...

... to spin, ply and dye the entire bag of bumps by the end of 2010.

I would like to knit myself a pullover, not too heavy, from the yarn. As nice as the natural brown color is, it isn't a color I would wear. I don't know yet what color I'll dye it, perhaps a dark blue or teal green.

I'm using the Scotch tension system on my wheel with a large whorl to spin a medium single strand, with not too much twist. My goal is a two ply DK to worsted weight yarn that retains some of the lofty quality of the fiber. My samples have 20 to 22 wraps per inch.

Meeting this challenge by the end of the year seems like a tall order when I consider how little wheel spinning I've done so far this year. But one bump is spun and I'm well into a second, so I'm on my way. I won't do any plying until I get several bobbins filled.

I know this job would be a snap for old Rumpelstiltskin. But it doesn't seem like his sort of gig, just plain old wool, no flax, no gold, no greedy kings, no glamor at all really. The best I could offer would be fresh garden veggies and a loaf or two of homemade bread.

So it looks like it's up to me to get this job done. I'll float the image of a cozy sweater in my mind as I spin my way through all this brown wool. It does spin very easily, a definite plus. I'll post progress reports from time to time. Now back to the wheel ...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pick o' the Day

As summer oozes along, my fiber pursuits are progressing very slowly. And it's been such a weird growing season so far that our garden hasn't yielded much yet. But maybe that's about to change. This morning I braved the mosquitos and steamheat long enough to harvest a few goodies. Not much yet but it is a start.

What's in the bowl? Here's a rundown - Eight Ball zucchini, Red Burgundy okra, Black Hungarian peppers, two Orange Banana tomatoes, and a bunch of Sweet 100s and Black Cherry tomatoes. We've been getting cherry tomatoes for a few weeks but the zucchini and okra have just started maturing in the past several days. I hesitate to say this lest I call down the wrath of the Evil Empire (ie., squash bugs) but the zucchini patch looks promising. Perhaps some of you local friends may be getting pleading emails from me in the future.

So today's harvest may not be large enough to break out the canning equipment but that bowl holds the makings of a pretty good supper. Fresh and very local - yum!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Slithy Toves

"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."

from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Ever seen a slithy tove? Here's one -

Ok, ok, it's really a skink, a Five-Lined Skink to be precise. But whenever I spot a skink, I can't help but think of the poem Jabberwocky and all the made-up words Carroll throws about in those few stanzas. For one thing, the word "skink" seems to fit right in with the other nonsense words. (The entire poem is fun to read aloud to oneself or to others. I recommend you try it soon.) But I also just think that these wiggly, shiny creatures look like what a slithy tove might be. What do you think? What's your favorite nonsense word in Jabberwocky?

Five-Lined Skinks are common across most of Missouri. I think this particular skink may be a male because his stripes are not very visible. Females have visible stripes and a bluish tail. Young male Five-Lined Skinks have a bright blue tail. That feature makes it really easy to identify its species. Apparently the colorful tail helps protect the young skink from aggressive adult males.

The skink in the photo was sunning himself on the garden tool shed. He stayed still long enough for me to snap his picture, then gimbled hurriedly into the grass and I lost sight of him. He was probably heading off to the borogoves, leaving me to wonder if the mome raths were outgrabing yet.

Poetry, nature. Fact and fiction. Let it all in. Each day can be an adventure.