September 30, 2009

Random-o-rama

1. Joe and I celebrate our third anniversary today. (I know. Only three years,  we've got way more years of Godless-heathen-union under our belts that that. We just got the state sanctioned sort of married kind of late.)   Technically, while it is our anniversary, it's not really our anniversary because I'm on one side of the continent and he's on the other, so we're postponing until next week, but it's still an important day and I didn't feel right not saying something, even though we're not counting it. (Know what I mean?)  I just wanted to take a minute and say something about my husband.  I hear lots of people who say that their marriage is in trouble, or struggling or having trouble enduring because the person they're with now is not the person they started out with.  They complain that the other person has changed, that things aren't the same or that the person they're with now isn't "the person they married".  This is true of my husband.  He is absolutely not the same guy I married.

He's better.  He's grown, he's changed, he's learned and I like him better and love him more than I did on this day three years ago, and I don't see that ever changing.  I'm grateful that he's evolving, and that he's tolerant and appreciative of the growth and change in me too.  He's pretty awesome.

2.  I have more handspun for the jacket drying in the sun by the ocean.  Something about that makes up for the fact that I've been working too much to be any further along on it.

3. I love coffee. (I know, but it's worth repeating.)

4. Last night there was a tsunami warning here at the coast.  It turns out though that even though we think of all tsunami's as big, devastating terrible events, really, they come in all sizes but still get the same name.  Tina and I asked around (since we're staying about 30m from the beach)  found out that the one arriving here was really not expected to be anything to worry about... and so it became more of a curiosity than a danger.
Along with a bunch of other people we staggered down to the beach around 9:00 to wait for it to arrive, thinking that it might be a really neat display of the ocean and earth's power and might - and probably the only safe opportunity to experience anything like it.  Lucky for us, there were a couple of tv stations down there too, and one of them had a huge light shining out on the ocean to look at the waves.


This was a considerable upgrade from the view from our place, which was indeed right on the ocean, but on the ocean in the dark. 

We stood there, Tina and I, in the cold and the mist for about 2 hours, and I have to tell you... we didn't see anything.  We're not even sure that the waves were bigger, or that the ocean pulled in farther, or anything.  We stood there freezing our bums off, afraid to leave - convinced that the minute that we left "it" would happen.  (The thing had been downgraded so much at that point, that nobody was even sure what "it" would look like here.)  We finally gave up our surveillance and left, but not before the news guy came out of his warm and cozy van (we hadn't seen him all evening) did a 2 minute spot for the news and claimed that the crew had been monitoring the situation all night, and would continue to do so in case things changed.

Seriously.  Tina and I were standing on the shore, watching every single wave break for 2 hours monitoring the hell out of it, and this guy in a dry windbreaker stands there for two minutes and pronounces?  Maybe it's wrong, but I don't think that's the sort of monitoring that counts. That guys hair didn't even get damp.

5.  I really want to know if the station had the nerve to call this "Tsunami Watch '09".

6.  This made me remember why the news annoys me. There's real danger and disaster (like the impact this had in other parts of the world) and then there's scientific curiously and an interest in the natural world around you.  Pretending that the one is the other to make things more interesting that they're not?  I'm judging that.

7. The guys from the other station stood on the beach with us and watched the waves, like they were really invested in their jobs and interested in what was happening.


8. That made me like them better.

9. I wondered if they were knitters.

10. Today there was a rainbow.








Posted by Stephanie at 6:04 PM

September 29, 2009

My point, and I do have one

 The weather at the coast is rainy and cool, and it's given me time to think and make decisions (and knit.)

More than every once in a while, a pattern comes along that captures the enthusiasm of a lot of knitters. Monkey, Clapotis, Swallowtail, Fetching, Jaywalker, Baby Surprise Jacket... and every time this happens, the world of knitters can roughly be divided into five groups.

1. Knitters who see something, give no weight at all to whether or not something is popular and either knit it or don't according to their whims.

2. Knitters who see this lots of people knitting something, decide that it's cool and knit it.

3. Knitters who pay attention to what's going on, trend-wise, but have other stuff going on and end up following a trend way late - after everyone else has knit it. (I fall into this group a lot.)

4. Knitters who see that lots of people are knitting something, and decide instantly that they wouldn't be caught dead knitting it, specifically because it's popular.

5. Knitters who don't know what's popular at all, because they aren't part of a knitting community, and really, statistically speaking, this is most knitters. There are about 50 million knitters in North America, and even Ravelry only has 455,766 users. That means that the very biggest chunk of knitters are acting entirely independently. (This is an interesting point for those of us in an active knitting community who think that "everyone" is knitting or reading a particular knitting pattern or source.)

Me, I flip flop around and find myself falling fairly often into the first three groups -and almost never in the last two. (Although I often don't know what's going on in general, I usually know what time it is in the online knitting community.) As a matter of fact its group 4 that I almost never fall into. I understand the argument - or at least I think I do, it seems to be rooted in a strong sense of independence, and a desire to be unique and "trendproof" and that much rings true. I don't know many knitters who would spend as much time, money and energy as it takes to knit something working on something that they don't like or doesn't resonate for them, and I know a lot of knitters who won't knit something really popular even if they do like it, since a big part of knitting for them is the part where they can express their individuality in yarn. Even if they do like a popular pattern, knitting it would make them appear less individual, and so they reject the pattern. That makes lots of sense, and I respect it. There's lots of us who want to look like ourselves, and don't care if there's other people wearing the same thing, and lots of us who want to look like ourselves and feel like that can't be true if you look like everybody else. Fair enough.

There does, however, seem to be a fringe element in that group who would rather die than knit something popular, and in fact hold popular knits and the knitters who knit them in contempt. We've all heard the "sheep" comment - about how if you knit something popular you're just a sheep who's following the herd and have no will of your own and ... You know where this goes. This small group of knitters dislikes things that are popular not because they're worried about protecting their sense of individuality (valid) or not because they don't want to look like everyone else (valid) or because a pattern isn't to their taste (really valid) but simply because it is popular, and for no other reason.

I don't buy the argument, and sometimes I'm even offended by it. The idea that something is a crappy knit just because lots of people knit it, or that those people are somehow brainless minions who are only following a trend annoys me. The whole premise seems rooted in the McDonalds theory. The one that says that something is popular because it's a) accessible, and b) watered down or benign enough that it's now nothing more than the lowest common denominator... a reflection of the basest human cares, devoid of value... and they're right - sometimes. McDonalds is popular because of those reasons. Human like fat, sugar and salt. McDonald's delivers that, pretty much straight up, and is therefore popular. Nobody pretends it's the best food in the world - and everybody knows it's junk. It's popular anyway.

On the other hand, some things are popular because.. well. Frankly they're popular because they're really good. Really, really good. The Mona Lisa. Michelangelo's David. Monet, Bach, chocolate cake ... these things are popular because they're the best of humanity. They're brilliant - and when something is good enough it hits a lot of our common buttons at the other end of the scale, and it gets popular for reasons that are exactly at the other end of the scale from McDonalds.

People who hate popular things on principle aren't allowing for both ends of the scale to exist. They think that everything popular is part of the McDonalds theory, and there's no convincing them otherwise. Even though they (as far as I know) don't walk around saying things like "Michelangelo? What a hack. Anyone who likes him is a brainless sheep who can't think for themselves" or "Bach? What a load of crap. I wouldn't be caught dead listening to him. I wouldn't want people thinking I can't think for myself", they say stuff just like that about knitting patterns or knitting trends. There's enough of this fringe element out there that when I said that I thought that my next knit would probably be the Drops Jacket, that a bunch of them wrote to me and told me that it had already been knit too much, that it was "too popular" and that I should think for myself and choose something else.

With all due respect to them (and I really mean that, just because I disagree with you doesn't mean that I don't like you or think less of you) I think they are ignoring that other end of the scale, and I wonder what makes them think that I'm not thinking for myself and choosing what I like? I mean, it's not like I took a look at that jacket, heaved a huge sigh of regret and said "Damn. That jacket is popular? Crap. Now I'll have to knit it and wear it even though I think it's stupid." Sure, it came to my attention because a lot of people knit it, but what about that makes it a bad pattern, or me brainless?

This is all just a long way of saying that I've decided that my brown handspun should be the Drops Jacket 103-1.

Yes. I know lots of other people have knit it. I think that's because it's a great pattern and because a lot of people have good sense. I don't have a problem with that.

Baa. Sheep unite.

Posted by Stephanie at 6:16 PM

September 28, 2009

On the Road Again

Up early and off again,  anther flight to the West Coast, this time to write, tie up Sock Summit ends and work on the November retreat. (All full, thank you, as is the waiting list) and I gathered up little Frankenmitten and left bright and early. 

The coffee that I poured on Frankenmitten in the Denver airport last week washed right out, and had the added bonus of blocking the mitten, which I had thought might be too small, and really isn't.  Turns out that was  lucky coffee, since it saved Franken from another ripping - this one bitterly unnecessary.  

Frankenmitten and I flew out of Toronto on a delayed flight, which totally gave me a chance to cast on her mate (mitten seen here demonstrating how delayed we were - two braids and twelve rows)

and once in the air  we watched shows on the laptop and made the most of the flight, and the lady next to me said the funniest thing.  I had the whole thing set up.  The laptop, the pattern, post-it notes, two balls of yarn, needls, mittens, knitting...

and this lady looks over at me while I'm knitting and she says "Oh!  Do you knit?"  and I had to fight the urge to laugh out loud.  We went on to have a very nice chat, but for one minute, I had to really squash the urge to answer her question with "No.  No I don't.  It's an elaborate ruse.  Don't let the actual knitting fool you. I am absolutely not a knitter.  Shhh..."

In any case,  this is how long it takes to get to Oregon from Toronto by way of Vancouver  if you have one big delay, two coffees, one connection, one beer, a cheese bagel and a nap.

It's pretty far.

Posted by Stephanie at 8:30 PM

September 24, 2009

What we have been doing

So it turns out that Tina and I just can't get enough of knitters (although at this point that might be a little slice of crazy pie) so we've been arranging a little something.

Friday November 13th (we don’t believe in bad luck) ST-1 (which now that Sock Summit is over, means “Steph and Tina” rather than “Sock Team”) are celebrating the formation of our new company “Knot Hysteria Productions” with a beautiful weekend of knitting, dyeing and fibre investigation in one of our favourite spots... Port Ludlow, Washington. We really missed the intimate, intensive nature of real-time teaching at Sock Summit (we were a little busy) and one of our goals for this weekend is to enjoy the luxury having real time between students and teachers (that would be us, and you) that can only be achieved in a smaller group setting - with people who aren’t running a conference. (Apparently.)

Level: Established. Knitters attending should be comfortable knitting, purling, decreasing, increasing and be familiar with typical knitting instructions. (This means that if you’re a brand new knitter, you’re probably going to be overwhelmed in spots, unless you’re gung-ho and a fast learner. Some people are. If you’re a skilled beginner, don’t be put off.)

The weekend begins when you check in on Friday night, and we all have an opportunity to talk, hang out (maybe have a drink) get to know each other, and you’re assigned to one of two small groups.

Saturday, Group one goes with Stephanie, for an all day exploration (9-5 with a break for lunch) of knitting and how to be really excellent at it. We’ll look at knitting history, lever knitting, knitting for speed and efficiency, and problem solve knitting issues so we all walk out better knitters. Why do you knit the way you do? What could you change to knit better or faster? What are the techniques and thoughts of the worlds fastest and most efficient knitters? (Note: This class contains some of the same information as “Knitting for Speed and Efficiency”, but is expanded. If you’ve always wanted to take that class, this one is close, and if you’ve taken this class and are wondering if you’ll learn anything in this one... you will.)

Meanwhile, Group two goes with Tina, to a big room with a floor covered in plastic and loaded with dye and yarn, where you will spend the day invited into Tina’s dye and colour world. There are (almost) no boundaries and the only rule is an open mind. Tina will talk with you about colour, how she sees and uses it and how that relates to dyeing, spinning and knitting. You will explore what colour means to you and how you see it and then interpret it in your own fiber work. You’ll spend time at the dye tables working through your own colour inhibitions, challenging what you think you like, and dyeing your very own colourways to take home.

Saturday night ST-1 gives a joint lecture on “How to tell if its good yarn, and what to do with it if it is” where we’ll talk about the properties of various yarns, how to pick the right ones for your project, how to care for it, and what choices you can make during knitting to make sure your project doesn’t droop, stretch or felt, and lasts as long as it possibly can.

Sunday, the groups reverse places for the day classes, and then beginning with dinner and going into the evening (until Steph and Tina get too tired or everyone leaves) we’ll have a group Q&A to talk about knitting, dyeing, fiber, philosophy and what we all think of it.
The price includes classes, fun, the joint lecture on Saturday night, and breakfast, lunch and dinner both Saturday and Sunday. (We promise that there will be good vegetarian options.) Blue Moon Fiber Arts and (probably) Carolina Homespun will have a little store on site with a few things you might like, and Knot Hysteria will have a bookstore.

Accommodations are separate and you will arrange those on your own. We have negotiated special prices with Port Ludlow, and there are some shared accommodations (condos and town-homes) if you’d like to come with your friends.

Simply call Port Ludlow and tell them that you’re with Knot Hysteria and the knitters, and they will help you get sorted with the special knitter price. They are lovely and helpful people.

Price for the two day/two class intensive with meals:
$615.00. (Credit card or paypal are fine) All Materials (except knitting needles) Included.
Gift bags, presents and surprises forthcoming.

(If you’re a vendor and you’d like to put something in those, just drop us a line.)

To register, simply send an email to registration@knothysteria.com and include your name, address and daytime phone number, and we’ll call you to arrange it. The first 40 knitters are in.  I hope you can come - and yup, we'll do it again other places if we have fun.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:06 PM

September 23, 2009

Begging for it

Recipe:
1 bag of really nice fleece, beautifully processed
+
A sweater pattern I really liked.
+
Some actually careful sampling and spinning.
+
Enthusiasm, skill, experience and intelligence
=
Well. You would think it would be a sweater, but apparently, not so much.

Two weeks ago I went into Lettuce Knit on a knit night, and saw a pattern that I loved, and resolved to knit it up out of handspun, right that minute.
(Warning the first. Snap decisions are always high risk.)

I looked at the pattern, noted the yarn that it was knit from, turned around to the yarn shelf, and took a skein of the yarn it called for down, and examined it carefully.  It was chunky, two plies, cushy and gorgeous.  I took note of how thick it was, what it looked like... the whole thing. Then I replaced it, bought the pattern book and came home.
(Warning the second. I discussed this plan with no-one. Public plans are less likely to fail.)

Being someone who likes to get things done, I straightaway snagged the bag of fleece and started spinning, and for one of the first times in my spinning career, I was really careful and sampled the yarn out to get it to match.  I even looked at the pattern, then looked at the yarn online to remind myself what it looked like.  I tried a yarn, rejected it and tried again until I had one I thought was right.  Then I washed it, and tried again... I adjusted the wheel, checked resources to make sure I was doing it right.  Dudes, I did everything, and when I was finished, that was a badass yarn.  Bang on. It was perfect and light and smooshy and to the best of my recollection,  I had totally nailed the yarn in the store.  It was a proud spinning moment for me.  I kept going and spun up four more skeins, just short of what I needed for the sweater. I put the skeins out in the sunshine to dry after I washed them, and I took about 28376 pictures of them and gave them a smug pat and a loyal and proud squeeze of happiness every time that I went by. 

(Warning the third: Smug pride is almost always punished by the wool gods.)

Last Wednesday, when knit night rolled around again, I resisted the urge to take all of the new yarn to Lettuce Knit for the purposes of showing it off, and forced myself to just take a single skein, tucking it in my bag and cycling off.  When I got there, I showed it to anyone who would look. (Special thanks to Andrea for pretending to be really interested.)  I squeezed it some more and explained to anyone who would listen (thanks again Andrea) how I'd engineered it. I said a lot of things like "I love this yarn" and "This yarn couldn't be more perfect" and "I can't wait to cast this on."
(Warning the fourth:  Happiness. Enough said.)

With that public display of glee and satisfaction, I walked over to the original yarn to prove just how perfect it was. I took a skein of it off the shelf and held it next to my skein.  "Perfect!" I happily exclaimed to Dr. Steph, and she concurred. Everyone did.  My attempt to match a commercial yarn had been successful to the max.  It was a thrilling moment, and one that made me feel really good about myself as a spinner.  I stood there, holding the two yarns and feeling the warm glow of accomplishment flow over me, until Denny said....
(Warning the fifth. Denny has an opinion)

"That's the wrong yarn." 

"What?" I said, not really understanding what she was saying. I mean, I'm holding the yarn I was trying to match... it matches... how is it wrong?
"The sweater" she says, "it's knit out of Cuzco, not Peruvia Quick. That's the wrong yarn."
"Where's that yarn?" I managed to stammer out, the world starting to go a little acid green around the edges.
"There's a skein in the bin" she said, and I staggered over to the bin, pulled the skein of Cuzco out, and just about collapsed.  Way different. Way. Like... not going to work sort of different, and I sat down hard.  Bugger. I know how it happened too.  The pattern book spotlights both yarns, and at the top of the pattern page it lists both - and I didn't read far enough down to see which it was recommending while I was in the store.  I saw Peruvia Quick in the book and on the shelf, and I went for it.  By the time I was home and writing a blog entry about it days later, when I saw the pattern took Cuzco it didn't register that I didn't have that in my hand at the store... or maybe I thought they were interchangable or, well. Who knows.  It was a mistake.

I didn't let on how shattered I was there, and I sort of held out hope that maybe it would work out anyway.. but I swatched it up yesterday and there's no chance.

These two yarns are just too different.  I need 15 stitches to 10cm, and I'm getting 12.5 - and I toyed around with maybe knitting a smaller size and seeing if the sweater would just magically come out my size, but that sort of pattern voodoo seldom works, and I like this yarn too much to make something that isn't awesome. So with that, I'm open to suggestions.

Anybody have a fantastic sweater idea for several skeins of a handspun that's an awesome match for Peruvia Quick? (The frontrunner right now is the Drops 103-1 that Dr. Steph just finished, but I'm open.)

Posted by Stephanie at 10:56 AM

September 22, 2009

Tuesday is the new Monday

I spent all day yesterday making my way home from Sacramento where I had a most lovely time teaching and generally enjoying (however briefly)  California.  This was a really great surprise, since when I agreed to teach there, I can tell you that I quite honestly believed that Sacramento was somewhere in the Midwest.  I can't tell you how stunned I was when I booked the flight and figured it out.  Now,  I know right about now a whole bunch of you are sitting there in front of your computer thinking about what a moron I am, after all - Sacramento isn't just in California, it's the capital of California and how could anyone not know that, but I beg of you to consider what you know of Canadian capitals or geography before you judge my knowledge of American ones. It's not like they teach your state capitals in our schools any more than they teach you ours.  My knowledge is gleaned entirely from travel, reading and US sitcoms. Apparently this is a dodgy system. I'll spend a little more time with my atlas. 

There were other shocks to the system... like this one.

I can tell you that intellectually, I knew that oranges grew on trees, but emotionally? I was totally unprepared for them.  I kept taking their pictures and  only just managed not to confront random Californians by staggering up to them and saying "Dudes! There is FOOD growing on your city trees!' (I may not have managed not to look totally stunned about it to the knitters.)  I also got a quick tour of the Capital from Beth (she's really nice) and looked for Arnold.

I didn't find him though.  The rest of the weekend passed in a blur of teaching and in that queer paradox of teaching knitting, even though the only topic and priority was knitting, I didn't get a lot of it done.  I did finish a pretty pair of socks that have been loitering on the needles for a week or two...

Spring Forward socks , beautiful Sophie's Toes yarn in "Antique". 

but overall,  I only had plane knitting time, and as I related in the last post, the long flight to Denver on Friday resulted in nothing but the sad euthanasia of Frankenmitten.  She was reborn however, as Daughter of Frankenmitten. (Thanks for that Tracy. Great name.) and got my time on the flight home.

Daughter of Frankenmitten seen here in San Francisco Airport, shortly before I mis-juggled a coffee - splashed her slightly, and wore the rest of the cup magnificently down my right leg all the way to Toronto.  (Why yes, I am an extraordinarily graceful person. Why do you ask?)  An updated picture of her shortly, as she's recovering from a bit of a bath and wash up.   While I wait for her to dry off, I should be spinning, on account of it's Tuesday, but since I missed Monday in an airport, I'm making today an honourary Monday/Tuesday, and I'm swatching the yarn I spun last week to make sure that it's going to work before I spin more. There's a story behind why I suspect that it won't, but I'll tell you tomorrow.
There's only so dim I'm willing to risk looking in one day, and I've already got the Sacramento thing working against me today. 

Posted by Stephanie at 1:20 PM

September 18, 2009

She didn't make it

I'm changing planes in the Denver airport, headed for Sacramento, and I have bad news.  Frankenmitten didn't make it.  Things looked okay for a while, but just now, sitting on the floor in Denver, I had to finally let go and understand that although we'd fought a brave fight, she just couldn't go on. 

Difficulties began for Frankenmitten when I screwed up one cross in the braid and thought I could live with it, and were compounded by complications with gauge and stranding, and the fact that I made her cuff way to big.

Things continued to go wrong when I put the thumb too low, and the final blow was dealt when I saw that the whole thing was going to be too long, and that she sadly had a defective row that couldn't be managed - even surgically.


Sadly, she has been removed from needle support, but will be missed - and possibly replaced.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:37 PM

September 15, 2009

The Tiniest Little Bit of Spinning Tech

This is a Tuesday, and I'm trying hard to stick to the Tuesdays are for spinning rule, even though Frankenmitten calls out to me from the knitting basket by the chesterfield.  Wanna peek?

I did start with a braid (from Latvian Mittens), and then did a little colourwork thing that seemed sort of snowflakey, then another braid and then started with Annemor #15 from Selbuvotter. So far, so good.. but today is not about the mittens. Forget the mittens.  Until tomorrow, the mittens are dead to you, because  today is, as a I mentioned, a Tuesday, so my wheel is out and I'm a spinner. 

I told myself that if I shifted a little fibre out of the house, my reward could be that I'd bring one of the new bags of wool from Wellington upstairs and start the spinning for the sweater that I'd like to make - Cosima.   I feel good about how much fibre left (tossing that big batt I didn't care for made all the difference to the list) and so today I trotted downstairs, fetched the biggest bag of brownish grey and sat down at the wheel and was instantly consumed with wave of maturity and intelligence.  (I'm as shocked as you are.) I decided, my friends, to sample.  Now -  I didn't really, properly sample.  Proper sampling, as it has been explained to me by people who really do things right, is sort of like swatching for spinning.  People who do gauge swatches right knit a good sized chunk, wash it, make notes about it, maybe even go so far as to pin a note on it or (I swear some people do this) affix it in their knitting notebook so that they can remember what needles they used with what yarn so they have a record. 

I'm not that sort of knitter (I do swatch, just not like that) and I don't sample like that for spinning either.  Properly done, when I sample I should think about the yarn I'd like to have, think about ply, twist,  ratio or woollen vs worsted, and then start spinning little pieces using all the options until I get the yarn that I have in mind.  Then that sample is washed and perhaps even knit... if you're spinning with a particular project in mind.

Well I am spinning with a project in mind, but that sort of sampling isn't really me.  I admit, it's smart. It works.  It gets you a better crap to awesome ratio going down, but there's something about it that just isn't me.  Maybe I lack the patience for it, maybe I like the element of risk that not sampling properly gives me... I can't tell you.  I can just tell you that quick and dirty is more my style, so this is what I did: 

I looked at the yarn that the pattern calls for, which is Cuzco.  I looked at it for about two minutes in Lettuce Knit last week, and then I walked away.  I noted that it was a two ply, that it was pretty bouncy, that it was light, and that it was a chunky weight.  Then I bought the pattern and left.  This morning I pulled out the fibre:

(It's a corridale, for anyone keeping track.) and I resolved to spin a two-ply chunky weight.  I sat at the wheel for a couple of minutes, and I spun this.

This is not bad yarn, but it's not what I wanted at all.  It is a two ply (that's good) but it's not a chunky (that's bad)  it's sort of dense and heavy (that's bad, since the sweater would weigh twelve kilo's if I kept that up) and it needed way more bounce and loft to make  it work, and that was sort of bad news for me, because most spinners will tell you that as time goes on, making big yarns becomes harder and harder for them, and that is certainly true for me.   I remembered then that two of my favourite spinning teachers ( Maggie Casey and Judith MacKenzie McCuin ) both say the same thing. That if you want your spinning to be different, you'd be better of changing the wheel than the spinner - sort of like... if you wanted your gauge in knitting to be looser, you'd be better off changing needles than resolving to knit more loosely.  Even if you could manage it for a little while, eventually you'd revert to type and knit your regular way, and that's what happens with spinning too.  Eventually, no matter what you resolve intellectually, your hands will start making the yarn they like to make, without regard for what you would like to make.  So I gave it a think, tried to remember what I could and then I did this:

1. I moved to a lower ratio on my wheel.  This adds less twist with each treadle.
2. I increased the tension a bit, so that the yarn was "pulled" onto the wheel more quickly, and so that more fibre was pulled into the drafting zone (to make it thicker yarn.)
3. I changed to a full on big sweeping long draw, so that more air would enter the fibre and it would be loftier. 
4. I slowed down my foot, sped up my hands and er... cut back on the coffee for the rest of the day.

When I did all that, I got something way, way, way better.  See?

New one on top, old on the bottom, and while I wouldn't quite say that victory is mine (It's too loose now... maybe more ply twist?)  I'm as sure as I can be (without proper sampling, which I've already admitted is a buzzkill for me) that this is going to work.

I know. Famous last words. Yarn critique, anyone?

Posted by Stephanie at 1:20 PM

September 13, 2009

Oh Mitten, my mitten

Hear me now, hear me clear. The comments on the last entry are exactly the reason why knitblogs are genius.  The opportunity to rely on not just my own resources and brain, but the collective intelligence of ever knitter who reads, is a special bit of wonder in the world, and if you're looking for a mitten to knit, you can do no better than the listing provided to me in the last entry.  Ya'll are brilliant good listeners with an ear to the knitground - let me tell you.  There's a wonderful assortment given up there, and a whole bunch of great ones that almost made the cut:

Inga Snoflinga is almost perfect, and very close to being just the thing on the basis of the brilliant and charming name alone.  (Really. Say it to yourself a few times.  Inga-Snoflinga, Inga-Snoflinga...makes you almost wish it was winter so you could go out there and toss some snowballs around while developing an alter-ego. Inga-Snoflinga.)

White Witch Mittens were good except for maybe a little underpointed and perhaps a shred less fussy than I was hoping for (especially once they're converted to two colours)

The Egyptian Mittens were very nice, except I feel that the thumbs are in the wrong place for my taste-thumbs on the sides of mitten always look to me like they are perennially hitchhiking and I like mine to be placed out of the palm, and (I know as soon as I typed that a whole bunch of knitters just had to put their coffee down and have a moment or two, because they thought that they liked me and now that it turns out the my thumb preference is the exact opposite of theirs, the world view from their computer is going to need a little shift. )

Deep in the Forest mittens are a thing of beauty (despite their thumbs) but aren't quite right, even though I have totally let go of my knee jerk reaction to them, which is that they might harbour squirrels.  Secret, unseen squirrels, lurking in the trees.  (They don't, I feel sure of that now, but if you say you're not making mittens with squirrels on them, you have to think about their relationship to trees if you're going to be totally spot on about it.)

The Amaryllis Mittens are very darn pretty, but would need to be converted for two colours, and I the edge isn't quite what I wanted...

Ruba'iyat mittens were plenty pointy (and I do seriously respect the pointiness, and the way that the diamonds fit into the point, which is extremely sexy..) but they seemed a tad masculine (note to self, good mittens to add to the queue as 50% of the population is male.)

So all of this left me thinking, that there are a lot of almost perfect mittens out there, and then Schizospider left one of the best comments ever on the blog (go read it if you have time,  hers is one of the reasons why I read every single one..)  and she not only suggested several patterns, but ranked them off my criteria in terms of "good and bad". Very helpful, and a rare opportunity to use phrases like "squirrelless; free pattern" and I liked so many in her list, that I realized that the answer here is one that Sueinithica suggested.  Frankenmitten.

Yes, Frankenmitten - some cobbled together piece of wonder that takes all the best parts from all the nicest mittens, and comes up awesome - and that took me to the page for Heather's Annemor #15, which had been rejected out of hand because in the brilliant and beautiful book Selbuvotter: Biography of a Knitting Tradition, Annemor #15 is a glove - and I've already said that a set of gloves was right out.  Thing is, that Heather did a little Frankenmitten action on that one herself, and stacked the motif twice and made it a mitten (a pointy mitten) and I was in love. Totally in love - and that settled it. Inspired by Schizospider, Sueinithica and Heather, I'm going to take all the best elements of all of my favourites and bash something up.

Frankenmitten.  Brilliant. I think I'll start with a braid...

(PS. I've switched blog clients, so if things are still wonky, please be patient. The learning curve is a tad steep.)


Posted by Stephanie at 11:35 AM

September 11, 2009

The Great and Mighty Mitten Hunt

I want to make a pair of mittens, and I am consumed with the thrill of the hunt. I've spent two days looking now and although I have seen many wonderful mittens, none of them are quite right. I feel like I'll know it when I see it, but right now I feel pickier than a two year old. I click and click, look and look, and all that I keep thinking is "that's not it, that's not it, that's not it... those are too big and those have too many colours and those have a funny thumb and I don't want cables and those are the wrong gauge and... it turns out I have all sorts of feelings about mittens. Here (apparently, since I've rejected any pattern that doesn't fit this list) are my criteria.

-The mittens should be fine and fancy, like presents for your hands in the winter. There is very little to bring a woman happiness in February, and I depend on mittens for a great deal of my joy. I have good plain mittens for warmth. These will be for dress. I like 'em fussy.

-They should be two colour mittens, since I have two colours of this beautiful Gauja Wool. I bought it at the Knitters Fair last year (or the year before, I forget) and I'd forgotten how much I was looking forward to using it.


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- They should be classic. I love the traditional look of Norwegian, Latvian or Selbu mittens, and I'm yet to embrace the modern non-symetrical mitten like Anemoi. Not saying they aren't darn pretty, just .... well. That's not my mitten.

- They should not have squirrels on them, for while that mitten (and these ones) are very pretty, I prefer not to immortalize my enemies. I fear the mittens would be found after I am gone and misinterpreted as reverence rather than irony.

-They should be knit at a gauge for fingering weight wool.

-They should not be too wide, because that's not an elegant thing in a mitten.

- They should have a pointed top and thumb for I think that dress mittens should always have pointed tops, and there's almost nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.

-They should not have ribbing, because it turns out that I think that's for "common" mittens.

- They should not be "fingerless" mittens, because (and I really can't stress this enough) this is Canada.

- They should not be gloves, for gloves make your fingers all lonely.

- I am enamored of snowflakes, and think that a blue and white snowflake mitten would simply be the bomb. I dream of a pointy snowflake mitten.

-It should be in a book or magazine that I already have (and I have lots) or something that I can download right then and there, because apparently, I think that instant gratification takes too long.

See the problem? I'm apparently rather fussy, but I truly believe that my ideal mitten is out there, and that one of you knows where it is. Mitten hunt, anyone?

(PS: if you want to post a link in the comments, remember to do just one in the body of the comment. My spam software thinks that if you want to leave several URLs that you're probably up to no good. The spam software doesn't understand a mitten hunt, and while I could take that feature off, I'd have comments full of manhood advice by sundown.)

(PPS: What the hell is up with my formatting?)

Posted by Stephanie at 5:48 PM

September 10, 2009

Still trying

If this one doesn't work I'm going to cry.

Edited to add:

I am never upgrading again. Never. I will be using the freaking software and computer that I have now when the rest of you have moved onto holographic bodysuits that search google when you twitch your nose, because this is not worth it.

I use a blog interface called Ecto, that I love deeply and madly, and months ago they issued an upgrade, so I waited a while (this is Joe's policy, he things that you should wait a bit for upgrades to be debugged before you install them) and then I installed it this morning, only to discover that it wasn't posting my entries, just the titles. (I discovered this after a really great mitten post went to the great big yarn store in the sky.)

Now, Holy mother of moth, after some hysterical investigation- searching and experimentation, it turns out that to make it work I have to not delete the space that Ecto is automatically generating at the beginning of the field where I type. That's right, it's generating an empty line at the beginning of the field, and if you hit backspace to delete it (because why wouldn't you - it's not a space you have asked for...) then without notifying you in any way that you've offended it, the system waits until you hit "publish" and then seeks revenge by promptly vomiting your entry into another dimension ... and then posts only the title, just to seriously piss you off.

If - on the other hand, you keep the space that it's created, then all will be well, and the many great features of Ecto that I've been devoted to all these years work like a charm.

That seems ridiculously buggy to me and while I don't understand why that space is there or why it is now the single most important thing in my blog... it seems to me like software you buy and pay for shouldn't have something like this going down, and I'll be telling them so -rather firmly, politely and immediately. Remembering not to delete a space (by accident- or on purpose) that I don't want is silly (and I'll never remember) and more than that, and most infuriatingly, it looks like Ecto can no longer even SAVE your post if you delete that space - and I'm filled with a burning and bitter resentment that it's not my settings or anything that's wrong (because setting it up wrong would be my fault) - or not even some sort of mistake on my part (because mistakes are totally my fault too) but instead, I lost a whole big post, even though I installed this right (miracle #1) set it up right (miracle #2) and even remembered to hit "save" (miracle #3) which is supposed to be the little keyboard tick that saves all incompetents.

Seriously. This is not an upgrade. An upgrade is supposed to be better, not screw up your mitten posts and steal an afternoon. I'm never knitting the ecto people socks. (Unless they fix this and say they're sorry or it turns out to be my fault or something- although to be fair, it looks like I'm not the only one having the problem.) In any event this whole thing has totally harshed on my mellow.

I'm going to knit something. Upgrade my arse.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:54 PM

My blog software is upgraded and now I can only post titles and that's not an upgrade

Posted by Stephanie at 3:04 PM

Wow

Posted by Stephanie at 2:04 PM

September 9, 2009

Life's too short

Every once in a while, the fact that I'm basically an optimistic person with a persistent nature bites me hard on the hind parts. Today would be one of those days.

I have once again spun something that is either terrible yarn or awesome bailer twine, although since I was aiming for yarn, I think it must be the former.

I've been working with that huge green and white batt that I showed you the other day, and I feel that I must tell you that I bought this batt of my own free will and under no duress several years ago, when I knew almost all that I know now, and I didn't think it would be a problem then, and was totally blindsided by it now. The minute I saw that batt I imagined a beautiful circular shawl (odd, that... since I usually don't care for them, resembling large doilies as they sometimes do) a beautiful shawl with a white middle that gradually shifted to beautiful green - like a blossom, and the minute this thing of wonder was fully visualized, I snapped the thing up and brought it home.
Now that's not shocking. (Headline "STEPHANIE BUYS WOOL, NO-ONE STUNNED") because I buy wool all the time. What is shocking is that this batt has characteristics that aren't to my taste, have never been to my taste and will never be to my taste - and that somehow, I forked over the cash and loved it anyway.

The honeymoon had to end though, and this week the minute that I picked it up and started working with it, I thought: This is absolutely not going to work... and then carried on, still married to the idea of the shawl.

When I felt that the wool was coarse and difficult to spin, I reminded myself that I enjoy lots of breeds of sheep and that I'm not married to just the ultra soft ones. When I saw that it had lots of nepps I thought "That's ok. I can pick them out as I go, I don't mind that (much.)" When I realized 10 minutes later that this batt had a lot of VM (VM= vegetable matter- like grass, seeds, bits of hay etc.) I gave myself a little talking to about picking it out and not being such a baby.

Now, in it's defense, this batt is Romney - a fibre that (while it's the finest of the longwools) just doesn't scream "soft and cushy" and isn't ever going to be the softest thing you've ever felt. I'm fine with that. It usually has lustre and durability on it's side instead, and is often a fleece I actively seek- although with real discretion for the quality - and the VM was there when I bought it, I just didn't notice it. Holding the batt up to the light revealed how much VM there was.

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Secondly, this is a big batt, not a combed top, and it makes sense that the fibres would be jumbled up and not draft as smoothly as it's more elegantly prepared cousins, and I accept the presence of nepps (essentially knots) in a reasonable quantity... but when I found myself really struggling to get a smooth yarn out of it, I wondered (finally) If I hadn't imagined a bad match between fibre and project. No matter what was happening in my head, this wasn't what was happening between my hands, and I realized that this fibre was not ever going to be the yarn I want it to be.

At that point I sighed a little, and took a step back and thought it through. Okay. This fibre wasn't what I was expecting, but I'm a flexible spinner and I'll figure it out. I thought it would get better, or... I don't know what I thought, but I do know that I thought that whatever was wrong with it was something I could overcome with skill somehow, and I kept spinning. I kept picking out the nepps, picking out the grass and doing the best I could, but I really wasn't having fun - but I still spun into the evening and night - and went to bed pretty sure that somehow, even thought this batt was almost everything in a batt that makes it less fun for me, that the good times would start to roll any minute if I was persistent.

This morning I got up and looked at the singles - and in the proper light I noticed for the first time that the white was yellow stained in places. Spinning concentrates colour, and so a flawed fleece (if you think yellowing is a flaw - you might not it you like to dye- there's a lot of yellow fleeces out there that hit they dyebath and ended up lovely) might not appear so until you've spun it. I certainly didn't think this had as much yellow as it does. It looked to me like it was yolking (normal yellow stain of sheep sweat and lanolin) which usually washes out... so I kept spinning - even though now the batt had another strike against it. The imagined shawl was whitish/ivory in the centre. Not that pale yellow.

I finished the whole bobbin before I could admit that it probably wasn't worth spinning another, but even then my optimistic nature demanded that I make sure. Maybe it was one of those fibres that really improved with the plying and washing. How could I come this far and not find out? I chain (or "navajo") plied the yarn - since if I did move onto a second and third bobbin, that's how I was going to preserve the colour changes, and because three plied yarn looks more even than two ply yarn... and this needed all the help it could get.

Plied, the yarn still looked rough - especially in the colour department, but it hadn't been washed yet. (It was also still really rough and itchy and full of VM - but somehow I had brought myself to believe that washing was going to fix all of that.) I immersed it in a sink full of hot water (hoping to scour the yolking out) and left it to soak for a good long time. About 60 minutes later, I rinsed it, pressed the water out of it, and hung it to dry, doing my level best not to judge it until judging time.

Just now I went and collected it from the back (It was drying in the squirrel proof system devised last year) and had a look and feel.

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It's crap. Whatever the yellow is (canary stain maybe? That doesn't wash out) is still there. The VM is still there. I can see in the daylight that some red fibres are into the creamy part (that may be from hanging out in my stash- who knows what it was consorting with - although it was wrapped up the whole time) and it still possesses all of the softness of cheap steel wool or a high school vice principal.

In short: I hate it and although it goes against my very nature..... I'm quitting.
Life's too short to spend on wool you don't love, and since this fibre was wrong when I bought it and is still wrong now... I'm not doing it. I gave it a fair shake, but this batt is out of here. I'll give it (and the skein of 250m of fingering weight bailer twine) to Denny who can usually find the redeeming qualities of any fibre and we'll see what comes of it.

I hope it doesn't let the door hit its arse on the way out.

PS. I finished some socks:

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Leyburn, in STR lightweight Crabby McCrabbypants. They worked fine and can stay.

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Posted by Stephanie at 3:51 PM

September 8, 2009

Everybody's going to love today

First Day Of School. For parents everywhere it's a great day, and for workfromhome parents...it's a high holiday, the day that your kids (however charming and delightful they are, and no matter how dedicated to them one may be) get out of your office, where they have been installed for the last two months. Yup, it's the grand and glorious return to that fantastical device called "a schedule" where you know what everybody is doing when and nobody lies on the chesterfield all day reading a novel and talking on the phone while eating buckets of Cheerios and changing outfits every ten minutes. Sure, packs of teenagers will still descend upon my home like locusts eating everything in their paths, but they'll do it in a more predictable fashion -strictly after 3:00, and I don't mind that at all. It's the free range teenagers who can show up in any numbers at any times that get me down.

You betcha knitters, it's the return of sanity, the return of a proper quiet workday, and the return of having a slight possibility of getting ahead of the mess - now that they're leaving six hours a day. The return of essays and homework, of responsibilities greater than putting on sunscreen... the return of clubs and teams and clothing bigger than a tea towel. It's all sorts of wonderful things (like "Frosh Week" for Megan, who's starting University) and not being a minor niner any more for Sam, who's a grade 10 now. (A status that she referred to this morning in a text as being "sick", which turns out to be excellent, and quite unlike actually being sick.)

It is a day that I celebrate each year with interpretative dance in the kitchen.
It is a good day.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:22 PM

September 3, 2009

Spinning Round Up

I've been (because 1/3 of that fleece that filled the trunk in the previous post came to live with me) trying to use up a bunch of the spinning stash, and as a result have been most industrious at the wheel. (Nothing like running out of room to light a fire under you.) The spinning stash is as out of control as a 16 year old with a credit card and a pair of ill fitting jeans, and I'm determined to convert much of it to yarn and get it out the door. Since I've made similar vows about things like the sock yarn stash (and had it promptly double in size) this time I really mean it. Here's what I've finished:

Another Enchanted Knoll batt was converted to yarn, and I forget the colourway that this is (I've misplaced the label, sorry guys.) but I my best guess would be that it's not Gold Dust Woman. (That's a terrible guess, I know) since this is much darker and more like an old penny.
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It has sparkles in it too, and I'm surprised how much my linen-wearing-veggie-eating-tree-hugging self really loves them. It puts a little disco in my heart. (The sparkles aren't showing up well here, but trust me. This skein has lots of it.)

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Then, still feeling productive, I took one of the Sheep 2 Shoe kits (I think this colourway was a one-off...) and attempted a self striping yarn. I divided the roving into three chunks, then stripped each one in half and spun each half in the same direction,

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and then plied the halves against each other to get the colours to match up - which they really, really didn't. I have sneaking suspicion that I might have jumbled the bobbins and some point, so I tried again with the last one, and was way, way more careful.

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That worked. The end result was two skeins of a marled (barberpole) yarn, and one skein of a really nice striping yarn, where the colours lined up beautifully.

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How I'd use this in a project would make me more crazy (I have a thing about stuff matching) but luckily this was a gift for the lovely Rachel H, and now it's her problem that the stuff doesn't match. You can see the matchy one on the far right, and that the other two are quite a bit more random - still pretty mind you, and it's really lovely squishy dk weight yarn.. but not matchy. Rachel H claims to love it, but the proof will be in whether or not it's ever on her needles.

Next up? A great big batt from the now defunct Lindenhof mill - that's taking up a lot of real estate in the wool room.

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It's a pretty green on one end, and a lovely cream on the other, and I'm going to spin it to preserve that change. it's a really, really big batt (300g) and I imagine that if I do it right, I'll end up with a very long skein with one looooong colour change, white to green. I imagine then that it would make a pretty stunning circular shawl. White in the middle, shading out to the green around the edge, like a wildflower or... well. Queen Anne's lace... which was exactly what the batt was named. (I may be a little impressionable.)

All I need now is the perfect circular shawl pattern... and, er. The yarn. (Ok. This might take a bit.)
Maybe I'll knit some socks while I figure it out.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:46 PM

September 2, 2009

Field Trip

Remember when you were a kid and there would be a field trip, and you would know in your heart that there are only two ways for a field trip to go. Either it is a rare taste of brilliant educational freedom and the fantastic day that you get to sit in the very back of the bus. get partnered with the boy you're intending to marry, and hold a dinosaur bone.... OR it pours on the day that you're going to the outdoor eco-centre and you forget to bring your boots so your feet are wet the whole time (even though it said to wear boots on the form) and your partner for the project is that kid Simon who's always called you four-eyes and made fun of how short you are, and then you open up your lunch (your wet lunch) and you discover that your mum made a cheese sandwich even though you have explained a thousand times that cheese is gross and sweaty by lunch time on warm days and then you get picked to sit behind the teacher on the bus the whole way home and she makes you take bus attendance even though you're already a short four-eyes with wet feet and no lunch. I'm sure you all remember. Well last week Rachel H, Denny and I had a great field trip. Better even than the museum one where they let you chisel a fake fossil out of a fake archeological dig, or the apple orchard trip where you pick a bag of apples to bring home and you get a caramel apple, and better even than the one to the sugar bush where you see how they make maple syrup, and you stand in the cold air with the big cauldrons of sap billowing steam and you get to pour the syrup on the snow to make maple candy - and that my friends, is an absolutely top notch field trip.

We went here:

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Wellington Fibres, to pick up our fleeces from the Royal Winter Fair Fleece Auction. See, when the three of us went to the auction last year, we all agreed on the way there that we simply were not going to bring home more fleece. We totally promised each other, and we were really, really good until we saw that Donna and Lorne were there, and then we sort of snapped, because we took one look at them and saw the word LOOPHOLE just about tattooed on their foreheads. See, they're fibre processors, and own a wee mill in Elora, Ontario (not far from here) and we realized that if we bought fleece at the auction, and then immediately turned them over to them for processing, that technically, we weren't bringing home fleece from the auction, and with that we snapped entirely and may have bought coughSIXcough fleeces.

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Yeah, six. Wanna make something of it? There's three of us - and they were prize-winning fleeces and if you don't support your local breeders then soon you won't have local breeders and we're committed to making them successful and they're counting on us. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

In any case, we bought the fleeces, handed them to Donna and Lorne and went off to eat that baked apple thing, secure in the knowledge that we were not bringing home more fleeces. That bird didn't come home to roost until just know, when Wellington Fibres called us to tell us that our processing was finished, and they could mail them or we could come get them, and you should have seen Rachel H and Denny's faces light up at the mention of a field trip. (Obviously, Simon the killjoy was never one of their partners and they didn't know how far wrong these things can go.) I went along because I like them to be happy, because I had the car, and because it seemed like it would at least be a little interesting, and because it's hard to go wrong when I'm hanging out with those two. Turns out? Best field trip ever, and I'm not just saying that because Denny brought good car snacks and because there was fibre, fibre tools and more there at their little store when we arrived.

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I'm saying that because when we got up there, Lorne gave us the full tour- showing us exactly what happened to our fleeces.
Step one: Washing the fleeces.

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This was really interesting, partly because I had no idea that they were running such a green operation up there. All the water (and a mill takes a lot) for the process is heated by solar panels on the roof, and the soap they use is a gentle, biodegradable grapeseed and citrus extract. It takes a few more washes, but takes way less energy and does far less damage, both to the watertable and to the fleece.

They even use solar power for their dye process. Hot water runs through the walls of the dyepot to keep the fibre and it's water hot. Even on cloudy days that demand the addition of propane, Lorne is only ever heating the water a maximum of 10 or 20 degrees. (c)

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Then the fleeces are dried, which takes only a few hours, because they use an extractor to remove all but 10% of the water. (I hope that's right.) Behind the drying racks you can see the picker, which opens up the fibres for the carder. The fibre enters the picker, is teased open, and then is shot into the room behind the picker. The idea of opening up a door to a fluff filled closet amused us for hours.

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After it's picked open, the fibre is weighed and goes though the carder in carefully measured amounts,

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and rough roving comes out the other side.

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The fibre then passes through a pindrafter, which is the last step in production if you're going to spin the fibre yourself. (Which we are.) This machine combines several of those roving strips from the carder, and combs, combines and attenuates the fibres. The result is beautifully prepared fibre that's lovely, open, and has nary a knot or nepp in sight. Lovely stuff, and you can see that watching it come off of the machine was gripping.

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If your fibre is going to be spun there (or their doing their own fibre) then the next step is the spinning frame, which looks incredibly complex, but is really very, very simple once you get Lorne to explain it. The part that blew my mind is that the roving is fed between two rollers, one moving slowly and the other quickly. "How odd" I thought, until Lorne said "and how fast one goes that the other determines how much the fibre is drafted out" and a bell rang in my head and I realized that this was just the machine version of a spinner drafting the fibre while she spins. One hand moves away (faster) than the other. Once the fibre is drafted, the twist is added by that there spinning bobbin, and it winds on... just like a wheel, only really big and fast.

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From there, the last step is plying, and dudes, I can hardly talk about this machine. You're going to have to go see it. The thing is massive, and that alone is incredible because it's really just a sawed off chunk of a way larger machine from forever ago. Does anyone other than me remember owning a sewing machine with "cams" where you inserted this disk, a cam, and that cam was read by the machine like a template for how it should sew? That's how this thing works, except Lorne tells it how to ply the yarn by putting in huge cast iron gears in the right combinations. He's gotta have 60 of them, all in different sizes, and each yarn demands a specific "recipe" of gears to make it happen. Really awesomely neat.

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If you look carefully at the end of the machine left of the "A" and above the "l" you can see where it was hacked off of the far larger version. Tour over, we paid the nice people for our beautiful fibre, admired the flock of Angora goats. (Angora goats make mohair. Go figure.)

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and loaded up the car with our bounty.

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That my friends, is how a mill works, and how Lorne and Donna turn your stinky fleeces into beautiful roving.
Best field trip ever, and I'm not just saying that because there was no beer on school trips.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:55 PM