Monday, November 21, 2016

Hat Binge!

2016 seems to be the year of the hat for me.

Hats are straight forward.  They are quick to make (relatively), they are very portable, and satisfying.  They are great for single skeins of yarn (which we all have too many of) and can be very soothing.

The year of hats started with a hat to try out a new-to-me fiber: Mohair.  Mohair takes dye very well, has a lot of shine and apparently wears like iron.  I was tempted by a pretty skein at Wool Gathering and it grew into this hat, called Wurm.  And the leftover yarn was completely exhausted by the epic pompom on the top!

Another single skein snuggled its way into a hat for the 25,000 Toques project: a drive to provide a new hat for every Syrian refugee that would be welcomed into Canada this year.  This hat turned out too small for what I would consider an adult hat, so I tagged it as a older child hat and sent it off.  Apparently, most of those admitted were families with children, so the child hat would definitely be used.  I hope it's keeping a new Canadian warm right now.

Modeled by a stuffed cow, because it looked ridiculous stretched over my head!
Next, I killed a leftover partial skein improvising this little hat for my friend's son.  He has the most rich skin tone and sometimes the yarns just whisper to me, 'Look at how lovely I'll be next to Gabriel's little cheeks...' and then I have to knit another hat for the kiddo.  We don't get to see him that often, but hopefully, he'll grow up knowing me as his knitting auntie.

A beautiful single skein from a gift swap had been begging to be knit into the Sitka Spruce hat for some time.  I knit one of these previously and the twisted stitches wreaked havoc on my gauge; it was child sized and got donated, too!  I couldn't find any reason to put off this one any longer, so cast it on and finished it in a few days.  This one will be all for me!

I bought this yarn without a reason.  It was fun and pretty and I wanted it.  After a few months of having it, though, I still had no good ideas of what to do with it.  (Present Donita wants Future Donita to remember this is what comes of being impulsive at the LYS.)  While cruising Ravelry one day, I saw a most beautiful Rikke hat that someone else was working on and immediately became convinced I *needed* to make one.  And quickly realized it *needed* to be out of this yarn.  It worked out.    (Past Donita is feeling especially smug about this in retrospect...)

I love Alana Dakos' patterns.  They are so pretty and delicate and feminine without being fussy. And smart!  I can't resist them.  And I love doing them in colors that resemble nature: browns, greens, reds.  Unfortunately, I can't always wear the yarn I fall in love with for a specific pattern.  In that case, sometimes I buy it anyway and put it in the gift bin for later!

This was the case with Ferns and this lovely skein of MadTosh.  I mean, really? Who can resist this?

The above scenario played out again with Forest Floor.  But this hat already has a recipient lined up and ready to go.

Meet Rosalita - my new glass head, made in Spain
Another hat, for the same gift, happened to come with matching mittens, which is my favorite kind of matchy-matchy.

The hubs liked this hat so much, he strongly implied he would like one, too.  He might get one, eventually, and out of this yarn, after I noticed how nicely it looked next to his eyes.

This November has been trying, and after kicking around the idea of doing a very unorganized knit-along, some gals on Rav & I decided the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election was the *perfect* time to have some soothing, meditative knitting.  And the Sockhead Hat fills the bill every time. I've already knit a handful, but some of them were gifts and some of them were different colors, and you know what - don't judge me.

So, this pretty skein of autumnal goodness is going to become another Sockhead hat.

Sorry, not sorry.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Spinzilla 2016 - COLOR

After knitting 2 1/2 pounds of a neutral during Tour de Fleece, I knew I would want to spin some color in the fall.  When my LYS announced they were sponsoring a team for Spinzilla, I decided to join in, even though I hadn't participated in the event previously.  Spinzilla is another made-up, just-for-fun event that benefits the NeedleArts Mentoring Program.  Lord knows I'm not the fastest spinner, so I'm unlikely to win a prize, and I don't really care about that stuff anyway... but I figured, sure, why not?

The festivities started with a wheel tune-up day turned spin-in.  Just for the fun of it, I spun up this pretty braid from Southern Cross Fibre

into this lovely, fractal, aran-weight 2-ply on my Schacht Ladybug.

I really enjoyed spinning the Falkland wool.  I need to get some more of that!

When the week of the event came, I decided I wanted to get familiar with spinning merino, a fiber I haven't spun much of, but have quite a bit in stash.  However, I started with a braid of Three Waters Farm Polwarth/Silk though, just to start on the right foot.  I love me some Polwarth/Silk.

I spun this one fractally, too, but using a different technique (details on my project page).  I am very happy with the way it turned out and think it might grow up to be a hat.

Next up, I got going with the merino.  A friend recently told me that spinning merino is like spinning cream cheese... and she wasn't wrong!  After spinning lots of more 'toothy' wools, the merino feels so soft & squishy!  But I decided I wanted to try to spin it worsted, with a fair bit of twist & see how it reacted (and how I reacted to it).  This bag of fiber was Unplanned Peacock's blend of superwash merino, silk, nylon & sparkle and I love the colors (even though I can't wear them!).

The third fiber I attempted during this week was 100% merino - training wheels were off now!  I took the same approach on this fiber as the blend above - true worsted draw, from combed top, spun with a fair bit of twist and then chain-plyed.  The fiber looked to have more blues & greens in it than the finished yarn.  Sadly, I can't wear this color, either - BUT it brings out the hubs' eyes, so he'll likely get a hat out of this yarn.

My secondary goal for Spinzilla was to attempt to spin some long draw.  I have failed at this before, but decided I needed to get back on the horse.  For this, I grabbed some Romney from Unplanned Peacock and figured if I sucked it up, it was only 4 oz and I probably could ask her to dye me some more...  BUT IT WORKED!  It was SO FAST, too!  I spun the entire 4 oz. of singles in one afternoon.  I can't wait to spin a sweater's quantity of yarn this way!  It'll go like WHOOSH!

My total yardage was 728 yards for the week - not too shabby.  My back wasn't having much treadling during the week, so the merinos and romney were all spun on my Hansen - so glad I got that!!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Janis and My First Tour de Fleece

I love spinning - and it has wonderful therapeutic effects for me, especially when I have a raging headache.  But the physical element to spinning on a treadle wheel just isn't always an option.  With fibromyalgia & CFS, the random aches, pains and fatigue sometimes make doing anything physical, especially consistent motion difficult, if not impossible.  Some days, my back & legs make it clear that they don't care how badly my head is hurting, spinning isn't happenin'.  (If you've never seen a spinning wheel in person, or noticed what their legs/feet are doing, check out this quick video - this is my exact wheel, and shows someone actively spinning.)  I still love my Ladybug and still spin on her as often as I can (here's my current spin), but I can't always sit down and spin my headache away.

Shortly after our move, I took the plunge and ordered a Hansen MiniSpinner.  I'd heard awesome things about this model of electric spinner for a while and realized that I could have the therapeutic benefits of spinning, even when my body wasn't cooperating.  The hubs & I talked about it, I saved up, took a deep breath and behold... Janis!

Yeah, I named my miniSpinner.  What of it?

I love my miniSpinner!  She spins well, she's quiet, the craftsmanship is outstanding, my spinning time has been more productive, my yarn is beautifully consistent & I'm not in pain! Set up in Scotch tension, I have lots of control over my spinning, whether I'm using the Hansen flyer or the Woolee Winder that I purchased with it.

My spinning output has gone through the roof! Especially during the 'remodel all the things' portion of our moving experience, I could grab Janis & a braid of fiber, spin for a bit, then tuck it all safely away in our hutch when it was time to work on trim or organization or that one time the ceiling fell in in our kitchen... But that's neither here, nor there.

First, I spun up the sample that was included with the miniSpinner.  Beautiful fiber from Abstract Fiber - which I need more of in the future! Such an easy spin!

My first full braid was spun on the Hansen flyer, a lilac & gray braid from Phoenix Fiber Co.  I love the finished yarn, but it took some doing.  I learned the ever-important lesson of making sure you know what direction your flyer is turning before you set twist to your fiber (and how easy it is to get that wrong on an e-spinner...).

When you spin yarn, you spin your single in one direction and, if you have a plyed yarn, ply in the opposite direction.  The opposing twist energy makes the yarn balanced and helps it hold together.  On a treadle wheel, you have to check this every time you start to treadle and I've never had a problem going the wrong way.  On the miniSpinner, the direction of twist is set using a little lighted switch on the front of the miniSpinner: green light denotes the flyer will move clockwise, red light denotes the flyer will move counter-clockwise.  I remember pushing in the switch, but must have held it past red, when it alternated green again.  So instead of adding twist in the opposite direction, I added MORE twist in the first direction.

This is why this was a bad thing:

Instead of looking like yarn, it looked like lilac and grey ramen.  There was nothing to be done with this mess.  Knitting with it would have been folly and even weaving with it would have been undesirable, not to mention I don't weave!  All that twist was out of control and causing each strand of fiber to push away from the others (instead of twisting toward each other).  I was a little distraught when I realized what I had done.

Thanks to some super helpful gals on Ravelry, I got some pointers on how to fix this.

After a while in time-out, I decided to try again.  If you ever make the same mistake, ping me on Rav & I'll explain how I fixed it!  It wasn't a quick fix, but it worked & transformed this twisty, ramen mess into this lovely finished yarn!

Next up, this gem-toned Loop bump.

Janis is a sexy lil thing, is she not?

Because I was on such a roll, I felt confident I could spin up this lovely gradient from Fiber Optic Yarns & not botch it too badly.

It worked out pretty well & happily worked into a lovely shawl when I was done!

Within a few weeks, I'd nearly spun as much yarn as I had the entire year previous!  I was feeling pretty confident (as long as I had my green/red button situation worked out) and decided I was ready to participate in Tour de Fleece.

The Tour de Fleece is a completely made-up fun thing for spinners, whether you spin on a wheel or a spindle, or both.  The basic idea is that each year during the Tour de France, you will set a personal spinning goal to challenge yourself, just like the athletes competing do.  Every day that the tour rides is a spinning day, rest days are exactly that, and challenge days should bring some sort of challenge.  Each spinner sets their own goals & we all cheer each other on via social media.  At the end, hopefully, you've got some lovely spinning done and some teams even give out prizes!  (If you just want to ogle some GORGEOUS color in handspun yarn or prepared fiber, check out #tourdefleece2016 on Instagram.  Even if you're not a spinner or knitter - so much pretty on there!)

With the idea of truly challenging myself in mind (and the fresh-in-my-mind amount of wool to be spun in my newly moved & reorganized fleece stash... cough), I decided to spin one of the sweater quantities of top that I had been keeping 'until I was a good enough spinner'.  The time is now! (...was then? Whatever.)

I pulled out 2 1/2 pounds of Corriedale top, dyed by Louet.  I fell in love this silver gray the moment I saw it!

Humble beginnings

Over the course of the next 3 weeks, 5 bags of wool (like the one above) transformed into 6 bobbins of lovely singles, waiting to be plyed!

Neon bobbins are by Akerworks.  Their products are awesome & you should check them out!
After a brief rest from spinning all that, I plyed in August and ended up with a squishy, sweater-sized pile of aran-weight deliciousness.

If you want all the juicy details, check out my progress page.

I hope to cast on my first ever hand-spun, hand-knit sweater before the end of the year!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Block(ing) Party - 3 things I really like

It's been more than a hot minute since I've shared some thoughts here.  That's because it's been a whirlwind spring & summer. I promise I'll update soon!

With fall in full swing, most of trees disrobing, and frost on my windshield these last few days, it is safe to say that winter is coming.  You know what that means: Sweater Weather!

In preparation for sweata weatha, I always tell myself that I'm going to wash, block & de-pill all of my sweaters at the beginning of the season so they are nice and fresh.  It's a good thought, but never happens the way I imagine, for various reasons.  This year, I was determined to make it a reality.

Now, I'm not totally crazy, so I'm gonna pace myself and wash a few sweaters at a time. Namely, 3-4 at a time, because that's the number of sweater dryers I have.  I've finally found a process that works for me & some great products that I have to rave about, so I decided to write it all up!

Pick a few sweaters.
Check your stash of wool wash.
Find your washing receptacles.
Grab some clean towels or other drying helpers.
Set up your drying space.

I grabbed the 4 sweaters that I tend to wear most often, because they probably needed the most TLC.  I run water a little warmer than body temperature, because water needs to be warmer than body temperature to break down the oils your skin produces.  I'm careful not to agitate and I've yet to have anything felt unintentionally while handwashing.

I use these buckets to wash my handknits in.  They are smooth on the inside, so no fear of snagging, and the handle comes in quite handy.  They are set aside, only used for washing handknits and finishing handspun yarn (they live with my set-aside dishwashing gloves and plunger that are only used for fulling & felting).  They are a little dark inside, so if you're concerned with seeing the water while the item is marinating, you might want to go with these instead.

I recently discovered the wonder of Unicorn Clean and I'm in love!  After years of using no-rinse washes that I was confident in, I was SHOCKED at the difference in the result.  My sweaters are SO clean & SO soft now.  Even the more rustic wools are softer!

I add 3 gallons and 3 tbsp of Beyond Fibre Wash to each bucket for each sweater, drop the sweater in on top of the water, and ignore it for at least 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes (or so...), I check the sweaters to be sure they are submerged.  If not, I gently hold them until the water until they stop bubbling and then ignore them for another 30 minutes (or so...).

When I remember, I come back, pour out the wash waster and squeeze out the sweater a bit - wool holds a LOT of water!  I then add 2-ish gallons of tepid water and a dab of Beyond Soft to the bucket.  I shove the sweater over to one side and do the pouring to the other side - I try to avoid pouring straight onto the wool, just to be safe.  Then I get to doing something else & leave the sweaters soaking until I remember them, then pour out the rinse water and squeeze the excess out of the garment as well.

At this point, lots of people will tell you to roll the handknit in a towel & stand on it, repeating until you stop getting ridiculous amounts of water out of it, then lay it out, smooth it into shape & leave it to dry.  I'm not lots of people and I found the towel method left my sweaters damp for days.  Yuck.

At this point, I'm going to tell you to do one of two things:
  1. If have a washer WITHOUT an agitator, that you can set to spin only, do that!
  2. If not, buy one of these: Mini Portable Countertop Spin Dryer
I love this little thing!  The hubs got one for me a few years ago and it has been a great investment for such a helpful item!  I use it to spin water out of handknits and handspun, as well as delicates.  It does a great job & cuts drying time more than in half.

I spin each sweater separately and then lay it out to dry on a sweater dryer - another inexpensive little tool that will cut down on drying time.  I have allergies to mold & mildew, and I can't stand the thought of either taking hold on a nice, clean handknit because it took 12 days to dry.  I really like these sweater dryers because they stack if you get more than one, but they also collapse down when you aren't using them.

When the sweater is totally dry, I grab my Gleener and give it some love, removing fuzz and pills (and a fair bit of embedded dog & people hair to boot!).  I prefer the Gleener to a sweater shaver because those can grab the yarn & eat a hole in your handknit (*sobs*).

After the Gleening is done, if the sweater is superwash or has a tendency to grow while I'm wearing it like some fibers do (superwash merino, I'm lookin' at you!), I throw the *bone dry* sweater in the dryer for about 5 minutes on low heat.  


Yes, I put my sweater in the dryer.  After it is BONE DRY and ONLY after it's BONE DRY.  This helps the yarn bounce back into shape and you get the bonus of pulling a toasty warm sweater out of the dryer & onto your body.  Who doesn't like warm clothes just out of the dryer in cooler weather?

So, that's how I wash my knits.  Do you have any other tips?  I'd love to hear 'em in the comments.