Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spinning Yarns...


But before the yarn and spinning talk, let me first address a minor change in the decor that you may have noticed when you opened Virgin Wool today. There's a new ticker up there, prompted by a suggestion from knitting pal (blogless) Issy. I have moved my knitting ticker down to the very bottom of the blog, and the new spinning ticker takes its place at the top, since that's my current passion, and also because some would argue that after a certain amount of time has elapsed, one cannot call oneself a novice knitter anymore. Ahem.

But even as the buried knitting ticker fades into the obscurity that is a blog footer, I feel I should point out a momentous event that occurred recently:

Sunday was my 3-year knitiversary!
My, how time flies....

I'm so glad that I found fiber crafts, even if at an age when most knitters have been doing their craft for 30+ years. The hobby itself has brought me much pleasure, but more than that, it's introduced me to many wonderful knitters and knit-bloggers and widened my circle of friends exponentially. It's influenced my shopping and spending habits, how I spend my free time, how I spend my time on the internet (Ravelry much?), what I read, where I go on Tuesday nights, where and how and what I do when I travel.... I could go on, but I'm sure you know what I mean, if you're a knitter. If not, you can get an idea by reading the archives of my blog or any of the thousands of other knitting blogs out there.

So, anyway, once again, for the third year in a row, I offer my heart-felt thanks to my sister-in-law Jenny who three years ago gave me a learn-to-knit kit for my birthday and taught me to knit three days later on her birthday, and ultimately created a monster. :-)

I am learning that with the fiber arts, one never says never. When I first learned to knit and soon thereafter discovered that there are people out there who, in this day-and-age still spin their own yarn (!), I thought to myself, I will never do that.

Hee hee!

Now that I've learned how to spin and am reading the associated spinning books and magazines, I'm thinking that the ruling out of weaving way-back-when was also a silly declaration. However, there will be no rush to learn to weave, since my tiny house can't even fit a spinning wheel!

I'm just keeping an open mind....

Okay, now it's time to show my first two finished yarns spun on my Womack Butterfly spinner:

The white 2-ply is mostly Corriedale with a little mystery wool thrown in towards the end. It is under-plied is many places, and started out slightly coarse, but softened up nicely after a wash with Eucalan and hair conditioner. I haven't yet measured the yardage or the WPI, but it's about 4 6 oz., probably about worsted weight, which, by some estimates makes it roughly 225-300 400 yards. It seems like a lot of yarn to me, so my guess is it's on the high end of that range.

I might dye it, maybe with some Wilton's food coloring. Or I might leave it as-is. I think it might make a nice Urchin hat, perhaps if held doubled, since that pattern calls for super bulky....

The blue-green 2-ply is the merino I showed in my last post. It was a delight to spin, is also under-plied in many places, and I also don't yet know the yardage or WPI. But again, it's about 4 oz., and probably sport weight, so roughly 300-450 yards. I'm thinking it's on the low end of that range -- definitely doesn't weigh as much as the white yarn. But now I'm thinking the white yarn might actually be closer to 5 oz.

I really need to measure and weigh this stuff.

Anyway, more photos:

After I plied and washed everything, I immediately started spinning some more fiber in my stash:

That's the most gorgeously-dyed fiber I've laid my eyes on in recent memory. Of course the photos don't do it justice, but I just love how it's almost iridescent, like an oil slick. It's 4 oz. of 100% merino that I purchased from a gal up at Susan's Fiber Shop Spinning Retreat back in March.

Gorgeous, right? After my good experience with that first batch of merino, I was really looking forward to spinning this lovely stuff, but quickly discovered that not all hand-dyed merinos are created equal, especially if one is partially FELTED! Ack!! I'm still spinning it, but, if spinning that last merino was like butter, then spinning this stuff is like, well, trying to spin felted merino, for lack of a better metaphor.

The first half is done -- here it is on the bobbin:

And I'm a little ways into the second bobbin, although tonight I'm taking a break from it, because frankly, my hands, wrists and fingers are aching from trying to draft that stuff, even after pre-drafting the hell out of it. I have another batch of fiber in a different colorway from the same gal. It's also gorgeously dyed. I'm crossing my aching fingers that it's not also felted....

Note to self: ply the HECK out of this, when the time comes.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Keeping up with the Peloton....

This weekend finds me continuing to "compete" in the Tour de Fleece, although it's not so much a competition with other spinners as a personal challenge to practice and improve my own spinning skills. It's been a fun challenge, thus far.

I did find out, sort of accidentally, that there are actually two different Tour de Fleece challenges out there on the internet. The first one I linked to the other day:

and another, different one that I found via its Ravelry group:

I've joined them both, because the goals are essentially the same -- you spin every day of the race, take a break during the days of rest, (if you want), and try to meet a personal challenge along the way.

I had no plans to watch the actual race:

but yesterday when I sat down to spin it happened to be on tv, (on Versus - channel 2 on Comcast digital cable in Richmond), so I watched it. I don't really understand all the intricacies of the race, but I'm learning, and the French countryside is quite lovely, and that last kilometer of each day's stage is always exciting, so it's a pleasant sporting event to watch. All those fit young men aren't hard on the eyes, either.

Yesterday I finished up my bobbin of white fiber, cramming on as much as I possibly could, before the arms of the flyer started rubbing against the yarn while turning -- a clear indication that I'd reached the limit of its capacity:

I haven't plied it yet -- I was too eager to get started on something with color. I did talk to Nathan Lee of WooLee Winder on Friday about the problem with the flyer winding on unevenly, and he talked me through how to tweak it so that it will load more evenly with the next bobbin.

So, are you wondering what I picked to spin next? I went with my heart, and picked the superwash merino that my head was telling me to "save" until I was more experienced. But, it's so lovely, how could I not spin this right away?

And just by sheer coincidence, the aptly-named colorway is French-inspired:

and reminds me of my favorite painting:

The Artist's Garden at Giverny, Claude Monet

I hope to visit France and Giverny someday. My grandmother was French, (a WWI war bride), my dad speaks fluent French, but I've never been there. It's on my bucket list.

But I digress....

This morning I turned on the race again and watched their first day on the slopes of the Pyrenees, while I relaxed on the couch with a cat on my lap and spun my merino. Here's what I have so far:

The bobbin looks a little lumpy because of my choice of leader yarn, a rookie mistake I won't make with the next one.

While spinning this morning, I had an epiphany, a breakthrough, a "Eureka!" moment. I had just read last night someone's description on how to do long draw drafting, a skill I really hoped to gain at some point, but was sure would take years of spinning and perhaps several classes with master teachers to acquire. But this morning while spinning and watching those racers on a downhill stretch, I was thinking about what I'd read last night, and before I realized what was happening, my hands figured out what to do, seemingly all on their own. I can now long-draw! I find it hard to express how much this thrills me, and how much I feel it opens up possibilities for me; all I can say is, this totally rocks.

O, joy!

Today, I feel like I've not only kept up with the peloton (the pack), I've actually broken away to take the lead and win the yellow jersey.

Lance knows what I'm talkin' about....

Friday, July 11, 2008

My first bobbin full

singles spun from 100% Corriedale top
on my new Womack Butterfly electric spinner

No, your eyes are not deceiving you -- that is definitely an uneven bobbin, with more yarn on the left (front) than on the right (back). From my preliminary investigation, (searching in the Ravelry forums using the keywords "WooLee Winder uneven"), this is apparently not unusual for a new WW, and will apparently work itself out as the WooLee Winder flyer gets broken in. I hope that's true. Otherwise, I'll be contacting the WW folks for advice and perhaps a repair. I need to order more bobbins from them anyway....

I also need to order some spinning wheel oil and a tensioned Lazy Kate. I'm open to recommendations.

I've been spinning every day for at least an hour, since the start of Tour de Fleece last Saturday, and I'm really enjoying it. It's very relaxing, and I could keep at it for longer, but during the work-week, I tend to get sleepy in the evenings after an hour or two of spinning. I do look forward to finishing up this bobbin. (Experienced spinners: should I consider this bobbin already finished, since the front is full?)

In any case, once finished, I will then wind it into a center-pull ball and ply it to itself, (that is, if I've given the singles enough twist so that they don't fall apart during plying. Fingers crossed.)

My next minor dilemma is a good problem to have: what to spin next? The prettiest hand-painted fibers I currently own all happen to be merino, but I'm thinking that I should maybe stick with long-stapled fibers for awhile. I'm uninspired by the BFL, Targhee and Rambouillet in my stash, and I'm saving my Polwarth until I feel much more proficient with the spinner. Should I wait for the BFL that I just ordered to arrive? Dare I try the merino?

An announcer's deep voice cuts in, accompanied by dramatic organ music:
  • What will Mary do?
  • How will this saga unfold?
  • Which fiber will Mary pick?
  • Tune in next time to find out!


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Butterfly in da howse!

My Womack Butterfly electric spinner is now out of its box and situated in its rightful place on my coffee table, next to the couch:

Now I can actually lay on the couch and spin while I watch tv! How great is that? Can I get any lazier? ;-)

So, let me introduce you to my Butterfly.

Here is the motor end of the device, covered in a cute woven material:

Those buttons on top, front to back, are: the on/off switch, the speed dial, the clockwise/counter-clockwise switch, and the fuse.

The drive band connected to the rotor on the front is a stretchy clear plastic, much like what you find on a Lendrum wheel.

The flyer is a WooLee Winder:

which is probably the most ingenious invention to hit yarn-making since the spinning wheel. I highly recommend it. Basically, it allows one to continually spin and draft without having to stop and change hooks. It also allows more yarn on the bobbin, because it fills it so evenly. And the best thing about this particular WooLee Winder is that it and its bobbins will fit both Ashford and Lendrum wheels, and should I choose to go with either of those makers if/when I eventually get a wheel, I can use it interchangeably. Nice.

Right now I'm getting used to it by practicing with some plain white corriedale. I've found that, for me, right now, low speed, low tension, and spinning from the fold seems to work best to make the smoothest yarn. Not sure why that is -- I'd really prefer to spin from the end of the roving like I can when I'm spindle-spinning. But with the electric spinner, (and I think this is also true for me with wheels), I seem to get more neps and slubs when I spin from the end of the roving/top. Seems counter-intuitive, but somehow it's smoother, spinning from the fold. So, I have more stops and starts, feeding in new fiber to old more often, but the end result is better.

If you'd like to see videos of a Butterfly in motion, Northern Virginia knitter KSee has blogged about it here, including sharing two videos. The spinner really is that quiet, which is how it got its name -- quiet as a butterfly.

Back in March when I was attending the spinning retreat up in Wisconsin, I picked up a couple of pretty orifice hooks being sold by one of the talented and crafty ladies in attendance. So yesterday, when I realized that I would need an orifice hook for my new e-spinner, I remembered that I had the perfect one:

How cool is that?! If I had planned on finding a butterfly orifice hook to "match" my Butterfly spinner, I never would have found one. Gotta love how things work out.

I expect I'll get lots more practice with my e-spinner during the rest of this month. I've unofficially joined the Tour de Fleece challenge:

which basically just requires that you spin every day during the Tour de France. I'm "riding" for Team Rookie and going for the Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey).

And once I feel comfortable spinning that white Corriedale, I'm switching to one of my pretty hand-dyed rovings.

Should be fun!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

(full story here)

Have a fun and safe Fourth of July!

(Edited to add -- check out this great knitted flag hat!)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Holiday Toy

This has been a painfully slow week at work, and yesterday dragged particularly long, especially as I wasn't feeling all that well. So it was therefore the perfect afternoon for me to come home to this box on my front porch:

What could it be?

And what does that say?

Sounds interesting!

But what is under all those peanuts?

Is that wicker I spy?

It's my new Womack Butterfly electric spinner. I've left it in the box for now, but will be setting it up and taking it on its maiden voyage this weekend. Photos to follow.

Yippee! Happy Holiday weekend to ME! :-)