Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fiber to fabric

Natural and dyed felted eye candy

Interlocked threads transform to beautiful fabric

With a pile of roving in hand, why not needle felt it to make fabric? After our test drive on the felting machine, it was time for some production felting.

As we would be renting the felting machine at an hourly rate, the plan was to prepare as much as possible at home and take them ready to feed into the machine. Using Coopworth roving, we cross-hatched roving to form what I'm calling pseudo-batts. 
Layered roving prepped and ready to feed

We had 11 of these batts in total and transported them without a hitch. Most of them were large and naturally colored pieces. Three used colored roving. 

Getting the batts onto the bed of the felter sometimes required more than four hands, but, like the prep, it took doing it to figure out the best way to do it. Overall, they turned out exceedingly well and we're pleased with the results. 

Or, I should say, Kris is pleased. They're from her flock and  will be for sale at the upcoming Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. She'll be at the American Coopworth Registry booth, a shepherds' co-op, in the auction tent area.
Blue-green felt comes off the machine

But just because they're not mine doesn't stop me from thinking about what might I do with these pieces of felted wool. I can see embellishment--embroidery, felting, etc.--on the colored pieces, or maybe a hat. and the one with stripes? A hat. 

As for the bigger pieces, I see vests and sweaters--maybe with knitted sleeves. Paint them to add color. Or not.

These are all blank slates ready for the creative fiber artist 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pinelands Spring

Pinelands Spring cowl

Spin, span, spun....and beyond

After a long hiatus, I have regained some control over my knitting machine. Fortunately, I had kept it in a good location and it only needed a good cleaning. Not even a deep cleaning, which would have required disassembling the beast. Now it is performing well--at least as well as my skills can oversee. 

I acquired my machine during my time in London when I was doing my City and Guilds course. But once back in the States, I knit with it very little. Now, with a number of knit 'works-in-progress,' I am faced with the same dilemma as long ago. That is, lots of ideas and not enough time to execute even a fraction of them.

I continue to be surprised at the attitude of most knitters to machine knitting, who, by and large, look down upon any automation. For heaven's sake, the items don't knit themselves! Each project requires the same amount of planning and attention to detail as a handknit. Only the process may be faster. I say 'may' because there can be a great deal of time-sucking manipulation of stitches and manual work involved.

Getting my groove back

I started at the beginning on the knitting machine, relearning to cast on stitches. Then I knit samples. I knit lots of samples.

I have two near-term objectives. One is to knit sleeves for coat-weight handwoven fabric. I don't have enough yarn for the sleeves, so I'm now planning colorways and suitable knit fabrics that will complement, but not compete with, the coat.

Artful Color, Mindful Knits
by Laura Bryant
The other project is a jacket that I saw at Vogue Knitting Live in New York earlier this year. Designed and worn by speaker Laura Bryant, I particularly liked the pattern drape and design. It's on the cover--and in--her book,  Artful Color Mindful Knits, so promptly ordered on my return home. The key, she told the group, was the shaped arms and the collar. The body pieces are just rectangles--perfect for the machine.

I want to make a similar jacket, but the project won't be a small one. I'll need to dye yarn to achieve the color magic. (Note: This book is a wealth of information on working with hand-dyed yarns.) 

But before I embark on such a project, I need to know if I'll like the jacket design because it has dropped sleeves--and I generally HATE dropped-sleeve designs.) So today, I plan to do gauge samples, decide what stitch pattern I'll use and knit up the pieces. Only then will I know if I like it or not.
Pinelands Spring, stitch detail

What's done can be yours

Last week, I shared with you my journey spinning for knitting. And although I shared a photo of my first project off the machine, I didn't give a lot of detail. It was based on a stitch sample I had knit and some handspun Merino singles. I had 3.9 oz. of yarn, 16 wpi. 

It was my first foray spinning  Merino and it wasn't as evenly spun as I'd have liked, but as you can see in the detail at right, it doesn't stand out, thanks to the textured rib pattern. 

Pinelands Spring cowl
Pinelands Spring cowl was the project and, because I like it....a lot...I wrote out the pattern and posted it on Ravelry as a free download. It's perfect for handspun--even less-than-perfectly-spun handspun. 

And if you don't have a machine, but like the textured rib, maybe you can play around with a handknit rib that achieves an equally interesting texture. Time to play!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spinning to knit

Pinelands Spring cowl
Yarn: single ply handspun Merino

I have a basket full of handspun. Now what?

Last year, I had bags of roving piled in my studio. This year, the bags had been transformed into yarn. I am pretty much happy with the yarn, but the more I spun, the more satisfied I became. 

Over the years, I have spent far too much time dwelling on my frustration in spinning larger gauge yarns. As I was sharing this with other spinners, the reality hit me: I prefer to work with finer gauge yarns. Why do I need to spin larger gauge yarn? I don't. 
Yarn being wound from the bobbin

So after freeing myself from 'should do's,' I have moved on to focus on spinning fine to medium yarns for consistency. Should I get bored, I can add any number of challenges by spinning wool from different breeds. 

Consider the breed

Winter's Past Farm raises Coopworth sheep and I can't say enough good things about spinning their fleece. At the top of the list is 'easy to spin.' I also like the color, which accepts dye easily. I had some Tunis and found spinning that about the same as the Coopworth. Then I moved on to the Dorset, a down wool, and Merino, a fine wool, both with shorter staple lengths.

Then Romney, which I was gifted at the local guild's Rock Day celebration. Easy to spin but for one major negative totally attributable to the shearer. It was riddled with second cuts--short lengths of wool from the shearer's second pass on the sheep. The short fibers form noils, which defeat smooth, even yarns and are the very devil to pick out when spinning. 
Counting as I wind on

This year's focus was on spinning singles suitable for knitting. That meant taming the twist as much as possible. With this goal, I've been spinning these with a short draw with my wheel ratio set as slow as possible. 

My first project through to completion was Pinelands Spring  cowl knit with Merino singles on a knitting machine. The pattern itself adds an exaggerated stitch in the rib variation, which in itself adds texture but doesn't draw attention to any inconsistencies in the yarn. (If you like the pattern, it's available as a free download on Ravelry.)

Spinning data

Skein of Romney singles
After my bobbins are full, I wind them off and, as I do, I count the yardage. This yarn winder has pegs at 72 inches, which means each round holds 2 yards. I count them into groups of 50, adding markers so that if I get interrupted, I can confirm the length. After removing it from the winder, I twist it into a skein and add a tag with breed and length. (I add weight and wii during the weigh-in.)

I keep a record of my yarn that includes:

  • Date finished
  • Weight of the skein
  • Length of the yarn in the skein
  • Wraps per inch (wii)
  • Technique: Long draw, short draw, etc.
  • Final product: Singles, plied, etc.

As you can see in the skein at right, there is still some twist. For the cowl, I soaked the skein of Merino singles and hung it to dry with some weight on the bottom of the skein. The cowl has no discernible twist--none that I can tell anyway.