Sunday, April 29, 2007

Currently UFO

I have a pile of unfinished projects.

  1. A set of 7 "burp" pads for a co-worker expecting in June (I have two finished and have started #3)
  2. The second red sock. I'm ready to turn the heel but must go back to my notes from the first one and figure out what I did.
  3. The cotton lace shawl. I'm about 1/3 into the length I want for the center panel. Then I have to put a border around it and I think I want something that resembles leaves.
  4. The white merino lace shawl. I haven't picked it up in at least a month.
  5. Baby booties (a set of three) for another friend expecting a baby in October. I have one pair and one sock finished.
  6. Round baby blanket for the same friend who is getting the baby socks.
  7. A green sweater for me. It's being knit in the round based on very simple EZ directions. It's so simple it just has a rolled edge at the bottom.

I THINK that's all I have on the needles right now but there is some sock yarn screaming at me from the basket of sock yarn. It's purple.

Helping out

My dad broke his hand and cut his arm last week. He is now in a soft cast for about 6 weeks and feeling generally miserable because the doctor told him he cannot drive.

Nor can he help out for a while at the animal shelter. He's one of their go-to people and he's feeling badly that he has somehow let them down. I'm sure they will wait for him to get better and will be glad to have him back.

Anyway, there are things around mom and dad's house that they just can't handle at this minute, so Matthew and I went over there this morning and mowed the lawn, mowed in the orchard and weed whacked the front garden and part of the orchard before the weed whacker ran out of juice. Ken is going over this week to use the chainsaw on some downed trees.

Yesterday Matthew spent the day skateboarding with friends. He's getting pretty good at it.

It gave me an opportunity to do some spinning. I'm working on the second half of the grey "fancy" alpaca. For this second half I'm spinning much finer. I'm aiming for lace weight in two ply. So far so good. I must note however that even after a good washing (and it is remarkably cleaner), my finger tip and thumb are black after about 20 minutes of spinning. There is still a lot of dirt in the fleece.

I think after this grey one is finished I will work on the "red" one. Ken really likes it and seems to be hinting that he would like something made from it. I don't know if I have enough to make a sweater or vest out of it, but could probably make him a cabled scarf. Or, if I blend it with some wool, I might get a nice pair of socks out of it for him.

Anyway, I'm going to sit down shortly and do a bit more spinning.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Washing Day?

It's 7:48 a.m.

I've been up since 5:30 a.m.

I'm waiting for Ken to get up.

Yesterday I purchased materials to make a drying rack for my fibers. He told me he was going to hurry home from his granddaughter's party yesterday and help me assemble it yesterday. Didn't happen.

He said he was going to get up early today and cut up trees that feel down in the yard (the apple tree and part of the plum), remove the mimosa trees (scruff stuff that justs takes over), and cut up some more of the pecan and get me some heartwood so I can take it to Jonathan Bosworth to see if it can be made into spindles. He's not up yet.

I need to use the table saw to cut my two by fours down to one by twos. I have never used it and don't want to screw this up, so I'm waiting.

It's supposed to be near 80 degrees this afternoon, so I also plan to set up a washing station in the yard and get some of this alpaca washed and at least get it starting to dry. I plan to cover it with some old sheer curtains while drying so it doesn't blow away. I can toss a tarp over it at night to keep the dew off.

Hark! I hear his footsteps overhead. He's up. Time to get to work!

Here is the washing station (and a picture of Ken)

This is how we are heating water for it.

Here is the alpaca in the first wash. Dirty, dirty water resulted.

Here is the first rinse water.

And here is the alpaca out on our cheater's version of a drying rack. I took the screen and laid it over the frame of a camping cot. Worked just fine.

Doesn't the fiber look like flattened road kill rats after a rainstorm?
It is now 7:59 p.m. I am sunburnt but happy. By the way, clean dry alpaca fiber is fluffy and light and loverly stuff. I will never spin unwashed stuff again if I can help it.

Outdoor spinning

If you spin and you haven't gone outside with your wheel or spindle on a beautiful Spring day, please do yourself a favor and do it.

Yesterday afternoon around 2 p.m. I carried my wheel (very carefully) down the stairs and out the front door. I sat on my front porch (because I don't have a back porch) and worked on the alpaca fiber project.

Time flew.

I set a timer because I was also cooking dinner.

I got up every 30 minutes or so. Once I fed the birds. Once I got up to fill the hummingbird feeder (they are back and I got buzzed by one hungry one yesterday). A couple of times I checked on the roast. Once I cut up sweet potatoes and put them on to simmer. I also put together a low fat no-bake cheesecake and stuck it in the freezer.

None of that is in the order I did it...but I did manage to do all that between the early afternoon and 6 p.m. when I finished plying two bobbins together.
Here is a view from my front porch.

I think I did very well, as I completed one bobbin of singles and plyed the two together and fixed a nice meal in 3 hours. The first bobbin took me two weeks of snatches of spinning minutes here and there.

And sitting on the front porch meant I got to hear the birds singing (I'm convinced they were singing for me because I fed them). I got to look at the beautiful flowers in the garden. I got a little sunlight on my skin. It really was a lovely afternoon.

Matt came home with his friend, Joey, around 3 but disappeared into the house to work on homework since they wanted to go to a play in the evening and weren't going anywhere until the work was done.

Ken rolled in from his granddaughter's 12th birthday party around 5. He wanted to know why the wheel was down on the porch. Watching me work for a while, I think he understood because it was very pleasant for the two of us to sit there on the porch, sipping beer and wine and chatting while I spun.

The finished skein measured out to 196 yards. I used about half the "Fancy" alpaca fiber. I plan to weigh it after it is dry. Then I have to call Heather and get her address because this first skein is hers.

Alpaca spinning

I finished spinning and plying the first half of the Fancy alpaca fiber. I got 196 yards from it. It is very, very nice. When the skein is dry I am going to weigh it to see how much fiber it actually consumed.

I learned several things from this first go round:
  1. Some folks say you don't need to wash alpaca first. If you plan to put it through your drum carder, you do need to wash it first. I am looking a big cleaning job to get all the dirt out of my poor carder.
  2. Alpaca is really nice stuff to spin.
  3. VM missed in the prep work, really slows down the spinning. Better to get as much out as possible before you sit down at the wheel.
  4. If I slow down my treadling, I get softer yarn (ah ha!)
  5. Plying really does hide many issues.
  6. Second cuts suck and should be removed prior to spinning or they make nubs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Backpacking at MS&W

I've been reading the many posts on the Spinners Yahoo Group List and soaking up all the various suggestions for getting the most out of whole Maryland Sheep and Wool Fest Extravaganza.

It is obvious that strollers and babies are out. The stollers take up too much square footage and babies are just not appreciative enough of fiber, apparently.

Some folks, however, recommend that you bring rolling duffle bags to carry your shopping acquisitions. I'm thinking that a rolling duffle or rolling suitcase takes up about the same amount of footage as a stroller, so they are probably not the best choice.

So, considering my shopping list contains stuff that is mainly fiber (i.e. squishable) I will bring my bright yellow gym bag backpack duffle. It is waterproof so can protect my purchases from accidental soda spills, llama spit and rain drops.

It is recommended that folks also bring bottled water and a snack and that meals should be eaten at times when meals are not normally eaten as the lines to purchase food are long and that takes away from shopping time. I can successfully manage this I think, as my new job often requires a delayed lunch break, so my stomach is not as much on a time clock as it used to be. A solid, protein packed breakfast helps, however.

I'm bringing in a chunk of wood -- specifically heart wood from the giant pecan tree that died following a lighting strike two summers ago and we had taken down last summer. This chunk is going to find its way to Sheila and Jonathan Bosworth's booth and IF it is doable, I am commissioning Jonathan to make some spindles from it. Ken has promised to cut out a suitable chunk this weekend.

I am also going to hunt down the folks in Barn Five with the Shetland wool. I really like nice shetland and have only been able to get my hands on small quanities of it.

Over all I want to get samplings... an ounce or two of a wide variety of fibers. I do want silk and flax but am seeking the ULTIMATE blending fiber for the alpaca for socks. It may take some researching.

Well, must run. Lots of alpaca to spin yet. I'm about 1/3rd of the way through the Fancy Alpaca. I am really liking how the singles are coming out. The plied stuff is going to be awesome (if I do say so myself.).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech horror

My niece is a student at Virginia Tech.

She is okay.

The family (both immediate and extended) is a bit numb; a bit traumatized, a bit shocked...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The combs

These were custom made for me. Guess what I paid?

Would you believe a bottle of my homemade mead and the promise to come in July and do a spinning demonstration?
The fellow/fellows who made them are from the Hughlett-Tavern Group and are involved in helping keep the art of blacksmithing alive. If you join the Blacksmithing Guild (for a miniscule amount of money - I THINK it's $25 a year), you get to take free blacksmithing lessons.
I went up there a few months ago carrying Alden Amos' book and some catalogs that showed combs for sale (which is why I know these fellows know how much they are worth). They called last weekend to say they were ready.
Anyway, if you're not in a hurry... they only work two or three days a week... and you want a good deal on some Viking-style combs... let me know, I'll get you an estimate. Or, if you want to venture down to the Northern Neck of Virginia some Saturday... they are open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and they'll teach you how to make them yourself.

Bird Nests

There is a Nor'Easter bearing down on us. The weather folk are predicting torrential rains, dropping temperatures, some late snow and winds gusting to 40 mph.

I moved my car so it is not under any trees.

I'm going to the store shortly to get some lunch meat and bread and powdered milk. If we lose power, we can at least eat. I will also fill my car with gasoline and bring in the camping cook stove and get the sleeping bags out of the front room.

I'm also going by the blacksmith shop to see if my wool combs are ready. Ken said they called last week but I had headed off to get my alpaca fiber so wasn't able to hook up with them last Saturday.

But, while standing at my front door looking out at the yard thinking that I really should go out and cut some fresh flowers before they are FLATTENED, I noticed the birds.

The poor little things are flashing about madly grabbing up nest material. They were trying to bite off bits from some plastic yarn we used last year to tied up some plants to no avail. So I took some of the fiber trash out and scattered it about the garden and hung some from the trellis.

The finches just love the alpaca second cuts. They are stuffing their little mouths FULL of the short little tuffs of fiber and flying off to tuck in. There are some small sparrows who are after the longer fibers (the stuff that is so full of vm I can't even deal with it). I guess they figure they are getting a little grain snack to go with the lining material.

It will be interesting to examine the abandonned nests we find next Fall and Winter to learn how they used all these things.

A Goal

I'm spinning up this experimental batch of wonderful heathered grey alpaca fiber and I've come to realize some things.
First and foremost: If my handspun yarn was homemade bread, I'd be eating bricks. Beyond that, I'm learning:
  1. The more fiber you have on hand, the more willing you are to experiment with it

  2. The more fiber you have on hand the more ruthless you can be about tossing out bits that are trash, leaving you with "cream."

  3. I want to learn to spin a loftier and softer yarn.

To the end of #3, I started doing an analysis of my favorite commercial yarns. An easy, familiar one to pick on is Knit Picks stuff.

  1. It is four ply

  2. Each skein is 50 grams (that's about 1.8 ounces)

  3. Different fiber contents yield different yardages... for example: Merino Style (100% Merino Wool) is 123 yards per skein. Gloss, made of 70% Merino and 30% Silk, on the other hand, is 220 yards per skein. While Wool of the Andes (100% Peruvian Wool) is 110 yards per skein.

Right now my handspinning is using 3 to 6 ounces for 100 yards. Talk about chunks! My skeins are like bricks! And the yarn is NOT as soft as I would like. So I have to do better.

So,I pick apart these various commercial yarns (unraveling the individual plies) and I find that each individual ply is actually pretty fine. Each ply individually is also pretty dense and it appears the fibers are carded, not combed. Each ply is a bit smaller in diameter than I can currently spin on the wheel (I'm getting better but have a way to go.

I will eventually get there because I can see that I am improving. I can spin that finely on a spindle, so I will get there on the wheel if I keep working at it.

It would be nice to get a lot more yarn out of a lot less fiber.

More so, it will be very nice to get lovely, soft, lofty yarn.

I'm glad I have a lot to practice on.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Alpaca fiber

This is some nice stuff.

I'm working on the "fancy" alpaca first.

It's dirty. My fingers are black when I'm done spinning a few batts.

It has VM... it's annoying but I'm getting better at picking the stuff out.

Most annoying are the many second cuts. I plan to call my source before too long (certainly before May when they plan to shear again) and advise her that she needs to strongly encourage her shearer to avoid second cuts.

I'm dealing with the static electricity by layering the fiber with dryer sheets. I stuffed some dryer sheets in the original bag with the fiber. Then after I pull some locks out and remove as many second cuts as I can and as much VM as I can, I layer the locks between the dryer sheets in a basket near the drum carder and leave it overnight.

The second day, I run it through the drum carder (usually twice but sometimes three times if I think it needs it). I'm getting batts between 3 and 4 ounces. I'm rolling these up in little nests and laying the nests between layers of dryer sheets.

It is utterly amazing how much dirt comes out of this stuff. Lots of dust is left behind in the drum carder (the vaccuum cleaner helps with that).

I shake the batt gently before I roll it into a nest and more dirt and vm comes out. Then, when I spin, I put a cloth in my lap. Wow... lots and lots of dirt and vm come out.

Just for experimental purposes, I washed two of the nested batts. This is going to be gorgeous yarn. I just hope the dirt comes out of the spun stuff.

Mother Frustrations

Okay, I'm bitching here.

I'm frustrated.

I'm annoyed with my son. I'm annoyed by the U.S. Army and I'm angry I can't step in and fix things.

He's in the Army. He's at Fort Gordon. He's supposed to be in school working on his MOS (don't ask me what that stands for) but he's supposed to be learning to be computer specialist. He signed in for six years to get that training. He made it through boot camp at Fort Knox. He was supposed to go to Fort Gordon in Georgia, finish his training by March and then get an assignment somewhere.

I should be grateful, I suppose, that he's not in Iraq or Afganistan. But he's basically sitting on his ass doing nothing. He's not in school because they lost the paperwork (he says). Then, just when they were supposed to get everything straightened out and he was supposed to start school again (he was recycled due to illness twice); he stupidly let himself and his buddy get running so late at the PX (this is NOT new behavior in this young man, mind you); they were racing back to get to formation in time and he dashed out in front of a car and got hit.

Or so he reports. He says he hurt his shoulder and needs to have surgery... and yet today he called and complained that he was asleep and the commander made him do pushups! I'm sorry, this makes no sense to me and I'm not sure anymore that I can believe anything he tells me... but because he's 18 years old... I no longer have the right to request an inquiry (believe me, I tried, but my Congresswoman's aide explained that requests for inquiries must come from him because he is no longer a minor).

So, I'm glad he's not in Iraq or Afganistan... but I'm sort of anxious that he's messing up pretty bad, is scared to tell me and is soon to be drummed out. I can't imagine the Army (even under the best of circumstances) letting him goof off for six years.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Alpaca Heaven

First, my apologies for not posting before now. It has been too long.

Second, today was one of those days when miracles really did happen.

First of all we had snow this morning. And it's APRIL! Over two inches came down and we lost power about 8 a.m. It did not come back on for about three hours but finally came back. The weather folks are predicting a hard frost tonight (20 degrees) which will probably kill all the fruit tree blossoms, but with luck the other spring flowers will survive.

I took a picture of the tulips in the snow, but it was so dark, and the wind was blowing so hard, you couldn't tell they were tulips, much less that they were in the snow.
It's now 5:24 p.m. and all the snow is gone. It got up to 45 degrees today.

This is a good thing because I made a very special trip in the early afternoon.

I met up with Heather and her husband in Saluda (about halfway between our two homes).

Heather and family raise alpacas. Heather crochets but does not knit and she does not yet spin. For the last five years she has been shearing her alpacas and her llama and storing the fleeces. That's five years of six alpaca fleeces, folks!

We met via a mutual friend who knew this would be a very special match. Heather and hubby arrived in Saluda shortly before I did (and I was a half hour early!). Their vehicle was stuffed with bags of fiber. I came home with about half.

The deal is that my other friend (T) in Pennsylvannia who also recently learned to spin and I are going to spin up this fiber. We get to keep half. The other half (once spun) goes back to Heather.

So here are pictures of what I came home with (and I honestly didn't bring all of what she brought simply because I didn't have room) and she said she only brought along about a third of what she has at home. And last month they bought another seven alpacas and will be shearing in May. That's 13 alpacas and one llama, folks!

If she is happy with what we spin for her, T and I are set for life!

Here are some pictures:

Cria locks and looking into the bag of the Cria fiber. 1.5 pounds.

Black fleece and black lock (This stuff is almost blue it is so black). 1.5 pounds.

Fancy fleece and fancy locks (two versions) (2 pounds)

Fawn Fleece and locks (about 4 pounds)

White Fleece with locks (about 2 pounds)

Llama Fleece bag and locks (about 5 pounds)
Okay, T, tell me which bags you want to tackle.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

So tired

It's been a while since I got sick. It's been even longer since I felt like a used up washcloth.

I started feeling under the weather last week and left work early on Tuesday because of a sinus issue. I didn't feel any better on Wednesday so I stayed home all day. Thursday I felt even worse as the cold was making its way into my chest. Friday I went to work for about four hours but was exhausted before I even arrived as my venture out in the car exposed me to pollen (EVERYTHING is blooming here) and I was having coughing fit after coughing fit.

Finally, at noon, my co-workers sent me home.

I came home and took some Tussah that had been prescribed by my doctor last time I had unrelenting coughing fits. Had the cough been a productive one, I would have just suffered through it knowing that it was actually helping to do something useful. But this was a reaction to postnasal drip and pollen. I don't know what is in that cough medicine but it takes about an hour to kick in and then I am unconscious for about 12 hours. Then, it just stops working.

If you are better at that point, you just don't take anymore. If you are still coughing your lungs out for no reason, you take another dose and check out again.

I didn't take anymore yesterday as the coughing had abated but I felt very, very tired and just camped on the couch with my various knitting projects.

I currently have five projects in the works:
  1. The cotton lace shawl that I'm inventing as I go.
  2. The Tiger Owl (AKA: Owl Scarf) Scarf.
  3. The red socks.
  4. The green sweater that I'm also inventing as I go.
  5. The White Kimono Shawl

I did finish the little elf booties.

I worked on all of the UFOs except the Kimono Shawl.

I took some of my excess yarn upstairs.

I did no spinning. Just the idea of sitting in a chair and treadling seemed exhausting.

Today I felt much better and went to the grocery store and as I started down the third aisle wondered if I was going to faint or make it home at all. I felt dizzy and weak kneed the whole rest of my shopping trip. I'm glad I had a cart to hold on to. I did manage to finish my shopping and got through the check out and got home. But Matt had to bring in all the bags and put stuff away so I could lie down for a while.

I MUST got back to work tomorrow. This cold really needs to let go of me now.