Friday, November 25, 2011

An Early Holiday Gift to Myself

Meet my new wheel!

After destashing some yarn this month, I was ready to fix up the old wheel.  I did some price check online and realized it would cost me $200 to get a new Flyer Unit, a Lazy Kate plus other parts that it needed to start running.  That would be a good chunk of money for something I wasn't even sure if it would be worth it at all.  I almost went for it, but just wasn't so sure, so I kept putting off ordering the parts.

Last week I found out a yarn store in a nearby town is closing :(  I read that everything in the store was 25% off.  Noticing that they sold Ashford wheels on their website,  I called them up to see if they had any spinning wheel parts.  They didn't, but as it turned out the owner was selling its new Ashford Traveller SD floor model for $400.  It came with manufactured lacquer finish.  It was more than what I was hoping to spend when I first thought about fixing up the wheel.  But after I looked around online and found that a new Traveller without finish goes for higher than that, and the ones with finish goes even higher.  I felt this was my chance at a decent brand new wheel.  And one reason the Traveller also attracted me was its flyer unit also works on my old wheel that I was intended on fixing - an Ashford Traditional.   So getting this one would give me both a new wheel and help me figure out if it's worth it at all to fix the other one.  I was very glad by selling the most pricey yarns in my collection it gave me enough to afford this wheel. 

Bright early this morning, I drove out  to the store to check out the wheel.  I liked the feel of it when I treadled.  I didn't get to spin on it, but I felt like it was a good buy for me at this point.  I also liked the fact that I'm keeping the economy local considering how bad it is around here, and that I had been a guilty party of buying most of my yarns online.  After I got home, I played with it for a while. I could see the big learning curve is ahead of me. I  spun the Welsh Top I still had.  I  might have to get different fibers so I'm not as frustrated with drafting.  I noticed that Welsh was harder to draft for me as compared to Corridale when I was using my spindle.

This is the biggest gift I'd given myself in a long, long, long time.  I feel so special.  It's a whole new adventure waiting for me and I'm totally stoked. Hopefully I'll have some finished yarn to show soon.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Very First Handspun Mittens

After a week and half of spinning on my new spindle, I finally got enough yarn to make something.  I even plied the yarn.  But I wasn't sure how correct was my plying.  All I did was holding 2 strands and spun them in reverse, and voila, I had 2 ply yarns that weren't too balanced.

Main Color: Dark Brown Welsh
Contrast Color: Corridale 
(both purchased from Dharma Trading CO)
Needles: US #4
 I made a quick motif design that turned out to be a bit too diffused due to single stitches of contrast color in many places as opposed to concentrated consecutive stitches of contrast color. Also, the contrast color yarn was spun thinner than the brown so the stitches aren't as fulled as compare to the brown yarn.  But I'm still pleased with the result.  One mitten also came out wider than the other due to the yarn was thicker.  I guess some batch of yarn was spun thicker than the others.  Live and learn.

After 10 days of spinning, the designing took 40 minutes and the knitting took 2 days.  So the last part was definitely an instant gratification.

I raised a little money to fix up the old wheel by destashing  the few indie yarns in my stash.  They barely made a dent to my yarn collection in terms of quantitiy, but they sure were the most expensive ones in my collection, so that really helped.  Now I just need to learn more about spinning wheels to make better decisions regarding the missing parts for the old wheel.

I am really excited about this new addiction.   But I did miss knitting.  Not knitting for 10 days while spinning was starting to get to me.  I'm ready for new projects.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

3 Days with Spindle = New Love

 second day on spindle

I took Chris's (aka Doodle on Ravlery) advise and got a drop spindle to learn how to spin. After some bumps of the shipping, it finally arrived.  The store I bought from shipped me a set of hand carders instead of the spindle.  After looking up the price and saw that the carders cost 3 times of spindle, the greedy side of me was tempted to keep it or sell it on ebay or something.  But my tiny little nicer side of me somehow managed to convince myself to call the store and send the carders back.  One day when I want a  pair of carders, I'll probably kick myself.

The spindle arrived on Thursday. It's Hi-Lo Spindle (I've only been using it as high whorl.) With the roving I received and few minutes of watching YouTube I started spinning that evening.  It was the most frustrating thing in a long, long time.   I could not do anything at all.  I even said to Paul, "this is crazy, not fun at all."  I just couldn't draft, and when I did the roving would break. I went to bed feeling completely defeated and ready to give up.  The next morning I woke up and determined to give it another whorl before waving the white flag.  I went on Ravelry and Youtube and found another 2 videos that helped me more.  The one that really made it click was Maggie Spindling.  Watching a kid doing it slowly and non-expert like really showed me how to approach it as a beginner and made me feel OK to have very uneven looking strings. The other one was Drafting on a Spindle.  It was super basic and exactly what I needed - seeing where I should pinch. Being visual learner, I am completely at lost when someone gives too much verbal instruction and explanation.  At that point  I just zone out and unable to follow any directions.  I noticed the same learning habit in my Pilate class.  Our instructor gave cues and simple reminders and it worked great.  Every now and then when we had substitute instructors that came in and constantly giving us information and constantly reminding us on all the details as we're doing the work out, I simply could not concentrate at all.  These basic videos were great to watch in addition to other ones that had more information.

So I got on the spindle again.  I was stating to get it.  I ended up dividing the roving into 4 length- wise to help me with spinning thinner yarns.  I'm not sure if that is a good thing to do or not, probably not. Oh well.  It went so much better the second day.  I was spinning yarns with less tight twists and was able to finish the full length of roving, and most of all, I was actually able to draft.

Yesterday I woke up and coludn't wait to spin.  So I spent the third day on spindle. I'm getting better at consistent thickness, nowhere near perfection, but definitely some improvements.  The first roving I used was Corriedale, and half of it had spunned into nothing but barf of roving.  Then the second roving I tried was dark brown Welsh, super coarse and rough, but I love the look of it even if it cannot be worn next to skin.

on the right - first day on spindle with Corriedale
on the left - third day on spindle with brown Welsh

Crazy me, I'm already dreaming of dyeing up some rovings for some fun spinning.

I'm in love with spinning.  I can't wait 'till I save up enough to replace the missing flyer unit of the spinning wheel I have.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pattern is now up - First Snow

We got our second shot of snow of the season this weekend,  perfect time to release the pattern.  First Snow Mittens is now available through Ravelry.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Playing with Colors

I was at the fabric store in town this week and picked up some Jacquard Acid dye they have on  the shelf.

On Friday, I fired up the stove and dyed some yarn as an experiment.  I'd never dyed with anything other than kool-aid and natural dye.

The result - I've found a new addiction.  It's so much quicker than natural dye when the mordant step is omitted.  The colors are very bright compare to the subtlety of natural dye.  They each have their own place.  I love the look of natural dye and the transformation it can happen when adding mordant like iron to alter colors. But I have to say, the easier and quicker acid dye  is making dyeing yarn an instant gratification.

It was so much fun.  How I love playing with colors.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stranded Knitting

This week, I had two knitters asked me about how I made my stranded colorwork looking flat.  I chuckled because my knitting is always puckery until the magic of blocking does its job.

Something I'm working on. 
The mitten on the right is done and blocked 
and the one on the left is in progress, unblocked.

I'm a true believer of blocking.  It  absolutely transforms almost all knitting from ugly ducklings into finished looking pieces in the most amazing ways.

I figured I'd talk just a little about how I knit colorwork or just how I knit in general.  I'm no expert on this by any means.  In fact, I'm no expert on anything pertains to knitting.  I know few techniques but I don't know all the ins and outs of them.  I don't even ponder on them too much.  Techniques to me are just mechanics.  I'm a very visual and intuitive learner when it comes to knitting so I am not in the habit of analyzing everything I do.

So, in knitting 2 color stranded work, I've read  several recommendations of holding 2 strands of yarn in two fingers or even in two hands.  Well, I hold one strand at a time.  I only know how to knit the English way.  My hands somehow refuse to learn the continental knitting.  I cannot even wrap yarn around my finger to keep tension because my fingers tend to cramp up easily.  I hold yarn rather gingerly between my thumb and my index finger, then drop it and pick up the other color when I change color.  This definitely puts me on the lowest of totem pole of knitters according to many, many experienced knitters out there.  But hey, it works for me and that's all that matters.  I've come across many posts online where knitters insist on their preference of yarns or techniques being the only golden rule and defending it as if her entire self-worth is based on it.  To put it politely, it just makes me want to puke when I read self-righteous methodical opinions like that. I love it when people are sharing knowledge, but loath it when their knowledge becomes a dogma to be imposed on others.

Recently I saw a quick YouTube video of Interweave Knitting Daily about Managing Yarn in colorwork.  At the beginning of the video, Eunny Jang, an amazing designer and the editor for Interweave Knits, said, "It's really about what's most comfortable for you."  Thank you thank you thank you for saying that. 

Some people can make their knitting so flat and even that they look like machine knitted.  I am definitely not one of them.  Maybe I'd wish I am, but I really don't know 'cause I learned to appreciate the aesthetic of my "handmade" look. 

Even tension is the key to good looking knit.  I don't have that either due to the way I knit.  But I've learned a few habits that improved the look of my stranded knitting.
  1. I always rather err on the side of looser float on the back than tight.  
  2. I also spread out my just knitted stitch before I knit the next st when I change color.  It has become a muscle memory that I do it automatically without even thinking.  
  3. I use my needle to pick floats or stitches to make a wonky stitch look right, kind of a cosmetic fix afterwards. 
  4. Then I always, always, always block - wet block if possible (mohair is the only one I  had done wet block and was unimpressed with the result.)  I even sometimes cheat by ironing my knitting.  Some people may find this utterly horrifying, but hey it works for me.  I don't necessary recommend it as I'm not as precious with my work as many knitters are.  Once something is done, I kinda loose interest of it.  It's not necessarily a good trait but...   Always use an ironing cloth over the project  and always test it on the swatch if it was a major project, or if it has any synthetic fiber in it.  I do make sure the setting is low and only press it gently. Ironing probably damages the structure of yarn a little but as long as it looks fine to my eyes, I'm all good.

 See how uneven my stitches are, and this is actually a pretty good one for me.
You should see the ones when I made the yellow submarine cowls and hats.

As you can see, I'm definitely not a great example to follow in how I knit.  I'm more of a compensator.  I compensate by having few habits that helps my imperfect technique.  But I hope by sharing this it may make other imperfect knitters out there feel like they have company.  

So that's how I knit.