Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'd like to introduce you to my spinning wheel.

This is my Schacht double treadle spinning wheel (double drive) and my little dachshund Cleo. I loooove them both. I started spinning about a year and a half ago and it has changed my life. It takes the creative process way beyond finding a pattern and knitting it. By spinning, you now have control over the type of fiber you knit with and a greater range of color.

Here is a sampling of handspun yarns I have made. Most of it is merino. The blue is an indigo dyed blend of tussah/ merino.

And then there are hand carders and the wonderful art of hand-blending fibers and colors.
The brown ball is natural color polworth hand carded from the fleece for a scarf. And the colorful knit sample represents work from a color carding class.

Last summer, I learned to spin cotton. The carmel color on the left of the sample is grown naturally in this color. It was fabulous to work with. This is when I acquired my high speed bobbin and learned how to treadle really fast. A must to spin cotton.

Along with trying to explore new knitting techniques, I have also dedicated time to explore color. These are some of the samples I have made... what do you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Alvaros Sweater: I Am Not Going to Allow My Past Experience with Intarsia Deter Me

Wow... I am still waiting for the dust to settle from all of last week's dyeing excitement. I felt like I was a kid on Christmas morning.

Last month, I decided that I wanted to explore knitting techniques that I have either not tried before or have tried unsuccessfully. Intarsia, steeks, creating swatches just to explore stitch form versus just doing it to start a project, taking on projects that require small sized needles, and socks were only some of the things that came to mind.

Now, I have done intarsia once before, on a sock. Notice the singular sock. I still think that I may knit the other to make a pair. I also have to confess that this was my first sock. I knit that sock three years ago. Until a month ago, it was my only sock. The tiny little needles (DP #4, I know not small by many peoples standards) combined with the intarsia drove me crazy. Carrying the one color yarn here and one color yarn there, argh! What can I say, I have big hands. Small needles make me feel clumsy.

I am amazed by the knitters who make dozens of socks. I attend an intermediate spinning class once a month. The first few minutes we share with one another what we have been working on. When I see my fellow spinners/ knitters pull out these beautiful, intricately knit wonders, I mean socks, my heart melts. As the socks are passed around the room, and they reach me, I turn them over, study the heels, the toes. Some of the knitters are now experimenting with placing the seams in different places, and creating different types of shaping through the foot. It is amazing the amount of design and construction in something so small yet so important. Without socks, humans would not be typing on computers right now. Or would they? If you have an idea how evolution could have played itself differently, I would love to hear it. Sock Knitters, you are inspirational and I am going to try harder.

I have a new favorite book titled The Natural Knitter, by Barbara Albright. I love that it includes patterns from many different designers and that it explores a range of varied materials. I also love how it includes excerpts about small farms and businesses.

As my first project, I decided to try the Alvros Sweater designed by Beth Brown-Reinsel. You may think that I am crazy from my past experience with intarsia. Yes, I am a little crazy and somewhat of a masochist.

The design is interesting. The colors are graphic, making a traditional design modern. The pattern calls for small needles. And, the main technique used is intarsia. Perfect. I figure it will be like a puzzle that may take me a verrrry long time to put together. Really, what's the rush? In general, in my life, I am trying to practice more patience. Not knit as if my survival depends on it. Learn how to balance knitting with eating. Sometimes, it isn't just a sharpening of technical knitting skills that occurs over the years, it actually is maturity. I would like to think that I have matured at least a little over the past couple years and that maturity will allow me to ask for the help and patience needed to finish this project. I guess we'll soon find out.

I decided that I would spin all of my yarn for the Alvaros Sweater. Black and cranberry merino. Cream superfine merino. Now, when I was faced with the decision of buying regualr cream merino and superfine cream merino, I thought to myself, now c'mon, could there really be such a difference? Yes! The superfine merino is heavenly. Unbelieveable. It feels like soft, fuzzy air when I spin it. I highly recommend it.

This is what I have knit so far. . .

The border has been really fun. Using the cranberry and black back and forth feels like weaving. I would like to create a pattern for a scarf using this technique.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Natural Dyes: Our First Attempt Is Successful!

Well, we are happy to report that our yarn came out beautifully. The array of color we obtained is amazing. I really did not expect to get this many colors from three dyes.

Starting from the left, we have 2 skeins dyed with madder. The orange color was obtained by mixing a 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar with the madder. The next two skeins were dyed with onion skins. We think that the use of red onion skins created more of a chartreuse color. The dark blue grey skeins were made with the logwood grey and the last purple skein was made by mixing madder and logwood grey. We put a paste mixture of 1/2 tsp of logwood grey in the bottom of the jar, put the wool in, and placed a paste mixture of 1/2 tsp of madder on top of the wool.

Next, I am going to create a dye notebook, start recording and analyzing our results. And of course, plan our next dyeing adventure.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Natural Dyes: Our First Attempt

After much hemming and hawing, my friends Adrienne and Michelle helped me finally set up a miniature dyeing studio in my very small, urban backyard. It consists of a single burner bought at Long's, a bunch of buckets, a pot, mason jars, and rubber gloves. I love it!

The first night we mordanted the yarn in alum. We used hand-spun bluefaced leicaster.

We chose to use the double boiler method -- that way we could use three different colors: madder (red), logwood (grey), and onion skins (yellow).

The dye pot boiled for an hour at 200 degrees.

Tomorrow, we will wash the dyed wool and hang it to dry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Good-Bye Knit Shawl, Hello Woven Wrap

That's it. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, I am going to tear out this money pit of a shawl started in October, 2006. The intention was nice. I was inspired by a recent spinning class which focused on lace weight yarns and lace patterns. Plus, a fellow spinner had knit the Irish Diamond Shawl from the Folk Shawls book. And this shawl was beautiful. I had never knit anything in a lace pattern and had never knit a shawl -- so, I thought why not? -- and better yet I would knit a shawl for my mom. I had in mind the perfect yarn: a skein of bright red mohair/wool bought at Stitches West.

I was on a road trip to Santa Fe and thought this would be the perfect excuse (not like I really needed one) to visit Miriam's Well. This store is full of colorful yarns and beautiful hand woven shawls, scarves, wraps, etc. I thought that I would go in and find a pattern and some needles. Well, like usual, I walked away with the Folk Shawl book, needles, and a good sized bag of yarn.

That afternoon, I started knitting the Feather and Fan Triangle Shawl. Full speed ahead. Well, then again maybe not. Perhaps it was the altitude, but I thought that I was starting the project from the triangular point, but really the pattern had me starting from top down. I realized this after a few _hours_ of knitting and a few hundred miles down the road. I kept my chin up and said "Oh well, so the colors will be turned around". I arrived home, called Miriam's Well, and ordered more yarn. I knitted, and knitted, and knitted, and began to wonder "Where is the yarn going?" I would hold the shawl up and examine it. After hours of knitting, I saw very little difference in size. I stuck to it though but then I realized. . . this shawl. . . well, I think my mom will like it but I don't think that she will wear it. After all these hours knitting, can I really bring myself to give my mom something that she will not wear? No! Can I bring myself to rip apart the project and make something that she will wear? Yes!!

Since I have been learning to weave, I thought to change gears and weave my mom something instead of knit. I took the original impetus for the shawl project, the ball of red yarn, and decided to make a lace weave scarf. I finished it this week, and shipped it out yesterday. I hope she likes it.

I plan to use the black and grey yarn to weave a rectangular wrap. The design is yet to be determined. Stay tuned. . .