Monday, May 23, 2011

Putting the -ette in Shawlette

So, I'm knitting the qiviut shawlette from the winter 2010 issue of Spin-Off magazine. I've got a bit of yarn that I've spun from the spinning class Abby taught last year. Was that only last year? It must have been earlier than that. Either which way, we all got samples of an abby batt, which is how I started my addiction. A few of my lovely friends gave me their strip, since they reasoned there wasn't much they could do with less than an ounce of fiber. With all of that together, I got a whopping total of 240 yards.

Y'know, there's really not many patterns written for 200 yards that aren't scarves.

Thankfully, I ran across the qiviut shawlette. It's a really simple, really easy pattern, IMO. Then again, I've probably knit a half-dozen shawls by now, so what's one more triangular shawl? Let's not count, shall we?

The shawl starts off easily enough, with one exception. The center stitch doesn't have an increase on every right side row for the first 10 rows. Which is really different, compared to the Swallowtail Shawl or Icarus. So, I had to pay a wee bit of attention those first 10 rows, but the stitch pattern is interesting enough that it's not monotonous. I won't lie, I don't understand how the stitch patterns flow. Usually, after a few repeats, I can begin to guess where the next decrease or increase goes, but not with this one. It makes for an interesting, but not overwhelming lace knit. I definitely had to make use of the post-it note, but one 3x3" square was enough for me.

To make things more interesting, I added beads. I can't wait to get to chart C, where I've got much more beading planned. It's a slippery slope, I tell you. This whole beading thing, it starts out so innocuously. Then suddenly, you're wanting to spin beaded yarns. Maybe it's just me. But the pattern lends itself well to beads, and I almost wish that it was larger so I could really sink my teeth into the motifs. The motifs are completely new to me, which makes it fun. I'd love to try this shawl again in a larger yarn and needles for something that was a quick knit and snuggly. Perhaps in the new yarn, Epiphany by Cascade yarns. Wouldn't that be scrumptious?

I'd post pictures of the work in progress, but I suppose it will have to wait. I missed my golden window of opportunity. I was too busy knitting when the sun was shining. Next time!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why predraft?

No, this has nothing to do with pre-gaming or tail-gating or anything alcoholic, really.

It's about drafting before one spins. I mean, why do it? I'm firmly of the belief that a well-prepared fiber does not need drafting to spin it. A well-prepared, non-compacted fiber should not need to be pre-drafted before spinning. We all know how well the mail carriers treat packages, right? Every parcel is sacred and uncrushed, lovingly carried along for the journey, and hand-delivered to the doorstep of one's home.

Yeah, I hear your derisive laughter now.

Parcel abuse is just one of the reasons why I would choose to pre-draft. Compaction while dyeing happens. Fibers might have drastically different lengths (which might be something I discuss later). There's a number of good reasons why a person would need to pre-draft, or fluff up, or tear into their fiber before the act of spinning it. That said, the following picture tutorial isn't about tearing up all the roving into itty-bitty strips that are ready to feed into the wheel, ready to go. It's about how I managed the fibers to get the yarn I wanted, and that required a little extra step called pre-drafting.

Please examine Exibit A:

It's a lovely, lovely batt I got from my swap partner. It's a blend of merino and angora, percentages unknown. Before this batt, the only other batts batt I'd ever spun was an AbbyBatt. (Side note: Abby Batts are prepared by none other than Abby Franquemont herself, and are painstakingly prepared, and glorious to spin. That is, to say, they don't need predrafting. If that first link doesn't work, Carolina Homespun and The Spinning Loft carry Abby Batts, usually at different time and of different types. If you've never spun from a batt before, I highly recommend an Abby batt, because they are so well-prepared and well-blended. But enough digressing!)

As you can see from Exhibit A, the batt is quite unlike commercial top, commonly called roving. The fibers do not all lie parallel and the fibers themselves aren't well mixed. You can see the lighter stripes of angora contrasting with the merino and the thicker stripes of merino pop out as a darker pink. I started out by tearing a strip from one side of the batt, because I didn't want a giant pink blanket of fiber sitting in my lap while I spun. Then, I began to pre-draft one end of the strip.

Exhibit B:

If you look closely at the end of the strip farthest away from the hinges, you'll notice that it's thinner than the rest of the strip. You can see the color of the wooden table top peeking through the fibers. That's because I pre-drafted it, or attenuated the fibers so they aren't so closely clumped together. I pulled it apart from side to side - pulling a little bit in the spindle direction, tugging a bit in the ruler's direction. Then, I grabbed a hold of the end and began gently yanking away a small tuft from the hinges. (Hey, items in pictures make good directional references. Wasn't that easier to see than if I said left, right, up and down?) That said, I never pulled the fiber hard enough so that it separated into clumps. That's not what I wanted, I just wanted the fibers loose and fluffy so they'd draft a little more easily. Once I'd drafted 3 to 6 inches of one end of the strip, it was ready to join.

With the thin end of the strip next to the loose end of my single, I was ready to spin the two together. Holding the tip of the strip to the single, I pulled out an even thinner tuft of fiber from the strip to spin with the single and started my wheel. You can see in the next picture how much thinner I pulled out the tip and how much it overlaps with the unspun end of the single. The blue arrow points out the loose end of the single.

Holding the two ends together, I continued to treadle slowly on my wheel and build up some twist in the space between the wheel and my fingers. Once that was done, I pulled my pinched fingers back so that the twist traveled into the section that held fibers from both the tufted end of the strip and the unspun end of the single. It makes for a nice, smooth join as you can see in the next photo.

While I'm spinning, I'm drafting the fiber out as well but never so much that the fibers pull apart. You can check out this photo and the following photo to see how (not) far apart my hands usually go when I'm spinning. That said, I used a combination of supported long draw and short foward draw. Every once in a while, I'd need to stop to do some predrafting.

Yes, that's a bit of a jumbled mess, isn't it? I'm very used to spinning from top, which has parallel fibers, so I've been using drafting as a method to pull the fibers into an alignment that's easier for me to spin. Once again, I'm pulling from the tip out towards the wheel. I pinched the fibers right around where the blue arrow is pointing and pulled the fiber towards the wheel, like so -

From there, I continued to smooth down the tips as they got spun into the single, pulling backwards with my fiber hand to draft as I spun. Sometimes my fiber-holding hand gets uppity and does the drafting job that my fiber-management hand is supposed to do. As you can see, my fiber-management hand was busy smoothing out the crumpled fiber into the single.

That said, the rest of the spinning was a rinse and repeat of these steps. Once I reached the end of the strip I was spinning, I'd tear out another one and start over. I hope the pictures helped other people figure out how to spin batts. Who knew that violin playing made for great practice at holding cameras at odd angles?

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Still, I always feel this strange estrangement..."

"Once More, With Feeling"

In a fit of nostalgia, I pulled up the musical episode of Buffy. I do love that episode, and I definitely enjoyed the show when it was on. Bless netflix for carrying it. As I was watching, I began to realize why I could not understand or accept the popularity of Twilight. In Buffy, the main character is a teenaged girl who happens to save the world. She does this multiple times, and often goes completely unawknowledged by the rest of the world. Joss Wheedon created a character who was the complete opposite of her archetype.

As a modern day feminist, how could I not relate to this character? So often, the teenaged girl is portrayed as the victim, helpless and unable to save herself. She's the archetype always in need of rescue or protection. Buffy rarely, if ever, really needs saving. Instead, she saves others and attempts to live a normal life while doing it. It's not always a pretty or glamorous process, especially when vampires and demons have a habit of crashing concerts and high school graduation. In that sense, it's an exaggerated version of real life, which so often gets disrupted by events completely out of one's control. It's the same struggle modern women face every day, gritting our teeth against glass ceiling and limiting stereotypes that want to portray a woman as less than capable.

Given that Buffy's role model that came out during my impressionable teenage years, how could I find anything admirable about Bella? I'd watched one teenger grow from an insecure girl to a woman who accepted her fate and responsibilities and learned to do it with unsung thanks. (Okay, so they did sing once.) Then a new, classic archetype comes on the scene. Bella embodies the exact opposite of feminist values, in constant need of protection, passively waiting for life and love to happen to her. Life does not reward such people, it runs over them.That's why Bella's archetype is that of a victim. If I am to met my fate, I would rather do it on my feet and fighting. As Buffy does.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Heaven, I think I was in Heaven..."

Okay, fine, so I was singing from the musical episode of Buffy. Die-hard fans will just have to forgive me for taking the song lyric completely out of context. But that's not the point of writing today. Today, I'm documenting my experience at Stringtopia.

It was absolutely amazing! There was a new fashion trend emerging - the spindle hair stick. They do double duty - a wonderful spinning tool and a gorgeous hair accessory all in one. Here's one being modeled by the lovely AncientSpinner:

Of course, they also look fantastic with tiaras.

I got to meet Tsock Tsarina's new sock base. I can't wait to pick up a Golden West Kit when she re-releases them!

Would you look a those gorgeous sample skeins!

The Tsarina also brought along her turkish kuchulu. I couldn't believe how tiny it was, nor how tiny she was able to spin on it.

I also awheelerated Fernmonkey on sunday, when I loaned her my kiwi. I wish I had thought of it earlier! I only needed my wheel for the saturday spin-in, and I do believe she wants an Ashford joy now. I can't wait to see pictures of her new wheel when she gets it.

Stringtopia was a wonderful experience. In some ways, it felt like a fantastic family reunion. I met people who totally understood my passion for fiber and shared it. I still can't believe Tsock Tsarina can operate on 4 hours of sleep. I learned to make batts from Abby and now want a drum carder. It's her fault, really. Jacey taught us how to make stable, core-spun yarn, which is amazing. I want to weave a core-spun shawl now, and I don't even have a loom. Which is a problem Morgaine could totally solve, with her YarnV. My god, her haul of stuff was amazing. I was lucky I only made it out with this much stuff.

The beads were from the Bead Circus in Lebanon, but everything else was from Morgaine of Carolina Homespun. Words do not begin to describe the intoxicating treasure trove she carries in the Yarn V. The universe told me that I needed another lightweight spindle, so I got a Greensleeves Mjolinor that weighted a scant 0.6 oz. I knew she had the cotton candy abby batts and that they were destined to come home with me. But I made a concerted effort to get out of my color safety zone, as you can see, with the purple 50/50 cash/silk roving and the 50/50 camel/silk roving. That doesn't include the batt I made on friday, however, which turned into a glorious burgundy.

For those that want more photographic evidence, AncientSpinner on Ravelry posted an open facebook album for all of us to peruse. I know I'll be browsing through and remembering all the wonderful things that happened, from CraftMonkey and Breyerchick kidnapping me on saturday and talking me into staying on sunday, to the ice cream extravaganza. I still can't believe there was left over ice cream! Since I lived in Columbus, I offered to bring down Jeni's ice cream as a partial bribe of acceptance and friendship. I shouldn't have even worried, everyone was so warm, welcoming and wonderful. I can't wait to go back again next year!
Welcome to Crazytown, where my friends have proclaimed me queen. Why did they do that you ask? For some reason, there's very little that I fear about knitting. Hmm, a dress in laceweight done in lace knitting written by vogue? Sounds great! I have very few inhibitions when it comes to knitting, and that sometimes ends disasteriously. Apparently, other people think this signifies a level of crazy that only the royalty can attain. Follow along with my escapades as I dive head first into all sorts of insane techniques and projects without much more than an "Oh! That looks pretty, I can make it!"

Those will probably be my famous last words.