Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's.... Complicated

So, at Stringtopia I got a little help trying to get outside my comfort zone. I won't lie. I love pink. Red. Burgundy. I love the color group red from the deepest, darkest burgundy to the palest blush. Clothes in my closet coordinate not because I buy them at the same time, but because I love the same shades so consistently that they wind up matching. Unfortunately, that means that I have a really hard time picking out any other colors that aren't pink.

While I was there, the lovely women helped me out of my color rut. Morgaine of Carolina Homespun had her amazing array of fibers up on display. Liz helped me pick out a green to go with the purple cashmere silk from Spirit Trail Fiberworks. And everyone kept raving about the book, Color in Spinning, by Deb Menz. So I picked it up and a bunch of fibers to use with the exercises in the book.

Quite a bit of the book is about fiber preparation, which I can totally understand as a spinner. Not to mention, it totally cements my desire for a drum carder and combs. Chapter upon chapter tempts me with new hobbies and supplies. But for now, I'm focused on her techniques for selecting and combining colors. I picked up a batt, from Diane of Schafenfreude Fibers and then began to raid my stash to find the right colors to compliment the batt. Here's what I have so far:

Each little mini skein is only a few yards long, and has one ply from the glorious abalone-inspired batt. The mini skeins are 3-ply yarns that are lace weight. I purposely spun tiny yarns to take advantage of how the eye will blend colors too small for it to separate out. I'm completely fascinated by how colors are perceived by the human eye and how that changes when the details are too small to separate visually. These are the fibers used to make each skein.

The fibers on the left are from Ashland Bay's 70% merino, 30% silk blend that I purchased from SlimChicken's Etsy Shop. The front color is sandstone while the darker one is pewter. The fibers on the right include a batt that I made under Abby's tutelage at Stringtopia. The purple fiber on the right is a 50% merino, 25% Silk, 25% Bamboo blend from Von Strohm's Booth at Knitter's Connection. I was trying to pick colors that played off the iridescent shimmer of blue and green colors in the batt. What's got me hooked is how much those colors change when placed on a different background.

We'll start with a simple white background. All pictures were taken in my kitchen, with the same camera, with the same muted flash.

But when you put the same skeins on a black background, they change significantly.

Suddenly, the purple comes out more in the skein on the right, while the white shows much more vividly in the skein on the left. Naturally, I couldn't stop there and had to see what happens when I tried different colors.

On a purple background, the skein on the right lost its bright blue-purple tone. The dark grey and burgundy brown plies became more dominant and the skein grew more muted. It felt like the opposite happened with the skein on the left, where the blue and green tones came out more strongly. Curious, I had to know what happened when I put them on a green background.

The blue and purple tones came back out again! Something I don't quite understand happened with the comparative brightness of the skeins. You'll have to forgive me, I'm just learning to discern values and contrast - this is nothing like art class. Colors don't mix purely like they do with paint. Last, but not least, I had to see what happened to the skeins on a red background (You had to know that was coming).

To me, it feels like the clearest brightness value change shows up best in this last picture. My friend was telling me about how quilters have this tool that they use to judge relative values in different quilt blocks. The tool is a simple red film placed over different fabrics and reduces them to a comparative grey scale. I imagine it would work something like this, where it's clear how much lighter the skein on the left is than the one on the right.

While I haven't arrived on the perfect combination of colors to use on the abalone batt, I've had a really fun time exploring colors. I've purchased several more fiber sample kits from SlimChicken's shop so that I can practice blending larger skeins. Each skein will get knit into a Ten Stitch Blanket that I can keep at work. I'm determined to learn to appreciate and select other colors, and I'm going to have a ton of fun along the way.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Nope. Not the book. Not even a little.

It's the new yarn I finished this week!

It's an one of a kind colorway from FiberOptic that I purchased at trunk show at Knitter's Mercantile. The name of the colorway was Twilight. The fiber is was one of her pencil rovings, the Siren Song blend, which is 70% merino wool, and 30% seacell. Here's another shot of the seed beads which were spun into the yarn.

The beads are size 8 seed beads, which were strung onto one ply of the yarn. I strung dozens and dozens of beads at once and spread them out over the yarn as I wound it onto a bobbin. I convert my kiwi into a bobbin winder by slipping the drive band into the bobbin groove to wind on yarn. After a few treadles, I'd let a bead wind on with the yarn onto the bobbin. I was completely shocked and surprized that this technique worked! Usually, beads are spun into a yarn as you go, it's a risky business trying to string beads onto notoriously weak and unstable singles. Particularly lace singles, which are thinner, thus weaker. Plus, they have all that extra twist which makes them kinky - that sounded alot dirtier than I meant. Either which way, the moral of the story is to spin a single with lots of twist so that it's strong enough to withstand the weight of dozens upon dozens of seed beads sliding over it.

I acutally wound up spinning three skeins from this fiber, two mini-skeins at 0.5 oz each and one large, beaded skein. The whole project is an interesting study in how I've progressed in spinning. The mini-skeins are solidly fingering weight, while the beaded skein is a very light lace weight, almost cobweb. This photo compares the three skeins. In the middle are strands from the beaded skein, while strands from the mini-skeins are on either side. I was really pleased with how it came out. The singles were spun on my ashford Kiwi, and then plied on my new e-spinner! I wound up sending the yarn through the e-spinner a second time to add twist, since I only added enough twist to lock in the beads the second time around.

Pictures do not do the colors justice. I can't recommend FiberOptic's work enough! That rich, vibrant purple color didn't bleed a single drop when I finished the yarn. You can also find her fiber and yarn on her website at www.kimberbaldwindesigns.com. Her etsy store sees more regular updates during festival season. Her fibers are a dream to spin, her yarns are vibrant and soft, and her colors never bleed.

Now that my bobbins are cleared off, I can start on my color project. I have pictures of my first adventure in color spinning, and I'm totally in love with colors that refuse to be defined.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Grow, baby, grow!

So, I'm quite happy to report, I've finished knitting the qiviut shawlette! It's sitting on my shoulders, keeping me just warm enough in our air-conditioned house. Being the tropical bird that I am, I find 79 degrees a little cold sometimes, and the shawl provides the perfect amount of warmth. Not to mention, I love the way the beads look. Inspired by Abby from Stringtopia, I added 2 color beads to the lace. To be entirely truthful, I added 2 styles of beads - clear, iridescent beads and smaller red, iridescent beads. The clear beads look like little flecks of ice trapped in the lace and the red beads add a spot of warm, rich color to the fabric. But let me show you what I'm talking about.

That would be the shawl before blocking. It never ceases to amaze me what a leap of faith one takes when knitting lace. Lace knitting almost always comes off the needles as ugly, scrunched up, and horrible. Honestly, you can barely see the beads in there. That tiny things was scarcely 26 inches wide by 12 inches long, and ugly to boot.

But then you introduce the magic of blocking.

All of a sudden, the shawl grows tremendously. I wound up with a shawlette that's 46 inches wide by 22 inches long. The magic torture of blocking brings out something beautiful. Because, let's be honest, I'm stretching this baby like the rack went out of style 5 centuries ago. And yet, the nature of wool and other animal fibers is to stretch and hold once pinned precisely into place, like a fuzzy metaphor for achieving personal growth. You go through this difficult series of patterns, which you can't appreciate until the very end, where you're stretched to your very limits. Then, and only then, can you see the beauty of the whole experience, blocked out for the world to see. It's a funny thing, growth, because I'm always whining, kicking, and screaming until the very end. Perhaps that's why I like knitting so much lace, to remind me that there's a reason for all of the difficult patterns.
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.