Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Stripey Superwash

I didn't post last week as I was preoccupied with a BWMB course I attended to learn how to shear sheep. For the last two years I've had problems finding a shearer who was prepared to come out to shear my tiny flock. So last year, after spending a whole day shearing four ewes with blade shears by myself, I resolved to learn how to do it properly with electric clippers. Since this is a crafty blog, I won't describe much about the course here - other than to say it was flippin' hard work! But I learned a huge amount about how to handle sheep, and I'm absolutely determined to get some more practice and take the certification test (passing involves shearing three sheep in the 'approved' way in 30 mins, I'm sure I can do that after some practice!).

Anyway, this weekend, exhausted, I thought a bit of gentle spinning would be in order. So, from some of this:

I made this:

Although I say it myself, it's beautiful yarn - I'm really pleased with how it turned out. The roving was a painted superwash merino from Violet Green Yarns, which I bought to make sock yarn - and to try out a superwash fibre, which I've never spun before. I wanted to preserve the colours from the roving as distinctly as possible, so I decided to spin a fine singles and navajo ply it. I haven't done any navajo plying in ages, and I ended up in a right old mess to start with - and the cat who 'helped' me made the tangles even worse! But once I got into a rhythm, the plying went pretty well. I had to run the plied yarn through the wheel (or should that be over the wheel?) a second time, as it didn't have quite enough twist the first time. I was plying on the largest whorl on my Majacraft Rose wheel, so that it went nice and slowly to give my fingers enough time to do the navajo chaining bit, but that also meant it was putting in very little twist with each treadle. The second lot of plying hid the joins in the chains better, although they're still a bit more open than I'd like. Not quite sure how to fix that. But overall, I'm delighted with how it turned out, I think it almost looks like a painted yarn, which is the look I was aiming for. So, that's 30 grams done, now I just have the remaining 100g of roving to finish!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Widdershins are done!

Here they are after a day's happy wearing by me:

I love how they turned out, they're the tidiest socks I've ever made (which isn't saying much I suppose, I've only made four socks so far). But I really enjoyed knitting from the toe up and I like the slip-stitch heel which looks like a cuff down sock. It makes them a little bit subversive I think, outwardly conventional, and only I know they were made differently. Well and you do too now, please don't tell!

I've already started the next pair, in some beautiful Natural Dye Studio BFL sock yarn:

I'm already getting better at the invisible cast on, I use Judy's Magic Cast On and it really is a neat method. This time I'm going to use yarn overs instead of the wrap and turn method, as recommended in a comment from Squeaky, here on my blog, and see if I get on better with that way of hiding short rows. I believe Squeaky actually wrote the Widdershins pattern, so she should know :) Thanks Squeaky!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Socky goodness and a problem with wraps

So, I've decided I like knitting socks. This is my second proper pair that I'm working on and I'm smitten. The pattern is the plain version of Widdershins from Knitty, which is worked from the toe upwards, but has a cushy heel flap that looks as though it was knit from the top down.

Warning - knitting tech talk follows (if you'd rather avoid this, skip between * and *... hey, that's like a knitting pattern):

The heel is turned with short rows, and at the end of every short row, you're supposed to do a 'wrap and turn' (i.e. wrap the yarn around the turning stitch). It took me a while to work out what to do with the wrapped stitched after I'd turned the heel and was joining in the gusset stitches. The pattern said that on the final round of the heel turning part, where you do a whole round past all the wrapped stitches, whenever you meet a one, you have to to knit the wrap with the stitch it wrapped around. Hmm, this is sounding complicated just to write about it! Anyway, at first I did as I was told by the pattern, but while the wrap picking up thing worked on one side of the sock, I ended up with gappy holes on the other side. I knit and frogged the whole heel three or four times, and threw it across the room in disgust (at which point my sister, who was staying at the time, nearly suffered a knitting-related injury) before I figured it out.

When I had finally calmed down, had a cup of tea and gone to my 'happy place', I eventually worked out what was causing the problem. The gaps were appearing because I was knitting the wrap into the wrong stitch on one side of the sock. The gaps appear because the heel is worked back and forth, but the rest of the sock is knit in the round, and switching between the two styles makes a hole where the turn is. The point of knitting the wrap in with the turning stitch is to close the gap where a short row turn has been made. However, on one side of the sock this gap appears before you reach the wrapped stitch, and on the other side, the gap happens after the wrapped stitch. That's because on one side you're knitting forward in relation to knitting in the round, and the other side you're going back. So the cure for the gappiness? When you do that first row in the round after the back and forth short-rowed heel turn, on one side you knit the wrap with the stitch after it, and on the other side you knit the wrap with the stitch before it.

I've no idea if this is the orthodox method, but it sure worked for me. And my first sock is now pretty and non-gappy, I'm very happy with it. I'm just about to reach the same point on its partner, so just in case I'm wrong about all the above, watch out for flying sock needles!

Here endeth the knitting tech talk.

In the meantime, I've decided I like the look of the Widdershins socks very much and have been scouring the net for more pretty sock yarn. As if I need it, have you seen my stash on Ravelry??!!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A sheepy interlude

The weather's been so miserable here lately that I haven't caught any decent light to take photos of my crafty projects. But the blog's looking a bit sad, so I think it's time for a sheepy interlude...

These three, who joined my flock last autumn, are Buffy, Willow and Cordelia. The pic was taken on a frosty morning in December, and the sheep were running towards me as they thought they might get some food. No such luck for them, as I was preoccupied with the camera. Can you see the disappointed expression on Buffy's face (she's the one closest to the camera)? She's just realised that I'm not carrying a feed bucket after all.

I'm looking forward to working with the fleeces that these ladies are currently growing. They're last year's lambs, so their wool still has a lamby softness to it. They're Texel crosses, I've never tried Texel fleece before, but from the sneaky glances I've taken of this lot, it seems to be fairly crimpy, but fine, and a nice creamy colour. Probably ideal for socks - which is good, as sock knitting is rapidly becoming an obsession for me. More on that soon...

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Skeined Prawns

That's a picture of the latest addition to my yarn stash, I made it myself. It's a nubby blend of cashmere, shetland wool and tussah silk. "What are you doing making crazy yarn with a luxury blend like that?" I hear you ask - "shouldn't you make a fine sock yarn, or laceweight for a beautiful shawl?". Ahem. Well that's what I planned to do. Only my drum carder had other ideas. It thought that cashmere and silk would look great all knotted up and coughed out over the shetland wool. "Blending's boring", it told me, "I want to make neps!" Stupid drum carder. I've been saving that cashmere for years, thinking it was too nice to use until I could spin well enough. Well now that I can spin a decent fine yarn, I have decided I also need a decent drum carder. The one I have is a secondhand Barnett. And I've only just found out that the carding cloth is classed as 'coarse' by most other manufacturers. I don't completely dislike it. It's actually a great carder for the wirey suffolk wool that I normally put through it. But clearly cashmere and silk are a step too far. My mistake. New carder required. Actually, make that an additional carder - I'd still like to card suffolk fleece from time to time.

Anyway, since the batts turned out to be not so beautiful, I decided to use them for an experiment. I dug out some koolaid packets that my friend Barbara had sent me a few years back and tested them out on the roving, handpainted style. It turned out a pretty pink and purple colour. Quite nice really. See:

Then I spun two singles from it. One plain, but quite thick (like my drum carder, not that I'm bitter or anything...), and one with big slubs along it. Then I plied the two together, coiling the slubs around the even yarn whenever I reached them. I've done three skeins now, and I'm getting better with each skein I make. I think the slubs look like peeled prawns, so the yarn has been titled "Skeined Prawns". Better that than "look what you can make with a bunch of neps".

Friday, 4 January 2008

Stash sort out

I spent most of yesterday sorting out my yarn stash, photographing it and putting the items up on Ravelry. There are now 39 items in my Ravelry stash, heaven knows how many meters that is, I daren't add it up. What's nice is that I now have all my yarns organised, so I have no excuses for buying more yarn because I didn't realise I already owned something suitable. Besides, there are always other reasons for buying more yarn :)

My favourite find was this:

It's a commercial dk weight yarn that I hand dyed with indigo a couple of summers ago. I thought I'd used it all up on a Rowan cardigan that I also knit that summer, but yesterday I found six skeins' worth of it tucked away in my stash. I clearly made more than I thought. The Rowan cardigan is one of my favourites, the indigo colours came out beautifully and they are really colour fast, despite many washings (in the machine, on the delicate cycle). At the time that I dyed it, I thought it was a complete disaster because the colours came out so unevenly, but now that I've learned more about handpainted yarn, I've decided that I really like it. Might even have a go at indigo dyeing again when the weather warms up. Although it was very stinky, and the blue stained my hands for days.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Wicked Progress

I've been knitting up a storm over the past few days - mostly working on my Wicked sweater. I love this pattern, it's an easy but simple and elegant knit, just my kind of thing. It's the first top-down garment I've made, and I'm really enjoying working that way. I've tried it on a couple of times and it fits very well so far (sorry no pics yet, it takes ages to put it on waste yarn and I didn't have my camera handy the last time). I've now separated off the armholes, and completed the first set of body decreases, I have about 2-3" to go before I reach the waistline.

The handspun yarn continues to make me happy, the more I work with it, the more it fluffs up. It's so cosy soft, I keep hugging it :) I also have to be careful where I leave the knitting - as my little cat Fili likes soft things to sleep on and I'd rather not have cat hair added to the bunny fluff!