Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Am Ply-Curious

It tells you something about the circles I run in that when I mentioned I was about to try making a three-ply yarn for the first time, somebody said, "You haven't done that yet? At your age?"

What can I tell you? I was an odd kid. While all my little cohort engaged in classic teenage behavior–watching Sixteen Candles, kissing under the bleachers, perfecting their plying technique–I was probably stuck in my locker shouting for help. Please don't even ask what it was like being the only boy in class who couldn't finish a bouclée without snarling.

Here, on the lazy kate before plying, are the three bobbins of the green merino (look! up in the sky!).


The roving was already divided into three even balls (I weighed them before spinning to be sure). Yet I wound up with two bobbins of roughly equal size and a third that's much fatter. What can we tell from this? We can tell from this that Franklin needs to focus a smidge more on consistency.

In my defense, long draw is so much fun I forget to pay attention to the fine points. As my arm swings back and the yarn flows from my fingertips, I am prone to shout "ta-daaaaaa," "wheeeeee," "cowabunga," and other ejaculations to that effect.

The plying went well, and here is the yarn on the niddy-noddy waiting to be wet-finished.


I am pleased. Giggly, even. Far from perfect, but it's my first yarn that really looks (to me) like yarn instead of "yarn."


I've been working on a collaborative project with John Mullarkey (my friend, the noted card weaver and loaner-to-me of spinning wheels) using Skacel's CoBaSi (a blend of cotton, silk, and bamboo).  It's a messenger bag. John has finished the strap, which is card-woven.


I'm working on the bag, which will be knit.

I've decided to do it in mosaic knitting, for the same reason I decide do so many things: it looks cool and I hadn't tried it yet. Here's an early swatch of what has become (with refinements) the finished pattern for the sides and flap of the bag.


Designing and working mosaic patterns is proving to be a smidge addictive. Usually when I feel this way about a new-to-me technique, I wind up teaching it in a class about a year later. Who wants to place bets?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Finish Line

I've set the timer for ten minutes. That's how long I have to write and post this entry.

I must apologize in advance for the perfectly crummy photographs in this post. I'm always telling students in "Photographing Your Fiber" that it's all about light, light, light. Today, my available light is revoltingly inappropriate and there is no time to make it better.

My equipment is also lacking. Part of my Tour de Fleece challenge this year–which I don't think I've mentioned here in the blog–is that I'd use only my phone camera to photograph anything related to the challenge. I have so many students coming into photography classes with a phone as at least one part of their kit that it behooves me to get more phone shooting experience under my belt.

It's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, but although the camera in my phone has surprised me with how much it'll do, when the chips are down it lacks the fine control that allows one to grapple with truly challenging conditions. So that's good to know.

Anyhow, what I meant to say is these photos suck and I'm sorry.

Here's a representative sample of my output on a plate shaped like a cabbage leaf, just because.


You've already seen the Corriedale from Lunabudknits, and the muddy brown mystery bobbin on the niddy-noddy.

I spent the last part of the Tour de Fleece on the road for work, and my wheel doesn't travel. But my host–my good friend John Mullarkey, who asked me to help him make final preparations for a video shoot–is a spinner. A far better spinner than I, in fact.

He surprised me with the generous loan of two spinning wheels I'd never tried before–a Schacht Sidekick (fully portable) and a Lendrum Upright (somewhat less so).

I'm not enough of an experienced spinner, honestly, to give you a worthwhile review of either. All I will say is I admired the way the Sidekick came to pieces for travel; and the way the Lendrum, though not strictly made for travel, folded for storage and was quickly set up when wanted.

Both wheels were enjoyable to spin on, easy to adjust, and allowed me to turn out pretty decent long draw singles after only a brief acquaintance.

When John and I weren't at work, I played with both wheels using his other surprise–perfectly gorgeous Polwarth roving dyed in brilliant blue by the always brilliant Briar Rose.

Before I left, he wound my output on both wheels onto a single bobbin. We wound that bobbin onto a ball, and from the two ends of that ball I used the Lendrum to make a two-ply. I'd never done that before–John threw in the lesson as lagniappe.


We discovered during plying that I'd inadavertently spun almost exactly the same amount–to within an inch–on both wheels during the weekend.

 The wet finishing of the mystery yarn was a hoot. Upon contact with the hot water it fluffed instantly into the most alarming frizz and I figured I'd lost it. But no–in the cold water it relaxed back into something like a skein. When I thwacked it–mostly because I've heard you're not supposed to thwack worsted-spun skeins, and I wanted to see what would happen–it changed very little. As it dried, it settled into a finished state that looks remarkably like dreadlocks.


So, yeah.

I have no idea what the hell I will do with it, and of course I still have no idea what the hell it is. Wool, sure–but what wool? From where? I still don't recall spinning it. Weird.

And then we have the green merino (it's a bird, it's a plane, etcetera). That's the thing on top in the first photo, with the plate shaped like cabbage.

The green merino (for truth! justice! and the American way!) is resolutely refusing to be photographed from any angle or under any light that does not make it look like first-quality shit. And yet, even if I say it myself, it's not. It looks quite presentable, thank you very much, and I have three bobbins of it.  They are marked to become my first three-ply yarn.

I'll photograph it again this week, when it's plying time. Since it won't be Tour de Fleece photography, strictly speaking, I'll aim to get some beauty shots of it with a better camera under appropriate lighting.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lush Life

Through no merit of my own, I've been sprawled in the lap of luxury for the past several days. This is one of those spa hotels where the spa is a real spa, not a couple of beige, palm-infested rooms containing a second-rate manicurist and a broken jacuzzi.

The service is polite, prompt, and discreet. The food is excellent. There's an art gallery, a meditation garden, and the floral arrangements are superb.


The lounge affords a table–I'm sitting at it right now–that's the perfect size and height for work, with a view of the terrace and the little lake.

It would be paradise enow if it weren't for some of the other guests.

Most days I've been surrounded at this table by Ladies Who Lunch, though to be perfectly accurate I should write Ladies Who Drink. Another vodka stinger? Oh, Mister Sondheim–truly, you have no idea. You could float the Queen Mary on the joy juice this lot runs through before noon.

Just now I was unwillingly privy to a trio who were discussing the reasons an applicant to their garden club–newly arrived from another state–would not be admitted. Her sins included wearing the wrong shoes to a party, and using the Latin names for flowers when the conversation turned to gardening.

I'm a raging capitalist, yet I keep drawing little guillotines in the margins of my notebook.

Nevertheless, work progresses. I'm not here to drink and gossip, I'm hear to do what I usually do in the workroom and the coffee shop in a room with live plants, a harpist who takes requests, and what I'm pretty sure is an actual Chihuly.

The Tour de Fleece has ended, but my wrap-up for that will have to wait for my return home since that's where all the stuff is.

But the Victorian bathing drawers are here, and I've reached the point of adding the crochet edging to the leg openings. A glimpse, below.


The crochet edge makes perfect sense. The design of this piece attempts in every way possible to combat the inevitable, horrid stretch that will occur when the drawers hit the water; and of course crochet stretches far less than knitting. This also helps to draw in the leg openings a bit and prevent the peekage I was worried about in the last post. Not to mention that it looks good.

Knitting and crochet: perfect together. When I wrote this for the Lion Brand blog I damn well meant it.

I've now been able to do a real fitting of the drawers, and I'll be  if they don't fit well and look rather cute.

No pictures of that just yet. And no pictures of me wearing them until the Nautical Knitting cruise. If you want to see them first, sign up to join Melissa Leapman and me in December...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fiber Factory of One

It's a good week when I look at current projects and there's been some progress on most of them.

The Tour de Fleece continues, and to my great surprise I've managed so far to meet the challenge of doing something spinning-related every day. After the Corriedale was finished, I dove into the two almost-forgotten tubs of unspun fiber and came up with a bag of green-and-brown roving made from what must be superwash merino, because the little slip in the bag says "100% superwash merino." I have no idea who made it or where it came from. For all I know, it was already in the tub when I bought it.

The lucky thing for me is that the roving is already divided into three equal pieces–and my next challenge is to make my first three-ply. I've been spinning long draw still–not because I think it's necessarily the best way to spin this fiber, but because I am enjoying the sheer hell out of it.

There have been no pictures, because as any Tour de Fleece rider will tell you, pictures of gradually filling bobbins are of only moderate interest to the spinner and hold no thrills for the general public. However, I probably should show you the fiber, shouldn't it?

I just realized forgot to photograph it.

Damn. Next time.

The green merino (that sounds like a niche-market superhero, doesn't it?) is on hold anyhow, because after filling two bobbins I went in search of a third only to discover it was already full of something. I don't know what. Yet there it was, filled with worsted spun...something. Either I spun a bobbin and completely forgot about it or elves have been at work. And, with apologies to my Icelandic friends, I don't believe in elves.

I needed the bobbin, so I pressed pause on the green merino (a sheep who travels around the world preventing ecological disasters?) and decided to chain ply whatever it is just to get rid of it.


I am the first to confess that this is, to put it mildly, an indifferent job of chain plying. I tried and failed to welcome an unforeseen opportunity to brush up an old skill. I rushed, with half my attention on old episodes of Absolutely Fabulous, glancing back at the remainder on the lazy kate every few minutes and thinking, "Dang it, are you still here?"

Old boyfriends reading this will be reminded of the last two hours of any given date with me.

I Swatched a Yarn and I Liked It

Lorna's Laces sent me a nice supply of one of their new yarns, Haymarket, and I'm turning it into a baby sweater pattern/sample piece in aid of my Snip 'n' Zip (Steeks and Zippers) class.


Cannot say enough things about this yarn. It's knitting up very much like Léttlopi (which I used in my Icelandic sweater), but it's extremely soft and feels sweet as it runs through your fingers. The colors, as you would expect, are luscious. It doesn't seem to pill much–what you see above has been knit and raveled six times and carried around in a bag for months. It still looks new.

I've finished the trickiest part–designing the yoke pattern–after only four tries. Put out the flags.

Crotch Shot

And the Victorian bathing drawers for the Nautical Knitting cruise proceed apace. These are gonna be the talk of Belize.


Preliminary fittings indicate that the proportions in the original pattern are spot-on. That being said, the fit is startlingly revealing. That's in keeping with period images of this sort of swimwear, but it really hits home when I've got them on. One false step and HELLO EVERYBODY!

The things I do for art.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I Have Four Conversations with Four Total Strangers About One Piece of Knitting

This is the piece of knitting.


Gentleman's Bathing Drawers (c. 1880) in Quince and Co. Chickadee
for the Nautical Knitting Cruise
with Melissa Leapman

First Conversation
Stranger: What are you making?
Franklin: A pair of Victorian bathing drawers.
Stranger: What?

Second Conversation
Stranger: Is that knitting? What are you knitting?
Franklin: A pair of Victorian bathing drawers.
Stranger. Oh. What?

Third Conversation
Stranger: May I ask what you're making?
Franklin: A pair of Victorian bathing drawers.
Stranger: ...

Fourth Conversation
Stranger: Wow, what are you making?
Franklin: A sweater.
Stranger: Cool.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

I Think I'm Beginning to Love This

It is finished.


Not the Tour de Fleece–that's still going on, and I have to pick the next fiber to spin–but this yarn, this yarn I didn't figure I'd even be able to ply before the race was done, is finished.

As planned, I subjected the Corriedale yarn spun from the Lunabudknits "Smoothie" batt to a wet finishing. While it was still on the niddy-noddy, I secured it with four lease ties to keep it from tangling.

Then I filled the two halves of the kitchen sink with water. On the left, very hot with a bit of wool wash in it (I used Soak). On the right, very cold water, including a couple of ice cubes.

The procedure* was pretty simple.

  1. Put the skein into the hot water and agitate it for a bit–about thirty seconds. I used a big-ass wooden spoon as an agitator.
  2. Pull it out (supporting it carefully–don't let it hang and stretch) and plunge it into the cold water.
Repeat Steps 1 and 2 several times. I think I did five. Maybe six. Keep on eye on the yarn–it'll start to kinda fluff up. When it's fluffed, you're done with the plunging.

Remove the yarn from the cold bath and put it into a waiting towel. Squeeze out the water. You won't get it all out by squeezing, you just want it to not be sopping.

Now, and this is the fun part, grab the skein at one end, swing it forward and THWACK the free end hard against a table or (if you're me) against the (clean) kitchen counter.

Switch ends and THWACK it again.

THWACK several times. You're fulling the woolen-spun yarn–making it rounder and fluffier.

This is exactly as much fun as it sounds.

Don't thwack worsted-spun yarns.

If the yarn is for knitting, after you're done thwacking, lay it flat and let it dry completely.

I was biting my nails to the very end, wondering if the yarn would be balanced. A balanced yarn, to oversimplify, has the same amount of twist in the spinning singles and in the plying. Or at least amounts of twist in each that complement each other.

If you have too much twist in your singles, the finished skein will twist up on itself. If you have too much twist in your plying, the finished skein will twist up on itself.

If you have balanced twist, the finished yarn will hang in a nice, open loop.


Hot damn.

*Mind you, all I'm just telling you what I did. If you really want to learn how it should be done, go to Alden Amos or Judith MacKenzie McCuin or somebody who actually knows what the hell they're doing, okay? If you ruin your yarn in the finishing, don't come running to me.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

And Then There Was Yarn

I can't stop looking at it.


There were a few concerned suggestions that I must not, must not turn the two Corriedale bobbins into a two-ply. The reason? The singles were (thanks to the arrangement of the batt) possessed silky-smooth transitions from the deep purple to paler purple to green, and only a chain/Navajo ply would preserve those transitions in the finished yarn.

I appreciate the concern, but I didn't want to chain ply. As I explained in the previous entry, chain plying is the only sort of plying I've ever done. Joining the Tour de Fleece isn't about doing what I've already done, it's about trying as many new things as I possibly can.

Plying happened a day later than planned. I sat down to work on schedule, but then–as might happen in the real race–I immediately got a flat. The little dome-shaped wooden whatsit at the orifice end of my flyer came unglued. Not that I should be surprised–this wheel is probably a year or two older than I, and bits of me have also started coming unglued.

The mend was easy, but I am my father's son and you do not fiddle around with a glued join until the glue is completely dry. That's a lesson from day one of Making Stuff in the Garage with Dad class.

Twenty-four hours later I tried again. My guiding lights–Alden Amos's Big Book of Handspinning and The Intentional Spinner by Judith MacKenzie McCuin–were once again enormously helpful. I like to see what Alden says, compare it to what Judith says, then lay out a battle plan.

Both advise that the set-up for plying ought to allow for plenty of room between the bobbin rack (in my case, a Lendrum lazy kate from The Fold, in Marengo, Illinois–contender for Best Spinning Shop in North America), the spinner's hands, and the orifice.

Plenty of room, for me, meant seven feet from the lazy kate to my hands, and about 18 inches from my hands to the wheel. That is the utmost my apartment will accommodate without removing all the furniture from the room.

Before beginning, I made a general announcement that the strands being plied were not to be used as a jump rope,  clothesline, limbo stick, or tripwire.  Then I posted Harry as guard, which gave him an excuse to wear the butch little "SECURITY" ball band he wore while working the door at the Yarn Pride dance this year. So everyone was happy.

The long, long set-up allows the twists in the singles to re-distribute themselves as they approach the wheel. It helps even things out, said the experts–and it certainly seems to have worked. My singles didn't magically morph into perfection, but the tighter kinks that had me worried did vanish. That was magic enough for me.

Alden's method for holding the yarns seemed more straightforward (if you want to know about it, get the book–it's worth it), so I went with that. Judith's description of the actual hand motions (in which the hand nearer the orifice moves and the other hand does not) made more sense, so I went with that. I also liked her take on counting while you draft (yes, you should–at least at first).

Here's how I counted. This will be of no use to anyone except me, next time I need to remember what I did.
One: Treadle. (Orifice hand holds back the twist.)
Two: Treadle. (Orifice hand holds back the twist.)
Three: Treadle and release twist into the strand.
Four: Treadle and feed the plied yarn to the wheel.

I started slowly and focused on the counting and on spinning the wheel counterclockwise rather than clockwise. When that was going well I added in Alden's "rolling release" (again, see the book) which does, in fact, seem to help smooth the plying twist.

Much more quickly than expected, I had this.


Not perfect. Not even close. But it is plied.
I confess that I carried the bobbin around like a teddy bear so I could turn it over in my hands and just look at it. It may have spent the night on my nightstand, but you'll never know.

Then, today, I wound it off to the niddy-noddy. As with plying, I made sure to keep a good distance between myself and the flyer–another chance for the twist to even itself out.


This niddy-noddy was hand-turned. I got it (on the same day as the the lazy kate) at The Fold. If you've never been The Fold, you need to put it on your life list. Toni should be sent on an all-expenses-paid world tour so everyone can see what the owner of a fiber business ought to be.

As I write, the yarn is still on the niddy-noddy awaiting lease ties (the little strands that keep it from tangling) because, as I said before, I can't stop looking at it. I'm mesmerized by what the colors in the original batt did when I plied them together. It's barber pole all the way, but echoes of the original transitions persist.

I want to order another "Smoothie" from Lunabudknits, spin the colors in a different order, and see what happens with those.

But first, this lot has to been skeined and then wet finished. More after that's complete...

Friday, July 05, 2013

Faster Than a Speeding Pullet

I was told that once I started to get the hang of woolen long draw, I'd find it somewhat faster than the worsted technique I've always used before–a technique so slow it is not infrequently referred to as the "inchworm" method.

You who said this to me, you were not kidding.

When I first got the Ashford and was all gung-ho about spinning, I was content to do it two or three hours a night, every night. That investment of time–once I got up to speed–yielded one small bobbin of thin singles in three months.

Three months. You can gestate one-third of a human baby in three months.

And when I was finished, what did I have? One bobbin of singles. A small bobbin. Do you know what you can knit with one bobbin of thin singles? Bugger all, is what you can knit. Which is why most basic spinning books have a section called, "Yes! You Can Knit with Singles!" It's there to keep you from killing yourself.

So you read "Yes! You Can Knit with Singles!". You look at the pictures of the, um, "arty" suggested projects. And you say to yourself, "Yes! I can knit with singles! But I'm certainly not going to!"

What I did instead was chain-ply my singles. Chain plying (which you'll also find referred to as Navajo plying) allows you to make a three-ply yarn from one bobbin of singles. It's supposed to be terribly advanced and tricky; but nobody told me that, so I was able to do it without much fuss.

I had enough finished yarn to make a small hat. I did. It was an okay hat.

Then I had an empty bobbin again. I started spinning again. But not as frequently. I was discouraged. It took me a year to fill the bobbin. I'm not an adrenaline junkie, and I don't knit in the first place because I get kick out of instant gratification. But I realized that it if I wanted to spin enough two-play yarn for a pair of mittens I was looking at a year (at least) of dedicated, nightly spinning.

I began to wonder what my wheel would look like if I converted it into a planter.

Then I just stopped spinning.

All of the above is just prelude to help you understand the blinking stupefaction I experienced last night when I realized I had spun the entire batt. I honestly figured the Tour de Fleece might give me enough oomph to get through half of it in a month. Instead, we're on Day Six and I am finished with Stage One of the spinning.

I have two bobbins, not full but fullish, roughly evenly. Look.


So, yeah. Long draw is somewhat faster than inchworm. Also, e-mail is somewhat faster than learning ancient Greek, using it to write a letter to your mother, stuffing the letter in a bottle, pitching the bottle into the ocean, hoping the bottle will wash up next to your mother's beach chair, and then remembering your mother can't read Greek.

And now, at last, I can try my hand at a two-ply. That's today's challenge.

Bathing Drawers News

The yarn for the Victorian bathing drawers that I'll unveil (for better or worse) on the Nautical Knitting Cruise arrived this morning.

It's Quince and Co. Chickadee–stout, pure American wool, worsted spun. (I love worsted spun yarns, if someone else is doing the spinning.) I haven't wound it into balls yet. I'm just staring at it. It's perfect. I would use unaltered hanks of Chickadee to decorate the Christmas tree or the top of my wedding cake.


The colors are "Bark" and "Frank's Plum." I've decided to take the advice of the original pattern and jazz up the drawers with stripes–but not the Weldon's editor's suggestion of white and navy. For one thing, I fear the white will turn transparent when wet and stretched. For another, my curvaceous posterior does not require assistance from broad, high-contrast stripes. From behind, I would look like a crosswalk. As you can see, these two colors are very similar in value, so the effect will be extremely muted.

I was tempted to go with a somewhat lighter brown, called "Twig," so that I could say I knit myself a pair of drawers in "twig" and "plum."


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Woolly Pully

The bathing drawers yarn is still in transit. I'm so excited about it that I've begun to palpitate slightly at the sight of delivery vans. Is my yarn in that one? It could be! Is it? No? Well, what about that one? Is that one for me? No? Yes? No?

This must be what a labrador retriever feels like every day.

I'm turning out a pattern, three articles, and two illustrations that have somehow all ended up with the same deadline; but a boy must take occasional breaks, and when I get one I've been spinning.

The Tour de Fleece 2013 is now well under way. After the angst of my bumbling beginning, I find to my surprise that I'm starting to enjoy myself.

Before I write about that, though, I want to meditate for a moment on the angst.

Let's be honest: Until you know what you're doing, spinning can be a rollercoaster to Hell. In knitting and crochet, you work one stitch at a time at your own pace. A novice knitter might spend an hour creeping across a row of twenty stitches, but he'll get there and nobody will know the difference.

Spinning, even when you're learning by way of park-and-draft, requires a certain minimum momentum. You nudge the treadle, the whorl goes round, and suddenly the twist starts to fly up your fiber like a zombie chasing a plump child dipped in butter. You either keep up, or you don't. At the beginning, more often than not you don't.

For me, this does not feel okay.

I can't tell you why I feel this way, or what's responsible for the feeling; but from very early childhood I've felt compelled to conquer every new challenge immediately and with minimal assistance. What's more, I've needed to not only pass but to pass with flying colors. When I don't the guilt is overwhelming.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Without the desire to excel, it's easy to go nowhere and do nothing with your life. I'm not a fan of the current fashion for always telling children, "You did your best, and that's good enough." No, sometimes it's not good enough and you need to try harder. Life won't hand you a trophy just for showing up, and neither should the Little League.

On the other hand, the crying need for instant mastery has kept me from taking a lot of leaps that, in retrospect, might have led to adventure, joy, and prosperity. The funny thing about fear of failure is that it can keep you from trying anything–which ultimately leads to failure.

That's why my Tour de Fleece nearly ended before it began, after I wrecked  a twentieth of an ounce of Corriedale.

I've never spun from a batt before and I've never, ever spun with fiber as gorgeous as my Lunabudknits batt. You know what's especially horrible? I have a large bin in the workroom filled entirely with spinning fiber, and most of it is gorgeous. Fiber artists have been more than generous to me–there's silk, cormo, wool, bison, and blends thereof, heaps of it. Mostly gifts. All unspun. Unspun because I have been terrified of messing it up.

Until I know how to spin well, I'm almost certainly going to mess it up. But I can't learn to spin well without first spinning badly.

You see my difficulty?

Perhaps it sounds familiar?


With your encouragement, however (for which I thank you) I have pressed forward. When I first got a spinning wheel I went slightly bananas with the book buying, so I have been consulting a three-foot stack of spinning books (good, bad, and indifferent) on the proper technique for woolen long draw.

Of course there are now also videos (good, bad, and indifferent) to be found online, and those have been enormously helpful.

My favorite piece of advice, commonly offered by all sources, is to handle the unspun fiber as though it were a little bird. Which it turns out does not mean you scream, "Auuughhhh, yuck! Is that a bird? What the hell is a bird doing in the house? Does this thing have fleas?" and drop it like it's hot.

Frankly, that's what I'd do if somebody stuck a little bird in my hand.

The beginning of my bobbin looks like utter poo, but it's gradually disappearing beneath layers of better and better woolen drafting. Gloria in excelsis deo.


The first moment that I was able to treadle and simultaneously draft against the encroaching twist was a big moment for me; a "eureka" moment in which I actually shouted, "Eureka!"

Because my twist may not yet be consistent, but my pomposity is.

Here's a picture of me spinning, as proof that I am not having Dolores do all the work. (It was enough of a strain for her to take the picture.)