31 May 2014

Why We Take Classes

I mentioned the Leicester longwool in the post about Maryland Sheep and Wool. I have an upcoming swirl jacket class at The Whole Nine Yarns. I've worn my first swirl jacket a lot. I thought that this time when I teach the class, it would be fun for me to make myself another.

I'm also trying to knit from stash because, really, I do not need more yarn. The problem, of course, is that one doesn't need more yarn, but the next project in the queue seems not to match any of the yarn in the stash. Why is that?

With some consideration, I did decided I could make my jacket using two handspun yarns already in my stash.

#1 Blue-tiful:
 #2 Louet Northern Lights:
I also decided it would be fun to have a trim of long locks around the outer edge of the jacket. Fortunately, I took Esther Rodger's "Tailspinning" class at STITCHES South this year. And I took Merike Saarniit's "Microwave Rainbow Dyeing" class last year. So I know a little bit about how to dye protein fiber and how to tailspin yarn.

I started with one ounce of the Leicester longwool purchased from the Rivendell Farm booth at Maryland Sheep and Wool. I went through the bag and arranged all the locks with tips facing in one direction and butts in the other. I also used the opportunity to clean up the fiber, shake out any vegetable matter, pull off any stray wool, etcetera.
I let the locks soak overnight in water with the juice of a couple lemons. I was going to dye them outdoors in the sun, but I hadn't checked the weather report and the next day was overcast, cool, and rainy. So I had to do the dyeing indoors. I drained off the water. All the locks were laid out nicely in two rows in an inexpensive recyclable aluminum roasting pan. I put all the cut ends down the middle of the pan and all the tip ends facing to the edges. Then I mixed up three colors of Jaquard acid dyes with just a little bit of water. On the cut ends I used 623 Brilliant Blue. On the middle of the locks I used 624 Turquoise. And on the tips I used 628 Chartreuse. Because this method uses so little water, I just drizzled the dye out of the cups and on to the fiber.
Locks with dye just poured on them.
Using my gloved hands, I then squished the wool a little to be sure the dye covered all the locks and to encourage the colors to mingle. Remember, the locks were already damp.
Locks with dye mixed from squishing.
I ended up having to heat the locks on the stovetop instead of using solar power outdoors. (Yes, I did turn the exhaust fan on high and opened both kitchen windows.) Unfortunately, I scorched a few of the locks. But it all worked out okay.
Are those beautiful or what?

I rinsed the locks and allowed them to dry for a day or two. Before spinning, I used a mini-card to flick the cut ends open, so the wool was nice and poof-y and ready to grab. I had spun up a couple plies from the leftover blue base I used for Blue-tiful. I tailspun the dyed Leicester longwool locks as I created the two-ply core. It took me about 3 to 4 hours to tailspin the locks into yarn. I used the time to catch up on some of the television I recorded while I was away. I finished the yarn with two iterations of a few minutes in the steamer followed by a cold shock plunge into ice water. Then I let the yarn hang, slightly weighted, in the guest bathroom to dry.

The result:
This is only four yards of yarn. I later worked up the other one-ounce bag but only got two yards of yarn out of it. I notice Esther sells five yards of tailspun for about $100. Those of you who don't spin may wonder why the price. Really, $100 for a yarn that takes this much time (both dyeing and spinning), is a bargain.

Or, you can just take classes and have the joy of doing it yourself. Which is why we take classes.

28 May 2014

Fast Finish

In the midst of teaching at three shows in four weeks, I decided to cast on the Six Point Tee by Cathy Carron from the current issue (spring/summer 2014) of Knit.Wear magazine. I had been doing a lot of writing handouts and knitting swatches for classes. I really needed a quick knitting pick-me-up project. I also wanted something fairly mindless that I could work on at Unwind. I wasn't planning on purchasing Knit.Wear, but I did my due diligence by thumbing through the pages when it arrived at the shop.

The Six Point Tee has a couple things going for it that intrigued me. I was pretty sure the styling and sleeves would be flattering on my small-busted figure. The top-down modified raglan construction looked like an interesting knit. Instead of establishing four double-increase lines, you establish four double-increase lines and two lines that increase only one stitch every-other round. I altered the pattern so those lines also became double-increase lines, but every fourth round. Unlike a normal raglan cast-on, the neck opening is not rectangular. Instead, it is basically a slit with the tops of the sleeves meeting at the center front and back of the neck. The shaping grows the sleeve a little, but it grows the front and back of the garment from a starting point of zero.

I've been on a yarn diet for a long time. I really am trying to knit from stash. In this case, I had six skeins of Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy that were purchased in Wisconsin in the summer of 2009. The pattern is written at a gauge of 3 stitches per inch. Hempathy is meant for 6 stitches per inch. So I simply cast on twice the recommended number. If the pattern said, "Increase until you have 100 stitches," then I increased until I had 200 stitches. As it turned out, I didn't even need four skeins, much less all six.

In addition to changing the gauge and the central increase lines, I also changed the increase lines in the hem. After joining the body in the round, you work double decreases at the side seams to shape the waist. That worked fine. But the corresponding double increases to shape the hips flared more than I liked. I finished the top and wore it at Maryland Sheep and Wool. But then the following week I ripped it back to the waist. I took out four rounds at the waist to make it just a bit shorter -- the original length hit me at exactly the widest part of my hips. I reknit the bottom but with the increases spaced out so that the flare is spread across all the garment, rather than concentrated at the sides.

I cast on during Easter Sunday and finished by early May. All in all, a quick and satisfying knit.

25 May 2014

And What Have I Been Doing? part 2

Yarn Graffiti courtesy of Central Maryland Knitting Guild
From Unwind I headed north to visit my husband at his Maryland man cave. This was a brief intermission, as I taught at Maryland Sheep and Wool.

Thursday evening was the teacher banquet. I already knew Beth Brown-Reinsel would be there, and it is always a delight to see her. But I didn't realize also in attendance would be Maggie Casey, Sarah Anderson, and Deborah Robson. It was all I could do to pull myself together and behave like a professional knitting teacher and not like a fan girl. (By the way, Sarah showed off an amazing piece of fabric she wove that had the stretch and elasticity of knitting or even spandex. And someone had a fleece that was black at the cut end and white at the tips. The animal had changed color completely in one year!)

I thought I knew a little about what to expect from Maryland Sheep and Wool. After all, I've been to Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair a few times. I knew MDS&W was about 10 times bigger -- 50,000 to 100,000 in attendance instead of 5,000 to 10,000. I had no idea.

First off, everybody is there. Everybody. A sampling:
The Mannings. Susan's Fiber Shop. The Spanish Peacock. Signature Needle Arts. Wild Fibers Magazine. Yarn Barn of Kansas. Woolee Winder. Cooperative Press. Green Mountain Spinnery. Miss Babs. Carolina Homespun. Cherry Tree Hill. Gale's Art. Bosworth Spindles.

You get the idea. The shopping is phenomenal. Of course, I was busy teaching five classes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it kept me from spending the tax refund.

In addition to the vendors, there is an enormous amount to do. You could take classes. (This will staunch the cash bleed for three hours.) Or watch the sheepdog demonstrations. Or watch the fiber art demonstrations. (Want to see someone spin directly from the rabbit?) Or check out the skein and garment competition. Or attend the auction. (There's that financial drain again. But if you can get a table loom for $50, how can you resist such a deal!?) Or observe the live animals. Or touch and purchase a fleece. Or watch a sheering demonstration. Or attend the spin in. Or listen to live music. Or try the lamb kebobs with a side of French artichoke.

Again, you get the idea.

I did have one fiber objective -- acquire long locks to tailspin for an upcoming knit, swirl jacket. I was able to find a little time to scurry around the festival. Rivendell Farm from Lancaster, Pennsylvania had a few bags of 7-inch Leicester longwool longs. I purchased two 1-ounce bags for a whopping $6 + tax.
Long locks that stretch to seven inches.
The teaching experience was great. The festival put all the teachers up in their own rooms at Turf Valley resort. My room had a lovely view of the golf course. This also meant my husband was able to come up and join me on Saturday evening. And my classes were mostly populated with clever, resourceful knitters. The whole weekend was a delight. As the festival is only an hour's drive from my mother's house, I foresee a future in which I mysteriously need to be in the Mid-Atlantic states each year for Beltane.

24 May 2014

And What Have I Been Doing? part 1

I knew the spring was going to be very busy. It was. Now I'm back home in Atlanta and enjoying the transition from spring to summer. Extra rain and the unusual cooler-than-normal weather means the region is lush and green. The screen porch is ready for regular habitation. And the used knitter's cats seem very happy to see me.

The last weekend of April I was up in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, to teach at Unwind retreat. I believe this was the fourth year for Unwind. Nancy Shroyer of Nancy's Knit Knacks and Sue Homewood do a fantastic job organizing this event.

Unlike a major show, this is a retreat. The whole group stays at the Meadowbrook Inn. There are four teaching slots -- morning and afternoon on Saturday, and morning and afternoon on Sunday. Students sign up for three classes. And teachers teach three classes. Everyone has one free period to just explore the town, soak in the hot tub, hike the mountains, eat ice cream and chocolate for lunch, or just knit or nap. Everyone, even the teachers, leaves with a door prize. Breakfast on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday is included, as is dinner on Saturday and Sunday. There are also extra activities. For example, the last two years Miss Babs' studio about an hour away has been open on Friday so people could stop in and efficiently convert tax refund money into gorgeous hand-dyed yarn. This year an alpaca farm about half an hour away was open for tours. In the evenings there might be a presentation, fashion show, or stash swap. All in all, it is a great weekend, especially if you are someone who does not like noise and crowds. There isn't a market, but the very good local yarn shop Unwound is right on Main Street in Blowing Rock. Nancy and Sue have already announced next year's dates of 10-13 April. Since they only invite four teachers and I've taught two years sequentially, I don't expect to be teaching next year. But with the future of STITCHES South still indeterminate, I hope some of the Southerners will think about Unwind as a lower-stress alternative.
There were a number of excellent items in the Unwind goodie bags this year. There were aromatic votive candles from a local candle maker. There was a wraps per inch tool from Nancy's Knit Knacks. Handy for me, as the one I have resides in the spinning bag. Now I have one in the knitting bag, too. Probably the most popular item was a skein of sock yarn hand dyed by Nancy and Sue. There were two different colorways and I happened to get the purple Mountain Majesty, see above. Others got a bright green Spring on the Mountain colorway. And I purchased the book Op-Art Socks by Stephanie van der Linden from Unwound. And, yes, I did eat ice cream for lunch one day. But I had a dang fine cream of crab soup the next day; which raises the question, "Why do I know where to get great crab soup on a mountain in North Carolina, but not where to get it in the lowlands of southern Maryland?"

Tomorrow: On to Maryland!