Saturday, January 31, 2009

I'b god id.

If you've ever wondered where that cold went, the one you had when you were a child, the one that moved from your throat to your lungs to your head and gave you nights that lasted an aeon because you couldn't breathe and your throat hurt, and then you had to cough and you realised that your throat really hadn't been hurting at all, because the cough made it hurt so much more... I've got it. I'm winning the battle, but the end is some distance yet.

So, instead of working – I just can't think clearly when my brain is starved of oxygen – and going to the gym, I have been spinning. It's almost exercise, right? My feet are moving. The ounce of pygora cloud from Terry at Rainbow Yarns Northwest I posted about some time back has become this:
That's 120m of soft, shiny thickish laceweight. Four ounces of the premium dark grey roving (70% pygora, 30% merino) became 411m of slightly thicker laceweight:
Spinning these two yarns was another of those learning experiences. Spun a sort of backward supported longdraw (fibre in my left hand drawing back as the twist enters it while my right hand pinches to stop twist now and then to allow the developing singles to thin as my left hand moves back), the cloud almost spun itself; the smooth glossy fibres just slipped neatly together to become the singles.

The grey was different. Very different. There's been some discussion of the difference between roving and top on the Ravelry groups, made more complex by the difference between UK and US terminology. This was roving in the US sense: basically a carded prep in which the fibres are only roughly parallel to one another, and may be of different lengths. (If combed, this roving becomes top in which all the fibres are truly parallel and are generally of more uniform length.) The Merino in the roving adds elasticity and bounce, and flows differently into the singles. I tried to match the WPI of the stuff I got from the cloud, but found it difficult as this really did want to be a thicker yarn, plus it bloomed beautifully after washing and whacking. The end result is a little thicker, but not badly so and I think the two together will be a top-down triangular shawl, dark grey with a white strip of finer lace (I'm thinking something Estonian with nupps) about 2/3 of the way down.

I've just started the last of the stuff from Terry, a beautiful blue 80% pygora/20% silk batt. To prolong the pleasure (I really do like this pygora stuff) I've decided to spin it as thin as I can.
It's perhaps a little thinner than it looks there, although I do have small fingers :-) It's 60-65wpi. I wonder how much yarn I'll get out of 2.4oz?
What you can't see (well, you can, but it's not obvious) is that I'm spinning that on the high-speed bobbin and the high-speed whorl that I bought last week for the Schacht. Not the highest high-speed bobbin, but it's faster than the fastest shipped with the wheel. I'm getting better at this.

There's also been knitting. The Tuesday Spinners and Cake-eaters are running an optional group project this year: knit a Swallowtail Shawl (pattern available free here). Some members have never knitted lace before, so even in purchased yarn this is a challenge. Others are spinning the yarn as well. In one of my dyeing experiments I painted a 1oz braid of tussah a beautiful dark plum colour, thinking it would do nicely for the shawl. I rinsed it thoroughly, dried it and spun it to roughly the same wpi as the marisilk/seasilk I'd used for my first Swallowtail. When I washed the yarn in Dreft (a detergent)... it bled. It bled to the point that it became a pale grey-blue skein of silk: it lost ALL the red. I was horrified. Worse, I'd not got quite enough length from the braid, so I needed more. I spun another 30g and spent several hours researching silk dyeing online. Recommendations included soaking even longer than overnight; treating all silk to remove sericin before dyeing; using higher concentrations of dye and pure vinegar, not water, to dilute it; heating for longer and allowing the silk to cool in the dye overnight. I took the new skein and the old skein and did all of it. This time I used a dyebath instead of handpainting, and it was thrilling to watch the colour density of the liquid decrease as the silk took the colour. The end result is two skeins of red silk, one very slightly darker than the other. I'd hoped for scarlet (that's what the test paper showed), but it's a blood red, the red of beef cooked 'blue'. I decided to use the variation in colour as a design feature, changing colour at the start of the lily of the valley pattern, which is where I am now:
The difference is more subtle than I'd expected, so I'm glad the change in pattern highlights it. I wanted to learn something else new from this, so I've taken the opportunity to try beading using a crochet hook (8/0 beads and a 0.6mm hook). It's easier than I'd imagined and quite effective although I'm not sure I'll wear it. Next decision comes at the end of the second LoV repeat: I want to go back to the darker red. I could just finish the shawl in it, or perhaps not - I'm not sure there's enough. I am tempted to add a single repeat of another Estonian lace pattern, then revert to the brighter red for the edging. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

That was a long lunch!

You must be cold. Let's get moving.

Ahead of us is the secondhand book fair under Waterloo Bridge. Unfortunately I've found that, like some cakes, it looks better than it is. Only worth the delay if it's raining, which it isn't. Up the steps onto the bridge, remembering the impact of Anthony Gormley's Event Horizon in 2007 (unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me that day). I love the reminder to look around, to notice the present that surrounds me rather than march along, nose to the pavement and eyes dwelling inwardly on the past or future. Cherish the unexpected!

Looking west from the bridge there's a good view of the London Eye transfixed by a beam, er, the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster aka the Houses of Parliament. Past the Imax cinema, past Waterloo Station and dive into Leake St, which is now a tunnel under the train tracks running south and west from Waterloo.

(That's the other end, on Lower Marsh Street.) The last time we walked here the walls were covered with artistic, elegant, witty political and social comments. This time it's just tags – some artistic, some not – with artists still at work in an atmosphere thick with spray solvents.

Lower Marsh Street is the home of iKnit, which is why we're here, but unfortunately they're out of the Devon Cashmere. Or rather, it's just as well, because it is incredibly expensive as well as incredibly soft. Better luck next time?

Pause for thought. Where next? No idea, but perhaps it's time to head for the north bank. From Westminster Bridge there's a good view back east along the river
There's a better view of the Eye and the Greater London Council building aka County Hall, which is almost directly across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster (ideally situated for the battles that took place when Margaret Thatcher decided to take Ken Livingstone and the Labour-dominated London Council down).
We head east along the Victoria Embankment
completed in 1870, part of the London sewage system by Joseph Bazalgette. Pass the Battle of Britain memorial, unveiled in 2005:

My feelings on viewing memorials are uncomfortably mixed. The sense of 'noble sacrifice' is almost perfectly countered by awareness of the suffering by all concerned and lingering despair that time and time and time again, the best and brightest of any and all nations will die for what may – or may not be – a noble cause. There must be a better way. Anyway...

This is more cheering:
That's the base of a Victoria Embankment lamp-post, just because I love grotesquely belligerent dolphins. If I were forced to coil like that I lay odds my eyes would bulge, too. Beyond it is an elegantly poised and polished sphinx's bottom defending London's Cleopatra's Needle (nothing to do with Cleopatra, it was created roughly 1000 years before her time) from all comers. Yes, the sphinxes (there's another on the other side) were installed the wrong way around: they're staring at the obelisk instead of staring at us and anyone else who threatened it. Not that their protection was much use, as evinced by the inscription commemorating those who brought the obelisk to London.

'Through the patriotic zeal of Erasmus Wilson FRS this obelisk was brought from Alexandria...'

He read that aloud as 'Through the Victorian love of stealing artefacts from ancient civilisations this obelisk was brought...', which occasioned a surprised look from the people beside us.

We sat on a bench supported by ornately wingéd sphinxes in a Victorian style and considered our options for 5 minutes before deciding to head for Covent Garden to investigate backpacks (that leather bag is incredibly uncomfortable at this point) and other outdoor gear at Ellis Brigham, with an eye open for a leather jacket for him. The Perfect Jacket has been on The List of Unattainable Objects for about four years. Dive up Savoy Street and we're there. I astonish the nice chap in Ellis Brigham by emptying my handbag into a new daypack even before I pay for it, tendering the old bag for the rubbish as I offer my card in payment. Light as a feather (alright, that's an exaggeration) we put all valuables in the front pockets of our jeans and head toward Neal Street through the crowds in Covent Garden.

Hence the cautions about pickpockets. But it was worth it, because we found THE JACKET in Neal Street. A perfect jeans jacket in every regard, made of black leather. He looked at home in it as soon as he put it on.

I was so pleased for him that I swear it had completely slipped my mind that there's a heffalump trap where Neal Street opens onto Shaftesbury Avenue.

Just as well I'd bought a proper daypack. I should specify that I only buy books, not horrendously expensive plastic models. But I do buy a lot of books.
It's getting dark when we emerge into the street again, but it's not late enough to think about eating. What next? I suggest the Apple Store in Regent Street, as I'm thinking about upgrading my work machine.

So it's west through Soho as the lights brighten against the sky. It looks tawdry in daylight and I suspect it can get downright nasty late at night, but I do like this place in the early evening as people flow along the streets to eddy and swirl in front of pubs and popular bars.

I stop briefly at the south end to take a picture, then we settle into a long covet in the Apple store. It's almost dark when I decide I cannot decide anything surrounded by white and silver sirens singing of speed and power and unbelievable (literally) increases in my creative ability.

It's too dark to take spontaneous photos. Here's the last outdoor attempt of the day; I think it's the steeple of All Souls at the head of Regent Street.

These day-long expeditions traditionally finish at Strada in Exmouth Market. The food is decent, the wine list is surprisingly varied, and the desserts are perfectly justifiable after a good walk. So we head northeast navigating by feel rather than fact. I've noticed that our companionable wrangling about which way to turn (or not) at every second street corner disconcerts anybody walking with us, but it's all good fun as far as we're concerned. It's not as though we have to take the most direct route: we do this to find the unexpected. Eventually we always end up approaching the Mount Pleasant Postal Sorting Office and from there we could (almost) walk blindfolded.

Doesn't it feel good to sit down?

Two or so hours later it's time to walk north to King's Cross where we catch the Tube north, remembering one particularly memorable day a year or so ago, when this last stage of the journey was an adventure all by itself. We now check for engineering works on the Underground before we travel, lest we once more end up walking from Golders Green to Finchley, then from Woodside Green to Totteridge & Whetstone.
I'd have had a second dessert if I'd known...

Friday, January 23, 2009

What a miserable day.

I'd show you, but why would you want to see a picture of rain? Just shut your eyes, hold a melting icecube over your head, and imagine you're in England. I suggest we go for a walk. Just a minute while I get my gloves...
Probably my fastest knit ever, started Jan 19, finished Jan 22 and that includes unpicking a join at the wrist of one glove, picking up the stitches on the palm and knitting back to the wrist taking care this time to make the cables twist the right way. Pattern is Fetching with an additional cable on the wrist and on the hand (the pattern as written was a little short), 6 rows in the thumbs, and careful use of a standard slipped-stitch cast-off to ensure the top is less likely to stretch wide and catch the breeze. In my own handspun :-) Red Maple, an alpaca/wool/angora blend bought years ago from the Woolen Rabbit. 3-ply that I thought was over-twisted until I put these on: it's soft and getting softer as the angora halo develops, yet I think it's firm enough to wear well.
Let's go to London last Saturday, when the sun was shining. We'll drive into North London and catch the Tube.

Not that one, it's heading further out...

There. Imagine thumps, rocking back and forth, rattles, the roar of steel wheels on steel rails. You can sit and do that for 45 minutes if you like, but I suggest a fast-forward to London Bridge station.
Follow the signs to Borough Market. Where everyone else is going.

A Wall o' Stilton at Borough Market. As the nice French person at Brindisa said, anyone who thinks the British don't do good food should come here.

that's not an insult – although it would be a good one – I was just very impressed by the monolithic halibut head rearing out of a sea of ice and fish fillets. I could imagine tiny fur-clad people worshipping it.

This could be an exceedingly long post. What else was there?

How about a Tower o' Ultra Brownies?
They're not bad. A little cake-like, but not bad.

How about an early lunch? He'd recommend a cooked-to-order dry-cure backbacon and egg bap (aka onnabun) without onions; I can't choose between hot cumberlandsausageonnabun and hot saltbeefonnabun, so end up eating the cumberland and stashing the salt beef in my bag for later. It will be a long day. Bearing in mind that whatever we buy here we'll have to bear on our backs for the rest of the day, I've also got only 500g of Parmesan (from Swiss Brown Cows, sweet, flavorful, gorgeous in slivers with wine) and 250g of lomo in my backpack handbag. Don't laugh, I once carried a 5l tin of olive oil in there for a day.

Head north past Southwark Cathedral and The Clink (a prison from early Tudor times until 1780, the prison for which all clinks are named), to pick up the Silver Jubilee Walk along the Thames.

Oh, look, the tide's going out. Water draining from nearly 5,000 sq. miles is
pouring down to the North Sea. Boats heading upriver are struggling against the current, bows low in the water, while those heading downstream are running high and fast. Peer downriver under Cannon Street bridge and you can see London Bridge, then Tower Bridge in the distance. It's the one with that narrow bar running high between two... towers.

I'm going to try to get the Globe Theatre and Bankside in one photo to save space... Bother. You can only see the chimney tower of what was Bankside Power Station and is now the Tate Modern. I love that building dearly. Just look at the Turbine Hall!

That's the view, er, west from the walkway across the middle. There's an exhibition installed in the western half. It is slightly peculiar – I'm not certain it works – but it is thought-provoking. And the giant cat skeleton is cool.

Right. Exit the turbine hall, past the giant orange hoarding stencilled 'temporary eyesore' in giant letters, and back to the Thames. Past the National Theatre complex known as Southbank, with a fabulous skate/bike park at ground level.

This photo doesn't do it justice. The action is fast and the graffiti is colorful, and damn, but it makes me feel old. Not that I could have done that at that age, anyway. Or if I had, I wouldn't be who I am now. So I can live with that minor regret.

Time's up, I'm afraid. A quick lunch and I have to do some work. Join me soon to continue our day out.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I love 3-ply.

Truly, I do.
As a knitter I honestly never thought about the number of plies/strands in whatever I was knitting, except perhaps as a measure of thickness. Laceweight had two plies because two plies are thinner than three plies of a given thickness. Obvious, innit? Other yarns? I am slightly embarrassed to realise I never thought about it. Colour, fibre, softness, weight, gauge, price? Of course. Structure? Why? Does it matter?

Thanks to Ravelry and spinning, I know it can matter a lot, enough to make a major difference to a project. Laceweight is 2-ply not just because it's thin, but because 2-ply is oval in cross-section. Add more plies, and the yarn gets rounder in cross-section, which means it fills in the holes in lace somewhat. Make it superwash and bouncy as well as round and I now realise why the shawl I started in Dream in Color Smooshy (a four-ply) was so... not right somehow that I frogged it. Three plies are stronger than two, too: for a given fibre/spinning technique, three plies will wear better. My first sock yarn was a 2-ply, and I knew the first time I put those socks on that it wasn't right. Now I know 3-ply would have been rounder, bouncier, more elastic underfoot... and slower to develop holes.

I think most spinners start with 2-ply because it's obvious, easy and FAST. Two bobbins/spindles/whathaveyou and you can make Real Yarn! Quite a lot of my handspun to date was 2-ply for just those reasons. Then I was shown the wonder that is chain-plying aka Navajo-plying (it's best to call it chain plying because it's really not widely used by the Navajo weavers: they make small quantities for very specific purposes). I diligently chained myself to the wheel (ha!), frantically trying to breathe as well as coordinate the hand movements. (I've since learned that many people chain a bobbin-full to add twist later). I didn't like what I got. I knew the uneven twist and the indecently variable loop lengths would improve with practice, but the way that it emphasised unevennesses in the singles (it concentrates thickness as well as colour) was integral to the technique. And the little lumps at the start/end of each loop were unsightly. In discussions on Ravelry people have also pointed out that a chained 3-ply is just ONE singles looped back on itself. Any damage to that one singles means the yarn will lose its structural integrity. It can (apparently) unwork itself. Whereas a true 3-ply is THREE singles. Damage one of them and the other two can take the strain. More importantly for me, at any rate, true 3-ply nicely averages varying singles thicknesses instead of emphasising them, and breaks/blends colours more subtly than even a 2-ply. So I tried real 3-ply and fell in love. I can live with weighing my fibre into three lots, and the need to use three bobbins (in fact I bought extra bobbins just in case).

This was my first 3-ply:
That's about 500m (my longest spinning project to date!!), a wool/silk/alpaca blend that I think I bought from Fyberspates at Alexandra Palace 2? 3? years ago. It's a bit wonky because I waited too long to spin it (I've learned the hard way that prepared fibres will settle/mat/gently adhere to each other as time passes), and I split it by fibre as well as weight: the alpaca did not draft as easily as the wool/silk, and it's less elastic so it remains the same length where the wool/silk has bounced back to its original fibre lengths. Let me know if that makes no sense and I'll try to explain it more clearly.

My favourites, though, are those in the first photo. Top is superwash BFL from The Natural Dye Studio, spun within a month of purchase. Schacht, Scotch Tension. Below is a wool/silk/angora blend in Red Maple from The Woolen Rabbit that has been sitting in a box with other stuff 'to be spun when I'm good enough' since I bought it over 2 years ago. It too had compacted; the difficulty I had drafting it plus the fact that it's my first double drive project means the singles were slightly overspun. I should, I really should have thought to run them back through the wheel to lose some twist but for some reason I didn't think of it even as I muttered about the twist in the singles. So the final yarn is not quite as lofty and soft as I'd hoped. I'm telling myself that means it will wear well as a pair of fingerless mitts.

Here's the next spinning project for the Schacht:
That, my friends, is an ounce of Pygora from Terry of Rainbow Yarns Northwest. It's as soft as a very soft thing (I've only spotted about 5 guard hairs in a handful of soft) and it has this amazing sheen. Think mohair x cashmere. I hope I can do it justice.

And the 2009 Rampton Project means I'm going to do some more dyeing. I need silk noil to card into my blends... there's another post. I can boast, er, talk about colour blending on hand cards.

I was talking with friends last week about the sorrows and pleasures of growing old, and the speed with which days, weeks, even months just fly past in a flurry of notes about stuff you should have done. One commented that she thought time moved more quickly in part because often we're repeating experiences or applying knowledge from previous experience: we don't have to spend time concentrating as we learn new stuff. I raised an eyebrow, grinned, and pointed out that I have at least one lifetime's-worth of new stuff to learn about spinning before I die. And there's the dyeing, and weaving, and the history of all these crafts. My teeth are bared in a grin of ferocious pleasure as I contemplate the vast amount of stuff I have yet to learn.

On the long, long list: how to get really deep intense colours on silk. These are my best results so far.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hullo again!

It's very nearly 12 months since I last posted. A year in which I've done a lot, learned a lot, and (best of all) learned something of how much more there is for me to learn. I feel as though I've been gathering pretty pebbles as I walk along the edge of the sea. Now I have a double handful of beautiful stones and it's time to start setting them into patterns to see what they mean to me, and might mean to others. Over the last month or two I've found I really miss the chance to write, or rather, I now desire the discipline of setting my thoughts in order to consider and communicate ideas.

I started this blog to document a journey into weaving, which rapidly became a rediscovery of knitting, and then an exploration of spinning. I blame Ravelry, where as
sarahw I've met an incredible number of inspiring and helpful people and I think I've done my share of enabling and aspinnerating, too. I've accomplished quite a lot of spinning (I confess I want to show off some of the results!), which, together with discussions with Abby Franquemont and many others led me to think about the origins of this craft. It's more ancient than you might think; after all, how long have we been wearing clothes? And now I wonder how the lives of my female ancestors changed as society changed, as technology changed. I have done some reading, I will be doing more, and I will try to record my discoveries and thoughts here.

I'm not just travelling through time and fibre. There are real-life journeys, too. In May 2008 he and I walked the West Highland Way, 95 miles from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William. Our first true backpacking experience, carrying everything we needed for 8 days on our backs. We finished in 5 1/2 days - not bad for two ageing flatlanders - and it was quite literally a life-changing experience. We're going on more long walks for as long as our knees will allow. I'll share some of that first walk with the world soon. For the moment, some spinning:

This is tussah silk 2-ply, spun on my new friend: last month I traded in the Louet Victoria for a Majacraft Suzie Pro. I still have the Schacht Matchless DT (shameful, I know). Both are lifetime wheels, but so different! If the Schacht was a car it would be a Mercedes-Benz. A big one. Beautifully sprung, no road or engine noise, effortlessly eating the motorway miles. The Suzie Pro is a roadster. It goes fast; if it had wheels it would corner like a demon. I love them both. In April I may have a problem, but I'll reveal that when the time comes. Anyway, back to the silk...

not only handspun, but hand-dyed. Yes, my name is Sarah and I already have a problem. Despite wearing only sludge colours, I cannot resist playing with REAL colour. This entire spinning lark started because I wanted to spin barberpole sock yarn, and look where that's got me. A box full of Russell Dyes (I love the colours), a bag of Jacquard dyes arrived last week. I have indigo, weld, madder. Over the summer I collected urine and managed to persuade a traditional sig vat to dye some merino blue; I'll tell you about that too, sometime. Or if we have a proper summer this year I'll do another one!

That's roughly 450m, which is destined to become a Swallowtail Shawl for the local spinning group challenge. Which is my fault: my lace-knitting proved contagious!

Would you like to see more?

This is a curiosity, a Christmas gift spun for a friend It's 50% undercoat from her semi-longhair cat, 30% merino and 20% silk. A cabled 4-ply, my first serious exercise in yarn engineering. Cat is soft but completely lacks elasticity (hence the merino) and is completely dull (hence the silk). Cabled 4-ply to reduce shedding of shorter hairs.

This always takes longer than I expect. I've got to go and light the fire in the front room and prepare for an evening of knitting late Christmas presents! I'll be back...