Saturday, February 28, 2009

Plying balls are made of win.

Well, actually they're made of singles and win. Simultaneously. Isn't that clever? They are clever. I learned of them from Abby Franquemont and, just after Christmas 2008, when I decided I could not spin another millimetre on my Victoria, I wound the singles I'd created so far for a 2-ply project off the Louet bobbins into plying balls with the intention of trying the technique.
That's Treenways Silks tussah silk in 'Sunset Swing' (left) and 'Musgrave Medley' (right and roving). Wind the balls very, very tightly – these are like those elastic-wound golfball centres, they bounce – because it's essential to control the twist in the singles. That picture also explains the project. I passionately hate pink, but I've gradually begun to realise it actually does things for me when combined with bronze and orange. I think that ball on the left is gorgeous (you should have seen the roving) but I'd never wear it. Never, ever, ever. I had the notion that if those brilliant, bright colours were plied with similar but much darker colours, the end result would be toned down to the point that I could bear to look at them in sunlight. And maybe even wear them.
There's my setup for using them. Looking down from my chair, you can see two ceramic bowls (the handles are important), one for each ball, and the singles running to the wheel. A closer shot shows the singles running from the ball UNDER the handle and away to the wheel. Under the handle is good because it stops me pulling the balls out of the bowls: the plying balls just sit nicely, each in its bowl, rotating to feed an otherwise very temperamental lively single to my left hand.

What do you think? Does it work?

Despite Pshop, these photos does not do it justice. In sunlight that skein GLOWS. 460-odd metres of every shade of warm from the dying embers of a woodfire to the most beautiful sunset you've ever seen. I love it, and I love it even more because my guess was right and it's taught me something. I want to wear it.

Last weekend was hectic. On Saturday we walked (3 hour drive each way); on Sunday I put both the Schacht Matchless and the Suzie Pro in the back seat of his car and carefully fastened their seatbelts (he said it looked as though I was taking my children out) and drove (an hour and a half) to Socktopus for Diane Mulholland's 'Spin Short' class. Well worth the drive, both for Alice's shop (full of beautiful, colourful, desirable sock and lace yarns) and to meet Diane, who is a very good teacher indeed. We started with fine merino to learn spinning from the fold, something that has previously eluded me, moving on to camel down (soft!) and cashmere (unbelievably soft!) spun from the fold and long-draw from the end of the top.
From left merino, camel, cashmere (the palest tan). We spun on featherweight spindles and on wheels; I started on the Schacht with the silly fast whorl (one size up from the tiny stupid fast whorl) while Diane used the SuzieP with the extra-fast whorl, then we swapped so she could try the Schacht. And then we moved to cotton. Wow. Just... wow. I am glad I had someone to tell me everyone who thinks they can spin will have problems when they first try cotton. It's not like other fibres. Try for
Beginner's Mind. The fibres are short (we started with long cotton because the short-staple stuff is just ridiculous) and they tend to stick to each other: drafting requires both a knack and some effort.
Nonetheless it is strangely compelling. Perhaps it's the challenge? That's the 'easy' long staple, spun from my own punis(!) followed by some sliver in natural colours, brown, cream and greenish. The class was such fun and Socktopus is such a delightful place (pretty cupcakes, cheerful Sunday knitters) that I will be back. I'll find a reason. The drive home had added interest: the M25 Northbound was closed at J17. I left for the M40 at J16, left that at the first opportunity, and joined the horde of motorists flooding across Berkshire. It was absolutely hilarious. Main roads were 5mph, nose-to-tail at with drivers blindly following the instructions from their GPS systems, faces lit with blue light from the screens. The small roads were were alive with people like me, working from roadmap atlases, diving into laybys or onto verges to flick the interior light on and work out what to do next before the light goes off and we peel out again into the darkness. I was an hour or so late getting home and I haven't had that much fun for ages!

Look what I accidentally bought when I got home. That's a traditional Mali bead spindle for supported spinning of cotton from Amanda Hannaford which meant I spent Tuesday lunchtime playing with cotton again. When I've spun enough I'll try finishing some; I think it has to be tortured, boiled alive or something similar. I seem to remember washing soda might be involved.

Lastly, a quick glimpse of some extremely slow knitting. The Yarn Harlot recently posted about some issues with a shawl; this is the shawl that's nearly defeated me.
That will be (it will, I swear it) Sigga from Føroysk Bindingarmynstur/Faroese Knitting Patterns. How hard can it be? 601st cast on is a bit wearing, but with care and stitch markers every 25st, it's bearable. Then there's a lot of knitting (not even any purling). I can do that. The decreases that drive the shaping? no problem. Lace insertion? Come on, YO k2tog or ssk. Where's the prob... ah. Try running the decrease lines in the other direction, just to be different, don't like the result, rip back 6 rows (that's 6x almost 601st), pick up the live stitches and try again. Realise you somehow missed the bit in the instructions about the additional decreases for the first 30-odd rows, decide to wing a solution and carry on knitting. Realise you've messed up the YO/decrease pattern in the central panel and, on the next round, drop every one of 21 stitches back 6 rows and remake the decreases in a different direction with a crochet hook. Finish the lace, breathe a sigh of relief, charge ahead and realise you've forgotten the final
YO/decrease row *and* 15 garter ridges after that. Grit teeth, rip out 5 rows, pick up live stitches, carry on. I am learning lessons here about patience, and thinking before jumping. And that it's next-to-impossible to face ripping 2000-odd stitches when you've just finished knitting them. Easier to do it first thing in the morning, fast. A bit like ripping a band-aid off.

Here's a lesson in slow-but-steady: my version of the Maikell Shawl from 'Knitted Lace of Estonia'. The cone is 2500m of loosely plied 2-ply silk from Colourmart, and the blob is about 8 repeats of the centre panel. The pattern calls for 12, but I'm using smaller needles and finer yarn, so to get something of decent size I think I'll need at least 15, perhaps 18. This is what it looks like laid flat.

And this is pinned to show more detail. And the numerous nupps. This shawl is teaching me that choosing to knit 7-stitch nupps in fine, inelastic silk thread is NOT clever. Very not clever. But other knitting has taught me to persevere, so I shall.
Just not tomorrow. Tomorrow is for walking! Which also teaches perseverance. A useful lesson to learn.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

West Highland Way II

So... we marched on through the damp, me feeling terribly guilty that the wet tent made his pack even heavier than before (this trip had been my idea, after all. I'd said I'd do it with or without him). Near Kirkton Farm the path runs past an open cowshed full of straw. It was about 0745 when I said rather wistfully that it would have been a good place to spend a dry night and then, as two sleeping bags rolled over and began to sit upright, realised I'd spoken too loudly. As the morning progressed I remembered that the A82, which we drive regularly on our way further north, ran past a big cafe somewhere near here. What was it called? The Green Welly Stop? It looked so commercial that we'd never stopped there. The debate about whether it was in Tyndrum, the next place, or Crianlarich, now behind us, occupied the next hour or so, fading gently into a discussion of what we would eat if they let us in if we found it.

The path runs very near it. Bliss. They let us in with our huge packs and we sat in the cafe and we ate blackpuddingbaconeggs dripping with grease onnabun and drank orange juice and hot chocolate and coffee and it was better than any expensive London restaurant we could remember. I bought Superfeet insoles for my Montrail Continental Divide walking shoes. After careful consideration of the useless weight and slow biodegradation of orange peel, we bought an apple to share for breakfast the next morning. And set out again.
That's looking north past him on the trail running beside Beinn Odhar; the mountains in the far distance define Glencoe. The wide, gently u-shaped valley was scoured out by glaciers over the last 500,000 years or so; there are hanging valleys, too (slightly naff animation explaining this here). Shortly after this photo he developed a terrible ankle cramp, but fortunately paracetamol, massage, a bandage for warmth rather than support and an hour of gentle ambling saw it relax. We met very few people on the path most days, one of the advantages of starting mid-week. But this was Saturday, and we chatted briefly with several people out for day hikes; their expressions of wonder at the size of our packs made us realise that the packs didn't seem so heavy any more.
Past Bridge of Orchy the path climbs up Mam Carriagh, which gave us lovely views south, back the way we'd come. All that distance, just in one day. We paused to think about the 61 miles we'd walked from Milngavie. And looked north, to the next stage.
See the mountain biker disappearing around the bend? They'd had to carry their bikes along most of the shore of Loch Lomond. A day and a half of wrestling heavy bikes on the trail we'd found quite bad enough, thank you, with carefully loaded packs and walking poles. When I asked one how on earth they'd managed the ladder, he just swore under his breath and said he'd never, ever do it again and the next time this particular mate suggested a couple of days out, he'd look at the map before he said OK. The mountains in the distance edge Glencoe, and our campsite is by the river at the bottom of this hill. Where there's a pub! With BEER!
That's our tent with my tarp rigged as a porch and some of the dishcloths and other kit from our wet night drying in the breeze.
We went to the pub hoping for food, but it's a tiny place and they'd sold out. So we drank beer and ate crisps with an Austrian who was camping the WHW but not carrying much food – fortunately he'd arrived early – then cooked our own dinner and went to bed.
That's the view when I exited the tent the next morning. By 0630 we were packed and on our way to Rannoch Moor, one of my favourite places in all the world I know. I always drive from Glasgow to Fort William, and at Bridge of Orchy he puts Runrig's 'Live at Celtic Connections 2000' in the CD player and turns up the volume. And I drive across the Moor through the mountains, down the winding road through Glencoe and am happy beyond words, sometimes so happy that tears are running down my face as I drive because I am so grateful to be here, today, now. Walking the shoulder of the Black Mount looking down on Rannoch is different, but just as good, and I am just as happy and grateful that we can do this here and now, in the sunlight.

I'm not certain how Blogger will handle this big photo. It's a panoramic view across the Moor starting with Glencoe on the left. Click for bigger, I hope.
And this is How We Did It. Regular footbreaks, one every hour or so, 10 minutes in which we take our boots and socks off to let our feet dry and air and our socks bake in the sun. And we drink water and eat gorp (our mix of salted cashews and luxury raisins) and remind ourselves that we're enjoying this.
From Rannoch the trail heads west through Glencoe. We arrived at Kingshouse at 1300 and decided that for once we would stop early. According to all the guidebooks, this is one of the midgiest places on the route and we both desperately wanted a proper wash so we cheated and rented a room for the night. There were BOOKS in the room! I think I've never before lasted 4 1/2 days without reading for pleasure. The Sunday evening bar was full of walkers and climbers preparing to head home and we were horrified by the state of some walkers' feet. People were hobbling, their feet covered in bandages, blisters, with red, raw bands around their ankles. Weekenders, people who hadn't thought to break in their footwear before enjoying(?) a day on the hill. We felt like professionals.
Once again we rose early, skipped breakfast in favour of our breakfast bars and headed out west along Glencoe. About a half-mile down the track my backside feels wet. This isn't possible, so I ignore it. A little further on it really does feel wet... can it be possible? He confirms that yes, it is wet. PANIC. The seal around the cap of my hydration bladder is leaking, and water has seeped down through my pack and out. It's because accidents happen that everything important (including my down sleeping bag) is kept in a Drybag. On the down side I now have to rely on a 1l plastic water bottle that I've kept for emergencies.
Looking past him, west down Glencoe. At the western end is the Devil's Staircase, which proved to be nothing more than a half hour hard slog with pauses for breath as necessary. Nothing like as bad as Conic Hill, let alone the nightmare shore of Loch Lomond. I paused at the top to say farewell to Glencoe.
And this is where we realised that this adventure would end sooner than we wished.
Looking norh we could see parts of the Ben Nevis range. On we walked, down the 'orrible endless hill on the road to Kinlochleven, arriving in town at about 1200. We'd thought of camping here, but once again it was far too early. We dithered for a few minutes before concluding that we'd just carry on and see what happened next. After all, we have a tent and food - where's the problem? Into the Lairig Mor, the long valley running west from Kinlochleven with Am Bodach and Stob Ban rising high on our right. On down the long, long track. This is the view near the western end, looking back down the valley.
Eventually the track curves north. Interpretation signs appear, the grasses become pasture dotted with sheep. At 1600 we pause at an information sign and debate whether to camp now, or Just Keep Walking. The Fort William campsite is only another 5 miles, but these are almost as long as the miles beside Loch Lomond. I've been stupid and not drunk as much water as I should (I could have used the water filter to refill my plastic bottle, but instead I've been rationing myself to sips from his hydration pack). His feet hurt. We're tired. The trees go on for ever and the path winds up, down and around through them. Pause for breath and the midges pounce. It's feeling a bit like a nightmare when we top a rise and see Ben Nevis right in front of us.
It doesn't look like much, but our spirits rise immeasurably because it means we've as good as done it. So we grit our teeth and stride out and down to the campsite, hot showers and a sense of accomplishment that I can only hope everyone else feels at least once in their lives. 95 miles, 5 1/2 days (22 miles on the last day). Carrying everything we needed for 8 days, even if we didn't use all of it. And the next morning we rose early yet again, before our knees noticed we'd finished, and bagged Ben Nevis as well. And the next day we moved to a hotel and took the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig. Which is a fabulous day out in the spring sunlight with bluebells on the hillsides and the smell of coalsmoke and the train saying I THINK I can I THINK I can I THINK I can as it toils uphill, chattering I know I can I know I can I know I can on the downhill. And the day after that we caught the train home. We went to Morrisons to buy lunch to eat on the train and, as we did so, he said sadly "We could just buy some food and keep going... I wish we didn't have to stop." Me too. Oh, me too.

Monday, February 23, 2009

This year, last year

This time last year we'd been enjoying (if that's the right word) long day walks at least once a months for about 6 months as we prepared to walk the West Highland Way, 95 miles from Glasgow to Fort William, camping and carrying all our food. We've had a difficult time the last two months, with him bruising/cracking a rib, then he was busy, then we both had 'orrible colds, then it snowed. And so forth. At any rate, Saturday was our first serious walk in preparation for this year's holiday. We're planning to walk the 'Sutherland Trail' across northwest Scotland from Lochinver to Tongue, or thereabouts. Fewer miles, but much harder walking, plus the chance of getting to the top of some truly classic mountains. Including Suilven. But only if we're fit.
Part of Whinstone Lee Tor in the foreground, then a bit of Ladybower Reservoir, with Lose Hill and Kinder Scout in the distance. Excuse the angle: the wind was blowing me over as I took this!

Saturday was 13 miles north on the gritstone Derwent Edge in Derbyshire, then back briefly along the shores of Ladybower Reservoir before heading straight back up the hill to return to our starting point. All this because we fell in love with long-distance walking in Scotland...

imagine wavy lines and/or flapping calendar pages to indicate time passing

On 13 May 2008 we crammed 6 months of fretting, walking and thinking about stuff into our BIG packs (mine is a Osprey Ariel 62, his a Osprey Crescent 70), got into a taxi and caught the train (trains, actually) North to Glasgow. The train journey was a bit of adventure in itself, with a death on the railway line jeopardising our most important connection and necessitating a mad taxi journey up the motorway to the mainline station. But we made it to Milngavie in the end, walked up to the B&B, dumped the packs, found a restaurant and, more important, found the starting point for the West Highland Way. The next morning we ate a fabulous cooked breakfast and wondered where we'd be in a week's time. Dead of exhaustion? Triumphant in Fort William? The packs seemed so heavy (mine 18kg with water, his 22kg) that exhaustion seemed the best bet. I didn't take a picture of the start; this website has one, and the subsequent pages have maps, too.

We chose May because it's the driest month and the midges are not out in force. I had not thought about it being spring! Mugdock Wood was just coming into leaf, the air was full of birdsong and the woodland floor was a haze of blue. The scent of bluebells was intoxicating. And my pack was soooo heavy I was wondering why I'd ever proposed this walk. On a low hill (I had to walk uphill! With that weight!!) we met a Scotsman of indeterminate age, anywhere from 60 to 110. Built of sinew, and whipcord, in a heavy Glasgow accent he told us he'd just finished his morning walk, Drymen and back. Very nearly our entire day. He'd been a fell-runner in his youth, with a WHW time of of something like 24 hours for 95 miles. We were planning 7 days. Bah, humbug.

The central lowlands landscape is fertile, green and pastoral. Looking back from high ground near Easter Drumquhassle, the Campsie Fells rise about the woods and fields and the air smells (frankly) of cows. I like the smell of cows :-)

Road walking is hard on the feet, and it was a relief to reach the outskirts of Drymen as that meant the end of the first day was in sight. Almost. The walk to the far end of Garabhan Forest was hard, really hard. It was getting on for 1600 and we'd been walking since about 0800 that morning (with breaks about once an hour, perhaps 10 minutes or so, plus 30 minutes or so for lunch). The packs were heavy. Our feet ached. The sun was beating down. The road through the plantation seemed to wind on forever and then some. We muttered under our breath as we passed parties of day hikers looking positively bouncy. The campsite proved elusive; we dumped the packs where we thought it should be and wandered off through the trees, assessing spots where other people had clearly camped before, and chose a spot well off the the path. He was clearly very, very tired, so I left him to pitch the tent while I took our Katadyn water filter (my toy) and all our water containers about 1/4 mile back to the nearest stream. I felt so noble carrying 10l (that's 10kg, or 22lb) of filtered water back to camp! Also tired. I had fondly imagined we'd cook and eat dinner, then sit around the Bush Buddy drinking hot chocolate and discussing our day, but just as I hung our freshly-washed underwear out to dry on a branch (was that TMI?) the midges woke up. And he said "Look, a tick". And I spotted another tick. Ticks love me. I hate ticks. We dove into the tent, chatted for all of 5 minutes (if that) and were fast asleep by about 2030.

Confession time. During the working week we get up at 0500 Mon, Wed, and Fri to get to the gym for an hour or two before work. Tues and Thurs we sleep in until 0600. Is it any wonder that we woke at 0500 as usual? The midges were waiting... we moved fast. By 0600 the campsite looked like this:

Now. Here we start to diverge from this website. We started well beyond Drymen, in that bright yellow blotch on the right of the map. Walk out of that blotch (the trees) and you see Conic Hill.

Further along the WHW, at the far end of Glencoe, there is a hill known as 'The Devil's Staircase'. It sounds ominous. Reading some descriptions of the route, you can imagine yourself struggling up hairpin twists on a near-vertical wall of rocks. I tell you truly, it is as NOTHING compared to Conic Hill at the start of Day Two. It's the first major hill, the trail goes up and up again, then down precipitously – and down is much, much harder on your knees and feet than up, even if using walking poles. (Which I firmly believe are essential tools for walkers. If you don't walk with a pole, get one. If you walk with one pole, get a second. Your ankles, knees and quads will thank you.) And the packs are still full of food.
Just look at the change in the landscape by comparison with the Campsie Fells. Conic Hill lies right on the Highland Boundary Fault, which defines (strangely enough) the Highlands: south of the fault, the lowlands; north of the fault, the highlands. The water to the left is Loch Lomond. I tell you, that hill was worse than it looks, which is one of the reasons that there's a plan to remove it from the WHW official route. And the walking gets even harder after that...
Isn't that gorgeous? Loch Lomond through the trees with a hint of bluebells? I took so very few photos on our Day Two because we were too busy walking. Keeping our footing on twisting paths, steep short hills up and down, at one point climbing a *ladder* about 3m to get to the top of an outcrop. Down between boulders. Across a ledge cut into a sheet of rock. None of it a killer individually, but on the second day when your pack feels as though it's filled with lead... it's hard. Stop for a breather and the midgies will be on you within seconds. They can't fly in winds higher than 4mph, but the trees stop the wind. Collapse happily onto the roadverge in the open and the ticks are on their way. Ticks love me. So we walked and we walked and we walked. We admired the bluebells and the ransoms (wild garlic). We arrived at Rowardennan (a frequent finish for Day Two) at about 1300, far too early to stop. So we continued walking. We played leapfrog with a party of the WI (Women's Institute) from Barrow-in-Furness, wearing badges saying "I thought you said come for a TALK!" on a sponsored walk for the first three days of the route. We sweated. We ached. We thought about nice things, meals and hot showers and soft beds. We realised that the patch of grey in the trees was the slate roof of the Inversnaid Hotel, where such things would be found. I swore that when we made it to the hotel, I would get us a room. Whatever it cost. Fortunately they had a room. I have rarely enjoyed a shower so much. I took our clothes in with me, washed them and hung them to dry, and then we had a proper meal with dessert and returned to our room to lay out a ceremonial offering of the easy-cook risotto I'd planned for that evening. Memo to self: rice is TOO HEAVY to carry. Pot noodle, that's what we should have had. None of this parmesan and risotto. I wonder what the room service person thought of it? Again we woke up early and decided not to wait for breakfast: put breakfast bars in our pockets, paid at the desk, shouldered our packs and... our march across the lobby slowed to a crawl as the slightly-more-aged-than-us tourists asked where we'd been, where we were going, how long it would take, and how much our packs weighed. But their gasps of admiration straightened our backs and spurred our resolve :-) Pathetic, isn't it?

The lochside path remains hard going for about 6 km beyond Inversnaid, but the mountains were rising above us, we'd slept well (three cheers for Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory, and Paracetamol, a painkiller), the sun was shining, and a breeze off the loch was discouraging the midges. We saw feral goats! The path leaves the shore near Doune, then returns after the bunkhouse. The white things beside the path seem to be bags of grit and gravel for path repairs that must have been helicoptered in – we couldn't see any sign of vehicular access.
and shortly after that Loch Lomond is behind us and we're heading north. The rising ground is obvious and relentless, but not killing. The packs are still heavy, but not so much that we dread putting them on after a break. Perhaps we're getting used to this? As we sat admiring the Falls of Falloch (no kayakers that afternoon) we realised clouds were gathering. Soon the sun disappeared and our pack covers appeared (a wet pack is a heavy pack), and by the time we reached Derrydaroch it was, as his family says, persistenting down. Not heavy rain, but very wet. Beware the low passage under the railway, far too low for 6'4": he was almost on hands and knees. By Kellator the rain had stopped, but the sky remained threatening and the wind had picked up. The Forestry Commission woodland above Crianlarich had few obvious locations for a camp, the best of which was on a patch of grass right beside the path. We opted for privacy in the fringe of the trees about 20m away, which was a big mistake. Although the WI didn't spot us in the dusk as they walked and talked their way to Crianlarich and their finish, it rained again during the night which meant the trees rained on our tent ALL night. Trees drip. Wet tents are heavy. The path through the woods rises and falls steeply, twisting and turning down to streams and up again, the air is damp and we're hot, and the midges are waiting if we stop. What happens next? Tune in for the next installment!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Colour blending with handcards

I wish I could think of a better title, something that describes the fun and wonder. You'll just have to try it for yourselves!

I'm starting to consider the details of the Rampton Spinners 2009 project, which is to blend and spin the coloured merino in the bag at bottom left
into yarn and knit that yarn into a multi-coloured bag. The rest of the bags are there because I'm feeling... inventive. Dangerously inventive. The amorphous black blob at top are bags of black merino and black tussah silk. On far right is a bag of silk noil, and below that, beside the coloured wool is a bag of undyed filament and tussah silk. How will this become yarn and what yarn will it become? Gentle reader, read on...

Here's one I made earlier. This is my Hellebore swatch, of which I am inordinately, indecently proud. My first real carding triumph, my first colour matching, blending... so many firsts. I wish everyone something that gives them the sense of pride and satisfaction that swatch gives me. AND I did vikkel braid on it. Twice!
The colours in the knitted swatch were chosen from the card (from Sundara's sock club a couple of years ago) and made by blending the colours of wool fastened to the paper at top left. No custom dyeing. To do this you need to have a basic understanding of colour theory as used by artists and printers and anyone else working with solid media such as paper: mix yellow and blue together to make green, white and blue make pale blue, black added to anything dulls it and makes it darker, and so forth. If all of this is news to you, websites here and here have some basic explanations (the second one includes black). Buy some coloured pencils or crayons and learn from play! As a reminder, here are the names and basic rules. Colours are Cyan (a clear bright blue), Magenta (clear bright pink/red), Yellow, and Black. The colour system based on these is known as CMYK, with black being 'K' for 'key', because the plate used to print black also contained the key lines needed to align items and other key information.

With wool that matches these colours, plus white to match paper, you can make all the colours you've ever seen on a printed page. How? By blending them on handcards. Like this.
Note the digital scale. You can have fun without one, but if you want to be able to make more of the colours you blend, you need to know how much of each primary you used. These scales weigh in 0.1gm increments. When I'm blending for the first time by eye, I weigh each handcard and write that down. I started by writing the weights on the handcards, but they seem to vary according to humidity. So now I write it down each time. Then I consider the colour I'm trying to match. I put some fibre of the first colour I think I want on the card, calculate the weight as [card+fibre]-card, and write it down. I tried relying on the 'zero' facility, but my scales lose that if they turn themselves off while I'm thinking or making a cup of hot chocolate. Then I add what looks like the right amount of another colour to the same card, weigh the card with its two fibres and calculate the weight of the second fibre and write it down. And so forth. Later, when I'm duplicating a mix, I can just weigh out all the fibre, then card it. In that photo I've used 1gm of C and 1gm of M (in the second photo I've curled the fibre up so you can see the scale readout). Then card it and watch the two primaries magically become a secondary colour.
On the left is the fibre after a couple of passes. It's clear there are two colours on the card (most of the M is still in a layer under the C); if you squint at it, it's blue with pinkish streaks. On the left is the finished rolag.
Look closely and you can see the individual C & M fibres but squint at it, or view it from a distance and... it's purple. If I'd wanted a darker purple, I'd have added black. Lilac/lavender, I'd add white.
These are the rolags I carded for the Hellebore swatch. There are two of each colour: one was blended by eye, weighing as I did it, and the second was blended by weight alone from my notes. For example: to mix the dark petal-shadow purple, blend 1.0g K; 0.7g C; 0.7g M; and a wisp (well under 0.1g) of Y. That's the advantage of all that weighing and writing down: I can repeat the colours time and again.

Anybody notice that the yellow in the Rampton '09 bag is not quite the yellow of CMYK? This doesn't matter if you're just mixing pretty colours.
Ignoring the two tiny skeins at far left, here's an array of colours made from C, M, and that ever-so-slightly orange yellow. That's what that bag will make (plus white), and it's still pretty. But what I have in mind will need the true Y, and fortunately I have some in the stash, if not in the photo. The blacks will be needed to make dark greens and browns. The tussah and filament silks will add a sheen to some blends and I might just try using silk content to define shapes. I might dye some of the tussah. I will certainly dye the noil: it can be used to add texture and colour interest to any blend. Here are those two skeins embiggened
on a bed of the noil I used to create them. Each contains the same noil colours, which have completely different effects on the two different wool colour blends. The contrast between 'cold' blueish colours and 'hot' orange reds make the noils look like burning embers embedded in the cool purple skein, whereas they simply warm the brown even more.

What am I going to do with these treasures? I need to do more planning before I'm sufficiently confident to put it on record. But one thing I do know: I will be making a bag for my head aka a hat.

Other news...
That polwarth I was flicking last post is now a yarn, spun from the end of the locks (butt or tip seemed to make no difference to it) in a sort of point-of-twist longdrawish style. 3-ply. I think it's my best yarn to date: light and springy and with a little sheen. I need to knit it into a swatch with cables! and textures! to see how it wears. I am a step closer to my goal of spinning and knitting a garment.
Doesn't the soft grey rest the eyes after all that colour?

Incidentally, the Yarn Harlot has just posted some interesting information about carding. It makes sense for some things on hand cards, too. Experimentation required!

Friday, February 06, 2009

It's snowing. Again.

That was the view from my office/spare room window yesterday, and it's the same today. Some of that melted, but more fell this morning; in fact, it's falling now. Normally I do the shopping on Fridays, but after 30 minutes at 20mph I'd done 1/4 of the journey. Not worth the time. It's difficult for people with 'proper' winters to understand why 2–4" of snow is disastrous here, but... we don't have snow tires. Graders or snow ploughs are used only on the main roads (ie highways). Everywhere else they rely on a mixture of grit (to provide tractions) and salt (to lower the freezing point of the slush), and the prolonged cold plus this much snow means the gritters haven't been out. I didn't have a problem driving on packed slush/ice – I indulged in a practice brake/skid on a quiet stretch of road to remind myself of what it felt like and how to handle it - but I'm not happy when people who might have problems are cruising down the road 6' behind me at 30mph. So here I am :-)

First, a finished object. The Swallowtail I now think of as Beads 'r' Us.
Knitted as part of the Tuesday Spinners and Cake-eaters 2009 Optional Challenge, this is my handspun, hand-dyed tussah. As it's my second Swallowtail I wanted to learn something new, so I decided to try beading (8/0) with a crochet hook (0.6mm). I went a bit mad. There are beads on every k3tog, at the base of every nupp, and running down every vertical in the border (on half of these there's a bead on *every* stitch, as I beaded the purl stitch before knitting it, then beading the knitted stitch). That's nearly two 13g tubes of ruby beads. I was increasingly unsure that I liked it until blocking, when I started to think it might be alright because the beads became much less... concentrated as the fabric stretched. And then I put it on and decided it's alright after all. I've got to keep it for a while because if I am asked to do a workshop on shawls/lace, I need it as an example of beading. But after that I might just auction it for Natalie (The Yarnyard's) 'pay it forward' p/hop for MSF.
I promised some fibre...
Last year, when I knew very little more than that I wanted to spin, I ordered a fleece. A REALLY good fleece. One of Treenway's handpicked New Zealand fleeces. This is Polwarth. It's beautiful. SO beautiful that I have been too scared to do more than wash a few handfuls of individual locks, one by one, which I combed and spun laceweight. It's lovely, and it's incredibly slow. So on Monday I just... snapped... and decided I was going to get to grips with this. No point in leaving it to fossilise: I just have to try. This mass is a laundry bag-full of individual locks washed and dried en masse. It may or may not look like a disaster to anyone who processes fleece regularly – I have next-to-no clue about this – but I can easily pick out individual locks, which I'm flicking to spin from the lock. Here's a lock pulled free from its friends.

Here I've flicked open the butt end with my very finest handcard-equivalent, a dog-grooming thing with teeth finer and more delicate than my finecloth handcards. The polwarth is almost as soft as butter and I want to be gentle with it.
And here's the same lock, flicked open at both ends. I've just started spinning these from the ends (comparing butt to tip) as I'm a bit of a worsted freak and this does it so well. I like what I've got so far, but I think there may still be some grease in the wool: it's not moving as freely as I think it could. Or it just might be that merino-style crimp. I will wash some more in Fairy liquid to check; it will certainly strip the grease, but I don't want to use it to wash the entire fleece. I wouldn't use it on my hair, so why would I use it on my wool?

For Christmas I gave myself (colour me embarrassed) membership of the Socktopus Fibre Academy. We've been set the meme 'My Top Ten...'

1. Fibres: I've spun tussah silk, BFL, merino, jacob (in the grease), silk cap, romney, polwarth, camel top, silk hankies, alpaca, alpaca, a wool/angora/silk top, filament silk, pygora. Not all that much experience, but I suspect you can pick my favourite to date from looking at that list. Silk. I love it. Shiny, smooth, and for me so far it all spins like a dream. Second place would be a tie between fine merino on a light spindle, and the pygora cloud from Terry at

2. Spinning technique: I haven't tried enough of them and lack of practice means I'm not very good at some of those I've tried, so it's too early to tell. I loved the longdraw-gasm, I like the way that top spun longdraw-ish from one end just flows into singles and onto the wheel.

3. Plying technique: hmmmm. I recently discovered the joys of true 3-ply, feeding the singles from the Schacht tensioned lazy kate across the back of my hand and through my fingers. I have to try Margaret Stove's method of weaving the singles through the fingers, too.

4. Dyers: my tastes change from day to day at the moment. Which is why I'm learning to dye for myself :-)

5. Colours: for the last 20 years I've worn more and more 'sludge' colours. Olive drab, dusty purple, murky browns and maroons, black and dark grey. I love them still, but recently I have gone red: I actually bought a red sweater, and I've knitted red silk (of course) shawls. I love purple, too. But when I dye, I dye things scarlet and gold and emerald dragonfly green and turquoise and gunmetal purple.

6. Book: too many to list. There's a link to my Librarything profile on this page somewhere; I've got just over half the holding up to date.

7. TV show/movie: I think... for jaw-dropping wonder and complete absorption, it has to be Mirrormask. But I wouldn't choose to part with the Princess Bride, or Stardust, or our Miyazaki collection, or The Crow, or M*A*S*H (or the tv series, for that matter), and I watch Step into Liquid regularly.

8. Spinning mag: got to be Spindlicity.

9. Time of day: early, early morning. When the sun isn't up, but the sky is lightening and the world is freshly made for me.

10. Indulgence: confession time... wine. Really good wine, ideally Spanish or Italian reds. Brunello di Montalcino for a start :-)

Speaking of which, if I don't get some work done today I can't justify wine with dinner. Even if it is Friday.
Was that creative? I hope so, because I have to justify my Kreative Blogger award from Goldentracks. Thank you!