Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Fresh Start

Fiber friends, it positively baffles me that I've somehow managed to fall off the blogosphere for five months. Five months! How can it even be possible? I love the Internet. I love spinning. And I love so many of you, whom I've had the great pleasure of getting to know since I started blogging just over a year and a half ago.

The truth is, the past few months presented some unique and difficult challenges to me, including physical illness, depression, deep feelings of self-doubt and confusion regarding my direction in life, and, in general, just an all-around feeling of melancholy and malaise. My health suffered. I lost interest in my once-beloved fiber-related pursuits, much to my alarm. A dear and beloved friend passed away suddenly, leaving my co-workers and me devastated and shocked. I felt myself pulling away from family and loved ones as I retreated from the loud and busy world, drawing inward and licking my wounds as I struggled to make sense of what was happening both to me, and around me.

It's taken many weeks to muster up the courage to try to fit myself back into my old life, the life filled with early-morning spinning, long conversations with friends, and that wonderful end-of-the-day sensation that I made a positive difference in someone's life. But I finally feel ready for a fresh start after the past months of tears and despair... which is why I'm here right now. I've missed blogging - I've missed you! - and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves, dig into some wool, and share tales from my fibery adventures.

Oh, and the stash is starting to get a bit out of hand, too. Time to remedy that!

Le Stash. Beautiful and inspiring, but quickly approaching the 'overwhelming' point.

And now, without further ado, here's a quick recap of what's been happening in my neck of the woods, as well as some teasers of what's to come in the very near future!

The spinning wheel has been a bit idle lately [see stash photo above for evidence of this: sadly, this particular stash doesn't even include the fleece closet!], but I did manage to spin up a few skeins. All of these were great fun to spin, and I'll get into them in more detail in a future post!

Three new skeins: Cotswold, Merino/alpaca, and alpaca/silk.

Currently, I have four ounces of 80/20 Merino/silk singles resting on the bobbin, ready to be chain-plied...

Into the Whirled Merino/silk: "Take it to the Bridge"

... and I just started spinning some silky, shiny Romney, which I'm planning on spinning into a gently twisted, lofty 2-ply.

Spunky Eclectic Romney: "Lightning Strike"
Shiny singles!

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be flying through this fiber, not only because of the Looming Stash Predicament, but also because of this.

Into the Whirled's Merino/silk: "End of Innocence"

*swoons * I have plans for you, 50/50 Merino/silk! :)

In non-spinning news, summer is in full swing here in NY, and the cabbage white butterflies are fluttering all over the place. They're especially fond of these lovely purple flowers that grow near my apartment building. Note to self: butterflies are surprisingly skittish in front of the camera!

I love these butterflies!
... even though they're a bit camera-shy. :)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the feline trio is doing just fine. :) Sylvia's sitting on the back of the chair behind me as I type this, purring away. And Vincent is still his regal, all-knowing self. Is it just me, or is he somehow getting even fluffier??

Vincent, King of Cats.

I have a few fun things planned for the blog in the coming weeks, including (but not limited to):
  • Knitting Tales! Yep, I still knit! The needles have been bare lately, but they're clicking away again, and I have some fun new projects to chat about.
  • Angora, Three Ways! Like a breed study, but fluffier. I've never spun angora before, so I'll definitely be learning something new as I share it with you.
  • A New Giveaway! Because it's been way too long, and it's ridiculously fun to do. :)
Until then, as always, thank you so, so much for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed your stay! I'm so glad to be back, and I can't wait to hear what you've been up to. (I definitely have some blogs to catch up on!) Take care, friends, and talk to you again very soon! :)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fabulous Falkland!

For today's post, I have some new handspun to share!

I've been a member of Spunky Eclectic's fiber club for a few months now, and while I don't always find Amy's colorways totally to my liking, I've been absolutely thrilled with the quality of the base fiber she uses for her dyeing. Every bump that I've spun up has been a total joy, and the unusual (for me) colorways have gently nudged me out of my color comfort zone.

But imagine my delight when December's club selection was not only a fiber that I love to spin, but also a colorway that made my heart sing!

Here's the lovely aforementioned fiber for your viewing pleasure: Falkland wool top, in the colorway "Aurora Borealis". (Image borrowed from the Spunky Eclectic website: as an aside, the fiber in this photo had quite a bit more yellow in it than mine did.)

I split my bump into two equal lengths, then spun it worsted with a short forward draw. The fiber was so wonderfully lofty and soft, it didn't need any predrafting at all, and practically spun itself! In less than two hours, the singles were spun, the yarn was plied, and the skein was relaxing in a warm Eucalan bath in the sink.

Here's the finished skein: 192 yards of DK-weight 2-ply yarn. I love how subtle the color variations look in the finished yarn!

And because I had a traveling scarf project waiting for the perfect yarn - and this was definitely it! :) - I cast on immediately and knit my section of the scarf in waffle stitch. While I loved it in the skein, I think it's even prettier knit up: the subtle waves of color are even more lovely in person. I'm so happy with how this yarn turned out!

Though I'm still happily spinning away on the beautiful alpaca/silk that I mentioned a few days ago, other fiber in the stash has been calling out to me. The question is, should the next fiber I spin up be the alpaca/Merino/silk from Into the Whirled...

... or the Cotswold from Spunky Eclectic?

Choices, choices!! :)

As always, thanks so much for reading, and for all the lovely comments! Reading them always brightens up my day. :) Have a great evening, and talk to you again very soon!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Enchanted by Alpaca

Today's post starts with a confession.

I've never really liked alpaca.

Even typing out the words feels almost shameful: how could I, lover of fiber, spinner and knitter of soft and woolly things, not like one of the spinning world's most beloved fibers?

I blame my long-held dislike of all things alpaca on my extreme sensitivity to guard hairs, which some (but certainly not all) alpaca fiber possesses. And though I'd only ever spun it twice - and both times were tiny samples - and knit with it once, I found myself closing my heart to it. Though it saddened me, I'd accepted that maybe alpaca just wasn't for me.

Then, something magical happened last year at Rhinebeck.

While I was wandering through the vendors, a lone braid of glowing, shimmering red fiber called out to me across the crowded barn, and I made my way through the masses of shoppers, totally focused and utterly entranced. What was this mystery fiber?

When I reached the braid, displayed so lovingly in the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth, I stared at it and sighed. I touched it and marveled at its incredible softness and silkiness. And then I looked at the label, and nearly gasped in disbelief.

Yep. It was alpaca. (Ok, technically it was 70% alpaca, and 30% silk. But I digress.) :)

Despite my prejudice, the fiber came home with me. For several long months, it languished in my stash,  tempting (and terrifying) me with the possibilities. Could I finally face my fear of working with alpaca?

Two days ago, I held the braid in my hands, thinking deeply. The fiber was shimmery and smooth, incredibly soft, and a little slippery. When I tugged on it, I found the staple length was quite short, and drafted easily and smoothly. Smiling to myself, I separated the braid in two, sat down at my wheel, and held one of the ends to the leader yarn on my bobbin. Setting my wheel to its fastest whorl, I took a deep breath and set the wheel to whirring, then started spinning a fine, silky singles.

Accompanied by an audiobook of Jane Eyre, I've been spinning this gorgeous fiber in the early morning before going to work, and first thing when I get home in the evening. Even spinning it on the fine side, intending to make a smooth and lustrous 2-ply lace yarn, the bobbin has been filling up with alarming speed!

I've never been so enchanted by a fiber before, and I can't wait to keep spinning this yarn. I'm so excited to see how it turns out!

Have you ever been surprised by yarn or fiber before, for good or bad? I'd love to hear about it!

Thanks so much for reading! Have a great night, and talk to you soon!

Friday, January 25, 2013

FO Friday #1 - Knitting (and Felting!) with Handspun

I've been wanting to play along with FO Fridays from Tami's Amis for quite awhile now, so here it is, friends: my very first time! Today it's all about the handspun: spinning it (if you know me, you know there's always something new on my wheel) and also knitting with it and, another first, felting with it. I hope you enjoy reading about what I've been up to lately!

First up, I finished spinning up the luscious Targhee top from Abstract Fibers ("Hopworks" colorway). This gorgeous fiber was gifted to me by an awesome Ravelry swap partner, Kae, and I loved every minute of working with it! Being a finewool, spinning Targhee is a lot like spinning Merino, though the fibers seemed less "sticky" and easier to draft, which suited me just fine. From 4 ounces of top, I spun 860 yards of singles, and plied them into 430 yards of bouncy, squishy light-fingering weight yarn. I love it!

Singles on the bobbins
In the skein
Close-up! :)
Next, I'm very happy to announce that after nearly a year (though, I'll admit, most of that year was spent hibernating in a project bag), I've finished my handspun lap blanket! A couple years ago, I spun up 2 pounds of sage-green Ashland Bay Merino top into around 1200 yards of 2-ply worsted- to bulky-weight yarn. For quite awhile, the yarn lingered in my stash, waiting for the perfect project. After a false start as a sweater (which, several inches in, was big enough for two of me), I decided to knit it up into a project where gauge wasn't critical. And after stumbling on Pamela Grossman's Fertility Blanket pattern, I knew I needed to knit it immediately!

The stitch pattern for this blanket was fun to knit and, in the words of the designer herself, "a sly celebration of ladyhood". (Because those bobbles are just a tiny bit... suggestive, aren't they?)

Girly bobbles!
Stretched out, it's almost four feet square, which is the perfect size for draping over my lap as I get lost in some George R.R. Martin. Leo decided to walk over as I was taking photos, and provided an excellent size reference with his furry self. :)

Leo checking out the new blanket
This was my first large project knit out of my own handspun, and it was so incredibly satifsying! I'll definitely be tackling larger amounts of fiber, and subsequently knitting the resulting yarn into something lovely, in the future!

After knitting up Elizabeth Cherry's Modified Mobcap (from the Fall 2012 issue of Jane Austen Knits) in some trusty Madelinetosh for my friend, Johanna, I was so in love with the pattern that I simply had to make one for myself, too. So I perused my Wall of Handspun and settled on a 4-strand cabled yarn that I spun last year from Into the Whirled's Polwarth/silk top.

The hat is fun and slouchy, and excellent for covering my ears while still letting some of my hair show. (And if I look a bit uncharacteristically serious in this photo, it's because I'm getting over a nasty head cold. I am getting better, though, slowly but surely!)

Handspun goodness!
And the decreases at the crown resulted in a gorgeous spiral pattern, which I totally love! I stretched the hat over a plate, beret-style, to show off the spiral. I love how the round, cabled yarn shows off the decreases.

Spiral decreases are my new favorite thing!
And last, but certainly not least, a tale of felting with handspun!

Felting has always seemed interesting to me, but aside from one time, years ago, that I made some felted coasters for my brother, I haven't pursued it with any real intention. Looking at my List of Fiber Goals for 2013, I thought it was due time to give it a go!

For my first felting project, I decided to use Saundra McBride's Spinning Wheel Goodie Bag pattern and some super-thick handspun, spun from a gorgeous art batt from Nea of Lanitium Ex Machina. I made this yarn a couple years ago as an experiment in super-bulky spinning, but wasn't sure what to make with it once it was finished. The yarn and the pattern seemed like a perfect match!

Funky, chunky art-batt yarn
The finished knit bag was nice and sturdy, which I'd expected since I'd used thicker yarn and smaller needles than the pattern recommended. However, I still wanted to felt it a bit, to make it even sturdier (and give myself an opportunity to play around in the sink). :)

Spinning bag, pre-felting...
So after roughly fifteen minutes of thrashing my bag in a sink of hot soapy water, alternating every so often with a dunk in some water that was ice-cold to further the agitation process, a felted bag was born!

... post-felting...
And now it hangs nicely on my spinning wheel, holding all my little essentials that I used to have to run around the studio to retrieve. Even loaded up with stuff, it holds up fabulously, with only minimal (and inevitable) misshapen-ness.

[Also, if you look closely, you'll see a spoiler of the yarn I'm currently spinning!] :)

... and being useful and pretty at the wheel. :)
It's been a great couple weeks of projects, and I've got some fun new stuff on the wheel and the needles that I can't wait to share with you. Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reflecting Back, and Looking Ahead

Happy 2013, everyone! I can't believe it's been a full year since I started my humble blog. This time last year, I started blogging with the intention of posting every single day for the duration of 2012 - a lofty goal, to be sure, and though I faithfully posted daily for several months, eventually real life became too hectic and my posts dwindled down a bit.

However, the spinning remained constant. I spun happily and contentedly through 2012, with hardly a day without the wheel whirring and fiber slipping through my fingers. Though I didn't set any specific goals or intentions for 2012, looking back, I think the theme for last year should be "Production" - because I spun more in the past twelve months than the rest of my spinning life combined!

From a total of nearly 7 pounds of fiber, I spun 15,118 yards of singles - over 8 1/2 miles of yarn! Though much of this yarn has been knit up already, here's a sampling of what's left and waiting to be transformed into something lovely. (A full account of last year's spinning, with lots of details, can be found on my Yarns of 2012 page.)

Some of last year's yarn!
Besides the spinning, I also (finally!!) knit a sweater that I totally and completely love...

'Rhinebeck' cardigan by Lisa Lloyd, knit in Valley Yarns' Northampton.
... and mustered up the courage to enter my handspun at Rhinebeck. Better yet and much to my delight, I came home with ribbons!! :)

Prize-winning bamboo and merino/silk handspun
I also wrote a Wool Combing Tutorial that I'm really proud of, and knit enough socks to render my store-bought socks obsolete. All in all, it was an excellent year, and I'm so happy that I got to share it with you!

For 2013, following in the spirit of some of my very favorite blogs, I'm going to set some specific fiber-related intentions for myself and do my very best to accomplish them all this year. I've thought long and hard about my list, and can't wait to get started!

*Spinning Goals*

1. Process and spin more raw fleece. I had an awesome time spinning up lots of colorful handpainted fiber last year, but would love to sink my teeth into my collection of fleeces, maybe even dyeing the fleece before spinning. As of this writing, I'm plotting out something wonderful to do with a gorgeous Border Leicester fleece from my stash - stay tuned for more!

2. Learn different spinning techniques. I'm comfortable with the short forward draw and the long-draw, but still haven't tried spinning from the fold, spinning flicked locks, or spinning directly from wool combs. It's going to be exciting to try these methods, and more!

3. Spin some new-to-me fibers. I'm planning on working with cashmere, mohair, and silk mawatas this year, and have a feeling I might get even more adventurous as time goes on.

4. Spin for a sweater. Now that I've gotten over my fear of knitting sweaters, it's time to take it to the next level and spin for one! I have a sneaking suspicion that this goal is going to tie in with Spinning Goal #1... :)

*Knitting Goals*

1. Knit more garments. Because there's really nothing like a handknit sweater, as I happily discovered last year!

2. Knit more with my handspun. I have so much of it, so instead of buying more yarn, I'm going to get creative and see what happens. :)

*Other Fiber-Related Goals*

1. Explore weaving. I had so much fun weaving my first scarf last year, and am really looking forward to learning more about weaving, especially weaving plaids and tartans, which have totally enchanted me recently. There may even be a new loom in my future!

2. Play with felting. Because it feels a little scary and reckless, and is therefore deeply mysterious. :) I also totally love how felted objects look.

3. Experiment with dyeing, particularly natural dyes. This awesome book should help me out with that!

I'm so excited to see what's in store for 2013, and hope you'll join me for a year filled with lots of creativity and fibery goodness! As always, thanks so much for reading! I absolutely love being able to share my fibery ramblings with you.

Oh, and Sylvia says hello! :)

Happy New Year, everyone, and talk to you again very soon!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post-Holiday Recap - and More Handspun!

Hello, dear fiber friends! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday filled with lots of happiness and good cheer. :) Mine was nice and quiet - just hanging around the house with Renee and the cats - and I was incredibly overjoyed to find the following bits of fibery goodness amongst my lovely gifts!

Yay for spinning goodies!!
The green bump is Shetland top from Spunky Eclectic ("Going Green" colorway), and the two plastic baggies contain 2 ounces of black alpaca/silk, and - wait for it - 2 incredibly soft, luscious, dreamy ounces of pure cashmere, also from Spunky Eclectic. These were all from my mom and dad, who were incredibly generous and creative with spinning-related gifts this year! I can't wait to spin them all up, especially the cashmere. Yay for exciting new luxury fibers to try!

The pink and orange braid, some almost unbelievably soft and squishy superwash BFL, was from Renee, who somehow managed to find a fiber shop that I'd never heard of before: Woolen Mill St. Yarns by Christina Marie Potter. I'll definitely be checking out more of her lovely fiber! My braid's colorway, "Smaug", was inspired by the fearsome dragon of the same name immortalized in The Hobbit. My fantasy-loving heart was singing with joy!

In spinning news, I have four - yep, four! - new yarns to show you. Can you tell I've been in a bit of spinning frenzy lately? Must be all the snow outside!

The snowy view from my spinning studio.
From left to right, the fiber and yarn are:
  1. Superwash Merino from Into the Whirled - 296 yards, singles
  2. Rare Finnish wool (thanks, Johanna!): 192 yards, 2-ply
  3. Superwash BFL from Into the Whirled: 198 yards, chain-plied
  4. Corriedale from Into the Whirled: 266 yards, 2-ply
Handspun: there's no such thing as too much. :)
I'll add these yarns to my 2012 Handspun Yarn page as soon as I can, where I'll list more details about each skein. For now, though, I'm just happy to sit back and admire them all: I'm quite fond of this batch of yarn!

But even with all the new handspun, my wheel has still been whirring away. An awesome Ravelry swap partner, Kae, gifted me some amazing Targhee from Abstract Fiber ("Hopworks" colorway) that I've been happily spinning into laceweight singles, which I'll eventually ply for strength. I've been meaning to try Targhee for quite awhile now, and can say, one bobbin in, that I just love it: it's super-soft like Merino, but, in my opinion, at least, much easier to manage. I'm already envisioning using this yarn to knit a lovely new shawl to wear to Rhinebeck next year. :)

Soft, squishy, joy-to-spin Targhee!
I can't believe that 2012 is almost at a close! It's hard to believe that almost a year ago, I started my humble blog as a way to chronicle my experiments with spinning, and meet other like-minded people. Though my original intention of posting every single day proved to be too challenging, I'm still so incredibly happy to have embarked on this blogging adventure, and have lots of fun and exciting things in store for 2013, including a few giveaways (I've really missed hosting them!), more tutorials, and project planning. I think 2013 is going to be a year of big projects, and I couldn't be more excited about taking you along with me, every step of the way!

As always, thanks so much for reading! And if you've been following my blog since the beginning - and I know there are at least a couple of you that have been encouraging me from the start :) - I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I am. This year has been wonderful, and being connected to so many of you through blogging and Ravelry has made it even better!

Before I close, Leo practically begged me to be The Daily Cat on the blog today. First, he posed in a most handsome and dignified manner...

... and then apparently decided I was pretty boring. 

Have a wonderful day, and talk to you soon! :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Few of my Favorite Things

Good morning, fiber friends! It's bright and early here in New York - just before 7am - and I've been buzzing around the house with the  'just-a-few-more-days-until-Christmas!' spirit. The tree is lit up, there's a warm cup of tea nearby (orange-mocha pu-erh, to be precise), and I have a lot of things to chat about today, including a few reviews of things I've been really loving lately. I hope you enjoy this post! :)

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd soon be reviewing a new fiber tool that I recently purchased. It was something that I'd been eyeing for awhile, and finally decided to splurge on as an early holiday present to myself.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to the Kate 45!

The Kate 45 - my new best friend!
The Kate 45 is a very special lazy kate made and sold by cjkoho (aka Carla) on Etsy. Mine is made of solid maple (though it can also be purchased in cherry or oak) and it weighs a substantial three pounds - the perfect weight for anchoring it to the floor, so it doesn't scoot around when I'm pulling on the yarn during plying. The bobbin spokes accommodate a variety of bobbins - my Kromski and Ashford bobbins fit perfectly - and because there are four spokes, it's possible to make a yarn with up to four plies. This is a huge advantage in and of itself, because both of my other kates would only accommodate three bobbins. I'm super-excited to try my hand at a 4-ply yarn!

But perhaps the most awesome thing of all is that this kate doesn't need a tensioning device. (Strange, but true!) My Kromski kate, which I've struggled with for years, has a tensioning band that wraps around the bobbins and tends to be extremely fiddly and annoying, losing or gaining tension in precisely the worst possible moment. The Kate 45 solves this tensioning problem by angling the bobbins at 45 degrees, an angle that somehow, almost magically, adds just enough tension to keep the yarn tangle-free... without a brake band!

45 degrees is the magic angle!
The only cons I can think of about this kate is that sometimes it can be a bit noisy, which could also be attributed to my rather vigorous pulling on the yarn as I was plying. And at over $100 after shipping, it is a bit more expensive that the other kates on the market, but because the design and customer service are so excellent, I consider it money well spent. :) If you'd like to check it out,  click here to visit cjkoho's Etsy shop!

With the weather getting colder and the nights so long, lately I've been wanting to hunker down with some knitting and a good movie. But unlike the epic fantasy and sci-fi films I love to catch at the movie theater, at home I generally prefer my television-watching to be of a more quiet, subdued nature. Costume dramas and British TV usually fit the bill quite nicely, but eventually even I reach my limit of Sherlock and North & South.

So why not watch fiber-arts DVDs while I knit?

During Interweave's holiday sale, I bought a copy of How I Spin with Rita Buchanan, and I've been absolutely loving ever minute of it!

Rita Buchanan is a former editor of Spin-Off magazine, and she's been spinning steadily since the 1970s. Her joy about spinning is infectious, and she clearly loves to share her knowledge and could talk about spinning all day long. (My kind of person!) This double-DVD set is full of wonderful gems of wisdom and inspiration, and I've already watched it several times, sometimes rewinding and re-watching to help a new idea sink in further. My personal favorite sections are her techniques on counting while drafting, which she relates to the rhythm of music; her recommendations on how to keep spinning samples; and her sections on the varieties of ways to prepare fiber. Also, I was greatly humbled by watching her spin cotton on her e-spinner... while relaxing in a comfy chair and reading a book. She's amazing!!

To get an idea about Rita's joyful personality and wonderful teaching style - as well as the soothing, peaceful style of the DVD, which is like instant comfort! - here's a clip that I found on YouTube. I think every spinner, from beginner to advanced, can find something to learn in this amazing DVD, and I know that I'll be watching it and learning from it for years to come. I definitely encourage you to check it out!

 So, with all this inspiration at hand, what have I been spinning and knitting lately?

After finishing up my latest skein of yarn - which is drying as we speak: yay! - I rummaged through my fiber stash for something new to spin. And though this pink, orange, and yellow BFL had been languishing in the stash for months, mystifying me with the very un-Sara color combination, it suddenly dawned on me that it was destined to become warm, squishy socks. Yep, it was time to spin some more sock yarn!

This fiber is superwash BFL from Into the Whirled, and the colorway is called "Fierce and Flawless". And while I wasn't crazy about the colors in the braid, I'm loving them spun up!

Here be sock yarn!
And because I'm always looking ahead to my spinning future, I have to share what arrived in the mail yesterday: more Into the Whirled! This is December's club colorway, "The Woods", on Masham, which is a new-to-me fiber! I can't wait to spin this up. :)

Super-yummy Masham from Into the Whirled!
My Christmas knitting is finally complete, after finally (finally!!) finishing what I've dubbed the Endless Scarf of Doom last night. So after months of knitting for others, I got to work on something for myself!

Remember my handspun sample shawl that I started working on months and months ago? It started as a way to use up my copious collection of Phat Fiber samples, but has grown into a way to use up scraps of all my other handspun, as well. (It's great for using up the bits left over on my bobbins after plying.) It's knit in garter stitch, and whenever I run out of the yarn I'm using, I just join in another little ball and keep right on going. There are a bazillion ends to be woven in, but that's another concern for another day, far in the future. :)

The important thing is that I love, love, love this crazy, funky shawl, and know that someday, when it's finished, I'm going to treasure it forever. It's like a memory quilt of my spinning life, and that makes me very, very happy, indeed. :)

Getting there, slowly but surely!
A close-up of the latest few rows.
Wee yarn balls, patiently waiting their turn to be added.
 Thanks so much for reading, and for all the wonderful comments on my previous entry! Reading them always makes my day. :) Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and talk to you again very soon!