The Thrill of Autumn

I love this time of year. The thrill of Autumn is in the air and the leaves are slowly starting to change colours and fall. The days are beginning to be cooler, making this the most lovely time of year to be outdoors. I love Fall. Fall is when I can start to wear all the beautiful woolens I’ve knit throughout the year. I get to pull scarves and shawls and hats out that may not have been used since last winter. Fall is a time for layering and for earth tones and warm things to drink. In Fall I can enjoy the nip in the air without longing for it to be warm again.

I’ve a colorwork hat in the works that is so very Fallish. I can’t wait for it to be off my needles so I can wear it. I’m using handspun from the first time I spun Batts. They were little tiny things made of Merino, Alpaca, and Bamboo, and I had no idea how to spin them.

wool batt

This may have been my first attempt at woolen spinning, but by the end I was just spinning worsted. The yarn is a 2-ply sport-weight(ish) and is very soft. My contrast yarn is a light fingering weight yarn from Hedgehog Fibers that I bought on my honeymoon. Fingering weight on it’s own wouldn’t stand up well to the sport-weight handspun, so I’m holding it doubled for the most lovely Marl. Really, I can’t tell you how beautiful this is!

handspun yarn

I’m making the pattern up as I go, but for the colorwork section I modified a chart from a book the owner of my LYS gave me for my anniversary (Thanks, Krista!!). And last, but not least, I am using Jane Austen stitch markers. This project is just so perfect in so many ways. I can’t wait to see how it comes out! Hopefully you’ll see a new pattern coming soon. Watch this space!

colorwork knitting with teacup stitch marker

Finished Object: The 5-Year Hat

5 years is a long time. 5 years ago I had just graduated from college and gone on a trip to Europe: I was broke. It wasn’t a great time for jobs, so I was working part time and sharing a 1-bedroom apartment with 2 other girls (my “bedroom” was actually the dining room and my “door” was a curtain).

I was a new knitter, so I barely knew what I was doing and had no idea what good yarn was. But I was passionate about knitting, so I made do with what I had and somehow not everything I knit during that period was crap. I had found Ravelry by this time and I adored Tin Can Knits (I still adore them. They’re fabulous!). It was Christmas time, so I bought their Sitka Spruce hat pattern and some KnitPicks yarn (Wool of the Andes Superwash) and began to knit (note that I did not swatch).

knit beret

I had trouble with the pattern – not because it wasn’t a good pattern (Tin Can Knits patterns are awesome), but because I was a new knitter and I was still figuring the whole knitting thing out. By hook or by crook I finished the hat and then realized it was too big. It probably would have fit a giant perfectly. I stuck it in the washer and dryer and hoped it would shrink some…no dice. So I threw it in the bottom of my stash and started something else. I was really sad though. I had spent so much time (and a decent amount of money to me at the time) on this hat, only to have it not fit. I knew it was my fault because I wouldn’t take the time to swatch…but it still hurt, and from time to time it niggled at my brain.

handknit beret

I did a few google searches and found out that I could sew elastic thread inside the brim to tighten it up, so I bought some elastic thread and set to with gusto. I got halfway through hat surgery and tried it on to see how I was doing, only to find that now my beautiful hat was too small. The Horror! The Irony! The knitting goddess was really trying to beat this lesson into me: For the love of wool, swatch before you start! (For the record, I swatch pretty religiously now. I still dislike it.) I threw the hat and elastic back in the stash and there it has stayed for the last 4 1/2 years.

sew elastic thread into knitted brim

Today I pulled the hat out and found the elastic, determined to fix the darn hat once and for all. First I loosened the elastic I had already sewn in, then I sewed elastic into the rest of the brim. 30 minutes was all it took. Why did it take me 5 years to do 30 minutes’ work? Next time I need to amend my knitting remind me of the 5 year hat.

handknit beret

Finished Object: Autumn Entrelac

Last time we talked I was beavering away on my entrelac scarf. I kept it in my bag to knit on while waiting and on trips and in meetings (the kind where I join online and no one can see me. Alas, I have too many in-person meetings). Once I understood the basics of how entrelac works it was easy to pick up for a few minutes here and there. It’s just stockinette with the occasional decrease. It turns out that if you work on something consistently (even if consistently just means a half hour a few times a week) it eventually gets done. I’m pleased to show you my finished scarf.

I handspun the yarn over a year ago. My goal was fat singles, but the end yarn was a little more thick and thin than I really like, but there’s a kind of perfection in the imperfection, right? I can’t wait to wear this with a jean jacket this fall.

Learning Entrelac and Knitting Backwards

I’ve been meaning to learn to knit Entrelac for quite a while now, but I was always intimidated because of how hard I had heard it was. There are a lot of things in life that we are told are hard. But some things that might be hard for me might be easy for you, or vice versa. In most cases I find that things are often easier than they seem. All it takes is a willingness to learn and some good old-fashioned practice.

A year ago I spun 545 yards of somewhat thick and thin singles yarn. I chose the fiber because it reminded me of the Arizona sunsets of my childhood, fading from yellow into orange into red into deepest purple. I took bits of each colour and added them to the larger sections of the other colours so the skein would hold together a little more cohesively, then I spun my heart out. Ever since then, I’ve been wondering what to do with this gem of a skein.

handspun yarn

A few weeks ago I was hanging out at the yarn store (as you do) and entrelac came up in conversation. A trusted spinning friend pointed me toward Allison LoCicero’s excellent (and free) Entrelac Scarf pattern so I, too, could learn to knit entrelac. After a bit of a false start I am happy to say I can now knit entrelac pretty smoothly. About the 2nd row I got really tired of turning my work every 8 stitches, so I thought about how a knit stitch and a purl stitch were formed and taught myself to knit backwards. It’s a little awkward at first, but once you get used to it, it’s really not that bad.

I can’t wait to see how this scarf comes out. I have a feeling it’s going to be incredible.

knitting entrelac

Breed Study: Targhee

The materials in this post were put together by my friend Jenn for our spinning group’s fiber study.

Targhee is one of America’s youngest breeds, having been developed this century. The Western sheep industry around 1900 was based on Merino and Rambouillet sheep with the emphasis on raising wool. Shortly after the turn of the century a demand began for lamb and this led to a crossing of the fine-wooled sheep to develop a better lamb producing animal. The most popular method to achieve this goal was the crossing of an English longwool breed with the fine-wooled breeds that were the basis of the Western sheep industry.

To fill this need, the US government began a program of crossing Lincoln rams on Rambouillet ewes, which was the foundation that developed into the Columbia breed. While these crosses were quite popular, many sheepmen felt that the ideal sheep would be 3/4 fine wool and 1/4 long wool, or what was commonly known as a “comeback” sheep, a name that signifies coming back to the Rambouillet from the first coarse and fine cross. To meet this demand, the US Sheep Experiment Station was begun in the fall of 1926 to lay the foundation for such a breed.

The foundation was a group of cross-bred ewes, consisting of Rambouillet, Lincoln, and Corriedale blood that were bred to 9 of the station’s smoothest, thickest Rambouillet rams. After 3 years of the program, 201 first-generation ewes were carefully selected and bred intensely. After 3 generations (about 1938) it had become apparent that a desirable breed had been developed and a larger genetic base was needed. New breeding schemes were developed, using the same original breeds, and the number of Targhees was boosted to over 1,000 sheep. The breed was named Targhee after the national forest where the animals grazed during the summer.

Each ewe will average a 10-14 lb fleece that has a micron measurement of 21-25 and a staple length of 3-5″ with a yield of 50-55%.

Jenn provided us all with a handful of Targhee fiber, and it was luscious! I spun a fine single on my drop spindle, wound it into a butterfly, and plied it back on itself for 15 yards of a fingering weight 2-ply yarn. I will definitely try this one again!

handspun Targhee

 

Finished Object: Squircle Socks

Hello, there, lovelies! I have been a busy bee and finished some socks! I started the Squircle Socks on Thanksgiving Day last year as my husband drove us 2 hours to his grandparents house. The project stayed in my bag as a “just in case” project for a long time, and I’m not a very prolific sock knitter anyway (I once knit a pair of man-sized socks in 2 weeks and hurt my wrists so bad I couldn’t knit for almost a month afterward. Not doing that again). The yarn is Knit Picks Felici in Mint Chip, which is sadly no longer available. This was my first time using self-striping sock yarn. I can’t believe I hadn’t tried this before! It was so ridiculously fun! The pattern is a little involved and asks you to do a little math, but it was a really fun and interesting knit.

If you want to explore different sock styles and like a bit of a challenge, I would highly recommend the Squircle Socks.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

This year I am challenging myself to try new spinning techniques. I learned to spin almost 2 years ago, and until this year almost all of my spinning has been using short forward draw and commercially prepared top to make a Worsted style yarn. When I bought 12 oz of Southdown wool a few weeks ago, I decided the time had come: I would perfect my long draw and learn to make my own rolags.

Rolags are the most “woolen” of any fiber preparation, woolen referring to preparation and drafting techniques that lead to an airy, fuzzy yarn (as opposed to a sleek and shiny yarn made from “worsted” preparation and drafting). Rolags are made by hand with hand cards. I don’t have cards of my own, so I borrowed some from a friend (Thanks, Jenn!), and now I want carders of my own. How many more weeks until SAFF?

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To make a rolag, you start by pulling off a handful or so of your fiber and placing an even layer over the tines of one of the cards so that 1/3 to 1/2 of the fiber length hangs off the end of the card. It doesn’t have to be pretty or aligned. We’ll work on that in the next step.

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Once you’ve got some wool on your card, grab it in your non-dominant hand with the tines facing up. Grab the other card in your dominant hand with the tines facing down and with a gentle sweeping motion just barely catch the ends of the fibers with the tines. Do this again 2-3 more times, working your way up to the edge of the card. The tines of the 2 cards should never scrape against each other.

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You can see in the picture how some of the wool has transferred to the second card (that was in your dominant hand). Now comes the tricky part. You need to transfer the wool from the first card (non-dominant hand) onto the 2nd card (dominant hand). Start by switching which card is in which hand. The 1st card will now be in your dominant hand and the 2nd card will be in your non-dominant hand. Hold the cards horizontally so that the tines are face up and the handles are facing out. Move the 1st card (dominant hand) so that it is about half a fiber-length from the edge of the 2nd card (non-dominant hand). Rotate the 1st card so that it is vertical, hold down the edge of the fiber, and rotate the card until it is horizontal again with the tines facing down. The fiber should all by lying on top of the 2nd card. Congratulations! That’s as hard as it gets!

rolag next step

Your fiber won’t be perfectly aligned yet, but it will be more aligned than it was at first. Continue carding until your wool is as tidy as you want it to be. I used combed top for this project, and it took me about 3 passes to be satisfied.

Once you are happy with your fiber prep, it’s time to roll it all up into a rolag. You’ll start with all the wool on one card. Take a pair of straight knitting needles (any gauge or material will do) and slide one below the end of the fiber hanging off the edge of your card and the other over the wool to sandwich the fiber in between them. Roll the needles and wool toward you in a burrito until all the wool is off the card. Move the rolag back to the far edge of the card (with the needles still in the center) and roll toward you again to lock the fibers in place. Remove the knitting needles. Voila! You’ve made a rolag!

I have had so much fun making these rolags over the last few weeks. I hope you have a fantastic time, too! Warning: Making rolags may be addictive.

Southdown Rolags

P.S. If you ever need a judge wig, rolags make a pretty good facsimile!

rolag wig