Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sheep Sampling

About this time, all across knit blogs and Ravelry, one can find New Year's resolutions like "knit/design 12 sweaters/shawls/pairs of socks in 2011." I've never much been one for New Year's resolutions, let alone committing myself to knitting a dozen of anything. But, my newfound addiction to spinning makes life a little more interesting.

When I was simply a knitter, I didn't really know much about wool. (Admittedly, I still don't.) For sheepy yarns, there was the generic "wool," the more luxurious Merino, the scratchy Icelandic, and the (enticing) fingering weight Shetland for colorwork. I had a vague notion that other sheep breeds existed, and was always fascinated when I visited the Solitude booth at fiber festivals because she had yarn spun from all different breeds of sheep.

So when I got into spinning, I was in for quite a surprise. At first, I was drawn to the hand dyed braids of Merino that abound on etsy. But Merino, with its short and slick staple, is not the easiest to spin. Blue Faced Leicester (BFL) quickly became my best friend. It's soft, silky, has a nice long staple, and is pretty forgiving. (And Chris over at Briar Rose Fibers dyes it into some pretty kick-ass colors.)

Gradually, I became aware of more breeds: Polwarth, Wensleydale, Romney, Navajo-Churro, and the tantalizing Cormo started showing up on my radar. CVM, North Ronaldsay, Romeldale, Bond, Corriedale, Targhee,Cotswold, Jacob... the list goes on and on.

But it wasn't until I purchased my first fleece (Sequin!) that I realized just how different fibers can be. And how differently they might like to be prepped and spun! Oh, the possibilities!!

What would I like to spin? How would it behave when prepped and spun in different ways?

My plan will be fleshed out more later, I'm sure, but here's the general gist: each month I'll try out a bit of fiber from a particular breed (or cross) of sheep, bringing it from the raw or washed state all the way through a knitted swatch or two.

I know that many before me have done this. I'm hoping to find their blogs or forum posts, for inspiration and guidance. But mostly, I'm excited to learn from the sheep.

Merry Christmas!

Man - I can't believe it's already Christmas 2010! This year has flown by.

The past few weeks have been busy, busy here in our little household. At the beginning of the month, my dad and stepmom drove over from Kentucky for a fantastic visit. We hadn't seen each other for almost 4 years, so it was really wonderful to spend several full days with them. On top of the good company, we got the chance to eat at some excellent local restaurants. (We still drool every time we think about the duck fat french fries at Salt. Mmmm!) We also toured some interesting old houses, including the stunning Garrett-Jacobs Mansion.

Unfortunately, the weather was ghastly-cold while they were here, so we didn't get to show them many of our favorite sites. And somehow, none of us managed to get a picture the entire time! I'm pretty sad about that. Hopefully we'll get to visit them next year though, and can remedy the picture situation.

Then last week, Ryan and I flew down to Florida for a whirlwind trip: 2 days in St. Augustine, 2 days in Orlando. It was our first time joining the family for Christmas at Disney.. and it was certainly magical. Christmas is so much more fun with kiddos!

We're finally getting a bit of down time; Ryan had chemo on Tuesday, so has been mostly resting since then. I made a big pot of chicken noodle soup for our Christmas dinner, and have plans to try out my new apple peeler/corer tomorrow!

I hope that Christmas and the New Year finds all of my bloggy and real-life friends happy, healthy, and warm. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spinning Seasons

The last few nice days of fall, I managed to spin outside on the deck. I've decided that I really love spinning outside - though I usually spend more time looking around than I do actually spinning.

Now that winter is upon us, I'm stuck inside, and Squirrel takes full advantage of this. During the cold seasons, Squirrel is nearly glued to me. Any time I sit down, she's immediately in my lap. She doesn't mind my treadling legs, either. Perhaps it's soothing.

I haven't gotten a whole lot spun these past few months, mostly because I was knitting. The roving below took me ages to spin.. and I'm not quite sure why. It's the Cosy Spins Falkland Fiber Club in the Rocket colorway (I forget which month). Lovely to spin, but endless!

It ended up being my first true 3ply, and boy am I glad it's done. I spun low-twist singles, and plied a bit tighter. It's pretty, very soft, and lofty. I ended up with about 270yds (pre-wash) of aran weight yarn from 3.6oz, which astounds me. Just shows how fluffy the stuff really is!

My next spinning project was on a deadline (Christmas!), and didn't take nearly as long. The fiber is a luscious blend of black Shetland, alpaca, and French Angora from Spiderweb Specialties. The angora is mostly in the form of little neps, which gives the finished yarn a nice tweedy texture.

Despite the fact that I'm allergic to some part of the roving (the alpaca, I think), it was wonderful to spin. Smells faintly of lavender, and there are little bits of vegetative matter every so often to remind you that this came from a small producer.

It was absolutely a pleasure to spin, and I'm pretty pleased that I still have plenty more left to play with. (They sell the roving in many natural colors, and it was hard to pick just one!) Like the Falkland above, I spun this into low twist singles, which I then plied slightly stronger. I ended up with over 300yds of worsted weight yarn from 4oz. Wooo! Lofty fiber really makes a difference with yardage.

I was also quite pleased with my wheel and scale. The jumbo bobbin was able to fit every last bit of the 4oz of plied yarn.. just barely!

And my little scale helped me to divide the fiber so evenly that I ended up with astonishingly little yarn left over post-plying.

Overall, a hugely satisfying and successful spin. And now I get to knit with it!

I was also finally able to get a cute picture of the "feral" cats we've been caring for. Our neighborhood, like any one around here, has lots of feral cats. We have a little family of all-black kittens that we've watched grow up this summer. A neighbor had them all spayed/neutered when they were quite young, so we've had no qualms about feeding them. They're super-friendly.

This picture shows 4 of the 6 of them, which is the best I've gotten yet. Also in the shot are Scatter, the neighbor's "feral" tabby cat, and O.K. Kitten, who Ryan and I caught and spayed a few months ago. O.K. Kitten is quite the queen, and my special favorite (shhhh!).

(O.K. stands for "Obnoxious Kitten.")

A few weeks ago, we built them winter shelters. Our neighbor also has some straw-lined shelters for them. Hopefully they'll all make it through the winter alright. They sure are sweet.