Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Weekend in the Twin Cities

This past weekend consisted of a whirlwind trip to and from the Twin Cities. Late Friday night, Liz met me at the airport, and we spent the next few hours driving and talking into the night.

Caffeine did its part in our trip Saturday as we woke up after four hours of sleep to wander some yarn shops in the Twin Cities.

I did my best to dissuade myself from impulse purchases by trolling Ravelry beforehand and running some advanced searches within my library and my queue for projects that took 750 yards or less of yarn. With that list, I tried to focus and commit each yarn purchase to a specific project.

First stop, Three Kittens. This is where the infamous milk yarn and corn yarn could be found. I bought a skein of each, even without projects in mind. After all, when fiber is made from foodstuffs, it’s practically written that thou must buy. Furthermore, these are what all those “One Skein” books were written for.

Second stop, the Yarnery. Our steps quickened once we saw the “SALE” banner out front. All yarn was twenty percent off, some thirty-five percent off. Those discounts made it easy to pick up some sock yarn as well as some yarn for a baby sweater.

Third stop, Borealis Yarns. This place had some drool-worthy yarns, but I was starting to be overwhelmed. They had some beautiful roving, but with a non-functional wheel, it was easy to avoid that purchase.

Only after much deliberation did I settle on some more Cascade 220, this time for a sweater from a book given to me by a dear friend from high school.

I hadn’t yet shared here the windfall of some amazing books. This fall an old high-school friend offered to let me look through her mother’s knitting books and adopt what I wanted. Her mother was an amazing knitter, particularly specializing in sweaters. I felt so honored to be given stewardship over these books – they’re my own connection to Nancy’s memory. I am now in possession of some Kaffe Fossett, Alice Starmore, Meg Swanson, Barbara Walker, and others. And while I can’t promise I will go to the extent that Liz did to commit to make something from every single book I own, I vow to familiarize myself with them enough and try to come close.

Anyway, back to our trip. By early afternoon, we were spent, both fiscally and physically. So away we drove, Liz dreaming of which projects she was going to cast on within moments of walking in the door, and me berating myself for having no extra needles, thus subjecting myself to working on one of my (three) in-progress projects. Good conversation, barbecue, and coffee continued into Sunday.

Sunday morning, after experiencing some torrential rains, we found my sister, and the second part of my visit commenced. I was able to visit her church and meet some of her good friends, followed by helping her in the studio on her sculpture project. This involved me helping her stir and pour two hundred pounds of concrete.

Then she later dropped me off at the house for the third and final part of my visit. Another friend had offered to let me crash at their place since they’re not far from the airport, thus making my mid-day return that much easier. We spoke a few hours, until society dictated we turn in for the night. I spent a couple leisurely hours with their darling dog the next day before starting my journey home.

First off, I feel I should give a defense for finding the need to include three different knitting projects on a trip of less than 72 hours duration. But each served its purpose, as my fellow knitting readers know. First was the lacy drop-stitch scarf, fairly mindless but the thinness of the fiber made it fiddly and not the best choice during the turbulent flights. Second was the garter-rib sock, truly mindless. Third was the faux-cable sock, which allowed me a little mental engagement. However, the latter required me to follow a chart, and while I wanted to make progress during the weekend, I didn’t want to have to spread out on the airplane, especially if I had neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate my set-up.

In addition to sharing time on three different knitting projects, I read a couple books on my trip. I made progress on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth and I finished Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Again, like my yarn defense, I need to be prepared in the literary realm for whatever mood might strike me (I’m hoping you’ve all forgotten that I have nearly 30 unabridged volumes on my iPod, but those are all classics, and sometimes a girl’s gotta read a book written in her lifetime).

All in all, a successful and rewarding trip.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Still Spinning

Quick update on the wheel. I basically have two options.

One, find someone to make a flyer for my wheel. Not very difficult for a carpenter, and if we were closer to home I would try to enlist my father in this project, but this is unlikely since we’re separated by a couple states and I don’t know any woodworkers here in the area.

Two, buy a flyer kit (then the next decision is which type: jumbo flyer, lace flyer, or standard flyer) and tweak my wheel to make it work. Not too daunting, but requiring a little time and money, so that’s going to go on hold until I can decide what I want. Ideally, someone would have an unused flyer kit to sell cheap, but I’m guessing this is also unlikely.

So while those ideas marinate, I’ll show off my newest work. First, I finished spinning singles of my brown BFL and then I made a yarn cake with my yarn ball winder.

Aubrey demonstrated how she plies from a yarn ball. Under her tutelage, I plied and my result was 64 yards of my beautiful two-ply yarn. I still need to wash it to set the twist, but I think I will do so in the coming days.

If you needed further evidence of my growing addiction, over the long Easter weekend, I spun up eight ounces of roving (hand-dyed BFL in the “As Above, So Below” colorway, also from Crown Mountain Farms).

Here’s the before shot of the roving.

And the singles on the spindle.

Finally, the plied yarn, which is just over 215 yards.

The colors are beautiful. Spinning it, I was enamored with the subtle changes from dark greens to aquas and then blues and milder greens. Once you ply it together, though, it becomes more uniform in color. While I haven’t yet measured, it looks like it’s worsted weight, but it’s growing ever thinner – and more consistent – and I haven’t given up hope of creating some sock yarn down the road.

Alas, I have come to a predictable end. My time with the borrowed wheel is in the home stretch, and I am out of roving, unless I count the cashmere-merino blend I was reserving for a pair of thrummed mittens.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Wheel of My Own

I admit that when I first get something in my head, it consumes me. This is true for knitting, sewing, life in general. That is why it was dangerous to get these spinning lessons and borrow a friend’s wheel. As I began to understand the process and feel more comfortable, I really got excited about the prospect of owning a wheel of my own.

And that’s where the problem came in. Spinning wheels aren’t cheap. I’m borrowing a used wheel that was found on ebay for $150, and that was a great deal. Buying new can easily be over $400, especially if you want the wood to be finished.

And I’m impatient. I recognize patience is a virtue, and I do display a modicum in other areas of life, but delayed gratification is tough when it comes to hobbies. However, much as I wanted to go charge one and do my part to single-handedly turn our economy around, I was ready to buckle down and start saving up for a spinning wheel, which meant sometime this late summer or fall I would be the proud new owner.

I should also add that if you ever cross paths with me on any casual level, you’re likely to know my reigning passion. It goes something like this:

You: Um, could I get help registering?

Me: [shoving my knitted socks or handing you my spindle of newly spun yarn] Thanks for asking about this! I just knit/spun this up! I’m so excited!

Anyway, rewind to Friday. It was no surprise that my coworkers were familiar with my current obsession with spinning. One of them, K, attends auctions. She and her husband find ones that offer items of interest to both of them. She likes the fabric, yarn, sewing machines and kitchen items, and he goes for the power tools. She told me about one of Saturday’s auctions was slated to please them both. There in the list of items were three simple, glorious words: wood spinning wheel.

She said since they were already attending, she’d be happy to bid on it if I gave her what to look for and a top price limit I’d be willing to pay. I was ecstatic. Here I was, drafting some items to guide her, someone with absolutely no idea on what to look for in a wheel (i.e., where I was just a month ago).

She knew the auctioneer and I called to see if it would be possible to get a photo before Saturday. He didn’t have access to the storage facility until 7 AM the following day, but he did tell me he thought the wheel was not an antique and was functional. He speculated it was going to go for around $20-30, which made me think he didn’t know what he was talking about since some people troll auctions looking for long-forgotten spinning wheels.

So Saturday I waited expectantly, since K had both my home and cell numbers. I was all excited when the home number rang – most friends and family call our cell. It was a survey.

A couple hours later, she did call. She said it looked like it worked, but she couldn’t find an identifying brand on it anywhere, perhaps revealing that it was handmade. She added that it looked like a photo of an Ashford Elizabeth that I had sent her with, but she wasn’t sure she should have spent as much as she did given the condition. My stomach tightening with the prospect of paying way too much for a nonfunctional wheel, I asked what she paid. She laughed, since she had me going. A whopping five dollars. The auctioneer started at $35, and with no bids, he kept lowering the starting bid. When he reached ten, K offered $5, and no one else countered, so it was mine! Beforehand, she had also noticed a box of 30 spindles and other accessories that she informed them belonged with the spinning wheel, so she thought I should be completely set.

She brought one of the spindles in to work to show me, and it was much smaller than I expected and was missing the groove I was used to seeing on the other wheels. However, I’m most interested in spinning thin yarn, so even filling one of these, while not as accommodating as a full-size spindle, might still have yielded decent yardage.

I took ownership of the spinning wheel Monday evening. Immediately I noticed that it was missing the flyer (the object that connects to the wheel via a band and as you pedal, it turns and wraps the yarn onto the bobbin), and I strongly suspect the 30 small bobbins I have don’t go with the spinning wheel.

Since it appears to be a homemade wheel, I’m bringing it to my weekly knitting group tonight to take it under advisement. There will be up to three other spinners present that can let me know if we can redeem it. The wheel has a slight wobble, but it treadles smoothly and I suspect once the band is attached to the flyer, the tension will eliminate the slight turn. I’m hoping after taking measurements of a friend’s similar wheel that I will be able to buy replacement parts from Ashford (uprights, flyer, bobbins, new band, and if absolutely necessary, a maiden bar with knobs).

One of the reasons I am considering buying Ashford replacement parts instead of finding someone to make the necessary pieces is that I absolutely love the Ashford wheels, and perhaps someday in the future I will find myself the proud owner of one. In that case, I could use the bobbins/additional flyers as interchangeable pieces.

So right now, my spinning wheel is a beautiful antique of original workmanship. I am able to use my friend’s wheel for a couple more weeks before she moves, and then I hope I won’t have to wait too long – or spend too much – before making mine functional.

I’ll try to update with the verdict on my wheel sometime later this week, as well as show off my first plied yarn (to be accomplished tonight).

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Spinning Into Spring

I've learned it's dangerous to say definitive statements like the following: "I will never be interested in learning to spin. I am completely satisfied buying ready-to-knit yarn and not messing around with the expense of purchasing a spinning wheel and then all the roving, adding yet one more step before I get to pull out my needles to cast on a new project."

Someone out there likes to see me eat my words. Sort of like how I once wrote, about three years to the day before our wedding, how Eric and I would never get together, because nice as he was, I just didn't see anything coming from our friendship and he was too smart for me, but I digress.

It started slowly. I read several knitting blogs, and all at once, it seemed, they were showing the before and after photos. Before, images of the roving in wild, vibrant colors. After, the less intense colors of the beautiful, plied yarn. The transformation was amazing.

Add to that, I have three friends with spinning wheels. While I didn't ever see them spin until recently, they all talked of the relaxation it brought them.

While at K's house for dinner a month back, I asked to see her wheel since I hadn't set eyes on it before, and she spun a quick bit, then made a dangerous comment. She offered to loan me her wheel for a few weeks to get a feel for it before their pending move. First, I wrote it off -- I'm busy, I'm not interested in spinning, I don't want to think about buying a wheel if I love it and add yet one more hobby. But the idea marinated and grew more and more attractive, and next thing I knew, I found myself at her place a couple weeks back, getting my first lesson.

I was terrible. I overspun the roving so it was kinking up on itself, not feeding onto the spindle without a fight. I admit that the frustration level was borderline. Creative things happen for me without too much trouble. I like challenge, I don't like constant failure. So there was some bit of me that was comfortable writing off spinning. After all, I gave it a shot and it didn't take. I could check it off my list of creative pursuits and put it out of my head forever.

Then A gave me another lesson last week. And it started to click. I was steady with the treadle, and I understood how my foot and hands were supposed to be working together.

However, I did tell A that as attractive as the idea of spinning was to me, I was almost to the point of being okay writing it off and being satisfied that I didn't have to start saving up for a wheel, and darn her for changing my mind.

You start with something called roving, which looks like this:

Then you thin it out and put in a twist. Here's some of my early stuff while A was guiding me -- notice the thick and thin inconsistencies. We're talking thin as dental floss in some spots and thick as your pinky in others. I'm told to celebrate this now, since once I get better, I won't be able to recreate this. I think this is only about 20 yards.

After my coffee-shop lesson, I went home with the roving A gave and spun up the next batch. I ended up with about 50-yards worth, much more consistent and more of a worsted weight, although the twist is more definite in some areas than in others.

Then I was ready to move on to some of the black blue face leicester from Crown Mountain Farms that I had treated myself to. It was inexpensive but oh, so soft.

I'm a little over half done with the four ounces, and it's my best yet:

It's thin and fairly consistent, and I can't wait to finish and double-ply it, which should be in the next couple days.

So there you have it. The story of how I went from absolutely not considering the idea of spinning to how I am anticipating a wheel of my very own. That's another story, though. (Stay tuned for later this week.)

People have been asking if I will get sheep next. No.

I can honesty say that, at present, the interest to take the fiber directly from the animal -- even an animal I didn't care for -- and then have to still clean and card it before it would be in a state to be spun is not at all there, and the thought of the added steps does not appeal to me.

But we know what happens when I speak in firm, declarative statements, so I'll try to keep my mouth shut.