Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Feel my pain...

So I finished the humungous doily... It happened suddenly and without warning as I just ran out of doily to crochet, taking me completely by surprise. No pictures yet as I need to weave in the ends and do some blocking, but in the meantime my thoughts returned to my handspun.

I did a little swatching and decided on a 4mm needle, casting on last night so I'd have something to work on at the Knit-Wits meeting tonight. I'd been there maybe ten minutes when disaster struck.

You're looking at a snapped 4mm needle tip from a brand new, never before used Knit-Pro Harmony Options set. These were a present from Dave last year and I've not had a chance to try them out. I certainly wasn't expecting this set of tips to have such a short lifespan!

I wish I could say I was doing something dramatic or exciting with these needles when they broke but I wasn't. The needle snapped less than 2 minutes after I picked them up, only 4 and half rounds into this project - a very simple hat. Looking at it, the tip has sheered off where it joins the metal cuff and since this was this pair of tips' (and indeed the whole set's) first ever use, I'm thinking a manufacturing fault.

I am not impressed. :(

I was impressed with how the handspun was working up, held double it was looking quite striking and giving an even fabric... Unfortunately, I've been rather stymied by defective tools. Darn.

I've used Knit-Pro Harmony needles before, in DPN and circulars and I've never had this problem, so I really do hope this is a one off. Meanwhile, I've emailed the shop Dave bought the needles from, just on the off chance they're under some sort of guarantee.

2009-09-24 ETA
By way of a quick update, I had a prompt response from the shop where Dave bought the needles and they're sending out a replacement tip. So much kudos for good customer service to Get Knitted in Bristol. :)

Monday, 21 September 2009

A very busy but not so productive weekend

This weekend was marked by being 'bitty', as in I did a bit of this and a bit of that and didn't really seem to achieve very much.
On Saturday morning we headed over to the local Ford dealer to have a proper look at the new (ish) Focus Estate. I currently drive the original design and excepting the tendency towards developing an indoor swimming pool in the passenger footwell, I'm very happy with it. However, it is getting on a bit and I probably need to start thinking of changing it and so off we went. My intention was to look properly at the new body shape, to sit behind the wheel, play with the seats and look at how the changed shape has effected its loading capacity. I was just intending to look you understand.
Sadly I was thwarted. The dealership did not have a single Focus Estate on the lot and the lady I spoke to said she'd been there three months and this was the first time anyone had asked after one!!! I don't understand this as the original estate version of this car was and is very popular. I see them everywhere. *sigh*
The sales lady said she'd try to get one in for me to look at, so I left contact details and walked away. This does not bode well and shows why I hate car shopping.
That afternoon, I settled into starting processing the second fleece. This fleece is the muckier of the two, is really heavy on the grease and has a lot more guard hairs. I'll admit I wasn't convinced as I struggled to seperate enough locks from the main fleece so I could start scouring them. However, having washed that first sample, apart from the guard hairs I'm going to tentatively say that the locks are actually nicer than the first fleece. Very white and creamy, far less matting and it just looks better...
Or possibly, I've improved on my tearing off of locks and initial processing stage which means I'm producing nicer scoured fleece? Who knows, but fleece processing is continuing apace.
I did some more picking. That's it really, I picked fluff a little while I washed fleece but still don't have a huge amount to show for my work.
I've also started eyeing up my first handspun...



There isn't a lot there and it seems to take me an age to produce yarn, mostly because I get so little time to do any actual spinning at the moment. An hour a week ... sometimes... if I'm lucky... just isn't cutting it. The quality is variable too; I tend towards spinning quite thin singles with a lot of twist so this two ply is very springy, tightly spun and about the weight of a conventional 4-ply, in most places at least. In some places it's a lot skinnier than that, while in the odd place it gets a bit thicker. Controlling the drafting process is coming along, but very slowly because I'm not getting enough practice.
However, I'm getting an itch to try out my handspun and see what it actually knits up like. I wouldn't like to try crochet with it yet, as the yarn is very variable in quality and I think it needs the control that knitting offers. So, I'm thinking a hat. Maybe this hat. And maybe, if I held it double the two strands would even out the yarn?
I think some swatching may be required and soon, given that I'm on the last round of the humungous doily (finally and this last round is taking an absolute age). With this in mind, I loaded up my swift and wound two skeins into balls.

After two balls, each of approx 120m, Dave said he's going to have to buy me a real swift as he doesn't think he's up to the job. He was happy though because I made cake...

This is my first ever banana cake and it was very yummy; it didn't get a chance to cool properly before we started on it. Unfortunately it smelled too good and we just couldn't resist. I'm not much of a baker, but we had overripe bananas and so I thought I'd give it a go. Given how tasty and moist it is and not at all like how I remember my mother's banana cake, I'm going to call it a success.
Finally, we went to an art exhibition in Coventry's Canal Basin last night. Dave takes weekly lessons with Al Davison of The Astral Gypsy, so had an invite to see his work. The theme was Dr Who and the pieces on display were very good.
So a very full weekend, doing lots of things but not really centred around a single theme.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Hello and ... Socks!

Last night I found out that this little blog of mine has more readers than I thought it did, with quite a few ladies at the Wednesday's Coventry Knit-Wits get together admitting to dropping by. We also had a new lady come along, who said she'd recognised me from my profile picture. So to any unknown readers out there and my friends from the knitting group - hello!

The humungous doily continues apace and I'm now slowly working may way around row 51 of 60. When I say slowly, I'm hoping I might get this round done by the time I go to bed tomorrow night, which will have meant it's taken me about four nights to complete one round. That's the problem with this kind of project, it starts off really fast but as the project gets bigger progress slows down to a crawl.

The other problem is that I find crochet far harder on the hands and wrists than knitting. In particular, the left hand (which tensions the yarn and holds the project) is prone to stiffening up, while the right hand (doing the actual hooking) just aches after a while. I'm currently trying out a Clover Soft Touch crochet hook, courtesy of Jane and I've got to admit has helped quite a bit, even with the left hand which took me by surprise. I can only assume that less pain in the right hand means I'm not so tense and hence don't hold my left hand in a death grip.

Jane (who is ever industrious) will be requiring her hook back and so I'm looking to get hold of one of my own, but the smaller sizes of the Clover hooks seem to be harder to source. Get Knitted have them, but on the off chance I emailed the Knitting and Crochet Guild to see if they had them, but hadn't updated their website. I had a promptish reply from the lady who deals with the KCGTrading side of things who said she'd order them in for me! Kudos to the Guild for customer service and me I guess for trying to support them (being a member and all). I'll have to wait until the hooks come in before I can place an order, but Jane has kindly allowed me to continue using her hook for another week, so all is good.

No new photographs because I don't think the doily looks significantly different to the last one I took.

I do however have a finished project!

If you cast your mind back to July, you might remember that I started a pair of blue and green stripey socks, currently known as the Ork Deathskull Socks. Well, they're finished!


Not only are they finished, but I actually got the stripes to mostly match up, despite having a yarn crisis and only just having enough to finish the pair.


Personally I'm putting the problems down to the long colour repeats on the stripes. I started the first pair at the start of a 'green' phase, while the second ball started at the beginning of a blue phase. This meant I had to wind off all the blue to get to the next green starting point, and unfortunately this meant I ran out of yarn as I approached the toe! There was a serious 'Eeek' moment there as I like socks to match and I feared Dave may end up with one green toe and one blue one. Not a serious disaster and I'm sure he'd have loved them anyway, but it would have grated with me every single time I washed them. Fortunately, I had enough green left over from the first ball (just and I do mean, just) and was able to finish the second sock more or less in step with the first.


I give you Dave's Ork Deathskull Socks, in his favourite shades of blue and green.


This is a simple, plain sock knit to the guidelines suggested by the Yarn Harlot in her excellent Knitting Rules!. It's knit on 2.5mm needles to a tension of 7 stitches per inch - note my usual mix of imperial and metric in the same sentence. The yarn is Regia's 'Mini Ringel Color' in colourway 5220, which knits up pretty much as you see.

Dave loves them and is pleased with the colour and will be delighted to know I've blogged about them as it means he can actually wear them now. :)

And finally, because I rarely get to include a decent picture of Charlie as he normally comes out over exposed or blurry or is under (i.e. in) a bush, another pic of him sat under the lavender bush while Dave was modeling socks.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Being picky with fleece

This weekend has mostly been focused on fibre related activities. I did some spinning, but not enough to really make much progress. I washed the last of the first fleece. I worked a little more of the humongous doily. I knitted some sock. And I learned about 'picking'.

Picking fleece - sometimes called 'teasing' and others 'sorting' - is something I learned about from my spinning bible, a wonderful resource titled "Start Spinning" by Maggie Casey. It's the process of picking the scoured fleece apart, loosening the fibres and removing all the 'undesirable' bits. This prepares the fibre for carding, which in turn readies it for spinning.

Apparently there are such things as mechanical pickers which will pick the fibres apart for you, but I've never seen one and certainly don't own one, so I'm doing this manually.

After rather optimistically starting yesterday morning and thinking I'd have a nice bag full in no time at all, I've not made much progress at all. Maggie Casey warns "...A lot of people find teasing wool boring, and I will admit that I would never do it if I didn't get to spin the wool I had teased." And after having a go at this, I have to agree with the lady.

I sat down with a handful of wool and began picking through it, loosening the fibres by pulling them apart and watching the larger pieces of debris fall out. Then came the problem, all of the little, tiny pieces of unidentified detritus which seems to be embedded in the tightly compacted fluff. To get at it, you really do have to pull the fibre apart a few strands at a time and this takes you into a sort of timeless zone where whole hours disappear without you noticing!

Admittedly, I haven't spent the whole weekend doing nothing but picking but I've certainly returned to it whenever I wasn't doing anything more stimulating (i.e. not as mind numbing). I even got Dave to have a go, with him working through a couple of handfuls for me. After a good few hours work between us, we have maybe a third of small bag full of 'picked' wool.


To show you the transformation - fleece starts out looking like this...


Once it's been washed and scoured, it looses the grease, becomes a lot nicer and softer to touch, but is still very compacted and full of undesirable bits.


After picking, the wool fibres open up and increase in volume considerably. They're fluffy, light and airy and don't really resemble the original form very much...


I'm impressed, but it sure is hard work and very time consuming. Dave and I were theorising that back in the day it would have been the kind of job that would be given to small children who have little nimble fingers. It isn't difficult, but requires persistence, a resistance to boredom and very good light.