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Jul 22, 2013

Tour de Fleece Finish Line

I finished washing my last Tour de Fleece skein at 11:59 last night - no joke. Like everything else in life, I set rather ambitious goals for spinning during the competition, and fell just a bit short. I completed the five skeins of yarn for the "magic number" challenge in the Spinner's Study group on Ravelry, but only completed 6.5 ounces out of 16 ounces of the Romney/Mohair/BL blend fiber.

Did I mention that at the same time I was sewing for two contests on Pattern Review - the "sew your stash" and "UFO" competitions that finish at the end of the month? So, in addition to spinning, I completed my first pair of trousers from last fall, and made a beautiful lined linen dress that fits better than any dress I've ever owned, two pair of shorts and a flowery summer skirt.

Meanwhile, my knitting has barely progressed, my web surfing and social media output has been minimal and I haven't podcast since June, although I am planning to record next weekend.

Here is my Tour de Fleece work - 5 skeins of yarn from 5 different sheep breeds all spun at a worsted weight (9-12 wpi) and the unplied blend that is still a WIP - close to 15 ounces of fiber altogether. Finished skeins from left to right in picture:

Tour de Fleece 2013 Results

1. Zwartbles - 1 oz skein from a raw fleece breedbox sample that I washed, comb and spun. I had never worked with this breed before, and the fiber washed nicely and combed well. Spinning it was not as much fun, it did not want to be a worsted weight, it wanted to be fine, so we fought. It puffed up considerably after washing.

2. Gulf Coast Native - 1.2 oz skein spun from a fleece I bought from the humid south that was heavily yolked and then sat for two years waiting for me to process it . I finally sent it off to Morro Fleeceworks and got back lovely buttery yellow pin drafted roving. It spun well and I love the resulting yarn, very lofty and I could wear it next to skin. I've spun another sample of this breed before and the yarns between the two are fairly consistent.

3. California Red - 1.3 oz skein spun from roving from an Etsy seller. The fiber was just awful, full of neps and vm and it had that smell from an unnamed mill that I do not care for at all. The only thing I could do was spin it woolen, which is not my forte as you can tell by the picture. I have a tiny sample of Cal Red from another source that is much nicer (too small for this challenge) so I’m glad I am not judging the breed by this yucky, stinky fiber.

4. Border Leicester - 2.2 oz skein from a raw fleece sample that I washed and combed. I loved everything about this fiber, really nice stuff. Longwools ... sigh.

5. Jacob - 2.5 oz skein from two Jacob fleeces from a shepherd that were similar in coloration. I sent them off to Morro and had her separate the white, multi and brown for me and process. It turned out beautifully and was a joy to spin. It almost feels like Cascade 220. Can’t wait to spin the rest!

Jun 25, 2013

Preparing for Tour de Fleece 2013

It's only four days until the start of the Ravelry Tour de Fleece (TdF) - the annual fiber spin-along that takes place during the Tour de France. This year, the tour begins on Saturday June 29 and runs until Sunday July 21nd, 2013.

I haven't participated in TdF in prior years due to vacation scheduling, but this year I am all geared up and ready to go. You can find me on two teams:

1) Team Sasquatch - the team for podcasters and podcast listeners. Jasmin of Knitmore Girls fame is the team lead and I am one of several co-captains that will cheer everyone on, including: Kari of The High Fiber Diet podcast, Arlin of the The Lost Geek podcast and Maria from the Subway Knits podcast

2) Team A Spinner's Study - the team for folks who want to have a specific challenge to spin for. This year, there are three challenges available: 1) Spinning something new (fiber or technique) 2) Spinning a fine fiber in a bulky weight and 3)Magic Number 5 - spin something in 5's - five ply, five fiber types, etc.

I decided to set reasonable goals this year, enough fiber to feel a sense of accomplishment but not so much that I feel completely overwhelmed. I'm planning for about 18 days of spinning with a target of 1 -1.5 oz per day which is about 30-45 minutes for me. This gives me the official rest days off and a couple of days to ply up everything.

For Team Sasquatch, I will be spinning up some deep stash fiber on the Sidekick that has been hanging around since spring 2011. I bought this pretty 1lb bump of Romney/Border Leicester/Mohair mix at Maryland Sheep and Wool and have been meaning to spin it up for some time. It will be a two-ply DK to worsted weight, spun on the Ladybug.

Romney/BL/Mohair Roving Blend

I'll be doing the Magic Number challenge for Team A Spinner's Study and am planning on spinning up 1-2oz skeins of (5) different sheep breeds for this challenge: 1) Zwartbles 2) Columbia 3) Clun Forest 4) Border Leicester and 5) Polypay for the Covered in Sheep Project.

In the meanwhile, I've been polishing up the wheels in anticipation. Here is the 'bug all shined up:

Schacht Ladybug
Are you planning on joining in this year? I'd love to hear what your goals are.

Jun 16, 2013

Twisted Lattice and Diagonal Chain in BFL, CVM and Gulf Coast Native

I've finished two more squares in the Covered in Sheep project, for a total of 6 out of 63 patterns in the Barbara Walker book, or almost 10% of the way there. Even though I have a long way to go, 10% feels like measurable progress and I know have a nice little stack of squares on the corner of my work desk to admire.

First up is another mosaic pattern, the Diagonal Chain pattern, and #10 in the book. For this square, I used two of the washed fleece samples I had spun up in the Rare Breed workshop at Maryland Sheep & Wool I took last month. I had about 35 yards each of 2-ply Romeldale/CVM and Gulf Coast Native to work with and I used all but about 5 yards of each for this square.

The CVM is the grayish-brown and the Gulf Coast Native is the cream color. Both of the fleece samples had been nice ones, but while I loved spinning the Gulf Coast, the CVM was another story. It didn't want to draft well and fought me the entire time and looked ugly plied up in the skein. I dreaded having to knit it up.

Ugly Romeldale/CVM Yarn

However, it ended up knitting up so nicely and behaved wonderfully on the needles, plus it and the Gulf Coast worked very well together. Maybe I need to give CVM a second chance?

And this particular pattern was another fun knit and leaves me wondering why I'm just now experimenting with mosaic patterns - they are such fun and look great. It was also tv knitting, the pattern required a simple sequence that did not change throughout the square, meaning I had little opportunity to screw it up. When finished, it is a perfect 8"x8"size without blocking using US 6 needles.

Diagonal Chain Pattern in CVM/Romeldale and Gulf Coast Native
Next is the Twisted Lattice (#30) square, knit from a small raw BFL fleece sample I had that I washed, comped and into a 2-ply yarn that amazed me with how nice it had come out considering the fleece sample I started with had been so dirty. And I love BFL, both the spinning and the hand of the yarn. 

Dirty BFL Fleece Sample

Lovely 2-Ply BFL Yarn

So, of course this square ended up being a tedious project that was a pain to knit for a variety of reasons. First, it required both left twist (LT) and right twist (RT) stitches, neither of which I had done before, so I watched a YouTube video on how to do each because I'm incapable of figuring these things out from reading directions and/or 2-D book pictures. The right twist was fine but the left twist - with its knit into back loop of the 2nd stitch and then k2tog tbl maneuvers were not only a pain to do, even with my Signature Stilleto tips, the longwool properties of the BFL made the yarn snag on most of these (like nails on a blackboard) and it ended up not looking anywhere as neat as I wanted it.

My Messy Ridges vs. Barbara Walker's Pristine Ridges

About halfway through, in a fit of knitting OCD, I ripped back about five rows to make my ridges tidier. Yeah, well you can guess what happened next. Apparently, I lost track of where I was and started knitting in the wrong place and didn't glance down until about ten more rows, only to see that the pattern was totally wrong and had to pull it all out. At this point I decided that A) I didn't care if my lattice ridges looked messy anymore and B) was totally understanding Judith MacKenzie's point about 2-ply not being a great choice for stockinette. This is when you start talking up the miracle of blocking in your head, right?

So, the square is done and in the end, it isn't the worst looking thing. But if I ever do a sweater out a handspun BFL, it is going to be a 3-ply and there will be no left twist patterns.

Close-Up of Finished Lattice Square

Jun 15, 2013

Updated: June Breedbox: Targhee, Polwarth, California Red and Zwartbles

This month's breedbox from Namaste Farms was full of all sorts of sheep fibery goodness that I haven't worked with before. Most exciting was the chance to get to play with some Zwartbles fleece, since the Dutch breed of sheep (now found in the UK as well) is not native to North America. Also fabulous to see some Aussie Polwarth in its raw state.

June 2013 Breedbox Fleece Samples

I had a pretty easy time guessing most of this month's breeds, but will update my answers on June 14 after I've listened to the Blogtalk discussion on the samples.

☒INCORRECT BAG A --- Polwarth

Huh - this was Targhee. 

At first I was a little puzzled by this sample. It was dirty and a bit disorganized and bore no resemblance to the fluffy Polwarth dyed top I've spun in the past:

Raw Fleece Sample

But I gave it a good wash, combed a sample and then compared it to a washed lock sample someone had sent me from another source and the evidence was conclusive: Polwarth. Once I combed it out, it felt like Polwarth - very puffy.

From Top Left: Combed Top, Washed Lock Sample, Washed Breedbox Fleece

Locks After Flick Carding and Washing

☑CORRECT BAG B --- California Red

I learned from listening to Martin that this sample was much whiter and less typical of most California Red fleece. As breeders try to get the fleece to have a lower micron count, it loses the reddish type fibers.

I have worked with California Red before in roving format, so I know what it looks/feels like. Interesting to note that there is some reddish color on the fleece after washing. Also, I underestimated how much grease was in this sample and didn't get the water hot enough so it still feels tacky and will have to be rewashed.

California Red Fleece Sample

☒INCORRECT BAG C --- Targhee

And this was Polwarth. Feels identical to my Polwarth sample from another source; just goes to show you that sheep are individuals too. Apparently this was also a lamb fleece so not entirely representative of the breed.

What gave away this sample as Targhee is that it appeared to be the finest of the bunch in terms of micron count. And look at that crimp!

Crimpy Locks
But boy were the tips gummy with dirt. I took one look at them and knew that unless I used the flick carder on them before washing, they would never come clean with just hot water and scouring agent. Here are the before and after shots of the raw and washed locks:

Unwashed Locks w/Dirty Tips

☑CORRECT BAG D --- Zwartbles

This is the Zwartbles fleece - I'll bet my fiber stash on it. It feels much nicer than anticipated - similar to Clun Forest or Southdown in texture. Can't wait to spin this one up.

Locks of Zwartbles Fleece 

☒INCORRECT BAG E --- Polwarth

This sample was a red herring - Lincoln! It was only in the box because the breed was part of the founding stock of both Polwarth and Targhee.

I hate guessing the last sample - it's typically something unusual or unexpected. But ... I'm thinking that it may be Polwarth too. Another Breedbox recipient guessed it was a Zwartbles lamb, but the texture just feels wrong for that. So - here is a picture of a BAG E lock next to a BAG C lock (which I am certain is Polwarth).

What do you think?

Are Both of These Polwarth?

Jun 2, 2013

Episode 20 - Summer of Shawls

Episode 20 - Summer of Shawls (Show Notes)

This week, I give you my take on the new Signature Needle Arts Convertible product launch and the ongoing PR debacle that followed. I look at great shawl patterns and pronounce this summer to be dedicated to all things shawls, except for the Covered in Sheep afghan project, of course - with two new squares knit up. Fibery goodness from local festivals abounds and in spinning I show you how to separate a primitive sheep coat to get at the downy softness underneath. I wrap up with how to wash and not felt alpaca and talk about the innate creative spark in humans that technology can’t extinguish.

What's New
May and June Wexford Knits Ravelry Group RAP (Random Acts of Pattern) winners
Ravelry thread discussion  and reviews on the new Signature convertible needles

Sweet Dreams by Boo Knits in Verdant Gryphon Mithril
Citron in Sundara Silk Lace

Stash Flash
Alpaca from Turtle Ridge Farm
Wensleydale 2-ply Fingering from Kirkwood Farm
Fiber Optic Kasmir Paintbox mini-skeins in Onyx-Crimson colorway

Top of the Queue
Echo Flower Shawl by Jenny Johnson Johnen
Fleurdelise One Skein Triangle Shawl by Michelle Miller
Stripe Study Shawl by Veera Välimäki

Covered in Sheep Project

Blocks #5 (Diagonal Rib) & #10 (Diagonal Chain) from Barbara Walker's Learn to Knit Afghan book

Racka sheep

Tips & Tricks
Unicorn Fibre Wash
Aquatic plant baskets