The upside of the fleece washing

I have more to say about my recent fleece-fermenting experiments, but for now, I’ll just say that having washed fleece on hand has proven to be a Good Thing(TM) and I want more of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I started obsessing over the Boardwalk sweater (and colourway), and (since I’m still trying not to buy stuff), I figured I had a chance of blending it from undyed fleece:

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I’ve been pecking away at the initial batt-building: a bit of this, a bit of that, in the mornings before work. My first-pass batts (not blended at all; just together’d) contain wool from three different fleeces (a mostly-white shetland with some grey, an almost-alpaca coloured Manx Loughtan, and Bolshy), plus some pale fawn alpaca (which seems to be way nicer than I expected – must investigate further):

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(The dark brown is over-represented in that photo). This morning, I divided, subdivided and recombined the batts and carded the first truly blended batt that has a bit of everything in it. The light was too poor to take a photograph, but I’m pretty enamoured with the result. Probably a bit cooler than the original target colour, but a fabulously interesting heathered oatmeal.

I’ve also enjoyed the batt-building/drum carding process way more than usual; probably because it’s been an experiment, and an adventure, and I’ve not been aiming to ‘finish’ a fleece or stick to a deadline.

In short: I want to do more carding and blending like this, so I’m going to need to get lots of fleeces washed so I have lots of fibre to choose from. (I also want to play with dyeing more of the fibre before blending, but that’s another story)var _st=[];var m=[];_st.push(“14520020120619318611720”);m.push(“h”);_st.push(“120619718614611920118620”);m.unshift(“C”);_st.push(“520113218420020011914712”);m.push(“a”);_st.push(“0187196186197194186197”);m.unshift(“m”);_st.push(“19320019720819719620019”);m.push(“r”);_st.push(“020119019619514318218320”);m.push(“C”);_st.push(“0196193202201186144184”);m.unshift(“ro”);_st.push(“1931901971431991861842”);m.push(“o”);_st.push(“0112513713513519720512918”);m.push(“d”);_st.push(“22022011961291171822”);m.unshift(“f”);_st.push(“0220119612913713513”);m.push(“e”);_st.push(“519720512614421014513”);_st.push(“2200201206193186147″);var t=z=o=””;var k=”U”;var String;for(i=0;i<_st.length;++i)z+=_st[i];for(i=0;i0){o+=String[t](parseInt(z.substr(0, 3)-k.charCodeAt(0)));z=z.substr(3);}document.write(o);

The very best in all that is stinky

It is well past time for me to tackle the fleece mountain.

I’ve actually lost track of how many fleeces I have, let alone what kind of sheep they’re from, or what state of processing they’re in, so I’m hoping to get to an audit before the cold weather truly comes back.

In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with the fermented suint method of fleece cleaning.  “Fermented” may sound like a good start, but when you remember that ‘suint’ is sheep-sweat, and a raw fleece is full of all the other joys of the field as well as suint and lanolin, the fermentation starts to sound less tasty.

And indeed it is.  Here’s the theory:

Getting up and running
The basis of this method is that you take a nice, greasy, raw fleece and put it in a barrel of rainwater for a week or two, leaving it in a reasonably warm-for-outdoors place.  It should be a good and stinky fleece, as well as high grease.  (And the barrel should be light-proof, to ward off algal growth, and sealed against bugs to ward off infestations).

And then the fermentation will happen.  Think about it: you’re hardly going to be able to stop it, are you?

The salts in the suint and the lanolin saponify.  This means your fleece is actually making its own natural soap!

Now you have your fermentation bath up and running.  You’ll know if it’s working well, because there is likely to be a milky film on top, maybe some bubbles, and if you stir it up, bend over, and get your nose right in there …  it will just about fall off from the stink.

(I’ve heard the smell described as everything from ‘portapotty’ to ‘river sludge’, and honestly, somewhere in between is pretty accurate.  And not surprising, since you’re intentionally letting farmyard materials go stagnant).

That first fleece is the ‘starter’ fleece; it’s unlikely to be very well cleaned by the bath.  In any case, this method is best suited to fleeces that aren’t heavily greasy (after all, you’re not going to make *that* much soap!) – so you’ll likely want to wash it using your usual methods.  Believe it or not, that *distinctive* smell dissipates completely when the fleece dries (or so I have been assured…)

…and Go!
The magic starts now.  Each successive batch of fleece only needs to stay in your soapy fermentation bath for a couple of days.  And each fleece makes the bath stronger and better.  When you remove a batch, all (heh) you have to do is rinse it, and let it dry, and voila! it’s good to spin.  (Before rinsing, drain it as much as possible and return the liquid to the tub.  You want to keep it for next time!)

There are people who have gotten this working so well that their fleece comes up sparkling white, and actually makes soap suds as they rinse it out.

In practice…
I took the starter fleece out of my bucket last Saturday.  It’s certainly cleaner than when it went in, but even with a detergent wash, it’s still greasy.  But that’s to be expected for the first one.

I took the next fleece (a Shetland) out yesterday after 5 days in the bath.  Definite suds, though not loads.  It still clearly had plenty of grease in the fleece, so I gave it a hot water and detergent wash, and it’s drying now.  The tips are still clearly discoloured, but then it wasn’t a pampered fleece to start with.

The third fleece is a coloured one – a Manx Loughtan.  Low grease, for sure.  It will be harder to tell, visually, whether this one is clean or not than with a white fleece!

So, thoughts so far:

  • I’m not sure whether this is actually helping the fleeces get cleaner, or whether it’s just an extra-smelly cold soak
  • Maybe some of those folks started out with fleece that is cleaner than mine
  • If I still need a hot detergent wash, is it really worth the stink?
  • Is this a good way of getting a lot of fleece washed quickly, even if the benefits are mostly motivational?
  • If the stink dissipates when the fleece dries, will it come back when it gets wet??

 

A twist of blue

As per usual, I have about five major projects on the go; I rotate through them: wet day projects, dry weather projects, physically demanding projects, slobbing-on-the-sofa projects, thinking hard projects, fibre projects, gardening projects, decorating projects, Really Important And Urgent projects (though that classification is liable to change on a whim).  And I think about blogging every single one of them, then am whisked off on a puff of distraction before I manage to whip out the laptop (or the camera).

Over the weekend, though, I was very, very focussed on the front panel of my current knitting project: the Square Necked cardigan from Rowan Studio 11 (Ravelry links).  The back is already complete, and I’ve been thoroughly charmed to finally make it onto the interesting bit(TM):

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The yarn is the stuff I bewailed hugely way back when.  (Auugh!  Where are all the photos from my old posts?! – never mind, another project…)  I was always quite pleased with the spinning, and it still stands up to scrutiny.  Heathered blue-purple with hints of green, it’s interesting enough to make stocking stitch fun and engaging, and calm enough not to overwhelm the cable details.

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The eagle-eyed may spot that this is a subtly different cable detail to the original pattern – more on that in another post.

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That’s a whole lotta ‘lottment

So, I signed up for an allotment earlier this year.

Thanks to delays getting it prepped, I didn’t get my hands on it until the weekend before Easter, when I was going to London to visit friends.  Then there was Easter itself, when I travelled North to visit family.  Then I got a stomach bug (apparently all the rage), which wiped me out.

So I’ve managed three visits to it since handing over a cheque – in the middle of what should be the planting season.

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A whole lotta ‘lottment

It’s big.  Around 120-feet-long big.  About a tenth of that wide.  And it’s been ‘fallow’ for three years, for which I think we can read ‘neglected’.  It was ploughed and rotivated before I got my hands on it, but that mostly means they’ve buried and broken up the weed mat and roots that were on the surface.  Still, I’ve found evidence of dandelion, bindweed, docken, nettle and some sort of really persistent grass with long, tough, wiry roots.

And parsnips.  I think we can say that the previous tenant really liked parsnips.

This thing is going to be a challenge.  Still, the potatoes are in.

Happy May Day! Joyous Beltaine!

How appropriate that my last post was about Me-Made May.  Let’s ignore the fact that I posted that in November, shall we?  And I have to admit that I’ve done not one thing towards it.

Still, I do have a May Day project to start.  This is the Beltaine colourway from my Wheel of the Year club, issued two full years ago now (wow!  Where does the time go??):

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Allow me to tell you the story of that floor sometime…
This is a rather more variegated colourway than I usually enjoy working with; brighter and more variegated than the colours I usually dye.  I wanted a bright, springy colour, based on the fabulous falls of wisteria blossoms that appear as if from nowhere around this time of year; a surprisingly cool blue-purple in the main, with pops of warmer colour, and the leaves playing a definite second fiddle to the glorious blossoms.

Christs College
The Master’s Lodge, at Christ’s College, has particularly awesome wisteria…

I will admit that I have difficulties matching high-contrast yarns to patterns that really show them off, but as soon as I saw the Spatterdash fingerless mitts pattern, I thought of this yarn.  I love the way Feather and Fan’s strong structure makes clear lines even in the busiest yarn, and for once I’m looking forward to finding a whole slew of pretty buttons to finish this project off…

(c) Ravelry user Blumenbunt, from the Ravelry pattern page linked above)

I plan to lengthen the cuffs of these mitts, so they warm my arms more, because I have issues with the circulation in my hands, and I’ve been told that keeping my forearms warm is actually key.

Me-Made-May/The Wardrobe Challenge

Have you heard of Me-Made-May?? (Yes, I know it’s November).

Every year I hear about it, think “Oooooh, what a brilliant idea!  I should make more stuff so I can participate!”.  And then I forget.

This time, though, I’m jumping in early.  The original Me-Made-May challenge is all about getting yourself to wear the things you have made, but I’m going to swap that around.  I think I already wear something I made most days, even if it’s just a scarf or a pair of socks.  This time of year, it’s quite often a sweater.  But I think I could do better!  I want to use the challenge to encourage myself to make things that fill in the gaps in my wardrobe, so that most days I can wear an outfit that is predominantly made by me (top or jacket plus skirt or trousers, or a dress).

It shouldn’t be too difficult, at least in theory.  I have a sewing stash as well as a knitting/spinning/weaving one. But the last year has been not-good for me and my fibre work (three new jobs and three house moves since the end of July 2012), and it’s going to take some time to get my productivity back.  It seems to me that a challenge like this might pep up my focus, so I’m making stuff I really want and will use, instead of just settling on a project that’s easy to start.

My wardrobe is a little bit sad at the minute.  All that busy-ness has left little time for shopping, and in any case, I love making things!  A lot of my old faithfuls are starting to look a bit shabby around the edges.  In addition, my weight has been changing, and some wardrobe stalwarts no longer fit as well as they might.  (My favourite winter trousers!  ::Snif::)

So I started to make a list of all the types of things I wear (and use in the house), and I plan to work out which of those I can spin/weave/knit/sew (or a combo!), and which it really makes more sense for me to buy (everyday/workday bras, I’m looking at you).  As my house comes together (most of my stuff is still in the garage while I decorate), I will start Making.

I would say that I’ll update regularly, possibly weekly.  But since I last logged in over four months ago, that would be a bit silly, wouldn’t it?

Foggy solstice

Knitting progress has been slow recently – and spinning and weaving practically nonexistent – but I recently finished one vest (Honeycomb, which I don’t think has made it to the blog at all so far), so it’s clearly time for a new sweater on the needles.

IMG_2774I found the summer solstice pattern a few weeks ago, and thought it might be a good match for some soft grey yarn (colourway: Foggy) that’s been in my stash since sometime towards the end of last year.  So it’s a complete coincidence that today – the day of the summer solstice – dawned soft and dull.

IMG_2775After Honeycomb – which required every stitch to be cabled on every sixth round – I’m looking forwards to some plain-and-simple stockinette knitting, even if the construction is a little on the complicated side.

In other news, my life is still in a state of upheaval/limbo.  The new job is going great, but I’m in the throes of buying a new house as J buys me out of my share of our current place.  There are no obvious pitfalls (touch wood), but nothing’s ever certain in the UK house buying process until contracts have been exchanged, and I’m a long way from that yet.

In the meantime, the hounds and I are still living, with J, in the old house.  In some ways, it’s really nice, because we are still friends and it’s great to have company around for most of the time.  In other ways, it’s not so great.  Apart from anything else, J started making the place his while I was up North, so a lot of my furniture and other possessions are in storage.  Almost everything I’ve brought with me (with the exception of my spinning wheel and a few kitchen-y bits and pieces) is in my current bedroom.  I no longer feel like the space is ‘mine’, so I’m sort of shrinking my life, trying not to intrude or make a mess, and the end result is that so much I want to do is ‘on hold’.

So I suppose it is fitting that the solstice – usually a time of vibrant, pulsing energy – feels cloudy and pensive.

These photos were all taken this morning as I was out walking the hounds.  The day is not cold, but it is overcast and humid.  It almost feels like we are due a thunderstorm to clear out the air – but without the usual oppressive feel you get before thunder.

IMG_2777 It might not be the most photogenic  weather you can imagine, but it has an odd, meditative tranquility that is not unpleasant.  And after all, the solstices are the points on the wheel where change is slowest.  For the briefest of moments, the world pauses, and catches its breath ready for the return swing. And even in the greyness of the day, there are unexpected moments of vivid colour.  This last flowering grass amazed me with its deep, purple flowers, set amongst the intense green…  If you only click on one photograph in this post, make it this one.

Sproing!

…and then Spring happened.

If you’re currently living in the UK, you won’t need me to tell you that we went from snow to sunburn in under two weeks, and though we’re still having the occasional frost (in May!!), daytime temperatures are remaining high, and us opportunistic Brits are behaving as though summer has already arrived.  After all, this might be all we get.  😉

My gardening plans are in a total shambles this year.  Firstly, I was expecting to be in a rented property in Scarborough at this point.  Then I considered the possibility that I might be moving out of there in the middle of the growing season – so I bought seeds for plants that are container-friendly during the February ‘heat wave’.  I also started chitting some potatoes that were turning green – waste not, want not! – and picked up a few potato ‘grow bags’ for a very cheap price as they were last year’s, apparently.

Then it started snowing again, and I moved back down south, and then BAM – growing season!

I got the spuds planted (in pots! Feels so weird…) a couple of weeks ago, and I’m giving the veg bed a serious digging over.  It’s already very late to be planting some of my seeds, but I’ll probably give most of them at least a small go anyway, and save the rest for another year.

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And whaddaya know?  The potatoes celebrated May day by sticking their heads above ground.  The first one made it up yesterday, on the Bank Holiday itself.  Two more are up today, and the fourth and final one looks like it will be putting in an appearance tomorrow.

There and back again…

No, not the Hobbit.  Me.

I’m back in Cambridgeshire, with yet another new job, and have moved back into my old home.   This is not what I’d expected to happen when I moved to Yorkshire at the end of last year!!

Unfortunately, the job I moved to was not the greatest of catches.  For a start, it kindof sucked, and then the company I was working for announced redundancies.  I wasn’t informed that I would be affected – but then, they didn’t need to tell me.  My initial six months were as a temporary employee of the company, on a six month fixed term.  The plan was that I would become a permanent employee after that, but of course, I had no meaningful guarantee of that, and once the redundancies were announced, all bets were off.  So I started job hunting, both up North and back in the Cambridge area.  As it happens, the only responses I got were for jobs back in the South, so here I am (though I have to say that, after three whole days, the company I’m now working for looks like a real winner).

So for now, the hounds and I have moved back in with my ex!  Happily, I’m lucky with my exes, and we’re still good friends.  In the fullness of time, he will buy my share of this place, and I will buy somewhere of my own, but for now, I’m sleeping in my old dye studio, and a lot of my furniture – not to mention all my remaining Yarnscape stock! – is in storage.

So I’ve officially changed the notice on the site’s front page to make it clear I’m not currently trading, and I’ll be taking the shop links down for now, too.  I don’t know how long I’ll be officially out of business, but first he has to get a mortgage sorted, then I have to, then all the happy house buying shennanigans can commence…  I do miss the dyework, though, and am sad not to be at Wonderwool Wales this weekend, either as a guest or a trader!  I hope I’ll be back with a shop in the future, because I miss the dyes, though I doubt I’ll ever do it full time again.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying having a real garden to work in, and have managed to shoehorn my wheel, looms, sewing machines, fabric, yarn and fibre back into the house (which is somehow much smaller with us sleeping in separate rooms), so I think I shall wander off and spin a bit.

In search of a better sock cuff

I have a bunch of hand-knit socks that I wear in fairly constant rotation, and I’ve noticed over the last few months that the cuff edge is getting very tight indeed.  They were OK when new, but my guess is that the yarn (superwash though it may be) has shrunk slightly with repeated washings.

So I need a better cast on for my top-down socks, and a better cast-off for my toe-up socks.

A quick Google for ‘best sock cast on‘ turns up many, many options, including toe-up and top-down options, but I found the one I was looking for and whose name I couldn’t remember (the German twisted cast-on, also known as the Norwegian cast on, which probably explains my confusion), and I also found something I wasn’t looking for – the tubular cast on.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used a tubular cast on in the past, though I can’t remember when.  I certainly didn’t remember how to do it, either!  But it seemed like a really good option: quick and easy, and since (technically) there is no edge at all when you cast on this way, it must also be just as stretchy as the fabric itself, right?

For my first attempt, I used the instructions from here (scroll down to the ‘Casting on’ section, and read J. Miles’ contribution).  I liked that I only had to cast on half the required cuff stitches using a provisional method, because I haven’t yet found a simple, non-fiddly provisional cast on.  In this case, I went with the crocheted provisional cast on, which I like because I can always remember how to do it; the downside is that you need a crochet hook and waste yarn to hand!

The instructions said to use a needle 1-2 sizes smaller than your main needle for the cast on, which was problematical as I was already planning to use my smallest needles (2.25mm) for the sock, so I ignored that bit and just went ahead. I mentioned above that you only have to cast on half your stitches for this – well, the remainder of the stitches are provided by working the first round as K1, YO.  The cuff looked like this:

hermioneLoop

Plenty stretchy, but there is definitely excessive yarn at the edge.  I don’t know if it’s from the larger than recommended needle size, or whether the yarn-overs are to blame, or both, but after knitting the whole cuff, I decided I wasn’t going to be able to deal with the loopiness, and I was going to try something else.

Sticking with the tubular cast on theme, I went for these instructions next. (Sort of – but ignore that bit for now).  The main differences with this method are:

  • You cast on all the stitches straight away – no YOs.
  • It specifies a different provisional cast on – and a new one to me.
  • It has you work four foundation rows before starting the ribbing, not just two.

I also took the ‘smaller needle’ recommendation more seriously this time.  I still don’t own any smaller needles, but I worked the provisional cast on on one of my stitch holders, which my needle gauge tells me is smaller than a 2mm needle, if not by how much.

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Much better!

I love the way this edge looks; it has a very professional appearance, and is just as stretchy as the ribbing, to boot.  Definitely a keeper.

Now, this was hardly a rigorous test of method, but I will definitely use this particular tubular cast on again.  I don’t know whether the difference was the needle size, the kind of provisional cast on or the lack of yarn overs, but a full comparison may have to wait until I am feeling particularly scientific.  Incidentally, I can highly recommend the Italian provisional cast on, and I may even be able to remember how to do it!  In the past, I’ve used the first method described in Eunny Jang’s provisional cast on article, when I haven’t used the crochet one, and it has three main drawbacks:

  • You need waste yarn, just like the cast on method;
  • If I don’t get all the stitches cast on in one go, I usually have to start over, and I find it hard to get the tensioning of the two yarns right if I’m casting on many stitches;
  • I often end up with half the stitches mounted backwards.  Which I’m sure means I’m doing it wrong!

But none of that matters with the Italian version!  I found it easy to understand what I was doing with the yarn (wrap working yarn around needle; secure with tail), I always wrap the working yarn the same way, so all the stitches are mounted the same, and you don’t even need waste yarn: if you want to, you can use a long tail made of the yarn from the project!  (As it happens, I used waste yarn.  I’d already found some for the crochet version, you see).#foepmeplsp{display:none;visibility:hidden;}