Monday, November 20, 2006

Asking for Directions

Sometimes it's good to stop and ensure that you are - in fact - going in the right direction. Such is the case for my spinning. I've been "learning my wheel" for the last 5 months. I don't worry about creating the perfect yarn, I'm just trying the different settings on the Schacht. It's a great wheel because it can be set in double drive, scotch tension and bobbin lead. According to the Spin Off issue from 1994 - bobbin lead is the way to go for plying. So, I gave it a whirl...literally. Here are the results. These are the singles. As you can see, one is very bright (merino from Grafton) and one is a lovely rose colour. I plied them together and got this 2 ply yarn but in Bobbin Lead mode - the take up was not great so, the twist kept coming and the yarn is over plied. You can see it twisting as it lies here straight from plying. I love the way the rose "quiets" the hot-coloured roving and I considered the experiment a success except it bothered me that the Bobbin Lead mode didn't perform as I expected it to. After all - if Rita Buchanan says it's the bomb then ya gotta believe it's so. This is what prompted me to sign up for a "Spinning Wheel Clinic" at Gemini Fibres North of Toronto. I've met a co-worker who spins and knits (she has a Majacraft Susie) and we set off bright and early on Saturday to seek some "spinning epiphanies".

We got there a bit early which left a bit of time to case the joint to see what we might want to buy. The others arrived and it was cool to see that each participant had a different wheel. Here's a group shot - left to right are; a handmade wheel by this lady's husband, the instructor's Jensen Tina II, an Ashford, a Lendrum (Anniversary Black Walnut edition -this was gorgeous) . We started by learning the lingo and how to set the tensions for the best gentle take-up. We learned about McMoran balances which let you take a little piece of finished yarn and figure out how many metres per 100g it is (yes I bought one). We found out about the "Spinners Control Card". This is a tool that lets you measure the grist of your singles to be able to know what the resulting wraps per inch and gauge will be once it's plied. Very cool - scored one of those too.

I also got some Fleece Artist Blue Faced Leicester in amazing hand painted blues and purples. I picked up "Spinning Designer Yarns" by Diana Varney. This is a wonderful little book chock full of great information.

I also had an opportunity to try a Jensen Tina II wheel. The instructor Wendy knew I was interested in trying one so she generously brought hers so I could see what it was like. They're few and far between in Canada so, it was a real treat. The Tina spins like a dream but I really felt the stress in my ankle joints so, I doubt I'd enjoy spinning on this type of wheel for extended periods of time. Maybe it was just the way I was sitting?

I came away from the class with a better understanding of the basics. Preparing the roving, drafting, settings. When I showed Wendy my over-plied yarn, she felt a good bath and hanging with a weight would solve the problems. It seems to be working. She also thought that perhaps my challenges with Bobbin Lead were because I just wasn't ready for that setting. Her advice was to stick with Scotch Tension. I will probably do this but I'm not giving up on Bobbin Lead just yet - after all, Rita says...

Sunday, November 12, 2006


In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow Between the crosses row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. ...

We wear poppies on our jackets every November to remember those soldiers we've lost in war time. Poppies have come to symbolize our fallen war heroes because of this poem written by a Canadian doctor who served in World War I. John McCrae died at age 45 due to lung damage caused by serving so close to the front lines. He's from Guelph Ontario and I read in the newspaper this weekend that in 1969 his boyhood home was to be demolished to build an apartment building. His neighbours mortgaged their houses to raise the money to buy the house and preserve it. It was eventually purchased by the province and made into a historical site but I think it's so cool that regular people would put themselves on the line to protect this bit of history. I guess there are all kinds of heroes - even in every day life.

It occurred to me this weekend that it was a bit of Kismet that I was working on a sweater design named "Poppy". It's proving to be a great project. Easy/breezy with wonderful colour, amazing yarn and a bit of design challenge. In my last post I waxed poetic about the Fibonacci sequence. I loved the way it looked on Wendy's version of Poppy but I must admit that when it came down to it - my inner artist rebelled. You see, I had certain pre-conceived notions about where I wanted the vertical lines on the bottom piece to fall. I envisioned one just on the side and another distinct line right down the middle. Lisa's version on the cover of Yarnplay has one dead centre and I love the way it accentuates the v-neck. In the end, I simply decided to wing it and add the design elements when my inner voice urged me to. I'm enjoying it more than having to count the rows. Go figure - I've learned something about myself.

Here is my bottom piece of Poppy thus far. It's hard to see the purl ridges between the stockinette Silk Garden but they add a nice slight contrast. I've chosen to do a provisional cast-on with waste yarn and start at the side instead of the back. When I'm finished, I'll do a 3 needle bind off. This represents about 1/4 of the bottom finished. The Cash Iroha is nice to work with. It's single ply with some sections having very little twist. The colour glows however and I feel energized just working with it. I'm quite pleased that I chose this combo.

I'm still plugging away at the pink Vogue Koigu Skirt and I'm almost finished the first piece. This may end up being side-lined a bit since It's more of a Spring garment. I'll post a picture of the skirt once the piece is complete.

Until then, I'm enjoying Poppy. I highly recommend this design. It'll teach you a thing or two...about yourself!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You do the Math

Yesterday, 7:30 a.m. I'm alone in the house - the door bell rings. It's him. It's the one man that always brings me exactly what I need. Most times, he wants nothing in return. Sometimes, I must pay the toll. It's not his fault - the post office makes him do it.

My little indulgences often come disguised. This one came dressed as meat tortellini. The neighbours must think I'm a Pastafarian. I know better though. I know that inside dwells the nectar of the gods. On par with Socks that Rock, Koigu and Kid Silk Haze. My friends - inside this benign box is a glorious stash of Noro. Noro Silk Garden and Cash Iroha to be exact.

Now Noro and I have an interesting relationship. I buy it occasionally and knit it never. I stash it and revel in its potential. I can't seem to commit it to just one fate. It's too beautiful to actually exist as one manifestation. This particular purchase is ear-marked to make the amazing new design on the cover of the newly published book "Yarnplay" by Lisa Siobhana Mason. I definitely had a "gotta have it" moment when I saw this design and when I saw Wendy's version (of Knitty D and the City) I reacted with an involuntary spasm of my right index finger on the "buy now" button of an online yarn store with a nice robust Noro selection.

This design is interesting because the bottom section is "do what you think best". Wendy used the ancient mathematical strategy known as the Fibonacci sequence to determine where to place her unique strips on the bottom part. This stuff could actually make me like math!

The sequence was based on the question "How many pairs of rabbits will be produced in a year, beginning with a single pair, if in every month each pair bears a new pair which becomes productive from the second month on? It is easy to see that 1 pair will be produced the first month, and 1 pair also in the second month (since the new pair produced in the first month is not yet mature), and in the third month 2 pairs will be produced, one by the original pair and one by the pair which was produced in the first month. In the fourth month 3 pairs will be produced, and in the fifth month 5 pairs. After this things expand rapidly, and we get the following sequence of numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, ...This is an example of a recursive sequence, obeying the simple rule that to calculate the next term one simply sums the preceding two:

This is important to my knitting because:
a) My yarn stash appears to multiply this way (much like rabbits).
b) Nature uses this logic and therefore using this sequence for the stripe placement should have a "natural look to it".

On the Knitty D and the City Podcast - Wendy indicates that her stripes were placed at row 5, 8, 13, 21 etc. It looks pretty darn good to me.

My Noro needs to stay out of the closet. It needs to reach its full potential right away. Besides, it's now been rationalized into a mathematical experiment. Not bad for a day's work.