September 21, 2011

Pesky Fish

I'm hanging out the "gone fishing" sign again because I'm going to be busy for the next month or so.  There may be a few posts but nothing with any sort of regularity.  Happy spinning in the meantime!

September 20, 2011

one hundred, twenty-eighth skein

The skein of local, unseparated Icelandic wool came out softer than expected for such a hairy fibre.

September 19, 2011

Another Flawed Cable

You may recall I was trying to extend Entwined mitts into full-length mittens.  I reworked a new ending and wound up with something that looked like a cross between an electrical outlet and a startled face.

I didn't realize at first what I'd done and I couldn't figure out why I had an aversion to knitting the end closed.  I let the thing sit for over a week.

I felt much better when I ripped out the section and ended the cables at a different place. 

September 17, 2011

Slow as Snails

Can you see the slight halo of wool fuzz around the mitten?  Love that.  

Normally I wait until both mittens are done to post about them.  However, one mitten is all I've got right now and I'm simply happy to have the ends woven in.  I worked out the stitch count, increases, and decreases as I went along in order to suit my handspun and get the fit I want, and that's why it hasn't been a straightforward project. 

September 16, 2011

Sheep Mutiny

Another old account of shepherding on Vancouver Island, this time with mutiny:

A green truck was waiting at the wharf with its motor running.

"Sorry, can't help you," the farmer explained.  "Got pigs expecting."

He took my money, opened the tailgate, and the next moment I was alone, waist-deep in woolly gray creatures.  Their bulbous eyes seemed to glare at me.  For an instant I had the feeling I was surrounded by hostile Indians.  "We're going to be good friends, aren't we?" I coaxed, vastly relieved to see that they had no horns....

A hundred yards from Wallace [island near Salt Spring Island, B.C.], a tail got caught in the propeller shaft.  The motor stopped as a horrible bellow of pain pierced the air.  Then the revolt was on.  In blind panic, the beasts broke from their ropes.  Snorting, kicking, trampling each other, they began bounding over the side.  One wide-eyed creature charged at me.  I went over backward, arms flailing, with the grace of a circus clown.  The next thing I knew, I was pawing the water while the sheep raced toward shore.

David Conover, Once Upon an Island (New York: Crown Publishers, 1967) p. 169, 170

September 15, 2011

Acorns for Ewes' Feed

I'd heard of fattening pigs on acorns.  Apparently sheep will thrive on them too. 
I was especially partial to the Garry Oaks....At Fair-Winds [near Victoria, B.C.] there were some magnificent specimens.  In the fall their acorn-laden limbs would come alive with hordes of wild- band-tailed pigeons.  These fall flights made me feel that I was reliving the era of the famous passenger pigeons in the East.

The acorns that did not go into their crops, fell to find a ready lodging with the sheep who fattened on the high protein kernels.  In fact this gain in flesh just at the breeding season resulted in astonishing crops of lambs.  The heavier the acorn crop, the higher the percentage of twin lambs we could look forward to the following spring.

–W. Phillip Keller, Canada's Wild Glory (Toronto: Nelson, Foster & Scott Ltd., 1961) p. 101

September 14, 2011

No Cigar

I went looking for commercial BFL yarn in a shop, found it, and left it there.  It was very pretty, ready to be knit into a sweater, a heavier weight than I want, and four times the cost of the same wool top unspun. 

Going into a yarn shop is a weird and awkward exercise for me, as I learned to spin yarn before I learned to knit and with rare exceptions I have knit pretty much only handspun.  The owners tried to make me feel better by saying everyone experiences ambivalence and hesitation over the purchase of a sweater's worth of yarn.   

Speaking of unfamiliar shops and seeing yarn in a whole new way, I recently discovered that embroidery shops sell cards of yarn in various shades of colour.  I was prepared to see skeins of floss but there were these wee cards each holding several yards of angora yarn, several yards of alpaca yarn, and so on.  Also there was a wall of wool yarn in various colours tied in skeins that looked meager to me.

My perspective has evidently been warped by casual exposure to friends' garbage sacks full of alpaca fleeces, tubs full of angora hair, pounds upon pounds of wool locks, and vats of dyestuffs.

September 13, 2011

Demo Booth

This photo represents three hours spent spinning yarn with frequent stops to teach a few children how to spin, answer questions from adults, and point out features of our educational display of handspun, hand dyed, and handknit items. We had a good-looking booth with a loaned tent and table and we had multiple spinning wheels going.  Once or twice we had more interested people than could get in the booth.  It was an outdoor market and, fortunately for attendance, the weather was perfect.

September 12, 2011

Yarn Like Pot Noodles

By repeated trial and error, I worked out the correct knitting needles and number of stitches to use to make mittens with my blue BFL handspun.  Irritating, that all that work had to be ripped out. 

September 10, 2011

Village Life

Two quotes to warm the cockles of your hearts and make you long for the good old days:
All the children's knitting supplies have been made for them by adults of the community: wool sheared from sheep on the farm and spun into yarn at the mill or by hand, double-pointed needles in sets of five made by the cooper, and baskets handwoven by the village basket maker...
-Susan Strawn Bailey, "Knitting in the Amanas," Piecework, Sept/Oct 2997, p. 18.
On the main street of most small country towns, you can start with a list that includes mouse-traps, odd bits of hardware, a nut to fit this bolt, knitting wool, the groceries, a pair of jeans, a call at the bank, a note to see the lawyer, and at the end of two blocks it's done.  Then, well satisfied, you can pop into a tearoom and have a coffee with a home-baked biscuit and strawberry jam.
-Midge Ellis Keeble, Tottering in My Garden: A Gardener's Memoir (Camden East, ON: Camden House, 1989), p. 65.  
On the other hand, leaving the village and sourcing from anywhere and everywhere certainly gets you a wider selection of goods and services.

September 09, 2011

Description of Wool Carbonization

The article "From Sheep to Shop" includes a thorough description of wool carbonization, the treatment of wool during large-scale commercial processing to remove chaff.

According to the article carbonization puts wool through a dilute sulphuric acid solution, baking, crushing, neutralizing, washing with soda ash and soap, and bleaching with hydrogen peroxide.  The article is at

To avoid carbonized wool, you buy wool at the raw or scoured stage, or buy prepared wool from a company that uses other methods of coping.  For example, rollers can crush chaff, or the miller can accept only fleeces from clean pastures and/or sheep that wear coats.

I am contemplating a wool purchase and I'm giving some thought to these considerations.  BFL top is so wonderfully, consistently white and free of bits.  Scoured wool that I buy and then comb will mean a fair bit of effort to source and to comb.  It might yield streaky wool with bits I have to remove while spinning.  On the other hand, it might be softer and more lustrous.

September 07, 2011

Muddy Roots of Fine Linen Article

If you head over to the Wall Street Journal,, there's an informative August 3, 2011 article called "The Muddy Roots of Fine Linen" that switches back and forth between high fashion linen cloth and flax as a crop.  The article reports that the price of cotton, which doubled last year, has gone back to the previous price for this harvest.

Speaking of linen, I recently used a ratty linen tea towel to wipe window cleaner off of a couple of windows.  I will in the future only use linen cloth to clean windows whenever I possibly can.  Worked so well.  Glad I "wasted" linen on the glass instead of hunting for the old cotton cloths I usually use.

This spring and summer, my love of linen cloth led me to accumulate a pile of linen clothes from jumble sales and thrift shops.  I plan to cut them up and sew some useful things, eventually.

September 06, 2011

Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival

If you are in Stahlstown, PA this weekend, go see the flax scutching festival.  They have a good video of the festival here, "Stalhstown Flax Scutching Festival,"  In the video are clips in random order that show steps in flax processing such as drying flax above a fire, mangling cloth, weaving, scutching, and breaking.

September 05, 2011


So after last week of pointing out everything that wasn't right, I get to report about something that is.  It's odd saying that about an incomplete project; I haven't knit the top of the modified Entwined mitten yet or the thumb.  Other than that, I am very pleased with it.  I worked out a new and pretty ending to the cable that I was fussing with.

I like everything about the mitten.

The little dart I inserted above the cuff at the base of the hand is elegant; it makes the mitten fitted.

The weight of the yarn feels substantial.  The shine of Blue Face Leicester wool is beautiful to look at.

The un-dyed fibre feels soft and better than dyed fibre.  Un-dyed fibre in cables looks correct, traditional, and untrammelled.

The cables in 5 ply yarn stand out in such high relief that to my mind they put all lesser cables to shame.

Stockinette in 5 ply yarn is more plush than in 3 ply.  I knit already with the other skein of this handspun when I made the Take It or Leaf It cowl; the embossed exchange motif meant that there were no large, unbroken swaths of stockinette to admire.  Now, with this mitten, the whole palm is stockinette and I can tell.

I am starting to dream of doing a large item in stockinette with 5 ply yarn, with total disregard for the challenge it would be both to wrangle five singles into yarn that many times and to get a fabric thin enough and cool enough to wear indoors or under a coat.  I think five ply yarn is supposed to have an air pocket inside with the five strands around it, making it lighter and better for insulation compared to the same size of 3 ply.

September 03, 2011

My First Cables, Redone But Still Not Like I Want Them

I have redone the cabled mitten, correcting the fabric gauge.  Now it fits and feels flexible.

The pattern is Tera Johnson's Entwined fingerless mitts.  I like my fingertips covered so I am knitting on beyond the pattern.  I did some figuring, crossed cables behind to make them disappear, and brought the remaining cables to a logical conclusion.

However, now that I am looking at the result, I find myself annoyed that those two cables cross behind and not in front like the others.  I believe I will go back one repeat, knit the cables as written, and let them blend directly into stockinette above.  Will look blunt but will look better.

I am not versed in the way cables are supposed to look.  Cables have always simply been there on sweaters, and all the cable motifs I've ever been around have been pretty ordinary and not elaborate or tapered the way Kate Gilbert's Wisteria or Margaret Mills' Maire Riding Jacket are.

I know my choice of handspun yarn is good.  Five strands of singles plied together really do make cables stand out.  I am almost out; I am going to have to spin more in order to make a second mitten.  A terrible thing, eh, to need to spin more yarn?

Noticed that almost all my posts this week have been about mistakes I've made and things that haven't worked out.  Sorry to keep pointing them out.

September 02, 2011

Yarn Judged on a Spindle

I find myself amused by a Coombs fair competition category: yarn on a spindle.  I asked the local handspinning group and yes, the yarn is submitted for judging while on the spindle.

Would you have a competitive advantage if you used a really pretty spindle?  What if the spindle had cutouts in the whorl and you used fibre that transitioned from one colour to another creating a pattern in the cutouts?

I don't see how a judge can assess yarn's consistency when the only part that's visible is the last few yards wrapped on the outside of the cop.

September 01, 2011

My (Much Too Tightly Knit) First Cables

I present to you my first knitted cables.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to pull them out.  The cables are done properly; my knitting is much too tight.