Rounding up in small bites: 2014 September

Well, I fell off the wagon on the concept of the monthly roundup. I’m not too surprised… I tend to put too much in something like that, and the more detail I want to put in, the longer it takes, and the more likely I am to put it off. So I’m going to try again, with an alternate approach. Instead of a list of questions to answer every month, I’ll answer one question at a time in a post, and not necessarily every month. So this post, I’ll address the question:

What crafts did I work on this month (not what I finished, but what did I work on)?
And instead of saying this month, I’ll address it for the summer of 2014.
So what did I work on? Well, I’ve been sewing. A while ago, I signed up for the Sewing with knits class with Craftsy, as well as The Couture Dress class last year. Both of these things have been inspiring me to focus on sewing a bit. So I’ve tried to make the yoga shorts from the class, a couple of t-shirts, started on the couture dress, stalled out, and recently re-started. In the meantime, I’ve gotten more material to do two knit dresses (one from the class, one from Colette Patterns), one woven (the Cambie dress by Sewaholic), and have also done three Hollyburn skirts (by Sewaholic) in increasingly nice fabric. The third one is not quite finished, as I had to stop and buy a zipper, but the zipper is now pinned in and waiting to be sewn.
Quilting-wise, I haven’t been doing much until recently, but I did just this past week buy some cotton flannel to make some baby quilts, one by request, one as the gift for a first baby at church. I’m going to do pinwheels on point for these two baby quilts, one in blues and yellows, the other in greens and yellows. Plus, I’ve finally found a couple of quilting patterns that appeal to me for the quilt top I finished last year and intend to give to my nephew and his wife. Since it has so much squareness in it, I’d like to try some curviness in the quilting.

Follow your dreams quilt

Two patterns have appealed to me: the Trapped Ripples pattern that Leah Day showed recently and the Paisley Feather by Angela Walters. The Trapped Ripples pattern has triangles and curves, and the Paisley Feather has just curves, but that all contrasts nicely with the squares within squares of the piecing. I always want the quilting and the piecing to work to enhance each other, and in this case I want to use curves to contrast because I think there are hidden curves created by the square patterns. They show most clearly in the border, and I want to bring them out without making things too difficult — it’s a large quilt, larger than anything I’ve quilted before, and stuffing it under the sewing machine will be a challenge.

In knitting, I was slowed down by right elbow pain in April. After some research online, I concluded I probably had a form of tennis elbow, triggered by knitting with too much tension and mouse usage that left my elbow unsupported. I had to take a break from knitting for a while, but have slowly been getting back into it. (Solutions found: brace that helps keep the elbow muscle from tightening up, stretching exercises, not overdoing it, and changing the trackball to one I can use with my right AND left hand, which is properly supported under the elbow)

But I have got things done in knitting! I finished a pair of gift socks,

Gift socks in progress

 which will be given this week, working on orange cardigan for myself and purple pullover for my brother, and now ongoing socks for myself. I am not knitting as much as I was, but I am still plugging along, as I have too many things I want to make.

OK, what else have I been doing? Well, I finally finished spinning the grey Shetland top that was one of my first major purchases. With the last 8+ ounces of it, I spun a three-ply. I made a point of spinning it almost to the point of over-spinning so that I could ply tightly without losing too much softness. It’s drying in the bathroom right now, so we’ll see how it came out. I’ve also continued with the spinning study at the guild, although I’m behind, as always.

Weaving? The loom looks at me accusingly. All wound up and no movement happening.

Embroidery? The wool-felt applique gets and occasional bit of attention.

And I think that’s all for now…

Use it before you lose it (spinning)

Of course, if you can’t use it quickly, at least write it down.

So… this weekend, I took a class on Shetland spinning and lace knitting, traditional techniques for how to produce those wonderful shawls that helped the Shetland islanders to earn a living. (of sorts, I think; the history that I know of indicates they were badly underpaid)

What do I want to remember from that?

For the spinning, I must remember that the right fleece is essential. And I don’t mean just a Shetland fleece, but one that is good quality, with fibers of the right thinness, etc. And that it is preferable to spin in the grease. Now I would never have thought that, but apparently the lanolin helps the fibers to hold together when you are spinning the extreme fineness necessary for laceweight and cobweb-weight yarn. And it’s not as much of a problem with Shetland breed fleeces as it is with other breeds, because they don’t produce the overwhelming amount of lanolin that makes spinning in the grease a questionable choice.

Watch out for the rise (the new growth after the winter’s dormancy), because if there’s too much of it, then you are paying for something that you are not going to use. And be strong — you are going to throw away a good bit of it. Some of it will be okay for spinning for purposes other than lace, but there is still a noticeable portion that is just rubbish, and throwing it away is okay. (For some, this is very difficult.) The areas most likely to be thrown away for the lower portions of the leg, the center down the back, and definitely the belly wool. The nicest is generally close to the head and neck area, but the sides may have decent stuff. The closer you get to the rear of the animal, the lower the quality goes.

You are also watching for dirt, etc. Get rid of the worst bits, but remember that a reasonable amount of vegetable matter will come out in the prep. NOTE: if the fleece is good except for the extreme dirtiness, then this is one time you might wash it beforehand. But do a very limited washing, since you don’t want to lose too much lanolin.

You can card it or comb it. Do it in small amounts, as you work. The more traditional method is combing it with something like a flick carder or a dog comb-type tool. Full-on combing is not really good, since you lose a lot more material that way. You are more interested in achieving a lock-by-lock spinnability. For lace spinning, one lock can last a long time. Carding is acceptable, but you will end up with the fibers more mixed, and are less likely to end up with the worsted-spin that is the traditional focus.
When spinning it, do an inchworm draft. Long draw just is not going to cut it for the degree of control you need to produce really fine fiber. For two-ply laceweight, you really are looking at around 5-7 fibers in a single. For cobweb-weight, you are looking at 3-4 fibers in a single. (I didn’t quite achieve that during the class; I think the best I got was in the 8-10 fibers in a single, but since that is better than I’ve ever done, I’m not complaining.) Be sure to put LOTS of twist in the single; lots more than you have ever done before. Then put a little more. But when you ply it, do so lightly. You want enough ply to make it difficult to split the yarn during knitting, but really no more than that. The light hand in plying helps to preserve the softness of the yarn, which is desirable for something that may end up next to your skin.

Okay, at the moment I’ve run dry for spinning remembrance, but I’m going to share this with my fellow students and see what they might have to add.