Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Spinning away the weekend

The autumn term has started and predictably, things are a tad busy at work and I've just started work on a new project. Thursday and Friday last week were spent in meetings, where I discovered that I'm unlikely to make it to the NEC for the Hobbycrafts/Crafts For Christmas show as I'll be working that weekend. It also seems I'll be heading off to Stirling in early November for a technical working group and I need to sort out some dates for training next year.

In the wake of all this, Dave abandonned Coventry for Ripley leaving me alone for the weekend as I was on call. On call means I 'volunteered' to stay close to a phone and able to respond within half an hour if there was a problem with any of the systems I support. Fortunately, it was a quiet weekend and I didn't get called, so after doing the household chores I decided to spend some quality time trying to get to know my spinning wheel.

I bought some Blue Faced Leicester from Wingham Wool Work last week and it is beautiful, with a lovely soft hand to it. The staple fibres must be at least 12cm long and it is a gorgeous blend of colours, described as humbug on their website. I tried to take a photo of a single fibre for this blog, but my camera fu failed me and the single fibre kept floating away, refusing to sit nicely beside the ruler so you could see how long it was.

Instead, I took a photo of the fleece itself so you can hopefully see the blend of colours.

I dragged the wheel out of its corner, dusted it down and unwound from the bobbin the semi felted fluff I'd spun up a couple of weeks ago. The single was of mixed quality, sometimes falling apart and at others, looking like properly spun thread which may have been saved. As it was, with only the odd meter of good yarn there, I threw the lot away and moved on.

I watched the DVD Claire loaned me and while it was interesting, it again lacked detail, sort of teasingly touching on all sorts of subjects but then quickly moving on. I think I'm going to go back and look at it again though, paying attention to the people's hands as they're drafting, which is still my problem area.

Having watched a DVD showing people spinning, I sat down at the wheel and tried again.

This time, my efforts were more successful although I seem to have a major battle for co-ordination going on there. The wheel puts spin into the drafted fibre but starts travelling up into the fibre store the instant my attention and grip lapses. This means that I end up holding the fibre very tightly to counter this, which I think is impeding the drafting process, since if the fibres can't pull past each other they can't be drafted.

Every now and then I did get into a rhythm though, with my grip relaxing and for maybe a few minutes, I'd be spinning properly. Then I'd lose it again, with the twist racing for the unspun fibre or the spun single getting too thin (I obviously have a repressed desire to spin laceweight). In the case of the latter, since very thin singles need a lot of twist to hold together, the single inevitably pulled apart on me.

At this point, I invented a little hooky thing for pulling the single off the bobbin and back through the oriface. Previously a paper clip, it worked a treat although the design may need a little refinement before I use the wheel again.

After spending about two and a half hours over Saturday and Sunday spinning, this is what I have to show for it...
Again, I'd not claim the quality of this single is going to be much good. The yarn is very thin in places, so probably won't hold up under tension and the thickness of the rest varies considerably.

In my defence, I wasn't trying to produce a nice even single at this stage. Instead, I was trying to get a feel for the hand movements and drafting, while keeping up with the wheel and controlling how much spin was in the fibre - all of which felt horribly complicated, rushed and a far cry from the relaxing action of spinning on a spindle.

In other words, much, much more practice is needed!

Monday, 22 September 2008

A bad workman always blames his tools, but sometimes...

The fibre I ordered from Wingham's showed up on Friday afternoon which was impressive considering I only called them on Wednesday afternoon - so top marks to them for prompt delivery!

I had it delivered to work, much to the puzzlement of colleagues who couldn't work out what the bag of squidgy stuff was or why it would be delivered to me. I did try to explain that it was fluff or more precisely fleece for spinning, but met generally blank looks. Fortunately, I resisted the temptation to open the package and make them feel the contents, otherwise I think all credibility may have disappeared at that point.

I was glad the bag was squidgy though, it made lashing it to the back of the bike easy enough, once I'd figured out how to hook on my bungees. Once I did get it home, I wasn't disappointed. Blue Faced Leciester in Humbug looks very pretty and soft and I'm looking forward to seeing how it spins up.

Saturday morning saw me heading off to the Coventry Spinners, Dyers and Weavers Guild for a first time visit. I only stayed for an hour and a half as this was a brief visit to see what they were all about rather than staying for the full day. It was interesting to see so many people with spinning wheels in the same room and the ladies themselves seemed nice enough. I went along with Claire and caught up with both Kellie and Mandy, which helped as walking into somewhere new on your own is always a bit nerve wracking.

Claire spins exclusively on spindles, so I showed her my spindle and my technique and it turns out my spindles are not as good as they could be. She demonstrated spinning on her spindle and with a single flick, she got it spinning for a good 40 seconds compared to the 2-4 seconds I could manage with mine!

I had a go with her spindle and even in my inexperienced and definitely novice hands, that spindle spun for a good 20 seconds before running out of oomph.

Claire gave some advice for rescuing my spindles, which I've passed along to Dave and then very kindly leant me a spindle to try out. I had a go for half an hour yesterday afternoon and look...

The spindle on the left is mine, with the single I'd spun up previously. The spindle on the right is Claire's and I started spinning on it on Saturday and added to it on Sunday. As you can see, besides being very pretty to look at it has a few differences in design such as a much bigger, flatter whorl (the disk at the bottom) which has been turned so the weight is distributed out to the edges, meaning it is well balanced and spins...

And after a practice at home, I can confirm it does spin very well, so well in fact that I managed to spin without using the park and draft method!!!! Admitedly, now I have to watch to make sure I don't draft out to thinly and watch how much twist is sitting just above the spindle or it snaps from over spinning - I have an idea how to fix that, I'm thinking I back spin a little, just in the area above the spindle before winding on - but with the spindle spinning I can concentrate on drafting, which is where I really need to improve.

I was so happy I took the spindle to Dave and made him admire it... I now have suspicions that this will go the same way it did when Esther leant me her sewing machine and I may decide I have to have one just like it... But for now, I shall continue to practice and see how it goes. Thank you Claire!

Claire also leant me a DVD which shows how to use a spinning wheel but I haven't looked at it yet - I'm saving it for next week when Dave will be off in Ripley for the AscendancyLRP tabletop battle.

(As always, click on the pictures to see bigger versions...)

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Fluff ordered...

I've just bitten the bullet and placed my first order with Wingham Wools for some Bluefaced Leceister fibre in 'Humbug' which looks like a very pretty blend of natural browns. I wanted something I know will be easy to spin (in theory at least) and from the tiny bit of BFL I've spun on my spindle, I know it should be nice stuff... Besides which I've had a personal recommendation from Mandy.

Not that I've done much spinning lately, although I did get my spindle out for ten minutes on Monday as I drank a cup of tea before rushing into work. I'm beginning to wonder if I need a bigger spindle... I like my little spindle but it doesn't hold much yarn before it's full and I've no idea how heavy it is. When I bought it I didn't know I should worry about such things.

Not much has happened on the knitting front either, although I am plodding away on the second of a pair of manly socks and fast approaching the heel. This is all part of my ongoing aim to finish projects before I start any more. So far so good, I've resisted the lure of casting on... Although it's getting tough to hang in there.

The reason I haven't made much progress was because we headed off on what is my last purely camping LARP event of the year with AscendancyLRP. Not my last event of the year, but at least things start to calm down a little, which is good as work is frightening at the moment.

The event itself was fast paced and structured more like a linear than usual as we moved from site to site in character. We'd traipse off through the woods, while the crew re-invented the dutch barn on site as a new location. What was more the weather was kind to us and it did NOT rain!!!! The clear skies meant it was cold at night but dry, with the mud underfoot steadily drying as the weekend progressed. We even got to use the storm kettle, which has sadly been underused this year due to the miserable weather.

The slugs were still very much in evidence though, including a fat orange one that I caught trying to limbo under the lid of the food box on Friday night. Yuk!

No other news, except that Richard passed us a cardboard tank (i.e. a cardboard box shaped like a tank) for the cats to play with. Dave spent all of Monday night figuring out how to assemble it but once it was put together we realised that the manufacturers had woefully underestimated how big a cat can get. With the turret on, I don't think Charlie could get more than his head inside and Missy would have to do some sort of gymnastics unbecoming of her dignity to manage it.

There was nothing for it but to seperate the turret from the body of the tank, so the cats can at least get inside. We've draped it with cat toys but so far they're avoiding it, preferring their paper bags... But I shall persevere, I think they need to be lured into it with a cat nip laced dangly thing (otherwise known as a fishing rod toy). If they take to it, there may be photo's later.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

At last! A finished project!

At last, a finished project to show you! Months and months after starting it, I've finally completed the bag I first described back at the end of July. I must have started work on this bag at the beginning of June, so it's been a long time in the making, far longer than it really should have taken, but I'm putting that down to my hectic weekend schedule.

So with no further ado, let me present the finished crochet motif bag.

As previously described, this bag is an experiment, initially started in the wake of my frustration at being unable to source bits to make bags locally. I have two fantastic books on how to make bags but without a source of handles, straps, D-Rings or clips I was pretty much stuck... So I decided to make a bag anyway, working from my stash.

(A while back, Esther pointed out that I'd overlooked an ad in one of the UK knitting mags for Bags of Handles. The website isn't particularly polished, but they certainly do stock the kind of thing I'm looking for and I'll be checking them at some point in the future.)

I wanted to make a sewn bag and then embellish it with crochet lace. I decided to add beads drawing inspiration from the Crochet Motif Bag described in Easy Beaded Crochet by Carol Meldrum.

The patterns for the motifs are taken from this book although I substituted the mohair I had in my stash (Patons UK Studion Mohair) and changed the hook size, taking it up to 5mm after the recommended hook produced motifs which just seemed too tight. In my opinion, Mohair needs room to be fluffy and mohair like.

I used seed beads from my stash, originally purchased for a beaded headscarf again made a good few years back now. The diameter of these beads is 1mm which was a bit small to easily string onto the mohair. I'd get a few strung on and then the fluffiness of the yarn would make it very difficult to move them along the yarn. There was yarn snappage... I persevered.

Once I had enough motifs, I spent a couple of weeks looking for a button that I liked, eventually buying a new one (the only thing I specifically bought for this project) from Mrs T's in Coventry. I hand sewed a button hole and then tidied it up a bit by adding a chain stitch border, all done in blue perle cotton. Rummaging in my stash of made up cords and braid, I found a matching piece of luceted cord which I doubled over and couched in place to attach the button.

Then came the fun of deciding how to position the motifs and sewing them on, which took several hours and involved a lot of pins.

The final effect is subtle with the beads only becoming visible as the light moves across the front of the bag. Something which is very difficult to catch with a camera, I admit, but I like it.

(As always, click on pictures to see bigger versions...)

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Spinning one wet Saturday afternoon...

With the rain pouring down outside to the extent that there are something like 80 flood warnings in place and reports of flash floods in the midlands/warwickshire on the radio, I've opted to stay indoors today. Dave is somewhere on a campsite near London, for the last Maelstrom event of the year (and hopefully dry enough) so after spending the morning doing chores, I decided to spend the afternoon spinning.

While I was away on holiday, my spinning wheel went to stay with Chris from the Wednesday knitting group who proceeded to happily spin up every bit of fluff in her house. From her reports, I know the wheel not only spins, it spins very well, so any inadequacy in the spinning department is purely down to me and not the tools at hand.

Feeling full of optimism I got the wheel out of its corner, dusted it down and fetched some odds and ends of merino Kellie gave me when she did the spinning workshop a few months back. Next I sat practicing treadling for a good 20 minutes until I was sure I could keep the wheel moving smoothly for a long period of time without paying too much attention.

Then I had a go...

What can I say at this point, other than that while this attempt wasn't a disaster, I wouldn't call it a success either. The wheel definitely works. It takes up the fleece and spins it, but my technique is sadly lacking, with the main problem area being drafting.

I had suspected this might be the case before I started, but it soon became obvious that I couldn't draw fibres out of the merino top fast enough to satisfy the wheel. The fibre I was drafting was too thin and in my efforts to get enough twist into it by holding back before allowing the twist to travel into more fibre, meant it would snap.

Not waiting until I'd spun a good bit of twist into the fibre, meant the bobbin took up the yarn but it was woefully underspun. Examining it after each snapping incident as I pulled it back off the bobbin to try again, revealed it had no strength and would pull apart if put under tension because of the lack of twist... Which of course would mean it was prone to snapping.

This reminded me very much of my first few goes with the spindle actually - there the spun single couldn't support the weight of the spindle which would stretch out the underspun yarn until it dropped to the floor. The trick if it started to happen with the spindle was to spin the spindle which would put more twist into the spun thread and stop the problem in its tracks. Of course, putting enough twist in in the first place means this doesn't happen and so I haven't seen it in the spindle since those first few attempts... So perhaps I'm being overly critical of my first real go at using the wheel?

After an hour and a half, this was the sum total of yarn spun up and I wouldn't even guarantee that the single that's there is going to be any good if I tried to wind it off.

Either way, I think I need to find a supply of cheap but easily spun fibre to practice on before going any further.

Frustrated, I put the wheel away and got out of my spindle. I felt the need to spin, to prove to myself I could do it. I still use the park and draft method with the spindle and I haven't had time to practice in about four weeks, but I finished off the merino single I was working on previously...

And started spinning up the Grey Swaledale I picked up when I bought the spindle.

After struggling with the wheel, picking up the spindle again was much easier and the Grey Swaledale was very easy to spin. It's a course fibre with lots of guard hairs rather than just fluff so I was a bit doubtful but it really was no bother at all and in half an hour I spun up this...

Very nice and just the kind of confidence builder I needed.

(As always, click on pictures to see bigger versions...)

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Small progress

Back in the land of work and academia, life is trundling slowly on as we gear up for the new term.  For me, that has mostly meant reading a lot of email, catching up on technical blogs and news aggregators and sadly neglecting all things crafty.

Not that I've stopped thinking about doing crafty things of course, but for the moment I'm giving myself a stern dose of realism as to how much I'm actually going to get done in the next few months.  At the moment, this is translating into refusing to allow myself to start any more projects until I get a few of my existing ones done.

Open project wise at the moment I have...
  • manly charcoal socks
  • preemie baby blanket
  • cotton moss stitch bag
  • crochet motif bag
  • Victorian lace shawl
This of course does not include the hibernating sewing projects which have sat beside the sewing machine for two years.  There is also a crocheted rabbit sitting in bits somewhere waiting for me to get around to making it some legs...

My intention was to have two projects on the go. One lace and one other, with the second being more portable and requiring less concentration.  Hence why I had the cotton bag and lace projects from the list above.  Then of course I bought a book on beaded crochet which meant I had to have a go at something similar.  Jury service meant I had to have a project to take with me, so along came the baby blanket.  And camping meant I needed a small project to take with me, socks being the obvious choice.

This is the way that multiple projects start to pile up!

I am trying to get through some of these and last night, I took the crochet motif bag with me to the pub for the Coventry Knit-Wits meet up.

The bag itself was made up over a month ago now and I've been working on the embellishment side of things.  I'll write more when I've finished, but I decided to have a go at attaching crochet beaded motifs and here they are pinned and ready to be sewn on.

The motifs are not the easiest or quickest things to sew into place, their placement, shape and the number pins making it a slow job but after a couple of hours last night I am making progress.  Soon hopefully I can list this one as finished.

So some small progress there.

And this morning I survived a near disaster involving a large, oversized kitten who shall remain nameless and 2mm bamboo circular needles. It is indeed fortunate that I have eyes in the back of my head!