January 2006 Archives

Heros

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Writing, for me, is part entertainment, part therapy. For years I've kept a personal journal, one that I write in by hand, so that I can tell my own stories. Often, the journal goes unattended for many months or even years when things are more or less normal. But some events, both good and bad, get my brain moving enough that I need to put them into words in order to move on from them.

Maybe that's why I love blogging so much. It gets me to write almost every day. Unfortunately, a lot of things that strike me still can't go here. I don't feel comfortable talking too much about my job. Not because I am likely to get fired for talking about it, but because my company has been in a sensitive place for most of the time I have worked there, and I have a senior managment position. Companies are like families, sometimes, especially small companies, and some things just don't belong out beyond the sphere of the participants.

The same thing is true when it comes to my health or family related issues that are deeply personal. In this case, I have more latitude, clearly, because it's information about me specifically. But sometimes that makes it even harder. How much of myself can I put out there? After 3 years I still don't really have any rules for this. I just sort of go on "what feels right". I've been thinking a lot about how much I am going to say about what's been going on with me since Christmas Day and I've come to the conclusion that while I've told this story in my personal journal, I'm just not ready to tell it here. Perhaps, someday, I will be able to talk about it here. Suffice it to say, it's not all that uncommon a story for many women, and I am fine, physically (as is everyone in the rest of my family), even if there's still some emotional work to go through. No doubt, some of you will guess what happened from that statement and the rest of the post that follows. If so, please don't discuss it in my comments. I'm just not really ready for that, yet, although I'm always open to talking to anyone through email.

But I still feel the urge to put something here, in a public space. What happened to me got me using and thinking about the word "hero" a lot. I used to have a very romantic notion of heros. Knights on horses and that sort of thing. But as I grow older, I realize that heros are a much broader group of people -- there are many more heros in the world than there are horses and shining armor. I guess I still can't really put a Webster's Dictionary definition on what I think a hero is. But my recent experience provides me with some clear examples...

A hero is my mother, who was there for me when I needed her and helped me with things that no mother should ever have to. And who took charge of the situation and organized everything even when it wasn't easy.

A hero is my aunt, who called the ER to let them know we were coming and who stayed at my parents house to make sure that the furry creatures at my parents house were cared for.

A hero is my father, who drove me to the hospital, through the snow, and kept his calm and got us there safely even though his daughter was in crisis in the seat next to him.

A hero is the kind nurse at the Chelesea ER who held my hand and let me know that she and I had shared this experience.

A hero is the ER doctor who recognizes he can't take care of everything and makes sure that the ambulance that has just come in with another patient is comandeered so that I can get to a place that can make sure everything is taken care of correctly.

A hero is the paramedic who bent the rules to let John stay near me on the trip to St. Joes.

A hero is the doctor in the ER at St. Joes who stayed 3 hours past her shift to make sure that I got the care I needed and took the time to make sure that we always understood what she was doing and to give me what I would need to be comfortable once I got home. And who took a few moments to let me know she liked my handknit socks.

Heros are the hostpital technicians who drew my blood and put in my IV's and were always careful and fast -- and who didn't mind me asking for those tiny little butterfly needles.

Heros are the nurses that took care of me and always treated me with respect and dignity, even though some of what they had to do for me wouldn't have been considered very dignified by some.

Heros are my brother and sister-in-law, who travelled to both hospitals and waited for hours in waiting rooms when they could have gone home to my parents house and waited there. There is nothing like knowing that your whole family cares about you.

Heros are my friends -- online and otherwise -- who didn't back away when they heard bad news. Even if they didn't know exactly what to say.

Heros are all of you kind folks who left comments here wishing me well. Those comments mean more than you know.

Finally, my biggest hero is my husband, who never left my side, held my hand through almost everything and who constantly reminds me that my being okay is the most important thing and that there is always hope for the future. He wil always be my knight in shining armor, even if he doesn't have a horse.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Christmas Presents

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Thank you again to everyone who left me good vibes, hugs and happy wishes. It is truly appreciated, more appreciated than I'll ever be able to express well. I wish you all a happy, healthful, peaceful and joyful 2006.

This holiday brought me some lovely gifts courtesy of my family and friends, as well as some goodies to create gifts for other people. Today I thought I'd post a little sampling of some new things in my book and yarn stash.

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Artyarns Ultramerino, Some Inpsiring Books and a Skein of Luscious Alpaca

I won't spend too much time talking about the Artyarns Ultramerino 4 and 6 since I talked about the Ultramerino 4 not too long ago. The Ultramerino 6 is a thicker yarn (US size 6 needles recommended) and is provided in a 100g hank instead of a 50 g hank. (From what I can tell the "4" and the "6" represent the recommended US needle size on which to get gauge with the yarn). Now that I have both of the components required, I'll be able to get started on a double knit scarf pattern from Handknit Holidays. I'm looking forward to both trying out a new technique and seeing how these two different weight yarns work together.

The big skein of chocolately brown yarn is a new find (at least for me) that I discovered at Flying Sheep Yarns in Ann Arbor. For Christmas this year, I offered my aunt a scarf out of the yarn of her choice. We found this Alpaca with a Twist "Baby Twist" yarn and none of us could stop petting it. 100% baby alpaca yarn in DK weight (I think it's actually in between DK and worsted). This stuff is fabulous. Not only that, but at 549 yards (250) for $28.50, I thought it was a pretty good deal as well. My goal is to design a special scarf for my aunt... probably something with a cable design. I'm hoping there will be enough left over for a hat or at least wrist warmers. Definitely good stuff for keeping warm with in the winter.

I'm hoping to look to Knitting Over the Edge for some inspiration for that scarf design. While I'm not a big fan of most of Nicky Epstein's garment designs, I do think she's incredibly creative when it comes to knitted forms and shapes. I've only given this book a relatively quick pass-through, but there's definitely some fun stuff in there -- and the photgraphy of the stitch patterns she presents is very good. It makes a really nice companion to Knitting on the Edge which I already have in my library.

And finally, because right now I need a little humor in my life, it was a real pleasure to get the Yarn Harlot's New Book. I've been reading Stephanie's blog for a while now and it's hard not to get caught up in her infectious sense of knitting humor.

There are a few other special goodies I'm looking forward to showing off, of both a fibery and technical nature. More as the week proceeds.

Resolutions

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New Year's Resolutions always makes me think. Do I or don't I? Every year I come down somewhere different on these. The reality is, while I always have a lot of good intentions, I'm not always very good at sticking to them. The relatively silent elliptical machine in our basement is testimony to that. Most of the time, I have to have a meaningful motivator to keep me on track.

So, perhaps, rather than make resolutions, I'll talk about a few things that I would like to accomplish -- or, at least think about more -- and why these things are important to me.

On the fibery side of things...

I would like to knit a pair of socks for each of the family members who was with me during my trip to the hospital. I've got a great stash of sock yarn and there's nothing quite like knowing that something I made is keeping someone special's feet warm. I already have a pair started for John -- which I am going to work on exclusively once I get my first Jaywalker sock finished -- and the most fabulous maize and blue Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock yarn for my dad, the U of M fan. That should be good to get me started. Then I'll work on figuring out what I am going to do for my mom, brother and sister-in-law. No real time table for this. It's not a race, just something that would make me happy.

I also want to spend more time with my spinning wheel. I have so much lovely fiber now and spinning always makes me feel so peaceful. I was kind of surprised when I discovered how meditative spinning can be. So spinning would be good for the stash and for my peace of mind.

I want to focus on knitting things out of my stash. I think I may be approaching the point where I have too much of a good thing. It all calls to me and I find it hard to stay focused on any one thing for long. I've been good and I've bought relatively little new yarn this year since Maryland. I plan to keep to my stash diet for a bit longer. My next two projects (aside from the abovementioned socks) will be the scarf for my aunt and the double knit scarf for John. And then I need to think about something bigger. I've definitely been getting the urge to do a little felting, lately.

On the personal side of things...

I want to improve my diet and be more careful about what I eat. John and I worked hard to lose a bunch of weight, but I've been getting a little sloppy with my eating habits. We're both beginning to get unhappy about the way some of our favorite clothes fit again! To get started, I want to drink more water and cut out most of the caffeine and alcohol so that the water can do it's work better. And I want to be more reserved about what I eat. My metabolism isn't getting any faster these days...

I want to read more. I used to read all the time and I felt in touch with the world. Lately, there haven't been many books in my life. It's almost like I can feel my vocabulary shrinking...

I'd like to find some volunteer work that I enjoy and that is meaningful for me. I think this means some homework on my part to understand the what's out there and what I might fit best with. There was a time in my life when I would have said that I wanted to do this to get to meet people, but lately I've had this feeling that it would be nice to do something for my community and give something back. I have a lot of blessings and maybe I need to share some.

Finally, I want to stop multitasking all the time. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with multitasking -- it's a survival skill, in fact, but I do it constantly. I just can't go to a movie and not work on a sock, for instance. I'm always trying to do more than one thing at a time. As a result, I think I miss things that I would have enjoyed more if I had given them all of my attention instead of trying to do too much at once.

Well, there you have it... the things that I've been thinking about as the New Year begins in earnest. It will be interesting to see next December how much progress I've made. I kind of figure if I get one out of each category, I'll be doing pretty well.

A Gift for My Wheel

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I got one more wonderful fibery gift from my mother this year:

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One Pound Of Fiber Feeling Festive

It's a pretty subtle looking bundle sitting on my end table, but it gets a lot more exciting when you get a little closeup shot:

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Wool and Silk!

Y'all know how I love silk. And this pound of natural colored roving is half silk, half wool -- and comes from the same place as those incredible handmade sheep do. Not sure what wool is meant by "fine wool" but it feels very soft. At first I was tempted to dye it, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked the idea of spinning it and enjoying it's natural color.

It even inspired me to do a little spinning tonight. It's taking me a little bit of time to get the hang of working with it -- it's got a little VM in it as well as some slightly nubby bits that I think must be from the silk. But I figure I've got a whole pound, so I can have fun experimenting a little bit. And I have a feeling that if I need more, my mom would probably know how to help me find it.

Hello Moto

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I've got to finish up the first week of the New Year by talking about two of the best tech toys that I got in 2005. To go along with this you need to hear the story of how I got this:

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Hello Moto! My New Motorola RAZR v3 Phone

Nifty, eh? My wonderful husband managed to be incredibly sneaky and got me the phone I have been lusting after since the release of the GSM version last year. The big problem was, at the time, my husband was working for a CDMA wireless carrier (from whom we also got our wireless service) and there were no such phones for CDMA carriers. Until this year, that is. After the sneaky husband had taken a job at a new company (which we are not unhappy about, as the sneaky huband is much happier there -- at least from my perspective). So, of course, I started to point this out to the sneaky husband. Who, proceeded to tell me that even though other wireless carriers would have this phone, our wireless carrier was still in the QC process with it and it wouldn't be ready for Christmas (he's not there any more, but he still has connections). So I sulked a little bit. Made comments about the backasswardness of certain wireless carriers. And prepared to remind a certain sneaky husband about the phone around my birthday. Which is definitely after Christmas.

So what did the sneaky husband do? Well, first off, the sneaky husband knew that our wireless carrier was rushing to get this phone available to customers for Christmas just like all the other CDMA carriers. Sneaky husband staked out a store near his office and stalked them mercilessly to make sure that one of the small stock that was going to come in before Christmas was going to be his. I suspect that the sneaky husband might have been helping them unload the truck when they came in, but he just claims that he made sure that he got there they day they arrived.

Which left me very surprised to find my own personal Moto RAZR v3 under the tree.

Now, those of you who have been reading for a while, may know that I am a devout Palm user as well, and that my current phone has a Palm device integrated into it. How could I possibly be willing to give up that Palm functionality just for a thin, sexy flip phone case?

Well, the answer is that I am not really giving up anything at all. Do you remember this?

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Tapwave Zodiac

John won one of these at a conference he attended and I stole adopted it. However, because I had the Palm phone, I mostly just used the Tapwave to play games. But this device and my RAZR phone have one very important bit of functionality in common: they both can use the Bluetooth short-range wireless communication protocol to talk to each other. What does that mean? Well, now I have the best of both worlds. A sexy slim phone and an awesome Palm device that can talk to the phone and do neat things like browse the web and check email without me ever having to take the phone out of my handbag or coatpocket. Since the sneaky husband also bought be a Bluetooth card for my laptop, my laptop can even talk to my phone and use it as a modem when it is not otherwise connected to the internet and I desperately need a blog fix.

I just love being a geek girl sometimes! There are defintiely sometimes when a new tech toy can be better than a little bling...

In Between

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It seems that I am at a mid-way point with almost all my projects right now. Perhaps I am dividing my time too much. This weekend I worked on the Backyard Leaves scarf for mom (I've only got four repeats left on the second half of the scarf, so it's beginning to feel like the home stretch), my Morehouse Merino Melody's Shawl (an immense quantity of circular stockinette knitting with lace weight yarn), spun about a bobbin's worth of the silk wool blend from my mom, and finished up one of my Jaywalker socks.

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A Single Jaywalker Awaits a Mate

It did take some effort, but I actually got the next sock cast on. All things considered, this is not such a bad pattern. Not to difficult to make it feel like hard work, not just solid stockinette, either. And I think the pattern works well for this yarn.

I know, this is not earth-shatteringly exciting knitting content. Not sure why my knitting life is mostly filled with simple things right now. In some respects, I think it's mostly for practical reasons. Given that it's winter here in Chicago, the handiest items for keeping warm are socks and scarves. These are also the garments that I think are easiest to gift and also know that the recipient will probably be happy using. That, and, while I've liked what I've seen in the recent knitting magazines and books, I really just haven't had a sweater reach out and grab me and demand to be knitted lately. So socks and scarves it is for a bit. I'm looking forward to the scarf I'm going to knit for my aunt -- it's been a while since I've really designed anything and it will be good to work out the creative side of my brain.

One thing that is helping me through all this knitting is a new discovery (for me, at least, clearly many of you already know about it) that I learned of through Marie Irshad's KnitCast podcast. I just love being able to download podcasts via iTunes, because I really enjoy listening to something while I am working on a piece that needs a fair amount of attention. Marie's podcast is great fun, and it was also my introduction to Brenda Dayne's Cast On podcast. I spent the weekend listening through her back recordings. Most of her podcasts are about an hour long and you get a little music, a fair bit of knitting info (not technique, really, more news and discussion of knitting culture) and a little bit about Brenda herself. And I like that. Just like I enjoy getting to know people through their blogs, I find that I also enjoy getting to know people through their podcasts -- in addition to hearing nifty thngs about the knitting world. Brenda and Marie make the perfect complement to getting another pattern interval done on whatever project you're working on.

More About Socks

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So I've been thinking about socks. In particular, I've been thinking about what kinds of socks I want to make for my family. So I've been looking through my stash and browsing about the Internet a bit looking to see what I have that I think will fit with the special people in my life.

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From Left to Right: Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in "UMich", One Lonely Trekking XXL 90 Sock Without A Heel, and Opal Rainforest in "Tiger"

John, is the first recipient I'm going to tackle. Really, I'm not completely playing fair here, as my goal for him is simply to finish the pair of Trekking XXL 90 socks that I started for him a long time ago. But he's also getting a special scarf this winter, too, so I decided that I could probably get my own personal family sock festival started with something that was already on its way. For anyone looking for interesting but manly sock yarn, I can highly recommend this Trekking colorway. John actually picked it himself out of my yarn stash! Maybe we're beginning to make progress on the whol colored sock issue! (As an aside...John's been asking for a pair of heavier weight socks for winter. Does anyone know of a good yarn in DK to Worsted weight that is suitable for socks? By suitable for socks I mean that it must be machine washable, dryer tolerant, and relatively durable. This means that it needs to have some superwash qualities and probably a little nylon. And, of course, since it's for the husband, it can't be very out there...)

For my mom and dad, I decided to think about the things they liked and liked to do to see if I could come up with sock yarn inspiration. Lucky for me, I'm one of those people who has no problem justifying a sock yarn purchase on the basis of "I think would really like this yarn. I'll get it now in the hopes that sometime in the next 10 years I will actually have time to knit these socks for them". Hence the yarn that I found in my stash for my dad. My dad likes a lot of things... woodworking, his John Deere tractor (I do have some yellow and green Koigu to go along with this theme some day), birds, photography, orchids and University of Michigan football. Some of my favorite memories with my dad involve sitting down on Saturday with him to watch a game. Patient man that he was, he never seemed to mind too much when I asked for the 4th time what a holding penalty was (okay, well, he did mind just a little bit if it was a tense point in the game) or what he thought of Bo Shembechler's coaching that day. This is also a man who has adopted two pets recently. The cat is named "Bob" the dog is named "Ufer" after Bob Ufer, the long-time Michigan football radio announcer. He's also a guy who's not afraid to wear brightly colored socks. Thus, his socks are going to be out of that nifty Lorna's Laces Shepherd sock in the "UMich" colorway. I figure I can't go wrong with a pair of Amazin' Blue socks when the next game day rolls around in the fall.

My mom was a little more challenging. I have a lot of nice Koigu, some lovely Mountain Colors Bearfoot, a bunch of brightly colored Regia and a fair amount of other self-patterning sock yarn that I really like. But for no reason that I could put my finger on, I just couldn't find something in my stash that I really felt called out for my mom. So I started browsing sites looking at sock yarn, hoping for inspiration. Of course, I had to make a stop at the PT Yarns site to take a look at the current Opal offerings (PT Yarns is the US distributor for Opal. I've always regretted not being able to find any of their tiger striped yarn before they discontinued it, since I thought it would be perfect for my cat-loving mother. So you can only imagine my happiness when I discovered the Opal Rainforest collection and found the "Tiger" colorway.

Even better, I found the yarn for sale online at Carodan Farms and they got it to me lickety-split! Definitely a store I'll be ordering from again in the future. And is it just me, or has Opal gotten to be softer and a little thicker in the last year or so?

At any rate, I'm totally excited about getting started with these yarns -- it's going to be really difficult to decide which pair to work on first -- after I finish my Jaywalkers and John's Trekkings. And it definitely gives me motivation to get my current sock projects finished!

Working out My Wheel

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Remember that big ball of natural colored wool and silk that I showed off not too long ago? Well, I've been using it to get a little work out on my wheel. After all, how can I go to Marengo this weekend (home of The Fold) to try out new wheels if I can't really spin comfortably? So I decided that my mother's gift was going to be a gift to her friendly old Ashford Traditional as well. And whenever I got a few seconds, I worked on spinning some up.

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White Wool Silk Single

This single is definitely a little bit rustic looking. However, I think that that is just the Tao of this yarn, given my current state of spinning experience. In general, I'm spinning something a little less fine than a lace weight single -- I'm not sure what my deal is, but I have a hard time not spinning fine weight singles, no matter what fiber I'm working with. (Clearly this is an area in which I need to improve my technique -- if only so that I can make the yarns I want to make). The bits of silk in the yarn create small areas of resistance and that ends up making the yarn have some thicker and thinner areas. But it doesn't really bother me all that much. It's still a pleasure to spin with.

But once I got one bobbin finished, I realized that to ply the stuff and make a skein, I probably needed to spin up another bobbin. I learned the true power of a wheel when I spun an entire second bobbin's worth of single in a couple of hours this afternoon! But then I realized I had another problem. I don't have a lazy Kate to ply from. So I had a fiber MacGuyver kind of moment and jerry-rigged myself a lazy Kate out of a unsuspecting shoebox and a pair of US size 7 metal knitting needles.

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Homemade Lazy Kate

Not surprisingly, plying turns out to be a lot faster on a wheel, too. And I enjoyed watching it happen because unlke when I was spinning the singles, when I was plying, I could really see what was happening with the twist, and that made it a lot easier to get a relatively even amount of twist throughout what I was plying. I loved watching the yarn plump up as I added more twist. The final result?

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My First Skein Spun and Plied Entirely on a Wheel

It is really remarkable, after spinning a lot on a drop spindle, to see how much I could spin in a relatively short period of time on my wheel. I'm not really sure how much yarn I have here (it's all I could fit on one bobbin -- and I still had enough single left for about 2/3rds of a second bobbin) but if feels like a real skein-sized amount that one could actually take on a project with. The cool thing? I haven't really even put much of a dent in the whole pound of fiber that I have to play with. Were I to actually keep spinning relatively consistantly, I could actually have enough of the stuff to make something substantial. I knew, of course, that wheels had this potential, but now I've gone from imagining the potential to seeing the actual. And that's a powerful transition, indeed!

Although the yarn is still a little on ther rustic side, I'm actually quite pleased with the result:

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Wool Silk Yarn Close Up

This is the yarn before getting a little bath. It clearly has areas where it is thicker and thinner or has a little more or less plying, but when I skeined it up on my niddy noddy before dumping it into the bath, it seemed to hold together well, be quite soft, and to be pretty well balanced. Not bad for my first major effort, I think!

I did learn something else on this outing as well -- I need a better chair for this. I think I was sitting too high in the chair I was using, because my back started to hurt from leaning over a little bit. Maybe I'll have to talk to my wonderful wood-working father about building the perfect spinning chair...

Backyard Leaves in Winter

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I was going to post last night, with some pictures I took yesterday, but when I realized it was going to be 50 degrees and sunny here in Chicago this morning (an almost unheard of sort of thing for a day like January 12th) I decided that it would be a lot nicer to re-shoot my pictures in the sunlight. Well, a lot nicer for me, at least, since sunlight is not to be taken without appreciation in January in Chicago.

So, without further ado, may I introduce my most recent finished item: Annie Modesitt's Backyard Leaves Scarf from the Scarf Style book that came out last year.

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Backyard Leaves Scarf Enjoying Some Sunshine

This scarf was made with Brooks Farm Harmony (a mohair silk blend yarn) instead of the recommended Karabella yarn. Let me provide you with a little warning if you choose a similar yarn: mohair and silk have almost no elasticity. Thus, it's easy to get distorted stitches that don't look the way you want them to and won't spring back into position after dealing with a knit 3 together. Blocking helps a little bit, but it doesn't correct all the problems. Secondly, mohair and silk don't tend to poof up to fill the space like wool will, so textured patterns may not end up with the same texture as you expect them to have from the picture in the book. This isn't meant to dissuade anyone from either using this yarn or this pattern or both of them together-- instead, it's just meant to let you know that the choice of mohair rather than merino will have consequences. You will get more luster but less elasticity. It's all in what you like.

Harmony isn't a bad substitution from a gauge perspective. However, there is another caveat to this as well. I ended up getting the the right width dimensions, but significantly shorter length dimensions for one pattern unit. Thus, to get the desired length, I had to add two more pattern units to each scarf piece. Not really a big deal, since I had plenty of yarn, but it did surprise me a little bit. And it definitely is an example of why row gauge matters. Though, clearly, row gauge and final length in a scarf are mostly matters of personal taste.

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Leaf Detail

Ignore the color on this shot, it's more dreadfully off than the color in the first picture -- my camera finds reds and oranges to be difficult to deal with. This gives you an idea of what the lovely leaves come out to look like but, if you look at the stems in the picture, you can also see some of what I mean by wonky stitches. You can compare the way the mohair silk blend looks with a version done in a more compatible yarn, unblocked and blocked by sweet georgia if you want to see some of the differences.

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Leaf Point Detail

This picture actually has good color fidelity (it's actually one from my overcast photoshoot yesterday) I'm putting it up because I think it is really a shame that this beautiful detail isn't shown on the model in the book. I think Annie did an amazing job here of bringing this scarf to a fabulous end. The shaping is beautiful and easy to achieve.

Now for the question of the day. I still have some yarn left over from the project. I don't think it's enough for a hat or mittens (it would be nice if it was, because that would be the perfect complement to this project) but I think it might be enough for a pair of wrist warmers. However, because of the lack of elasticity in this yarn, I'm concerned that even if I made the wristwarmers with a stretchy ribbing, eventually they would just stretch out and be of no use to my mom. I don't want to make her something that's going to need to be blocked all the time -- or that's going to slip off at a bad time or be easy to lose. Any thoughts as to what might be a good use for this yarn? I could always just give the left over to mom so that she has something to play with. But I would love to hear a good creative suggestion.

P.S. Thanks for the nice response to my spinning yesterday, and to my sock query from the day before. I got a lot of helpful information and questions. I'll try to answer those tomorrow!

Questions Answered

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Today is all about words since I gave you so many pictures yesterday! There were a number of good questions in my comments over the past couple of days, and I figured that some of the answers might be of interest to more than just the asker... so in no particular order...

Alix had an interesting observation and question:

I attended a spinning demonstration at my LYS back in October, and the 'instructor' made an interesting observation: in her experience, it seemed like people tended to spin the yarn weights they most liked to work with. She likes laceweight and working with lace, and she found that most of her spun yarn was also laceweight.Could that be your case as well?

That's a really interesting observation by your instructor. The longer I knit, the more I do find that I like lighter weight yarns and I find myself gravitating towards projects that have a smaller gauge and finer details. And even though I haven't worked on much lately due to a lack of much real brain power, I do love knitted lace (it's probably why I liked working on the Backyard Leaves scarf -- a little bit of open work, a lot of shaping). But I also like things that don't take years and years to knit (at my heart, I think I am more of a product than process knitter, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise), so I'd like my handspun to end up closer to DK weight than to the fingering weights I seem to be getting now. Of course, another way to solve this problem would be to learn how to create three ply yarns...

Sarah asked:

How long did you spin with the spindle before you embarked on the wheel? I've been spindling for a little while, and eventually want to work up to a wheel. My singles are getting more consistent with the spindle, is it easier to get the same consistency on the wheel? Do you still pre-draft with your wheel?

Actually, I probably didn't spend that much time with a spindle at all (although that didn't stop me from accumulating quite a few of them in a short period of time). I started learning how to use one in early May of 2005 when I went to MS&W and got some great lessons from Claudia. I didn't start on doing much with the wheel until October when I took a lesson from Toni Neil at the Fold (who also helped me get my wheel in shape for spinning).

To be honest, I did next to no real spinning on my wheel until deciding to get serious with the wool silk blend. Part of that was just being busy. Part of that was getting frustrated by the fact that while this wheel is in better shape than it was, there are still a few things that make it not completely fun to work with. And a part of it was just not realizing that a lot of parts of the wheel are adjustable and one of the problems I was having was due to not having the wheel adjusted properly.

One thing I did feel was true, however. Learning to spin on a drop spindle makes learning to spin on a wheel a lot easier because your fingers have already learned some basic principles about handling the wool. So learning to spin on a wheel then becomes more about figuring out how to get your feet involved in the equation and getting comfortable with figuring out how to get twist when you want twist and how to wind on when you want to wind onto the bobbin.

As far as consistancy goes... well, I would thing that would depend on the fiber. But I think it's more likely that you'll get more consistant yarn from working on the wheel -- in large part because you can do a lot more spinning at once and that means that it's harder to "forget" what you were aiming for between sessions. I also think it's easier to control the amount of twist that you put into the yarn with the wheel since you control the treadling speed and it only slows down if you do, whereas with a spindle, the rotation does slow down over time and how the spindle spins can be affected by the weight of yarn on the spindle.

Do I still pre-draft? You betcha. I think it helps a lot with getting a better yarn. At least for me. Compared with a drop spindle, that fiber is moving a lot more rapidly through your fingers, so the more smoothly it moves, the easier it is to spin and the easier it is to draft out consistant amounts at a time. I've been pre-drafting the wool silk a lot, otherwise it would tend to stick to itself and I think it would be way more rustic than I would enjoy working with.

Dani asked, in regards to my wool silk yarn:

Are you going to dye it? Any idea what you will use it for?

I am really tempted to dye some of it... just to see how it takes the dye. But to be honest, I'm also sort of drawn to the natural color of the yarn. It makes me think of some lovely old cabled sweaters I have seen and owned. I think it might be the sort of yarn that would like to be cabled. However, even plied, it's kind of on the fine side. I'd estimate that it's closer to fingering or sport weight than DK weight (I don't have my WPI tool handy or I'd measure and provide an "official" answer). I'm probably going to have to follow the suggestion of several people commented that I should swatch it up to see how it knits. Which I'll probably do soon, once the smaller skein I plied (from the singles that were left over after I got the first bobbin-full of plied yarn) is dry. (Giving this yarn a good soak to help set the twist seems to be a good thing since there also seems to be a bit of dust that gets released when it hits water and Eucalan -- the yarn definitely gets "brighter" after it's bath). I suspect that it will "talk" to me a bit as I swatch with it and get a feel for what it does and doesn't like to do!

Finally, I can't for the life of me remember who asked this question, but I did get asked where I got my UMich Lorna's Laces. I suspect that you can find it in a variety of places, but I purchased mine from ThreadBear Fiber Arts in Lansing when I visited there a while back. They had a number of different colorways that were compatible with local colleges and universities. It's been a while since I've made a trip there, so I'm not sure if they still carry it or not.

Spinning in Marengo

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Saturday was official "spinning wheel testing day" for me. Julie and Bonne Marie and I all headed out to the Fold in Marengo, Illinois. For those of you who have never been to the Fold, this is definitely one of those stores that is worth he hour and a half drive from the city. So much great stuff and friendly people to help you with it. Even if you're a knitter and not a spinner, there's something here for you, since there's a fair amount of nice yarn stocked in this store -- besides the "proto yarn" that you have to spin for yourself. Some of my favorite proto-yarn greets you at the door:

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Blue Moon at the Front Door

How could a girl not like a bookcase full of Blue Moon hand-dyed spinning fiber? So many good colors!

But I did't spend too much time with fiber. I was there to try out wheels. I have no issues with the Ashford traditional that I have been working with (in fact, it's been a nice wheel to learn on -- the fact that it has a few "personal issues" means that I've learned a little bit more about how wheels work), but it's not meant to be my wheel forever. Ultimately, it's supposed to go back to Ann Arbor with my mother, its true owner. Thus, I'm out looking for a wheel to call my own.

And let me tell you, there's a lot of wheels to choose from! At the Fold, alone, there are at least 6 different wheel brands to try, and each of those brands has a couple of different wheels. It can be a little bit of wheel sensory overload for a newbie spinner. I would have loved to try them all, but there were a few criteria that I used to determine whether I sat down in front of a wheel.

1) Could I figure out the basics of using the wheel without a lot of assistance? I figure if I can't figure out how to get spinning on it in about a minute or less, I'm just going to end up frustrated in the long run. Probably anything I can't figure out easily would be better left to my spinning future.

2) Was it in my price range? I'm willing to make a reasonable investiment in a good piece of equipment, but since I'm a new spinner, and many things are likely to change as I grow, I want a wheel that isn't going to break the bank but will still give me a good experience.

3) Did I find it aesthetically pleasing? Realistically, any wheel that I own will probably sit out in someplace that I will have to look at it a lot. So it would be nice if it was easy on the eyes as well as a good tool.

4) How portable? Idealy, it would be nice to have a wheel that wasn't too hard to move around the house, was easy to store, and could occasionally make the trek over to Julie's house
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Criteria number 1 eliminated two whole wheel manufactureres: Majacraft and Winsome Timbers. I don't want to create the wrong impression here -- I am sure these companies make great wheels and that I was likely missing something obvious about them that would have made them simple to spin with. In the case of the Winsome Timbers wheels, however, they were somewhat complex and out of the price range I was looking in. For the Majacraft, I just couldn't, for the life of me, figure out the bobbin/flier mechanism and how to feed in the fiber. I figure they just don't use the paradigm I'm used to. They make awfully pretty wheels, though.

So what did that leave me with?

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Lendrum Double Treadle Wheel

The first wheel I tried out was the Lendrum Double Treadle -- it's not a "true" double treadle, but you still use both feet to treadle. This wheel has a very smooth mechanism and it's very comfortable to spin from (Julie seconded my opinion of spinning on this wheel). It also has the added benefit of being fairly portable (it can be stored almost flat, which means it can live under a bed or futon sofa when not in use. I also like it's simple lines and the clear finish on the maple. I also really like the flier and the mechanism that moves the yarn along the bobbin -- it's basically a pinch clamp that slides along one side of the flier instead of the hooks that are on my Ashford. The reason I like this better? Well, those little hooks can break off in the wood, and then you've got no easy way to put another hook in and you have a part of your bobbin that you can't reach. This pinch clamp thing looks like it would be pretty easy to replace. One last nice feature? The orifice hook has it's own special place attatched to the wheel. You never have to worry about losing or putting it somewhere out of reach since it's stowed in the wheel itself.

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Louet S-75 Double Treadle Wheel

The second wheel I tried was the Louet S-75. I'll admit right up front that it is the only Louet that I tried because I really just don't like the way that most of the Louet wheels look. Once again, I'm sure they're perfectly great wheels, but their styling doesn't appeal to me, they're just too spartan And a tool that I'm going to look at a great deal needs to appeal to me visually. The S-75 has a more "traditional" spinning wheel look. It's also a "fake" double treadle like the Lendrum. But I just didn't bond with this wheel. For one thing, I didn't think it was as smooth the Lendrum (to be honest, I don't think it was even as smooth as my single treadle Ashford Traditional) -- I could tell almost every time the drive shaft reached the top of its circle and that disrupted my flow a bit. I also though the treadles were too narrow. It was light weight and easy to move around, though.

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Schacht Matchless (the wheel in the center)

The third wheel I tried out was the Schacht Matchless -- a wheel with a true double drive mechanism. I have to start by saying that I do think this wheel is lovely. I really liked the details in the wood. I also loved the big treadles that the rather large bobbin and flier assembly -- you can go a long time with this wheel without having to stop to change bobbins. And I really enjoyed spinning with it, too. It was very smooth and effortless to work with. The only negative for me with this wheel is it's size. It's a pretty good-sized machine and there's no way to fold it up and get it out of sight when you need extra space. And it's not a tiny wheel. It takes up at least as much space as my Ashford Traditional. It certainly won't fit in the trunk of my car easily if I want to take it to visit Julie! But, otherwise, from my perspective, the Matchless was a thoroughly lovely wheel.

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Lendrum Saxony in Cherry

The last wheel I tried out is the Lendrum Saxony. I'll be honest, I should have eliminated this wheel based on both the price and lack of portability criteria alone -- I never should have even sat down in front of it.. But this wheel, especially in it's walnut incarnation is really a thing of beauty. I could easily imagine it living in my living room. Both Julie and I were drawn to this wheel. And this wheel isn't just another pretty face, either. I think it was my favorite wheel to spin on of all the wheels I tried. So smooth and effortless -- both in the spinning and in getting the spinning started. That big wheel starts and stops easily and it's equally easy to reverse directions on it. This wheel comes in both left handed and right handed styles. I'm a lefty when I spin, and the way this wheel is set up, you sit in a very natural position and work with the fiber in a very comfortable position as well -- you draft almost perpendicularly to your legs (as opposed to the rest fo the wheels that I tried, where you draft parallel to your legs). This wheel is not very portable due to it's size, but that is about the most negative thing I could say about it. I think it's going to fall into the category of my "dream wheel" for a while. But if I get to the point where it is time to get a second wheel, this one will most definitely be high on my list!

The only wheel brand that I wanted to try that isn't at the Fold is Kromski. I love the look of both the Mazurka and the Minstrel, and given my husband's ethnic backround, I also love the idea of having a Polish spinning wheel. But there's only one place in Illinois that I could probably try one out in. I'm not sure I'm going to get a chance to try one out before my birthday arrives (which is the major catalyst for this wheel shopping expedition).

My first choice after the testing I did at the Fold is the Lendrum. It meets most of my criteria and is a pleasure to spin on. The Matchless is a close second, but it's lack of portability puts it out of the running until I start thinking about a second wheel (which isn't likely to be for a while). Julie tells me I need to try out the Ashford Joy again (my first attempt was before my first spinning lesson and I was having real problems co-ordinating my hands and feet), which is fabulously portable. I must admit, though, that I like the look of the Lendrum a great deal. But I am hoping that I can take a little trip out to Julie's house sometime just to make sure I give the Joy a fair shake.

Of course, I didn't buy a wheel on Saturday. But that didn't mean that I left the shop empty handed...

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Stash Additions: Merino & Tussah from Blue Moon in Eclipse, Austerman Step and Trekking XXL, Blue Moon Seduction in Carbon Dioxide and Black Onyx, Blue Moon Sock Candy in Cherries Jubilee

I guess sock yarn is just like eating potato chips for me -- I can't buy just one. The Austerman Step is a yarn I am really curious about, because it has both Lanolin and Jojoba Oil in it -- you can tell when you pick it up. I'm wondering if it lasts beyond the first wash or if it's just a nice treat for your hands. The Trekking XXL is more grey variations for the husband -- for whom there can never be enough grey sock yarn. The Blue Moon Seduction is a Merino Tencel blend that I think is meant mostly for sock yarn, given the 400 yards in the put up. The Black Onyx is clearly for John, and the Carbon Dioxide is for John, but it's probably wishful thinking on my part that he will ever select it. Finally, the Blue Moon Sock Candy is a Cotton/Elite yarn that I think will be perfect for my sister in law who lives in Houston. I love the colorway and the "Elite" must be what gives the yarn the stretch it needs to be an acceptable sock yarn. It's also pretty soft, so I am hopeful that the resulting socks will be liked by the recipient.

And, given my renewed spinning excitement, I just couldn't leave the store without a little something special to spin up -- just under 6 ounces of a Merino/Silk blend in springy colors. This reminds me a lot of the Cormo/Silk blends I bought at last year's MS&W and I'm thinking it's going to be a real pleasure to spin up!

If anyone has anything they want to share about their own wheel buying and owning experience, I'd love to hear it!

A Wool and Silk Eclipse

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Wow! Y'all had a lot to say about your wheels. When I stop and think about it, it's really great that there are so many different kinds of wheels out there to suit all the different kinds of spinnners in the world. It was interesting to hear all the different opinions and to hear more stories about different kinds of wheels. It certainly doesn't make my decision making process any easier knowing that there are so many great choices. But it does make me feel good to know that probably no matter which wheel I chose, I will get something I like -- and a wheel that others are familiar with. And there's nothing better than knowing there's a community of people out there who can share their wheel wisdom with me!

The trip to Marengo, combined with bonding a little more with my Ashford Traditional has gotten me into a very spinning oriented mood. After I finished plying up some more of the natural colored wool/silk blend I got from my mother, I decided that I needed to spend some time spinning some of this:

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Blue Moon 50% Merino/50% Tussah Silk, Colorway Eclipse

This was the first time I found the merino/silk blend at the Fold and I just had to leave with some of it. It's soft, and reminds me of the Cormo and Tussah Silk blend that I bough at MS&W last year that was such a dream to spin on my drop spindle. This is something of an unusual color choice for me, but I was drawn into the lovely yellow and spring green in the mix and curious about how that would blend with the blues and greys when all plied up.

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Two Bobbins of a Merino and Silk Eclipse

Here's the first two bobbins full. This hank of fiber is only 5.75 ounces, so I don't think it will take me too long to spin up the whole thing. I wish my spinning was a little more even but I think that will likely only come with time and practice. That said, I did learn a few things as I spun these two bobbins up that made my life a little better.

1) For me, it seems like things wind on my bobbins better if I start with the single going through the hook closest to me and work my way towards the hook on the opposite end as I fill up each area. When I start from the hook furthest from me, the single seems to move towards the middle and wind on a bit unevenly. Not that this is a big deal, but it makes it easier for me to judge when the bobbins have about the same amount of single on them when the single winds on more evening.

2) Merino and silk are well paired for spinning. The short fibers of the merino are complemented by the long silk fibers, giving the feeling of having a much longer staple length than if one were spinning merino alone.. When I first started spinning this stuff though, since I was remembering only about the short staple length of the merino, I found that I was fighting myself a bit when I was drafting out the yarn from the main part of the roving. Why? Because my drafting hand and my roving guiding hand were just too close together. I found that the best positioning was actually to have my guiding hand be 3-4 inches back from my drafting hand. In that position, the fiber flow was very natural and easy. So now I know another reason why it is important to understand the staple length of the fiber I am spinning with.

3) I now understand why wheels come with more than one, as I think of it, "gear ratio". The finer the yarn I spin, the more twist I want to put into it to hold it together. That means that I have to either treadle faster or make the bobbin spin faster relative to the main wheel. Unfortunately, my makeshift twine drive band doesn't allow me to switch ratios easily, but at least now I understand the principle. I suppose that is the sort of thing that should be obvious, but there's nothing quite like hands on experience for me to get a grasp on this kind of obvious. And, in a strange way, I'm feeling pleasantly self-satisfied that I did figure this out by myself by actually thinking about what I am doing and about the equipment I am working with.

So what will this yarn look like when I ply it up? Will it be attractive? Will it be ugly? I'll have to solve that mystery tomorrow.

Swatching My First Wheel Spun Yarn

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It's a bit "all spinning all the time" around here right now. I'm not sure if it is generally interesting, but I find that I have days that I just want to spin all the time, or days where I want to knit like a fiend and do nothing else. I actually find it hard to have a day where I do both, even when I have a whole day to tackle several projects. And lately, inspired by the thought of a new spinning wheel, I am finding it hard to pull myself away from the spinning.

I did solve the "spinning wheel chair" problem by drafting my trusty desk chair into service. When I lower it to it's lowest level, it works well with my Ashford Traditional and gives me a comfortable angle for both working with the fiber and treadling. Thank you to all of you who suggested I see what my desk chair could do for me! Once I got myself all comfortable and situated, I proceeded to make a small dent in my pound of natural colored fine wool/silk noile.

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4 oz of Wheel Spun Wool/Silk

As it turns out, washing this stuff makes quite an impact on it. It's much brighter after a little swim. Although you can't tell it by looking at the roving, there must be some light dust in it. The tags are a little trick that I stole from Leigh after I saw them on her blog. You can buy them at almost any office store and they are pretty handy for labeling yarn. I'm not very good at remembering fiber details when the ball band is gone and since I'm likely to spin many things at once, it seemed like a good idea to make sure that what I did spin up got labelled for future reference.

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A Wool/Silk Swatch

I also took the time to swatch up a little of this yarn, to see if swatching would give me some inspiration as to what this yarn is supposed to become. As it turns out, those little tags are also handy for labelling swatches. I used my wraps-per-inch tool to figure out that the yarn is about 16 wpi. That puts it right on the border between fingering and DK. So I decided to try swatching on US size 5 (3.75 mm) needles (mostly because I couldn't find a pair of size 4 needles, which was what I wanted originally). The result is about 5.5 stitches/inch and 8 rows/inch, and a swatch with just a little touch of a rustic quality, which I like. While I like the feel of the fabric, it looks a bit open to me, so I may try another swatch on the 4's, just to see if it I like it better (and to justify the new size 4 Addis that I purchased over the weekend).

So far, the yarn still hasn't told me what it wants to be. But I'm beginning to get a teddy bear vibe from it. Looking through Amazon, I came across two books on Teddy Bears that look interesting to me:

Anyone have any experience with either or both of these books and have an opinion about the quality of the bears and the patterns?

Blue Moon Eclipse

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So, ready or not, here I come with a little more spinning!

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Blue Moon Eclipse Merino/Silk 2 Ply

This is the first hank of the Blue Moon 50% Merino/50% Silk blend dyed in the "Eclipse" colorway. It's about 147 yards (according to my niddy noddy) and 1.25 ounces and it's just as soft as all get out. Not sure how much is on the bobbin yet. Definitely less than is on the skein, so I probably have a total of 250-275 yards and I still probably have over half of the roving left to spin up.

Did I mention how soft this stuff is?

My spinning and plying are still a little bit uneven, as you can see from this closeup:

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Close Up of My Uneven Spinning

but I'm definitely improving. I'm finding that, compared to the drop spindle, the wheel gives me more time to think about what I am doing with the fiber. I also find it a little easer to stop and tweak as I go along. Even so, there are some places in my singles where they got a lot thinner than I would have liked or a little bit too thick. But nothing that involves hand eye co-ordination improves without practice. Hopefully as I spin up more of this stuff and other things I'll get better at keeping things more even. What was very cool about this skein was after I pulled it off my niddy noddy, it didn't twist at all... not one bit! So even if the gauge fluctuates, I did a good job at balancing the yarn. I had real concerns about that happening.

You see, this skein also comes with a learning experience.

I had just finished spinnin the second bobbin's worth of singles and decided that I just couldn't wait to see what was going to happen when I plied this stuff up. So with the help of my homemade lazy Kate I got everything all set up and started plying. I'd been spinning all day, so I had a good rhythm going, but something didn't seem quite right. No problem with the plying, but the yarn wasn't poofing up quite as much as I expected it to. Didn't seem that bad, though, so I kept spinning along, not quite able to put my finger on what was bothering me.

And then my wheel threw it's drive band (it does that periodically, just to test me and my newly developing spinning wheel technical service skills) and after I got the band back on and began to start spinning again, it suddenly dawned on me what was wrong. I was spinning the two-ply in the same direction as I had spun the singles. And I had about a third of a bobbin's worth of the stuff. Clearly, sometimes the speed of the wheel can be a double edged sword.

After a little bit of judicious cursing I decided that there was nothing I could do but unwind it all off the bobbln and start over, making sure that my wheel was turning in the right direction. I watched it turn into a bit of a tangled curly mess as I unwound it. And got a pleasant surprise when re-spinning it in the reverse direction (albeit a good deal longer to remove the twist in the wrong direction and add new twist in the right direction) -- it actually worked and gave me the results I wanted. So spinning in the wrong direction is not fatal. Frustrating, but not fatal. At least not with this yarn. Of course, when I plied it in the right direction, I got that nice bit of poofiness that I wanted to see and the colors even looked a little different together (not sure if that is a trick of the light or if the orientation of the fibers really does matter for the perception of color).

I haven't yet measured the WPI on this yarn, but this yarn is probably the first thing I've spun and plied that I could say approaches DK weight. I'm assuming that the merino content helps to give it a lot of loft.

I'm still not sure what to make of the colors. Or what I will make out of this yarn. It's certainly soft enough to be used in a skin-touching garment, but I'm not sure beyond a scarf what kind of garment that would be. And I'm not sure I could handle that much wild color variation. I'm trying to decide if it would make up into a nice pillow cover or two -- something that will still be enjoyed for being soft. Once I get a little more spun up, I'll swatch it and see.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep it on my desk to pet. It's hard not to be happy when you're touching something so soft!

A New Project in the Works

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My life of the last week hasn't been entirely about spinning. It's also been about working on my Jaywalker socks (I'm about to start the heel flap of the second sock -- I haven't weighed my remaining yarn, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to face any shortages), my Melody shawl (the mammoth ball of lace weight finally seems to be getting smaller), and getting started on a new project for John, the Stained Glass scarf from Handknit Holidays.

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The Beginnings of a Stained Glass Scarf

In a surprising move for me, I am doing this project in exactly the colors shown in the book. Why? Well, the scarf is for the man of the house and when he said he liked the scarf (probably because a man is shown wearing the scarf in the book) and liked the colors of the scarf in the book (I believe that brown and green are considered manly, even when the green is somewhat light and interrupted by a light red color, which we will emphatically NOT refer to as pink), I decided not to tempt fate. 2 skeins of Ultramerino 4 from Webs and 2 skeins of Ultramerino 6 from Lettuce Knit in Canada later, I got this scarf cast on for him and underway.

What makes this scarf interesting is that it is a double knit scarf. That means that there are actually two layers of knitting and that you can see a stockinette pattern on each side of the scarf (at least for this scarf, you could have reverse stockinette on both sides or stockinette on one and reverse stockinette on the other, the point is that there are two layers of knitting).

This pattern comes with two different explanations of how to make the scarf. One that essentially uses two color knitting techniques so that you do a complete row each time you go across, and one called the "slip and slide" method, where you work across the row with one color, slide the knitting back to the beginning (clearly a circular needle is required for this) and work your way across with the second color. Since I am still not so very good at two color knitting, and definitely don't enjoy two color purling (and I have misplaced the handy tool I used for knitting the beret) I opted for the second method. Knitting this scarf is very easy. I've had a few issues with carrying the yarn in back or in front of the stitches I am slipping (the ones not in the color you are currently knitting with), but otherwise, it's a simple knit.

Which is not to say that you can avoid paying attention to it, or that it moves quickly. But there's definitely nothing that should be too technically challenging on this project, even if you're new to knitting. If you can knit and purl, don't mind having two balls of yarn hanging off your work and are comfortable with the slow pace this project will move in (since you essentially have to knit each row twice), then you can do this project.

So far it's getting a cautiously positive response from the intended recipient. He's a little off-put by the fact that the skeins of Ultramerino 4 that I got have more light red than they have green, but since the light red does not approach a baby pink color, and since the chocolate brown Ultramerino 6 is clearly a man-acceptable color and since this scarf clearly will be both soft and warm, I think he will likely accept it when it's finished. Hopefully it will still be cold when that happens!

It All Starts with A Cardboard Box

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Well, actually, it starts with a trip to Marengo and a visit with Toni Neil at the Fold (I'm just going to gush for a second and say again how awesome both she and her store are. If you need a wheel or fiber and you're in Illinois, you really shouldn't miss out on a trip to visit her!). But the adventure at home starts with this:

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A Cardboard Box from Canada

Those of you who have also been on this trip probably know what is in this box, even though you don't have a good clear image of the label. For those who don't, a couple of hints: 1) It comes from Canada but will be making it's permanent residence in the US; 2) It's bretheren are well loved by many spinners and 3) I waxed poetic about it in last Monday's post.

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Lendrum Spinning Wheel, Some Assembly Required

Nothing quite like getting one's birthday present just a little bit early and then getting the joy of bringing it to life in your home office. At first, I didn't think it was possible for a whole spinning wheel, two different flyers a lazy kate and 4 bobbins to fit into this box. But, lo and behold, my compact wheel, is, in fact, compact.

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Fully Assembled Lendrum DT Wheel

And it assembles quite quickly. Screwing down two pegs (the one at the base of the wheel and the one that holds the mother of all to the top of the wheel) and putting the drive band in place is all you need to do to assemble this wheel. Even the husband was a bit surprised at how quickly it came together. The mother of all you see works with both the standard flyer and the fast flyer. There's also a separate unit for the plying flyer that has an enormous orifice and works with some very large bobbins (I also got 2 extra regular sized bobbins and an extra plying bobbin because I know myself fairly well when it comes to projects. I can never work on just one). In addition to portability and storability, I also wanted a wheel that I could grow with. The extra flyers give this wheel a lot of growth potential for me.

You'd think that that would be enough goodies for one day, but when you buy a wheel from the Fold, Toni also makes sure you get a few extra goodies. One of them is a Lendrum niddy noddy (which I am going to need to finish before I use since it doesn't come sealed; if you look closely, you can see it behind the wheel in the picture above), which comes with two different sized center bars so that it can be either a small or a big niddy. As luck would have it, the large version is bigger than the large niddy noddy I already have, which will be a big plus now that I have that big ol' plying head at my disposal. The other thing she sent me home with was this:

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A Brick of Chocolate Brown Merino & Alpaca

Good golly, Miss Molly! It's a whole lot of a merino and alpaca blend in a fabulous chocolate brown. When Toni told me she was going to send me home with some fiber, I thought it would just be a few ounces. But after I picked, she just pulled down everything she had in the bin and packed it in a bag for me. There has got to be at least 2 pounds of the stuff. To quote Toni When you get bored with it, pass it along!*. Even more surprising was the fact that someone laid claim to the yarn almost even before we left the store. It seems that chocolate brown merino and alpaca yarn is acceptable when it comes to man sweaters. Clearly this will become one of those long term labor of love spinning projecfs -- to create enough DK weight yarn to make John a fabulous sweater. Good thing the man I live with is patient.

In addition to the wheel and the fiber, I also left with another yarn stash addition.

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Socks that Rock in Beryl and Amber Waves

Because one can never have enough Socks that Rock! Actually, though, the Beryl color is for John and the Amber Waves will also become gift socks. So even though I was buying more yarn, it wasn't for me!

Like every trip out to the Fold, I also learned some new things. I now understand how the Winsome Timbers/Lennox wheel (that I couldn't figure out last weekend) works. Because it has both Scotch tensioning and can be a true double drive wheel it's a little more complicated. But I did find it to be a pleasure to spin on. Not sure that it overtakes the Lendrum Saxony for first place in my "dream wheel" list, but I certainly wouldn't turn one out in the cold either!

And speaking of spinning well, I am very happy with the Lendrum! I spun a little from the brown brick and I got out some of the natural colored wool and silk blend and was a happy spinnner with both of them. Not only does this wheel spin smoothly, but it's very quiet. Even John commented on this. The tensioning is easy to adjust and I love the control I get from the double treadle. And, of course, it's a real treat to be able to spin onto the entire bobbin. I think it's going to be a long time before I want to go back to a wheel with those hooks!

In honor of my new friend, I thought I would engage in a little polling. I know that I this is probably not exhaustive, and I haven't listed specific types, but now that I've taken the plunge, I'm curious to hear about what kind and how many wheels the rest of you have.

How Many Spinning Wheels Do You Own?
None (I need another fiber-related hobby like I need a hole in the head!)
None (But I can feel the spinning bug beginning to bite...)
One
Two
Three
Four
Five or More (There's no such thing as too many spinning wheels!)
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com
What Kind of Spinning Wheels Do You Own?
Ashford
Golding
Jensen
Kromski
Lendrum
Lennox/Winsome Timbers
Louet
Majacraft
Schacht
Antique Wheel
Other
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com


*I think she's doing some store cleaning and this stuff has sat around for a while and this was a good way to see it on it's way. But it was still an amazing thing to receive and I'm definitely feeling a little gobsmacked by this.

Confetti Jaywalkers

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Believe it or not, it wasn't all about spinning wheels here over the weekend. I actually hunkered down a bit and finished the second of my Jaywalker socks. And, because I work hard to get the best color rendering possible, I actually sat outside on our upstairs balcony in 35 degree weather to get a natural light photo.

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Jaywalker Socks in "Confetti" from Tess' Designer Yarns

I won't go into too many details about these socks. Lord knows, most of you have probably made a pair yourselves if the popularity of the Jaywalker KAL (hosted by Cara at January One is any indication. I will say that I am happy with the way my socks came out and that I found the pattern easy enough and close enough to my "standard" sock pattern that I will probably consider making these socks again someday. Not only that, but I had a goodly amount of yarn left over, as evidenced by the photo below:

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Leftover Confetti

That's actually about 3/4 of an ounce if my scale is to be believed! I'm not sure if that is enough to have made the larger size, but I found that I was good to go with the smaller size for my feet. For, indeed, these socks are a present to me -- probably the last pair of socks I am going to make for myself for a while as I embark on the great "Let Them Wear Handknit Socks!" campaign for my family for the coming year.

And you'll all be proud! As soon as I finished with these socks, I went and found my husband's lonely Trekking XXL sock and the yarn and cast on for the second one of that pair. I gave him a choice on our way home from the Fold. I could either finish up the pair I had started or I could get started right away on a new pair for him out of the Beryl Socks that Rock. Practical guy that he is, he requested that I finish the pair in progress. So back I go to the Trekking socks. After all, a guy who buys me a spinning wheel for my birthday really deserves to have me finish another pair of socks for him.

P.S. I am fascinated by the results of the poll from yesterday. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do! I am also jealous of whomever out there has one of those Golding spinning wheels. I'm hoping to try one of those out while at MS&W this year. And for those of you who checked the "other" box, I'd love to know what other wheels are out there that I missed! Other than that, I'll try to sum up the resuls on Friday!

Eclipsed

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I got to play with both of my wheels to finish up the hand-dyed Merino and Tussah from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. I did all the spinning on my Ashford (mostly because I started spinning it on this wheel and I thought it would be good to be consistant) and then did the last two batches of plying on my Lendrum. I absolutely love my plying head and being able to create skeins with a little heft to them.

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I Just Love this Big Ol' Plying Head

This head is actually big enough that you have to put a bigger drive band on the wheel to use it. And the orifice is so large that you don't need a threading hook at all. You also get quite a work out treadling to keep that big bobbin spinning! But the end result is very much worth it. I'm a big fan of plying on a wheel in general, though. Compared to when I was doing this on a drop spindle, I feel like it's easier for me to tell when I have just the right amount of twist in the yarn. In fact, almost all these skeins were pretty well balanced after plying (just a little bit of over twist) so I haven't really bothered to dunk any of them in the sink yet. I will eventually, just to make sure that the yarn doesn't want to give up any dye. But for right now I've just put the yarn into hanks..

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5.75 Ounces of Spun and Plied Merino and Silk

All 5.75 ounces spun into 663 of two ply yarn. The last skein (the one farthest to the left) is a little bluer than the others, but I expected that given the way I worked with the roving and the way the roving was colored. 663 yards seems like a pretty respectable amount of yarn to me. So now I just need to figure out what to do with it. I'm thinking maybe pillows made with mitred squares? I know it's going to stripe quite a bit. I guess I just won't know until I swatch a little bit of it up.

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A Final Closeup

Finally, I wanted to cap this off with another closeup of the last skein. My spinning is beginning to get a bit more consistant, I think. My concerns about consistancy brought out a few interesting comments from people reminding me that handspinning is not completely about making perfect yarn that looks like it was millspun. With this, I completely agree. I'm not really striving for perfection at all. However, I am striving to develop greater control and, to me, being consistant and getting a single of the diameter that I want is part of the control development process.

Right now I am just learning, getting my hands and feet to co-ordinate, understanding what cool things can be done with a wheel. Learning what things work best for me. I'm happy with almost any yarn I get and I am not worrying all that much about what the final yarn turns out to be. But, ultimately, I want to be able to look at some fiber, say "I want a two ply DK weight yarn" and be able to spin that yarn. So my interest in achieving more consistancy is more about me getting to a place where I can create what I envision than about creating perfect yarn. And about understanding about how spinning really works.

Gradual Progress

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The only problem I can see with having both knitting and spinning as hobbies is that they are more or less mutually exclusive. When I am spinning, I cannot be knitting. When I am knitting, I cannot be spinning. If someone out there actually knows how to do this, please don't share it with me. I'm sure that it wouldn't be healthy for me, all that activity at once! Thus, when I embark on any one or more long projects in either of these categories, the result is that at times I end up with not too much to play show and tell with that is actually interesting. Would you like to see that 1 full bobbin if the natural colored wool/silk noile? Probably not. How about the first 4 inches of the second toe-up sock for my husband? Still not enthusiastic, eh? Oh, well, I can understand. But it's hard for me to have a post without a picture. So, I decided, boring or not, I would take a picture of a project that hasn't been seen in a while (not since November 3rd!) so that there would be proof that I actually am still working on it: the Melody Shawl.

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The Current State of Melody's Shawl

This is one of those projects that I know will reward me with something I enjoy, but it is also one of those projects that reminds me that I am more of a product knitter than a process knitter. The sheer process of knitting forever in the round (and a very big round at that!) on big needles with laceweight yarn does not actually thrill me. It must be done, but, because it is pretty uninspiring, I save it for when I am parked in our home theatre, and when I a sock is too challenging to deal with. I am finally getting to the point where the size of the yarn ball does not seem so ominous any more. But given the fineness of the yarn, I know that there is still an appreciable amount to go.

Amazing that when I posted in November I had hopes of having this done by Thanksgiving! Obviously, I had no real idea at the time how big that yarn ball really was. I'm not going to try to make any additional predictions (which I imagine would end up being wrong), but it would be nice to have this project out of the way while there was still some mildly cool weather to enjoy using it in. At the very least, I'd like to have it done by the beginning of May before I head off to MS&W. I love the Morehouse Merino booth, but it's hard to justify getting more yarn unless I've actually finished off what I got the year before!

Another Sunset

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A million years ago, in August, Julie and I did our last dyeing experiment. We were hoping to do some more dyeing, but it's a bit more challenging to do it on a larger scale without being able to open windows to help deal with vinegar vapors. Between that and both of us being on the busy side, it's been tough to get back to it. However, I realized this afternoon that I haven't even finished spinning up the roving we dyed then.

The whole point of that session was to start to establish some colorways that made us happy. We actually recorded the colors we used, the percentages and the saturation so that we would have some hope of repeating them. Then we were each going to take what we dyed and spin them up to see whether what was lovely in the fleece turned out to be equally lovely or appaling when spun. I tried painting the roving in a couple of different ways. The ones I've spun up to this point (all on my drop spindle!) all had horizontal bars of color. What I discovered with that, given the way that I spun it up, was that the long stretches of color give you stripey yarn. In fact, none of my hand-dyed rovings have yielded anything but stripey yarn. And while I like stripes as well as the next knitter, a girl cannot live by stripes alone. I also wanted something that was a little more sophisticated.

In the course of dyeing, I decided to try an experiment. Instead of horizontal stripes I would try vertical striping. Well, striping probably isn't the right word for it. But I would try to distribute the color more randomly in a vertical rather than horizontal orientation.

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BFL with a Vertical Arrangement of Sunset Colors

I used my "sunset" colour pallette, which is composed of a rosy purple red, a rich gold and a lightened purple with a bit of a reddish cast to dye this roving. Today, looking for a little project to play with on my new wheel, I pulled it out, pre-drafted it and spun it up. Then I created a two ply yarn from the singles. It wasn't the most fun thing to spin up (even with the pre-drafting, there were a few areas where the fibers really didn't want to let go of each other), although it did go better when I realized that the staple length in BFL is quite a bit longer than the merino/silk blend I just finished spinning. And it's really hard to complain about spinning up a half an ounce of fiber in an hour or so instead of the two days it would have taken me on the drop spindle. Did I mention that I like the process but am really ultimately about product?

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Vertical Sunset Two Ply

I am pleased with the final result, and will definitely be playing with this color set more (I spun up another Sunset roving with horizontal stripes earlier, and you can see the result here). There's plenty of color in this little skein, but it's much more subtle than the previous roving I spun, I suspect because of the predominance of purple red base. Also, I think these colors were much more similar in terms of the depth of their hue, and as a result, nothing stands out quite as sharply, creating a softer effect. I think it will be interesting to try the dyeing again, using each of the three colors as the dominant color with smaller blotches of the other two. I'm thinking that I will get three very different yarns, each with a character I like. I've got to soak and set the twist in this skein and do a little swatching, but I am almost positive that the striping effect is going to be much less prominent in this little skein.

I know I promised a little spinning wheel poll summary today, but that will have to wait until Monday, I think. Believe it or not, there's still a Christmas tree to take down in our house...

Survey Says!

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I had a lot of fun watching the numbers on the spinning wheel poll that I posted last Monday. I should have asked these questions before I bought my wheel, but even afterwards I was interested in knowing what choices other people had made and how many visitors to my blog actually consider spinning amongst their current interests. So, without further ado, here are the results (as of yesterday around noon) of my two polls.

How Many Spinning Wheels Do You Own?

Votes
None (I need another fiber-related
hobby like I need a hole in the head!)
 31%103
None (But I can feel the spinning
bug beginning to bite...)
 25%83
One 30%98
Two 9%28
Three 2%7
Four 2%5
Five or More (There's no such thing
as too many spinning wheels!)
 2%5
329 votes total

Initially when I set up this poll I didn't have a "none and I am not interested in owning one" category. But I realized that I actually was interested in the rough distribution between spinners, non-spinners and the curious about spinning. The result surprised me a little bit. 43% of the folks that responded have wheels and another 25% are interested in them or would like to have one some day. Which means that 68% of everyone who responded has an interest in spinning or is spinning.

That's a lot higher than I expected. Granted, this number could be artifically inflated by the fact that more spinners than knitters chose to read that post because of its content, or that more spinners decided to play along with my request for poll information, but it was still an intrigueing number to me. And it seems consistant with some of the numbers Spin Off has been seeing (as reported here in a recent New York Times article, which, unfortunately I can't link to anymore because it's in their archive). I think they have seen a doubling in their subscribership since 2000. Clearly a lot more people are beginning to include spinning in their leisure life.

The other thing that surprised me a little bit was that most people have just one wheel. Given my random blog readings, I was expecting to see most people hover around 2 wheels. Clearly, this means that my sampling of spinning bloggers is biased in favor of those with a few more wheels Either that, or those reading who have more than one wheel are so busy spinning that they don't have time for blogs and polls. It also suggests, although this may be self evident that the investment in a wheel is a significant one (in terms of both money and space in our homes), and that most of us don't end up with more than one -- or that most of us haven't advanced in our spinning hobby to the point where we would feel the need for more than one.

And you folks that have over three, I'm both jealous and intrigued! Did you get them for a specific reason or are they just sort of a lucky accumulation?

Which leads me to the next set of poll results.

What Kind of Spinning Wheels Do You Own?

Votes
Ashford 29%60
Golding 1%2
Jensen 4%8
Kromski 6%13
Lendrum 15%31
Lennox/Winsome Timbers 0%0
Louet 10%20
Majacraft 9%18
Schacht 9%18
Antique Wheel 5%10
Other 12%25
205 votes total

Given the spinners I've talked to and the people who have left comments for me here on the blog, these results don't really surprise me all that much.

It's clear that Ashford makes many good entry level wheels (my mother's old Ashford traditional is a perfectly serviceable wheel, even though it's over 20 years old) and the prices of many of their wheels can work for a number of budgets. They also make a fabulously engineered portable wheel (the Ashford Joy is really an impressive little wheel when you realize all the work they had to do to get it into such a compact form) and a beautiful upper end wheel (the Elizabeth). Clearly there's a reason why these folks are the General Motors or Toyota of the spinning wheel world. They have something for almost everyone!

The Lendrum came in a fairly distant second (although since I really don't know the confidence intervals for these polls, it's hard for me to know how distant). Lendrum is clearly a younger company than Ashford (there's a good article about them in the Spin Off, but I can't remember the issue now, if you want to read more about them). I also think that stylistically you either like the wheel or don't. I received a number of comments about how the tilted angle of the wheel made some people uncomfortable or was too easy to knock over. I suspect they also may a be a little bit harder to find and try out. Most people with Lendrum's that I know/talked to, do really like them. And I can second the fact that they are a very smooth wheel. Also, you get a lot of wheel for the money. The other wheels that I tried that spun like this one were 30-80% more expensive than this wheel.

The Louet, Majacraft and Schacht wheels have a roughly equal following, with Kromski wheels not too far behind. I hope to get to try a few more representatives of each of these wheel types in the future to find out more about them. I suspect that, in the long term, I will invest in a "parlor" wheel that won't travel with me. My own experience with these wheel types is that it is a little harder to find dealers who have them to try and (in the case of the Majacraft and the Schacht) they are definitely more expensive than the entry level Lendrum and Ashford wheels). Could this have an impact on the popularity of the wheels? Possibly, although if I really wanted to know this I should have asked another question about what wheels you tried before you bought or how much price had an impact on purchasing decisions.

The last group includes Golding, Jensen, the Antique Wheels and "Other". Why do I put "Other" in the last category even though almost as many people have "other" wheels as have Lendrum wheels? Well, I'm making the assumption that the "other" category does not have an overwhelming concentration of one wheel type (i.e. I just forgot some major brand of wheel). It probably includes Columbine wheels, specialty wheels from master wheel-wrights or wheels that were hand made by someone who doesn't make many, and wheels from other small manufacturers such as as Robin that only show up and fiber shows). Those of you with the Golding wheels, I am jealous and if you live in Chicago and want to share a few minutes on your wheel, I'd love to know! I hope I encounter Jensen wheels somewhere in my journeys and I am looking forward to seeing some of the more special wheel opportunities at Maryland this year (I understand that Robin wheels can only be found at sheep festivals like Maryland and Rhinebeck). Clearly, the less mass-market a wheel becomes, the fewer people will have it, presumably due to both price and availability.

Overall, this poll tells me that as a group, the readers of this blog have very diverse tastes in spinning wheels. I'm betting if we could all get together in some room (with a group this big it might have to be a high school gymnasium!) we'd all have a lot of fun trying out each other's wheels and seeing and feeling the differences and similarities. Clearly, most of us probably don't have access to a retailer who sells many kinds of wheels to try (I feel lucky to be only and hour or so away from the Fold, but Toni is just about the only store I know in the northern Illinois area with such a large collection of wheels), so I am imagining (once again, pure speculation not directly supported by poll results) that a lot of us also make our wheel decisions (especially our first wheel decisions) by what wheels we can try or that have been recommended to us.

Okay. That's it for the bars and % signs for a while. I'll be back to my fibery pursuits tomorrow!

A Second Version of Fall Leaves

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I'm a little late with this post this morning because I want to show off color. I find that whenever I really want to give a good impression of color, I need to take pictures in natural light. I get decent color representation under my Ott light but it just isn't the same as what my camera likes to do under true sunlight. As it turns out, waiting wasn't a bad thing, because it's a blue skies and sun sort of day here in Chicago. And it isn't even all that cold, so it was no problem to step out on my balcony and let my camera get a good look at my latest small spinning project.

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Fall Leaves v. 2 in 2 Ply

Unfortunately, I didn't remember to take a picture of this roving before I spun it up, but if you want to see what it looked like, you can click here and scroll down to the last picture. It's the roving on the left where the browns and yellows are emphasized instead of the red. Not surprisingly, this yarn has a very different character from the version with the strong red presence (if you want to see the first version spun up, you can click here). And it does remind me more of the idea I was trying to go for, which was autum leaves after they have fallen from a tree (if you've ever seen the leaves from a non-red maple tree after they've fallen, then you know what I was trying to capture).

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A Close Up View of the Fall Leaves Colors Together

I really like the way that the brown in this colorway softened up the other colors without making them just look muddy. In fact, it's almost hard to see the brown areas for me because my eye wants to re-evaluate them as an earthy purple

Now I am finally finished with all the rovings I dyed up with Julie. I'm not sure I really have a favorite, but I am definitely going to be playing with all three color sets (Blue Hawaiian, Sunset and Fall Leaves) some more to find ways to avoid the constant striping action. I originally thought that it would be easy to take a couple of different color ideas and get what I wanted and then move onto another batch. This experience makes me realize that it is not so hard to pick colors that go together well, but it is challenging to get them to result in a yarn or a yarn concept that you really like.

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