Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Doing it Doowicky's Way

I came across a post the other day from Doowicky, another wool-lover like me. She had some new ideas for scouring fleece, which, in itself, is usually kind of a pain in the butt to do. We all fall in love with the sticky, greasy mass of fiber in those clear plastic bags at fiber shows. But once we get those bags home, our work areas start to smell like BARNS. Time to clean the gunk out of those fleeces!

I got this gorgeous fleece from the Michigan Fiber Fest, and it was the first-place winner for colored wool. It was 6.2 pounds of wonderful-ness, from a sheep named "Lambchop", raised byAnnette Johnston of Ira, MI. Lambchop is 3/8 Rambouillet, 1/4 Suffolk, 1/4Lincoln, and 1/8 Romney. That's quite a mix! But what a fantastic fleece! The most beautiful I've ever had thus far. This sheep is amazing. He's over NINE years old, and still is producing a prize-winning fleece:
Lambchop is a mostly-grey fleece with beautiful locks. You could literally lay it out like a blanket, all lock structure intact.
So, I washed the second batch of the fleece using Doowicky's method. I thought I'd lay out the process here. First, into the sink full of hot water and detergent. My water heater is set for 130 degrees, so that gives you an idea of what temperature to shoot for. I use a lavender-scented soap with no dyes, and I use about the same as I would use for a load of dirty clothes.
I gently pushed the fleece down into the hot water, and I didn't get too far with my hand. I used my trusty big spoon, and I very gently worked it down into the soap and water until it was completely submerged. I left it there for about half an hour, and used my spoon to carefully poke around a tiny bit to loosen dirt (NO swishing, swirling or agitation!):
This first wash water was DIRTY, as you can well imagine. It's absolute poop-water. There's no other way to describe it. Next up, I gently scooped up the fiber en masse (and this is important...do NOT separate the fibers here!) into the colander, and let the poop-water drain away.
Next, I pressed out the water, and I left it in the colander to do this. Doowicky says to place the fiber on the floor of the sink and press using a cutting board. I just used my hand or my big spoon to press. Notice I did not say "squeeze"...NO SQUEEZE! Just PRESS!
Into the rinse the fiber goes. Do NOT let water run directly on fiber. Either remove it from the sink completely, or keep it away from running water:
Just let the fiber sit in the rinse water...I poke at mine a little bit with the spoon to help loosen things up a bit. But no agitation.
You'll want to rinse the wool at least one more time, more likely two, the same way. If the wool is really dirty, repeat both the wash (with soap) and rinses. Once this is done, here's the most important part: take the fiber en masse once again, and put it into a bucket or dishpan and let it cool completely. Do not play with the fiber or tease it in any way. Just let it cool, all the way. Here's my first batch of fiber, sitting in the bucket to cool:
Yes, I know...it's a thing of pure beauty, right? : ) Anyway, just keep washing your fleece and adding it to the bucket to cool. Once it is COMPLETELY cool, you will spin it out in the washer. Make sure your washer does NOTHING but spin on it's spin cycle! Some washers will blow more water on your precious fleece, while spinning. You do NOT want that (unless you want to risk felting). ONLY spin:
After it has spun, carefully remove from the washer and lay it out somehow to dry for a couple days. Gently spread it out; while it's wet, you don't want to be teasing and pulling apart locks. Save that business for carding. Best way to dry the wool is elevated on a screen, but since I don't have that, I lay mine out on a sheet on the floor. then I try hard to keep the cat out of it (sigh...the cat was NOT my idea). The lock structure is almost totally intact, and just a tiny bit of matting on the cut edges. Now that it's completely dry, I am impressed at how easily the fibers drift apart when I tease them. Carding is going to be a breeze:
Lovely and gorgeous, yes? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Here is what my daughter thinks about all this dirty-fleece-business (her expression caught right after taking a look at the first wash-water in the sink):
Oh child, if you only could understand!

Happy fleece-washing! I'll be following up with dyeing, carding, and color-blending of this very special, beautiful fleece for a very special, amazing project for an amazing man......!

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Spindling...

Every once in a great while, I will pull out my spindle. The reasons for doing so usually have to do with the mood I'm in, the fiber I am spinning, or the state of my spinning wheel. Right now, my wheel is still loaded up with the grey corriedale fleece that I had processed from two years ago. (Got that? Two YEARS ago. I'm kinda....TIRED of it!)

So, when I picked up two gorgeous balls of swirled alpaca roving from Wooly Knob Fiber Mill, at the Michigan Fiber Festival, it was destined to be spun on my spindle for two reasons. Firstly, there's the problem of my wheel being occupied with grey corriedale. Secondly, I wanted to spin it extra-fine, which always is easier on the spindle, at least for me.
The roving is a beautiful swirl of green, blue and black, and it spins up into a lovely forest-marl.

My spindles aren't fancy at all. I don't feel the compulsion toward owning a mitt-full of fancy ones, nor do I feel unfulfilled without a fan-tabulous Golding spindle. I own two very simple Ashford spindles; one for spinning, and one for plying. Total cost for them both was probably only $25, but it hardly matters. What matters is the simplicity of using them; the connection to centuries of spinning this way, before wheels existed, before anyone knew of any other way to create a simple thread. Of course, in some parts of the world, the spindle is still the only way to spin, although we know "better" here in the Western world.

But in my case, is it really "better"? My wheel, as much as I love it, has only one ratio. It's a 5:1 wheel, which means that fine, thin yarns are a labor of love to create. On the spindle, this same fine, thin yarn is much thinner, and much finer, and much higher quality. Is it as fast as the wheel? Of course not! But that's only because I am no prize-spinner! Watch someone from the Andes spindle-spin, and you will see how fast and beautiful it can be. It's like watching poetry, really.

I try not to think of how my arms ache when I spin on the spindle. I wonder how people through the ages spun so easily, quickly, and perfectly for hours and hours. I think of how every single thread of every piece of cloth was spun this way, and here I complain of my arm and shoulder aching after a short while! Perhaps it is just the western mind; always wanting things to be easier, quicker, and without effort. We no longer have the primitive society around us where there is no other way of doing the spinning task at hand. In our world, spinning yarn really isn't even a task any longer, unless we want it to be.
So, the grey corriedale will have to wait a bit longer to get finished. I'm almost through this 4-ounce ball of alpaca roving, and I have another to go. On the wheel, it would've already long been spun up. But it would not have been spun as fine. It would not have as much character, and I would not be as intimately familiar with every strand of fiber. Drafting out each short length, I enjoy releasing my fingers to let the twist enter the loose strands. Like a little flurry of energy, the alpaca fibers swirl around the air and mesh together. I marvel at the way the twist becomes the "glue" that holds everything together. Such a simple thing, but so magical!

The whole process is a practice of patience, concentration, and timing, and yet it remains all the while absolutely relaxing. First, there is the slight pulling of the yarn to release some of the twist into the drafting zone. Next comes the first, gentle roll of the spindle against my thigh; not too much spin here, as there still isn't enough yarn made to hold onto. Draft and pull out with the new twist created, carefully holding the new yarn; catch the spindle again and roll it hard against my thigh. Higher and higher my arms go, keeping up with the twist, carefully pulling out the fiber as thin as I want it to be. Must keep watch on the spindle and make sure it doesn't stop spinning! Before I know it, a long length of fine, thin alpaca yarn is pulled out, and the spindle is nearly to the floor. Evening out the last bit of yarn I can reach to create, my right hand grabs up the spindle again, and the new yarn gets wrapped on the spindle shaft.

Before too long, the spindle begins to get too heavy with yarn; the fiber drafts unevenly, and PLUNK! My spindle drops to the floor. The yarn, broken now, has to be pieced together again, which is no problem. It's only fiber, and twist will mesh it and "glue" it again. Magic!

Over and over again, these same movements, same artful port de bras of my arms, like a dance of elegance that creates something. No wonder spindle-spinning still remains with us. No matter the fancy wheels we have, the machines, the industrial equipment. Without the spindle, we simply cannot dance in quite the same way with our fiber. The spindle is the dance, and the fiber is it's partner. A perfect match.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Yes, summer is on it's way out, and here I am just now writing about it! You all know me. I'm a slow blogger. One of these fine days I will write with some sort of regularity. (Dream on, suckers!)

My summer began in....Barcelona! Yes, I went to Spain with my George, my sweet professor, and it was the best week of my life. I did tell him so; he said that was "cool!", and of course, his ambiguity amazes me. No matter; I had an incredible time, and I wish I could do it all over again. The Mediterranean sea was magical for me. Just to touch those waters where so much history has happened, so much myth and magic; it was nothing short of a dream come true for me. I thought of the legends of Mary Magdalene drifting across those waters to the shores of the south of France, just over the mountains from where I lay on the beach.

My favorite place in the city was the Barcelona Cathedral. I was able to see it twice; once during a walking tour we took, and again on my own, while George was working. I've never seen anything so beautiful! It was so peaceful and serene, and of course, I thought of all the history there, and tried to imagine the people through the centuries who had visited there. I thought of the intent of the clergy to astound people with the power of God through this amazing architecture.

The beaches were amazing, of course:

And they were also topless! George said he fully intended on "going topless"...what a goof! But I did...and it was a very liberating thing. In Europe, these things just aren't a big deal. Why we Americans have to be so uptight is beyond me. George and I took a dip after our bike tour:

Now that we are home, I find myself going back to Barcelona in my mind. I loved the city, the food, and everything about it. I don't think I could live there, but I could most certainly enjoy living in Europe. I have George to thank for showing me so many new things in my life, and Europe is a gift I never thought I would ever see...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kitchener is a Bitchener...

Well, happily I knitted along on my sock. And the inevitable loomed in front of it all: KITCHENER stitch. So named after the smart-ass British general who decided that his soldiers needed a smoother finish on the toes of their socks. Well, excuse me, but it wasn't him knitting those socks. Thanks for the "great idea" dude.

I just can't do it. Period. At least tonight I can't do it. Children coming down into the room and throwing stupid questions and petty arguments at me didn't help a bit. After reading numerous tutorials on how to do this technique, not one of them missed the important point of not being interrupted while attempting! So, with that in mind, I decided to wait until the kids were in bed. Because if I don't, they're going to die.

The first tutorial I used had the yarn coming off the wrong end compared to where mine was located. That made things quite confusing. I also was using one of those tapestry needles with the bend in the end. Whose idea was this? Every single time I've used these needles, it's been annoying! I don't know what that bend is good for, other then to aim in the opposite direction than where I am headed. Stupid.

So now I'm chugging a Minute Maid Lite Lemonade, waiting for the kids to go "poof" into the night. Then I'll attempt this bitchener Kitchener stitch again. Don't worry, my attitude will be stellar. Promise.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

On Knitting Socks

Yes, I am finally knitting socks. It's been said that any knitter worth her salt simply must be able to knit socks. I am not sure if I agree, but hey, they will say anything to drive you to do something before which you'd normally have to smoke a joint to get the gumption to do!

I tried to knit socks over a year ago, and ended up casting on a total of three times, getting the stitches twisted on my DPN's every single time. I gave up. Of course, I should mention that I was sitting in a smelly Blazer in the middle of winter, trying like anything not to inhale as much exhaust as I knew I was. But that's beside the point.

I put that ball of sock yarn away, thinking that "another time will be better". Since then, I've taken a gander at sock patterns here and there, got the concept of sock shaping down in my brain, and still didn't think enough of it to pull that ball of sock yarn out again and give it another go. I don't know what prompted me to do so this time, but I had success!

Knitting a sock is a whole lot like building a house, I've decided. Shaping as you go, decreasing, short rows, changes in stich patterns for different areas of the sock; well, it all makes me feel very intelligent. When I turned my first heel and saw the little pocket it made, I was floored that I had done such a cool thing.

The teeny tiny size 1 needles should have put me off, at least a little. But I was actually excited. They feel delicate in my hands. This tiny yarn, when knit with these tiny needles, is actually dense and lush. There will be no other sock quite like this one...with the exception of the second sock, which in a perfect world should match it, in some way, shape, or form (but I'm not holding my breath).

So, I've come to see the vast appeal of sock knitting. I am understanding the incredible addiction that knitters feel for this nifty little project, and I am determined not to succomb to the obsession. A pair of socks here and there is fine. But carrying a pair-in-progress with me everywhere I go is a bit over the top. Or is it? They are the perfect portable project, if you don't mind showing off what it's like to knit with porcupine-like needles sticking out in every direction. Or if you don't mind odd looks and stares from people who actually realize that, yes, you ARE knitting a SOCK. I can read their minds. "Is this chick crazy? Why doesn't she just go to Wal-Mart and BUY her socks? She's crazier than a bag of hammers...."

Fact is, what do these people think we did before Hanes and Fruit of the Loom? I doubt they'd ever stopped to think about it. Knitting socks seems to be yet another way a person can link up to the past. Just like spinning, weaving, and a myriad of other seemingly dying arts (thankfully not so much anymore), knitting a sock takes me to a place in the past where a husband would wait patiently for his new pair of socks that his wife was knitting by the fireside. And that first time he pulled them on, he smiled. Because there was nothing like the feel of a new hand-knitted sock on his hairy 'ole pioneer foot. And there still isn't anything like that feeling. In this age of moisture-wicking socks and high-tech fabrics, we've lost that simple, heavenly feeling of the hand-knit sock. Such a shame.

My socks are a blend of wool, bamboo, and nylon. Still a far cry from the simple, scratchy wool that our fore-mothers knit with, but hey, that was a long time ago, and advances have to be made, right? But if you really want that simple, scratchy wool, you can still have it. You'd better have the 'ole pioneer foot to go with it, though.

So, here's to the humble, hand-knit sock. I'm going to love these. And I'm sure I'm going to join the ranks of all the other sock-knitters who have an obsession for these little architechtural wonders. I needed another hobby like a hole in the head. Thank goodness that it's still just.....knitting!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On My Lack of Blogging...and George

I know it's been months. I KNOW. What have I been doing?

Well, I've taken a detour. In September, I decided it was time to "date" again. Not that I needed to, really. I just decided that it would be fun, and I wanted to. To make a very long story short, I am now seeing an interesting man who I think is just marvelous. Trouble is, he's extremely guarded, and I don't believe for one second that he should be dating at all. My work is cut out for me...I need to escape from my feelings for him before I get really hurt badly. And that's not an easy thing for me to do.

I firmly believe that as emotionally guarded and detatched as he is, he needs someone just as much the exact opposite as him to love him. I am not sure if he would agree, but these kinds of people never see what they really need. They can only see what they don't want.

I care about him deeply. The loss would definetely be his if I walked away, but I am the only one that would feel the pain. Just to be fair, I will say that he has been straightforward and upfront with me from the very beginning. He wanted to "have fun", and of course, so did I. It's a known fact that men can "have fun" WAY longer than women can, and so here I am, wondering where the "fun" is going to backfire on my heart.

Why am I so wrapped up in this man? Many reasons. He's got my respect, for one HUGE thing. He's a PhD associate professor, an expert in his field in the USA and Europe, a musician, and a writer. He plays piano with the notes flowing from his fingers, and singing with him at the piano is nothing short of magic for me. I keep thinking it's the music most of all, but it's more. I love watching him think...watching the process, his face, his eyes. He is a brilliant man, and I love his smile, his laugh, and his quirkiness. He is the "fuddy professor", and I adore it.

So, the quagmire of emotions that he isn't able to feel is all over me. Because I can feel them all, no problem. And it's very dangerous.

I've decided to throw myself back into my work. Every indication has told me to do this all along, and I've trudged my way through, agreeing completely, but not being able to separate my thoughts from George in order to buckle down and get things done. This isn't healthy for me, and I have to knock it off. I am suffering, my resources are suffering, and why? It's ridiculous.

Working is good for me; it always has been. But in the back of my mind is this: