Posted by: Leslie | August 1, 2011

Moving again…

… to my own website. Update your bookmarks!

Posted by: Leslie | July 29, 2011

Teaching in Toronto

Just a brief update to let people know I’ll be teaching at The Purple Purl starting next month. Classes are here, and I’ll blog more soon about my current projects and articles!

Posted by: Leslie | June 23, 2011

WWKIP at The Purple Purl

In a few short weeks, I’ll be moving to Toronto. This past weekend I did a quick trip there and back (swearing for most of the 5+ hour drive that my next car will have air conditioning) to look at apartments, and I’m happy to say I found one. I also stopped by The Purple Purl, whose annual Knit in Public event coincided with my arrival in the GTA. I brought a knitting project and a drop spindle, of course, and joined the gathering in a nice park in Leslieville.

I was the only one spinning, as most of the attendees were working on projects to benefit Streetknit. I had to decline because I couldn’t meet the project deadline (thanks again for the convenient strike, Canada Post), but got a fair bit of work done on my started-last-winter-legwarmers and some spinning up of a Projekt B roving I picked up in Montreal in December. I’d been wanting to spin a really high-quality Merino since I finished my Focused-and-Distracted skein last fall, and Projekt B fit the bill.

I had a lot of fun interacting with the Purple Purl regulars, not to mention the lovely owners. We talked about vintage magazines, spinning (of course), neighbourhoods in Toronto, and I’m fairly sure Battlestar Galatica got a mention in there too. There were also some door prizes, one of which I picked up for being the furthest travelled of the group:

I was almost out of Soak anyway, so score. Thanks, Purple Purl… can’t wait to come back in a few weeks!

Posted by: Leslie | May 28, 2011

Let’s call it a learning experience

I’ve been spending some time working with my Russian-style spindle. The more I use it, the more I like spinning in the supported style. It didn’t take long before I was able to spin a consistent yarn, the key being not too add to much twist too soon: add a little twist, draft, add a little more, draft. Putting into too much twist at first (which you can get away with if you’re using a short worsted draw) results in thick and weak slubs.

I picked up some 50/50 camel/yak roving in Vancouver a few weeks ago, the blend being the only short-stapled fibre at Birkeland Brothers. As you can see, it really is quite short (sorry metric fans, I still measure staples in inches):

I carded the roving into light, airy rolags and spun from them. I was initially pretty pleased with the two-ply skein I made:

It’s feather-light and very soft. Unfortunately, it’s also very weak. Even the plied yarn pulls apart with little effort, meaning that I need to add way more twist in both spinning and plying. I’ve been told supported spindling of short fibres requires a lot of twist, but I hesitated to add too much more after drafting for fear of it becoming harsh and wiry. Lesson learned there. I started to knit a small swatch and made an interesting discovery:

This is what’s left of my swatch after I frogged it in frustration. See how each stitch looks like it’s knit from two strands held together? That’s the ply untwisting as it’s being knit. The action of knitting adds twist to yarn and depending which direction the yarn is plied (and which way you knit, Continental versus English or other methods), the plies will either tighten up or become looser with each stitch. Backing up a bit here, yarn can be spun in one of two directions: S or Z, so named because the twist will align with the middle part of each letter. Plying is done in the opposite direction, so if you spin S, you will ply Z. I don’t usually pay attention to whether I’m spinning S and plying Z or vice versa, but in this weak yarn it really made a difference. Although it’s a little hard to tell in the photo, you can see the ply twist in this yarn is S:

Which means that I originally spun it Z. If I were to make another yarn like this one, I’d spin S and ply Z, and add a lot more twist overall!

Posted by: Leslie | April 12, 2011

New (old) toy

It’s been a busy few weeks. Between graduate school interviews and the accompanying travel, not to mention work and more work, I haven’t exactly had time to update the blog. I have been getting some spinning in, however, especially on my supported spindles. Yes, plural. Technically I have three now, between the Grippingyarn Russian-style, the brass takhli, and now an antique Bulgarian number I got for a pittance on eBay:

(Somewhat diminished photo capabilities at the moment. My DIY lightbox, which consists of a cardboard box, tissue paper, and a sheet of Bristol board, suffered an attack by the small carnivores I keep in my house. It’ll be rebuilt soon.)

It’s pretty big, maybe as long as my hand and forearm, but surprisingly light. No idea what kind of wood it is, but like most Bulgarian spindles it has painted green, red, and blue stripes. I’m not sure if they serve a purpose other than decoration, but it’s possible they indicate how far to build up the cop of spun yarn. Interesting too is the little knob on the end:

Some supported spindles have grooves cut into the knob for the yarn to sit in as one spins, but not this one. It may still be a means of keeping the yarn in place as the spindle turns. I’m really starting to get the hang of supported spindling now, whereas before I really struggled with it. The epiphany moment was realizing I shouldn’t add so much twist before I begin drafting. With a short worsted draw on a drop spindle or a wheel, I might pack in a lot of twist at first, then let it into my drafted fiber a little at a time. The one-handed drafting needed for a support spindle doesn’t allow for this, and the fiber drafts much more easily if only a little twist is going into it at a time. Now I know to twirl the spindle a bit, draft a little, twirl some more, draft a bit more, etc.

Fiber preparation also matters a lot if you want a smooth yarn. Smooth prep equals a consistent yarn, anything yields lumps and slubs and thin spots. I really prefer prepping the fiber myself, but I’ve managed with a heavily predrafted commercial Coopworth roving:

All in all, I really enjoy supported spindling. Possibly even more than drop spindling. Perhaps a little more than spinning with a wheel!

Posted by: Leslie | March 16, 2011

Sewing Techniques class

Given that I’ve had my sewing machine for just over two months, I was really looking forward to my class on basic techniques at a quilting store in Orleans. My main interest in sewing is making clothes, but most classes on making a garment fall well outside my price range. I’m at the point in sewing that I was in knitting about eleven years ago: everything is new and intimidating and seems beyond my ability. I just can’t afford to pay $300 to learn to make a skirt, though, so I figured the next best thing was to learn some common techniques and then take a stab at a simple pattern myself.

It was an all-day class on a slushy wet day, so I was grateful to pull off my boots and sit down with my coffee and get started. Although the class was based on the step-by-step exercises in a published workbook, the instructor brought so much more to the course than I could ever have gotten out of a DIY book. Carol Voyer-Terrien has over forty years of sewing experience and seemed to have a tip or shortcut for everything, whether it was buttonholes or working with stretchy fabric or certain stitches.

Carol demonstrating a technique on my machine

As is frequently the case in Ottawa, we had a mix of English- and French-speakers in the class. Most of the instruction was in English but I was able to learn some sewing and textile vocabulary in French by listening to Carol converse with the Francophones. I also learned that you can’t use Janome’s overlock foot with a straight stitch:

At the end of the day I’d amassed a stack of successful and sort-of successful samples. I need more work on a few things, but now I can confidently put in a zipper (my main goal), make buttonholes, create gathers, and sew ribbing to knit fabric on a curve:

I picked up some cotton on sale after the class, and an A-line skirt pattern the next day. I also encouraged Carol to consider offering classes on sewing clothing–there was definitely interest among the students, and I’d love to learn more from someone with her kind of training and experience. Once I pick up some cotton voile for the lining (possibly on a trip to NY this weekend), I’ll get started on that skirt.

Posted by: Leslie | March 2, 2011

Your Yarns submission, accepted

So my submission to Spin Off’s Your Yarns section was accepted. While it didn’t make it into the magazine, it is in the expanded online section available here (registration required). Lesson learned from this exercise was that if I submit again, I should use a darker fibre–you can barely see my yarn against the white background!

Posted by: Leslie | February 21, 2011

Buttons in Montreal

Last Thursday I made a quick trip to Montreal, and in the middle of a flurry of activity I ended up searching out Rubans Boutons. My friend Mary was on the hunt for “little tiny buttons,” so after leaving Effiloché we began to wander further north on the Plaza St-Hubert, stopping occasionally watch massive piles of snow slide off the glass awnings in the sun.

My knowledge of how to get to the little ribbon-and-button shop was limited to a quick glance at Google maps at 5 am that morning, and all I recalled was “on St-Hubert, north of Jean-Talon.” This proved correct, though I had my doubts once the more reputable-looking stores became scarce.

It’s a tiny shop-cum-theatre, with ribbons one on side and buttons on the other, presided over by Richard Lentendre, fibulanomiste:

Like many tiny shops in Montreal, it’s full of an assortment of not just items for sale but interesting knickknacks and, well, stuff. Not shown are the anti-zipper posters and many, many buttons put up as decoration:

In the back of the store Mary found suitably little and tiny buttons, stored in tubes that pull out like colourful ice core samples (says the scientist):

No buttons for me, but by my next trip I’ll have finished another sewing class and will likely be in need of some…

Posted by: Leslie | February 14, 2011

Fractal spinning: an experiment

Spin-Off’s Summer 2007 issue had an article on what’s been called, among other things, fractal spinning. Multicoloured rovings/tops, while beautiful, often come out looking muddied or busy in the final yarn. I know I’m not the only one who’s been attracted by colours on the shelf only to be disappointed by the garish and unpredictable colour combinations of the resulting yarn. Fractal spinning turns these fibres into a somewhat predictable self-striping yarn, yielding a nicer-looking final product.

Fractal spinning is essentially this: take a multicoloured strip of fibre and split it in half. Spin one half as is, which makes a singles yarn with very long colour blocks. Split the second half further, into two or more strips, and spin them in succession on another bobbin. Same colours as the first singles, but with more repeats. Ply together, and marvel at the orderly stripes (some solid, some barber-poled) that result.

I decided to try this for myself. I don’t usually wear super bright colours, but I wanted obvious colour changes, so this Fleece Artist merino braid in a clown vomit rainbow colourway fit the bill.

I split the braid in half and divided the second half into three equal parts.

What I didn’t do was weigh the two halves first to make sure I’d have equal amounts of wool on each bobbin (this becomes important later).

On the bobbins, trouble begins to reveal itself. The first half of the braid wound up on the bobbin on the left. See how much less yarn is there, compared to the bobbin on the right?

When I plied the two together, I realized the second bobbin contained about 30% more yarn than the first, meaning I’d done a pretty poor job of splitting the braid in half initially. I decided to Andean ply what was left, which still gave me stripes, but not the same stripes I would’ve had if both bobbins had been equal. I was going to hopefully compete this skein, but not with that kind of mistake. It’s a nice yarn, so I may go ahead and knit something with it (something I’d only wear at Pride, I’m sure), or sell it.

Live and learn, I suppose. Time to find that gram scale.

Posted by: Leslie | January 23, 2011

FO: Star Crossed Slouchy Beret

Judging by its popularity on Ravelry (6805 projects at last count), the Star Crossed Slouchy Beret is as appealing to others as it was to me. I needed a new winter hat, and the pattern looked like a quick and easy knit.

And that is basically what it was. Done over three evenings in Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran yarn (100% merino, cabled, and aran weight as the name implies), it was a straightforward pattern. I didn’t modify it at all and am very pleased with the result, though I may block it out a bit more:

It’s also warm enough that my head didn’t freeze in the -30 C temps in Montreal yesterday. It’s amazing how much warmer a light wool hat is than a thicker acrylic one.

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