Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Birthday presents

Much to my surprise, it seems there are actually a few people reading my blog. I'll try not to go all shy - up until now, my entries seemed more like writing a diary than putting something out for the world to look at. Starting a blog felt a bit like a leap into the void but jumping off the deep end has always been my thing. I am enjoying doing some writing again, love the unstructured and random nature of it compared to the demands of "writing to order". I like having a place to express the little musings that fill my brain every day, a chance to chronicle my projects and the motivation to get something written and posted because maybe someone might read it. But the idea of actual readers was still a little murky. Then I attended Monday night's spinning group and found I had an unsuspected small following. For some reason I'm not getting any stats on you - there is probably some techie thing I didn't do to turn that feature on. Free advice on this is welcome.

"When on earth", you wanted to know, "will you ever get around to posting photos of your birthday yarns?" Thus prodded, I'll get to writing/gloating over that, but first here's the premise. When I was asked what I wanted for my birthday, my first reaction was to say "Nothing - well maybe a card". Assured by my personal party planner that everyone would ignore that, I was persuaded to provide some guidance..."Yarn", I said, "but just one skein." Apparently the invitation went a bit further to specify something exotic in the natural fibre category. Perfect! (He knows me so well.) Something I would use and love, not too big, not too expensive and a bit of an adventure for the non-fibre obsessed.

And everyone ran with it! I was blown away by the variety and beauty of the yarns people found and the fun they had doing it. Those who had never darkened the door of a yarn store claimed to have discovered a world they didn't know existed and were enraptured with the colour and texture and variousness to be found in your average yarn shop. The cognoscenti in the group went much further of course: a knitting book I've had out from the library about 50 times - "The Best of Interweave Knits", a pair of beautiful birch knitting needles called "swing" type from River John Needle Company - a new one on me. One gift came wrapped in some beautifully carded batts of silvery gray fleece - from Shirley, of course - causing a bit of a sensation among the uninitiated. "What is that stuff?" they wanted to know. Matt, our actor friend, draped one over his head to reprise his role as Christopher Columbus, bad wig and all, in a play called "Japango" that I stage-managed at university. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of that to show you but it was pretty hilarious. Of course there were a few random gifts...wine to drink while knitting/spinning, white fig soap and Body Shop products to wash with after a hard day in the fibre trenches, a jin chin do treatment to get the knitting kinks out of my shoulders, a cycling jersey for when I need to get outside for a break from knitting.. Thanks so much to my generous family and friends for your thoughtfulness and for making my 60th such a memorable occasion.

I realize that this photo doesn't really do the individual yarns justice so I will photograph them individually and post them as I come up with projects for them...or maybe on my next post.

The photos below show the alpaca I've been working on since the fibre safari in late August. I finally have enough at the same weight for a lace shawl I have in mind but it looks like it will have to wait on the other irons I have in the fire. I love the colour of this fibre and I really enjoyed spinning it in spite of all the preparation from the raw fleece state. Although it was remarkably free of guard hairs, it was still quite dirty...something that was not evident at first because of the dark colour. After spinning a bit without washing it and coming away with filthy hands (and wheel and floor), I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to spin all that dirt into the yarn and make it more difficult to get clean so I picked up several mesh bags for washing delicates at the dollar store and after picking the fleece to remove the big chunks of dirt/hay/foreign matter, washed several batches. It came out a noticeably lighter shade and a bit re-consolidated - not felted, just lumpy. So I picked the lumps again, more crap fell out, carded it on the drum carder and still more crap fell out! The batts are quite easy to split and spin from and the finished yarn is pretty clean. I should hope so after all that prep!

The spinning was a bit of a struggle at first, given that it was my first experience with alpaca - slippery compared to wool - but once I got the hang of it, it went really well. I was still on my traditional Ashford which doesn't have a way to adjust the ratio so it took rather longer than I anticipated - about two weeks of spinning one to two hours a day to fill two bobbins and then ply them together. Very satisfying to have four nice skeins of lightweight alpaca yarn waiting in the stash.

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