Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tour de Fleece Recap & Yarny Events in Chicago

This past Sunday was the final day of this year's Tour de Fleece, and while I can't claim to have spun every single day that the Tour de France rode, I did manage to spin some nice yarns along the way:


Two of those yarns are from the fiber I dyed and blogged about last week; the other yarns are spun from rolags and batts I've made on my Strauch drum carder, plus I have some singles left to weave with (I've recently discovered that thick-and-thin handspun singles are really fun to weave with).

I spun nearly all of the fiber I'd earmarked for this year's event along with 2/3 of the new fiber I acquired and dyed midway through. Not bad! 

Last weekend, the Chicago Yarn Crawl kicked off, and although I don't plan to visit a ton of yarn shops, last night I did make a stop to one of my favorite newer stores, Firefly Fiber Arts. And, of course, a skein of yarn followed me home!


This yarn was part of a special trunk show to showcase the yarns from this German yarn company, Ovis Et Cetera. They source all of their wool from local European farms, and the beautiful jewel tones are made with GOTS certified dyes that don't contain heavy metals. The fingering weight skein that I bought is 100% Corriedale wool and it's super soft. I plan to combine it with some mini skeins for my next shawl project!

Stitches Midwest is this weekend, and I'll be trekking out to Schaumburg on Saturday to do a bit of shopping, see some friends, and work in the Zen Yarn Garden booth for a few hours. I haven't been to a Stitches event in the last 5 years (!!), so I'm interested to see what has changed since then. Surely I will have an easier time getting there than I did back in 2014, right?!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Hand Dyeing Adventures: Brown Sheep Spinning Fiber for the Tour de Fleece

After all of my adventures with overdyeing finished knits, I was tempted once again to break out the dye pots for this year's Tour de Fleece event. One of my colleagues hosts a team each year, and for the 2019 TDF, Brown Sheep Company provided us with some spinning fiber....and when I say "some" spinning fiber I actually mean quite a bit - here's a photo of what arrived on my doorstep with my cat Tilly for scale.
undyed roving from brown sheep yarns, with cat for scale
Now THAT'S a lot of spinning fiber!

As lovely as all this fiber is (it's a blend of Rambouillet and Columbia wool - heavenly!), I thought it could use a bit of color. To be totally honest, I've been on a real dyeing kick, so any excuse to break out the dyepots is a good one in my book....and this giant ball o' spinning fiber had me feeling particularly inspired to step outside of my regular color scheme of murky shades and greens and blues. But first, I had to separate it out into smaller bundles so that each one would fit in my dyeing crock pot (when the weather is nice, I prefer to dye on my back porch using my crock pot that is dedicated to dyeing, rather than dyeing indoors on my stove top).

measuring natural wool roving for hand dyeing

First, I dyed the fiber for the team host, Laura, to offer as a prize for my fellow teammates - click here to check out the thread on Rav! For some reason, I have a lot of pink dye, despite the fact that it's my least favorite color. This was the perfect opportunity to put it to use, since I know a lot of folks love pink. I was able to get some really vibrant colors! Each braid of fiber is a little bit different, but coordinated enough so that they could be plied together if you want.

brown sheep wool roving - after hand dyeing

As you can see, the fibers took the dye BEAUTIFULLY.  I've dyed a lot of different yarns and fibers over the years, and some are more challenging than others. For this project, I had no issues achieving vibrant, saturated colors using my trusty Gaywool dyes and a little citric acid.

Dyeing is really quite simple - you just need to prep your yarn or fiber by soaking in tepid water and a bit of soap while you heat up water for your dye bath. I also use this time to measure and mix my dyestuffs and auxiliaries (I like to use citric acid and occasionally glaubers salts, if I'm looking for an even color tone).
mixing dye for wool roving

Once the water is hot enough, I add the dyestuffs and auxiliaries and stir until they dissolve:

dyebath ready for wool roving


Then all you have to do is add your yarn or fiber, and leave in the heated dyebath until the dye exhausts (i.e. the dye is transferred completely to the thing you're dyeing, and the water is clear). Fun fact: most of dyeing is waiting!

wool roving in dyebath

I like to let the fiber cool down before I remove it from the pot - sometimes, I even let it sit overnight after the actual dyeing process is finished. Then I remove it, gently squeeze out the excess water, and lay it somewhere to dry (outdoors is best, if the weather cooperates!).

For more info on my dyeing process, check out overdyeing a finished knit and tips for overdyeing yarn.

Naturally, I saved some of the fiber for myself, and decided to continue my exploration of atypical-for-me colors. I started with a yellow that I wasn't sure would turn out very well, but it exceeded my expectations once it emerged from the dye pots (phew!). Next, I wanted to do an orangey-red with some of the pretty natural fiber shining through. For the last one, I returned to my comfort zone and created a pretty blue.

hand dyed wool roving for handspinning

Last week I started spinning the fiber and it's a dream to work with - very soft and easy to draft as I work. I'm pretty happy with how the yellow and orange braids have spun up, and I am going to try to ply them this week before the TDF ends on Friday. That blue braid of fiber might have to wait til after the event, which is fine by me, I'd like to have something to look forward to once the event is over so that I keep on spinning !
handspun yarns
Tour de Fleece spinning progress, 2 weeks in.

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Hand Dyeing Adventures: Brown Sheep Spinning Fiber for the Tour de Fleece

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Review: Garter Stitch Shawl Kit from Kraemer Yarns

I love garter stitch for a lot of reasons; besides being easy-peasy, it's always squishy and lays nice and flat without the edges curling. When you combine that with the effect created by knitting each row in a different color, a simple project is transformed into something that's extra special!

This wrap is perfect for the hazy days of summer....

The kind folks from Kraemer Yarns sent me a Garter Stitch Shawl Kit from their Festival Wear Collection, which features knitted and crocheted garments and accessories using their Tatamy base, a cotton/acrylic blend that is available two weights (DK and Worsted) and a palette of solid and tweed colors.     

I tend to avoid working with cotton yarns because they are less pliable than wool and wool blends, which translates into hand pain while I knit, but I'm pleased to report that the Tatamy was nice and pliable. I was able to knit without any hand pain!


The pattern was easy to follow and I learned a nice trick, too! It suggested using a provisional cast on  to begin the project so that the top and bottom of the piece have the same amount of tension, because you can bind off the stitches on each edge using the same method. My only challenge was remembering which side I had just worked, and as you can see there were a few times that I forgot to flip before knitting the next color....oops! It's subtle and probably not noticeable to most people (unless I mention it to them, of course!), and although it wasn't intentional at all, I think it's kind of a cool effect.


I decided to try a new-to-me bind off that I spotted on Instagram just as I was finishing up this project. It uses a crochet hook to create a nice, stretchy edge - click here to check it out!


The four colors I chose - silver, blue jeans, flannel and navy - ended up being absolutely perfect, but my avorite thing about the pattern was that there were NO ENDS TO WEAVE IN! Since each row is knit in a different color, you just leave a yarn tail at the beginning and end to be used as the fringe when you're done. I knotted the fringe as I knit, and then it was a just a matter of trimming it down after I'd washed and blocked the wrap.

Whoosh! Along came a gust of wind!

To cut a nice, even fringe, I used my favorite trick learned from weaving: using a rotary cutter, mat and ruler.

I've always been pleased with the quality of yarns and fibers from Kraemer, but more importantly, I love their story: all of their yarns and fibers are milled in the USA using domestically-sourced materials wherever possible, and their mill has been in operation in Nazareth, PA for over a century. I hope you'll check out their online store and give some of their yarns a try!

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

It's Tour de Fleece Time!

I really haven't been spinning much lately. Although I enjoy it, I have so much handspun yarn sitting in a bin, unused, that I'm not terribly motivated to spin more at this point, considering I'm making yarn faster than I can use it!

But the Tour de Fleece is an event I've always enjoyed participating in. Usually I choose a low-stress team without tons of rules and just try to spin a little bit each day, even if that only amounts to ten minutes. The last couple of years, I've spun with Team CKT and they are totally my speed. There are always a few prizes and it's a nice, laid-back group of folks.

I spent last weekend digging through my fiber stash and deciding on what I wanted to spin this year:


A few weeks ago, I carded a bunch of alpaca fleece into batts; I'd bought it on Etsy several years ago and ended up getting two orders when the post office lost the first one....then delivered it something like six months later (I ended up messaging the seller to let her know it finally turned up and sent her some funds on Paypal, since she'd reshipped the order at her own expense due, it only seemed fair!).


I've also been been collecting a lot of random rolags and batts that I've made on my Strauch Petite since I got it, so I think it's finally time to spin them up!


Lastly, I pulled out a few fiber braids from the deep stash - if I can get through all of the rolags and batts, they will be on deck!


Everything fits in a modest-sized bin and is ready to go for this weekend when the tour kicks off! I'll be posting my daily progress on Instagram if you want to follow along.