Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Independence Farmstead Fibers

I finally got the call that my roving was ready, so I took advantage of the beautiful day to drive up to Independence Farmstead Fibers, which is just outside of Brenham.  They have only been in business since 2014, but are fast becoming overwhelmed by fleece since there just aren't any other mills around that will process small amounts.  They will process your fleece into roving or yarn, so a lot of the local sheep ranchers have been sending them fleece, too.  They are currently not accepting any more fleece, so I was very happy I took mine in when I did!  You can see in the photos below that they've got a big stash to get through.  It was really interesting to see the machinery and the steps the fiber goes through.

I had given them a Romney fleece and a Polworth fleece that had been languishing in my stash for a few years.  I had purchased Princess (the Romney) from Skylines Farm in Idaho.  It was a beautiful fleece weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds.  I cleaned it in a fermented suint vat (FSV), with one additional wash in Dawn.  It had a little bit of lanolin left, but not enough to need another wash.  After washing and processing into roving, I still had 6 pounds.  Here's the fleece as it came from the farm.

The Polworth fleece is one from Jane Sheppard's stash, that was given to me by her friend Denise.  I don't remember her owning any Polworth sheep, so I'm pretty sure it was one she bought.  It had already been washed when I got it, and weighed 4.6 pounds.  I used a few ounces of it during the 2014 Tour de Fleece on Ravelry, so I was happily surprised to end up with 4.1 pounds of finished roving!  Especially since it had to have another wash at the mill.

So now I have 10 pounds of fluffy, fresh roving.  Ready to start spinning for Spinzilla 2016.  I'll probably just spin a lot of boring singles, then I can decide how much to make into 2-ply for lace knitting, and 3-ply for a sweater.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole...again

A month or so ago, our weaving guild webmaster received an email from a woman wanting to donate a knitting machine to a local group.  She had purchased it in the mid '80s and never learned to use it.  Now, she and her husband are long retired and downsizing, so she was looking for a group that would put it to use.  So the email was forwarded to me (a knitter).  Although it sounded like something intersting, I've got enough "stuff" of my own.  I forwarded the email to a machine knitter friend who belongs to a local guild.  No interest there either.  In the meantime, I got a wild hair to knit some sock blanks to play with dyeing, and it would be perfect for the knitting guild to use for charity knitting.  So I sent a note to see if the machine was still there.  It was, and in fact they were in the middle of moving.  All of the knitting machines I've ever seen were small enough to fit in my car, and pretty easy to move, so I was kind of skeptical when Mr. G said I should bring help to get it downstairs and in my vehicle (I hadn't seen any photos).  But my sweet hubby was free and volunteered to help.  OMG!  The knitting machine turned out to be a Swiss made Passap Duomatic 80 with Electra 3000a motor, Deco attachment (which does motifs from punchcards), and Form Computer.  And this thing was massively heavy!  I was trying to pretend like it wasn't so bad as we struggled to get it down a spiral staircase, but I doubt I fooled anyone.  Eventually we got it in the back of my KIA with the front seat pushed all the way forward, which made for a long ride home.

I set it up in the guest room, since the light it good there, until the studio is finished (not discussing that at the moment).  After sitting for almost 30 years, the old Beladore oil had everything pretty much immobile, so I started perusing the internet looking for YouTube videos, instruction manuals, Yahoo and Facebook groups, etc.  It took a couple of days just to learn enough vocabulary to ask a semi-intelligent question.  But I connected with a couple of good groups who suggested I talk to a lady from Leander, TX  who has a whole series of YouTube videos on working with this particular model of machine.  So I hunted down Barbara, who turned out to be a wonderful resource and so much help.  She and her husband actually drove down, brought me some yarn to get started (turns out you need special yarn for machine knitting), and took a look at the machine to see what I needed to do.  So I spent an entire day taking things apart, removing all the needles and pins, cleaning, oiling, etc.  And now it's back together.  And it works!

Since the original manual was lost, I downloaded a copy onto my tablet and have started working my way through the sample exercises.  I had some issues with the edges at the beginning of the first one, but it's not too bad.

Hopefully by the time I get to the end, I can start working on some knitted blanks to play with.  Not that I don't have anything to do.  I'm supposed to be knitting a baby blanket for a baby due in November; I've been tying shibori squares to make placemats for the CHT conference next June; teaching a weaving class for Park Avenue Yarns; making some more dishtowels for the CHH sale in November; and endlessly mowing.  Good thing I'm retired and don't have anything to do!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Happy Anniversary KANG

This August marks the 20th Anniversary of the Knit at Night Guild. It was formed when two best friends, Denise Winter and Jane Sheppard, saw a need for a knitting group which met at night so that working people could attend. They put a small notice in the paper and spread the word at Turrentine's, a local yarn shop (which later became Nancy's Knits). To their surprise, that first meeting was packed and they moved the meeting location to the Tracy Gee Community Center in the same room where the Chix with Stix chapter meets now. I wasn't at that first meeting (I was pretty intimidated having learned to knit only a few months earlier), but my friends Ann Cole and Roddie Shelly got me there asap (we met when we took knitting lessons at Turrentines).  And I am so glad they did! I have made so many new friends that I probably wouldn't have met otherwise, and my knitting improved in a hurry with so many talented mentors, classes, and workshops.  In those early years, we had a Saturday workshop once a month, featuring a new technique that was used to make squares for community service afghans.  Plus we brought in a nationally recognized instructor twice a year for weekend workshop, and supplemented with member-led 1 day workshops at various times throughout the year.  The guild's mission was education, and we certainly nailed it!  The year that Roddie and I attended Stitches West, we took goodie bags made up by the guild for every instructor there, and made sure that we met them all personally (usually in the bar).  It definitely made it easy to find people who wanted to come here to teach!  Here are a few of us from the trip to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in 2006. (l to r:  Virgina Martinez, Roddie, me, Anne Sasko, Ann Cole, Jan Clark)

Over the years, KANG grew to over 350 members. We threw our own "mini-Stitches" event at the Hotel Sofitel for our 10th anniversary, with a market, meet and greet with chocolate fountain, banquet and style show, judged knitting competition, an anniversary tote bag full of goodies, and classes featuring local teachers and teachers from across the country.

It was a huge undertaking, and took the cooperation of the entire membership to pull it off. You can check out some of my pictures here.  The market was about the size of Yellow Rose now, and featured mostly local vendors, in addition to kits and yarns from teachers and member booths.  The whole event was a huge success thanks to the vision and energy from our then President, Vicki Katz.  I have never met anyone who was so organized and could get people to do anything she needed.  Here's Vicki celebrating after the conference.

By our 15th anniversary in 2011, the guild had decided to split up into chapters (boo!) to make it more convenient for members to attend meetings. At that time, there was the KNOT chapter in Spring, the KNOW chapter in Katy, and KANG (the mother guild) in central Houston. This made planning a big event more logistically challenging, so we went with a luncheon and speaker, Adrienne Martini, for this event.

 We introduced Adrienne to watermelon margaritas at dinner.   For our party favor, we had a special yarn colorway, "Jane", commissioned by Mama Llama (Catherine Kerth) just for us, in memory of Jane Sheppard.  It was a fun event, but also bittersweet, in that it highlighted the fact that there were so many people that we didn't get to see on a monthly basis now that everyone met in chapters. You can see luncheon photos here.

Now here we are in August 2016, with six chapters, celebrating our 20th anniversary. Jane passed away before our 10th anniversary, but I know that Denise is happy to see their legacy continue. A few of you may have run into her at Fiber Fest on Friday. As the chapters seem to be celebrating the milestone individually, I'll just be getting together with my BKB (best knitting buddy), Roddie, and we'll offer a toast to friends past and present, remembering the great times we've had over the years.  I really miss having the guild meet as one group.  We've lost a lot of the cohesiveness and comraderie that comes with having all the members gathered together.  Maybe I can talk some young, energetic person into planning a guild-wide Christmas party?

So here's to another 20 years KANG.  Hope I'm still alive to celebrate!
This is Roddie and me with Denise at the 10th anniversary conference.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I Surrender

One of many things on my weaving bucket list is was to do the overshot pattern "Lee's Surrender"/. Since I can't stand to have a naked loom sitting around and I had the thread I needed, I decided to tackle this milestone in my weaving journey. Overshot is an impressive looking weave structure, but not especially difficult. The issues arise because of the complex threading pattern, which involved lots of counting and re-counting, and the long treadling sequence. I should have realized that this was going to be a challenge when I wound off the incorrect number of warp threads and had to add 36 more to each side after the warp was already on the loom. Thankfully I noticed the error before threading or I probably would have just thrown in the towel before I ever got started. But being not one to back down from a challenge, I pulled the first warp out, added the new threads to each side, and re-wound it back on. This was reminiscent of the infamous Texas Bluebonnet Tartan warp which took over 40 hours to get on the loom. 10/2 mercerized cotton has a good amount of twist, which makes it really strong; but also makes it tend to wrap around itself like a rope when you have a long bunch of threads that are not under tension. Thankfully I was able to utilize the tips and pitfalls I learned during the Tartan Debacle to get this warp back on in just an afternoon. But it definitely required a certain amount of alcohol at the end.

I was really careful during the threading because the Baby Mac has stainless steel heddles, and shafts that are really close together because of it's compact size. A threading error could mean hours of work making the correction. So after much counting and re-counting I began weaving. I used 10/2 mercerized cotton for the warp and tabby weft, and 5/2 mercerized cotton for the pattern weft. After a slow start (it really took some concentration to throw pattern weft, tabby weft, pattern weft, tabby weft...) I was about halfway through when I noticed an odd blank area in Block B.

After posting to the 4-Shaft Facebook group and getting lots of input and advice, I determined that I needed to be more consistent in how I was beating it, and to leave more of an angle in the pattern weft. But in addition, I noticed the dreaded THREADING ERROR! If you look 1 block up and two blocks to the right of the red arrow, there is a tan thread running down the middle of the green bar. Arrrrggggghhhh! Since I was already halfway through the first table runner, I just cut it off to be able to fix the error. Since you can't just add in a metal heddle once everything is threaded, I made a string heddle, which was not an easy feat working in tight quarters on a threaded loom. I actually make two string heddles because the first one I accidently tied to the wrong shaft (again). Once everything was tied and re-tensioned, it was time to start weaving again. By this time, I'm working really hard on beating consistently. I get to Block B, and get the same wierd space again. And then I realize - I'm looking at the wrong side of the fabric!! The Baby Mac is a jack loom (the shafts lift when you press on the treadles), and the draft was written for a sinking shed loom (shafts go down when you press the heddles). So I pull out the sample I had cut off, turn it over, and voila - no error at all.

At this point, the body is looking pretty decent, but my selvedges are horrendously ugly. One of the benefits of belonging to a weaving guild with an extensive library is that you can check out books on just about any weaving topic you can imagine. Donna Sullivan's book "Weaving Overshot" provided lots of good information and also suggested using floating selvedges. I normally do this anyway, but had read somewhere else that they weren't necessary since you have a tabby weft anchoring the pattern weft in overshot. Well let me say this, "I will never do another overshot pattern without a floating selvedge." I added one in for the next table runner, and it helped immensely. I also tried out a wool pattern weft. The pattern is a little more subtle in the wool after wet finishing, and it doesn't need quite as hard a beat (since it's squishy) as the cotton. Although happy with how both of these came out, they both have errors where I pressed a pattern treadle instead of a tabby treadle a couple of times. That means they won't be going in the CHH sale, but staying with me. I'd like to do them again on the David loom, now that I know what I need to do differently. But that's probably not going to happen for a while. In the meantime, here are pictures of the finished runners.

Breaking in the Baby Mac

Last November I ran across a small portable 8-shaft loom for sale on Ravelry. The price was right, and it was located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Never one to shy away from a road trip, I decided that it was just the thing to keep me busy until we could get my studio space done and the David could come out of storage. Not to mention the fact that I had to pass on a workshop that I really wanted to take because it required an 8-shaft loom. So off I went. In retrospect, it wasn't quite as good a deal as it seemed after factoring in gas and hotel, but you know how it is when you get caught up in the heat of the moment. Once home, I brought her in and started setting up for a practice project to work out the kinks. It's amazing to me that anyone was actually weaving on it at all considering how many things were assembled wrong, screws in backwards, etc. Must have been a nightmare! But she's all cleaned up now, added more heddles and texolv cords for tie-up.

My first project was a scarf using some 5/2 rayon slub that I found in the clearance section of a weaving shop in Comfort. I figured that if things didn't go well, I at least would be out much if I had to cut it off! Turned out pretty nice, even if I do say so myself. So nice, that I put it in my Etsy shop (in case anyone is interested in a gift.)

Now for the loom review. Pros: It's portable. I can get it in and out of the car by myself. And it will fold up with the warp on and the treadles tied (if you're using Texsolv). Cons: This loom is made for someone of average to below average height. It's not too bad to weave on, but getting the warp on and threading heddles and reed are a pain. Literally! I really like warping back to front, but I'm afraid that I'm going to have to give that up and go front to back just to save my back. Even with the loom up on blocks and sitting on a low stool, it's too low to thread comfortably. Then tying up the treadles required laying flat on my back in the floor to be able to see the bottom of the harnesses and hook up the treadles. But the little cushion I bought for yoga works great as a pillow! There is no way I could use this loom for a workshop that required changing the tie-up during class. But once you get all that done, it weaves nicely (even though it's pretty tight getting my legs to fit).

Now that it had been 9 months since we moved, I found the deadline for "swatch swap" fast approacing. And the David was still in storage. The topic for this year was 10/2, so I had decided I wanted to do doubleweave using 10/2 cotton. If I'm going to do samples, I may as well be learning something too, and I had never quite been able to wrap my head around how to weave two layers at once. The nice thing is that you have a nice pattern on the front and back, and the fabric is really sturdy (would make great upholstery fabric). The bad thing is that you have double the number of threads that you would normally be using for the same width cloth, which takes a long time to thread (oh, my aching back). But it was worth the effort, as I was really pleased with how they came out. In fact, once David is out of storage I may do some fabric for pillows or a jacket or a bag. The pictures below are the front and back of my swatches.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

New Year, New Leaf

Ok, I was definitely a slacker on blogging last year! Maybe because it was just so crazy! We've moved from the suburbs to 50 acres about 45 minutes from Houston. Spring 2015 was spent finalizing the house deal and packing; then we moved over the summer in two stages. Wild! Thank goodness Riley spent the summer with us. He was a lifesaver and a great help getting the new place ready. We took out all the old venetian blinds and painted the entire interior of the house - the walls at least. I have to admit that I still haven't done the baseboards and trim, though hopefully soon.

I have to admit that I really didn't think that I would enjoy this "country living". But it is growing on me. It is wonderful to sit out on the porch with a nice glass of wine, watch the boys fish, relax.

And we have lots of bunnies! I found these adorable babies while cleaning up a pile of brush. Then I had to try and remake the house so mamma wouldn't be unhappy when she got home.

So welcome to our little slice of country, and stay tuned for the next adventure.